Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 14 March 2018

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.  1 Thessalonians 3:6 (NIV).

I daydream.   A lot.   My daydreams are usually about owning a house on the beach, or a house on a lake.   Sometimes they’re about another trip to Disney, or working in a village in Uganda, or fishing on my favorite lake in Minnesota, or working in my old garden.   Mostly, though, they are about being with other people, usually members of my family.  When I think about the good times in my life, people I love are always involved.

Knowing that, it’s easy to see that Paul was talking about his love for the Thessalonians and how gladdened he was to hear that they missed him.   He was uplifted to learn that his new friends there in Thessalonica wanted to see him as much as he wanted to see them.   More than that, Paul was heartened to learn that their faith and love, expressed as charity for others, was growing.  That the message he had told them about Jesus was growing, that there was love.

It’s a beautiful thing to realize you’re loved.   Have you realized that lately?

I know a few folks who are going through severe marital problems.  It looks very much like those problems will lead to divorce, and that’s tragic.   It’s tragic to realize that the person you loved and who loved you no longer does.   That another focus has replaced that love in their, and your, life.  You put your heart, your time, your life into someone else’s heart, time, and life, and it ends up as a wasteland.  It’s devastating.

I wonder if my friends have realized they’re still loved.   When depression grabs your heart, it turns everything dark.   It’s so hard to see that others still love you.   That, in the middle of your darkness, the very real life-light of Jesus is still shining for you.   If only you could break through the desperate fog that’s hiding that light…

…that happens when you’re open to hearing good news.  Paul heard good news from his protégé, Timothy, that the Thessalonians believed, that the message of Jesus had taken root and was growing.   That they missed Paul.   When you’re feeling lonely, as Paul was, it is good to hear how others remember you.   Sometimes it can make all the difference in the world.

That’s what I daydream about.   The older I get, the more I cherish time with my family and friends because in those times, the love of God is being shared.   It’s the best thing there is.

For further reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:7.

Lord, thank You for times with people I love.   Thank You for sharing Your wonderful love through us.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 13 November 2017

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Hebrews 13, verse 7.

As I’ve matured, I’ve developed a great admiration for people who are bold in the Word.  Over thirty years ago, I went to a Billy Graham crusade in Washington DC.   Now, I’m not a Southern Baptist and I find some of their methods to be grating.  My upbringing was far from the kind of approach Baptists and Billy Graham commonly use.  When I was a kid, every few months a Billy Graham crusade would take over one of our three channels of TV and I found it to be hard, boring to watch.   It was ironic, then, that I found myself there that day, listening to Rev Graham exhort the crowd to come to Jesus.   It was even more ironic that I found myself compelled by the things he said.  I met Dr. Graham and I was moved, but not moved enough to seriously consider the things he was saying.  It took me decades before I would come around to Graham’s way of thinking.

The older I grow the more I see the truth in Christ’s command to go and make disciples of all nations.  Our first, best task in this life is to reach out to other people and share Jesus.   EVERYTHING we experience in the next life depends on knowing Him here.  We do our part by living our lives, being ourselves, and being ready to communicate when the opportunities arise.   Even including the fire and brimstone sermons, I’m betting Billy Graham would agree.

I was baptized by a pastor named Reuben Youngdahl, who built the largest Lutheran church in America.   I remember well his son, Paul, who is still the benchmark against whom I measure all clergy.   Reverend Ann Haw confirmed me in Oklahoma and she’s one of the most courageous workers for the Spirit I can think of.  Dr. Guy Newland back in Mitchell, Indiana was the most genuine minister I’ve ever known and the one who, at least in my life, convinced me that faith should be an everyday, practical thing instead of that thing you do on Sundays.   Pastors named Vogt and Uhlhorn in Colorado Springs taught me the depth of faith, and Pastor Vogt’s reading of Romans 8 on the night my father died was actually the first time in my life that I fully understood how all the Scriptures were completely true.   I’ve learned much from the wisdom of my friend, Reverend Gauthier, and men named Schaefer, Miller, McKay, Brimer, Kemp, Celia, Radkey, Kaija and Hartjen all inspire me today as peers, friends, and spiritual guides in the confusing, self-focused world of consumerist North Texas.

We put a lot of faith in our pastors, but do we put as much into the God they serve?

