Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Do you "do" Halloween?

I realize I may ruffle some feathers here, and there may even be some who won't read these study posts anymore, but I feel like the Spirit is nudging me to write this today.

What is Halloween? What should the Christian's outlook on Halloween be? I hope you will join in the discussion by using our comment section.

If you google search the words "Christians" "celebrate" "Halloween" and look at the results, you will find that good, well-intentioned Christians are all over the map on this. Some are convinced that we should not acknowledge, celebrate, or even answer the door on October 31st. Others are at the other end of the pendulum swing, theorizing that even though Halloween's roots are rather grisly, that it's OK now, and it's entirely innocent. What's the harm in creative costumes and candy, they say. All it gets you is a trip to the dentist.

Or is that all?

Where did all of this start?  Well, at the risk of boring you, here's a little history. Even though they didn't call it Halloween, the origins of the holiday are Celtic, and have to do with the end-of-summer sacrifices to gods in the Druid religion. It was the beginning of the Celtic year, and they thought that Samhain, the lord of death, sent evil spirits and demons out to attack humans. The only escape for the hapless humans was to disguise themselves as other evil spirits.
Now, the Christians of the fourth century tried to appropriate the holiday and celebrate the day before Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, by marking the lives of faithful Christian saints the day before Halloween, or All Saints Day. This was an attempt to show that there was an alternative, and to focus the day on the "good" instead of the "evil" in the world. In like manner, many Christians have decided that it's OK to celebrate if their children dress in more innocent costumes, such as cowboys, firemen, ballerinas, and such.

Many of those who feel it's OK to celebrate Halloween point to the pagan origins of other holidays, and the fact that Christianity has co-opted those holidays and given new meanings to the symbols and traditions. It's true that the church has done that. The yule log, for instance, comes from the ancient sacrifice before an oak tree, trying to keep the life-giving sun from "going out" during the cold, dark days of winter. The day that we celebrate the birth of Jesus was the final day of Saturnalia, a week-long orgy of drunkeness and debauchery. But the church co-opted it in the hopes of converting the pagan masses, and now those origins are hidden away in old books.

Millions of kids will walk up to houses tonight, and cheerfully exclaim, "Trick or treat!" You know where that came from? Let's open our "History" window to look at this one:
Long, long ago, you would open your door and be greeted by someone who asked for treats, and in return would pray for the dead. Some years later, in Scotland, children would look up at you and recite a poem or do a feat of some kind, and ask to be rewarded. Once the custom made it to America, it became a (sometimes real) threat -- if you give me a treat, I won't pull a prank on you. Whether it was soaping your windows, letting your mule out of the barn, or taking part of your fence to feed the bonfire in the town square, it wasn't a very happy time for the homeowner who was annoyed and simply shut his door, without handing out some treats!

Now, where am I going with all of this?
I recently corresponded with one of our readers in the UK, who told me that there has been a "huge rise in interest" in vampires, zombies, etc. And I can see why . . . some of the most popular movies, books, and television events today are those that explore the "dark" side of humanity --- the Twilight series, the Hunger Games, and others. She told me that in the UK, young people threaten innocent people with all kinds of things, just as we noted above, when we talked about "trick or treat."
I also saw an internet piece from a former member of the Wicca community (the official religion of witchcraft), who is now a Christian. He was astounded at the Christians who allowed their children to participate in the holiday, go through the haunted houses, etc. (And yes, I realize that some churches have haunted houses that they call "hell houses" and they try to show people the fate that awaits the unsaved.)
If you research the modern day Wicca community, you realize that they consider Halloween one of their two highest, "holiest" (can they even call it that?) days --- days to revel in the worship of Samhain, to embrace the dark and evil, to pay homage to the spirit world and to Satan.

In I Corinthians 10:20, Paul was writing about the meat from pagan sacrifices, which ended up in the common markets for sale. In just that simple context, of purchasing and eating meat from those sacrifices, he said,
No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.
In Ephesians 5:11, he says,
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
There are several verses in the Old Testament, that point out we need to avoid the occult and its practices. I don't want this post to get super-long, so I'll just point you to Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:10-13, I Chronicles 10:13-14, and II Chronicles 13:6.  Now, some of you may be ready now to say, Hey, Snoodles, we aren't letting our kids practice spells, and we aren't sacrificing to idols . . .

But to me, kids participating in Halloween is standing at the tippy top of a slippery slope. Remember, our children's ability to withstand spiritual wickedness is less than ours. And if trick-or-treating is OK, then how about a party at the haunted house? And how about if someone says, "Let's have a seance!"  And.....and.....

I know that it is silly to think that we can ignore a hyped-up, media and market driven holiday. But perhaps we can teach our children these things:
1. There is a spiritual world filled with good and with evil (Eph. 2:1-10)
2. Life with Christ has power over darkness  (I John 4:4)
3. Those who celebrate Halloween are either unaware of its roots, or are (perhaps unintentionally, perhaps intentionally) promoting a world where evil is celebrated and viewed as the "winner."
As I said, I don't think we can ignore Halloween, but perhaps we can boldly and unashamedly offer an alternative that is positive and uplifting, that celebrates good instead of evil, and teaches that God will triumph over Satan. If we can provide something that is heaps and heaps of fun, but that provides us with an opportunity to teach about God's provision, power, and protection from evil, then we will
Abstain from all appearance of evil.  I Thessalonians 5:22
I like what Matthew Henry's commentary says about that verse:
We should abstain from sin, and whatever looks like sin, leads to it, and borders upon it. He who is not shy of the appearances of sin, who shuns not the occasions of it, and who avoids not the temptations and approaches to it, will not long keep from doing sin.
Now it's your turn . . . tell me what you think.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Proverbs 27:17 People who need people

As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.

