Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday! The curtain is torn!

Because it’s Good Friday, I want to focus today on what Jesus did for us on the cross. It’s incomprehensible to me that Jesus died for me while I was yet a miserable sinner, completely ignoring Him! Even though I would have been considered a “nice” person, there was really nothing righteous about me before I gave my life to Christ! And when He died on the cross He took on not only the punishment for all of my sins, but for those of the whole world, past, present, and future. No wonder “darkness came over all the land” while he was on that cross! (Matthew 27:45)

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

And the truly amazing part for me, the one thing that always jumps out at me when I read about the scene of the crucifixion is what happened as soon as he died:

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51)

The significance of this can’t be missed. The curtain in the temple was what separated the he Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies, which symbolized the very presence of God in the temple. The Holy of Holies was off limits to everyone but the High Priest. When that barrier was removed at Jesus’ death, and note that it was torn from top to bottom (God reaching down to us vs. our efforts to reach up to Him), the way was opened for access to God through Christ. I can now enter into the very Throne Room of God! Hallelujah! He wants me to come in! Amazing!

This is why the writer of Hebrew implores us to come:

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Because of what Jesus, our High Priest, has done, we can enter into God’s presence BOLDLY! He not only CAN answer our prayers, He WANTS to! What are we waiting for? This access cost Jesus His life! How can we neglect it or take it for granted? Thank you, Jesus, for this amazing gift! Just in case this doesn’t have you jumping up and down yet, I’m giving you this link this morning to my favorite Easter video. It’s short, but will have you shouting, “Amen!” Enjoy! Happy Easter to you all!  

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Proverbs 15:17 Apples again?

Lately my retired husband, Don, who has taken on all of the domestic duties of the household (bless him), has been so busy taking care of things for his father and staying on top of our laundry (the urgent), that he has not had a chance to do any real grocery shopping, so our pantry looks bleak. Yet, we’ve managed for about three weeks to eek out decent meals. We had delicious chicken soup made with the leftover Costco chicken last night. And we’ll still get another meal out of this week. But when I went to find a late night snack last night, I left the pantry shaking my head. Nothing appealed to me. I was looking for a Skor bar, actually! :)

So, today’s verse spoke to me:

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is

    than a fattened ox and hatred with it. (Proverbs 15:17)

Even though I left the kitchen grumbling a little bit like the Israelites (“What? Manna again?”), I realized that 99% of the world would give anything to have access to my pantry! In fact, this week so would my own daughter Emmy and her family! They are in the middle of an experiment, based on the book, The 7 Experiment by Jen Hatmaker. It’s the book that their small group is going through together. The author’s purpose is to help us shed ourselves of excess.

The idea of the book is that you fast in seven different areas: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, and stress. Frankly, that last one on the list sounds like a great idea! So, this week the Blakely family is limiting their intake to just seven items of their choosing. They are halfway through a week of just bread, chicken, rice, avacado, peanut butter, apples, and salt. I may not have that exactly right, but you get the point. The first day into it I received a text from my grandson, Beau, who is 10: “NEED SUGAR!” His dessert that night had been a peanut butter sandwich!

They are really living out our verse for today! And Emmy has gained a genuine appreciation for the splendor of all of the wonderful foods that God has given us, along with the tastebuds to enjoy them! As Emmy said yesterday about God’s abundant provision: “He could have just given us sustenance. But instead he gave us French fries!” :)

I’m excited to watch them go through this process - although I think the media fast will be the most difficult. When Beau next hears at Sunday School the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert eating nothing but manna, I think he will understand in a way that many of his friends won’t.

We were actually studying that passage in Exodus in our women’s Bible study at church a couple of weeks ago. We were considering that God used manna to create a hunger in the Israelites for more of Him! Any time we fast from something for Him, it will give us a new vision of His character and His loving provision to meet all of our needs. And wouldn’t you rather have a dinner of herbs in a home filled with the love of the Lord than a prime rib feast in a house without Him?  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Proverbs 15:3 He doesn't miss a thing!

