The War for Conformation

Life can often bring pressures to change.. sometimes the changes can be good and sometimes not so good.. and many times the changes and trials of life bear down hard conforming us in strange ways. When I think about this a few verses come to mind:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. -Romans 12:2

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. -Romans 8:29
There is a tension in these verses. On one hand they speak to the idea that we have a responsibility to reject worldly molding.. on the other hand it speaks to the idea that God is at work making us like Jesus. Another verse comes to mind when i consider this tension.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
-2Corinthians 10:5
This verse is part of a passage that tells us that we are in a spiritual war. It speaks to me of my need to live from my inner most being and not from my mind. When we live from our own understanding we are led around by thoughts that may seem right to us but are not God's best.. reminds me of this scripture:
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
-Proverbs 14:12
This graphic verse spells it out.. living from our own understanding produces death.. living from our innermost being leads to life.. it is a matter of conformation. Will we allow our innermost being.. that place where His Spirit lives.. to conform us or will we be conformed by the understanding of our head? I think that it is a war that can be won.. but not with our head.. no matter how smart we are

The Simplicity of Faith

This morning I found myself writing this in an email note to an old friend:
I think that my life took a turn for the dark side when I went from simple faith to complicated religion.
Don't you just love simple and uncomplicated things? Faith does seem to be something as simple as forsaking and trusting. As I reflect on the simplicity of faith I think about what Paul said in the eleventh chapter of 2Corinthians:
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
Isn't it interesting how Paul speaks of being deceived by the enemy when we are drawn away from simplicity? In my life I have found faith to be something that brings clarity and simplicity to life. On the other hand religious activities have just complicated my life and sometimes have trumped faith.

Possibly.. with a new year coming.. we can examine ways to embrace the simplicity of faith in, and devotion to, Jesus. What are the religious things that you have found to once complicate your life?

A Christmas Prayer

This beautiful Christmas prayer comes from beliefnet..

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman..." -Galatians 4:4

God with us,

I've come to see you. I'm not as clean as I wish I was, but I'm hoping you'll receive me just as you did the rough, and sweaty shepherds who burst in on you on that holy night so long ago. They were afraid. I guess that spectacular light show in the sky got to them. I wish I felt more afraid than I do. I should, considering this is it: the Incarnation. But all of this is so simple; so ordinary. No, it's less than ordinary. This is abject poverty. Most babies aren't born where the livestock is. I keep asking myself, how can this be God? Yet, here you are. I know it's you, because here I am, on my knees, and my heart is aflame within me.

It isn't as pristine as the Christmas cards make it seem. It's cold, and drafty, and filthy, and it smells of animals and dung in here. No wise men are hovering over you with their gifts. The shepherds aren't even here. Just me, and your folks, and my hands are empty. But Lord, seeing you like this, so vulnerable, my heart is full.

Look at you in that feeding trough. I can't get over how tiny you are, but oh. You are perfect. The scriptures say when you grow up you won't be much to look at, but I don't think I've ever seen such a gorgeous child. I hope I always see you like this: beautiful, new, and surprising.

Oh my! Your mom is bringing you to me! Thank you, Mary. You really are full of grace. This is incredible! I feel so clumsy, Lord. Like I can hurt you if I'm not careful. But you feel so good in my arms. You're like a warm little ball of pure love. Can you feel me shaking? I'm undone. You're right here at my heart. I wish I could stop time right here, and hold you like this forever, loving on you, and kissing you like this.

You still smell like the blood from your mother's womb. Oh, Jesus. You'll have this same coppery scent again in about 33 years. But it'll be a much bloodier occasion than your birth. That time, you'll be dying, so that I can be born anew. Have mercy. I don't want to think about what I'm going to put you through. Not today. But I can't help it.

Oh, man. Forgive me, Jesus. I'm crying all over you. You're the baby, but I'm the one blubbering. I'm not trying to scare you on your birthday, but the shadow of the cross is on this barn, and there isn't a thing I can do to stop what's going to happen to you. So, I'll just continue to hold you tight, if you don't mind. If I can keep you close to me we may just get through the rest of your story together. Despite how small you are, I'm the one that needs you to save me. This is craziness, but this is the way you chose to do it. Who can understand such mysteries?

I'm amazed that you can fall asleep in my guilty arms. Maybe you're so quiet and peaceful because even now you know you'll make it all right. Oh, Lord. Who can understand such mysteries? It's mind blowing enough to think that you are here: God as a baby, born in the humility of a barn, resting in my arms, my ragged heartbeat sounding in your tiny ear. And you will not forget me.

Amazing grace.

Sleep in heavenly peace, Lord Jesus. And welcome. I'm glad you're here.


Letting Go of the Results

I visited a blog today where a young man spoke about the faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.. those young Israelites who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's giant golden idol. It caused me to think about Stephen, one of the deacons in the early church, who was stoned for confronting religious leaders. Consider this response to Nebuchadnezzar's threat of death by fire in the third chapter of the book of Daniel:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
Don't you just love their response? Breaking it down ... these men simply said that our response to trials are not dependent on the results ... we trust God ... we let go of the results ... we follow His leading ... and we leave the future in the hands of God. In a sense we never really trust the Lord until we let go of the results. Not that it is easy. ツ

What's Love Got To Do With It?

I woke up this morning thinking about a scripture from the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians. That chapter is sometimes called the love chapter because of its focus on, and definition of, love. It's placement in Paul's letter is an interesting one because it falls between two chapters (twelve and fourteen) that address spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. It is like he was saying that spiritual gifts only operated in the way that they were designed to when love is present. Consider these verses that begin the chapter:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
As I read these verses my mind races back to the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus lays bare the inadequacy of external religious rules and laws and speaks to the motives behind our actions. Jesus goes to the heart of the issue when he says:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)
In these verses Jesus speaks to us of the real issue.. the one that law cannot address.. a motive of hate instead of one of love. Much of the gospels cover Jesus' ongoing dialog with religious leaders who did not seem to understand what it meant to have a love motive.. at one point Jesus instructs thems to go and learn what it means to be compassionate.. a rather insulting thing to say to someone who professes to be a religious leader.