One of my favorite places when I was a kid was at my grandparents' farm. They enjoyed doing things "the old way" and I loved to follow them around and soak it all in. My grandfather would often sit at his grinding wheel and sharpen a tool so that when he was ready to use it, it would be at its peak performance. Patiently turning the wheel at just the right speed, and holding the tool at just the right angle, he would produce a fine edge.

It would not be effective if he tried to use a dull hoe to rid his garden of weeds. It wouldn't work very well to try and chop wood with a dull axe. So, he sharpened his tools in order to get the work done, and to do it well.

In the same way, we can have a "sharpening" effect on our friends. As Christians, it is helpful for us to have friends who assist us in growing in faith and grace --- in becoming more like Him. We need to be at peak performance in order to be used by our Father in His work.

I found these verses that go along with our verse for the day:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  Hebrews 10:24
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up  I Thessalonians 5:11a
Remember how I said that my grandad sat patiently at the wheel? He was never in a hurry when he was sharpening an edge. So we must be patient with our friends as we try to encourage them and keep them on the right pathway:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Romans 15:1
I like how the King James version translates 2 Corinthians 3:18:  “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  To me, glory to glory sounds like "step by step."  We are on a pathway, and there are others behind us, on the lower steps. It is up to us to take their hand and encourage them to keep climbing up the steps. Urge them to keep trying.
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. Hebrews 6:10
After all, our Father is patient with us! 
But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
Psalm 86:15  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Proverbs 27:15-16 Drip-free homes

15 A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping
    of a leaky roof in a rainstorm;
16 restraining her is like restraining the wind
    or grasping oil with the hand.

The climate of the Middle East is one of contrasts. There are times of extreme dryness, when rain would be welcomed, but it does not come. Then there are periods of soaking rains, when it seems that it will never stop.
Imagine if you are inside your home, and the rainy season has arrived.  Now imagine that your roof is leaking in spots. Arrrggghhh! You spend your time running about with pots and pans, trying to catch the drips. You can't go outside to fix the roof, because it's pouring out there. You are miserable inside, because of the constant drip, drip, drip into the containers . . . It's getting on your nerves. It's making you crazy.

This is the situation that Solomon is comparing to a nagging wife. I know we have studied this before, but God had a good reason to bring it to our attention again. We're human, and we're forgetful!  Are we quarrelsome at times? Do we argue, debate, fight, quarrel, and question everything?  Oy.

Here's the way we are supposed to act; in Proverbs 11:16 we already saw:
16 A kindhearted woman gains honor,
    but ruthless men gain only wealth.
However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.  Ephesians 5:33
If we are to give more than lip service to the notion of "how much I love my husband" then we need to be kindhearted, and we need to respect him. If we question every decision, and every opinion he states, we will be perceived as a disrespectful spouse.
Let's look at the second verse . . .are you wondering what Solomon meant? I think we can all identify with the fact that mere mortals can't restrain the wind --- Christ told the wind and the waves to "be still," but that's not in our department! The other example Solomon gives us is to "grasp oil."  This word is specific to the heavily perfumed oils for personal use, not the oils for light or fuel. You know what happens when you spritz some perfume into the air, or onto your wrist? It goes everywhere, doesn't it? You can't exactly grab it in your hand and hide it . . .
One commentary that I read, said that a wise husband, for the sake of his reputation and that of his wife, will try to hide the fact that she is contentious and quarrelsome --- but that his efforts will be futile, like those of someone who tries to stop the wind from blowing, or the scent of perfume from spreading.
Let's determine to be the type of woman that our Father would have us be; and use this guidance from I Peter chapter 3:
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.
It will be much easier then, for our husbands to act correctly in return (also I Peter 3):
 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
Those are some "tall orders" but with God's help, our homes can be "drip-free"!! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Slowdown

One of my favorite hymns is "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." The author of this hymn is unknown, but it seems to have originated in the African American community as early as the 1800's.

As you read this Friday Slowdown post, take a moment to meditate on the lyrics and listen to the recording below if you have time to spare.

Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

I am weak, but Thou art strong,
Jesus, keep me from all wrong,
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.

When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more,
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom's shore, to Thy shore.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Proverbs 27:14 Excessive praise = excessive expectations

If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning,
    it will be taken as a curse.

I wondered about this verse when I first read it. I wondered how the authors of the commentaries came up with their notes on it. Their "take" on the verse was that it meant someone who blesses and praises their neighbor (or friend, or child) lavishly and excessively. 

Then I recalled the verse in I Chronicles 23 that says, "They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the LORD. They were to do the same in the evening."
There are many other verses that consider giving praise to God in the morning, as well as noon and in the evening.
So, the implication here is that Solomon is talking about blessing and praising a person with regularity, as you would the Lord. Well, you can see that if you were to do that regularly, routinely, almost ritually, it could become quite annoying . . . it might also cause some problems!

Now, when blessings cross over the line and become flattery, it can tempt someone to begin believing a higher opinion of themselves -- and that can lead to the sin of pride. It can also lead to some mighty large expectations.

Let's consider two examples:

First, there are preachers and pastors that are gifted with talents from God. They are particularly skilled at "saying the right things" to hurting individuals, or at preaching a sermon that meets the needs of many that hear it. It's always good to let them know that you appreciate their study, their delivery, and their bringing God's Word to life for us, but if we ladle on the praise too much, we may begin to expect too much from them. We can be in danger of being disappointed at some point in the future, because they are human, after all. We may even cause them to be too hard on themselves, and think they have let everyone down when they have a bad day or make a mistake.

