Sunday, January 31, 2016

Proverbs: Day 31 - Things Your Mother Taught You - [Chapter 31]

You might think that Solomon would save the best for last... that this final chapter would include the best and wisest sayings that he could offer.  Instead, we get the sayings of someone named King Lemuel (and actually not even that because these are the things that Lemuel's mother taught him.  Now, I'm not suggesting that there isn't anything significant or important about this chapter.  Lemuel's mother offers sound wisdom on how to live one's life - with respect, integrity, and staying away from wild women.  

I'm not certain if verses 10-31 are from Lemuel, his mother or Solomon.  Nevertheless, the entire section is about a wife of noble character.  Whoever is writing this has set the bar high.  It describes a wife who is always looking to bring good to her husband, working hard at providing food for her family, planning and investing in her family's resources, reaching out to the needy, making clothes, and having the ability to speak with wisdom.  

When I mentioned that whoever was writing this set the bar high, I really mean that the bar is set high for women, with no mention of the expectations for a husband.  I've mentioned this in a article before this one that we have to remember the time in which these words were written.   Women were considered lower class people with specific roles to perform.  Men had expectations - just different ones.  There are places in scripture which speak of the roles and responsibilities for men as well as women.  So before I get out there too much, I must remember that as well.

I believe it's important to consider how all of us fill certain roles and responsibilities with care, respect, integrity and love for one another.  

Perhaps that wisdom came from my mother as well...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Proverbs: Day 30 - My Daily Bread - [Chapter 30]

So out of nowhere comes this man named Agur.  Who is he and why is his stuff presented toward the end of Solomon's wisdom - you ask?  Great question.

I've read through this first section a couple of times.  Agur is an unknown to nearly every biblical source known to man.  So is his father Jakeh.  And the person he is communicating with (Ithiel) is not on the best known biblical characters list.  So why is his "utterance" here?  What does it mean?

Agur is speaking of his insights regarding life.  From what he writes, he was weary - worn out (verse 1), he did not consider himself wise (verses 2–4), and believed God’s words to be true (verses 5–6).  He asks God to remove lying from him and give him neither riches nor poverty (verses 7–9).

Agur's simple yet profound observations on life reveal some interesting aspects of this unknown person.  For example, he realized God’s wisdom was greater than his own.  He understood the temptation of riches.  He knew many aspects of life and of God’s creation would remain a mystery beyond his understanding.  And Agur knew the importance of controlling anger, avoiding foolishness, and living for God.  He encourages his reader to refrain from a life that dishonors God and results in judgment.  He promotes living life with a proper fear of God and concern for other people.

With this in mind, he seems to complement Solomon's key thoughts regarding attaining wisdom, even if the mystery remains of how his words wound up in one of the final chapters of Proverbs.  

Personally, I was drawn to verse 8 - "Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread."

Whether your name is Agur or Solomon or Daren, these are fine words to live by.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Proverbs: Day 29 - Loosen Up! - [Chapter 29]

"Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed
- without remedy."

- Proverbs 29:1

Stubborn (stiff necked) people.  I've heard that phrase more than once in the Bible.  Pretty sure I know what it means, but it's helpful to learn a bit more about the origin of the phrase.  

Literally, the word means "hard of neck".  In those days, the plow was usually drawn by two oxen. The plowman needed one hand to guide the plow, he carried in the other a light pole, shod with an iron spike.  With this he would prick the oxen upon the hind legs to increase their speed, and then would touch upon the neck to signal the oxen to turn, or to keep a straight course when deviating.  If an ox was hard to control or stubborn, it was termed to be "hard of neck," or stiff-necked.  This phrase is used in the Bible to express the stubborn, untractable spirit of a people not responsive to the guiding of their God.  

They are unwilling to turn.

Stubborn people are unwilling to turn from their point of view.  But in our politically correct world, we allow everyone to hold their own perspective.  Solomon's wisdom suggests that these persons would be granted some leeway, but only up to a point.  At some moment, if they were unable to see the light of God's word and God's way, they would be destroyed without hesitation.  I'm not sure that this verse is talking about these persons being killed, because of the last two words - without remedy.  Once you are dead, there is no remedy - no need to even suggest a remedy.  

But a person can be destroyed in other ways - reputation, spirit, character - just to name a few.  The Message translation helps us here -   
"For people who hate discipline and only get more stubborn.
There’ll come a day when life tumbles in and they break,
but by then it’ll be too late to help them." 

The learning from this little bit of wisdom is for us to not be so adamant about our own agenda, but to embrace what God has in mind for us.  Don't get so narrow focused that you can't see how to turn around.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Proverbs: Day 28 - Absolute Power - [Chapter 28]

Solomon doesn't mince any words when he speaks of those who are rich or in power.  In fact, I need to be careful not to read so much into his wisdom sayings that speak in negative terms toward these persons that he believes those who are rich or in power will never amount to anything.  I don't believe that is his intention.  He does focus on a negative behavior pattern that can accompany the accumulation of wealth and power. 