About the time my girls entered middle school they were increasingly faced with choices outside the home that were beyond my ability to monitor. When they were spending nights out with friends they had to choose which movies or TV to watch, which music to listen to, etc. I resorted to reminding them, only half-joking since it was true, that, no matter where they were, Jesus was also with them and would be watching the same movie or listening to the same lyrics. Would He enjoy watching that movie or listening to that song? These reminders were always followed by a groaning, “Oh, Mom!” I think Molly took me seriously, but Emmy pretty much thought I was a major fuddy-duddy! :)

But our verse in Proverbs this morning confirms what I said!

The eyes of the Lord are in every place,

    keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3)

Now, some people find this creepy. They don’t like the fact that God is always watching! But I find this extremely comforting! There’s not a thing he misses, and, frankly, I’m glad! Not only does He know when what I’m doing, good or bad, but He CARES! He is a 24/7 God - watching over me and counting my hairs! I love it! And when He convicts me about something I’m doing, it’s actually a GOOD thing, because He’s trying to transform my thinking. He doesn’t want me conforming to the world so that I look exactly like it!

I couldn’t believe it when I saw this verse, though, because Emmy and I had just had that same conversation we had in junior high just this week! We were talking about our current culture, and I was expressing shock at some things Christian women will read or watch these days. I reminded her again that Jesus is right there with His people as we are involved in our activities, and we should be asking if it’s something He’s enjoying with us. And I got the same old response! :) She STILL thinks I’m a fuddy-duddy!

But I kind of wonder, if we applied this thought from Proverbs 15:3 as we made decisions about what we do, read, watch, or listen to in our free time, if it wouldn’t maybe just change our choices. Would I watch that DVD, would I read that book if they came with a warning label: “Caution: Jesus will be watching this with you?” I’m just asking...

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t ever watch or read something that might be considered a “guilty pleasure,” but I have certainly been known to turn off a program or quit reading a book if I thought it was taking me where I do not want to go! Here’s what I know is true. My recreation time is VERY limited. So when choosing what I do, I’m pretty sure I should probably be making wise choices, and fill my mind with those things that edify and work toward my transformation. Paul put it this way:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

This fuddy-duddy is going to try to make better choices!  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Today’s passage comes back to the subject of our words. The LORD knows we need lots of instruction in this area, because it is our mouth that gets us into so much trouble!

A soft answer turns away wrath,

    but a harsh word stirs up anger.  

The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,

    but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (Proverbs 15:1-2)

 “You catch more flies with honey!” I’m not sure when I first heard this saying, but it goes along with verse one above. This just seems intuitive to me, that you will get a better response if you frame your words in sweetness when you need to respond to a criticism or voice a complaint. Yet, our natural response when we feel we have been “attacked” is to get defensive, and often, when we have a complaint, we want to be heard, so we up the volume and become hostile. This just escalates the problem!

One year I made a REALLY dumb decision in my classroom that involved one of my sweetest girls. Her mom, who is actually one of my favorites, came in the next day to give me an earful. There was nothing to do but admit that I had been incredibly wrong and apologize profusely. I could have defended my decision as the teacher and just stood my ground, but it would have been wrong for several reasons. First of all, the mother’s complaint was legitimate, and second, had I answered in a defensive manner, her anger would have skyrocketed! Once I accepted my responsibility, her balloon of anger popped and we had a really constructive discussion that actually allowed me to bring the LORD into the discussion. We remain mutual fans!

Jon Courson has an interesting look at verse two above, because he says even knowledge can be used in a foolish way. He reminds us of the night that Peter got into trouble with a sword. Remember when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter took out his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in order to defend the LORD. Jesus rebuked Peter and healed the ear, his final healing before the crucifixion. Courson points out that, in the same way, we can use the Sword of the Spirit, God’s Word, to strike out at others to prove or defend a point.

Peter had impulsively used the sword right after failing to stay awake and pray with Jesus in the garden. So, Courson speculates that he may have been using activity to make up for his lack of piety. Hmmm... there’s one we have all been guilty of at some time.

So, whether we are making a complaint or giving out God’s Word, we first need to slow down and pray that our words will be edifying, rather than destructive. If we do this, first, we may just decide that our words are not even needed! But, surely, any words we give out will be more Spirit-directed! This just seems like good ol’ common sense.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Proverbs 14:26 A refuge for my family

There are so many gems in Proverbs 14 - about wisdom, the value of hard work, the folly of a quick temper. Any one of them would make a great poster for a high school classroom. But the one verse that just leaps out at me is verse 26:

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,

    and his children will have a refuge. (ESV)

The NIV (1984) puts it this way:

He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.

