Sunday, October 31, 2010

DAY 31: Behind Every Successful Woman

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than riches. Proverbs 31:10

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30

Put on your hip-waders, I’m about to step into a bit of controversy. I hope that the waters won’t get too deep.

We’ve all heard it said that “behind every successful man is a good woman,” but let’s invert the equation. It’s one thing to use Proverbs 31 as a measuring rod for the ‘ideal woman,’ but how often have men stopped to think that about our role as husbands to give our wives the freedom to be this kind of person.

The first readers of this passage would have marvelled at two things: First at the wonderful example of what we have come to call a virtuous and godly woman, but secondly at the husband who treats his wife differently than the prominent view of the culture of the day. This was a radical thought in the culture of King Lemuel, the author of this chapter.

Paul’s understanding in the New Testament was equally radical for the culture of his day. After he encourages us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), he goes on to say that this filling will be worked out in a husband who will truly loves, cherishes, and encourages his wife (Ephesians 5:25-32).

Is Proverbs 31 an idealistic model for our wives to reach? Maybe. But it is also the standard of a man who sees the true value of his wife, seeking her advice in their decisions, and encouraging her to be all that she can be. This puts the shoe on the foot and asks; who can find a husband of noble character?

For further investigation, read David Sanford’s article by the same title:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

DAY 30: Godliness with Contentment

Give me neither poverty nor riches ... Proverbs 30:8b

The context of Proverbs 30:8 is a request for contentment. Agur, a nebulous character who more than likely was an Assyrian Ruler, says:

Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.

The fame of Solomon reached to many nations, and Agur is more than likely one of many dignitaries that visited Jerusalem during his reign. The Queen of Sheba (modern day Ethiopia) also visited and marvelled at the wisdom of Israel’s king. Solomon’s story of his dream (I Kings 3:1-15), was likely told to these visitors. For visiting rulers it was amazing to think that Solomon would ask for wisdom to rule, as opposed to long life, riches, or fame.

The Apostle Paul dealt with the same issue. He experienced the extremes of poverty and plenty, and came to this conclusion:

For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Paul hits the nail on the head when he said, godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Timothy 6:6).

It is one of those areas where once again we need the direction and filling of the Holy Spirit. Our sinful nature would lust after things or covet what our neighbour possesses. It is only through the presence of the Spirit in our lives, that we can learn to live content, not being caught in the traps of riches or rags.

Friday, October 29, 2010

DAY 29: Trapped

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. (Proverbs 29:25)

Did you ever go out to the woods as a kid and build a trap? It might have been the box with a string variety, or a noose in the middle of a path, or trip wire. You may have gone so far as digging a pit covered with a thin layer of twigs and grass. My traps never produced much in the way of animals (thankfully!), but they did teach me a thing or two.

The best traps are the ones that you don’t see coming. They are veiled and hidden from plain sight, or placed in the blind spot of an intended victim. They often entice you with a morsel of something that invites you in for a look, and then catch you unaware from behind.

I think that the traps of sin are much the same. They promise “greener grass” or swifter returns, but end with devastating outcomes. They disguise themselves as good, but end in compromise.

The fear of what others think – living for the approval of those around us – is an example of the later. We can rationalize that it is wise to please our family, wife, boss, or friends. That’s good, isn’t it? But if this takes our eyes off of the Lord, or compromises our beliefs, it can become a snare to us and trip us up.

The focus of Hebrews 12:1-3 reminds us to “keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” This is my prayer for today, as there are many other pressures and demands upon my life today.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 28: Ya Gotta Pay the Fiddler

He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

There’s a Texas saying that always reminds me that my actions have consequences. I can imagine an old, toothless cowboy saying this out of the side of his mouth as he haggles with a potential customer: “If you wanna dance ya gotta pay the fiddler.”

The problem is that we live in a world where many times it seems that the unrighteous prosper; that their actions don’t catch up to them. However, this is far from the truth. Listen to the words of the following verses:

The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. (Prov. 28:1)

A man tormented by the guilt of murder will be a fugitive till death; let no one support him. (Prov. 28:17)

He whose walk is blameless is kept safe, but he whose ways are perverse will suddenly fall. (Prov. 28:19)

But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sins will find you out. (Numbers 32:23)

The Proverbs teaches that sin cannot be concealed. It will reap a harvest in due time. But the offer of the Gospel is that those who confess their sin and turn from their ways find freedom. This is the message of I John 1:9 when it says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

