Holy Hood Ornaments …

In this post we will whack a religious bee hive our bare hands. The stings might hurt, but they will help.

Most life topics have been covered in the previous 19 chapters of Proverbs: gaining wisdom, honoring God, relationships, taming the tongue, work, etc. One topic that hasn’t come up thus far is that of drinking alcohol. For some reason I find that intriguing. But, I am not going to rattle a saber, or even a butter knife, on this topic.

But, I do want to point out a way of thinking, or believing, that flows out of this topic. It will involve us being willing to clear two hurdles to get to the conclusion. It won’t be comforable. In fact, if you harrumph at the thought of someone challenging your approach to the Bible, and how you arrive at what you “believe,” then you should click on the “X” at the top of this post and return for for Chapter 21 tomorrow. No kidding.

The Starting Line:

For those of you who didn’t dash for the nearest exit, and that is a good sign for you, here we go. Out of 525 verses thus far in the Book of Proverbs alcohol has been mentioned in one verse. So, 0.018% of the verses have dealt with drinking. There have been dozens of verses about seeking wisdom above all things, taming the tongue, working hard, treating others with mercy, and so on. Careful, we are approaching the starting point. From the entirety of what we have seen in Proverbs we can deduce this: Until we get the inside aligned with the Word — Scripture soaked-mind, upright heart, and wise soul — then we shouldn’t bang the drum about external things.

The First Hurdle: our ease creates a focus on the external.

I can sense your religious cheeks reddening.

God, in the Book of Proverbs, and throughout Scripture makes a big deal about things we ignore, but we often create a circus out of things that He says little about. Gossip, complaining, fibbing, and backbiting are things that Proverbs, and the rest of the Bible, shout about. Have you seen any “stop gossip” or “end complaining” campaigns by churches lately. I haven’t either. Perhaps we should focus on what God emphasizes and be discerningly cautionious on things He doesn’t stress as much.

Here is a point that might cause your back teeth to grind, or ache: Christians who live in luxury (think USA, not Indonesia) often stumble over issues of style rather than substance. It’s true. Christians who are being persecuted for their faith, and/or imprisoned for it, do not debate styles of church music, tattoos, or drinking. Think about it …

The reason that I jumped into this is to make a broad point (it follows this) and a deeper one (coming in the next paragraph): It is easy for Christians who live in comfort to skip past the basics of the faith and entertain ourselves with the non-essentials. We are exceptional at taking a minor Biblical topic, rendering judgement on it, and fashioning it into a religious emblem for full display. For example, if we spend more time protesting a certain movie than reading our Bibles, praying, and serving others then we have the whole thing upside down. This is due to pride — Proverbs has much to say on this — a pride craves creations of checklists used for grading others, or condemning things that we do not like.

The Second Hurdle: An old problem that is new to each generation.

The Gospels describe a group of people who lived comfortable lives, were schooled in Scripture, and ached to debate minor spiritual issues. This group missed the essentials of knowing and following God, and frustrated Jesus (and, ahem, they also crucified Him). Yes, you guessed it: they were the Pharisees — religious pugilists and moral legislators of the highest order. Jesus had nothing positive to say about them. He mocked them openly, publicly, repeatedly. The danger for us as believers who live in relative ease — compared to other Christians around the world – is us slipping into Pharisee-ism, aka legalism. If you invest more time in doctrinal and moral hair-splitting than loving and serving others, then you are on your way to being a Pharisee of the highest rank. BE CAREFUL!

But, don’t bank on my thoughts about legalism. Here are some of Jesus’ words about the issue of religious high-mindedness:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:23-28

OUCH! If you read that with a mind and heart wanting to hear God, then it felt like the sting of a dozen wasps. If you felt nothing reading those words of Jesus, or worse thought of someone else to apply them to, then congratulations, you are the person that Jesus was referring to.

It is worth noting here the use of so many exclamation points in those few verses. That is very rare in the Gospels, and in the Bible in general. You know what that means … Jesus was making a strong point, very sternly.

I know that this post is long. But, it is a reminder of what Proverbs is really about. Proverbs teaches us to pursue God’s wisdom and discernment, not more religious knowledge, morality superiority, or self justification. It is about becoming like Christ, and relating to Him, not religious rule-making or keeping. You have likely picked up that wisdom has a loving side, not a judgmental one; an open hand, not a checklist; a kind word, not a whip-like tongue.

