Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lessons Repeated

13-14"Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.
(Matthew 7:13-14)

As I sit at my computer this morning, I am reminded of the many "shortcuts" I can use to accomplish simple things like making a word underlined, launching a program, or conducting a spell-check to ensure accuracy in my writing.  As I traverse the hospital campus today, I will take "shortcuts" many times to get from point A to point B - the quickest route possible with the fewest steps in between.  As I consider the dinner menu tonight, I will likely want an easier meal since my hours will be long today - so I want the meal that can be made in as quickly as possible.  

We all want to avail ourselves of the "shortcuts" in life.  It is human nature to want to take the easy way over the one that requires the most work for us.  Why else would someone have invented the microwave, the convection oven, or the meals in a bag?  They all serve the purpose of getting to an end result quicker.  Now, bring that same mental focus into our daily walk with Christ and we wonder why we aren't immediately transformed!  After all, we asked God to make our faith perfect, we asked for peace, and we asked for patience - so where is it?

Sorry guys, it is not that easy.  It is a vigorous road that requires our total attention.  First, let's consider the idea that it is vigorous.  The idea here is that it is growing - moving from one stage of development to another.  It is active in all senses of the word.  Jesus has just finished telling his disciples that they need to ask themselves what other people want and then grab the initiative and DO it for them!  We call this the "golden rule" - do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Look at what he says - spend time evaluating what you have need of and how you want others to meet that need - then go out to meet that need in others FIRST.  

Then Jesus launches into the idea that this walk will not be easy - there are no instant Christianity, immediate faith, or super-fast patience developers that we find in the kingdom of God.  In fact, we are told elsewhere in scripture that Christian character is developed line upon line, precept upon precept.  I remember being in school as a child and being introduced into the concepts of multiplication.  My teacher did not give me the entire multiplication table to learn the first week!  She gave me my "ones" - 1X1, 1X2, 1X3, etc.  Once the class got that down, we moved on to our "twos".  If she had of given us the whole multiplication table at one time, we'd have been defeated!

So, the next time you want to ask God why you aren't growing faster, becoming a more patient person, etc. - you might want to consider how you are approaching your spiritual development.  If the focus is "I want it now", you will likely be disappointed most of the time.  Our growth is fragmented, just like that of the human body's.  If we "grew up" all at one time, our bodies would not be able to keep up with the growth in a way that provided "health" to our bones, brain, or internal organs.  We'd be a mess.  

That is how it is when we ask God to grow us up, then expect that we will be "all grown up" spiritually in an instant.  We would not be ready to face the spiritual challenges ahead of us because we'd look all grown up, but the real roots of growth we needed to make us vigorous (strong) would be missing.

Spiritual development is as "time and attention consuming" as were our multiplication tables or learning our spelling words.  We have to repeat the lessons that ensure the growth several times in order to get the development "right".  Don't be afraid of "facing the lessons" again and again.  If you are facing the lesson again, ask God what new way he wants you to see the lesson this time - he probably has a plan that is specifically designed to set down another set of roots in your life.  In turn, he infuses "spiritual health" into our being.  Growth requires attention - both ours and his.  So, bring on the lessons, God!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Yesterday and Tomorrow - A Wrong Perspective on Life

34"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
(Matthew 6:34)

If I were to ask you what God is doing in your life right here and now, would you know?  Or would you be so consumed with worrying about what might happen sometime into the future that you are missing out on the here and now of God's tremendous love?  Worry is a limiting device in our lives - it consumes time and energy that would be best spent in other ways.

Look at Jesus' words here - give your ENTIRE attention to what God is doing RIGHT NOW.  The focus we maintain today determines the response we will have when we face our tomorrow.  That is the key to living strongly rooted lives - focus.  If God has our entire attention, there is no room for worry, anxiety, calculations, and schemes. 

Jesus also reminds us that if our focus is correct today, our pathway will be directed by God in our tomorrows.  Even if the pathway is a little rocky or riddled with all kinds of jagged things just waiting to "trip us up", he is there to help us deal with whatever comes up.  We don't get caught unaware of the "pathway objects" that attempt to pull us down because he is pointing them out to us along the way.

This is the closing verse of the chapter, so it is also important to consider the context in which these words were spoken.  Jesus has spent a great deal of time educating his disciples (his followers) in kingdom living.  He has elaborated on the necessity for being "real" in our walk - not being caught up in the pursuit of things that fluff up our ego and diminish the glory he receives from the testimony of our lives.  He pointed out that we can be ignorant in our prayer life - using all kinds of "formulas" to attempt to communicate with God, but God really only desires the transparency of our heart.

In addition to these principles of living, he reminds us that there is a connection between prayer and what we do - teaching us about the importance of forgiveness as the basis of all we do and all we are.  Then he caps it all off with the concept of "treasure" - reminding us that wherever our treasure is (what holds our attention) is exactly where we will end up spending our time!

In the verse just prior to this closing verse, Jesus reminds us to not worry on missing out on stuff in life.  When our focus is right from the beginning, we will enjoy all the treasures along the way that God has provided for our good.  Now, see the verse above in context - God's kids need to get focused on what God is doing today!  It is not about yesterday, or even about tomorrow.  Kingdom living is about today - the events, the moments of opportunity, the lessons to employ - all exposed to us in the very passing of this day.

