Monday, November 28, 2016

I Really Fooled Myself

Humans are visually oriented. We generally picture a person’s face in our mind when we hear their name. Yet we understand that a person is much more complex than their face or the physical form that we see.

Many readers will remember the familiar Bible story of the anointing of King David. God had instructed Samuel, the high priest, to go to the home of a man named Jesse in order to anoint the next king over Israel. After Samuel arrived, Jesse brought his sons to Samuel.

Samuel looked at the oldest son of Jesse, Eliab, and was sure that God had chosen him. However, Samuel became confused when God rejected Eliab and six of his brothers. Ultimately, young David was called in from tending sheep. He was God’s choice.

God instructed Samuel, “...for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
(Read about it in 1 Samuel 16.)

We get it. God sees the inner person.

Unfortunately we sometimes fail with regard to our own selves. Not only are we sometimes tricked by the outer ‘shell’ of others, we can easily fool ourselves about ourselves. Solomon wrote:

     All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, 
     But the LORD weighs the spirits.
     --Proverbs 16:2

People are expert at justifying and rationalizing and explaining things to themselves. When things go wrong, we often rationalize and consider ourselves an exception (i.e. not guilty by virtue of good intentions). In general, people tend to behave as if they are right in their thinking, their decisions, and their behavior; always ready to go on the defensive if anyone challenges.

God cuts through all the exterior. He is not impressed with the outer shell and he is not fooled by the mental gymnastics of our internal rationalizations. God pierces through to the spirit and weighs, that is, evaluates the inner man.

We are completely laid bare before God.

Find confidence and peace in this reality.
  • God is just. You cannot fool God. So, God will be just with you.
  • God knows you better than you know yourself...and he still loves you.
  • If you are not friends with God, he knows. Don’t fool yourself. Make peace.
Be wise.

Monday, November 21, 2016

'How' as Important as 'What'

Quick! -- Who was your favorite teacher?

Whoever you thought of, there was a reason. For some folks the reason may have something to do with their teacher's unique ability to make the learning process enjoyable. For many, their favorite teacher not only did a good job teaching the subject matter,  she/he really cared about students. So, it was just as much about the 'way' in which things were taught.

     The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, 
     But the mouth of fools spouts folly.
     --Proverbs 15:2

The Hebrew term for ‘acceptable’ carries the idea of ‘good’ or ‘pleasant.’ So, a wise person will say things that are beneficial (i.e. good content). In addition, the ‘way’ things are said will be ‘pleasant’ to the listener.

As always, the fool stands opposite the wise. The words of the fool are described as ‘folly.’ In this proverb the 'fool' is literally someone who is 'weak-minded.'

The ‘fool’ offers little in the way of content. In addition, he lacks the skill (wisdom) to communicate in a ‘pleasant’ way so that the things said are easily accepted.

The ‘way’ we communicate is of vital importance. Just because we have good content , does not mean that we have communicated it well. We must give careful thought to the ‘way’ in which we communicate. So, assuming that the content of our message is good, our goal should be to communicate in a 'way' that makes our words pleasant and easy to hear.

Do you think this advice would help...
  • In our marriages?
  • With our children?
  • Among fellow Christians?
  • In the workplace?
(Just where would this advice NOT be applicable?)

Pleasant communication will not change the content of your message, but poorly chosen words, manners, or attitudes can completely destroy your message. Speak with wisdom; don't play the fool.

Think before you speak. Be thoughtful as you speak.
Be wise.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Reality Checkup

On one occasion, after a long hard day at school, I quipped to a co-teacher of mine, “If it weren’t for the kids, this teaching gig would be really nice!”

We laughed, knowing that teaching really is all about kids, and yet, there were those days....

Sadly, not everyone is in touch with reality:
  • Have you ever known a school teacher who really did not like kids?
  • Have you ever gone to a store and overheard the employees complaining about the customers?
  • Have you ever known an athlete who simply hated to go to practice?
The contradiction in these examples seems so obvious. However, it is likely that at times all of us are a little detached from reality. Solomon described this oxymoron quite vividly:

     Where no oxen are, the manger is clean,
     But much increase comes by the strength of the ox.
     --Proverbs 14:4

What a conundrum! What a contradiction!
   “I want a clean manger (stable).”
   “I want to earn a profit.”
   “Making a profit will require oxen" (so, ox 'scat').
   “But I really want that clean stable.”

Humans can be unreasonable when they desire two conflicting things at once. Perhaps you have heard the expression: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Reality: You simply cannot have both at the same time.

Do you ever sigh in near exhaustion wishing you could keep an uncluttered house; yet . . .
  • You allow your children to wreck the place with no measure of discipline and no expectations for them to help?
  • You find a free moment in your schedule and you immediately turn to your electronics (TV, computer, iThingie, etc.)?
  • You excuse your tired self to relax out on the patio or deck?
  • "There are more important things in life"?
The point is not that you should have an uncluttered house, or that you are not a good disciplinarian, or that you should not rest, or that other things are not important. The point is...
You are out of touch with reality.
You cannot expect to have an uncluttered house AND ... not take the steps to keep it uncluttered.

