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Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010 on Savvy Sheep!

Well, we've reached the end of another year here on Savvy Sheep.  Here's an overview of the events here on the blog in 2010:
  • I began the weekly trivia series at the start of the year on false debate techniques.  I think they are still a helpful resource for those who want to sharpen their witnessing skills. Click here for the link to the summary post I created for your browsing convenience.
  • Right after that series ended back in May, I ran a giveaway contest on Bible trivia.  I'd like to do something like that again, but I haven't developed a good theme yet.  Suggestions are welcome.
  • While those and other shorter post series were running this year, I was also writing a longer weekly post about serious spiritual issues like apostasy, archaeology and Biblical connections, revival, and postmodernism and other false teachings in the church today.
  • I doubled my posting schedule this year.  In 2008 and 2009, I was updating this blog about once a week.  That means twice as much good content for you to read!
  • My readership also increased this year.  I have around 20-25 long-time subscribers and a regular stream of new visitors.  If you like this blog, please support it by subscribing, leaving comments, and sharing your favorite posts with others.  I have a "Share This" widget at the top right of every post for your convenience.  Let's get the word out!

Several posts this year have received a high amount of traffic this year.  There are also several that I'd like to remind you about, if you haven't read them yet.  Take some time to explore my archives if you have the chance.
  •  Behold! the Bridegroom Cometh-- In this post, I explored the cultural symbolism of Jesus' miracle at the wedding at Cana.  Several people have told me it makes a lot more sense now that I have connected it to Jewish wedding customs that are still practiced today.
  • The Ten-Second Interview--  A post about your Christian testimony.  If someone only talked to you for ten seconds, would they be able to guess that you know Jesus?
  • Be Transformed-- Are Christians simply nonconformists, or something totally different?
  • Dabbling Can Be Dangerous-- We live in an eclectic society, which pushes dabbling and open-mindedness as high virtue, but sometimes it can be dangerous for our souls to sample everything we encounter.  How can we protect ourselves from the risks of dabbling?  This post is, I think, one of the most important ones I wrote this year, so I hope you check it out.
  • Desolation and Hope-- I took the time to outline and address specific teachings of the Postmodern movement.  Read it and learn to recognize this powerful movement in television, media, and modern education.  By the way, the comments section is still open if you want to join in.
  • Have They Heard?-- A special call to all blog writers--consider your audience, and think about your unique responsibilities and opportunities as a Christian blogger.  It's also a good one for missionaries and those who know them!
  • The King's Favor is the Best Heritage-- A powerful post about Mephibosheth and David, and the value of a spiritual inheritance that surpasses anything the world has to offer.
  • God of the Mountains and the Valleys-- Humanities scholars and archaeologists have often commented about the symbolic and cultural significance of the landscape where a nation lives.  What does the Bible have to say about this?
  • Have Faith to Cast the Net One More Time-- Struggling with poor results on your path to success?  Learn to trust God with the outcome, even when things look grim.
  • Look Over Your Shoulder--  The Hound of Heaven is in hot pursuit.  Will you run or let Him catch up with you?
  • He Will Take Care of the Rest!-- An encouragement to stand with God, even when circumstances seem impossible.  Do you really trust God?
  • Bow Down to the Baby in a Manger-- No one noticed the baby born that night long ago, even though He had come to change the world.  The world didn't recognize Him, and they didn't understand why He came.  Thousands of years have passed, but has anything changed?
Have a Happy New Year!  I'm looking forward to 2011 on Savvy Sheep--another year of good teaching, spiritual insights, and insightful comments.  See you next year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Year-End Review: Take-Aways from 2010

This week, most people will be recovering from the holiday rush and travel, long but happy hours of visiting, gift-giving and (possibly) returns, and holiday food withdrawals (especially from all the sweets).  New Years celebrations are just around the corner, and then life will generally resume normal proportions again.  While 2010 spins to a close in a swirl of color, it's time to look back and see what we can take from it.

The opening lines from an old poem by Joseph Parry come to mind at the end of the year: "Make new friends, but keep the old;/ Those are silver, these are gold." The poem centers on how we should most value the friends who have stuck with us year after year.

That is a nice sentiment, but in the end, even relationships, things, and habits that have been with us a long time may perish.  They may not have even been good for us.  What we need to value most are the imperishable things we have acquired through the year--moral lessons we have learned, and guidance and grace that God has showered upon us every day.  What is your take-away for 2010?

Faith with Hope:
"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 6-7 NIV 2010).
"We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us" (Romans 5: 3-5 NIV 2010). 
Have you been through serious trials this past year?  At the end of the year, it is good to look back on what we've been through, and put it into an eternal perspective.  Our trials last only a little while, but in the end, they can strengthen our faith in God.  How? By proving to us again and again, in a very personal way, that God is with us always, and that He sustains us through persecution. We have a hope, as Christians, that eventually all trials will come to an end and everything will be set right again by a loving and just Savior.

If 2010 was a rough year for you, take a moment to remember all the good things that God has done for you, and all that He will do.  He keeps His promises!

Blessings for Obedience:
"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, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, 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" (2 Peter 1: 5-8 NIV 2010).
"The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness" (Proverbs 11: 5 NIV 2010).
Perhaps 2010 has been easier than most years for you.  There may have been some rough times, but they didn't last and are hardly remembered when you look back over the year.  Still, you can see growth in your relationship with God, because you have spent time learning about what is right and doing it.  Practice builds new habits you can take with you into the new year.

Humility Before Honor:
"He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8: 3 NIV 2010).
"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7: 14 NIV 2010).
 There is a third take-away, for those who did not live in constant obedience to God and did not suffer for the cause of Christ in 2010, but who want to do better in 2011.  It is a humbling experience, admitting failure, sin, or shortcomings, but if you know the Lord, you know that He will honor those who humble themselves before Him (see Proverbs 18: 12).  You may live to see the results of 2010 burned away like straw (see 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15), but if Christ is your foundation, you can start again with better materials in 2011.

Take a moment to think about these things this week.  I'll be back later this week with a "best of 2010" post.  Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay savvy and wait for Christ's coming!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I am busy with holiday preparations, and I know you probably are, too--wherever in the world you are today.  Anyway, I don't want to get so busy that I forget what all of this is for.  Is it about sparkly decorations, bells, Santa Claus, excessive eating, or gift giving?  I think not.

Just thought I'd post a picture of my family's lighted nativity scene for you to enjoy...

...and a link to a great Christmas song to get you thinking about what it means for believers that we are able to celebrate Christmas! 

I'll be back here next week!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Weekly Snippet: Bow Down to the Baby in a Manger

When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man with discernment and knowledge maintains  order.--Proverbs 28:2 NIV

I am writing this post a day early, because my entire weekend, starting Friday morning, is scheduled solid with activities relating to Christmas and my sister's college graduation.  In my rush, I didn't have an idea for what to write, so I went to my bedroom, prayed, and cracked my Bible for ideas.  When I saw Proverbs 28: 2, I found myself wondering, "What does this have to do with the Christmas season?"  However, with some thought and prayer, I started seeing a connection, and I wanted to share it with you here.

When Jesus came into this world, the country was full of rulers.  Herod was the greatest of those in Israel, and even he wasn't as high-ranking as Caesar, whose census had brought Jesus to Bethlehem that night.  The fact is, every person, whether important or not, saw himself or herself as an important ruler--ruler of their own lives.  Following the example that Cain set at the beginning, no one was looking out for his brother (Genesis 4: 9).  If they had been, they would have seen a woman in labor and her frantic husband at the inn door, and they would have given up their room for them.

The fact is, the country was full of rebellion.  No one was seeking to please God; they only thought of themselves and getting "their due."  As a result, the town was in chaos and they all dropped the ball with the arrival of the King of Kings.