Since we cannot affect yesterday (it has passed us by), nor really be assured of our tomorrow (we don't have any guarantee it will come) - today is our focus.  In our "today", God needs to be the primary focus.  What new aspect of his care are we realizing today?  What lesson about his provision are we given the opportunity to embrace?  Who is God placing in our path that needs to see forgiveness modeled so they can better understand the forgiveness of God?

Today awaits!  Focus your mind on Christ and see what riches are laid up in the day that stands before you.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Behind-the-Scenes Look

1 "Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding. 2-4"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure—'playactors' I call them— treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.  (Matthew 6:1-4)

Matthew is pretty straight-forward in his record of Jesus' advice for living.  He takes time to share the things that are reflective of the struggles we have based on our human nature.  It is a frequent struggle with wanting to be noticed when we do something worthy of notice - like helping out the poor or rescuing a cat from a tree for a little child in tears.  After all, we reason, we did something pretty note-worthy!

Jesus took time out of his busy day to share principles for living that keep us in right standing with God.  The principle of focus in this passage is that of "pride". It was not uncommon in the way of life of the Pharisees (Jewish leaders) to be "always on display", showing off the "good works" that they did.  As a matter of fact, they went out of their way to ensure that people "noticed" their good works.  In their mind, the work itself was what made them "worthy" of being noticed by God.  What Jesus wanted to show them was that they missed the entire point of the good work - it was not to get noticed by God, it was to be done because we were ALREADY noticed by God!

Jesus tells his hearers that God works behind the scenes - he is quiet and unobtrusive in his dealings with us.  God doesn't put on a show over cleaning us up from the inside out!  He gently goes about the work of putting in order the things within our lives that we had managed to get in such a state of disorder.  Eventually, the work that is being done all along behind the scenes becomes manifest - not because there are neon signs pointing it out, but because a changed life is noticeable.  

Pride is nasty trait.  When we are more concerned with how others see us than we are with allowing God to receive the honor, we are on dangerous ground.  Don't get me wrong - God has no problem with us feeling like we have done something good - he just doesn't want that acknowledgement that we did it to be the reason for us doing it.  Jesus was moved from within - moved by compassion - to reach out and meet the needs around him.  That inner motivation was placed there by the empowering Holy Spirit.  There were many times, in fact, when he asked individuals to "not tell anyone" what he had done - just go an worship the one who had sent him in response to his actions!  

God is tremendously interested in "reward" - yet his rewards are realized quietly - in the tender moments of communion with him.  That is one of the reasons I journal - in those quiet times together, he often shows me just how full my life has become in knowing him.  In turn, I am focusing on him, and that brings him honor.  It is a "behind the scenes" thing!  God has so much for us "behind the scenes".  If we are looking for our "reward" center-stage, we won't really find it there.  The best place to find God's reward is "back-stage".  Take time to get alone with God "back-stage" today - see what he has to show you in those times of quietness with him.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More room for God

 3"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
(Matthew 5:3)

There are not many of us that would consider "being at the end of our ropes" as being in a blessed or happy place!  In fact, we'd probably argue that it is both frustrating and discouraging to be at such a place that makes us feel so helpless and without hope.  We would describe the emotional state of such a place as pretty mixed up and in a whirlwind of internal storms.  So, try to have a mindset of "being blessed" in the midst of that!

Yet, as Jesus stood on a hillside that day in Galilee with hundreds of followers sitting around in attention to every word that proceeded from his mouth, he opens with these words.  Maybe there were those in the crowd that were experiencing this kind of "end of the rope" emotional turmoil.  We aren't told, but we are given some insight into how Jesus gets in inroad into our lives.  It is at the place where we come to the end of our ability, the end of our striving, that he enters.

With less of you, there is more of God and his rule - that is the recipe for being blessed (truly happy).  In other words, when we step out of the way, God takes over.  No matter the circumstance - God is more powerful to work out the details that we are in our own power or strength.  Our wisdom falls short every time - we need God's wisdom in order to realize the blessing of the circumstance.

So, how do we get to this place were it is "less of me" and "more of God"?  Every time I want to give more place to God, I find myself resisting.  Why?  Plainly put, it is because "I" wants to be in control.  There is something fearful about "giving control" to anyone else in our lives - sometimes, we even feel this way about giving control to God.  He is the one who made us, fashioning us as uniquely as he did, giving each of us the capacity to both receive and understand him.  Yet, we resist him.

Hebrews tells us that Jesus holds everything together by what he says.  His words are powerful - they are both creative and sustaining.  At the point of our need, he speaks into our lives - bringing quietness where there has been chaos, order where there has been mess, and liberty where there has been bondage.  In order for those words to take root, "I" must step out of the way.  If we are only listening to the voice of "I" and not the voice of the "I am", we are not at the end of our rope.  

God allows us enough rope that we will struggle a little with our own self-control, but not enough rope to hang ourselves.  Why?  God doesn't want "puppets" - he wants sincerely committed and passionate children.  He wants us to be assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that his ways are best and his plans are for our good.  Enough rope, but just enough.  Letting go is not easy. In fact, it is pretty terrifying to let go of what we have trusted in, believed to be right for the circumstance, etc.  We struggle because it is a battle of the wills - our will against God's.

