Friday, December 27, 2013

Proverbs 31:25-31 She is to be praised!

As promised, today’s verses which describe the “excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 turn from what she does to to the essence of who this woman is, to what makes her tick. Today we look at her heart. 

Strength and dignity are her clothing,

    and she laughs at the time to come. 
She opens her mouth with wisdom,

    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 
She looks well to the ways of her household

    and does not eat the bread of idleness. 
Her children rise up and call her blessed;

    her husband also, and he praises her: 
“Many women have done excellently,

    but you surpass them all.” 
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,

    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 
Give her of the fruit of her hands,

    and let her works praise her in the gates. (Proverbs 31:25-31)

This woman has an inner strength that carries her through all of life’s circumstances. She conducts herself with dignity. She is not one who lowers herself to the common denominator in a world of gossips. She holds her tongue when others rush in to fill the void with words. When she does open her mouth, it is to add wisdom or to say something kind and encouraging. That reveals her heart more than anything else!

Jesus told us that “out of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34, 15:18-19) Her words reveal a heart of kindness and compassion. Of all of her traits, this is the most challenging one for me. Anyone can be busy. Many can manage to multi-task like crazy. But few have the self-control and kindness that can rule the tongue! That takes a heart that has been transformed!

This woman has the love and devotion of her family. Even those who live with her day in and day out, who see her without makeup, who see her tired and in her worst moments, praise her! Wow!

I love that she laughs at the time to come. She knows where her future lies, she is certain of her eternal destiny, because she fears the Lord. She belongs wholeheartedly to Him first, so she knows that she need not fear old age, or, worse, illness.

You have followed the news of my sister, Jodi, and you have prayed for her over the past three years with the sudden loss of her son, Justin, and through her battle with multiple myeloma. On Christmas Eve she received news from her doctor that the cancer has spread to her lungs. This was a blow to the stomach! There is never a good time to receive bad news, but on the day before Christmas it just sucked the air out of all of us.

I spoke with her a few hours after she heard this. We both shed some tears on the phone. There is much Jodi would still like to live to see. Jodi has fourteen grandchildren of her own, and five more were just added as Justin’s widow, Stephanie recently married a widower with five of his own who join her four! Talk about the Brady bunch on steroids! So, the news of cancer in the lungs hit her hard. She’d love to see them all married.

However, Jodi is a woman of great inner strength and she is trusting the Lord with her days, weeks, and, hopefully, years ahead. She spoke of the multitude of blessings she has had in her life and was able to laugh with me about much. All in our family call her blessed! Please continue to pray for her as she goes forth with a lousy chemo regimen that zaps her physically and requires her to fight to remain positive. I know for certain that her husband says with the husband mentioned in verse 29, “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.

Finally, in the last two verses of this wonderful, practical book of wisdom, we see the key to being the woman of God we all hope to become: the “excellent wife” is a woman who, above all else, fears the LORD! We were told in Proverbs 1:7 that the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” And here, the book finishes with the same thought. This is wisdom: it is all about Him! He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Apart from Him we can do nothing!

When Jesus stepped into history, taking on the form of a helpless baby, with the sole purpose of saving us from our sins, He offered Himself as the greatest gift of all. He offered this gift of salvation to ALL, but few receive it. He said that the way to destruction is broad, and many choose to take it. Few take the narrow way. There is nothing in the Bible that says we will all be in eternity with Christ. Only those who choose to receive Jesus as the only way to the Father.

With all of the wrappings off of the gifts under the tree at your home, did you leave that one package unopened? I read somewhere that the Christmas tree of God is the cross. It didn’t have lights around it, but it carried the Light of the world. Look to Him even as the Proverbs 31 woman does. He is all we need!  Don't deny that most precious of gifts!

Praying you will come with me into 2014. I’m heading into the book of Galatians for some strong teaching from Paul. I can’t wait! Meanwhile, I covet your prayers for Jodi and her family. Praying 2014 will bring her physical strength and miracles from God.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Proverbs 31:16-24 Superwoman??

She considers a field and buys it;

    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 
She dresses herself with strength

    and makes her arms strong. 
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.

    Her lamp does not go out at night. 
She puts her hands to the distaff,

    and her hands hold the spindle. 
She opens her hand to the poor

    and reaches out her hands to the needy. 
She is not afraid of snow for her household,

    for all her household are clothed in scarlet. 
She makes bed coverings for herself;

    her clothing is fine linen and purple. 
Her husband is known in the gates

    when he sits among the elders of the land. 
She makes linen garments and sells them;

    she delivers sashes to the merchant. (Proverbs 31:16-24)

Ye gads! This is one busy lady! She works in real estate, has a vineyard which she apparently oversees, and somehow runs a handmade-goods business out of her home. No wonder the “excellent wife” needs to dress herself with strength! While she tends to the needs of her family, staying up well into the night to complete her work, she remembers that she needs to be strengthened herself. I’m certain that this would mean that she keeps herself plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit, because there is no way any of us, in our own strength, could accomplish what she does.

But, it would seem that she also remembers to take care of her body, for she makes her arms strong. Are you telling me, LORD, that she EXERCISES??? This is too much for me! :) The reality is, though, that without taking care of ourselves, we cannot take care of anyone else either. Does parking in the farthest parking space at Costco and walking in count??

Notice that while she herself is a tireless worker, she does not look down on those who cannot fend for themselves. She has compassion on the poor, opening her hand (which I take to mean that she supports the poor financially), and reaching out her hand (which I would guess means that she also does volunteer work where she interacts with the needy). No wonder the passage tells us, “She is far more precious than jewels.” (vs. 10)

I am actually amazed at the number of women I know who meet the description of this incredibly productive woman. They work inside and outside of the home, volunteer in multiple organizations, clothe and feed their children, run them all over town to different activities, supervise the homework, and make sure all are bathed and in bed on time! The hard part is keeping the relationship with the husband central in all of this busyness. It’s difficult to keep the husband a priority when being pulled in so many directions. In fact, I’d say it’s impossible apart from a healthy relationship with the LORD. 

This particular set of verses is about a WHOLE LOT of DOING! So lest we think that her sainthood lies in all that she does, remember that we are loved by our Father because of who HE is, not who we are. God is love, and the quality and quantity of that love are not changed by what you and I DO. Any good that we do in our lives is related to His power and strength being manifest in us. So when we look at the final verses in this chapter, we will find encouragement instead of feeling overwhelmed by the bar set here. Hang in there!  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Proverbs 31:12-15 Multitaskers arise. . . early!

We are going to see that the Proverbs 31 woman is the ultimate multitasker! Just reading what she does exhausts me! Her description could actually discourage us as we pale in comparison, but we should actually be encouraged. So, while we be looking at all she does, I want to reemphasize that the underlying message is who she IS. Her description is capped off by her commitment to her LORD, and that relationship is evident to all around her by how she prioritizes and by what she accomplishes. So keep that in mind as we marvel.

I’m going to back up one verse as we begin to look at the plethora of duties that the “excellent wife” performs.

