What’s of more value than rubies?

Are you wise? Wisdom is knowledge matched with understanding. There is probably no time in a person’s life that is more packed with danger than the teen years. Why?  Because teens generally have greater freedoms but they have not yet developed the discernment and insight that allows them to fully appreciate the long-term consequences of their choices. I remember at age 17, driving a car incredibly fast because I could! I was smart enough to have a license but not wise enough to understand that I risked serious injury or death as a result of my stunts. 40 years later wisdom has taken root. I know that 2 tons of steel wrapped around me do not make me invincible.
The Proverbs declare that “wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” (Proverbs 8:11) Wisdom says, “Wealth and Glory accompany me— also substantial Honor and a Good Name. My benefits are worth more than a big salary, even a very big salary; the returns on me exceed any imaginable bonus. You can find me on Righteous Road—that’s where I walk— at the intersection of Justice Avenue, Handing out life to those who love me, filling their arms with life—armloads of life! “ (Proverbs 8:18-21, The Message)
So where do we find this amazing thing?  The Bible says that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.” (Proverbs 9:10-12, NIV) A deep reverence for God is the source.  A person who is willing to admit he does not know it all, who will bend his will to the will of God, will gain wisdom. Wisdom is not simply learning Bible verses! It has been my misfortune to know many religious fools full of Bible knowledge and trivia while lacking insight and discernment totally.
Knowledge can feed pride and nothing makes a greater fool than being proud! In Romans 1, the downward path of humanity from glory to depravity is traced to the growth of knowledge without the humility that leads to true wisdom. “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.” (Romans 1:21-22, NLT)
Each season of life requires a new kind of wisdom. As we become skillful and gain knowledge, we must remember the Lord.  Begin each day with prayer. Take time often to reflect on His majestic holiness. Ask for wisdom! Prepare for discipline. No wisdom comes without the testing that deepens our insight by stripping away superficiality. Study the Scripture and pray for the Holy Spirit to make the truth your foundation.

Here’s a word from the Word. I pray it describes my life (and yours, too)!
“Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.”
(Psalm 119:98-100, NIV)
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130, NIV)

Salty Talk

Do you find having a civil conversation somewhat more difficult these days?  The high pressure, fast moving way that we live has seriously diminished our ability to discuss things on which we disagree without soon coming to sharp disagreement. We trust others less having seen many people profess one set of beliefs publicly while failing to allow those convictions to guide their own choices. And, then too, we sometimes are guilty of hanging onto ideas without the benefit of reason or careful reflection. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in our political conversation. The political culture in America is poisonous from the top down. Name-calling is rampant, cooperation nonexistent.

About twenty years ago I learned a real lesson about expressing sharp opinions. I made a point in a meeting about an issue on which I felt there was no gray only black and white! I was forceful, as I look back, even offensive. A thoughtful woman attending that meeting took exception to my words with an invitation to explore the issue in depth. She became a good friend and when I learned the circumstances of her life, I was mortified knowing that my words sliced at the emotional wounds that gave her such pain. Paul’s exhortation to “speak the truth in love” gained new importance for me. It’s not just what we say that matters. It’s how we are heard.

I still manage to get myself in trouble with my words from time to time. James points out that our speech is tough to bring to maturity! “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2, NIV) Jesus’ counsel is that we learn to talk less. “Let your ‘yes,’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” He said. Too often we go on and on and in our flood of speech, we offend others and sin against God.
The Scripture directs us with this: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6, NIV) Gracious words are considerate of others and contextualized in the circumstances. The gracious speaker does his best to know how he will be heard. That is much easier for me to write about than it is for me to practice, I candidly acknowledge! Then, too, the Lord tells us to practice salty speech. In our culture that little phrase is usually about words that are sprinkled liberally with profanity. Obviously, we are not called to curse. In Biblical times, salt was a very expensive item that was widely used to retard spoilage of food in the absence of refrigeration. In this passage, we are called to use words that add flavor and that control the rot that grows out of filthy, selfish, hateful words.
What’s the only way to learn to salty and gracious words?  It is clear from Jesus’ teaching. May He change the fountain from which our words flow.
“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. 
A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:43-45, NLT)
Change my heart, O God. Amen!

Are you cleaning the corners?