The next time you feel like you are "at the end of your rope", recall these words of Jesus.  Then, in that split second, let go of that rope.  His arms await you just as you let go.  You won't regret falling into the arms of Jesus.  Letting go may be the toughest decision of your life, but it is also the most rewarding.  With less of us in control, there is more room for God to enter into life's turmoil like only he can do.  There, we find blessing beyond measure!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Open ears opens hearts

14-17But how can people call for help if they don't know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven't heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That's why Scripture exclaims,
   A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!  But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: "Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?" The point is: Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ's Word is preached, there's nothing to listen to.
(Romans 10:14-17)

Trust is a big thing in our society today - it is often the focus of attention because of how often it is breached rather than how often it is assured.  Trust is based on the integrity of another - we count on them to do what it is that they represent themselves capable of doing.  When trust is broken, we find ourselves questioning the strength of that relationship because we have based everything on the belief that the other party would perform as we expected.

Our passage today begins with the idea of calling out for help.  Society is full of individuals just waiting to know where they can place their trust without having it crushed in utter disappointment.  It is hard to be in a position of wanting to trust, but not knowing in whom to trust.  That is our mission - to point the way for others to see and know Christ - the basis of all trust, the very image of true integrity.  

It is true that very few of us are called to be missionaries, evangelists, preachers, or teachers of the Word.  We just don't feel that compulsion to make this a "full-time" ministry in life.  Yet, we have a place of influence that is unique to us.  A family in which we were raised, a neighborhood in which we dwell, or a business in which we associate with customers and labor alongside others.  Paul reminds us that the message is ours to carry to a lost world - how can anyone hear if no one is telling them?

Surprisingly, Paul takes a little different "spin" on this concept of being living epistles - messengers of Christ to a lost and hurting world.  He couples the idea of us sharing the hope we have with the idea that our message needs to fall upon listening ears.  I have often been encountered by individuals so earnest about sharing their faith with family or friends, yet feeling like the message is just never embraced by them.  Why is it that we share and they don't get it?  Isaiah struggled with that same question thousands of years ago - how come they don't get it, God?  

Listening ears are prerequisite to a responsive heart.  Trust stems from the heart - there is an emotional investment in trusting.  People don't want to make an emotional investment if their past experiences with trusting have ended in disappointment.  If this is the case, the only thing we can do is to continue to prove the trustworthiness of our God - both in our example and in our words.  

Trust implies reliance upon someone.  There are times when we are so reliant on ourselves, we fail to reach out to rely on another.  That may be the case in a soul that seems resistant to the gospel message.  At other times, the individual may have reached out in reliance, only to find that what they were counting on was inadequate and incapable of performing as they hoped.  When individuals are facing this type of confusion about who or what they can trust in, there is a reluctance to attempt to trust again.

Listening ears are ears touched by the grace of a holy God.  We can share the message, but we also need to ask God to touch the ears, in turn opening the heart to receive the truth that gives absolute and confident hope.  Paul and Isaiah both were right - there needs to be messengers who will bring the message of hope.  There also needs to be prayer warriors that will come alongside to intercede for the opening of ears, the softening of hearts, and the responsiveness of spirit.  Together, the message is a dynamo that will ignite hope like nothing else this world has to offer.  

So, whether you are the preacher/teacher or prayer-warrior, your influence is great.  Don't be defeated when it appears no one is embracing the message - keep on living it out!  The lived out message is often the one that encourages the un-trusting soul to "take a chance" at trusting God!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Truckloads of Lemons

18 If people can't see what God is doing,
   they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals,
   they are most blessed. 
(Proverbs 29:18)

You have probably heard the saying, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade."  I think this is probably somebody's way of trying to keep a positive focus on a whole lot of negative stuff that is happening to them.  But even after a while, a steady diet of lemonade gets to taste pretty bitter!  Your physical body can only handle so much "acidic" intake before it starts to rebel with changes internally that you may not fully recognize until they have created a state of imbalance that you cannot easily bounce back from.  Guess what - your spiritual state of "balance" can be equally as disturbed by a steady diet of "bitterness" just as easily.  

Our writer reminds us that not being able to see what God is doing leads to us stumbling all over ourselves.  Sometimes, we even stumble all over each other in the process.  For many of us, "not seeing what God is doing" can be more common-place than we think.  It took me a long while in my own walk to finally come to the place where I took the time to just settle myself down long enough to finally get to the place that God could even show me what he was doing!  I charged around in the chaos of the moment, wondering all along what God was doing, but not even bothering being quiet in my spirit long enough for him to speak to me.  I was adding even more chaos to the situation in my inattention to God.

The danger of becoming more focused on what you can do with the "lemons" in life than on how God wants you to be processing those "lemons" is that we may become very bitter by their influence over us.  Whenever we give life's issues more attention than we give God, we get chaos.  Where chaos is present, the soil of our hearts, minds, and spirits are ripe for a harvest of bitter fruit.  Chaos is a state of utter confusion, disorder, or turmoil.  In chaos, we don't see clearly - we interpret things through a perspective that is clouded by the acidic nature of the circumstances.  Acid burns - it creates a sour mood, unkind responses, and unintended consequences.  

It is a fine line between being caught up in the moment and being silent in God's presence.  It is a matter of the will to be attentive to quieting oneself in the midst of chaos.  Yet, as we are reminded in our passage, that is exactly how God intends to keep us from a steady intake of "lemonade" that turns us bitter on the inside!  In the quiet of his presence, we are "re-balanced".  Whenever I find myself interpreting life's issues as though they are lemons just ripe for making lemonade, God helps me to remember that I really don't like the taste of lemonade!  His Holy Spirit is kind of like our spiritual "litmus" paper - that tiny strip of paper that lets us see if a substance is acidic or alkaline.  Too acidic and we need to re-balance in order to not become bitter old bags!  Too alkaline and we need to re-balance in order to have any impact as the salt of this earth!