She does him good, and not harm,

    all the days of her life. 
She seeks wool and flax,

    and works with willing hands. 
She is like the ships of the merchant;

    she brings her food from afar. 
She rises while it is yet night

    and provides food for her household

    and portions for her maidens. (Proverbs 31:12-15) 

First of all, this wife is a benefit to her husband. She supports him in all he does, and seeks to build him up. Jon Courson mentions that in doing him “good” and not “harm,” she is obviously NOT the woman who spends her husband into bankruptcy to fulfill her own needs. She honors her husband by the decisions she makes.

She is not sitting at home on the couch eating bonbons. But, please, do you know ANY woman who sits on her butt all day??? If you’ve got toddlers and babes at home, you are NOT sitting! Whether we work inside or outside of the home, we women have so much to do in a day! This woman is seeking wool and flax. She’s seeing to the needs of her household.

The noteworthy thing about the “excellent” wife is in her attitude: she works with willing hands. She isn’t doing the dishes while she gripes about her family, she’s not folding laundry cursing the children who fill the laundry basket daily. Now she MAY be huffing and puffing at the workload, but she sees a purpose in what she does, because she wants the best for her family. She sees them as the gift from God that they are!

The working woman may be overwhelmed by the stack of papers on her desk or the number of emails waiting to be answered, but she gets that whatever she does, she does for the glory of God, not herself. And it’s that attitude that those around her witness.

And the key here? She rises while it is yet night! Truly, when my girls were little, if I did not get going a full hour before they did in the morning, I would be behind all day. And for me that was not only because my vanity demanded that I be fully dressed and made up before presenting myself to the world [ although that actually was a huge motivation - in fact the main reason I never joined a gym to exercise, other than the fact that I detest any form of exercise, is that I could not see the point of showering and getting made up to go to the gym, working out, then coming home to shower and make up all over again!!! ]. But I also knew that I needed some quiet time just getting some input from God each day! I could not, and still cannot face the world if I haven’t had some time realigning my will with His by searching His Word and enjoyed the only silence of the day.

While you may find yourself already a bit annoyed by the seeming perfection of this woman, hang in with me to see her in all her glory to get a glimpse of what God truly wants for all of us!  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Proverbs 31: 10-12 Excellent!

“Make good choices!” This is one of the mottos in my classroom, because it is so important that these kids choose wisely in areas that they can control. I tell them to choose good friends, who encourage them to be the best they can be. I tell them to choose to be good students - do homework, listen actively in class, participate. And I tell the girls to choose to marry a nerd! Nerds make great husbands (I know ‘cuz I married one). They have a great sense of humor, they usually make a good living, and they will cherish you!

So, I can totally relate here with Lemuel’s mother, who wants the very best for her boy! She is trying to persuade him that there is only one kind of girl worthy of him: the “excellent wife” (English Standard Version) or “virtuous woman” (King James Version).

An excellent wife who can find?

    She is far more precious than jewels. 
The heart of her husband trusts in her,

    and he will have no lack of gain. 
She does him good, and not harm,

    all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:10-12)

In the verses that follow, we will see a list that elaborates on the type of women a man should seek, but the primary attribute is that she is “excellent” or “virtuous.” I looked up virtuous in the dictionary and it said “morally excellent; chaste; pure.” So, even though many of us will read the remaining verses and think that her worth is in all of the things she DOES, the reality is that the number one quality is in who she IS. She is a woman who makes decisions based on a moral foundation. She has made a choice to keep herself pure for her husband.

The world would scoff at this one, but it goes to the heart of who this woman wants to please: God. A woman who can stand against the overwhelming messages of our modern world and can defend herself against the raging hormones of young men is a woman of strong character who has confidence in her own worth because she knows whose she is. Most would scratch their heads and say with Lemuel’s mother, “Who can find such a girl? She’s more rare than jewels!” The truth is that there are many girls who make the decision to save themselves for their husbands. Our job is to come along side and encourage them!

Such a woman can be trusted by her husband. He knows she has his best interest at heart and will not betray him. This gives him freedom to conduct the rest of his life in confidence and peace, because he knows he has partner who values him. She actively looks for ways to benefit him, to help him develop and grow into the man he was designed to be. She is not competing with him, but complementing him. No wonder purity is the first requirement for Lemuel’s prospective wife in the eyes of his mother. 

Mothers of boys, are you catching this? Remember that the responsibility for keeping girls pure is shared by the boys! They must be taught to respect women and to value purity themselves. The double standard of boys “having fun” at the expense of girls is intolerable in God’s eyes. As we begin to look at all that the description of an “excellent wife” encompasses, we need to keep in mind the role of the husband in helping a woman become this wife. And it starts with purity.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Proverbs 31:8-9 Speak up!

Before moving on to the subject of the “excellent wife,” Lemuel’s mother offers another piece of advice for a leader. Besides watching personal behavior with women and drink, she insists that her son speak out for the oppressed, those who have no voice:

Open your mouth for the mute,

    for the rights of all who are destitute. 
Open your mouth, judge righteously,

    defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

God is just and loving. He is an advocate for the needy. He sent His Son for the needy. In this sinful, fallen world, there is much injustice and evil. God wants us to be defenders of those who cannot defend themselves. He wants us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves: unborn children, abused women and children, the poor, the sick, the hungry. These, who have no power, need others to advocate for them. So, naturally, a leader must be one whose heart is for the oppressed and helpless. 

Jesus modeled this perfectly when He was on the earth. He touched lepers, He spoke forgiveness to sinful women, He demanded that children be brought to Him, He healed the sick - even on the Sabbath. His companions were not the influential and wealthy. Besides his hodgepodge crew of disciples, He liked to hang out with cast-offs of society.

There is so much need in our world, that sometimes it overwhelms us to the point of inaction. “How can I do anything that will make a difference?” Well, this is the heart of organizations like World Vision, Compassion International, and Samaritan’s Purse. We CAN’T possibly solve all of the problems of the world. But we can make a difference in the life of one child, his family, and his community by supporting a child or children through these organizations.

Christmas is the perfect time to make a difference and to advocate for the poor. Go online to one of these organizations and check out the many ways you can help! I love that World Vision has a gift catalog that allows you to purchase things like a goat for a family. What a great idea! I like the challenge of supporting a child, because it takes you beyond the Christmas season. If you have little children in your own home, this is such a great way to model God’s love for them, by teaching them to serve others.

King Lemuel’s mother was one smart cookie! I can’t wait to read what she has to say about the “excellent wife!”  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Proverbs 31:4-7 Skip the wine!

Today’s verses are timely for the holidays! After giving her son advice against carousing with loose women, Lemuel’s mother warns him about another area which can become a slippery slope to destruction: drinking.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel,

    it is not for kings to drink wine,

    or for rulers to take strong drink, 
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed

    and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. 
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
    and wine to those in bitter distress; 
let them drink and forget their poverty

    and remember their misery no more. (Proverbs 31:4-7) 

Lemuel’s mother is warning him that, as the king or leader of his people, he needs all of his faculties at all times. You and I may not be monarchs of a country, but we are definitely in leadership positions, in our homes, in our workplaces, in our churches. So this warning applies to us. 