Dr. George O. Wood, head of the national church in which I serve, a man who is head of 30,000 ministers and 11,000 churches, offered this homely observation. “If a church’s restroom is clean, it says that the leadership is taking care of the small things and everything else is probably going well, too.”  (Road Trip Leadership, GPH 2011) He ought to know, he visits a lot of churches!  More than once when visiting a restaurant after making a trip to neglected, dirty restroom I have had some reservations about eating the food, wondering how well the kitchen is cleaned, too.
A well-ordered life that reflects beauty never ‘just happens.’ Order must be created by choice and sustained by effort. That applies equally to clean restrooms and holy hearts. Neglect of the hidden, the small, the detail of life reveals a problem. It might be lack of time because a person is carrying too many responsibilities. It could be distraction by crisis. It could be lack of self-discipline. Most often, it is because of an immaturity that says, “If nobody says anything, I don’t have to perform to a high standard.” Part of maturity is the ability to self-regulate, to set and reach goals without being monitored. Grownups do what they ought to do without being told.
The foundational truth of the Gospel of Christ is grace, a gift of God. We cannot save ourselves from sin, nor can we earn the favor of God. Believing that, some mistakenly conclude that they have no responsibility for the development of their soul. Habits that are inconsistent with a Spirit-filled life remain in place. Dirt remains in the corners of the soul. Deep disciplines that provide the freedom to say “yes” to the leading of the Spirit are never learned. Paul upbraided the Christians in Corinth for their failure to mature. His words need to challenge us to tend the details of our discipleship. “When I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NLT)
Chronologically, they should have been all grown up, but they were still babies, still making messes! It was not a faulty foundation or an incomplete Gospel that caused their prolonged infancy. It was their failure to step up and accept the responsibility to grow. This is more than tragic. It has eternal consequences. Paul reminds them and us that God’s inspection is rigorous. He will take note if we have ‘cleaned the corners.’  “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-14, NIV)  If we spend our days building a life with inferior material, the fiery glance of our Lord will burn it all away that there we will stand naked before Him.
Disciple, are you drifting along through day after day? Is the dirt of sin accumulating in the corners of the back rooms of your soul? Are you refusing the correction of the Spirit, ignoring His invitation to go deeper, or are you saying yes to the Spirit on a daily basis?  Maturity is not reached in a single leap. It is gained by the choices made one day at a time. Pay attention to the dirt in the corners. Deal with it through confession where we find forgiveness. Bring those habits to the Lord and, with the Spirit’s strength, wrestle them into submission. Choose to worship, to trust, to obey.
The word from the Word is a call to beauty. Let’s do it!
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness … (so that) you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-11, NIV)

“The truth that heals”

From where I sit, it appears that ‘criticizing the leader’ is our new national sport! President Obama is regularly subjected not just to observations about his policies, but harsh criticism about everything he’s done by the panels on FOX. If you listen to the critics on MSNBC, the current crop of Republican candidates cannot do a thing right either. Mitt’s too rich to serve. Newt’s had too many wives. Santorum’s a wanna-be. Uncle Ron’s suits don’t fit. A nasty streak runs wide and deep in America at this time. It has infected many of us, robbing us of perspective. Critical, demanding, cynical people abound.  While I can find much about which I disagree in our politicians, I am both respectful and admiring for anyone would step up and go into public life.
So, who is your biggest critic? Are you trying to live around their cutting words, but finding that a thousand tiny slices are killing you? Criticism has a place, really, it does! None of lives wholly. There are blind spots, failures, and little hypocrisies that only can be seen if shown to us by someone unafraid of the truth. Proverbs reminds us that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6, NIV) Yet, it seems to me that criticism is far overdone in our culture. Just as a steady drip of water can erode even a stone; a constant drip of criticism can rob us of confidence and hope for the future.
The book of Acts tells us about one Joseph of Cyprus who became known by his nickname – Barnabas – “which means Son of Encouragement.” (Acts 4:36, NIV) He invested himself in the people of the fellowship, giving time and money to the cause. He looked out for the rejected, lifted up the broken. His was a service of encouragement, not the hollow flattery that is too often passes for encouragement, but the soul-deep love that changed a whole culture! Barnabas was no ‘Sam Sunshine’ who lived in a laa-laa land of nice. Yet, he was a man who stood with those he regarded as his brothers and poured himself and the Spirit into their hearts.
In Romans 12:8, we learn that encouragement is one of God’s gifts to His church. While all are responsible to urge others to finish well, to stand in the faith; some of us have the gift of encouragement.  We can, with eyes of the Spirit, see potential in others and call it into existence. More than “I believe in you,” this gift actually speaks the truth into the heart of another. It’s an infusion of vision and faith. Have you mistakenly concluded that the only ‘truth that heals’ is that of criticism? The honest, Spirit-inspired, hope-filled words of a Barnabas can be life-transforming!

