...be ye stedfast, unmoveable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as ye know that your labour is
not in vain in the Lord.

31 October 2014

walK with THE Wise ~ Things we leave behind

Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb!
Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!
Do not spend your strength on women,
your vigor on those who ruin kings.
It is not for kings, Lemuel—
it is not for kings to drink wine,
not for rulers to crave beer,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed,
and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
Let beer be for those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
Let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy....
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
from Proverbs 31

The prompt word for today was leave... but seriously, even before I started considering that prompt and I was simply reading ahead to refresh my mind about what God says through this proverb, as I read, all I could think of was how so much... so many people and things and memories and dreams... have been left behind - by me. And I don't write that in a sad or in a melancholy way. Much leaving is hard. Some does, however, bring relief or respite. Some is necessary. Some is beneficial. Some is just heart-breaking hard. Sometimes that is because of selfishness and sometimes that is because of brokenness...

So how in the world did I get to this spot from this proverb?

Well, as I read the beginning, wise words given to King Lemuel by his mother, I started thinking about how because of ministries and opportunities we have, we sometimes have to choose to leave other things behind. In the context of Lemuel, his mother was warning him that wine or other strong drink should not be a part of the life of the wise ruler because it affects the ability to make sober and right decisions that put others first. The life characterized by a seeking out of wine to relax or beer to forget or whatever other beverage - maybe Coke to energize? a coffee to jump start the day? - to deal with some sort of personal discomfort or need is also a life that might tend to judge unfairly, that might forget to stand up for or seek the best for those less fortunate or a part of the minority. Lemuel's mother doesn't say wine is wrong; rather, she encourages Lemuel to leave the beer and wine for others, for those perishing and in anguish, for those who need an escape for whatever reason. But to those who are responsible for others, to those who are leaders, it only traps and distracts, preventing one from doing what is best, encouraging self-preservation and self-interest at the cost of others. Thus, she encourages him to leave wine and beer behind, to not allow them to be a part of his life.

I think of all of the things we, as missionaries, have left behind. And it ranges... from almost ridiculous (college football on TV or international all-in-good-fun softball tournaments) to nostalgic (fall leaves every year or bonfires under a starry sky on a Sahara sand dune) to heartbreaking (parents, grandparents, colleagues, dear friends and neighbors who we know don't yet know Jesus). And yet we leave because we know God has something in store for us, because He compels us. That doesn't make it less painful, but it does give the pain a worthwhile purpose.

Then, I came to almost the end of this proverb, to well known words: "beauty is fleeting." With a wry smile, I say that that is obvious every single time I look in the mirror (not to imply that I've ever considered myself a great beauty - but rather that I see those clear signs of time marching on - gray hair, wrinkles, sags and droops, hands with prominent veins that I remember as being my Nana's... I sort through photos of even just a few years back and faces are less smooth, wrinkles more prominent, weariness in the eyes is evident, age spots appearing where there were none before. Youth and the beauty inherent in the young leaves... or more accurately, it flees, so much more quickly physically than it does in my mind. I forget I'm no longer 25 until I try and get out of bed in the morning. Although, in the interest of honesty, I'd better clarify... that only happens on some mornings. Some mornings I actually get to the mirror first... or it doesn't happen until Mary Michelle points out a new spider vein on my leg or my teens ask me not to wear that sweater over to the school today because it is so out-dated... but you get the picture. All those things that seemed so critical 25 years ago - I couldn't make them work out the way I'd prefer no matter how many hours or much money I invest. The beauty of youth leaves rapidly... leaving me behind. 

But for God's grace and the tiniest of glimpses of His perspective, all of that leaving would be depressing... disheartening...

As CS Lewis said, "There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

Which makes me think of this song:

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my example is He
Word became flesh and the light shined among us
His glory revealed

Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He's coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

One day they led Him up Calvary's mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He
Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He's ascended, my Lord evermore
Death could not hold Him, the grave could not keep Him
From rising again

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my Beloved One, bringing
My Savior, Jesus, is mine

Glorious day, Oh, Glorious day

30 October 2014

walK with THE Wise ~ So Many Firsts ~

This chapter of Proverbs was actually written by someone other than Solomon... and as I was reading it, the number of "lists" really caught my eye... especially the first thing in each list, because often what is listed first is our priority, even when everything on the list is truly important.

