Saturday, August 11: Acts 3- Many names and titles of Jesus.

Not long ago I preached from this chapter, so when it turned up in my devotional Bible reading schedule, I wondered how the Lord might speak to me this morning. It didn't take long. My heart and thoughts were attracted to the various names and titles that Jesus sprinkled in this chapter.*

Here are the names and titles I found in the chapter.

·         Jesus Christ of Nazareth (6).

·         God's servant (13).

·         The Holy and Righteous One (14).

·         Author of life (15).

·         God's Messiah (18 & 20).

·         A prophet like Moses (22).

Jesus Christ of Nazareth: Jesus is a historical person placed in history with a known birth location. Jesus is not just some 'idea.' He is a person people knew, heard of and could serve and worship. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, not Jesus' last name. More about Messiah below.

God's servant: first this title echoes Isaiah's suffering servant in Isaiah 53. Jesus suffered and died for you and for me and for the world that we might be freed from the tangles of sin and shame, redeemed and brought into the kingdom of God. Servant also conjures thoughts of serving, doing the bidding of another, in this case God the Father.

Holy and Righteous One: the NIV, along with all the modern translations I checked, capitalized this name, suggesting it is a title. The Holy One… perfect, set apart for God's work and honor, set apart by God for work and honor. Righteous One… perfect, pure, able to move into God's presence. This is a title of honor, dignity and godliness.

Author of life: this title suggests divinity. Who but God authors life. Creator, yes even Sustainer.

The accumulation of titles in this chapter is wonderfully amazing! I grow in reverence for Jesus.

God's Messiah: again Messiah is capitalized in its two uses, suggesting title. Messiah… God's sent One. God's redeeming One. God's anointed One. Jesus is THE One sent by God to call and redeem a people set apart for God.

A prophet like Moses: there is only one Moses, the greatest Old Testament figure. Moses was a prophet who spoke directly with God and who led God's people to freedom. Moses, unique among the prophets, was both prophet –mouthpiece for God –and leader sent by God to execute God's redemption for the people. So, too, Jesus, who has the additional qualities of being Messiah and God Himself.

Wow, what a glimpse of Jesus this chapter provides.

I sit in awe and wonder… Jesus has made Himself known to me. Jesus has called me and Jesus has given me His name and appointed me to be His ambassador to the nations.

Oh Jesus, Lord and Master. I bow to You. Yes, I bow to You… Halleluiah. Amen.

 

*It is fascinating for me that none of this emerged in my preaching of this chapter. There is so much in God's Word, far more than can be meditated upon or preached upon in any given day.

 

Friday, August 10: Acts 2- Do I ridicule?.

Pentecost is a miraculous day. From the tongues of fire and speaking in multi-languages to 3000 believing the message of Jesus because of Peter's explanation the hand of God was powerfully active. And yet in the midst of the mind-boggling day there is a line in Luke's retelling that puzzles me. Verse 13: Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine."

Were these scoffers deaf to what was happening? Did they speak languages that were not being spoken in the tongues so all they heard was babbling? Were their hearts so cold that they couldn't accept a visible display of God? I wonder…

As humans we often make fun of what we do not understand. Instead of trying to understand or making inquiries to gain explanations many of us resort to mockery, making fun of things beyond our comfort zone. It is a cruel human trait. In school jocks make fun of nerds. Even the terms 'jocks' and 'nerds' carry a negative connotations. People of varying heritages and races make fun of others from different heritages and races. We pick on accents, bodily features, and mannerisms. We humans can be cruel.

The 'some' who were making fun must have been prominently located or a significant number because Peter addresses them within his first two sentences. Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! (14-15).

As I sit and imagine the scene –admittedly from the point of view of a Believer rather than scoffer –my heart is cut at the ease with which we humans can make fun of others. To cut people down on a morning, clearly orchestrated to unite people, stuns me. Consider the magnitude of connections God arranged to have all those people hear the wonders of God spoken in their native languages. There is something special about being spoken to in our first language, it creates a bond. Having traveled in a number of parts of the world, when I am in a country with a different language and I hear English, I am immediately drawn. My heart relaxes, I feel included. And when I attempt to speak in the language of a country I am visiting, even poorly articulating my greeting in their native tongue generally brings a smile to faces. There is something to being spoken to in one's first language.

Here on Pentecost, God does an extraordinary miracle to include people. Yet even in the midst of this wonder, some scoffed and ridiculed and made fun….

This shows me how easily it is to fall into this behavior. At this point the voice of God rattles my inner space. Do I do this? Do I make fun of people who are different? Do I allow my personal unease with differences, whatever they may be, drive me to make fun of people rather than become interested in learning, growing and connecting with them?

If I am going to be an ambassador of Jesus then I need to seek connection rather than distance. I need to seek communication rather than ridicule.

Oh, God, forgive me for my times of inhumanity toward others. Send Your Holy Spirit to me again and again so that I might grow to be more and more like Jesus, my Savior and my Lord. In His name I pray. Amen.

 

Thursday, August 9: Acts 1- Unsung Hereos.