This is not to say that there are no consequences of our sin, but the fiddler is paid from Another’s pocket. Jesus came to pay a price we could not pay, and erase a debt that was not his. This is the gift offered to those who will believe in Him and call on His name.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day 27: An Open Agenda

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1

There are two extremes that seem to identify who we are in our approach to life: First, there are the laissez-faire types with the motto “Let go and let God.” Life happens to you and there’s not much you can do. Second, there are those who are planned and controlled, who reflect the mantra, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Somewhere in the middle is the possibility of planning, dreaming, and seeking God as we make plans and chart our course, allowing for the unexpected circumstances or opportunities that God may bring our way. Life is neither a predetermined plot from which we have no escape, nor is it a free-flowing river that’s never been navigated. Two truths are held in tension: There are choices we make that affect the outcome of our lives, but there is also One who walks with us and guides in the midst of our circumstances.

As I read this verse there were two other verses that came to mind, reminding me that I need to live with an open agenda:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

Now then, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. James 4:13-15

Day 26: Barn Swallows

Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest. (Proverbs 26:2)

Two images came to my mind as I read this verse today: visiting my uncle’s farm and an Alfred Hitchcock movie called The Birds. The images reminded me of the truth of this verse, as a person of integrity does not need to fear the accusations of others. However, this does not mean that he or she does not take appropriate, prudent actions to make sure that there is no ground for them. Let me explain.

I watched the classic Hitchcock movie as a boy and was terrified of birds – especially cawing crows and tiny, darting barn swallows. If you’ve never seen the film, it is a case of nature gone wild, taking revenge upon mankind. Images of birds swarming and pecking away at person kept me looking over my shoulder for many years.

The other image is my uncle’s barn, a place where I spent hours building forts and secret hideouts in the hayloft with my cousins. It was a place where I had to deal with my fears and where I learned a valuable lesson.

The lesson was this: since barn swallows feed on insects in flight, the one way to make sure that they don’t come near to you is to make sure mosquitoes and other bugs don’t come near to you. A simple application of insect repellent helped to ensure that you wouldn’t have a swallow dive-bomb towards your face, veering off at the last second.

Integrity is the insect repellent that wards off the undeserved curse. It is not that accusations or verbal persecution will never come, but it won’t stick when a person’s reputation is one of trustworthiness in their words and deeds.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 25: The Upside Down Kingdom

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22

There are some instructions in the Scriptures that don’t seem to make sense – that is, if you take into account conventional wisdom and action. Loving your enemy is one of those things that we know we should do, but struggle with because we don’t understand how God could allow unjust people to take advantage of us, or to persecute us for our beliefs. But it does happen.

This truth - treating others like you would have them treat you, even if they are considered your enemies - is permeated in both the Old and New Testament. Listen to the words of Jesus and Paul:

You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbour and hate your enemy, but I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:34-44

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-19, 21

How can I do this? Does this make me a doormat, open to the abuse of each unjust, ungodly person who comes along and tramples upon me? How can I know when it is right to treat the undeserved with dignity and not react, trying to give them what they deserve?

Taking things into my own hands has never been the answer, even when treating the people well didn’t seem to give the desired result. As impossible as it is (in human terms), there are times when we are driven to our knees and call out, “God I can’t do this! You will have to do it through me.” It is one of the situations where we need wisdom, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to help us turn the world around us upside down.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day 24: When Trials Come

... for though a righteous man fall seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity. (Proverbs 24:16)

This verse echoes the message of the book of James, and the verses which precede the promise to provide wisdom for the person who asks God for it. James writes:

Consider it pure joy my brotherers whenever you face tirals af many testing of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything. (James 1:2-4)

Last year I had the opportunity to attend a concert by Keith and Kristyn Getty, a married couple that call themselves modern hymn writers. Their music reflects the Irish ballads of their homeland, and the depth of their lyrics speaks of the pain Irish Christians experienced in the midst of trials. Much of their music can be summed up in the title of their song, When Trials Come.

One of the mysteries of the Christian life is the way God draws near to us in times of trouble. As followers of Christ we are not promised that trials will never come, but rather that when they do come, that God walks with us. Read the lyrics below and ponder your situation, whether it be times of trial (for they surely will come) or in times of great rejoicing.

