All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 16 and 17; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
I will, from time to time, as I am inspired, maybe perspired, add to my writings some Life Hacks. A Life Hack is any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life. In other words, wisdom that will better enable us to successfully navigate the muck, mire, and misery of life on this third rock from the sun. Not all of them will be original thoughts from me; some will be something I saw or read. I just so happen to have the first one ready today. Here it goes:
The Greek word Paul used for Scripture is graphē and it means a writing, thing written. Not a feeling. And certainly not an opinion. I’ve said it before and will keep on saying it: If the Bible is inaccurate, it means that God either didn’t care, or was incapable of stopping it from happening. In either case, that’s not a “god” I would want to give my life to. So, if you want to improve productivity and efficiency in your life, then don’t change the Bible, change yourself!
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.
James chapter 1, verse 5; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Currently, according to the Treasury Department, the debt of the United States government is over 36 trillion dollars. How is that possible? Well, the answer really is simple. The government has been spending more money than it takes in. It’s called deficit spending. If I were to deficit spend, my bank either charges me an exorbitantly high service charge or they bounce the check or decline the debit transaction. It would seem to me that our government should stop spending more than it takes in. But, then again, I’m not a politician, thank God!
36 trillion is a lot of dough–but there’s an even higher deficit going on right now. It’s called wisdom! I grew up in an era where people were encouraged and expected to develop wisdom, otherwise known as common sense. What I want to know is that if it’s common sense, why is it so uncommon these days, especially in the church? And this morning I know the answer. Would you like to know the answer? Well, I’m going to tell you whether you want to know the answer or not.
The lack of wisdom, or “common sense”, that has invaded this land more than COVID is rooted in where people are looking for and seeking after WISDOM! Wisdom always comes from outside ourselves. Unfortunately, people are looking in the wrong places. They look for it in pop psychology, social trends, egotistical social influencers, political ideologies, or blogs like Hacking Christianity. Yes, I intentionally chose Jeremy Smith because of his over-inflated ego. And his obvious lack of wisdom.
Information alone doesn’t enable us to successfully navigate life and avoid its pitfalls. Here is why: Information tells us things–but wisdom shows us how to use that information in the best possible ways.Wisdom takes information and applies it to real life as it happens. And the only source for Wisdom is the one James, the half-brother of Jesus, tells us about. Ask God! In fact, God loves it when we ask Him for wisdom! I love how The Message puts it: “If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.”
Truth Time, people!!! We don’t know how to live life as God designed it without His Wisdom! We don’t know what we’re doing without His Wisdom! And here’s the thing no one like Jeremy wants to admit: God’s wisdom always runs counter-cultural to what the world says! So, are you confused? In a jam? At a dead-end? God knows what He is doing. So, why not ask Him? The results of asking and applying (since wisdom is lacking in so many lives I have to add applying) His wisdom will get us out of this hot-mess. And it will certainly restore our joy and hope in life. You can be wise if you seek God’s wisdom. Or you can just be dumb, if you so choose. And it is your choice.
What do people get for all their hard work under the sun?
Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verse 3; from the New Living Translations (NLT)
Sitting on my front porch this morning, I had a memory about one of our grandkids, Ethan. He’s a senior in high school now and has set his sights on being an Air Force pilot. The memory I had though was when he was about 3. We were in the garage when he pointed at something and asked, “What’s that, Grampa?” Then we proceeded around all 4 corners of the garage with the same question. When we finished going around, he started it all over again. “What’s that, Grampa?” And when I had to leave, Ethan took his Grammaw by the hands and asked: “What that, Grammaw?”
What’s my point? It’s about how we as human beings learn things. We can learn by listening. We can learn by observing. We can learn by reading. But one of the most effective ways we learn is by asking questions. The Good Book is full of illustrations of men and women, young and old, rich and poor of people trying to learn things by asking questions; to others and most importantly, by asking God. Even the wisest man to ever live also asked questions. (See the above verse)
Questions are a great way to learn. But.. . .BUT if we ask the wrong questions–well that’s what I want to talk about this morning with you. Wrong questions will give us information–but they won’t give us the wisdom we need to navigate this life on this third rock from the sun. In the search for life, people are asking the wrong questions. Thus, they are not getting the information they really are needing. Here are some examples.
1. How can I find happiness?
In other words, What will make me happy? Sounds like a good question. But that’s all it is–it sounds like a good question but it doesn’t produce what the heart is looking for. Don’t think for a moment that I am a gloomy Gus. It’s great to be happy. But happiness doesn’t last. Happiness is rooted in the emotions and desires; not that emotions or desires are a bad thing in and of themselves. It’s what we do with those emotions and desires that are either good or evil. Sin works within our emotions and desires. And the purpose of Sin is to crush and to kill us. Since happiness is rooted to the fallen part of us, it directs us to the very things that will ultimately make us unhappy. The real question that needs to be asked is this: How Can I Find Joy? Where happiness is tethered to our physical circumstances, Joy is anchored to our relationship with God. And there are times and situations where we have to give up what WE want for what God wants in order to find Joy.
2. WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT OWE ME?
Somehow, these “Woke” (but really asleep) Folks somehow think that the government owes them certain things. And if the government doesn’t give it to them, then they won’t ever have it. So they demand things from the government all in an attempt to be a “whole” person. They tend to see government as this vending machine that doesn’t require money from us. Push a button and then dispense what we want. And when it can’t, then throw a temper tantrum. For those who are asking this question, then listen to this quote and it’s the question we need to ask: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country?” This is from President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration address. Government doesn’t owe you one red cent. I call your attention to this statement:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Preamble to the U.S. Constitution
Notice it says “We the people”, not “We the government”! Government isn’t the answer to finding wisdom that leads to real life. It cannot give you what it is incapable of producing. It’s like asking a persimmon tree to produce oranges. It just ain’t gonna happen! To be an effective and just nation, then we must do those things and act in that way which adds to this nation, and not take away.
3. WHAT DOES THE CHURCH OWE ME?
Many believe the church owes them something because. . .well because they are there. There are those who want the church to make them feel comfortable. There are those who think the church exists for their whims and whines. And there are those who think the church owes them–not just acceptance of their lifestyle–but to endorse and to bless them. In other words, the church is to be the producer and they are to be the consumers. But long before the word “church” even existed, there was another word to describe what was happening. That word is Koinonia. In simplest of terms, it’s the shared life.We all have a part in it and something to do–even produce in this concept called church. It’s not about what the church produces–rather it is about what WEproduce in this life of grace. For each other, and for the rest of the world. The question that needs to be asked and answered is: What Do I Owe The Body of Christ? We call those membership vows. Though there are many other wrong questions, allow me to share one more.
4. WHAT DOES LIFE OWE ME?
We call a certain generation the The Entitlement Generation. I have been noticing and therefore must conclude that the sense of entitlement has nothing to do with which years a person was born in. Those living with that horrid sense of entitlement can be found in Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z, and Gen Alpha. They are walking around thinking, acting, and believing that simply because they exist--existence exists for them! Life owes them a fine house, car, prestige, appreciation, power–you name it! The question that should be asked is this: How can I add value to life–mine and that of others? Taking and taking doesn’t add value. It only takes away. Life is indeed like a checking account. You can make withdrawals, but only what you have deposited in it. You withdraw more than that–and it becomes a debt you owe. And if you don’t take care of that debt–then it comes a crime.
Our problems as a culture, a nation, and the world are deep and powerful. But we don’t have to live in the messiness that is in existence now. All we have to do is ask the right questions, then listen for God to give us the answer. Wrong questions produce wrong outcomes. But the right questions will lead us to the right answers. And those answers will give us the wisdom to know what to do and how to do it.
“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?“
1 Kings chapter 3, verse 9; from the New International Version (NIV)
Every day I am more astonished at what thoughts and passages The Holy Spirit prompts in this mind of mine. I never know where He is going to take me. Like this morning. It was when God told Solomon, “I’m not a genie that grants your wishes. But because of your heart, I will grant you one wish. Let me know in the morning what it is.” Who but God would take such a, call it risk? And if you could have just one thing, what would it be? I’m old enough to remember the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalogue that would arrive every year. And for those unfortunate souls who have no clue about this, it was called The Wish Book! And oh, what I would wish for! And one thing I’m remembering about The Wish Book is that every year my wishes changed. I mean, after all, a 10 year old doesn’t want the same things as a 9 year old. I was growing up!
But just imagine with me this morning that God has given you a Wish Book full of all kinds of things–full of everything anyone could imagine. And God told you this same thing He told Solomon: “Pick anything out of here and I will give it to you! Anything!!!” What would you choose? Would you choose to be debt-free? Now that would be great! To have lots of money? A condo on the beach? A cabin in the mountains? The winning lottery numbers? A big house with lots of acres? To be liked by everyone? What would you say in the morning? “God, I want ___________________!
Now, allow me to speak to my “for now” fellow United Methodists! We are in this period called discernment. Some of you have finished it. Some of us are about to finish it. Some of you are just beginning. And those who are NOT in a period of discernment, you are missing a rare and golden opportunity. As I have tried to guide both Mt. Vernon and Oak Hill, I have kept on emphasizing that it’s not about discerning whether you stay or leave. It is about discerning what and where God wants you! It’s not about the new (but ancient) view on human sexuality. It’s not about disobedient leaders. And it’s DEFINITELY NOT about how do you keep your property or pay the amount your conference is asking of you.
Discernment IS all about following the lead of The Holy Spirit and accepting His leading in our life and in our local church. Friends, our task isn’t about denominational tribes or figuring out who’s to blame. And it certainly isn’t about church property. It’s about the Kingdom Of God, and nothing else! My prayer for each of you is that you will have Solomon’s heart: Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. Call me looney; you won’t be the first. But if we ask for that discerning heart, then God will take care of the rest.
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”
Colossians chapter 2, verses 6 & 7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)
What is your favorite place to “get away from it all”? No, I’m not talking about that place where you have to save and save or max out a credit card to get there. I’m talking about that place that is just a short walk or drive away. My “fortress of solitude” (remember Superman?) is the woods. It doesn’t have to be an enormous National Forest; just a place where there are enough trees to keep the view of the real world at bay for a moment. It is there I take a deep breath to regain my composure, or seek insights into what I should preach (or write), or simply but powerfully reconnect with my Savior. Perhaps I am drawn to the woods and trees because The Savior–my Savior, your Savior, and the world’s Savior–BECAME that Savior by dying on a rugged wood cross.