The verse today reminds us to learn from and revere called servants of the Lord.   God picked them out especially for the purpose of being Barnabas – the encourager – to people in need of an encouraging Savior.  They have a special calling and unique education to prepare them for the task of ministering.  We do well when we remember that it’s a Godly calling to life a life of faith, of submitting even our aspirations and career wishes to God.  That’s what they do.   It’s also tough work.  Successful churches aren’t the ones with the cool sound systems, the huge congregations, and the rock band in front playing the latest Chris Tomlin mash-up.   No, successful churches are the ones where the parishioners know they’re close to Jesus because Jesus is close to them.   In such places, that usually starts with the pastor.   If you look close, you find that the pastor is simply walking closely with Jesus and all blessings flow from Him.

Yet we can’t think of our pastors as being supermen because they aren’t.   They are sinners.   They’re strugglers.   They like football and beer and music and barbecue (or queso).   Some of them are jerks.  I know some pastors who are recovering alcoholics.   I know some who have done jail time.   I know of some who struggle with identity, sexuality, and crushing depression.   And I’ve known some pastors who I liked in the pulpit but I couldn’t stand out of it.

In other words, pastors are a lot like me.   Or you.

Just yesterday, Pastor Celia (which still sounds weird) was talking about Gideon.   Gideon was an ordinary, even cowardly, man who was called by God to do extraordinary things.   Gideon had the gifts God needed and God empowered him to use them in big ways.   Yet Gideon was also just a man.   He succeeded when he walked closely with God and he floundered when he strayed back into paganism.  I suspect that, like other pastors, if you met Gideon today you’d find he wore his pants the same way as you or I do.   Or Billy Graham, who is 99 now and no longer preaching in crusades.   In his life, he personally witnessed to millions of people, maybe even as many as a billion.   Yet he still says he could do more.   He’s still hungry for the Spirit.   That’s a good quality to have if you’re going to become a pastor.  In fact, it’s a great quality for any of us.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:16, Hebrews 4:12, Hebrews 6:12.

My Lord, I am hungry for Your Spirit.  Thank You for the men and women you call as servants here.   Bless their work and their examples to all of us.


Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 August 2017

By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.  Hebrews 11, verses 27-28.

Just yesterday I was talking with a friend who is on the front lines of spiritual warfare.   If you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s trendy…but it’s real.   If you say “I believe in Jesus” then you’re a foot-soldier in the line of the army of the Living God.   You’re acknowledging Him as God, all good, pure perfect love.   Whether you realize it or not, you’re also subtly accepting the existence of non-God, all bad, pure incarnate evil.   That’s Satan.   It isn’t cool these days to talk about Satan as real, but he is.   He’s real, he’s still here, and his methods have changed with the times even as his mission hasn’t.   Since that long-ago day in Eden, he has wanted to be God, not realizing he isn’t and can’t be.   Jesus called him “the father of lies” and that was two thousand years ago.  If you believe in Jesus, you’re setting your beliefs against those of the prince of this world.  You’re on the front lines of spiritual war.

My friend and his wife work in Uganda, helping to mentor villagers in farming and self-management.  However, they  may be moving into a new mission field soon.  They’re currently on the front lines of spiritual warfare in Africa, and may be moving into spiritual trench warfare someplace else.   Please pray for Floyd, Tamra and the Stanley family as they discern where God is leading them.   Yet no matter where they go, they’re going to be on the line against Satan, helping other people to ‘gear up’ in their own fight of standing for good against consummate evil.

Just like Moses.   Just like Moses, my friend, and me, and you, and anyone who has faith in God, are standing against evil.   Moses went back ‘home’ to Egypt, to the palace where he was raised, to the enslaved people from whom he descended.  God had given him the mission to go to Pharaoh and be God’s mouthpiece.  In doing so, Moses would confront the ungodly practices of slavery, and pagan divination, and even murder.   “Have faith in Me” God told him, and then God thrust him back into the scene of Moses’ crime and the source of his flight into Midian.

Yet Moses went and he stood.   He stood because he believed in God and God was all he needed to stand against the evil of Egypt.  Through nine plagues, rising tension, and escalating hostility, Moses went to Pharaoh and passed on God’s command to let his people go.   Nine times Pharaoh declined and hardened his heart…while sharpening his army’s swords.   The tenth time, Moses foretold that death would visit Pharoah’s only son and the first-born child of everyone in Egypt.   What would save them?   Faith:  faith in God.  Faith proven in deed with the blood of innocent lambs painted on their door-frames.   When the angel of death ‘passed over’ Egypt, all Israel would quiver in awesome respect as it stood in humble worship on the Goshen front line of spiritual warfare.

