Friday, August 31, 2012

God is faithful

Yesterday we discussed the faithfulness of our Father. I wanted to dwell on that today . . . sometimes on Fridays we will have a song to listen to and contemplate.

Today I would like for you to meditate on a song, but I'll not put a link to an audio file. Just enjoy the words of this old hymn -- many of the old hymns contain so much truth and so much comfort.

"Great is thy Faithfulness" was written by Thomas O. Chisholm, and he had this to say in 1941, about his poem that has been set to music, and has encouraged many, many people:

 "My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me until now.  Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness."

I hope this blesses you, and that you have a wonderful weekend.

  • "Great is Thy faithfulness," O God my Father,
    There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
    Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
    As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

    • "Great is Thy faithfulness!" "Great is Thy faithfulness!"
        Morning by morning new mercies I see;
      All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
          "Great is Thy faithfulness," Lord, unto me!

  • Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
    Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
    Join with all nature in manifold witness
    To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

  • Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
    Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
    Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
    Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

  • Thursday, August 30, 2012

    Proverbs 25:19 Relying on . . .

    19 Like a broken tooth or a lame foot
        is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble.

    It's a difficult day, the day that your child realizes that you and your spouse are not perfect. That they can't rely on you to always be in the right spot at the right time, to make the right decisions and to say the right things. They suddenly realize that we are humans. 

    Thud. That's the other shoe hitting the floor. That's when we realize that some earthly friend, some mortal that we trusted and relied upon, has let us down. Yep, that person is human, too. No matter how faithful we thought they were, they were either sinful, or thoughtless, and they let us down.

    No wonder Solomon compared these situations to having a broken, aching tooth, or having a hurt foot --- kind of hard when you can't eat, or maybe can't walk.

    There's only One that you can rely on through good times and bad, easy and hard times . . . we all know it's our Father God. He keeps His promises:

    Psalm 118:8 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.
    1 John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 
    Read His word and discover His promises . . . Salvation to those who trust in Christ Jesus. Blessings to those who immerse themselves in His word; reading, memorizing, learning. Joy to those who fellowship with Him and with other believers. Opportunities to win souls to Christ. There are many more promises --- are we ready for them? Are we asking Him for them?

    If we will stay in the word of God, praying the verses back to Him, keeping them in our minds, then we can expect and enjoy His faithfulness. Remind yourself of Deuteronomy 31:8, which reads, "The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
    He is faithful!

    Wednesday, August 29, 2012

    Proverbs 25:18 Choose your weapons

    18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
        is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor. 

    Some of the weapons of Solomon's era are a little unfamiliar to us now.  The King James has the word "maul" as the first one in this verse; the NIV translates it as a "club." Now, I can tell you what a maul is like, since I have used it before.  (No, no, not in battle.) Today's maul is a sledgehammer-like item; the business end of it has a hammer on one side, and an edge similar to an axe on the other. We use it for splitting logs. Some folks use it for hitting tent spikes, or some other use where one needs to hit something VERY hard.

    We all know what a sword looks like. Some are sharp on one side, some on two sides. It can be light and thin, like a fencing rapier, or heavy as a calvaryman's weapon. 

    An arrow? They've been useful for thousands of years. Many people enjoy collecting arrowheads, for the different shapes and sizes they find. They are all for the same purpose, though --- whether hunting game or a human enemy, the arrow can pierce the body and cause death.

    So, when we give a false witness about someone, we may bludgeon them, cut them, or pierce them. Perhaps not literally, on the outside where all can see . . . but definitely on the inside. And it doesn't have to be only that we tell an untruth about someone. It can be if we slander their motives as well. The "why" they did what they did --- whatever they did, it was for an entirely different reason than what you might think --- and their motives were not good! 

    We may not sit around dreaming up wild tales and lies to tell others about someone we all know. Many times, though, for Christians the problem is the stating of things we do not know against a person based on our own negative assumptions. We must beware of what we assume without knowledge; we must be even more careful of what we spread around, without first-hand knowledge. This is one of Satan's biggest and best weapons in the fight of good and evil. 
    Instead of choosing one of those three weapons, maybe we'd better choose the "sword of the Spirit" and wage war on Satan, instead of on each other.

    Tuesday, August 28, 2012

    Proverbs 25: 17 Return the "tupperware" full

    17 Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house—
        too much of you, and they will hate you.

    We've talked before about how to be a good neighbor; we've talked about not wearing out your welcome, too. I thought of something different when I read this verse, tho, and I hope you will excuse this if you feel I'm a little off the beaten path . . .

    To me, this verse speaks of being considerate to our neighbor or friend. To make sure that we don't monopolize their time, and to make certain that we entertain them at our house, just as much as they entertain us at theirs. To avoid being a pest at dinner times or when they just returned from a vacation and need to unpack (unless, of course, you are going to help out by mowing that week-old lawn growth).