With the death of Judas, the apostles seek to fill his position. Two names are put forward, Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias (23). Neither of these men are named before or after. Both are acknowledged as men who had been with those traveling with Jesus since his baptism (see 21-22).

First I began to wonder how many others had been with Jesus during all his ministry years. We know from the Gospels that some women were among the number who traveled with Jesus.

Next I began to think how Justus and Matthias are unsung heroes. Matthias gets a little credibility being chosen as the 12th apostle.  However, Justus gets nothing, a named footnote on the pages of the Bible.

Justus is truly an unsung hero. He followed Jesus, gaining nothing except the honor of being among the earliest Jesus followers.

My thoughts spun to wondering about the billions of unsung heroes who follow Jesus for the joy of following Jesus, for the delight of being called a child of God.

I am one of the billions of unsung Jesus followers and most likely so is everyone who reads this blog. I don't follow Jesus for fame or glory. I don't follow Jesus to get my name in print. I follow Jesus because the God of the universe loves me and sent His One and Only Son to die so that I, and all who believe, can be restored into relationship with the Living God. And that is enough for me.

Thank You, Father, for loving me and Your world. Thank You, Jesus, for dying for me and for Your world. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for imprinting the truth of the Father's love and Jesus' sacrifice upon my heart, mind and soul. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Oh my God. Halleluiah. Amen.

 

Wednesday, August 8: Proverbs 31- Live for self or for God?.

Usually my attention is directed toward the closing thoughts in Proverb 31 on the noble woman. How incredibly industrious this woman is!

This morning I purposely paid attention to the opening, the sayings to King Lemuel, whoever he might be.

My summary, don't waste your life on women or drink (verses 1-7) as king you are the voice of those who can't speak for themselves. 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 (8-9).

I have become a fan of the TV series The Crown. In this portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, I have been struck by the serious approach she, as a young woman, takes when it comes to her queenly responsibilities. The contrast between the how Queen Elizabeth manages her life and her younger sister Margaret is striking… it is a picture of verse 1-7 and 8-9. Another aspect that stuck me is how much Elizabeth must sacrifice to be an able queen, executing her duties with honor and dignity.

These thoughts cause me to realize that to 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 has costs –even significant personal and family costs.

The path God calls us to walk, whether king, or noble, or commoner, has costs. Certainly there are wonderful rewards and blessings for walking as God would desire us to walk. Still there are costs and sacrifices to live differently that people expect or desire you to live. Every day is a struggle to live unto the Lord rather than live unto self… this is where my thoughts go as I apply this word to a king to my regular-people life.

Lord, 12-14 hours remain for me before I close my eyes in sleep tonight. I attune my ears to listen for Your voice… lead and guide me today, and then the next and the next until You close my eyes in eternal rest.

I am Yours, Oh Lord, I am Yours. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

 

Tuesday, August 7: Proverbs 30- Money dangers and importance.

 

These sayings of Agur have a different feel than other proverbs, yet they too carry a 'punch.' It was the punch of verses 8b-9 that landed on me today. …give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

What truth is found in the words, give me neither poverty nor riches. The author has keen insight into the workings of the average person. Why does he pray so? Because he knows his heart and our hearts. He gives two valid reasons for his prayer.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD? When people become self-sufficient it is easy to take our eyes off the Lord and His provision thinking we can provide for ourselves. I'm sure my own prayers have changed from the days of scrimping out to pay the bills and now when I have a bit more margin in my finances. There is a not so subtle faith-danger in having plenty of money.

But the opposite is also true as well, as the author reminds us. Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. I have never been that destitute. I have never gone hungry. I don't know what I would do. The temptation to steal to eat or feed family must be fierce. The proverb reminds us that stealing, while humanly justifiable, still breaks God's laws and in a community like Israel, that is supposed to care for the poor, dishonors the name of my God. The dishonoring seems meant for the thief, but also in a small way reflects on the community that didn't care for the poor person.

Lastly, the entire proverb is built on the truth that our wealth is provided by the Lord. Obviously we are to work for it, many proverbs decry the sluggard, but God is ultimately the One who provides. This tempers life considerably; because it reminds me to be always thankful to the Lord for the money and resources I have received and responsibly use what the Lord has provided.

Lord, all the provision my family and I have is thanks to Your hand. Keep me mindful of stewarding well what You have provided. I pray this through Christ, my Lord. Amen.

 

Monday, August 6: Proverbs 29- Care about justice.

The initial proverb that caught my attention was verse 7: The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. I found myself considering how I care for the poor.

First the word 'care' grabbed my attention. The proverb is not about how one thinks about the poor; it is how one cares for the poor. Caring implies action; doing, giving, helping, listening, advocating, befriending, visiting… Can one care for another without some kind of positive action on behalf of the cared for? Looking back to the proverb the righteous care about justice. So the caring described is given some specific direction. Can one care about justice for another without some kind of positive action on behalf of the cared for?

All of this is confronting me. I'd like to think I am a generally good guy, if so, where have I cared about justice for the poor? This question stings my heart and soul.

