Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Proverbs for a New Year

As we say goodbye to 2017 and say hello to 2018 it's smart to have a plan to make the coming year better than the previous one.  To do that we all need wisdom and, when it comes to wisdom, the biblical book of Proverbs is the place to go.  I've scoured through the wisdom of Solomon and leave these Top Ten Proverbs with you to help you make the most of the coming year:

Proverbs 4:25
Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.
Be thankful for your past and learn from your past but don’t live in your past.  Focus on the future.  2017 is over and 2108 is here.  Spend more time looking to the future than rehashing the past.  There's a reason why your car's windshield is a lot bigger than the rearview mirror.

Proverbs 11:13
A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.
You don’t have to let everyone know everything you know.  As tempting as it is to share those juicy secrets about someone, be a person who has the strength to keep things confidential.  Too many people are slandered and too many relationships are destroyed by gossip. Loose lips do sink ships!

Proverbs 11:27
He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it.
What do you look for in people?  If you look for faults, you will find them. If you look for strengths, you will find them.  Be a person who looks for the good in people rather than the bad.  Remember, what you look for in others will be what others look for in you!

Proverbs 17:14
Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
How often do we escalate conflict by picking a fight?  So many arguments are over insignificant matters.  Say it aloud, "It's not that big a deal."   Drop it and move on!

Proverbs 23:4
Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.
Did you spend more time in 2017 making money than building relationships?  Were you obsessed with making money and now realize a year in your life is gone and you have missed out on too many life experiences?  When it comes to priorities in life, if money is at the top of your list then your list needs some serious adjusting in 2018!

Proverbs 26:11
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Mistakes made in 2017 are in the past, so don’t make them a pattern.  You did something foolish this year, don’t do it again.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Fools make the same mistakes over and over again.  Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. 

Proverbs 10:7
The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.
Another year is gone and with it another building block in the legacy you will leave behind.  What will your family and friends remember you for?  Start building a legacy of goodness in 2018.  Do something outrageously good this year, something people will talk about and be inspired by for years to come!

Proverbs 21:20
In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.
Was 2017 characterized as the year of consumption - make money and spend it!  God doesn’t give us stuff so we can consume it all.  Save some.  Give some away.  See every resource you are blessed with in 2018 not just as something for you to consume, but see it as some way you can bless others!

Proverbs 13:3
He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.
There's a good chance that many of the problems you had in 2017 were because you spoke without thinking.  Think, then speak.  God gave us two ears and one mouth -- I think he was trying to tell us something!

Proverbs 17:22
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Delight in all the joys around you every day.  Laugh more in 2018 than you did in 2017.

Have a Happy and Wisdom Filled New Year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fowl Ball Speaking to GQ

I don’t watch Duck Dynasty (I don’t hunt and couldn’t grow one of those beards in a million years) and I don’t read GQ (I have no style whatsoever), but when the two collided this week even I took notice!  I read the article in GQ and to my na├»ve surprise was accosted by words you don’t hear in church.  The article seems to mock the Robertsons in more than one way the least of which is their fundamental religious convictions.  As noted, I'm not a reader of GQ but my impression is that this snide disrespect for the evangelical world  is pretty typical of this periodical and this particular author.  That's their right, just my observation.  What I'm wondering is why would Phil Robertson grant an interview to these people in the first place?  He skipped out on a Barbara Walters interview to go duck hunting, but decides to talk to GQ?  Is anyone surprised this blew up in his face?

Two bits of wisdom from the Proverbs came to mind:

  • Proverbs 9:7 - Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
  • Proverbs 23:9 - Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words.

This is a classic case of backfire, and one that should have been anticipated.   Expressing convictions and correcting sin seem like the right thing to do, but in some contexts the results will be predictably disastrous.  I'm confident God can take this mess and make something out of it, but I also sense that the evil forces in the world are working diligently to use this interview to further push Christianity to the realm of irrelevance and  inconsequence.

If anything is learned from this experience it may be that being a positive Christian witness means more than just quoting Scripture to anyone who will listen.  I sincerely appreciate the Robertsons' faithfulness and am confident that many have been brought closer to the Lord through their lives and testimony, but as far as this one goes I say next time someone calls for an interview Phil may need to bow out.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lessons from Iceageddon 2013

Buildings collapse ... School out going on four days ... Motorists stranded in freezing temps

It's Iceageddon!!