Not long ago I went for a walk in a new stretch of woods. I was not seeking to resolve any issues or find something to write about. It was one of those mornings when I just wanted to take a walk with The Savior. At the moment, I needed nothing from His hand; just to hold His hand was all I wanted. I was walking up a slight hill and I came to a level place, so I stopped for a moment just to take it all in (which is another way of saying I needed a rest). It was then I noticed it.
There was this tree I had stopped beside. Oh, I know there were lots of others trees around, but this one caught my attention. At eye level, it looked as if it were dead. Its trunk that should have been straight was bent and twisted. Obviously this tree, at some point, had encountered a severe storm and that storm had changed its shape. I also noticed that about half of its trunk was missing from near its base upwards to about 4 feet. Insects and perhaps disease had moved in after the storm that changed its shape. From my viewpoint, looking straight ahead at eye level, this tree had died and would soon fall and eventually rot away. And I also knew that process was a part of the cycle of life. This dead, decaying tree would provide nutrients for new life.
It was at that precise moment that I looked upward. I do not know what made me look up; perhaps it was The Savior who knew I was looking at the wrong part of that tree took his hands and made me look up. And I am glad He did because it changed my perspective about this twisted, bent tree. Right over my head, exactly over my head, there it was: a limb growing upward with green leaves. I am not a horticulturist by trade and I have never taken a botany class, but I knew enough to know that dead trees cannot produce green leaves. That limb was growing upward toward the sun and this happened because the tree was still alive even though at eye level it looked dead.
I took this experience as something the Savior was trying to teach me. The very first thought that entered my mind was, “The roots of this tree are still alive, so this tree isn’t dead! It’s alive!” (I know, I know, it doesn’t take much to amuse me!) At eye level there was not a single sign of life but below the surface life abounded, the roots were still working and there was still a connection in that bent and diseased tree to those roots, sending that life giving substance upward to that limb that was reaching up to the sun and producing leaves, that sign which said, “I am still alive! I am bent and damaged, but I AM alive because I am still connected to my roots!”
And this casual “for no particular reason” stroll though the woods became a classroom where I discovered an important lesson straight from The Savior. I reflected on the many storms that had happened in my own life; things which threatened to destroy me which were not my fault. I also reflected on the things I had done which allowed the insects and diseases to come into my life and start to destroy me. By the way, these “insects and diseases” are better known as “SIN”! I looked back and I knew there had been times in my life when at “eye level” I must have looked dead, to myself and certainly to others. But The Savior had another view, and that was at the roots of my life. HE is where my roots grow that holds me tight and gives me nourishment. He does this faithfully, even when I may not even be aware of His gracious work. In that bent and damaged tree, I saw my life, and in that limb reaching up toward the sun, I remembered my roots.
Paul, in writing to the believers at Colosse, gives us words to live by and certainly words to give any and all of us hope. The life of a tree is not in how straight its trunk is, but in how deep and how strong its roots are. Paul told the Colossians, and us, to let our roots grow deep in The Savior. We do this by being faithful to our private devotion times, by being faithful to worship and service as the Body of Christ, we do this by a daily persistent prayer life, and so many other ways. Our roots grow deep in The Savior when we focus on Him, His love and grace for us. And nothing makes our roots grow deeper than when we spend time at the foot of The Cross, The Cross made from a large straight growing tree. The more time we spend kneeling at The Savior’s Cross allows our roots to be stronger and deeper.
Perhaps there have been times in your life when storms, by no fault of you, have come along and bent and twisted your life. The dreams you held have now vanished like the early morning fog. The urge to throw in the towel on those dreams may be strong. If this is you right now, then I want to say to you the same thing The Savior said to me in that early morning stroll, “Remember the roots.” The storms do not change God’s purposes for your life. If anything, the storms you weather adds purpose to your life. Just as that tree taught me a lesson, so your life can teach others life changing lessons about the power of relationship–the relationship with The Savior because your own roots are growing down in Him.
Perhaps the disease and insects of sin have invaded your tree. You look eye level at yourself and may sincerely think that you are finished. You may feel that you have lost your usefulness in the Kingdom. If this is you this morning, then I want to say to you the same thing The Savior said to me in that early morning stroll, “Remember the roots.” Allow your roots to grow down into The One who still speaks those same words to every broken sinner, “I will not condemn you. I will release you to go and have a new start.” Grace and mercy are always available when we admit our inability to save our self and we intentionally choose to grow the roots of our life in Him.
And I discovered another lesson that revealed something about me that I thought I had managed to conquer, and it just hit me. (See, learning is not over just because you leave the classroom.) You may be familiar with this expression: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, God taught me a new expression: “Don’t judge a tree by its trunk at eye level.” I hate to admit it, but I must, that from time to time (and even once is not acceptable to The Savior) I judge people at eye level. I allow a bad experience, a moment of mistreatment, that eye level experience, to continue to shape my opinion of that person. I cannot see their roots, so I have to look up toward the Son and remember that there is still hope when there is still a connection to the roots. And by the way, if you have not figured it out yet, there is no way I or you or anyone can see the roots. Father, forgive me for my judgments and thank you for reminding me (again) that you are the judge, not I.
