Choice or Tarnished Silver

Sticks and stones may break my bones…As a young child, my mom sent me to the convenient store to buy her a newspaper.  She could see me walk the alley way to the store out the window.  She had visual sight on me until I rounded the corner to the store.  My sister and brother were very young and probably taking a nap when she decided to send me to the store.  I walked confidently down the alley way with my newspaper change in my hand…so many years ago it was probably only a dime maybe a quarter.  As I got closer to the store a group of big kids stood in my path and demanded my money.  I was scared so I turned around and ran towards home.  Those big kids picked up rocks from the alley and started throwing them at me.  Trying to get them to stop, I threw my money down and ran as fast as my young legs could carry me. Luckily, I was not harmed and my mom never sent me to the convenient store again.

Grand Rapids has an annual event called “Art Prize.”  The winning art piece receives a prize.  It is a great draw for the city and a wonderful cultural event for all who come.  One of the pieces are my pictures for this blog this week.  It reminded me of conversations I have had with people…sometimes I am the aggressor and other times I am on the other side being pushed verbally to the point of destroyed communication.

Proverbs speaks often about our tongues.  Our tongues are an indicator of our hearts.  Have you had those moments when you said something and as it was coming out your brain said to stop, but your tongue kept on wagging.  Maybe your words came out and only later as you evaluated your day, did the conviction of the Holy Spirit bring to your mind the unworthiness of your words.

Maybe you have been on the receiving end of these words and you feel like the sculpture at Art Prize, falling apart by the words that have been spoken to you.  Once words are said they can never be taken back, and those hurtful and aggressive words remain seared on our brain with the pain etched in our hearts.

Proverbs has much to say about our tongues.

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.  Answer a fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4, 5).

Often, someone has something negative to say to us and we try to retaliate with words of hurt.  They hurt me, so I will hurt them.  How does this usually turn out?  Nothing is resolved and our words come back to haunt us.  We all know people who try to control others with their words or actions.  “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2).  So when someone is being foolish with their words, we should “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 14:7).  Have nothing to do with those that are foolish.  Sometimes this is impossible. These people are in our families or we work with them. We are forced to deal with them.  So what do we do…

First of all, remember that they are fools.  Seek the Lord about how to deal with them and then put into practice other biblical principles. Seek to be wise.

“A soft answer turns away wrath…” (Proverbs 15:1)

“To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23)

“When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7)

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” (Proverbs 17:27)

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

“…a soft tongue will break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15)

When you go back and replay conversations in your head, what is it you wish you would have said?  I always wish I had been more uplifting and encouraging.  Proverbs 31 has always been a challenge to me.  The impression of this woman is not a mousy doormat, but rather a savvy business woman and home maker.  Yet, what is said about her tongue? “…and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:26).

My goal is not to allow communication to be destroyed by another’s aggressiveness, but rather to keep communication healthy because the “teaching of kindness” is so much a part of my nature and heart there is nothing else that comes from my tongue.

Stick and stones do break bones and names and ugly conversation does cause permanent harm.  But “the tongue of the righteous is choice silver…and the lips of the righteous feed many.” (Proverbs 10:20, 21).

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Holy Change

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Change…we all seem to run from it hoping it will never touch us and yet it does.  When our girls were younger, much younger, we decided to paint the family room.  As we began to paint, our oldest daughter, Danielle, ran upstairs crying.  I followed her trying to understand why she was crying.  She didn’t like change.  She wanted the living room to stay the same color that it had always been for as long as she could remember.  For children, change is unsettling.  They feel like their world is not a safe place or it gives them a feeling of insecurity.  In the midst of these little changes, like painting a room, we must teach our children that some change is not bad and how to cope with change that inevitably does take place.

We each go through different changes in our lives.  Some we see as contributing nothing but pain in our lives and other change we see as a positive change.  A new and better job, a new car, new clothes, new friends…some changes brings us happiness while other changes bring us turmoil.  The loss of a friendship, a move, the loss of a job, children growing and moving away….

