Construction Zone: Illumination

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. Proverbs 24:3-4

The focus of our women’s ministry this year “Rooms Full of Riches,” is based on the verse above from Proverbs. The purpose is to equip us to build our lives and homes on Biblical wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. In our winter session we dug into the wisdom of Proverbs, applying God’s Word to building our homes and lives. (In fact, that concentrated study on home-building is what prompted this series of “Construction Zone” blogs.) So, if you are reading this and find yourself desperate for wisdom and instruction in your day-to-day life, the collection of wise truths from the book of Proverbs will most likely have something to illumine your situation. scripture tells us in the book of Psalms that His word is a lamp for our feet and a light on our path. (119:105) dark_street_195913

According to dictionary.com, a proverb, in general, is “a saying popularly known and repeated, usually expressing simply and concretely, though often metaphorically, a truth based on common sense or the practical experience of humankind.” The book of Proverbs from scripture does just that, it expresses God’s truths simply and concretely. And since we Believers accept God’s Word as The Truth, sayings from the book of Proverbs carry much more weight than secular proverbs we hear in life, such as “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

The introductory words of the book of Proverbs explain its purpose this way: 

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young— let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:1-7

 

I want to gain wisdom. I need wisdom. Life is hard, and sometimes I just don’t know what to do. I need insight and understanding. I want to receive instruction for how to know what is right and to help me figure out how to live in this fallen world. Don’t you? And I want the real stuff – real wisdom – not the “wisdom” we get from well-meaning acquaintances telling us what we want to hear that’s not necessarily the truth. Wisdom that will help me dig out from under my junk and really deal with life instead of adding more confusion or complications, that’s what I want. You know what I mean?

Currently, I’m reading through Beth Moore’s Portraits of Devotion each morning this year, and this verse from the book of Proverbs popped up:

light_lamp_196504For a command is a lamp, teaching is a light, and corrective discipline is the way to life. Proverbs 6:23 HCSB

That’s what I want: instruction that lights my way as I journey through life. The kind of wisdom that comes from scripture and is lived out in those obedient to His Word. We can have that wisdom! How? James 1:5 tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. If we do that wisdom will be given to us. Have we asked for wisdom lately? Or are you like me? Are you more apt to ask God to rubber stamp your opinion of what you wish would be done in a situation? If we get to the point we really want what’s best more than we want our way, all we have to do is ask, because “The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6)

Have you ever prayed, “Lord just write it out on a sign and tell me what to do?” I have. But I’ve never had a real billboard show up with it spelled out for me like my friend Amy has. What I have experienced most often is one of those Proverbs 6:23 flashlights shining on a dark, scary path and illuminating only about 3 steps in front of me at the most. But guess what? When I take those three steps, the illumination spreads on ahead of me to show the next 3 just like our verse above talks about! And it doesn’t just shine light for that path, but it teaches me and corrects me so that the next time I’m on a dark path I’ll remember the lessons learned and walk through that path with more peace and strength. So maybe it’s best for me NOT to get a road sign. Maybe I learn more how to live. Then it’s not just a temproary fix, but a teaching, growing experience.

dark-forest-landscape-1.jpgI’ll never forget one particular family trip to Virginia. We had left Alabama in the wee hours of the morning and found ourselves exiting the interstate at dusk. Darkness came on us quickly as we drove up the winding road to the cabin we had reserved online. There were other cabins along the deserted road, but they were spaced far apart on mountain peaks just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. By the time we reached the gated, dirt road to our cabin it was near 9pm and pitch black. My husband jumped out, unlocked and jumped right back in the car, the thought of bears and rattlesnakes unspoken between us so as not to alarm the kids. A mile of steep, bumpy clay “driveway” and we were at our destination. No lights. No moon. 4 kids. Luggage. The unknown. The fears. We managed to get all of us, and items necessary for the night, into the cabin and collapse into bed within the hour.

Next morning, we awoke to the sun streaming in. The cabin was delightful. The view was amazing. The fears were gone. Nothing had changed about the cabin and its surroundings, except that it was now illuminated by glorious sunlight. That week was one of our best vacations ever. The funny thing is, after days full of vacation fun, every night we came back to our home-away-from-home about 9pm – in the dark! But guess what! It wasn’t scary any more. Once the dark road had been illuminated, the fear was removed.