Take a few moments and consider the previous points. It was not about wine or beer — or, for us Arkansans, moonshine — at all, they were the topic that got us to the root of it: focusing on what God emphasizes and minoring on what He minors on. Please, go back through this. Ponder. Pray. Ask yourself hard questions. Then, have a glass of wine. Just kidding.

Now, let’s sum up the rest of the chapter with a wide array of principles:

  • Verse 3 – Any fool can start a quarrel, but the wise seek to end them. (even if they slipped up and started it).
  • Verse 4 – The lazy wait for the perfect day to do their work. The perfect day never arrives. You just have to work anyway.
  • Verse 9 – We all need a Savior who can cleanse our conscience, remove our guilt, and forgive our sins. His name is Jesus!
  • Verses 10, 14, 17, and 23 – Cheating for gain — at work or personally — dishonors God and harms others. Do not do it. You can cheat with your motives as much as with your money. Yikes!
  • Verse 12 – Our natural eyes and ears cannot receive from God, we must have spiritual eyes that see and ears that hear. God creates this by His Holy Spirit.
  • Verse 13 – You will never read a book called, “Snoozing to Success.” Work and rest must be balanced, but much rest without much work has a name … you know it.
  • Verse 19 – Gossips cannot wait to find your secrets, so they pry them out of you with flattery.
  • Verse 22 – Trust God to right your wrongs and deal with others. We do not see the whole picture, have the right motives, or possess the authority to decide punishment.

Whew, I am tired from writing and are tired of reading. Thank you for hanging on through this post. Here’s the summary: Do not take a moral trinket and turn it into your spiritual hood ornament. Legalists do that. Do take time to grow in wisdom and grace, and share them with others. Christ-followers do that.

So, let’s both get some rest. Tomorrow’s post will be shorter. Maybe …

Proverbs 8

This chapter kicks off with great news. Wisdom is readily available (1-5), wisdom is God-honoring (6-8), and wisdom is get-a-hold-able (9). Yes, that last word isn’t really a word. It’s phrase that might reflect my hillbilly upbringing, but it makes the point. If you rewind and re-read this paragraph it has astonishing truths in it. Many folks imagine that God is angry at them — much like an aggravated parent — or not truly on their side. This could not be further from the truth. For those of us in Christ, God is fully out for our good, and delights to do good to and for us. This includes making His wisdom freely available to us — for the asking and seeking — and assuring that we can understand and apply it by His Holy Spirit.

Let’s press the “pause” button on Proverbs 8 for a moment. I want to serve up some hearty truth that might help you in your walk with God. God is not fickle, His perfect character and ways never change; God’s promises to you and for you in Christ never decrease or diminish. This is true even when we are not walking in obedience.

Here is a personal example to help make the point. I have three children. I love them dearly. When they disobey, or do unwise things, I might discipline them, but I do not disown them. They are my children regardless of whether they are being polite or acting like knuckleheads. Because they are  my children the parent-child relationship is permanent, it cannot change. When they fuss, or complain, or disobey, our relationship does not change, but our fellowship does. In other words, while our relationship isn’t altered by their behavior, our fellowship can be.

The same is true for you with God. When you are honoring Him and walking with Him the relationship and fellowship are intact. When you dishonor Him, or fail to walk with Him, the relationship is still eternally intact, but the fellowship will suffer; and, as a Good Father he will discipline you to restore your fellowship. Does that make sense? Hopefully that helps you feel more secure in your relationship with God, and it helps you appreciate that he is for your good at all times, even in His discipline.

Now, let’s press the “play” button and return to Proverbs 8. Wisdom is readily available to us — calling from the high hills and at the places we frequent —  so, we have no excuse for failing to pursue it. Verse 17 tells us that God is delighted when we seek wisdom and rewards us when we do.

The last half of this chapter takes an interesting turn, or tone. You will notice that wisdom is no longer referred to but rather is speaking in the first person, “I, I, I …” Being a sharp reader with a keen mind, you remember from chapter three that Jesus is the Wisdom of God to us.

Check out John 1:1-3 and see how it parallels Proverbs 8:12-31:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

Let’s fold these thoughts as Jesus as the Wisdom and Word of God onto the promises of wisdom in Proverbs 8:1-11 and see how it fits:

  • Wisdom (Jesus) is readily available to us (1-5)
  • Wisdom (Jesus) honors God the Father (6-8)
  • Wisdom (Jesus) is get-a-hold-able (9)
  • Wisdom (Jesus) is all surpassing and we should pursue it (Him) (10-11)

Troublers of many types …

Congratulations! You have completed 5 days of the Proverbs Challenge. Great job! I hope that you have gained a new appreciation for the Book of Proverbs, an enriched time in the Bible each day, and a desire to spend more time in it.

