Small verse, big changes…

 

Autumn brings spectacular change. Falling temperatures remind us to open our windows and invite the cool air inside. Hay bales and mums decorate porches. And, of course, the leaves begin to display their fine autumnal hues. The change in the colors of the leaves is a complex bio-chemical process that boggles the mind. Thankfully, not all beautiful change is complex. In fact, deep and dynamic personal change can take place through a simple process; it is outlined in Jeremiah 26:13:

“Now therefore, amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God…”

 

In Jeremiah’s admonition to God’s people he described how God-honoring change takes place. Let’s take a look at it together.

 

First, God-honoring change requires us take a hard look at ourselves. None of us enjoys this, but it is the intial step toward lasting change. Before we can “amend our ways and doings,” you and I must compare ourselves to the standard of God’s Word. We are to not compare ourselves to others (that’s self-justification) or compare ourselves to a standard that we have no intention of keeping (that’s hypocrisy). We must compare ourselves to God’s standards. Ouch! Hold on, there is good news. The gap that exists between your everyday life and God’s eternal standards is bridged by His grace to you in Christ. So, with courage, and encouragement, go ahead and take the floodlight of God’s Word and shine it onto your thoughts, motives, and attitudes knowing that His grace covers failures and forges change.

 

Second, the truth about ourselves produces a desire to change our ways.  “What needs to change?” you ask. According to Jeremiah 26:13 it’s our “ways and doings.” We are to amend our ways — the way that we think and live. Once we dial in on correcting our ways we will then see a change in our deeds. To attempt to change your actions apart from changing your ways is to ignore the inner problem of our sinful nature. The Pharisees were experts at this. If you intently focus God’s Word on your mind and heart long enough your ways will begin to change, then, so will your doings.

 

Third, continue to focus on and follow God’s Word. That sounds easy. It’s not. Your responsibilities at work and home, activities with kids, stresses and frustrations, and tight schedule can crowd out your consistent time in God’s Word. Busyness can create an un-focused and un-still mind that is dulled to what God is doing through His Word.  Beware, unless time and attention are devoted to God’s Word each day you won’t sense His direction and walk in His “ways.” You know what becomes of your “doings” if you aren’t walking in His “ways.” We’ve all been there before.

 

To summarize, take an excuse-free look at yourself through the lens of the Bible, make difficult changes in your ways and doings as God points them out, and thank Him for His grace that forgives our sins and forges our change.

 

Thankfully, oaks and hickories do not demand to hold on to summer’s greenery. If they could, and did, we would be robbed of autumn’s splendor. Is there some of God’s splendor that you do without by holding on to your old “ways” and “doings?” It’s worth looking into…

 

Overcoming, in a bold yet becoming way…

Just when you were gaining ground they arrived. You know who “they” are. They are the ones who grumble and gripe. They have a dozen reasons for why something won’t work or can’t be done. You dread seeing them coming, despise hearing their droning, and are deflated when they finally move on to frustrate someone else. This type of folks has always been around. A textbook example of these cranky critics and how to overcome them is found in the Book of Nehemiah.

 

The theme of the book is Nehemiah’s work to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. The book is brief, but has a bounty of lessons about life, faith, work, attitudes, and leadership. It is one of the most practical and applicable books in the Bible.

 

In the first two chapters we see how Nehemiah’s work and service to God began. Nehemiah had heard that Jerusalem was in great disrepair. He responded to this news by mourning for days. He then fasted, prayed, and asked God to clear the path for him to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Soon after, while doing his ho-hum job of being the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah had the opportunity to gain the king’s approval to go and rebuild the walls. As a further answer to Nehemiah’s prayer King Artaxerxes even provided a letter of protection as well as the supplies for the work! A lesson here is that while you are faithful in your mundane, day-to-day role be sure to watch for God to do something astonishing. The “small” role that Nehemiah had worked in for years became the springboard for a big assignment.