Now, a few righteous kings had successfully ruled over Bethlehem in the past, but they couldn't address this chaos.  The problem was a matter of righteousness and their power didn't reach that far. Bethlehem, like the whole country, needed a King who ruled with true understanding (understanding of their spiritual condition) and knowledge (an intimate acquaintance with God's perspective and His laws and righteousness).  Only He could bring order by leading their hearts.

Little did they know that night that their King had arrived, and that one day He would set the whole town back in order.  Jesus came once as a baby in a manger, so that we could know His gentle side, His love, and His mercy.  While He was here, He led with understanding and knowledge, showing mercy to those who didn't earn it, and sharing His knowledge with anyone who would listen and take it to heart.

He left only 33 short years later (in body, not in spirit), but His job as leader isn't done yet.  Those who know Him have been brought to order under His leadership.  He rules in their hearts, and because the same Man leads them all, they are unified (see John 17: 22-23; Ephesians 4: 2-6).

As for the rest of the people of Bethlehem (I am speaking figuratively of the whole world), He is coming back again some day soon to put them to order as well.  A country cannot go on forever with many kings; eventually one rises to pre-eminence.  First, we will see a false king who seems to establish peace for a few years, but chaos will still bubble under the surface of this false calm.  He will be no greater than the greatest king of Bethlehem in the days of Mary and Joseph--that distant Caesar, who couldn't even defend a baby's cause in that little town.

After that will come the Lion of Judah, the conquering King, that is, the returning Jesus Christ.  As C.S. Lewis often described Him in this role, "he is not a tame lion."  When Jesus returns, those who haven't been taking Him seriously, thinking of Him only as a feeble baby and not a victor in battle, will suddenly have to do so.  I'm not saying that Jesus will no longer be kind; I'm just saying that it will be time, for the sake of upholding justice, for wrongdoers to finally reap their punishment.  Even in His justice there will be kindness, since He has decided to give it at the right time (not prematurely) and He has decided to bring it to its fullest, but consistent, extent (nothing excessive or unjustified).  As Isaiah prophesied thousands of years ago,
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked:  Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.  They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’”  All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.  But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him. (Isaiah 45: 22-25 NIV, updated 2010 version)
 Therefore, Jesus is bringing order to this world, but some will submit to His Lordship with humility, and some unwillingly.  This is my Christmas warning--don't be unprepared, not even this Christmas, for the coming King.  He isn't just a baby in a manger--He is God.  Take Him seriously!  Obey Him.  He isn't a lion to be trifled with.

Until next time, this is me, reminding you, to know the Lord your God and follow Him only!  Be a savvy sheep!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Let's Tell the Children About Christmas

O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.  We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.--Psalm 78: 1-4 NIV
Christmas is the most heavily-merchandised season of the year, with desperate merchants vying for attention on every street corner.  It is tougher than ever before to remember the real meaning of Christmas.  Today, though, I'm not talking about your gift buying or gift giving habits.  I'm talking about how it all started.

Christmas is an arbitrarily-chosen day on which we Christians have gathered to celebrate the coming of Jesus to this world.  We don't know when He was born, actually, although some scholars have done calculations and research and have pointed to May or June as a more-likely date.  I suppose that if we actually knew, we might attribute more holy significance to a day on a calendar than we ought to.  Maybe that is why it was never written down.

So, it began as just any other day, and became (eventually) the most heavily merchandised day of the year.  Somewhere in the middle, and continuing on in the hearts of the faithful, it has always been about Jesus.

It's true, Christmas is about a gift.  It's about a truly spontaneous gift, not an expected one or a purchased one.  No one was watching for Jesus when He came, except a bewildered young couple who hadn't counted on sleeping in a stable that night.

The most important thing we should remember on Christmas (since, after all, it is more of a symbolic date than a real one) is why Christmas came.  That one date changed the world.  It reshaped cultures, raised leaders in hard times, and pulled millions of individuals from the brink of destruction brought on by their own sins.  We aren't just talking about a spontaneous gift here!  We are talking about the best thing that ever happened to the world, whether or not anyone recognizes it for what it is.

That brings me around to my title.  I think it's okay to see Christmas as an opportunity to teach generosity to children.  That is a great thing.  However, on the most fundamental level, Christmas does not teach us that lesson at all.  It is another story of sacrifice and humble obedience.  On Christmas day, the King of All was born into filth and poverty, to some imperfect people and a blinded, hateful world.  Why did He come?  To rescue the filthy, the poor, and the ungrateful.  Let us talk about that lesson of Christmas with the younger generation.  If they forget why Jesus came, trouble will come upon us all, but especially them.

Christmas is a fabulous opportunity for teaching children God's plan of salvation.  This is the time when they will be listening, and even secular radio stations will be playing traditional Christmas carols to confirm the lesson.  Contrary to some popular sentiments, it isn't "pushing our religion" on the children to freely share our beliefs and read them the story of Jesus' birth.  It's saying our part before the world comes in and tries to push their own, mostly merchandising or larcenist agendas.  If we truly believe in Jesus, we won't reinforce the teaching (by passive silence or wishy-washy statements) that Jesus is just a myth.  Now is the time to get back to the truth--the ugly truth about ourselves, and the hope-filled, joyous news that there is a cure for our sins!

I think I'll let Linus from Charles Schultz's Peanuts cartoon say the rest.  I'm always proud to hear him testify on national television every year--may we all be so brave!

Until next time, this is me, reminding you to stay savvy and speak out about Jesus!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Weekly Snippet: The Greatest Gifts in Life Don't Come with Money

Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.  Ecclesiastes 7:12 NIV
Perhaps when Solomon wrote that "money is a shelter," he was pointing out how nice it is to have enough money that you don't have to worry about paying your bills or buying that little thing that you want.  In fact, I define poverty as not having enough to cover all of our needs.  Today, around the holidays, financial poverty is felt all the more keenly when we want to be more generous than our budgets allow.  But, money isn't everything, and it doesn't do the one thing that we all need--protect our lives.

Wouldn't it be fantastic to be able to buy a Christmas gift that fulfilled someone's every need?  In essence, wouldn't it be wonderful to give the gift of the end of poverty?  We all want something for Christmas, and there are a lot of things that would make us happy, but there are only a few things we need.  The end of poverty is high on that list.

Well, years ago, somebody did buy that gift.  The purchaser's name was Jesus.  He began poor, and stayed poor, but He grew in wisdom, and with that wisdom He obeyed God and purchased the gift of eternal life so that He could give it to anyone who asked for it.

How is that the end of poverty?  Well, we all lacked life, and we didn't have enough of the right thing to ever achieve eternal life.  Therefore, we all live in poverty.  The greatest gift--the most valuable gift--is life, and Jesus taught us a valuable lesson about it. The greatest gift we can receive cannot be purchased with money.  Both the rich and the poor know this.  Eternal life is purchased with wisdom, and knowledge of the God who gives it.  If we don't seek out the God who gives us life and wisdom, we will always be poor.

This Christmas, do you have the greatest gift of all?  I know that none of us are capable of displaying the kind of wisdom it takes to earn this gift.  That's why the richest man in the world, Jesus Christ, had to buy it.   He didn't use silver and gold.  He gave His life.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you by your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  1 Peter 1: 18-19 NIV
 Do you know Him?  If you don't, and you want to know more about this gift, please read my post "To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice," for a more detailed explanation.  If you agree with me, I have written how to receive this priceless gift at the end of this post, "Have They Heard?"

Thank you for reading!  Until next week, this is my reminder to you to stay savvy--seek wisdom!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Serving Before the King

Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.--Proverbs 22: 29 NIV
Success in the world these days is not often measured according to skill; rather, it is judged by the amount of money made or the amount of product produced.  You may be the best at what you do, but quite often you will not get the attention you deserve (or crave).  Is there any remedy for this situation?