Father God, are you calling me to DO something? Is there a particular injustice that I should seek to right or people caught by the injustice I should seek to help? Speak, Lord, I believe and hope I am truly listening… through Jesus I pray. Amen.

 

There was a second proverb that caught my attention. Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe (25). I wonder if the two are connected. If somehow fear of man or the flip side, wanting to look good to a certain group of people, has been a snare in my not doing more to fight injustice.

I don't know. I need more time…

Speak, Lord, I believe and hope I am truly listening… through Jesus I pray. Amen.

 

Saturday, August 4: Proverbs 28- God isn't some genie.

      I read verse 9 as if it were a word directly from the Lord. If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.

That is one strong word and a tremendous reminder that the Lord desires consistency and relationship in His dealing with human beings… me!

God isn't some genie in a bottle… I rub 'His' side and then He grants me whatever wishes I want! NO. God offers us the opportunity to live in relationship with Him. Living in relationship means we can be in regular connection and communication with the Lord. We speak to and listen to the Lord. He listens to and speaks with us. WOW! Is that amazing or what? We get to live in true relationship with the God of the Universe!!!

This proverb reminds me that it is a relationship of unequals. I, a mere human, am invited into relationship with the Lord God Almighty. Because the Lord is God when He speaks I need to pay attention. To turn a deaf ear to the Lord's instruction is to step out of relationship and into rebellion. And when I am in rebellion I should not presume God will answer my prayers. The proverb even calls the prayer of the rebellious detestable! That's a strong word.

And that is not something I want to hear. So my response to this word is to check my relationship with the Lord. Am I listening to and obeying His instructions? Do I attend to His Word when I read the Scriptures? Do I attend to His Word as I converse with Him throughout the day?

How about you???

Lord, I want to live in communion and relationship with You. I want to hear Your voice and live accordingly. Forgive me when I do less. When I yawn rather than pay attention to Your voice. Forgive me when I am too busy to do what You ask. Forgive me when I am less of the man You desire and have made me to be. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Friday, August 3: Proverbs 27- The Testing of Praise.

Initially I was surprised by verse 21. The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise. As I was reading the proverb I anticipated the final word to be 'trials.' I was not expecting praise. But there it was. So I regrouped and re-read the proverb again, this time pondering its actual ending.

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise.

As I sat and thought, the truth and power of the statement seeped into my bones. Praise does test us…

Praise goes straight to our heads, inflating ego, which among other side effects, causes us to depend on self more and God or others less. Big mistake.

Praise can become like a drug we crave, so we begin living for praise rather than living for righteousness.

I am reminded of Romans 12:3: For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…

Too much praise or praise taken in too deeply can cause us to puff up our view of self. The sober judgment Paul mentions is an honest appraisal of self.

Honesty, integrity… these can help us handle praise appropriately.

Praise is a testing of fire for the soul, the person… the writer of this proverb is correct.

It has been helpful to dwell on this proverb today.

Thank you, Lord God, for supplying my needs through Your Word. Continue to teach and instruct me.  And Lord, create in me a learners pliable heart. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

 

Thursday, August 2: Proverbs 26- The fool.

The opening 12 verses expound upon the fool. A few proverbs…

Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool (1).

Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one's feet or drinking poison (6).

As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly (11).

The writer of proverbs uses some of his strongest word pictures for fools

It is a sad time when a fool has the microphone…

It is too easy to point fingers at leaders and prominent people who I believe are acting like fools as a way to deflect my gaze from myself. The proverbs, however, are meant to be a training tool for me and my life… so, Lord, what are you speaking to me through these words?!

I am reminded of a proverb from chapter 17:24: A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool's eyes wander to the ends of the earth. Living with wisdom is the antithesis of a fool. And wisdom is found through the fear of the Lord.

Thus I find myself ponding yet again what it mans practically to 'fear the Lord'… to venerate my Lord, to tremble before Him, to be in awe of Him and to seek to live with Him, in Him and for Him. This will save me from folly and playing the fool.

O God, O God, shudder me with glimpses of You that I may quake and delight in You, Lord Savior, and God of the Universe. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen and amen.

 

Wednesday, August 1: Proverbs 25- Don't exalt self.

Again today one of the proverbs launched me to a word from Jesus.

Verses 6&7: Do not exalt yourself in the king's presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, "Come up here," than for him to humiliate you before his nobles

Compare this to Jesus: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this person your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (Luke 14:8-11).

So much of life is posturing, straining for the 'best seats in the house.' I don't think I am unusual saying, it feels good to be honored and it hurts to be humiliated.

Both Solomon and Jesus make the point don't exalt yourself. If other people exalt you and honor you, accept the honor graciously but when we try to bestow honor upon ourselves, it can often backfire. I have read biographies of Da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein and other greats. I don't recall any of these noted figures bragging about how smart or ingenious they were. Certainly their accomplishments gave them acclaim, but they didn't have a need to exalt themselves.