 
As soon as God had granted Nehemiah initial, and visible, success … trouble began. Enter the professional troublemakers: Sanballat (wasn’t that the name of an 80’s pop band?) and Tobiah (the translation of that Aramaic name is “kid who never got picked for dodgeball because of his dopey name). Those two didn’t want Jerusalem restored or for Nehemiah to prosper. So they began expressing themselves as a means of depressing others. Nehemiah chapter two concludes with this passage:

 

“Then I (Nehemiah) said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:17-20

 

Some quick take-home, or take-to-work, application points for us:

  • Nehemiah inspired those that he would led. He encouraged them, told them what they should do, and why they should do it. Good leaders share the “why” along with the “what, and in the process lift others up rather than tearing them down.
  • At the first sign of success the nay-sayers unleashed a barrage of finger-pointing and fault-finding. Those remain the tools of the trade used by cynics today. Learning to spot these will aid you in setting your feet and standing up to scoffers. It is worth considering that sometimes the loudest and most critical doubter you hear resides within you. Recognize that self-doubt — especially if it’s constant and contrarian — is the work of your sin nature or the enemy; it’s not from God. God desires us to keep moving ahead despite doubters, both external and internal ones.
  • Nehemiah overcame the scoffers in a becoming yet bold manner: God is with us, we will keep working, and this is none of your business. A sanctified smackdown (check out the Archives for the June 5 post Words of Grace, and Granite for more on santified smart-aleckry). It’s a rousing response for your critics: God’s in it and keep your nose out of it.

 

As you go about your life and work please remember Nehemiah’s example of faithfulness and watchfulness while his work began and his strength and savvy  that kept the work going. Take some time this week and walk through the Book of Nehemiah. God will use it to instruct and inspire you. He might even show you how His great work flows through your daily grind…

Truth for those trying times…

As you stride through the fields of life you move through patches of briars and brambles, those patches usually feature dark clouds and cold winds as well. Each of us have gone through these times. Each of us will go through more of them. A memory of such a tough time may have flashed upon your mind’s High-Def screen. As those memories are awakened it is a fine opportunity to recall how God brought you through challenging seasons of life. Enter Romans 15:4:

 

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

 

As I read that passage this morning seeds of thought sprouted. As the thoughts rooted, then grew, I took to pen and paper. Here are some of the principles that bloomed:

  • First, God’s Word is given to for us instruction. Obvious from the text, I know, but the instruction of God’s word is the beginning of the construction of our hope. Or, to put it another way, God’s instruction to us is the framework for our hope in Him.
  • Second, for us to continue climbing steep slopes in life — often rain-soaked and slippery, no less — we must decide to persevere. Romans 15:4 points out the practice of pressing on as a link to hope. During trying times God demonstrates His graciousness to us and we should demonstrate our grittiness to Him. Endurance is faith in continued action.
  • Third, God’s Word is given to us for encouragement. Again, obvious from the passage, but, what is not obvious is the connection of the hope that we receive from the Scriptures to our means of receiving it. Here it is: God’s Word instructs us, our endurance propels us, and His Word then encourages us. At this point it would be easy, and self-gratifying, to think that our endurance is the link between the instruction given and hope gained in God’s Word. It’s not. Our endurance is necessary, but not primary. The question raising its hand and squirming in its seat begging to be answered is this, “Where does the endurance come from?” Just as instruction and hope come from God, our endurance comes from Him as well. Scripture shows us that God is the source of our endurance. It’s not us. It never is.

 

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you…”Romans 15:5

 

Colossians 1:11 steps in as a reminder as well:

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy…”

 

These two verses reveal that our ability to endure comes from strength that God provides. The real lesson here, and true hope, is that it’s all by God’s grace.

Through His grace:

  • His Word instructs us.
  • His Word delivers hope to us.
  • His Spirit grants strength to us, so that we are able to endure.

 
It’s His grace top to bottom, front to back, and on all sides.

 

When you find yourself struggling uphill, cold and wet, remember that His grace in Christ calls to us from His Word. Take a moment, rest under a hillside oak for shelter, and open His Word. He will teach you, strengthen you, and bring hope to you. Then, you will find yourself warm, dry, and ready to climb again. Go climb. Climb with hope. Climb in grace…

Safe Harbors Aren’t Silent…

 

If you will lend me a few moments I will try to make it worth your time. I want to address a topic that is rarely discussed among Christians. Please allow me to introduce it with two experiences that I had last week.