Have you ever moaned about your boss or your coworkers or your job in general, wishing things were more like your first day on the job when you were getting all the attention and everyone was helpful?

The point is not that you should just accept bad bosses or bad coworkers, or that you should just be grateful for a job. The point is that there was only one ‘first day’ with all the excitement of being the new 'golden-haired child.' You are out of touch with reality!

Young people, do you sometimes find yourself complaining about your parents when they ask you to clean your room, do household chores, go with them to visit an older person, or they say, “No” to your requests?
You are out of touch with reality!
You are a kid, not a king.

Your parents do not exists as slaves to carry out your every wish. You are completely out of touch with reality to expect a free ride in life. Your parents provide food, clothing, and housing without cost. They have a reasonable expectation for you to take responsibility and help. They have a reasonable expectation for you to honor their rules and requests. When you are out of touch with reality in your complaining, you sound like a selfish baby. Grow up!

Solomon was a ‘reality’ expert. He addressed the attitudes of the heart.
You just can’t have a clean stable, AND enjoy the profit that comes from oxen.

Is your attitude due for a 'reality check'?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Wealth or Relationships?

     Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it
     Than a house full of feasting with strife.
     --Proverbs 17:1

When we read the word ‘better’ we automatically recognize that one thing is more beneficial than another. The reader is given a comparison of the value of two things. A choice is presented.

Without knowing specific circumstances, one might reason that it is not really a sin to be in a house full of feasting with strife, but it is NOT better. The word ‘strife’ in this verse indicates complaining, arguing, and even fighting (probably verbally). So, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with a house of feasting (with strife). Of course, the strife part is not good.

We might be tempted to continue meandering around the words until we eventually wash out the meaning of the proverb. Let’s be reasonable; what do you think God expected us to learn by reading this proverb? What kind of response do you think He expects?

The ‘dry morsel’ and ‘feasting’ are contrasting terms that represent a measure of wealth. ‘Quietness’ and ‘strife’ describe human interaction. How often do we think about there being a relationship between wealth and human interaction?

Surely it is better to have plenty of food instead of going hungry. Feasting is better than starving. However, that is not an absolute truth; there are circumstances that might change the way we look at wealth. Solomon advises that if you are placed in circumstances in which you must choose between wealth and peace in human relationships, choose peace.

One might conclude that, in general...

The way you manage your relationships
The way you manage your money!

Manage wisely!
Invest in friends and family.
Invest in people.

(As we approach the upcoming whirlwind of holiday fun, feasting and festivities, we would do well to remember that our relationships with friends and family and fellow believers are more important than finances and gifts.)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Do You 'Believe in Prayer'?

The word prayer gets thrown around a lot these days and I wonder if we sometimes forget what it's all about. You see, prayer is really quite meaningless unless there is a God who listens and responds. Now, I am not trying to pick at words, but you might say...
  • So, I do not 'believe in prayer,' but I believe in the God of Heaven who listens and responds.
  • I do not believe 'prayer works' or that there is 'power in prayer,' yet I know that my God works in the lives of people and that He is powerful.
  • I do not 'send prayers.' Rather, I speak openly with my Heavenly Father who listens to His children.
  • I do not recite memorized prayers. Prayer is not cute poetry for the amusement of others. Clever rhymes do not move God. Chanting memorized verse over and over does not move God. Prayer is heartfelt communication with the God who is real and who listens and who acts.
How meaningful would it be to you if your children thanked you after a meal at a restaurant:
   Thanks for the meal; the food was good.
   Please drive us home; we wish you would.
Sincere? Meaningful? After the tenth time?
        And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans,
        for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
                                                                                              —Matthew 6:7
I believe that prayer is important, not because it makes me feel better, but because I have been given assurances by God in the Bible. He has given me promises so I KNOW that He hears me when I intentionally speak to Him. I am confident that He considers my requests and answers.
     This is the confidence which we have before Him,
     that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 
                                                                                             —1 John 5:14
I cannot tell you whether my prayers are supplication, intercession, or something else. I pray with Intention and I open my heart to God. Sometimes, often times, I lack words; I just need…“Help!”
     ...for we do not know how to pray as we should,
     but he Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings
     too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts
     knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes
     for the saints according of the will of God.
                                                                                           —Romans 8:26-27
There are times when I express my joy, praise, and thanks; sometimes I make a request. I pray for understanding when I do not understand. I pray for discernment when I face uncertainties. I pray for courage to endure life's trials and for courage to stand firm in my faith.
     Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask,
     believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.
                                                                                            —Mark 11:24
I find myself being cautious with my attitude when praying. I never think of prayer as a ‘tool’ or a means to obtain what I want. I realize that I am addressing the Holy God of Heaven who Created the universe, including me.
      You ask and do not receive,
     because you ask with wrong motives,
     so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
     God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
                                                                                            —James 4:3 & 6
Prayer is really quite simple, just open your heart to God, but always watch your attitude. Believe God; believe in God; believe in the God who answers prayer. Talk to God. Pray.