Let us pray: Father, above everything else, I want my roots to grow deep in you. I need the life giving substance of Your Spirit. Help me engage my life in those practices and disciplines that will keep me alive in You. Thanks for keeping this bent and diseased tree alive with new growth. And Lord, help me to stop making eye level judgments, not about trees, but about people. Amen and Amen!
crisis [ krahy-sis ]; noun: a condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change.
Much has been said and written about the current election cycle. But this morning I am choosing a different topic: Maturity. I’m not talking about age, but something that appears to be an endangered species: Wisdom. Some say wisdom comes with age, but I can cite you many examples that this isn’t true. Wisdom does not happen automatically, and wisdom doesn’t just show up. Wisdom is the result of a dedicated pursuit for wisdom. It takes years of pursuit for a person to model wisdom. And wisdom will never be found in the Ivory Towers of academia–though the Ivory Tower folks think they are full of wisdom. Many are full of it–but “it” isn’t wisdom.
However, there is a common thought the kids possess the wisdom to make many important choices in their lives. Psychologists, sociologists and parents believe that kids have the necessary tools to make important decisions in their lives–among which is gender and sexuality. They believe that kids today are born with the skill sets and wisdom to choose their own path without interference from any adult.
Turning kids, adolescents, and teenagers loose to make important decisions is another form of child abuse. They lack the skill sets, experiences, and wisdom to make adult decisions. Heck, I know adults who are not equipped to make adult decisions. So why would anyone think kids can make adult level decisions. We had a bishop who thought that teens and twenty somethings held the key to church growth and that all of us over 40 were the problem.
The current crisis, I’m not talking about the election, has been fueled by those who claim kids are capable of making adult decisions. I’m not blaming the kids–I’m blaming the adults who have allowed, even encouraged kids that they are free to make any and all decisions on their own. To all parents and teachers out there, I challenge you to stop this carnage. Can’t you see you are hurting those kids?
It is unfair to our kids when we allow, even expect them to make adult level choices in their lives. As adults, our role is to give them the tools of wisdom BEFORE they made decisions and draw conclusions that will impact them for the rest of their lives. But we adults can’t give the kids what we do not have. So, to all you adults out there, I have something to say to you:
Education is not enough. I know many highly educated idiots.
Parents, your job is not to be your kid’s friend. Truth Time: If you haven’t made your kids mad at you, you haven’t done your job!
Educators, don’t fill their heads with your beliefs, but create an environment that nurtures deep thoughts and even wrestling with the answers. You’re not a god with all the answers. Not sorry if I hurt your feelings.
Let kids fail at something. Then let them know that failure at some task is not final.
Teach kids that all decisions and actions have consequences, and sometimes those consequences are not pleasant at all.
And a final word to adults: Seek and pursue after wisdom for yourself. Kids won’t find wisdom until and unless they see it in you. Don’t forget there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. By the way, the best source of wisdom comes from God. Wait, scratch that! The ONLY source of wisdom is God.
The crisis we are facing is the lack of wisdom. The ways people are thinking has created and is fueling our crisis. Speaking of wisdom, a man noted for his wisdom once wrote:
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.
The other day I was thinking about something that, well is missing in our culture. OK, I know, I know there’s a lot missing in today’s culture. So I will be specific–there is a lack of maturity. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines maturity as “he quality or state of being mature“. OK, so what mature? One of the definitions given is: “of or relating to a condition of full development“. EUREKA! THAT’S IT!
Full development as a whole person. But like the description of some nations, many are underdeveloped. They remind me of this Commercial:
Many people today just aren’t themselves because they have failed to mature. To reach full development as a whole person, we need to turn to something more than the culture of today offers. The views and values of this current culture has only promoted and provided a level of immaturity rarely seen in the history of humanity. And many need more than a Snicker’s Bar.
I’m reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:18–“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” Maturity happens as we align our heart, mind, and purpose to the will and desires of God. Problem is people are too often absorbed and focused on their will and desires. The result of self-absorption is a pettiness and narrow-mindedness that has made people feel and act like they are miserable. Worse than this, they believe they are miserable. Event worst, they ARE miserable.
But to change this environment, we need to get back to Paul’s words. We need to allow The Holy Spirit to change us more and more to become like Jesus. Maturity happens as our hearts, minds and actions reflect Jesus rather than the world. You can’t be yourself, if you are like the world. You are made for something better. You’re not you when you’re not hungry for Jesus. Not even a Snickers Bar can help.
(I just added this one because I love Don Rickles.)
I know I’m a little late today. . .OK, a whole lot late. But it’s still Tuesday and I do have some thoughts. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about: What If All You Know Is All You Know? No, I’m not venturing into the dark side of intellectual pursuit, otherwise known as Philosophy. I’m serious about this. This may appear to some as an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum. Hang tight! How you think about what you think you know will either ground you for life–or set you on the greatest of all adventures.
There are two ways of thinking; others may disagree with me but it’s OK for them to be wrong. There is Circular Thinking and there is what I would call Seeking Wisdom Thinking. Educators, psychologists, and most of all philosophers, would tell us there’s more than 2 ways of thinking. They probably could come up with some other ways of thinking but ultimately they are but expressions of one of these patterns.
