Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"I'll Bet You Never Heard a Sermon on This!"

Isaiah 3.24 NASB

“Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume
there will be putrefaction;

Instead of a belt,
a rope;

Instead of well-set hair,
a plucked-out scalp;

Instead of fine clothes,
a donning of sackcloth;

And branding
instead of beauty. ”

I’ve sat in church for many years 
and I have never heard a sermon on Isaiah 3.24. I doubt I ever will. It’s an inelegant text and unfit for the regular church consumption. It violates all forms of ecclesiastical etiquette and will not appear as a lectionary reading option anytime soon. 

Most people don’t want to hear the stuff Isaiah preached about.

Imagine a beauty pageant. Gorgeous young women dressed and made up to perfection. Immerse the winner in dead, rotting flesh. Yank large patches of hair from her scalp. Cover her in a burlap bag and brand her cheeks with a cattle iron. This horrible, cringe-reflex imagery is Isaiah.

Isaiah warned the king of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem of God’s coming wrath. If they would not repent of their sins against the orphans, widows, helpless, poor, and aliens, then God would bring about the same disaster suffered by their northern neighbor Israel. The nation of Israel was being led into captivity by Assyria as Isaiah spoke. Judah apparently did not heed the prophet’s warning and suffered the same fate as Israel by the merciless hand of Babylonian captors about a hundred years after Isaiah died.

What does the imagery of stinking, bloodied, branded young women have to do with me? I assume this is a graphic symbolization of my life under the influence and control of supernatural forces of darkness who care nothing for my well-being. As Assyria was to Israel, and Babylon to Judah, so is Hell to me. The demonic realm is real. The Bible acknowledges the dark power of the Satan in the world…

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil,
prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
1st Peter 5.9

But the power of Christ is just as real and even more powerful…

“Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”
1st John 4.4b

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
Romans 16.20

I’m glad I belong to Christ. He does not approve of the way the god of this world treats God’s people...

“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”
1st John 3.8

Monday, September 18, 2017

"We Can Endure What God Cannot"

Isaiah 1.13, 15 NKJV

“I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.”

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear.

I am embarrassed to admit I allowed myself to be drawn into a television reality show a few years ago in which the participants were required to eat live earthworms. One contestant gagged and just couldn’t do it. I was glad she couldn’t. She wasn’t supposed to. It’s against nature and all things sensible for humans to consume living worms. Earthworms and the human palate just don’t go together. No one should be expected to endure fare (or television) of this kind. 

At least two people were enduring something they should not have been. The young lady on the screen and... me! She was trying to swallow living worms and I was trying to watch her do it.

The concept of endurance is fascinating to me. Humans endure all sorts of things they shouldn’t like, for example, poor marriages. I will never advocate divorce but change must take place. Some marriages just shouldn’t be, at least not the way they are. The parties simply don’t go together well. The union needs change and the parties need help getting there. Instead, they endure the rituals of marital anti-bliss year after sad year.

Take the typical job, as another example. Unfulfilled employees perform boring routines like zombies fully disengaged from the reality of their sorry existence. They shouldn’t be there. Only vaguely do they recall the passionate optimism of their youth when the future stretched before them like a magic red carpet. Now they’ve learned to settle for a BTN (better than nothing) career and live only for weekends and annual vacations. These workers (and probably their employers) endure way more than they should.

How about church? Ever wonder why parishioners are there? Some people attend worship only because they’re supposed to. Their ancestors and friends attended this church. They made their kids warm the same pew each Sunday after excruciating Sunday. They paid their tithes and earned the right to be miserable. They’re not about to leave. You couldn’t force these folks out with a divine crowbar. They have learned the unhappy secret of endurance... 


Human beings can endure much more than they should.

Not so with God. He has limits. He cannot endure things that don’t go together. The prophet claimed God “cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.” God’s greatest desire is to have a “sacred meeting” with His people. He wants to deeply connect with you and me so He sent Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts...

