Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Principled Life

3 The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin.  4 A thick bankroll is no help when life falls apart,
   but a principled life can stand up to the worst.  5 Moral character makes for smooth traveling; an evil life is a hard life.  6 Good character is the best insurance; crooks get trapped in their sinful lust. 
(Proverbs 11:3-6)

A "principled" life can stand up to the worst life throws at it.  Principles acts as our "rudder" - giving us the guidance for right conduct.  They give us the fundamental truths by which we make our decisions.  Solomon tells us that a life that is governed by the right principles will withstand the toughest conflicts and disappointments in life.  To that he offers moral character and integrity as companions of "principles" - each bringing the balance we need to "stay the course" when the worst is upon us.

Over and over again, Solomon has emphasized the importance of developing wisdom and understanding.  To these, he adds that foundational principles need to be built into the fiber of our being so that our choices are consistent and upright.  Solomon has seen the struggle that man faces with overcoming pride and embracing humility - one leading to honor from our heavenly Father, the other our own disgrace.  He has recognized that honesty must be our guiding action in our affairs of life - otherwise our end will be ruin.

To these "principles", Solomon added:
  • Silence - learning when no answer is better than any other answer we can bring into a situation.  There is much wisdom in learning when our mouths will betray us with words that sting or belittle.  It is best to never utter a word than to allow words to be spoken that bring another down.  To this, we have the reminder about the destructiveness of gossip - words best left unspoken and unheard.
  • Submission - learning to accept the wisdom of counsel (those who have gone before us in learning the lessons of life).  There is safety in wise counsel - learning to trust in that counsel is quite another thing.  It is a struggle of "will" to learn to seek out wise counsel instead of plunging ahead in our own self-will and self-determination.
  • Sensitivity - coming into an awareness of our surroundings, those we are with, or the impact our words and actions make on others.  The principled man or woman has learned to use their beauty wisely and modestly.  The needs of others are foremost in their thoughts.  The example that is set is one of integrity.
  • Service - the freedom to extend oneself in an openness of heart that betters the life of another and provides a positive example of the heart of God to those around us.  Sacrifice and service go hand-in-hand.  The heart of a servant is moved by the needs of those around them - they need not look far to see where their service is best used.
A principled life is both continually refreshed and rewarded.  There is an unending supply of all we need to live well, live consistently, and live outwardly.  There is an "emotional energy" that is "spent" in living a life of integrity (principled life).  Yet, we can look forward to the continual refreshing of our mind, spirit, and emotion as we walk in the principles of righteousness.  There is much to be discovered in "living well"!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lessons of Life

3 God won't starve an honest soul,
   but he frustrates the appetites of the wicked. 
(Proverbs 10:3)

God refuses to satisfy the cravings of the wicked - yet the child of God has every need met above measure.  There is a diligence that is to be part of our walk - the easy way is seldom the most rewarded.  The appetites of the wicked are many - yet each of them has "self" at the center (what is best for me).  The desires of a righteous man have "God" at the center.  Perhaps this is why he satisfies one over the other.

 8 A wise heart takes orders;
   an empty head will come unglued.
(Proverbs 10:8)

A wise man is glad for God's instruction - it is better to admit our need for his help, relying on his direction, than to fumble around on our own.  Whenever we are willing to submit to his direction, we find that the end is much better than if we'd relied on our own efforts.  The end of our own efforts is often "awe" - not because things turned out well, but because of the mess that things are in!  

9 Honesty lives confident and carefree,
   but Shifty is sure to be exposed. 
(Proverbs 10:9)

Integrity is a path God calls for us to follow without compromise.  The result of following that path is "sure footing" - the ability to live confidently and carefree.  When we think of living carefree, we might think of living without worry or constraint.  Yet, a carefree life is "liberated" because it has a footing - it follows the "footing" because it has come to trust the certainty of that path.  

11 The mouth of a good person is a deep, life-giving well,
   but the mouth of the wicked is a dark cave of abuse. 
(Proverbs 10:11)

Our words matter.  They either lead to life or death - God expects for our words to continually lead to life.  They either provide wisdom or confusion - a man or woman of understanding speaks wisdom, gives wise counsel, and is a trusted companion.  

Solomon has set out to show us just a few elements of "right-living" contrasted with "unwise" living.  Fools are destroyed by their lack of common sense - even lacking the "sense" to look for wisdom.  Wise conduct should be our pleasure, not a thing of "loathing" for us.  If we find that wise conduct has become a burdensome thing - we might want to evaluate some of our choices. The godly have a lasting foundation - foundation is established in the first choice of the day and the last choice of the night.  The choices that come between are usually affected by what we begin with and what we see as our end.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To the victor goes the spoils

Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God, insight into life from knowing a Holy God.  It's through me, Lady Wisdom, that your life deepens, and the years of your life ripen.  Live wisely and wisdom will permeate your life; mock life and life will mock you.
(Proverbs 9:10-12)

A man or woman of wisdom understands clearly the value of a rebuke - their response is to embrace it with a desire to learn and to change, if necessary.  There is a desire to leave "foolish ways" behind and to learn how to make wise and learned decisions.  Solomon reminds us that the starting point of such a life is the "fear of the Lord".  