As you may have heard, to be "blessed" is to be happy.  It is not a promise that God will lavish all kinds of material blessings on us, but rather a reminder that our hearts, minds, and spirits will be "re-centered" on what matters, what gives true hope, and what will create inner peace in the time of trial.  If life is giving you lemons right now, ask God to show you how to handle the lemons.  Get quiet long enough for the Spirit of God to show you just how much of those lemons you have internalized and how they have affected your inner spirit.  When you do, he can bring balance again and help you to avoid the bitterness that comes when we try to deal with truckloads of lemons all on your own!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pit-Dwellers or Wisdom-Walkers?

 8 A gang of cynics can upset a whole city;
   a group of sages can calm everyone down. 
(Proverbs 29:8)

There are times when it seems like there are a lot of cynical people trying to paint a picture of doom and gloom about the things that life deals us.  It is easy to follow along with their perceptions of gloom, if we allow our minds to drift there.  In order to counteract them, we need to become strategic in our thinking, understanding in our interpretation of life, and dependent on God to give us insight in times of darkness.

A cynic has several characteristics, but the most prevalent is that they believe that selfishness motivates every human action - in other words, nobody does a nice thing for no reason at all - there must be an ulterior motive.  The cynic tends to be bitter about life - interpreting everything through the eyes of pessimism.  They are skeptical - sometimes unwilling to take a chance on life because they don't really trust.

With this in mind, it becomes quite apparent how a gang of cynics (and they usually do manage to congregate together) can upset a whole city.  Get a couple nay-sayers together in a workplace and see what havoc they can create in just a short time.  Allow a group of cynics to congregate in your church and watch every action of the pastoral board, deacons, and pastor himself be scrutinized to death!  It is a contagious attitude that feeds on negativity.

Our writer reminds us that the antidote to cynicism running rampant is to introduce the 'sage' into the mix.  A sage person is one who has incorporated sound judgment into their way of thinking - they have taken what they experienced in life and filtered it through the truth God reveals in his Word.  A sage individual acts as a "calming" agent in the midst of cynical unrest.  Sage individuals have an inner peace - they are not swayed by the ups and downs of life today because they are assured of their anchor.

In scripture, a sage person is a wise person.  As you read through the Proverbs, you often will see the comparison between the fool and the wise.  The fool runs head-long into the trouble ahead - the wise waits for God's direction and then moves with purpose and understanding.  Our world, our workplace, and even our church, need sage (wise) individuals who will stand against the doom and gloom nay-sayer.  The best way out of a pit of mire is to reach for the hand of someone who has already been delivered from the pit!

Let's become sage in our counsel and our behavior - there are enough pit-dwellers in that miry pit already!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Praise on!

9-10 We pondered your love-in-action, God,
      waiting in your temple:
   Your name, God, evokes a train
      of Hallelujahs wherever
   It is spoken, near and far;
      your arms are heaped with goodness-in-action. 
(Psalm 48:9-10)

God actually commends those who spend time "pondering" his love in action.  When we "ponder", we are considering something so carefully, weighing all the details, with an attention to the details so that we don't miss a thing.  That is how God wants us to be considering his actions on our behalf.  There is nothing more rewarding than to truly begin to consider God's love in action - it has a  way of refocusing our attention and directing our attitude away from "me, me, me".

This is not a psalm of David, but a psalm of the sons of Korah.  In the book of I Chronicles, we find an account of five sons of Korah that joined David as expert warriors.  We also know from the record of the lineage of Korah, that his family line was numbered among the Levites (those that kept the temple in order).  They were the door-keepers.  They stood at the threshold of the temple in their service.  We find their names recorded as men who were charged with the responsibility of setting prophesy and praise to song, along with musical instruments.  Today, we'd think of them as the men that "open the service in praise and worship".  If we consider their "station" in the temple, they are the ones who provide the way into the holy presence of God (through praise and worship).  

The psalm today reminds us of the importance of speaking the name of God.  We are told that it invokes praise where it is spoken.  Why is this?  Because there is power in the name of God - creative, restorative power.  We may not always see the immediate effect of his name being spoken, but there is a power so intense in that name that all of heaven and earth sit at attention when it is spoken.  It is by that name that all things are held together - even us.

Praise is the "pondering" of God's movement in our lives.  It is the frequent consideration of the keeping, strengthening, delivering power of our God.  When we become less focused on ourselves, and more focused on honoring God with every word that proceeds from our mouths, we open doors.  We may not have the "job" of being the door-keepers in the temple of our God, but we do have a similar opportunity in a hungry and thirsty world.  We need only begin to speak of God's graces and someone who is hurting will be drawn into the presence of the one who can minister to that hurt.  In the exalting of the name of God, they are ushered into the arms that are filled with all goodness in action.

If you want to learn how to be a "ponderer" of God's graces and his goodness, God honors that desire with his presence.  If you want to learn to express the wonder of his love even better than you have in the past, he will meet you in the moment of your praise.  So, praise on!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reality show drop-outs

26 If you think you know it all, you're a fool for sure;
   real survivors learn wisdom from others. 
(Proverbs 28:26)

Reality television is all the rage right now.  No matter the day of the week, you can capture some version of "watch me make a fool of myself" programming.  People were drawn to the latest wave of "reality" programming because it gave them a chance to see the "true nature" of how people respond under pressure.  It has the game show appeal of some prize at the end, but it also puts people in the "vice" of all kinds of pressure and then let's us see exactly how they respond to competition, disappointment, desire, and a whole plethora of pretty serious emotions.

