Monday, December 24, 2012

A Bunch of
Wise Guys

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem”.
Matthew 2:1

Right before Christmas, Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a supporting cast of characters emerged from their hiding place under the basement stairs and formed a vignette on our dining room buffet. As a child, this for me was the most important part of Christmas. Somehow, it felt that their presence made Jesus himself feel very, very real.

One thing that confused me was the wise men. The feast of the Epiphany is celebrated in early January. Why did they get a separate holy day? They were part of the Nativity set along with the shepherds. They were there too, weren’t they?

Tradition names three wise men: Caspar, Melchoir and Balthazar. Matthew’s gospel doesn’t mention how many wise men there were, only the gifts they brought: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Isaiah 60:6 gives a glimpse into the makeup of the contingent who showed up on Herod’s doorstep.

“A multitude of camels (from the eastern trading tribes) shall cover you (Jerusalem), the young camels from Midian and Ephah, all the men from Sheba (who once came to trade) shall come, bringing gold and frankincense and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.”(emphasis mine)

Matthew 2:3 states the arrival of the Magi not only upset Herod but also all of Jerusalem. Three men on camels would have gone unnoticed in the bustle of the busy city. A caravan of Magi, complete with their security force caused an uproar and for good reason. So, who was this bunch of wise guys?

According to Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, the Magi during the rule of Cyrus the Great became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian (Babylon) empire. Later under Xerxes their scope of influence was extended to strategic military planning. Afforded considerable privileges they were an integral part of the empire’s government.

One unusual responsibility they held was the selection, and if necessary, the removal of the king. Herod’s realm, Palestine, was once under Persian domination. At this time in history, Rome was experiencing internal difficulties. The emperor was old. The retirement of Tiberius, the Roman general, left a vacuum in military leadership. Rumblings of revolt in Armenia shortly proved successful. The only thing preventing the Parthians from re-establishing claims to the extreme provinces of the Roman empire, was its own internal struggles.

The Magi were familiar with Jewish beliefs including prophecies of a coming Messiah/King. Daniel, during the Jews exile in Babylon, was probably a Magi. These men understood the significance of the star announcing the birth of the hope of the Jewish people.

“I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh; There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel…”                              Numbers 24:17

Matthew 2:7-12 details the rest of the story. Herod met privately with the royal visitors and pumped them for information about this king they sought. The religious leaders and teachers were consulted. They pointed to Bethlehem as the place to find him. Herod sent the Magi on their way. He requested they return on their way home and share the exact location of this new monarch so that he, Herod, could go and pay his respects also. Resuming their journey, the Magi were delighted to find the star once again pointing the way. Finding the object of their search, they worshipped the Christ child and presented their gifts. Being a bunch of “wise guys” they heeded the warning they received in a dream and returned home via a different route. This gave Joseph, also warned in a dream, ample time to take Mary and Jesus safely to Egypt.

“Truth is stranger than fiction” and in this case the truth is much more intriguing than tradition. The Magi weren’t at the stable; they visited the family in a house much later. Their inclusion into the Nativity scene serves as a reminder of their willingness to undergo the arduous trek to find the new king, not a re-enactment of historical fact. The bible doesn’t mention that the arrival of a bunch of wise guys in Bethlehem even raised an eyebrow. Did the residents of this little town know something their big city counterparts didn’t? I wonder…..

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Show and Tell

“Jesus said go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor.”
Matthew 11:4-6

When you go to church what do you hear and see? Do you hear good music or anointed worship? Do you receive a word from God or a sedative? Do you see the power of God demonstrated? Do you leave the same way you entered or are you transformed?

Jesus employed a simply ministry strategy, Show and Tell.

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” Matthew 9:35

Jesus introduced people to the Kingdom of God in word and action. As a result, lives were changed. Paul, the apostle, successfully copied this method.

“My message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

Acts 28 relates Paul’s adventures on the island of Malta. En route to Rome and an audience with Caesar, Paul was shipwrecked. He, along with the other survivors, found shelter on Malta. While helping build a fire, Paul was bitten by a poisonous viper. Not one to panic, he shook it off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The impact on those who witnessed this was, “they changed their minds and said he (Paul) was a god”,
verse 6.

Paul attained celebrity status instantly. Publius, the island’s official, opened his home and entertained Paul and his traveling companions. Publius’ father was ill. Paul prayed for him and the man was healed. An island wide miracle crusade erupted and, “the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured”, verse 9. There isn’t any record of Paul preaching to anyone, although I believe it is safe to assume that he shared the gospel. “A picture is worth a thousand words” and the visible demonstrations of the power of God spoke volumes.

Do you think the pervasive negative attitude toward Christianity might shift if, in churches across the board, people entered sick and left healed? What if food, water, gas or whatever shortages were alleviated by believers partnering with God in miracles of multiplication? Could tangible demonstrations of Kingdom power lend credence to sermons preached? People would get the message even if the speaker couldn’t string two decent sentences together.

Modern society is fascinated with the supernatural. As spirit beings, this part of our nature finds the limits of our natural world boring and confining. We know there has to be more. Just because something is supernatural doesn’t mean it’s good or from God. Unfortunately the church has dropped the ball in this arena and the vacuum created has been filled with the demonic. This never produces positive results.

Christians have come up with some nifty excuses to explain away our powerlessness. Jesus made it clear that working miracles and manifestations of Kingdom power were hallmarks of all believers, not just a special group of “super Christians”.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I’ve been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask anything in my name and I will do it.” John 14:12-14 (emphasis mine)

We’ve got Jesus’ permission to imitate Him and do what He did. When we do this, God gets glory. In a culture captivated with the paranormal why not give people a healthy dose of the real thing? So, how do we do what Jesus did? Follow His example.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself, he can only do what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also. John 5:19

Jesus followed His Father’s lead and it required faith on His part as well as the people He ministered to. God uses unconventional methods to produce miraculous results; prepare your self to look foolish. It takes faith to pull this off, and faith is what pleases God.

“Talk’s cheap, takes money to buy land”; “Put you money where your mouth is”; “Put up or shut up”; these drive home the point that actions speak louder than words. Our nation and the whole world face problems on a scale beyond the scope of human intellect and wisdom. Demonstrations of the power of the Kingdom of God are desperately needed. These will go a long way to touch the lives and reach the hearts of those whose minds and ears are closed to the gospel. Keep it simple, Show and Tell, and watch God make the impossible possible.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You Can Afford It.