Jon Courson refers to Paul’s admonition to Timothy that those who serve as elders should not drink (1 Timothy 3:3). He also quotes Isaiah, who decried the use of wine by priests and prophets: 

These also reel with wine

    and stagger with strong drink;

the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,

    they are swallowed by wine,

    they stagger with strong drink,

they reel in vision,

    they stumble in giving judgment. (Isaiah 28:7) 

Then Courson comes to the following conclusion in his commentary: 

The Christian community is increasingly accepting of alcohol as an option. I am not legalistic about drinking. People are welcome to drink if they want - but it’s not for kings, not for princes, not for priests, prophets, or elders. In other words, it’s not for people who want to make an impact. (Jon Courson’s Apllication Commentary: Old Testament, Vol 2, P. 270). 

Note who Lemuel’s mother says the drinkers are:  those who are perishing, those who are bitter in spirit.  Those who are miserable.  Don’t want to be counted in that line-up! 

Of course we have the freedom to drink, and we are not to judge others in their drinking. But if we truly want to make an impact for Christ in our world, we need to remember that others are watching us: little eyes in our homes, teens who are beginning to experiment with rebellion, co-workers, and neighbors who are prone to stumble or judge because of our drinking. So we are free to choose to drink, but we need to count the cost. 

A good reminder for a time when we gather for family celebrations, office parties, etc. People are watching. How will we lead?  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Proverbs 31:1-3 Stay away from the “wrong kind” of woman!

The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him: What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
    What are you doing, son of my vows? 
Do not give your strength to women,
    your ways to those who destroy kings. (Proverbs 31:2-3 ESV)

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, paraphrases these verses this way:  

“Oh, son of mine, what can you be thinking of!

    Child whom I bore! The son I dedicated to God!

Don’t dissipate your virility on fortune-hunting women,

    promiscuous women who shipwreck leaders.” 

Right off the bat, Mama is using a bit of emotional manipulation with her son. We all know how to do this, right? She reminds him that she gave birth to him, therefore, she has a claim to him and has the right to chasten him. True enough! However, can’t you just sense her attempt to appeal to some guilt here? Even the best of us sometimes likes to play the part of the Holy Spirit. . .

When Emmy was in her teen years and pushing the envelope, I used to remind her that I trusted her to pray when making decisions and to honor Christ in all she did. For instance, when she was in eighth grade she ordered five CD’s for 99¢ from a BMG promotion. When they arrived she opened the package while we were in the car, and when I saw the cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers album I freaked. It looked totally satanic!

Emmy gave me a deep sigh (the kind that only middle schoolers can give), and said, “Oh mother!” So I calmed down, and, like Lemuel’s mother, I used the guilt card! I said to her, “Okay, honey, I know that you know what is good and right. So I’m just going to trust you to listen to the lyrics and ask yourself if this is something Jesus would want you to listen to.” Yep, I knew how to manipulate in a righteous way! :) It worked! She ditched the CD.

Note that the first piece of advice Lemuel’s mother gives is about women! She did not want some hussy digging her claws into her precious son! I like the phrase in the ESV translation: Do not give your strength to women. . . Sex is a very powerful bond between a man and a woman, which is why God tells us to limit it to the confines of marriage. When you give yourself in such an intimate way to another, you are indeed giving over some physical, emotional, and spiritual control to that person. It’s why sexual sin is so devastating. This Mama did not want her son hanging out with the wrong kind of woman! We’ll see later in the chapter what her standards were for her son.

From the time my girls were young, I had two main standards that I was holding for my future sons-in-law and which I articulated to the girls often: the young men must love God above all else, and they must cherish my daughters. I wanted godly men who would take my girls by the hand and say, “Let’s go serve God together.” And I wanted men who truly appreciated my daughters and who would protect and adore them as gifts from God. Thank you, LORD, for Kevin and Nathan, who answered my prayers beyond what even I could dream. (Ephesians 3:20)

So, I get where this Mama was coming from! You can bet that when Beau and Colin begin to bring girls around to meet Nanny, I will be looking them over VERY carefully! And I will be holding Lucy, Penelope, and Georgia to the same standards. Hmmm... LORD help me to have your heart of love and mercy when this happens!! And LORD, help me to refrain from using guilt as a manipulating tool, but rather let your Holy Spirit do the work!  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Proverbs 31: 1 A Mama’s boy?

I’m so excited to finally be at this last chapter of Proverbs. If you are a woman who has been around the Bible for any length of time, you are probably familiar with the last half of this chapter which tells of the “excellent wife,” or the “virtuous woman,” as the King James Version calls her. We will get there soon, but I first have to focus on the first verse, which I have never noticed!

The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him... 

Now, first off, this chapter claims to be authored by King Lemuel, whose name means belonging to God. Most Jewish scholars and Bible scholars believe that this was Bathsheba’s pet name for her son, Solomon. Regardless, the first nine verses, at least, are considered the advice of a mother to her son. In that case, I don’t see why we might not also attribute the last 22 verses to her, as well, as advice about the type of woman her son should marry. After all, isn’t that the most important advice a mother would pass on to her son??

I’m the youngest of four girls, and had two daughters, so it wasn’t until I had my first grandson, Beau, that I finally got the whole mother/son relationship. It’s completely different. It’s a very strong bond, and I finally see why mothers of sons have a bit more difficulty in the mother-in-law arena! So, as I read this chapter, it’s with the thought that this is advice I would pass on to my two wonderful grandsons - especially those last 22 verses. I want them to find “excellent wives!” And certainly I want them to stay away from corrupting women! :)

Knowing this wisdom comes from a mother, just gives me a different take on this chapter. So, I’m anxious to get into it - and we will begin tomorrow!  

Friday, December 6, 2013

Proverbs 30:32-33 Cover your mouth, please!

I have frequently said the following to my students: “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you speak.” We get into far less trouble when we just listen! It’s when we open our mouths that we risk saying something foolish, or worse, something hurtful. Our final verses in Proverbs 30 affirm this:

If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,

    or if you have been devising evil,

    put your hand on your mouth. 
For pressing milk produces curds,

    pressing the nose produces blood,

    and pressing anger produces strife. (vs. 32-33)

It is always foolish to exalt yourself! If you have to “toot your own horn,” you have issues! I remember once, when I was a new Christian, I had done what I thought was a good deed. The Holy Spirit had very clearly told me to do it in secret. In fact, I knew well the verse from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:3)

But I just could not resist making it known in my Bible study group one morning. As soon as I’d revealed what I had done, feeling pretty good about myself, one of the women, not realizing she was the voice of God speaking directly to me, said very matter-of-factly that what I had done could possibly produce more hurt than good. She did not say it to put me down, but the LORD surely used her to put me in my place! I almost laughed out loud! I silently thanked the LORD for that much-needed humbling!

Yes, a hand over the mouth is much better than bragging on yourself! But worse is the mouth that speaks from an evil heart! Better to put duct tape over your mouth than speak from a heart that seeks revenge or plots evil. I recently learned of someone spreading evil about a close friend. My friend and I have not attempted to counter or defend the gossip, but it has been interesting to watch as God does the defending.

. . . pressing anger produces strife.

The word strife so clearly describes the stirring up of emotions and the unsettling effects of speaking from anger. The atmosphere becomes toxic and the tension unbearable, rendering everyone ineffective and unproductive, with hurts piling up. Christ calls us to be peacemakers. So, if we find ourselves in the middle of strife, what should our response be?

