Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 14 July 2019

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:4-6 (EHV).

Let’s expand on that idea of “represent” Jesus anyway by adding a sentence.   The kindness of God and the best of His Spirit He gives to us, pours out on us, through Jesus.  Mind-blowing thought.

Perhaps these verses are yet another exposition of the three-in-one Godhead.   You won’t find “trinity” anywhere in the Bible, but in verses like these, you’ll find mention of God, His Spirit, and His Son Jesus.   They are all one and the same and He is in all Them.  God the Father sent the Son to save humanity.   God the Father and Son renewed us through His/Their Spirit, who was given through Jesus the Son, who sent Him (Holy Spirit).  When you see One, you’re seeing the others.   Pray to One and They all hear.   Hear from One and They each said it even if One speaks separately.   Confusing?   Perhaps.   But if you simply take it at face value, then it makes sense, because it’s our God of loving mystery.

Part of the reason it makes sense is because He gave us things with which to remember Him.   Baptism, communion, worship, festivals and holidays:   He doesn’t need those things but knew we would.  God’s Spirit came to us to renew us.   “But I don’t feel like I need to be renewed,” you might say.   Oh yeah?   Ever feel tired?   Ever feel anxious?   Ever get depressed, or overwhelmed, or nervous, our just plain upset?   Ever felt like that but didn’t really know why?   If you’ve felt those things, you need to be renewed.

When you sense that – and when you don’t – you need to have Him pour Himself out over us.   I think of it like standing under a waterfall.   Or maybe in a rainfall…or a thunderstorm.   Sometimes I need the gentle spring rain; other times the summer downpour.  Yet however I need Him, even when I don’t know how I need Him, He’s there, pouring His grace down on me like rain.   Like cleansing, purifying, feeding, nurturing, forgiving rain.  Like a stream of living water to freshen and renew.   Like an ocean full of life, power, and adventure.  Like a cleansing hot shower, coursing down over me, washing me clean again.  He feels like pure water, poured gently from a crystal pitcher into a clean glass.  Poured out.   He empties Himself to fill up others.

For further reading:  Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21, Mark 4:35-41, Mark 11:22-24, Acts 22:16, Romans 5:5, Romans 11:14, Ephesians 2:9, 1 Peter 1:3, Titus 3:7

Savior God in three and one, I praise You for being You.   For all You give to me; for pouring Yourself out on us all.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 9 January 2019

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely.   Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.  1 Timothy 4:15-16 (NIV).

“God alone saves but Christians can be the instruments God uses to bring about the salvation of others.   Salvation is both an event and a process.”   That’s a quote from my Concordia study bible, the one to which I most often refer when writing these blog posts.  The process I use to write here is fairly simple.   I pray, then I research which verses (the Concordia says) are similar to the one for today.   After that, I read those verses, sometimes in several bible versions.   Usually that brings out some thoughts about the topic, so I begin to write.   I try to refer to previous posts so that the new one builds off the old one because the verses in of the Bible are part of a larger picture as well.   I read draft post aloud several times to make sure it sounds ok; I keep it to 500 words or less.  Then the end product is posted to WordPress, then to social media, and finally to email.  At the end, I copy my work for next time.

Why go to all this trouble?   You.  You’ve entrusted some of your valuable 24/7 to reading these words, so I want to give you my best.  And I want it to be doctrinally sound.  It’s not about me; it’s not for me.   It’s for you, so that you might be encouraged, strengthened in some small way in your walk with Jesus because we all walk with Him.

He’s walking in life with each of us, providing for all of us, loving all of us even when we don’t love Him.   Our foremost job here on Earth is to worship Him, and one of the ways we do that is by using our myriad gifts from writing to welding to talking on the phone.  Everything we do can be an act of worship if we do it with reverence for God.   The more we do this, the more we see that it’s not about me.   It’s Him, for you.  It’s serving Him and that strengthens us.  As we learn that life is about Him and eternity, we see how His salvation really is both a thing He did for us and then a lifelong process of following Him.

You’ll do that in your own way because you have your own gifts and walk.   God has saved you through His Son, Jesus, yet He wants to use you to live your life, use your talents, to serve His kingdom as only you can.   It’s because of others, because this is also a living, life-long thing.   How will you do your part today?

For further reading: Romans 11:14, 1 Timothy 5:1

Lord Jesus, help me to do my part for You today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 18 October 2018

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV).

I’ve been in a week-long discussion with people who dearly love the traditional Lutheran liturgy and worship service.   That’s the kind of environment in which I was raised; I love it, too.   These days, I worship in a place that is pretty non-traditional but still within the Missouri Synod structure.   Our services contain all the same elements of doctrine used in more traditional settings.   Yet our church focuses on Jesus’ mission in our lives, on being ‘disciples who make disciples who make disciples.’   On being in mission and worship every day, not just for an hour on Sunday.

Come to our church and you’ll find most people in jeans.   You won’t find hymnals but you’ll find both new and traditional praise music.  You’ll say the same creeds (though not as often) and hear the same Bible.   And you’ll be introduced to the living Christ.  Yet the focus isn’t on Lutheranism but on Jesus.  The letters “LCMS” are on the door but they aren’t where the emphasis is.  The folks with whom I was debating would be aghast at this.