As I ponder this I sense a connection with the phrase 'actions speak louder than words.'  I don't need to 'toot my own horn' rather allow my life and my actions to speak for themselves. If they deserve honor, let others raise that point. And if the honor doesn't come, live in obscurity and continue to do good. After all, the Lord is watching and His appraisal is what ultimately counts.

Lord God, Solomon and Jesus both seem to be talking about humility… serving others rather than exalting self. Lord, this is an easier subject to write about than life. Please help me to live more and more in the manner of Jesus, my Lord and my Savior. Amen.

 

Monday, July 30: Proverbs 23- Beware envy.

       I appreciate the 30 sayings, because they offer a little more meat on the bones of the basic thought. It was saying 15 that sparked my desire to ponder.

Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off (17-18).

Like most I observe life and there are things in life that I like, that I think about and even long for. I am not convinced this is bad; dreams can bring life. But, and this is an important, if I allow my dreams to grow so that they encompass me or if I become so fixated on them that I envy people who have the things I dream for, then I have boarded a run-a-way train that can lead to my destruction. Envy can grab the heart and squeeze the life out of it!

The proverb points to this when it speaks to envying sinners. (Personally I believe that when we envy good people who have things it can be equally dangerous.)

The proverb doesn't end with the destructive behavior, it moves on to describe a counteracting good behavior… always be zealous for the fear of the LORD. Seeking God cannot occupy a human life if we are envying something else. Good and evil cannot share the same space.

Before pushing on I lingered on the idea of being zealous for the fear of the LORD. Given other proverbs on the fear of the Lord, this injunction suggests we are zealous or committed to gaining God's knowledge and wisdom. Being zealous suggests we give our life and being to these pursuits.

At this point the proverb offers positive future of hope for those who can manage life and keep their heart and mind zealous for the fear of the Lord. Hope is a great gift. Hope can carry us through the darkest trials. Hope is a beautiful attribute.

Having spent time listening to this proverb, now comes my opportunity to internalize it. I have hopes and dreams, do I keep them manageable and positive by being zealous for the fear of the LORD? Flipping the thought on its head, do I allow my zeal for the Lord to inspire my hopes and dreams? Is God, getting to know the Lord, and living in a manner that delights Him my highest aim and fuel for my hopes and dreams? These are questions that drive to the heart and teaching of this proverb.

Am I living this way? Are you? What a deep and powerful thought to carry with me throughout the day.

Lord, may knowing You and living with and for You be my deepest hope and my greatest dream. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

 

Tuesday, July 31: Proverbs 24- How do I treat enemies?.

Saying Number 28, verses 17-18, Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them (17-18), reminded me of one of Jesus' words.

Can you guess what word of Jesus I was thinking about?

Matthew 5:44: But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… (see also Luke 6:27 and 35).

The sentiments are not quite the same, Jesus definitely amps up God's expectations of our response to enemies.

God is certainly interested and instructive in how we are to treat enemies. And it seems clear that God believes we can control our responses, that we are rational beings who can will to do good.

Gracious in victory; humble in defeat.

Here's the rub. All of these words are so contrary to the way general culture would have me live.

Lord, everywhere I turn I am embroiled in a war; to live Your way or to live as people and culture would have me live. I cannot rest. I cannot slumber, I must remain vigilant and on guard always. I must constantly be orienting my life to your world like a ships captain uses a sextant of old or GPS today. Without constant monitoring it is so easy to get off target and out of line with You and Your revealed will.

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land…

In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

 

Saturday, July 28: Proverbs 22- To care with God's heart.

Reading through Proverbs this time, verses that speak about the divide between rich and poor and how the rich should treat the poor, seem to catch my attention. Today it came in the second of 30 wise sayings, verses 22-23:  Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will exact life for life.

There seems to be much talk these days about the divide –the growing divide –in my country between rich and poor. It pops up in immigration debates and reports on healthcare. Maybe I am tuned into this topic because of some of the reading I have been doing lately and some experiences I have had…

·         Monthly trips for years to the World Vision Storehouse in the South Bronx that services the underprivileged in that community.

·         Attending a 'green card' party for friends, one of whom just got his green card, a great relief for friends and family.

·         Books, Trevor Noah, Born a Crime; Cristina Henriquez, The Book of Unknown Americans –A Novel; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Whatever my internal impulse, verses like 22&23 grab me. Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will exact life for life.

It is all too easy to exploit people simply because one can. Do not exploit the poor because they are poor

I try not to, but I can't help wondering if I am clueless to exploitation around me. If fact I am wondering right now if the privileges I enjoy as a highly educated, white, upper middle class person aren't born on the back of the less fortunate, thus causing me to be complicit in exploitation. I don't know but my soul is wondering out loud through my fingers on the keyboard.

My reading of Scripture tells me that God has His eye on the poor and God cares how I (we) treat people who have less of this world's wealth and advantages. And I am wondering if I honestly understand this???

Do you?

Lord, teach me to care, to care with Your heart. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

 

Friday, July 27: Proverbs 21- My mixed thinking.