Wisdom "benefits" us - it adds to our days, creates opportunities, and opens up new things to us.  When we embrace a lifestyle of "folly", we miss these "benefits".  Folly is simply the lack of understanding, or the "sense" to avoid those wrong turns in life.  There are lots of reasons why we'd be enticed to a life of "folly" instead of wisdom - most of them have to do with fulfilling immediate desire instead of future hopes.

According to Solomon, folly leads to the grave - not a very appealing place, if you were to ask me.  We deal with a variety of daily choices that are "doctored-up" to look like they are good for us, when in fact, those very choices will certainly end in falling into the pit of despair - at the purpose of the pit is to swallow us whole.   

Most of life's challenges do not come at us just one challenge at a time.  In fact, they come at us in twos, threes, or multiples of these.  Most of the time, they come without warning.  With their onslaught comes a tremendous amount of overwhelming emotion.  There is nothing more that Satan loves to use than the combined forces of confusion and overwhelming emotions.  Internal havoc and emotional stress are sure-fire ways to catch us off-guard.

God never intends for us to face these challenges by relying on our emotions.  Rather, he expects us to become wise in the reliance upon his grace to get us through the challenges.  By definition, a challenge is an invitation into competition.  Challenges come to excite us - cause us to be stirred up in some manner.  Our greatest opportunity comes in understanding what it is that is stirring us at this moment.  Wisdom helps us recognize the "inner stirring" as either positive or harmful.

As I close this morning, let me just say that I acknowledge that we rarely feel competent to handle the challenges that seem to be daunting in size.  It is only in the power of the Holy Spirit and by the grace of God that we can walk through them.  We come out as victors when we are in reliance upon God's grace to bring us through.  On the other side of the challenge, there is a renewed passion for more of God in our lives.  A challenges calls us into account - making us more aware of who we are, what our limitations are, where we have developed strengths, etc.  A challenge may attempt to intimidate us - but if we are not attempting to face it in our own power or ability, it cannot overtake us.

Challenges stimulate a person of wisdom - because they encourage growth, bringing depth of character in the end.  Never doubt the value of the challenge - to the victor go the spoils!

Monday, March 28, 2011

New Neighbors!

"I am Lady Wisdom, and I live next to Sanity; Knowledge and Discretion live just down the street.  The Fear-of-God means hating Evil, whose ways I hate with a passion—pride and arrogance and crooked talk.  Good counsel and common sense are my characteristics; I am both Insight and the Virtue to live it out."
(Proverbs 8:12-14)

God's word is clear to those who want to learn - there is a "plainness" to them that brings understanding when we are seeking him with all our heart.  For the one who seeks, there is revelation.  Wisdom and judgment are not separated concepts - they come together.  When we search for wisdom, we find it because God is open to the seeking heart.  Really, wisdom is found in a person, not in a book.  It is found in the person of Jesus.

We don't begin our quest for wisdom by seeking for some "thing" - we begin by searching for the presence of Christ.  Whoever finds Christ finds a life filled with promise and reward.  God promises seekers his approval, life, and a freedom in his presence that cannot be experienced any other way than through Christ.

This proverb opens up to us four "characters" - Lady Wisdom, Sanity, Knowledge and Discretion.  We have already considered "wisdom" - the knowledge of what is true and right coupled with the best judgment displayed in our actions.  Her "partners" in life are Sanity, Knowledge and Discretion.  Let me introduce you to them:
  • Sanity - soundness of mind and judgment.  We can call this neighbor by many terms such as "reason", "rationality", "sensibleness", or "reasonableness".  Wisdom's closest neighbor is "reason" and "sensibility".  In other words, when we seek God's advice FIRST, we maintain a certain "soundness" in our decision-making.  We'd say that are decisions are based on "reason" and are "sensible".
  • Knowledge - the facts, truths or principles that aid us in life choices.  Her next neighbor is what gives us "awareness" into a situation or circumstance.  This neighbor of wisdom balances the "intake" in our lives with soundness of mind.  When we are aware of facts, we make better decisions - it is only when we go into things blindly that we find ourselves caught in the middle of things we never counted on.
  • Discretion - the ability to be discreet or judicious in our own actions and speech.  We have been given lots of opportunity to display this "neighbor" in our daily conversations, the company we keep, and what we allow into our minds on a daily basis.  The only reason Sanity and Knowledge are neighbors of Wisdom is because Discretion lives in the same neighborhood.  Discretion reveals herself in modesty and decorum.  She holds her tongue, considers her options, and is careful about what she displays.
Kind of a nice neighborhood to live in, if you ask me.  Good friends to have!  Wisdom alone is not enough - we need her companions in our life, as well.  I always liked the kid's TV program, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood".  It was a simple program featuring all kinds of stories that displayed "good neighbors" and invited children to be "neighbors" in this kind of a neighborhood.  I think Wisdom is calling out to us "won't you be my neighbor" - inviting us to be neighbors of Sanity, Knowledge, and Discretion.  Keeping good company has a tremendous influence on the choices we make!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quick is not always better