    My grandmother had a maxim that she lived by, that fits in pretty well here. I'll tell you a little about her . . .she and my grandad were charter members of a Baptist church, and well-known in that community. There were scads of opportunities for get-togethers of all sorts: socials and showers and fellowships, and the occasional funeral, too. If you know Baptists, all of these center around food. I think some church committees must think that a full tummy is the first step to salvation, because there were always lots of good cooks and mounds of food to be devoured by willing attendees! 
    Of course, one of those committees was in charge of taking food to people's homes in case of sickness or inability to travel to church services, and the positive impact of a well-filled plate or casserole dish cannot be ignored. Many's the person whose heart was gladdened by the care of the cook who prepared something just for them.
    Grandma always made sure that when she returned that casserole, or that tupperware meal container, there was something good inside. Maybe some brownies, warm from the oven, or a chilled salad for a hot summer day's supper. To her, it was downright rude to return the dish empty! I learned that from her, and have always done the same.
    If we'll be considerate of our neighbors and friends, there will be a smile on their face when we reach their door, not a frown!

    Monday, August 27, 2012

    Proverbs 25: 16 Enough!

    16 If you find honey, eat just enough—
        too much of it, and you will vomit. 

    Remember when mom (or grandmom) told you, "Don't overdo it!"  It's understandable . . . when something tastes good, you just want more!
    I found a commentary that mentioned a proverb from an ancient Egyptian papyrus: "We live on one-third of what we eat. Our doctors live on the other two-thirds."  Those Egyptians were smart cookies --- not only did they build amazing pyramids, but they had figured out this fact: when we over-induldge in things, it can affect our health!  And of course, that puts more money in the doctors' pockets.
    We Americans have refined over-indulgence and made it into an art form. Alcohol, drugs, food, sexual attractions, and material possessions. You name it, and you probably can say that you know someone who "has a problem" with it.
    And Solomon was right, too. I recall talking with someone who, as a child, had eaten a lot of bananas. I don't mean a few; she and her brother ate WAY too many. To that day (and she was an elderly woman when we spoke) it made her feel nauseous to smell the aroma of banana muffins, or a sliced banana!

    So, I guess we really should be choosy about what and how much we eat, drink, look at on the computer, and watch on TV.  Try to have variety in all of those areas. We all need drink and food, companionship and spiritual feeding, and the trick is to balance all of those needs. Moderation is the key to avoid the over-indulgence that we've mentioned. 
    And don't forget, the more time we spend in the world, the less we have for our Bible study and prayer!

    Friday, August 24, 2012

    Proverbs 25:15 Patience and power

    15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,
        and a gentle tongue can break a bone. 

    What do John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and James Arness have in common? They were all "strong" men in the glory days of western movies and television shows. 

    Give up?  How many times do you remember them shouting while uttering a memorable line? They typified the quiet, patient, but strong-and-you-don't-want-to-mess-with-him kind of character.

    We can find some examples a little more to our point in these passages:

    I Samuel 26 - David
    I Samuel 25 - Abigail
    Judges 8:1-3 - Gideon

    I hope you will have time to look those up, and leave me a comment. Whose "soft answer" impressed you more? David, dealing with King Saul? Abigail, dealing with King David? Or Gideon, dealing with the Ephramites?

    The NIV says the Ephramites "challenged him vigorously." I'm not sure what happened there; I guess there might have been some in-your-face attitudes, maybe even a little shoving. David, on the other hand, was fleeing for his life from a supposed friend and mentor. And Abigail, though her husband had showed his foolishness, was pleading for his life and making amends to her king. All three are interesting stories, and I'll be waiting to hear what you think.

    In the meantime, I'll close today by reminding myself and others that patience and perseverance are important traits for Christians. And, we should always speak to each other softly and kindly.  We see plenty of angry, demanding people in this world today. Won't we stand out more by showing persistent patience and soft-spoken confidence?
    Have a blessed weekend!

    Thursday, August 23, 2012

    Proverbs 25:13 - 14 Reliability is Refreshing

    13 Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time
        is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him;
        he refreshes the spirit of his master.
    14 Like clouds and wind without rain
        is one who boasts of gifts never given.

    Those of us who fancy ourselves to be gardeners are probably well-acquainted with the situations in these verses. For though we may not have acres of grain to harvest, we have likely spent a great deal of time working and sweating between the rows, especially at the time of harvest. Usually that comes at a time when there is less rain, so our work is often hot and dusty, too. If the weather is not cooperating, there may not even be a breeze stirring --- and many a farmer and gardener alike has looked up at the sky and contemplated a promising cloud bank; but then the clouds move on without dispensing any of the rain we wanted.

    The dust and heat parch our throats --- but we have it much easier than the harvesters of Solomon's day. For them, a drink would have come from a skin sewn into a water vessel, taken with them into the fields. No cold drinks here. A little luckier were those who worked near a well; they could let down a vessel and draw up water that was at least a little cooler. Imagine how it would have felt if they could have sipped a drink of water cooled in, or melted from -- snow! How clean and refreshing it would have felt! For a while, the cares and dusty conditions would have been forgotten. The body and mind would both be refreshed.

    Solomon is noting here that it is just as much of a relief, and just as refreshing, for someone to be able to fully rely on a "messenger." That if that person is trustworthy, he or she is far better than clouds and wind which give no rain.

    Now, you and I may not be sent as messengers in the way that Solomon would send runners through his kingdom, on official business. But we are often asked by others to perform small tasks, or to complete a job, or minister in some way. If we don't follow through, and finish the job, we are just like those clouds and winds that don't really accomplish anything.