Proverbs 6 is a series of brief bursts of observations and instructions. A title that ties it together is: types of troublers and why to avoid them. In this chapter there are three categories of no-gooders to avoid. If this were a high school “who’s who,” the categories would be:

  • Most likely to never get a job (6-11)
  • Most likely to create trouble for those around them (12-15)
  • Most likely to get an STD (20-35)

As we read those verses we might be prone to think, “thank the Lord, those do not apply to us.” And, hopefully, that is true. But, and you knew that there would be a catch, we have to be careful with this type of thinking. In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus shows us that we are to avoid committing sinful acts, and to also avoid the attitudes that fuel them. So much for our high-minded judgement of others. So, let’s apply what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:21-48 — you might want to take a few minutes and read those verses — to the three types of folks listed previously. We will do so with some very penetrating, yet profitable, questions that will assist us in removing those attitudes before they have time to act.

  • Are there parts of your life where laziness is hiding, or napping? Are you doing what you should to develop spiritual depth, healthy relationships, a healthy lifestyle, financial freedom, or service to others? Everything we have is a gift from God (James 1:17) and we are to be good stewards of His gifts. To not do so is … sin (James 4:17).
  • Are there attitudes that you harbor, or things you say, that wish or cause trouble for others? Christ-followers are to be know for serving, helping, encouraging, and building up others. (Ephesians 4:32, 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Are there thoughts that you foster about the opposite sex, or forms of entertainment you watch, that you should avoid? Even if you have loved all 87 seasons of The Bachelor, or bing watch Game of Thrones, it’s never too late to stop.

Those are tough questions.

While actions are often easy to avoid, attitudes set up residence in our hearts, make themselves at home, unpack their troubles, and do so unseen by others.

In Proverbs 6, God is clearly showing us to avoid those three types of people — which if you are doing the Proverbs Challenge it is unlikely that you are a lazy, back-stabbing, gossiper who hangs out with prostitutes — He is also warning us to avoid the attitudes that cultivate that type of living. People rarely run full speed into sin. Their attitudes slowly nudge them into it, almost imperceptibly.

You might wonder which specific attitudes generate such a gravitational pull into ungodly living. They are listed in verses 16-19 of Proverbs 6. In those verses Solomon introduces seven things that God despises. You will quickly notice a pattern in verses 17-19. In each of those verses Solomon names the ungodly attitude(s) then the action that it causes. Keep in mind that the attitude does not usually cause the action instantly. It takes time. Those attitudes can simmer in the Crockpot of our souls long before the action emerges.

An implied lesson in this chapter is: guard your heart and mind by filling them with God’s Word. You might recall the following verses from Proverbs 4 that apply here:

My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. – Proverbs 4:20-23

An amazing aspect of the Proverbs is that they build upon and shed light upon themselves. It’s remarkable how God speaks to us, teaches us, and does it so incredibly. He intends to show us Himself, His ways, and to do so in amazing fashion. Stay tuned, it gets even better!

Get this … and gain freedom

What would you do if God showed you there is something that you need to get? Would you ignore it, delay it, or go immediately and lay hold of it?

In Proverbs 4 God is telling us all that there is one thing that we should get. It’s not better behavior, improved church attendance, or a religious activity. He tells us to pursue wisdom. In Proverbs 4:7 God exhorts us to get wisdom. In fact, the repetitive way that this is stated in verse 5 is a method that Solomon used — remember the mention of Hebrew poetry in the post from day one — to place great emphasis on a topic and reiterate it. He is saying that of all the things in the world to pursue, we should pursue wisdom, and double our effort in doing it.