20-23 Good friend, follow your father's good advice; don't wander off from your mother's teachings.  Wrap yourself in them from head to foot; wear them like a scarf around your neck.  Wherever you walk, they'll guide you; whenever you rest, they'll guard you; when you wake up, they'll tell you what's next.  For sound advice is a beacon, good teaching is a light, moral discipline is a life path. 
(Proverbs 6:20-23)

The correction of discipline is not usually viewed as pleasant by most of us - yet, it is the way to life.  God uses discipline to correct our path - not to punish us or get even with us for some wayward behavior.  It is also not intended to break our desire - it is used to purify our desire.

One of the greatest issues in life is the struggle we experience in embracing wisdom at its fullest.  We have so much wisdom available to us - knowing what to embrace, when it is the right time to embrace it, and how much is enough for the moment is often difficult.  We face challenges on every hand, attempting to walk through many of them simply guided by our own interpretation of them and what our past experiences have been in similar situations.  We often find that we don't quite measure up to the present challenge when we are not focusing on using the wisdom available to us.  

Many things in life can be "figured out" or "reasoned away", but God wants us to come to a place of reliance on him for the wisdom he wants to impart to us in that situation.  That wisdom usually exceeds natural understanding.  Whenever we stop short of what he is aiming us toward learning, we short ourselves of the ability to fully know, learn, and appropriate what we can in the situation.  Life offers many choices - our challenge comes in selecting well that which will benefit us the most.

We often want God to present the "easy" choices - the ones that are the clearest, easiest to grasp, and the quickest solution to the issue.  The "quick fix" is not always the best.  If we have a flat tire, there are cans of that stuff that you can spray inside the tire that will "fix the flat" for a period of time.  In time, those things don't work well.  They are good for the moment, but actually don't hold for the long term.  The solution was quick, easy, and obvious - finding the service station that still fixes flat tires was more difficult!

We will do well to remember that God is all about being "super-natural".  That means that when we limit ourselves to what we can figure out in the natural, we may be limiting what can be "super" in the solution to our problem.  I don't know about you, but I would rather have a "super" solution instead of one that "just gets me by".  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hurting God's Heart

16-19 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)

Solomon outlines for us six things God hates and adds just one more (kind of like the cherry on top) that God has some pretty serious feelings about (loathing).  Hate carries the idea of intense, passionate dislike of something.  Loathing carries a sense of disgust and gives one the idea that God is repulsed by the type of action he sees.
  1. Haughty eyes (arrogant eyes) - pride is a battle we must fight every day.  Any time we have a higher opinion of ourselves than those around us, we are probably dealing with an issue of pride.  Sometimes we need a "pulse check" from another we trust to see how we are doing in this area.  The call is to lay down one's own agenda for the good of the whole - to not become focused on what you believe is "due" you because of your position, contribution, etc.  God pretty much declares that pride becomes a barrier that keeps us from realizing some of the best stuff he has.
  2. Lying tongues - words are more powerful than we'd first like to give them credit.  Our words make or break a situation - they tear down, or build up.  Plain and simple.  More defilement enters into our lives through the destructiveness of our words than we'd probably like to admit.  Hurtful words drive wedges, create animosity, and destroy character.  God simply cannot abide that kind of behavior in his family - because it destroys the family's integrity.
  3. Hands that murder the innocent - our hands are tools that can either reflect the grace of God's touch, or the hurtfulness of selfish, prideful self-will.  Much is conveyed in a touch, but nothing rises to the level of touching that which is innocent and bringing death by that touch.  In our society today, we could go so far as to say this is not just the "taking of a life", but the stripping away of the dignity and respect of a life by the use of any type of inappropriate touch (bringing death emotionally).  Innocence is lost in just one touch.
  4. Hearts that plot evil - our emotions are either positive or negative (there really is no "emotional middle-ground").  Envy, lust, pride, fear, anger, rage - these describe emotions that stem from our heart.  Each of these emotions are a reflection of something within.  They may be the response to an actual circumstance, or the imaginations of our mind.  Regardless of their "source", the action is the same - repaying or responding out of our emotion.  God looks at the outcome of our thoughts - not so much that we simply had the thought.  He works on changing the thought patterns, of course, but his focus is on the outcome (what we do with the thought we have).  
  5. Feet that race to do wrong - it is one thing to meditate on what is wrong, or on what will yield an outcome of sinful behavior, but it is another thing to embrace it and follow hard after it.  Whenever we find ourselves "racing" toward what we know is wrong, we are in a place of dishonoring our God.
  6. A false witness - more than someone who just tells a lie - this is the testimony of one against another.  This also is our testimony of our lives - living out the message of the gospel, or the message of a self-directed life.  We make a choice - reveal God's grace in how we live out our lives, or reveal our selfishness and pride.  To say that we are Christian and choose to live selfish, pride-filled lives is to have a false witness.
  7. A person who sows discord among brothers (family) - the cherry on the top!  God's method of accomplishing his purposes is within "family" - anything that destroys family is an abomination to God (something he abhors).  God desires us to be in relationship - to be "builders" of relationship, not in the "demolition" business.  As we embrace patterns of sinful behavior, we are working to destroy the integrity of the family.
These are all pretty "stinky" stuff.  The list starts out pretty "tame" - deal with your attitude of "self-importance" and ends with a strong warning about not destroying family.  All that comes in between builds upon the other.  Rarely do we see one of these traits in isolation of another.  Most of the time, they go hand in hand.  Learning what it is that hurts God's heart is paramount if we want to draw close to him.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Consider the ant