    We must see our task as a gift -- not a chore. It may be a small thing, but it is a chance to prove to someone else that "hey, you can count on me!" It is a gift, to be able to offer that completed task to our Father as an offering. 

    In another application of these verses, you and I are messengers each and every day for our Lord. Are we trustworthy messengers? Are we truly serving Him, or are we letting self creep in? In other words, are we dispensing the gospel (either aloud or by quiet example) for His glory, or are we seeking glory for ourselves?  We are ambassadors for His kingdom -- and ambassadors are known and accepted by their credentials.....what are our credentials that we are showing for proof? The fruits of the Spirit? Or snippets of anger, and self, and spite?  It's ironic -- not only can we not fool Him, but we can't fool the unsaved, either.
    Let's be trustworthy messengers for our Father, and be refreshment to Him.

    Wednesday, August 22, 2012

    Proverbs 25:11-12 Apples of Gold, Part II

    11 A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.  
    12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear.

    On our second day of considering these verses, I thought I might bring in another of Solomon's proverbs, that we covered earlier --- Proverbs 18:21 tells us the "the tongue has the power of life and death." Our "death" words can crush a person's spirit and leave them feeling there is no hope. I'm sure that we can all remember times that someone has said something to us that hurt very deeply. Perhaps they said it in jest -- a "just kidding" kind of remark. But you know, that doesn't make it hurt any less.

    Usually, we don't intend to hurt someone. It just pops out. I'm sure there have been times when you (and I) have said something that hurt someone. What a guilt that is. I always try to apologize the moment that I know, and then make up for it somehow. But that may not be entirely possible sometimes. 

    Then there are the "life" words: the words that Solomon referred to as "aptly spoken." He told us in Proverbs 15:4 that "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life." 

    We've probably all been in situations where a child needed a "good word" or some encouragement. Well, we adults do, too. Paul tells us that we, too are in the race and we need encouragement, we too need to hear those words that inspire, encourage, and give life.
    Hebrews 12:1, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us...”

    And we not only have witnesses, we have each other:
    Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

    As I completed this study, I found myself more than ever praying this prayer:
    Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth, And the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    Proverbs 25: 11-12 Apples of Gold, Part I

    Prayer list update! Please check our prayer list page for a new request, and add it to your prayer time. I know they will appreciate it very much.

    11 A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.  
    12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear.

    There is so much contained in these verses that we will visit them for two days . . . hang in there with me, and I hope we'll get a lot from this study.

    We've talked and studied before about our language. We've discussed the words that we choose, and how we say them, and to whom they are said. Solomon is using some picturesque language here, comparing words "fitly" spoken to golden apples --- things of great value.

    Words can mean different things to different people, can't they? Have you ever considered why a doctor in business calls it a "practice"? How about why when it's a road we drive on, it's called a "parkway" and when it's where we park our jalopy, it is called a "driveway"?

    As a blogger, I've run across situations where someone who speaks a different language than I do, has left a comment that confuses me. Even after using a translation site, I'm not sure what they mean. And when I answer them, sometimes they don't know what I am saying! Here's an example of problems with translation: the Pepsi slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi generation" means "Pepsi will bring back your ancestors from the dead" to someone in Taiwan.  Similarly, years ago the General Motors car called the "Nova" didn't sell very well in South America. Why? The word meant "it won't go" in Spanish.

    You can see that the words that we choose don't always have the effect that we desire. And sometimes we don't know what words to choose, and we can even choose words that end up doing more harm than good.
    But there are times when the words we speak have very little meaning at all . . . Sometimes they are just plain shallow.
    How many times have we asked each other "How are you doing?" "Good to see you." "Have a nice day."  Are we being polite, or do we really mean it?

    Some words sound good but they really are bad for us --- they can destroy us. In Jeremiah's day, there were false prophets who simply said what the people wanted to hear; they didn't speak the truth. They ended up being punished for those false words.  Lots of people today have that same issue: when they go to church they want to hear words that sound good, and make them feel good, and they are not as interested in the truth. After all, the truth is sometimes uncomfortable.
    God's word may not always tell me what I want to hear --- but it is always something that I need to hear.

    Language is a gift from God, and can be so very powerful. Our words can hurt or heal, unite or divide, build up or tear down. They can make someone very happy, or make them very sad.
    We'll visit this passage again tomorrow . . .

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    Proverbs 25:8-10 An old saying

        do not bring hastily to court,
    for what will you do in the end
        if your neighbor puts you to shame?
    If you take your neighbor to court,
        do not betray another’s confidence,
    10 or the one who hears it may shame you
        and the charge against you will stand.

    Ever heard the saying, "Don't go off half-cocked"?

    It originated in the days of flintlock guns, but I could swear that Solomon knew about it somehow!

    History buffs (like those in our family) are sometimes fascinated as much by the sayings that originate in an era, as by the weaponry or accessories that inspire those sayings.  Flintlock guns were the type that needed to be loaded with powder for each time the user wished to shoot the weapon. A succession of steps needed to be followed, or the gun would not fire properly.

