Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Got any jewels on display?

Do you own any custom made jewelry?  I am blessed to have one ring which I designed.  It is a small pinkie ring, but it has special meaning.  After my divorce, I had my wedding ring and engagement ring, but they were not going to be worn.  Mom and dad knew I wanted to have them remade into something I could use for a lifetime.  They had a couple of diamonds which they wanted me to have - three, in fact.  Small stones, but with great meaning because they came from "family" jewelry.  So, I designed the small ring and they assisted by giving me the stones and paying to have it custom made.  This was about 25 years ago now.  The ring carries significant meaning to me - because it was made with the gold from my rings and the stones graciously given.  It is small, but with great meaning.  I wear it one finger removed from where my wedding band once was and the three stones represent what was left of our family (two children and their mom).  We may not still be a "whole family" in the sense of a mom, dad, and children, but we were tightly woven together and held specially in God's hands.  There have been times I have just looked upon it and remembered how God has held us, comforted us, been our stronghold in times of great trial, and healed us in times of our greatest hurt.  

The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry, and a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger. (Proverbs 25:11-12 MSG)

As important as the ring is to me, the right words spoken into my life by those God placed in my life over the past 25 years is equally as significant.  Their words spoke life when all seemed to be death around me.  Their comfort helped me make it through when I just didn't think I was doing a very good job at being mom to my two kids.  Their challenges opened me to explore what God had before me, often taking bolder steps than I would have ever considered on my own.  They are the words which "fit" into my life as this custom made ring fits my hand.  

Some of their words were reprimands of sorts - not meant to ridicule or bring me down - but meant to set me on course and keep me walking strong.  In fact, without those reprimands, I don't know where I would have ended up. It is not the volume of words spoken as much as the meaning of those words and the timeliness of them when delivered.  God appoints individuals into our lives, often in the most unlikely ways, who will speak volumes into our lives with only a few words in the right season.

Most of us think of a reprimand as a harsh criticism of something we said or did, but I challenge you to think of it more as a "rudder" on a ship.  Those words, spoken in season, tempered in grace, can be the very thing which redirects our course so we avoid unrecognized hazards in our path.  I know I would rather have someone point out the hazards than discover them myself! If I am headed into harm's way, I would want someone to point out the potential harm which could come my way.

The right word at the right time - how do you know when it is the right time to bring truth into someone's life?  I think you have to count on a couple of things:

- Relationship must be established.  You may know the truth, but you may not be the right one to bring it into someone's life because there is no relationship established.  When we don't have relationship, it is hard for the hearer of our words to embrace them.  

- Timing is critical.  We can speak words out of season, but when we do it is like a rain falling on soil which easily washes away the seeds just recently planted.  It is important to be sensitive to the timing God would direct.  We need to be prayerful and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

- Tough words need to be tempered in love.  This is why having relationship established is so important.  Hard words to receive are not especially easy to receive, but where there is relationship, it is made a little easier because I know the individual has my best in mind.  God's grace and love have to be the covering over our words.  If they are not, the words will seem harsh, uncaring, or a little demeaning.  This is why it is so important to be prayerful and sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Remember this - words spoken in season are a blessing to the hearer.  Words spoken where there is relationship established are often hard to speak, but easier to embrace because there is an investment made.  The "custom made" jewelry we often place on exhibit in our lives are the result of the tender care and compassionate words of those who have our best in mind.  Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

You missing something?

Have you seen those shows where people do these really weird things like jumping from one slippery object turning or spinning out of control onto the next moving object in hopes of getting to the end of the course without ending up in the waters below?  The idea is to be named the winner with the best time.  The idea in pursuing it is a moment of fame, but the senselessness in it is a pretty hard beating to your body!  Those slippery and moving objects appear harmless, but the players don't count on the speed at which they are turning, causing them to fall out of control, even when they land a "solid leap" onto the object.  What we don't know can hurt us, right? It can also land us in some places we'd rather not end up!  Jumping onto these moving, slippery objects is kind of like jumping to conclusions - it can land us in the "drink" and before we know it, we are in over our heads!

Don’t jump to conclusions—there may be a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw.  (Proverbs 25:8 MSG)

A conclusion is a "reasoned" deduction.  Through the powers of mental focus and processing, we come to some type of "reason" for what it is we saw.  It may not be accurate, but because we process what we saw or heard through the "filters" we have formed in our minds, we come to a conclusion which is what we "believe" about the situation.  The problem with the use of "reasoned" deduction is inherent in the fact we often "miss" much of what is said, done, and heard.  We are imperfect at "picking up the clues" which help us to form more rational reasoning - that which is truer to truth.

Our senses play an important part in helping us to "filter" things which come into our brains and bodies.  For example, if we taste something bitter and totally foul, we often reject it as unwise to take into our bodies.  If we hear nails against a chalkboard, we quickly turn away, hoping to avoid the unpleasantness of the squealing annoyance.  Our senses are important in protecting us from things which may not be good for us, but they are equally as important in helping us to determine what is.  We might smell the fresh baked bread as we walk into the house after a day at work and know dinner will be awesomely great tonight!  Or we could be driving by the peaceful lake, taking in the scents and scenes of serenity and find ourselves just pulled to relax a little.  