Well, not always, in this world.  Good marketing and some shameless self-promotion can help, but normally our best efforts never propel us out of obscurity.  Frequently, when they do, our pride over our success takes over and corrupts us (see Proverbs 16:18, 11: 28).  Let me put it this way.  To the untrained eye, it seems that most people, no matter how skilled, only serve before obscure men.

Still, the proverb at the beginning of this post promises something different than what my eyes see.  I don't think it is talking about earthly success or earthly kings.  We who develop the skills God gave us, for His glory, will serve before the King of Kings.  We will never be obscure in His eyes, because He is the one who gives honor to those who serve Him.

I leave you with Jesus' words, which clarify what I'm getting at with this passage:
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14: 7-11 NIV).
Even if you are in an "obscure position" right now in your life (that means most of us), you are serving before the King.  Your labor has been noted, and He will reward you.  Wait for it!

Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay with God, and stay savvy!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weekly Snippet: The Peace of Jerusalem

Yesterday was a bit of a scrambled day, and somehow I managed to forget this post.  I'm sure you may be experiencing these same sort of problems right now--students have semester finals, adults have year-end projects, and everyone has the holidays to plan and execute, on top of random life-crises that tend to crop up right about now.  You know, even in the most turbulent times, there is a calm in the middle of the storm for those who know the Lord.  Do you know what I mean?

We live in a world that is constantly clamoring for peace, but just as frequently, going to war.  This situation between people and nations has never changed, not even for Christmas.  I keep hearing Christmas songs like "Grown-up Christmas List," on the radio, and they only serve to remind me how far we are from realizing world peace--not even for a day, or an hour.  Why?  Because we don't understand peace.  We can't even recognize it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

God Still Hears the Prodigal

Then he restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel.--2 Chronicles 33: 16 NIV
The last two evenings, before I went to sleep, I read the consecutive reigns of King Hezekiah  and his son Manasseh in Judah.  Hezekiah was a good king; he obeyed God, and what's more, he honored God first.  God blessed him with a twenty-nine year reign and peace with his enemies.  Then, he died at the age of fifty-four (a ripe old age, in those days), and his twelve year-old son succeeded him as king and proceeded to destroy all that his father had built up (see 2 Chronicles 29-32 for more details of Hezekiah's reign).

King Manasseh was a very wicked man in his early days.  Whereas his father started his rule by purifying and rededicating the temple for worship, Manasseh began by defiling it in every way, even moving idols and altars into the temple courtyard and inside the building itself.  Hezekiah directed all of Israel to turn back to the God of their fathers, and ordered the high places (used for Baal worship) and the idols to be torn down and destroyed.  Manasseh built them back up and directed all of Judah to rush headlong into this worship, until it could be said, "Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites," (2 Chronicles 33:9 NIV).

So, in a span of one lifetime, from the joyous rededication feast at the start of Hezekiah's reign, to approximately thirty to thirty-five years later, when the temple was defiled with idols, God was remembered and forgotten again.  It didn't take long at all, did it?  Honestly, I read this and at first felt some despair.

Surely, as Manasseh was growing up, he saw his father standing for what was right, and he heard (if not witnessed first-hand) how God had miraculously delivered Judah from Sennacherib, the Assyrian King, and how God had prospered them all for their obedience.  He was born almost half-way through his father's reign!  He saw so many of these things with his own eyes, but in his youth, he didn't accept them.

I was praying about this, and saw that it just reveals a basic truth about Manasseh, and the whole human race.  Each generation--in fact, each individual--has to make their own decision to come to God or to turn away from Him.  All the bravery, and all the good examples and wise teaching of an older generation doesn't change that.  We have all been given free will to go, and many do.

Getting back to the story, King Manasseh did evil in God's eyes, and God sent him warnings.  Manasseh didn't heed those any more than he had his own father's successful example, so God sent the Assyrians to trouble him again.  This time God let the Assyrians get the upper hand, and they "took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon," (2 Chronicles 33: 11 NIV).  This sounds like a hopeless situation, and it can become that way, but Manasseh's story had a hopeful (if bittersweet) ending.  When he found himself utterly powerless and humiliated, when he saw that all of his gods and goddesses had not saved him,
In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.  And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God. (2 Chronicles 33: 12-13 NIV)
 While it is true that God can be forgotten, even by the children of those who know Him, God does not forget those children.  He still hears prodigal sons!  As long as those children turn away, there is only suffering in their future, because God is against sin; but when they return, God does more than just take them back.  He blesses them with more than they deserve or have earned!

Like the prodigal son in Jesus' story in Luke 15, Manasseh realized that even the peasants who ministered in God's temple courts were better fed and cared for than he was at the Assyrian's table.  He turned back to God, and God took him home and gave him a chance to reverse the choices he'd made earlier!

God did that for Manasseh, and He still does it for those who repent and return to Him.  Today, if you find yourself going down a road your predecessors rejected, there is still time to turn back before disaster strikes.  If you've already gone down that road, and you are on the other side of disaster, there is still time to remember God and watch Him rescue you from an impossible situation.  I've seen it happen.  He's even done this for me.  But, don't just take my word for it.  Here are the words of Jesus, telling us just how God would receive us if we came running back to Him:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 
The son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son."
“But the father said to his servants, "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15: 20-24 NIV).
 I'm praying for you!  Don't forget the Lord, who has been good to you.  He can help you again!  Until next time, this is me, reminding you, to stay humble, and stay savvy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reason to Be Thankful

Just over a week ago, I found myself sitting among some international students while a pastor tried to explain to them the meaning of Thanksgiving.  While I can imagine the imagery of the holiday may be a bit of a head-scratcher for those unfamiliar with it--fall leaves, strange hats, cornucopias, Charlie Brown, and people gorging themselves on turkey and stuffing--the original purpose of the holiday is not so baffling.

We gather once a year to give thanks to God for the abundant blessings He has showered on us every day.  Oftentimes I sense this has been forgotten, even in the middle of a holiday that draws its name from the word "thankful."  Well, are we really?

God has blessed us this year, as He always does.  Yes, even those of you outside the U.S. right now.  If you can read this, consider yourself abundantly blessed, from the miracle of technology to the miracle of your next breath.  If you know the Lord, you have also been abundantly blessed with the priceless gift of His Son.  That is certainly something to be thankful for!

So, maybe not everything in your life is going well--maybe you are sick, or stressed, or poor, or lonely--but that is no reason to be less-than-thankful for what God has done--and is doing--in your life. Yes, even now He is working for your good if you know Him (Romans 8: 28), so hold on to that promise and be thankful that you have Him to hold onto.  Give thanks to your God for what you have, "casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you," (1 Peter 5: 7 KJV).
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12: 28, 29 NIV)
 We serve a powerful, generous God!  Isn't that something to fill us with joy?

This year, besides Jesus, what else are you thankful for?  I welcome comments, in fact, I urge you to comment to encourage other readers, if you would.

Until next week (one post this week), this is me reminding you to be thankful, and to stay savvy!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekly Snippet: Sealed with More Than a Kiss

You may have at some point in your life received a letter marked with the friendly (if from relatives) or flirtatious acronym, "SWAK," which stands for "Sealed with a kiss."  According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this acronym first popped up in letters home from soldiers in WWI.  SWAK was an intangible mark of affection, unless the soldier had been eating barbecue ribs at the time of writing.  Invisible as it was, it gave special significance to the contents of the letter.

