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.