As I look back and consider the move we made over a year ago and the change that it brought in our lives, I will admit it was not easy for us to leave behind what we knew and the church family that had become our family.  I knew it was where the Lord would have us and I knew that God’s ways and the change He brings in our lives is always for our good, but sometimes it takes time to see all the good, even though by faith I knew it would be good.

As I realized the good God is doing though change in our lives, I see others that struggle with change.  They resist it.  They do not want to see the good that change can bring.  They want everything to stay the same.

This process of change is one of the ways that God brings about growth in our lives.  It reminds me of the process of progressive sanctification in the life of a believer.  As a believer we begin with positional sanctification at the moment of salvation.  We believe Christ paid the penalty for our sins and enter into a relationship with Christ, we are in the position of sanctification, set apart and holy unto God.  The remainder of our lives is the process of progressive sanctification which takes us from where we are positionally and progresses us to what we will be ultimately in heaven, progressing us to be “holy as Christ is holy.” (I Peter 1: 15, 16).  The process of progressive sanctification many times happens through the medium of change.

I am not advocating change for change sake, but I do believe as believers we should be pliable in the hand of our Creator as He brings challenges through change into our lives to bring about greater levels of holiness in our lives.

The striking contrast to this change in our lives that needs to be continually taking place is the changelessness of our Creator God.  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8).  God does not change.  Nothing in His character ever needs to change because He is the perfectly holy God.  Modeling our character after the character of God is our goal.

As we face changes in our lives, rather than dig in our heels resisting the change, we must view it as a stepping stone in the process of our progressing sanctification.

“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:15, 16)

The Fear of the Lord

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The fear of the Lord is not being afraid of God.  The fear of the Lord is so much greater than this.  It is awe, respect, reverence, which turns into love and devotion.

It has been fun and a challenge to train our new Leader Dog for the Blind puppy, Annie.  We have had her for 2 weeks now and she is certainly gaining in understanding of house training.  I have not used rewards in training her to house train, rather just praise and lots of love and some “no, no we don’t do that in the house.”  I am amazed that this has actually worked.  She is definitely not as treat driven as our other two puppies we have raised for Leader Dogs.

Psalm 112 tells us about the qualities in a person’s life who fears the Lord.  Being a list person, I like this Psalm.  It is clear and concise and reads like a list.

Psalm 112:1-10

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord (v. 1)

What are the qualities of a man or woman that fears the Lord?

  1. They greatly delight in God’s commandments (v.1)
  2. Gracious (v. 4)
  3. Merciful (v. 4)
  4. Righteous (v. 4)
  5. Deals generously (v. 5)
  6. Conducts affairs with justice (v. 5)
  7. Heart is steady (v. 8)
  8. Not afraid (v. 8)

As we fear the Lord and realize how awesome He is, we begin to have qualities that flow from our lives that show definitively to those around us that we are a child of the King.  We talk differently.  We act differently.  We give differently.  We live differently.

As Annie, our puppy, continues to grow in maturity it will not just be the bandanna she wears that declares that she is a service dog, it will hopefully also be her actions.  She will walk nicely on her leash.  She will listen for and obey commands.  She will look out for her owner and help guide them through life.  It will be her actions that will be define her as a service dog.  The bandanna is just a confirmation of what you see in her life.

As we fear the Lord, it is not the Bible we carry or the weekly church meetings we attend that declare we are Christians and fear the Lord. (We should regularly attending church).  Rather, it should be our delight in God’s commands, our graciousness, our mercy, our righteousness, our generosity, our justice, and our lack of fear.

Paul encourages in Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” If we are living our lives with the qualities of someone who fears the Lord, then we have nothing to be ashamed of when we share the Gospel.

When the puppies we raise are obedient, I am not ashamed.  When they are a handful, I want to take off their bandannas and leave them at home.