6-11 You lazy fool, look at an ant. Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.  Nobody has to tell it what to do.  All summer it stores up food; at harvest it stockpiles provisions.  So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing?  How long before you get out of bed?  A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there, sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?  Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life, poverty your permanent houseguest!
(Proverbs 6:6-11)

Here are a few simple lessons from the ant:

They have no "over-site" leader, yet they are quite productive.  They don't need a "boss" to compel them to work, but find great satisfaction in their gathering, laying up stores, and being in union with those in their colony who are also engaged in their same work.  There are times today when we find pockets of those in a work environment that simply work when they are watched.  The ants would have nothing in their storehouse if they did that - they'd each be out enjoying the sunshine and finding the juicy tidbits they could call their own.

They are committed to the whole - not just themselves.  You see the ants working together to accomplish the results of laying up the stores, of increasing the size of their colony, keeping their passages clear, etc. - for the good of all, not just the "top ant" or for their own benefit.  There is a concern that goes beyond how each decision will affect the individual ant to how it will affect the colony.

They are very aware of the seasons in their life.  They know when to store up and when to use their resources.  Their choices of activity are reflective of being "in tune" with their environment, the various changes on the horizon, and the "future focus" of living a prepared life.  They watch carefully and make decisions about the activities of the day based on the "trends" they see.  This is wisdom in action.

They work together, in unity.  You don't usually see one ant pushing the grain or seed out of the colony when another is trying to drag it in.  Instead, they pull together to get the job done - one fulfilling their purpose of clearing way for what will be stored, the other doing the work of gathering into the storehouse.  They "partner" together in the work - they fulfill their unique purpose.

Just a few lessons from the ant to ponder this day.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Drinking from our own well

Mark well that God doesn't miss a move you make;
   he's aware of every step you take.
(Proverbs 5:21)

This chapter begins again with a warning to pay attention to wisdom and listen closely to the Words of God.  I think Solomon was sharing an important concept - the power of a listening ear and a responsive heart.  He was also repeatedly concerned with the idea that we need to be selective about what and who it is that we are paying attention to.  As we pay attention and learn to listen carefully to wise counsel, we learn to make discretionary decision and to grow in knowledge.  Today, we have various "counsel" that influences our "discretionary" decision - what we hear in the marketplace, the example of leaders, in-your-face celebrities, and the list goes on.  Our youth of today are often influenced more by the examples portrayed in our media than they are by examples right before their eyes in "real life". 

Solomon begins with the idea:  Run from evil!  Notice, he does not say to simply turn our backs on evil - the statement is to "RUN" from it!  The idea is to put some distance between us and what is evil.  Whenever we entertain wrong thoughts/ideas, we are certain to be affected by them.  When we embrace them, we are headed right into that which will destroy our focus, impact our intent, and influence our integrity.  His warning is clear - there is a certain end to embracing sin and that end is far from pleasant.  

This entire chapter deals with the relations we have with those of the opposite sex - those we might enter into relationship with in more than just a casual sense.  His advice to us is to be very, very careful!  There is a destructive influence to treating these relationships in a casual manner.  I will not dwell long on this, but suffice it to say that our society has devalued the importance of marriage - of solid, committed relationships.  In fact, there is a tendency to say that there is nothing wrong with living together without the commitment of marriage.  Marriage is indeed a "dis-solvable" state.  If we find we cannot "solve" issues - we simply dissolve the union!

15-16 Do you know the saying, "Drink from your own rain barrel, 

   draw water from your own spring-fed well"?
It's true. Otherwise, you may one day come home 
   and find your barrel empty and your well polluted. 

The message is pretty clear - if we are going to have the advantages of a married relationship, we need to be committed to it.  We are not to be flitting about from relationship to relationship.  There is something within us that yearns for commitment - even if we say we don't.  It is in the make-up of our inner being.  The damaged people who experience the end results of never making a commitment are scattered all over our communities at this very moment.  Talk long enough with these individuals and you will see that emotions are raw, desires have been left unfulfilled, and trust is far from easy.  