As you travel through dark times of life, seek illumination from God’s Word. Proverbs is a good place to start. The book of Psalms works too. The Gospels, Paul’s letters, it all brings light to our life. It instructs. It illumines. It reassures. We are reminded of Jesus the Light of the World, who has conquered darkness.

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Back to Basics: Doing a Topical Study

Grab your coffee! It’s time to learn to do some Bible researching. It’s not hard! Don’t panic!

Ever been at the office or out with friends and a subject comes up that gets uncomfortable for you? Maybe it’s a hot topic from the news that has spiritual overtones, or perhaps a spoken opinion on a moral issue that goes against what you believe. Whatever it is, it pricks your heart, or conscience. You feel internal distress. You know you disagree with what is being promoted, but you can’t pull up the scriptural principles you need to be able to support your point, so you sit in tacit agreement even though you know you disagree. Most likely, we’ve all found ourself in this position at one time or another.

Fast forward 2 hours. Dinner is over and you’re home mulling over your regrets about not speaking up. What do you do?

May I suggest doing a topical study of the subject in scripture? You may have felt a bit like you failed because you could not or did not speak up. But as my sweet husband says, those failures or problems are just creative opportunities. So NOW is your opportunity to make sure you are never caught in that place again (on that subject, at least)! Let this “failure” move you to take action, and take an hour to dig into the Word of God to see what it has to say, so that the next time you will be prepared.

Topical studies are easy-peasy! Here is the scoop:

  1. Grab your Bible, a pen & paper, and a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, either paper or online.
  2. Jot down on the paper key words related to the topic you want to discover more about.
  3. Look up each word in your concordance and jot down the scripture references that use this word.
  4. Take time to read each scripture on your list.
  5. As you read a scripture write down facts you learn. (Realize that these may support what you believe, or they may not. In the latter case, they may cause you to change your belief.)
  6. Pray over what you have learned and tuck away those ideas for the next time you feel challenged to speak about what you believe on this subject.

Example:

At a wedding shower yesterday you found out the bride-to-be has been living with the groom-to-be and they’re not married yet. You were always taught this was wrong, but you know it’s very acceptable in today’s society. You feel tongue-tied, can’t really remember why you believe what you believe, and it’s not the place to speak up anyway.

So you go home with these thoughts nagging at your brain. You drag out your commentary and Bible. (This is step 1.) You write down general words having to do with the topic: marry, marriage, wife, husband, and virgin. And then you think of more specific words and Biblical words: sex, unfaithful, chaste, fornication, etc. (Step 2) As you go to the Strong’s you find L-O-N-G lists of scriptures. You notice that the Strong’s also gives you a phrase beside each scripture reference so you can get the gist of the meaning of that verse. The phrases that don’t seem to relate directly to your topic you skip over and just record the most pertinent ones. (Step 3.) Then you grab your Bible and paper and notate that a man and wife become one flesh (Matthew 19:5-6), that there should not be any impurity or any hint of sexual immorality in our lives (Ephesians 5:3), and that in Ephesians 5:22-33 husbands and wives are seen as a picture of Christ and the church – and you are very aware that Christ would never be seen in an immoral act like sex before marriage. (There are many, many more scriptures on this subject area, but these give us a view of what steps 4 & 5 might look like.) You end your study with prayer for wisdom, prayer for your own strength of character to obey in this area, and prayer for the bride and groom-to-be that triggered your interest in this study. (Step 6.) Notice that there is no “Step 7” that has you go back and bash-with-scripture the people who disagreed with you earlier. You are NOT their Holy Spirit. But you are now better equipped in this area to speak your beliefs in love if the appropriate opportunity arises in the future.

So I challenge you, as you drain that last sip of cafe-au-lait out of your cup, dig into God’s Word in areas where questions have come up in your daily life. Do topical studies. Try it! Today even. Don’t wallow in your ignorance as my grandmama used to say, but take time to learn and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) We don’t grow in knowledge to be able to correct others or put them in their place. That mentality comes from a heart of pride. Rather, we grow and learn to know God more intimately and to become more like Jesus Christ, thereby being lights to the world that draw people to Jesus like a moth to a flame.