“Blessed is the man or woman who fears the Lord.”  What would your actions, words, giving, and living convict you of?

Reciprocation

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I think we would all agree that it is certainly easier to have a friendship or a relationship with another person when that person likes us. When they treat us with respect, we are more apt to want to spend time with them.  When they do kind things for us, we want to return the favor and do kind things for them.  I met a lady last week that moved about the same time we did last year and has a daughter the same age as our youngest high school daughter.  We moved from similar areas.  As we were parting ways she said, “It would be nice to get together and have coffee sometime.”  I emailed her later and her response was again very pleasant and encouraging, “I was serious about getting coffee together.”  It certainly makes us want to reach out to someone that wants to spend time with us.

Why is it when God said in I Samuel 12:24, “Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart, for consider what great things He has done for you,” the Israelites did not follow His commands?

As we were reminded in the last blog post, the Israelites were in a constant routine of disobedience, punishment, cry for help, then obedience.  It seems easy for me to look at them and think, “What on earth was their problem?”  God had saved them from their Egyptian slavery, divided the Red Sea so they could cross on solid, dry ground, defeated numerous enemies, provided food for 40 years, and gave them a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

As we have looked at this passage in I Samuel 12:20-24, God has been giving the Israelites instructions through Samuel.  These instructions are summarized again in verse 24, “fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully.”  Two instructions that must be followed and why should the people do this?  “Consider how great things God has done for you.” (I Samuel 12:24).

It is much easier for me to have a relationship with someone who reciprocates.  Here is God saying to the people, “I have done all these things for you and all I ask is for you to do two things: Fear Me and serve Me faithfully.”

So why was it so hard?  Selfishness.  Pride. Desire to be like the others.  Desire for instant gratification.  Greed.  Do we not grapple with these same issues?

Fearing the Lord is having a deep respect and awe for the Lord.  It is having no other gods before the One True God.  We may not worship idols, but there are many other things we do place before God in our priority list that God would consider an idol.

One of the things that God desires in this area of fearing Him is having a relationship with Him.  It is hard to have a relationship with someone we do not spend time with.  It is also not a very meaningful relationship if all we ever do is ask for things.  Is your time with God each day time with the most important person in your life?  Is your time with God guarded from any interruptions?  Is your time with God put above anything else that seems to be pressing in on your day?  I have used these examples before but many great men of the faith such as George Mueller spent more time with God each morning the busier they were rather than less time.  We would be wise to follow suit.

One of the main purposes God created us is to have a relationship with Him.  After all He has done for us, we would be wise to plan our days around our time with the Lord, rather than fitting Him into the time we have left over.

Serving God faithfully looks different for each person.  God has a different plan for each of our lives.  He created each of us with different abilities.  Yet, whatever we do should be done in faithful service to Him.

After all that God has done for us, we should desire to fear Him and serve Him.  This is not just any ‘ole someone that desires this.  This is the God of the universe. He created you.

Rather than go to coffee with a friend, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or in my case brew a cup of tea), sit down with God’s Word, and seek His face.  There will be no regrets.

Keep Praying! Keep Teaching! Keep Doing Good!

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I have been on a mission for the last 15 months to improve my prayer life.  I do not think I have it all figured out.  For several weeks during the spring (2017), I went to a prayer time for the missionaries our church supports.  I enjoyed my time with those that were there praying with me immensely.  They were retired missionaries and other senior saints that blessed me and taught me.  As we sat talking about prayer before our actual prayer time one of these gentleman said, “I keep changing my prayer method trying to improve on what I had done previously.”  What a blessing to me to hear others that are far wiser than I struggle with the same things I do.

I Samuel 12:23 reminds me how important and integral prayer is to our lives.

“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” (I Samuel 12:23).