 

Last Monday I had a nice dad-and-daughter discussion about life being made up of “different times.” We read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 — grab your Bible and take a peek at it — and were reminded that both good and bad times come and go. It was a rich discussion, and we discussed how important it is to learn to identify and appreciate each time for what it is — a passing season. If you are wondering what sparked that discussion, well, let’s just say that someone close to our family had hinted that crying is “bad,” and that one shouldn’t cry, ever. Ecclesiastes cleared that up nicely. Truly there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” Especially with a teenager in the house.

 

The second experience involved reading an article on Twitter by @Desiring God about anxiety, OCD, and how Christians can deal with both (@Desiring God is a must follow on Twitter and DesiringGod.com is one of the top Christian resources online). Let’s be honest, few Christians discuss those topics. And, please don’t pretend that you do not get anxious or worry a bit too much for your own good, and know someone close to you that checks his/her alarm clock or door locks a few too many times.  Sadly, we choose to remain silent during such topics. Now that we have that out of the bag, onward.

 

For those of you furrowing your brow in disbelief about how these two experiences can be interlaced for the good of humanity — O ye of little faith and scant imagination — have a seat, read on, and you’ll see. If you aren’t convinced at this point then go back to reading your current issue of Negativity Illustrated or Crusty Mind, Calloused Soul.

 

Here’s how the two intersect: each of us slog through seasons of life that are anxious, troubling, or blue. It’s part of life. Seasons of life are part of the deal, and keeping our mind and soul well-keeled during each of them is a consistent challenge.

 

Knowing and admitting that each of us Christ-followers has flaws, struggles, and obstacles let’s us latch onto a verse, begin to sort it out, and apply it to our lives.

 

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV).

 

Frequent readers of this blog — stellar folks with fine taste I might add — have seen this verse before. It’s one of my favorites because it covers vast, rugged terrain in a few brisk steps. It shows us that God does not want to us have fear or anxiety. Not ever. God’s design is for each believer to continually know a sense of His power and enjoy sound mindedness (also translated as “self-control” or “controlled mind”). 2 Timothy 1:7 can expose and exterminate problems that exist between your ears, your mind and soul, you and others, and your use of time and mental energy.  God’s Will is for you to have abiding peace and joy in life (see John 14:27-28 and John 15:11). Holding to this and recognizing that there are seasons in life that rise and fall, stride and stagger, helps you to appreciate that those times are temporary. This enables you to view your thoughts, attitudes, patterns, and life in view of the light of God’s truth. It is in His light that we see light (Psalm 36:9 and 119:130), especially during dark days.

 

In closing, as you go through tough seasons in your life please know that:

  • Other Christ-followers go through the same things.
  • There is a connection between the tone of the mind and the timbre of the soul, bath yourself in God’s Word. Both mutually benefit from it.
  • There is no reason to be silent about it. In the New Testament we are commanded to encourage, pray for, lift up, and help one another. (I happen to know a Bearded Acorn working on a book manuscript about the “one another” commands in the New Testament. Nice teaser, eh!)

 

Many Christians, and churches, lean away from discussing blue, jittery, or unsettled aspects and seasons of life. That is a shame, and a bit of a sham. Someone that you know is currently going through one. Acting as if you haven’t struggled in a similar way is poorly disguised Pharisee-ism

 

Because of what we have covered in these few paragraphs please set your mind on easing the mind and soul of someone else this week. As God’s compass has steadied your ship during tempestuous times you then are able to offer safe harbor for others.

