Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Proverbs 10:6-10 Thanks for the memories!

Blessings crown the head of the righteous,

    but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.   

The memory of the righteous will be a blessing,

    but the name of the wicked will rot.   

The wise in heart accept commands,

    but a chattering fool comes to ruin.   

The man of integrity walks securely,

    but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.   

He who winks maliciously causes grief,

    and a chattering fool comes to ruin. (vs.6-10)

There is so much to think about in these five verses, but the second one, verse 7, especially speaks to me this morning. Those who are righteous leave a legacy of sweet memories. A dear co-worker, Cynthia, who joins us here every morning, lost her precious father last week after a long struggle with cancer. Cynthia was very close to her dad, and is finding comfort in her memories of special times with him. Her whole family was with him as he stepped into eternity. They knew he was immediately with Jesus, and so the pain was tempered with the assurance that they will see him again. Even though, like all parents, her father was not a perfect man, he left her with the blessing of sweet memories.

I did not know my paternal grandmother well. I rarely saw her growing up, and she died when I was 11 years old. However, she was such a godly woman, and my memories of her are of a very peaceful and sweet woman. She loved the LORD with all of her heart, and she faithfully prayed for her family members to come to Him. Memories (the few I have) of Grammy Frost are a blessing. She left a legacy of prayer that continues to bless our family today, down to her great, great-grandchildren.

I want my children and grandchildren to remember that I lived by faith, trusting God in all circumstances. That will only happen if I actually live that out before them! They need to see and hear me demonstrate my dependence upon God to meet my every need, to strengthen me when I’m weak. I have to allow Him to transform me from the inside out and I need to be authentic before them.

I’m watching my sister, Jodi, doing that right now. She recently found out that, after her second stem-cell infusion, her multiple myeloma is rearing its ugly head again. For the past two years, all of us who love her have been stunned, but amazed to watch her face and struggle through the sudden loss of her youngest son, Justin, while fighting cancer. She has been in and out of the hospital through two summers, constantly battling illness with her weakened immune system, all while trying to deal with overwhelming grief. Yet, Jodi has been strengthened internally. She has a peace and a joy that cannot be shaken. Even though she is down to her junior high school weight, she is a powerful witness to the faithfulness of God.

There is so much more in the other verses, but today I’m thinking about the blessing of a righteous life.  If you have a story to share about someone who is living out a righteous life before you right now or the memory of a lost one who left blessed memories for you, leave a comment for us. And, would you join me in praying for Cynthia and her family, especially her mother, Mary, as they adjust to life without Cynthia’s father? And would you please continue to pray for my dear sister and her precious husband, Ed? Pray for healing, strengthening, and protection for them. Please pray, specifically, that her body would continue to fight and win the victory over this enemy, cancer. To God be the glory!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Proverbs 10:1-5 Lots of "buts!"

In this chapter of Proverbs, Solomon begins to get very practical. Each saying at first glance seems like the strip you find in a fortune cookie - only these are inspired by God to lead us to a life lived out in wisdom. Each proverb stands alone, but there are repeated themes found among them. These are filled with “buts,” as Solomon uses contrasting images to compare the wise and foolish, the wealthy and poor, the industrious and the lazy, the righteous and the wicked.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I can already feel my warning alert going off in my head: “Don’t judge! Don’t judge!” The minute we read about “those” who are lazy or foolish, let’s make a pledge to hold the mirror up to ourselves first! Then let’s remember that we are who we are by the grace of God. Now, let’s dig in!

A wise son brings joy to his father,

    but a foolish son grief to his mother.  

Ill-gotten treasures are of no value,

    but righteousness delivers from death.  

The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry

    but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.  

 Lazy hands make a man poor,

    but diligent hands bring wealth.  