When Trials Come Written by Keith & Kristyn Getty

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told
And there His faithfulness is told

Within the night I know Your peace
The breath of God brings strength to me
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow
As treasures of the darkness grow

I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good

When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in it’s shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun

One day all things will be made new
I’ll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old
I’ll praise your faithfulness of old

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day 23: Do not get Drunk on Wine

Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. (Proverbs 23:31-33)

It would be unwise to get off on a tangent with this verse, but the least you can say is that Solomon doesn’t mince his words. The bottom line is this: if you get caught in the trap of alcohol (or drugs or food or any other unhealthy addiction), you will pay for it in the end. It is a matter of control.

But isn’t it interesting that the same word picture is used by Paul in the New Testament? The issue of control extends to a person being controlled by the Holy Spirit. We read in Ephesians 5:15-18:

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is: Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Bob Dylan had a short-lived conversion to Christianity in the late 1970s, and wrote a song, You Gotta Serve Somebody. The fact that he slipped back into a life of fame, drugs and alcohol probably means that it will get lost in some historic time warp, but the words told a tale that repeats itself; either you control the appetites of your sinful nature, or you will be controlled.

The Proverbs speak of a control that is obtained through seeking wisdom, understanding, and God’s path. This same kind of control is spoken in the New Testament using the imagery of being under the control of God’s indwelling Spirit; not to make us perfect or without sin, but to give us forgiveness and replicate the character of Christ in us. In both of these (wisdom and the Holy Spirit), God offers power for living and a hope to live our lives under control.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day 22: Danger Signs

A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. Proverbs 22:3

83-year-old Harry R. Truman, who had lived near the base of Mount Saint Helens for 54 years, became famous when he decided not to evacuate before the impending eruption, despite repeated pleas by local authorities. His body was never found after the eruption. He had been warned of impending danger, but dug in his heels and was determined to stay.

Harry Truman was not alone. There were 57 others who died on May 20, 1980. They all lived in the area and worked at a paper mill located downstream from the mountain. If it was not for the fact that the explosion took place on a Sunday morning, many more would have been at work. One of the plaguing questions after the natural disaster was why the warnings of the US Geological Survey went unheaded by so many?

Perhaps it is because of a human condition that the Proverbs warns us about. We all like seeing how close we can come to the edge of the cliff. We want to know how far we can can go before we reach a point of no return or stumble off the edge.

The various warnings of Proverbs chapter 22 are signposts that need to be heeded. We are to seek a good name, rather than riches (v. 1). Sowing wickedness will reap trouble (v. 7). The sluggard will go hungry (v. 13). The adulterer will find himself or herself in a deep pit (v. 14). Those who oppress the poor will find themselves in battle against God (v. 22-23). The friend of a hot-tempered man will get ensnared (v.24-25). There are many other warnings that are to be heeded.

On the other hand, there are rewards for those who seek God's wise counsel. The prudent man is rescued (v. 3). Humility and the fear of the lord bring wealth and honor and life (v.4). The generous will themselves be blessed (v. 9). Those who love a pure heart will earn favor of rulers (v. 11).

We may condemn people like Harry Truman and others who did not pay attention to the warnings of Mt. St. Helens, but everyday choices are made that in big ways and small ways represent danger. There is a choice to be made; take refuge when we see danger in our lives, or keep going and suffer for it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Day 21: The X Factor

To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:3)

There is a Brazilian saying that describes this verse. It is the "X of the Question", or the X da questão. The literal translation of X (pronounced ‘sheesh’) of the question” is to get to the main point of a matter.

God is more concerned about who we are than what we do, especially when we easily fall into the trap of thinking that the things we do for God win us merit or favour. Our righteous acts are called “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), and never earn us forgiveness or right standing with God. God is pleased when we choose to live to please him out of loving obedience, and not for what we think we might gain.

This theme rings true throughout the Bible. Consider the truth of the following verses, and allow them to shape the way you live today:

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. (I Samuel 12:22-23)

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with a thousand of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 20: Tough Stuff to Chew On

Food gained by fraud tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with a mouth full of gravel. Proverbs 20:17

Have you ever been eating a delicious meal and sensed that you had a small pebble disguised as a grain of rice? I have - and I broke a tooth in the process. For some reason rice has a particular reputation to allow small pebbles to get through the screening process, and for that reason many people maticulously check each kilo before putting it to the cooking pot.

I doubt that any of us would come out and admit that we eat a meal that is the fruit of fraudulent behaviour, but like that one small pebble in a a package of rice, it is the small acts that come back to haunt their perpetrators. But the Proverbs warns that such actions will reap their harvest.