Usually when we fear something, we LACK confidence. But the fear of the LORD actually builds it! When we revere God, honor Him, recognize who He is and remember His attributes, we are filled with confidence - not in ourselves, but in our God. That’s why most teachings on prayer say to begin with worship or adoration. Even the LORD Jesus taught us this when He gave us the Lord’s Prayer, that begins with “...hallowed by Thy name.”

When we meditate on His character, we are enabled to make our requests to Him boldly, because we know He’s not only willing to listen and help, He is also able. We remind ourselves that He is sovereign over all, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, the Creator, all-sufficient, compassionate, faithful (even when we aren’t), merciful, righteous, and just. And above all, He is holy, holy, holy - which is why we are in awe (or fear) of Him.

This is a God who can handle my life. This is the God who can handle THIS day! And when I live each day in this confidence, demonstrating that my complete trust is in Him and not myself, I am providing a place of shelter or refuge for my family. When our children and grandchildren see us making decisions based on our faith in God - when they see us trust Him through hard times - when they see us lean on Him to provide for our every need - when they see in us the desire to be transformed by God - when they see us authentically and transparently walking the talk - then they, too, can live in confidence.

I knew as a younger mommy that passing the faith onto my girls was my utmost priority. When my girls married godly husbands, I kind of relaxed and said, “My job is done!” But now that I’m a grandmother, I can see that the job of continuing that with my grandchildren is just as critical. They are watching Nanny and Papa. We need to support their parents in raising them in the Lord. We need to help them see that the LORD is THEIR secure fortress, that He will be THEIR strength. They are watching us as we care for Don’s father, their great-grandpa. They are watching as we demonstrate our priorities in the use of our money and certainly in the use of our time. Do they see that Jesus is the LORD of our lives?

Yes, grandparents have the privilege of spoiling their grandchildren - and we have the pleasure of seeing the world all over again through their eyes. But we also have the responsibility of helping them see God everywhere and in everything. Several years ago I found a devotional regarding the place of grandparents passing on the faith. I love the challenge it presented:

If you do nothing else in this life but help to keep the sacredness of Christian faith alive into the next generation, you will have succeeded. Recommit yourself to that task today.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Proverbs 14:10 Just between us...

One of the things that I treasure about my relationship with God is that there are some things that are just between Him and me. No matter how much I share with friends or family or even with my favorite confidante, no one, not even me, knows my heart like He does.

That thought came home to me one day when Molly, at the age of 5, had spent a weekend away from us with a friend. As I listened to her recount with joy all of the fun things she had done, and tried to envisage it, it struck me that most of her life would be completely separate from me. There were thoughts and adventures and sorrows that she would know that would only be known by her and God. She would have a special intimacy with God that would be just theirs. And then I realized that was true with each of us, and I just marveled at that. And the verse we’re looking at today is a poignant reminder of that:

The heart knows its own bitterness,

    and no stranger shares its joy. (Proverbs 14:10)

The reality is that when you are in the midst of great sorrow, no one but God can know the depth of your pain. Certainly others can grieve with you, and some will have been through something similar and will be able to empathize and even encourage you. But your true sorrow is known only to God. I think of my sister, Jodi, who lost her son Justin two years ago this month. As much as we all mourn with her, there is a solitary grief that only she and God fully comprehend.

And, conversely, no one can feel the height of your joy when you hold your first grandchild. Yes, your friends rejoice with you, and those who are already grandparents have an understanding, but only you and God know the particular joy of that bond you feel.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! 

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from afar.   

You search out my path and my lying down

    and are acquainted with all my ways. 

 Even before a word is on my tongue,

    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether... (Psalm 139:1-4)

 He gets us! I don’t know about you, but that just blows me away!  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Proverbs 14:6-9 Seek and He will find you!

Mockers and scoffers. Jesus certainly met a lot of them during His ministry here. My guess is that you all know plenty of them yourself. Some may even be in your family. They can’t understand why you actually believe all of this Bible stuff! Take heart! Today’s verses speak to this:

A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain,

    but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.  
Leave the presence of a fool,

    for there you do not meet words of knowledge.  
The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way,

    but the folly of fools is deceiving.  
Fools mock at the guilt offering,

    but the upright enjoy acceptance. (Proverbs 14:6-9)

I thought it was interesting that, in verse 6, we are told that scoffers can be “seekers.” The problem is that their seeking of wisdom is all in vain. They will never find as long as they refuse to believe God’s Truth.

