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.

The back side of goals and right side of doors

As I savor the last bits of the Christmas holiday I have begun to look forward to the New Year. A year ago I jotted down a few goals for the arrival of 2015. Looking back, I can say that each of them has made a difference in my life. Here’s the list from this time last year:

1. Start a blog (check). I did, you read it, and we are all better for it, mostly. Seriously, the Bearded Acorn went further, and wider, than I had anticipated. Thank you kind readers.

As an aside, when you start a blog you will attract a few interesting folks and receive an occasional odd comment or two. The award for the out-of-left-field comment of the year goes to the fellow who emailed and stated that if I would change the font and layout of my blog them I would see more people converted to Christ. I didn’t change the font and layout — I am not sure how to do so and maintain what I was shooting for, and because I value content over cosmetics — which means that by not doing so some poor souls remain unconverted. I trust God’s sovereignty in saving sinners more than the razzamatazz of my blog’s font. To wit,  I had no idea that when the blog’s outdoor light was turned on that one of the moths would inspect the font of the lettering on the bulb. Who knew that one could spot such details with so much light shining in his tiny moth face?

2. Read more, and read better (check). While the idea of reading more is obvious, by “reading better” I meant that I wanted to read with a “writer’s eye” and learn from the pros.  I used a rotation system — which I learned in August was similar to that of Douglas Wilson — of reading a few pages per day in a book on Bible study/Christian exhortation (Douglas Wilson, John Piper, etc.), on the craft and art of writing, in a biography, and in a book of specific interest (humor, poetry, history, etc.). Of course, I read the Bible each day as well, which brings me to the third goal.

3. Read the Bible differently (check). By this I intended to read the Bible as an imaginative exegete, or as an exegetical imaginative. My tool for accomplishing this was Crossway’s ESV Reader’s Bible. The ESV Reader’s Bible is a remarkable Bible that is worth every denarii. It removes the verse numbers, references, and footnotes from the text (which were not in the manuscripts anyway). This lends to reading the Bible as a flowing narrative, much like the original readers would have encountered. The Reader’s Bible has a simple layout with a reader-friendly font. Maybe the moth-guy got to them as well. Oh well, if you do not have a goal for your Bible reading for next year, I would encourage you to read through the New Testament several times in the ESV Reader’s Bible in 2016.

4. Improve my fiber intake (check). This was not a spiritual goal; it was a gastrointestinal one. In case you are wondering — or, if you are not, then you can skip down to number five — fiber intake does improve overall health, reduce the risk of GI cancer, and increase the stock prices of Cracklin’ Oat Bran and Bush’s Beans.

5. Exercise three times per week (swing and a miss). While I did exercise more, I didn’t meet my goal, unless you count reading as aerobic activity (I read pretty hard) or preparing beans and peas several nights per week.

6. Watch less TV (check). This one had to occur in order for me to accomplish number two (not to be confused with the fiber goal) of reading more.

7. Write more (check). Writing blog posts, a book manuscript, and poetry kept both my mind and keyboard busy.

It goes without saying that spending more time with family, doing well at work, etc. were goals as well. They were, and will be next year also.

 

As I peek over the fence into 2016 here is a list of some goals that might make the cut for next year:

1. Use one lunch break at work per week as time for reading and writing.

2. Teach the entire United States of America how to correctly enter and exit a business that has a double-doored entrance. Stay to the right folks. Choose the door on the right hand side when you enter, and — for the love of all that is decent and obvious — choose the door on the right when you exit. The doors did not change sides once you entered the store, and your hands didn’t switch sides either.

3. Reduce TV time even further. I watched less than ever before this past year, even during college football season, and plan to watch even less next year.

4. Double my fiber intake. Just kidding. One’s percentage of the recommneded daily fiber intake does not need to reach four digits, for lots of reasons.

5. Continue to read more, read better, and write more, and better.

6. Post on the Bearded Acorn more frequently.

7. Exercise regularly.

 

I hope that you had a good 2015, and that your 2016 will be even better. Stay tuned, I will share my final goals for the New Year and offer some challenges for you that will make your 2016 deeper and broader, and more sarcastic.

