Beginnings are not endings

“I was born a slave … I am not sure of the exact place or exact date … My life had its beginning during the most miserable, desolate and discouraging surroundings.”

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Booker T. Washington* described his start in life as such: “I was born a slave … I am not sure of the exact place or exact date … My life had its beginning during the most miserable, desolate and discouraging surroundings.” I have known personally many people in my life time who start life in difficult and incredibly ‘unfair’ circumstances. Rejecting parents of one child over another and ignored by parents who are involved in an addiction. Then there are those born with crippling and debilitating diseases. Or in the prime of their life are struck down as paraplegics. [Joni Erickson-Todda] There is absent parent[s] who are in prison or too sick to care for them. In today’s chaotic culture, many grow up in families surrounded by family who are murderers, child abusers and con-artists. Some grow up in or are sold into a type of slavery like sex-trafficking, even here in the US.

Consider Joseph, who is held up as a hero of the Bible. Jacob, his father, grew up as conniving and treacherous man. He took advantage of his father’s blindness and stole his older brother’s inheritance. Jacob’s father-in-law Laban cheated him several times with livestock and marriages.

Jacob’s sons took after their father. Joseph who was the 11th son born, was the youngest. Jacob played favorites with his sons. He was not shy about showing favoritism toward one child over other ten brothers. He did this in different ways: Jacob gave more affection, more privileges and less discipline to Joseph who was his favorite. Is it any wonder that this created animosity and jealousy among the other 10 older? One day when Joseph was a young man they saw an opportunity to be rid of him. They sold Joseph into slavery to some Egyptians slave traders. To cover their crime, they created an elaborate story, complete with hard evidence, to convince their father of Joseph’s unfortunate demise by a wild animal attack.

Joseph, the favored son with the nicest clothes, started life as a loved and cherished son. Suddenly he finds himself in a foreign country as a slave among foreign gods. But did he focus on yesterday? No. Let me say this, I believe that there is only one reality, today. Yesterday and tomorrow are not reachable. I cannot change the past or the future therefore, they are not in my realm of reality. All I can change is what is in front of me at this moment.

Back to Joseph. He remained faithful to his God and the Bible says “The Lord was with Joseph…” [Genesis 39:2] That is a game-changer in any circumstance. What changes, if I choose to believe God, is my attitude. Jesus levels the playing field. He is the only One who can change tomorrow. Someone said that “People go through life looking at the wrongs people do to us in the yesterdays.” How sad. They fail to see that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Hebrews 13:8 ESV] We may not escape the circumstance we are born into or the circumstances thrown at us either by whim or design or our ignorance or stupidity. The good news is that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” [Romans 8:31 NIV]. When everything is all said and done, if God is in us then it does not matter who is against us! Beginnings are not endings!

Meditations on Proverbs – Introduction

MP910221031Wisdom Personified: Understanding Words of Insight

Exactly three years to the day, before he succumbed to cancer on November 25, 1986, my Dad gave me a Bible with the following Scripture reference inscribed on the flyleaf:

Get Wisdom at Any Cost
4 Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
pay attention and gain understanding.
2 I give you sound learning,
so do not forsake my teaching.
3 For I too was a son to my father,
still tender, and cherished by my mother.
4 Then he taught me, and he said to me,
“Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live.
[Proverbs 4:1-4 NIV]

That was 30 years ago. I still ponder those words. Until a few years ago, I used to think that when one got white hair then one was wise. I supposed that it sort of happened magically. Then recently I was reading through the book of Job [I have lost count how many times that I have read his account but it is one of my favorites] and I read where the young man called Elihu’s brings rebuke to Job’s three older friends who were attempting to bring Job ‘counsel.’ Elihu said “It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right. But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.” [Job 32:9, 8 ESV]

Suddenly, the magic disappeared and it became clear. God our Father wants me to take a grip on His words, not in my cerebral spaces but with my heart. Here is a command with a distinct promise: “keep my commands, and you will live.” What have I learned in three score and twelve years? Just this, that there is nothing that will bring peace, insight and clarity to my existence than paying attention to my Father’s instruction. It has meant that I have had to learn to be obedient in the right direction over the long haul. I wish I could say that I was always a willing learner. But I have learned that by taking hold of His words and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach my heart, it has brought guidance, prudence, knowledge and discretion to my words and actions.