That very night, as every house in Egypt wept, Pharaoh summoned Moses.   Three miracles happened there, and all in short succession.   First, all Israel believed that the sacrifice of lamb’s blood, which would fore-tell the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, would save them from sure death.   Second, God’s promise came true as Israel was saved and Pharaoh then relented and freed them from their bondage.  And third, the pagan Pharaoh was humbled to acknowledge that there is only one God, and that Israel should “go and worship the Lord as you have requested.”   Not ‘your God’ or ‘who you say is God’ but “the Lord.”   How the high were brought low, and the humble brought up.

And all because of faith, all because a few stood watch on the front lines that night.

Just like the kid’s song says, I’m in the Lord’s Army.   Cheesy?   Maybe a little on the surface, but it doesn’t take much to see that the war is real, the fight is intense, and the enemy’s objective is to destroy anyone who gets in his way.   My friend and his family fight overseas.  Moses fought in Egypt, then in the desert against temptations.   I fight here in these words, and in my hometown and wherever I’m given the opportunity to shine kindness against the dark.   I fight Satan with faith in my Lord, knowing my Savior will prevail no matter what the enemy throws against us.  There are many who think the battle of the ages is coming, with signs all over the world happening more and more.   Even today’s eclipse.  It’s time to join the army, my friend.   Pick up your sword and stand.

For further reading:  Exodus 12:21-51, 1 Corinthians 10:10.

Oh Lord, I pray help me to stand against evil where I am today.   I pray You guide me as you did Moses, and strengthen me to stand in awe of You.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 18 May 2017

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10, verses 24-25.

I’m building a collection of rocks around the base of the cross we built by my pond.   At our old house, I had built a similar collection of stones from all around the world.   California, Florida, China, Uganda:   wherever I went, I picked up a rock.  They were put in a special planter built for just that purpose, but when we moved I left the rocks there.   Now, I’m building a new collection and it already has rocks from Walt Disney World, the Gulf Coast, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and places all over Texas.   I even have an old chunk of amethyst my Mom had acquired (I believe) at a rock quarry in Arkansas way back when I was a kid.

Somehow it seems neat to me to gather stones from all over the world to place them there at the foot of the cross.   That cross was almost the first project we did when we moved into this house last year.   The day after we took possession, my son, son-in-law, and I cut down a tree in our woods, fashioned it into a cross, bolted and roped it together, and then installed it in concrete.   A few months later, I wrapped it in solar lights so that it lights up at night.   When you drive by our house at night, you can see the cross, reflected off the pond.   It’s our own kind of witness to our friends and neighbors.

What does this have to do with verses 24 and 25?   To be honest, I’m not sure it has anything to do with it.  Then again..

…Then again, maybe it has everything to do with it.  My rock collection is like a collection of people, coming together to worship and make the cross of the Lord look better.  The longer we live here, the more it matters to give glory to God.  There are rocks of different shapes, different composition, different colors.   All together, they’re a mosaic.   They’re a strong base that gives the structure both foundation and beauty.

They’re like a church.   We started going to our home church, Waters Edge Frisco, in 2006, when it was still worshiping in a school.   Eleven years, several pastors, a discordant split, and hundreds of members later, I hardly recognize the place for all the new faces and new directions in which it’s moving.   That’s a good thing.   The people of God are the church, not some building or even some congregation.   We’re supposed to move in the world, yet we’re also called to come together to give glory to God.  When we do, it’s a refreshing thing to see a fresh, new mosaic of people calling that place home while others from the past have gone on to color their new homes with the purpose and freshness then once brought to ours.   That, too, is a good thing, for the body of God is alive.

We go to church to be the church, and the more I grow in faith, the more I value my time with my fellow believers.   We’re like those stones around the cross, bringing purpose, beauty, and strength to worship our God.   The more I grow in my faith, though, the more I see that the worship isn’t about our purpose, beauty or strength.   We get those things from God Himself.   They aren’t ours alone.   They aren’t even ours to give.   They’re qualities given to people to share in God’s greater mission.   All the more as we see the days of the end approaching, it’s a good thing to come together as groups and gather around the cross to simply worship He who was once nailed to it.   In doing so, we encourage each other and build each other up.

When we give glory to Jesus, He shines that glory out over us like the Sun warming the land.

It’s my hope to one day build that rock collection so big that it overtakes the cross.   I’ll have to expand around it at that point.   It’s my hope that friends, family and, better yet, strangers, will look at the collection and ask how it came to be, and what it means.   It’s my hope that, in a pile of rocks, they’ll see a unique glimpse of the Savior.

For further reading:  Titus 2:14, Acts 2:43, Hebrews 3:13, 1 Corinthians 3:13.

Lord, may I be Your rock in a wonderful collection of other stones.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 14 May 2015

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. Mark 7, verse 31.