A gift opens the way for a giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.
Proverbs 18:16

Moses received detailed plans for constructing the Tabernacle including the altar of incense and the rules governing its use. Twice daily an offering was burned on the altar in the privacy of the Holy Place. The recipe for this incense was spelled out in detail and the formula was used strictly for the Tabernacle rites. Violation of this law resulted in banishment from the community, Exodus 30: 34-38.

“Tanchuma (Tetzaveh 14) concludes that incense is the most intimate and personal of sacrifices, for all other sacrifices are brought on the outer altar of stone, whereas incense is burnt on the inner altar of gold, in the proximity of the Holy of Holies, where God’s spirit dwells…

The Holy One, Blessed is He, declared: Of all the sacrifices that Israel offers to Me, there is none so dear as the incense. Sin offerings, guilt offerings and even burnt offerings atone for errors and misdeeds. Only the incense is pure, for it is offered solely to give Me joy as Proverbs 27:9 states: Ointment and incense rejoice the heart.” Tehillim, Psalm 141

According to the Chumash, the Jewish sages exegetically determined that there were eleven ingredients in the incense. One was galbanum which has a foul aroma. Eleven is the number of imperfection. Neither the priest making the offering, nor the incense, were perfect. God loved it. He enjoyed it so much He required a double dose daily. Had He demanded perfection in this offering He’d never get it. Provision was made for imperfection.  

Of all God’s creation, time is the only thing man possesses and controls how it’s used. Prayer is designating a portion of our time to God. When we bring a gift of our time in the form of prayer we are ushered into the Presence of God. We bring Him joy and have His undivided attention.

In the same way the incense was exclusively used for offerings, our prayers are to God alone; no other person or thing. With Him as the sole object of our time and attention, prayer deserves to be a special event. This doesn’t rule out or negate spontaneous prayer. Circumstances and situations arise and warrant them.

The incense offering highlighted the importance of incorporating specific times for prayer into our daily routine. How and when the offerings were made was spelled out, but the length of time spent fulfilling that duty was at the priest’s discretion. There isn’t a universal perfect amount of time to pray; every day and every person is different. What matters is we designate a time to spend alone with God daily.

As the holiday season descends the familiar dilemma arises – what do you give someone who has every thing and needs nothing? God falls into this category. For Him, the perfect gift is imperfect prayer offered by imperfect people who refuse to let their imperfections keep them from giving God the best they have. Why not splurge on God this year, you can afford it!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

“I Don’t Feel Like It!”

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Ghost you may abound in hope.”
 Romans 15:3 ESV

Joy and peace in believing sounds at times like an oxymoron. They seem more like the result of a promise or hope fulfilled than helpers while waiting for that manifestation to appear. Walking by faith for me more often resembles a roller coaster ride than a smooth cake walk. The longer the wait the greater the challenge it is to keep joy and peace center stage. I wish it wasn’t so, but it’s usually how things play out.

Paul understood our need for supernatural assistance in this area. Holy Spirit’s power keeps us abounding in hope. Biblical hope isn’t wishful thinking. “Hmm, if I won the lottery I’d….” It’s the confident expectation that what one believes will come to pass.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

It’s hard to stand for a protracted period without evidence of progress. Joy and peace sustain us through the wait. My problem is keeping these two rascals in place; they seem to sneak out and slip away too easily.

I know all the “right” things to do: pray, focus on God’s Word, pray more, sow into other’s lives, pray longer, guard my thoughts and speech, pray without ceasing; all these work. Things break down because of me. I don’t faithfully do them because “I Don’t Feel Like It.” As opposed to flowing in Holy Spirit’s power I’m gritting my teeth and digging in my heels; self effort as opposed to supernatural strength. Proverbs 13:12 stresses the importance of joy and peace while believing: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” Discouragement and fatigue arise and paint a hopeless picture. “Just quit” they whisper, “you already feel like giving up. Don’t fight it anymore.”

Ignore the lies. Proverbs 13:12 also reminds us that hope fulfilled is as “a tree of life.” This isn’t a scrawny “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree”; imagine a mighty sequoia. A tree of life has roots that hold it steadfast in adverse conditions. Fully mature and developed, the tree sustains itself and provides for the needs of others. The natural realm mirrors the spirit realm. Real trees take years (groan) to grow to maturity; no short cuts there or in spiritual growth.

Joy and peace are states of mind, not emotions like happiness. Feelings are facts but not always the truth. This unusual example illustrates the point. When MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technology was developed and the first machines built, the factory offered free screenings to the employees. One worker discovered he had an inoperable brain tumor and subsequently died as the result. This man felt fine, a fact. The truth was, despite his feelings, he had a terminal illness. If I feel unhappy it doesn’t mean I don’t have joy. Confusion and uncertainty don’t mean I’ve lost my peace. My feelings may mask the truth but my faith walk isn’t determined by how I feel. It’s based on what is true.

Telling our self and others “I Don’t Feel Like It” when it comes to doing what’s necessary to maintain my joy and peace is a cop out. We’re all experts at doing what we don’t want to. We get up and out of bed in the morning when we’d rather sleep in. We go to work when we’d rather be anywhere else but there. We’re nice to people when we’d rather chop them off at the knees. We pay our taxes even though we know some of those responsible for spending them are incompetent idiots. I can even eat chocolate cake when I would rather have vegetables; just kidding about the vegetables not the chocolate cake. We know how to do what’s necessary. We can maintain joy and peace. Some days are easier than other and Holy Spirit provides the power moment by moment. When you, someone or something else tries to move you off target firmly tell them, “No, I Don’t Feel Like It!”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What’s In Your Wallet?

The house of the righteous contains great treasure; but the income of the wicked brings them trouble. Proverbs 15:6

A popular TV commercial poses the question, “What’s In Your Wallet?” What type of purchasing power resides in your billfold? When reading Proverbs 15:6 this thought occurred to me: the righteous and the wicked can amass great fortunes and have completely different experiences. The words great treasure and income both mean material possessions, money, wealth, etc. God is not opposed to people being rich. Abraham was God’s friend and was a very wealthy man, 2 Chronicles 20:7, Genesis 13:2. When given a choice, Solomon selected wisdom above everything else available. The result of his decision; God rewarded him with great riches, 1 Kings 2:13. Even Jesus needed a treasurer, John 4: 5-6.