I would like to pass on what I have struggled to learn. So join me in a journey through Proverbs.

Trials

‘Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials.’ James 1:2

Trials are one of the common denominators for being human. However, my trials and yours are going to look and feel different because we are different. We all react differently to physical, financial, and relational trials. The operative word here is “when” not “if” we meet various trials. Trials can come about when we refuse to listen to counsel. Trials might result of someone we are connected with making a mistake [a spouse gossips] and we are caught up in the it. Trials can build over time [such as a disease] or crash in on us suddenly [like the unexpected death of a loved one]. Some trials will be public while others will be private. With a certainty all trials will test our faith. And all trials will bring us to a crossroads. The crossroad is the decision to resist the trial or to embrace this as an opportunity to grow more Christ-like. The most common response we start with is “Why is this happening to me?” Peter answers this age-old issue by telling us that  ‘…don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.’ (1 Peter 4:12 NLT). It is a matter of application. It is one thing to say that I believe in the sovereignty of God and quite another allowing God to be sovereign while we are experiencing a trial. Listen to the counsel of James under the inspirations of the Holy Spirit: ‘Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance…that you may be perfect and complete.’ (vv. 2-4 NAS). Trials have a way of clearing out the religious baggage we accumulate over time if we are willing to go back to the basics of our faith. Am I willing to stop whining about the trial and get quiet before God? Am I willing to cease my activity and spend some time listening to the One who wants me to mature?

Measure of Success

Genesis 39:2

“The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man.”

This is an unusually insightful story for today in our ‘name it and claim it’ spiritual climate. Joseph was successful [an alternate word can be prosperous]. He worked hard with integrity in all he did. It is so easy to see that the Lord was with Joseph and miss the fact that Joseph made it possible for God to operate freely in his life. Materially Joseph was prosperous and successful but it started with his spiritual life.

Becoming successful in area of life can be quicksand for the unwary. One of the take-away lessons of Joseph’s life is being successful is not a guarantee that all will be pleasant and nice. For Joseph, it started when his brothers at first wanted to kill him but instead sold him into slavery. By the world’s standards, he had ample grounds for being revengeful and rebellious. But instead, he rose above the conditions he found himself in [and they were all unjust] and maintained his integrity before God. Maybe he knew that proverb that says: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” [Proverbs 16:18 NASB]

Key word            successful

definitions:   ● turning out well: having the intended result

● popular: popular and making a lot of money

● record of significant achievements:

● having achieved much, especially wealth, fame, or power

synonyms:   ● acknowledged, ahead of, influential; authoritative

antonyms:   ● unsuccessful, failure, loss

 

Something to Ponder:

Just because we are spiritually successful; that is, we live and act as Christ in us acts, does not exempt us from temptation. Paul wrote to the church gathered at Corinth: Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” [1CO 10:12 NASB] Be careful to measure success by God’s standard and not by the world’s.

Having said that, consider the charge given to Joshua by God Himself:  “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you maybe careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you willhave success.[Joshua 1:8 NASB] Our success, as measured by God, is directly proportional to the time and effort we put into internalizing His standards for living.

So what are the disadvantage[s] of not following God’s protocol? 

Just because it appears that God “is on our side” seeing as things are going so well, should not be an occasion for us to let down our guard. Satan will always look for ways to strip us of our integrity. When bad things happen, allowing Satan to play the “blame game” on our minds will cause us to become victims because he will convince us we have lost our entitlements. God does not care about our entitlements but does care about our obedience regardless of our circumstances.