What we don't realize is how often we simply rely upon our "sensual" filters to help us interpret life.  When these are the only filters we use, we find ourselves making decisions which border on dangerous and interpret intake in ways we have come to believe through past experiences.  Not every experience gives us an accurate interpretation of what the truth about something is, though.  For example, if the first time you go out on a boat you get a little sick to your stomach, you might come to form the opinion that all boats will make you seasick.  The truth is, bigger boats "ride" differently in the water than smaller ones and ships "ride" differently than those.  The conclusion that all boats will make us seasick will keep us from experiencing some of the enjoyment of being on the water!

The most important thing we can take away from our lesson today is to have accurate "filters" by which we form our "conclusions".  We need balance.  God gave us our senses to help us take in information and experience life.  He also gave us his Word, the Holy Spirit, and our conscience to help us "filter" out the bad and accept the good.  We need to balance sensual intake with what we know to be true in the Word, receive as confirmation from the Holy Spirit, and which won't bring a niggling of our conscience.  What we see and hear is not always truth - we need "intake" to be filtered through all three of these God-provided filters in order to avoid jumping to conclusions which may end us up in the drink!  Just sayin!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Stand up for justice

Injustice - any form on inequity which violates the rights of others.  We observe much injustice in this world, but probably don't do much with the injustices we observe.  The silence we portray against injustice isn't an "outward" manifestation of us "going along with it", but it does portray a heart either unmoved by injustice, or too afraid to do anything about it.  Sometimes it only takes someone speaking out - at others it may take some form of action or investment of our time, energies, and talents to address it.  When another suffers injury or wrong, our reaction and action toward that injustice reveals a lot about our heart.

It’s wrong, very wrong, to go along with injustice.  Whoever whitewashes the wicked gets a black mark in the history books, but whoever exposes the wicked will be thanked and rewarded.  (Proverbs 24:23-25 MSG)

Wicked - morally bad in practice and principle; distressingly severe; unjustified.  A wicked individual is considered to be "ill-natured" - in other words, they have a pretty foul disposition and they seek to make life miserable for others.  God's instruction - avoid these individuals?  Nope, it is to expose them.  We take the road of comfort when we simply avoid their unpleasantness, but we take the road of obedience when we are willing to confront and expose their wicked, morally bankrupt plans.

In the criminal justice system, when an innocent person is convicted of a crime they did not commit, we say an "injustice" was done.  It is easy to get outraged when something is high profile such as a court case, but what about the "small" injustices which occur all around us everyday?  Are we moved by those?  If not, it may be time to ask God to soften our hearts and make us more sensitive to the needs of those around us.  

When the innocent are convicted wrongly, one stepping forward to serve as a witness on behalf of the innocent can make all the difference.  It used to be the norm for people to stop at the scene of an accident they had witnessed on the roadways, but it isn't anymore.  People don't want to get involved - and besides, most states go by the "no fault" rule - anyone could have been at fault, but they will pay the claim regardless of who is at fault.

I sometimes think we might just treat God as operating in a "no fault" kind of manner toward the injustices in this world.  We somehow think that no matter who is at fault, he will just take care of it.  There are times when he fully expects us to step forward as his ambassadors on this earth to expose the injustice and to stand for what is right, credible, and lasting.  When we fail to do so, we are not acting as his "witnesses" here on this earth!

Any judgment "passed" with any form of partiality is "unfair" or "unjust". When we "like" someone, we might take issue with the partiality shown toward them.  When we harbor ill-feelings toward someone, the "unfair" thing done may actually give us a moment of pleasure (be truthful here).  Yet, if we read this passage again, to revel or find any pleasure in the injustice done - whether it is to our friend or foe - is wrong.  God's after a purity of heart which will look beyond our "feelings" and stand for what is right - regardless of "who" needs our support.  Just sayin!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Principle 30: Drop Those Reins

James Dean starred in a 1955 movie, "Rebel Without A Cause", depicting a bunch of emotionally confused and morally rebellious youth.  Dean portrayed a youth arriving at a new high school, falling for a girl, fighting with others who bullied him, and totally rebellious to both his parents and school officials. It was "cutting edge" back then, pointing out the secret desires of the teenage youth of the time, the "not so perfect" relationships of those 50's parents who didn't have a home life as perfect as June and Ward Cleaver, and the shift in social "norms" just about to bust out into full force in the 60's.  Defiance and emotionally charged "bad choices" are observed repeatedly throughout the film, but the truth portrayed on the screen in the death of his friend is really a reminder to all that without warning life can turn upside down.  In truth, your life is not your own - it is merely on loan.  Life choices may be made in haste, but the consequences will be around a long time to come.

Fear God, dear child—respect your leaders; don’t be defiant or mutinous.
Without warning your life can turn upside down, and who knows how or when it might happen?  (Proverbs 24:21-22 MSG)

Defiance ranges from open discontent with someone or something, to outright daring and bold resistance.  We get the little saying "I may be sitting down on the outside, but I am standing up on the inside" from this idea of being a little rebellious or defiant to authority.  It is not "open", nor is it outright bold, yet is just as damaging to our character!  Inward defiance is dangerous, for it sets down roots and begins to grow until it eventually finds a way of becoming expressed in our actions and attitudes.