People who think in Circular Patterns are driven by a set of facts and values that have already been established for them. They take what they see as factual and reliable to think, form opinions and plan their life by what they know. I call it a Circular Pattern because everything they know is inside that circle. If an idea, belief or opinion comes at them outside that circle, it’s immediately rejected. For Circular Pattern Thinkers are going in circles with their lives and wonder why they are’t getting anywhere.
They limit themselves to a limited source of knowledge. All they know is all they know; and they never look beyond themselves. Thus, their life and dreams are limited. The problem with Circular Patterns is that there is not enough information–nor will there ever be enough information to make anyone more than just ORDINARY.
The other pattern is the Seeking Wisdom Pattern. People here are not confined to set sources of knowledge. These are the No-Limit kind of thinkers. No, they are not those who “think outside the box”. We have tons of people outside the box who are outside the box, but still ordinary. Wisdom Seekers will never be content with average. No, they want to soar and excel in life. They know that Wisdom comes from beyond what someone knows. Wisdom that lasts and causes us to soar in life has one source–and that is God.
Here’s the thing about Wisdom. It is not limited to what we think. Truth is, it often contradicts what we think. Sometimes it does not make logical sense and contradicts the world view. And it’s this world view that has caused much of the mess we are in. Knowledge is found in books and people’s stories and comes from a very limited perspective. Wisdom only comes out of Eternity, out of the heart and mind of God.
Remember what James wrote in James 1:5–“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” Average comes out of knowledge. But greatness–that, my friends, only comes out of Wisdom.
And here’s my conclusion–If All You Know Is What You Know, You Don’t Know Enough–And You’re Operating Without Wisdom.
One more word about Wisdom–this one from this guy named Solomon:
6 Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you. 7 Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
This morning I was thinking about 2 things: Wisdom and Idiots (Proverbs calls them a fool). What prompted these seemingly contradictory things was the controversies in Washington D.C. and in the United Methodist Church. So I turned to a book that has much to say about both–Proverbs, and here is what I found:
We no more give honors to fools than pray for snow in summer or rain during harvest.
Proverbs 26:1 (The Message)
In the book The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews, the second decision needed to be made is this: I will seek wisdom. Here’s a quote that is really speaking to me this morning:
I will seek wisdom. I will choose my friends with care. I am who my friends are. I speak their language, and I wear their clothes. I share their opinions and their habits. From this moment forward, I will choose to associate with people whose lives and lifestyles I admire. If I associate with chickens, I will learn to scratch at the ground and squabble over crumbs. If I associate with eagles, I will learn to soar great heights. I am an eagle. It is my destiny to fly.
“The Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews
Yet when I look at our government and my Spiritual Tribe, I see no such seeking for wisdom. What I see and hear are fools, idiots spewing their venom of “I’m right, you’re wrong” perspective. And what “I” want to do is argue with them, showing them where they are wrong! But after the argument I remember this quote supposedly from Mark Twain:
So, today I choose wisdom. Arguing with idiots and fools is just like Solomon said in our Proverb this morning–it’s like praying for snow in the summer; ain’t gonna happen unless you live near one of poles or in high altitudes. It doesn’t make sense. Or like praying for rain during the harvest season–it’s counter intuitive, standing in the way of what you want to achieve.
In the midst of so many fools, take a different route–a “wiser” response. Seek wisdom for yourself. An idiot will not seek nor see wisdom for themselves. But you–rise above the strife of lunacy. Wisdom will help keep you calm, steady and strong. Seek wisdom from God and His Sacred Word. Seek wisdom from those who seek their wisdom from God. Arguing with idiots won’t change anything. Seeking wisdom transforms you–and that wisdom will rise above the dust created by lunacy. Remember, idiots are empowered by our arguing. Seek wisdom, and the idiot becomes impotent.
And love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!
God is a Great Teacher; the best ever. I say this because He uses so many “styles” and “ways” of teaching the lessons we need in order to be equipped to live life the way it’s designed, by Him, to be lived. In my journey, He has used our children, grandchildren, TV commercials, billboards, signs, and even my own life experiences. Not just my good experiences, but especially the not-so-good experiences.
I have found, and continue to find that the world around me is God’s Classroom where timeless treasures and wisdom await my discovery. This week is no exception. We are on our annual summer spiritual retreat–at Ft. Morgan Beach. Nothing like having the toes in white sand while listening to the waves to help us recharge our spiritual batteries–unless it’s at a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in the Fall. God uses nature to teach me something about Grace and Life in His Kingdom through the pelicans.
I noticed them yesterday, and remembered other times when they would be in search of something to eat. As they would be gliding over the water, they suddenly folded their wings and dived into the water–like an old World War 2 dive bomber. No reluctance. No hesitation. Head long as fast as they could go into the water. They saw their next meal and went after it with abandon and no hesitation. I’ve never seen a pelican pull up out of that dive. Not to say it’s never happened; I’ve just never seen it. Watching them yesterday and thinking about seeing it happen so many times, it got me to thinking about what it should mean to us as followers of Jesus.
Here’s the Lesson He is teaching me: We, as followers of Jesus, should pursue our purpose of bringing the Kingdom of God into hearts and lives with the same abandon as those pelicans pursued their meal. When a pelican spotted a fish, it folded its wings, and without hesitation, pursued that fish. What if we, when we see someone in need of life and God’s love, in desperate need of the Good News of the Kingdom, surrendered without hesitation, to reach out to them with the love that has reached out to us? It seems that we are so good at excuses of why our effort will not make a difference. And in those moments when we do let go, we find a reason to pull up at the last moment in fear that it won’t make a difference.