Galatians 6:7-8 puts it this way: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature[a]will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

I can't imagine that a mouth full of gravel would taste good; one pebble in my rice is enough to cause disasterous results. How much more a life filled with deceit and behaviour that doesn't reflect reverence for God's law. It is one more way to pass along the warning of Numbers 32:23: and you will be sure that your sin will find you out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Day 19: Rushing In

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. Prov. 19:2

"You rush in where angels fear to tread!" I can hear the words of my high school drafting teacher as if it were yesterday, spoken with a strong Scottish accent. Yet those words ring true, even to today.

There is also a Mexican saying that echoes this truth: La prisa es el enimigo de la perfeccion; Being in a hurry is the enemy of perfection (or a job well done).

There is a balance to be sought out, however, as the perfectionist is often paralyzed by his or her inability to act decisively. They can also be fearful, unwilling to try new things, and stayed in their tradition or practices. That's where wisdom come in.

The Proverbs uses the word 'prudence' to describe a person who is informed, calculated, and a good manager of risk (see 19:14 - the prudent wife is a gift from the Lord). A word picture which helps me to understand this is the train running on its tracks, or the power of a canon ball. Prudence is the tracks or the barrel of the canon which directs the projectile and gives direction and aim.

Zeal and passion need to be directed by knowledge and wisdom, otherwise they can disperse all their energy in a multitude of directions. Those who are spontaneous and risk takers (I include myself in this group) need to surround themselves with wise advisors who will give them balance. Otherwise they will fulfill the words of Proverbs 19:21 - Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. The wise man seeks out God's wisdom through the written Word, and through the counsel of others.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Day 18: One Brick at a Time

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out. Prov. 18:15

There is a construction project taking place accross the street from my home. We first heard about the possibility of the elementary school being built when we moved into the community five years ago. Last year we saw the first indication that the plans were finally taking shape when large machinery came in and prepared the land. Since then the site has been a constant reminder that buildings are the cumulation of planning and daily work, as we have watched the school grow one brick at a time. It has been interesting to see the project take shape.

The process of building our lives is not completely different. The pursuit of wisdom involves discipline and applying ourselves to learning what it means to fear the Lord. This will lead to a heart of wisdom and needs to become a part of our daily routine. It is what I see and learn from the Proverbs: that God rewards the heart of a person who earnestly seeks God and applies themselves to the goal that Paul expresses in Philippians 3:10: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship in his suffering.

This happens not in quick spirts, but in the daily acquisition of knowledge, seeking God's wisdom for one's life. It is a discipline that involves time spent in the Word of God, listening in prayer, and applying what we learn to the situations of life.

This morning I read a John Maxwell leadership blog that reinforced this idea:
"Growth happens daily, not in a day." - Drago

The elementary school accross the street will open its doors in the Fall of 2011; a climax to years of planning and construction. The time I spend in God's Word is a pursuit that allows the Master Builder to shape and form me, not overnight or in one magical moment, but one day and one brick at a time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 17: Comparative Thinking

A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

I love the sense of humour, seasoned with a good dose of sincerity in Proverbs chapter 17.

The chapter begins with one of the great one-liners of the Bible (Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting with strife). It ends with one of those “ah-ha” moments that causes me to reflect (Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue). These verses are funny; that is, unless you find yourself in one of those situations.

Then there are verses that ring true – like verse 17 – that make you thankful for the people around you. That is, unless you find yourself in a tough situation where there is no friend to walk with you in one of the valleys of life. Then you find yourself falling to your knees and asking God to send someone like that into your life.

As you read the Proverbs you will have one moment when you are laughing, followed by another which leads you to deep reflection. You will laugh at yourself if you consider what is said, but also see yourself in the word pictures that the author paints. You find yourself agreeing with the truths that are presented, but affected by the comparisons that reach down and touches your soul.

This is because the Proverbs deals with the real stuff of life. Topics like family, money, pride, sex, truthful speech, arrogance, and joy are all mentioned in a smorgasbord of pithy sayings and advice. What this teaches me is that God is concerned with all of life. He’s not just interested in making an appearance once a week on Sunday morning. The Holy Spirit, who lives in and through those who are followers of Jesus Christ, walks with us in all of life. This is both my prayer for today – that He be seen in me – and my cause for thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Day 16: A Blank Cheque?