Most of his sayings reflect on the dangers of taking advantage of the poor and those who are powerless.  What I don't hear as much are those rulers and persons in power who share their blessings or walk in right paths, even though they may have great power.  I actually do believe people can demonstrate those qualities even though they may have abundance.

It's easy for us to resonate with Solomon because we hear so much bad press for those who have and abuse power (rightfully so).  I've always been a glass-half-full kind of guy.  I look for the positives in these kinds of situations.  Sometimes that might be hard to find. I know that having money can change a person (although I can't speak from personal experience because of my own financial condition).  But it shouldn't disqualify someone from being able to be nice just because they have money.  

The same should be true for persons in positions of power.  It all depends on how one uses his or her influence or position - for good or for bad?  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Proverbs: Day 27 - Boasting About Tomorrow - [Chapter 27]

Chapter 27, the first verse: "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring."  I've also heard it translated as "you do not know what tomorrow may bring".  

Great verse to begin the conversation!  The first thing I want to know more about is this: what does Solomon mean by "boast about tomorrow"?  Yes, we know what it means to boast - by definition, to boast means to talk with excessive pride and self-satisfaction about one's achievements, possessions, or abilities.  I'm not quite convinced of how that definition relates to Solomon's wisdom for tomorrow.

I know that humans have limitations about what we can know about the future.  Based on our past experience, we can know with a high degree of certainty that the sun will come up tomorrow morning.  Our weather departments can predict what kind of weather we can expect the next day (which helps in our planning for the next day).  Political parties are banking on reports and trends and surveys that point to which candidate has the edge.  Currently, the sports world is making their best estimate on who will win the Super Bowl in February.  Yes, we are limited, but we still can't help ourselves from speculating about what tomorrow may bring.

But is speculating the same as boasting?

Sometimes, it's helpful to turn to a different translation or paraphrase.  The Message has been a resource that can offer insights into verses written long ago in the language of today.  Listen to how The Message reports chapter 27 verse 1 of Proverbs:
"Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow;
you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow."

Now, that seems a bit more helpful.  Brashly announcing what you are going to do tomorrow might set you up for failure.  I remember when Joe Namath was leading the New York Jets into Super Bowl he was responding to a comment made by someone in a news conference before the big game and he said "I've got news for you.  We're gonna win the game.  I guarantee it."  Sure enough, Broadway Joe led his upstart Jets to win Super Bowl III over the Baltimore Colts 16-7.  Namath obviously didn't read Proverbs 27:1 before making that statement.

But neither did the outside world that expected Baltimore to handily defeat New York.  They didn't know the first thing about tomorrow.  The point is to choose your words carefully, especially when you are ready to announce to the world what tomorrow might bring.

I'm guessing Namath would have never predicted he'd be wearing pantyhose for a television commercial!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Proverbs: Day 26 - Solomon's Target Market - [Chapter 26]

Solomon must be getting toward the end of his wisdom - not meaning that he is running out of things to say, but he really is hitting hard against people he calls "the fools", "sluggards", and those who "gossip".  The entire chapter 26 are verses devoted to speaking against these types of persons.  Let's take a look at these characters that Solomon has targeted as people who we are not to be like.

Fool: As I mentioned, Solomon has a lot to say about fools.  Today the word fool usually means “a senseless fellow, a dullard.”  For our purposes here, we are also working with the biblical definition which has the added dimension of “someone who disregards God’s Word.”  Solomon generally contrasts a fool with one who is wise.

Sluggard: According to today's dictionary, a sluggard is a lazy, sluggish person - a ne'er-do-well, layabout, do-nothing, idler, loafer, lounger, good-for-nothing, shirker, underachiever.  Doesn't sound like someone with high aspirations, does it?  For Solomon, this kind of person is a procrastinator - putting things off that could and should be done.  But there is always a reason for the apathetic attitude that the sluggard portrays.

Gossip: This person is one who demonstrates idle talk or likes to share rumors, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.  I remember the first week I was in ministry in a small town in west central Minnesota.  I was at the coffee shop where everyone from the community gathered.  Everyone talked about everyone.  I was told that "because we are a small community, there's no use in not talking about it because we're going to find out about it anyway, so we're not gossips".  it was true - most times everyone knew the local news five minutes after it happened.  Solomon shares the primary intent of persons who gossip as the distinguishing mark.  Are they lifting another person up or just wanting to make themselves look good?  Even if someone means no harm, gossip is still gossip.