The "advice" of our wise counsel in this chapter is to consider well the choices we make with the relationships we pursue.  They can be our greatest undoing, or our greatest advantage.  It is all in how we pursue them, value them, and commit to them.  God sees clearly what a man does and he examines every path he takes.  Nothing escapes God's view - he also ensures that we always have positive examples in our view so that we can learn to pattern our lives by those examples.  To be sure, we also have plenty of "not so good" examples around us.  We must become selective in those we choose to emulate - our end as a society is based on the choices we make in the hear and now! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Aching Muscles

Listen, friends, to some fatherly advice; sit up & take notice so you'll know how to live.  I'm giving you good counsel; don't let it go in one ear and out the other. 
(Proverbs 4:1-2)

Mom used to use this phrase quite often when she'd remind me of the importance of "paying attention".  She'd remind me that what I was hearing should not "go in one ear and out the other" because she hoped I'd embrace what she advised.  Wisdom comes through a process of learning and good judgment is something that must be developed.  We'd like both to be "instant", but they only come in the process of time.  They are a result of exposure to learning opportunities and time investment.

Ever see someone limping around after they have done some type of activity that they are not "used to doing"?  It is like when I spend a day out in the garden, then feel it in every bone and muscle the next day.  I try to bound out of bed, but instead of "bounding" I find myself creeping slowly to an erect position, regretting each movement because of the pain.  Why do I feel the pain?  Simply because I don't use those muscles often enough!

The same is true in the development of wisdom and good judgment - they are spiritual, emotional, and intellectual muscles that must be used over and over again to not get "flabby" and out of shape.  We can lose what we don't use.  This chapter reminds us to guard our heart above all else - because it affects every choice we make.  Our emotions affect our choices - so we must be on top of our emotions.  Our intellect gives us the basis for choice - we choose what we believe will make the most sense.  Our spirit guides our choice - acting as a governor over choice when neither intellectual insight not emotional pull can be trusted.  If not maintained, these "muscles" of wisdom and good judgment will cause us to live a pretty "halting" walk.

Later in this chapter, Solomon shares two truths that we need to consider:  1) There is no sense in living in the past; and 2) There are more than ample opportunities that present themselves as distracting forces in our lives.  First, the past is just that - it is not the present.  Too many times, we attempt to revisit the past, finding nothing more than disappointment in the process.  The past is simply not what we are to be focusing on - it is the present that has the power to affect our wisdom and good judgment the most.  The past served a purpose - learn from it and then move on.  Don't dwell on it; it will hold you back if you do.  Second, it is easy to get side-tracked.  There are more than ample warnings in scripture about focus - that which is repeated is something that we had better take notice of.

We can be assured of this one fact:  God knows our heart very well.  When he speaks words of wisdom and works on developing good judgment within us, he is doing so with the knowledge of how our heart works (what it responds to, what moves it the most).  His call to us is this:  "Don't let it go in one ear, and  out the other!"  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Say good-bye to the booby prize

3-4 Don't lose your grip on Love and Loyalty. Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart.  Earn a reputation for living well in God's eyes and the eyes of the people. 5 Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
   don't try to figure out everything on your own.
(Proverbs 3:3-5)

Solomon's words remind us of the importance of "storing" God's commands in our heart - so that we will be assured of a long and satisfying life.  We look all kinds of places to find satisfaction - I bet we never really considered that it could be linked to who "authors" the words we hold closest to our hearts!  As a matter of fact, Solomon goes on to say that even renewed health and vitality is found in a closer walk with God (not at the health food store or the gym).  Four repeated themes emerge over and over in these first three chapters of the Proverbs - 1) Remain loyal to your God; 2) Trust him with all your heart; 3) Learn to live with kindness as your earmark of action; and 4) Seek God like no other.

God is to be honored with the best part of all that we have.  Part of honoring him is in valuing and responding to the discipline he brings into our lives.  We often make the choice in the moment of correction to either ignore it, or to give way to being discouraged because we didn't get things right the first time.  Both discipline and correction are signs of just how intensely God loves us - loving us enough to correct what we did not get right the first time.

God offers his friendship (companionship) to the godly.  This is significantly more than an acquaintance with us - it is a deep and intimate relationship with frequent and meaningful sharing.  Wisdom is found in a person - not in a book.  The Words of God are just that - they are his words, recorded for us to review over and over again, falling back on them in our times of need, searches for answers, and in our moments of peaceful repose.  

The very last verse of this chapter points us toward the one truth that sums it all up:  "Wise living gets rewarded with honor; stupid living gets the booby prize."  Loyalty reflects the focus of the heart and mind.  Trust reflects the hope of the heart.  Kindness reflects the exchange of heart that occurs when Christ is central.  Seeking is the condition by which the heart is exchanged.  Wise living is reflected in these four actions - this is the kind of living that gets rewarded with honor.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tune up time

1-5 Good friend, take to heart what I'm telling you; collect my counsels and guard them with your life.  Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom; set your heart on a life of Understanding.  That's right—if you make Insight your priority, and won't take no for an answer, searching for it like a prospector panning for gold, like an adventurer on a treasure hunt, believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours; you'll have come upon the Knowledge of God. 
(Proverbs 2:1-5)

Two key elements of living a disciplined life are the ability to "listen" and to "treasure".  The ability to listen may be hampered by the life choices we have made.  The clarity of what is heard becomes crystal clear when we learn to treasure the relationship we have with Christ.  We won't want to miss what he says - the advice he gives.