 

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you …”2 Corinthians 7:6-7a

 

Did you catch that? God comforts us so that we can comfort one another. There is mutual relief and restoration in sailing alongside a fellow believer. Pull up the anchor, set your course toward a small boat rocking on the waves, secure them to your ship, and help them to the harbor…

Yours for the asking…

2 Chronicles 1:7-12 records an encouraging interaction between God and Solomon. God asks Solomon a question, Solomon responds discerningly, and God blesses him for it. Take a look:

 

“In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.”….Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?”God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” 2 Chronicles 1:7, 10-12
For the sake of brevity, let’s cut the principles into large pieces. This will save you from reading details and allow you to spend time in reflection instead. Here are the big slabs of truth:

 

  • Solomon had intimate fellowship with God. Notice that the interaction was not one-sided; it involved Solomon both listening to and responding to God.
  • Solomon’s response to God was wise and selfless. Solomon could have asked for riches, power, revenge on his enemies, or a long life; he did not. He asked for something that would honor God and help His people.
  • God granted Solomon his request for wisdom, and, also granted him the things that he didn’t ask for. We need to pause, grab ahold of this point, and wrestle with it. Play some mental ju-jitsu with it for a bit. Keep grappling with it, that’s it; wait, don’t knock over the lamp. Whew. Keep it down, someone in your house may become annoyed with your tussling with truth and mumble, “Are they in there reading The Bearded Acorn and wrestling with God’s Word again?” The word picture begged to be played out. Sorry, mostly.

 

Here’s the scoop on the third principle: After Solomon showed God-honoring reasons for his request God then granted him more than he had asked for. To state it another way, God doesn’t provide us with acres until we are faithful with inches. This principle should encourage us. It does so in several ways. First, it shows us that there is soul-building, joy-giving purpose in day-to-day living. Each day of honoring God leads to deeper days of it later. Honoring God in the most mundane of activities — work, house work, relationships, etc. — is proving ground for the events and tasks that lie ahead. Second, what we consider needful may actually be harmful. We must be satisfied in letting God determine what we need and when it is best for us to receive it. Third, following God is a daily process made up of successes and stumbles, watching and waiting. Rest assured that He gauges and guides the process perfectly. All three of these points direct us to trust God in the smallest areas of life as we grow toward more sizable ones. The super-sized Reese’s cups in life come after we have eaten our broccoli, with a good attitude.

 

To see these things in the day-to-day requires wisdom. You might be thinking, “If I was only as wise as Solomon…” The same wisdom that was granted to Solomon is available to you!

 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

 

Ask God for wisdom. He has plenty to give, and is pleased to give it to you. Remember, that wisdom is not magic dust sprinkled on your head from heaven. Wisdom is found in God’s Word. As you read and study the Bible the Holy Spirit will provide wisdom for understanding and application to your life. As you ask for wisdom each day, study God’s Word, and rely upon His Spirit exercise patience. You will begin to recognize His wisdom germinating, and then sprouting in your mind and heart. Growing in wisdom is like the slow and steady growth of an oak. The growth rings of wisdom are added as you seek God, soak in His Word, and follow Him.

Ask, and like Solomon, you will receive…

Good words for a good week…

Some of God’s greatest gifts arrive wrapped in rough paper. Likewise, some of God’s good news begins gruffly. With that in mind, let’s leap in.

 

Do you ever find yourself shying away from using the word “sin?” It seems harsh, personal, and condemning. It is all of those things, and from God’s view it is rightly so. Why? Sin wrecks the world, and each person in it. Until we call it what it is we cannot deal with it honestly. Not correctly identifying inherent sinfulness as our primary problem would be like accepting a doctor’s diagnosis of: “Yes, you certainly have a terrible disease, but let’s not identify it, or label it specifically — that would be harsh and upsetting — rather, let’s call it something more pleasing and see if you can improve your health by ignoring it.” That’s industrial strength negligence. Although it would seem like a ridiculous approach to physical health some have no qualms about handling their spiritual matters in this manner.

 

You are wondering where the good words are, aren’t you? Well, we must first ascertain  that sin is the ailment before we can apply the cure. With that out of the way, here’s the cure:

 

“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” Romans 4:3-5

 

The deeply personal bad news is that we are all sinners, and sinful. The worse news is that many people believe that it is possible to work their way out of it. Attending church, doing good deeds, and giving to charities are all common approaches to “doing more good than bad.” The truth — Bible truth that is — tells us that we cannot do so. We do not have the ability, capacity, or consistency to do “good” that will erase our sin. No one will be forgiven and receive eternal life because of what he or she did. No one; not you, not me, not anyone, ever. Romans 4:4 makes this jarringly clear: if you attempt to work to earn God’s favor and forgiveness you actually go further into debt to Him for your sin. Hint: trying to earn God’s favor is a sin in itself as it attempts to reduce God’s standards to ours and exalts our abilities to those of Christ. Ouch!