So we get the primary idea.  Solomon's wisdom says quite clearly do not be like these persons!  And yet, unmistakably, we are.  At least at times, we are.  Tell me if there aren't moments when you disregard God's Word?  What about those times when we put off what we might do right now?  And who among us hasn't listened to the latest dish on someone?  True enough - we have our moments just like these characters from Solomon's time.  Humanity hasn't changed at all over the years.

I suppose it would be pretty easy to just say don't be like them.  A quote that is attributed to either Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain might say it all...

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool
than to speak and to remove all doubt."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Proverbs: Day 25 - No One Likes a Tattletale - [Chapter 25]

I've always heard that saying (no one likes a tattletale) but didn't really think the Bible spoke of such a thing.  I guess I thought it was a common sense type of saying.  
"What you have seen with your eyes 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,
or the one who hears it may shame you and the charge against you will stand."
- Proverbs 25:8-10
Thomas Barrow from Downton Abbey
No one likes a tattletale!
Solomon appears to be talking about being a busybody - someone who has no real business getting involved with someone else's affairs.  I was watching Downton Abbey last night and one of the characters in this British tv series named Barrow is just like that. He is always listening and getting others into difficulty by sharing news that he has become privy to and it gets not only them into trouble, but his life is tattered as well.  No one likes this character.  He is his own worst enemy.

Sometimes appearances can be deceiving and what we think we see many not be the case.  Solomon warns us from jumping to conclusions about what we think we see in our neighbor's business.

Solid advice for today because there are so many ways that we can find out about others and their lives.  Be cautious and do the right thing when it comes to what we think we hear about others.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Proverbs: Day 24 - Just Desserts - [Chapter 24]

As we grow nearer to the end of Proverbs, it almost sounds as though some of Solomon's wisdom is repetitive and perhaps it is.  That certainly doesn't make it any less significant or meaningful.  A section from chapter 24 - verses 19-20, however, are not merely just a repeat or rephrase of some earlier wisdom sayings.  
"Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked, for the evildoer has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out." - Proverbs 24:19-20
I know I've read this before, but I don't recall hearing the phrase "snuffed out".  How did I miss that?  It sounds more like it belongs in the gangsta translation of the Bible (if there were one).  The meaning is clear - don't envy or be concerned about how those who do evil seem to get away with their deeds.  In the end, they will receive their just reward (which is actually more like punishment than reward).  In addition, it really sounds as though we feel badly for those who do evil...
"Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them." - Proverbs 24:17-18
When the wicked do fall, it's not a good response to say "Ha!  You go just what you deserved!"  Followers of God don't gloat.  We don't lord it over others.  So be careful about having a smug attitude as though you've never done anything wrong in your life.  

When something or someone is already beat, there is no reason to continue to beat on them.  When something is hurt, done, lost, sad then there is no need to continue to put them down any further... because there's no where for them to go from there.  To make fun of someone who is experiencing this is against Christ-like character.  They may have deserved what they got, but we don't need to applaud it.

Stay true to your identity.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Proverbs: Day 23 - Better Choices - [Chapter 23]

Excess.  That's the first word that came to my mind as I read the first few verses of Proverbs 23.  I'm not certain about the knife to the throat as a deterrent to eating too much - although I suppose there are moments when that would be an effective weight reducing tool.  

Nevertheless, it's important to consider the cost of anything taken in excess - money, food, clothing, the accumulation of stuff.  We have been conditioned to purchase and consume goods on impulse.  

While leading a Financial Peace University class, I listened to Dave Ramsey talk about the dangers of impulse buying - check out one of his articles here.  His points reflect Solomon's wisdom - take caution and care in the things that you are investing in your life, whether its the pursuit of riches, material goods or even the big dinner you are ready to consume.  What you think about within your heart will more than likely be played out in your real life.

But Solomon's words aren't meant to be a weight loss program in the way that we know.  Certainly watching what one eats can make a difference in gaining or losing weight - more than likely we've all walked that path.  I interpret him saying the foundation of what we believe in and how we think about ourselves each day matters.  If we carefully consider our actions, its a good bet we might make a better choice.

Better choices at the dinner table... better choices in our words... better choices in our service to others... just better choices.

Something I need to do more often... 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Proverbs: Day 22 - Raising Children - [Chapter 22]

"Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." verse 6.  This verse captures my imagination and attention.  As a father who has raised three children, I always have these hopes for them.  Hopes that they will be safe.  Hopes that they will be happy and satisfied.  Hopes that they will be able to raise their families as I in turn was raised.  Parenting (for me) was always about allowing my children to make choices and decisions, even if I didn't agree with them.  The joys and challenges of being a parent has always been about walking the delicate line between the hopes that I have for my children and the ultimate decisions they make to achieve their own hopes and dreams.