Rebellion may encompass some of the same meaning, but it also brings into play this questioning of tradition - challenging the "norms" of values which have been handed down.  A rebel resists control by anyone other than himself. There is no desire to inward or outwardly conform.  A rebel seeks to take over control - to assume the authority belonging to another - because he believes he can do it better.  

Our last of the principles put forth in this list of thirty principles by which we are to live in order to have a sound foundation for interpersonal relationships, a right respect for authority, and a proper focus on the one who really matters deals with the tendency of our heart to resist control.  Remember - our thirty principles began with the idea of these being "tested principles" by which we will be able to live "accountable" lives.  If you look back at these principles, you will see a tie between how we treat others and ourselves as it applies to our respect for the authority we give to God in our lives.  If we won't submit to his authority as primary, all these sayings are merely that - sayings.  If we take his authority as that which is the only one worth submitting to, we are on our way to developing a strong foundation for living thoroughly accountable lives.

No wonder Solomon ends with the attitude of heart and mind which reflects our own desire to be in control!  It is a dangerous thing to hold onto the reins of our life so tightly that we become "rebels" and "deviants".  In fact, he warns clearly that our lives will be turned upside down if we continue to hold so tightly to our own ways of doing things - the need to be in control overriding all sense and sensibility.  Authority is evident all around us and what we choose to do with it matters.  How we choose to submit or resist is determined not in the immediacy of the moment, but in the "set" of the heart and mind in the long term.  When our heart is right with God, we find rebellions against authority (even his) as a little more difficult.  Focus determines heart direction - stay focused on Jesus and your heart's tendency toward rebellion and deviance will soon begin to have less pull in your life. Just sayin!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Principle 29: Know Your Future

If someone were to ask you today to describe what you see as your "future", what might that be?  Do you know where your future lies?  Today's decisions impact tomorrow's outcomes, but we don't control ALL the possibilities of the "what if", do we?  We can "manage" as much as possible, but there are just "unknowns" we cannot really plan for.  Knowing our future is important - especially in terms of where we are headed spiritually.  If we haven't really made an "about-face" from doing things our own way, under our own terms, and for our own benefit, we might just be "play-acting" at this "Christianity" thing.  Our future is as secure as our focus - that which we set our eyes on the most becomes the direction we head and it also becomes what fills our "head".  

Don’t bother your head with braggarts or wish you could succeed like the wicked.  Those people have no future at all; they’re headed down a dead-end street.  (Proverbs 24:19-20 MSG)

Too often we allow things to fill our heads with ideas and images which really don't do a lot to help us move forward.  In fact, focus on what gives you the greatest worries or problems in this life and that is what you will be constantly heading toward.  If we want to move beyond those worries or problems, we have to change our focus - do an about-face.  Unless you truly have eyes in the back of your head, that about-face maneuver will bring things into a new light simply because we cannot look forward and still be looking back.  Truthfully, focusing on our worries and problems leaves us with a pretty miserable future.  

We get all "bothered" a lot of times by the things which really don't matter. The braggart boasts about what he thinks makes him look important - things he uses to puff up his pride and show off.  The wicked get along pretty well, seeming to avoid all the pitfalls which should await them because of their dishonest ways.  All the while we get a notion in our mind that life isn't fair and we somehow were overlooked for the blessings or the goodies.  Why do we get this way?  It is a matter of focus.  We see the one with the goodies and we begin to wonder why it isn't possible for us.  We see the one with all the success and realize the "littleness" of our present position.  Focus on them long enough and you will learn to live a pretty dissatisfied and ungrateful life.

This is our warning today - to keep our focus on the things and the ONE who really matter in the long run.  Why?  Our future depends on it!  Once we realize how important focus is in determining our ultimate future state, we begin to consider making  change in our posture.  Right now I am recovering from total knee replacement and my gait is a little different from what a "normal" knee would be.  I find myself looking down to see if I am placing my foot correctly, extending my knee fully, etc.  The problem with looking down at my step is that I miss the obstacles in my path!  I don't get a clear picture of where I am heading, just of every step I am taking.  This is not all that productive, because I can "feel" my gait.  I know when it is "right" or "wrong" simply by the "feel" of it.  I don't need to make a continual effort of focusing on each step.

The same is true in our daily lives.  We can focus so intently on each "step" in our journey, but in so doing, we often fall head-over-heels into the obstacles in our path.  We need a broader perspective which only comes by looking at the objective out in front of us.  Today's objectives will differ from last week's because we are taking steps forward.  If you are trying to develop in your intimacy with Christ, you don't need to focus so intently on the "steps" such as Bible reading, prayer, and the like - you have to focus on him - he helps you take the steps without even realizing you have taken them.  Some of my best walking right now is done when I am not even paying attention to my gait!  Maybe some of our closest experiences with Christ would come if we just kept our eyes intently on him and not so consumed with whether we read two chapters a day, prayed fifteen minutes, etc.  Just sayin!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Principle 28: Deal Kindly With Your Enemies

It is part of human nature to want to see some harm come to your enemy. After all, the very word "enemy" suggests someone who is your opponent - there is some type of antagonistic behavior that makes the two of you adversaries.  To want good for your enemy just is counter-intuitive.  They are out to harm you - so why should you be out to bless them?  Our instruction today is to not revel in their fall, nor celebrate their collapse.  Instead, we are to leave their "outcome" to God - something harder said than done!