 He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son,

    but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son. (Proverbs 10:1-5)

Jesus told us to seek first righteousness - not earthly treasures. Heavenly treasures are the only ones that last and satisfy. Throughout this chapter Solomon will show us what the righteous man looks like and how he is blessed by God. Now, remember that Paul assures us in Romans 3 that there are NONE righteous in God’s eyes. We are only declared righteous because of the work Christ did on the cross. Our righteousness comes through faith in Christ (Romans 3:22-24). So, when we look at these verses about the righteous in Proverbs, remember that these are those who are seeking their righteousness from God. These are the ones who submit themselves to His wisdom and His instruction and who wholly rely on Him for transformation.

Solomon will continually slam the lazy. In verse 5 he refers to those who sleep during the harvest as disgraceful sons. He’s not just speaking about literal crops here. Jon Courson reminds us that Jesus told us that the spiritual harvest is continual (John 4:35). There are people all around us who need to hear the good news about Jesus. A large part of our work as Christians is to tell them! Let’s not sleep during the harvest!

I don’t want to be counted among the lazy. I know no one would accuse me of being slothful if they could follow me around all day, but I’m talking about a hesitancy to be brave enough to reach out to those all around me who don’t know the LORD. Surely we should begin each day asking God to help us demonstrate the gospel in our lives, that we would reflect His character, His love, and His grace. { I can tell you that the kids in my classroom would appreciate seeing more of those traits in me!! } Then, we should ask for opportunities and the boldness to share!

In previewing the next few verses, I can tell you I’m especially excited about one of them! Check back tomorrow! In the meantime, as we go through these verses, I hope you will let me know what gems you find in the Proverbs!  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Proverbs 9:13-18 No place to party!

In contrast to Wisdom, Solomon describes the woman, Folly:

The woman Folly is loud;

    she is undisciplined and without knowledge.  
She sits at the door of her house,

    on a seat at the highest point of the city,  
calling out to those who pass by,

    who go straight on their way.  
“Let all who are simple come in here!”

    she says to those who lack judgment. (Proverbs 9:13-16)

At first glance it seems there is not much of a difference in their approaches. Folly’s invitation to come is identical to that of Wisdom. However, Solomon describes her as “loud.” She is vying for attention and she knows how to get it! So she turns up the volume! She is “undisciplined,” unlike Wisdom who has spent a great deal of time in preparing her house for company. Wisdom’s appeal is straightforward and direct:

 “Come, eat my food

    and drink the wine I have mixed. 
Leave your simple ways and you will live;

    walk in the way of understanding.” (vs. 5-6)

But Folly tempts with a promise of pleasurable adventure:

“Stolen water is sweet;

    food eaten in secret is delicious!” (vs. 17)

Call Folly for a good time! She knows how to party! Really? The biggest contrast between these two women is in the aftermath of their gatherings. Wisdom promises you will come away from your time with her enriched: 

For through me your days will be many,

    and years will be added to your life. (v.11)

However, no matter how much great food, no matter how much fun you have with Folly, you will end up with worse than a hangover:

But little do they know that the dead are there,

    that her guests are in the depths of the grave. (vs. 18)

Folly’s ways seem attractive to the fool, to those who want an easier path. No need for discipline. No need for study. No need for change. Keep on keepin’ on! But her party leads to death - “to the depths of the grave!”

People, Wisdom requires discipline. It is not easy to receive her instruction, her rebukes, and correction. But those who desire to be wise will listen to her invitation. Solomon has spent nearly a third of this book encouraging us to choose Wisdom over Folly. He has been exhorting us to pay attention to what is coming in the rest of this book. Are we ready to listen? Next week we will begin chapter 10 and find treasure! Can’t wait!  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Proverbs 9:1-12 No need to RSVP - just come!

Chapter 9 of Proverbs, Solomon’s final exhortation to gain wisdom, ends with two invitations: one from Wisdom and one from Folly. He paints the picture of Wisdom having prepared her home for guests, setting the table and calling out to all:

“Let all who are simple come in here!”

    she says to those who lack judgment. 
“Come, eat my food

    and drink the wine I have mixed.  
Leave your simple ways and you will live;

    walk in the way of understanding.” (Proverbs 9:4-6)

Notice that this is an invitation to those who know their weaknesses. The “capable and self-sufficient” need not come to this party! Wisdom invites the simple of the world - those of us who have failed to figure it out on our own but long to understand! Those who respond to correction, rebuking, and instruction are the ones who may eat at this banquet:

“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult;

    whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. 
Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you;

    rebuke a wise man and he will love you. 
Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still;

    teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” (vbs. 7-9)

Jon Courson speaks of this chapter as an invitation to enroll in the college of wisdom. He warns those who think to enroll that they need to know that they will be required to take the course on criticism. He writes, “Author Norman Vincent Peale said that the trouble with us is that we would rather be destroyed by compliments than saved by criticism. Most people would rather hears compliments than the instruction and wisdom of criticism.” (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Old Testament, Volume 2, P. 201)

This is a recurring theme in the Proverbs. Years ago I had been studying the Proverbs for a few weeks, and it seemed that every time I came to a verse that spoke to the need to be open to instruction, it was as if the LORD had highlighted those verses in my Bible. So, one day as I was speaking critically of someone to my husband (who normally would have been on board with my opinion), he turned to me and said, “Who are you to judge?” Wow! It was like a slap across the face! But, because I had been studying the Proverbs, I immediately knew that his words were not his own, but directly from the LORD. It was a rebuke from God, and I immediately admitted that Don’s words were true and deserved, so I apologized!

And what does Wisdom say about our heeding her rebukes?

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

    and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.  
For through me your days will be many,

    and years will be added to your life. 
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
    if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.” (vs. 10-12) 

The college of Wisdom is a tough school! Reading God’s Word and looking at yourself through its lens is painful! But if we will look intently into the mirror it holds up to us, and will trust God to work in us and make those choices necessary to make the changes, we will be transformed more and more into His image. We will graduate with honors, hearing, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Sign me up!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Proverbs 8: Choose Wisdom!

Lately I haven’t been feeling like myself. Usually I’m very upbeat, energetic, and excited about life. My sisters think I’m somewhat of a Pollyanna! But this year has been one of the most difficult for me, and I find myself exhausted, physically and emotionally. On many mornings it has been a real struggle to sit myself down in front of the computer to get into and write about God’s Word. I haven’t really felt like it! Even though I treasure God’s Word, it has been a real battle with my will every morning. I’ve sometimes just gritted my teeth and said, “Okay, LORD, you know I don’t want to be here, so you are going to need to really help me this morning!”

I’m so thankful that God taught me early on in my walk with Him that I cannot go by my feelings, but only by the truth of His Word. My pastor reminded us this past Sunday, “The truest thing about you is what God says is true!” Regardless of how I’m feeling, God is ALWAYS with me and working on my behalf. When I’m feeling unlovable, His Word reminds me that He loved me so much that He sent His Son to die for me, so that I could be with Him for eternity. His Word assures me that He is deeply involved in every aspect of my life - He even counts the very heads on my head.

So when voices are calling me away, when feelings distract me or overwhelm me, I need to pay particular attention to His voice, the voice of Wisdom, that Solomon promises is calling out to me:

“To you, O men, I call out;

    I raise my voice to all mankind.  
You who are simple, gain prudence;

    you who are foolish, gain understanding.  
Listen, for I have worthy things to say;

    I open my lips to speak what is right.  
My mouth speaks what is true... (Proverbs 8:4-7a)

Even simple people like me can gain understanding and wisdom, and be able to discern what is really true if we will just listen!

Choose my instruction instead of silver,

    knowledge rather than choice gold,  
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,

    and nothing you desire can compare with her... 
 With me are riches and honor,

    enduring wealth and prosperity.  
My fruit is better than fine gold;

    what I yield surpasses choice silver.  
I walk in the way of righteousness,

    along the paths of justice,  
bestowing wealth on those who love me

    and making their treasuries full. (vs. 10-11, 18-21)

There is a choice laid out before me every morning. I can choose to listen to my feelings and set aside God’s Word, or I can choose the only thing that will really satisfy me and encourage me, and I can dig into it’s riches. I want my treasury to be full to overflowing. And that’s the life that God promises me, if I will only choose it! It’s why I continue to meet Him in the morning - even when I don’t feel like it! Can you identify??