I so appreciate Solomon's words but I also realize that I wasn't always the best parent and I didn't make the wisest decisions all of the time.  Oh sure, I did the best that I could, but I'm not sure we are born to be parents.  We grow into it.  We learn.  We adjust.  We make mistakes. We try again.  The only thing really I wonder is whether or not my moments of being less than I had wanted to be had any negative impact on my children at all.  

For the most part, we shape our children based on what we experienced from our past.  How our parents raised us makes a difference in how we raise our own children.  The important point about all of this is that we have to somehow determine what that "way" that children should go really is.  Everyone may have a different opinion over the way to raise their children.

If it means that I raised my children to know that it's okay to make mistakes, that learning is always a good thing, and that saying "I'm sorry" is a natural thing, that somewhere in the midst of all of their lives faith is important, then I guess that's all I can do.  

When my children are old, perhaps they will see some of the same things that I see at this point in my life.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Proverbs: Day 21 - Right Actions - [Chapter 21]

"All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but the Lord weighs the heart." - Proverbs 21:2.  It's so easy for us - maybe natural? - to believe that what we are doing is always the right thing.  In fact, I would imagine that if we studied our behavior patterns, we would discover that rarely would our actions not reflect what we actually believe.  If we believe that everything we do is going to be the right thing, then by golly, it's going to be the right thing.  We can't be wrong, can we?

The guiding principle for those who follow Christ cannot be that if we believe our actions are right, then the argument is over.  We must find a way to filter our plans through the Lord's Will.

Verse 2 wasn't the only verse that caught my imagination.  Verse 19: "It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and fretful wife."  I mentioned this a few days ago - we need to remember the time in which this was written.  In today's world, there isn't any question that men should have an equal billing on bad behavior.  Contentious women aren't any different than an abusive man - in fact, a man's abusive behavior is much worse and there is no exceptions on that.  

Sometimes it can be a challenge to read scripture and balance it with today's world.  It seems like a disparity exists.  I'm certain that if Solomon were to write his wisdom passages today, they would include the bad behaviors of anyone, regardless of male or female.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Proverbs: Day 20 - You Silver Fox! - [Chapter 20]

In this chapter (20) of Proverbs, I had a nice time reading the variety of wisdom that Solomon shared along with his sense of humor.  "The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old," (verse 29)  Being that I have a few of those gray hairs, I can laugh at the correctness of Solomon's words.  I'm not sure when I started to notice that I had a few slivers of gray here and there, but I am not in denial about it today.  So it is gray then.  Big wow.

Scripture has always said a few things about gray hair and wisdom together.  It's as though they have a connection between them.  Parents often cite having teenagers as the cause of gray hair.  This might be a good hypothesis, but scientists continue to investigate why hair turns gray.  In time, everyone’s hair turns gray. Your chance of going gray increases 10-20% every decade after 30 years.  You can turn back the clock by coloring your hair or highlighting it.  Or you can simply embrace it as a natural order of things and celebrate the fact that you are getting older.

But there is one thing I have really noticed over the past few years.  I will sometimes look at someone and automatically assume that they are older than I am.  They just look older.  I have always believed myself to be younger - but when I find out the true age of these persons, I am actually older than they are.  This leads me to the inescapable conclusion that I am older and grayer.  Too bad so sad.

No doubt, growing old is a normal, natural part of life in this world.  There is honor involved in the aging process, because growing old is normally accompanied by increased wisdom and experience.  It all depends upon your perspective.  Baseball legend Leroy "Satchel" Paige once said that "Age is a question of mind over matter.  If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

"Growing old isn't so bad considering the alternatives..." [unknown quote]

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Proverbs: Day 19 - Money vs No Money - [Chapter 19]

Jesus once said to his disciples that "you will always have the poor with you".  Poverty is a condition that is present in every single generation.  Some people will always be poor.  Some people will always be rich.  The rest will be somewhere in the middle.  Solomon's wisdom strives to point out that it doesn't really matter if one is rich or poor - what matters is the integrity of how one lives their life.  Take a quick look at these verses that illustrate Solomon's wisdom:
Verse 1: "Better the poor whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.
"Verse 4: "Wealth attracts many friends, but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them."
Verse 7: "The poor are shunned by all their relatives - how much more do their friends avoid them!  Though the poor pursue them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found."
Verse 10: "It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury - how much worse for a slave to rule over princes!"
Verse 17: "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done."
There is something noble about reaching out to the poor, but not out of a sense of pity or feeling sorry for these persons.  It's the right thing to do to help out those who are less fortunate.  Even more important, be careful about the accumulation of wealth.  As mentioned before, certainly we all need money for our needs, but beware of falling in love with it.  

