Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wisdom Cookies

Readings: Proverbs 16:1-9; I Corinthians 10:1-13

Anyone who has ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant knows that, at the end of the meal when the bill arrives, it will be accompanied by a fortune cookie for each person at the table. There are all kinds of suggestions on who gets which cookie. The basic custom of which I'm aware involves never picking one's own cookie, but allowing someone else to do it for you. This works fine, of course, unless you're dining solo--then I guess you could count it being picked out for you from the beginning when it arrives at your table. 

It's always fun to go around the table and have each fortune read by its new owner. Some seem to fit nicely into our lifestyles and we consider it custom made for us; others just kind of leave us shaking our heads and wondering. 

As Christians, we more or less have our own type of fortune cookie in the Bible--although probably "wisdom cookies" would be a more appropriate name. Wisdom cookies sprinkled liberally with those precious seeds of God's wisdom. 

We have the Book of Proverbs.

When we look at these words of wisdom and practice them in our lives, our good fortune may indeed increase--although on a level much deeper than we normally think. We are, after all, following the rule of God in our lives when living out the proverbs.

From the readings above today, three particular proverbs stood out to me. The first is from verse 2: "All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord". How many times have we "meant well" or plowed head-first into an issue without first taking it to Christ? Most time is just doesn't work out well, even when we mean well and all seems innocent. We forget that our interpretation of an innocent act and Christ's interpretation of an innocent act can be two different things.

Verse 3 is another truth to practice each day: "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." When we make plans, once again, we tend to plow right ahead without first taking it to Christ. If we commit to Christ our "blueprints" of plans, we are much more likely to succeed. The plans will be more carefully thought out; something to take to Christ would need to be of pure thinking and motive. Once we pass that hurdle and make our plans pleasing to God, if it be His will for our journey, that plan will succeed beyond our wildest imaginations.

Verse 9: "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." By nature, we humans are planners...we plan every moment of every day if given the chance. However, once again we tend to forget the necessary step of inviting Christ into the plans. We may know where we want to head in life, but if we exclude God from these plans, our steps will falter again and again.

In I Corinthians, Paul shares with us more seeds of wisdom through Christ--these seeds of wisdom are also showers of blessings to ease us when times get tough. "So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it" (verses 12-13). If we awake each morning remembering these words, we will be more than able to take on each day and live it to the fullest in ways that are pleasing to God.

Seeds of sure to scatter freely and nurture...the world could use a  healthy crop!

Peace be with you. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Art(lessness) of Negotiation

Readings: Jeremiah 23:16-29, Romans 8:12-17, Matthew 7:15-21

The Art of Negotiation, The Art of the Deal...two book titles among the hundreds that are found on bookshelves of booksellers these days. Making deals and having negotiations have seemingly come to the forefront of most everything we do anymore.

While compromise is sometimes the only viable solution, we seem to have taken that idea to limitless extremes. Our court systems are full of lawsuits where one group has taken liberties with another group and are now in negotiations to handle damage control; many a teacher has sadly walked away from education after realizing that we have raised generations of potential great minds that think first of negotiation down to the lowest common denominator of work needed to pursue knowledge; we all grouse about poor service, poor products, poor quality, yet we will jump at the first opportunity to negotiate a "real deal" on something...

Sometimes it works--sometimes it just doesn't.

Our daily lives have become a beehive of these activities. We spend time in endless negotiations and have little to show for it except stress, anxiety, and frustration.

Turn on a TV, radio, or open a magazine and, once again, we're bombarded with negotiations...but they seem to go too much to the extreme. How many commercials are on each day that first plague us with worry, concern, or anxiety and then assure us with product "x" all will be well? It used to be funny to watch because it was no more disconcerting than a dirt ring on a collar or a husband who preferred someone else's coffee enough to accept a refill. Now it's our health, our safety, our homes--most everything--that is being put on the table for negotiations. We're told that home invasions abound, that we're a stroke or heart attack waiting to happen and no one will be available to help us, etc. Then the negotiators come to the rescue. If we buy product "x" or subscribe to a service being advertised then all will be fine and we'll never have another worry. I don't know about you, but I'm not buying it--literally nor figuratively.