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears
My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him”.
Revelation 3.20 NASU

The only real sin is unbelief. One cannot have a quality relationship with Jesus and refuse to believe in its possibility. Divine encounters and lack of faith simply don’t go together. Perhaps I can endure a religion that only looks good from the outside, but God cannot. The prayers of the unbeliever bounce off the ceiling as Isaiah warned... “Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear you.” If God cannot endure things that aren’t supposed to go together, like “iniquity and the sacred meeting,” then neither should I.

Friday, September 15, 2017

"The Shulammite's Truth"

Song of Solomon 7:5, 10 NASU

“And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads; the king is captivated by your tresses.

“I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me.”

The Song of Solomon describes with vivid sensuality and sexual imagery the love between young king Solomon and his exceedingly beautiful Shulammite bride. This “R” rated tale of romance is found near the middle of the Bible...  Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. It’s historical poetry depicting two real people unleashed in their passion and love for each other.  

But, as is often true with ancient biblical literature, there is more meaning to be found. Hidden behind each one of its 117 verses is a message for you. You are the bride and Jesus is the groom and you may rest securely in His never-ending, unbounded, and limitless love. As “the king is captivated by the tresses” of his beloved, so Jesus is smitten with you. When He looks at you, His eyes hold the wonder and desire far transcending that of a young man in love. You are the object of Christ’s singular and eternal affection. As far as He’s concerned, there is no other. You’re it and you’re enough.

The miracle is not that you and I are loved to this degree. The miraculous occurs when we accept this fact for ourselves. Heaven rejoices when we become confidently aware of the Shulammite’s truth:

“I am my beloved’s,
and His desire is for me.”

When we believe the love of Christ, something nearly unbelievable happens. We discover that eternal security is not a doctrine for debate. Rather, it is a deep knowing of the soul. Jesus is literally “captivated” by you and, in turn, His love makes you want to sing...

“Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.”

“Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me;
The Bible tells me so.”

____________________

The art pictured above comes from a collection of silk-screen prints inspired by the Song of Solomon. The first is entitled “Dove’s Eyes” and the second is called “My Love.” Tamar Messer is a well-known Israeli artist who beautifully portrays stories from the Hebrew scriptures in her colorful work. Find out more about Tamar and her art at http://www.tamarmesser.com.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"How to Find a Good Church"

Song of Solomon 1.7-8 NET

Tell me, O you whom my heart loves, where do you pasture your sheep? Where do you rest your sheep during the midday heat? Tell me lest I wander around beside the flocks of your companions!”

If you do not know, O most beautiful of women, simply follow the tracks of my flock, and pasture your little lambs beside the tents of the shepherds.”

How does a person choose a good church? Involvement in a church is an important part of spiritual growth. But which one? There are so many to choose from.

Walking distance from my house in Beaverton, Oregon, are two Presbyterian churches within one block of each other. One is Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) [1] and the other is Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) [2].

Their names are almost identical. To assume, however, that their distinctions are minor would be major mistake. These churches are worlds apart. In fact, if you read their promotional material or speak to their leaders, you might conclude they came from different planets.

The PCA church in Beaverton holds to the historic creeds of the Reformed Church:

“We believe the Bible is the written word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error in the original manuscripts. The Bible is the revelation of God’s truth and is infallible and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice.”
“We subscribe to the Westminster Standards[3] so that there is little confusion as to what we believe and practice.”[4]

Its PCUSA neighbor subscribes to a much more liberal view of Scripture:

“We do not espouse a literal interpretation of the stories of the Bible; rather, we believe they are 'truth stories', which are able to raise questions and teach us about God and ourselves. It is this theology that gives our lives meaning and joy and has led us to several characteristic actions: insistence on inclusive language, full participation of women in the church, More Light[5], a woman's right to choose, and growth toward better stewardship of the earth.”[6]

The teachings of these two local churches are radically opposite. Evergreen Presbyterian (PCA) is orthodox, historic, reformed, evangelical, and holds a high view of Scripture. Southminster Presbyterian (PCUSA) is liberal and focuses on inclusive language, women's rights, pro-choice in abortion, active support of the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), and environmental concerns. The names of these two churches may sound similar, but their doctrines and practice of ministry are anything but! This phenomenon should drive us to our knees…

“Tell me, O You whom 
my heart loves, where do You 
pasture Your sheep?”