Today I was thinking about how God also seals His work with a kiss--a holy kiss.  Like the inventors of SWAK, God also marks His work with an intangible emblem of His affection.  Where His words and actions toward us in person (that is, Christ's earthly ministry) fail to convey His present feelings, and His letters to us (that is, the Bible) fall short somehow in conveying the nuances of that love, He sealed His work with two spiritual emblems of that love--Christ's sacrifice and the promised Holy Spirit.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bloom Where You're Planted

The title of this post is a cliche, telling us to find a way to thrive, or at least to have something to show for ourselves, even in less than ideal circumstances.  I've practiced this before, and I'll have to do so again, but frankly, I'm not very good about being happy while "blooming where I'm planted."  I wonder if anyone is, really.

So, how do we "bloom where we're planted"?  What exactly are we supposed to do while we're "waiting in the tent for the cloud to move," as someone put it to me, yesterday?  I've been thinking about this a lot, and I thought I'd put together a few things the Bible demonstrates that we should do in these lull times in our lives, when nothing is changing and we desperately want change.

The Tent Dweller's To-Do List

  • Build up spiritual muscle.--Many kings in the Bible, including David and Solomon, built up fortifications and alliances during times of peace and prosperity in Israel.  Was it because they were bored and looking for something to do with all of the tax money they were collecting?  Of course not!  They were taking the opportunity of peaceful (or at least, mundane) times to prepare for turbulent days ahead.  If life has become predictable, we should use these times to work on our knowledge of the Bible and our understanding of God's laws and plans.  When something unsettling happens, we will find that we are stronger than we once were, and we will not be too "spiritually flabby" to handle it.
  • Remember God's past miracles.--Let's face it.  Human beings are quick to forget the happy times in the past when they are going through a trial in the present.  The Israelites saw countless miracles while they were traveling through the desert, but they often forgot them soon after.  If we want to thrive in the "desert places," we cannot do so while dwelling on the things that make us feel discontented or defeated.  Instead, we should make it a habit to remind ourselves of the good things God has already done for us.  He is "mighty to save" (Isaiah 63: 1 NIV)!  Can we patiently wait for Him?
  • Look for God's presence.--God has done spectacular things for us in the past, but does that mean He has abandoned us in the present circumstances?  Of course not!  In lull times, we need to develop the skill of seeing God's hand in our present lives.  He may not be parting the Red Sea at the moment, but today He brought the sunshine or the rain, He gave us breath and made our hearts beat, and so on and so forth.  Just learning to see this will renew our strength to press on.
  • Spend time listening in God's living room.--When I was small, my Sunday school teacher taught us about the time Jesus came to Mary and Martha's house for dinner.  I pictured Jesus sitting on my couch, talking, Mary sitting in one of the arm chairs, and clattering sounds of dishes in the background as Martha worked in the kitchen around the corner.  Of course, it probably didn't happen that way, but the picture is good.  When we are "stuck" in our present life circumstances, maybe we should take a moment to sit down, block out the noise and worries in the background, and just give our full attention to God.  How would He answer if we asked Him, "What do you want me to learn today?"
  • Develop a habit of praise.--I recently spoke about how the Israelites went to battle praising God, and discovered when they arrived that the battle had already been fought on their behalf ("Our Eyes Are Upon You").  It may not always happen that way for us, but it is always good to actively praise God.  Praising Him, even when we don't feel like it, reminds us of how praiseworthy He is.  That, in turn, revives us.  We have an awesome God in our lives, and He is with us always.  Isn't that enough reason to endure our present circumstances?  Furthermore, isn't it enough reason to rise above them?
  • Stay busy with the tasks before you.--That job you now find boring, that class you are taking, or that round of pills the doctor prescribed are currently part of your life, whether they make you feel happy or not.  Could it be that you are facing this trial of patience or diligence now so you can prove to God that you can handle bigger challenges later?  Consider the Parable of the Bags of Gold (Matthew 25: 14-30).  What can you produce for God out of the mundane tasks you must do today?  If nothing else, you can prove that you are capable of relying on God for your strength, so that you can do what has been asked of you?
These are some points to ponder, today.  Here's a related verse I want to share before I go:
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6: 8, 9 NIV)
Today, let us keep sowing to please the Spirit, even if we don't see any changes (or results) coming up just yet.  As always, your comments are welcome.  Meanwhile, this is me, reminding you to stay savvy!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekly Snippet: The Working of His Mighty Strength

Last time, I talked about believing and trusting in God when we cannot see Him; this time I want to talk about seeing God through "spiritual eyes."  Sometimes, when we're up against a wall, all we see is the wall.  Could it be, in those situations, that what we need is some spiritual contact lenses?

The Holy Spirit Makes the Invisible, Visible

Earlier today, at a suggestion from a friend, I read Ephesians chapter 1.  The second half of that chapter especially drew my attention, verses 15-23.  It's about seeing the world through spiritual eyes, that is, seeing with understanding given to us through the power of God and the Holy Spirit.

In this passage, Paul says he is praying for his congregation in Ephesus that they would be given "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that they may know [God] better" ( Ephesians 1: 17 NIV).  He understood, and pointed out to them, that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives us wisdom and understanding about God.

We can be highly learned, disciplined, and well-trained, but if our knowledge of God is purely from human sources and our own capacity to understand, our relationship with God will be stunted, at best.  Frankly, we cannot know God just by our own power.  We serve a God who to our own eyes may seem invisible and distant from our problems, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we begin to see His involvement, and His signature, on everything around us.  It isn't that the Holy Spirit makes us hallucinate; rather, He points out to us what was already there, and visible, even though we were missing it.

The Benefits of the Revelation of the Holy Spirit

To summarize the second thing that Paul prayed for, he was asking that the Ephesians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would go beyond seeing the hand of God to knowing and reaping the spiritual benefits of that knowledge.  He specifically wrote, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe," (Ephesians 1: 18-19a NIV).

So there are several benefits of this spiritual sight, given to Christians through the Holy Spirit.  One is "the hope to which [God] has called you," that is, the hope of the Resurrection, that we can confidently look forward to the day when God will save us from eternal death. Without a knowledge of God and who He is and what He did for us through His Son, Jesus Christ, we have no such hope.  With this knowledge, we can be secure about our future, but without it, we will always be slaves to the law, trying to earn our ticket to Heaven.

The second benefit Paul wanted the Ephesians to see was "the riches of [God's] glorious inheritance in his holy people,"  which is the promise of adoption.  Without this spiritual understanding, even Christians who believe in God cannot truly enjoy a relationship with God that is as secure, and as privileged, as a child has with a parent.  If we see this, we can approach God boldly with our requests, and never fear that He will treat us as second-class children in His household (see Hebrews 4: 16 and Galatians 4: 4-7).  The Holy Spirit gives us the understanding, and the confidence, to know that we can approach the God of the universe with our requests--and He fills us with certainty that God wants to hear from us and is friendly to us.  What a fabulous benefit!

The third and last benefit Paul prayed for was "that you may know...his incomparably great power for us who believe."  In other words, he prayed that the Ephesians would see that God has the power to intercede for us, even in miraculous ways.  So often, when we are looking at the barriers in our lives, we forget about God's power to overcome them.  When the Holy Spirit enables us to really "see" our lives through "spiritual eyes,"  He shows us, not that the obstacles do not exist, but rather, that they cannot stand in God's way.  The Holy Spirit shows us that we don't have to move them, but that God can, and often will, on our behalf (see Matthew 19: 26 and Job 9: 4-6).  When we understand God's power, our faith is strengthened because God shows us that our trust in Him is merited.

Returning to the Topic of Enlightenment...

