Wasted Wisdom


Why do really smart people do really dumb things? With regularity, we’re shocked to hear of great men and women who have thrown away their lives with foolish actions or words. Sure, younger people can do some pretty stupid things like I did when I was in my teens. But,  how is it that some who are older and, supposedly, wiser end up following the wrong people and worshiping the wrong things?

The greatest example of wasted wisdom is King Solomon of Israel. “God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding beyond measure” (1 Kings 4:29). Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs (Proverbs 1:1-7), wrote over a thousand songs (including Psalms and Song of Solomon), dissected biology, mediated personal conflicts, arbitrated injustice, and discerned between good and evil. During his lifetime, people came from everywhere on earth, sent by kings and queens, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and stand in awe of his wealth (1 Kings 4:34). There was no one like him (2 Chronicles 9:22-23). Everyone wanted to be like him and be with him.

Tragically, “when Solomon was old, his wives seduced him to follow other gods…Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and he did not completely follow the LORD….the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD God of Israel.” (1 Kings 11:4,6,9). As a result, his family fell apart and the kingdom of Israel was torn apart.

How could the wisest person who ever lived waste his life in the end? If it could happen to Solomon, then couldn’t it certainly happen to me.

How can I make sure that as I get older that I follow the Lord completely and whole heartedly? Here are some thoughts I’ve had after grieving Solomon’s demise and reflecting on his downfall.

Stay in the scriptures and in prayer to develop an ongoing relationship with God (Proverbs 1:1-7, 9:10, 14:26, 15:33, 22:4). Wisdom must be applied to life in dependence upon the Lord (Psalm 127:1, Proverbs 16:3). For all his wisdom, Solomon was seduced to follow other gods rather than stay true to the God who appeared to him — twice. Reading the Bible and talking with God is not just a matter of discipline or spirituality — it’s about a relationship with my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer who loves me unconditionally, but cannot use me unconditionally. In order to finish well, I must actively and intentionally follow Jesus and obey Him.

Stay close to godly friends who will tell me the truth about myself. Who were the people in King Solomon’s life to remind him of God’s commands — especially about foreign women. Where were they when he needed them to counsel and correct him (Proverbs 11:14)? We all need friends who will speak the truth in love (Proverbs 27:6). We all need friends who will encourage us to keep going in pursuit of Jesus (Proverbs 17:17, Ecclesiastes 4:12). We all need friends who will keep a confidence (Proverbs 17:9). We need friends who will keep us grounded in Christlike humility. In order to have those kind of friends, I must first be that kind of friend. And the most important friendship for me as a married man is my wife (singular).

An accountability question that I try to regularly ask of my friends, co-workers, and other leaders is, “What do I need to know that I don’t know that you think or fear I don’t want to know?” In order to finish well, I must listen to godly friends who point me to Jesus and remind me of my humanity and my need for my Savior.

Stay away from foolish temptations that will lead me away from a life of integrity (Proverbs 2:10-19, 10:19). King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines who turned his heart away from the Lord. Solomon “loved” too many women. 999 too many. His heart was not completely with the LORD his God. It was his downfall. Satan’s time-proven tactic for trapping many really smart men and keeping them from finishing well is sexual immorality (Proverbs 5:3-6; 7:2-22). For men, careless eyes often leads to trouble. For women, is it careless words (Proverbs 14:1)? In order to finish well, you and I must avoid the situations and people who will seduce me to walk away from the Lord Jesus.

The heartbreaking part of Solomon’s story is that he knew what to do. He just didn’t do it. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)

In life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish. In relationships, it’s not how you much you know, it’s how you use what you know. Biblical wisdom is applied knowledge. The wise put into practice skills for understanding and living a successful life with Jesus (John 15:4-5, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25). 

As a husband and father, I’m concerned that I could throw away my relationships and influence. As a pastor and preacher, I’m terrified that I could encourage others in their race only to be disqualified in the end (1 Corinthians 10:12). Failure is not inevitable, but self-confidence could lead to a spiritual fall, as it did for Solomon, did so often in Israel’s history, and continues today. The temptations Solomon faced were not unique to him nor are they unique to us in this modern age. The Lord promises to give us grace to handle any temptation we might face as we keep our minds and hearts focused on Him (1 Corinthians 10:13). Solomon serves as a warning to us (Ecclesiastes 4:13): even really smart people can do really dumb things.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

Defenseless

Since the U. S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion 45 years ago today, January 22, 1973, it’s estimated that more than 60 million abortions have been performed in America. Unborn babies are living human beings (regardless of the circumstances of conception), created and loved by God and deserving, though defenseless, of our love and protection.