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Proverbs 7 So what's with adultery?

Before we move into this next chapter of Proverbs, I just want to update you on my former student, Jacob. Good news! His latest PET scan was negative for the cancer, and he is officially in remission from the Hodgkin’s! He has been through so many rounds of chemo since September, so this is amazing news. He will begin radiation in a few weeks, and will hopefully be able to go back to his freshman year in high school before long! Please pray for continued protection and that his body would respond well to the radiation. Pray that he will feel strengthened and that he will feel the joy of the Lord! Pray that he will be able to now patiently wait as his body builds resistance so that he can return to school. Thanks for your faithful prayers!

Today we are reading through Proverbs 7. Again, Solomon warns the reader to hold on tight to God’s Wisdom - to make it your closest companion and sister - and to flee from the adulteress. He paints the picture of a senseless young man wandering through the neighborhood of this woman who was just waiting to tempt him. I’m going to look at Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase from The Message:

As I stood at the window of my house

    looking out through the shutters,

Watching the mindless crowd stroll by,

    I spotted a young man without any sense

Arriving at the corner of the street where she lived,

    then turning up the path to her house.

It was dusk, the evening coming on,

    the darkness thickening into night.

Just then, a woman met him—

    she’d been lying in wait for him, dressed to seduce him. (Proverbs 7:6-12) 

Why is Solomon spending so much time on the topic of adultery? Many of us would say that we can’t imagine that being a problem with us. Why can’t Solomon seem to move off of this subject? First of all, the minute we convince ourselves that some particular sin would NEVER be our problem, we have a problem! That kind of arrogant pride is the beginning of just such a fall! NONE of us is immune from any kind of temptation, and we must always be humbly on guard against Satan’s tricks! And adultery is the ultimate form of unfaithfulness. Anything that leads us from complete devotion to God is adultery in God’s eyes. Israel was constantly being compared to an adulteress by the prophets of the Old Testament for her unfaithfulness to God. Solomon had first-hand experience with it, so he knows what he’s talking about! 

In this particular passage, the adulteress is brazen when she meets the young man:

She threw her arms around him and kissed him,

    boldly took his arm and said,

“I’ve got all the makings for a feast—

    today I made my offerings, my vows are all paid,

So now I’ve come to find you,

    hoping to catch sight of your face—and here you are!

I’ve spread fresh, clean sheets on my bed,

    colorful imported linens.

My bed is aromatic with spices

    and exotic fragrances.

Come, let’s make love all night,

    spend the night in ecstatic lovemaking!

My husband’s not home; he’s away on business,

    and he won’t be back for a month.” (vs. 13-20)

Look at how she makes a pretense of religiosity! She has just come from making her offerings and has paid all her vows! But instead of sharing her spiritual life with her husband, she’s using it as a lure to this young man. It is a good warning to us that even in the midst of Christian fellowship we can find temptation! There’s a reason churches have women’s Bible studies separate from men’s. The intimacy that comes from sharing God’s Word and His work in our lives can be a place of temptation. The friendship that starts over a Bible study can lead to something more. Solomon’s advise? Don’t even get started in that kind of relationship! 

So, friends, listen to me,

    take these words of mine most seriously.

Don’t fool around with a woman like that;

    don’t even stroll through her neighborhood.

Countless victims come under her spell;

    she’s the death of many a poor man.

She runs a halfway house to hell,

    fits you out with a shroud and a coffin. (vs.24-27)

In the next study, we will see Wisdom again personified as a different kind of woman, the kind of company we should be keeping.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Proverbs 6:16-19 God HATES that!

There are six things the Lord hates,

    seven that are detestable to him:
          haughty eyes,

        a lying tongue,

        hands that shed innocent blood,
        a heart that devises wicked schemes,
        feet that are quick to rush into evil,
        a false witness who pours out lies

        and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

One of the things that I notice as we read through the Proverbs is how easy it is to apply the verses to other people rather than to ourselves. Whether thinking about people who hoard or are lazy, don’t we tend to shake our heads as we think of “those” who do such things? We fall so quickly into judging others rather than seeing our own sin. So, as we read verses that begin with “There are six things the Lord hates...,” we are already primed to also hate these things and “those people” who do them - and we cannot imagine how these verses would apply to us personally!