We need to go with our faith.   What would Jesus do?   Stop stalling by asking that trendy question and pay attention to what He did.   He went.

Now, I’m a big proponent of overseas mission work.   I’ve been on overseas mission trips to Asia and Africa. I’ve done mission work in Minnesota, California, Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma, and here in Texas.   This blog is my mission work every day and it’s my privilege to share it with you, to send it to where you live in the hope that it helps you, and that you’ll send it on to parts unknown.   Between us, over 4000 people a day see these words.

Big freaking deal. It’s what I can do but it doesn’t mean much. I’m capable of more and I haven’t done more. If this is the best I can do then I have let down my Lord.

Yes, I mean that.   There are still so many places in the world where people haven’t heard about Jesus, and there are even more where people don’t want to hear about Him. They’re right under our noses.   My last foreign mission trip was to Uganda four years ago.   My life was in turmoil then, heading out of the most tumultuous year of my life.   My head and heart were upside down; I had turned my life inside out and was destroying people I loved. Ten days in Uganda changed me, exposed me to the heights of faith in the depths of poverty.   I met some of the finest men and women there, and they are my brothers and sisters to this day.   To say the trip moved me was an understatement because I felt I was doing what Jesus wanted me to do:   go on the road and love like He would.

Yet almost immediately after my last foreign trip, a friend of mine upbraided me, saying I shouldn’t have gone overseas. That there are real people really suffering in real ways here in the United States. At first, what she said ticked me off.   The more I thought about it, however, the more I saw her point. Anybody up for doing some outreach this week along 8 Mile, or maybe on Charles Street in Baltimore?   Been to West Philadelphia to hand out tracts, or have you worked in a soup kitchen in Oak Cliff lately?   Me neither.   Indian reservations, prisons that hold 2 million Americans, depressed towns all throughout Appalachia and the deep south, those war-zone urban areas challenged by Crips and Bloods, and the oh so complacent suburbs where consumption is the American Idol of choice:   my friends, right here in the US of A is a foreign-like mission field in itself.   After all, have you read the survey (published by Pew this week) saying how, since 2009 the percentage of people in the USA professing themselves to be “Christian” has shrunk by 8%?   Seventy percent of us still call ourselves “Christian” but 30% not so much.   Do the math and that’s almost 100 million under the red, white and blue who don’t want Jesus.   That’s a ripe field for us to go be Jesus.

Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus led by example?   He didn’t sit on His brains to ruminate, cogitate and contemplate.   Jesus went.   Go we and do the same.

Lord, empower me to go where You lead me.

Read Mark 7, verses 31-37.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 31 December 2013, New Year’s Eve

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.  James 5, verses 1-6.

Let’s take these verses together today because it’s a fitting day to do so.   New Year’s Eve is a good time to take stock of what we’ve done.   This year has been a tough one for folks I know because the economy is in bad shape, prices are high for most everything, and real unemployment is higher than it has been in nearly 80 years.   And yet, we are wealthy.

Now, if you’re juggling bills like we do, you don’t feel very wealthy.   If you’re having a hard time making ends meet, you don’t feel wealthy.   If you’ve declared bankruptcy, or at least missed payments, or are having to pay minimum balances, you don’t feel too wealthy.   In a depression like this one, it’s hard for even the well-off folks around us to feel wealthy about anything.

Here’s part one of your reality check.  Go to rural China.  Or anywhere in India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh.   Visit most of the nations in Africa, or South America.   Even the poorest of our poor in the Yazoo delta, inner city Detroit, or deep Appalachia are shockingly wealthy compared to how the folks in those other countries live.  Here ends the guilt motivation.

What’s more, the important part of checking reality is to realize what real wealth means.   Have you forgotten already?   Wasn’t it just six days ago that we each remembered how Jesus of Nazareth, God Immanuel, Alpha and Omega, King of Kings and Lord of Lords was born unto us in a humble manger?   If the poorest child in Uganda knows that the sovereign of the universe once rose as a baby from similar privation, then that poorest child is wealthier than the richest man at the bank.

Tonight we bid farewell to an old year come to close, while welcoming an untried new one into existence.  Today, let’s close out our business with what’s done, and weep only now for the misused riches of this year.  Let’s lay them at the manger…and at the cross.  Then tomorrow, let’s begin again in a new year knowing that, as long as we’ve got Jesus, we’ve got all the riches we could ever want.

Happy New Year, Lord.   Thanks for Your blessings, a year complete, and a new gift of one to unwrap.


What are you doing for New Years?

Which are you:   rich or poor?

Say a prayer at midnight, a prayer of thanks and a prayer of thankful hope…then have fun.