Use common sense.  Share as you are able.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Proverbs: Day 18 - A Strong Tower - [Chapter 18]

There is part of the verse in a praise song written in 1989 called "The Name of the Lord" that illustrates one of the verses from Proverbs 18. In the song, that verse goes like this:
The name of the Lord is a strong tower.
The righteous run into it and they are safe.

Those are almost identical to the words from verse 10:
The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.

It's a powerful image, that the name of the Lord would be a safe, strong place to be protected. In that day, a fortress was always an important strategic place to be protected from one's enemies. What we almost miss is the next verse (verse 11) which is truly the focal point of verse 10:
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city;
they imagine it a wall too high to scale.

There are a lot of challenges with this verse because it makes wealth and money sound inherently bad - which they are not. As we know from scriptural teaching that this isn't necessarily the case: Look at this verse from 1 Timothy 6:10:
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.

Of course we need to have some kind of security in this world to provide for the basic needs we have - and money is the accepted means that assists us in obtaining that security for home, food, clothing, warmth, travel, etc. And we know well enough that nearly every person who is striving for these things might desire a bit more of it to add to their security.

But we must take the words from the Bible as wisdom offered to us regarding our pursuit of that security. If we believe for a moment that having more will protect us from the dangers of the outside world, we are going to be in for a rude awakening. It will only provide a false sense of security... "they imagine it a wall to high to scale". If we desire money over all things, eventually someone or something is going to knock down that wall and it won't be pretty.

Trust in the name of the Lord over all things.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Proverbs: Day 17 - Hold Your Tongue - [Chapter 17]

It's been some time since I read Proverbs from cover to cover.  I must say I'm not really liking it because there is so much to process.  Once we've hit chapter ten, it's a virtual smorgasbord of wisdom sayings that cover a lot of areas of life.  I suppose that's a good thing, but it does make it a challenge to pick one thing and try to process it.   So let's take a look at the few verses that talk about how we talk.  I will refer to the following verses:

17:4 - A wicked person listens to deceitful lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.

17:7 - Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool - how much words lying lips to a ruler!

17:27 - The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

17:28 - Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.

So often we hear things that we wish we didn't hear... or we say things that we wish we might take back.  These verses advise using a skill that some have a hard time employing - keeping quiet and listening, speaking when necessary and using words that are meant for building people up.  We might think we are speaking from a moral perspective or even from a scriptural one.  But just because it’s “right” - and sometimes it’s not - that doesn’t mean it needs to be said out loud. 

We just need to be more tender in how we speak to one another. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Proverbs: Day 16 - The Best Laid Plans - [Chapter 16]

I've always believed the saying "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail." I would never equate my wisdom with Solomon's wisdom, but he echoes this prevailing thought with a divine twist. The first four verses of chapter 16 speak about plans.  In each instance, any human plans need to make some kind of connection with the Lord.

To humans belong the plans of the heart,but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.
All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.
The Lord works out everything to its proper end
even the wicked for a day of disaster.

I know the truth of these proverbs.  I wish I could say I have always followed their advice diligently each and every day.  I think it's because I think I can do it on my own.  Perhaps my actions have that appearance.  Maybe even the result.  But (as I said every so often) I know that whatever I plan to do would be easier if I simply lifted it up to the Lord first, then acted. 

I know that more times than not, I'd like to believe that part of my framework implicitly trusts that the Lord is in the plans somewhere.  Maybe that isn't enough.  Perhaps I need to be more insistent in that.  Whatever the case, we are in much a better position if we start with the Lord's leading and guiding.

He is a master planner, after all. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Proverbs: Day 15 - Hold That Thought! - [Chapter 15]

I've always been curious as to what makes some people tick.  In 12 years of being in business management in northern Minnesota and 26 years of the ministry in various locations over the state, I've run into folks who will say anything, apparently without thinking about what they are saying.  It doesn't matter to them if I'm pastoring a church or if I was working for a wholesale company.  Their voice is going to be heard.

That part doesn't trouble me so much - the part of being free to say what you believe in or to say what is on your heart and mind.  I certainly believe that people should speak what is in their heart and mind.  But the word restraint never enters the picture.  Sometimes people say what they want even if it comes out wrong or hurtful.  It reminds me a bit of the scene in the movie "Jurassic Park" where two scientists are arguing about the ability to repopulate the earth with dinosaurs: 
John Hammond: I don't think you're giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody's ever done before...
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.  
Perhaps it might be a stretch, but isn't it true that we have moments when we are so preoccupied with our own perspective that we say the first thing that comes into our minds?  Suddenly, without warning the thoughts we have come out as words that have power and impact those who hear them.  How did that happen, we wonder?  Why did I say that?  