Here is where this becomes astonishing. Take a deep breath.  Here it is: the pursuit of wisdom is not a journey toward religious rules. It’s not at all. Pursuing God’s wisdom is not about becoming more religious (those of you who are 10th degree black belt, industrial strength Baptists might need to reach for you heart medication or inhaler now). Pursuing God’s wisdom is about pursuing a Person. God’s Wisdom is found in His Word, and even more so, found in His Living Word: Jesus. Consider these two verses:

“but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:24

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,”1 Corinthians 1:30

Get a dose of this: We find wisdom in God’s Word; Jesus is the Living Word of God (John 1:1, John 1:14), and Jesus is the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). Does it seem like someone just turned on the truth defroster and your foggy spiritual windshield cleared up a bit? Here is the knee-buckling, heart-sparking part: We are to pursue Jesus, and we do so by reading the Word of God, as we do the Holy Spirit then makes the Living Word (Jesus) alive to us in the written Word (Bible). Think of it this way, you are not reading the Bible to accumulate wisdom; as you read the Bible you get to know Christ and in getting to know Him you grow in His wisdom. He doesn’t drop wisdom pellets into your soul as you read the Bible. He reveals Himself to you and as you grow in knowing Him you become more like Him and receive His wisdom. Allow Ephesians 1:17 to pull back the curtains a little bit and let more light in on this:

“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,”

Don’t zip past this. This verse shows us that it is in knowing, and growing in knowing, Jesus — “in the knowledge of him — that we receive wisdom. Holy Saturated Fats! That’s incredible. We gain wisdom through knowing Christ. It’s not about religion, it’s about your relationship with Him.

This post might have been a bit long. Sorry, sort of. But, the one thing that I hope that you receive in this post is this: Solomon wasn’t wise because he was religious or supremely moral (in fact, he kind of messed up a lot on both of those), he was wise because He knew and depended upon God. The same is true for us. You will not become more wise through religious somersaults or moral pull-ups, you grow in wisdom through knowing Jesus Christ.

In the first post I suggested that you watch out for three regular characters in Proverbs: the wise, the simple, and the foolish. Let me introduce the main character of Proverbs: Jesus. He is the One who is the wisdom of God and imparts it to you as you get to know Him.

Grasping this will help you see how the blessings of growing in the wisdom of God listed in Proverbs 4:22-27 become reality in your life. They are not formed by rule-keeping, they are received from a Person — Jesus. He is the One who:

  • Gives you life (22)
  • Keeps your heart (23)
  • Guards/restrains your words (24) — I sure need this one!
  • Keeps you on track, focused, and moving straight ahead (25)
  • Helps you consider your steps and life-direction (26)
  • Helps you bear true on His course for you (27)

A set of rules, or religious activity, cannot do those things for you. But, Jesus will do them in you and for you! As you read the Bible, you are getting to know the One who is eager to do those things for you. Bible reading takes on a whole different meaning now, doesn’t it?

It hinges on a single word …

One of the most critical words in our language consists of only two letters. Hopes or fears, plans or problems often teeter on this tiny word. The word is “if.” Take a minute and think about all the “ifs” you encounter, or say, in a day.

When God’s “if” is met with your prayerful pursuit of Him, the trajectory and tone of your life can re-begin. In Proverbs 2 God outlines great benefits for those who move from “if” to “I will.”

Proverbs chapter two begins with, “My son (or daughter), if you receive my words …” It’s an opening statement that combines a challenge with a promise. Likewise, verses three and four begin with “if” as well. God is prompting us to pause and ponder what He is offering. He affords specific blessings to those who take heed to His word. Let’s line up what He requires so that it points us to the obedience He desires so that we can receive those benefits.

Three “If” Statements:

  • If you receive my words and treasure my commandments. Verse 1
  • If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding. Verse 3
  • If you seek it (His word and wisdom) like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures. Verse 4

With these few words God opens the way to His wisdom and knowing Him better. Here’s a summary of it: When we receive His word we are to treasure it, pray for insight, and continue to seek Him; then, He shows us Himself, His wisdom, and His ways. We must take care here: our pursuit of Him and His word is to have a earnest and singular focus (verse 4). This process of pursuing Him cannot happen every now-and-then, or by happenstance. It’s deliberate.

A real life example might help here. I am an avid — but not very fast — runner. My oldest daughter, Emma, and I often run together. The best part of our running is not finishing big races or earning medals, it is the time spent together, challenging each other, talking, and laughing. The meaningful part of our running is pursing it together, not the completion of it.

The same idea follows in the “if” statements. God is giving us these statements to get us to Him, not to get us to a spiritual achievement. The treasure is in growing closer to Him, not performing spiritual exercises for Him.

He delights in us as we draw near to Him. He joyfully gives Himself, and His wisdom, to us as we take joy in Him. It’s true. It is that simple. As you read Proverbs chapter two, mull over this question, “what will happen when I draw near to God in His word and seek His wisdom?” The answers to that question are found in verses 5-12. They will amaze you. Go ahead, read them, and find out for yourself. There is a treasure trove in those verses.