Simeon’s example…

With Christmas speeding down the rails, let’s take a moment and look back at an often over-looked scene of Jesus’ arrival.  Please take a moment and read Luke 2:22-35; really, go ahead, read slowly. Read it out loud — use your indoor Bible-reading voice please — and soak it in. There, now that you have read it, let’s take the narrative apart so that it can assemble for us an up-close portrait of the Christ-child. Here are some of the notables of the narrative that will guide you as you study through this stirring passage.

 

In Luke 2:25 we meet an older fellow named Simeon. He is found nowhere else in the New Testament. His single inclusion in Scripture is brief, but it is one that will moisten your eyes.

 

First, Simeon was a fellow who knew God. Many know about God; Simeon knew Him. The introduction to Simeon shows this in verse 25. He was a resident of Jerusalem who greatly anticipated the arrival of the Messiah, was led by the Spirit of God, and was godly and devout. It’s worth noting that the folks to whom God revealed the birth and identity of Jesus were not mainline religious folks. The on-the-fringe folks — magi from the East, shepherds, Joseph and Mary (carpenter and his young wife), Simeon, and a very unique 84 year old lady named Anna — were the ones who received Jesus’ birth announcement.

 

The point here — a serrated point nonetheless — is that the folks who should have been ready to recognize Jesus didn’t, not at all. They swung and missed. They were busy steeping in self-righteousness and marinating in man-made rules. To bring it to the present, almost all “good church folk” nowadays would have missed Jesus due to thier serving on committees, crafting new bylaws of behavior for others to follow, and congratulating one another on their own acumen in doing both. Instead, some farmers, a handful of foreigners (somehow they made it made it over Donald Trump’s “wall.”), an old fellow, and a very Pentecostal-like 84 year old would have recognized Jesus first. Ouch.

 

Second, and to advance the previous point, Simeon had ears to hear what God had said and was saying (verse 26). Jesus frequently stated, “he who has ears to hear (God’s Word), let him hear.” There is a reason that he said that, and said it a lot of times to lots of people. Simeon had ears to hear God. He listened; he heard; he believed. It goes in that order.

 

Third, Simeon had eyes to see what God was doing (verse 27-28). He had listened, heard God, and believed Him. Then, he saw. It goes in that order. When he saw Jesus he knew who and what He was. He did so instantly. How? Simeon ears were perked to hear and his eyes were focused to see through sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Notice that Simeon went to the temple “in the Spirit.” This was his normal practice. Verse 25 states that “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” This was his usual spiritual state.  In what “spirit” do you go to worship? What is your usual spiritual state? We tend to think that going to church will help us to become Spirit-filled, and it can, but shouldn’t we first arrive there packed-to-the-gills full of the Spirit? We know the painful answer, don’t we.

 

Fourth, Simeon’s faith finally held its long-awaited object. When by enduring faith he received God’s promise worship welled up and poured out publicly. His faith had been based on God’s Word to him. His peace (verse 29) had been based upon God’s promise to him. At last his faith and peace were woven together in realization through recognition of the Messiah. And, he got to hold the Messian with his owns hands.

 

Lastly, Simeon’s worship of Jesus introduced others to Him. Notice the roles of and titles for Jesus that Simeon revealed to others: Savior (verse 30), Light for revelation to the Gentiles (32), Glory for Israel (32), Messiah (32). He recognized Jesus and aptly told others about him through praise. This passage is referred to as “Simeon’s Psalm.” In light of that, the question must be asked … if Simeon’s words and worship revealed Jesus, then what do our words of public worship reveal? Honestly, much of our worship highlights how we feel, what we think, and what we like about God. It focuses on God through the lens of our thoughts and feelings toward Him. Re-read that. Once more, please. We are not good lenses. Scripture is the perfect lens. Simeon’s worship was Scripture-dense and Spirit-loaded. Ours is often experience-based and situation-soaked. Here’s a quick test:  recall and think through the words of songs that you sing at church and the lyrics of your favorite Christian songs. Do those lyrics burst with Scripture or bleat out about feelings? Count the use of “I, me, and my” in them and that will distill out the answer.