Some may see this as just a personal issue for each individual to decide or a political one for leaders to legislate. I believe, however, that this is the most significant moral dilemma of people today because it really is a matter of life and death. Also, it seems to me that it’s a spiritual attack of our enemy, the Devil, against the image and glory of God reflected in mankind — men & women, boys & girls, and babies inside & outside a mother’s womb. It seems to me that the debate about women’s rights, fairness, equality, and situational ethics really questions God’s goodness and sovereignty. The discussion either rejects God altogether or skeptically asks, “Did God really say…?”

“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Join me in praying for God’s truth and grace to be compassionatly communicated in personal conversations and public spaces. Pray for God to continue working through credible, loving organizations like Real Options for Women who provide help, hope, and support for expectant mothers and others. Ask God to help us and defend the defenseless.

follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Resolving Conflict

As we gather together this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, we begin the Holiday season that provides significant time with family and friends. For many, however, the extra time with people is not a time of celebration, but of significant stress because of unresolved conflict — maybe even many years of it.

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The easy thing, the normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise?carnage1jpg-f75362bb0d786a9c-2

 

What we need when sharp disagreements arise and when differences have caused serious pain is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships. How? 

Humble yourself before the Lord to recognize different viewpoints.

Often when we “agree to disagree”, what we mean is, “well, I’m right and you’re wrong, and you’re too stubborn to see it.” It’s easier to be objective when you don’t have a personal emotional stake in a situation or conflict, so sometimes we need someone else with some emotional or relational distance to help us see and hear what we can’t on our own.

Humble yourselves (not defend yourselves) before the Lord, and He will exalt you….don’t criticize one another” (James 4:10-11) Humility is able to say and believe, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different” It also says, “Hey, that hurts…”

Engage in conversation before jumping to conclusions.

Emotions can move us to action, but as they intensify, reasoning diminishes.  If we slow down, calm down, are able to listen, and be controlled by the Holy Spirit (rather than our emotions) we can begin to see the issue from the other side. And if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that the conflict is really a matter of personal perspective (viewpoint) rather than who’s right and who’s wrong. If the other person has valid viewpoints, what is it that I don’t see or understand? Sometimes the picture is not as black or white as we want to see it. What we personally observe or intelligently perceive isn’t enough. We have to listen to God’s Word and His Spirit, then listen to others.

“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19–20)

Recently, I was feeling unfairly criticized by a friend. I felt like they were being somewhat condescending in our conversations, and I was hurt, upset. God’s Spirit prodded me to talk to this person. So, I asked, “How are we doing? I’ve noticed…. And felt… Is there something I’ve said or done?” They were shocked and surprised. It led to a good conversation and resolved a conflict that I was feeling.

Ask for forgiveness for what you are personally responsible.

You are 100% responsible for your attitudes, words, and actions.  Most of us give lousy confessions… if we confess at all. Most of us are pretty sorry at saying, “I’m sorry.” When we do something wrong or hurt someone personally, our typical responses are to conceal it, deny it, excuse it or blame it on others. (Gen. 3:12-13). Here is some relational wisdom and key components of asking forgiveness from Ken Sande:

7 A’s of Asking Forgiveness:

  1. Address everyone involved. (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe, (Don’t try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically, (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt, (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences, (Such as broken trust, restitution, etc)
  6. Alter your behavior, (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness. (Say the words, “I’m sorry, will you please forgive me?”)

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:12–14)

Perhaps the greatest, most notable difference between a believer in Christ and an unbeliever is the ability to seek and extend forgiveness. It’s when we forgive, as Christ has forgiven, that we are most like Him.

Look for ways to compromise more than seeking to be proven right.

When the conflict persists, care enough to work it out. Don’t run from it, gossip about it, rally support for your viewpoint, or stuff it. Don’t quit your job, your church, or your marriage because of disagreements. In Christ-like love, look for common ground and creative solutions. DeeDee: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, always choose kindness.”

St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” Truly loving others and forgiving others requires the power of Christ who loves and forgives us even while we were still sinning against Him.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise? HEAL: Humble yourself, Engage in conversation, Ask for forgiveness, Look for compromise.

Conflict between friends and, especially, family is inevitable. Unresolved conflict is a choice.

As you prepare to celebrate the Holiday season maybe the best gift you could give to loved ones is initiating some healing in your relationships because reconciliation is the best celebration.

People are celebrating Thanksgiving day

We don’t know how or when, but we find evidence that Paul and Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 15:36-40) were reconciled and celebrated their friendship and partnership in the Gospel.

  • (1 Corinthians 9:5–6) “Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a Christian wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas? Or do Barnabas and I alone have no right to refrain from working?
  • (Colossians 4:10–11) “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and so does Jesus who is called Justus. These alone of the circumcision are my coworkers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.”
  • (Philemon 23–24) “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.”
  • (2 Timothy 4:11) “Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.”