    Half-cock was the position of the hammer, for priming and loading the gun. This was almost what we would think of today as a "safety," since the gun would not fire from the half cocked position. Only after the steps had been followed, and the hammer pulled back into fully cocked position, could the gun fire . . . the hammer with the small piece of flint would fall, strike the steel, create a spark, ignite the powder, and cause the gun to fire.

    Some of us may have heard this expression in modern day life, for it has come to mean "to take a premature or ill-prepared action." Like the neighbor in Solomon's proverb, we may sometimes rush to accuse someone, or take an action for which we've not properly prepared. We may talk to one neighbor and in so doing, let slip a confidence that another neighbor shared with us . . . as Solomon says, that can shame us before our friends.

    Proper examination of the facts, and of all sides of an issue, may prevent us from embarrassment and shame, along with preserving the relationships we value with our family and friends. If we will "look before we leap" (I'm just full of these old sayings today!) we'll be much better off, and we'll be able to be an example to others, of a wise and knowledgeable friend.

    Friday, August 17, 2012

    Take a Rest Today....

    We've covered a lot of ground lately, and I feel like some of us could use a moment or two of rest. I know that some are facing real battles, and some are quite discouraged.  I myself have some unspoken prayer requests that are concernling me, and I need to fully give these to God, for He can solve those problems that I can't fix.

    Take a moment and read these verses, and then click on the video to listen to the song. I hope that this blesses your heart and encourages you today.

    Proverbs 18:10
    The name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe. 

    Isaiah 40:31
    But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

    Romans 8:38-39
    And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    Proverbs 25: 6-7 There's pride, and then there's pride . . .

    Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence,
        and do not claim a place among his great men;
    it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,”
        than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.

    "Strutting like a peacock...."   Yep, that's pride.

    Acting super meek and humble, and patting yourself on the back for being such an awesome part of God's kingdom.....  Yep, that is pride, too.

    If we come before our Christian brothers and sisters (or if we come before God in our prayer and study life) with an attitude of "Wow, you guys are so fortunate to have me on the team!" then it won't be long before our Father does something to get our attention.  Like the king in the verses above, there may be a need to "take us down a peg" so that we do not fall prey to the sins that come right after the sin of pridefulness.

    But by the same token, if we are showing false modesty and humbleness, and letting everyone use us for a doormat, and then taking satisfaction in how humble and religious we are, aren't we showing pride, then, too? I think so!
    If we have pride in Self, whether it is arrogantly, loudly voiced, or quietly marked off and kept score of in our hearts, we are in opposition to our Father's wishes for us.  One commentary that I read questioned: "what will God have to do, to get us to quit kissing the mirror?" I chuckled, but then the truth sank in.....
    Here is what Paul told us in Romans 12:3:
    For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
    This is what I take away from this verse . . . I shouldn't think too highly of myself, but I should not think too lowly, either. I am God's own creation. He values me (and you)  -- enough to send His son to die and rise again, to pay for our sins. Accept that value as a core truth --- but give the glory to Him, for the good and positive things you are able to do, with His assistance!
    I'd be interested to know what you think, today!

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Proverbs 25: 4-5 Dross in Silver

    Remove the dross from the silver,
        and a silversmith can produce a vessel;
    remove wicked officials from the king’s presence,
        and his throne will be established through righteousness. 

    This two-verse passage is almost a synopsis of a couple of other concepts that we have previously studied . . .

    We have looked before at the work of a silversmith --- he doesn't take his eyes off the silver as he refines it, as he heats it up to remove the dross, or impurities. He regulates the heat, for a small variance in temperature can mar the finished product.

    He knows that his work is done when he can see his own reflection in the silver.

    So it is when our Father is performing the work of "sanctification" in our lives. That's just a big term for an ongoing process: growing in grace, and becoming more like Christ. It's a process that starts when we accept the gift of salvation, and should not end until we are "absent from the body" and "present with the Lord."  
    He doesn't take His eyes off of us; he regulates the "heat" and doesn't give us more than we can bear (I Corinthians 10:13).  And we hope that He will see His own reflection in us.

    So the second verse is important, since it has to do with removing the "dross" or negative influences that would keep us from becoming more like Him. Young or old, we would do well to heed Solomon's words in Proverbs 1:10-16:
    10 My son, if sinful men entice you,
        do not give in to them.....
    my son, do not go along with them,
        do not set foot on their paths;
    16 for their feet rush into evil,
        they are swift to shed blood.
    And Paul's words (I Corinthians 15:33) are good advice, too:
    33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 
    Recently I have seen an instance where a young person mistakenly believed that he was strong enough to run with a crowd that was not going to be a good influence on him. He thought that he could be a testimony to them; he didn't realize the strength and commitment that it would take to handle a dangerous situation like that. His life has been changed now, in ways he never would have imagined.  God will forgive and heal, but it will take much time.
    Perhaps we need to think on this: Who and what is influencing us these days?

    Tuesday, August 14, 2012

    Proverbs 25: 1-3 Too much

    These are more proverbs of Solomon, compiled by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah:
    It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
        to search out a matter is the glory of kings.
    As the heavens are high and the earth is deep,
        so the hearts of kings are unsearchable.