Years ago, when I went back to college to finally earn my bachelor’s degree at age 37 (I left UCLA after my junior year to marry Don), I enrolled in a humanities class called “The History of Christian Thought from Martin Luther to the Present.” The reality was that once we left Calvin and Knox, we pretty much deserted Christian thought! I had the sweetest professor, who called himself a “Christian humanist.” Turns out this is really an Eastern metaphysical outlook attached to Christian principles (but not necessarily Christ) - basically Buddhist. He considered himself a seeker.

There was a 27-year old young man in the class, who also professed to be a Christian humanist. Not sure if he was trying to kiss up or really bought into the philosophy. At any rate, the older professor had enough wisdom to be humble and actually acknowledge the possibility that he had not yet found what he was seeking. The younger, being a cocky dude, proudly proclaimed that he loved being a seeker and would spend his life continually seeking some wisdom. It was like he was proudly wearing a badge that said “Seeker!”

Every week as I prepared to go to this classroom, I needed to pray up for boldness and for the words of the Holy Spirit, because the class was filled with young people, who were eager to believe whatever our professor said. Anyway, one afternoon, after the young seeker had been spouting off about his great ambition to seek, I had to say something (does this surprise you???).

So I said to him directly, “You know, this whole idea of continuing your whole life to search for some higher power is great for you here in America, where you can afford to be going to college your whole life and spend your time thinking lofty thoughts. But my God is available to the woman in the fields of Africa who is only trying to find enough food to feed her children. If God were only available to the intellectuals pursuing Him, He would be off-limits to 99% of the world! My God is available to EVERYONE! We have been studying in here what men in ivory towers, men who were paid to think all day thought about Christ. I want to know what the woman cleaning toilets in their day thought. How did these men’s philosophies affect their lives? How did it affect their relationship with their family members? Because I can tell you that Jesus has radically changed my life and my marriage.” Yeah, I was on my soapbox!

After class a girl came up to and said, “I’m a Christian, too! I’m so glad you know what to say, because I don’t really know how to defend my faith.” I responded to her in a very direct fashion (again, you are not surprised), and said, “Well, you better learn!” The next week I brought her all kinds of materials and urged her to get busy reading! :)

On the day of the final, I brought my beloved professor several books, including C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (totally appeals to intellectual men), and Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter and Evidence That Demands a Verdict. I thanked my professor for such an awesome class, but told him I thought he might be interested in hearing another side of Christian thought. He thanked me profusely. A few months later he wrote the most amazing letter of recommendation for me, in which he specifically noted that he had never met anyone who could so powerfully and humbly defend her beliefs (was he saying I was pushy??). Loved that man and pray that he finally found our Savior. Wondering whatever happened to that young seeker...

The wisdom that the Bible says we need does not come from intellectual pursuit. It comes from the Holy Spirit. We can claim no pride in “finding” Christ - because the reality is that HE found us!!! We are surrounded by scoffers. Keep praying for them - but be ready to give an answer!  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Proverbs 14:4 Continued...

Last time we were looking at Proverbs 14:4.

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,

    but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. 

I am still working on my “take away” from this verse! Productivity or fruitfulness for God comes with some “mess.” I have always said that God did not call me to “easy.” But He has promised to equip me for anything that He asks me to do! In fact, in his benediction to the book of Hebrews, the author (most likely Paul) writes the following:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,  equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.   (Hebrews 13:20-21)

God will surely equip me for whatever He has called me to do, because He is both able to do so (He raised Jesus from the dead) and He is willing (He wants me to bring glory to Jesus Christ). I do not need to fear the “mess” of stepping away from where I am now to follow His lead. This is on my heart right now as I look to my future and think about retirement from teaching. I have so loved this job (that I came into kicking and screaming at God, even though I knew it was His calling for me)! Twenty-one years ago, I was terrified to step out of my role of at-home mommy to become a full-time teacher! But God has been so faithful to not only equip me, but to give me a passion for this work. He has blessed me with amazing co-workers over the years and allowed me to become involved with such wonderful children and their families! It’s been awesome!