Here’s another thing I noticed about those pelicans. Sometimes they were successful in catching their prey, and sometimes they weren’t. And when they weren’t successful, they took to the air and tried again. What if those pelicans decided, “Well, I missed that fish, I might as well give up.”? They would starve; so they get back up and try again–with the same abandon and commitment as before. And this is our lesson as followers of Jesus.
Any sense of reluctance or hesitancy on our part, needs to be surrendered to Him, and without focusing on will we be successful or not, we follow the example of Jesus. Who dived headlong into our broken messes as one of us–from heaven to earth–in order to fulfill His purpose of redeeming us from our sins and transforming us into the life we are created to live. Knowing that some of us would accept this new life and some of us would reject this life, He came anyway.
We need to abandon–give up–our reluctance to pursue this life of total surrender to Jesus and the purpose of the Kingdom of God. Pelicans teach us how–fold back those wings and dive headlong to the water–with the love and compassion that Jesus shows us. And if we fail? Do what pelicans do. Get back up and go at it again. Not every attempt ends in failures. Just ask those pelicans!
“28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect[a] in their relationship to Christ.29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” (Colossians 1:28-29 NLT)
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him. Now, please excuse me, it’s time to go back to the Beach Classroom.
Welcome to Jeopardy, Randy. “Thanks, Alex, I’ll take Chaos and Stress for $1,000.” And the answer is: “This picture is what it feels like.”
Yes, Randy: “What is the feeling you have when the moving truck will be here in 2 days?” Correct!
Well, today started like usual. Packing some more, taking some more to the curb, headed to the office, and the Funeral. Debbie and I had visited Wynette in the hospital the day before she conquered death. Watching her struggle to breathe reminded that about a month ago I watched my own Mother struggle to breathe. God was faithful, not that I doubted Him, especially in a time such as this, and He gave me words to share with her Family and Friends that both honored her memory, her life and The Good News. A trifecta, if you would. The graveside portion was about an hour and a half away.
Then I returned to the church for one last team meeting before we leave. It was the Finance Team. Within my first year here, I was confronted with the fact that the accounting system was, well, what’s a word that I could use in a Christian blog? Chaotic to the Nth degree. Nothing illegal mind you, just poor accounting practices. Nothing balanced and I promised the Finance Team that before I left, everything would be in order and balanced. Thanks to my Office Manager, Samantha, she brought in a friend who loves accounting, loves numbers, loves problem solving (though I think this episode may have broken her from wanting to solve problems). Jennifer committed and donated her time and skills for the past 6 months. She managed to balance 2017, and set up a new system so they could say goodbye and good riddance to a system called Shelby and a new and easier to understand system (ACS) is up and running CORRECTLY. I kept my promise. I didn’t promise I would solve the problem, but would get the problem corrected! Thank you Samantha and Jennifer. After the meeting, I said goodbye to Samantha, who is more than a staff member, and she informed me I was like a big brother to her. These words coming from an only child–priceless. Samantha, you are like the younger sister I never had! I wish I could get rid of my older sister and have Dad adopt you.
So, what have I learned today? I’m so glad you asked:
Keeping your word is important. Whether it is to a congregation, at work, with family, your neighbors, or even a stranger, keeping your word matters. In this era, words of promise are casually thrown around, such as, “Oh yes, I’ll pray for you.”, only to never mention it in your prayers to God. Well, maybe once. When I make a promise, that is the same thing as making a commitment. It’s true for you, too.
There’s always “stuff” that needs to be thrown away in our hearts. Tonight I made more trips to the curb because tomorrow is pick-up. I did not want to leave anything on the curb for my replacement. And I didn’t want to just leave it here for someone else to deal with. Cleaning out, or in a more biblical image, purifying the heart isn’t a one time thing. And it’s more than a thing to do every 4 or 5 years. Guard you heart from collecting stuff–stuff that doesn’t matter to the Kingdom of God–and matters even less to Jesus.
People matter and need to be appreciated–TOLD they are appreciated. What else can I say about this? Nothing! If you can’t understand this….you are seriously messed up.
Even in dark times–there is still Good News! Less than a month after Mother’s funeral, I would have had a good excuse to say no, or just put in a minimal effort into today. But Jesus did not give his minimal effort for me, and it was infinitely more difficult for Him to do what He did, that what I was called upon to do. The result was exactly what God promises–that good comes out of evil–for a time I forgot my own grief and God used my tears to bring hope to others. Our circumstances do not dictate whether or not it is a time for the Good News. Any time, especially dark times, is the perfect time for the truth that there is Good News. Seems like that there’s a story in the Bible about the best news ever coming from a cemetery.
Well, it’s time to take my medicines, and hopefully sleep all night. Now that would be great! But if I don’t….God has this, and He has me! Good night, John Boy.
Lately I have been troubled, more so than usual, about an issue that surrounds the Bible. And my troubled spirit revolves about this question: “What does The Bible say about ? Simply fill in the blank with any topic or issue. My issue is not about what The Bible speaks into our hearts, but what WE speak into The Bible as we read it.