    The common man of Solomon's era was far removed from the court of the king. From the moment that he awoke before the sunrise, till the time that he fell onto his pallet to sleep again, there was very little similarity in the lives of these men.
    The common man lived in a small, bare house, or even a tent -- if he was a hard worker, he might have some creature comforts and some furniture. If he was a shepherd, his home was whatever field his sheep were grazing in; if he was a farmer, his home was probably constructed of mud bricks, covered in plaster. His wife would have made mats for the floor, and possibly curtains to function as doors. Windows were closed with shutters at night, when the oil lamp would be lit to furnish a little light.
    Compare this to the life of the king -- he was surrounded by opulent materials of the time: cedar, ivory, gold and jewels. The rooms he lived in, the furniture he used, even his utensils for eating and drinking were sumptuous compared to that of the common laborer or farmer. And the palace glittered with light in the evenings -- as much light as the king desired.
    How about their activities? One was concerned with working to provide food and clothing for his family, and the other was concerned with affairs of state and governing the land. 
    I think that if you put the two men in a room together, it would have been fairly difficult for the "everyday guy" to understand much of the things that the king had to say . . . 
    So it is with us, and our Father.  Although we can study His word and learn more of Him, we cannot hope to fully comprehend all that there is to know about our God.  
    In Exodus 33, Moses pleads with God to ensure that He will abide with them, to be certain that they do not have to move forward without His presence.  He even asks to see His glory, and God shields Moses from the full effects of that life-altering experience. It's just too much for mortal man.

    Sometimes we may question why God allows something to happen. Why He moves and causes something to occur. Our tiny minds cannot hope to understand our all-knowing, all-powerful Father.

    In the book of Isaiah (Is 55:8-9), God tells us:
    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
        neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
    “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
        so are my ways higher than your ways
        and my thoughts than your thoughts. 
    But this same God, whom we praise with choruses such as "our God is an awesome God," is a loving Father on whom we can (and should) depend . . . This truly is an awe-inspiring thought!
    Check this out:
    Even to your old age and gray hairs
        I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
    I have made you and I will carry you;
        I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
    Isaiah 46:4
    His thoughts are higher. His ways are sometimes unsearchable. This majestic, all-powerful God spoke the universe into existence. But He cares for us now and forever.  If that doesn't make us fall on our knees in gratitude, I'm not sure what will do it! 

    Thank you, Lord!

    Monday, August 13, 2012

    Proverbs 24: 30-34 Does He see weeds and ruins?

    30 I went past the field of a sluggard,
        past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
    31 thorns had come up everywhere,
        the ground was covered with weeds,
        and the stone wall was in ruins.
    32 I applied my heart to what I observed
        and learned a lesson from what I saw:
    33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
        a little folding of the hands to rest —
    34 and poverty will come on you like a thief
        and scarcity like an armed man. 

    Like so many of the things that we read in the Bible, this passage can have a literal meaning and also a figurative one. Let's look first at the literal one . . . 
    I expect that sometimes Solomon would tire of life at court, and might take off some of his kingly adornments and travel through the countryside, through his kingdom. I think that in summer heat like we are experiencing here in the US, he would lay aside some of those kingly robes and leave all of the dignified etiquette of the court, and "take a breather." On one of these short escapes from his duties, he looked across a broken down wall and saw a farm -- a field and a vineyard, that a slothful man had neglected. Thorns, nettles, and weeds were growing rife there, and some of the walls were broken down. Solomon looked, and learned.

    We can, too!

    To me, the lesson here is this: looking over the wall, our Father can look into our hearts. Does he see well-kept fields, and a vineyard full of fruit? Or does he see the wall in disrepair, and the fields and vineyard neglected? 
    Jesus addressed this, too. In Matthew 13 we find the parable of the seed and the sower. Many times when we hear a sermon or a homily about this, the focus is on the types of soil, and the results of the sown seed. I'd like to concentrate on verse 22, which pointed to the weeds that choked out the seed . . .
    “…the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth.” 
    Some translations use the word "worry" here, and some use "cares" of the world. This would include anything that the world cares about: keeping up with the latest fashions, stressing about bills, being anxious about a career, focusing on time-wasters like negative thoughts and emotions.
    There is nothing wrong with being conscious of fashion, having a career, or paying your bills on time --- we're talking about becoming obsessed, consumed with these things. That is, after all, what weeds do . . . they grow incredibly fast and are invasive. They consume every bit of space they can -- and in our faith lives, the application would be that there is less space for the godly and positive things.
    God will let us know if we are putting the things of this world above Him. And, He will tell us if we are stressing about things that we are supposed to hand over to His care and allow Him to work out.
    That other dangerous weed is the "deceitfulness of wealth." When we are rocking along making good money, and we seem to be living a life of plenty, there is a real danger of our starting to rely solely on ourselves, not on Him. We may lose sight of the fact that it is God who has blessed us and given us this financial bounty. It is He who gives us creative ideas and the understanding to utilize them; it is He who moves people and events in our lives. If we stop giving the credit to God, where it rightfully belongs, we may become proud, greedy, and tight-fisted with our financial blessings --- and those are all weeds that can choke out God's spirit in our lives.
    We can, in fact, get so over-run with "weeds" that we stop the important work of building on the foundation that Christ laid for our lives. That's the "ruins" that Solomon saw . . . if we aren't doing this (II Peter 1) anymore:
        " and add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, add knowledge, and to knowledge, add . . . "
    just like laying attractively carved stones onto a firm foundation. If we are no longer "adding on" then it's not long before we are in "ruins."
    What does our Father see, when He looks into your heart? 