A study of Israel’s founding as a nation showed everyone, rich or poor, tithed ten percent; the original flat tax. All were encouraged to help those less fortunate. The recipients and the amount of aid given were at the benefactor’s discretion; not mandated by law. Charitable giving was preferably done in small amounts spread out over a large population. In most cases these were loans not handouts. Many years ago I read “This Is My God; The Jewish Way of Life” by Herman Wouk. He made a statement to the effect that the Jewish mindset is that no one is ever too poor that they cannot give to someone else in need. That thinking would serve our world well today.

The point is this: it’s not what you have; it’s how you get it. In a recent post “Payback Is Hell” the consequences of returning evil for good was discussed; not a pretty picture. When I read Proverbs 15:6, the word “income” jumped out at me. My thought was “in-come….incoming missile.” In my mind’s eye I saw the vapor trail and explosion as the ordnance hit its target. What the wicked draw to them has trouble attached to it. Is breaking the rules; running roughshod over people; taking no prisoners and looking out for Number One really worth the price of admission?

Before entering the Promised Land, Moses gave the Israelites a refresher course in their covenant with God. Their behavior determined if they were blessed or cursed. The Western world largely discounts curses, relegating them to material for Hollywood horror movies. Other cultures like Haiti, with its ties to voodoo, take curses seriously. Deuteronomy 27 shows these are no figments of the imagination but real, powerful dynamics in the spirit realm. Our “sophistication” has left us wide open and vulnerable.

At this point in their history, Israel was a cashless society. Income and wealth was determined by livestock, possessions and after possessing the land, crops raised. Anything acting as a unit of currency was affected by one’s behavior. Deuteronomy 27:15-26 lists the actions of a cursed individual. A common theme found in all is selfishness. He/she’s actions benefit only them at the expense of others; the means justify the ends. It’s sad to see someone truly oblivious to the consequences looming as they travel down a path to destruction. It is heartbreaking and tragic to see those who understand fully and still don’t care.

“When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expects from his power comes to nothing” Proverbs 11:7.
Nothing, no thing, zero, zilch, nada; this is a harsh reality to wake up to in eternity. The wicked not only are compensated for their actions eternally, but also experience repeated troubles that hit hard during this life. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. God’s offer to change our life and be blessed is always on the table. The converse of Proverbs 11:7 is the righteous die and see their hope fulfilled. Their wise use of power in this life produced greater results than they realized.

Does Capital One have it right? Perhaps “What’s In You Wallet?” is something for us to consider. Do we wish its contents to be a target for blessings or for heat-seeking missiles of trouble? The choice is ours.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NYC Another Sodom? Food For Thought

“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…” Isaiah 58:7

If you ask the average Christian why Sodom was destroyed they will likely cite the story of Lot and his visitors found in Genesis nineteen. Is that biblically correct? For sure, Sodom’s version of the “Welcome Wagon” wasn’t a chorus line of cheerful citizens singing “Getting to Know You” from The King and I. Forcible gang rape was the welcome mat laid out for poor strangers (verse 5). Lot’s offer of his two virgin daughters, another story in itself, demonstrates the mob’s true intent. The girls were wealthy women, the type of people Sodom wanted to attract. Their uncle, Abraham, was exceedingly rich. Along with three hundred of his household servants, Abraham defeated the king of Sodom (Genesis fourteen). Mess with his family, and Abraham was a force to be reckoned with. Sodom’s sexual immorality was infamous and labeled the reason for the city’s downfall. This didn’t help their cause, but it wasn’t the primary problem. Ezekiel, the prophet, brought this correction to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable thing before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” Ezekiel 16: 49-50
Historical background from Josephus and the Chumash shed light on Sodom’s dark side. Plain and simple, they were greedy. Sodom was a prosperous city that welcomed those who added to the bottom line not take from it.
“To discourage newcomers, however, the Sodomites institutionalized state cruelty, so that it became a crime to feed a starving person or offer alms to a beggar. Even the sexual perversion for which Sodom is notorious was employed to keep visitors away.” Chumash
How does NYC fit into this picture? As a closet urbanite living in the rural South let me state for the record, I love New York and other major metro areas. Big cities for me are exciting and energizing. I’ve highlighted NYC but it, including others like my hometown Philadelphia, are falling prey to Sodom’s mistakes. In March of this year www. posted this story. Over a twenty year period, Glenn Richter collected and distributed two tons of food to shelters throughout the city. One morning Glenn received surplus bagels from Ohav Zedek synagogue. To his surprise the shelters refused the food. Why? Glenn couldn’t provide the salt, fat and fiber content of the bagels. NYC passed a law prohibiting food donations in an attempt to “monitor salt, fat and fiber eaten by the homeless”. Food suitable for purchase and consumption by those who could afford it was deemed unsuitable for those who couldn’t!
For over two years my husband and I cooked and served a bi-monthly dinner to the hungry and homeless at our church in Florida. We can’t recall anyone questioning the calorie or fiber content of the food. There were a few complaints about the sodium level; it was too low. At times our guests declined the meal based on personal preferences and tastes. They were perfectly capable of determining what was best for them.
      The law in NYC and other cities appears to me to be less about the health and welfare of the poor and more about chasing them away. Remove opportunities to get a meal and the hungry will have to go somewhere else, assuming they can afford to do so. If not, they can resort to crime in order to eat or starve; neither an acceptable solution. Fortunately, the level of physical violence the Sodomites perpetrated on the “undesirables” hasn’t become a standard operating procedure in our cities when dealing with those in need. Sodom’s example of outlawing assistance to the poor is cropping up all over our nation. God said that He took note of Sodom’s actions and personally repaid them. He is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). Will He overlook our same treatment of those in need?
      I’m not saying hellfire and brimstone is about to start falling.
“He who is kind to the poor, lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done”.  Proverbs 19:17
Our nation is facing economic problems of global proportions. Countries, including our own, teeter on the brink of bankruptcy and governments keep printing more worthless money. The kingdom of God is financially sound; recession and depression proof. Perhaps some of the answers and resources needed to solve our problems are withheld due to our treatment of those less fortunate. This Thanksgiving, as Mayor Bloomberg and other city officials around the nation, sit down to a holiday meal with all the trimmings, how many individuals and organizations will have to choose between obeying the law or feeding the hungry? That’s food for thought.

If you wish to read the article here is the link

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Payback is Hell!