Speaking of a treasure trove, and of treasuring God’s word (verse 1), allow Matthew 13:44 to demonstrate what a singular and relentless pursuit of and joy in God looks like:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

It is worth noting that the pursuit described in Matthew 13:44 is not one of guilt or grit, duty or demand, rules or religion, no, our pursuit of God in Christ is to be one of joy. As you take joy in Him in His Word, He will take joy in drawing near to you and showing Himself and His wisdom to you.

It all begins with “if.” Today, take the leap from “if” to “I will.”

More life in your living …

Of the 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs, two verses seem to be quoted the most. They are Proverbs 3:5-6. Those verses are rich. But, there are amazing truths in the verses that come before and after them as well.

In particular, verse two says that God adds length of days (quality), years of life (quantity), and peace to those who heed His word — more life in your living! Verse four teaches us that God also shows His favor to those keep His word. So, how do these blessings become ours? By writing them down. They could be written in your journal, or on a note card for your bathroom mirror, or even on a sticky note on your computer screen. But, truly, verse four refers to the best place for God’s word to be inscribed: on your heart. Proverbs 3:4 actually says that we are to write God’s word on our heart.

Be aware that someone is writing on the tablet of your heart each day. Is it God, you, or someone around you? Is it TV, social media, or our culture? Who is scribbling their thoughts and beliefs onto your heart? Why are you letting them? Tough questions, but necessary questions. It’s time to erase what others and our culture have written on our hearts and let God pen His principles and truth on our hearts.

How does this take place? The answer is found in those famous verses five and six:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Are you ready to erase the world’s graffiti and self-engraved nonsense from your heart? Here’s how:

  • Turn your entire heart over to Christ; He makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • Trust in Him instead of relying upon yourself; He never breaks the trust you place in Him (Hebrews 13:5-6, Matthew 28:20).
  • Walk away from your “wisdom” and seek His; He wisdom is without limit or end (Romans 11:33)
  • Follow His ways, forsake your ways; He is the Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6).
  • Follow the path He creates, instead of creating your own (Psalm 23:3, Psalm 31:3, 1 Corinthians 7:17)

All of those principles are compacted into Proverbs 3:5-6. No wonder it is so beloved and often quoted.

When you yield to Christ as the only Author allowed to put pen to the paper of your heart, He will:

  • Add life to your soul. 3:22
  • Help you to walk through each day securely and prevent you from stumbling. 3:23
  • Remove anxiety and give you sound sleep and rest. 3:24
  • Offer you hour-to-hour and day-to-day peace. He keeps you safe from the “sudden fear” that creeps into all of our minds. 3:25

In summary, He becomes the confidence, peace, direction, and surety that we all long for. He can cleanse our hearts, remove what bothers and embitters them, and provide direction and protection for them. His pen is ready.  Are you ready?

It’s simple, but true …

Many of us have several children. God has one Son. Just one. He sent Him to die. The previous three sentences — just 11 words — hold many truths from God’s Word. They are simple, but staggering, plain, but potent.

It seems that God prefers the simple and plain. He is grand and glorious, yet shares His love and truth in ways that are well within our reach. I am grateful for that. Consider the announcement of the birth of Jesus. It was delivered by an angel, regal and resplendent, to … shepherds. Simple shepherds. In those times shepherds were humble folk, the least and lowly. If Bath and Body Works released a Christmas candle in tribute to those shepherds it would be called, “Reeking Ragamuffins.” And, those fellows were chosen as the first to hear of the birth of our Savior. Grin, smirk even, because that is how God works. He bypasses the lofty bee-lines right to the regulars, regular folks knee deep in need and steeped in stress. I would guess that you are catching the lyrics and picking up the tune here. God comes to the common and coarse. That’s us.

Soak in one of Jesus’ first sermons. It was fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2 as well as the proclamation of the mission of Jesus. It is the Gospel unpacked and applied:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

Please re-read it slowly. Read it aloud. Breath it in. It’s direct, and directed to us. It is God through Christ focusing His favor on rag-tag folks. Hear the heart and mission of Jesus spoken plainly:

  • He came to proclaim and purchase redemption, forgiveness, and salvation.
  • He came to repair broken hearts and lives.
  • He came to untether the tangled.
  • He came to open eyes to Truth and hope.
  • He came to bend open the bars and usher us to freedom.
  • Then, He said, “this is why I am here.”