Don’t laugh when your enemy falls; don’t crow over his collapse. God might see, and become very provoked, and then take pity on his plight. (Proverbs 24:17-18 MSG)

Enemies can be personal adversaries - such as someone bent on making your life miserable - all attacks aimed at you alone.  They can also be public - such as public officials who don't represent the needs, wants, or beliefs of the public they are designed to serve.  Either way, the instructions in scripture are quite clear - we need to be very, very careful in our dealings with our enemies. This isn't just because we could get hurt by their attacks, but because God's business is to take care of their wrong-doing - ours is to pray for them, bless them, and serve them as much as physically, emotionally, and spiritually possible.

When I look at the examples set in scripture, I see several worth mentioning:

- A woman caught in adultery had many accusers.  Those who did the accusing sought to end her life - by stoning.  She is at their mercy - and they have no intention of extending any!  This is often the case when our own actions may have not been the best - our enemies capitalize on our failures and make them a point to take advantage of us whenever possible.  As Jesus dealt with the crowd of anger filled individuals who were indignant toward this woman's wrong-doing, he did something we could learn from.  Instead of pointing out that the woman needed mercy, he allowed her enemies to come to the conclusion they were not without faults in their own lives which he was well aware of, but would not make a public affair.  In so doing, through his simple statement of "Let the one without sin among you cast the first stone", he silenced her enemies.  You see, God has the "insight" into what is at the core of our enemy's behavior and he knows how to silence him!  Best to leave it in his hands!

- A woman believing she'd never have a child of her own sought to ensure some offspring to ensure the continuation of the family line, allowing a slave woman to bring forth a son for her husband.  Her name?  Sarah.  Her husband? Abraham.  The outcome of this rash decision was a son born to Hagar, a servant woman.  In time, Sarah did bear a child - in God's timing. In rather short order, the child grew and became the one apparent to receive the inheritance of his father.  Animosity grew between Hagar and Sarah.  Sarah regretted her decision to encourage Abraham to father a child with the servant; Hagar resented all the attention and favor shown to the child born out of Sarah and Abraham's union.  This is one of those cases where our own actions actually create the enemy we deal with.  We all have done something similar through choices we have made which we later regret.  God's actions on our part are no different - he has a way of extending grace where it is most needed, but the consequences of our having gone our own way might still be there to "haunt" us for quite sometime.  Rash, poorly planned decisions cost us, but God is in the business of restoring even what becomes our greatest nightmare to deal with.  God may not have desired the results we reaped through our decisions, but he certainly has a way of restoring what we cannot "undo" on our own!

The point is - we are not to "deal with" our enemies - God is.  We are not to relish their downfall - but remember them in prayer.  We are not to return negative with negative - but to bless them.  The only way we will ever do this is when we hold tightly to God's hands and allow him to walk us through it. He may not deal with our enemies as we "think" he should, but trust me - God always deals with them in a way which is right, just, and in just the right timing.  We have to stand on that and trust he knows best - even when we think they are getting off "too light".  Remember this:  We will need mercy more times than we can count.  When we behave poorly, do we want God being quick to extend mercy, or to bring swift judgment?  Just askin!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Principle 27: Don't stay down long

God keeps a special eye on his people - not letting them stay down too long if they trip up or stumble.  This should give most of us (if not all of us) a whole lot of encouragement each time we find ourselves with skinned knees and a wounded bit of pride!  Sometimes, we find ourselves "tripped up" because of things of our own doing - like willful disobedience, compromise, and outright wrong choices.  At other times, we find there has been someone in our path who purposefully sticks their foot out in hopes we will stumble and fall. Now, that may seem a bit harsh to state, but I think there are those who relish the idea of creating a little bit of havoc in the lives of others.  A word of warning to these folks - God won't let us stay down long - his hand is already outstretched even before the foot crosses our path to trip us up!

Don’t interfere with good people’s lives; don’t try to get the best of them. No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long; soon they’re up on their feet, while the wicked end up flat on their faces. (Proverbs 24:15-16 MSG)

The word of warning today is to those who think they can get in the way of a child of God, pull them down, or act as a roadblock for their progress.  The advice to these folks - don't try it!  Why?  We may stumble a little, but we don't stay down for long!  When we get up, it is quite possible our "rebound" may may make the one doing the "tripping" look a little foolish!  God's care is over his kids and scripture clearly warns not to mess with God's possessions!

Now, before we go further, let me just give us each a little bit of a pep talk today.  We ALL fall down on occasion.  At those times, we want most to blame another for our fall, but this may not always be "fair".  Sometimes we just find ourselves "down" because we have allowed enough "drift" in our focus to get to this place all on our own.  If we are there today, we merely need to look up, for God's hand is extended to all who recognize this is not the place they desire to dwell!