We need to stop for a moment and think about what we believe, or what we are feeling, or what we want to respond to.  It's only a short moment to consider how our words might come across to the other person.
"The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit." - Proverbs 15:4
Or maybe we need to recall what we learned as children:

"O be careful little mouth what you say
 O be careful little mouth what you say
There's a Father up above
And He's looking down in love
  So, be careful little mouth what you say..."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Proverbs: Day 14 - Hold that Anger - [Chapter 14]

As I read further and further into the chapters of Solomon's wisdom, it occurs to me that he speaks on a number of different matters, but for some, there is a recurring theme.  Honesty, integrity, patience, humility just to name a few.  Being faithful and not following evil are also dominant themes for Solomon.  By now (if you've been reading along with me each day) you see the patterns of good behavior versus bad behavior.  Once again Solomon does not sugarcoat calling out bad behavior.  

Today I look at the matter of demonstrating restraint or patience in tough situations. These three verses guide me today: 

"The wise fear the Lord and shun evil,
but a fool is hotheaded and yet feels secure" - verse 16

"A quick-tempered person does foolish things,
and the one who devises evil schemes is hated" - verse 17

"Whoever is patient has great understanding,
but one who is quick-tempered displays folly." - verse 29

In verse 16, we read how foolish ways can lead to careless and reckless behavior that the person who participates in cannot see the dangers of their actions.  It's almost as if their eyes or their hearts are hardened to the truth of what they do.  Those who demonstrate wisdom are able to veer away from evil, but the foolish will become "hotheaded" and make rash choices which lead to baseless confidence that they are in the right.  

In verse 17,  again those who are quick to anger can make bad choices leading to wrong behaviors.  Doesn't really ring true in our daily walk?  I'm trying to remember the last time I was really steamed over something.  I can't even recall.  I'm sure there was something (perhaps that's another issue - selective memory).  At any rate, this verse presents a common character flaw in humanity... emotions with anger are a dangerous liaison.  If we allow our emotional responses to get the best of us, we can neither demonstrate restraint nor wisdom.  Both go out the window.

The last verse I selected speaks again of the virtues of being patient against the quick to anger personality.  Somehow, by allowing negative emotions to control our responses, we will find even more difficulty.

I don't believe for a moment that we should not allow anger to be a part of who we are.  In Ephesians 4:26, Paul writes “Be angry, and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger."  I think the key is that anger will be a natural part of what it means to be human, but don't allow it to find a home.  Do everything in your power to make sure it is resolved before you lay down for the night.  Do not cherish the anger.  Do whatever you can to lay it down.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Proverbs: Day 13 - Two Verses - [Chapter 13]

There are two verses in chapter 13 that I believe are important to discuss.  The first is verse 10: "Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice."  The second is verse 24 "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them."  Both of these have present day implications that are key to living a faithful life.

Let's take a look at the first one from verse 10.  I really like this verse because of my experience in management for 12 years (before entering into the ministry) and the past 26 years of being in the ministry.  In those years, I have learned the value of hearing from others who have a different perspective than I may have had.  I can learn from them.  It's important to note that I may not always agree with their point of view, but I value it because it helps me to see the matter from another vantage point.  I'm not so wrapped up in the importance of what I believe or held to be true as I am invested in hearing what others have to say about the topic.

This verse speaks of making sure you are not filled with pride, so much so that you are unable to learn from others.  It's a healthy moment when we put aside our own agenda to hear what others believe.  

The second verse is more contentious.  This is the spanking verse - "spare the rod, spoil the child".  The background of this action comes from an ancient Near Eastern culture that recognized the human tendency to participate in sin and foolishness.  One form of discipline used to keep humans on the right path was to use some form of physical discipline as a measure designed to help them learn to stay on the path.  

Today, our world considers this an offensive action, with good reason.  There is no place for abusive behavior and this fits that criteria - for today's world.  Violence toward children and adults is reported in many instances in the world today and needs to be dealt with in protective ways toward those who are abused.  

Many from my generation would argue that it wasn't always this way - the world in which we grew up during the previous mid-century believed that disciplining a child via a spanking was perfectly acceptable.  It wasn't uncommon nor was it frowned upon.  It was normal.  I can recall the moments when I was the receiver of a spanking and I've always believed it was well deserved (on my part).  

I'm not saying it was right then and should be right now.  This world has made some important distinctions between what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to handing out forms of discipline - I wholeheartedly agree with the imperative to make those distinctions.  The parenting case of Adrian Peterson who struck his son with a switch is a case in point.  What the parent learned as a youngster translated to continued discipline for his own child, but it was no longer an acceptable means of correction or reproof.

