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…

Welcome to …

It is the Eve of Independence Day, and one week after the Supreme Court ruling regarding you-know-what. I don’t want to give the decision the dignity of even being mentioned by topic or name. Like you, I have pondered this culture-changing event, and its dreadful implications. There are folks more qualified to speak about this than I am. Yet, I do want to sprinkle a spoonful of thoughts into the mixing bowl. They are submitted on principle, not for sport.

There are two thoughts that I will present to you: where we are and what we can do (really what we should have been doing all along).

First, welcome to Pseudo-America, your current locale. It is called Pseudo-America because it isn’t the USA that our forefathers intended, and it isn’t the country that stood for two centuries upon pillars that set it apart from other countries in its political, moral, and spiritual standards. As you know, “pseudo” refers to that which is false (untrue) or fake (not real). I have chosen that term carefully. Why? Because this new America craves an illusion over reality; it’s a contrived country.

Here is the creed of Pseudo-America:

  • Let us suffocate our past, along with it’s traditions and ideas of morality.  We will no longer be restricted by what was, rather we long for what will be … based upon our fickle desires.
  • Let us state that we are slaves of our own chromosomes, victims of our own biology who want no key to free us, or rules to inhibit us.
  • Let us declare that those who oppose these views are hate-filled, and hateful by opposing us, because Pseudo-America’s mission is done in love, and in the name of love.

This new creed must be recited in a loud and shrieky voice so that it will drown out the voices of reason, good sense, and decency.

I hope that you are sighing and rolling your eyes. I also hope that you are thinking. My bit o’ satire was intended to provoke thought, not for amusement. Looking back, the distance from America to Pseudo-America seems to have been a long one, but a quick trip. It was intended to feel that way by the Pseudo-American chauffeurs that hurried us here.

Now that we are here — and it looks like there is no going back — what do we do? Three passages of Scripture provide a summary of how we are to camp in this desert.

First, while this is our homeland, it is not our home. As Christ-followers we look to an eternal home, not an earthly one. 1 Peter 2:11 describes us as “pilgrims and sojourners,” some translations refer to us “sojourners and exiles.” A jarring reminder that we do not belong here for long, but we are here for good.

Second, even though we are to look forward to our home with Christ in heaven, we are also to be disciple-makers, truth-declarers, error-correctors, and faith-defenders while here. Paul told Timothy to declare God’s Word and to be ready in season and out of season. For the record, “out of season” refers to the time when people do not want to hear God’s Truth. We are definitely in the “out of season” era. “In season”  is a light year behind us. The point to ponder in this verse is Paul’s command to “be ready.” It has the idea of being prepared against sudden and forceful attack. (Wow, it’s as if the Bible knows what is coming and what to do about it.) So, get ready. Read your Bible, study it, study sound books on doctrine, brush up on apologetics (defending the faith and sharing the truth with non-believers), pray for opportunities, and then use all of this as you have opportunities to share or defend the Christian faith. Colossians 4:5-6 prescribes it thusly:

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (ESV)

You might be thinking that this sounds like a lot of spiritual and mental work; it is, and the lack of it in the past is what has gotten us into this mess. Apathetic Christians, party of millions, your table is now ready.

Third, live a life that honors Christ and demonstrates the Gospel. Paul describes this in Colossians 1:9-10

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (ESV)

It’s as if these principles have been in the Bible all along. Ahem, they have been. So, dust off your Bible, read it, soak it in, ask God to give you insight, and follow the Holy Spirit as he gives you encounters for sharing truth, correcting error, serving others, sharing true love, and living a life that imitates and honors Christ.

In closing, I would like to offer a sincere Happy Fourth of July to America (wherever she is)!

Small steps are best…

Yesterday I was reading in Proverbs 6 and jotting down a few thoughts for my daily Tweet from the book of Proverbs. Verses 9 – 11 snared my attention. While the context of the passage concerns the lazy and foolish, nestled in verse 10 I caught the glint of Bible gold, and tried to dig it out.

“9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”

Straight away you notice that the word “little” is used three times in verse 10. As verse 9 provokes the sluggard to wake up, and verse 11 describes the sudden arrival of the consequences of laziness (you might want to insist that your teenagers read this), verse 10 tells us about the steps that link laziness and the certain ruin that follows. In describing the process that leads to that trouble, the word “little” pops us three times. Intriguing. Ponder on it a bit.