To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue. All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD. Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:1-3)

The last time I checked, we’re not supposed to be able to order God around and use him like a magic genie – three wishes granted and then you’re on your own. But this verse seems to indicate that God grants our wishes. Another place where we read this is Psalm 37:4 - Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

It is important to remember that Solomon, the compiler and author of the book of Proverbs, is speaking from personal experience (see I Kings chapter 3:1-15). Solomon was a young man when God came to him in a dream and said, “Ask for me whatever you want me to give you.” We read that Solomon asked for wisdom to rule the people, passing over the temptation to ask for riches, fame, or long life. God was pleased with Solomon’s answer, and blessed him beyond his declared wish.

There are two thoughts that help me understand the “black cheque” nature of these verses. First, the blessing of God rests upon the request being made from a pure, transformed heart, with motives that are weighted by the Lord, and in line with his will. Second, with our choices comes responsibility and consequences of our choices.

Wisdom is to be valued more than gold, fame, or long life. Each of these wishes, or “resources,” is of little value if not tempered with the gift of common sense and wisdom. We need to use them wisely, with the guidance of God, who is the giver of all good things and who rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Day 15: Ruling the Rudder

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. .. The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:1-2, 4)

The first couple of verses in Proverbs chapter 15 bring me back to the theme of controlling our speech, but this time with a positive bent. The impact of someone who knows how to use their words wisely produces peace, offers up timely knowledge and brings healing.

My thoughts went to the book of James: Take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go (James 3:4). James compares the tongue to a ship’s rudder or a bit that controls a horse; small things that can give positive direction to large objects or animals.

This made me think of some of the small words or phrases that I can use to build up the people around me. How long does it take for me to mention to my kids that I’m proud of an action they’ve done or accomplishment? One kind comment goes a long way in making peace in the home. Thanking people for their service or generosity prepares the heart for a growing relationship. Of all the people who should know how to encourage people with their words, Christians should be on the forefront.

Proverbs 15:22 speaks of this when it says: A man finds joy in giving an apt reply -- how good is a timely word!

Asking God to fill us with his Spirit implies self-control, not only in a negative sense, but also the positive. This day I want to ask God to make me aware of situations where I can bring a word of hope or encouragement, and then act upon the opportunity with a word aptly spoken. Lord, help me to be a person who brings that timely word to people who need hope.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 14: Road Rage

A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly. (Proverbs 14:29)

Have you ever witnessed or been the victim of road rage? (I won’t ask if you’ve been tempted or actively participated – that would get far too personal, wouldn't it?)

I was riding on a city bus a couple of months ago when our driver got cut off by a black pick-up. Our driver raced after the vehicle, ignoring people at bus stops and the calls from others who wanted to get off. He finally caught up to the vehicle at a traffic light and clipped the truck’s rear-view mirror. That’s when the fight started, the police were called, we gave statements, and I spent the better part of an hour waiting until Translink could send another bus to take the place of the grounded driver. It was a foolish thing to do, especially with a bus full of witnesses that were already at the end of their patience.

I was among those who condemned the bus driver for giving in to his temper, but I saw something of myself in his actions. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought of doing the same, but held back because I didn’t want to dent my vehicle. I’ve had other times (not on the road) when I’ve given in to my anger, and immediately wished I could take back my actions.

Patience is a virtue seldom exercised on the road of life, yet it is a part of the Fruit of the Spirit and part of what the wise and discerning person displays. I don’t think it’s something that comes naturally to me, and once again it’s an area where I need the Spirit’s direction and control.

Proverbs 13:33 adds that wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning and even among fools she lets herself be known. To repose is to rest, even when everything tells us to strike back with words or anger. To rest is to trust in God, despite the circumstances or actions of others. It’s being controlled by a power that is able to hold us back when it is wise to do so.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day 13: Second-hand Smoke and First-class Friends

He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. Prov. 13:20

I have a friend who struggled with quiting his smoking habit. He was a smoker for years and knew the danger to his health, and felt the pain in his wallet. He was aware that his second-hand fumes were dangerous to his wife and grandchildren. Just spending time with him warranted a good shower, as the invisible influence of the fumes permeated clothing.

However, that man is a first-class friend. He was vulnerable and open, always asking for help and wanting to be accountable. It took time - many years - but he is now free of his habit and helping others with addiction issues. He learned that as he spent time with people who could help him that he eventually became someone who could encourage and help others with similar issues. The people he hung around with eventually influenced and helped him to overcome the habit.