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Wisdom from Children’s Books

I was on Facebook this morning and ran across an interesting article called “20 Quotes From Children’s Books Every Adult Should Know” from encurious.com. I enjoyed reading as a child, and I read to my children, so I was interested in the concept and I looked to see which quotes were chosen.

“Promise Me you’ll remember you are Braver than you believe; Stronger than you seem, Smarter than you think.” ~ A.A. Milne

The next was, “A person’s a person No matter how small” ~ Dr. Seuss. I have found a lot of wisdom through the years from Dr. Seuss.

The next quote was, “No act of kindness, No matter how small is ever wasted” ~ Aesop

My mind wandered from the article to think of the scripture from Matthew 25:40 NIV that went along with this quote. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” As I looked back to the first two quotes, I thought about what scripture would go with each of these quotes. The quote from Winnie to Pooh brought me to Luke 2:52 KJV “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and Man.” Then the Dr. Seuss quote took me to Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come unto me and do not hinder them; the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

pexels-photo-206673As I read through the list, my eyes stopped on a quote from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Braum – “There’s no place like home.”

Home can mean a lot of different things but I consider that Heaven is my home. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:3 NIV.

The quote chosen from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery was: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

My scripture thought for this quote comes from Romans 10:10 NIV which says, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with the mouth that you profess faith and are saved.”

The next quote was by Shel Silverstein which said,

“Listen to the Mustn’ts, child –

Listen to the Don’ts.

Listen to the Shouldn’ts,

the impossibles, the won’ts.

Listen to the never Haves,

Then listen close to me….

Anything can happen, Child,

Anything Can Be.”

My thoughts went to one of my favorite verses. “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 NAS.

Then came my favorite Mary Poppins quote: “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun, You find the fun and Snap! The job’s a game.” ~ P.L. Travers

This took me straight to Ecclesiastes 9:10a “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

As I continued to read through the list of quotes from children’s books, I came to another of L. Frank Baum’s quotes but this time is was from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. The quote is: “The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.”

My thoughts turned to Jeremiah 1:8 where the scripture says, “ ‘Do not be afraid of them for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.”

When children ask how much they are loved, sometimes the answer is the next quote, “I love you to the Moon and Back.” By Tim Warnes and Amelia Hepworth.

Jeremiah 31:3 tells us “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

poor-2754335_1280Another quote in this list came from Dr. Seuss in “The Lorax.” “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s Not.”

The Bible tells us in Luke 10:33-37 ESV, “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I continued to read the article where Piglet asked, “How do you spell love?” Pooh replied, “You don’t spell it, you feel it.” ~ A.A. Milner ~ Winnie the Pooh.

John 15:13 tells us, “Greater love has not man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

The last quote was from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. “Why did you do all this for me?” He asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.” “You have been my friend” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

My thoughts went directly to my all time favorite scripture, John 3:16 ESV, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

As you go through your day, look for God’s word to jump out at you. If God can speak to us through quotes from children’s books, He can speak to us anywhere and through anything. Look for God as you go throughout your day. How is God speaking to you today?

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F.O.G.S.

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Sometimes my minivan looks like a trash dumpster threw up in it. Truly there will be stuff everywhere. My van will be full of random things like an empty drink bottle, one shoe, half of an eaten biscuit. I might find two bobby pins, an extra t-shirt, multiple scratched CDs, or one earring (I wouldn’t dare throw it away in hopes I might locate its long-lost mate that I haven’t seen in 3 months). There might be a candy bar wrapper or two, a partially drawn in notebook, a car phone charger, various specimen of wipes. The possibilities are endless. The times when my van gets this cluttered I’ll open the door and it’s like garbage dump Russian Roulette. Things just fall out, I have to scramble to pick them up before the wind carries them away or I become a self-proclaimed “litter bug.” Typically I toss them right back in, just so they can fall out and I can do the same thing all over again. It is a tiresome and endless cycle that is merely damage control. It never actually fixes the problem. Eventually my tolerance of the situation will expire and I clean the van out. I love riding in a clean van. It feels very much like I am going on vacation. I always clean the van before a road trip. It is an illusion of order I attempt to maintain.