Solomon uses a term here to describe this "listening" process - it is like "tuning" into a radio station.  You have to sometimes turn the dial so precisely to get the best reception of the station.  To listen to God, there is an effort on our part - we have to tune out all the distractions, situations, and choices that are in conflict to hearing his voice.

In turn, we are told to concentrate on understanding.  One of the things we learn in school is that we learn best when we are able to concentrate on what is being taught.  If we are distracted, we often miss "key content" in the lesson being taught, thereby not really learning fully.  Understanding is not always quick or easy.  There is much effort placed into understanding - attention must be focused and we must be in an attitude of willingness to learn what is being taught.

God grants wisdom - a gift in our lives that comes directly from his hand.  He grants a treasure of good sense to the godly.  This "good sense" becomes the shield of protection we often need to keep us from making "bad choices".  Sometimes we expect to hear a booming voice from God that tells us not to take a particular course of action.  What God wants us to do in those circumstances if to simply listen to the "good sense" he has already given us.  God protects the faithful - when we waiver in our consistency of walk, how can we expect protection?

The seat of our emotion (the thing that causes us to waiver so much) is our heart.  Wisdom is in our heart, not our head.  Wisdom helps us to not always be driven by what emotion is the loudest or most active in our lives at that very moment.   It is wisdom that gives us rational responses to irrational situations.  Wisdom saves us from wrong relationships, wrong money decisions, and even wrong choices in what we eat.  

Solomon tells us to follow the steps of good men - we have them as our examples because God knows that we learn best (come to better understanding) when we see an example to follow.  The choices we have to make may not be exactly the same choice that our example has had to make, but the principles of living that are exhibited in their lives serve as an illustration of how right choices are made.  There is a value in setting our eyes on right examples.

Maybe it is time for a little "tuning up" of our listening!  When we "tune in" to the right examples, it affects our choices.  When we "tune in" to the right authority, we have our understanding expanded.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wisdom & Discipline

7 Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God;
   only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning. 
(Proverbs 1:7)

The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to teach people wisdom and discipline - in turn, this will help them to understand wise life choices.  Wisdom's basis is the Word of God.  The teacher of wisdom is the Holy Spirit.  The work of wisdom is right decisions, correct paths, etc.  Discipline comes through what we experience, what we are exposed to, and the choices we make in those places.

Solomon was used by God to teach what is right, just and fair.  Good conduct will proceed from the man or woman who has learned these things.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom or knowledge.  This is not a tremulous fear of the Lord, but a reverential awe of his person.  God opens wide our ability to understand and walk in safety as we submit to him in reverence and awe.

Solomon goes on in the next verses to explain that the teaching of our mother and father can be foundational in our lives - what we learn from them can be a crown of grace in our lives.  

Pay close attention, friend, to what your father tells you; never forget what you learned at your mother's knee.  Wear their counsel like flowers in your hair, like rings on your fingers. (vs. 8-9)

When we heed their warnings, we are listening to their counsel because they have experienced something by their choices that they don't wish for us to experience ourselves. Thus grace is extended (we are given a warning) - but grace must be received (we must choose to heed the warning).  

The basis of the wisdom conveyed in the first chapter of Proverbs is that we must turn our back on the enticement to sin.  There will always be some enticement to sin.  Solomon is direct in his recording of what God had shown him about choices he makes - he tells us to stay away from those who follow the path of sin.  It is a purposeful choice to not embrace their ways.  It is critical to choose the right relationships in life - they can determine our course and will also determine the things we are exposed to.  For example, we are shown that those that are greedy for gain end up being robbed of their own lives.  God never intends for this to be our pursuit in life.  

Wisdom calls out - with an unending call, one that is easily heard, but not always easily heeded.  The call is clear - but the call we hear may not be as appealing to our fleshly desires as the enticement to go the wrong way with our choices.  Our own complacency can be our own undoing.  God never intended for his creation to operate in independence from him - he created us to be in living and vital union with him.  This includes the submission of our ways and purposes to him at all times (not just when we feel like it).

Start with God...this is the basis of safety in all we do.  Wisdom and discipline go hand-in-hand.  You cannot have one without the other.  Discipline may not be our first choice, but it is our best.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lifestyles of the Righteous - Part II

 11-12 You know I've been aboveboard with you; now be aboveboard with me.
   I'm on the level with you, God; I bless you every chance I get.
(Psalm 26:11-12)

Yesterday we began to explore the lifestyle characteristics of a man or woman of God - one that has determined to take a stand for Jesus.  Today, we continue with those character traits picking up with the sixth verse of this Psalm in which David outlines the company he keeps - joining hands with others around the altar of God.  He spent some time in the previous verses outlining that he did not have the same type of relationship with those that were in a position of being enemies of God.  Instead, he makes his company with those who have a broken spirit, yearning for the fellowship with God that he has come to desire by separating himself unto service for the King of Kings.