False prophets abound. They play on our worry, our fears, our stresses...things that the Bible tells us repeatedly are issues of the flesh, not the of the spirit.

How do we deal will all this needless negotiation from all these false prophets who assure us that things will be "just fine" only if we follow their every word? It's simple...we just follow our Father. We are assured that not only are we his adopted and beloved, we are also his heirs. "Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8:17). No negotiations nor power struggles are necessary--we already belong to a Father that will watch over contract needed. No negotiation for limited services. All is well in His watch.

Peace be with you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Never, Never Alone

Readings: Isaiah 62:6-12, Romans 6:19-23, Mark 8:1-9

I'm guessing it would be impossible to find one person on this planet that has never felt alone or deserted. 

It's not a good feeling.

When we find ourselves in that dismal place, it's a good time to start talking with God. We can use Isaiah 62:6-7 as an example of--more than likely in this case saints--who were praying without ceasing to God to end the time of waiting for the establishment of the Holy City. They prayed and prayed, according to the poet, "and gave him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth" (v.7). These saints--Moses, Amos, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Elijah, Second Isaiah, and Daniel--had a very close relationship with God. They were certainly qualified for the job of "the watchmen on the walls". They established themselves in their positions and "gave God no rest" (v.7) from their prayers for Jerusalem.

Our darkest hours can find us on that wall as well. And it's okay. In these verses God allows us to realize that we are truly never, never alone. It's absolutely okay to pray and pray and pray to him in our pain, in our frustration, in our fear. By doing so, we lose all our inhibitions and we grow very close to our God. The barriers fall...our Father is there and listening.

In the book of Romans, Paul attempts to share the message that once 
we develop this deeper relation with our God where, when praying, we "give him no rest", we gain that "free gift of God--eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:23). And once we are there...we are never, never alone.

In the book of Mark, the familiar story of Christ taking care of human as well as spiritual needs is told. In the chronicle of Jesus feeding the four thousand with seven loaves of bread, Christ's compassion toward those following him shows us that if we pray without ceasing, if we die to sin in order to follow this sacred path, we too can provide compassion and care to others. His words show his sincere love of those around him: "I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat; and if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come a long way" (8:2-3). 

In our journey of this life, we will come upon those who are hungry, not only for food or drink, but for compassion and love. We can't send them away hungry, either--they could grow faint and lose all hope. In carrying out Paul's words of Christ's love, we emulate our perfect Savior and make sure those around us know they are indeed loved and will never, never be alone.

Peace be with you.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Common Thread

Death, I dare say, has become somewhat common in our lives here of lately. Within the past two months, we've lost two aunts, an uncle, and a dear friend. I've attended three of the funerals; the fourth one is fast approaching. 

While sitting in the services, I'm finding a common thread. It's a thread I'm happy to find.

A common thread of the love of family, of friends, and most of all, a love of Christ.

As families, we sometimes grow a bit apart as far as schedules, distances, and life in general takes us. Nevertheless, once we're back together, the old and familiar closeness of what makes us tick as a family unit reappears--it's a nice, comforting feeling. A common thread of memories, beliefs, and behaviors that make us who we are as family members.

In the book of Ruth, after the death of her father-in-law and husband, Ruth was in a position to end her family ties to her sister-in-law and mother-in-law, yet she didn't; she knew the importance of keeping those ties. She would, without them, have no one to call family. So even as Naomi was convincing her that it was okay to go on and have her own life anew, we read that "Ruth replied, 'Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God'" (1:16).

She understood that common thread.

In our lives as Christians, God has given us, as family members of his kingdom, a common thread to follow to keep us safely within the realm of that family--he gives us instructions on how to keep ourselves in line (just like a good parent). In Matthew we read that we are to make sure we keep in good relationships with our brothers and sisters on this planet while we are here. "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, then come and offer your gift" (5:22-23). 

That common thread of family peace is vital to our existence as well as our finding our path to eternity.

Another common thread I have found throughout the different funerals I have attended of late is that beautiful message that keeps us all going, no matter how sad, tired, or disillusioned we find ourselves. "For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:9-10). 

That beautiful common thread weaves us not only to one another, but meshes us with Christ and everlasting life. We are indeed blessed to be a part of this magnificent tapestry.

Peace be with you.