 

Now to the good words, good words to encourage you toward a good week.

 

Romans 4:5 gives us three astounding truths:

  • Our relationship with God is grace-based, not works-based. Whew!
  • The “ungodly” and “unrighteous” — that’s us — are forgiven and justified by faith in Jesus.
  • The righteousness of Jesus is applied to those who believe in Him.

 

In summary, you and I cannot earn God’s favor and forgiveness; we receive it by His grace through faith in Jesus. And — this is a a big one — we are forgiven by faith in Jesus and His righteousness is applied to us (that’s a big “and”). So, God does not see you as a sinner huddled under the Name of his Son, rather, He sees you cloaked in and covered by the righteousness of His Son. He looks at you through the lens of the Lord Jesus. How’s that for good words from God’s Word?

 

He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves and gives us what we could never earn. That’s a grand description of God’s grace. His grace for you, and to you, each day. Good words indeed…

Liberty that lasts…

As we celebrate of the 4th of July each of us will consider the purchase price of our liberty. Hundreds of thousands of America’s finest folks have offered their service, and often their lives, to provide innumerable and immeasurable freedoms:

  • To worship as we choose
  • To believe as we choose (or have been chosen to, depending on your view of Romans 8, Ephesians 1, and Acts 13:48). Yes, I had to put that theological jab in there. But, it was designed to nudge you to read those verses, and think on them.
  • To raise our children as we choose
  • To own property, a home, a Bible, and your own thoughts, to clip your fingernails in pubic (please don’t!), to post your events on FaceBook, to pierce or tattoo your whatever, and such.

 

Those macro freedoms are offered to us all, for now. While they are grand, much of the greatest enjoyment comes in the specific application of them in your life. Here are some examples from my weekend:

  • The building excitement of carrying on our family traditions on Independence Day: the kids’ all day swim-fest, grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, Dairy Queen ice cream, and watching the local fireworks display. And, getting a little moist in the eyes at some, or several, points during the day.
  • The joy of spending a couple of shirt-soaking hours picking purple-hulled peas with my dad, talking about our jobs, and enjoying stories from years past.
  • The restfulness of reading: the Bible, the poetry of Wendell Berry (A Short Porch is a new collection of his “Sabbath Poems”), Arkansas Sportsman magazine, and Mayflower (an account of the Pilgrims dream of and journey to America).

 

Each of those moments cascade from the many freedoms that we enjoy as Americans.

There are those in our culture who want to change that. They seek to redefine our freedoms in order to conform them to their purposes and views. Know this, their redefining of freedoms is an attempt at reducing them. We will sway with them or succumb to them only if we allow it. While subtle and invisible, the struggle against this is real, and fierce. Without a doubt, our current cultural conflict is a spiritual one. So, what better way to combat the “redefining” of our culture than with eternal truth?

 

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

 

Notice in Galatians 5:1 that Paul gives Christ-followers a trio of tested truths to grasp to as they grapple for spiritual, and cultural, liberty:

  1. Christ Himself has set us free. It is a precious freedom from the power of sin and full pardon for our sin.
  2. His followers have to “stand firm” in order to retain this freedom. There are pressures and powers within us (our sinful nature) and outside of us (the world, its ways, and the enemy) that will lie to and lure us away from the truth, the life, and freedom that He brings (John 8:32 and 10:10, you know the drill, look them up and read them).
  3. The way our liberty is lost and we are enslaved again is by us allowing it to happen. We have the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to correct and keep us.

 

What’s the point of the previous 550 words? In summary: as Christians, and citizens of the United States, we enjoy rich spiritual liberty in Christ, and daily freedoms as Americans, if we forgo the spiritual freedom then we will certainly forfeit the cultural ones. Believe it or not, reading your Bible each day, spending time in prayer, recognizing what God is doing in your life, and appreciating the joys and liberties that you experience are a firm defense against losing them. A great enemy to each of God’s gifts is not our opponent’s onslaught against them, it is your indifference to them.