“If a man payback evil for good, evil will never (emphasis mine) leave his home.”
Proverbs 17:13

If there ever is an incentive to treat others fairly, here it is; the “Golden Rule” on steroids, containing ominous implications. There are repercussions and they’re hand delivered by family members. Perhaps the intrigue and devastation rampant in the royal family inspired Solomon to pen this verse. Incidents in the life of his father David, the king, proved payback is hell.
2 Samuel 11 contains the familiar story of David and Bathsheba. In her defense, Bathsheba had no choice when summoned to the palace. She mourned her husband’s death, (verse 26) hardly the action of a harlot. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was a loyal soldier in David’s army. She had just completed her monthly ritual of purification, in other words, she wasn’t pregnant (verse 4). Her encounter with David changed that. A surprise impending birth announcement set off a chain reaction of events to cover up the king’s indiscretion and opened the door for evil in the royal household (verse 5).
David loved God passionately. Confronted by Nathan, the prophet, David confessed and repented (verse 13). Assured of God’s forgiveness, David learned there’d be consequences for his actions. “This is what the Lord says; “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you…you did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel’” (2 Samuel 11:12).
The first tragedy was the death of the son born to David and Bathsheba. “Because of doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you shall die”( 2 Samuel 12:14). David’s actions negatively impacted his enemies’ impressions of God. This still happens when Christians fall. What we do touches lives of people we don’t even know; a sobering thought.
            The heartbreaking death of the innocent child was the beginning. 2 Samuel 13 recounts the incestuous rape of Tamar, David’s daughter, by her step-brother Amnon. When informed of the incident, David was angered, but did nothing. Tamar’s brother, Absalom was also enraged. I believe David’s lack of response to Tamar’s rape provided fertile ground for a root of bitterness to develop in Absalom. Biding his time, Absalom waited to exact revenge for Tamar’s disgrace. Under the guise of a party for the royal household to celebrate sheep shearing, Absalom crafted a plan and had his step-brother Amnon killed (2 Samuel 13:28).
            The murder of his son severely strained the relationship between David and the unrepentant Absalom. After a self imposed exile, Absalom elicited Joab for assistance in gaining access to his father the king. Joab’s refusal resulted in Absalom burning his fields; what a guy! Even reinstatement in the palace was insufficient. Absalom spent four years carefully plotting his coup. He endeared himself to the people and, “stole the heart of the men of Israel (2 Samuel 15:6). Declaring himself king, Absalom openly rebelled against not only his father, but also against God’s anointed. A showdown was inevitable and in the battle Absalom died.  
Absalom wasn’t the only son who tried to grab the throne from his father David. Adonijah attempted to set himself up as king of Israel and failed (1 Kings 1: 24-25).
David sinned, repented, received forgiveness and still suffered consequences. We can learn from his mistake, heed the warning in Proverbs 17:13 and govern our lives accordingly. Our actions have repercussions and payback really is hell.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jerk The Slack Out Of My Chain, Please!

“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge”
Proverbs 23:12

As I unpack scripture I learn there’s so much more than what meets the eye. When I added this verse to my list of potential blog subjects, I noted that our minds and logical reasoning abilities were excluded. Much of the bible and God’s methods of operation defy human rationale. I was surprised to learn the word instruction used here meant discipline, correction or chastening (no fun in any of those). The writer exhorts us to wholeheartedly pursue this type of instruction. We, however, are prone to do the exact opposite and skirt those issues.
Over the years I’ve slowly learned to appreciate and even seek out God’s correction. He faithfully administers it in a timely manner. Often His touch is so gentle it takes time to realize that I've been rebuked. The other weekend is a perfect example.
By late Friday afternoon my frustration level was through the roof. As a day trader, this past year has been my worst ever. I've been behind all year. Trying to trade while treading in a sea of red ink is mind numbing. After missing several opportunities for profitable trades, I had to walk away.
I'm also in the midst of a large landscape project, laying down pine straw mulch. On flat surfaces the job is easy. On steep inclined embankments it’s a challenge and a workout. As I struggled to secure the mulch I grumbled and complained to God. I was upset. I asked for His help and felt ignored. I reminded Him of promises that are still unfulfilled. I whined about watching people who don’t know or love Him prosper while others, like me, seemingly get the short end of the stick. “It’s not fair, God”, I told Him, “You said in Malachi 3:10 that we can test you in the area of finances.” I stopped short of telling Him that in my opinion He flunked. I didn’t need to say a thing; He knew the thoughts and intents of my heart. I spent two hours throwing a pity party and no came but me.
            Physically and emotionally exhausted, I looked toward heaven and said, “God, I’m wrong. Will You PLEASE correct my thinking?” Suddenly the heavens opened, angels descended and a heavenly voice spoke words of encouragement – NOT! Nothing happened. Initially, I wanted to scream, “I knew it, I knew it. Ask for help and all I get is dead air.” Wisely, I kept my mouth shut, dismissed that thought and listened.
            Friday passed without a word. All day Saturday I consciously stayed tuned to hear His voice – silence. In the midst of the Sunday morning sermon my prayer was answered. My pastor made a statement to the effect that whatever has our focus and attention also has our devotion. Ouch, that jerked the slack out of my chain. I was centered on the problem not on God. I placed my losses in a position of pre-eminence over Him. I was fixated on the problem and not on the one who has and is the solution. God’s gentle rebuke came through loud and clear. He showed me the root of the problem. I needed to repent and think differently.      
Going forward I get to daily choose what I’ll dwell on: God and His unlimited ability or my circumstances. It would be wonderful if my brain could be set to autopilot, disengage all thoughts of what isn’t working, concentrate on Him and what He can do. Everyday I’ll have to decide where to focus my attention and then reap the harvest of those thoughts. God won’t make me do what is best for me, He respects my free will. Can my thoughts change my circumstance? I believe they can. Will I take God’s correction and apply it? That remains to be seen.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sheep In Wolves Clothing