Resolving personal conflicts is a work of God’s Spirit controlling the spirit of a believer in Christ. We can talk about God’s grace, sing about His love, preach the Gospel, and share its message, but it’s in resolving conflict, sharp disputes that we prove its worth and work.

In the same way God personally reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, we have been commanded (biblically) to reconcile with each other. Only God can HEAL the wounds and reconcile relationships when sharp disagreements come up, be we can’t ignore our part in His healing work in our hearts and in our relationships.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.
Happy Thanksgiving! And Merry Christmas!

church fights

Fighting-in-the-Pews

It has been said that “church fights are the worst fights,” perhaps because they break out among people who profess to believe in unity and love. You name it, Christians fight over it. Sometimes the disagreements are over trivial matters, but often they are serious conflicts from different viewpoints. Many Christians have been so hurt by a fellow believer that they walk away from the church and never return.

In a recent blog Dr. Thom Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources & former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor, listed 10 reasons for conflicts that arise in the church. They mainly include unfair expectations and misunderstood intentions but are common issues in many churches. Conflict happens in every church. This conflict is sometimes managed well. Other times, not so much.

We can observe a biblical example of a personal conflict between two good, godly men, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Their conflict is not about even an essential or biblical issue, but personal one regarding a person: John Mark.

Here’s a great story that highlights the realities of relationships. God is moving in the hearts of His people and working through them to take the message of salvation by grace through Christ to the world. Paul and Barnabas decide, let’s go back and encourage the believers in the church. Yea! From Barnabas’ perspective, it made perfectly good sense to take his cousin, John Mark, with them again because he started out with them the first time. “What?!?” Paul thought. We are not taking that guy, that quitter, with us again. Earlier in Perga (Acts 13:13), John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t approve of John Mark’s decision and Luke did not record his reasons or motives in either chapter. Regardless, Paul and Barnabas “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed.”  Unresolved conflict.

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So how can we preserve unity while personally disagreeing with another? Here are four things to consider in every disagreement over non-essential, personal issues.

1. Expect disagreements as normal because of natural differences. Like fingerprints, each person’s background, temperament, experiences, relationships, and perspectives are unique. Because of differences, people will naturally disagree with one another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a part of being human. Consider some of the differences between Paul and Barnabas: Paul was about the work; Barnabas the worker. Paul was more task oriented; Barnabas who was more people oriented. Paul was missional whereas Barnabas was personal. Paul was a teacher and Barnabas was more of a pastor. They had a different relationship with John Mark since he was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). There were other differences between Paul and Barnabas in regard to their training, home-life, temperament, spiritual gifts, experiences, and passions. In other words, they were different.

2. Even good, godly people will not always agree. This personal, relational conflict between these two godly men helps us see this. The Greek word, paraxusmos, is the word from which we derive our English word paroxysm, which denotes violent action or emotion. This was not a mild disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict! The term, when used negatively, describes anger, irritation, or exasperation in a disagreement. In Hebrews 10:24, it is used positively of stimulating or stirring someone to love and good deeds. Disagreeing is not always a sign of sin or selfishness. Robert Cook has said, “God reserves the right to use people who disagree with me.” By accommodating one another in love, mature believers can disagree without being disagreeable.

3. Every disagreement has an issue and varying viewpoints.  The issue always involves principles. The viewpoints always involve personalities. Differing points of view on the same issue are what usually causes conflict, not two different issues. Sometimes, identifying the issue and the viewpoints can greatly help us understand one another and move us toward a resolution and reconciliation. What is the issue? Is it essential, biblical, or personal?  What are the viewpoints? How could two godly men, both with good intentions see the same issue and come to such different conclusions? Why it so difficult to understand what another person is thinking?

4. Each viewpoint is valid in most disagreements. The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas makes us uncomfortable, but Luke’s realism in recording it helps us to remember that these two godly men, as they themselves said to the people of Lystra, were “human beings with feelings like” any other (Acts 14:15). Notice that Luke does not relate the conflict in such a way as to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong or vise versa. BOTH of them had a valid perspective. In the heat of an argument, we usually see only one side - our own (perspective, personality, communication style, bias, etc.). But if the disagreement issue is not objective (either theologically or biblically), then it’s subjective. It’s personal for each Christian and not universal for every Christian. There’s room for someone else’s view, right?

A phrase used and applied often in our home that addresses disagreements because of various, valid viewpoints is this: “It’s not wrong; it’s just different.”