Each day I read proverbs there are many stopping points to pause and ponder. One of the beauties of proverbs is the random scroll of topics addressed. Each chapter is a tapestry of wise counsel. And while there are clearly dominant threads that weave multiple times in multiple chapters the breadth of any one chapter is a trove of practical wisdom.

Today out of the woof and weave of the chapter, verse 2 drew me to meditate. A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.

This proverb caused me to recognize how much a product of my environment and culture I am. What I believe is true, while personal, is also deeply affected and influenced by the culture in which I live and the people I regularly associate with. Having spent time in Africa I was shocked on my early trips with differences in how life is perceived. My natural impulse was that in many of these areas of difference my way was 'right' and theirs 'wrong.' Setting aside the rightness or wrongness or even the better or worse-ness of our cultural differences, living in a different culture for an '''extended period of time helped me see how much influence my culture has upon me without me generally recognizing so.

Building upon this I look back at the proverb, A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart. I can think I am right, and I generally do think this, but God sees perfectly and by weighing the heart God can tell when we are off-kilter from His will and way and thus wrong. My heart is partially formed by my life milieu rather than being fully formed by God's will and way. Thus without realizing it I can think I am right but be off course from the Lord.

Yikes…

Lord, give me Your eyes to see where I am misled by my culture. Help me to see these divergent beliefs in me and to find the power in Your Holy Spirit to combat them within me. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Thursday, July 26: Proverbs 20- Musings on forgiveness.

Even though the verse 9 & 12 are not side-by-side, my thoughts connected them as I read.

Who can say, "I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin"?

Ears that hear and eyes that see— the LORD has made them both (9 & 12).

When I read that first proverb I said, "Yeah, that's me." I know I cannot say I have kept my heart pure. I know too well my faults, sins and failings. I am so thankful for forgiveness offered in Jesus. What a gift! What a blessing God's forgiveness is through Jesus Christ, the Lord!

There are times when I am tempted to take God's gift of forgiveness for granted. I think that is the thought that connected verses 9 and 12. Verse 12 reminded me that God is always watching. Yes, God forgives, but He also sees and hears and that is a warning to me. God sees and hears.  I can hide nothing from Him. And sometimes when I am tempted to get away with something… this reminder is enough to straighten me out!

Now this doesn't always work, temptations to do things my way rather than God's way can be strong. Still reminding myself that God sees and hears does elevate the 'fear of the Lord' in me and that is always a good thing.

Proverbs can be so practical. No wonder Billy Graham credited reading one chapter of proverbs per day as one of the factors that helped him maintain his integrity throughout his long life.

Good advice, Dr. Graham…

Lord, may I hide your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Lord, may I pay attention to Your Word. May the theology keep me from dogmatic error in my teaching, my preaching and the practical. May it keep me as a humble child before You, Lord. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 25: Proverbs 19- A gentle reminder.

Verse 23: The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Over and over the 'fear of the Lord' pops up in Proverbs. Generally it is describes as bringing wisdom or understanding. Verse 23 is a twist on the usual, which is probably why it caught my attention.

Living wisely, living with understanding of God's way does bring life. The author is correct. When you live within the law of God there is no looking over one's shoulder to see if someone is out to catch you in some wrong you have committed. Your conscience is clear because you actions are pure. Living like this, a person can rest at night and live during the day.

Sitting here I realize how far I am from living this way. Often my anxieties in life stem from occasions when I have not lived with the appropriate fear of the Lord. Instead I allowed my motivations come from other pressures and influences. I hate to admit this to myself…

This proverb is a reminder I have many areas of growth remaining…

Lord, it is good to realize that there are benefits to living Your way. My world tells me otherwise and tells me otherwise constantly. Thank You for this word from Your heart, a healthy reminder that living according to Your will and way has blessings and benefits in this life as well as the next. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen

 

Tuesday, July 24: Proverbs 18- An appearance of truth.

Proverbs 18:17 offers advice that has saved me more than once from an error. It reads, In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines. I have found this to be true in many contexts beyond the courtroom, in which I have never been.

It is so easy to be convinced when you hear only one side of an issue or dispute. Taking time to hear both sides and probing as necessary has saved me from many impulsive actions which, if executed, might have led to deep embarrassment and potentially false accusations.

I have also found this to be helpful in meetings where I spend a great deal of time. When a presentation is made allowing both for and against voices speak their piece it leads to better decisions, in my opinion. The dynamics of a meeting are that some people (usually extroverts) speak first and there is a subtle temptation to side with the first voice. Sometimes as moderator I have to tease out quieter folk who may agree or disagree with what has been already spoken. Generally listening to all voices proves to be wise. They might agree and thus strengthen the argument for the proposed action or they might expose a facet that has yet to be considered. Either way the final decision is generally stronger.

The wisdom of this proverb has application in many arena…

Oh, God, may I build into my general life-operating manual the wisdom to listen to and weigh all sides of an issue before making up my mind. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen

 

Monday, July 23: Proverbs 17- Sound advice.

 

Reading through the proverbs, I am often surprised by the proverbs that garner my attention. Today two caught me and drew me in. The first was verse 5. Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.

