Wise Advice

AdviceEvery once in a while we all find ourselves in the place of offering a little advice.  It might be something technical we actually know about, such as how to install a new kitchen faucet.  It might be something medical, like the things some of us non-doctors are prone to suggest. It sometimes involves spiritual things, like the friend who is struggling with guilt.

I like the good feeling that comes when you help someone with a bit of advice.  I remember as a teenager sitting with my friends and dishing out all sorts of advice.  My best friend and I had read our Bibles more than most, and when it came to all sorts of problems, we were the go-to guys.  At the time, I felt that the fifteen Scriptures I had learned could solve just about any problem.  Oh, to be so young and naïve.

Job’s friends had their own set of answers to life’s problems.  Since Job was having the worst day ever, it seemed obvious to them that he had done something to offend God.  It might be true that sin can create difficulties in life, but their pat answer wasn’t appropriate to Job.  Job was actually a blameless man in God’s eyes.  At one point Job commented sarcastically, “How have you counseled one who has no wisdom? And how have you declared sound advice to many?” (Job 26:3)

There actually was no wisdom in the advice Job’s friends gave.  Sometimes the advice we give others contains that same lack of wisdom. Don’t be quick to fix people.  The problem may be more complicated than you think.  Ask God for His wisdom.

Recognition

Jesus at tableOne of the leaders of the ultra-orthodox sect known as the Pharisees decided to invite Jesus to his house for dinner.  I imagine it was both a friendly gesture, as well as a risky one, since Jesus could say some difficult things.  Jesus didn’t seem to care that he offended people who took their religion so seriously.  Perhaps Jesus was just concerned about refining those who had grown too comfortable in their religion.  They thought that they had “arrived” and ought to be admired for it.

As the other invited guests began to take their places, Jesus noticed how the places of honor were the first seats to go.  Jesus responded to what He saw by saying, “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8–11)

What Jesus was teaching was more than just good wedding guest etiquette.  He was teaching about life.  We all long for recognition, but the best way to obtain recognition is to not seek it in the first place.

Uncomfortable

Sinner WomanIt was one of those uncomfortable, “awkward” moments. A Pharisee named Simon had asked the new rabbi to come to his house and share a meal.  After they sat down to eat, an uninvited guest showed up.  Simon knew this woman had a reputation in town.  She was definitely not one of the “nice” people.  As she approached Jesus at the table, she began weeping, washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, and then pouring perfume on His feet.  Luke goes on to record what Simon was thinking at the time – Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)

What Simon didn’t realize at the time was that this woman was exactly the kind of person that Jesus was looking for.  You might even say that Jesus lived and died for moments like this.  It’s not that Jesus just liked to live on the wild side or that He liked the attention of this particular woman.  The truth is, He came to forgive and help “sinners” turn their lives around.

I think that the older I get, the less bothered I want to be.  I want things to be safe.  I want them to be predictable.  I want to surround myself with people who look, think, and act like me.  The problem is that Jesus’ ultimate goal for my life isn’t just about me being comfortable. Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  There are times when a hand needs to be extended to the person sinking in life’s storms.  There are times when that hand needs to be mine.  It may be uncomfortable, but it also may be right.

Mirror, mirror

MirrorWhen Bezalel was building the items that God told Moses to make for the Tabernacle, one of the items was a “laver”. Some modern depictions of the bronze laver look something like a large commercial coffee urn with multiple spigots. The laver was part of the process the priests would go through each time they served, each time they would approach God. The laver provided water to wash what was dirty. It’s not that God is a germaphobe, there is a deeper kind of cleansing that God is interested in when we draw near to Him. Moses recorded that Bezalel made it … from the bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting (Exodus 38:8). Ancient mirrors weren’t made of glass, but of finely polished bronze. With a laver made of mirrors, I imagine the priests could see themselves when they washed.

James tells us a little something about another mirror when he writes, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James1:22-25). Beloved, when you open God’s Word, do you see yourself in the reflection? Do you know what needs to be washed? Take a look in the mirror. Be careful to do what it says.

Revenge

SnidelyDon’t say, “I will get even for this wrong.” Wait for the Lord to handle the matter. (Proverbs 20:22)

There’s an old saying, “I don’t get mad, I just get even.”  I think that sometimes I’m a little guilty of both getting mad and getting even.  I certainly don’t like it when somebody hurts me or hurts a loved one.  I can come up with the best plans for revenge if you just give me a little time (cue the evil laugh).  Sometimes, I just react without thinking and, afterwards, justify it by saying to myself, “Well, they deserved it for what they did to me…”

The problem with the whole “revenge” mentality is that it is a bit shortsighted.  When I take things into my own hands, I’m assuming that God isn’t going to do anything about it.  But what if God has plans that are different from my “revenge” plans?  What if God has a way of working things out in the other person’s life that are more aimed at getting them to change than making them suffer?  If I was the original offender, I know I’d wish that God dealt with me gently rather than painfully.

Choosing to not “get even” doesn’t mean that I necessarily stand in the way of the other person experiencing the consequences of their actions. Sometimes “consequences” are exactly what God ordered.  But the consequences should not be about my “getting even”.  Getting mad or getting even?  I hope I learn to just say “no” to both.

“Misrepresentation”

False Prophets.  It’s a pretty serious problem in the Bible.  The concept is that someone is claiming to speak for God when, in fact, God did not send them, and what they are saying is not true.