Here’s an application that I want to pass along to you: we live in a day, culture, and church culture which salivates for things that are new, big, and fast, and this trend should be resisted. Before you balk at this please think back to all of the new programs that your church has started, the big conferences that have been promoted, and the sermons and books that have promoted quick spiritual results (those types of sermons and books use terms such as “keys to success, steps to growth, secrets of growth,” etc.) over the past five years. Here is the stern-faced, straight-talk truth — there are no quick steps to sound spiritual growth. Christian growth is a process, not an event. In fact, it is a process that involves discipline and determination, not secrets or keys. For example, Jesus stated in John 15:5 that we are to abide in Him as the True Vine. Abiding is not an event, it is a dedicated process. In the same vein, Paul declares in Philippians 3:

“8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul states that knowing Christ, gaining Christ, walking by ongoing faith in Christ, and knowing Him and the power of His resurrection are the aims of his life. Each of those elements that Paul mentioned involves a process, not a singular a-ha moment or spiritual big bang.

Here is a pragmatic reason why growth in Christ is a process and is not caused by infrequent leap-frog events — incremental growth nurtures good habits and grows character over time, while lightning-strike moments are difficult to build into your daily life, and to maintain. In other words, one type of growth is sustainable, the other type is rare, and tricky to weave into your life.

Am I saying that the impact from a powerful sermon, statement from a book, or attendance at a Christian seminar or conference is bad? No, absolutely not. What I am saying is that those moments aren’t the norm, they are Holy Spirit- driven moments that are extraordinary. On the other hand, the insight and wisdom that the Holy Spirit grants to you as you study and ponder on your Bible (or my Tweets and blog, heh-heh), pray, talk with fellow believers, and participate in worship are ordinary, frequent, and solid means for growth. This is where the real growth happens. It’s day to day, not from big event to big event.

This should come as a soothing balm to our consciences and souls. God does not expect us to have Moses-at-the-burning-bush encounters each day. He does expect us to devote daily time to Him, meet with Him in His Word and prayer, and live with our hearts and minds ready to encounter him throughout the day and around the bend.

To nearly exhaust the point, the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Paul wrote at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:7:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

He said that he had fought the fight, not that he had won it in the second round of the match; he had finished the race, not that he had won it in record time; he had kept the faith, not that he had discovered keys or steps to make it happen rapidly.  You get the idea.

You are probably wondering how Proverbs 6:10 and its repeated use of “little” ties into all of this. Here is how. It’s the little things that matter and have great impact in your life of following Christ. The lazy man in Proverbs 6 is not ruined by momentous events; he is wrecked by all of the miniscule choices, and tiny things that he avoided doing. In turn, your life is made of up a million mini choices and events. Your Christian walk is composed of the day-to-day, little things previously mentioned. Don’t seek the large and lively, stay true to the small and simple. Go little by little.

Let’s allow Proverbs 13:11 to summarize and make the final point about how the little steps make a big difference:

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”

Nuff’ said…

A book, Twitter, Proverbs, and Lucy the pup…

It has been almost two months since my last posting. I am pleased to tell you why that is the case. First, I began posting meditations on the “one anothers” of the New Testament here on the Bearded Acorn with the hope that my ongoing study of and scribbling about them might blossom into a book project. It did, and then some. In fact, I am now 14 chapters into a book manuscript. Much of the study and heavy lifting is in the rear view mirror. What remains to be done is the tedious, head-scratching work of revision, along with spit-shining, and then submitting it to a publisher, which will likely happen in early August. I share that as an update for you, and as an item for you to pray about for me. I will say that learning to write a book for the first time is like … well, it’s like learning to write a book for the first time.

The second reason that I have not posted on this blog in a fortnight or two is because I have had a desire to begin a second project. This project is for those of you with a shorter attention span, or that have a leaning toward writing that doesn’t exceed 140 characters (25 words). These quips will sprout from my daily reading in the book of Proverbs and be shared through Twitter.

Many years ago when I was a new Christian (in 1993) my pastor encouraged me to read a chapter of the book of Proverbs everyday. Preferably, the chapter that corresponded to that day’s date. For example, today I am reading Proverbs 30 since it is the 30th day of the month. While I haven’t done it every day since 1993, I have done it almost daily. And, it has paid off. It directs me to do things that emerge from my reading and to avoid doing things because of what I have read. Give it a try. I offer you a money back guarantee on it as a discipline that will help you to grow in Christ.