 

In closing, this short just-after-Christmas story found in Luke 2 shows that your personal spiritual walk must be Scripture-filled if you are to truly know God and see Him at work. Then, it should fuel your worship so that the spotlight rests on Jesus and His greatness, not on your thoughts or feelings — both of which may be non-Scriptural — about Him.

 

Over his lifetime Simeon listened to God’s Word; he heard; he believed; he saw; he worshiped rightly. It goes in that order. Let this order our celebration of Christmas and the upcoming new year as well.

 

Merry Christmas!

Gettin’ in the Deep Water

Calvin Miller once wrote that “deep” is not a destination, it is what we become as we intently pursue God. Do you find yourself searching for a a deeper life in Christ?  Let’s take a look at some verses that will help in your search. Let’s go deep.

“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.” Psalm 42:7

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” 1 Corinthians 2:12-13

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

After reading these verses you might wonder where the connecting point between them rests. It’s not clear at first, but you will begin to see how crucial the Psalms are to growing deeper.

It’s cold and windy outside here, so grab a cup of coffee or hot tea, and make your nest so that we can take a few moments to open up these verses. Afterward, you will have inched toward the deep.

Psalm 42:7 whispers something intriguing: “Deep calls to deep…” Herein lies the grace, power, and beauty of the Psalms. They communicate God’s industrial-grade truth in winsome ways. Because the Psalms are written as Hebrew poetry they are not meant to be read like a newspaper, recipe, or textbook. The Psalms teach us through images, metaphor, and parallels, and they should be read that way. The grand truths in the psalms are not always straightforward, but, they are not hidden either. They are meant to be digested, not devoured; taken in small sips, and pondered. More on this later.

Paul reveals a truth in 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 that can move us  miles ahead. He tells us that we cannot understand the spiritual truths of God’s Word through human means or methods. Rather, they are taught by the Holy Spirit of God. So, we are to stop trying to do it our way, or on our own, and surrender to God’s way of understanding — reliance upon His Spirit. In summary, only God can create depth in us, and He does it by teaching His Word by His Spirit.

This point is taken even further in Romans 8:26. The handle to grasp onto in this verse is that there are many parts of the truths of God, our walk with God, and being in prayer to God that are not get-ahold-able. Paul says that God’s Spirit intercedes for us with groanings that are “too deep for words.” Bingo! Now we are getting somewhere. In fact, we are there and do not even know it.

Another verse to compound your confusion on this — which, I promise will soon turn to clarity:

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Psalm 139:6

That’s it! Much of what God will teach us is beyond us, beyond our comprehension, and must be brought to our hearts and minds. And — here is the unsettling part — it is not done so in short bursts or single-line solutions. It is done in ways that will cause us to see before we can know.

Enter the Psalms. The Psalms are hymns that were sung, and were written like poetry that is prayer, or prayer that is poetic, whichever you prefer. The grandeur of the Psalms is that they are the intersection of truth and life. In fact, most everything that you will encounter and experience in life is covered in the Psalms. It is covered with honesty; it is where the beauty of God meets the bluntness of life. The richness of the Psalms is poured into the poverty of our souls and lives slowly, and through words, images, and phrases that make us ponder, and pray, and pray about what we are pondering. This is why you find the Hebrew word, “Selah” — which means to pause and think — all over the Psalms. It’s the only appropriate response to them.

Now let’s connect the bones that we have assembled with a single ligament of truth. The deep things of God are often shown to us, not told to us. Those “showings” of truth run deep throughout the Psalms. If you want to grow deeper, launch out into the Psalms. That is where deep calls to deep, deep shows depth, deep builds depth. That is also where you will find that your handy maps and homemade instruments cannot navigate the waters or storms, only God’s Spirit can and will (1 Cor. 2:12-13). That is where you will pray and ponder in grunts and groaning that words cannot describe, and where you will see word pictures and truths high above you in the starry sky. That is where God will show you, and you will see, and then know, and then be … deeper. That is where in the black of night that you will sense Jesus’ calming the waves in your life, soothing the hurts of your life, scrubbing sin out of your life, and see Him as the radiant Light of life. You will first sense and see, then you will know, then you will grow.

Blessed is the one who sets sail into the Psalms.