This verse is clear: who we spend time with will influence who we become, either for the good or the bad. It is a truth that I know as a parent, and a constant prayer for my children. It is something that reminds me to be careful as I decide who I hang out with. It is not that I avoid spending time with others who need a hand up, but that I also recognize the importance of walking with people who will influence me towards the paths of God.

One thing that I have learned over the years: as I rub shoulders with godly men and women, something rubs off on me. I need to seek this out as a person who learns to walk with the wise.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 12: Talk in NOT Cheap

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

There are times when talk is costly, not cheap; times when what you’ve said in the heat of a moment hurts the people you love the most. You wish you could take your words back, but what has been said, has been said.

One of the areas that the Proverbs challenges me is that of self-control, especially in the area of my words. Some of the things we say in a moment are remembered for an eternity; painful words take a long time to be erased from the memory of those we love the most.

The New Testament also speaks of the taming of the tongue. James 3:1-12 is a passage full of stern warnings to the person unable to control his speech. Jesus said that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” and warned that men will have to give account for “every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:34-36).

But there is hope! Hope that wisdom can make me person under the control and influence of the Spirit and that my words can bring healing. Hope that my speech can rescue me, together with those around me (Prov. 12:6). There is a transformation that allows my words to endure forever (Prov. 1:19), something which brings delight to the Lord (verse 22).

I need that kind of control in my life, and recognizing that part of the fruit of the Spirit we read about in Galatians 5:22-24 is self-control, and that includes the taming of the tongue. It causes me to pray the words of Psalm 19:14 - May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Day 11: Blessed to be a Blessing

One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another witholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:23-24)

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving - a day we set aside to consider the ways we are blessed. This is a day when the generosity I've seen is God's generosity expressed to me and my family.

It's interesting that today the verses that caught my attention were on generosity. On the day when we're introspective and count our personal blessings, the word to me was that I need to share these blessings with others - it's not just about me.

These verses reminded me of the promise of God to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 - I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing ... and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

We are not generous and outward thinking to get more; we are blessed to bless others. We need to be generous to those who cannot give back; to those who God places in our path that may not normally be in our circle of friends.

That's where the economy of God sets in, where the one who loses himself, finds himself. It is where living for others is to be the norm, and where generosity is encouraged, not because of what we might get in return, but out of gratitude. This all enables me to be grateful, not only today, but each day. It is an attitude of gratitude that flows from the Spirit of God.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Day 10: The "No Wax" Guarantee

The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out. Prov. 10:9

The Greek word for integrity is a wonderful word picture of what it means to be a person of character that can be trusted. The word sincera literally means "without wax," and is often translated both integrity or sincere.

The word comes from the marketplace, and refers to the sale of marble statues. Artesians would carve figures of Greek gods, images that were often placed on display in the houses of aristocrates. Often a slight imperfection or slip of the hand would result in a chip or break in the statue, and would be covered up with a white paste or wax. The honest artist would place his piece of work in the direct sunlight, an act that would melt away any wax and reveal the imperfections. The work that was sin cera could stand the heat of the sun.

The book of Proverbs reminds us that crooked or imperfect paths will be found out. The Psalms tells us that the Word of God is a lamp to our feet, keeping us on the path of integrity (Psalm 119:105). That same lamp (the Word of God) is described in Hebrew 4:12 as a double-edged sword that divides soul and spirit, measuring our thoughts and motives. It is the Word of God that reveals who we truly are; whether we are living a selfish life or if we are reflecting the Lord. It is the light that shows the path we have chosen to walk on.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Day 9: Life Accumulated

Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. Prov. 9:9

The 9th chapter of Proverbs teaches that wisdom is an accumulated commodity; it grows with the life-lessons and application of our experiences. Wisdom builds a house upon a solid foundation (Prov. 9:1) and adds many years to life (Prov. 9:11).

The problem is that, while some people learn from their experiences, yet there are many others that seem to repeat their folly. They live without the direction and discernment that is promised to those who fear the Lord (Prov. 9:10). We are told that whoever corrects a mocker invites insults, and whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse (Prov. 9:7). What is the difference?

Wisdom is to be valued and sought after, as a treasure. It is like a well constructed house, built upon the foundation of the principles and guidelines of God’s Word. We are reminded that those who build upon this foundation will stand the tests and storms of time. Wisdom causes us to grow and affects many facets of our lives.

The fact that the wise and righteous maintain a teachable attitude reminds us that the wisdom of God knows no limits – there will always be areas in which we can grow and learn to apply this wisdom in our lives. The Bible calls this unfathomable riches and unsearchable judgements of God (Rom 11:33). In Christ are hidden the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Knowledge of our Creator is called wonderful and lofty, beyond what we can attain (Psm. 139:6).