Why are we drawn to this type of programming?  It is simple - we want to see the "raw truth" of how human nature responds.  We are curious, in a kind of sick way, to see if someone will "crack under pressure".  We might even compare ourselves with the person featured on the show, finding that we either admire them for their response under pressure, or find fault with their behavior.  We sit before the TV, removed from the events, yet we "think" we know what they are going through.

That is how it is in another "show" we taken in everyday - the "show" we call life.  We observe others, even ourselves, and make all kinds of judgments about each and every response we observe.  Our writer today reminds us that if we think we are in the position of knowing it all, we need to be very careful. That is actually a place of bondage - it is easy for a know it all to be tripped up, duped into action that may have a pretty awful consequence.  He tells us that "real survivors" learn wisdom from others.

I have had the occasion of being complimented by another because the other person saw something of wisdom in my response to a situation.  They may have even gone so far as to say, "I hope I would act like that in the same circumstance", but there is more to what they see than that response.  It took years to get to that response of forgiving when wronged, choosing to hold my tongue rather than respond in hostility, or to choose the path that afforded the greatest resistance!  It took years of observing those around me - of seeing how others respond in like circumstances.  It also took years of me seeing how my responses affected others!

If we want to be "real survivors" we will open ourselves to the learning of wisdom from those placed within our lives - believers and non-believers alike.  Each affords us an opportunity to learn the lessons of life that God so earnestly desires we will "get" some day.  We need to become observers of the reality around us - in the relationships we form, the ones we avoid, and the challenges of each of these.  In those learning moments, we gain wisdom - if we are open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.  If we are closed minded (a fool), we will just make the same compromises/mistakes over and over again.  The "reality" will continue to happen until we own up to our need for God's wisdom worked out in our daily walk.  

If you find yourself in the position of "reality show" repeats in your daily walk, perhaps it is time to "change the channel" and embrace what God would want to teach.  Your new-found wisdom could change the course of your life!

Monday, September 20, 2010

No boot licking here!

23 In the end, serious reprimand is appreciated
   far more than bootlicking flattery. 
(Proverbs 28:23)

The last thing most of us want is any kind of reprimand - let alone a serious one.  On a scale of 1-10, most of us would say a reprimand ranks as a 1-3.  Not too many of us would even give it higher than a 5 because we really don't enjoy being reprimanded.  A reprimand is always associated with behavior that just did not measure up.  It carries with it the idea of rebuke or reproof.

A rebuke is often coupled with the admonition to change one's ways or endure the consequences.  To be reproved is to have your behavior corrected - to provide direction as to how we should be acting or responding.  Realizing that a reprimand carries with it the idea of both, how many of us would line up for a reprimand now?  

Having our behavior "pointed out" or "called out" is often quite uncomfortable for us.  We get very self-conscious - when this happens, we want to "preserve" as much face as possible.  So, we may become very skilled at trying to avoid the truth about our behavior!  Our writer points out that having friends that do nothing more than lavish us with boot licking flattery is pretty lame.  We call this "brown-nosing" today.  I won't elaborate on that one!

I have endured both - if I were to be honest, I'd also have to tell you that I have been the instigator of both, as well.  It is much easier to give a compliment and avoid conflict than it is to encounter a wrong behavior.  Flattery is really insincere speech of any kind - if we are not honest, we are probably engaging in a little flattery.

The difference between words of flattery and a reprimand is the result.  Flattery feeds my ego - a reprimand causes me to look at myself through the eyes of another.  A reprimand often exposes the unrealized results of my selfish behavior as it affects both my own walk, but also how it affects those around me.  We don't live on an island all by ourselves - so, what we do and say affects more than ourselves.

A faithful friend will bring both words of encouragement (not flattery) and words of rebuke/reproof as warranted.  Ever notice that it is much easier to accept encouragement or a rebuke from a friend?  When relationship is established, the words have a different level of "hitting home".  We may not appreciate a rebuke the first time we hear the words, but later, once we have had time to process them and the love with which they were spoken, we have a great appreciation for both the reprimand and the friend who brought it.

Let's be faithful in relationship to not only bring encouragement to each other, but to also add that element of "iron sharpening iron", as needed.  When we are committed within relationship, there is no room for boot licking flattery!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

To whitewash or not

13 You can't whitewash your sins and get by with it;
   you find mercy by admitting and leaving them. 
(Proverbs 28:13)

Whitewash was a common thing when I was growing up.  We had tons of trees in our yard and every so often, Dad would bust out a can of whitewash to coat the bottom 3-4 feet of the tree trunks with a fresh coat.  I always admired his handiwork when he was all finished because each tree just gleamed with the stark white trunks.  Along with the white picket fence circling the front yard, it was a sight to behold.  

It looked "pretty", but I never really understood the rationale for his doing that to the trees until I was much older.  He was minimizing the sun's effect on the trees in the cold months of winter when the trees were supposed to be dormant for a while.  The sun could get to the trees easier since the leaves had fallen off or were thinner, and the warm Arizona sun would stir the trees into "false" growth if left uncoated.  