I’ve been thinking about these verses since yesterday, and the Lord showed me a couple of amazing things while I was preparing to tackle them. First, I noticed that it does NOT start out “The Lord hates people who do these things...” It isn’t until the last lines that it becomes that personalized. The other verses are talking about detached body parts: eyes that are proud or haughty; tongues that lie; hands that kill; hearts that plot; and feet that run to evil. It isn’t until the end that it says God hates the person who lies and stirs up dissension.

 God is love, and it’s hard to think of Him hating anything! But these attitudes and actions come straight from the pit of hell. They come from the father of lies whose goal is to kill, steal, and destroy. Satan LOVES each of these things that God hates. And he uses even the most godly people to be instruments of these hateful actions. Remember Jesus rebuking Peter with a “Get the behind me, Satan!” when Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross?

We may decry “those people” who are prideful, “those” who lie, gossip and discourage, “those” who manipulate to get their way, “those” who create dissension, but we have to admit that sometimes “they” is “us!” We can be unwittingly used by Satan, and then, sometimes, it’s almost as if we raise our hands and shout to Satan, “Send me! I’ll discourage the heck out of that guy!”

How do we avoid being part of what God hates? First by humbly admitting our need to depend on His strength, not our own - and then ASKING Him for that strength. The Bible reminds us over and over to guard our hearts. Jesus said that out of the HEART the mouth speaks. In Jeremiah we are told, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:5) The Holy Spirit is the One who can change our hearts. We need to offer them up for change, be open to change as we study God’s Word, and actively seek to DO what God’s Word tells us!

We might even begin with that whole judgmental attitude thing. Repent of it! Then extend GRACE to others. I read the most amazing article the other day which speaks to the idea that Christians eat their own! We can be so harsh and gleefully jump on those who have fallen. I’m begging you to also read this article. It defines GRACE acted out. The title is “Going to Hell With Ted Haggard.” Now, doesn’t that make you want to read it? Do it, then let me know what you think!  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Proverbs 6:12-15 Watch out scoundrels!

A scoundrel and villain,

    who goes about with a corrupt mouth,
    who winks with his eye,

    signals with his feet

    and motions with his fingers,
    who plots evil with deceit in his heart—

    he always stirs up dissension.  
Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant;

    he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy. (Proverbs 6:12-15)

In these verses Solomon describes the person who plots and stirs up trouble. The one at work who likes to play people against each other. The neighbor who keeps the gossip mill going to create controversy. Anyone who says one thing but means another. We know these people - sometimes we might even BE these people. God forbid!

Jon Courson suggests there might be a tie-in with these verses to the previous verses on being lazy, because lazy people fall prey to get-rich-quick schemers who plot ways to separate us from our money. People who are lazy are always looking for the easy buck, and scoundrels are right there to promise it. They promise the moon with their fingers crossed behind their backs. They happily sell you the lottery ticket knowing you are throwing your money down the drain.

The good news is that people who plot with evil intention always seem to fall into their own traps. Indeed, Solomon promises here that they will not get away with it. They will be destroyed by sudden disaster. Psalm 37 repeats this theme, affirming that the wicked will get their due. Has someone been plotting evil toward you? Don’t worry. You don’t need to defend yourself. God will take care of the scoundrels!  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Proverbs 6:6-11 Get up, you lazy fool!

Before I move on this morning, I just have to give you the opportunity to check out my daughter Molly’s blog published last week, which is about the concept of hoarding and being controlled by what we own. If you have small children or grandchildren, this is must-read for inoculating your children against a sense of entitlement. Click here to read!

In today’s verses in Proverbs, Solomon makes such a quick turn from the subject of lending, that you might get whiplash! These next verses speak to the subject of ambition, with a strong rebuke to the lazy:

Go to the ant, you sluggard;

    consider its ways and be wise!  
It has no commander,

    no overseer or ruler,  
yet it stores its provisions in summer

    and gathers its food at harvest.  
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?