It is interesting that he begins this passage with the idea of cleansing:

 6-7 I scrub my hands with purest soap, then join hands with the others in the great circle, dancing around your altar, God, singing God-songs at the top of my lungs, telling God-stories. 

David recognized that his ability to fellowship with God and with those God had provided in his life was conditioned on maintaining a clean heart.  Nothing drives a wedge between us and God faster than entertaining sin in our hearts.  Nothing destroys relationship with each other faster than having disloyalty in our hearts.  David is picturing a group of individuals that have loyal hearts - determined to live obediently.

David is picturing a life of separation in these passages - separation from the world's passions and pursuits, separation from sin, and separation distractions.  He pictures unity.  A life dedicated to Christ is earmarked by the desire and ability to bring unity within relationships.  Living a separate life does not mean that we are all "walled up" inside our little world, absent and insensitive to those around us.  In fact, it is quite the opposite - it is a life of sensitivity to the need for showing another what the grace of God looks like by living out that grace in our daily lives.

Another characteristic emphasized in this passage is that of worship - there is a desire to be with God's people, in God's presence - to share in worship of the King of Kings.  There is not so much a desire to "go to church" as there is a desire to "be God's church" - gathered together in unity, cleansed of sin, and partaking of the presence of God.  There is something about being "clean" that gives us a sense of the "sanctuary" of our salvation.  God's presence is a place of retreat (refreshing), shelter (restoration), and defense (protection).  

The last characteristic pictured by David is that of being full of praise for God.  We often link praise with blessing.  When we are blessed, we feel like praising the one who has blessed us.  When we don't sense any blessing in the circumstance, we often want to curse the circumstance and often the one who initiated it!  We rely too much on how we feel, rather than relying on who it is that is with us - both in the times of blessing and in the times of leanness.  David is our example here - he did more than ask God for blessings in his life.  He frequently is found taking time to consider God's greatness, his grace, his many interventions in David's life - in doing this, he was "blessing" God.

The Lifestyles of the Righteous - the beginning point is in "taking a stand" for God.  The end of that choice is that of a blessed and assured life.  

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lifestyles of the Righteous - Part I

 12 My feet stand on level ground;
   in the great congregation I will praise the LORD.
(Psalm 26:12)

In some translations, this passage begins with "I have taken a stand" - indicating that David has made a heart determination to be on the Lord's side.  There are certain lifestyle characteristics of one who has determined to stand with the Lord - unyielding in their commitment or allegiance.  It has been said that if we don't stand for something, we will stand for nothing - pointing us to the important fact that what we "stand for" both determines our course and leaves a legacy for those that follow.

The lifestyle characteristics are outlined in the other verses of this chapter.  Beginning with the first two verses, David's asking God to test him and try him - examining his heart and his mind. The desire to be tested by God is not something for the weak!  David is not looking for the judgment of men here - he is not seeing if he measures up to some standard arbitrarily declared to be the "standard" we are to follow.  He asks God to hold up HIS standard and then to make a comparison between his life and that holy standard.  When we have that mindset and heart determination, we live above the various judgments of men - let them think what they want, God's judgment is all that matters.  

As a matter of second request, David gives God permission to put him "on trial". This is used when someone is seeking to have a formal examination of a matter or someone.  It implies that there will be both a testing of the quality of the commitment, but also a determination of the value of the thing being examined.  The value is something that is assigned after the examination is complete - like when we assign a "value" to a piece of property after it has been appraised.  David is really asking God to affirm his usefulness in God's hands - that God has a specific place and use for him.

David has declared in the opening statements of this chapter that he has "trusted in the Lord without wavering".  He has the characteristic of being faithful.  His faithfulness is made easier because he has made God the center of his focus.  David is pointing us toward the necessity for having both a heart and a mind that is free of vacillation in it choice to serve God - no hesitation in commitment, no second-guessing the journey.

He goes on to show us the importance of living dependent on the Word of God.  It is more than a familiarity with the Word of God that he is declaring here - it is an awareness of the Word of God and an adherence to what it says.  When we have truth exposed, we have two choices - embrace it or reject it.  David says that a man or woman of God has made the choice to embrace it, no matter the cost.  When we are "adhering" to the Word, we are first remaining loyal to the study of the Word.  Then we are learning obedience to it - allowing it to be fused to our heart.

Tomorrow, we will look at the remaining lifestyle characteristics of a man or woman that has taken a stand that are outlined for us in this Psalm.   Our starting point is in making the commitment - that leads to the willingness to be put on trial (examined).  What gives us the ability to "pass the exam" is two-fold:  We have trusted God for our right-standing with him, and we have opened ourselves to the adherence to all he asks us to do.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Believing is not the same as following

11-14God's readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation's available for everyone! We're being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.
(Titus 2:11-14)

New life in Christ is available to all - the simple fact is that we must choose to avail ourselves of what is right in front of us.  God stands ready to both give us his gift of grace and for forgive us in his mercy.  There have been periods of time in our growth as a society when that message came through loud and clear.  I am not so sure that God's message of salvation is as clear, or as loud as it once was - it has been drowned out by the many other messages we hear today.  

