A Treacherous Trap

I read recently of a woman who was enjoying time with her family one evening. Quite suddenly she started experiencing some mild stomach pains. 24 hours later, after taking some over-the-counter stuff for flu, the pain persisted and got sharper so she went to her doctor. The doctor gave her some flu medicine and told her it was nothing to worry about. A week passed with the pain continually worsening, until finally one evening it was intolerable. Going to the emergency room, the on-call surgeon took and studied her x-ray. He then ordered she immediately be prepped for surgery. The x-ray revealed that her appendix had burst several days previously and poison was slowly killing her.

Greed: avarice, particularly for wealth and things. Greed is analogous to that burst appendix spreading poison. There was a time early in my Christian journey where I was driven by greed. My lust for things started off small. As I spent money that I could ill afford on things I wanted but did not need, I would get annoying little twinges of guilt. Like any sin, greed is never content. During that time in my life I was never satisfied with what I had. As my friends bought new things, I just had to get those same things or even better things so I could stay up with them. The focus of my life was to grab all that I could get even if it meant going further into debt.

Greed warped my personality. I became jealous of my friends for the things that they had and even the positions they held in work and church. I developed an insatiable desire on having my own way. I started to be quarrelsome. Jealousy turned into conceit. I began looking down on those who did not have the things that I had. Looking back, I was struggling for pre-eminence in all that I did, even in the church. I choose to ignore that there is only One who is qualified pre-eminent. I claimed that Jesus was pre-eminent in my heart but that was a deception. Greed was the driving force in my life. I became ego-centric, not thinking about others and did lots of damage relationally.

Here are seven specific things I have learned about greed:
1. Greed is destructive to me and those around me.
2. Greed hinders honest prayer.
3. Greed is offensive to God who is unrelenting in His giving of Himself to me.
4. Greed cannot be reformed by more religious activity.
5. Greed insists on growing over time.
6. Greed breeds injustice and inequality.
7. Greed is the worship of me instead of my Creator and is therefore the highest level of treachery against the King of Kings.

The Bible and Jesus in particular, have some pointed things to say about greed. Jesus combined hypocrisy and greedy self-indulgence together. Matthew 23:25 God warns us that unchecked greed will turn a man of God into a sworn enemy of the Gospel, hindering God’s intended salvation, keeping men from believing in Jesus. Hypocrisy fueled by greed will cause men to take great pains to appear Godly but they are living a life of extortion and excess at the expense of the poor. It is a treacherous trap.

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It’s Not Magic

It’s Not Magic. We all have one thing in common, how to keep sin out of our lives? Even the Psalmist asked the question: “how can a man keep his way pure?” [Psalms 119:9 NIV] Then he turned right around gave the answer by saying “by living according to your word.” Our world is full of “how to” books and seminars. The most consistent answer to living as God would want us to live, is by realizing that it’s only by a divine intervention that man can shape his character so that is pleasing to God. God has provided us that divine intervention. It’s not magic. How do we do it? Be intentional about living according to God’s word. We start the process and God does the rest.

For example, suppose at the beginning of the New Year I make a resolution. I am never going to look at pornography again, ever. But that resolution soon gets broken. The problem is I am seeking God with my head and not my heart. It’s easy to agree with God’s word in my head. But it’s in the heart where God makes the changes. Jesus makes it clear that it is from the heart where the “want” to look at pornography comes from, along with every other sin. God has the solution for us.

Memorization is one of the most effective tools God provides for us in combating sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” But you might say “Well memorization is something you do with your head.” And you’d be correct. But here’s what happens. As we memorize God’s word we are actually hiding it in our heart. The Holy Spirit can remind us of how He wants us to live. It’s at that point that we have the opportunity to meditate on what we memorized. IF we choose, we can apply it to our lives. As we go through the process of considering what we memorized and considering what God is telling us, we gain the opportunity to try to apply it to our lives. And here is what’s really cool. One outcome is discovering that we are changing. We start delighting in reading His word. And the more we work the process the more we find that we will not neglect finding time get into His word.

The process memorizing, meditating and applying God’s word is much like the old illustration but we’ve all heard. A glass of muddy water stands on the counter. Move the glass under the tap and let the tap run water into the glass. Eventually the running water will push out the dirty water. As we fill our life with God’s words, the pressures of sin become negated and pushed away, replaced by God’s word. “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” [Psalm 119:15-16 ESV]

Here are four things that from my experience I can count on:

  1. When I meditate on God’s precepts [directions for living] this affects my thoughts.
  2. When I fix my eyes on God’s ways this changes my attitude.
  3. When I delight myself in God’s statues [God’s permanent rules established to govern my internal life] this affects what I strive for.
  4. When I make a conscious effort not to forget God’s word, this changes what I remember; old things get nailed to the cross and God makes things new in my life.