    When will you get up from your sleep?  
A little sleep, a little slumber,

    a little folding of the hands to rest—  
and poverty will come on you like a bandit

    and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:6-11)

About thirty years ago I did a study in Proverbs about the subject of wealth vs. poverty. We will read much on this topic while in this book! This is the first mention of one of the causes of poverty: laziness. Now, we know this is not the only cause, but there are many people who do end up in poverty because they refuse to get off their behinds and get to work! Solomon is promising the reader that if you do not get up out of bed and get going, preferring to lounge around like a slug, you will end up in poverty. 

The image I’m getting here is that of a teenager who, during the summer, keeps late hours, then cannot get himself up out of bed to look for the summer job that Dad has been haranguing him to find. You want to shake him or throw water on him. “Get up, you fool! Quit wasting the day and get out there and pound the pavement!”

I remember how much I hated the idea of going out and finding a summer job when I was home from college! It wasn’t so much laziness as fear. But I am so grateful for a father who kept pushing me! I had applied at one place, and the manager told me he didn’t need anyone. This actually relieved me, as I could honestly claim to my father that I had tried. But Dad said, “Go back and ask again. You need to show a strong interest.” Thinking my father was a lunatic, but nevertheless feeling safe to go back and ask again, I went back a second time. Still no positions available. Phew! But my father made me go back a THIRD time! This time, the manager said, “You know, I don’t really have any openings, but I’m so impressed by your persistence, I’m going to hire you anyway!” Wow! I learned a huge lesson about employers and how to get a job! The truth is that summer job had a lot to do with me reconnecting with my husband Don, which led to our marriage! So, thank, Dad, for pushing me!

Don’t you love how Solomon refers to the industrious ant? I love how God uses His creation to teach us truths about life and about Himself. That amazing creature is a model of industry and persistence. Anyone who has been invaded by ants would agree! They are so focused on their task and don’t let any obstacles get in their way. They work ceaselessly and take care to store up for the future. { Okay, so I guess having the annuity is a smart thing! }

The point Solomon is making is that we need to work for our needs. God did not call us to easy! He is the Provider, but He expects us to work - not because He is a mean taskmaster, but because work is GOOD for us! It develops so many characteristics that we need. Work not only provides us with finances, but with a purpose outside of ourselves. It trains us to be responsible, submissive to authority, and accountable to others. It provides us with a great deal of satisfaction. God is preparing us for heaven, and I have a feeling we will NOT be sitting on our bottoms there!  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What are you holding onto?

I’ve been doing the Beth Moore study on the book of James this year, and we are almost at the end. It has been an amazing, challenging study! As I was reading James 5 this past week, I was impressed by the harshness of the first few verses:

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. (James 5:1-3)

This particular passage is similar to a pronouncement of judgment from an Old Testament prophet like Isaiah. While James addresses his reading audience as “brothers” throughout the letter, here he is speaking to “you rich people” - and in the strongest terms. It seems that he is specifically writing to those who oppress others (verses 4-6), rather than to his “brothers.” However, the message is clear for all of us, and certainly these words parrot exactly what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:19-21 and in Luke 12:13-21. Don’t put your faith in things that don’t last! Quit holding onto those things that wear out! 

Beth Moore, in discussing these verses, focuses on the hoarding we do. Now, I am not someone who holds onto things to the extent that I would qualify for a reality show. I do have neighbors, however, who surely would. We have three-car garages, and some of them on my street are crammed from floor to ceiling with years of accumulated junk, so that there is no way even one car could fit in them. So, as I read the above verses in James, before I could go on a judging jag, the Lord brought me up short about my own attitudes!

I may not have boxes and boxes of “stuff” crammed into my garage just in case I might “someday” need something that’s in those boxes, BUT Don and I do have retirement money set aside in an annuity that is supposed to help see us through our remaining years. Now, I know that is the responsible thing to do, but I’ve been finding that I need to guard my heart when it comes to my attitude toward it. Am I “hoarding” it in my heart? I find myself sometimes worrying, “Will it be enough? Can we tap into it for vacations? Or should we leave it all untouched just is case???” See how that little trickle of worry could become a raging river?