Our society is at the gates, jangling the chains of submission. You have the sword of truth and shield of faith, what will you do?

Heroes begin humbly …

Oftentimes we lean on others for advice and direction. This is good. Proverbs 11:14 and 15:22 promote it. Suppose that tomorrow the tide turned and your boss or a public leader wanted your advice? How would you prepare for such a moment? A snippet from the life of Elisha found in 2 Kings 3:11 provides the answer.

 

“And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the LORD here, through whom we may inquire of the LORD?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 2 Kings 3:11

 

Before Elisha spoke to kings, he was a prophet; before he was a prophet, he was an apprentice to Elijah; while he was an apprentice, he was a humble servant.

Following Elijah’s chariot-of-fire-ride to heaven, Elisha became his successor. Although Elisha suddenly took on Elijah’s role he had not instantly become a prophet. Over time he had learned how to serve as a prophet under the tutelage of Elijah. It is fitting that Elisha’s first supernatural feat was one that he had just learned from Elijah prior to his departure  to heaven (2 Kings 2:13-14). While serving the prophet Elijah, young Elisha had watched him walk with God, deal with people, handle adversity, and fulfill his role. Elisha had learned as he served.

It’s easy for each of us to want “better” — a better job, a better situation in life, etc. Those things can be good so long as they are kept within the confines of God’s will and Word. In our spiritual lives we often want more as well. We desire to know God intimately, pray fervently, read the Bible consistently, and live wisely. Each of these from the “better things” to spiritual growth will not arrive without work. Sadly, we live in a culture that seeks advancement without effort. The term for that idea is “entitlement.”

It’s easy to spot entitlement. Those who feel “entitled” will think, and often foolishly say, things such as “I deserve, I want, I should get…” If selfishness and laziness married and had a child its name would be “Entitlement.” It is not a great leap of logic to see that entitlement is the opposite of service. Entitlement stamps it feet and says, “I deserve this because I am me.” Services reflects and remembers, “I receive because of Who God is, not because of who I am.” Let that sink in. Think back on the last week and recall which of those two attitudes you demonstrated most often.

Now, back to Elisha to show us that entitlement has no place in the life of a servant-leader.  2 Kings 3:11 employs a simple and moving picture of Elisha’s relationship to Elijah, as well as the theme of his training to be a prophet, “(Elisha) poured water on the hands of Elijah.” He was Elijah’s assistant and had handled the most humble of chores, evening washing the prophet’s hand before meals. As Elisha had served Elijah, he had learned from him; as he had learned, he then served more faithfully. That model and attitude is to be ours as well. We serve, then we learn.

 

For you to follow this example it requires a few “musts”:

  • You must know your role and find contentment in doing your best in it.
  • You must appreciate that what you learn in your current role prepares you for your next one. To attempt to hurry the process is to short change yourself and walk by sight, not by faith.
  • You must come to realize that you do not write out God’s plans or get to hold His watch. God designs, builds, and completes on His time, not yours.

Our culture urges us to claw and climb for what we want as we see fit. Elisha did it God’s way — from being a humble servant of a prophet to learning to be a prophet. Like many other heroes of the faith he served, learned, … and then led. Would you like to become a leader and do it God’s way? The process is simple, but slow: humbly serve, patiently learn, … then lead.

Words of Grace, and Granite…

Most folks enjoy a sweet snack. A chocolate chip cookie, a scoop (or two) of ice cream, or a slice of pie is a fine treat. We like sweets. Our BMIs prove it.

You may be thinking, “that last sentence wasn’t very sweet.” But, we will see in a moment that it actually is a style of “honey-word” that the Bible demonstrates for us. Now, you may be thinking, “what does a comment about my BMI have to do with the Bible?” Excellent question. Enter Proverbs 16:24; it provides the answer, and so much more.

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

This verse in Proverbs shows us that a certain kind of words are “like a honeycomb,” and that they have a beneficial effect upon us. First, let’s see the effects that they have on us. Then, we will see what those words look like.