When we find ourselves blocked by another, or thrown a few "sucker-punches" that land a pretty good wallop in our lives, this is when we need to remember God intervenes on our behalf.  Sometimes he stops the punches before they land, but at other times, he might just have a lesson in the one that manages to connect.  This may not seem like a very loving gesture on his part, but God doesn't violate our will.  If we remove our focus long enough from his face, considering other things instead of him, we sometimes find we are right in the path of the "punches" which take us down!

This is never God's intention for our lives, but know this - he stands at the ready to pick us up, dust us off, and set us on our feet again.  As scripture promises, the righteous may fall on occasion, but we don't stay down long. His grace awaits us.  This should cause us each to shout a loud "hallelujah" because there is very little in this life we can actually "count on" in an earthly sense.  Things or people we trust in may not always be there for us, but God's grace will be!  

How long we determine to "stay down" is often a matter of our own will.  We must look up in order to see a way "up".  We must reach out in order to take an outstretched hand.  We must exert enough will to rise again if we are ever to stand again!  The truth is, when we fall, how we "handle" the fall in our minds and emotions plays an important part in determining how quickly we will rise again.  If we are down on ourselves, bemoaning our choices and generally having a pity party because we have fallen, chances are we will stay there a whole lot longer than God wants us to!  When we admit we have been tripped up and fallen, without getting all caught up in how "wrong" we were, God is free to begin to point out how to avoid the fall the next time.  Trust me, there will be a next time, for there is nothing new under the sun.  Today's tripping hazards may not be exactly the same as yesterday's, but they eventually can be seen to have a pretty common cord!  Just sayin!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Principle 26: Eat honey

Honey in scripture often is used to describe all that is sweet and pleasing - both in the natural and spiritual sense.  Therefore, when scripture declares we should eat honey, it is saying we should pursue those things which will bring delight and satisfaction to our spiritual man.  There are definitely some things which are better to pursue than others - especially as it applies to being "built up", encouraged, or finding peace.  These are the things God wants us to become "acquainted" with in our daily "intake".  It is important to note that honey in the Old Testament region of Palestine was not harvested from bee farms, but rather had to be dug out of crevices in the rocks and the hollow of trees.  As such, we receive a word picture of having to "mine" the bountiful goodness God has prepared for us.  It requires some effort on our part, but it well worth the investment!

Eat honey, dear child—it’s good for you—and delicacies that melt in your mouth.  Likewise knowledge, and wisdom for your soul—get that and your future’s secured, your hope is on solid rock.  (Proverbs 24:13-14 MSG)

It is also a word picture of the abundance of all the goodness God has in store for us.  In Palestine, the bees were abundant - no hive was ever abandoned - it was always active and a place of provision.  The same is true of God's grace, love, and goodness toward us - it is always active and a place of provision.  In case you didn't know this, the bees found in the Syrian deserts and hill country are some of the hardiest bees and are often "imported" by other bee keepers around the world to assist in developing a thriving hive population among their bees.  This also speaks to us of the "hardiness" of what God provides to us - it is substantial and able to multiply.

The instruction is to "eat" - consume, take in, make it nourishment.  We can have all kinds of food at our disposal, but until we take it into our bodies, it has little potential of assisting us in anyway.  The intention of the food is to feed - to bring nourishment.  To simply look at it, and simply consider it as nicely colored or presented, is to shun the very purpose of the food.  We have to exercise a little effort to get the food into our bodies, don't we?  It just doesn't "feed us" on its own.  We need to take the fork to our mouths in order to ingest it.  The same is true of all God has for us in his Word and those times of quiet repose before him.  It takes some effort, but once we take the first step, he promises the intake of all he provides will be like delicacies in our mouths.

Knowledge and wisdom for our soul is like the "honey" of the desert - it is pleasant, nourishing, and packed with all we need to help us along a long journey.  In Palestine, honey was a good source of energy.  Lack energy in your life?  Take in a little more of the Word, let it sink in and see if you don't feel energized with the refreshing intake.  Even when the Word corrects something which we may not have been willing to deal with, it brings refreshing.  A thunderstorm with torrential rainfalls will purge the earth of the top layers of dirt, uncovering the hidden and bringing it new life.  God's words may correct - uncovering a little of the dirt, but exposing the newness underneath just burgeoning to grow forth.  The word applied will bring newness of growth - this we can count upon just as much as the bees will return to the hive to make honey over and over again.  Their purpose is to make the honey!

We can have all kinds of "good stuff" at our disposal, but until we avail ourselves of the good stuff hidden in the crevices and hollows of the trees, we will never really experience all God has for us!  Just sayin!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Principle 25: Someone is always watching

Do you think you can do things in a vacuum - as though whatever you do or don't do just won't affect anyone else?  If you believe this, you have believed a lie - for every action or inaction on our part not only affects another, it is observed by many, but especially one person - God himself.  The times of inaction as just as significant as those of our immediate action.  Why?  We have been commanded to be "active" on behalf of those who need us to step in and help - inaction on our part is actually disobedience.  What we do with the opportunities we miss are maybe more important than those we actually embrace! 

Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help.  If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,” will that get you off the hook?  Someone is watching you closely, you know—someone not impressed with weak excuses. (Proverbs 24:11-12 MSG)

The most telling thing within our passage today is the idea of God knowing and understanding our hearts - he sees into the very core of our being, knows our thoughts, interprets our intent, and is comfortable exploring the recesses of our reasoning.  He doesn't have a whole lot of patience with excuses, though.  Since he knows our hearts, any excuse we could render really falls short of the truth anyway!  

Rescue the perishing - those on the verge of being destroyed through neglect, violence, or other force exerting pressure in order to leave a life in ruin.  We probably have these opportunities a whole lot more than we might think. Have you ever stopped to just reach out to a small child with nothing more than a smile and a little wave?  You catch their eye, don't you?  Why?  They crave attention.  Kids are built that way - they want the attention of adults around them.  Who knows, that tiny moment of attention may seem insignificant to you, but it could make a world of difference to the child who hasn't received any positive attention from those in their life today.

Step in and help - this is where our intentions become actions.  Actionable intentions are the only ones that count!  The willingness to step in and help goes way beyond the platitudes of "let me know if there is anything you need", as we all know human tendency is to offer assist as a matter of courtesy, hoping silently that no one will really take them up on their offer! God has a different set of "marching orders" for us, though.  His marching orders include us actually putting "feet" to those words.  In recognizing the need, we are to find a way to meet it.  We may not have the means to meet it ourselves, but we can always stand with the one who has the need - such as when someone is going through chemo in the battle over cancer.  We cannot beat the cancer for them, but we can drive them to chemo, clean up their yard when they are too tired to lift a trowel, or just bring a bag of groceries on our way home from our errands at the local grocer.

It is NEVER none of our business - for our business is to be ambassadors of Christ's love on this earth.  We cannot turn a blind eye or deaf ear to the cries of those in places of despair and desperation.  We hold the very thing they need - the connection to God's grace, love, and provision.  Our business is HIS business and as such, we are not to neglect it - EVER.

We are under scrutiny - watched from not only above, but in this very place where we live and breathe.  We never really know when someone will catch our action, or notice our inaction, but they are watching.  What we do matters to not only the one we are reaching out to, but to the one who is silently taking it all in.  Who knows - your example may be the very thing someone else needs to actually connect to the love of Jesus - seeing Jesus in your actions may be the very evidence that helps them to see their own need for him.  

We can limit our effectiveness through out inaction, but we can magnify his grace within every action done in his name.  Just sayin!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Principle 24: Don't Let Crisis Overwhelm

By definition, a crisis is a "turning point" in a set of circumstances where the future outcome is determined.  As such, the point of crisis in any issue we face is pivotal to where we will end up.  So, understanding how to hold up in the midst of the "turning point" can be the most important part of actually making it through.  Most of us just think of a crisis as something ugly happening to us at the moment and it is a little difficult to endure.  If we begin to see it as a "turning point", we might just handle it differently.

If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn’t much to you in the first place. (Proverbs 24:10 MSG)

As we face crises, the things we focus on make all the difference.  For example, if all we see is the insurmountable odds, we will tend to see only the difficulties and not the possibilities.  Even insurmountable odds have possibilities.  We think of crisis as a point of instability in our lives - when things are just about to cave in around us and take us down with them.  In fact, the upheaval created in the midst of crisis is sometimes what keeps us from being able to focus on anything other than the issues at hand.

It takes a lot of practice to see crisis as a "turning point" in our lives.  It begins when we begin to take a step back from the issue, just breathe a little, and then settle into the peace God provides so that we can begin to focus not so much on the upheaval as on the point where victory is determined.  When we are able to step back a little, we get things in perspective.  God's perspective is found at the point of stepping back - there becomes a little clarity in the midst of a whole lot of muck and mire.

A turning point is a place where we actually slow down, consider the direction we are heading, and then take the necessary steps to reposition ourselves in a totally new direction.  As we traverse a highway, we watch the signs which mark our way.  At the right sign, we merge into a totally different flow of traffic, or take an abrupt turn to get us going in a new direction.  Most of life's challenges come complete with "signs" which we must either heed, or find ourselves going in a totally wrong direction.  Learning how to read the signs before we actually need to make the "redirection" actually helps us to be ready for the necessary repositioning of our steps.

We actually learn to read the signs long before we set out on the journey, don't we?  In considering life's challenges, we often learn more about dealing with the uncertainties of these challenges in the quiet times of our lives when we are able to hear and incorporate learning best.  Trying to figure out the signs and how to read the road map while barreling ahead at life's fast pace is not the best methodology for getting to the best destination!  This is probably why I emphasize the importance of time with Jesus everyday.  Not so much out of obligation, but out of necessity - for it is in this quietness and connection where we learn to read the "turning points" in our lives.