The deep is calling. Refill your cup of coffee, turn to the Psalms, let go of the rope that holds you to the harbor, and set sail … it’s deep out there.

Fearful, fruitless; fearless, fruitful…

It would be within the bounds of reason to say that we live in fearful times. Once common sense exited our culture years ago, common decency soon vacated the premises as well. So, here we are in what appears to be, for the most part, a culture lacking good sense and goodness. A question then bubbles to the surface: as Christ-followers how do we live in these fearful times?

The answer is simple: do not be fearful. Easier said than done, right? Our culture sells products, policies, and philosophies based on the creation of fear. How? The message that is subtly delivered is one that suggests that if you do not have certain things or ideas in your life then you will miss out. Fear motivates; fear sells. But, it can only influence for a little while. How are believers — who certainly have natural, internal fears about family, finances, work, etc. — to climb above our society’s effective creation of fear and prodding at fear that we already harbor? By not buying into it.

The principle that must be grasped straightaway in combating fear is that we have to learn to identify “voices” and listen to the only One that is trustworthy. There is only one Speaker who has both the knowledge and veracity to deserve our full attention — God.

We hear Him speak above the shoutings of our society and the mumblings in our minds when we sit before Him and read His Word. From front to back of the Bible God repeatedly tells His people to “fear not” and “do not be afraid.” He means it. Search an online Bible for the phrases, “fear not” and “do not be afraid.” Go ahead. You will be surprised at how many times God told, and still tells, His people to avoid fear.

To dig in further we need to know why fear is so harmful. Fear is actually selfish, and self-promoting. Harboring fear in your heart and mind is to walk by sight instead of by faith. It is trusting what you see before you, know inside you, and plan to do about it all rather than trusting God. In a sense it’s a way of saying, “I’ve got this,” yet lacking the power or resources to resolve your situation at all. On the other hand, faith is taking God at His word and trusting Him instead of the shrieking voices around you and the nagging voice within your own mind. It boils down to whom you will listen to and trust to take care of you.

Here are some examples of how to fatally attack fear with the spear of God’s Word :

  • Do you ever have a flash of fear ignite in your mind for no reason? Here’s a remedy to it: “Do not be afraid of sudden fear…” (Proverbs 3:25)
  • Do you have a general sense of fear most of the time? Here’s God’s plan for that: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love and power and a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7).  So, a spirit of fear does not come from God, and is not His design for you. He gives us a spirit of power and a sound mind (Whew!).
  • Are you in the middle of a thunderstorm, avalanche, or sinkhole in life? Then read this slowly, lap it up: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46:1-2)

You get the picture. Whatever you are facing — whether internal or external, large or small — God’s word speaks to you and your situation in a voice loud and clear: “Do not fear, trust Me to take care of you in this.”
In closing, it would be profitable, and a wee bit painful, to diagnose how you respond to fear. It is one thing to treat symptoms with Scripture, it is an entirely different thing to kill the infection that causes the symptoms. So, here are some questions for you to answer honestly and prayerfully as a way to help you to present fear its notice of eviction:

  1. Are you fearful and worrisome by nature? If so, memorize 2 Timothy 1:7.
  2. Are you a good host for fear? In other words, do you welcome fear into your mind/heart, offer it tea and cookies, and allow it to sit by the fire and get comfortable? If so, stop it; toss fear out on its rear and grow your faith (it replaces fear) by memorizing Scripture.
  3. Is your first response to fear to dwell on it, or to immediately pray for wisdom and strength?
  4. Do you have godly folks to talk to about what you are dealing with? Proverbs 11:14 states that with an abundance of (godly) counselors there is safety and wisdom. Allowing fear to roam around freely in your mind can be combatted by talking about it with godly friends or your pastor.
  5. Do you really want to be free from the paralyzing effects of fear? If so, you can by spending more time in God’s word and in prayer. It really is that simple.

My grandmother — an outstanding worrier — used to say, “hard work won’t kill anybody, but worrying will.” She ultimately died of a stroke. No kidding.

Get a handle on fear by getting ahold of God’s Word, listening to what it has to say, and allowing it to silence the voices of anxiety and fear.

Of note: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

‘Nuff said…