Just how will the book of Proverbs and Twitter come together here? Read Ezekiel chapter 6 to find out. No, I am just kidding. Here’s the real story — I will tweet out an application from my daily reading in Proverbs. It will not be a quotation of a verse or two. Neither will it be a re-hashing of verses. Cliche. Instead, it will be a bending and application of one verse from that day’s reading. By bending, I mean that within the proper context and interpretation of the passage I will shape it into a tweet that will show you another side, or an odd side, of the verse and share it in a way so as to provide some application of it for you. And, fear not, there will be some satire and humor involved as well.

Here are two examples from this week from the 28th:

“Prov. 28:19 – Work well with your portion and you will have plenty. Chase things with no worth or substance and you will lose all, or more.”

“Prov. 28:23 – Rebuke shapes and smoothes the bedrock of friendship. Flattery attempts to insert silicone implants into it.”

So, if you are interested check them out at @JodySmotherman on Twitter.

For those of you who have followed this blog since its inception in January. You know that you are expected to go and look up the verse and read it before you read my thoughts. Just one of the ground rules that will help you to get the gist of it and to make sense of my non-sense.

There you have it. The two reasons why my posts were halted: working on a book and getting my Proverbs tweets ready to load and fire off. It’s also worth mentioning that family, work, small group Bible study, and getting a wonderful Australian Shepherd puppy — the kids named her Lucy — has taken up some time as well. For the record, Lucy is one of the smartest and sweetest mammals, including humans, in North America. She loves the tweets from Proverbs, you might too. She loves chewing on and shredding my book manuscript notes even better. In two months publishers might get a kick out of doing the same. Sigh

The Bearded Acorn is now officially back open for wordiness.

Check the scoreboard, or don’t!

Siblings are excellent score-keepers. Just yesterday, when I was about to take my oldest daughter on an errand with me her younger sister remarked that the oldest had gone on an errand with me by herself last week. Siblings have a knack for this type of reckoning. Filing events and recalling them later are fundamental to this score-keeping mindset.

You are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15. It is an astonishing picture of God’s forgiving grace. I must ask if you have ever read the ending closely? If not, then take a moment and do so. At the close of this parable in verses 25-32 a different, striking lesson emerges: Score-keepers are in abundance, and ready at all times.

As you recall, the parable rises with the prodigal’s return from — as one translation renders it — “riotous living.” Imagine yourself touring with Hank Williams Jr. for a year or two in the mid 1980s — whiskey-bent and swine-trough-bound — and that will chronicle what the son was returning from and repenting of. His father accepts him and the parable closes with a feast. It’s not over. At the edge of the frame you see the older brother wiping his brow as he strides home from a day of toil on his father’s ranch. He hears the commotion and calls one of the servants to see why there is music, dancing, and barbecue. The servant tells him that it is a homecoming party for his younger brother — now flat broke, friendless, and ready to sign up as a servant in his father’s house.

The story turns dark, as in the dark shades of anger and envy (Those two emotions never wear light colors, even in the summer months.). Older brother refuses to go to the celebration. Instead, he pouts, and fumes. Does that sound like any siblings you know, or any that currently eat at your dinner table?

So, the father comes out and “entreats” Lemon-Heart (he has this nickname because first century stories and early manuscripts of the book of Luke claim that he was breast fed with a lemon…nah, just kidding, but you know the type) to come into the party. Then, it gets interesting, and insightful. The words that Jesus weaves into verses 28-30 provide for us an electron-microscope-level of insight into the human heart.

28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

You can certainly feel the anger, and self-righteous indignation in those verses. Let’s lift a few phrases out of them to simplify, and concentrate it. “I have served you…I never disobeyed…yet you never gave me…and this son of yours…” Now that is hard-heartedness! No rejoicing over his brother’s return; just anger over it, and perhaps over not being in the spotlight as he had been while his brother had been out chasing women of ill repute. Hard-hearted and sharp-tongued. As an aside, would a feast of a young goat have made Lemon-Heart happy? Certainly not. He can’t be happy because he is a self-consumed scorekeeper. Scorekeepers are never happy, the only reprieve from their internal misery is enjoying the stumblings and failures of those around them.