Secondly, if a child is perceived as gifted, with lots of potential for the future, we may be tempted to push them further and faster than is healthy for them. Our expectations of them will change, for we believe them to have superior intelligence or physical skills. Children are especially vulnerable to this kind of expectation, for they will try super-hard to meet those challenges and keep receiving the love and adulation that comes from the high performances they deliver. They can hit the depths of despair when they are unable to deliver what they feel is expected of them. Whether it is in the sports arena or the academic halls, we need to balance our praise and expectations for them, with our desire for them to be healthy in their outlook on life. Give them every opportunity to shine, but also give them a chance to prove themselves in other areas of their lives, as well.
Whether we are talking about adults, or about children, flattery and excessive praise is not necessarily a positive thing. It can lead to pride, or it can lead to despair, because the individual feels he or she can't measure up.

Now, am I saying that we can't give someone an "Attaboy" or a pat on the back for the job well done?


Let's just be careful not to ladle it on too thickly --- our blessings delivered "loudly, in the morning," may end up being a curse.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Proverbs 27:13 Following the directions

Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger;
    hold it in pledge if it is done for an outsider.

Sometimes you have to wonder about ol' Solomon! He is telling his son some very good advice here, about being careful with finances and with strangers, but I wonder if he took his own advice? At least about the strangers . . .

In the Bible we read that Solomon had an incredible number of wives and concubines, and that -- get this -- many of them were foreigners, not daughters of Israel. God had specifically cautioned the Hebrew children about taking "strange" or foreign wives, and there was a very good reason for that.

In Exodus 34, we read these instructions:
15 “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16 And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
And again in Deuteronomy:
Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods...
In spite of that, we read in I Kings chapter 11, that Solomon had hundreds of wives, and that many of them were from religions that worshiped false gods and idols. In verses 7 and 8 of that chapter, it tells the story of his building altars to false gods . . . his wives influenced him and he incurred God's anger.
In His mercy, He tells Solomon that the kingdom will be torn away -- but from Solomon's son, not in Solomon's own lifetime.

Why in the world did Solomon not heed the instructions that he was given? For that matter, why don't we? Whether it is on the subject of this verse (using caution when giving monies or co-signing with someone on a debt) or whether it is on the subject of our daily lives and conduct, why do we find it difficult to pay attention to the warnings and follow the instructions?

In the fourth chapter of his letter to the Galatians, Paul expresses his disappointment with their straying from the gospel and the faith that they had so recently accepted.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
And then he gives them (in chapter 5) a course of action to follow:
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 
We must give our best efforts to following the directions we are given --- and we can't fully follow them unless we read the "instruction book" --- our Bible!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Proverbs 27:12 Can you hear me?

The prudent see danger and take refuge,
    but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.

Hmmmm-uh-hmmmmmm, I can't hear you! Have you ever covered your ears and said that in jest to someone? Have you seen a child do that in earnest? (Grin)  It really doesn't work, does it?

Nope. You will still hear what you are trying to shut out.

This verse tells us that it is prudent (wise) to see danger and avoid it --- or to hear of danger and take a different course of action. The simple person (this could be a young, or inexperienced, or naive person) will plow on ahead, disregarding the danger, and then have to pay the consequences. Sometimes they will close their ears, and shut out the warnings of other Christians.

I think one thing to note here, is that this is not the same type of person that Solomon has called "foolish." That carries the meaning of willful disregard, or of arrogant, or self-righteous attitudes. The simple person is simply one who doesn't know any better.  They are not hardening their heart; they just don't think that what you are saying is important!

We need to be wise enough to see temptation in our own lives, and to realize that it will be easy to slide down that slope into sin --- and we need to help others (as we've noted before) who may not yet see the danger. Those of us who are more mature in the faith need to take on the responsibility of being watchmen, as in Jeremiah 6:17a:
I appointed watchmen over you and said,
    ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’  
Younger Christians may not realize the importance of their testimony, and we need to encourage them to:  "Abstain from all appearance of evil." (I Thessalonians 5:22)
Sometimes those who are immature in their faith will feel that they are invulnerable -- that they are the ones who can walk right into that trap of Satan's making, or that failing of the flesh, and they can walk right out again, unscathed, and with no scars or consequences. As watchmen (excuse me, watchwomen) we need to warn them . . . for it is the simple who will get ambushed, not the wise.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Proverbs 27:11 Young saint, old devil?

Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart;
    then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.

Strange title, eh? Those words are an old (from the 1400's --- the medieval era) proverb, and they imply that someone who shows good behavior, wise judgement, and love of God early in life, will probably not continue in those traits later in life.

Oh, how we should strive to be young saints that progress to be old angels!!  Then we can prove that proverb wrong!

Solomon is speaking here in his role as a father, and asking for his son to show wisdom. He gives two reasons for this request . . .

First, Solomon says that if his son is wise, it will bring joy to his (Solomon's) heart. All of us who are parents can vouch for the fact that when our children mature and make wise choices it truly does make us happy, and it brings us joy.  To see your child (whether 18, 48, or older!) use the knowledge and skills that you helped to impart to him or her, and also use the discernment and wisdom that we pray they will have, is something that will bring satisfaction to us.  We can "rest easy" with the knowledge that they can take care of themselves, their spouses, and their children, and that they will bring glory to God. 

Solomon's second reason for his request is that he wants his son to do good, and to be wise, so that no one can say, "You didn't do a good job of raising him."  One of the translations that I looked up implied that the son would be the one who would answer the accuser; his words and actions would be answer enough. He would then be a comfort and a credit to his father.