I am seeing and hearing a lot of what I call “cultural bias” into what The Bible says. For the sake of thought, allow me to define what I mean by “cultural bias” Cultural bias is “the tendency for people to judge concepts and interpret ideas and truths through a narrow view based on their own culture.” In other words, we read into The Bible the influences of our culture. One of those influences, especially for the Western Church (by this I mean mainline U.S. churches), is what we have been told it means. Sometimes this meaning is an age-old meaning. It is what we believe, what our parents believed, what our grandparents believed, ad infinitum. At other times, it’s the modern, more “enlightened” view.
Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien wrote a book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. In this book they point out 2 immediate dangers by reading the Bible with these “western eyes”. First is making yourself the center of this search for the meaning of the Bible. We tend to search for things we think are relevant us to and ignore the rest. The other immediate danger they describe is, well I’ll just quote them: “Second, and perhaps more seriously, a me-centered approach to the Bible confuses application with meaning. Simply put, I am not the focus of the Bible’s meaning; Christ is.”
While this may explain some of the issues, it does not address all of them. Over the next few posts, I am going to look and speak into some of our “church cultural biases” into some issues. And it may be that when we see how we have made “our” culture central in what The Bible says on these issues, there may be other, call them truths or principles of The Bible that we have read “our” interpretation into those passages to the exclusion of any other possible meanings.
I guess what I am attempting to do is to ask, “Where are we wrong when it comes to the truth of The Bible?” And here is where you, the readers, can participate in this journey. I am going to list some of what I see as “church culture biases” as it pertains to understanding what The Bible says. I would like to invite you to post in the comments section other things that have been either long-hold or modern interpretations of what The Bible says about “life issues”. So far here is my list in no particular order of importance, and please feel free to add to the list or share your insights.
What does the Bible really say about divorce?
Are those who have been divorced really excluded from church leadership?
Are ‘deacons’ and ‘elders’ to be considered clergy (pastors/preachers) or laity (the person in the pew)? Who’s right?
Who is ‘authorized’ to administer (or serve) Holy Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist/The Mass?
What does The Bible really say about women as teachers, pastors, or preachers?
What does The Bible really say about human sexuality?
Does The Bible approve of slavery? What does it really say about it?
Which is a more accurate term: Christian or Disciple?
What does The Bible say about “the church”?
Does God insist on us being a “Christian” nation, and does this fulfill our mission?
What is the “proper” way to worship?
Well, for right now, this is all I can think of; so if you have more ideas or questions, or arguments, share below in “Comments”. Right now I am like the cat who ate some cheese and then went to wait beside the mouse hole. “I am waiting with baited breath!”
This week, the week of Christmas, has amplified my own “season of our discomfort” in the journey of life for myself and my wife Debbie. A sneak peak of what this week would be like came last Monday evening, 18 December, when I received a call that my Mother had fallen, again and was at the emergency room. This time she had a fractured elbow and it would take surgery to repair it. Surgery would be scheduled on Wednesday, 27 December. But Sunday, Christmas Eve, I had terrible sinuses and a sore throat. I had to preach at the morning worship service and again that evening for the Candlelight and Communion Service at 5:00 pm. After the morning service, I went to one of those “doc in a box” places with my request: a shot of antibiotics, a shot of steroids, and one of those prednisone dose packs. That’s always worked in the past. But after a swab, I was informed I had the flu, Type A. No candlelight and communion, no Christmas morning with all my family (first one I wasn’t present in 61 years). No being there for my Mother’s surgery.
On Wednesday morning the surgeon was able to repair my Mother’s elbow, but we received some very sad news that same day. Our good friend, my brother in Christ, Eddie Phillips, life on this earth ended far sooner than I had hoped or wanted. When Eddie was diagnosed with cancer he started writing a blog he called My Journey Up The Mountain. I re-blogged his posts and encouraged you, my readers, to take some time to read about Eddie’s journey, but also his deep faith and profound wisdom.
I’ve often heard it said that many people who are facing their own mortality, live life with a richness that, well, that we all need to embrace every moment of every day. Eddie’s thoughts–thoughts that came from him facing terminal cancer, have touched and continue to touch my life now. I miss Eddie. I miss his writing. I miss his friendship. I miss his encouragement. I miss seeing Jesus through Eddie, because in so much of my world, there is more “world” than “Jesus”. I could always count on seeing Jesus in Eddie.
So, this Saturday, Debbie and I will go to the “Celebration of the Life of Eddie Phillips” and love on his wonderful wife and our friend, Sherrie and their children and family. I prayed hard for Eddie’s healing; I mean REAL HARD. And right now, I miss my friend, my encourager, my spiritual brother. I need so much more of that wisdom and insights for my journey. But his journey up the mountain is completed.
But can I be honest with all of you? I do not like it. I do not like what is happening around me. I am crushed and broken beyond words. Tonight I was about to be really angry with God, I mean out loud angry with God. All week I’ve been feeling hurt, broken, and a ton of other junk (including angry with God–and some others). And now Eddie is gone. And just when I was about to shout it out at God in and with that anger–great anger, I remembered something. I heard a question: “Do you remember how you close out the graveside services of followers of Jesus?” There wasn’t a human being in the room I was in.