I cannot fully flesh out the tenets of Hinduism and Buddhism, but I must take a moment to contrast some basic ideas with what Paul is teaching here in Ephesians chapter 1.  Hindus and Buddhists believe they can come to know their god (the spirit of the universe), by freeing their mind from thoughts of the physical world.  This is not looking for God's hand, working behind the scenes, but rather, their "enlightenment" ideal is seeing that the universe, and every obstacle in it, is nothing, and that they are in fact nothing.  They don't have an eternal hope of salvation; rather, death to them is really a gateway to nothingness, where they are not remembered and loved any longer.  They don't see the universal spirit as benevolent, but rather, it is fatalistic or stand-offish; it doesn't help people, and human suffering is something we must simply accept without question.  In this way, their "spiritual sight" bears no resemblance to the warmth and richness that the Holy Spirit brings to believers.  There is no hope, there is no love, there is no confidence, and there is no power, when we try to imagine a universe without God.

I must return to my point at the beginning about how the Holy Spirit reveals to us things about God that we cannot find out on our own.  In contrast to this teaching, the Hindu and Buddhist faiths both have many "paths" and methods of discerning this "universal spirit," in other words, paths that are supposed to open "spiritual eyes."  Through the control of the mind and body, and the pursuit of good works and scholarly learning are all valued, none of them have brought these people to a knowledge of the truth.  In fact, they believe they have found some sort of hidden truth that even people like myself are "too stunted" to see--a "truth" that is fatalistic, bleak, and disappointing in its revelation.

On my own, I might have believed that it was right to seek God the same way they do, through my own efforts.  I needed the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Who has been revealing things about God to mankind through the centuries, in order to fully come to know God as a Person, not an entity without form or feeling.  The Holy Spirit even went so far as to direct people to write down clearly, in the Bible, deep things about the nature of God, so that others might read them.  There is a clearer "path," one that leads to hope, love, confidence, and power through dependence on a God who cares enough to get involved.  The problem is not that this "path," revealed by the Holy Spirit, is not good; rather, the problem is that it requires obedience and humility.  It is not that God doesn't exist or that He isn't moving; rather, He is just being overlooked.

I am praying, like Paul, not only for myself but also for others, that we come to know God better through the work of the Holy Spirit, and that we will be given "eyes" to see Him!

As always, comments are welcome!  Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay savvy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

He Will Take Care of the Rest!

You were trucking along, accomplishing something that you were certain God had directed you to do, and then suddenly an impossible circumstance rose up in your way.  You can't go around it, and it looks like you can't go through it.  Now what?  Has God changed the plan?  Is it time to give up?

If you have been following God for very long, you have probably encountered this "wall" at least once.  God told you to start a business or a ministry, begin a friendship or a relationship, go back to school or finish a degree, etc.  You launched in to the project with great enthusiasm and initially God confirmed everything you were doing.  You knew that it was right to start this project, and that God was in it, but now, where is the funding, support, or time?  If things continue as they are, you cannot see any end other than complete ruin.  This is when people around you begin to offer two takes on the situation: (1) "Have faith," or (2) "You're crazy/Give up now."

Now, I have to admit something here.  It is usually really easy to have faith in God when we can see that He is moving in our lives, or when we are having an easy time accomplishing the tasks set before us.  Even if life isn't fabulous in such moments, our faith can be.  However, when we come up against a wall, it seems that sometimes God, as well as our mission, can be obscured from our view.  It is at those moments when we see how faithless we can be.  When we are faced with a certain future--certainly doomed, that is--the world gets a chance to see how much we trust God.  What would people see in you in such moments?

On the Shore

I am reminded today of the Israelites' change in attitude as they left Egypt.  They went out celebrating and singing as they walked out of Goshen and all the other Egyptian cities where they had been living and working. They weren't just happy to be leaving; they were happy to have witnessed a miracle from God that delivered them from Egypt.  I see no evidence that they mistook the hand of God or thought they were coming right back.  They even took their bread dough with them in the kneading troughs (see Exodus 12: 31-39).  These people knew their mission, and they had proof enough that God was with them.
Then, they arrived at the shores of the Red Sea, and they looked back and saw that Pharaoh's army was coming to destroy them or to take them back to Egypt.  All of that joy was quickly forgotten; in fact, the Israelites are recorded as saying to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14 : 11, 12 NIV).  Oh, what shining faith we have exemplified here!

Let us be reminded that the Israelites were not spouting "crazy talk."  They were taking what the whole world calls a perfectly reasonable assessment of the situation.  A few people in top condition might be able to swim across the bottom tip of the Red Sea (might; not likely, though); most people would die.  Even if they had started to run away at that moment, they could not have outrun horses and chariots.  There were women, children, and the elderly in their group, along with many, many animals and heavy possessions necessary for their journey.  This was a truly impossible circumstance!

If faith is assurance of what we cannot see (Hebrews 11: 1), it is clear from their words that they didn't have real faith.  It seems contrary to their attitude of joy and victory as they marched out to the shore, but it makes sense.  It is easy to believe in a God we can see; it is hard, very hard, to believe in a God who is invisible in our circumstances.  Our mind, and our eyes, rebel against our faith.

Stand at the Water's Edge

I think there lies the problem.  We cannot have a strong or lasting faith if, figuratively speaking, we are looking at the waterfront on one side and the chariots on the other.  We need to look up, to God, and trust that He is there, looking back at us, even if we can't see Him, and even though we feel we are acting crazy for doing so.  Can we do that?

Sometimes God calls us to the shore, and our task becomes that simple (or rather, difficult).  We have been called to walk to the water's edge.  That's it.  Can we be trusted to do that?  Can we stop looking around us and just remember that God hasn't asked us to do more than that?  Can we simply believe that God will take care of us, like He said He would do?

Today, if you are facing a "wall" that has risen up in your path to block you from obeying God, remember that God didn't call you to take out the wall--He called you to walk the path.  Your challenge is to stubbornly, firmly, (insanely) stick with the task, fully trusting in God to make it possible.  As God told Moses (who passed it on to the quavering Israelites), "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still," (Exodus 14: 14 NIV).  If you are truly doing His will, and you have seen confirmation of that at the beginning, don't waiver when the circumstances get tough.  Look to God, even if you cannot see Him.  Be still and know that He is with you, and let Him take care of the rest!

I'll let Keith Green take it from here.  His song, "He'll Take Care of the Rest," has lifted my spirits many times while I waited on God to remove the barriers from my path.  I hope it cheers you, as well!

Your comments are welcome, as always.  Until next time, stay savvy!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weekly Tidbit: The Light that Exalts and Humbles

I cannot figure out who to attribute this quote to, but I wanted to share an idea with you today:
"The only dangerous mines in a minefield are the ones no one has discovered yet."
 I believe I heard this quote in an old movie once.  Anyway, the gist of it, if we apply it to our lives, is that the secrets we carry can one day come back to hurt us if we try to keep them concealed.  It is best to bring all things into the light and "explode the bombs" so that no one can use them to destroy us later.

This idea also stands in Scripture.  From ancient times until now, it has always been the unconfessed sin, the one for which no sacrifice was offered, that stands between God and man.  That sin, and not the one that was obediently confessed, is the one that brings punishment.

Proverbs 28: 1 (NIV) says, "The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion."  I have touched on this verse before, but I am speaking about it again from a different perspective.  The wicked have a great fear of being discovered for what they are and what they have hidden, and so they run, even from those who don't suspect them.  On the other hand, the righteous have no fear of a wrong step or something bad being revealed about them, and so they march boldly ahead into the unknown.  They have already faced the truth that they are fallen, in need of redemption, and they have found mercy from God.  What more do they have to fear?

The Bible also says, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil," (John 3: 19 NIV).  God is that light, revealing even the deepest things and bringing all the hidden things to light (Daniel 2: 22).  Mankind has a tendency to try to hide from God, just as Adam and Eve tried to hide, but we cannot outrun light, no matter how hard we try.