It’s good to know that Jesus has an answer…

“If you do not know,...
simply follow the tracks
of My flock.”
 
The text suggests I may ‘Follow those who follow Him.’ If finding a good church eludes me, there is another way. I need only to find good sheep who follow their Shepherd Jesus, and then follow their “tracks” to the church they attend. That should get me to a “pasture” worth grazing in. Once I am part of a excellent community of faith, I must endeavor to faithfully follow Jesus so others who “follow the tracks” I make, may happily join us.
________________________
 
[1] Evergreen Presbyterian Church, 7275 SW Hall Boulevard, Beaverton, Oregon 97008, (503) 626-1520 (http://evergreenpca.com/). 
[2] Southminster Presbyterian Church, 12250 SW Denney Road, Beaverton, Oregon 97008, (503) 644-2073 (http://www.southmin.org/). 
[3] "The Westminster Confession of Faith", Presbyterian Church in America (http://www.pcanet.org/general/cof_contents.htm).
[4] "Statement of Faith", Evergreen PCA (http://evergreenpca.com/who/statement-of-faith).  This was the original link. It no longer works.
[5] "...the mission of More Light Presbyterians is to work for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA)", (http://www.mlp.org/index.php?topic=aboutUs).
[6] "Theology", Westminster PCUSA (http://www.southmin.org/theology.html).

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Whatever Your Hand Finds to Do..."

Ecclesiastes 9.10 NIV

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”

There is nothing worse than a guy without passion for what he does. A lackadaisical approach is uninspiring and does nothing to advance one’s station in life. There will be plenty of time to do nothing after you die. Until then make your life count. Your boss, clients, wife, kids, neighbors, church, community, and country are depending on you. Show some fire. Get with the program. Have some zest. Go for the gusto. Risk a little controversy. Stand up for what you believe. Be someone. Be a man. Make a difference. Do something… anything!

“Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might”.

No athlete, entrepreneur, teacher, scholar, father, friend, actor, or artist ever fulfilled their God-given destiny with half-hearted devotion. Job, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Peter, and Paul gave it everything they had. So must you. Anything less than your best is not good enough.

“Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might”.

You’ll sleep well at night knowing you did all you could, and gave all you had. That’s good enough. God expects no more… and certainly, no less. The Holy Spirit may even empower you to do the impossible. Have a little faith. It doesn’t take much. According to One who gave His all, “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” (Matthew 17.20 NIV).

“Whatever you hand finds to do, do it with all your might”.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Huh?"

Ecclesiastes 5.20 NIV

“He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”


Once there was a man who sought the meaning of life. He read books on philosophy, asked for advice from friends, and prayed without ceasing. His quest for understanding led him all over the world. He searched high and low, far and wide, long and hard for ultimate truth. He dedicated himself to discover the treasures of wisdom and the knowledge of the ages. He investigated the claims of all the world’s great religions. But nothing quenched the longing of his thirsty soul.

One day in the quiet of his study, he heard a voice from heaven say, “I know what you are looking for. There’s a guy down the street who has it all put together. Go visit him. He will tell you the meaning of life.”

The man hurried to his neighbor’s house. A plain-looking, balding man with a kind demeanor appeared at the door. He welcomed his visitor and together they sat with a cup of tea. The seeker began, “I heard a voice. I think it was God. He told me to come see you.” “Go on,” said the host. “I am looking for the meaning of life. I’ve spent my entire existence seeking to discover the secret of the universe. I’ve tried it all… pleasure, wealth, reading, praying, meditation, women, work, booze, wealth, but nothing satisfies. I’m still searching. You apparently have it all together. That’s what the voice said. I’ve spoken to Zen masters, learned gurus, and great leaders. Nothing. Nothing I’ve tried satisfies my quest for enlightenment. Can you help? Please tell me. What is the reason for existence, the purpose of being, and the meaning of life?” The man with the answers looked quizzically at his guest, scratched his bald head, and said, “Huh? Can you repeat the question?”