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The easy thing, the natural, and, unfortunately, normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and/or walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict. Maybe it’s because as I was growing up in my home, conflict was something to be avoided. And what I learned by experience in my family was that usually unresolved conflict resulted in withdrawal (physical, emotional, or both). So out of fear of distance and lost relationship, I naturally want to avoid conflict at all costs. I’m still growing, I’m still learning, I’m still very much “in process”.

What we need when sharp disagreements arise is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships by resolving our conflicts.

How? I’ll address resolving conflict in my next blog post. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Honesty

Sometimes truth is harder to find than love. There is often an inherent lack of complete honesty even in the closest of relationships.

Billy Joel sang about it,

If you search for tenderness
It isn’t hard to find
You can have the love you need to live
But if you look for truthfulness
You might just as well be blind
It always seems to be so hard to give

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

Honesty is not just telling a portion of the truth or what we think the other person wants to hear. Honesty doesn’t beat around the bush. Honesty is what another person needs to hear - about them. And about us. Honesty gives a straightforward answer without evasion, compromise, or deception.

The wisdom of Proverbs says it best.

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” (Proverbs 24:26).

As a sincere kiss shows affection and tenderness, so an honest answer shows genuine care and concern for another. A kiss on the lips is intimate.  Close. In the same way, honesty requires invading someone’s personal space and allowing someone to invade yours. Honesty is the bedrock foundation of a solid friendship. Honesty makes good friendships great. Honesty makes close relationships closer.

175722974We need people in our lives who will be honest with us, telling us where we are wrong and where we need to change. We need friends that will tell us the truth about ourselves in loving ways. We need people who will accept us for who we are and not accept selfishness.

We also need people who are willing to be open and vulnerable about themselves. We need people, and need to be the people, who let their guard down and let others get to know them. We need people who are willing to be real. This kind of honesty from others helps us to feel that we’re not alone in the world. If we do not, we can experience isolation and loneliness, even if we are in some kind of relationship or around people all the time.

Honesty increases love because people who are free to be completely honest with each other are free to love each other completely.

Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what people need from you.

Raising Kids

“Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

parentingThis verse about parenting, like many of the Proverbs, is a general principle, not a guaranteed promise. Raising kids, like any relationship, can’t be reduced to a rigid recipe. It requires grace.

Training children to become thriving adults requires constant exposure to the truth of God’s Word (loving boundaries) and consistent experiences of His grace (unconditional acceptance). And for better or worse, kids learn more from what they see in our actions than what they hear from our mouths.

The Hebrew word for “train” (noun, hanukkah) means “to dedicate.”  It carries the idea of “dedicate a child to God,” “prepare a child for future responsibilities,” or “equip a child for being an adult.” In the context of Proverbs, the verse encourages parents to direct a child in the way of wisdom to live in the fear of the LORD (trusting, worshiping, serving, obeying) and then trust the results to Him.

For our kids (and someday, future grandkids), I pray my words and actions will encourage them to follow me, as I follow Jesus Christ.

Jesus is so… yesterday.

christmas-chaosI remember it was last August, in the heat of summer with 100+ temperatures in Texas, I saw my first glimpse of preparations for Christmas. The store where I was shopping had already cleared out the seasonal section to begin the merchandising build up for Christmas shoppers. Since then, we have had weeks of anticipation and we were reminded once again that every kiss begins with jewelry. We’ve also had very meaningful times of worship and celebration with family and friends. Certainly for me, this has been a wonderful year of remembering the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

But today is December 26. Now that Christmas Day is over, it seems that Jesus is just so… yesterday. Many have already boxed up their decorations until next year. The world is ready to move on to New Year’s Eve and all that the new year will demand. So, what’s next…?

Not so fast.

Jesus isn’t out of the manger and we’re ready to move on?

Jesus-bornOur family went Christmas caroling tonight, yes, December 26, and although it did seem a little weird at first, I really liked it. Perhaps Christmas should linger in our minds longer than just one day. Christmas should remain in our hearts long after the shepherds return to their fields (Luke 2:20). We should search for the star over Bethlehem for more than 24 hours after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-2).

Before you move on to the next big thing, let the wonder of Immanuel stay with you just a few more days. Don’t take the Christmas decorations down at least until all the leftovers are gone from the fridge. And before you box up Christmas for another year (or at least until August) take a few more quiet moments to let the Incarnation boggle your mind and change your perspective (Philippians 2:5-11). Like Mary, treasure all these things about Jesus in your heart and meditate on them a few days more (Luke 2:19). And like the shepherds, we have some more praising to do and some people to tell about all we have seen and heard in the days leading up to Christmas Day.

Let’s keep singing with the angelic chorus:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people He favors!

Jesus is so…yesterday. But He’s also today. And He’ll be with us forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Follow me as I follow the star that leads us to Bethlehem – to Jesus. Merry Christmas… still.