Here’s a word from the Word. My prayer is that I will respond to it with obedience and become a real encourager. Will you join me in this ministry? “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:5-7, NIV) 

“This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

When our parents took away our privileges because we were irresponsible, we promised ourselves we would never say what they said at that moment, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”  Fifteen years later we are looking at our crying son, who’s just lost his video game privileges for a week, and we hear – gasp! – those same words coming out of our mouth! Only when we are a parent can we start to understand that discipline does hurt a loving father even more than the son. A father who enjoys the discipline of his children, who lacks empathy for their struggle, is very likely to become abusive. He will lose sight of the fact that discipline must reshape behavior.  He will let his frustration fuel harsh measures and cruel words. But, a wise and loving father will risk anger and tears because he sees past the moment to the goal of gaining a mature, wise son.
God, our Father, is never abusive, but He will discipline us. He is unafraid of our tears and sees beyond the unpleasantness of our complaints and protests. And, He cries while He lets us feel the heavy hand of His correction. The Spirit whispered into the heart of Isaiah about the Father’s desire to bring the errant sons of Judah back to Himself.
“Who allowed Israel to be robbed and hurt? It was the Lord, against whom we sinned, for the people would not walk in his path, nor would they obey his law. Therefore, he poured out his fury on them and destroyed them in battle. They were enveloped in flames, but they still refused to understand. They were consumed by fire, but they did not learn their lesson. But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you.
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you. ..  Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.’ …
 “You are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. …
First I predicted your rescue, then I saved you and proclaimed it to the world. No foreign god has ever done this. You are witnesses that I am the only God,” says the Lord.” (Isaiah 42:24-43:12, NLT)
On the other side of loving discipline, there is a sweet reward. When my children matured, when their lives gained wisdom, our relationship deepened. Nothing except Jesus’ love and my wife’s affection is sweeter to me than observing my now adult children using the lessons of their childhood as foundation stones for their marriages, careers, and spirituality. They know now that there was nothing to fear from their Dad who once loomed so large, even threatening, in their lives. Now they know that often I stood outside of their rooms all those years ago listening to their tears and wept along with them.
Disciple, bend to the will of God. Give yourself quickly to Him. Why break His heart with your rage and resistance? You will not drive Him away. He has invested Himself in you, giving you His Name. Even as He lets troubles and fiery trials come your way, He reminds you that He is not bent on your destruction, but on your redemption. “You are precious to me. You are honored and I love you” He says through His own sorrow at your self-inflicted pain.
Here’s a word from the Word. May it encourage you, even if you are in the middle of a temper tantrum before your Abba.
“So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training.” (Hebrews 12:5-7, The Message)
How deep the Father’s love for us.
How vast beyond all measure!
That He should give His only Son,
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss;
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
© 1995 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
Stuart Townend
CCLI License No. 810055

Bruised Reeds and Smoky Wicks

God is All-Powerful! Majesty belongs to Him, and rightly so.  He is named, “Lord of Hosts” or as we might better understand it, “General, head of Heaven’s Armies” in the Old Testament. Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, the Righteous Judge are titles belonging to Him. So we loudly lift our voices in song, “How great is our God, sing with me, how great is our God… all will see, how great, how great is our God.”  (Chris Tomlin) It’s a great song and helps us to worship the King.