To make this apply to our lives, are we a credit to our earthly fathers? Do we bring joy to their hearts? And then, with more eternal meaning --- are we a credit to our heavenly Father? When someone reproaches us for a stand that we take, do we graciously explain that our choices are guided by our knowledge of Him and His word? 
"So I will have an answer for him who reproaches me, For I trust in Your word."  Psalm 119:42

Using the wisdom that we have learned in our studies will bring joy to His heart. I can't think of a better reason to seek, and then to use, that wisdom.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Proverbs 27:9-10 Friendship

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
    and the pleasantness of a friend
    springs from their heartfelt advice.
10 Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family,
    and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you—
    better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.

Today's verses made me think back to other studies about friends . . . what makes us say that someone is our "best friend"? Are our best friends the ones that hang out with us sometimes and enjoy a laugh or two? Are the best buddies the ones that always tell us positive things -- and avoid telling us the hard things, the real things that we need to hear?

Uh, in a word, no!

Like Solomon says above, the best friends are the ones that give us "heartfelt" advice . . . the ones that are so passionately concerned about our welfare that they will take their courage in their hands and tell us what we need to hear --- even when that hurts. A true friend is one that trusts us, and that we trust in return.

Verse 10 is an admonition to do two things: be there for our friends when they need us, and depend on those same friends when we need them. We must do the things that we have studied so far --- show wisdom, give wise counsel, tell the truth, be patient, be forgiving --- whew! That's quite a list!

Luckily we have the best example possible, in order to be this kind of friend: our Savior, Jesus Christ.

He answers when we call:
Psalm 145:18  The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
He is patient with us:
Psalm 86:15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
He loves us so very much:
Romans 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
He wants only the best for us:
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

He is our best friend:
Proverbs 18:24 One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
It may seem to be a "tall order" but we can be the friends that our Christian brothers and sisters need. We can extend friendship to those who don't yet know Christ, as well, and in so doing, be an awesome witness to the faith that we hope they will accept.
Let's be friends, shall we?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Proverbs 27:8 Want to be successful?

Like a bird that flees its nest
    is anyone who flees from home.

(Godliness with contentment is not only "great gain" as Paul noted, but it is true success, as well.  Let me explain.)

The King James version translates our verse for today this way:  As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place. 

The word "wander" here brings with it the meanings of aimless, futile searching for something that you cannot find. Kinda sums up a lot of the modern culture, doesn't it? We have a whole culture and several generations who have grown up with "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" as their mantra. Young people must have the latest fad in clothing or the newest cell phone, or the most popular model car, in order to be "happy." Adults feel the need to have more and better "stuff" than their co-workers, their neighbors, and even their relatives. 

Let's face it, though, the coolest app you have on that shiny new cell phone will not mean a thing when you get to heaven. Really.

Why are we so discontented? Why are we not satisfied with our jobs, our homes, our spouses, our entertainment, etc? Well, why wasn't Eve satisfied with the lovely garden, her new husband, and fellowship with God? Lean closer, and I'll whisper it to you --- it's one of Satan's best strategies to make us feel uneasy, unfulfilled, unhappy --- let's call it discontented. If he can get us to focus on what we don't have, instead of enjoying what we do have, he's halfway to the goal line. It won't take much then, to push us into sin; it could be the sins of jealousy and covetousness; it could even be the sin of taking what isn't ours. 

The Bible tells us that we are to be content with what we have --- hey! Wait a minute! Does that mean that we should not strive to give the best to our family, to provide for them in the best way possible? Does it mean that we should sit back and settle for less? 
It just means that we are not to obsess over what we have and don't have, and how those things stack up with what others have. Make sense?

Remember back in Proverbs 23, when Solomon said, "Don't wear yourself out, trying to be rich"? (Verse 4)
Here's a word from our old friend Paul, who was writing to Timothy:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Much of the economy today is based on the marketing and advertising gurus' efforts to make you feel that you are never quite satisfied with what you have. Then you are in a hamster wheel of aimless, futile pursuit of whatever it is that will make you happy. 

It's time, instead, to be content. To stop wandering. To enjoy true success.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Proverbs 27:7 Are we truly hungry?

One who is full loathes honey from the comb,
    but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.

On the surface, this proverb seems to be talking about food, and hunger. But as I read it and thought about it, I came to believe that I needed to take away more than a surface explanation . . .

Are you hungry for God's word? Or do you feel like you are full, that you've had enough, that it's not urgent to read more? Are you eager to open your Bible each day?

Years ago, I heard the story of Captain James E. Ray and other prisoners of war in North Viet Nam. Ray's plane was shot down in 1966, and he was not released until 1973. He told a story that I've remembered ever since.

One night in the dark of his cell, after being tortured and shoved back inside, he thought he heard a whisper. Then he heard it again -- it was the man in the next cell. They began having whispered conversations each night, careful to pause whenever the guard walked past. Other men in adjacent cells joined in, and the information shared would be quietly, carefully passed from one to another. Their conversations ranged from "where are you from?" to "got any kids?" and "did you go to church at home?" 

They began sharing Bible verses that they could remember -- often when one man's memory of a verse was incomplete, another man could finish it. They memorized the verses, hungry for the comfort and encouragement that they brought. Some would tap verses in Morse code, and the hearers would scratch the verses onto the concrete floors of their cells. Weakened by their poor diet, they would painstakingly create "ink" from brick dust and water, and carefully write verses on bits of toilet paper, leaving them behind a loose brick for the next man to find. Discovery would have meant more and harder tortures.