Proverbs 16:24 lists two of the general effects of “gracious words.” These words “sweeten the soul” and bring “health to the body.” They improve both spiritual and physical health. The goal of gracious words is to solidify, not to “be sweet.” In other words, that which is healthy for the body and soul may not seem “sweet” at all. (You already can feel the hard right turn coming can’t you?)

In order to identify and enjoy “words of grace” we must know what they look like, or better, how they are packaged.  The following list points out the different packages that they come in. Some will cause you to nod in agreement while a couple of them might leave you shaking your head.

First, a definition. “Gracious words” are discussions that are wise, discerning, grace-based, and soul-building. The Bible lists several kinds of “gracious words.”

Here is a summary of some of them:
1. Words of grace are words of encouragement. They are words that are meant to help, comfort, or build up others. The Greek word in the New Testament that we translate as “encourage” means to pour courage into the soul of another. Perfect word picture.
2. Words of grace are words of truth. The teaching of God’s Word plants seeds of grace in the soil of the soul. In Psalm 119:29 the psalmist asked God to “graciously teach me your law.” Grace and truth are partners. Grace without truth is sentiment; truth without grace is condemnation. When God’s truth is shared or taught it is an expression of grace that instructs us to further depend upon God’s grace.
3. Words of grace are words of correction. When a Christian lovingly corrects a fellow Christ-follower it is grace-based speech. A love that does not correct isn’t love at all. A handy example of this is from parenting. We encourage and teach our children, but for both to have any substantive effect we must also correct them. This rough-cuts across the grain of a society obsessed with protecting feelings and bent on being acceptable to all, by all.

 

There are numerous examples of biblical correction that are gracious, yet also stout, stern, and satirical. Here are some of them from the mouth of Jesus:
A. Stout – From Matthew 16:23, “But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus loved Peter, and at times demonstrated His love for him by sternly correcting him. That may not seem gracious to us, but it was for Peter’s ultimate good. Allowing Peter to continue on in error may have been “nice,” but it wouldn’t have been grace-based or truth-based.

B. Stern – Check out Jesus’ response to James and John when they asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory: “Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38).

Think of this not as “Aw shucks guys, you are confused about this,” but more like, “Guys, in your prideful and selfish request you have no idea of what you are talking about.” True. Stern. Loving. It’s grace honed with the edge of truth. Jesus went on to use the stern correction of James and John as a lesson on servanthood for the group. The loving and stern correction of two of them became edification for all of them. He called them out in order to build them up.

C. Satirical – This one is foreign to the church today, but was widely used until the last century. Satire is the use of humor to point out an error, bad judgement, or misbehavior. Think of it as sanctified smart-aleckry. As you become aware of satire as a teaching device you will notice as it leaps to life all over Scripture, particularly in the word pictures in the Book of Proverbs and teachings of Jesus.

Jesus regularly used satire. In fact, he used it so frequently that it’s almost shocking. Here are some of his sledgehammer-like satirical lines found in Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Emphasis added)

That is satire! It points out error, corrects it, and does so with humor and grace. (For some hard-hitting satire, and fine use of holy metaphor, check out Jesus’ correction of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.)

You might be wondering how this post began with sweet words and ended with stout and satirical ones. Here’s how. To weave all of this together we must: 1. Remember that a growing faith is not based on feelings (temporary) but on truth (eternal), and when consistently applied the truth is usually like sand paper to our feelings. 2. Pursue that which promotes long-view growth, not short-term goodies (feeling fuzzy, acceptance by others, etc.).

To summarize, words of grace build others up through encouragement, instruction, and correction. The correction ranges from gentle rebuke to strong satire. All are necessary; each balances the other.

If you want to build up others try sharing some words of grace with them this week. You may need to give someone a verbal pat on the back or a spiritual poke in the ribs. Both are biblical; both are needed. Using the right words in the right manner at the right time always requires … wisdom. So, pray before — preferably, long before — you speak.

Until next time, a great way to learn to use satire as a means of grace-based corrrection is by practicing on your in-laws, or boss, or …. on second thought, start with encouragement and work your way through the others first!