The author of Ecclesiastes claimed, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven… a time to search and a time to give up” (Ecclesiastes 3.1, 6). There is a time to quit trying to ‘get’ everything, including the meaning of things you don’t (and probably never will) understand. Perhaps godly people know how to let go of that stuff and relax a little. They’re far too busy enjoying the life the Lord
gave them to waste time figuring out its meaning. Too much introspection can kill a guy. Quite possibly, the true Jesus follower “seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”

“When I determined to load up on wisdom and examine everything taking place on earth,
I realized that if you keep your eyes open day and night without even blinking,
you'll still never figure out the meaning of what God is doing on this earth.
Search as hard as you like, you're not going to make sense of it. No
matter how smart you are, you won't get to the bottom of it.”
Ecclesiastes 8.16-17 The Message

Monday, September 11, 2017

"Stupid"

Proverbs 30.2-3; 29.19 NKJV

“Surely I am more stupid than any man, And do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom Nor have knowledge of the Holy One.”

“A servant will not be corrected by mere words; For though he understands, he will not respond.”

How can a man smart enough to author a chapter in the book of Proverbs call himself-“stupid”? This word is banned in our house. If I slip with my tongue and say the “S” word, my kids instantly pipe up, “You said stupid!” I’m busted! None of the people living in our home may call anyone (including themselves) “stupid,” The word is bad for self-esteem and besides, it doesn’t sound very nice. But there it is in Biblical black and white:

“Surely I am more stupid than any man.”

The word in the original Hebrew is ba-ar and it literally means “stupid,” like a dumb cow without reasoning ability, unable to think coherently.

Stupid animals and people miss the connection between cause and effect. The fire is pretty so I touch it. My hand is badly burned. The next time I see fire I notice how pretty it is and I touch it again. That’s stupid. A truly intelligent person never touched the fire the first time because someone warned him, “Its hot! Don’t do that!” He listened and saved himself a lot of pain.

Most of us, however, must experience a little pain before we learn. That’s not being stupid. It’s just part of the learning process. Like the servant who cannot “be corrected by mere words,” we must say and do a few stupid things before we get smart. Everyone pays the 'dumb tax.' 

There’s a difference between being stupid and acting stupid. My dad used to say, “Kids do stupid things.” He was right. He never called me “stupid” but reserved the term for some of my stunts. My “stupid” years began around adolescence and didn’t even start to improve until my early to late twenty’s. Most kids aren’t stupid, but they all do stupid things. That’s why it’s best not to yell at your kids or talk “until you’re blue in the face.” It will do no good. Children must learn from their own hard experiences and figure out the difference between stupid and smart for themselves.

I never gave a house key to any of my seven children. I somehow knew they would lose it. Instead, I installed a garage door key pad and gave them the code. They never lost a key to the house because they never had one. Before the days of garage door openers and coded key pads, when I was about 14, I lost my key to our family home. To gain access one night when my parents were out, I tried to bend a window frame just enough to slip my hand through to the latch. I knew my dad would not approve if he had been there. I thought, “What would Dad do?and his words swirled in my brain, “Dave! Don’t do that. The window will break!” Of course, the window broke. I got into the house and into lots of trouble. However, I never tried to bend glass again.

The best way I can think of to stay off of God’s “stupid” human tricks list is to try to listen to Jesus before I take action and when I don’t, try to learn from my mistakes.
____________________

The cartoon at the top of this post was illustrated by James Donnelly and used in an article entitled "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" by Carlo M. Cipolla (1922-2000) who was a Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley. You can read the article at http://blog.lege.net/content/basic_laws_of_stupidity.pdf.

Friday, September 08, 2017

"Empty Church Calories"

Proverbs 25.4-5 The Message

Remove impurities from the silver and the silversmith can craft a fine chalice;
Remove the wicked from leadership and authority will be credible and God-honoring.”




















What makes a body work? Long before she died, my wife, Adonica, used to count calories. She tried to stay at 1500 per day. She ran with the dogs and stayed in great shape. I was always so proud of her. Adonica was a real inspiration to me. 