But I’m nearing the end of this road. I want to leave BEFORE I become a grouchy old lady. { Some are saying, “Too late!” :) } So, I can feel God beginning to pull me in another direction, but I’m not sure where - and the options are daunting. I don’t want to retire to have a clean home! I want to keep working in the messiness of life - to move into whatever adventure God has for me - to continue to be productive for Him. But I need clear direction from Him. He truly screamed into my ear when He called me to teach. He had to yell at me to overcome my own objections and fears.

When He called me last time, I had to give up something I truly loved, my work in Bible Study Fellowship. It was so hard to let that go. And He may be asking me to let other things go this time... I don’t know yet. But because He proved so faithful 21 years ago, I am confident that, as painful as it may be to let something go now, He will again show me the blessing of obedience.

Are you at a crossroads now, too? Are you terrified of the unknown ahead, and thinking you may just like to crawl back into the comfy bed of the familiar? I feel your pain! But know that if He is leading you somewhere new, it will be into a barn that is messy and fruitful! There WILL be cow poop! But He will be right there with you, equipping you, guiding you, loving you, and ready to pick you up when there are problems. It WILL be an adventure! Are you ready? Lord, make us so!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Proverbs 14:4 It ain't clean, but...

When I was pregnant with Emmy, Don and I had our condo up for sale. For four months I had to keep the house picked up so that we could show it to prospective buyers. Molly was two at the time, so that meant following her around all day and picking up! When we finally moved into our new house, Don had grown so accustomed to our place looking like a model home, that he maintained that expectation. It was impossible with a new baby added to the mix! Laundry, puzzles, games, books, and dishes just kept multiplying like loaves and fishes!

Then one day, as I was reading through Proverbs, I came across this verse:

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,

    but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. (Proverbs 14:4)

I rejoiced that God was acknowledging that a productive environment will NOT be immaculate! A clean barn (house) means nothing is happening! There is nothing productive going on! If you want profit, there will be a mess - including oxen poop on the floor! Model homes look the way they do, because no one lives in them! A house with fake TVs in the family room, fake food in the kitchen, and only three pieces of clothing hanging in the closet is not real! No one sleeps in those perfectly made beds. No meals are prepared or eaten at the sparkling kitchen bar.

God is all for getting things messy! It’s a sign that things are happening! Jon Courson has an interesting take on this passage. He believes that people who have to have everything perfect are not risk takers. They play it safe and don’t take on challenges. This is what he says:

Many people boast that their stable is clean. They don’t make mistakes. There are no “pasture patties” on the floor of their barn. But neither do they have any profit. You see, if a farmer boasts about the cleanness of the floor of his barn, it’s because he doesn’t have any livestock. Each one of us from time to time has a tendency to say, “I want a clean barn. Therefore, I’m not going to take a chance. I’m not going to accept a challenge. I’m not going to step out lest I mess up.” Yet the fear of failure is inevitably the father of failure. When we fear failing, we will inevitably end up doing just that. Oh, our barn floor might be as clean as a whistle. But inside, we’ll be empty.” (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Old Testament, Vol. 2, P. 220.)

One of the reasons I’ve always hated baking is because it is so messy. But I knew that when my girls were young, it was a mandatory activity. I needed to make cookies and cakes with my girls, because that was what good moms did. So I did it! I set aside my fear of flour-covered counters and rolled out the cookie dough! The girls loved it! In fact, I had them trained by the time they were 8 years old to make and decorate their own birthday cakes. They love baking to this day, and their homes often smell of freshly baked goodies! Don and I, on the other hand, only enjoy fresh-baked items from a bakery! :)

I was fortunate to have some wonderful older women as mentors when I was a young mommy, and I will never forget two of them, who were in their late 60’s at the time, telling me how much they regretted the emphasis that they had placed on having a clean home when they were raising their children. They were lamenting that they had wasted so much time dusting furniture and scrubbing the floor that could have been better spent ON the floor doing puzzles with or reading to their kids. So, in my opinion, one of the best investments a young family can make is to bring in a housekeeper a couple of times a month! :)

What’s the take-away from this verse? Well, it’s more than just relaxing about the state of my house (although I like that). I need to look at areas where I’m so worried about taking a risk to mess up, that I don’t step out of my comfort zone to do something “messy” for God. If I want to do something exciting for Him and with Him, I need to be prepared to roll up my sleeves and get dirty in the trenches. More on this later...  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Proverbs 13:24 Bring on the discipline!