    Friday, August 10, 2012

    Good Neighbors, Conclusion

    Today we will conclude our "Good Neighbors" study with a look at the parable of the Good Samaritan, which we have alluded to before, in this study.
    25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
    26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
    27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
    28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
    29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
    30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
    36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
    37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
    Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
    This is such a familiar passage that it is very easy to skim through it, and not spend the time on it that it deserves. I'd like to point out three things about this "good neighbor."
    First, the Samaritan saw someone in need and had compassion. He could easily have gone right on past, as the others did, but instead, he put his compassion into action -- showing mercy to the victim of the robbers.
    Next, the Samaritan temporarily put his own desires on hold -- he was in the middle of his own journey. I'm sure someone was expecting his arrival; he delayed it. He gave freely of his time and his money to assist the wounded man.
    Lastly, the Samaritan left quietly when he had helped the man. He didn't make a show, didn't expect fanfare or even a "attaboy" and a pat on the back. You see, we also need humility to be a good neighbor.  By avoiding the sin of selfishness, we can focus on others and their needs. Paul tells us in Philippians 2: 3-4:
    Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 
    In order to be that good neighbor that we wish to be, we must take action.  Solomon told us back in the third chapter of Proverbs, "Do not say to your neighbor, go and come back and tomorrow I will give it, when you have it with you."  When we see the needs of others, we must act on those needs.
    Perhaps the need is simply opening a door for a mom with her hands full of groceries and her toddler. Maybe the need is speaking encouraging words to someone who is depressed. It might be that the need is for comfort, and some of us who quilt can recall efforts to "wrap in quilted love" a person who was hurting. That fatherless son needs someone to take him fishing -- that widow needs some extras from your meal, to help her eat a balanced diet -- the list goes on. You see, if we start close to home, we can be the good neighbor our Father wants us to be; we don't have to stress about this Google-sized world, and all of the things we wish we could help with. Sure, if God lays it on your heart to help people across the hemisphere with your time and money, then go for it! But we must not let that vision blind us to the needs around us!

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

    Good Neighbors, Part III

    "Who is my neighbor?"

    That's been a question that has been asked since long before Jesus answered it with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Back then, you would have had to be fairly close by a person, in order to A.) know about his needs, and B.) be able to help in some way. But physical distance doesn't have as much to do with it, anymore.
    With one click of a hyperlink on our computers, we can learn all that we need to know about an urgent need that we were unaware of before we clicked. We're told that millions of people "need us" and that millions more are ready to "partner with us" to solve the problem.  Instead of becoming easier, it has become much more complicated.
    Have you ever wondered just when God expects us to take responsibility for the needs of others? What's more, have you ever wondered that, and then felt guilty -- because in the back of your head, you were wondering how little you could do, and still qualify for that rosy "I-helped-somebody" glowing feeling?
    I searched for some verses, and found these to bring to you:
    Deuteronomy 10:17-19
    "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.
    "He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.
    "Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

    Matthew 5:43-48
    "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
    "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
    "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
    "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
    "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."

    Anyone and everyone is our neighbor. Friends, strangers, and even enemies -- we are told to treat them all in the way that we would like to be treated in return.
    It can be overwhelming, though, when we know of so many dire needs, so many people who need our help. Surely God does not wish for us to scatter our money and our time across the land, and come home empty-handed to the family who depends upon us? No, He doesn't want that.

    I think that he tells us to first work in our own "backyard."  Go back and look at the Great Commission - Jesus tells the disciples to start locally, and then move outward, like the ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond. And we can use that metaphor, too.
              1. Decide to do for a few, what you would like to do for many. Don't let the thought of "all those people" that you can't help, be an obstacle to your helping the ones that you can.
              2.  Use those gifts! We've discussed how each of us has different gifts - skills and talents that we can use to serve others. Your special gifts will lead you to causes and issues that you can be passionate about.
             3.  Follow those passions to find the neighbors God wants you to help. Whether it's gathering fabric to clothe orphans in Malawi, working to assist someone with learning English, or some other wonderful idea, God can use you and your passions to find that neighbor and give them a hand.
    God is at work in us and with us . . . He can use technology and our hands . . . we can help do the "even greater things" that Jesus said His followers would do!

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Good Neighbors, Part II

    We started thinking about this concept yesterday . . . I'd like to continue this today -- and if we need to, we'll tack on another day to finish it up! 

    I think we can all remember times when we needed help, and someone was a "good Samaritan" and helped us out. Perhaps you make a habit of doing that yourself.  Before the days of a-cell-phone-in-every-pocket, I can recall being on the side of the road with a flat tire, and three kids in the car. How grateful I was for that stranger who stopped and helped me as I struggled with the tire iron and jack! He would not accept anything except my "thank you" as payment, since as he said, "we all need some help now and then." 

