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.