Want to face crises like a champ?  Learn to see them not as hurdles to jump over, but as turning points to help steer our lives in a direction which will bring growth and increased wisdom.  As long as we are with Jesus in this journey, each turning point can be just that!  Just sayin!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Principle 23: Avoid the Schemers

Do you know any troublemakers?  You know, the kind of people who just love to sit around, planning some kind of misbehavior, waiting for the moment to spring it on someone?  In the most literal sense, a troublemaker is anyone who causes difficulties, distress, or worries - kind of out of habit and with a desire to bring injury, harm, or suffering to another.  The point here is that this individual makes a habit of living to life miserable for others.  These are definitely not the kind of people we want to associate with on a regular basis! Another word for this individual is "instigator" - wherever trouble seems to be brewing, you can pretty much be assured they had something to do with it! So, out of respect for yourself, you might want to learn how to avoid these individuals as much as possible - because the end they desire differs from the end God desires for your life!

A person who plans evil will get a reputation as a troublemaker.  The schemes of a fool are sinful; everyone detests a mocker.  (Proverbs 24:8-9 NIV)

The difference between an occasional misadventure caused by just not thinking something through and the trait of being a troublemaker is this whole idea of scheming and planning to create evil - through either foolish intent, or outright attack designed to ridicule and bring contempt.  The troublemaker has a heart bent on evil.  To engage in "trouble-making" once in a while doesn't suggest a heart bent on evil, but just a human heart!  To engage in this way of life all the time indicates intent - and intent is what is our focus here today in this passage.  The heart schemes in order to taunt another with either verbal, physical, or emotional distress - in order to bring some pleasure to the troublemaker.

I like the way the Message translates this as a troublemaker getting the reputation as "prince of rogues".  A rogue is one who is both dishonest and mischievous.  In scientific terms, when a "rogue" organism is found, we call it that because it differs so much from the original it just stands out.  In the most literal sense, this individual is untrustworthy - just because of all the ways they manipulate and scheme to work whatever plan it is they have in mind.  This is a way of life for them and it should not surprise you that the rogue personality they have is also described as a fool and a mocker.  The three go hand-in-hand.  One who schemes and plots to bring about a particular end is given to foolish thought and finding ways to point out the faults of another (even if is through sarcasm).

So, how do we avoid keeping company with these troublemakers?  First, we have to recognize their heart.  God gives us the ability to be able to look at the behaviors of another, listening also to what their words betray about their heart, and when these things point clearly to this type of behavior, it is probably because there is at least a little pleasure in it for the one who engages in this behavior routinely.  Since we can all be engaged in a little bit of trouble-making on occasion, we can all say we have a little bit of the "rogue" in each of us, but these individuals just don't vary in their practice. They are easier to spot than some may think because their actions and words give them away.

Some may think when we engage with a troublemaker, we actually give them more fuel for their fire.  If we ignore their behavior, not allowing their words to affect us, they get flustered with being ignored, but this doesn't shut down their behavior.  In fact, being ignored is not what the troublemaker wants - they want to cause their upheaval and see those who they target respond to it.  When they are ignored, they often just scheme a little harder and find new ways to begin their trouble-making schemes again.  Maybe the better way to deal with the troublemaker is to return good for their evil.  Isn't that the lesson Jesus was teaching when he said to turn the other cheek.  The troublemaker will be caught off-guard by receiving a blessing when he brings forth a curse.  We almost put him in a place of being put "off-balance" because his scheme did not have the effect he designed.  Return enough blessings in the face of his schemes and he will be shut-down.  He may not stop being a troublemaker, but he will move on because he knows he cannot beat you!  Just sayin!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Principle 22: Seek Counsel Wisely

In times gone by, men would gather at the gates of the city and engage in serious conversation.  It was a place of more than just meeting - it was a meeting of the minds.  Issues were settled there and wisdom was passed down.  The leaders of the city would often meet there to settle disputes, pass judgments on behalf of a wronged party, and just give insight into life decisions.  It was a place were "wisdom" was spoken and people left usually feeling pretty good about the things they had experienced.  At the gate of the city, a fool was not to be the one engaged in the conversations of giving advice or passing on a judgment for the wronged party.  Why?  They were clueless as the intent of the heart and this rendered them "useless" in making such decisions.  At the gate, they were to remain silent - for their "advice" would only muddle the matter.  In fact, they would often not even grasp the meaning of the conversations of the wise.  I wonder how much "foolish" conversation goes on in places of decision-making these days - especially since we don't have the "gates of the city" where wise leaders gather to hear the problems of the people?

Wise conversation is way over the head of fools; in a serious discussion they haven’t a clue.  (Proverbs 24:7 MSG)

Why is wise conversation over the heads of the fools?  There are probably innumerable reasons, but first and foremost, a fool thinks he knows truth - believing almost anything he hears and sees without really testing it to be sure it is the truth.  Imagine two mothers bringing one small infant to the gates with a fool sitting in the place of making the decision of who the real mother is of the infant.  He might believe the one who is crying the hardest, making the most impassioned plea, or even caressing the small life with tender hands is the "real" mother.  He judges by what he sees and hears, not by what wisdom would know.  A wise person would know the true mother would rather see her child live in the hands of someone else than to have the life of the child taken all together, so when Solomon was in the situation of determining this very decision, he simply predicted the revelation which would be apparent if he just told them to cut the child in two!  The true mother would not allow the child to die and would give over the child to the other woman.  In turn, it revealed the heart of the true mother.  Wisdom goes beyond seeing and hearing, to examining the heart.  How well does the fool examine the heart?  Not so well, I am afraid!