What am I trying to say?  Only this.  Do not try to be someone you are not, before God or before man.  If people think less of you for confessing that you are a sinner, it is only because they are now operating on correct information.  If anyone makes an issue of it, God will deal with them, but as for you, God requires humility before honor.  His light hurts us and humiliates us, because it tells the truth about us.  However, if we face the terrible truth about ourselves, God has also promised to honor us for our submission and obedience to the truth.  Jesus addressed this when He was invited to an important Pharisee's house.  In Luke chapter 14, verses 7-11, we read about it:
When he [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
 God's light does not shine on us in such a way as to make us less than we are.  It only shows us the truth, plain and simple.  If we are living a lie, it will be revealed, and if we are being degraded beyond what God believes we deserve, He will honor us.  Simply put, if we are obedient, we have no need to fear what the light reveals.

Just a thought for today.  Your comments are welcome.  Until next time, stay savvy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Another Ten-Second Interview

I spoke once before on a Christian's testimony and how it is shaped by our behavior in public events.  That post can be read here:  The Ten-Second Interview

Today I want to speak again (briefly, because I have so much to do) on this topic.  Perhaps we have the act, the costume, shall we say, of being a wonderful, loving public Christian memorized so well that we don't fear that a crowd of perfect strangers will get the wrong idea about us.  However, what about the times when the only ones who are watching us are people who know us?  If we had a follow-up ten-second interview, that is, a second, testimony-defining moment in our interactions with an individual, would that person's impressions of us change?  Would our friend still know that we know Jesus?  What if the second, ten-second interview came at a time when we were not paying attention?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Weekly Snippet: Our Eyes Are Upon You

O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.--King Jehoshaphat's prayer, 2 Chronicles 20: 12 NIV

I started out the day a bit discouraged, having discovered that one of my income sources seems to be doomed, based on some new information.  What made the news hurt worse was discovering there is nothing I can do about it.  Surely this is a generalizable problem?

I decided there was no reason to mope around or mourn this news today.  What will happen, will happen, and if something changes, it will be because God intervened on my behalf.  So what now?  When we are left with no alternative but to rely on God, do we stop at accepting this circumstance, or does God require more of us?

I turned on my radio and heard a really old song playing which spoke of praising God, even when there doesn't seem to be a reason to praise him, and it reminded me of 2 Chronicles 20: 4-30.  For those of you with a Bible on hand, please take a moment to turn to this passage and read it.  For the rest, I suggest you follow the link and come back, because I don't have enough time to thoroughly cover this passage today.

To summarize that part of 2 Chronicles 20, Judah (the southern kingdom after Israel's civil war) learned that a large, multi-national invasion force had gathered and was going to dispossess them all.  Under Jehoshaphat's leadership, they assembled at the temple that Solomon had built and prayed to the Lord to intercede for them.  Their desperate, no-win situation was evident in King Jehoshaphat's words, "We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."  They were sure they were going to lose this battle--the enemy was too numerous and powerful.

Then they did something that doesn't seem to make sense.  As they marched out in battle, they began to sing praises to God.  They thought they were going to their deaths, and yet they sang these bold, brave songs about the greatness of God!

 Suddenly, something miraculous began to happen--the enemy armies began to set ambushes against each other, and fought each other.  As the forces of Judah topped a rise that overlooked the valley that held the enemy camps, I can imagine their songs of praise trailing off mid-sentence as they surveyed the scene below them.  The enemy armies had killed each other before they even arrived--and no one had escaped!  Of course, I can imagine the songs of praise picked up again, this time with more enthusiasm.  God had intervened in an impossible situation!

Now, I know that we have no power to make God intervene on our behalf.  This is not the point of the story.  I do know that God hears our sincere prayers and rewards obedience.  One part of obedience is trust that God's way is the right way, even when it seems that it isn't presently working well for us.

That said, I think the timing of the miracle (at the same time as the songs of praise) is significant here.  God didn't just listen and intervene--He specifically rewarded obedient and sincere hearts.  They praised God because they looked beyond their circumstances and realized that God is always worthy of our praise, even when the road ahead looks too tough for us.  They praised Him because they trusted Him!

If we withhold our praise for only the times when things are going well for us, doesn't that reflect a lack of trust in God?  Maybe keeping "our eyes upon [God]" should not be read as a passive gesture--as if we sat down helplessly in the road and shot God a pleading look.  Maybe we should read that as an active gesture--a willful act of focusing our eyes on God's goodness and His repeated promises of deliverance, which are untouched by our circumstances.

Praising God today, even when my circumstances looked doomed, might not cause my troubles to destroy themselves, but it certainly has lifted my spirits and allowed me to accomplish much more than I would have otherwise.  I believe that God is changing things, and that He always works for my good in every circumstance (Romans 8: 28).  Why shouldn't I trust Him?  Why shouldn't I praise Him?

Until next time, stay savvy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Gentle Answer Turns Away Wrath

Friday I talked about forgiving your enemy as a gesture of friendship, even if that friendship is not returned.  Today I want to talk about the Christian way to argue.

We all know the non-Christian way to argue.  You know, when you get mad, you get even; payback has to be at least as serious as the offense; and when someone offends you, you don't let that person take it back or forget that it happened.  In short, non-Christian argument techniques always escalate and cause maximum damage, and this is not something God desires or intends for us to do.  It can harm our health and blow a hole in even the most "stable" parts of our lives.

On the other hand, sometimes we are given the mistaken impression that Christians don't argue, and that they aren't allowed to disagree or get angry.  The Bible doesn't support this teaching, either.  In fact, neither does real life.  When we give our hearts to Jesus, we don't lose our minds.  There will still be perfectly valid reasons to get angry, and these reasons will almost certainly make us angry at least once.  What then?  How do we properly "Fight like a Christian"?

Words to Argue By

The Bible talks a lot about anger and what we should do about it--even Jesus.  Here are the basics that Christians should know:
  • "In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent," (Psalm 4: 4 NIV).  What does it mean to be angry but not sin?  It means that when we are angry, we shouldn't add to the harm by coming to blows with someone, saying things that wound the heart, or in any way taking revenge.  We can experience the feeling of being angry, and that feeling is not a sin, but we must not act upon it.  We search our hearts and see that we are not capable of being an unbiased judge, and we hold back. 
  • "It is mine to avenge; I [the Lord] will repay.  In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them," (Deuteronomy 32: 35 NIV).  I have hinted at the human propensity to retaliate, but it is no small problem.  Some of us prefer to launch into shouting and blows when we are angry, while others hatch elaborate plots (like The Count of Monte Cristo).  Either way, the revenge is never as complete as justice, and in the end, we get hurt ourselves.  The fact is, justice from an outside party is better than revenge, because it not only supports the victim, but also requires confession and possibly repentance from the wrongdoer.  Justice is more complete than "making them pay" or "making them suffer, too,"  because it deals with the original offense in a complete way.  It is best to wait for God to institute justice.  It may seem that God is "taking too long," but He has given us His word--no one ever escapes Him.  Compared to the suffering of a sinner being punished by God, ours is brief and easy.
  • "'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold,"(Ephesians 4: 26, 27 NIV).  Here Paul cited the first verse again, but he also added that we should do something when we are angry--we should attempt to quickly resolve a fight.  When we allow ourselves to stew and think about the anger we are feeling, we are more likely to follow up with sinful retaliation.  The division between us and the one we are at odds with may also become more permanent, the longer we wait.  Ending the standoff prevents Satan from gaining an entrance.
  • "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison," (Matthew 5: 25 NIV).  It may seem to be a dramatic verse to put here--I mean, the average argument doesn't lead to prison time--but the generalizable point is that we must be quick to seek a resolution when we argue, perhaps even by giving up our "right" to win the argument.  A parallel verse, in which God is the judge and eternal death is the prison, really brings out the meaning here: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins," (Matthew 6: 14-15 NIV).  It is best to resolve a dispute before God has to step in and make a judgment, especially if we are the ones who started the argument, or the ones who have dragged it out by refusing to forgive.  Is the matter serious enough to take it up in God's court?  At what cost are we demanding our "right" to be right?
  • "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.  If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic," (Luke 6: 28, 29 NIV).  Was Jesus instructing us here to roll over and play dead?  Some interpret this verse to mean it, and from that, get the idea that disagreeing with someone is a sin.  However, what I see is strategy, here.  When people are cruel, they expect cruelty in return.  When cruelty is withheld, it knocks them off-balance and works feverishly on their conscience.  Many cruel people may fool themselves into thinking this is a naive move by a "patsy" and come back again to do more harm, but for the rest, this is a chance for God to use us to gain entrance into the life of a sinner.  Arguments are a given, but how we handle them might just benefit our opponent and give God glory.  This verse also calls us to look closer at the situation.  It is not up to us, in our own strength, to defend ourselves and our own.  God will defend.  Those who keep swinging are only making it worse for themselves, because they are messing with God.
  • "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you," (Proverbs 25: 21, 22 NIV). This is a similar concept to "turning the other cheek," but here, we are instructed to go farther than just putting up with an offense without retaliating.  Christians "get back" at their enemies by being exceptionally kind!  If a lack of retaliation sets a wicked person off-balance, open kindness might just win the person over--or, if not, it might stop the wicked person from continuing.  When I was small, I loved the image of burning coals; I imagined God taking His revenge on my behalf by methodically singeing hair and eyebrows with invisible coals.  That is exactly what a conscience feels like when God gets to work on it.  "Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone," (Proverbs 25: 15 NIV).  We Christians, of all people, should not question God's way of dealing with our enemies.
There are more examples in the Bible about how to handle anger and to "fight like a Christian," but these are pretty much the core teachings.  If you want to make some further points, feel free to quote Scripture in the comments section below!