The wise acknowledge their need for God’s direction and wisdom in life, knowing that in the end their pursuit of wisdom will reward them (Prov. 9:12).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 8: Finding Life

For whoever finds me finds life and receives favour from the LORD. (Proverbs 8:35)

Proverbs chapter 8 is one of the parts of the book which speaks most clearly about the link between the Spirit of God and wisdom. If you go back and insert the words “the Spirit” in each place where the words “I” or “wisdom” are used, it becomes even clearer. The Spirit was present at the beginning of creation (Prov. 8:22-32), and is the giver of life to those who earnestly seek him (Prov. 8:34-46).

Solomon declares a promise of God when he writes; I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me (Prov. 8:17). This promise goes hand in hand with Luke 11:13: If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

This truth is echoed in other parts of the New Testament. Romans 8:1-4 uses the same imagery as Paul speaks of “the spirit of life” that sets us free from the “spirit of sin and death.” The chapter speaks of life in the Spirit and inseparable link between finding life and victory over the sinful nature.

Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me (John 14:6).

In the New Testament authors had two Greek words to describe life: bios and zoe. Bios is the functional aspects of physical or animal life; the living and breathing of life. Zoe is the qualitative aspects of life, of feeling or loving or enjoying life. It's quite clear whch word is used to describe the life that God offers.

Life in the Spirit gives us power for living a life that makes us complete; that allows us to be the people God created us to be. It is through his dynamic presence living in us and through us that the life (zoe) of God becomes a personal reality for those who seek him.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 7: Grace-Awakened Disfunctionality

My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. Keep my commandments and you will live; guard my teaching as the apple of your eye. (Proverbs 7:1-2)

Have you noticed that the last three chapters had a reoccurring theme? For a book full of patchwork pieces of wisdom on a variety of topics, chapters 5-7 of Proverbs is the most focused part of the book and warns readers about adultery and sexual sin. It is important while reading these portions to remember the context of Solomon’s own family to understand some of his comments.

David and Bathsheba – his father and mother – were the main players in the greatest sex scandal in the Bible (See 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12 in the Old Testament). Their story would make the pages of the National Enquirer or any gossip column; yet God’s grace and forgiveness extended to them and their second son, Solomon, who would eventually become the heir to the throne. There was not only restoration, but grace enough for Solomon to honour his father and his mother.

This is where the Gospel begins; with broken people who come to the point where we know that we need a Saviour and acknowledge that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But it doesn’t stop there; it leads to transformation that enables us to avoid the pitfalls of life. We don’t go on heading straight towards a life of sin in order that “grace may abound” (Romans 6:1).

One of the best ways I know how to do this is through storing up God’s word in my heart, either through reading it, or memorizing it. David’s words in Psalm 119:11 say it best: I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. This seems to be a lost art in today's world; an art that needs to be recaptured. It is one way that grace awakens in our lives.

*The Grace Awakening is a book by Chuck Swindoll, and a term often used by Geoge Verwer.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 6: Rats and Bats

My son (and daughter), keep to your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching ... For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life. Proverbs 6:20, 23

Have you ever experienced complete darkness? Have you been in a place where you could hold your hand in front of face and not see it?

As a teenager our family visited the Lewis and Clarke Caverns in Montana. Our tour guide was a young, funny guy who explained the detail and wonders of that underground world. In one large room he warned us that he was going to turn off the lights, but that we needed to know something before he did it. He explained that the cave was infested with rats that liked to chew on the tips of shoestrings, and bats that got caught in the longer hair of women. He was obviously joking - or was he?

I've only been in darkness equal to that black hole on two other occasions. The lights went out and the numbing and deafening darkness enveloped us. Just then something brushed against my foot. I gave out a swift and certain kick in the direction of the intruder.

I'm not sure if my brother ever forgave me. He stumbled in the darkness and the guide quickly put on the lights. My reward for warding off the "intruder" was a stone-hard punch to the arm.

The scriptures uses the metaphore of light to describe God's Word. Light illuminates our path and shows us the stumbling blocks (or pebbles) that are in our way. A light exposes what is thought to be hidden in the darkness. The light reveals truth.