All of those opposed shout, “Nay!”

 

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new under the sun, except for maybe sunscreen. Seriously, what Solomon teaches us from that oft-quoted verse is that people, their tendencies, and actions scarcely change over time.  People do now what they did then, and will continue to do so.

Given an introduction to the never-changing nature of human nature, I want us to peek into how people respond to leaders or authority. We now do this knowing that as it was then so it will be today, and tomorrow.

To do so we will look at a short passage from 1 Samuel 10 to see that being a leader or in a position of authority is not easy for any of us.

Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home. 26 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.” 1 Samuel 10:25-27

Let’s begin by understanding that there is no such thing as a perfect leader — other than Jesus — or a perfect follower. King Saul was by no measure a perfect leader. He wasn’t even a good one. Although Saul was Israel’s first king, he was not first rate. He made rash decisions, was selfish, and couldn’t stand on his own. Evidence of the latter is shown here:

“And when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he attached him to himself.” 1 Samuel 14:52

This post is not about the quality of Saul’s leadership, though it does provide some context. Rather, it’s about the fact that there is no shortage of those who respond negatively to leaders.

Please go back and read 1 Samuel 10:25-27. Really, read it slowly.

Saul had become king of Israel. He had laid out, in verse 25, the manual on kingship. He then left, and the crowd dispersed. Except for a few knuckleheads. These men are described — by God’s Word no less — as “some worthless fellows.” As their progeny read about them years later their cheeks must have flushed with pride. “Oh yeah,” says one of the fellows’ great-grandsons while playing with his chums, “my dad is mentioned in the book of 1 Samuel (or One Samuel as Trump would say).” I digress. I will try to un-digress. Give me a minute, I am snickering at the thought of it all.

Yes, that’s better.

So, these bozos made a statement about their new king that provides insight for us to consider. Here are four pithy principles to ponder:

1. Naysayers use questions to undermine leadership. Verse 25 quotes the worthless fellows, “how can this man save us?” This technique wasn’t new then and isn’t old now. It’s been used since the beginning of time and has no visible expiration date. If you are in a leadership position at work, church, or in a civic group — in other words, in a situation with three or four of human beings gathered — then you should expect people to question you and your ability to lead. Whether their motive is envy or apathy, the effect is the same. This leads us to the next principle.

2. Naysayers are saturated with bitterness and jealousy. They are vipers who hope to inject their hatred into others. Their fangs drip with the venom of envy. They are not happy unless others are unhappy. Nothing is enough, no one is good enough, and things can’t be bad enough enough for others to suit them. They can quickly list a dozen reasons why your idea won’t work. Never mind the fact that they do not have a solution, or have ever had an idea of their own. Their glass is half-empty yet full of malice

3. Naysayers will not do the right thing. While others presented the new king with gifts those scoffers only offered scorn. Observing a naysayer doing the right thing for the right reason would be like spotting Bigfoot in a Zumba class. Never expect anything good from anyone who cannot see the good in anything. For this reason they will not do what is right even when the right thing is demonstrated in front of them.

4. Naysayers can be shut down. The most effective way is by use of the Guillotine. Just kidding, but it would be effective. Or, while referring to medieval methods of punishment, imagine a naysayer being drawn and quartered. As the process begins the ole nagging Nellie or Ned would shout, “those ropes won’t hold, and your horses are too puny to do this right!” They can be shut down by “holding your peace.” (verse 27) Don’t argue with them. Leave them alone. They can’t be cured because they like to marinate in misery. Do not answer a fool according to his folly, because in doing so you become like him, said Solomon in Proverbs 26:4.

Saul didn’t do well as king. It wasn’t because of the naysayers. But, you can do well regardless of critics around you. You can do well at home, at work, at church all the while circled by cynics. They are everywhere; they dislike leaders, authority, and those who earn the right to be either. Good leaders move on despite pessimists. Elijah did; Jesus did; Paul did; you can too. Each of those Bible folks mentioned held to truth and grace, and persevered. You can too.

Ignore the doubters. Rise above them. Or, if you have the proper authority, have them drawn and quartered.