I have been writing about this section of Scripture for a few weeks now.  Just a little reminder of what we have learned. This is the conclusion of Samuel’s farewell address to the children of Israel.  They had asked for a king and God gave them a king.  Samuel reminded them that asking for a king was evil.  He reminded them, though, that now that they had a king they needed to remember a few things:

  1. Do not turn aside from following the Lord
  2. Serve the Lord with your whole heart
  3. Empty things do not profit
  4. Fear the Lord

As Samuel was reminding them of these key things, he told them that he also had a responsibility.  It was not just for them to follow God, he also had a responsibility: PRAY AND TEACH.  Samuel did not just instruct others.  He also informed the Israelites of his responsibility and if he did not fulfill his responsibilities, it was a sin against the Lord.  What was this sin against the Lord:  ceasing to pray for the Israelites.

The Israelites were a tough crowd.  They continued to follow after sinful things.  Even when instructed to do what is right and committing to do what is right, they still sinned.  They worshipped false gods.  They married foreigners.  They adopted pagan ways.  They forgot God who had brought them into the Promised Land.  They repeatedly were in a cycle of apostasy, judgment, servitude, crying out to the Lord for relief from their servitude, repentance, and rescue.  Then they would forget what God had done for them and start the cycle again.

I am sure Samuel would get discouraged with these people he was attempting to shepherd.  They had ears but did not listen.  Yet, he had a responsibility: pray and teach.  Samuel was challenging himself not to give up.  The way seemed uphill every day.  Easy to want to quit.  Since we know the rest of the Old Testament story of the Israelites, the other prophets continued to pray and teach the Israelites and they continued to have ears that did not hear.  God knew this, yet he kept sending prophets to teach them.

Do you feel like giving up on a good deed?  The Bible is full of stories of those who had insurmountable tasks.  Paul being one of those and yet he reminded the Thessalonians and he also reminds us

“Do not grow weary in doing good.” (I Thessalonians 3:13).

Let me challenge you along with challenging myself: Keep praying! Keep teaching!  Keep doing good!

“For in due season, we will reap if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9).

 

 

 

Empty or Full

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During my high school and college days I feel like I had a singular focus:  Get through college without any debt.  I worked as much as I could while still finding time to study and get good grades.  I spent as little money as I could on things that did not last.  I saved my money for books and tuition.  I worked as a waitress throughout my college days.  I saved all my tips, but one thing I did that I did not have to do was claim all my tips on my taxes and tithe on all my money.  Who would ever know?  The government did not know how much I made in tips.  My church or my parents did not know.  Yet, I remember thinking I needed to do the honest thing.  I claimed every penny I made on my taxes and tithed on the money I made to my church.  I also spent one summer on a missions trip (no income) and another summer as a camp counselor (minimal income).  I was careful, even frugal, in how I spent my money.  I never went out to eat or bought a treat for myself.  I was careful to only spend money on necessities.

I had a goal and that was to complete college.  As I look back on that time in life and evaluate my time, my talents, and my treasure, I see that the Lord blessed me.  I used my time to work, study, and serve the Lord.  I used my talents to work and serve the Lord on a mission trip and at a camp.  I used my treasure to pay for college and carefully only spend money on necessities.

The Lord blessed me immensely, but I have only seen this as I looked back.  I payed for my entire way through college except for $2000 my parents gave me as a result of some money willed to them.  I had taken out a loan at the beginning of my college career for $5,000.  That money sat in my bank account and collected interest and at the end of my college days I payed that loan back without any penalties all the while it sat in the bank for four years earning interest.  I needed a new car so I bought myself a “new to me” car.  I graduated from Cedarville University without any debt.

I spent my time, talents, and treasure on the things that honored God and God blessed me.  I did not strive for empty things because in the end they would have left me empty.  Rather I strove for things that were pleasing to God.  I did not graduate empty, I graduated full.  I sacrificed much, but the blessings are immense.

What is empty will take our focus off God.  Is our focus on what pleases God or pleases ourselves?  God knows and we know.

“And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.”                                                                                                                                                                                 (I Samuel 12:21).

Empty things leave us feeling empty and searching for more, full things leave us satisfied and content.