Paul affirmed what others in the early church already knew:   there is one God and one Savior, one mediator between God and man.   That mediator is Jesus Christ and only Jesus Christ.   He Himself is God and man, Savior and one representing those who need to be saved, fully man while being fully God at all times, and the Son in the triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Spirit.  THAT is the message of the faith.

How we proclaim that message is somewhat up to us.  Lutherans (and others) call anything not commanded by Scripture “adiophora:” neither God-commanded nor forbidden.  In many settings, traditional, liturgical worship works.   It faithfully proclaims Christ while encouraging believers.   Yet in other settings (such as where I live), a different approach works.   My church’s non-traditional methods still faithfully proclaim Christ while encouraging believers.  As long as the focus in on proclaiming Christ, we’re arguing about window dressings.   One isn’t better than another.   They’re simply different ways of accomplishing the same goal, that is proclaiming the one God and one mediator.

If your church uses a generations-old liturgy, traditional hymnals, pastoral robes, and clings to worshipping the same way that generations have, then God bless you!   Keep doing it; God is pleased with that.   And if your church uses other methods like hymns on the screen, contemporary music, non-traditional schedules, and blue jeans, then God bless you, too.   Keep doing those things because they please God, too.   Something borrowed, something blue: it’s contemporary tradition.

For further reading: Deuteronomy 6:4, Romans 3:29-30, Galatians 3:20, Matthew 20:28, 1 Corinthians 1:6, 1 Timothy 2:7

Lord, bless our worship of You, the one and only God and one and only mediator.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 19 April 2018

And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.  1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 (NIV).

Let’s zero in on four words of these three verses because, in our 21st century context, they don’t mean what they meant when Paul said them:   “mind your own business.”

When someone says those words to you today, they’re telling you off.   They’re telling you to get lost and get out of THEIR business.   That’s not what Paul is saying here.

In these verses, Paul is exhorting his friends to live humble lives.   Paul is telling the Thessalonians to pay attention to their own lives and be good stewards of them.  He’s telling them to model Jesus, who was the supreme example of humility.   He’s telling them to follow his own lead because, when Paul came to a new town, he did two things:   he ministered and he worked.   Paul was a tentmaker by trade, a man who cut and sewed cloth.   More than just that, a tentmaker provided durable, long lasting homes for nomadic peoples of his day.  When Paul entered a new town, in addition to teaching in the synagogues and town squares, he sought work with the locals.   He found ways to use his physical skills to earn a living and pay his own way.   In this way, God provided for Paul and served him as a good example for new believers to follow.  Through this, work became worship for all to see.

Paul isn’t telling his friends to butt out (although that could be a derivative of his message).   Instead, he’s reminding them to focus on their livelihoods.   Devote yourselves to the work you’re given, and do it well.   Through that, God would bless them with provision.  Doing these things would show others “there’s something about those Christians.   They are a good example.”   In this way, reliance on God would look like self-reliance to un-believers and serve as a good lesson no matter who was watching.

The same holds true for us today.   Think of the Amish, the hard working and completely self-sufficient community of believers who conduct their lives without modern conveniences.   You won’t find a more diligent group of believers anywhere.   I think the Amish follow Paul’s mold very well.   And think of what we aim to teach young people:  to learn trades, to prepare themselves for living.  I would submit that we, like the Amish and Paul, should emphasize more the importance of learning for earning as a way of worshipping God.   There can be no more important lesson.

For further reading:   1 Thessalonians 4:13.

Lord, I thank You for blessing me with work!

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 12 December 2014

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. Mark 2, verses 18-20.

This is the first time in the book of Mark that Jesus predicts His death. “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them:”   that’s a foreshadowing of the crucifixion. Jesus is saying “be happy all the time but be happy especially now because I’m with you here.” He knew, even then, that we needed Him more than ever.

So why do we fast so often?   I mean, Jesus isn’t physically here with us but He is here in ways we simply can’t see with our eyes. So why do we still fast?   Fast?   Yes, fast.   Just like giving up food as a way of devotion, we daily give up Jesus as a monument to anything but Him. In a way, you and I are fasting for idols; we are fasting in our souls to celebrate idolatry.

But…but…but I tithe and I go to church and I sometimes help the poor and I listen to my mother in law and I do all the good things I’m supposed to do (unlike those reprobates in Hollywood, you know).   I’m still an idol-worshipper?

You bet your biffy you are.

See, Jesus was with His friends and they were celebrating life.   Every day with Him was a celebration of life because He is life; He was then and He is now. They were His disciples:   His loyal followers.   They had subordinated their lives to His, adopting His ways and learning His path.   That made each day a celebration.   I’m not going all Pollyanna here: it’s the truth. They were learning to look past the world and all the muck that’s in it in order to be His eyes, ears and arms in a world that desperately needed Him. To do that, they gave up the world, gave up on being fixated on small things or worldly pleasures.   This isn’t to say they became perfect; they were flawed men not unlike us (see what happens on Maundy Thursday for the proof of that). But they walked the walk with Jesus.