I think that the life of Jesus is filled with images of what it means to love. On many occasions the gospels speak of Jesus being moved by compassion. How do you think the writers knew that Jesus was being moved that way. I suspect that Jesus was visibly moved and perhaps cried as he ministered healing to those who were hurting. In truth love was pouring out of Jesus and sometimes it poured from His eyes in the form of tears that everyone could see.. as it says in Hebrews Jesus is touched by our weaknesses.

The message that Jesus came to bring and demonstrate is that, as Paul says, we are nothing if we do not act with a love motive. We are nothing when we are not compassionate. We are nothing when we are arrogant, envious, prideful and selfish. But.. and this is a big but.. we are something when we love.. we are something when we are patient, humble, forgiving and kind.. we are something when we bear with people.. we are something when we believe the best about the them and hope with them.

We are something because when we love we are like God.

He shall reign for ever and ever

I have been thinking about the meaning of Christmas lately (no surprise there) and these scriptures in specific:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. -Micah 5:2

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. - Isaiah 7:14

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7

There are many other prophecies in the Old Testament that speak to Jesus' first advent that I could list. These verses amaze me in the way that they speak to the nature of His coming and the nature of the Messiah. These verses tell us not only the specifics of His birth but the specifics of His essence.

In these verses we see that His birth would be
  • in a specific place.. not just any place in Israel;
  • a divine one.. no man would be involved in His conception;
  • a human one.. a virgin would give birth to the Messiah.
We also see in these verses the nature of the One born:
  • Ruler in Israel.. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
  • Immanuel.. God with us.. God born of a woman.. amazing!
  • Wonderful Counselor.. was there ever a wiser teacher than Jesus?
  • Mighty God.. He is not only the Son of God.. He is God the Son.
  • Everlasting Father.. Jesus has all the attributes of God, including eternality.
  • Prince of Peace.. Jesus came in love and peace to bring peace and love.
I love it that the passage in Isaiah 9 does not stop with the Messiah's birth but goes on to speak of a kingdom and government with no end. In truth the birth of Jesus Christ set in motion an eternal change.. it ushered in a new era in the kingdom and government of God.

So in this season when we celebrate the coming of God to earth take a moment and celebrate with me the eternal reign of Jesus Christ.. and sing with me the refrain from Handel's Messiah:
"Hallelujah: for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords."
Hallelujah!! Hallelujah!!

The Deep Waters of the Heart

The twentieth chapter of proverbs speaks to us of how the heart has deep waters that can be drawn out. It speaks to us of the negative influences of the flesh and the positive ones of the hearts. It identifies the weaknesses of alcohol, cheating, revenge and rash speech. The chapter is also filled with the attributes of steadfast love, wise counsel, purity of heart and the glory of gray hair.

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise." (v1)

Alcoholism is nasty.. those who are addicted lead lives that are devastated and bring devastation. It is why this verse speaks of being led astray by alcohol. Scripture advises moderation in these things.. it speaks negatively of drunkenness yet it also teaches us that Jesus changed water into wine. For 30 years I did not drink alcohol.. didn't feel I could exercise moderation.. these days I enjoy an occasional glass of wine.

"The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out." (v5)

My pastoral ministry involved all sorts of counseling opportunities. Many times I felt an opportunity to draw out the deep things in the hearts of people who were hurt, wounded or just seeking wisdom. It was often quite glorious to see friends weep with joy as they connected with the deep things of their heart.

"Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?" (v6)

I sometimes think that life and love is all about being faithful. Really.. love that doesn't last.. is it really love at all?

"Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin”?" (v9)

I think that one difference between an Old Testament view and a New Testament view is the view of the heart or innermost being. The believers heart is pure.. it is not divided.. it is not wicked.. because of Jesus we have a new heart.. our issue is to fully live from it instead of our own understanding.

"Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord." "'Bad, bad,' says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts." "Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel." (v10, 14, 17)

How we treat each other is so important to God. His desire is that we love each other. You cannot love your neighbor and cheat him. Trying to get the best of another.. even at a garage simply wrong.. it should not make you feel good when it makes another feel bad.

"Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war." (v18)

Once my wife was advising me to seek counsel about a problem I was having.. I was not open to the idea.. she retorted and said "I thought you believed in counseling".. ouch. The things we need counseling on the most are often the things that we do not want to get advice on the most.. sometimes we need someone to tell us we need help

"An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end." (v21)

Mostly it is better for wealth to accumulate over a long period of time. Most of us could not handle wealth or fame when we are young.. it is hard even when we are old.

"Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you." (v21)

We are never more like the enemy of our souls when we refuse to forgive and seek revenge.

"A man's steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?" (v24)

We often walk through life not really understanding the things that happen to us until we seem them in hindsight. Until we do I think that it is best to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

"It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,” and to reflect only after making vows." (v25)

I have sometimes made a fool of myself by make commitments too quickly. Reminds me of what Jesus said about counting the cost before you make a commitment.

"The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair." (v29)

This verse comforts me greatly.. arthritis of my wrists and ankles have greatly decreased my strength.. yet I feel my innermost being is stronger than it has ever been.. not that I wouldn't mind have that strength or brown hair again.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

2009 in Review

At the end of the year I like to take a look at the posts I have written.. I see some common themes and a few new ones.

This year I began posting my thoughts about the book of Proverbs one chapter and verse at a time.. you can read and browse through them (the first 19 chapters) here.

Here are some excerpts from my favorite (non-proverbs) posts:
  • Jesus on Prayer
    What it is like to pray like a hypocrite? I think that praying in this way means to pray superficial prayers.. prayers that do not engage your innermost being.. prayers that simply regurgitate platitudes and cliches.. sadly.. I have prayed these kinds of prayers. I am reminded that Jesus (in Luke 18:9-14) warned of praying proud prayers saying that only people who pray humble prayers will be justified before God.