Well, because I don’t trust my own emotional reactions, I prefer to let God handle it. We need to allow for a cooling off period, and then we need to pray for the one who has hurt us or who is causing the strife. Let God do His work, because He is so much better at dealing with hearts that need correcting (including our own)! Then, as we are lead, look for opportunities to take positive steps of reconciliation. I don’t think we need to feel warm and fuzzy about someone causing strife. We don’t need to (and probably won’t)make such a person a close friend. But we do need to act out love, which includes forgiveness expressed in a tangible way.

Most people who create strife are miserable. Is there any way we can show Christ to a person who so desperately needs Him, just as we do?  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Proverbs 30:7-9 More than enough!

Two things I ask of you;

    deny them not to me before I die: 
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

    give me neither poverty nor riches;

    feed me with the food that is needful for me, 
lest I be full and deny you

    and say, “Who is the Lord?”

or lest I be poor and steal

    and profane the name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

The prayers offered here by Agur appeal to my heart: “Lord, help me not to lie,” and “Lord, please just give me what you know I need.” These are the very things which I want in my life - to speak the truth and to be content with what the Lord gives me.

I want the words which come from my mouth to be uplifting and pointing to Christ. And, yet, I struggle with a sarcastic tongue that engages in gossip. YIKES! Deliver me, God!

Because the Christmas season is upon us, I’ve been bombarded with hundreds of emails offering Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals (funny how those deals are still popping up on Tuesday...), and my real mailbox seems stuffed to the brim with “covet books.” You know, those glossy catalogs designed to make you want to completely remodel and redecorate your home and your wardrobe?? I’ve learned to toss them out before even flipping through them.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)

Here in South Orange County, an extremely affluent area, it is difficult to maintain an attitude of contentment! “Wants” are confused with “needs.” Homes are large and “Facebook” perfect! Cars are new and leased so people can continually drive the latest and greatest. You won’t see a lot of “clunkers” on the road here! Parents often worry about the long-term affects of raising children here. Their expectations are that EVERY elementary school child owns a laptop and an iPhone! If the child loses the iPhone, Mom and Dad will just replace it. It’s a place where being content is a challenge!

Now, I honestly don’t mean to sound judgmental about this. I LOVE living here, and am so thankful for the many wonderful families that live in my community! It’s a great place to be - and I think it’s a terrific place to raise children. You just have to be so intentional about modeling for your children the concept of contentment!

I grew up in Newport Beach. More specifically on Lido Isle, which was where all of the rich and famous lived. However, we did not have a lot of money. All through high school I owned one pair of sneakers and one pair of black flats! But that was two pair more than 95% of the world! I’m the youngest of four girls, and my mother would have delighted in treating us to large wardrobes - it just wasn’t possible. But I always had all I needed. I don’t remember ever hearing my mother lament not being able to keep up with the rest of the neighbors. We believed we had the best life possible - and we did!

So when Don and I were raising our girls, I was actually thankful that we did not have the means to spoil them. They couldn’t enroll in the ballet and gymnastics classes their friends had, but they were able to do a few weeks in the cheap YMCA offerings. We participated in the inexpensive or free activities offered through Girl Scouts, the library, and church! I couldn’t afford the Cabbage Patch dolls at $120 each, so I made them their own.

Some of the best gifts the girls received for Christmas were “kits” I put together. I went to an office supply store and got them a stapler and office stamps (“PAID.” “RECEIVED,” date stamps) and stamp pads, receipt books, etc. They had a restaurant kit that included an order pad, a bell, menus (I laminated “to go” menus from local restaurants), etc. One year I made them a felt board and cut out letters, numbers, and shapes from felt so they could pretend they were teaching. They played with these for HOURS! The best part was that these kits required the girls to use their imaginations!

We have so very much here in the U.S! We are the only people who will actually pay rent to store our surplus that we never use! Yet our Savior didn’t have a place to lay his head! Father, help us to not only be content with the abundance you have provided, but to be overwhelmed by your goodness. Teach us to use the gifts you have given us to bless others, especially at this time of year! Remind us of the most precious Gift, that cost us nothing, but cost your Son His life!  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Proverbs 30:5-6 The Truth, the whole Truth, & nothing but...

Last time we were looking at verses in this chapter of Proverbs which spoke to the authority of Jesus. Today’s verses are about the truth of God’s Word.

Every word of God proves true;

    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. 
Do not add to his words,

    lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6)

God is not a liar. What He says He does. His Word is absolutely true. The problem with people wanting to pick and choose what they want to believe in the Bible, is that it puts us in the position of judging which parts are true. The reality is, as Jon Courson points out, that God’s Word judges us, not the other way around.

The Bible itself claims to be the Word of God, wholly inspired. Even though there were over 40 different writers from every walk of life (shepherd, kings, farmers, fishermen, tax-collector, tent-maker, doctor, priests, prophets, etc.) who wrote the 66 books over a period of 1,500 years, it is amazingly consistent with the same focus throughout: redemption of sinful man through Jesus, the Messiah, Savior. See what Paul, Isaiah, and Jesus had to say about God’s Word:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

    and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

    it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."  (Isaiah 55:10-11)

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

On one of my visits to Washington, D.C., I saw Thomas Jefferson’s version of the Bible that is in the Smithsonian American History Museum. It is called the Jeffersonian Bible, and it is full of holes, where Jefferson literally cut out any parts with which he disagreed. Jefferson was a deist, which is basically someone who believes that there is a higher power who started the world, but who is not interested in the day-to-day affairs of men, and who certainly does not desire a personal relationship with men.

How convenient to take out portions of the Bible that don’t fit our preconceived ideas or any thoughts that rankle or aren’t PC. Jesus promised that we would know the truth and that it would set us free (John 8:31-32). He said the truth, not a truth. There is one truth, and we can know it. It’s called the Bible.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Proverbs 30:1-4 Believe!

We are back from Salt Lake City! What a blessed experience meeting my latest granddaughter and seeing the Blakely family now grown to five! I’m amazed at how Beau and Penelope have welcomed their new little sister with such love and gentleness! The trip home in the minivan with all six of us was such a treat as we took an adventure through Zion National Park in all its glory! Now, it’s back to school for Nanny! And back to our study of the Proverbs.

In this chapter of Proverbs we find a collection of sayings which are the words of a man called Agur. According to Jon Courson, in his Application Commentary, Old Testament, Vol. 2 (P. 268), the name Agur means gatherer. These, then, are the sayings that he gathered. He starts his proverbs with questions about God:

The man declares, I am weary, O God;

    I am weary, O God, and worn out.  
Surely I am too stupid to be a man.

    I have not the understanding of a man. 
I have not learned wisdom,

    nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. 
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?

    Who has gathered the wind in his fists?

Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?

    Who has established all the ends of the earth?

What is his name, and what is his son's name?

    Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:1-4) 

Courson points out that Job uttered similar questions in Job 38. These are the big questions of man as he searches for his place in the universe. These are the questions of seekers. Who has ascended to heaven and come down? . . . What is his son’s name?