Today’s verse has caused lots of controversy over the past 30 years for some reason:

Whoever spares the rod hates his son,

    but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24 ESV)

The ESV includes a note that an alternate translation for the last part would be, “he who loves him disciplines him early.” You can’t wait until they are already out of control. The absolute hardest part of being a parent, but the essential one, is disciplining your children - making disciples of them in a consistent way that shapes, not breaks, their spirits.

God did not call us to be buddies with our kids! He entrusts them to us to help guide them to an authentic relationship with Christ. This means you need a PLAN! You cannot parent haphazardly, reacting as things come up. You must intentionally have a game plan: know where you are going and keep that route in focus before you at all times.

The LORD commanded the Israelites to be diligent in discipling their children:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

Note that this does not say, “Drop them at Sunday School and hope they’ll catch the faith.” Nor does it say, “Hire a Christian nanny or send them to Christian schools and pray they’ll learn about God.” The Word tells us very specifically that we will need to do the job ourselves. And it’s something that we should be doing naturally throughout the day. God should be our main topic of discussion: recounting His attributes, modeling how to pray and how to worship, seeing His glory in nature, experiencing His presence in trials, extending His grace and forgiveness throughout the day.

And sometimes discipling requires actual discipline! And early! One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that when parents refuse to set boundaries for their children early on, there will usually come a point when the child has done something so blatantly disrespectful or embarrassing in public, that then the parent just blows up! If you set boundaries for children early and consistently discipline (I’m not saying “hit” ), everyone is happier! This doesn’t mean that your child is not going to test the boundaries. They will! But if there is a consistent, appropriate consequence each time the lines are crossed, they WILL learn that Mom and Dad don’t budge. There’s security in that!

Now, going back to that idea of using the rod... Do you remember when we were little and got into trouble, our parents would smack us on the butt first and ask questions later? And that would usually be followed by another smack! Somehow we survived, and we learned that there were behaviors that were appropriate and others that weren’t. This helped us make friends and keep jobs! We learned that you needed to be respectful and polite, that you did not interrupt, that you NEVER jumped on the couch or left trash on the ground, and that marriage vows were to be honored! And many of us learned that God was to be revered and loved above all else. Now that’s discipline!  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Proverbs 13:20 The company you keep

“Choose good friends.” This is one of the sayings I have posted in my classroom. Since I’m usually teaching fifth graders who will be heading to middle school, I try to impress upon my students how important it is that they choose friends wisely. Studies have shown that the choice of friends between 8th grade and high school can be a huge factor in determining the way a teen will go. So I feel compelled to exhort my students to be especially careful with their associations in middle school. Not only because they should surround themselves with people who will encourage them and lift them up, but because they will be known by the company they keep.

When I was in high school we had some social clubs (like fraternities and sororities), and there was one club, the Nobles, that had all of the school “bad boys” in it. They were the jocks who were just a bit edgy and intimidating. So, we were all so surprised when the sweetest girl in our class started to date one of them. We were worried that he would corrupt her. Well, she married him, and more than 40 years later they are still in love, and have a slew of adorable grandchildren! Whenever I see them I marvel that this darling man hung out with the tough crowd! He couldn’t be sweeter! But back then we judged him by his group of friends!

Our verse today confirms the importance of choosing quality buddies:

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,

    but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

We become like those we hang around. So, if we are spending lots of time with Jesus, we will become more and more like Him. If we spend time with other believers, we will be encouraged in our faith. It just makes sense! Which is why verse 20 is in the Proverbs! We don’t have to steer clear of unbelievers. In fact we are to be a light to them, and we can’t do that if we hide out from them! However, we need the support of fellow believers to be able to stand firm against the pull of the world.

If you hang out with those who are wise, you will pick up some of that same wisdom! That sounds good to me!  

Monday, March 11, 2013

Proverbs 13:12 Please hold!

Is there anything more frustrating than waiting? Waiting in the wrong line at a store (and any line I’m in seems to be the wrong line)! Waiting on hold on the phone for customer service for ANY company while elevator music or a continuous looping message barrages your ear. Waiting for your plane to take off when you are heading home. Waiting in traffic when you are late for a doctor’s appointment, where you will continue to wait in a freezing exam room.