  • Spiritual Umbrellas
    Rain can often represent difficult days for us.. times of testing and trial. During times of rain it is so easy to get our spiritual umbrellas out and 'protect' ourselves from the full effect of the rain. Often we will use the umbrellas of withdrawal.. of manipulation.. and of passivity to protect ourselves from the effects of the rain.

  • Interactive Living
    Guess what I am trying to say is that I think God involves us in the process of His will for our lives.. he engages us in different ways.. he asks us questions.. he seems to have ways of getting our attention and getting us out of our small boxes.. and I am thankful that he does.

  • Everyone Wants a Miracle
    Everyone wants a miracle. The words seemed understated and almost nonchalant in nature. I sat back and began to ponder about how most of us,when we face a trial or sickness, pray desperately seeking a miraculous answer to our prayer. We all want a miracle of some sort. We all want God to show up in power!

  • The Prayer Question
    So often I focus my prayers on answers and really don't put myself in a place of vulnerability and humility. I come to the Lord knowing what I want. I have a specific answer to my prayer in my mind and really don't want God to answer in any other way.

  • Religious Lipstick
    Owning up to my own bad behaviors and realizing how I used lipstick to pretty up my and others' bad behaviors has been a long and difficult journey. I so often want to be "positive" and "optimistic" about my life.. to see the bright side of sin.. to say "It's all good!".. I guess I just love the color of that lipstick :)

  • Courage of the Heart: Jill's Story
    Sometimes someone comes along that helps us remember what it means to be courageous.. what it means to be a Christian going through a horrible trial. I am thankful that I found Jill's blog several months ago.. her life has been so inspirational.. she encourages me to count it all joy as I go through trials of my own.

  • Creation: Literary or Literal Interpretations
    I think that the issue is not so much the "how" of creation but the "Who" of creation. By faith we can understand that God created all things but dogmatic faith does not dictate the science of creation.. and neither does dogmatic evolutionism. I think that there is a mystery to the creation story.. we only understand in part.. we see it in glimpses through that proverbial cloudy glass.

  • Unbearable Sorrow
    The words take me back to that Intensive Care Unit where I, along with my two young children, watched my first wife breathe her last breaths.. sometimes our sorrow is so unbearable.. often life presents us with seemingly impossible circumstances.. and sometimes it feels like God is not there.

  • Don't Confuse God with Life
    In all this I have discovered that Douglas' perspective is the only one that helps me live a productive life. When hard stuff comes I have not found it helpful to blame God for the difficulties. I have found that having that kind of attitude only makes me bitter. What Douglas says is true.. God is right along side of us in our pain.. He is touched by our sadness.. and our tears do not go unnoticed.

  • The Balance of Seasons
    Perhaps life is not really life unless it is balanced out with trials and hardship? Maybe we would not really know love if we had not experienced hate; and maybe the word "peace" would be meaningless with the word "war". I am beginning to appreciate how life like the year has it seasons.

  • Trusting Providence
    So when life doesn't seem to make sense or when times are hard it is good to know that we can trust God to providentially mold us and help us to manifest His divine character.. even in extremely negatives situations. He is the proverbial potter and we are the clay.
If you are so inclined.. please let me know if any of these were particularly helpful to you.. today or when you first read them.

Living a Life of Integrity

The nineteenth chapter of proverbs begins by speaking to us of how it is better to live a life of integrity. The chapter goes on to speak to us concerning what it means to walk out this integrity speaking to us of how we blame God.. of how we are attracted to money.. of foolish living.. and of the glory of forgiveness, generosity, love and the fear of the Lord.

"Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool." (v1)

Is there a better thing to aspire to than integrity.. living an external life that is consistent with our innermost being challenges and inspires me.

"When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord." (v3)

Interesting how this verse speaks of God being blamed for a thing He had no part in. I think God has been blamed by so much of our folly. Sometimes we err when we confuse God with life.

"Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man's brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him!" (v6-7)

Verses like these teach us about the nature of wealth, popularity and influence and seem to be more reflective of those high school cliques that only the popular kids belonged to. So good to remember that Jesus hung out with those who were not popular, rich or influential.

"It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury, much less for a slave to rule over princes." (v10)

Not sure that I fall into this same category but I once dreamed of managing a large software team.. in 2000 the dream came true when I was promoted and began managing 70 people.. then the dream turned into a nightmare.. I was not a good fit for the position.. be careful what you wish for.. some of our dreams can be a bit foolish

"Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense." (v11)

It can be so hard to forgive when someone offends you. This verse turns forgiveness inside out and shows us how we can model Christ-likeness when we simply overlook an offense.

"A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord." (v13-14)

This verse speaks deeply to me of the impact that our family has on us.. there is nothing more precious to us than our spouses and children.. it tears us up when they hurt. One of the hardest things I have ever experienced was watching my children grieve when their mother died.

"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed." (v17)

This verse to me says so much about giving.. it says to be generous.. it gives the poor as our focus of giving.. it equates this kind of giving as unto the Lord.. and it says that God sees and repays us when we do it. So much of Christian giving these days is focused on everything but the poor.. take this verse to heart and be generous when you tip the poor waitress.. and find a local food pantry to lavishly donate to.

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand." (v21)

It is good to have plans as long as we are flexible in living them out. Comforting to know that God will adjust our plans to conform to His purposes of making us like Jesus.

"What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar." (v22)

These days much is made of macho men.. we adore them on the football field and love to watch them in the movies. This verse tells us that the hallmark of a real man is love.

"The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm." (v24)

Much has been said of the fear of the Lord.. the way that I think of it is someone who factors the Lord into every part of their life because the the overwhelming awe they have towards Him.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

Two Ditches

Commenting on Sue's post about people calling folks who don't believe in Jesus as "Christians" I said: Seems like there are two ditches in this area. The first is too narrow and the second is too broad. Some want to define Christianity exclusively to their own group or denomination while others want to include everyone who believes in God. These two verses describe this tension:
"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. -Mark 9:38-40

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. -Matthew 12:30
I do think that there are two types of Christians though.. cultural and spiritual ones.. this applies to other religions too. Sometimes people feel that simply going to church makes you a Christian.. reminds me of the saying that says that sitting in church makes you no more of a Christian than sitting in a garage makes you a car.