Social media rants and some ideological radio talk show hosts often speak despairingly about the poor. Many of the things said or written are ignorant of facts and seem to stem from internal bigotries. It bothers me so I usually jump past the post or switch the dial. People can be so vicious and condescending in their language toward others. I find it powerful that Proverbs names this for the wrong behavior that it is.  It even amps up its judgment, saying to mock the poor shows contempt for the Lord Himself. 

The proverb doubles down in its second half speaking to those who gloat over disasters. When disasters happen and lives are lost and ruined, it seems to me that we should weep for our fellow humans who are suffering. Every once in a while I hear people say things like, "they must deserve it." I am often flabbergasted that people say such things, especially when they are spoken in the wake of some natural disaster? Are we so heartless that we cannot feel pain for others in pain?

Problem is even as I think about these things; I know I have had heartless thoughts and words. I am not exonerated as I read this proverb. The Lord scolds me.

The second proverb of interest was verse 14: Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. The imagery of this proverb is striking. I thought of an earthen dam, first a trickle breaks through, then the power of water begins to tear away the sediment and the trickle grows to a rivulet. The breach compounds until the dam gives way and disaster ensues. Quarrels can do that. They can divide families and friends, even nations. Proverbs says drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. Let it go. Be the bigger person and bury the issue before things escalate. Good advice.

Today God gave me some sound advice and a scolding…

Thank you, Lord. Time in Your Word always adds to my life and guides me toward maturity. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

 

Monday, July 9: Proverbs 5- Warning against adultery.

The title of the chapter gives away its content, "Warning Against Adultery." The entire chapter hammers home the dangers and snares of adultery.

I found myself thinking about the ministries, pastorates and denominational scandals brought on by adultery and elicit sexual activities. Add to that, the stories surfacing through the #MeToo movement and it becomes clear how pernicious elicit sex can be, whether adultery or other.

For me cultivating my love for the wife of my youth is my best defense. Love and fulfillment in marriage coupled with deep friendship with my wife is a safety net that helps guard my heart and my life. Constantly remembering that my ways are in full view of the LORD (21) helps, too.

Lord, I thank You for the gift of my wife. She has been a gift in so many ways… her faith in You, her love, wisdom, character and heart have all been gifts. I am so blessed. Thank You, Lord.

Please bless my wife and give me creative wisdom to know how to express my love for her in ways that bring her joy. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Friday, July 13: Proverbs 9- The need for knowledge.

Wisdom and folly are compared and contrasted in this chapter. Like a broken record, Solomon makes the point again and again…avoid folly, embrace wisdom.

I guess you cannot overplay the need to embrace wisdom. Thinking about my own parenting, there were concerns and issues I continually hammered home. God through Solomon is hammering home the concern of folly and the need for wisdom.

Am I heeding God's Word? Am I seeking wisdom?

And what is wisdom? The often-used definition is given again in this chapter. Verse 10: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

I have looked at the first half of that definition before so my eyes were drawn to the second half. (Reminder in Hebrew poetry couplets, like verse 10, are often used to make one point. The second couplet is often restatement of the first, using different language or another word picture.)

Knowledge of the Holy One is understanding… My first reaction is 'Yes, Amen.' Then as I pondered longer I realized that knowledge of the Holy One doesn't drop on us like rain from above. Instead it is more like a garden that has to be worked and tended and cultivated. Knowledge takes work to amass. Knowledge takes thought and study and concentration.

Am I spending the time necessary with the Lord and His Word to gain knowledge of Him? Am I giving God's Word the attention it deserves? Looking back over my life, am I growing in understanding?

Are you???

Lord, show me how to guard my time with You and Your Word. Give me attention when I am in thought and study. Burrow Your truths deep into my very being. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Saturday, July 14: Proverbs 10- Integrity.

When I think of a Proverb, a short 2-line pity statement comes to mind. Now that we have reached chapter 10, the chapters are full of those 2-line statements that bounce around from topic to topic.

Reading this chapter I was drawn to verse 9 and particularly the word 'integrity.' Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.

Uprightness, perfection and strength, 3 other options for translating the Hebrew word underneath 'integrity'.

While I find the word 'integrity' full of meaning, those additional options add color and texture to the meaning of the Proverb.

Whoever walks uprightly walks securely…

Whoever walks in perfection walks securely…

Whoever walks in strength [of character] walks securely…

Solomon is pointing out that being a person of moral integrity, showing strength of character, right living and the keeping of God's law is the right way to live. One is secure in God when one lives this way. But when we choose to live oppositely, choosing the 'crooked path', we are found out. We are exposed, which means we are prosecuted.

When I am walking with integrity it is like driving the speed limit. I don't need to be looking out for speed traps and unmarked police cars, because I am not breaking any laws I have no worry about being 'found out!'

Integrity is being an honorable person, a God-fearing person through and through.

Now flood the questions for my soul. Am I a man of integrity before the Lord? Is my life the same when I am in the light or in the shadows?