Once, when Molly and Emmy were little, we were waiting in line at a Sears counter. The salesgirl was taking forever to complete the transaction for the person in front of me. I began to huff and puff. Molly had a little friend who was with us, and when she saw me getting impatient, she looked up at me with her huge brown eyes and sang a song from the “Bullfrogs and Butterflies” album (a Christian children’s album that was very popular in the ’80’s - I’m dating myself here), and she sang this song, “Have patience, have patience. Don’t be in such a hurry. When you are impatient, you only start to worry. Remember, remember, that God is patient too, and think about the times when others have to wait for you!” If she weren’t so cute I would have belted her! :)

Sometimes waiting takes extreme patience. And sometimes it requires great endurance! When you are in the midst of a trial, waiting for something you desperately desire, waiting can make your heart sick. And that’s what today’s verse tells us:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12) 

The Message Bible puts it this way:

Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick,

    but a sudden good break can turn life around.

Hope deferred requires endurance! Waiting for years to find a mate, or to have that baby you desire, or to finally be able to afford a home, or to hear the doctor finally say that the cancer is in remission. Or waiting to hear your husband tell you he loves you. Waiting to see your loved one finally come to the Lord. Hope deferred. This is the long-haul faith walk that builds our testimony.

I love what Jon Courson writes about this verse:

God makes a promise. Faith believes it. Hope anticipates it. And patience waits quietly for it. That is the divine pattern we see in the pages of Scripture. Abraham was called the father of faith. Yet the Bible says it was only after he patiently endured that he obtained the promise (Hebrews 6:15). When the promise is fulfilled, however, what a joy it is. Even if it takes years, hang in there, gang. Be like Abraham and eventually your Isaac - or literally “Laughter” - will be birthed, as well. (Courson, Application Commentary: Old Testament, Vol. 2, P. 214.)

Hope waits even when the promise is not fulfilled in our lifetime. The book of Hebrews tells us that the heroes of faith did not live to see the Promised Messiah. Yet, they waited in faith that God would keep His promise!

What are you waiting for right now? Can you hold on? Your wait may require great endurance. Wait patiently. God hears you. He sees your distress. Your disappointment may seem unrelenting, but when God answers, you will rejoice and praise Him for His plan and His timing.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Proverbs 13:8 What have I got to lose?

A man’s riches may ransom his life, but a poor man hears no threat. (Proverbs 13:8)

“Do you own your things or do they own you?” This is what comes to mind when I read Proverbs 13:8. This verse tells us that a wealthy person can ransom his way out of trouble with his money, but it’s the money that actually puts his life at risk to begin with. People looking for a gain of ransom are going after the wealthy - not the poor. So the very thing which could save him is what endangers the rich man!

When we have much we really do live at greater risk of loss. As the house begins to fill with things, we begin to worry more about protecting those things. We begin to hold on tighter. We worry about how to invest the money so that we can keep it. Maybe we move into a gated community to feel better protected. The very wealthy practically live in fortresses - gated compounds with electrified, video-monitored fencing. They hire bodyguards or security firms to protect them.

The poor don’t have that burden! In general no one is looking to gain anything from the poor. A thief isn’t going to bother his neighbor who has nothing. If you have ever been to a third-world country, you know that the people of those countries, whose standard of living is so very much lower than our own in America, seem to find joy in very simple things. This is not to glamorize poverty. There is nothing noble or romantic about being poor. Poverty is oppressive and can turn just as many to sin as excessive wealth. But Solomon is saying here that those who desire to be rich in material things are deceived if they think these will secure their happiness.

What are the things (not people) which you value so much that you would be devastated over losing them? A few months ago I was lying awake at 3:30 a.m., trying to go to back to sleep, when my mind went to thoughts of what would happen if we had a fire. What would I try to grab on my way out the door? Don and I used to actually have a list we kept in our top filing cabinet of things to grab. We made the list when I was pregnant with Molly, so at the top of the list to grab was “the baby!” :)

But as I was wrestling with this at 3:30, I realized that, at this point, since there are no babies to grab, there probably isn’t anything in our home that would be irreplaceable. Even many photos could be gathered from various sources. Everything else is just stuff! Yet the care of maintenance of this “stuff” consumes a lot of our time! And none of it can secure our future! Even the annuity we have for retirement is only as good as the company holding it!

