Wise Guy

bible proverbs wise guy Luis Quintero via unsplash

I’m reading “The Message” by Eugene H. Peterson. Yes, I know, it’s a somewhat controversial book. Some say it makes the Bible easier to understand. Others decry it as too far afield of the translations we’re used to reading. Let’s set those arguments aside and see The Message as, at the very least, the work of a learned man who loved the Lord and wanted his congregation to get into the Word. You can check it out at Biblegateway or YouVersion . Today, though, I’d like to share an edited excerpt of Peterson’s introduction to the book of Proverbs. You won’t find it on either of the sites listed above. I own a kindle copy and read it there.

“Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves… A college degree is no certification of wisdom…Wisdom has to do with becoming skillful in

  • honoring parents
  • raising children
  • handling money
  • conducting our sexual lives
  • going to work
  • exercising leadership
  • using words well
  • treating friends kindly
  • eating and drinking healthfully
  • cultivating peace.

Threaded through all these items is the insistence that the way we think of and respond to God is the most practical thing we do. In matters of everyday practicality, nothing, absolutely nothing, takes precedence over God.”

This passage drives home yet again the need to see the Bible as our Manufacturer’s Handbook. Those of us who neglect its wisdom—or kid ourselves into thinking there’s little current wisdom available within its pages—do so at our own peril. On the other hand, by keeping our noses in that Book and applying what we find there, we often discover that smoother sailing can indeed be ours.

I’d like to know your favorite Proverb, or a tale of how following Biblical instruction helped you out in a “worldly” and practical way. Three dear friends have gotten the ball rolling below:

Paul: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.”

(Perhaps this the proverbial way of saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Or maybe Paul was just messing with me.)

Nadine: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

(This one gives me more peace than any other when I’m faced with a big decision.)

Lorri: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

(Oh, how different the world would be if we all followed that bit of advice!)

And now, how about you? What’s your favorite proverb? Has following it helped?

Photo by Luis Quintero via Unsplash.co

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Father Knows Best by Beth Smith

 
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John had been out of work for nearly a year, and times were tough. One day, though, he decided to take his little daughter Sarah out for a rare treat—candy from a convenience store. Sarah, being much smaller than her very tall father, began to look with great delight at the brightly colored, cheap candy displayed on the lower shelves, candy was so cheap it didn’t even qualify as a splurge.

John said, “No, Sarah, look up here. There’s the really good candy. You can choose anything, not just what’s down there.” But, sure of what she wanted, Sarah picked some bright red balls of candy. Loving father that he is, John said, “Sarah, those are sour balls, very sour. I know you, and you won’t like them. Look, here’s a Snickers, a Nestle Crunch bar.” But Sarah would have nothing to do with that. She saw only what was right in front of her, at her own eye level. It wasn’t the best she could have, and was nowhere near what her father wanted to give her.

John told me he was disappointed that his desire to give Sarah something special, something big, went unfulfilled. He went on to say that God used the experience to reveal to him that he, John, often made the same mistake that Sarah did. He was making some poor choices because he could see the situation only at his eye level, while his heavenly Father saw the whole picture. Don’t we all do that?

Our Father sees what’s best for us better than we can. We’re limited by our own “short sightedness.”  Unable to see the top shelf, we choose a lollipop over a king sized Snickers bar.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).

Our Father knows what will fulfill us, because he created us. He knows what will really make us happy, better than we know ourselves. We might choose red sourballs because they look good, instead of letting God give us the desires he has created in our hearts. He puts his desires there. Note our part in this scripture:

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3-4 NIV).

Do we take away God’s joy in giving to us because we want to do it ourselves, our own way?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT).

What if, today, Jesus asked us the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” We’re human. We’d say we want a job, healing, the return of a wayward child, a house or maybe a new way of life.

Wait. Stop. Think. Jesus knows our needs. We can tell him what we think we need, but then we ought to tell him, “Whatever you think is best. Your will be done.”

We can let God choose for us only if we trust his love and his wisdom, and believe in his power. If we want God’s best, we must let him choose.

 

photo by raw pixel @rawpixel via Unsplash.com

Bother to Obey?

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Why, when it can be so hard, do we bother to obey the Lord? This (with a good bit of editing and updating) is the answer Hannah Whitall Smith gave over 100 years ago:

“When we choose obedience, we bring joy to our Lord as well. Our deep love for him is perfectly reasonable, but the fact that he loves us so deeply is truly amazing! What does ‘loving him back’ look like? For one thing, it looks like obedience. Jesus told his disciples that the first and greatest commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30). That commandment leads us to ask ourselves:

  • Will we make him our greatest love?
  • Will we follow him, even when there’s no apparent reward, even if following him leads to a life of separateness or suffering?
  • Will we let him have complete control of all we are and all we have?
  • And what if our Christian friends don’t agree with our level of devotion?

“Say, ‘Yes, Lord, yes!’ to each of these questions. Pour out all your devotion on our Lord. Give him your enthusiastic surrender, even if it upsets some of the more moderate Christians around you. Why should you care if some don’t understand your choice? An intimate friendship with Christ is both your duty and your joy. When Christ makes his ways known to us, we have the great privilege of walking in them.