I tried to count my calories once (which turned out to be considerably more than hers). For lunch I had a food bar (210 calories) and a package of Grandma’s brand cookies (370 calories) and water to drink. I was proud of myself. Only a total of 580 calories for lunch. I called my wife with the good news but she quelled my enthusiasm. “Cookies are wasted calories,” she explained. “They contain mostly fat and sugar. That’s not where you want to get your calories. You want them from a balanced source of carbohydrates, protein, complex fiber, with very little sugar and fat.” “Great,” I thought, “Eating less is bad enough. Eating rabbit food is intolerable.” My wife persisted, “The cookie calories you ate will give you immediate energy which soon drops off. You will be hungry again before dinner. Good calories give you energy for longer periods of time. That will make your body work better while you lose weight.” I was sorry I called her.

What makes the body of Christ work? Poor leadership calories are not good for the proper functioning of the local church. The Bible says, “Remove the wicked from leadership and authority will be credible and God-honoring.” This may have more to do with honing leadership skills than kicking someone off staff. The point is... not all leadership decisions are good for the growth of the church. If church leaders wish to expand their ministry effectiveness in the community, then they must try for a simple and balanced diet of spiritual basics. Too much glitz, showmanship, popular music, fun and games, and cultural relevance is unhealthy for the body of Christ. This is the sugar and fat of the modern church. That stuff is like dessert. It’s fun to eat but not critical to the mission diet of the church. Even my wife would allow herself a cookie (or even a Dilly Bar!) on rare occasions. But she was not consumed with a love for sugar and fat. She stayed healthy and always looked great.

Outreach efforts by the emerging church designed to entertain or inspire a secular audience in a “seeker-friendly” environment, makes very little sense even as a tactic for evangelism. The attractional model strategy for church growth mostly attract believers who want to experience “a good time in Jesus.” The popular ‘party mentality’ of some modern church-goers may even turn off sincere seekers. Christian entertainment momentarily excites church folks but does not permanently inspire anyone. A few empty calories of rock and roll in Jesus’ name may be acceptable in small doses. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that these activities will reach the lost. Beautiful edifices, spiffy attire, modern technology, dramatic presentations, flawless music, video productions, mood lighting, professional sound, theatrical sets, special effects, quality staging, smoke and mirrors do not change lives. Authentic preaching trumps inspired performance any day. 

Evangelism is not the core mission of the church. Its founder did not call followers to make converts. Jesus said , “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28.19). Converts fall away. Disciples make more disciples. If the church wants to reach the world it must concentrate its ministry-wide efforts toward making true disciples. An emphasis on cultural relevance is not adequate for the growing church whose members depend on real Biblical nourishment from leaders committed making disciples and changing the world. Anything else is empty church calories and should be mostly cut from the church calendar, budget, and program for a healthy spiritual diet.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

"OK Daddy. You Can Look at Me Now!"

Proverbs 22.4 NLT

“True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.”

My five year old daughter bounded downstairs and prior to passing my line of vision warned, “Don’t look at me, Daddy. Don’t look at me.” She flew into the utility room to finish putting on what she called “the final touches.” This apparently included important accessories… a plastic flowered headband, anklet socks with embroidered pink hearts, and new Nike shoes. Of course, I complied and resisted the temptation to peek. Finally she announced, “OK, Daddy. You can look at me now.”

“True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.”
I opened my eyes and beheld the most beautiful sight in my small universe. My precious little girl beaming and twinkling like a tiny, radiant star, all dressed up and ready for her first day of Kindergarten. That day, ten years ago, may have been one of the happiest days of her then 2,000 days of life on earth. The first day of Kindergarten is a really big deal. 

Someday I will make a transition to something even bigger than Kindergarten. I will cross heaven’s threshold and come into the presence of my Father who lives there. But I’m not quite ready for Him to see me yet. I have a little accessorizing left to do. My first 23,696 days on earth have not been enough time to get fully dressed for the occasion.

“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves
with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Colossians 3.12 NIV

There in the middle of God’s accessory list is humility, arguably my most important “final touch.” I am aware my eternal destiny is secure by faith in Christ. I know I will go to heaven and God loves me just the way I am. However, I really don’t want to go there partially clothed. If I live to be one hundred years old, I have less than 13,000 days left to get ready. That’s definitely not too much time to don this special virtue.

True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.”