I think I get why God gets frustrated with false prophets.  Every once in a while I hear that someone has claimed to state my position on a certain subject when, in fact, they don’t have a clue as to what I think.  Don’t you get frustrated when someone misrepresents you?

Jeremiah had a problem with false prophets.  The prophet Hananiah was trying to tell the people of Jerusalem that everything was going to be fine when, in fact, the city was about to be wiped out.  In Babylon, Ezekiel faced a similar situation.  The false prophets were telling people that they were fine when, in fact, they needed to change.  The result of misrepresentation is that people end up doing the opposite of what God wants them to do.  “Because with lies you have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and you have strengthened the hands of the wicked, so that he does not turn from his wicked way to save his life. (Ezekiel 13:22)

When we speak about the Lord, those that are doing the right things ought to be encouraged by us.  Those who are doing the wrong things ought to be challenged to change.  When we talk about the Lord, be sure to get the message right.

Depressed

Depression sure is a miserable state to live in.  It seems that everything tastes bad when you’re depressed.  It seems that everyone is wrong when you’re depressed.  There are lots of reasons why people fall into the depths of sadness.  Sometimes it comes from the guilt of a sin you can’t break free from.  Sometimes it’s because of a “perfect storm” of circumstances that keep going from bad to worse.  Some of us almost seem wired for depression.

The Bible is filled with folks who struggled through this “dark night of the soul”.  Moses was quite upset at the unappreciative people God had placed him with.  Elijah hid in a cave and declared that he alone was left to serve God.  And then there’s Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet”.  If anyone ever deserved to be depressed, it was Jeremiah.  Not only were the people around him rebellious against God, Jeremiah was there to witness the destruction of the nation.  And though the book of Lamentations is mostly about Jeremiah’s grief over the situation, it also contains a ray of hope as Jeremiah writes, “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23).

It is possible to let go of your depression, even if for a few minutes.  Think on God’s love.  He has NOT forsaken you.  He has NOT left you.  And that my friend is a good thing.

Navigation

It’s not hard to get off course.  Sometimes when you are on a long road trip, missing one exit can put you miles away from your destination.  If an airplane flying across the Pacific is off course by just one degree, it’s not going to land in Hawaii.  The ancient mariners used fixed stars to determine their position and set their course.  As Christians, we have some fixed points that help us navigate this journey through life.  Peter gives us a spiritual “north star” to navigate by when he writes, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22 ESV).

Our “north star” is love, and Peter’s navigation instruction works like this:  As we live our lives, we are supposed to be learning about how to obey the Lord.  As we obey the Lord, our souls are purified.  But there’s a goal to our obedience—to cultivate “sincere” brotherly love.  Obedience without love is liable to go off course.  “Sincere” love is love that isn’t covered up or an act.  Sincere love is sure and steady.  And as we are learning to point our obedience towards a sincere love, we are supposed to do something – we are to love “earnestly” or “fervently”.  We learn to love for the purpose of loving.  It’s all about love.

So which way is your ship sailing?  Are you on course?  Sometimes loving people can result in hurt, so sometimes we want to quit.  But love is a good thing.  Love is our goal.

Weeding

When I was a kid, I sometimes was given the chore of weeding in the yard.  As a young kid, I learned that there are some pretty easy shortcuts you can take when weeding.  Just grab the tops of the weeds, pull off the leaves, and it looks like you’re all done … until next week, when the weed has grown back stronger than ever.  My mom taught me how to use a weeding tool to dig out the roots.  And the most amazing thing happens when you pull a weed out with its roots – it doesn’t grow back.

The writer to the Hebrews has some great advice for us weekend gardeners, “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).

The bitterness that results from not forgiving others is one of the hardest things to deal with in my heart.  Sometimes I tell myself that the thing they did to me was just too painful for me to simply “let it go”.  If I let it go, they are going to get away with it.  Yet as I cultivate that bitterness, the scraggly leaves of a new weed appear in my life.  I might think that I’m the only one suffering from bitterness, but the truth is that everyone around me suffers as well. When you don’t forgive your spouse, your kids will pay for it.  Not directly, mind you, but they will pay.  You are so caught up in your bitterness that you won’t even see it.  Do yourself a favor.  Do those around you a favor.  Forgive.  Take it out by the root.  Let it go.

Meaty Stuff

Occasionally I get comments about whether or not the morning sermon was “meaty” or not.  This is sometimes meant to criticize the lack of depth to the message, or the over-abundance of my ever present bad jokes.  Sometimes the comment is meant as a compliment.  But to be honest, I think the concept of “meat” or “milk” in a sermon is a bit misunderstood.  The concept comes from the writer of the Hebrews, who says, “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

The concept of whether a message is “meaty” or not seems to depend more on the one listening than the one speaking.  No, that doesn’t excuse a sloppy job of sermon preparation. The “meat” of a message is something that will be received by those who are of “full age”, or mature.  What determines whether or not you are “mature”?  Maturity isn’t about winning the latest round of Bible Trivia.  Maturity is determined by a life that has been “exercised” in the telling right from wrong – and doing what is right.  With physical exercise, I’m learning that the more you do it, the greater your abilities grow.  I can walk further than I was able to last year because I am learning to walk every day.  Learning to make the right choices in life works the same way.  The more I practice and make the right choices, the greater my capacity is for doing good. And that’s when I find myself eating “meat”.  Make mine top sirloin!