Tell me:   when was the last time you or I gave up being fixated on small things, worldly pleasures, or things other than Jesus?   When was the last time we walked His walk, acted as His disciples, fasted for Him?   The sad truth is that, if we aren’t following Jesus, we are following something that isn’t Him.   And if it isn’t Him, then it’s nothing good.   Remember, John 15:5 says “apart from Me you can do nothing.”   Nothing means nothing good.

That means we’re following idols if we aren’t following Jesus fully; we fast for the world. I’ll say it again: is it any wonder that Jesus started predicting His death – the action which would make eternity possible for us – so early in His ministry? Even then, even though his friends didn’t know it, Jesus knew how we would constantly fall away from Him despite our best intentions.

Lord, strengthen me to follow only You, to break my fast for the world and to fast only to celebrate You.

Read the whole story again in Mark 2, verses 18-22.

Practical Proverbial, the Ten Commandments, 17 June 2014

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20, verses 4-6

Face it:   these verses are REALLY politically incorrect.   Stop me if I’m out of line here, but I’m pretty sure God doesn’t do PC.

Knowing that, it’s ok to say that we are forbidden to make idols.   An idol can be a statue, a document, a person, a picture, an animal, a tree, or anything else.   Indeed, the second commandment, and the human personal vanity that can drive our idolatry, is the reason why the Amish don’t use photographs. It’s more than photographs, though.   We aren’t to make anything the object of our singular worship, focus, or reverence. We are to accept God only and only just as He is.

Admit it: that’s a tall prescription.   This commandment, perhaps more than any of the others, is one of the hardest to follow.   It’s tough because it goes hand in hand with the first commandment, which we haven’t discussed yet.   Hint, hint: it’s the one that says “no other God but me.”   It’s hard to imagine this second commandment without understanding that the first one tells us that there’s no other God but God.

Yet this one, like that one, has other practical applications. “Keep your eye on the ball” is one of them, because the commandment tells us about focus.   If we keep our eyes on God, we won’t be tempted to let other things take His place.   Another application is in remembering about vengeance.   Our vengeance is cheap and humanistic.   The punishment God inflicts on us for willfully pursuing things other than His divine love is anything but cheap or tawdry.   It is true justice.  

Finally, there are consequences:   consequences for our actions.   Things happen because of what we choose, and sometimes we feel the effects for many years.   Not long ago, I was reflecting that, one early summer day my father visited a small town in southern Indiana.   There he met the principal of the town high school and was so impressed by him that he decided to move us there.   Thirty-plus years (twenty-five of them in marriage to a girl I met there a few months later), my life is still very much affected by my father’s whim decision.  

How much more, then, can we feel the effects of negative consequences.  

There’s much to unwrap in the second commandment. I encourage you to read it again and pray on it.

Lord, forgive me for when I’ve worshipped idols.

 

Read Exodus chapter 17, water and victory.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 29 October 2013

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, ”and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.  James 2, verses 23 and 24.

Who credited Abraham with righteousness?   God.   Who considered Abraham righteous?  God.   Who needed to know that Abraham was righteous?   God?

Not so much.   It was Abraham – and his friends, family, you, and me – who needed to know it.   God already knew.   A few days ago we talked about how God already saw in Abraham’s heart.   The demonstration of Abraham’s tough faith in not holding back even his son was for human benefit, not for the divine.   As an act of ultimate love, it was proof to God, even an act of worship in which Abraham was saying “Lord, I give all to you.”  But God didn’t need the proof, or the sacrifice, or the whole story of it.   We did.   We still do.

Don’t believe me?

When was the last time you wanted to trust someone but something held you back?   When have you asked more of someone than you knew to be fair of them, and yet you asked it anyway (married people: stop jumping up and down to answer)?  Millenia after Abraham held down his son to slit his throat, we still need proof of each other’s real intentions.

Even more than that, we still need God to intervene and stop us when we reach the brink of insanity.  Too often we walk away from experiences thinking “God why didn’t you stop me?”   I’ve had those moments, and I bet you have too.   Perhaps the better question is “why didn’t we stop ourselves?”   When you’re tempted to cheat, when just one more drink is beckoning, when you can smoke or not, when your choice is the plain truth or the seductive lie, why don’t we stop ourselves?  Like it or not, it isn’t up to God to stop us.   Indeed, all He wants is to shower blessings on us, sitting back to take pride in how others credit us with righteousness that starts in His love.

Instead, we muck it up.   Instead, we cling to our differences, refuse to let go of our pet sins, and put up barriers between ourselves and Jesus.  Instead of offering it all to God in worship, we choose the wrong thing, and then we go with that.

Abraham wouldn’t do that.   He didn’t do that.   Neither did James.   What say you?

Lord, take away my junk.   Forgive me, correct me, and teach me to follow Your will.

 

What do you think of the story of Abraham?

Would you be willing to sacrifice what is most important to you if God asked you?

Are you withholding trust from someone?