Proverbs describes “true humility” as a condition for “riches, honor, and a long life.” I want nothing to do with the self-deprecating false humility that masks insecurity in a relationship with Christ. Nor do I want to pretend I am humble when clearly, I still am not. I long for the real thing, the genuine article. I hope to fully clothe myself in the “true humility” of Christ so that I may someday announce with assurance... OK, Daddy. You can look at me now!”

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

"Sacred Cow Tipping"

Proverbs 21.22 The Amplified Bible

“A wise man scales the city walls of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.”
















I avoid changing my mind at all costs. Adopted positions develop into infallible “strongholds” and shape my destiny. I surround my strongholds with walls of arguments that safeguard my sacred opinions and cherished ideas. These “walls” define me to outsiders.

Wisdom demands that I periodically venture outside myself, turn around, and take a hard look at my defining walls. If I don’t like what I see I should muster the courage to ‘scale the walls and bring down the mighty strongholds’ and make my thoughts “obedient to Christ”...

“The weapons we fight with… have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments... and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2nd Corinthians 10.4-5 NIV

Tearing down the strongholds of your rigid theories and prized positions may be the toughest battle you’ll ever fight. Go there with Jesus. ‘Scale the city walls of your mighty’ points of view. ‘Bring down the strongholds’ of your precious dogma. Tip over a few of your favorite sacred cows. Put your trust in Christ and make your thoughts wholly obedient to Him.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

"High Seas Adventure"

Proverbs 16.1, 3, 9 NASU

“The plans of the heart belong to man,
Cork Stopper by Dominic http://www.flickr.com/photos/dominicspics/2884138007/
But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.”

“Commit your works to the Lord
And your plans will be established.”

“The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.”

According to the Bible, I am responsible to make “plans.” I cannot rely on fate, luck, happenstance, or even the Lord to do my part for me. God did not create me to float through life like a cork on the high seas of circumstance. I am not a pinball bouncing from bumper to bumper, plunged and flipped by forces outside my control. Nor am I an abandoned ship tied to the dock and rusting away at the port of meaninglessness.

I have a role to play. I may not be the master of my destiny but I can help create it. I am obligated to make “plans” and get myself headed in the right direction. The Lord expects me to think ahead, be strategic, and set and meet goals. “The mind of man plans his way,” therefore it is wise of me to establish a savings plan for the future, create long and short-term objectives, have aspirations, prepare for retirement, and even schedule my work week. As the old souvenir plaque says, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Thankfully the “Lord” retains veto power. He can (and does) make mid-course corrections. Jesus routinely alters my “plans” as he did with the apostle Paul who, after deciding to preach in Asia, was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word” there. Later, as he and his mission team “were trying to go into Bithynia,... the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” (Acts 16.6-7).

I am expected to make a plan and navigate a course. I am also required to remain flexible enough to change direction when so led by the Spirit of Christ.

“You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
Paul, Romans 8.9, 14 NLT

I am not a cork or a pinball or a dry-docked ship. I am a sturdy vessel designed for high seas adventure. I have hoisted my sails and charted my course. I have a destination in mind but I am prepared to go anywhere the wind of God’s Spirit takes me.

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know
where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Jesus, The Gospel of John 3.8 NASU
_________________

The photo of a cork at upper right is by Dominic whose Flickr photostream you can view at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dominicspics/.

Monday, September 04, 2017

"Productive Chaos"

Proverbs 14.4
The Living Bible

“An empty stable stays clean – but there is no income from an empty stable.”

I once walked into an executive’s office and found an incredibly messy desk. Hidden under a stack of file folders was a little plaque which read: “Master of the Messy Desk... Organized people are just too lazy to look for things.” I didn’t quite believe it then, and I still don’t. A certain amount of order and organization is necessary for any productive enterprise. However, organization can be taken to an extreme. My mother loves to tell the story about me in 3rd grade. My teacher allegedly said: “David is still organizing his desk and arranging his papers when the other students are almost finished with their work.” Apparently, I wanted things so clean and orderly that I forgot to produce a completed assignment.