So, he coated the base of the tree to attempt to stay off the growth, allowing the time of dormancy in the trees.  Since the roots are in cold ground and not much moisture was to be found in the winter, if growth was begun prematurely, the tree would be in a dehydrated condition and the fruit produced would not be as delicious the next year.  The whitewash served the purpose of making the trees look good, but it also kept growth from happening.

Okay, there is your morning lesson in botany!  In our passage this morning, the term "whitewash" refers to any deceptive word or action that we use to cover up or gloss over faults or errors in our behavior.  It is an excuse!  Our writer reminds us that we cannot whitewash our sins and get away with it.  We may look okay on the outside, but all the whitewash is doing is keeping us from growing!  We look okay, but our roots are in "cold" soil and the growth that would be produced is less than "full and ripe".  

It stands to reason that the writer would remind us of the value of admitting our sins and then leaving them behind.  It sets us free to get solidly rooted and opens us to the growth that really needs to occur.  Keeping sins hidden is pretty tough.  That whitewashing job took Dad a couple of days each time he did it.  Rain, sun, and a girl that liked to climb those trees took a toll on the whitewash!  He'd be out there "touching up" the thinned places so the trees kept that "fresh coat" appearance all winter.

That is how it is when we attempt to whitewash our sins instead of dealing with them.  We would have to keep applying our "whitewash" in order to cover up the sin.  It is a constant effort that would be better applied to learning how to walk away from the sin!  Next time you are tempted to bust out the "whitewash" and gloss over a sinful action or response, why not ask God to help replant you in some soil that will allow for your growth - you will enjoy the "son-shine's" effect!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Each one reach one

9 God has no use for the prayers
   of the people who won't listen to him. 
(Proverbs 28:9)

Ever wonder why our country is in such a state of financial, spiritual, moral, or emotional crisis?  We have embellished the truth a little, in my estimation, by calling ourselves a nation guided and directed by God.  We have a National Day of Prayer, we allow kids to gather at the flagpole in September each year for the "See You At the Pole" rallies, but do we really seek our God as the primary basis upon which we make our decisions?  Do we daily lift our leaders before the Lord, asking him to give them wisdom in their decisions?  I know that I am not one of those that "regularly" prays for our country's leadership - I almost have to be reminded of the issues, then I remember to pray!

Earlier in this same Proverb, it says:

2 When the country is in chaos, 
   everybody has a plan to fix it—
But it takes a leader of real understanding 
   to straighten things out. 

Well, if you have been taking a really long nap, you probably don't realize that this fits us to a tee!  We are a country in chaos - and it seems that everybody has a plan to fix what they view as "wrong with America".  I imagine it is like that just about everywhere right now - Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Mexico - the list could go on and on.  People are unhappy, needs are not being met, jobs are not panning out, the spiritual health of nations is in states of unrest.  What's the remedy?

Simply put, it is that we have an obligation to a light in a very dark world.  We have opportunities to affect the course of our nation's crisis - through our prayers and through our witness.  I may not know how to pray for all the intricate details of my nation's legislative issues right now, but I do know how to pray for my next door neighbor and the gal in the cubicle next to me at work.  That is where revival in our country begins - each one of us, stepping up to lift up those individuals God brings into our paths.  As we do this, he enlarges our influence.

Even if we are not burdened by a "nation in crisis" right now, we should be burdened by a neighbor in crisis.  We may not be the leader of a nation, but we are a "leader" in our sphere of influence.  Let's ask God to give us real understanding as it applies to those we have the ability to influence.  In turn, he will take those individuals and use them to influence others, and the results can be astronomical.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

An edge in an edgy world

The wicked are edgy with guilt, ready to run off even when no one's after them;
Honest people are relaxed and confident, bold as lions. 
(Proverbs 28:1)

Guilt has a way of making us "edgy" - nervously irritable, impatient, anxious.  One of the most "telling" characteristics of someone who is feeling a sense of guilt is that sharp edge that they get to their tone whenever they feel they need to defend themselves in their present state.  It is human nature to either want to defend our actions, or to run ashamedly from the scene in an attempt to escape the emotional upset guilt brings.

God's kids have a unique opportunity to touch "edgy" people with the grace of a forgiving God.  In our women's Bible Study this week, I spoke of the two-fold call of the disciples - in involved preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  We are not exempt from this call today.  It is our duty to point guilt-ridden people to the only thing that can really set them free from that guilt:  Christ.  Repentance is really the part that man plays in the process - it is the change of mind that begins the process of allowing healing to occur within.  Forgiveness (or remittance) of our sins is God's part.  

Honest people are upright in their character - there is no contradiction in their character.  They live relaxed and confident lives.  I see so many people living under the stress of life, never really enjoying their lives.  Relationships are a mess, possessions do not satisfy their desires, and all attempts at success and fame leave them just a little emptier than they were before.  Why?  Because they lack the "relaxation" and "confidence" that comes from having their lives truly in order - ordered by the God of the universe.

What can we do to help point people to Christ?  First, I believe that a life that is touched by the Lord of Lords is "noticeable" - there is a difference in the basic way we process life and deal with life's occurrences.  This acts as a little bit of a "lure" to peak the curiosity of the one who is observing us.  It opens the doors to conversation and questions that stimulate further exploration.  Yesterday, we spoke of our eyes being windows to our soul.  A redeemed soul reflect so much of God's grace and hope through those eyes.  Don't be afraid to let others "notice" what God has done in your life.