This is Texas, for crying out loud!!  Who would have expected something like this to happen to us?  But isn’t life like that sometimes.  The unexpected happens and we are forced to deal with it.  Having grown up in New England, a storm of this magnitude would have hardly upset the normal rhythm of life, but New Englanders are prepared for things like this.  In Texoma there's a meager supply of plows, salt, and shovels.  In our Massachusetts home, we were ready.  We had a ample resources of rock salt, we had shovels, we had sleds, we were ready for the winter storms.   Living in Texoma, I am not prepared and when you're not prepared disaster strikes.  Preparation is critical!

This lack of preparation reminds me of one of Jesus' stories, his story of the ten virgins waiting for a wedding banquet to begin. (Matthew 25)  A wedding was a spectacular event in those days.  It was a highlight of an otherwise tedious life.  Weddings were the events you didn’t want to miss out on.  There were ten women all waiting for the bridegroom to arrive.  I've heard that this is in keeping with the custom of the day.  People knew the groom was going to come, but no one knew precisely when that would be.  He would have some pre-wedding business to take care of and would show up when that was completed.  In Jesus' story five virgins  were prepared.  They had extra oil for their lamps so they were prepared in the event the groom came later than expected.  The other five had a limited supply of oil and when the announcement of the bridegroom's arrival came, they were out.  They had to run to the nearest oil supply shop and while they were gone the bridegroom arrived and they were left behind.  They missed out because they were not prepared.  The five who missed out, whom Jesus calls "foolish", never expected something like this to happen.  The five who were prepared, whom Jesus calls "wise", anticipated that sometimes the unexpected happens.

We can’t possible anticipate all the unexpected events of life, but how can we be more prepared?  Here are some thoughts:

1.  Learn things even though you think you may never need that knowledge.  In college, my degree was in Bible.  I wanted to preach and so I prepared myself for that future.  Circumstances allowed for me to get a minor as well.  I enjoyed chemistry so I decided to take a few extra classes to achieve a minor.  After graduation, I was unable to land a ministry job but there was a Christian school that needed someone to teach some science and math.  I was lucky enough to get that job and for three years worked in that Christian school and was so blessed by the interaction I had with those kids and made friends that have lasted my lifetime.   I was prepared and an opportunity presented itself.  I love this definition of luck - when opportunity meets preparation.  Although you may never use some of the knowledge you obtain, the more you learn the more prepared you will be!

2.  Get some things you think you may never use.  This, of course, could be an endless and foolish investment, but make some calculated purchases that may prepare you for unlikely events.  During this ice storm I was able to pull out my waterproof, insulated boots that many winters sit in my closet untouched.  Even though they get used only occasionally, they sure come in handy.  That also goes for my ice scraper.  Many winters it gets buried in my glove compartment, but his week it has been a close friend!  Winter coats, hats, and gloves -- even though sparingly used -- have prepared me for this weather!  Use this unforeseen storm to consider some emergency items you need to have in stock.

Jesus, of course, had more important things in mind than jobs and cold weather when he told this story.  So let's make some spiritual application to Iceageddon. 

1.  Read the Bible and study the Bible even when it appears there is no or very little value in that knowledge.  Having Scripture embedded in your mind can and often does serve us well when the unexpected happens.  Jesus used Scripture to combat the temptations of Satan.  (Matthew 4)  Paul encouraged the young minster Timothy to "be prepared in season and out of season" knowing that unexpected times will arise when spiritual depth is necessary to survive (2 Timothy 4:2).  Peter urges Christians to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have"   (1 Peter 3:15).  Tough times often come.  Tough questions are often posed.  Unique opportunities often present themselves.  Those who weather the storms and seize the opportunities are those who are prepared.    Never underestimate the power of Biblical knowledge and the advantages of having Scripture embedded in your heart!