There are definite Advantages and Benefits:

There is a saying that goes like this: “The real test of a man’s character is what he is like when no one is around.” Joseph was obedient to what he knew God expected of him even when no one was around to know. He consistently lived this way as a slave and as a prisoner. Jesus, by His very nature, was entitled to more than we will ever comprehend but He turned that all over to His Father who in turn was able to use Him to restore you and I.

There is another benefit we can learn. Potiphar’s wife was persistent. She tried to entice Joseph not just once but ‘day after day.’ Joseph was not a superman. He like all of us had his up days and down days. There were days when he felt strong and days when he felt worn down. It is the temptations that occur day after day that will be the toughest battles. Alcoholics know this well and hence learn to live one day at a time. Joseph lived one day at a time and that was his secret to success with God. Sometimes success means running for your life!

Here are THREE Applications to consider:

A1:      We cannot see our future and God’s plans for us now. Are you a character like “Joseph” and live and work in obedience as God expects of you?

A2:      No matter what we have lost and how bad the conditions we find ourselves, are you maintaining your success before God by being obedient even when nobody is around.

A3:      Real success is measured by what Jesus taught: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How are you doing in advancing His kingdom by doing His will when nobody knows but our Father?

Living-dead living

Col 3:5  “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…”

It is difficult to live as a living-dead man. The seat of my desires shows itself in the different parts of my body. I like the old English word “members.” My body is composed of different members. All of the members are subject to earthly desires. The eye is different from the hand. The brain is different from the mouth. Yet the eye, brain, mouth and hand all feed information to the seat of my desires. This is where “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” are fed to the seat of my desires. In the Garden, where perfection reigned, the information flow was untainted. But the proverbial “I” rebelled and garnered the wrath of God. “I” was expelled. “I” now became a creature of idolatry. Now I live, as a citizen outside of the Garden, in a body of members who tainted by earthly desires that are hostile to a holy God. And the only remedy is death, but to not the physical members, as that would harm or even kill me. It is the seat of desires that will be dominated and killed. It is a beast; a wild horse that refuses to be broken. As anyone knows who has been horseback riding. The reins are for keeping the horse from running away with the rider. By denying domination to the seat of my desires I keep the control; I keep rein over  influence of my members from running away with me. My experience teaches me that not putting to death this pale horse allows it to gain power and morph into a raging bull elephant. It is warfare. In warfare, you kill the enemy bent on killing you before he succeeds.

Beginnings are not endings

Many people start life in difficult and incredibly ‘unfair’ circumstances. There many around us who begin life rejected by parents. Many grow up in families surrounded by murderers, rapist, treachery, addictions and con-artists. Some grow up in slavery or are sold into slavery, even here in the US. Consider Joseph, who is held up as a hero of the Bible. Jacob his father was a conniving and treacherous. He stole his older brother’s inheritance. Jacob’s sons took after their father. Joseph was the 11th son, the youngest. Jacob played favorites with his sons and Joseph was his favorite. This created animosity and jealousy among the other 10 older brothers. They made a plan and sold Joseph into slavery to some Egyptians slave traders. Then they created an elaborate lie complete with evidence to convince their father of Joseph’s unfortunate demise by a wild animal attack. Joseph started life as a loved and cherished son and suddenly found himself in a foreign country as a slave among foreign gods. But did he focus on yesterday? No. He remained faithful to his God and “The Lord was with Joseph…” [Genesis 39:2] That changes everything. That changes most of all our attitude. God being with us levels the playing field. He can change tomorrow. Many people go through life looking at the wrongs people do to us in the yesterdays. They fail to see that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Hebrews 13:8 ESV] God can help us with the wrongs and heal our hurts. That does not mean that God is necessarily going to ‘fix’ those who have wronged us. We may not escape the circumstance we are in or resolve it to our liking. The good news is that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” [Romans 8:31 NIV]. When everything is all said and done, if God is in us then it does not matter who is against us! Beginnings are not endings!