We each must evaluate our motives to determine what is empty.  God sees our hearts.  He knows what is in our hearts.

If we look at the three “T’s” and evaluate our lives based on them, we might get at the heart of what is empty.

TIME

TALENTS

TREASURE

How do you spend your time?  Do you plan your day or “fly by the seat of your pants?”  Do you spend your time on things that you would not want the Lord finding you doing when He returns?  How much time do you spend watching TV, looking at digital media, selfish endeavors?  If you took an accurate account of your day and wrote down everything that you did, what would you find filled your time?  Could you pinpoint the empty endeavors?

How do you spend the talents God has given you?  God gave us talents to be used for His glory?  Do we use our talents whatever they may be for His Glory?  Or for our own glory and recognition?

What about your treasure?  Your bank account does not lie.  It is easy to see what you spend your money on.

Empty things leave us feeling empty and searching for more, full things leave us satisfied and content.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”

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I am reading a book called “The One Thing” by Gary Keller.  The premise of the book is what is the one thing each of us wants to accomplish in our lives and how do we go about accomplishing that.  There are no Scripture references in the book and yet the principles are Scriptural.  If we were to write down what the one thing is that we want to accomplish in life and then work backwards to accomplish it, we would have daily purpose.  Oftentimes, we start each day off without a particular purpose and end up “flying by the seat of our pants.”  Think about this thought, “what is the one thing we want to have accomplished in our lives.”  These are the big dreams.  Michael Jordan did not one day wake and say he was going to be a great basketball star and then try out for the Chicago Bulls.  Neither did Thomas Edison decide to make a light bulb, then it happened.  These men had a goal and then worked backwards and dedicated much time to the neglect of other things in order to accomplish this goal.  They had one thing.

As Christians we should want to hear at the end of our earthly journey, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23).

How each of us get to this “one thing” is going to look different, but the verses in I Samuel 12:20-24 help us to have a direction in order to work towards that one thing.  The old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” fits perfectly into this idea.  “Flying by the seat of our pants” may be easier but it is hard to accomplish anything this way.

 

…but serve the Lord with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make a name for Himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way.  Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you. (I Samuel 12:20-24).

These instructions given to the Israelites can help us to set a course towards being good and faithful servants.  Here is a condensed list of these things.

  1. Serve the Lord with all your heart
  2. Empty things are empty for they do not profit or deliver
  3. Pray
  4. Instruct what is good and right
  5. Fear the Lord
  6. Serve Him faithfully with your whole heart

Let’s look at each of them seeking to apply them to our lives today.

“Serve the Lord faithfully with your whole heart.”  This is included twice in this list so it must be important.  Serving comes from an attitude of humility.  An attitude of humility comes from a proper view of ourselves.  God does not ask us to do something that He Himself was not willing to do.  This is seen as Jesus walked the earth: washing the disciples’ feet, eating with the down and out people, caring for the poor and destitute.  Jesus did not seek positions of leadership but rather positions of service.  In serving others, we can serve the Lord.  This is not something that is done inconsistently but rather it is to be done “faithfully with our whole heart.”

Ask yourself a few questions:

Do you serve with joy or grumbling?

Do you look for ways to serve or do you have to be told what to do?

Which jobs of service do you seek: the ones that will get noticed or the ones that go unnoticed?

As you are serving is your attitude one of serving for self-gratification/self-pleasure/self-recognition or to please the Lord?

When you perform an act of service are you sure to draw attention to yourself and what you did or do you seek to give others credit for what they did?

Some of these answers are seen by others and others are known only by you and the Lord.  Examine your heart.  Focus on serving faithfully with your whole heart.

We can all “fly by the seat of our pants” or we can have a purpose and determination in our days.  Think about the end of your life and work backwards.  As you do plan the course, be sure to keep the end in mind.

“Serve the Lord faithfully with your whole heart.”

(We will finish looking at these principles in future blogs.)