In late 1970, the commander allowed them to have one hour each week to copy verses from a small Bible. He would hamper their efforts by resting his elbow on the Word, and then again by distracting them from their work, by asking them questions. After five weeks, the Bible was not seen again, but by that time, the men had copied and then memorized the Sermon on the Mount, Romans 12, I Corinthians 13, and many of the Psalms. Now they had a "living Bible" in the men of the camp.

Ray said, "We learned to rise above our surroundings, to overcome the material with the spiritual. Instead of going mad or becoming animals, we continued to grow as a community of men, sustaining one another in compassion and understanding. For as one of the verses that I heard thumped out on the wall one night said, Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. (Deut.8:3) His word became our rock."  (from the Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 7, 1974)

Will you join with me in renewed determination to get into the Bible, and to be hungry for what it tells us? Even the "bitter" (verses that convict us of our sin) will be sweet to us, if we are truly determined. The Psalmist said, "How sweet are your words to my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  (Ps. 119:103)  
Where is that box of bandaids for my toes?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Proverbs 27:5-6 Deadly quiet - and kisses

Better is open rebuke
    than hidden love.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
    but an enemy multiplies kisses.

Let's say that I was watching you, and you were walking down a sidewalk. You were headed straight toward a huge hole in the walkway: possibly three feet deep. You would certainly be harmed if you didn't look up from your Kindle and see the danger and stop!

Would I be a friend if I kept my mouth shut? Nope. Is it possible that you would be irked with me for disturbing your reading. Yep. Which way would be better --- to warn you, or not to warn you?

This is a pretty rudimentary example, is it not? It's extremely obvious what our answers should be. But in real situations, it is sometimes difficult for people to live out this concept. If I am headed into sin, or into a situation that could be disastrous for my faith and my testimony, I would much prefer to have a friend tell me to my face . . . that's much better than if the friend keeps quiet, out of some loyalty, or affection. The best way for that affection to be shown is for my friend to speak to me, and warn me.  That is a proof of their having my best interest at heart, isn't it?

If we are rebuked by a friend, we must first try not to be resentful -- to use that wisdom that Solomon has been teaching us, and graciously accept the fact that we were headed toward danger. If a friend needs to be rebuked, we must summon up all of the tactfulness that we can muster, and kindly (but firmly) let our friend know of their dangerous situation. We cannot withhold the truth from them. Even if it hurts for a time.

Our second verse speaks of false affection: how many of us have been hurt because by a false show of affection? We mentioned two instances of deadly kisses recently . . . Joab in II Samuel, and Judas, in the gospels. Being careful of our choices in friends to fellowship with, may help us avoid this kind of hurtful person.

Even if we bruise their toes, let's be true to our friends, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let's remember Romans 12:9, "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good."  That's putting love into action: better to bruise their toes, than to watch them fall into the hole . . . 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Proverbs 27:4 That green-eyed monster again

Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming,
    but who can stand before jealousy?

The "green-eyed monster" has certainly caused a lot of trouble, throughout history, hasn't it? Even in the scriptures, we see instances when the issue of jealousy or envy has been the start of something . . .

Cain envied Abel because his sacrifice was accepted in Genesis chapter 4. Sarah envied Hagar when she could conceive and bear a child and she could not (Genesis 16). We read the dramatic story of Korah and others in the camp, who envied Moses and Aaron, and were punished for that in Numbers 16. Remember a few days ago, when we looked at the story of Joseph? His brothers were bitten hard by the monster, and sold him to traveling merchants -- then went back and told an old man that his beloved son had been mauled and killed by wild beasts.

In the New Testament we read that the Jewish leadership was envious of the crowds who wanted to hear Paul's message, in Acts 13:45:
45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.

All of these (with the exception of the New Testament reference, of course) were familiar to Solomon, and with his fantastic wealth and the blessings that God had bestowed upon him, he was probably well-acquainted with the issues of jealousy and envy. There were probably people in his court who showed signs of the green-eyed monster each and every day!

We may downplay jealousy and think that it's not a big deal --- oh, but it is! The earthly consequences of jealousy are strife, spitefulness, and even violence. Envy can cause barriers to be erected between people, and it can so dominate a person's heart that he or she feels it is impossible to function properly in everyday life.
Even more important to discuss are the eternal consequences of envy:  Satan is thrilled for people to be jealous of each other. Why? Let's look at Galatians chapter 5 for the answer:
     "Let us not be . . . envying one another" ( 5:26 )
First, to envy others is a violation of God’s will, for Paul has told us here that we should not give in, and we should not tolerate it in our walk with God.
This should give us pause to think -- look at verses 19 and following:
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Satan knows that envy is a barrier to fellowship with God.  It's not to be taken lightly; it's not just a booboo; it's a big deal.

What can we do to avoid and overcome jealousy? Peter tells us that it is a problem that can be laid aside -- there's hope --- we can deal with this, with God's help!
"Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings . . ."   (I Peter 2:1)
We can be determined to have a happy outlook, rather than resenting others:
           "Rejoice always..."  (I Thessalonians 5:16)
And we can be grateful for what we have, instead of focusing on what we don't have:
 "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."  (I Thessalonians 5:18)
If we will strive to be content with what we have, and use all that we have to glorify our Father, then it will be easy to pray for others, and with our prayerful support they will use their blessings to glorify Him as well. All of us, using what He has placed in our hands for Him, can surely change people, and this world, for the better.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Slowdown

Every so often I post a Friday slowdown on this blog, and I hope that you will use it for meditation and refreshment. We just finished a study that mentioned quicksand, and as I wrote, I remembered this old hymn. Enjoy the words, and meditate on how our Father is worthy of our faith in Him . . . He will never fail us. His love and His mercy are infinite and unchanging!