“…we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 95:7

“A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is an idiom of biblical origin. It is used of those playing a role contrary to their real character, with whom contact is dangerous.” (Wikipedia). The scripture reference is found in Matthew 7:15. Jesus warned false prophets disguised as sheep would prey upon the unsuspecting. This made me think. In almost forty years of serving God I’ve encountered very few false prophets. Unfortunately, I remember too well others just as destructive, sheep in wolves clothing.
Preposterous you think? Ask your pastor, even your spouse, children and friends. They have seen seemingly docile sheep morph into wolves and have scars to prove it. How do people professing genuine faith in God become dangerous threats to others? Hurting people hurt people.
Sheep are vulnerable creatures. They fuss with each other but are defenseless against wolves and predators. Unlike species capable of transforming their appearance, like chameleons, sheep stick out like sore thumbs. If they could disguise themselves they’d be less susceptible to attack.
Jesus referred to His followers as sheep. Unlike the cute wooly kind, human sheep can think and plan. Experience is a great teacher. Touch a hot stove once and you learn to avoid the heat unless you’ve got protection, such as a potholder. Taking precautions prevents injuries. People possess the ability to inflict pain and suffering on others. In sports terminology, “the best offense is a good defense”. To protect themselves, hurt people sometimes adopt an aggressive persona. Cross their path and the fangs are bared, the claws come out. Get out of the way or become discarded carnage.
Many church members have never encountered a false prophet. They do have horror stories of sheep in wolves clothing wrecking havoc on a congregation. Some of these members were driven away, vowing never to participate in a formal church setting again. They love the Lord; it’s the church they can’t stand.
This is tragic and shouldn’t be, but is reality. To answer the question “Why?” I reiterate, hurting people hurt people. No one consciously wants to be a patsy. “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.” To avoid repeated abuse one can adopt a defensive posture; protecting oneself and one’s rights at all costs. Too often, innocent people suffer the consequences of this hyper-vigilant behavior.
The love of God can heal any hurt, but it comes with a price. It costs us the right to exact revenge. We release the enemy into God’s hands and trust Him for resolution and restitution. This doesn’t mean people aren’t held accountable for their actions, they are. We don’t get to be the judge, jury and the executioner. God’s love also makes us confront our own actions. We aren’t always the innocent victim. His love will put the broken pieces back together again and restore our ability to love and trust once more. We’re not guaranteed a bullet-proof life, just one not spent in a smelly wolf skin.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Are You, A Wiseguy?

“Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7
            “At that time Jesus said, “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children.” Matthew 11:25

These scriptures remind me of Winston Churchill’s quote, “A riddle in a mystery wrapped up in an enigma.” Why spend everything to gain wisdom if God gives His hidden things to children? The bible never placed a premium on ignorance or stupidity. Ephesians 6:7 teaches us to do all things with excellence. Performance at that level requires time, training and learning. If I need brain surgery, would I seek out the neurosurgeon who graduated at the bottom of his class? Probably not.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge but fools despise wisdom and discipline” Proverbs 1:7. Knowing God exists is the start of being wise. “You believe that there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” James 2:19. Believing God exists is insufficient. The devil believes and it hasn’t helped him one bit. James wrote that faith goes past mental assent of God’s existence; it’s acting on your beliefs. I know who President of the United States is. I recognize his face and can tell you things about him. I’ve never met him nor spent personal time with him so I really don’t “know” him. Many wise people know about God, but the children know Him in an intimate, personal way.
The fear of the Lord is Godly wisdom’s foundation. Intelligence alone eliminates too many people. Seeing with God’s eyes is critical. Children are masters at believing in God’s specialties, the impossible and the miraculous. In Mark 6:35-44, when faced with the task of feeding a multitude, natural wisdom enabled the disciples to calculated the cost to provide food for all and the logistical impossibility to do so. Jesus’ childlike faith and Godly wisdom saw five loaves of bread and two small fish as more than enough for the task at hand. Everyone ate until satisfied and the remains filled twelve baskets. A lot of people were fed with one “Happy Meal”.
Wisdom and knowledge divorced from a personal relationship with God and an understanding of His ways eliminates the supernatural. The disciple’s ability limited their problem solving capabilities. They saw the need but lacked a solution. Not all situations require the supernatural; however, the possibility for divine intervention changes the dynamics of any dilemma. Godly wisdom spared a bride and groom embarrassment at their wedding feast, John 2:1-11. Peter found tax money in the mouth of a fish, Matthew 17: 24-27. On two occasions thousand were fed with next to nothing, Matthew 14:15-21, 15: 32-38; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9: 12-17 and John 6: 5-13. God’s wisdom enabled George Washington Carver to enter his lab with only his bible and find answers for the South’s struggling agricultural economy. Thank God for peanut butter! General Patton and his troops faced a desperate situation. Poor weather gave the Germans an advantage over the Allies. Inspired to have the soldiers themselves pray, Patton recruited a chaplain to compose a prayer, had it printed and distributed to the men with instructions to pray daily. The fog lifted and the Battle of the Bulge was won.
God’s ways take us places effort and ability alone can’t. Adding His super to our natural produces extraordinary results. Taking that route may earn you the label of lunatic or fanatic, even a “wiseguy”. Relax, people thought Jesus was crazy too. When impossible situations are reversed who cares what people think? Combine Godly wisdom and childlike faith and see the miraculous occur.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Seeing is Believing?

“The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good man rewarded for his.” Proverbs 14:14

What we believe really does matter. In the scripture above, both groups reaped the harvest of their beliefs. Convinced a situation is impossible we miss opportunities to the contrary. Our mindset renders them unrecognizable. However, when through faith we choose to believe that all hope isn’t gone, we find solutions. Doing this means moving forward without any physical evidence to stand on; easier said (or written) than done.
Abraham demonstrated such faith. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” Hebrews 11:17-19.
We view Abraham and Isaac’s experience from the vantage point of several thousand years of history. We know God raises the dead from documented cases proving it happens. To Abraham’s credit he first chose to believe that an elderly, barren couple could conceive and have a son. He saw the fruit of his faith. Now he believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead in order to fulfill the promise given. What that looked like Abraham didn’t know; no one had ever been resurrected. Abraham again traveled in virgin faith territory with only God’s word to base his conviction upon.
We’ll never know the outcome if Abraham had been faithless and unbelieving. Scripture says this was Abraham’s test. I think it tested Isaac also. Isaac, a young man capable of understanding the situation could have resisted any efforts to bind and place him on an altar to be sacrificed. He didn’t refuse to participate. Both men complied with God’s instructions and both walked away with a different and deeper faith in God. Isaac’s first recorded faith venture gave him knowledge that only hearing about God couldn’t produce. Looking back we know the happy ending, but these two men walked this out in pure faith. Not knowing how God would keep His word, they chose to believe that He would and He did.
            “And without faith it is impossible to please God” Hebrews 11:6. The goal of pleasing God requires faith. His plans are so outside the box and our comfort zone, faith is mandatory for success. We don’t need to look for or invent impossible situations. God doesn’t ask us to go out on any old limb with a chainsaw, only the one He designates. Be assured faith is the key element for seeing the impossible manifest. We choose whether or not to have faith and we receive what we believe.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Try A Little Tenderness