My brain gets this way too. My van is just an illustration of what happens inside my head, full of stuff I’m holding onto or not sure what to do with and then one day,  Bam! it all starts to tumble out of my mouth. Words carelessly spoken, an overflow of what is going on inside my head. My decision and judgment get messed up, and before I know it I find myself in a bit of a predicament. I have to clean my proverbial brain van out.

Time and experience have taught me to work in a particular pattern.
Step 1: Motive
Step 2: Results
Step 3: Prevention

Step 1: Motive
What was my motive? Why did I choose to make the decision I chose to make? Anytime I operate in F.O.G.S. I can guarantee one thing. It ain’t gonna end well. F.O.G.S. is the short way, an acronym of sorts, for Fear, Obligation, Guilt, or Shame. I added the S a while back when I realized that shame is just as powerful and devastating a motive as its counterparts I’ve named. When either of these – fear, obligation, guilt, or shame – is the filter through which I make a decision, the end result is never good. If I can answer “yes” to any of those motives, I can stop right there and proceed to step 3. The end result of decision-making is always negative when I’ve been motivated by fear, obligation, guilt, or shame.

Step 2: Results
Did this pattern of behavior work? If not why? And why am I still doing it? I’ll be honest, when things go well I do not ask myself these questions. I do not evaluate the why behind the positive results, or at least not as often as I do when things go wrong. When things go wrong you can bet the first statement through my head is an interrogative thought. I need to know the rationale behind things. I tend not to be okay with “just because” or “it’s how it’s always been” or “that’s just how we do it” kind of mentality. I need to know why things are they way they are.

The “ham story” has long been one of my favorites. I heard it several years ago and I completely identified with it so it stuck.

cooking-eat-cut-food.jpgA young woman was preparing her first holiday ham when she abruptly lopped off the end of the ham, discarded the piece and placed the remaining ham in her baking pan. As she prepared to place it in the oven her husband said “Why did you just do that?”

She looked at him and said “That’s they way my Mom always does it.” Her husband pressed further and without a reasonable explanation to offer him, she called her mom. “Mom, why do you cut the end off the ham before you cook it?”

Her Mom responded with “Well, That’s they way my Mom always did it, so that is how I do it.” As the young woman and her mother discussed it, they decided to ask the matriarch, Grandmother, why she always cut the end off the ham prior to cooking, to which she matter-of-factly responded, because the pan I put it in was always too small for the whole ham to fit.”

Step 3 Prevention
How do I keep this from happening again? Begin with the filter of motive. Am I making my choice based on fear, obligation, guilt, or shame. I can say with absolute certainty that the dark place where these reside are places where wounds can run deep.

I adopted a filter system many years ago. In my imagination I visualize it like a series of bubbles with arrows, an algorithm that is followed. I first use the Jesus filter – “Is this decision in direct contradiction to God’s word?” If the answer is yes, I stop right there. Go no farther. If it makes it through the Jesus filter, it goes to the husband filter? “How does this impact my husband, what would he or does he have to say about it?” If the husband filter is cleared then it trickles down until I reach a sound decision.

I don’t always get it right, in fact a large majority of the time I get it wrong, or worse, I don’t get it at all. But that is the very thing for which Grace was intended. Jesus came so that the captives can be set free, the naked could be clothed, the sinner forgiven. He came so that we could have life, but not just life. In the day-to-day and the mundane, have a Life abundant, overflowing with joy. He came to contradict and overcome our F.O.G.S.

Being married to a meteorologist has afforded me some insight into the world of weather phenomena. Fog is a result of air being completely saturated with moisture; fog is merely clouds at ground level. When the cloud gets too heavy, weighed down by the burden of the moisture, it sinks thereby creating fog. When fog is exceptionally thick the air is supersaturated. The fog dissipates when the air begins to dry. This happens when the sun comes out and evaporates the moisture. The reduction in the moisture burden causes the cloud to lift and return to upward state it was intended to be in. Likewise, when the Son is present the burden of the fog is lifted and we are free to live in the state for which we were intended.

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When the Son is present the burden of the fog is lifted and we are free to live in the state for which we were intended.