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Have a blessed weekend!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Proverbs 27:3 A heavy weight

Stone is heavy and sand a burden,
    but a fool’s wrath is heavier than both.

Many of us have fond memories of happy times, walking in the sand near the sea. There are probably not too many of us that have ever experienced quicksand. Although the movies make it seem like it can keep sucking a human being down, science sites on the web say that you would only sink about waist deep and then stop. Of course, you'd need someone to help you out, but you wouldn't just keep going until you went under!
Wet sand, though, is awfully heavy. If you've helped a child build a sand castle, you know that the bucket of wet sand is really heavy....just as if you put stones in the bottom.

You may have read in the Bible about several large, heavy stones. One is in Genesis 39:1-3 . . . think how large a stone would need to be, to cover the mouth of a well! No wonder it took several men to move it.

Another is noted in the Gospels -- remember the stone that was rolled away when Christ arose? That one was so large that it covered the doorway to the tomb, and it took a mighty angel to move it.  

Solomon is saying here that a foolish person's wrath is as weighty, as heavy, as those stones, or wet sand. It can weigh him down, and it can destroy him and others around him. Today, wrath and anger are used interchangeably sometimes, but look at the difference in the Hebrew meanings:

                anger: ire, indignation, grief
                wrath: hot displeasure, furious, rage, poison

Kinda like wrath is anger on steroids, huh? A foolish person has a hot temper, and a quick-lighting fuse -- he boils over and his emotional outburst may turn quickly into actions that he will later regret. 

Do we sometimes excuse ourselves by saying, "Well, I have a quick temper, but I get over it just as quickly, and then forgive and forget."  Maybe we should work on omitting the first half (losing our temper) and concentrate on the second part (the forgive and forget part). 

James 1:19-20 has helped me many times:
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
I want so badly to live the righteousness that He desires . . . don't you?

PS: Please click over to our prayer request page . . . there are some updates and a new request. I know that these folks will appreciate your prayers. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Proverbs 27:2 Give Him the glory

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth;
    an outsider, and not your own lips.

Have you been around believers who brag about how large their church is? How they have to schedule multiple services for everyone to worship? Or even some well-known members?
Have you heard believers who preen and pat themselves on the back for how well their business is doing, and the profits that are rolling in?
Have you listened to believers who are boasting about how they must have done a fantastic job of rearing their kids -- because look how great they are doing now, and they're even in the ministry?

I know we have said this before . . . but boasting is a no-no for those of us who want to have a life that is a witness to God's saving grace. Let's face the facts: we all know that it is because of His blessing and His grace that our church grows and expands, our business and profits increase, and our children behave themselves. 

Where should all of the glory go? 

To Him!

He made us for a reason -- so that we might fellowship with Him, and He might have glory:

Isaiah 43:7 says:
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”
After making us, He paid a very high price to redeem us - His Son:
 You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God . . . I Corinthians 6:20
And then, He is with us each and every day, to help us:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:13
Is it any wonder that Paul said
 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.                                I Corinthians 10:31
To God be the glory!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Proverbs 27:1 Redeeming the time

Do not boast about tomorrow,
    for you do not know what a day may bring.

Many people are focused, no, they are fixated, on their future. They obsess about their current finances and their retirement funds, and they have grandiose plans that they LOVE to tell others about. What they will do, what they will buy, how people will be impressed, and how happy all of that will make them.

Well, we know that our Father would have us be wise, and prudent, and prepare for the future. So this verse doesn't mean that those plans and preparations are bad, does it? Nope. This proverb is not counseling against the things that will afford our families a better, safer life, or temporal security. It is in His plan for us to use the wisdom He gives us, and to do all in our power to make a good and happy life while we are here on earth -- and to bring glory to Him. 
However, we are not to brag or boast about great things we will accomplish in the future. Our futures belong to Him. All we have is today --- we can't be sure we will have a tomorrow, or a next week, or next year. (Besides, we've read other proverbs that told us boasting was foolishness, anyway!)

This verse speaks to me and tells me not to put off any needful thing that I might do today, in the thought that I can accomplish it tomorrow, or another day. Helping out the person who needs my assistance, witnessing to that person who seemed interested when we last spoke, reading my Bible and praying so that I'm prepared for whatever God may bring into my pathway . . .  all of these are things that should be done today. 
James 4: 13-15 tells us:
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 
In Colossians 4:5, Paul told his readers to:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 
In the KJV, it reads "redeeming the time;" if you check in the NIV, it is translated to "make the most of every opportunity" . . . if we knew that tomorrow we would be in heaven, what would we want to accomplish today?
I just thought of some things I need to get done --- please excuse me!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Proverbs 26:28 Pats on the back

28 A lying tongue hates those it hurts,
    and a flattering mouth works ruin.

You know how some verses are so packed with truth that they are like little packages of dynamite? Yup, this is one of 'em!

In this short proverb, we have two different kinds of lies, and some details about each one. First, a "lying tongue" . . . that's the out-in-the-open kind of lying. The kind that you get when the person isn't worried about covering up the falsehood that they are distributing. Some people call this slander. And Solomon is correct -- the usual motivation for this kind of lying is hatred of the other person.

The liar can be hating on us because they are jealous of something we have . . . anything from a spiritual gift to a material blessing. They could be spiteful because of a real or imagined slight from us. They could just be hating us because they don't like the fact that we are Christians, and that we are not ashamed to admit it.
Whatever the reason, they lie about us because they hope to hurt us.