“One who is full loathes honey from the comb but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet” Proverbs 27:7

“Anxiety weighs down a heart but a kind word cheers it up.” Proverbs 12:25

In the 60’s Otis Redding recorded Try A Little Tenderness. The song reminds men women’s reactions to circumstances can differ from theirs. Lacking a new dress can sap the vitality from a woman’s spirit. Recognize when she is upset and show sensitivity. Try a little tenderness, it lightens her load and enhances the relationship.
Many years ago we, along with a group of friends, lunched together after Sunday morning church. The Olive Garden was a favorite destination with unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks. For me, the piece de resistance was the Andes mints liberally distributed by our server. Those little candies provided the crowning touch to a time of good food and great fellowship.
My subject isn’t eating, it is kindness and the importance of generously spreading it around. When life’s going great, hitting on all cylinders, kindness is like those Andes mints. It’s the little extra something special topping off a wonderful time. Feeling like Jack, in the movie Titanic; we’re “King of the World,” invincible.
On the other hand, life at times is traveling in steerage. Things aren’t going swimmingly; they’re falling out of and not into place. In those situations the Andes mints of kindness are sources of refreshment our starved souls need.
It’s easy to spot those who life is trampling down. Posture, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and words spoken scream “I’m hurting.” Go a step further and you’ll find people so beaten down they’ll accept abusive treatment. Proverbs 27:7 explains that “to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.”  Negative attention is better than nothing at all. Feelings of unworthiness can also prevent people from experiencing genuine kindness; this is unfortunate.
            Judging only by appearances is faulty. Several years ago I watched a program about the life of the late comedian, Chris Farley. I knew his work from the movie Coneheads. Chris was a class clown and life of the party, making people laugh. He appeared to be the epitome of success, but inside his life was spiraling downward. After a night on the town he’d drag himself to morning Mass. Fascinated with angels and the supernatural, it appeared to me he was searching for something else, perhaps God. I don’t know that Chris ever encountered Him. Despite all his success Chris committed suicide. The outward actions and persona masked the internal turmoil and desperation.
            People don’t always advertise their pain. Some believe no one would care even if they knew. Others don’t wish to burden people who have their own problems. To some, expressing feelings they may not understand is difficult. The walking wounded are everywhere, some are just harder to recognize.
            My point is, everyone benefits from kindness. We may never know what a small act of love and attention means to someone. Those who look like they have it all may be the neediest. A word of encouragement, a hug, a phone call or email, a card or a small gift may seem insignificant. To a person starved for attention, they're more than an Andes mint, they’re a whole meal. Whether someone is easy to like or difficult to deal with, try a little tenderness, it could save their life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lookin’ Good

“Then you will favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”
                                                                                       Proverbs 3:4
Finding favor and a good name with men is one thing; finding them with God is another matter. The question is, “How can one get both?” Neither comes easily, trivializing their value. The standards for God and men differ, one size doesn’t fit all.
I find the favor of men arbitrary, based on merit or benefits either perceived or real to be gained; for example, consider Mother Teresa. People of every station in life honored and favored this woman and her work with the poor people of India. She lived a simple lifestyle, not exactly a candidate for paybacks. On the other hand, enter a popular restaurant on a busy night and your chance of getting seated in a timely manner depends on the size of a tip to the Maitre D’. His favor comes with a price tag. In the political arena campaign contributions often contain the expectation of favors for the donor. Celebrities, athletes and businesspeople receive and at times demand special treatment even when their professions and lifestyles benefit no one but themselves. Man’s favor is fickle, here today and gone tomorrow. There’s always someone newer, cuter, richer, smarter, whatever who emerges and takes your place.
Proverbs 3:3 shares the key to attaining real favor and a good name; it does matter how you acquire them. The verse lists God first, then men. What are God’s criteria for dispensing favor? How do we become highly regarded in His eyes? “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3). This isn’t the path the popular success book, Looking Out For Number One proposed. Love and faithfulness are paramount with God, not sacrifice, goal setting, achieving and maximizing natural talent, skill and ability. With love and faithfulness as top priorities, these other things fall into place naturally. Jesus put it this way, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (emphasis mine, Matthew 6:33).
Love paves the way for giving that neither expects nor demands attention or accolades. A gift’s generosity diminishes, the recipient reduced to a means to an end when the motive is recognition, selfishness not love. Faithfulness means prudence, good sense, insight understanding and happiness. The world is filled with successful, unfaithful people. Often their accomplishments are overshadowed or even destroyed through sheer stupidity. The problem wasn’t the goal desired but the lack of integrity and character. What we build stands or falls based on the foundation we’ve laid.
Establishing love and faithfulness as our life’s bedrock is crucial. These in place God can entrust a man or woman with great responsibilities. His favor opens unimaginable doors of opportunity and provides a rich, exciting life. What reward or honor compares to hearing Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21)? When God considers you honorable and trustworthy does it matter what anyone else thinks? Pursue favor and a good name with God first, on His terms, and you’ll receive it from others sans the nonsense and manipulation so often attached.
            Consider this, do you prefer to look good in God’s eyes, man’s eye’s or both? Is a “flash in the pan” status worth forfeiting eternal, divine recognition? Love and faithfulness are fashion keys to “lookin’ good”; they keep you a timeless classic and not a passing fad.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Take the Shortcut