I’m glad my trust is in my God, who holds all things securely in His hands. I know that if I were being threatened, He would grab me! And He wouldn't even need a list to remind Him!  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Don't lie to me!

In my church’s women’s Bible study, we are going through Kelly Minter’s book, No Other Gods. This past week the study focused on how we worship false gods because we believe lies. The antidote, of course, is a daily heaping of Truth from God’s Word! If we are steeped in the truth of the Bible, we will not be so easily deceived. Our leader last night quoted something our youth pastor tells the teens. He is passionate about getting them into the Word, and he tells them that they need to be in God’s Word EVERY day, because EVERY day people are going to lie to them. I love that! It’s so true! Today’s verse in Proverbs speaks to this:

The righteous hates falsehood,

    but the wicked brings shame and disgrace. (Proverbs 13:5 ESV)

Jon Courson points out that the verse does NOT say that the righteous never tell a lie. We are all guilty of presenting falsehoods at one time or another. And certainly we are guilty of believing them! But we who love Christ, HATE lying! Yet, we fall prey to it over and over! It’s so important that we not only do not speak lies, but it is equally important that we don’t believe them!

Maybe you are bound by lies that come at you from the media that accuse you of being worthless, a failure, unforgivable, unlovable, too fat, too dumb, not sexy enough, not wealthy enough, or the worst parent ever! Whatever lies you are believing, there is only one cure: the Truth! Our pastor is always saying that the truest thing about you is what the Bible says is true.

Here’s just a glimpse of what the Bible says is true about you:

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."(Jeremiah 29:11)

Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:26) {NOTE: in case you're not sure how long He will love you, read the whole Psalm - you’ll get it after the first few verses! }

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, { NOTHING } will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Okay, you get the idea! He LOVES you with a never-ending love that is beyond our comprehension. He loved you enough to send His Son to die for you while you were still a crummy sinner! Nothing you could ever do can undo His love for you! He actually rejoices and sings over you LOUDLY because you are His delight! Think about how much you loved to watch your children when they were little - especially when they were asleep. Remember standing over the crib and just being overwhelmed by that love? That’s how our Heavenly Father feels about us ALL of the time!

Hate the lies - don’t speak them, and don’t believe them! Cling to the Truth - and stay in it each day, because, as our youth pastor says, you will be lied to every day!  

Monday, March 4, 2013

If you can't say something nice...

I remember sitting at my best friend’s kitchen table when I was in third grade, and I was talking to my friend about another girl in our class. My friend’s mother, who was cooking dinner, turned to me and said in a very gentle but firm voice, “Now, Sally, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I was stunned and so embarrassed, but was forever grateful for the rebuke!

Not that I never said something that wasn’t nice after that day . . . just being real, here! But I really DO try to consciously make my mouth an instrument of encouragement. And, as a teacher, I’m constantly echoing these words. In fact, I just took a girl in my class aside last week and told her this very thing! It’s the message of today’s verses:

A wise man heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.

From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things, but the unfaithful have a craving for violence.

He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. (Proverbs 1-3, NIV 1984)

Verse 2 shows us that when we speak good things from our mouths, we not only bless the hearer, but we also bless ourselves. And don’t you feel better after you’ve said something nice to someone and seen his response? But when you snipe at someone or critically attack a person, and you see them crumble, a bit of you shrivels up as well.

And so frequently these harsh words are directed at those we are supposed to love the most - our family! How much better to thank my husband for always taking out the trash or for the wonderful way he makes time for the grandkids, than to gripe because he left the dishes in the sink again, or, worse, put them in the dishwasher the wrong way! Can anyone relate?

Verse 3 says that when we guard our lips, we actually are guarding our lives! How much damage we can inflict, with long-lasting effects, when we speak rashly! Once the words escape our mouths, we can never take them back. And there are so many untruths we speak when we are angry! Many of them begin with “You always...” or “You never...” And one of my personal least favorites, “Everyone thinks...” Each of those is always followed by something nasty and untrue! And you can’t undo the damage done.

LORD, teach us to guard our lips - to hold back on the negatives, but to flow, instead with benedictions. May we be slow to speak, unless it's to bless!