Lord, the joy of understanding and learning and growing in You is the joy of living life with integrity before You. May that be true of me. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Thursday, July 12: Proverbs 8- Hating evil.

An often repeated refrain is 'the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.' What then is the fear of the Lord?

In this chapter we gain a partial definition, verse 13: To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. There we have it, fearing God equates to hating evil and the author then suggests some things to hate.

Pride and arrogance… pride, overly impressed with oneself and one's abilities. When we impress ourselves with ourselves we become self-center and self-focused. Pride can do this. Pride also blocks our ability to see areas where we need help or need work/maturity. Pride also blocks us from seeing our need for God or our need for help.

A partner of pride is arrogance. These two words are from the same root, so they are two sides of the same coin. Arrogance is self exaltation… and like pride it is not hard to see how that leads to evil.

Hating evil behavior and perverse speech is more obvious, particularly when illustrating hating evil. Perverse speech is fraudulent speech. Perverse speech turns good into evil… it is the kind of speech that harms.

Back to the main thought… To fear the LORD is to hate evil. I never processed the fear of the Lord this way. It makes sense, since evil is opposed to the Lord and it makes sense that hating evil in any form shows fear for the Lord.

This is a new way for me to think about fearing God and I need more time to let it sink and soak in…

Oh God, wanting to live for You means I need to hate evil. I need to despise evil in any form. It is not enough for me to work for good, I have to stand against evil, oppose evil not only not indulge in it. Help me, Lord, to spot and take a stand that honors You against evil. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Wednesday, July 11: Proverbs 7- Beware adultery.

This is the third chapter in a row with a strong warning against adultery, prostitution and wayward sex. BEWARE. BECAREFUL, shouts Solomon. Seeking sex outside of the marriage bed is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death (27).

How many lives have crashed and burned on the slippery way of elicit sex.

Our world is enamored with sex. Sex and sensuality sells may products. Sex is prevalent in songs, on the silver screen, Internet and TV.

Solomon's warning is as apt today as in his day.

Heed God's warning…

Oh God, keep me from the path of impurity. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Tuesday, July 10: Proverbs 6- Folly.

Folly and foolishness are the subject of today's teaching. Avoid it like the plague counsels the proverb. But what is folly? The proverb outlines 11 facets of folly.

Putting oneself in debt to another. My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth (1-2). Do everything you can to extricate yourself from debt to others. Do not rest until you are free, counsels the proverb.

Laziness… too much resting and relaxing and not enough working. Follow the example of an ant who tirelessly works and gathers preparing for the days to come.

Villainy and with it keeping companionship with a villain. There is no shortcut to gain. Villainy is wrong.

The proverb warns of 7 other detestable practices, haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community (17-19), before he closes the chapter reminding us of the folly of adultery.

Folly is straying from the Lord's path as well as being lazy about important tasks. Folly destroys lives!

Now comes the introspective work, hanging a plumb line and squaring my life (your life) against the counsel of the proverb…

Lord, You have given me a measuring stick, may I use it to measure and evaluate my life. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, July 21: Proverbs 16- Our words.

Many themes fill the pages of proverbs. Today I was captured by verse 28 and the power that our words carry to advance good or stir evil.

A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.

Words carry immense power. They can obliterate like a nuclear bomb or inspire like a great work of art. Most words fall somewhere in between these extremes.

This proverb is inviting me to consider my words, how I use them and what effect they have on others…

Every time I ready my tongue to speak I have a choice to make, curse or bless, inspire or destroy, harm or help.

Take heed, before you next speak…

Lord, at Your inspiration, James reminds his readers how difficult it is to t'ame one's tongue (James 3). Still I pray, help me to bridal my tongue that it might speak life and not death. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

 

Friday, July 20: Proverbs 15- How much do you value a peace-filled life?.

What is the value of peace and harmony at home and in life? That's where my thoughts traveled, sparked by verse 17. Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.

Finance and wealth can be a tremendous blessing in life. Wealth brings privilege. But wealth and privilege do not automatically bring peace and joy in life.

Verse 17 above speaks to an important aspect of life… what value do you place on harmony and love? I have heard too many stories of wealthy couples who endure an acrimonious divorce, in order to separate. Does it happen to everyone who has wealth?  No, absolutely not. But no amount of money can make those acrimonious situations palatable. I think that is the point of verse 17. Peace, harmony and love in your life and family is a gift that surpasses one's bank account.

The proverb is not suggesting that poverty automatically brings love and peace. There can be tremendous pressure with poverty. But who goes to bed dreaming of becoming poor? No one. And no one aspires to being poor. People do, however, aspire and dream of being wealthy, hence the proverb. It is countering our natural impulses for riches, reminding us that riches do not automatically bring love, peace and harmony.

The question the proverb is asking of me goes like this. Am I striving for more and greater wealth at the expense of quality of life?

If I slip my eyes up one verse, another question comes to mind. Am I striving for more and greater wealth at the expense of my relationship with the Lord? (16: Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.)