“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
I like taking the scenic tour, however, when time is of the essence, I want the shortcut. Find the quickest route from Point A to Point B. Simple geometry teaches that to find the shortest distance simply draw a straight line connecting both points and “Presto”, there’s the shortcut.
Proverbs 3:6 states God straightens out our paths when we trust Him. He makes a shortcut for us. Why then does it take so long to get to where we need to be? Perhaps our understanding of the mathematical principle is faulty. Is the shortest distance between two points always a straight line connecting them? Yes and no.
Sound contradictory? This principle is true when applied to a level surface. In that case the line is straight in direction and elevation. When applied to an uneven surface the line curves up and down in order to maintain direction. Technically, it ceases to be straight. Engineers tackle this problem all the time. Tunnels are cut through mountains; bridges span valleys and waterways producing a level, straight road. Most drivers enjoy the shortcut blissfully unaware of the enormity of the project; the time and monies spent and the difficulty, if not impossibility of travel before the highway’s completion.
Isaiah 40:3-5 prophetically foretold the ministry of John the Baptist, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). The prophet described the process of preparing for a king’s arrival. In Isaiah’s time before a monarch visited a region an advance team was dispatched. Their mission: build a roadway suitable for the king’s trip. The goal: remove obstacles, level depressions, smooth out rough surfaces and make the journey as comfortable as possible.
Depicted is an enormous construction project: valleys filled in, mountains and hills removed, rugged areas made level. He wasn’t talking about the building of a literal highway but the process of repentance that paves the way for the King of King’s arrival.
            We all have aspects of our lives and personalities which, left unchecked, hinder God’s plans and His work in us. Mountains of pride, unbelief and outright lies need to be removed. Our tendency to avoid conflict and by-pass difficult situations must be straightened out. Valleys of self pity, hopelessness and despair filled in with faith and hope. Our peculiarities and quirks undergo sanding to smooth rough edges. Labor intensive, this work takes time. God makes our paths straight but doesn’t cut corners during the process. This might explain the perception that we’re traveling a long time with little forward progress.
            We’ve grown accustomed to instant access to solutions. Technology ramps up the pace of life. God, the author and inventor of the advances we enjoy operates at a different speed. As a master craftsman and builder He takes all the time necessary to achieve the desired result. Unshackled by time as we know it, He’s in no hurry. It may feel like it takes forever but God lays out the direct path between where we are and where He needs us to be. So, take the shortcut.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It’s All Downhill From Here…Oh No!

“The path of life leads uphill for the wise to keep him from going down to the grave.” Proverbs 15:24
The popular phrase “It’s all downhill from here” sometimes means the hardest part is finished, going forward will be easier.  Many years ago an often used way of share one’s faith in Jesus subtly inferred this idea. “Come to Jesus, He has a wonderful plan for your life” is a statement of truth. Many times the implied and unspoken impression given was, “It’s all downhill from here.” Jesus’ wonderful plan included a stress and problem free life. That’s absolutely untrue. In reality, life’s hard with a target painted on you. Satan hates defectors from his camp; they are threats to his “success”. He purposes to destroy everyone and everything that God created. Life’s warfare, but there’s nothing to fear; believers have the power and weapons to send him packing.
This proverb reminds us that life for wise people is an uphill climb. Bummer, I prefer gravity working for and not against me. Life continues to present challenges. We can coast downhill but the end result is the grave or in the original Hebrew, hell, which isn’t a viable option.
Recently my husband Joe, and I visited Amicolola Falls outside of Atlanta. I remembered the beauty of the falls and conveniently forgot the steepness of their incline. I walk and workout on a regular basis. “Piece of cake”, I thought as we headed for the top. I made it all the way without difficulty, however, two days later despite my exercise regime, my calf muscles screamed in pain.
Walking by faith is also an uphill climb. While we do have times to pause and catch our breath the trek always involves scaling to new heights. Specific situations stretch our faith muscles beyond normal use, the same way my calf muscles bore the brunt of the hike. Later we feel the strenuous level of the test. As faith develops we take on and conquer newer, harder challenges. David experienced this when he faced Goliath.
This Philistine warrior was not David’s first life threatening encounter. To him, Goliath was a target too big to miss. His response to the giant’s threat was, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37). With God’s help David prevailed in previous dangerous situations and this one wouldn’t be any different.
            The point; David did not start out killing giants. Smaller scaled tests prepared him for the showdown with Goliath. The successful defeat of Israel’s enemy wasn’t the pinnacle of his faith walk. For David, “it wasn’t all downhill” from there. In short order he tackled another faith mountain believing he would live to see God’s anointing as Israel’s future king come to pass. Even his ascent to the throne brought more opportunities to keep climbing higher, developing greater faith and trust in his Lord.
            God is looking for mountain climbers, willing to believe where He leads is the best and safest place to be. He cheers on those eager to scale uncharted heights. The journey will tax every muscle and take our breath away. Reaching the top, enjoying the view, relishing the accomplishment spurs us on. The end result is always more glorious than we envision. Continue on, never give up, resist the temptation to say, “It’s too hard, I can’t do this.” If someone points you in another direction and tells you, “Go that way, it’s all downhill from there”, don’t listen. Keep climbing toward your goal moving onward and upward.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Whine-1-1, What’s Your Emergency?

“It is good that a man should both hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:26
If I were God I would have an automated system in place to handle whining. Every whine would be broadcasted live in hell, serving several purposes. First, the absence of negative words eliminates noise pollution in the throne room. Second, the inhabitants of hell now have something else to complain about (as if being there is not enough). When we think our life is a living hell, anyone there will trade places with us in a heartbeat. I doubt the misery in hell would love the company of hearty, robust whines. For the record, I am not making light of, or dismissing dire circumstance people find themselves in, but the residents of hell would gladly give up the real deal for anything we face here.
Lamentations 3:26 tell us it is good to wait quietly for God’s salvation. The words wait quietly in the original Hebrew mean just that; be silent as you wait for salvation to manifest. Psalm 45:1 states, “my tongue is the pen of a skilled writer.” According to Jewish scholars every word a person speaks is inscribed in the record book of Heaven, so the tongue truly functions as a pen. Jesus said we would have to account for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36). I think I need a BIG ink eraser.
What is the benefit of keeping our mouths firmly shut? Proverbs 18:21 reminds us, “the tongue has the power of life and death.” Our words, like God’s, have creative power. The Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land; they were finally home. One small obstacle stood between them and all the benefits the land afforded-the inhabitants. The first stop Jericho was a well fortified walled city. In the natural, taking the city was impossible, if you didn’t factor God into the equation. Joshua 6:2-5 recounts God’s battle plan for conquering the city. For six days the armed men, seven priests blowing trumpets and the Levites responsible for carrying the Ark of the Covenant made a lap around Jericho. On the seventh day, this process was repeated seven times. During the last lap, when the people heard the long blast from the trumpet they were to shout as loud as possible. According to God, if these instructions were precisely followed, victory was guaranteed. Sounds preposterous, unless you understand Quantum Physics and frequencies, and I don’t. In verse 10 Joshua gave the people a very unusual order. “Do not give a war cry, do no raise your voices, do not say a word (emphasis mine) until the day I tell you to shout!”
For most of those seven days God had peace and quiet. No moaning and groaning, no complaints and negative comments about how crazy His plan seemed. Until the appointed time for shouting the people quietly awaited God’s salvation; all doubts, fears and questions silenced. The power of negative words to magnify any perceived lunacy of the plan, causing this generation to repeat the mistake of their predecessors was neutralized. Almost seven days of total silence is a miracle in itself. Somehow they managed to pull it off. When the time came to shout they did, and the walls fell down.
The verse in Lamentations says in addition to waiting silently, we also should hope. This verse is the only place that particular translation of the word hope is found. The root of the word is to dance, twist, writhe or twirl about. Verbs, such as this, which have significance to binding or twisting indicate strength and denote firmness. Hope here is not wishful thinking, but strong, confident expectation. When one is fully assured of God’s ability to save, the matter is settled, there’s nothing more to say.
            But what if I’m not there? What if fear and doubt have me in a vise grip? What if I’m facing my own Jericho and the prospects of success look slim to none? Go back to basics. What has God told me to do? If I’m not sure, I need to spend time with Him and get reacquainted with His plan of action. How do I take time when I am under pressure? Like the Nike ads say, “Just Do It!”
            What I don’t do is just as important. I don’t go around speaking negative words about my situation. These reinforce and empower the mental images I formulate and believe. “As I think in my heart, so am I”. I remember I’ve read something like that in the Bible (Proverbs 23:7 paraphrase). It can take every ounce of strength and self control to keep a guard on my mouth. My emotions will clamor for an opportunity to vent my frustrations and fears. If I do, I’ll feel better temporarily, and reinforce the walls of my Jericho. No matter what, I need to learn to quietly wait for the salvation of my God and above all, not call Whine-1-1.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Welcome to Tornado Alley