    How important is this concept in our faith lives? How vital is this to us as Christians? Important enough that Jesus included it on at least two separate occasions in His teachings: First, as part of what we now call the "Sermon on the Mount":

    Matthew 7:12
    "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

    Then, later in His ministry, when the Pharisees were trying to trip Him up with their questions:

    Matthew 22:37-40
    Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
    "This is the first and great commandment.
    "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
    "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

    OK, we can all agree that it truly is important. But some days I just don't FEEL like being a good neighbor to that person. How can I get motivated to do what I know I should do?

    1 John 3:17
    But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

    Here is where the rubber meets the road, ladies (and any gents that happen to be reading today). A person must have compassion if he or she wants to be able to genuinely help others. Human beings have a natural compassion, but too often we learn to shut our eyes and hearts to the needs around us. We should seek to reverse that trend, and we should ask God to give us His love and the deeper compassion that comes through His Holy Spirit.

    Now that we have a "what" and a "how" --- how about a "why" for all of this? Check out Romans 15:2 . . .

    Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.

    Paul is saying that if we are good neighbors, we will be building them up --- constructing better people --- living out an example of how they should live, too. In other words, a simple act or word from us can change lives!

    We still haven't addressed the question from Tuesday, of "who is my neighbor," though. Let's tackle that one tomorrow, shall we?

    Tuesday, August 7, 2012

    Proverbs 24: 28-29 Good Neighbors, Part I

    28 Do not testify against your neighbor without cause —
        would you use your lips to mislead?
    29 Do not say, “I’ll do to them as they have done to me;
        I’ll pay them back for what they did.”

    What does it take to be a good neighbor? Does anyone besides me have an instant flashback to a television screen, and Mr. Rogers pulling on his sweater, while he sings? Oh, never mind. Now you really know how old I am.
    This got me thinking about good neighbors, though. We've studied how we should not pay back negative things with more negative things. When they borrow a tool and bring it back broken, but offer to replace or repair it, what do we do? Snarl? Or smile?
    When their kids play in the Slip-and-Slide and the water pools on our side of the fence, do we yell at the kids and send them scurrying inside? Or walk over for a friendly conversation, and while watching them play, quietly mention the lake forming on our side of the fence?
    Okay, maybe those are too easy . . . what about the starving farmers in that African country that the pastor mentioned? What about the AIDS orphans in Indonesia that you read about? What about the children sorely abused right here in the United States?
    Globalization, fast travel and communication, and even the ability to "google" search, has changed our perception of what our neighborhood really is.  What on earth can we do about all of these far-reaching problems?
    I'd like to ask for you to study on this, and perhaps look up some verses that you feel are helpful. Let's gather again tomorrow and pool our knowledge, OK?
    See you on Wednesday!

    Monday, August 6, 2012

    Proverbs 24: 27 First things first!

    27 Put your outdoor work in order
        and get your fields ready;
        after that, build your house.

    Our wise instructor has a concept for us here, that can be applied to so many different situations . . . he's all about setting priorities here, or getting "first things first."

    I'm sure that in Solomon's day, he was thinking about a farmer who perhaps was a new bridegroom, anxious to get a good start. He would probably have started long before the wedding, clearing and preparing the fields, planting his vineyard, his olive trees, or his crops, and doing all the things that were necessary to ensure that his farm was a successful one. Only when those things were complete would he address the residence that he would bring his bride home to see -- laying the foundation, erecting the walls, completing the roof to keep the wind and rain away, etc. The fledgling farm or vineyard would not have had much chance of success, had he completed the house first, then moved in and begun working on his fields. 
    He had to do the "first things" first.

    So do we!

    Preparation can make all the difference in our faith lives, as much as our earthly lives. Most of us will at least scan a recipe and glance into the pantry to see if we have the ingredients, before we start a "new to us" meal. Preparation will ensure that we don't stop mid-recipe and say, "Oh, I need some ____" and then stop; or that we don't substitute for an ingredient and get some squirrely results!

    If we rush around to get everyone what they need, then flomp into the chair and open our Bible haphazardly to a text to read . . . is it any wonder that our learning from the Scriptures seems to go nowhere? 

    If after a long, stressful day, we hurriedly kneel by the bed, mind racing, and mumble out a quick prayer . . . is it any wonder that it's been a while since we feel that God has spoken to us? 

    Thoughtful preparation is vital. We need to approach our study and our prayer times with a measured pace -- perhaps set a time, so it becomes a routine that we can look forward to. Set the mood with peaceful thoughts, or remembering the words of a hymn that is meaningful to us. Then pray that our Father will direct our study, and speak to us through His word. Or after a time of prayerful thanksgiving, some moments of silence, letting Him direct our thoughts. 

    I believe that if we put the "first things" first, and make preparations, our study time and our prayer times will become much more meaningful to us.  And I'm talking to myself, here, too! Will you try it with me?

    Friday, August 3, 2012

    Proverbs 24: 23-26 When the gavel falls . . .