Second, I know that we have opportunities to be more sensitive to the "openings" God creates that are provided to share what it is that gives us hope, empowers us to live differently, etc.  We often miss these open doors because we aren't looking for them.  I took some photos on a trip I just took and put one as a screen saver on my computer.  The friend who traveled with me, was usually not more than 10 steps away from me on each and every tour we took, simply did not remember seeing this beautifully constructed natural rock wall now displayed on the computer.  How is that?  Because she was looking at things with a "different eye" for the detail.  She took some other beautiful photos - ones I did not catch.  We each see and interpret life in a different way.  Don't be afraid to share what God has given you a "view of" in your walk - it often differs from that of another - and may very well be exactly what they need to break free from what has them bound at this moment.

Last, trust God for opportunities.  With each opportunity, he gives insight.  With each bit of insight, he gives the grace to express that insight.  With each expression of his grace, he sends his Spirit to back it up with the power that plants the seed deeply.  With each planted seed, he brings the future opportunities for the seed to take root and to eventually affect the one in which it was planted.  We may not see much result from the present opportunity to share - but a seed planted is all he may be asking for from us at that moment.

God's kids are unique and that uniqueness gives us an edge in a very "edgy" world.  Let's allow our light to shine and see what that accomplishes in those we touch this week.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The cover story

Just as water mirrors your face,
   so your face mirrors your heart. 
(Proverbs 27:19)

Ever try to judge the contents of a book simply by looking at the cover?  I have, and in turn, have been very disappointed in my initial "assessment" of the book. Once I get into the "heart" of the book, I find what I hoped was contained there is missing, or falls short of what I expected.  What I hoped was a "good read" leaves me a little disillusioned.

Human beings are definitely not "books", but we "reflect" a certain image to the world by how we conduct ourselves and what appears on our face.  I am often called on the carpet because my face betrays my REAL feelings toward some decision or situation that is evolving.  So many people today have become proficient in "putting on a happy face", but deep underneath, they seethe in anger, wallow in disappointment, or are bubbling with absolute discontent.  

I am a people-watcher.  I like to observe how they walk, what they do with their hands, how they posture, where they position themselves in a group, etc.  It tells me a lot about that person, but it never tells me the whole story.  In fact, to really get to know the individual, I need to study their eyes.  Within their eyes, I can often see hurt, fear, folly, or any number of other emotional connections that give me some insight into the individual.

Windows to our soul - that is one writer has referred to our eyes as - and it is quite true.  They often betray our true response to a situation quicker than any other part of our being.  They also act as the "gateway" by which a whole lot of stuff affects us!  What we behold with our eyes often determines our response.

When I am tired, a little beat down, my eyes are dull.  When I am energized from within by the Holy Spirit that resides within, there is a vitality evident in my eyes, despite the physical fatigue my body may feel.  I have seen men and women in their last days of struggle with terminal disease, bodies consumed with disease and pain, with eyes aglow with the joy of the Lord.  If I only looked at the "cover" of their book, I'd see an entirely different story than what is really contained within the pages of their heart!

We need to become proficient at "reading" what is reflected in the eyes.  Even if someone has become proficient at wearing the "masks" of life, simply covering over what is affecting them at the moment, their eyes are visible through the mask!  They are a true reflection of what is happening deep within the heart.  The heart is the seat of our emotions - emotions are affected by much and by their very existence, they motivate or hold us back.  Learning to go beyond the "cover" story will allow us to minister to others in ways that only God can do.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tomorrow, tomorrow, is only a day away!

Don't brashly announce what you're going to do tomorrow; you don't know the first thing about tomorrow. 
(Proverbs 27:1)

I don't imagine that many of us actually take this scripture seriously - most of us spend an inordinate amount of time planning, organizing, and generally creating a vision for our future without any evidence that implies we are guaranteed that future!  The writer of our Proverb is quite wise - yet I imagine he even struggled with the tendency to do just the same.  It is human nature to count on the unseen, the unknown, to come to pass.

The idea expressed in this passage is not that we aren't supposed to have a well-thought out plan or a vision for our future, but simply that we are not to brashly just expect that we have the guarantee that it will come or that things will work out exactly as we plan.  When we approach our tomorrows as though they will always be there and somehow we control the events of our tomorrows, the idea of trusting God for the outcome is not really there.

As I record these words today, I have taken the lives of several of my friends, family and acquaintances into consideration over the past two months.  Two have undergone mastectomies, another one waited painstakingly for the results of a breast biopsy, one has watched as her toddler daughter underwent brain surgery, and still another has pending biopsy results on bilateral breast nodules.  None of them had these things "penciled" in on their date books as things they would be facing!  Yet all of them are clearly in the hands of our Lord through it all.

Life deals us things we never expected - much to our surprise!  I remember facing surgery for some not so promising biopsy results when I was 39.  I never expected the results, so the surgery was a surprise, as well.  About two days prior to my surgery, I stood alone in the shower, overcome by waves of emotion.  I allowed the tears to flow as freely as the water trickling down over my body.  As I did, I poured my heart out to God.  As you would imagine, the top question was the "why" behind the circumstances I found myself facing.

You see, I had trusted in a false belief that I would never have to face cancer.  In those quiet moments, in the safety of the enclosed walls of the shower, I met with my God.  In the tenderest of ways, he encompassed me in his arms of love and spoke deeply into my spirit.  I remember hearing so clearly, "I never told you that you'd never have to FACE cancer.  I did tell you that you'd never have to FEAR cancer."  In that moment, peace overcame me and fear simply washed down the drain with all the shower water!