So what is at the heart of this verse?  What corrective measures can be used if corporal punishment (spanking) is deemed harmful?  For today's world, punishment for wrongs by a child needs to be consistent and clear, but not physical.  There are a number of ways that punishment can be meted out that help the child to think twice about their actions and none of those ways should ever include spanking.  

The other day, I was on FaceTime with my daughter and her little boys.  One of them was just being a terror - carrying on with a temper tantrum for no reason whatsoever.  He was promptly placed on the couch in the other room for a time out.  I could hear him in the background "I'm done, Mom!  I'm done" - meaning that he understood his time of bad behavior needed to end.  It appeared that he fully understood that his behavior and the taking a time out action of discipline matched together.

The key is taking forms of discipline consistently and lovingly.  While I can see how those were doled out convincingly and lovingly in my own childhood, I can also see that today there needs to be other, alternative ways that accomplish the same thing.  

Two verses that talk about having an open mind and showing tough love.  Good wisdom for today!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Proverbs: Day 12 - That's Just Stupid! - [Chapter 12]

When I read the first verse from chapter 12 of Solomon's wisdom known as Proverbs, I had to stop and read it again. The version I have says it like this: "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid." [New International Version]  There are a number of other versions that use the same word at the end of the verse: stupid.  

I don't know about you, but I've always been taught not to use the word "stupid".  I haven't always listened to that teaching.  In my younger days, I know I've used that word to describe a situation or someone's response to something that I didn't agree with or something like that.  In fact, I might have used it moments after the Vikings - Seahawks game was over last Sunday (or maybe I thought it... I cannot say for sure).
Here is how Strong's Concordance defines the word:

בָּעַר - bâʽar  baw-ar'
A primitive root; to kindle, that is, consume (by fire or by eating); also (as denominative from H1198) to be (becomebrutish: - be brutish, bring (put, take) away, burn, (cause to) eat (up), feed, heat, kindle, set ([on fire]), waste.

I'm curious as to how this word was translated to the word stupid.  As I dig a little deeper, I see that the word "brutish" was used in the King James Version of the Bible. That word's definition is cruel, violent, and stupid : resembling or suggesting a beast.  I can appreciate the use of the term if I remember the time in which it was used.  Beasts of burden (cattle, oxen, etc) were used in those days and were often referred to as stupid (or brutish).

A primary difference between humans and these beasts of burden is the ability to acquire and learn knowledge... to communicate this to others by actions and being able to demonstrate the ability to change because knowledge has been obtained.  Solomon knows this and his primary focus in this first verse is to let people know that we have the ability to learn more - to gain wisdom - and if we choose not to learn or not to gain wisdom, then we are no different from a beast.  It's a waste.

I'm fairly confident that Solomon would be accused of not being politically correct in this day and age.  He talks about people being nobodies and fools and the wicked.  One has to admire him for calling it as it is.  I mentioned this in a previous post and it bears repeating.  There is a power from above when it comes to speaking truth.  We may not want to hear it, but that doesn't change the fact that it's still true.

During the movie with the same name, Forrest Gump says - "Stupid is as stupid does".  I understand that to mean that an intelligent person who does stupid things is still stupid. You are what you do.  So if we choose not to gain knowledge or wisdom, then what can we expect?   Getting wisdom means we open our hearts, minds - our senses - and we learn.

Anything else - closing that openness?  

Well, that's just being stupid.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Proverbs: Day 11 - The Middle Ground - [Chapter 11]

If you watched the football game yesterday between Seattle and Minnesota, today is another day.   I've been a fan of the Vikings ever since they came to Minnesota.  In the fall, they provide entertainment for about three hours a week.  They play a game. 

It's just a game. 

Next year, they will line it up in their new state of the art stadium and will attempt to move further than this year.  But for now, it's good to remember that it's just a game and today is another day.  Coach Zimmer, the players (especially Blair Walsh and Adrian Peterson) didn't try to pass the buck.  Peterson stated his fumble cost them the game. Said Walsh of the missed field goal that could have won it in the last few seconds: "When they needed me in this moment, I didn’t come through for them.  That hurts.”   He told it like he saw it and accepted responsibility for the shocking ending of the game.

As I read chapter 11 of Solomon's wisdom, I realized that he, too, doesn't beat around the bush.  According to Solomon's wisdom, when you are talking about life, it's either one thing or another. There really isn't any middle ground when it comes to matters of integrity, honesty, faithfulness.  You either demonstrate you have these things or you don't.

Solomon talks about righteousness a lot.  Perhaps that is a word that puts us off sometimes because we may not fully understand (or embrace) its meaning.  Let's keep it simple and like Solomon, let's keep it straight.  Righteousness defined is acting in accord with divine or moral law : to be free from guilt or sin.  Maybe that's where we shy away from the term righteousness because we know that we sin and that causes us to feel shame or guilt.  