Trusting Providence

I think that sometimes we get so wrapped up in planning our lives that we forget this verse in the second chapter of Philippians:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Important to note that the verse says to work "out" your salvation and not work "for" it. I think that much of the scriptures speak to this idea of God working with us and providentially directing our lives. Consider these two verses from Proverbs:
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. (16:9)

Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. (19:21)
This verse in the eighth chapter of Romans tells us a bit about His purpose in doing so:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Always good to remember that His working in our lives has a purpose.. good to know that His will and His leadership all are designed to conform us into the likeness of Jesus.

So when life doesn't seem to make sense or when times are hard it is good to know that we can trust God to providentially mold us and help us to manifest His divine character.. even in extremely negatives situations. He is the proverbial potter and we are the clay. Please join me in asking Him to mold us for His purposes and His glory.

When Prayers Are Not Answered

A few years ago I gave a Sunday morning talk at church titled Broken Hearts, Unanswered Prayers.. you can download and listen to it here. Following is a verse from the twelfth chapter of second Corinthians that I used in back then:
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
When I think about unanswered prayers I sometimes ask myself this question:
Can I be content with life if God does not answer my prayers?
It is a hard question but one that helps bring focus to my life. Indeed Paul tells us that he is content with the things that speak loudly to unanswered prayers. Who has not asked God to deliver them out of the hardship of weakness and difficulty? In this verse he says that he is content with these thorns in his flesh.

In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Philippians Paul gives us a peek into his heart when he says "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." Contentment is something that must be learned.. and unanswered prayers often provide an atmosphere where contentment can be cultivated.. it can almost be said that one can only embrace contentment when life is hard and prayer is unanswered.

So if you find yourself in a difficult season and a time of unanswered prayer I suggest that you embrace the idea of learning to be content.. it will help you (and me) to live a life that pleases our Father and brings joy to our lives.

Are You Free from The Sermonator?

I love this cartoon! It reminds me of so many sermons I heard in my younger years that used intimidation and manipulation to control my behavior. It took me a long time to get free from it.. but as I matured in Christ and began to embrace my innermost being I began to experience freedom from the bully pulpit

I love that Jesus' ministry was full of grace and mercy towards his followers. His message was not always an easy one but He seemed to always deliver it with such grace. Consider this passage from John 8:
So Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. "And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him."

As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
Do you see the connection between discipleship and freedom? Isn't it interesting that Jesus did not follow or try to please His religious leaders but had the freedom to please and follow the Father alone. It is sometimes difficult to buck that religious system that so often we entangle ourselves in but Jesus indicates here that we can experience that freedom when our discipleship is to Him first.

If you are under the influence of a Sermonator  (doesn't have to be a person.. could be a controlling system) you probably live a life of fear of getting caught breaking the rules.. heaven forbid a church friend find you sipping a glass of wine at a restaurant. It is hard to get free from Sermonators.. it can be difficult to find freedom in Christ.. the journey to freedom starts with a prayer:
Jesus please lead me.. reveal your truth to my heart.. strengthen my innermost being.. help me experience your freedom. Amen.
I suggest that your next step to freedom is to begin to do the things that strengthen your innermost being.. begin to read and meditate on the scriptures.. ask God to reveal Himself to your innermost being as you read.. find the voice of your innermost being.. begin to trust the Lord with all of your heart.. and do not lean on your own (or other's) understanding. Freedom is a process.. begin the journey today.

Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart

One of my favorite worship songs.
Because of what the Lord has done for us.
Remember to give Him thanks today.

Walking the Walk We Talk

The eighteenth chapter of proverbs speaks to us instructing us in ways that will cause us to walk humbly and successfully in life. In this chapter we are advised to: be connected with other believers; avoid partially; guard our speech and run to God in humility. The passage also speaks to pain, gifts and our relationships with others.

"Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment." (v1)

This verse speaks loudly to me of my need for others in the body of Christ. Sometimes it is so hard to find time to be just be with brother and sisters in Jesus.. especially in ways that are transparent and vulnerable.

"It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice." (v5)

Partiality seems to be the partner of injustice. So often my predisposition for one side of an issue will cloud my sense of right and wrong. It is so hard sometimes to differentiate opinion from fact.

"A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool's mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body." (v6-8)

Verses like these makes me want to take a vow of silence. I have never been more a fool than when I say foolish things cloaked in sanctimony.. I think that religious pride often manifests in this way. Interesting how these verses seem to speak to the diverse affects of foolish speech.. sometimes we do not really know how foolish we are.

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. A rich man's wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination. Before destruction a man's heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor." (v10-12)

Quite a contrast in these verses between a person who trusts the Lord and one who trusts in themselves. In these times of financial turmoil it is good to remember that the name of Jesus is more than a way to end a prayer.

"A man's spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?" (v14)

Again we see contrast.. this time it is between external and internal pain.. both are so real.. both can cause much suffering.. and sometimes healing does not seem to come.. externally and internally. I have to admit that.. as this verse seems to indicate.. for me the external pain is much easier to endure.

"A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before the great." (v16)

Many times our natural and spiritual gifts open doors that would otherwise remain shut.. of course it is on us to walk through them

"The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." (v17)

I have learned so much over these past years from disparate points of view. I do not always change (I guess I rarely change) my views but I always seem to come away from a debate with a better understanding of why I believe the way that I do.

"A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle." (v19)

I have been on both sides of this.. have offended and have been offended. My inclination in both cases is to pursue reconciliation.. but I have sadly found that reconciliation cannot come simply because I want it.

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord." (v22)

I have been blessed in this life with two wonderful women who both inspire me to seek the Lord. In both I have experienced the Lord's favor in my life!

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (v24)

A great way to end this group of proverbs. I have experienced the closeness of friends but nothing can match the closeness of Jesus.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

The Balance of Seasons

This week the Kansas City area saw it's first snowfall.. albeit just a smattering of the white stuff.. and I reacted in my typical "I hate winter" fashion. Now many like my son love winter and the snow but I simply don't. As I pondered my week I thought of the verse from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes that begins with this verse:
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven"
The list of seasons included in the following verses includes a variety of events: birth and death; sowing and reaping; weeping and laughing; speaking and listening; love and hate; war and peace; and others. What struck me in the list was the contrasts. My guess is that most of us like the birthing and laughing but not so much the other more negative aspects of life like death and weeping.