And yet … there is another side to Him, a way to know and understand Him that is equally compelling in some seasons of life. He is the Gentle God, the Savior.
Isaiah, who preached to the people of the Lord as they were being overtaken by their enemies, handed over for judgment; reminds them that their God is a gentle God. He would send them a Savior who would change the world, but not with common power tactics. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”
There are no noisy trumpet fanfares or victory marches down Main Street for this Savior. There would be no motorcades with flags flying and sirens sounding to announce His importance! Quietly, He would come. Gently He would work, preserving the least and lowly.  Bruised reed and smoldering wick” are not readily accessible metaphors for us. The bruised reed was a weak thing, useless for household chores, and therefore tossed out with the garbage.  The smoldering wick was the smoky piece of flax that gave little light as the oil in the lamp ran low. The smoke annoyed the household, so it was pinched off and extinguished! Isaiah is reminding us that the Savior finds those who are weak, those who are near exhaustion, but not to toss them on life’s junk heap! He restores, heals, and gives strength! Who are worthless to most, He gently loves and heals.
The Scripture goes on with this assurance for those who concluded that their glory was past tense: “This is what God the Lord says— he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:1-7, NIV)
When you’re broken, bruised, and feeling like a reject you may find it hard to reach out to the “Lord of Hosts!”  The King of Glory motif may well be beyond your reach at that moment. So remember, He is also the Gentle God who preserves the junk others are ready to toss out.
Centuries after Isaiah heard the Promise, we know the Identity of this Gentle God. In our word from the Word, we learn His Name and have this invitation. If you’re feeling like a bruised reed or smoking wick today, hold onto the One who is holding onto you. “Since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT)
Often you wonder why
tears come into your eyes
And burdens seem to be
much more than you can bear
But God is standing near,
He sees your falling tears
And tears are a language
God understands.
God sees the tears
of a brokenhearted soul
He sees your tears
and hears them when they fall
God weeps along with man
and He takes him by the hand
Tears are a language
God understands.
      Copyright, Gordon Jensen

When Your Heart Breaks

“Comfort zone” is a phrase that has entered our vocabulary to describe situations we find acceptable. Getting dragged or pushed out of that zone can make us miserable inside and out! When we’re stressed, some of us look for “comfort food” that remind us of happy times and places; usually it is simple fare like a hotdog or a big slice of chocolate cake. Men, especially, have clothes that are comforting, that ragged sweatshirt or pair of jeans they have worn for a decade. Then, too, there is solace to be found in music. Depending on preference, it might be a sad country song about a lost love. an old hymn about heaven, or a concerto from Mozart that touches our soul.
Early this morning, I awakened to crushing sadness. I felt the wetness of tears on my face, though I was not aware that I was crying. The sweetness of prayer allowed me to find the “God of all comfort.” I simply told my Abba that I was broken, that disappointment was great, and He whispered back into my darkness – “I will never leave you, never forsake you. I am the God of all comfort.”  Profound peace settled over me and, in a few moments, sleep returned. Such is the blessing for those who know Him as the “Comforter.”
Many people in this world are crushed and destroyed by their sorrow, because they turn to the wrong places for solace. Addictions may result from seeking comfort in a wine glass or prescription pill. Neurosis may take over when disappointment is allowed to morph into continuous rage. Our bodies will break under the pressures of stress, if we fail to find soul solace.
God’s comfort does not just ‘get us through’ the tough times. He lifts us, strengthens us, and causes us to stand up under the burden of sorrow. Disappointment, missed expectations, tragedy, and even death are unavoidable parts of the human experience. We can just try to survive and get back into our comfort zone, or we can live in those moments, feeling, knowing, learning, growing! How? By trusting God deeply and accepting the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  Our “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, …  comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)
God, the Holy Spirit, is called “the Comforter” in the Word. In the first language of the Bible the word is Parakletos, describing someone who becomes our advocate when life becomes too much to manage on our own. Literally the word means “to come alongside.”  When we turn to Him in prayer, God comes to our side, stands with us, leads us through, gives comfort. Is your heart heavy today? Do other comforts call to you, things that are no real comfort at all?  With the simplest of faith, with a child-like expectation, turn to the Lord.
Here’s the word from the Word.
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
(Isaiah 40:28-31, NIV)
Is your burden heavy
As you bear it all alone?
Does the road you travel
Harbor danger yet unknown?
Are you growing weary
In the struggle of it all?
Jesus will help you
When on His name you call.
He is always there.
Hearing ev’ry prayer,
Faithful and true.
Walking by our side,
In His love we hide,
All the day through.
When you get discouraged
Just remember what to do-
Reach out to Jesus,
He’s reaching out to you.
Reach Out To Jesus
© 1968 Bud John Songs, Inc. (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
Ralph Carmichael