Jesus answered these very questions when confronted by another seeker, Nicodemus. When Jesus told Nicodemus that he “must be born again,” Nicodemus was puzzled: “How can these things be?” Jesus challenged Nicodemus with this response:

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (John 3:11-13)

Jesus is the only one who can speak with authority about heavenly things, because He is the only one who has come down from Heaven to reveal the Father. So, when the seeker is desiring to know about the things of God, the ONLY place he will find answers is in Jesus. He alone is the way to the Father. People complain that Christians are too narrow-minded on this issue of salvation. They want to believe that there are several ways. But Jesus did not give us that option. He very clearly made the claim that we are stuck with:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Peter affirmed this in his first sermon:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

These are astounding claims! If they were not true, they would be the ravings of a lunatic or a colossal fraud. We don’t have the option of just calling Jesus a “good teacher” when He made such claims.

The person who is seeking to know God, must come through His only Son. Period. Jesus came to be “God with us,” to show us the Father’s heart. And this very familiar section of John’s gospel reveals that heart:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18)

We are all way too familiar with John 3:16, but do we know verse 18? God desires to have a relationship with us, and that relationship is through His Son. We just need to believe (trust and cling to) it and receive it. Have you believed yet?  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Welcome, Baby Georgia Anne!

We welcomed a fifth grandchild into the family this weekend! Baby Georgia Anne Blakely was born on Thursday, November 7, and all of the Blakelys and Aunt Molly rushed to Salt Lake City to meet her! Saturday was a day filled with tension,as the birth mom waivered. But in the end,she chose to sign the papers, and Georgia left the hospital Saturday night with her new family. She is a beauty, and we are all in love!

Here she is, meeting Mommy for the first time:

Here she is with Daddy and big sister, Penelope:

And here is big brother, Beau, with his two sisters:

Penelope loving on Georgia:

And another shot of Emmy with this sweet baby:

I am flying to Salt Lake to join them on Thursday and will accompany them on the drive back home to Southern California. Can’t wait! Thank you, LORD, for this precious baby, and for the birth mom who gave the most precious and sacrificial gift she could. Bless that mom’s life abundantly, Father! Comfort and assure her that she has made the right decision for this little girl!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Proverbs 29:11,15,20, and 22 No excuses!

During 22 years of parent conferences it seems like I’ve had countless opportunities to commiserate with parents of strong-willed children! Often these conversations are accompanied with tears of frustration from parents who have no idea what to do. I’m so grateful that God gave me a strong-willed child, so that I can relate!

From the time Emmy was a toddler, I spent countless hours on my knees in tears! Dr. Dobson’s book, The Strong-willed Child, became my constant companion! Emmy and I prayed nightly that God would help her with self-control. She didn’t know exactly what it was, but she knew it had to do with her tantrums, she knew needed it, and she knew that the LORD could provide it.

One of the important lessons for Emmy (and for me) through those years was that it is NOT okay to use the excuse, “Well, I was just born with a bad temper - that’s who I am.” She knew from watching several other family members suffer with the consequences of a bad temper, that she needed supernatural intervention over her natural tendencies.

Several verses in this 29th chapter of Proverbs deal with the need for self-control.

A fool gives full vent to his spirit,

    but a wise man quietly holds it back. (Proverbs 29:11)

The rod and reproof give wisdom,

    but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (v.15)

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?

    There is more hope for a fool than for him. (vs. 20)

A man of wrath stirs up strife,

    and one given to anger causes much transgression. (vs. 22)

I am certain there is a genetic factor involved with temperaments! Just like there is with every other aspect of our personalities and physical bodies. In fact, I’m pretty sure it all goes right back to our progenitors, Adam and Eve! And certainly God knows this about us. Yet, He never gives us an out with sin. He just calls it sin, and Jesus died for ALL of it. The Bible assures us that that sin nature has been dealt with:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

We have the same power to live out this new life in us that raised Jesus from the dead! In chapters 6-8 of Romans, Paul writes about this struggle between our flesh (old man) and our spirit (new man). 

Romans 6:14 tells us, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” 

And later he writes, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6)

Notice he refers to where we SET our minds. We need to take any area of our lives that lacks self-control to the LORD in pray with repentance and humility, asking for help, but we also need to purposefully set out minds on transformation by reading and meditating on His Word. It changes us from the inside out.

One thing I’ve noticed about strong-willed people. While a strong will can be a weakness (stubbornness), it can also be a strength (firm commitment to values). The strong-willed child is much less likely to be swayed by peer pressure. I love my strong-willed daughter to pieces. But I especially love that she is daily turning that will over to God.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Proverbs 28:26 Lord, what do you want me to do?

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,

    but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)

Doesn’t this verse remind you of teenagers??? I always thought the word sophomore was a perfect description for teens in their second year of high school, because they are just cocky enough to believe they know everything. When Emmy was in high school she bought a refrigerator magnet for her dad for Christmas that said “Better ask your teenager while they still know everything.” Of course!  We wrapped it up and gave it back to he when she turned 20!

When I read this verse to Molly, she said it sounded like politicians. But I think politicians don’t rely on their own minds - they rely on pollsters to determine the mind of the public. Majority determines which way the politician leans! Hmm... the minds of several fools?

But this verse from Proverbs tells us that those who are truly wise understands how much they need the wisdom of God and the counsel of His Word. I like that this verse does NOT say “Whoever uses his own mind is a fool.” God has given us brains with which to think. He’s given us senses to use in making daily decisions. We look at situations, we listen to arguments, we have feelings that we weigh when considering choices we make. God is the Creator of logic and reason, and He has given us the capacity to also use these in order to function well. So, we make our list of pros and cons when confronted with a major decision.

However, this verse tells us that we can’t trust our minds alone. We need to walk in wisdom. We need to garner as much wisdom as we can from God’s Word. The whole counsel of His Word. Does what we are choosing to do fit with the character of God? Is it loving? forgiving? compassionate? self-sacrificing? Will it glorify God? Or will someone be hurt by it?

Many of our decisions are not Kingdom kinds of choices [for instance, choices that would impact our witness or where we or someone else will spend eternity]. We may be struggling over which job to take or whether or not to move. Sometimes we get paralyzed in decision-making over these issues, because we want to know what God’s exact will is. If you are wrestling with just these kinds of things, trust God to make His way for you clear. If your ultimate goal is to do His will and to glorify Him, He knows that. He’s is not going to allow you to fall of a cliff - unless He designed that cliff with your name on it to help transform you. :)

Steep yourself in His Word, so that you will be open to receiving direction from God. Pray about your decision and discuss it with godly mentors, who might be able to give you some specific direction from God’s Word. Then trust God to open or close doors as needed.

When I was deciding whether or not to go back to school to become a teacher, I really felt God calling me, but I wanted it confirmed - in 100 ways, apparently, because, looking back, He had made it crystal clear. But what I was looking for was a specific scripture that would let me know without a doubt! I could have waited and waited for that scripture and delayed taking any action, but I knew that God wanted the best for me, and He would not let me do something disastrous. If I moved ahead, and it wasn’t His will, He would close doors or at least redeem my wrong choice somehow (Romans 8:28). 

So, I prayed, “LORD, I’m going to go up to Fullerton tomorrow and register for classes. If you do not want me to do that, You are going to need to make that very clear. Unless I see a sign that says, ‘Sally White, of Laguna Niguel [in case there was another Sally White], go home,’ I am signing up, because I believe this is what you want for me.” I think sometimes God just wants us to step out in faith and trust Him to undergird us.