“Anger is cruel and fury is overwhelming. But who can stand against jealousy.”
Proverbs 27:4
As I finished this piece Hurricane Isaac came and went leaving a trail of destruction. I’ve lived through hurricane seasons in Florida and feel for Gulf Coast residents. You take every precaution, make all the preparations and may not escape the storm unscathed.
Now I live in “Tornado Alley” and they’re a different beast. Hurricane’s slow development makes it easier to predict the track and strength, giving time to prepare. Storm cells that spawn tornados are identifiable; however, everything is literally up in the air until the twister touches down. Both storm systems are capable of producing extensive damage and loss of life.
I associate anger and fury with hurricanes. A catalyst (wave off the African coast) triggers the storm: threat, harm, hurt, danger, etc. real or imagined. Potential hurricanes fizzle all the time. Opportunities to get mad do the same; they’re not worth the expenditure of energy and emotional capital. Other times conditions escalate until confrontation occurs (landfall). Emotions highly charged for an extended period often result in substantial damage. Innocent people caught up in the tempest suffer its fury.
Jealousy is a tornado, explosive and irrational. Events that trigger jealous reactions catch all involved off guard. 1 Samuel shows this happening in the lives of Saul and David. Saul was a storm looking for a place to happen. Disobedience caused the kingdom to pass to another upon his death (1 Samuel 15:27-28). He was tormented by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:24). Sent by his father Jesse to carry provisions to his brothers serving in Saul’s army, David the heir apparent to the throne (1 Samuel 16:13) and Saul’s lives intersected.
Israel’s army stood paralyzed, intimidated by the Philistine Goliath. David took on and defeated the giant and found himself married to Saul’s daughter, best friend to Saul’s son Jonathan and living in the royal household. Initially “Saul liked him (David) very much” (1 Samuel 16:2). He was Saul’s go to guy. “Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it successfully” (1 Samuel 18:15). Things progressed splendidly until a simple song sung by some women put David in the crosshairs of his own personal F-5 tornado. Saul’s outbursts were unpredictable and dangerous. David eventually fled for his life and kept running until his nemesis died.
            It’s irrational that a song would trigger such a reaction, but that’s how jealousy works. Incidents that spark anger and fury find resolution through restitution and apologies. One mistakenly accused has the opportunity to prove their innocence. David was helpless to diffuse Saul’s jealousy; there was no wrong to right, no reason to apologize. As rightful heir to the throne, David refused to seize the position by killing Saul when opportunities arose. He remained loyal to God’s Anointed until the end and bitterly mourned Saul’s death.
            Jealousy took David and Saul by surprise; neither saw it coming. David was powerless to halt its assaults. Saul was unable or unwilling to control its hate. Numbers 5:14 teaches that jealousy is a spirit-herein lies the key for dealing with its outbursts. When we find ourselves in the path of a tornado named jealousy, here are steps to minimize the damage.
            First, fight the battle in the right realm with the right weapons. Jealousy is a spirit. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us our enemy isn’t “flesh and blood.” Among other things David was a psalmist and a worshipper. Saul’s mad rages subsided when David played his harp and sang. Don’t think any old music will do. Psalm 22:3 states that God literally abides in praise. A jealous spirit is no match for the living God; it’s not a fair fight, thank God! Pray for God’s wisdom to handle the situation correctly. Ask Him to bless your adversary, not just for the sake of getting them off your back, but for their benefit.
            Second, get out of harm’s way. For his own safety, David fled the scene. This may be the only sane course of action. Yes, you are the innocent party and no, it’s not fair you have to leave but do you want to subject yourself to unnecessary abuse? Unless God specifically instructs you to stay, “get out of Dodge!”
            What if you are Saul and not David? Not a comforting thought but a real possibility. How do you keep from becoming a spear throwing maniac? First, maintain a close, healthy walk with God. He will gladly let you know when you are getting too emotionally wound up. “Nip it in the bud” as Barney Fife of the Andy Griffith show would say. Hebrews 4:15 assures us that Jesus faced opportunities to throw hissy fits and didn’t. He understands exactly how we feel and can navigate us through the mine field called emotions to a place of peace and safety for us and for others. Ask God to show you why you’re upset, He will. Pray for the poor soul in your line of fire, they need it.
            Second, take advantage of trusted friends and counselors. Their unbiased view of the situation brings another perspective and clarity. They see dynamics and consequences you overlooked.
            No matter which side of the equation you’re on, with jealousy everyone loses. David and Saul both suffered as the result of Saul’s actions. This side of eternity will present ample opportunities to cross paths with this spirit. Identifying the enemy’s modus operandi gives us the advantage of recognizing the storm and taking steps to survive. Oh, and before I forget let me say, “Welcome to Tornado Alley.”