What does this have to do with the “one another” principles that we are going to explore in the upcoming posts? It has everything to do with them in that it is the precise opposite of all of them. I can’t think of a better way for us to see what the “one anothers” are than by seeing what they are not.

Back to Luke 15, Lemon-Heart found out that his father loved him and still had a sizable inheritance in trust for him, despite Lemon-Heart’s septic tank attitude. In his self-pitying fit — “Hey, I am the victim here!”– ole LH had mourned a financial loss that wasn’t his own and nurtured a grudge that was entirely his. Score-keeping in its professional form. Lemon-Heart had the makings of a good Pharisee, maybe that was part of the point. Hmmm…

Do you have the same tendencies? Before you rush toward an answer of self-justification let’s jot a few questions up on the chalkboard that will guide you toward an honest answer:
1. Are you genuinely pleased when other believers receive good or have success? Think hard, and specifically. Take your time, really.
2. Are you genuinely happy when other believers receive good when they have done good and “earned” it? Be careful with this one.
3. Are you genuinely content when other believers, particularly those who you aren’t very fond of, receive good or have success when they do not seem to “deserve” it? That one points out a works-based heart/mind quickly, and leaves a bruise.

If you answered “yes” to number one, then you are on good ground for living out the “one anothers.” If you answered “yes” to number two then you may have the right spiritual attitude, or have a works-based mindset, it’s hard to distinguish with just one question. If you answered “yes” to number three then you will do well with the “one anothers” and seem to grasp the basics of grace.

If you answered “no” to all three, then we know what you were nursed on as an infant, and you immediately qualify for advanced placement at the Pharisee Institute of Religiosity.

Siblings may be good score-keepers and grudge-tenders, but spiritual siblings — brothers and sisters in Christ — cannot be, and are not allowed to be. Now that we have wounded, hopefully fatally, the idea of competition and score-keeping in the church, we can begin the “one anothers.”

The barbed wire that binds…

 

In the previous post I suggested that we approach the “one-anothers” of the New Testament like a walk along a fence row that separates the sheep from relationally odd sheep. Now underway, we will find that Jesus’ words in John 13:35 create a higher, tauter fence than we first imagined. This fence actually separates disciples from disobedient believers and non-believers, or sheep from fence-straddlers and goats.

This passage contains truths that are worthy of fine attention. And once pondered they jolt our senses. Rather than carve up these verses and pass around a portion for all, I will instead provide a sample along with some thoughts. This will allow you to take the passage, and dig in for yourself, which is best.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Jesus states in John 13:34 that he is giving the apostles a new commandment. This is an intriguing statement because in the Old Testament God’s people had been commanded to love in the Law of Moses. They had been told to love God wholly (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love one’s neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:18). To love was not foreign to them. So, this command was not new in the sense that it had never been prescribed, it was new in what it expected of them.

To be specific, it is the not the “love one another” part of Jesus’ imperative that was new. It was the scope and empowerment necessary to obey it that were new.

The scope and depth of that command are staggering. We are to love other believers “just as,” or in the same manner that Jesus loves us. This doesn’t allow for a micrometer of wiggle room, or for any excuses, or for negligence. We are to love one another “just as” Jesus did, and displayed. It is a love that is evident and sacrificial.

To offer that type of love to other believers seems impossible. It is impossible; we cannot do it on our own. To fulfill this command requires that we depend upon the operative work of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Only the Spirit of God can bring the love of Christ to reality in our lives, and then extend it outward to others (Romans 5:5). What begins to come into focus is that growth in the “one-anothers” is a deliberate and precise way of fulfilling Jesus’ command to love one another.

While the analogy of our walk along the pasture fence began as one that was homespun, now with Jesus’ words from John 13:35 woven in it grows more serious, and surgical. Namely, the thought stands up, clears it throat, and asks, “Can one’s approach to and practice of the “one-anothers” authenticate one’s claim as a Christian or negate it?” The affirmative answer hushes the room.

John 13:35 provides an excellent mirror for self-inspection of our attitudes as well as a magnifying glass for dissection of our behaviors and service to other Christ-followers. There is more than weight to these words of Jesus, there is a density to them as well. Instantly these words, and their implications, kindle our consideration, examination, contrition.

We ponder on those words and use them as motivation to lead us on our uphill walk through the “one-anothers,” which will define and describe how life is to be among Christians. We do this arriving at the realization that love is the barbed wire that connects and supports the “one-another” posts in the fence row.