Another reason the fool is not able to engage in serious discussion is his unwillingness to really listen.  A fool already has an answer forming in his own head before the one speaking has a chance to finish, often missing some of the very detail which is necessary to really render any kind of a reliable or sensible decision.  Why?  The fool thinks he knows the answer - often based on some previous experience, what he has been told, read somewhere, etc.  It may not be tested and true, but he believes it to be what is needed to get by in the particular circumstance presented.  He formulates this in his mind and believes he knows what the determination should be - even without hearing the entire argument or heartfelt plea of another.  This is dangerous ground because in not listening, details are missed.  In being so determined you already know the answer, you shut down conversation.  In getting the cart before the horse, you have a miserable journey indeed!

The wise will learn not to rely upon the foolish for their wisdom, but rather will take the time and effort to seek wise counsel.  The conversation of the fool is his undoing - it reveals the truth about the lack of depth of his heart and his unwillingness to learn in this life.  The wise will not engage a fool in decision-making because they know decision based solely on what one believes because of past experience or simply because someone else did something a certain way is not the most reliable source of information. Experience plays a big part in our decision-making process, doesn't it?  To rely solely upon experience is dangerous - for not all experience validates truth. For example, if we stop to buy a scratch off ticket from the lottery machine today and pay one dollar for it, finding we win five dollars after scratching off all that silver goo, can we trust that each and every scratch off ticket will produce the same results.  It would be foolish to count on the "odds" being consistently in our favor, wouldn't it?  Yet, the fool will hold onto this hope based on this one experience.  The "it could happen" faith he has is really not faith, just misplaced hope!

So, when engaging in conversation about important life decisions, go to the wise.  Their source of wisdom comes from a deep well - not from the misplaced hopes and imaginations of the mind of a fool!  Just sayin!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Principle 21: Know Your Advantage

Ever heard two kids square off in the play yard with words resembling, "My dad can beat your dad any day"?  What is going on when they announce this confident statement is a little bit of one child trying to prove something - that he or she has an advantage.  Advantage is something we have been trying to "get" ever since we breathed our first breath.  It is any opportunity or circumstance we can "work our way" to that will ensure success or a particular desired end.  Every time we took the little toy into our tiny clutches and proclaimed, "Mine!", we were taking or proclaiming the advantage.  Each time we postured so as to say, "Don't mess with me", we were posturing to declare we had some advantage.  I remember learning some hand-to-hand combat maneuvers in the military, somehow thinking knowing the maneuvers would give me some advantage over another if the situation arose.  Ummm...I doubt if I would have any advantage over a black belt in karate, though!  Why? What I was putting my faith in as "advantage" was pretty unreliable! Advantage is really not in what we possess or what we declare to be at our disposal - it is in what becomes an ingrained, worked-in, practiced part of our daily lives.

It’s better to be wise than strong; intelligence outranks muscle any day.

Strategic planning is the key to warfare; to win, you need a lot of good counsel.  (Proverbs 24:5-6 MSG)

Advantage is really determined by things other than military might or the size of your muscles.  If we take to heart the advice of Solomon today, we begin to realize the advantages we have in this life are entirely because of who and what we know.  We have the wise counsel of scripture - giving us an advantage over those who rely upon their own devices to get through in this life.  We have the determined tutelage of the Holy Spirit in our lives - giving us the advantage of receiving immediate feedback before any decision is made.  We also have the excellent advice of wise counselors - those in the faith who have walked where we walk today and have learned a thing or two along the way.  Advantage is in who and what we know - and the way knowledge is a powerful tool in our hands is when we put it into practice enough to know it is tested and true.

To win, you need a lot of good counsel - not just one word you will hang your hat on.  I cannot tell you the times I have just listened to the first voice that came along and found myself "burned" in the end.  Either thins turned out miserably for me, or they just kept getting worse as time went on for all of us who bought into that voice.  This tendency to get "burned" with the over-reliance upon that "first voice" without the advantage of putting that "voice" to the test with the things we know really give us the advantage simply gets repeated time and time again if we don't learn to step back and seek the wisdom of the counselors we have been given.

There is much wisdom in not just listening to the first voice we hear.  I even ask God if it is him I am hearing!  I don't think he is affronted by me asking, though, because he knows I am really saying I don't want to just go into something blind - I want him with me!  In time, I begin to recognize the voice of my Lord, but at first, I may question if it is him.  Why does time make a difference?  In time, I learn how he speaks, when he speaks, what things he values and directs my life toward, etc.  It comes by spending time with him and listening to the counsel he gives through is Word, sound biblical teaching, etc.  It develops a set of trusted principles in my life which I can refer to when considering the next step I should take in life.  In other words, I have a set of "counsel" principles which I know to be wise and trusted - foundational to my life.

We can go a long way in this life with "true advantage" when we are determined to allow the counsel of the Lord be the guiding influence of our lives.  Just sayin!