“Your whole-hearted devotion is precious to the Lord. Perhaps others don’t approve, but he does, and that’s enough. Don’t hold back. Lay your whole life open to him and say each morning, ‘Lord, help me to live this day in a way that pleases you. Give me spiritual insight to discover your will. Guide my every step.’ Don’t let a day, or even an hour, go by in which you aren’t consciously following him.”

I’ve loved Hannah’s words for years. They challenge and console me. How do they strike you today?

 

Photo by Jon Tyson via Unsplash.com

Relinquishment and Surprise

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Catherine Marshall wrote about relinquishing our desires through prayer. You can read more about my experience with that prayer here or order her terrific book on prayer here.

Change invariably demands some degree of relinquishment, and so I find myself in another chapter of that challenge. Am I happy to be living in a new city? You bet. Do I question the rather monumental changes Steve and I have made in the last several months? Not at all. But our enemy always seeks to rob us of our joy and of the best God has for us by convincing us to reject the challenge of change. Perhaps that’s the reason he warned Lot and his family not to look back as they fled to the mountains. (Or, for you Star Wars fans, it’s probably why Shmi instructed Anakin with the simple words, “Don’t look back.”)

  • When we cling desperately to the old, we are not free to embrace the new.
  • When we pray with the attitude of a demanding child, we are out of line and rarely at peace.
  • When we relinquish our own agendas, we are able to accept the times when God says “no” or wait” or “this instead.” Then, trusting his grace, we are ready to be delighted by the gifts he gives and the plans he sets out for us.

We can pray in faith and, at the same time, be willing for God in his wisdom to refuse our requests. Then, when God does say yes, that gift is all the sweeter.

Relinquishment to God’s will certainly doesn’t cause us to stop praying. On the contrary, as we become closer to our Lord, every circumstance is wrapped in prayer as we express our needs and look for his provision. There are miracles to be found in the mundane affairs of daily life if we will only watch for them. More about that next week. In the meantime, look forward! Let go of anything you feel the Holy Spirit is asking you to relinquish. And may that choice give you rest!

Shrek the Sheep

 

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You’ve probably seen the movies, may even have read the book, but have you heard about the sheep? Yes, Shrek is also the name of a famous sheep…on the other side of the world…New Zealand, to be exact, where the sheep population outnumbers the humans six to one.

We can safely assume that New Zealand shepherds are far smarter than their sheep. Thus, their sheep are best off cooperating with the one in charge. However, in the late 1990’s, Shrek the Renegade Sheep thought he had a better idea. Shrek decided he no longer wanted to be shorn. This was a foolish decision on the part of the renegade.

  • Long fleece can lead to overheating, limited mobility, and even disease.
  • Shearing also keeps older dirty wool from contaminating new growth.

Evidently none of that mattered to Shrek or, more likely, he simply wanted his own way and didn’t know any better. Big mistake! Want to know how big? Take a look at this photo. This is Shrek after hiding in caves, successfully avoiding six years of annual shearing.

Now, I ask you, does that look like a happy, healthy animal? When he was finally caught and shorn, the wool removed weight 60 pounds, enough to make 20 large men’s suits. Talk about carrying around extra baggage!

Are we ever Shrek-like? You bet.

  • When the Shepherd is ready to remove what we no longer need, or might even do us harm, how often do we balk, hide, or refuse to our own detriment?
  • When have we tried to hold on to what keeps us from healthy spiritual growth?

Surely we are always better off trusting the wisdom of our Shepherd, fully cooperating with the One in charge.

The next time I’m tempted to balk at what God is asking, I’m going to remember Shrek the Renegade, no make that, Miserable Looking Sheep and choose the Shepherd’s way over my own.

 

 

Mind the Gap

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If you ever travel to London, you’ll need to remember two key safety rules.

  1. When crossing the street: The traffic nearest you is coming from your right.
  2. As you step out of the underground train (or The Tube): Mind the gap.

“Mind the gap” is a phrase I hope will stick in your brain over the coming weeks. Here’s why. A few blog posts back, I quoted Matthew Kelly (paraphrased as accurately as I could remember) saying, “If I just lived out one Gospel reading 100%, my life would change radically. I need to work on the gap between that life and the life I am living now.”

Ah, that gap. We all face it. This morning I received news that made me really angry. I want to lash out, to use my wicked tongue to strike at those who have hurt me by making a decision with which I do not agree. But…probably not what Jesus would do.

We need to be fully schooled in salvation by grace, but we also need to stay fully aware of the gap. Are we measuring ourselves against the characters we see on TV? The characters that live down the street? Maybe the ones in our own family? Have we found someone, somewhere, who makes us look good by comparison?  Comparison is always a losing game, except when we compare ourselves to Christ. He is our model.

Romans 8:29 tells us God’s plan is for us to be conformed to the image of his Son. We are not there yet! The gap is where we pray for our lives to be transformed, but transformation can be a painful process. Sometimes we have to give up favorite habits or adopt new ones we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. (Sometimes we have to keep our mouths shut and pray for those who have made us mad!) As with all things, this will only happen by the power of God, and is reason enough for us to begin each day with prayer. Sometimes I like to pray through song. I hope you’ll join me in listening to this musical prayer by Eddie Espinosa and continue to ask our Lord to help you mind the gap. Change My Heart, Oh God