CCLI License No. 810055

Gone with the Wind

I am reading the autobiography of one of our better known politicians, a man of stature and accomplishment. The book reveals a prideful, opportunistic person, ready to catch whatever wind is blowing at the moment in order to advance himself. If the pronoun “I” were taken out of the book, it would be shorter by half! He seems to think he is the smartest guy to come to Washington in the last quarter century. Full of himself and ready to ignore the counsel of others, he has created some disastrous policies that future generations will most likely judge quite harshly. He is intelligent, but is he wise? In my opinion, that answer is no.
Are you wise? Don’t answer with test scores or certificates of achievement! Look at your character, the fruit of your life.
Ask this: is the world a better place for my passing through it? Are people’s lives enhanced, is beauty created, and is God given His due honor?
The Psalm describes the wise this way. I have used a contemporary translation to deepen the impact. It lacks the poetic beauty of the authorized version, but drives home the point.
“How well God must like you—
you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

Instead you thrill to God’s Word,
you chew on Scripture day and night.
You’re a tree replanted in Eden,
bearing fresh fruit every month,
Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom.

You’re not at all like the wicked,
who are mere wind-blown dust—
Without defense in court,
unfit company for innocent people.
God charts the road you take.
The road they take is Skid Row.
” (Psalm 1, The Message)
The wise person meditate on the Truths of God, letting the Word and Spirit go to the core of their being. From the inside out, they are shaped into a mature, wholesome person. When the droughts and famines of life come (and they will to each of us) wise and well-planted people continue to draw from the living water that springs from Heaven’s artesian well. They do not fail or fall, retreat or shed tears of regret. This Psalm compares them to an oasis in the desert, a place to which others are drawn to be refreshed! Those who are merely smart enough to build a little empire for themselves will be blown away, gone with the wind!
Choosing the way of wisdom is not simple, easy, or even always quickly apparent to our natural vision. But, if we are responsive to God, persistent in knowing His way and obeying it, wisdom will grow in us.

Take this word from the Word today. Read it prayerfully several times before you move on to other thoughts. “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless.” (Proverbs 2:1-7, NIV)

Would you pray with me today?
Father, Your counsel is my wisdom.
help me to humbly bow my mind to it,
to submit my thoughts, words, and actions
to the ways of holiness.

In an age of smart fools,

make me wise in the ways of eternity.
Protect me from the arrogance of the age.
Spirit of God, may your wisdom
give my life lasting and beautiful fruit
so that my work will not ultimately be
blown away like chaff in the wind.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The dancer I want to be

Somewhere I found suggestion for forming a new bond with my wife. “Take dance lessons. She will love it.” So, I enrolled us for swing dance class at the local fitness center. Really, I did! Our instructors opened the first session by putting on a song and showing us the end result they hoped to teach us to achieve.; two people, moving as one, gracefully across the floor. I loved the beauty of it.  
But, more than 15 years later, I still don’t know how to dance with my wife! After two frustrating sessions, I gave up and became a swing dance class drop-out. I did not think much about dancing with Bev until one night at a festival where we were sitting in the plaza listening to one of the big bands. Terry and Lisa started to dance together… and could they dance! They were beautiful to watch. I felt genuine envy that night.

There are two primary reasons I still can’t dance.  

First, I am self-conscious and won’t just ‘let myself go.’ 
Second, I am over thinking the dance; trying to break down each movement into tiny parts rather than just moving into the music. To become a dancer, I have to give up control and come under the influence of the music as well as becoming more responsive to the movement of my partner. It isn’t happening, yet!

Living as a Spirit-filled Christian has real parallels to a couple in a beautiful dance!  

The Bible says, (Galatians 5:25) “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” He invites us to a dance of life. Some of just will not let go and let Him lead. We wrestle with the music, finding the rhythm for a while, then reasserting our control. Others surrender to Him and move gracefully through life, dancing beautifully through disappointment, financial challenges, ill health, hurricanes, snow storms, traffic jams, and temptation. Yes, those who dance with the Spirit live “grace-fully.”

Simon Peter was called by Jesus to become a disciple. For three years, he didn’t get it right. Talk about bad timing. Oh, he tried mightily but, most of the time, things turned out badly. The low point was the night of Jesus’ arrest and trial. When warned of impending failure by the Lord, Peter insisted that even if the other disciples failed, “I never will!”
“Ah,” Jesus said sadly, “but you will, Peter. Before the rooster announces the dawn, you will deny me three times.”   