To summarize each and all of those — He came to save us. He came to save us from our sins, our struggles, and … ourselves. God’s great gift is salvation through His Son. Though it came at a great price, it is freely offered.

Please pardon the solemn tone of this post. Christmas is joyful, a time of celebration, but remember, it was costly. Embrace the problem of our sin and separation from God. Embrace Jesus’ stepping from heaven to here, a demotion on all counts. Embrace His teaching, His death, His love in both.

As you enjoy your children this Christmas recall that God only has one Son. His Name is Jesus. He sent Him to die. Now, we can be God’s sons and daughters. Embrace your adoption into His family.

Embrace the Gift. Embrace Him …

Merry Christmas to you all!

Happy Birthday to our Redeemer-King!

Look, and see ….

 

It happened yesterday — a minuscule moment hidden in a dandy day. I almost missed it.

 

Yesterday was one of those days that started out wonderfully and grew better by the hour. Emma, our oldest daughter, and I woke up before dawn to get ready for the Little Rock Marathon 10K race. It was our first 10K together, as well as our first road race (the others have been trail races, we are more naturally suited to off-road, root-and-rock-hopping, hill-scrambling sorts of races). We were excited, to say the least.

 

The cold air that greeted us as we left our hotel did not deter us. We knew that we would warm up soon enough. As we lined up with the 3,000 other participants in the 5/10K we encountered friends from our hometown and my workplace. As a dad-and-daughter running team we were glad to start the race alongside a coworker and friend of mine who was running with her daughter as well (a shout out to Robin and Hannah for a race well run!).

 

During the race Emma and I talked, ran with other home town folks for a bit, laughed, thanked volunteers along the way, talked even more (she is a teenage girl, after all) encouraged each other, and looked forward to a big post-race breakfast. As we neared the finish we kicked it into high gear — high gear is required for me to keep up with Emma as she approaches the finish line. We finished at the same time, enjoyed post race pictures, and collected our medals for completing the race. Soon after, we found out that of 1600 10K participants we had outrun 1197 of them. To add to our excitement we also learned that Emma had won 3rd place in her division! Make no mistake, this paragraph does function to build the narrative to the point of this post, but it also serves a huge, and well-placed, “dad brag.”

 

Sporting our medals and salty with sweat we made our way back to the hotel for showers and breakfast. We later checked out of the hotel and ran a few errands before heading home. Then, it happened. We stopped at a garden center/nursery in North Little Rock. As I browsed for a new plant for my office Emma said, “Dad, let me have your phone.” One never knows what is on a teenager’s mind when that request is made. She took my phone and began taking pictures of plants. She hunkered down over a few that I had already moved past. Then, smiling from ear to ear — a smile that will soon feature braces — she revealed her pictures. I was stunned.  One of her pictures stopped me in my tracks, which wasn’t difficult considering how stiff I had become after the race. I lingered on her photo, savored it, and admired her eye for beauty and ability to capture it. Her is Emma’s picture:

 

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If I offered a title to this picture it would be “God’s Hidden Jewel.” Here’s why. I had walked past that tiny plant saucering a single drop of water. I hadn’t noticed it at all. Emma had. She had spotted it right away, and then acted on her excitement in seeing it. What a life lesson. How often do I walk by these God-saturated moments and gifts? Each of the many times that I have looked at her picture I have been reminded to slow down, focus my attention, and spot the “hidden jewels” along each day’s path. A child’s giggle, an encouraging word, or a lavender sunset are grace-gifts from our Heavenly Father that can slip by us if we are not on the ready.

 

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” exclaimed the Psalmist in Psalm 34:8. The lesson gleaned from yesterday was “Look, and see that LORD is good!” Sometimes the biggest part of the day lies outside of the most exciting moments, and is hidden among the smaller ones.

 

As I pondered this lesson another passage of Scripture sprang to mind:
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17)

 

A simple, and stern, reminder. We come to Christ and into His Kingdom with “child-like” faith. We also recieve God’s gifts as children do — in humble, simple, grateful trust in our Father in Heaven. This reminds us that in order to recognize God’s gifts, and to walk through each day at His pace, we would do well to observe how our children move through moments. As they stop and gasp in wonder, so should we. They miss nothing, neither should we.

 

Today, and tomorrow, let’s set our minds to walk at a child’s pace, to look, and to see …

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.

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…