The second kind of liar is one who flatters us and gushes overly complimentary things about us; we've looked at this kind of conversation before. This liar could be motivated by trying to "set us up" to take a fall. They may hope to get us all puffed up with pride, so that then we'll make mistakes and ruin our Christian testimony. They may be hoping to accomplish something or get something from us -- and they hope to accomplish this with deceit and flattery.

It's one thing to give someone a "pat-on-the-back" compliment, and show our approval of something they have accomplished. I think we all know that flattery, the kind that works ruin, is something different. If we are too interested in hearing good things about ourselves, we leave ourselves open for this kind of cheating and lying to ruin us. If we are content to know that we are doing the right things in our lives, and that our Father sees our accomplishments and is pleased, then we are safe from the flatterer's smooth words.

And of course, for Christians, there should be no room in our conversations with others for lies. We shouldn't magnify the truth, or whitewash it, either. We should avoid twisting it around in our presentation, to suit our agenda.
Ephesians 4:25 tells us:  
"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body."
We can go ahead and enjoy that pat on the back we've received, but we shouldn't be so anxious to get another one, that we fall prey to the flatterers.  And let's make certain that we just speak the truth, in graciousness and kindness.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Proverbs 26:27 Right back at ya!

27 Whoever digs a pit will fall into it;
    if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.

Hmmm, this one sounds a lot like "you reap what you sow" doesn't it? I think we can see in the scriptures that the plans men make for evil will sometimes come right back to them, and haunt them!

Remember in the book of Esther, when Haman was planning to do away with Mordecai? He couldn't stand Esther's uncle and was scheming to kill him . . . he ended up being hanged on the very gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai! 
It's often true that the plans of the wicked and of the sinner will catch them in their own traps. Solomon's dad, David, noted this in Psalm 7:15:
15 Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out
    falls into the pit they have made.
16 The trouble they cause recoils on them;
    their violence comes down on their own heads.
Now, that's not to say that it happens every time, but it does happen! Like the prophets of old, we can point our fingers at those that we think are doing wrong, and get all frustrated with our Father, and say, "Why are they prospering? Why haven't they fallen into their own traps?" But we've talked before about the patience of God as He allows them time to turn to Him.

And in truth, instead of pointing fingers at them, perhaps we should look at our own lives.  As Christians, if we willfully choose to do wrong, and to sin, we can rest assured that our sin will roll back over on us, or in the modern-day vernacular, "it will come back to bite us." Do we say we are Christians? One of the proofs is that the Holy Spirit is living within us --- we won't get away with indulging in sin for very long!

Our conscience, if we are God's children, will bother us when we sin. The thought of our wrong-doing will haunt us. You probably haven't pursued your wickedness long enough for your conscience to be "seared," or callous to the work of the Spirit, so it really bothers you. The old preachers call this conviction -- not a term you hear too often in today's churches, but it's a really good concept. It encompasses the work of the Spirit and the results in your disposition. You are not a happy camper.

But, let's say that you are stubborn (maybe even pig-headed; that is a term my grandma used) and continue in your sin. You turn a deaf ear to the Spirit, and keep pushing on down the path of sin. What happens next? Chastisement. You get caught. Your sin is exposed. Hopefully you are embarrassed and repentant. That is what His chastisement is for --- to get you to turn away from the sin, and turn back in His direction . . . to keep trying to be more like Him.

We need to remember this verse the next time we consider doing something that the Spirit is whispering to us about - words of caution: "don't go there." Especially if our wrong-doing will involve another person.

We can rest assured that the stone we are rolling will roll right back over us!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Proverbs 26:23-26 Masters of disguise

23 Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware
    are fervent lips with an evil heart.
24 Enemies disguise themselves with their lips,
    but in their hearts they harbor deceit.
25 Though their speech is charming, do not believe them,
    for seven abominations fill their hearts.
26 Their malice may be concealed by deception,
    but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

Seems like just yesterday the Halloween candy and costumes were starting to be displayed in the stores. (Now the Christmas decor is featured -- I always wonder what happens to Thanksgiving. Sorry, I'm digressing here.) As I walked through a discount store, I chuckled to hear a youngster exclaiming over a costume, and how cool it would be . . . no one would recognize him in his disguise!

Solomon is talking here about some other people who use disguises. People that we need to be wary of. Masters of disguise, and masters of deception. And that makes them able to inflict a world of hurt on us, if we are not careful.

We have examples of these people in the scriptures. 
Joab, the commander of David's armies, greeted his relative Amasa cordially, even acting like he was going to kiss him in greeting (as was the custom). Amasa didn't realize there was a weapon in Joab's other hand, and Joab thrust him through with his sword, and killed him. 
Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss, as well, turning him over to the authorities by that mark of affection.
Hatred and spite, even a murderous spirit -- all disguised very well.

Solomon notes that their deception is just like a coating of silver dross (the impurities from the refining process, it is still shiny) on an earthenware vessel. It looks good on the outside, but it really is not valuable, like true friendship. He tells us to be careful of the charming speech that may hide hatred and spite.

The person who has contempt for us, who despises us, will make the greatest noise about how wonderful we are, but talk down about us, behind our back. Beware of someone whose words and actions just don't add up --- do they talk a lot about being our friend, but have little desire to spend time with us? Do they make a show of talking about how fortunate we are, and then act jealous because of those blessings? Do they seem to do things that seem a little off kilter, almost betrayal, then brag to us about how they "have our back"? 