Two questions worth pondering…

Lord, thank You for all You have provided for me and my family. We are so blessed by You. Lord, may I never set my eyes on wealth, losing sight of You. You are the greatest gift You have ever given me. Help me keep this perspective. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

 

Thursday, July 19: Proverbs 14- Some days God is tough on me.

Two very different proverbs caught my attention. I guess I will ponder one for a bit then the other.

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones (30). I have been doing a lot of walking lately, part of my recovery prescription for a recent surgery. Since I walk about 9 miles a day and 4+ miles at a time I have been on most every road within 2 miles of my home. Some of the homes I walk by are quite something, I'd guess 4-5,000 square feet. Because of a bridge being repaired I walk through a club with tennis courts, pool and other amenities that is the private club for the families living in that particular subdivision. The community is tree lined, manicured laws and beautiful… beyond nice. Walking in places like this, can easily draw envy to run wild.

One thing I have learned in life is that envy robs joy for what you do have. The proverb is correct envy rots the bones! I think the writer's point is I have a choice, I don't have to go down the envy road. I can live at peace with what I have. I can even be delighted for what other people have, particularly when they have more than me and more of things I would like to have. A heart at peace can do this.

 

Second proverb: Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God (31). This proverb troubled me greatly, specifically with regard to the way my own country has been treating poor families who have come into our country illegally. Separating children from families… oh, how this pains me. I don't mean for this blog to get political, but this is where my mind and thoughts went. It just destroys me that we in this country would do this. I know I am not doing this oppression, but my country is and I am wondering if I am complicit???

I realize that the proverb seems to be speaking to individuals and not nations. Then again 3 proverbs later I read this. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people (34). Seems to me what were doing to these families is not righteous. I don't believe God is smiling.

The first proverb called me to introspection. The second (and third) led me to tears…

A stern day in God's Word…

Oh, God… I don't even know how I should pray. Accept my wordless silence and my tear filled eyes as my prayer. Through Christ, my Lord, I pray. Amen.

 

 

Wednesday, July 18: Proverbs 13- Financial pretense.

Pretense… I guess it attacks every age. One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth (7).

Now it is certainly different to live above ones means pretending to be rich than living within and below your means as if you have nothing. The former creates a hole that can and does swallow whole families.

I just read a 2017 study reporting that 38% of American households carry on average $16,000 in credit card debt. Credit card debt is among the worst debt possible since it is often 15-20% interest.  A second study reveals that credit card debt increased in 2018 by $800/household, which means that since only 38% carry debt these households increased their debt $2100 in the last year!

Pretense, living above ones means, pretending to be who we are not, being unwise in our financial dealings… the burden this places on families is enormous.

These studies don't reveal why these households have debt. Are they pretending to be a higher 'class' than their salaries allow? Did major medical debt swallow them? Did a primary wage earner lose a job and the debt kept them afloat till a new job was found? I don't know and I can't say.

Still the warning of the proverb is clear to me… live within your means and shun pretense. To pretend to be rich, to build a fa├žade of wealth or status, isn't worth the pressure it places upon the household.  It robs the family of any joy they may have had in life.

Pretense, pretending to be who we are not, kills…

Be who God made you to be. Live within the means God gives to you. Better yourself if you are able for sure, but don't sell your soul to do so. And don't pretend to be who you are not, while you are trying to become who you may not become. Final thoughts as I ponder this proverb.

Lord, thank You for the life You have given me to life. You have blessed me and my family and I am grateful. I pray with thanksgiving that You led me to be conservative with what You have given me. I pray for wisdom to continue in Your wisdom and grace. In Jesus' name. Amen. 

 

Tuesday, July 17: Proverbs 12- A prescription or help alleviate anxiety.

Anxiety is a scourge of our age. Everywhere I turn I hear reports about how anxiety is rampant among this group or that group of people. In conversation so many people offer how anxious they are about politics and driving and this and that. News headlines sensationalize, fostering anxiety.

I guess the anxious climate of our times drew me to verse 25:  Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.

Anxiety certainly does weigh down the heart. So what can I do to help people I meet who seem to be weighed down with anxiety? I can offer a kind word. It sounds so simple, but this is not always my natural response.

Listen to conversations and hear how people respond when someone shares an anxiety. Often they add to it, "Oh, yes, I heard…." Or they dismiss it making the person feel small, "Really you let that (fill in the blank) bother you?" Or they spiritualize it or push to solve it. Sadly, these do not encourage.

What does this proverb suggest? A kind word cheers it up. Stop and think about that for a moment. You meet someone and in conversation they share something about which they are anxious. What might be a kind word you could offer….

"My, I didn't know you were struggling, I have a moment if it would help to talk?"

"I can see this is difficult for you, is there something I can do to help?"

There are many ways you can speak a kind word, these are only two possibilities.

A kind word considers the other person. It sympathizes and cares. It builds up and does these things with permission.

Just imagine a world where people routinely share kind words with others. How much more pleasant it would be. Would all anxiety disappear? Certainly not. But it would be a kinder place to live.

Think about it…

Lord, show me how to respond kindly to others. Develop in me the fruit of kindness. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.