Like I said the beginning this is not magic. God wants to support me changing my life. All He wants me to do is to start the action. Listen to the Psalmist: I seek…, I have hidden…, I rejoice…, I meditate…, and I delight. [vs. 10, 13, 14, 15 & 16] Only I can start the process of exchanging my dirty undrinkable water with His clean living water, Jesus. What are you waiting for?

Who is listening to whom?

There is a lot of dialogue among Christians of varied persuasions about the techniques, abilities, and theology of how to listen to God [or even if God speaks today]. A young man told a group of us last night that he has often wondered “Where do the words come from that are a benefit to others, when they are not in my head to begin with?!”

How often have you felt like you were being prompted to say something to someone and immediately the following thoughts ran through your mind? “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to a word I say. They’re going to say, ‘GOD? Speaks to him? Hardly!’” Or this objection: “Lord, please, I don’t talk well. I’ve never been good with words, neither in the past or today. I stutter and stammer.” Or the ultimate objection: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Sound familiar? Too often we think that we are not the right person for the job God has in mind for us. Of course, stopping to think our objection[s] through, we will see clearly it implies that God does not know what He is doing. It implies that He has randomly just picked me to go do or say something because I happen to be handily available.

I suspect that the real reason that we are resistant to following the prompting of God has to do with it taking us out of our comfort zone. We do not like being uncomfortable. And why are we uncomfortable? Because we have set boundaries around what we will do in obedience when God prompts us in some direction. The author of Hebrews quotes God writing: “… my righteous ones will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” And then he adds “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” [Hebrews 10:38-39 NIV] If we are to believe God, then shrinking back from doing what He wants us to do is to invite God’s displeasure in us.

God understands better than we do how uncomfortable it can be stepping outside of our ‘comfort boundaries.’ Jesus was there. He experienced that also. Our fear of stepping out be it to talk to a stranger or give a message really has to do with slavery. Who or what do we fear the most? Are we a slave to our fears; are we a slave to our individual preconceived boundaries of trust? Do we really believe it when God tells us, in writing, that “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear …” If we doubt that God really means what He says, than we will miss out on opportunities of receiving blessings from God’s hand by failing to minister to others that He Himself put in our way. We are a slave if we fail to obey, which is an oxymoron because being a slave has to do with unwavering obedience.

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.

Lying lips …

Finding just one proverb to write on is like going into a candy story finding just one favorite candy in a store full of candy. So after wandering around the Proverb Candy Store, here is mine: Proverbs 12:22. “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal faithfully are His delight.”

The word ‘abomination‘ is not a commonly used word in today’s vernacular. The word we us today is ‘to detest something of someone.’ Where I have most often heard the word abomination used is by Christians who misquote and misapply what God says is because they are on some righteous bandwagon [e.g.: the gay-lesbian debate]. They will say that God says that all gay people are ‘an abomination to the Lord’ [attempting to quote a 1611 KJV version that they probably have never read for themselves]. They quote this as if that were the ONLY thing that God detests. Shame on them.

Key Word: Abomination. It means abhorrence, disgust, an action that is vicious, vile; an intense loathing. It is a strong word and God does not sling it around randomly. Other words that help describe abomination would be: outrage, atrocity, repugnance, something detested. The opposite of abomination is love: consider John 3:16. This is the love that God exhibits as He overlooks and puts away our sin. Not only does he condemn the sin [not the sinner] but He eliminates the sin. Wow!

Two reasons that God hates lying enough to call it an abomination: [1] it breaks His Law. God never lies. God never misspeaks. God never has to go back and correct something He has said. [2] it is destructive to human society. We do not seek out liars to be friends with. We do not seek out those who we suspect might stab us in the back to share our lives with. No. We want to be friends with those who will be honest with us and that we can place confidence in.  

Lying is so easy to do. We will lie because our pride prompts us to protect ourselves. We will lie because our pride tells us that we need to protect others; a mindset of “they cannot handle the truth.”  

  • Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to God’s nature. In His kingdom and in the final chapter of history as we know it, God says clearly: “… and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” [Rev 21:26-27 NASB]
  •  Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to community. Lying takes place in community; in relationships no matter how surface. Lying breaks the “imago dei” [Latin: asserts that humans are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value independent of function.] in which we were created. But wait, is lying all that God considers an abomination; something that He detests vehemently? Consider Pr 11:1 “A false balance is an abomination…” Again, a form of lying in a community setting; e.g.: lying to another in a buyer / seller relationship. God also detests gossiping  
  • Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to the Scriptures that He has empowered to change our hearts. When God tells us the truth about ourselves, He tells us the whole truth. He leaves nothing to imagination. To tell someone a partial truth from God’s word [like Christians like to do with the gay-lesbian debate] is really lying to make a proud full point. And that is from the pit of Hell! 
  • Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to the essence of His Son Jesus, who is the embodiment of truth itself. There was always a harmony between the words that Jesus spoke and the inward intents of His heart. We need to be careful that our ‘favorite’ biblical truth is not taught to the exclusion of other biblical truths, producing a dangerous imbalance. We need to be careful that we do not teach a biblical truth in an exaggerated way, often going beyond what Scripture actually says, and in the end this does more harm than good. Many times clear, biblical warnings are ignored or reinterpreted so radically that they lose all impact or effect, leaving people vulnerable and exposed.
  • Lying is an abomination because it is contrary to the Holy Spirit who is the One who leads us into all truth as seen in Jesus

The opposite end of the spectrum from lying is loving faithfulness, loving people enough to always act in faithfulness to truth which is the delight of God. John 3:21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”  Now I know that this is not directed toward those who have a personal relationship with Jesus, but it does clarify, if there was any doubt, about how God sees lying. It should give us pause to consider how well we tell the truth. Are we prone to misspeak and therefore mislead because our pride wants us to have the advantage in the relationship?

 

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?

Water tight integrity

I was not able to listen to President Obama’s State of the Union address. However, I am reading all of the commentary that it generates. Ever since getting back to the US, I am worried for this nation’s future. It appears that Obama briefly addressed our country’s ever-growing deficit, but he reinforced his stance on how the rich must pay their due. It appears that he is refusing to acknowledge any other solutions for our nation’s debt other than creating class distinctions, something that the Constitutional framers worked hard to eliminate. Reading about his other speeches, the problem of debt crisis is nominal.

I am a navy veteran and the political situation feels as if I am in a sinking ship. Water is pouring from this huge gash in the bottom of the boat. Water pressure is causing the gash to widen; threatening to break the keel in two. Captains in the past have not called for watertight integrity as they poured more power to the ship because they wanted to be popular with the crew. The two crews [Port Water Integrity Crew and Starboard Water Integrity Crew] responsible for getting rid of the water only argue about which side of the boat they should work on first. Each crew is insisting that their side gets fixed first. They insist on using only their very limited material rather than combining material and crews. If they manage to come to an agreement, they only lift a single bucket of water out of the onslaught of liquid and then go right back to arguing. The President and Congress seems incapable of understanding that we have to band together and that everyone has to compromise for this problem to be solved. The President saying that simply making the rich pay 30 percent of their income in taxes isn’t going to be a fix all. Is that disturbing to you? Does that seem short-sighted? But then should I expect better heading into an election year? The priority is not fixing the country but getting votes to stay in office.

Because we as a nation have for the most part abandoned the idea of being ‘one nation under God’ this abandonment has deprived her of leaders that truly care about America and its future. Our nation’s future is becoming nothing more than a foolish fairy tale. That is why I do not pin my hopes on a party or man to bring change. Political parties and men change to suit their agendas but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. I am staking my vote on Him.

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!

Unending book!

“…the word of the Lord stands forever…” 1 Peter 1:25

As a new Christian I some older Christians challenged me to develop the habit of reading my Bible daily. I took up the challenge eagerly. About half way through reading the Bible cover to cover, I suddenly wondered “What am I going to do after I finish … there will be nothing left to read!”  I asked my Christian mentors and they said something like “You could read the Bible for a lifetime and not ‘scratch the surface.” At the time I did not believe them. But over the years I have found that there just is no other book like the Bible. In my 70 years of living I have found no  human being that would have written a philosophy for living to such a high standard. The Bible speaks from outside the human condition. I think that it was Martin Luther who said: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” I have found that the Bible creates a sense of God’s presence that forces a reaction in public places. I can lay a newspaper on my table in a Starbucks and no one gives me a second look. However, when I lay my Bible on the table I get looks. Some see the Bible and then stare as they walk by as if I am going to jump up and preach! So for the last 50 years I have worked on maintaining a daily reading schedule. The Bible is and will be the last word. ‘The Word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us to what we really are’ (Hebrews 4:12 NLT).