Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Plans and Guidance

In our praise and awe of God, some people surrender to a passive theology. God's in charge of all creation, after all, and we are puny little humans, not worthy to kiss the hem of His celestial robes.

Let God take care of it.

Whatever it is.

But God doesn't want us to sit on our hands and do nothing with the life He gave us. We are made in His image to create, think, He's not our puppet-master.

Today's proverb reminds us of this.

A man's mind plans his way,
  but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

These two lines sum up a lot of our problem in life. We make plans. Of course we do. We were created to make plans in the image of a Creator who makes plans.

But how do we let the Lord direct our steps?

Pray in all things and listen for God. You'll hear Him. He'll speak through daily life, your friends, your enemies, seeming coincidences, even dreams.

Be open to His Word. Read scriptures in an attitude of love and worship and gratitude. You will find guidance there.

Pray for forgiveness. We all make mistakes in our plans. We encounter unexpected consequences, our steps falter. God forgives us our mistakes, even uses them to further His plans. Trust that.

What plans are you making right now? How are you letting the Lord direct your steps? Have you dropped plans because they seemed too big for you? How would they turn out if you have God's help moving them forward?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Dinner of Herbs

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
  than a fatted ox and hatred with it. Proverbs 15:17

Food is elemental, and our relationship with it is complicated and powerful. Spend a few moments thinking about meals in your past where love was a guest. How did the food taste? How did it make you feel?

Now spend a few minutes thinking about meals where hate was the guest. What was the physical effect on you? Could you eat? How did the food taste? How did the food make you feel?

I love how this proverb acknowledges the deep connection between body and spirit. When the spirit is sick, the body can't be nourished properly. Whether we feel hatred or feel hated, the physical impact is enormous. We describe our stomach as being in knots. We feel sick. Our throat is so tight it's hard to swallow. We are weighed down by hate, tightened by it. Nothing else can get in.

When we feel love or feel loved, the physical sensations are light and liberating. We relax. We can enjoy the taste of food and feel nourished body and soul.

I remember reading a story by a single mother who was struggling financially. One night, all she had was some broth and mushrooms, and she made mushroom soup. She felt bad to have nothing else for her daughter, so she found an old candle, put a blanket on the floor, and she and her daughter had an indoor picnic.

Years later, the daughter told her mother that was her favorite meal ever. The daughter had no idea how hurt the mother was to have nothing better for her child...she only knew that her mother loved her, and that mushroom soup tasted amazing as a result.

Today's lives are so busy. How often do you sit down with loved ones and enjoy a meal? Think of ways you can invite love to your table and restore a positive spirit to the elemental act of eating. Perhaps it's through a prayer before or after the meal, or through a weekly "dressing up" of the table using the fine china and crystal. Maybe it's just eating in your formal dining area instead of the kitchen or eating outside on a comfortable night.

Whatever you do, invite love to the table. The food tastes so much better then!

Share your thoughts on love and food. How do you make even simple meals special?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Trolls and the Power of Words

Proverbs 12:6 describes a very modern situation that has bothered me for a long time.

The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
   but the mouth of the upright delivers men.

Internet anonymity protects the wicked who troll for opportunities to wound others with nasty words. These trolls stir up trouble for their own entertainment and take pleasure in the pain they cause. Perhaps they have been hurt and seek revenge on the world for their pain, or perhaps they are truly wicked and delight in hurting others.

I had to quit reading comments on YouTube videos and several news websites. Practically every thread is tainted with gratuitous venom.

But sometimes, these wicked words occur because people simply don't think about what they are doing. It seems fun at the time, innocent, harmless. I know a man--a father of boys, divorced, college educated, wealthy--who thought it was jolly fun to teach his girlfriend's 12-year-old daughter how to set up fake profiles on dating websites using photos stolen from Facebook. The girl's mother thought this was funny.

These two adults think teaching a child to lie, steal, and hurt others is harmless, and they brushed off the idea that their actions were wrong when another adult sought to correct them.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
   but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15

The ease and convenience of generating words on the Internet have led people to lose appreciation for the power of words. We've all heard of the suicides sparked by Facebook bullying. Just because we can't see the face of victims of our online cruelty or carelessness doesn't make the pain we can inflict any less real. Words can wound, even when they just are typed onto a website. It's like shooting people with're not physically there, but the damage gets done anyway, with no risk to you and minimal inconvenience.

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
   but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

How can you bring healing with your words online? What do you do to encourage kindness, compassion, and mercy on the World Wide Web?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Reflections on Proverbs: Look Forward

Let your eyes look directly forward,
  and your gaze be straight before you.
Take heed to the path of your feet,
  then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
  turn your foot away from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)

In a world of constant distraction (oh, wait! text message to check!), this week's proverb speaks volumes. How often do we find ourselves at the end of the day wondering what good we have done and what, really, have we accomplished? The house is a mess (but we cleaned for hours!), the to-do list still looks a mile long (but we didn't sit down all day!), we feel like all we've done is put out consecutive fires right in front of us instead of planning with purpose (oh, the drama!).

What happened to the path? Where did it go?

As advice for faith and for achieving goals, Proverbs 4:25-27 is excellent, but like a lot of the wisdom in Proverbs, the advice here is situational, not universal. If the Good Samaritan only looked ahead, he would not have seen the Jew lying bloody and beaten on the side of the road. God calls us to swerve right or left in His cause of love and compassion in the world, but He never, ever calls us to swerve to evil. His way is straight, even if it twists and turns us in directions we may not want to go!

Take heed to the path at your feet. Discerning the path of love and compassion--the path God wants you to walk--is where wisdom lies.

How do we follow that path? How do we find it and stay on it?  I'm reminded of Paul's words in Philippians 3:14: "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Keeping our eyes on Jesus is challenging in our world of distraction and busyness.

A few things scripture tells us to do when things get crazy and the path gets lost...

1. Pray. In all things, pray. Too often, our prayers become laundry lists of things we want God to do, but what about praying for God to show us what He wants us to do? Prayer isn't just our words to God, it's His words to us. It's a conversation. We need to be quiet and listen. 

2. Be in Christian Community. God uses us to influence others, and He uses others to influence us. Pride makes us think we can or should handle our problems ourselves, but pride is a sin...a deadly one at that. Take your concerns to your Christian community, especially when the secular world is intruding on your life and distracting you. Talk to a good friend, ask for advice, listen carefully. Pray together. Wherever two or more are gathered in His name, there He is. Above all, do not suffer alone!

3. Read Scripture. Occasionally, opening your Bible at random yields something useful, but as with prayer, reading scripture is an ongoing conversation with God. The world promises quick fixes, but God's time is His to control. As we learn to read scripture over time and grow in faith, we learn to see God working in the world and in our lives. Dedicated study over time yields the best benefits toward that upward call.

What other advice do you have for keeping to God's path? When have you strayed from the path and been called back? How did you find the path forward again?