2.  Be ready for the long haul by faithful service.  This recent storm was well predicted and people began to prepare by getting groceries ion the event that they were iced-in.  Fortunately, I had gone to Sams a few days before the storm and bought those supersized servings of some frozen meals.  They came in handy when we could pop some frozen dishes in the oven instead of having to risk the icy roads.  Perhaps this is Jesus' primary teaching in this story - be prepared for the long haul.  You never know when he'll come back, so stock up on oil so you will prepared.  How do we do that?  How do we keep a generous supply of oil?  After the story of the ten virgins, Jesus tells two other stories - the story of the talents and the story of the sheep and the goats.  Read them in Matthew 25.  Both stories emphasize the necessity of working, of using the talents we have, of serving people even in small ways.  Maybe that's how we keep the supply of oil for our lamps - by using what God has given us and by seeking ways to serve.  Perhaps our spiritual preparedness is self-perpetuated by spiritual service.  Maybe the oil for our lamps is resupplied as we work in God's kingdom and serve the needy.  Perhaps true service doesn’t deplete our supplies, but actually adds to our supply.  So, keep working.  Don’t get lazy.  Serve when service seems useless.  Keep the oil flowing!

Iceageddon will soon be a memory, a story we will retell in years to come.  But hopefully even in the coldness of this storm we can emerge as better people, more prepared than ever before!

Questions for discussion:

1.   What have been some advantages of these recent days as we have been forced to slow down and stay home?

2.  How did you prepare for this storm?  What do you wish you had done, but didn't?

3.   When have you been prepared when others were not?

4.   What are some emergency items you have around the house "just in case"?

5.  How would you summarize in a sentence what Jesus is trying to teach us in the parable of the ten virgins?

6.  What opportunities have you missed out on that you now regret?

7.  How do you keep your spiritual oil well stocked?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Parable of the Free Breakfasts

There once was a man who one day received a very special offer by mail.  The offer read:

Simply place your order at the speaker, pull up to the first window to collect your food, and proceed to the second window to thank the owner

Skeptical at first, one day he decided to take up the owner on his offer.  He drove to the restaurant, placed his order at the speaker, pulled up to the first window to find his order waiting for him, and he continued to the second window to  thank the owner.  He was overjoyed by the owner's generosity.  He drove off quite pleased.  This continued for several years.  He was very grateful to the owner.

One morning after he placed his order and collected it at the first window, he glanced at the clock on his dashboard in panic as he realized he was late for a meeting.  He sped by the second window and failed to offer a gesture of thanks.  He felt somewhat guilty, but reasoned it away saying to himself this was only a one-time exception.  The next day he continued with his regular routine - place the order, pick it up, and say thank you to the owner.  Day after day, week after week, the free breakfasts were provided.

Several months passed when one day, with his order in hand, he received an urgent phone call.  Feeling the need to answer he made another exception and passed by the second window without giving thanks.  He didn’t even look at the owner as he drove away.  The next day and many days after all was well as he followed the routine. 

But soon, there seemed to be more and more exceptions.  More meetings interrupted his routine.  More phone calls needed to be answered.  He even fell into the habit of sleeping in a few extra minutes nearly every morning not allowing himself the time to give thanks.  He found himself more and more frequently speeding by the second window, yet day after day the breakfasts still appeared.  Eventually he all but quit pausing to give thanks to the owner, except on special days like the anniversary of his first breakfast.  He never failed to offer thanks on that day.

Then one day he pulled up to place his order like he had done now for decades.  There was no response at the speaker.  Puzzled, he pulled up to the first window where for years and years his breakfasts had been waiting for him.   There was nothing.  He yelled into the window to no avail.  This angered him.  He began accusing the owner of being cruel and unfair.  He even yelled at a passerby cursing the name of the owner.  With one last ounce of hope he pulled up to the second window where years ago he had received that first breakfast with such joy and gratitude.  The window was boarded shut.  On the window was posted this note:

Dear One,
What joy I have had seeing you every day for these many years.  Every day you pulled up I was delighted to bless you with your breakfast, but oh how I wanted to give you more.  I longed for the day when you would park your car and come inside to meet me, to really get to know me.  I yearned to sit with you, to talk with you, and to bless you far beyond your imagination, for my resources are unlimited as is my love for you.  But now our time is past.  The opportunity is gone.  And, for that, I grieve.

Upon reading the note, the man, now old and weak, slipped to his knees and wept.  For there is no greater pain than the pain of opportunity lost.