Finally, I received the exact verse I needed - even though it seems like a random verse. I was studying the book of Matthew, and had come to chapter 14:22-33, in which Jesus walks on water toward the disciples in the boat. As I read verses 28-29, I immediately felt the confirmation I was seeking:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

Like Peter, I had been wondering if it truly was the LORD calling me. And these simple verses just popped out and assured me that God was calling me to come - to jump out of the boat and walk - keeping my eyes on Him! It seems like such a silly verse, but it was exactly what I needed for confirmation. God is so gracious to give us an assist to our weak faith! Trust Him to do that for you!  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Proverbs 28:13 Just admit it!

When I was growing up, I would have been considered one of the “good” girls. I pretty much did as I was told, and behaved in the classroom and at home. I was a leader at school and had a good reputation. Yet, I occasionally did things with my friends that were downright wrong. And my parents never found out about most of them. By the time I was in college, I had collected a bunch of unconfessed sin! And it gnawed at me inside! How freeing it was to receive Christ, finally, and to be able to deal with all that sin - to realize that He had already knew all about it and had paid that debt for me! I was overwhelmed by His grace!

Our verse in Proverbs this morning talks about the idea of unconfessed sin weighing us down: 

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,

    but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

The Bible makes it very clear that we are all sinners in need of mercy and grace. Yet, the world hates the word “sin.” Many religions do not acknowledge that there is such a thing. John, in his first letter, says that when we take that stance, we are lying, and worse, we make Jesus a liar, because we deny what He has done for us:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)

It’s so irritating when I know a student has done something wrong, but he won’t ‘fess up! I always manage to get the truth out of students, but it takes up so much wasted time as they insist on making excuses or deflecting the blame with, “But they were doing it, too!” I heard a commentator on a news program complaining about the current culture in Washington in which no one fully owns the blame for misdeeds, but will begrudgingly admit “meaningless responsibility.” The ones who should be held accountable will say something like, “Well, of course the buck stops here, but it was not my fault.” I have always called those kinds of excuses “sorry buts.” “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t have done it if...” 

Why is it we are so unwilling to call a sin a sin and repent of it? Is it because we have a wrong image of our Father? Do we think He’s waiting to pounce on us and extract the last measure of punishment? The reality is that He is just waiting to pour out His mercy and grace on us. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness! 

The truth will set you free - and when it comes to confessing sin - it frees you indeed! Confessed sin brings the problem to the Light - where the darkness is completely dispelled. Unconfessed sin keeps us in bondage and in darkness, because we want to keep it hidden - away from the light. Satan loves to hold these secrets over our heads - He whispers, “If they really knew about you - what you are really like - they would cast you out!”

King David, who knew a lot about sin, knew he could confess to his Father, because he understood the LORD’s heart:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

    and all that is within me,

    bless his holy name! 
Bless the Lord, O my soul,

    and forget not all his benefits, 
who forgives all your iniquity,

    who heals all your diseases, 
who redeems your life from the pit,

    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,... 
The Lord is merciful and gracious,

    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 
He will not always chide,

    nor will he keep his anger forever.  
He does not deal with us according to our sins,

    nor repay us according to our iniquities. 
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 
 as far as the east is from the west,

    so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:1-4, 8-12)

Whatever burden of guilt you may carry, whether something that currently ensnares you, or a boatload of guilt you have carried around for years, lay it at His feet! He knows all about it anyway! So let it go and receive the mercy of the LORD!  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Proverbs 27:21 Success is tough!

The final verse we’ll be looking at in Proverbs 27 is a simple one, but it caught my eye:

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,

    and a man is tested by his praise. (Proverbs 27:21)

The analogy of being tested in the fire is used often in the Scriptures.

“...And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:9)

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (1 Corinthians 3:12-13)

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. (Malachi 3:3)

We are used to hearing that our trials are meant to refine us. God allows us to experience them in order that when we have come through, we might be more like him, shining like gold and reflecting His glory. So we tend to think of that testing coming from some major trial. But today’s verse indicates that sometimes, even more intense than a test of fire (failure, rejection, financial loss, hardship, illness, etc), is the test of praise and success!

When we experience a taste of success, when people are praising us for our accomplishments, when we get the promotion and the accolades, we are especially vulnerable to a fall, because we are tempted to be prideful! We may think that our victories and fame are the result of our own strengths and abilities. We might think, “My business is so successful because I am a talented entrepreneur, and my ideas are so creative!” Or we may reason, “My leadership skills have naturally brought me to this position.”

The reality is that our only strength is in our weakness. Because, when we are weak, and know it, we need to rely on God’s strength - and then we truly are strong! It’s in humbly admitting we cannot do it on our own, when we are actually overwhelmed by the odds against our success, that God displays Himself best on our behalf.

Paul affirmed this in one of my favorite passages:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The LORD has been speaking to me so loudly about learning to appreciate and even exult in my own weaknesses. We are currently studying Gideon in our women’s Bible study, and the message has been that God wants us to be in places where only He can get the glory for results.

You may recall that, in the book of Judges (ch.6-8), Gideon went to battle the Midianites, the enemy of the Israelites, taking 32,000 troops with him to face more than 135,000 enemy troops. God made him whittle down the forces to the point that he ended up with only 300 men, because God did not want the Israelites to think that a victory was accomplished by their strength. Sure enough, God miraculously gave the Midianites over to Gideon and his men. A great reminder that our battles, as well as our victories, are the LORD’s!

So, whatever God calls us to do - no matter how huge the obstacles seem, or how unqualified we appear to be - we do not need to fret, because God will receive glory from our weakness as His strength is made evident through us. I needed to be reminded of that. How about you?  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"You've been chosen!"

Don’t we love it when we hear that we have won something or that we have been chosen out of a group for some honor or position? Well, my younger daughter, Emmy, and her husband, Nathan, just learned yesterday that they have been chosen by a birth mom to adopt another little Blakely into their family! We are so excited and so grateful to this woman, who made the choice of life for this little one. More than that, we are praising God who chose, before this child was even conceived, that he/she would be the little brother/sister to Beau and Penelope!

We don’t know yet what the gender is, but we know that this baby will be a perfect fit for this family! The due date is November 15, so there will be plenty of scrambling to get to Utah for the birth. Please pray with us that the LORD will be in all of the details, making the way straight for them as they make all of the necessary arrangements. Please also pray for this birth mother and her family as they make this gift. Pray that God will comfort their hearts and that she will be blessed for this decision. Pray for her emotional and physical health, for the health of this baby, and for a safe delivery.

And please pray for Beau and Penelope as they adjust to another sibling! Pray that their hearts will be enlarged to receive this little one with joy and tenderness.

God is so good - and adoption rocks!  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Proverbs 27:6, 9-10, 17 Faithful are the wounds of a friend...

Remember when you were in junior high and you wanted more than anything to be in the “popular crowd?” You wanted to collect friends like candy! And in high school we garnered signatures in our yearbooks like trophies! The reality is, that no matter how many people we knew, most of them were mere acquaintances, not true friends. This chapter of Proverbs talks about the quality of a true friend: 

Faithful are the wounds of a friend;

    profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (vs 6)

Oil and perfume make the heart glad,

    and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (vs. 9-10)

Iron sharpens iron,

    and one man sharpens another. (vs. 17)

While I am so grateful for the many who have touched my life in real ways {co-workers, neighbors, former students, parents of students, Bible study buddies, church friends}, the reality is that time and distance limit the number of people with whom I have real intimacy - and most of those are family members! But God has given me a special handful of women who truly know the real me. And for some reason, they have stuck around over many years!