Thanks in advance for your comments.  Until next time, stay savvy!

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Weekly Tidbit: True Love is a Cross

    A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.--Proverbs 17: 17
     Today I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend a few years back, about a mutual friend who had done something to offend us both the day before.  My ears were still stinging over the matter, but she was near tears, even in a crowded public lunch room.  I still remember her saying, "I know Christians are supposed to forgive, but what can I do?  My heart is breaking. I'm not sure I can forgive.  Not for this."

    I was troubled.  I was still angry, too, and it was true, that wasn't a very Christian way to behave.  I looked down at my plate and begged God to give me a reply.  Suddenly Proverbs 17: 17 came to mind and I shared it with her.  If "a friend loves at all times," shouldn't that include all the times the other person doesn't seem to "deserve" that love?  If we call ourselves friends, it is a requirement to love, and forgiveness is a key part of that love.  If we are a friend, we go on being a friend, even when our friend becomes our enemy (Matthew 5: 43-45).  Didn't Jesus love us at all times, even when it wasn't returned in kind?  How about that moment when those He loved were nailing Him to a cross?

    The implications of this still shake me to my foundations from time to time.  I have seen the end of many friendships, and yet I feel God calling me to remain a friend in my heart, even to those who have done great harm to me and who have written me off long ago.  I must start by forgiving the wrong--that is, not holding it against that person, no matter how it hurt. You see, Jesus said, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins," (Matthew 6: 14-15 NIV).  Unforgiveness makes the other person something less-worthy of love or compassion than I am. By forgiving, I put that person above myself by counting that person as worthy of favor, just as I would hope for forgiveness for my own transgressions.

    This is not as the world sees love, friendship, and forgiveness.  Outside of the Bible, I see little support in this world for the idea of being a friend, even to an enemy.  My "Quotationary" added a quote under Forgiveness that I thought I'd quote here:
    Who pardons easily invites offense. --Pierre Corneille (1606-1684). Cinna, 4.1, 1639, tr. Noel Clark, 1993
     In effect, Corneille seems to be saying that we should not be quick to forgive, because that only invites more trouble for ourselves.  That is true!  However, this is what God has called us to do.  We are not here to advance ourselves, or protect our own interests.  We are here to follow God's example, and He carried out that example, all the way to the cross.  You see, love, friendship, and forgiveness are not real in our hearts if they vanish on a whim.  If they are real, they do not fail or change with the situation.  This is how Jesus demonstrated that what He felt for us was real--He stuck with it, even to death.

    Today we must ask ourselves this question: Is our love real?  Can we be real friends and brothers to our neighbor, even at great personal cost?

    Just a thought.  Until next time, stay savvy!

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Have Faith to Cast the Net One More Time

    Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets" (Luke 5: 5 NIV).
    For those of you who don't know me personally, I am currently running an online retail business as well as freelance writing for a living.  The income from these sorts of jobs can be sporadic, and this morning I woke up having one of my regularly-scheduled worry sessions (these usually come around the time bills arrive in the mail).

    I can't help but feel that my line of work has a lot in common with fishing.  When you go fishing, you can have the best boat, the best fishing buddies, the best nets, and the best lures, but if the fish aren't coming, well, you're out of luck.  Similarly, I feel I've been flogging the waters in the best and most expert way I know to do, but I confess that lately the results have been...well...depressing.

    This morning, God brought to mind the passage in Luke chapter 5 verses 1-11 when Jesus took Simon Peter and James and John on a little "fishing trip" on Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee).  I just wanted to share my thoughts on this passage with my readers today.

    Now, I want you to imagine for a moment what was going through Simon Peter's head that morning.  He and his two partners were heading a fishing operation with two boats and a team of men to help.  It was clear that they had given up for the day, since they were working on cleaning their nets when Jesus walked up.  They were feeling distressed about the lack of fish that night, and that seems to indicate to me that the trouble the night before was not an isolated event.  How were they going to get paid?  Simon Peter was so deeply frustrated that he even complained to Jesus in front of the crowd that had gathered to hear Jesus preach!

    They were worried.  That has been established.  I think most people have been able to empathize, at some point in their lives, with Simon Peter and his predicament.  But where did the worry come from?  I see that on a deeper level, the fishermen were upset because they couldn't, by their own power, change their circumstances, and they felt trapped.  They saw their own hands as their salvation, and this was out of their hands.

    When Jesus came to visit them that morning, He was looking for disciples, but He didn't have to reveal His mission to them that way.  The lack of fish, followed by the abundant supply of fish, was God's way of proving to them that "[their] help comes from the Lord" (see Psalm 121: 1-4). They needed to be reminded, as I must need to be reminded, today, that God is the one who makes things happen.  Our efforts are meaningless if God is not in the work.  If we need anything, we must look to God, because He is the only One who really "makes things happen."  If we expect help to come from anywhere else, we are just fooling ourselves.
    When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"(Luke 5: 8).
    When the men had hauled in their miraculous catch, I think Simon Peter realized that he had been guilty of accusing God in his heart of abandoning him.  Now he could see that God had shown up to help him that morning, despite the unfaithfulness in his heart.  He felt shame that he had abandoned God, and he was confessing his guilt.  Maybe he hadn't figured out just who Jesus was at that moment, but I get the feeling Simon Peter sensed the truth.

    Then came the best part (Luke 5 verses 10 and 11).  Jesus didn't leave Simon Peter there, even though that was what Peter asked Him to do.  Jesus didn't take Peter on a road to financial prosperity and worldly success, either, but He did restore the broken fellowship between them--not just this once, either!  In this way, God proved to Simon Peter and James and John, in a very personal way, that He was in control, and, furthermore, that He was the kind of loving and generous God they could follow, because He was going to take care of their needs.

    Some of us today may find ourselves flogging the waters in the middle of the night, like these poor fisherman did.  Today I feel God calling me to remind all of you (and myself, periodically) that we need to have faith that God is going to take care of everything.  As the Psalmist wrote, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread," (Psalm 37: 25 NIV).  This is still being proven true every day.  Can we hold on until the morning?  More importantly, will we still recognize God when He shows up?  These are some tough questions to ponder.