Be cautious of those who seem overly affectionate and effusive with their compliments and approval. If it seems exaggerated, be careful. Use that wisdom from the Lord to discern if they are truly friendly to you, or if it is a deception. Your caution may help you avoid being hurt by a master of disguise.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Proverbs 26:20-22 No fuel for the fire

20 Without wood a fire goes out;
    without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
21 As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.
22 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts.

My KJV translates the word "gossip" in these verses, as "talebearer." That conjures up a vivid image of a person who is busily moving from set of ears to another, carrying a tale that they want to tell. It may be something very private that someone confided in them. It may be a secret that will devastate the person when it becomes widely known.
Does the talebearer care?
They are happiest when they are proving to themselves just how important they are, and how knowledgeable, because they know something that their hearer does NOT know, and they are puffed up with pride to be able to tell the story. You see, they justify their activities by telling themselves that what they are spreading around is true.
And, in reality, a talebearer is different than a false witness. A false witness is spreading lies. A talebearer is spreading things that you told them in private --- that you didn't want anyone else to know. They may even be telling things about you, that you had no idea they were aware of!
Proverbs 11:13 told us, "A talebearer reveals secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit conceals the matter."
But a talebearer or gossip can't keep the fire going if you remove the fuel . . . How do you remove the fuel? Refuse to listen to them. You can let them know by your body language, your facial expressions, and your words, that you are not going to play that game --- that you find their gossip distasteful and a waste of time. Christians should discuss confidences from other Christians only with them, in private, and with a good dose of prayer!
Now, you will need to be aware of one thing --- when you tell the talebearer that you don't want to participate in their sin, and that you won't listen, you may then become one of their victims. They may begin to tell tales about you.
But, refusing to listen to them will show everyone that you are more interested in keeping your testimony clean, than in hearing the latest dirt.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Proverbs 26:18-19 But I was joking!

18 Like a maniac shooting
    flaming arrows of death
19 is one who deceives their neighbor
    and says, “I was only joking!”

Can't you take a joke?

Have these words been directed at you before? Or, have you said that to someone?

We need to be careful! There is a fine line between what we call joking, and what is called "jesting."  Jesting is making sport of someone else --- making others laugh at this person's expense --- mocking them, or joking about the situation they find themselves in . . . anybody besides me getting uncomfortable here? It's not that I do these things, but if I'm in a group setting and this is happening, what is my response? Do I try to stop the behavior before it hurts someone, or am I a passive spectator?

I believe that as Christians, we need to defuse situations like this, by turning the conversation to another topic, or even trying to kindly remind the speaker that those words may be quite hurtful. Jesting is even compared to sins like sexual impurity, jealousy and other immoralities. (Just check out Ephesians 5:3-4)

We hear a great deal these days in the news about children and teens who bully one another. Bullying usually begins with a joke or jest at someone's expense, then goes further.  I think this proverb is talking about pranks and practical jokes, too. Those are not good ideas! You can never be sure what your "victim" is thinking. What have they been going through? What are they thinking? Have they recently been hit with a heavy burden? Are they in pain from a family matter, or some other weight that has them depressed? A practical joke can backfire and cause a world of trouble . . . and then the jokester says, "I was only joking!"

Solomon tells us that if we are jesting and deceiving someone, we are just like that insane person who lights a flaming arrow and shoots it into a barn, and then when caught, says, "I was just having some fun with you! Can't you take a joke?"
Let's determine that not only will we avoid shooting the flaming arrows, but that we will be ready to douse the flames, if someone else is doing the shooting!

Monday, October 1, 2012

God meant it for good . . .

I'm taking a brief break from our studies in Proverbs, because I really feel the Lord nudging me to share something with you. It may be that someone who reads this really needs this encouragement, so here goes!

Do you recall the story of Joseph? Joseph was the youngest son of a doting father, and beginning in chapter 37 of Genesis, you can read his story . . . he was given a gift by his father -- un-asked for, freely given, and a sure jealousy-maker: a coat of many colors.  Jacob didn't give it to him because of his hard work, or his amazing talent, or whatever --- just for the love he felt for Joseph. (Personal note here: since one of our kiddos acted in a presentation of "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat" musical, I've always had even more of a soft spot in my heart for the story!)

Joseph's brothers were intensely, insanely jealous. They were unable to speak kindly to their brother -- insulted him, mocked him. They questioned his dreams (at seventeen, Joseph may not have presented them as tactfully as he could. Just sayin'...) and plotted to kill him. They threw him into a cistern, only dragging him out when the opportunity presented itself to make a little money AND get rid of him, by selling him off to a traveling band of merchants.

If you are not familiar with the rest of the story, I hope that you will turn to that passage and read on, to the end. Along the way, Joseph dealt with some very, very dark days: betrayal, disappointment, slander, imprisonment and more. But long after, when he dealt with his brothers again, he told them, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20)

All of us go through dark, trying times. They don't happen by chance, or by accident. God uses those times to "grow" us in our imitation of Christ . . . to refine our lives to more closely mirror our Father. He uses the hard and the difficult to teach us to trust what we can't see, more than what we can see.

One of our three children is estranged from our family, and has caused much pain to many of us. You may have a similar situation. Or yours may be difficult health issues, or perhaps financial difficulties.  During those dark times, God is at work with a reason and a plan.
In our situation, we have grown in maturity and wisdom, and now have been able to counsel others who are walking this same difficult path . . . God meant it for good.

If  we will avoid crying out to God, "Why is this happening to ME?" and instead, ask, "What are You trying to accomplish in my life?" or even, "What is it that You are preparing me for, in my life?" then we can move forward to the good that God has planned.