Seems corny, I know, to describe what God did in those moments that morning that way, but it is exactly what happened.  I went to surgery two days later, confident in my God's care and trusting in the hand of my surgeon to accomplish all that needed to be done.  The reports were good and life eventually resumed its normal day-to-day course.  Yet, in it all, I learned that tomorrow is never a guarantee and today is the focus!

Nine years later, I faced surgery again.  That time, thanks to a caring and loving God, I faced it in his arms without the fear and worry I had experienced before.  Didn't have that one plugged into my Blackberry calendar either, my friends!  Are you getting it?  God has a plan that may "perfectly" match our imagined plans, and at other times, he may allow some things to cross our path that just don't "fit" with our plans.  In those moments, we need to learn how our God works, what he is looking for in us, and how we can nuzzle up closely to him through it all.  That is the only guarantee we have!  That he will be with us in our today, using every moment of today to prepare us for our next tomorrow.  

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Angry, hotheaded people

Don't hang out with angry people;
   don't keep company with hotheads.
Bad temper is contagious—
   don't get infected.
(Proverbs 22:24-25)

The writer of Proverbs prefaces this section in the book of Proverbs with a challenge to both listen carefully to the wisdom being laid out and to take it to heart.  Then he spends time enumerating thirty "sterling principles" by which to live.  In turn, he promises that these are tested guidelines to live by - guidelines that will hold us accountable in our daily walk.  The passage above is taken from this set of guidelines.

There is a stern warning to avoid hanging out with the wrong company - angry people and hotheads.  Angry people are generally miserable people to be around.  Their entire disposition emanates the intense desire to respond to life with outbursts of injuring behaviors.  Hotheads just don't think before they respond - they simply allow the emotions to guide their response.

Both present a challenge in relationship.  Being around someone who is given to constantly being exasperated, expressing that exasperation in violent outbursts, is exhausting.  You find yourself constantly on-guard, just waiting to "duck" out of the pathway of their fury.  These individuals have no idea the wake of injured they leave in their path.  

Our warning is to avoid them - don't keep company with them.  Why?  Because their emotional state is contagious!  There is an infectious quality about their behavior.  The tendency of these individuals is that of having a complaining and bitter heart.  In turn, they either drive others away, or draw those in who want to commiserate with them in their misery.

Why is that God warns us against keeping company with these individuals?
Since their behavior is based on the perception that they have suffered some injustice, been treated in a wrong manner, or have an injury resulting from some action taken by another, there is a tendency to also become quite "satisfied" in the blaming of another (justifying) for the actions or response of an outburst.  God wants us to be accountable for our actions - there is no place for shifting of blame to another.  We are what we are, we are where we are, because of how we have behaved, the values we have embraced, the compromises we have embraced.  No one "made us" like we are - the angry and hotheaded person does not believe that.  The comedian Flip Wilson used to have a saying, "The devil MADE me do it."  The truth is, no one "makes us" do anything.  All the "doing" stems from within.

God wants impassioned people - but he wants our passion to be expressed in ways that bring honor and glory to him, in turn, bringing evidence of his glory in our lives.  Guard against associating with those who damage the view of God's glory in your life and you will find that your life runs a little smoother!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Seven things God has strong opinions about - Part VI

Here are six things God hates,
    and one more that he loathes with a passion:
      eyes that are arrogant,
      a tongue that lies,
      hands that murder the innocent,
      a heart that hatches evil plots,
      feet that race down a wicked track,
      a mouth that lies under oath,
      a troublemaker in the family.
(Proverbs 6:16-19)

We have two final characteristics that we will examine today.  The first is the mouth that lies under oath.  This differs from the tongue that lies in that it is associated with the giving of a testimony or acting as a witness.  Scripture also reminds us in other places that God hates a false scale (in other words, being dishonest in business affairs).  God expects his kids to live as model citizens in a society that may not have very many good role models.  

In our culture today, we equate being "under oath" with having sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  We used to add the words, "so help me God", as we held our hands on a copy of the Bible.  Society found this offensive and "intolerant" of the various religions of the world, so gradually this has been "phased out" of many courtrooms as the foundation upon which our testimony may be judged as factual.

Yet, in God's economy, our word is our oath - he hears each and every word we speak and holds us accountable for the testimony we give.  The term "so help me God" is a telling term.  Think about it - if we truly speak these terms when giving an oath, we are asking God to help us tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  We don't want to miss a fact that would be pertinent to a fair judgment and we don't want to embellish a fact that would change the course of dispute.  Whenever we are called to give a "testimony", we need to think upon these words and ask God to help us be "solid" in our testimony - keeping us from bearing any falsehood in our testimony.  

The last characteristic that is outlined in this passage is labeled as the one thing that God loathes with a passion.  Okay, this is not simple dislike of a behavior - it carries the idea of being so repulsive that it turns the stomach.  God loathes a troublemaker in the family.  It is important to keep in mind that God looks beyond genetic lines to define family.  He defines his children as family, and his Body as the Church.  The destructiveness of one member of the family affects the outcome for the entire family.  That is why God loathes a troublemaker in the family of Christ - their behavior crosses the line.

God's view of these seven character traits is one of dislike and disgust.  He wants a holy temple in which to dwell.  In evaluating these seven characteristics this past week, we may have found certain behavioral tendencies that are reflected in our lives that we need the Holy Spirit to work on.  If so, remember that God always honors the prayer, "so help me God"!  He stands at the ready to transform the life that is willing to be transformed.