I treasure these women! They have been my encouragers and confidantes through many stages of my life. We raised our children together, they cheered me on through years of finishing college and getting my teaching credential (at the age of 42). They watched my girls get married, and rejoiced with me at the births of my grandchildren. They have hung in even when I’ve been unavailable due to my work. And now, we are approaching the Medicare years together!

They have seen me at my worst, and they have been faithful to be truthful to me. When I need counsel, they have given it - even if it was painful to hear. They will tell me if I have spinach in my teeth. They won’t let me go out in public if my zipper is down or my mascara is smeared. They will pass me an Altoid if I need one! And they will redirect me to the LORD and His Word if I need an attitude adjustment.

How we all need the counsel of a godly friend when we are making life changes, or when we are struggling with an issue! I love friends who will challenge me and who will tell me to my face if I’ve hurt them or if I am swerving off of God’s path.

As a teacher of fifth grade girls, I am frequently having to intervene in girlie conflicts. Fifth grade girls can be mean! While boys will punch each other - and then go play basketball together, girls carry grudges and gather others around them to join them in their outrage. So one of the things I am constantly saying to them is, “If you want to have friends and maintain friendships, you need to learn to be VERY forgiving! Know that your friends will let you down over the years and you will let them down, but you need to give them the benefit of the doubt and welcome them back, or you will have NO friends left!”

Thank God today for the special friends He has given you. Then thank them for being so faithful and forgiving over the years! When I think of the many women who have been so dear to me, I thank God that we will have eternity together! We will need all of that time just to get the talking and laughing in!


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Proverbs 26:18-28 Don't stoke the fire!

The last half of this chapter of Proverbs is devoted to the devastation done by gossipers and liars. Now, it seems to me that this is such a universal problem which plagues all of us, since we know that our hearts are the source of our words, and our hearts, according to Jeremiah 17:9 are filled with deceit:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;

    who can understand it?

So, having acknowledged that we can’t point the finger at another without directing it right back at ourselves, let’s look at the strong condemnation gossip receives here in Proverbs:

For lack of wood the fire goes out,

    and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.  
As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,

    so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.  
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;

    they go down into the inner parts of the body.  
Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel

    are fervent lips with an evil heart. 
Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips

    and harbors deceit in his heart; 
when he speaks graciously, believe him not,

    for there are seven abominations in his heart;  
though his hatred be covered with deception,

    his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. 
Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,

    and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling. 
A lying tongue hates its victims,

    and a flattering mouth works ruin. 

What strikes me first is that the antidote to spreading gossip is right there in the first verse: if we don’t add wood to the fire, it will go out! When we pass it on, we are “kindling strife.” The problem with gossip is that it truly does encourage strife between people. If we would not stoke that fire by listening and then whispering it forward, we could help bring peace.

Note how gossip is whispered. Generally we don’t shout it from the housetops, because we inherently understand that it is evil, so we keep it low. We share it behind hands or behind closed doors. What we whisper becomes part of the one who hears it. Verse 22 says gossip is like “delicious morsels” that actually are digested in our “inner parts.” Once spoken the damage begins, and we can’t take it back. 

The gossiping heart is not motivated by love. It “harbors deceit... abominations ... hatred.” “The lying tongue hates its victim.” And here is the scary part for us when we participate:

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,

    and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling. (vs. 27)

And the problem with Christians is that we so easily justify gossip as concern! I find this such a challenging passage! The condemnation is as clear as day! We cannot get around this problem with our tongues. James devoted much of his letter to this issue. It IS a problem - not just in the world, but within the church. Can we admit that? Can we admit that we almost daily participate in it? The Bible has promised us that we are new creations in Christ Jesus and that we no longer live under condemnation. We have available to us the power of the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. Surely He can deliver us from our own tongues. But we first have to admit we have a problem. 

What is the solution? The Bible tells us that we need to be transformed from within:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

When we intentionally set our minds on the things of God by reading His Word consistently, we WILL be transformed. God’s Word will do its work in us. These Proverbs have been in-your-face confrontation to me, because there is so much repetition, you can’t miss His messages. And once we have looked into that mirror, we just can’t turn and walk away and do nothing about the condition of our hearts. These passages demand repentance!

LORD, search our hearts and reveal to us the areas that need purifying! Thank you that we are new creations in Christ and do not have to be slaves to our old selves. Help us to turn away from whispers and deceit. May we never be the ones who add wood to the fire, but instead may we be the peacemakers you called us to be! Help us use our mouths to build up the body!  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Proverbs 26:1-12 Fools rush in...

This chapter of Proverbs is a collection of harsh denouncements of fools, sluggards, meddlers, and liars. Verses 1-12 warn us to not waste our time with fools. Solomon says to honor a fool is as senseless as “snow in summer” (verse 1). Verse 3 equates the fool to a horse or donkey. To trust a fool to deliver a message for you is like cutting off your own feet (verse 6). Hire one and you may as well shoot yourself in the foot (verse 10). Two verses, in particular, jumped out at me. The first is verse 11:

Like a dog that returns to his vomit

    is a fool who repeats his folly.

Only fools continue to make the same mistakes over and over without learning the lesson! Hmmm... how many times do we repeat the same behaviors that get us into trouble? Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn the lesson the first time and then move on???  

Here’s my confession of a sin that I keep repeating:  I am the world’s worst back-seat driver!  My poor husband has put up with this for 42 years!  Well, maybe not the entire 42 years, because when we were first married I thought he could do no wrong, so I completely trusted him to get us where we needed to go!  :)  Seriously, though, this is a wretched sin, because it shows not only a lack of faith in my wonderful husband, but also a lack of faith in the One who gave him to me!

Now this may not seem like a big deal to you, but you should hear my deep sighing and constant nudging with, “You need to get over.”  I’m now praying as I get in the car, that I will just relax and know that Don will actually get us to where we are going in God’s time - not necessarily mine!  Don is a saint to put up with me!
The final verse about fools resonates with me as a teacher:

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? 
   There is more hope for a fool than for him. (v.12)

The older I get, the more I know that I DON’T know! How foolish to think that we already know it all! Remaining teachable is a must for a disciple. I continue to have so many “Aha!” moments in God’s Word - even passages I’ve read over and over! And what I gain from the fellowship of other believers who pass on their wisdom is invaluable! It’s one of the reason I so love women’s Bible studies. For the past year I’ve been leading small groups of much younger women at my church’s nighttime women’s Bible study. This “old broad” has gained so much insight from these precious younger gals! What a blessing to see younger women so excited to get to know God more and to grow in their faith! No fools around that table! :)

LORD, we so desire to know you better and to be people of wisdom! Help us to see our foolish ways and to turn from them! Keep us from returning to make the same mistakes over and over. And help us to share you with other "fools" who need to know the Truth!  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Proverbs 25:21-22 Motivation matters!