The simple message Titus receives from Paul is that our new life in Christ starts right now - it is always fresh and new.  There is nothing stagnant about serving Christ - it is a living message.  Paul gives us several key thoughts here:
  • God's message may not be the the loudest, but it is the most consistent.  There are all kinds of other messages that promise good things, but they soon fall short of fulfillment because they are not backed with anything of enduring character.
  • God not only provides the way or means to salvation (restoration with himself and full forgiveness of our sins), but he shows us how to live this life out in our daily walk.  We are not left to figure this "new life" out all on our own.  We have his assistance each step of the way - to make sense of our choices in a world that often offers choices that are contrary to what is best for us.
  • God's goal is that we become less "self-absorbed" and more Christ-centered.  As we turn our backs on those things that indulge our lusts, we are being shown how to find fulfillment in having Christ at the center of our choices.
Paul presents the idea that today's blessings are just a "whetting of our appetites" for what really lies ahead for every follower of Christ.  Notice, this "new life" experience, the blessings that come with it, and the hope for what lies ahead are not simply for those that "believe" in Christ.  They are for those that "follow" Christ.  Scripture tells us that many "believe" - even the devil!  It is something else to follow.

Believing in Christ is simply having the confidence that he exists, that he is reliable.  Beliefs are something we may have confidence in, yet they may not fully direct the course of our actions.  When we are followers of Christ, we move into a place of accepting his leadership over our lives - we align our goals with his, our desires are submitted to his planning, etc.  Believing is having understanding - following is putting into action what it is that we believe.

Paul speaks of turning our backs on a godless life and taking on a God-filled, God-honoring life.  This is never done by simply believing in all the right stuff. It is only "lived out" in the exchanging of one set of goals (our self-indulgent ones) for another set of goals (those with Christ at the center).  Beliefs impact our actions, but they are not actions themselves.  Therefore, we need to take what we have come to believe about Christ and put his leadership into practice in our lives.  When we do, we begin to live the "exchanged life" that Paul speaks of in this passage.

If you are a believer in Christ - that is the beginning point.  Your next step is to become a follower of Christ - allowing his authority and leadership to direct the course of your steps each and every day.  It is time to put into practice what you have come to believe!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Enlarging your vision

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves...and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
(Romans 8:26-28)

I used to think that this passage was like a blanket statement that everything would come out all right - nothing bad would happen to good people because God makes everything work together for their good.  It came as a surprise to me that bad things still happen to good people!  What I failed to recognize is that God often takes us through periods of "adjustment" in order for his vision to be accomplished within us.  He sometimes has to "enlarge" us enough to see what it is that he intends for us.

One of the key characteristics of a yielded life is that of being "adjustable".  That doesn't mean that we just bow to whatever new thing comes along.  It means that God is always going to be expanding our vision - of who he is, what he has done in our lives, and how he wants to use us to accomplish his mission on this earth.  In that "enlarging" or "expanding" process, he is increasing our faith - and opening our comprehension.  

Commitment and being yielded is a matter of being "governed" by something or someone.  God has a purpose in governing our lives - so he works to enlarge our understanding of that purpose over and over until we come into a place of fullness of faith and commitment to that purpose.  We often only want to see God's purpose for our lives through eyes that focus on what that will accomplish for us (how it will bless our lives).  God's intention in enlarging our faith is that we will see the blessing it will afford others.

We often forget that we are called to be "channels" of God's blessing - we get caught up in the blessing and forget that it is meant to be shared.  In scripture, Christians are referred to with many "titles" - priests, prophets, kings, kids, etc.  Priests have a responsibility to be spiritual leaders - so when God calls us priests, he is asking us to lead others into spiritual insight and growth.  Prophets spoke forth the message they were given - so are we to speak forth the message God gives us.  Kings had authority to govern and rule - we are given authority as members of his kingdom to rule and reign.  Kids have the right of family relationship - we have been given the access of a member of his family (intimately knowledge of God and his love).  

We are given access to all God's blessings, authority, grace and mercy - not to hold these things close and enjoy them for our own benefit, but to become channels of these to others.  When we become less occupied with how a blessing from God affects us and open up to how he wants to use that blessing to affect others, we are beginning to have our vision enlarged.  God is in the "details" of our lives - he focuses on what we often overlook.  His Spirit is faithful to deal with the details, so nothing is overlooked.  That is how everything is worked for good in our lives.

The Spirit of God is at work within us doing two things:  1) Exposing us to the very things that God is after in our lives (our dedication, our trust, our very hearts); and 2) Revealing to us the methods he uses to accomplish those things (the test or trial, the time of waiting).  It is his purpose in our lives to do the necessary "adjustment" of our ways of thinking (how we process what we are going through) so that we interpret the methods God is using as the very thing that will work all things for good in our lives.  

The next time you are going through a rough spot in your life, you might want to take some time to ask God how he is enlarging you through what you are experiencing.  God delights in showing you what he is doing - he often just is waiting for you to ask!