Not My Opinion

This is my name forever…” Exodus 3:15
At some point in the future there will be one final word from a Name that will end all controversy for all time. We live in an apartment building where some apartments face inward to a courtyard with a fountain. For several nights now there have been loud collections of words being spoken till the wee hours in the morning. Loud obnoxious words without meaning. Words trying to drown out other words with their own noise. Words quoting resources. Words of anger. Words of surprise. Words rolling off alcohol saturated tongues. Words from many languages. Piercing words disturbing us in our sleep. Annoyed words thrown from quiet balconies to shut down the irritating words. Words, words and more words tossed into the night from voices in the dark. As I lay there trying to sleep, often I have asked the question: “In the multitude of words where is the wisdom? There is one Word that points us to the One Name that has the Ancient Wisdom. I AM. “This is my name forever…” Exodus 3:15 Many words try to explain or explain away I AM. Look into the past; examine the present; peer into the future … the Word forever accurately represents the Name. The Word did not grasp the Name on his own. “…he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.” Hebrews 1:4 “…God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name…” Philippians 2:9 So the next time that you hear words flowing around you, remember that this Name provides the final “say so” – the final word of I AM. “…keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus…” Hebrews 12:2 One Word. One Name. One Source. Amen!

When God rejoices…

Are there angels around us watching us work out our salvation?  When we get it right and follow the Lord in faith do they rejoice with singing?  Consider:  Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

I am finding that God has made life quite simple.  When Jesus said that even a little child can understand salvation, it is true.  Life is made up of a series of choices.  The choices come to us in pairs.  The follower of Christ is not faced with multiple choice but a choice of ‘either’ ‘or.’  That is what makes it so simple.  When I find myself in a situation I have the opportunity to put feet to my claims of trusting in the Lord.  I will do one of two things.  Either I can choose my prideful way or I will live by faith.

Choosing to live by faith means that I am going to choose to trust in, rely on and adhere to the Lord Jesus Christ.  By faith I am going to rejoice in the fact that God has plans for me because He takes great delight in me.  Choosing to go my own prideful way will cause me to view the circumstance from my perspective.  I immediately start the process of trying to sort out how to maybe avoid this altogether; or how to escape; or start trying to find the resources I can use; or trying to find any resources that might work; or just try to blame someone and become the ‘victim.’

Making the choice to live in faith or to live outside faith is difficult at first.  Choosing to trust God works like this.  I find myself in a circumstance that seems to be unbearable.  I make the choice to trust God.  I choose to believe God that He is not planning to harm me.  Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” In the face of all that is surrounding me, I choose to acknowledge that God is going to do what He says and give me hope by building my faith.  This could be through the loss of someone or the loss of my dreams or the loss of a job or the loss of my health or intense marital issues.  It matter not what the situation turns out to be each of us.  What matters is that I fix my eyes on Jesus.  He promises me a future.  He promises me He will quiet my troubled heart with His love…but I have to let go of my hearts’ desires.

The problem is as old as the human race.  Even though God created us we still think that we know better.  We think that God is not listening.  We think that God does not care about me…that I am too insignificant or not good enough.  These are all lies from the Accuser.  We fail to see things from God’s perspective.  We fail to lift our eyes and by faith hear God rejoicing with the angels when we grasp His ways.

Think about this quote from George MacDonald:  “Those who think their affairs too insignificant for God’s regard, will justify themselves in lying crushed under their seeming ruin.  Either we live in the heart of an eternal thought, or we are the product and sport of that which is lower than we.” Read that quote again.  Are you being the product and sport of that which is lower than you are?  Do you know who is lower than you are?

Mountain climbing perseverance…

Mountain climbing peaks such as Mount Everest is very much like getting to know God.  It takes committment, time, effort, training and equipment.  Not all that attempt the climb will succeed.  Many will turn back because it is too hard.  Many will fail and not try again.  Therefore, all will decide how much they want to reach the peak.  All will decide how much effort they will extend and that becomes their goal.