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!  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Proverbs 25:6-7 I'll take the seat in the back of the room, please!

The next few chapters of Proverbs were sayings that King Hezekiah compiled from writings of Solomon, 250 years after Solomon wrote. Jon Courson writes that it was as if Hezekiah or his men ran across these writings in some old files. His take away from that is that we never know what influence we may have, even after we are dead! Someone may read a journal entry or a note in the margin of your Bible and be impacted by your words. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

There are lots of gems here, but the one that struck me as I read this morning was similar to something Jesus said:

Don’t work yourself into the spotlight;

    don’t push your way into the place of prominence.

It’s better to be promoted to a place of honor

    than face humiliation by being demoted. (Proverbs 25:6-7 The Message)

Self-promotion can end in humiliation. Jesus warned of this, too, while eating at the home of a ruler of the Pharisees:

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them,  “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him,  and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:7-11 ESV)

One of the upside-down principles of the Bible is that when you humble yourself, the LORD will lift you up. However, if you lift yourself up, you can be guaranteed of a fall. The world encourages people who aggressively promote themselves. It’s at the heart of social media. But as Christians, our example is Jesus:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

We are not here to be served, but to serve. So, pushing our way to the front of the line, or seeking the best seat in the house, or manipulating a situation so that we get the largest portion possible is absolutely inconsistent with the behavior of a Christ-follower. Instead of desiring to see our name in lights, we should be lifting up the name of the Light of the world!

LORD, help us to be alert to any tendencies we may have to seek glory for ourselves. May we keep before us your example of humility as you took on the form of a weak baby in order to save us! Transform us into your image more and more; refine us so that others may see your reflection in our faces!  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Just a sad note...

This morning news has come that Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel has died at the age of 86, after a long battle with lung cancer. My heart is so sad, because he was my first pastor. I committed my life to Christ in 1976, when I was in my mid-twenties, and immediately began attending Calvary Chapel, even though is was a long commute from San Juan Capistrano. I received my grounding in God’s Word and my passion for it by listening to tapes of Chuck’s sermons through their tape-by-mail ministry. I went from Genesis through Romans listening to Chuck just read God’s Word and expound on it’s relevance to our lives. And he dedicated both of our girls to the LORD.

There was nothing magical about Chuck. He looked like an ordinary preacher and his services were fairly traditional, with singing from the hymnals every Sunday. But, during the week, the rock-style musicians would play praise music, and Chuck would sit on a stool in front of the congregation and just work his way through the Bible from beginning to end. Then he would start over again in Genesis and keep moving until he made his way through Revelation. And yet, he drew enormous crowds. People were hungry to hear God’s Word - all of it. Thousands came to the LORD through his simple ministry, which was known for its outreach to the Hippie generation!

There are now hundreds of Calvary Chapel affiliated churches throughout the country. He mentored some of the best pastors of our generation, including Greg Laurie and Mike MacIntosh. He will be missed, but I know that he is rejoicing in heaven with his Savior! He surely heard these words this morning as he entered the LORD’s presence: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” Praying for his family...  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Proverbs 24:30-34 Don't let weeds grow under your feet!

One day I walked by the field of an old lazybones,

    and then passed the vineyard of a lout;

They were overgrown with weeds,

    thick with thistles, all the fences broken down.

I took a long look and pondered what I saw;

    the fields preached me a sermon and I listened:

“A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,

    sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?

Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,

    with poverty as your permanent houseguest!” (Proverbs 24:30-34 The Message)

Our final passage in this chapter of Proverbs ends with an observation from which Solomon drew a lesson. He was out walking, when he passed by the rundown field of a man whom the English Standard Version calls a “sluggard.” His property was a wreck - overgrown with thorns and weeds, fences laying over in disrepair, and, had it been in modern times, there probably would have been a rusted old truck with the hood up next to a ramshackle barn.

Later he walked past a vineyard that was equally overgrown. He tells us he took “a long look and pondered” what he saw. It was as if he was being preached to by these images. He saw that the decrepit conditions of the men and their properties had to do with a laziness that permeated their lives. He could hear these men saying to themselves, “Before I get to the harvesting, I’m just going to take a quick nap.” Or “I’ll just rest here in the shade for a minute while I think about how to tackle that broken-down tractor.” And the result of such a lackadaisical attitude: nothing gets done, and the men end up in poverty as their “permanent houseguest!”

One of the great challenges of a teacher is to find the key to motivating an indifferent student - the “sluggard” who consistently turns in poor quality work (if he turns it in at all) just to get it over with, or the whiner who complains, “I’m bored,” when the teacher has failed to entertain sufficiently! Invariably these are the ones who go home and passively watch TV or play video games for hours after school, and somehow the homework never gets completed. They have no curiosity or vision of the world outside themselves. All their “wants” are met by Mom and Dad, and they have never had to do a single chore at home. They expect a reward for every little thing they do, because they are so used to “winning” a trophy for just showing up.

Thankfully, this kind of student is a minority in the classroom, or we would have teachers trampling over each other to get out of the profession! But, when you have one in your classroom (or a few), you want to shake the parents!  Teach your children the value of hard work!  Get rid of the video games!

Solomon makes a direct correlation here to slothfulness and poverty. He is NOT saying that all poor people are lazy. Frequently the poor among us are working several jobs just to keep food on their table! Many show an industriousness that is amazing! However, I think Solomon’s conclusion would be that LAZY people DO end up in poverty. If your bottom needs to be surgically removed from the couch - or your favorite subject in school is recess - we may have a problem, Houston!

Paul reminds us that the Christian life is a race with a glorious prize waiting for us at the finish line. It’s a race that requires effort and endurance and a vision of the goal:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (I Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

Let’s keep focused on the prize so that we won’t grow weary - and let's teach and model that lesson for our kids!  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Proverbs 24:17-18 It’s not the time to celebrate!

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,

    and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the Lord see it and be displeased,

    and turn away his anger from him. (Proverbs 24:17-18)

Everyone loves a good story ending when the villain gets his due. We have cheered from childhood when the wicked witch melts before our eyes in The Wizard of Oz, or when the archenemy of Superman, Lex Luthor gets defeated at the end of a comic book. We hate the wicked and love to see good triumph!

However, Jesus told us that, in real life, our attitude toward our enemies should be to pray for them. What??? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turned our common hatred of our enemies upside down:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus is telling us that if all we do is love those who love us, we are no better than the pagans around us. ANYONE can love someone who loves them back. But love someone who has HURT us? Someone who has set out to harm us in the eyes of our coworkers or neighbors? How on earth can we love that person?? We can’t! At least, not in our own strength. We can’t muster up warm, fuzzy feelings toward someone who has abused us. That is impossible! But with God ALL things are possible. He would not have given us this command, if He could not also give us supernatural strength to carry it out.

First, let’s remember that biblical love, agape love, is NOT about warm, fuzzy feelings. It has nothing to do with our emotions. It’s about our actions. It’s about demonstrating love by acting it out. We are to bless those who persecute us; give them our cloak when they sue us; turn the other cheek when they malign us. This is exactly what Jesus did from the cross! And it all begins with prayer. It is impossible to remain angry with someone if you are praying for him.

So if your enemy falls, don’t join the cheering section! Don’t do a happy dance around the room and high five your friends! Don’t throw a party. Thank the LORD for justice, but pray for the redemption of your enemy. Do you have a neighbor or coworker who has been your nemesis for years? Instead off expressing glee when he stumbles, pray for him, then offer a hand to help him up. The world is waiting to see Jesus in us. That’s how we do it!