What's more is that most of the "lists" are introduced by a very particular literary phrase: "There are three things that... four that..." where the three appears to be rhetorical... the actual number is four.

What are the firsts in these actual lists?

The first first is Agur's request that the Lord keep lies and falsehood far from him... and is the first thing listed of only two requests prior to death. When I initially began thinking about those words, I found them to be surprising. I can honestly say that that isn't on the top of my list when I ask the Lord for protection. So I was particularly challenged when I read the following (From Gill's Exposition of the Bible) regarding this first first: "This is the "first" request, to be preserved from sin, in general; which is a vain, lying, and deceitful thing; promising pleasure, profit, liberty, and impunity, which it does not give. Agur desires to have vain thoughts removed out of his mind, vain words from his mouth, and vain actions from his life and conversation; to have his eyes turned from beholding vanity, and his feet from walking in it; and his affections taken off from the vain things of the world, the lusts, pleasures, profits, and honours of it; as well as to be kept from all errors and false doctrines, which are lies in hypocrisy; with which men that lie in wait to deceive would, if it were possible, deceive the very elect: Agur conscious of his own weakness, and proneness to evil, desires the Lord would not lead him into temptation, but deliver him from all evil, doctrinal and practical."

Agur, conscious of his own weakness and proneness to evil... which is so different from my most-of-the-time-day-in-day-out mindset. Of course, I acknowledge my sinfulness and just how prone I am to wander when confronted or when I'm thinking about it. It isn't the attitude, however, which with I live may daily life. Instead, I tend to lean the opposite direction, assuming I'm write until proven otherwise.

The second first in this chapter? It is a sobering one because it begins a list of those things that are never satiated... never satisfied. It is the grave, or in the Hebrew, Sheol - that place, in Hebrew thought, to which people descend after they die. It is personified in several places (included here) as an insatiable monster. What is crazy, however, is that is an accurate description of our natural, deceitful and most of all selfish hearts that, but for the grace of God, seek self benefit before all else. We are right in the midst of the Halloween season, and I'm quite sure that tomorrow night, I'll see all sorts of munchkin and not so munchkin monsters wandering around as people "dress-up" to celebrate. Yet, according to Biblical teaching, that dress-up is a more accurate reflection of the reality of my heart... as my desires for myself and what I define as what I want. Sometimes I cringe inside, looking at all the horrific "costumes" I see. And it gives me just a taste, perhaps, of perspective - of what it might be like for God to look upon sinful men... sinful me...

Then, there's this third first: the way of an eagle as it glides, soars and flies - and it is something that just surpasses the comprehension of Agur as he writes this proverb. What is he saying? I think he's referring to those things that are just as impossible for him to completely understand just as it is impossible to trace the path of an eagle through the sky. There's nothing left behind to indicate where the was, where the air "parted," if you will, for him to pass through... no footprints, no marks, no traces. Some things are just too high, to untraceable, for me to feel I've grasped their implications or meanings.

The fourth first is something that so disquiets all around, is so unbearable or intolerable that sustaining through it requires endurance that is super-human. The first example given is that of a servant who becomes king. The picture here is of one who is unprepared and unpracticed being given a responsibility and authority he is unfit to carry and then becomes arrogant, starts foolishly believing he's somehow deserving of the higher position and thus becomes a tyrant, damaging all for whom he is responsible. As I thought about that, I thought how easy it is for me to become that same way when I start believing somehow that I'm a "good Christian...," that God is lucky I'm on His side... or so acting for all practical purposes.