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,

    and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,  
for you will heap burning coals on his head,

    and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22)

I must have learned this verse years ago, because I have referred to it so many times! Paul picks it up in Romans 12 when writing about how Christians ought to live:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21)

The clear theme of these verses is to do the supernatural thing when you have been hurt by an enemy. The natural thing would be to lash out, defend yourself, and even cut down your enemy, all the while justifying your anger. The supernatural thing is to agree with Jesus: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” When we overcome evil with good we glorify God. And at the same time, we leave our enemy confused and feeling like garbage! :) The Message paraphrases Proverbs 22 this way:

Your generosity will surprise him with goodness,

    and God will look after you.

The Living Bible puts it this way:

This will make him feel ashamed of himself, and God will reward you.

I will confess that I have viewed this idea of heaping coals on someones head with a little bit of glee! But Paul makes it clear that my heart attitude stinks! He tells me to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all,” which tells me to check my heart and motives. God’s desire is always to lead men to repentance, because He wants all of them to come to Him. So my motivation in being kind to my enemies must be their redemption, not merely to see them ashamed!

Oh, LORD, I fall so short! Thank you that you are not finished with me yet! Help me to remember that you are also not finished with my enemies yet!  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bring on the bling!

If you are old enough, you may remember the Marilyn Monroe - Jane Russell movie, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, in which Marilyn sings “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” There is just something about bling and sparkle that we gals love. In reality, I came to enjoy this only later in my life.

For most of my marriage I discouraged Don from purchasing any jewelry for me. I had my simple wedding ring set and wore pearl studs and a watch, and occasionally a small cross around my neck - and that was it for me. Then Emmy became a Premier Designs sales consultant, and my world changed! I like to tell people that “when God told me to exercise, I thought He said, ‘Accessorize!’ ” All of a sudden I needed all kinds of jewelry pieces to complete my ensembles! The end result of this change is that I now have a giant drawer FILLED with jewelry! I could start my own business. I used to order pieces, and Emmy would tell me, “Mom, you already HAVE that one!” Seriously!

Well, our Proverbs verses for today tell us that the words we speak and hear are even more essential to our appearance!

A word fitly spoken

    is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. 
Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold

    is a wise reprover to a listening ear. (Proverbs 25:11-12 ESV)

Another version says,

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. (The Message)

It is amazing to me how the right words, spoken at just the perfect time, have brightened my day. In fact, some remain with me to this day. I will never forget when I was a new teacher, very discouraged by my lack of ability on a particularly trying day with first graders, when a sweet Christian coworker took my hands to pray with me as she said, “Sally, you just need to pray that you will LOOK competent while you are BECOMING competent!” I so needed to hear that! It transformed my view of myself, as I gave myself permission to be a learner, even as a teacher.

I have long believed that one of the most important spiritual gifts we have as believers is the gift of encouragement. When we can help buttress up another believer who is struggling by giving the exact word of encouragement she needs, we are throwing her a lifeline! And the more we use this gift, looking for daily opportunities to practice it, the more it becomes second nature to us. I learned from my mother that I should never let an opportunity to pay a compliment pass, because you may never get the chance to say it again. The world tears us all down daily! How refreshing to hear a positive word! So I look for chances to give out verbal blessings.

Besides dishing out blessings, sometimes we need be ready to lovingly give the necessary reprimand or word of correction when we are prompted by God to do so. I have received words of correction throughout my life that have profoundly impacted my behavior and attitudes. So, there have been many times when I have also needed to give out the truth to someone when some correction was essential. That’s not as easy, and not fun in any way. But Proverbs assures us that the fit word of reproof at the right time is just as powerful and precious as gold to the person willing to hear it.

A good word of reproof is not condemning. It is not designed to kill and destroy but to build up and strengthen. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “encourage the fainthearted.” (I Thes 5:14)  When someone is in a weakened state, we have the power to lift them up with our words. Let’s choose to do that rather than delivering the fatal blow!

I certainly don’t need any of the jewelry I have in that drawer. Although, I have to admit that, since I rarely open it, it’s always like finding a Christmas present when I dig in and see something “new!” And it’s not even real gold (I already sold all of that at a gold party years ago)! But the kind words, the encouraging, affirming words from others I never outgrow! Those I need and cherish! And the worth of the words of reproof and correction I have received over my lifetime will only be totally known in eternity! But I treasure those as well. Let’s keep our eyes open for chances to bless, and keep our ears open to admonishment when needed. They are the “bling” that lasts!  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What's wrong with the church? Me!

The problem is not evil people acting like evil people; the problem is righteous people not acting like righteous people. - Tony Evans, Pastor, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas, TX

Our pastor, J.P. Jones, quoted Tony Evans this morning as he was sharing in his series on how to work out what God has worked in (Phil 2:13). J.P. is leading us in a study of how to live out our faith in a real, authentic way as disciples of Christ, so that we might glorify God. And this quote, along with the worship song that lead into the service, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners,” really struck me in view of what I’ve been struggling with the past few days.

A few days ago I learned that a Christian sister had spread some “news” about another Christian friend that was devastating. It was the truth - but not the truth told in love. It wasn’t even disguised as a prayer request, but as “righteous” outrage. I was so upset that I could not sleep that night, because I was so busy judging the one who judged the other!! Do you see a problem here? Ye gads! The Church is just a place filled with sinners saved by grace, and made righteous by Christ. Yet, we are so busy judging everyone else, that we cannot be a light to the rest of the world!

So, when we sang the song by Casting Crowns, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners,” at the opening of the service, the LORD perfectly prepared my heart to hear the message and repent. Here are the lyrics: 

Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away 
We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing 
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth's become so hard to see 
The world is on their way to You but they're tripping over me
 Always looking around but never looking up I'm so double minded 
A plank eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided 

 Oh Jesus, friend of sinners 
Open our eyes to the world at the end of our pointing fingers 
Let our hearts be led by mercy 
Help us reach with open hearts and open doors 
Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, break our hearts for what breaks yours 

 Jesus, friend of sinners, the one who's writing in the sand 
Made the righteous turn away and the stones fall from their hands 
Help us to remember we are all the least of these 
Let the memory of Your mercy bring Your people to their knees 
Nobody knows what we're for, only what we're against when we judge the wounded 
What if we put down our signs, crossed over the lines and loved like You did 

 You love every lost cause; you reach for the outcast 
For the leper and the lame; they're the reason that You came 
Lord I was that lost cause and I was the outcast 
But you died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet 

 'Cause You are good, You are good and Your love endures forever... 

That song just broke my heart over my own sin. But along with Tony Evans’ quote, it speaks of the biggest problem in the church. People are dying to get to the Savior, but they are tripping over us! May we see with the eyes of Jesus when we find a brother or sister caught in sin, because we are all plank-eyed sinners! I was the lost cause He died for. So how can I not be broken-hearted when I see another “lost cause.” Shouldn’t our response be love - and truth spoken in love? If we know we need to correct another, let’s do it directly and prayerfully, with restoration, not destruction, in mind. 

Paul said it well: 

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2 ESV) 

I needed to hear this message today, so I’m passing it on to you, in case you also needed to hear it. If you want to repent in tears, click here to hear the YouTube version of Casting Crowns singing this amazing song!