We recently took out a chunk from it and set it into our bank account for some expenses we see coming up this year. The refrigerator is on its last legs, the water heater’s days are numbered, and the TV in the family room (an old behemoth of a thing) is ready to go, as well. So, we took a sum out of the annuity to help cover those costs, as well as just some living expenses since Don is retired. And right away, I could feel myself getting a bit worried. I’m having to remind myself that my future is in God’s hands! HE is where my security lies - not in a 401K or an annuity. The annuity is only as good as the company that holds it! But my eternity - my REAL future - is in God’s sovereign hands. And He loves me more than I can fathom.

So, what are you holding onto? Or what is holding onto you? Are you getting lost in piles of things in your closet or boxes stacked in your garage? While we hold onto these things that we will probably never use again, and which our children will have to deal with when we are gone (and they WILL be cursing us in that event), there ARE people who might make good use of these things. There are people all around us who would love some of our clothes, toys, and furniture. There are MANY who don’t have the luxury of planning a vacation somewhere who could use some of our hoarded wealth. It’s time to rethink our priorities and our giving. That’s what a new year is all about!

Back to Proverbs tomorrow!  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Proverbs 6:1-5 Don't lend!

The first nine chapters of Proverbs Solomon are introductory and foundational. In them he focuses mainly on two topics: the need for a life dependent upon God’s wisdom, and the dangers of adultery. So, these first verses of chapter six seem almost out of context, because they turn to the subject of how we should handle money, specifically the topic of lending:

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,

    if you have struck hands in pledge for another,  
If you have been trapped by what you said,

    ensnared by the words of your mouth,  
then do this, my son, to free yourself,

    since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:

Go and humble yourself;

    press your plea with your neighbor! 
Allow no sleep to your eyes,

    no slumber to your eyelids. 
Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,

    like a bird from the snare of the fowler. (Proverbs 6:1-5)

In these verses of Proverbs, Solomon, very pointedly warns us to avoid lending money to a friend. In fact, he says, if you have already done this, don’t let another day go by without somehow freeing yourself from this pledge. He is emphatic about it! He uses the imagery of animals entrapped in a snare to demonstrate how lending money to another complicates the relationship. It almost seems as if a financial relationship is very similar to a sexual one. When you become entangled financially with a friend, the dynamics of the relationship will change - almost as if you are tied together as one. This is because our hearts are the storehouse of what we value.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

This is why it is so dangerous for us to become financially ensnared with another - especially with family and friends. If someone we care about comes to us and asks for a loan, we generally want to help. But lending money may not be the best way to help - in fact, Solomon seems to be putting up flashing lights here to warn us away from it. The minute we lend our money, we have complicated the relationship. This person has now become indebted to us, and we begin to feel proprietary toward that person. We think, “Surely, if I have loaned him the money, I should have some say in what he does with it!” It’s a slippery slope to disaster in the relationship!

So, what do we do if someone asks for financial assistance? What if your son or daughter comes to you and needs a loan? First PRAY about it. Maybe the LORD wants to use other means to help your child. There have been many times when I could have stepped in and helped my daughters financially in the past. Neither has ever asked for help, but there have been times when they could truly have used it. But I’ve never been led by the Lord to actually step in - and that has always turned out to be the right decision, because we have been able to see God work things out, instead of me! And His resolutions have always been amazing and brought Him great glory. In fact, He has built testimonies in their lives because of HIS faithfulness! They have seen that they are dependent upon HIM and not ME!

So, should we NEVER help someone out financially? Certainly not! It is clear throughout the scriptures that we should help out those in need. But we should not lend, we should GIVE as God leads us and enables us. All that we have is His, and we need to let it freely pass through our hands. That brings me to a topic for tomorrow: hoarding. I’ve been thinking about that this week, and I think it’s something we need to look at!  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Money, money, money!