Next comes the fifth first - a description of small creatures who, although not powerful yet enjoy great impact because of the wisdom God built into them. Number one in this list is the ant. Compared to an elephant... a donkey... a camel... even a dog... the ant has no practical "skill" to offer men. It cannot be a beast of burden, it builds its home in inconvenient places, it invades our homes, large numbers destroy swaths in some parts of the world, and some even have a very nasty bite. Yet they prepare for the future... and so in that sense are forward thinking.

Last but not least, we come to the final first of this chapter. This list is comprised of those animals, those things that have a commanding presence, move gracefully and towards which the eye is drawn just by the mere fact that they are there. The lion is listed first and as I read that, the first thought that came to mind was the fact that Jesus is called the Lion of Judah. Gill's Exposition describes the lion this way: "For what is stronger than a lion, or more courageous and undaunted? It walks with great majesty, very slowly, step by step.... it does not go out of its way for any creature it meets with; nor does it hasten its pace when pursued, nor show the lest sign of fear; nor does it turn its back to any. This creature is an emblem of Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who is stronger than the strong man armed; who never turned his back to any of his enemies; nor turned aside from the way of his duty, or the work of his office, on account of any; not Herod the fox, who threatened to kill him; nor Satan, the roaring lion, when he knew he was on the march to meet him; nor any of those, who, though they had a band of soldiers, that came to take him. It is an emblem of righteous men, who are as bold as a lion; and cannot be moved from their duty by anything they meet with, but remain steadfast and constant in it.

Proverbs 30 is clearly one of those chapter that could be studied for much longer and in great depth, such are the riches of these words.

Now, if by God's grace, I can begin to apply just the lessons out gleaned out of this list of firsts!

photo credit: Anatoly Kraynikov via photopin cc

29 October 2014

walK with THE Wise ~ Care, then Unite ~

The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern.
Mockers stir up a city,
but the wise turn away anger.
Proverbs 29.7,8

Forming a single-minded whole out of many - that's what the word unite means. Those who are righteous, those who are wise - they are the ones who work towards unity.

But can we be unified with someone who does not have that same mind? Can I unite with another individual who does not seek the mind of Christ?

We have to be careful. God's Word is so clear that there are clear areas where we cannot conform to the world. Jesus-followers are not to deviate from His standard, His way of operating, His thoughts, His priorities. We cannot compromise and cross over that line.

Yet, is it inconceivable to believe that, since all men are created in the image of God, there would be certain times, certain events, certain experiences where those who are of the world would see things the way God does? I think so...

And I'm thinking of a recent "event."

I'm sure you recall the ALS Bucket Challenge that took social media - and regular media, for that matter - by storm last summer. I thought it was an interesting, unique, often humorous, simple and easy way to unite - worldwide, even - around a single cause: helping bring some hope to those fighting a horrifying, debilitating and humiliating disease. I thought it was neat to see so many of my friends, even some of my children, choosing to participate.

Then came those who, according to these verses in Proverbs, I wanted to label as wicked and as mockers. And many of them came from evangelical and more fundamental Christian groups. They were the ones discouraging participation. The reason was that they didn't want to see funds dumped into one cause which would then lead to those funds being used to support something wrong and sinful. They didn't want to see monies contributed under the banner of helping those with ALS then make possible stem-cell research projects, projects which often use tissue from aborted babies. I get that - I used to volunteer at a Crisis Pregnancy Center and have, just recently, been able to get back into that sort of work through our local Pregnancy Resource Center (yeah... the name changed). I value life - whether it be the life of an individual with an awful disease or the life of the tiniest of humans just beginning to grow in a woman's womb. I truly see how an individual could seemingly run into an impasse...

But that's where God's righteousness, God's wisdom, can help us to unite. Rather than focusing only on the piece that's wrong, then coming to the conclusion that I shouldn't participate and I should therefore discourage you and everyone else I can to not participate as well... Can I trust God to show me a way to be apart of a good movement, sweeping through the world, that clearly bears His image? Can I find another way to contribute, one of the organizations that doesn't participate in embryonic stem cell research? Can I donate to a family living with ALS? Can I bring glory to God and point others towards Him through right and wise opportunities to work together?