    23 These also are sayings of the wise:
    To show partiality in judging is not good:
    24 Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,”
        will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations.
    25 But it will go well with those who convict the guilty,
        and rich blessing will come on them.
    26 An honest answer
        is like a kiss on the lips.

    Solomon has told us before that we should not show favoritism -- preferring the rich over the poor.  He has also warned us not to call the wicked "good," or the good "wicked."  But as I read these verses I was reminded of Paul's letter to the Romans; here is what he said in the second chapter:
    You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1)
    Now, please don't assume that I am saying we should not judge anything or anyone --- nope! Jesus told us to "judge righteous judgements" in  John 7:24. The King James version says it this way: 
     Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. (John 7:24)
    and the NIV tells us this way:
    Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. (John 7:24)
     Jesus went on to tell us that we must first "clean up our own act" before we start in on someone else:
    “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
    We can't possibly judge a righteous judgement, if we use a different standard for ourselves, than we do for others. We must judge ourselves by the same criteria and make certain that we are not guilty of the same things, before we try to help our brothers and sisters. It's also impossible to judge a righteous judgement, if we venerate wicked people and use them as examples of "good."

    No matter how well intentioned our efforts are, and how much we desire to help others, if they can look into our lives and see the same sins and problems, we had better climb down off our soapbox and straighten things out --- then we can try to assist others in their walk with Him.

    Have a blessed weekend, my friends!

    Thursday, August 2, 2012

    Proverbs 24: 21-22 God used a headline

    21 Fear the Lord and the king, my son,
        and do not join with rebellious officials,
    22 for those two will send sudden destruction on them,
        and who knows what calamities they can bring?

    I was studying this section and consulted Matthew Henry's commentary, and Gill's Exposition. Both men extracted from these verses a lesson from a political perspective -- disloyalty, treason, and betrayal were some issues that they kicked around.  I hope I am not going down a wrong pathway here, but I feel the contrast here is for our lives --- if we fear (reverence) the Lord, and fear (obey) the king (the law of our land) then we will not experience the sudden destruction that can be a consequence . . .

    Let me explain what I mean.

    For about ten days now, the headlines on sports pages, web sites and newspapers have been proclaiming the penalties that were assessed on a northeastern university football program for their covering up the heinous acts of one of their coaches. As some would say, I don't have a pony in the race --- I'm not a fan nor an enemy of the university.  We can all agree that the crimes were horrible, and needed to be exposed and punished. We can also agree that it is wrong to cover up crimes and allow more to be committed.
    Where people start to disagree, though, is on the punishment meted out to the school: no post-season bowl games for four years, a hefty fine to pay, etc., etc.  I've heard some that lament the effects that this will have on the players who are currently on campus, and who had nothing to do with the cover up.
    Here is the point, though. Everyone makes decisions each and every day of our respective lives. Those decisions have consequences -- we've talked about that before. It is both a matter of common sense, and a Biblical principle, that those consequences don't necessarily stop with us.
    Those consequences can impact the lives of those who come after us.  Big time.

    I was reminded of this as I studied these verses. Sudden destruction can come --- sudden exposure and the resulting consequences . . . if we don't have a reverence for God's Word, and for the law of the land, too.  Reverence for His Word would have engendered a decency and a morality that said, "This must be stopped."  And a respect for the law would have sparked a response of, "This must be not only stopped, but punished." Instead, the destruction that Solomon mentions in verse 22 has come.
    We can apply this to our own lives, too. Our reverence for our Lord will cause us to confess our shortcomings --  
     Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
        but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
    And our respect for law  will cause us to strive to be good citizens --
     For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.  (Romans 13:3)
    Do we reverence the Lord, and respect the king?

    Wednesday, August 1, 2012

    Proverbs 24: 19 - 20 Mowing grass

    19 Do not fret because of evildoers
        or be envious of the wicked,
    20 for the evildoer has no future hope,
        and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out. 

    for like the grass they will soon wither,
        like green plants they will soon die away. (Psalm 37:2)

    I thought it was interesting that Solomon was saying the same thing that his dad (David) had said years before -- no need to envy the wicked, or evil-doers. No need to fret. They may be doing quite well for the short term, like the lush, green grass . . . but in the long term? Not so much. In fact, Jesus spoke to this issue when he was talking to His disciples. He said they'll  (the wicked) have their reward now.  (Matthew 6:2) The implication is, of course, that they have no reward later - only punishment. Whether it's sooner, or later, they'll meet with a day of judgement; like that grass, they'll get mowed down, if they continue in their sin and reject the Father's love.

    I wonder if David and Solomon said this as much for their contemporary prophets as for a reminder for themselves.  As devoted to God as prophets were, and as close to Him as they could be from day to day (after all, God sent them messages for their rulers, and for the people)'d think that if the prophet spoke to God quite often, that he'd be the last person to get bummed out about the wicked? But listen to this example from the prophet Jeremiah:

    Jeremiah 12:1 You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?
    So maybe Solomon meant this for the religious leaders of his day, and for us as well. . . We are, after all the ones who DO have hope, and can rely on Him that our lamp will not be snuffed out. And like the prophets of old, we have the privilege of speaking with our Father each and every day --- and we hold His message (the Bible) in our hands.