Perhaps life is not really life unless it is balanced out with trials and hardship? Maybe we would not really know love if we had not experienced hate; and maybe the word "peace" would be meaningless with the word "war". I am beginning to appreciate how life like the year has it seasons.

Of course the yearly seasons are not always predictable.. sometimes summer weather looks a bit like fall of spring.. even though we expect one thing we often get something else. I guess a secret of living a contented life is to understand this idea of times and seasons and to not get too disappointed when it snows in October.. did I say that? I hate snow

I guess what I am trying to get at.. I seem to be rambling a bit.. is to not lose hope in those difficult life seasons.. and remember this verse from Hosea 6:
"Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth."
Though the season may be dry.. He will come with refreshing rains. Though the times are dark.. He will come with glorious sunlight. Hang in there friend. God is faithful. There is a balance to the seasons of our lives.

Thanksgiving Rules

In a few weeks we will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States. So I thought that I might share a few scriptures and thoughts about the giving of thanks in the form of rules.. and you know how I really like rules
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. -Ephesians 5:19-20
Rule 1: Thanks can be given in any situation. We can and should offer thanks to God in any and every circumstance and place we find ourselves in. The heart of this sort of thanksgiving is humility. Knowing who He is and who we are gives us a righteous perspective that opens our eyes to our unworthiness and his grace and mercy. Our hearts should always be overflowing with thanksgiving for His love for us.

Rule 2: We should not thank God for the work of the enemy. You may wonder why the verse above says to thank God "for everything"- good question.. and I don't really have a direct answer other than to say that we should thank God for what He does and not for what others do. This scripture that speaks to the context of things that we should be thankful for:
Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. -James 1:16-17
Speaking in the context of someone saying "God is tempting me" James makes it clear that the works of the enemy are not from God. As such we should not give thanks for things like temptations, disease and other works of the enemy.

Rule 3: We should always offer thanks when we pray. Thanksgiving is the foundation of prayer. When we pray we must come to the Father with a thankful heart. This scripture speaks to the relationship of prayer to thanksgiving:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. -Philippians 4:6
Interesting to note how it says "with thanksgiving".. in a sense it is how we should do everything. The Apostle Paul speaks to the idea of doing everything with a heart of gratitude when he writes:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. -Colossians 3:16
Continually giving thanks will change your life because it will change your focus.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my rules.. any others that you might add?

Our Code of Living

When I think about the old west in America I think of The Code of the West ... I think many cultures have written and unwritten codes like that one. For people of faith I think that the following verse offers a code of sorts.
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NKJV)
This is one of my all time favorite scripture passages. I guess I love this verse because of it's universal and timeless message. It tells us that God has shown us 'what is good' and 'what He requires'. It doesn't give us a list of "Do's and Don'ts" but communicates a code to us ... a code of living. This code has three elements.

Justice: What do you think it means to "do justly"? I think that it could mean to act with integrity. I think that integrity is the cornerstone of personal justice. Here is a New Testament definition of integrity that I like:
Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:17 NASB)
This definition encompasses the both sides of integrity. Often sin is defined as simply giving in to temptation and does not address our sins of omission. Justice on a personal level is all about acting in accordance with our conscience. For a believer the conscience is that place in our hearts where courage and wisdom lives. Acting in accord with conscience is not reacting to feelings of guilt or shame - it is not reacting at all. To "do justice" is to "act" with wisdom and courage ... often in the defense of the weak, the poor and powerless ... but more often in accord with that deep part of us that "knows the right thing to do".

Mercy: Of all qualities in life this one trumps them all. Consider these verses:
For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13 NKJV)

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7 NKJV)
Here again we see a divine perspective about what is important in life. I think that mercy is one of the most proactive and positive words in our language. Someone with a heart attitude of mercy will be compassionate and caring. Our verse says something interesting though - its says to "love mercy". To be a merciful person you need to embrace mercy at a heart level ... it has to be so important to you that you can say "I love mercy"! This speaks to the preeminence of mercy to God and why it is the center of this code of living.

Humility: Isn't it interesting that this is the word that God uses when He speaks of "walking" with Him. Isn't it interesting that it doesn't tell us to walk humbly with your fellow man. It reminds me of what the bible says of Moses:
Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3 NKJV)
Humility really has little to do with how we relate to each other but much to do with how we relate to God. A little further in the Numbers passage God speaks this way about Moses:
He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD.
Moses' humility had its roots in his relationship to the Lord. His dealings with Pharaoh may not have come across as humble but in the truest sense of the word he was acting with extreme humility.

I think that all of these qualities are necessary to live well. Humility synthesizes justice and mercy into a balanced approach to life. Without humility justice can become self-righteous ... and without it mercy can look like someone with a martyr complex. Without a relationship to God humility can be false make you look weak and become an excuse for not acting with justice and mercy.

Mother Teresa comes to mind when I think of this code of living - she was woman who didn't judge the weak, the poor and powerless but showed mercy to them drawing a quiet humility from her relationship with God. This beautiful quote from her speaks to what it means to live by this code:
"Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work."
God please grant us grace to live lives rich with justice, mercy and humility. Amen.

The New Look of Redemption

Next month will mark the 5th anniversary of my foray into the blogosphere in the form of this blog. So I thought that it was about time that I changed the look. Please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions.. but be kind.. I really don't like bad news :)

Crucibles of the Heart

The seventeenth chapter of proverbs begins with a statement reflecting God's purposes for us in trials and testings. As we read through this chapter we see evidences of hearts that are strong and ones that are weak. We see the various crucibles and furnaces that we are purified in.. in these places God can strengthen our hearts in wonderful ways. 