Or do I assume it's impossible, and forget that with God, nothing is impossible.

photo credit: Lachlan Hardy via photopin cc

28 October 2014

walK with THE Wise ~ Choking in the Wake ~

When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers,
but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order.
Proverbs 28.2

Another one of those verses I've read for years and never really stopped for more than a millisecond to actually think about what principle God might be teaching through these words. In fact, I've been shamed as I've read through Proverbs this month and realized just how very often that is the case, that I've essentially rammed my way through these passages of Scripture, resting on those words that seem familiar or already known and ignoring the rest. I've missed a lot by so doing - hopefully a habit that will now remain in the past.

This verse caught my eye because it reminds me of what happens sometimes when I leave my kids supervising each other... when I have students working together in a cooperative activity... in our family when Tim and I are set on our own individual agendas instead of working together for what's best for the group... in an organization where each leader figures his/her goal should be everyone's priority... in corrupt governments where aid money is spent on the foreign/better education of an official's child instead of paying local teachers...

That list of examples could go on, and on, and on, and on.

This verse really hits home. At times, Tim and I can look at one of our children and we'll not only sense but clearly see the fruit of a rebellious, obstinate and unteachable heart. We can be so quick to lay the fault at the feet of the child. But what if it is because that child senses... sees... many "rulers" and a spirit of disunity in his or her home? What if that child is simply responding to:
  • mom not submitting to the authority of dad?
  • dad not valuing wife's leadership and discipleship of their children?
  • both parents resisting obedience to their authorities (speeding, murmuring about work policies and expectations, balking at international flight requirements...)?
  • parents obeying the letter of the law while complaining and thus not holding up the spirit of the law?
  • many individuals set on individual priorities and agendas instead of considering the interests of others before their own, instead of truly working and living in community?
Discernment and wisdom, as  a ruler or leader, means we understand that we're not too good or above our own rules, that we are responsible to those we lead, that their failures can often be traced back to a failure on our own part... 

that my failure can leave others choking in the wake that trails behind me.

27 October 2014

walK with THE Wise ~ something for nothing ~

Ever hear someone say you can't get something for nothing? Or that nothing in life is free? That's probably pretty accurate, at least in a worldly sense...

I see that principle at work as I work my way through this proverb:
  • I don't know what a day may bring.
  • We will carry burdens as we walk through this life - some of our own making and some that others have piled on us.
  • Friends will wound us, intentionally and unintentionally.
  • Genuine nourishment costs.
  • Good advice and good counsel, even when lovingly given, can be painful to hear and even harder to implement.
  • In hard times, you must rely on community - implying you've been that relied upon community for others before.
  • Simplicity is often a synonym for naivety.
  • Growth and change for the better, moving in a more godly direction, requires gently accepting correction, hard words, difficult situations...
  • To enjoy the fruit of tree, you must first protect that tree.
  • To experience the pleasure of your superior, you must first defend, shield and preserve that person's name and honor.
  • The fruit of our life will make clear the investment and direction of our heart.
  • A flock of sheep provides and sustains only when work is invested into providing for and sustaining the flock.
We live in a culture that likes to get something for nothing, to reap reward without accountability. That really, rarely, ever happens... but people always seem to be searching for that super-return that doesn't reflect the effort or amount of their investment.

And, we are all guilty of this, at some time or another.

photo credit: jDevaun.Photography via photopin cc

Just as we don't like the fact that our choices have consequences, often ones we don't appreciate... we keep hoping against hope for the sudden windfall that far and above surpasses the seed we've sown. For, in general, we don't always want to reap what we've sown but rather to reap where've we not not sown, or at the very least to receive above and beyond the effort invested.

I know of only one type of instance, however, where this regularly occurs - where something is genuinely free.

And it is God's gifts of grace and mercy - offered and bestowed freely and liberally, at no cost or expense of my own.

So... why doesn't this world, so obsessed with something for nothing, take better advantage of this sort of free gift?

Am I the only one who has ever wondered that? What do you think?
And why?


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