    I welcome your thoughts.  Until next time, stay savvy!

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Weekly Snippet: Bible Memory Verses

    Lately I have noticed that it has gone out of fashion to encourage children to memorize Bible passages for church every Sunday.  This used to be the norm; in fact, it was actively encouraged when I was small.  There were organized competitions for who could commit the most verses to memory over the course of a month, etc., and prizes were awarded. My sister actually won a handmade doll in one of these memory verse contests.

    I miss this, and I can't help but think that children are really missing out on something special.  Although at the time it was mostly about winning prizes or candy, I can look back now and see how those memory verses have stayed with me for decades now.  Some days I try to give myself that kind of a challenge again.

    Why is this not encouraged any more?  I'm afraid we are trying too hard to spare the children's feelings,  for fear that they are the kind who have a more difficult time with memorization, or who lack supportive parents at home.  Are we afraid that the children will come to associate the Bible with failure and disappointment?  This seems simple to fix: Reward everyone who does the minimum, help all of the kids with drills when they are with us on Sunday, and encourage some healthy competition to keep up interest.  This is a skill with more value than the ability to drive or the ability to write a good essay!  Even the minimum is a blessing.

    Now, I confess that at times I cannot remember the scripture reference (ex. Joshua 1: 9), but I think it is most important that I remember the words.  I have likely committed thousands of verses to memory, and usually I know the book, if not the section (beginning, middle, or end), so I can find it when I need the reference.  Virtually every scripture I have referenced on this blog was one that I memorized for Sunday school at some point.  I just wish I could say it was every passage.

    I realized what a valuable gift my Sunday school teachers had given me when, of all things, I was reading Uncle Tom's Cabin for a college class assignment a few years ago.  I'm in a rush today or I would find the exact passage in my copy and quote it here for you.  In the scene I am referencing, Uncle Tom has been beaten nearly to death by Simon Legree, the wicked slave owner, and though he cannot see the pages to read the words in his Bible, he remembers what he has read and finds comfort in them. 

    Do you see why committing Bible verses to memory is important?  If and when we find ourselves in a bad situation, where a physical copy of the Bible is not available to us, or perhaps if we found ourselves in a country where it was no longer legal to own a Bible, we can carry it with us in our hearts and our minds.  There it would be safe.  No one could take the Bible away from us!   Then, in that dark hour, it would be there to bring us comfort.

    Just a thought today.  Feel free to leave me a comment!

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    A Better Planner

    Today I had planned to run some things to the post office before I sat down to work on this blog.  The funny thing is that today is Columbus Day, a national holiday here in the states, and therefore the post office is closed.  I came back from the closed doors, grumbling all the way (the necessity of going back again tomorrow has scrambled my schedule for the rest of the week), but I think there is a lesson to be gleaned from my mistake.

    The fact is, we all forget things, and our plans get scrambled, but if we know the Lord, we know that what needs to happen will happen at the proper time.  You see, God plans far ahead, He's never late, and His plans always succeed.  Isn't it great to know a God like that?

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Weekly Snippet: Peace in the Desert

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.--Proverbs 3: 5, 6 NIV

    When the Israelites stepped over the far bank of the Red Sea, they were looking out over a desert horizon to the east.  They had no map, and their own eyes couldn't see what was coming.  How could so many people, with so many millions of belongings and animals, find their way across a barren landscape to a home they had never seen, in a land filled with frightening and powerful peoples?  What they had known was not ideal, but at least it was familiar.  So they asked themselves, "Shouldn't we turn back now?" (Numbers 14: 2-4).

    Too often I have found myself thinking the same thing--wouldn't it be safer if I just went back to the way things were, where I at least knew my way around?  Haven't you been there?

    Sometimes it seems that we pray for change to come, and when it does, we get frightened, look back, and forget what was behind us.  Was the past really so much more peaceful than our present circumstances?  When the impossible stretches across our entire horizon, and God seems to be taking us far outside our comfort zone, can we be happy striking out without a map?  More importantly, can we still find peace there? 

    The answer I found in the Bible today is a resounding "Yes!"  We can find peace in the desert, even when we cannot see where we're going.  Are you intrigued?  Read on to find out how.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Look Over Your Shoulder

    The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. --Proverbs 28: 1 NIV

     I once watched a funny video of a litter of schnauzer puppies barking bravely at a cat (which was of course bigger than each of them).  They chased it as a group onto a woodpile, but when it turned and arched its back at them, all but one puppy turned and ran to the other side of the back yard.  The last puppy stood his ground for several seconds, barking at the cat, and then peeked over his shoulder.  Seeing that his siblings had abandoned him, he let out a long wailing howl as he fled at full speed back to the others.  I guess big words mean nothing when you have no backup!

    Somehow I saw a bit of myself in that last puppy.  How many times have I been "ferocious" for a cause, but only as long as it felt "safe" to do so?  That especially came into play when I believed that other people were going to back me up.  Going further with that thought, how many times have I taken myself along as my own "backup," only to find my best skills to be inadequate protection for myself?  Of course I "ran," in whatever capacity it took to escape the situation.

    It must be true that everyone has some innate need of "backup," just like that puppy.  If we don't see it, and we feel we've cornered something too strong for us, we run.

    The Hound of Heaven

    Turning back to Proverbs 28: 1, I guess the difference between the wicked man and the righteous one was what each saw over his shoulder.  The wicked man saw that he had no backup, and he was alone against the thing he most feared; the righteous man looked back and saw that there was no reason to run.

    It wasn't until I heard of a poem by Francis Thompson called "The Hound of Heaven," (read it here) in a Ravi Zacharias book, that I began to understand that both the wicked and the righteous man saw the same face over their shoulder--God Himself.

    When we have done what is right, we know we have not offended God, and therefore He is not angry with us.  When we have allied ourselves with God, He is the enemy of our enemy, and we are the enemy of His enemy (Deuteronomy 20: 3-4).  When we have stood our ground with God, we can boldly say, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8: 31 NIV).

    However, when we have disobeyed God, dread of judgment comes over us wherever we are, and the slightest thing convicts us of our sins (Leviticus 26: 36-37).  When we are living in rebellion, we are forever faced with the certainty that we deserve what is coming to us, and the only uncertainty is "When?"  This feeling of dread is especially with our rebellious hearts when the sun comes up, and not even darkness can hide the enormity of sin from ourselves or anyone else (John 3: 19). When there seems to be no refuge and no backup, why wouldn't we run?

    Yet, where can we run?  There is no backup that can stand with us against the truth.  It is an unshakable reality; we can't stop it or outrun it--it would be easier to outrun a beam of light.  All of our backup, whether it be "litter mates" or any other source of strength on Heaven or Earth, will crumble at the presence of the truth, and the One who holds it (Revelation 20: 11).

    But there is still hope for those who are running.  The same God who convicts sin also can forgive us and remove our punishment from us.  We have to stop running from Him, though. As God instructed the prophet Samuel to say to an entire nation who were running away, "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land," (2 Chronicles 7: 14 NIV).

    Do you want to be healed today so you can stop running from God?  If you are running, I know your heart is in need of healing, just as surely as mine was when God caught up with me.  If this is you, I am telling you, God is not your enemy.  This enemy you've cornered is your own sin, but you don't have to face its reproach alone.  Let Jesus remove the sins in your life and your past from you, and don't look for them again.  He is close enough on your heels that He will hear you if you ask.  Let Jesus cleanse you and make you new; let Him take away the reproach, so that you never have to flee again!  

    You'll be glad you did.
    I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.  Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live.--Psalm 116: 1-2 NIV