Money is a problem! Or at least the lack of it... well, actually, the perceived lack of it... By any standard we Americans are the wealthiest people in the world - and yet we are in a bucket load of debt! Not just our nation, but individually! And January is the time when those financial chickens come home to roost! Whatever overspending we did in December to provide the presents for Christmas now stares us in the face as those bills start coming in this month! I almost was sick to my stomach this morning as I went to pay bills online!

I don’t know about you, but I love to shop for my girls and my grandchildren! It is so much fun! But I do know that I am not meeting their “needs” with my gifts, but rather taking care of my own “wants” by indulging them. Before Don retired, I never really thought much about the Christmas bills - just paid them. But now that we are living pretty much just on my dwindling teacher salary, I need to learn to budget! And I find myself thinking more about money than I used to... This is not good! In fact, focusing on money at all can be a spiritual problem.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Now, I don’t consider myself a “lover” of money. But just having it consume more of my thoughts than before shows me I’m in a struggle over it, and I need to guard myself from letting it entrap me! Don and I have never fought over money - it has never been an issue - even when we were first married and I was an at-home mommy and we could just barely cover our bills. But now that we are heading into those years when the financial stream becomes a trickle, I can see that I’m going to have to make some intentional choices to not let “financial security” become a stumbling block!

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Any worrying is a lack of faith, and worrying over finances is certainly a sign that we are not trusting God. He has promised that He will take care of ALL of our needs when we put Him first. As stewards of all God has given us, we DO have to take responsibility for our finances and plan for our future in a reasonable way, but we need to always remember that what God gives us is meant for His glory - not for our gratification.

What is the best way to keep a balanced approach to all things financial? I’m excited to see what Proverbs tells us about this topic! Tomorrow, we’ll look at the first few verses in Proverbs 6 to see what God says about lending. Interesting stuff!  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy New Year! Some Updates..

Welcome back! I hope you all enjoyed blessed holidays with family and friends! Today, it’s back to school for me! I had such a refreshing two weeks off, that I’m ready to get back to work and routine!

Don’t you love the promise of a new year? It’s like facing a blank sheet of paper. The old year, with it’s disappointments and hardships is gone, and we can face the new year with hope for a better tomorrow. Actually, EVERY day with God is like that! His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). No matter how we have failed Him one day, when we confess our sin, He is faithful to forgive and give us a fresh start (1 John 1:9). I don’t know about you, but I constantly need a fresh start! So my hope, looking ahead to this new year, is that this will be a year of growth with God - that as we meet Him every morning in 2013, we will find ourselves increasingly changed into His image!

Before we move ahead in Proverbs, I wanted to update you on some we have been praying for. Please continue to keep my former student, Jacob, in your prayers. He has been through six rounds of chemotherapy for the Hodgkin’s disease, so he needs continuous prayer that the treatment will fight back the cancer and that he will be strengthened in his spirit as well as in his body.

And please continue to pray for my sister, Jodi, as she remains vulnerable to every illness while she is fighting multiple myeloma. She, too, needs to be strengthened and encouraged. May this be a year of victory and rest from further battles for both Jodi and Jacob!

Over the break, I was able to meet with my friend, Karen, the one who had the kidney transplant, and with her daughter, Kristen, my former student, who donated her kidney to her mom. What a testimony they are! They are both doing so well - you would never know that they have only just recently been through such serious surgery! Thank you, LORD, for that you are not only willing, but you are ABLE to heal those for whom we pray!!

Finally, if you know me at all, you know I shamelessly promote my two daughters! Not because I think they are so special (although I certainly DO think that), but because I am excited about where the LORD leads them! Molly and her family have been working on their Project Blessing Bags, and have received enough donations to put together 150 bags to distribute to the homeless. We will be putting the bags together on January 20th. If you are interested in this project, please click here. Meanwhile, Emmy is in the midst of planning her Choose Joy event, a conference for those who have struggled with infertility and/or adoption. We all know young couples who have been affected by this! Please check out her link here and share it with friends who may be interested. Okay, tomorrow we begin in earnest to catch up with the Proverbs! We will be in chapter 6, a most practical chapter!