"The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts." (v3)

When I think about crucibles and furnaces I think about the refining qualities of heat and fire. Silver and gold are purified by fire. We are also tested and refined by the fires of affliction and trial. And through these fires we come to understand who we really are as all of the bad stuff comes to the surface and is skimmed away by the Lord. Trials have a way of stripping off all of our religious clothing leaving us standing clothed in the God's armor alone.

Following are a few of the crucibles and furnaces that God uses in His refining process:
  • "An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue." (v4)

    Our ears and our lips often reveal the strength of our hearts. So often our flesh speaks and hears because it is stronger than our heart.
  • "Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished." (v5)

  • Our attitudes about poverty and tragedy can expose the pride in us. Humility understands that true wealth is not found in money and calamity can befall us all.
  • "Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends." (v9)

  • Unforgiveness like nothing else shows how strong our flesh can be. In a very short term it can turn into bitter gossip. We strengthen our heart with love when we forgive an offense.
  • "If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house." (v13)

    A person filled with ingratitude will turn on the one who does them good and reveals much about the weakness of their heart.
  • "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (v17)

    Adversity tests our friendship and our love. A strong heart loves when adversity comes but a weak heart gives way to the flesh.
  • "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." (v22)

    Absolutely one of my favorite verses in scripture. Keeping our joy in the midst of trial and suffering is evidence of a strong heart.. and a strong heart is good medicine.
God's purpose in trials and sufferings is to produce strong hearts through a process of refining and purifying. When trials come we have an opportunity to lean into our hearts and reject the temptations of the flesh. I pray that God will help us all as we journey through these crucibles of the heart.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

Prayer Blogoversary Invitation

One year ago today I sat in a hospital room watching my wife Ann receive a chemotherapy treatment. Feeling a bit prayerful I started a new blog and called it Daily Prayer. Now 52 weeks and 187 posts later I find that I no longer post there every day. I still regularly pray but don't always feel like writing about what I pray.

So I thought that I would invite you to write a prayer or devotional thought on prayer to be posted there with a link back to your blog. I would also be open to making it a group authored site if anyone would commit to posting once a week. If you are interested please email me and let me know how you would like to be involved.

Then I Shall Live

I then shall live as one who's been forgiven.
I'll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my Father;
I am His child and I am not afraid.
So, greatly pardoned, I'll forgive my brother;
The law of love I gladly will obey.

I then shall live as one who's learned compassion.
I've been so loved, that I'll risk loving too.
I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges;
I'll dare to see another's point of view.
And when relationships demand commitment,
Then I'll be there to care and follow through.

Your Kingdom come around and through and in me;
Your power and glory, let them shine through me.
Your Hallowed Name, O may I bear with honor,
And may Your living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,
And may You feed a hungry world through me.

Amen, Amen, Amen

-written by Gloria Gaither

God, send me angels....

Last month I wrote about a human-angelic experience I had in an ICU right before my first wife Ellen passed away. Today I bring you a great and inspirational story from my good friend Eileen.

I was flying home from a great week with my Florida family. My emotions were mixed as we said good-bye. It was hard to leave them, but I was really ready to be home again; ready to be back to my husband and my own house.

I’ve flown alone before and everything has always gone well. Still, each trip brings a bit of anxiety. Being wheelchair bound, I am totally dependent on airline and airport personnel to get me on, off, and down long concourses to my next plane. I always wonder, “What if I miss that connecting flight…?” I was about to find out.

My first flight had a problem docking to the jet-way. Many minutes were lost and time was already short. The courier pushing my wheelchair hurried my through the airport as fast as he could, but I was too late. I missed my flight! The courier took me to Customer Service. The next available flight home wouldn’t leave until the following morning. They offered me a hotel room, but without someone to help me, that was an impossible prospect. I knew I needed to stay in the airport.

So, there I was, sitting at my morning gate in a manual wheelchair that I was not strong enough to move. I was confident that I would be OK; that I could sit there for 12 hours and wait patiently. I called Marvin to tell him my situation. Then I began to talk to God. I asked Him to send me angels to keep me company.

Marvin called Jason (Eileen's son) with the news. Jason and Nicole prayed. Nicole asked God to send me angels. Marvin called his Mom. She prayed with Marvin over the phone and asked God to send me angels. Then God began to move! Marvin’s Mom called her niece, Martha. Martha called her daughter, Melissa, who lives in southern Georgia. Melissa called her friend, Missy, who lives in Atlanta. All these followers of Jesus were determined to find a way to help me. Phone calls followed into the night as they went through possibilities.

It was Missy and her friend, Christine, (two women I had never met) who finally drove an hour to the airport late that night. Through sheer determination they finally found someone who could and would find me and push me out of the secured area to them. Missy and Christine were my angels. God had answered our prayers.

Missy and Christine are both mothers of young children who sacrificed a night’s peace and rest and their own priorities to answer God’s call and meet my needs. They spent the night with me, helping me to the bathroom, providing food, and having a lot of fun conversation. To me it seemed like a party! We had fun! In the morning they got me back to my gate before they said good-bye and returned to their families. After they’d gone I realized that I didn’t even know their last names.

It never occurred to me before that night that God uses people to do the angel-thing sometimes. It’s a lesson I want to remember. I’d really like the privilege of being someone’s angel someday. I hope that when the opportunity comes, I will gladly make the sacrifice. Thank you, Missy and Christine!

Life as a Prayer

Instead of merely saying a prayer..
perhaps our lives can be prayerful expressions to God.

Instead of merely giving a heavenly thanks..
perhaps our lives will be filled with thankfulness.

Instead of merely asking for divine forgiveness..
perhaps our lives can be lived from forgiving hearts.

Instead of merely singing songs of worship..
perhaps our lives will be transformed in living worship.

Instead of merely interceding for others..
perhaps our lives can be poured out in service to them.

Instead of merely petitioning God for grace..
perhaps our lives will be display glorious graciousness.

Instead of merely loving God in a prayer..
perhaps our lives can be rooted in love for God and others.

Instead of merely praying..
perhaps we will live life as a prayer.

© Kansas Bob

Please visit The Prayer List and pray with me.