But we're not expected to be perfect.  We will make mistakes and fall short every so often.  We will fumble our attempts to live properly and our best intentions some days will go wide of the mark.  Solomon may agree with that, but he also is a hardliner when it comes to demonstrating faithfulness and living correctly.  For him there, is no middle ground.

The challenge for us is that we often live in the middle ground.  It is a hard thing to live righteously all the time.

Today is another day.  The Vikings football team will take the field again next year and try to win.  Peterson will run and score touchdowns where he doesn't fumble.  Walsh will line up for extra points and field goals and he will make them.  

When we are given another day, we have another chance at righteousness.  We have no really good excuse for not trying to live that way.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Proverbs: Day 10 - Finally - It's Game Day! - [Chapter 10]

Sometime later today (Sunday, January 10th) the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings will square off at TCF Bank Field for the chance to move closer to a Super Bowl appearance.  Fans have been waiting for this game for one long, cold week.  It will be an interesting game.  Finally, it's game day.

It might be a leap, but that's almost the way I felt when I began to read Proverbs 10.  Finally we get to hear the wisdom that Solomon has been talking about.  Here is the practical advice that Solomon was alluding to.  They are called the Proverbs of Solomon.  It's game day to hear the wisdom of Solomon.

As I read through the list, it's striking to me how the proverbs just speak of common sense.  They are not anything that is out of the ordinary or actions that are outrageous,  Just common sense stuff.  Righteousness is mentioned quite a bit.  Hard work versus laziness. Living right - making good choices - staying away from negative behaviors.    

There are so many to like.  I've chosen verse 30... "The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land."  I like the idea of being rooted.  When the storms of life come, being rooted allows one to hold steadfast.  I know I need that kind of rooted-ness.

Wisdom.  I need it.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Proverbs: Day 9 - Invitation - [Chapter 9]

In these the first nine chapters of Solomon's writing about wisdom, he really has done all he can to invite people to hear these words of wisdom.  He has stated a convincing argument for why people should pay attention to wisdom's advice.  The next chapter (10) we will actually begin to look at the wisdom of Solomon and what it might mean for our lives to pay attention to it.

It really is an invitation to gain wisdom.  Solomon paints a picture of almost a dinner party - a time set aside for people to join in and partake of the food and drink of wisdom.  Verse 10 is the more recognizable verse in this chapter: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."  He hits hard at those he calls "mockers" - and we know the voices of those persons.  Mockers are the ones who are the naysayers.  They ridicule and make fun of the word.  They are deliberate and arrogant in their rejection of the truth.  

But - according to Solomon - we are not supposed to invite correction or rebuke of those who mock because they will only continue to insult and ridicule us.  Instead, Solomon's wisdom invites us to pay attention to those who will listen - build up the community of the faithful and the righteous.  According to the Quest Bible, the question is asked if we are supposed to give up on those who mock?  It's not an easy thing to do.  I believe that we need to develop relationships of respect and trust so we can hold those who mock accountable to their positions in a manner that doesn't invite the scorn and turning the tables.

Keep it simple.  Like following the Golden Rule - "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  I would hope that people wouldn't give up on me.  I would hope that we would try to help others see and experience the truth about God's love.  

That's my hope - how about you?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Proverbs: Day 8 - Hearing Wisdom's Call - [Chapter 8]

In the days of building churches in the last century, it seemed as though the buildings were all constructed with an identical thought - higher is better.  Long steps up to the sanctuary... steeples that rose above the city skylines. High ceilings invited devotions and expressions of faith to rise up to God.

With that in mind, chapter eight of Proverbs reflects a similar kind of construction of the place where wisdom can be found.  "At the highest point along the way..." wisdom can be heard.  According to the notes found in the Quest Bible this phrase refers to the high points of a city, such as rooftops.  Wisdom's position is a vantage point for being heard and seen, crying out from a location where she will be easily seen and heard.  

(By the way, The Quest Bible continues to be an excellent resource for Bible study - you can take one from the church sanctuary or better yet, download it from the App Store - I think it costs about $10, a great investment for your iPad or SmartPhone).   

Wisdom continues to press the issue - people need to get smarter and wiser.  "Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say..."  I cannot help but compare wisdom's plea to any of the recent campaign debates on television.  I'm sure the each candidate believes in her or his own heart that they are saying things that are true.  But it is always painfully evident that someone is not telling the truth.  Wisdom comes right out and says that these words are right and true and we'd better pay attention to them.

Solomon speaks of the benefits of listening and following wisdom's words, and perhaps more importantly, the rationale for considering why to follow.  Seeking justice... honor... right living... blessings... and other things that we can experience in powerful ways if we pay attention to wisdom's call... 

... from the highest places.