While a clean and comfortable working environment is helpful, it’s not the goal. The goal is to be productive and get some work done. Sometimes the best work is the work accomplished under less than ideal conditions. Here’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed to be true about me. When my ‘to-do’ list is nearly completed, my desk is clean, I’m not in a rush, my phone isn’t ringing incessantly, I have time for long talks with the people I love, I come home when I say I will, I’m not tempted to break the speed limit, I don’t postpone potty breaks, I actually eat lunch, I work out regularly, I have time for prayer and Bible study, I’m prompt for appointments, my words are kind and thoughtful, there’s no underlying sense of panic, I am pleasant to all, my schedule is full but not impossible, I act patient, I really enjoy life,… If all this is true, then I’m not making any money!

Life is so much better when I’m broke, but not really. I may exchange high-level production for short-term peace, but that’s no peace at all. I may be comfortable and nicer to be around, but bills continue to mount and new pressures arise. I am confronted with a decision. Do I want a “clean stable” or sufficient “income,” an organized desk or ample work, peace of mind or market share? The decision is mine.

As much as I hate the chaos almost always associated with real work, I must be productive. My family depends on it. 

Today, I am enjoying a labor-free Labor Day. But tomorrow, I must jump back into my productive chaos. 

Friday, September 01, 2017

"Pit Bull Redemption"

Proverbs 10.24; 11.6, 19

“What the wicked fears will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.” NASU

The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.” NIV

He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.” NASU

A friend of mine recently called me a “pit bull.” He meant it as a compliment (I think). “Scriven, once you clamp on, you’re like a pit bull. You never let go.” Does that mean I’m tenacious (a good thing) or stubborn (not so good)? I guess it’s in my nature. There are truths I am compelled to clamp my jaws on and never let go of.

The book of Proverbs contains about 170 verses on the subject of “righteousness” contrasting good and evil, right and wrong. Righteousness in the fullest biblical sense is impossible for human beings to attain alone. Quoting the Hebrew Scriptures (Psalm 14.1-3; 53.1-3), the Apostle Paul stated, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3.10). 

Righteousness is conferred, not earned. It is a gift from God for anyone who believes in His Son. Jesus paid the price for a ‘right relationship’ with God. That’s the only reason anyone has even the remotest possibility of being “righteous.” We are made righteous, not born that way. We cannot earn righteousness. It’s a freebie from heaven, not a label we deserve.

According to King Solomon, the largest contributing author of a book we call Proverbs, righteousness is a big deal. “The desires of the righteous will be granted” and their “righteousness… delivers them” when they are in trouble. And for the pit bulls in the crowd…

“He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain life.”

I once met a woman who described a conversation she had with her young son. The boy inquired, “Mom, am I going to go to heaven?” The woman responded, “Why sure, honey. Try hard to be good and keep going to church. You’ll get there.”

It’s easy to conclude that our personal righteousness (i.e., kind and good behavior, church attendance, petting dogs, walking old ladies across the street, living by the golden rule, obedience to the law, adherence to a moral code, personal integrity, never littering, always being nice and saying, “Have a good day” to everyone, even strangers, etc.) will earn us a spot in heaven. Nothing could be less true. If it were true, no one would get there. We are all infected by the same spiritual disease called sin. That’s why Paul and David rightly concluded “There is none righteous, not even one.” I don’t deserve heaven. If I get what I deserve when I die, I’ll be heading for the ‘other place.’

I will remain as “steadfast” as a pit bull to this truth… Jesus spilled His blood for my sins. He is my ticket to heaven. If I am righteous, I am so because He is. I am only righteous because He made me that way. I am righteous because He said so. I am righteousness by faith in Him, not of my own accord or by my own doing. My “righteousness” is not about me. It’s all about Him!

“...not having a righteousness of my own derived from the
Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness
which comes from God on the basis of faith...
Philippians 3.9 NASU

This is a truth I must clamp my jaws on and never let go of.
_____________________

Note: The beautiful sketch above is entitled “Dusty Grrrrr" and created by Chuck Rose. It is a picture of the artist in a playful game of “tug of war” with his dog who he says “just doesn't know how to let go.” I am inspired by the drawing (and the concept). You can view Mr. Rose’s fabulous art at his own blog site at http://www.strugglingtopaint.blogspot.com/.