The Plans of Our Heart

The sixteenth chapter of proverbs is filled with instruction about our hearts. We are told to submit our plans to the Lord and watch Him establish our steps. The chapter contrasts those who are arrogant in heart with those who are humble in heart.. those who do worthless acts and those who are filled with acts of wisdom. 

"The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established." (v1-3) "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." (v9)

In these verses we see a contrast between the roles of man and those God. They seem to indicate that it is good for a man to have plans as long as man realizes that God has the last word on our plans. Also present is the idea that we do not always know our motives.. sometimes God will reject our plans if our motives are not right. I love how it says that God's goal is to establish those plans that we have submitted to Him. In these verses we see how we and He work together to brings His plans in our heart to pass.

"The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil. When a man's ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." (v4-7)

Again we see that the Lord is cognizant of each human heart. He wants to be in relationship with each of us yet some spurn Him and pursue wickedness instead. In arrogance humans reject the Lord who loves them and desires to forgive them and share His love with them. To such that return God's love to Him in worship He gives atoning blessings of peace.

"Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice." (v8)

Solomon lays bare greedy motives bare. I have often said that for some wealth is more of a curse than a blessing. If we love money then it is better that we do not have it. If we love God then He will supply all we need.

"It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right. A king's wrath is a messenger of death, and a wise man will appease it. In the light of a king's face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain." (v12-15)

The Lord cares about how people use the power and authority that they have. The old adage, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely", is a true one.. corruption is imminent when people do not submit themselves to God and others. I have found this particularly true in the church. Senior pastors were removed from their positions in three of the last four churches I have been involved with. I so wish that they would have humbled themselves when elders confronted them.

"The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD." (v16-20)

I have found that in God's economy humility is not an option.. you either humble yourself or God will do it for you.. and the latter often looks like humiliation. Interesting how evil and pride seem to be linked together.. humility and trusting God also seem to go hand-in-hand.

"The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body." (21-24)

Jesus said that we speak what is abundantly in our heart. It instructs me to do things that will strengthen my heart and make it wise. I think that a good regimen of spiritual food and exercise will give us strong hearts that will speak wise, sweet, judicious and gracious words.

"A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire. A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends. A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good. Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things; he who purses his lips brings evil to pass." (v27-30)

Interesting how graphically these verses describe "a worthless man".. evil planning.. scorching speech.. spreading strife.. coming between friends.. leading folks astray.. and winking at dishonesty.

"Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." (v31-32)

These verses speak to us about how God sees those who persevere and live temperate lives. I have been a believer since I was 26 but I think that I started to really live a more spiritual life when gray came to my hair.. there is something about age that can mature us spiritually if we persevere with Jesus. My issues with anger began to resolve as my heart became stronger than my emotions.. not that I am anger-free :)

"The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." (v33)

A great verse to end the chapter on.. God will always have the last word on our lives.. His grace will always trump our failings.. He decision will prevail.

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

Successful Relationships and Lives

The fifteenth chapter of proverbs instructs us in ways to create and maintain healthy relationships.. we are told of the importance of gentle words when we disagree with each other. Keys for success are given to us as King Solomon speaks of hard work, wise counselors and being teachable.

"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (v1), "A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (v4)

The importance of communication in a relationship cannot be overstated.. it is why prayer and listening to God's voice is so important. The problem with harsh words is that once spoken they cannot be taken back.. it is why it is so important not to fuel each others anger.. when a friend is angry it is best to listen and respond with understanding and life giving words.

"The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good." (v3)

God's omnipresence and omniscience is mind-boggling.. the idea that He is everywhere and knows our thoughts is a bit freaky. It is also comforting to know that nothing can separate us from our loving God.

"The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves him who pursues righteousness." (v9), The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but gracious words are pure. (v26)

My thoughts first focused on the word abomination.. I meditated on it and wondered why someone's way or thoughts would disgust the Lord.. then my eyes caught the word "wicked" and thought of how wickedness disgusts me.. especially my personal wicked ways like unforgiveness and bitterness. Of course the antidote for all manner of wicked thought and behavior is the pursuit of righteousness.

"A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed." (v13)

Thoreau once wrote: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I have found that even in profound sadness God has given a song in my heart. When my first wife died I found daily heartfelt worship to be great medicine for my heart. When I feel sad I will often listen to (and sometimes cry with) a few worship songs.. it is good for my heart.

"Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it." (v16-17)

Verse 17 in a way interprets 16.. love never fails.. when love is present is causes the poor man to persevere.. when it is absent even the wealthy lose heart.

"The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway." (v19)

Thomas Jefferson once said: "I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." Sometimes some appear to be luckier or more blessed.. according to this verse you could infer that blessing follows hard work.

"Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed." (v22)

The cornerstone of good decisions is often good advisers. It is not that these folks are that much smarter than you.. they just have a way of bringing out the best in you and helping you see things that you didn't before.

"Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor." (v32-33)

These two verses connect being unteachable with pride. It is often hard to listen to criticism.. I once heard a pastor preach that there is not such thing as constructive criticism.. like him many miss out on the blessings of reproof by discounting it as negativity. Sad because often our critics know us the best :)

Please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

Ways that seem Right but are Not

The fourteenth chapter of proverbs presents us with the contrasts of living lives pleasing to the Lord and living lives at odds with his ways. This chapter speaks to: wisdom and folly; the inner joy of bitterness; naivety and prudence; taking car of the poor; and what is means for a nation to be pleasing to God.

"The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down." (v1)

Building and walking.. great images of what it is like to be in relationship with the Lord.. interesting that something good that we built can be torn down by our foolish actions.

"Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is devious in his ways despises him." (v2)

I love how uprightness and deviousness are contrasted.. I think that integrity is a mark of a person who fears the Lord.

"Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox." (v4)

Ever heard someone say "We can disagree as long as we are not disagreeable"? Kind of a great one-liner isn't it? I like the idea but I have to say that when we are working side-by-side things often get pretty messy.. egos clash and pride comes full bore.. but often strength comes as strong people learn to work together to produce an abundant crop.

"Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge." (v7)

Verses 5-9 are replete with contrasts.. faithful vs false witness.. scoffer vs man of understanding.. prudent vs fool.. mock vs enjoy. And wedged in these contrasts is this verse that in essence counsels us to not associate with fools. It is sometimes hard.. they sometimes feed the darkest parts of us and draw us to scoffing, lying and mocking.

"The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy." (v10)

How I wish that I did not understand this verse. I have visited the house of bitterness on occasion and know the insidious affects that it has had on my life. There is a perverse joy in bitterness and unless pulled up by it's roots bitterness can defile so much of our lives. Better to savor the sweetness of life.

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." (v12)

The mind is a wonderful tool.. it can do amazing things.. it can even make unwise interpretations of scripture. Living from your head, instead of your heart, will often lead you in the ways of death.

"The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps." (v15)

Interesting how the scriptures teach us to have childlike faith but also teach us to be prudent in the ways that we live. Sometimes we do the most imprudent things in the name of childlike faith.. which is usually just religiousness and not faith at all.

"The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor." (v20-21)

Money often brings out the worst in us.. how we use it tests our mettle.. it's affect on us says a lot about us. In Matthew's gospel Jesus told us that how we use money is a reflection of what we treasure the most. Sadly many of us do not treasure the poorest amongst us at all.

"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people." (v34)

I want to read this verse and speak to the national sins of our day but I do not think that this is the sense of it. Here is the way that Gill comments on it:
Administered by the government, and exercised by subjects towards one another; doing justice between man and man: this exalts a nation, as it did the people of Israel, while practised among them; this sets a people above their neighbours, and high in the esteem of God and men; and is attended with privileges and blessings, which make a nation great and honourable.
Being an honorable nation is at its heart caring for each other and treating each other with mercy and respect. We suffer when our laws do less.

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Poverty that makes you Rich

The thirteenth chapter of proverbs again addresses what is means to be successful in the eyes of the Lord. Riches and wealth are discussed with relationship to our work habits, our savings habits and our relationship to God and His word. Other things like discipline, contentment and our speech are also mentioned.

"Righteousness guards him whose way is blameless, but sin overthrows the wicked." (v6)

The first five verses contrast the ways that the righteous and unrighteous work and speak. I think that this verse ties those verses together. My desire is to show myself blameless in the way that I work and speak.. not that it is easy :)

"One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth." (v7)

Albert Barnes comments on this verse in this way: "There is a seeming wealth behind which there lies a deep spiritual poverty and wretchedness. There is a poverty which makes a person rich for the kingdom of God." Reminds me what Jesus said in the Beatitudes of how we are blessed when we are poor in spirit.

"Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it." (v11)

For me the heart of conservatism is not only the way that we use the resources that God has entrusted to us but how those resources are acquired. Many who preach the health and wealth gospel sometimes advocate a manner of receiving that is not consistent with this verse when they speak of how God wants to lavish wealth on folks who simply pray but are not faithful to work and accumulate "little by little".

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." (v12)

There is a difference between hope and expectations.. many times we pray and expect life to change.. this is not what hope is all about. Romans 5:5 tells us that hope does not disappoint. If we find ourselves in a place of disappointment we should consider evaluating our expectations.

"Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded." (v13)

I heard it said once that you really do not break the scriptures - they break you. I have brought destruction on myself and on my family by breaking not so much the letter of God's word but the spirit of it.

"Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." (v20)

Much of this chapter is reflective of this verse.. and lest we think it does not relate to we church folks.. my experience is that some of my worst behaviors (i.e. works righteousness, judgmentalism and legalism) were learned amongst fellow believers.

"A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous." (v17)

The idea of leaving a legacy is a scriptural one for sure. Do you have a legal will? How about a spiritual one? What kind of legacy are you leaving?

"Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." (v24)

This is probably one of the most over-quoted verses in the bible. Proverbs 29:15 expands on the verse a bit more saying that the rod and reproof give wisdom. I think that the environment of discipline should always be within the bounds of a loving relationship.. loving words should always accompany any form of discipline.

"The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want." (v25)

The hallmark of a believer is one of a contented life. Better to have a little with God that a lot without Him.

If you liked this post then please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.

If You Speak It You Eat It

The twelfth chapter of proverbs speaks to the way that we work and the way that we speak. The thing that strikes me about both of these is that they both impact our lot in life and they are both within our power to control. In a general sense we really do reap what we sow.

"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid." (v1)

The heart of being a disciple is being disciplined and the heart of discipline is humility. Unfortunately our inner issues of pride and ego surface when we are corrected by others and even when we are disciplined by the Lord.

"An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones." (v4)

The converse of this is true as well.. truth is (in my opinion) more husbands bring shame than wives. Our hearts should be to always consider our spouses in the way that we live.. our lives should be a source of life in their lives.

"The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand." (v7)

There is an eternal aspect to a faith built on a solid foundation. Here is the way that Jesus put it: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

"Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel." (v10)

The lesson here is not the care of animals but the importance of compassion. Jesus told the religious folks of His day that God desires compassion and not religious activities. Of course I do think that how we care for animals says something about us.

"Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense." (v11)

Whether is is in a cubicle, a factory or on a farm hard work is honorable. I once told my son that the thing that makes money worth anything is work and not gold.. the work standard, not the gold standard, makes an economy prosperous.

"An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous escapes from trouble. From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man's hand comes back to him." (v13-14)

I once heard a message titled "If you speak it you eat it". The law of sowing and reaping is applicable to our speech as well as our work. We harvest what we plant.

"Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment." (v17)

This verse wraps up several ones that compare speech in terms of: foolish or wise; insulting; honest testimony vs false witness; rash or healing words; and truth or lies. What we say is so important.. we have the power to bless or to curse.. to encourage or put down. People so need our speech to be full of wise and healing words.

"Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad." (v25)

Encouragement is an enduring kingdom principle.. I sometimes think that we are most like God when we are blessing others with our words. I like this anonymous quote: “A word of encouragement during a failure is worth more than an hour of praise after success”.

If you liked this post then please click here to catch some of my other ponderings on the book of Proverbs.