I stopped and said, “Well, of course. I walk up to the head of the casket, place my hand on it and say, ‘Jesus said I Am the Resurrection and the Life.’ And now in full confidence of the hope of the Risen Savior, we do not say goodbye, but until then my friend, until then.” So, I came to terms with myself, and said goodbye to Eddie. And on Saturday, I will look at his casket and remember that Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life. And I will say, “Until then, Eddie, until that day.” But I still miss you.
Oh, that each of us could live by what Eddie taught us in his brief season of writing. I just now remembered a country song, “Live Like You Were Dying”. It is just a song with lyrics and melody, but a powerful message. My friend Eddie made it more than a song, it was his life, his faith and is his legacy. Thanks Eddie, but I will miss you.
It is easy, so very easy, TOO easy, to read our assumptions into the Truths in the Bible. I know, because I have been guilty of doing it. The sign you see is one in front of a local church. I know some of the people, and they love Jesus. But something about this sign doesn’t seem right to me. Now before you accuse me of “judging” them, or being a fundamental literalist, know that I am reading a really great book called “12 Steps For The Recovering Pharisee (like me).” Here is what The Spirit is teaching me: “Don’t Read Your Assumptions Into My Texts!”
The Shepherds did NOT follow the Star. They followed the verbal directions of the Choir Director of Heaven’s Choir. Here is the story found in Luke 2:8-16 (NLT)
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.
Was that Star present? Absolutely! The “Wise Men” saw it and followed it. Were they the only ones who could see that Star? No, anyone who looked up at night could have seen that Star, but only those “Wise Men” knew what to do with it. The Shepherds, on the other hand, received verbal directions on where to find the newborn Messiah: In the stable at Bethlehem. Being Shepherds, they would have known where that Stable was at; and if there were multiple stables in and around Bethlehem, they would have known their locations, too. That’s what Shepherds do!
But this sign reveals something that, well, I want to talk about. Again, I’m not criticizing or judging; just an observation. Because the Wise Men followed the Star (that is in the Bible; Matthew 2:1-12) does not mean that the Shepherds (or anyone else, for that matter) followed the Star. This person simply took their knowledge about that Star and applied it to the Shepherds. There was a star and there were Shepherds! Voila and Ta-Da! The Shepherds MUST HAVE followed that Star.
It’s not just with the Incarnation Story that people take one part of the Bible and add it to another part. The danger of “assuming” things about a passage creates damage; to people and to churches. Our natural tendency (the one influenced by the Father of all lies) is to find ways to prove our point. The Enemy is skillful and unfortunately, very successful, at helping us take the “text” out of its “context” simply to prove our point.
God has been taking me on an incredible journey of simplicity that is profoundly impacting both my faith and my life. The Spirit has given me a, call it “Formula” or “Bible Reading Plan” that looks like this:
First, I begin listening to some Worship music. I use my earbuds so as not to disturb anyone, and to not be distracted in my personal worship time. I also pour my cup of coffee and sit in front of the fireplace. It helps me to stay focused on worshiping God. Being ADHD, it’s easy for me to be distracted. Finding this place helps me remind myself: “Hey! Dummy! This moment is about God being honored for who HE IS, not what I need or need to be doing!”
I read the Sacred Scriptures without any agenda or bias. I ask the Holy Spirit to speak into my mind and heart. I listen to the words I’m reading, pushing aside anything anyone has ever told me about the passage or what I think I know about the passage. I approach it as if it is the very first time I’ve read it. (By the way, I’m in my 3 consecutive reading of Ephesians, each time I start over, I treat it like it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. I found it takes me 6 to 7 days to read this letter.)
I focus on the context of the passage. When did God say or inspire those words? What was happening in that culture, in that moment? Sometimes there are other questions, but the last one I ask is important: What does this say about God’s passion and desire to restore this fallen creation? In other words, “How is God moving to make me (and others) into what HE originally intended BEFORE Adam and Eve sinned?”
I ask this question: “What is God saying to me?” I write my answers down in a journal.
Then I ask the second question: “What does this say about me?” This can get a little dicey and requires a lot more focus from me. Sometimes it convicts me. Other times it affirms me. And there have been a few moments when I discover God’s view of me is different than my view of me–sometimes even better than I see myself.
And now, I am moving into the third question. This question is the one that will determine if I will allow this Word to transform into who God says I am. “What am I going to do about it?”
I am finding this approach helps to clear my head of any assumptions I may be bringing into the Story of God’s work of Restoration. You see, when we ASSUME anything, it makes something out of “U and ME”. Figure it out. And if you ASSUME alone, it just makes you “it”. What I’m saying is, “Folks! Stop assuming YOU are the final authority on the Bible. Stop assuming YOU are right. Don’t read the Bible to prove your point. Read the Bible to show where you are missing that mark of being all you are created to become, not so that you can point out where you think people are wrong. Stop taking passages out of context! Please!” I remember something from my homiletics class. Dr. Thompson said it many times: “A text taken out of its context is only a pretext, and never the Truth.”
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him! Amen and Amen!
Oh, here’s a post script, and it comes from the stories around the birth of Jesus: God speaks to different people in different ways–but if we follow His directions, be it by a star or by the Choir Director of Heaven’s Angel Choir, we get to the same place. But you have to follow HIS directions.