Along the way we will see artifacts marking the barbed wire: sack cloth and blood, rust, and bits of hair. Each are from those who have walked this fence before us. The sack cloth and blood from those who have climbed over from the non-love side remind us of their courage, which became repentance and obedience. The rust advises us of the rains and seasons of our walk, and that many hands have held onto the fence and catalyzed corrison from one side or the other, while deciding whether or not to cross.  The bits of hair alert us to be on guard as we walk in love; there are enemies of love, wolves among sheep. The strands of hair — the bristled back hair of wolves — doesn’t signal to us from the top strand of the wire. They rest snagged in the bottom strand.  Wolves have their own way of crossing, low and slow.

The fence is only part of the terrain. Before we survey the rest of the scenery in the first leg of our trip, let’s make note that the barbed strands serve as a means of separation and protection. Both are essential.

Barely into our stride we can see that one side of the fence boasts of a calm pasture, flowers, and a kind path smoothed by millions of steps. That leisurely side is not the side of Christ-like love.

The other side has brambles, rocks, and tall grass, with a faint trail, hardly visible. This one is the way of love; it is the way of Christ-fueled desire and discipline that follows him and loves his sheep.

Closing out these stout verses is a crushing thought: Our love for one another will be the mark of our true faith in and following of Christ. In other words, our love for fellow believers becomes an authentication of our discipleship … a disciple’s watermark.

You were warned that this trek would be a tough one — lots of sweating, straining, and aching. The sun is behind us. Grab your things. Set your mind; we have a long walk ahead.

The “one-anothers”

Under the hat of modern evangelicalism dwell many heads: some gold, some wooden, some stubble. This is evident by the variances in professions and practices of faith. While this post could meander down a passel of trails lined with these variances, it will not. Instead, we will begin a brisk walk along a fence row that separates sheep from … relationally odd sheep.

Shakespeare stated that brevity is the soul of wit. Likewise, it is the soul of sturdy writ. So, let’s take long strides with few words on our walk in order to move us through this meditation which will serve as an introduction to several that will follow.

The topic focuses on relationships among believers. This is not about relationships of the God’s-will-for-finding-your-soulmate-completer-dot-com variety. Rather, we will consider the teaching of the New Testament on how we are to relate to one another within the body of Christ.

The spectrum of relations among Christians in congregations ranges from the priggish parishioner who can only look down his/her spectacles in judgment to the needy hug-o-phile who loves and accepts everyone into her/his affirmation-fest. You know both, and the free-ranging herd in between. A quick pondering of this nutty gamut is puzzling at least, off-putting at best, and repulsive at worst.

If evangelicals are going to promote, or feebly peddle, a “relationship with God” to the lost folks around us, then shouldn’t we place our relationships with other believers under the microscope beforehand? Yes. Yes, we should. Unless, we prefer instead to add a fresh coat of white wash to our already shiny exoskeletons.

The key phrase, and central idea, to this series of posts is “one another.” I will not make this cute by converting those two words into the hyphenated term of “one-anothering.” We’ll be glad later. Also, I will not use the popular term “perspective” in regard to biblical teaching and relationships. “Perspectives” are akin to rabbit holes dotting my favorite woodlands: all too common and often empty. There. Besides, God’s perspective is the only one that matters.

Depending upon how you cut and stack them, the New Testament contains over two dozen “one another” commands. They are not tips or suggestions; they are commands. There is some overlap and cross-pollination among them. So, I will attempt to simplify this by sorting them into one of two boxes: attitudes to build in ourselves and service to offer to others. Clarity will emerge from doing it this way once the light of more posts peeks through the clouds.

Let’s get started with the most common, and foundational, “one another” in the New Testament: Love one another. To “love one another,” is a single command among the King-sized list of the “one another” principles, but it is repeated over a dozen times in different ways, and with different descriptives. The one instance that is familiar to most, and sets the tone for them all, is found in John 13:34-35. There are weighty words and sobering truths compressed into those two short verses.

Pull up to the gate, put on the parking brake, look up the verses, and sit there before we begin our fence row trek.

Roll down the window and take a deep breath. Those verses will cause your brow to moisten.

The hike that we will begin will be uphill, and will bring on a full soul-sweat. You will need to pack some water, and snacks, and extra socks. From where we will start to where we will arrive will result in some calluses, and a better heart.