A few hours later as Jesus was being arrested, Peter pulled out his sword and made an attempt at defending his Friend, succeeding only in cutting off a man’s ear, which Jesus promptly healed, as He told Peter, “Put that thing away!” And, later that same night, in the grip of panic in the courtyard of the high priest’s house, Peter was cursing and swearing while emphatically declaring, “I tell you, I never knew him!”

Fifty days later, at Pentecost, we meet a transformed man in Acts, a man dancing with the Spirit! He gives leadership to the emerging group of followers of Jesus, explains the Scripture, preaches on the street, and courageously faces the enemies of the Jesus movement. With grace and beauty he moves through those chapters. How does the Bible account for the difference? Acts 4:8 sums it up, saying Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, … “

The life and music of the Spirit filled him up and he began to dance gracefully under the Spirit’s influence, moving to the rhythms of Heaven. When he came to the end of himself, when he was crushed beyond hope by his failure, God came with the outpouring of His Spirit. From that day, Peter danced. Yes, he made mistakes now and again, but he was a man of grace and power, who spread the message of Jesus and life across the world!

Are you ‘keeping step with the Spirit,’ or are you stumbling and bumbling, from fall to failure?
Listen to the music of the Spirit. Give yourself over to His lead. Be filled! And, start to dance!

I danced in the morning
When the world was begun
And I danced in the moon
And the stars and the sun
And I came down from heaven
And I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had My birth
Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said He
And I’ll lead you all
Wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all
In the Dance said He
I danced for the scribe
And the Pharisee
But they would not dance
And they wouldn’t follow Me
I danced for the fishermen
For James and John
They came with Me
And the dance went on
I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black
It’s hard to dance
With the devil on your back
They buried My body
And they thought I’d gone
But I am the dance
And I still go on
They cut Me down
And I leapt up high
I am the life
That’ll never never die
I’ll live in you
If you’ll live in Me
I am the Lord
Of the Dance said He
Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said He
And I’ll lead you all
Wherever you may be
And I’ll lead you all
In the Dance said He
Lord of the Dance
© 1963 Stainer & Bell Ltd
(Admin. by Hope Publishing Company)
Sydney Bertram Carter
CCLI License No. 810055

I’m going to Disney World (not really)

I struggle to reconcile two ideas that seem to compete: work and rest. Either I am resting or I am working, but I cannot do both at the same time, can I?  Yes, I can and I should. Jesus Christ teaches that work and rest are complementary in our lives: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT)  He invites me to put on His yoke, which is an object for doing hard work, but then immediately says that in that yoke I will find rest. How can this be?
Part of my confusion grows out of a misunderstanding of work itself.
·         If my work is the means of proving my worth to myself or my friends, I am driven by competition and thus I can never rest for another may become better than I am at what I do, an intolerable outcome for a competitor.
·         If I believe that my work is how I gain God’s approval, I will never relax for He is always present, knowing what I do; and I can never do enough.
·         If I misuse work as a way to create my own world where I can be a little god, obviously there is a problem that needs no further explanation!
The deepest fulfillment in life is found in working effectively within the will and purpose of God! We were not created for leisure. We were made to be stewards of the earth, to work with Him. The Genesis story is often told in a way that makes us think that Adam spent his time lying under a shade tree, eating fruit that fell into his hands. A more careful reading reveals that Adam joined God in the work of the Garden. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15, NIV) That paradise included work. Yet, it did not include exhaustion or burn-out.  So, how do we work the Garden and keep our spirit whole?
Jesus’ words quoted earlier show us the way. Work done with God is renewing. If we submit to His yoke, He will pace us so that we do not run too hard, too far, or too fast in our efforts. In that shared yoke, when the load increases, He leans into it alongside of us. If we do what we do, in the way He teaches us to do it, there is rest for our souls. It sounds so simple and it is, yet we miss that Truth as we focus on deadlines, bottom lines, and productivity. How we work is much more important to God than what we produce. That is why Jesus asks to go to work with us. He wants to save us from empty effort, from exhaustion that comes from trying to make work what it can never be- the means of our salvation and right relationship with our Father.
The ancient song of ascents, sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, reminds us of the proper order of our work.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:1-3, NIV)
Are you exhausted? Has life become more than you can manage?
Before you conclude that you must abandon your work or that you need to head to Disney World for a rest, consider changing the way you work!

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)