The book of Proverbs takes the reader down a light-enabled path, seeing not only evil in others, but also the darkness that lurks in the deepest part of our souls. I wouldn't be surprised if it also scatters a number of rats and bats that are out there, just waiting for the next unsuspecting victim.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 5: Curiosity Killed the Cat

Keep to a path far from her (adulteress), do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel. (Proverbs 5:8-9)

We’ve got some great word-pictures in the English language, and for those of us who are not cat lovers, curiosity killed the cat is one of them. I think of it every time the neighbour’s cat comes and drinks from our dog’s water dish, just outside our back door window. She constantly dangles at the brink of danger and even flaunts her audacity with a flick of her tail. She goes from yard to yard and checks out all of the other pet’s dishes in our complex, but one day she’s going to get a surprise. You see the new neighbours down the road have a big, mangy, mutt and it’s not afraid of cats.

Proverbs chapter five speaks of one specific sin, but the principle applies to all others. What is common is our bent towards pushing the limit and seeing how close we can get to something without getting burnt. This chapter is clear; stay away from it!

I’ve been reading Drops from a Leaking Tap by George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation, a mission group with over 3,000 members around the world. He shares an honest struggle of how he as a leader has dealt with pornography and sexual sin, with what he calls a “grace awakened” approach to avoiding the traps set along his way. The first word of advice he gives about temptation is “don’t go looking for it, because if you do, it will find you.”

One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to guide us in all truth, and to guide our feet, eyes, and ears. Submitting to the Spirit will make us sensitive to the places we shouldn’t meander, and those things which lead to destruction. My prayer today (and every day) is that He keep me to a path that is aligned with God’s will for my life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 4: Heart Health

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

Have you ever spent time in a doctor’s office reading the pamphlets or posters on the wall? There are 3 pointers that are basic to a healthy heart: Get plenty of rest, eat properly, and exercise daily. Is it any surprise that a healthy spiritual heart requires the same three elements?

Get Plenty of Rest: The title of Mark Buchanan’s book, The Rest of God, is a play on words. As we learn to rest (or trust) in God, we learn that there is so much more to learn about God. Rest is more than taking an afternoon snooze or watching a movie, but it is the purposeful exercise to be quiet before God, allowing him to speak to us, observing His work in our lives and the world around us. Some call this Sabbath, but it’s just plain smart practice for our spiritual health.

Eat the Right Foods: There was an old saying when computers first came out: GIGO, or garbage in, garbage out. Simply stated, what you put into the CPU it spits out. It’s not a mystery that people who spend time reading God’s Word and study it with others (small group or at church) grow in their walk with the Lord. Far too many people try to live on spiritual junk food and wonder why they have no power or energy when it comes to the challenges of life.

Exercise Daily: Spiritual exercise means serving others and putting into practice that which we’ve learned. We can eat the right food, but if there is too much of it, we become blimps. There’s a need to put what we learn into practice in our daily lives, affecting how we treat others around us.

What are the benefits of having a healthy heart? Verses 24-27 gives us three hints, as the passages speak of our words, our eyes, and our feet. The consequences of a health heart affect the temptations of life. I need to take some time to contemplate my spiritual heart health and to pray the words of Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day 3: Sins of Omission

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Proverbs 3:27

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
James 4:14

I've heard it said that there are sins of commission and omission; there is willful disobedience and passive indifference. Both are called sin.

As followers of Jesus we are taught that we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are even told to go the extra mile and show love and kindness to those we would call our enemies. Our selfless actions are a result of our deep faith in the fact that God is a rewarder of those who follow his commands.

The direct co-relation of the book of Proverbs and the book of James is that faith that is not put into practice is not faith at all. Reading the two books together is a practical guide to the question posed by Francis Schaeffer: How then shall we live?

What I need to remember is that sin is not always the blatant heading for the doors of trouble (as we see later in the book of Proverbs), but it is also avoiding the opportunity set before us to show the love of God in a situation.

Note: For a devotional and comments based on Proverbs 3:5,6 see:


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Day 2: A Famished Soul

And if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will undersatnd the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs. 2:4,5

"I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse!" Has one of your kids ever said that in desperation as they waited for something to magically appear on the supper table? Have you ever said it?

Perhaps the exaggeration that I see in my children helps me to understand the secret to gaining wisdom. The phrase "the fear of the LORD" is one of the keys to understanding the whole of the book, as the phrase or a version of it is repeated 21 times. Understand this concept and you gain a better chance of obtaining the wisdom promised.

Chapter 2 starts off by listing eight characteristics which describes a person who understands "the fear of the LORD." They are:

- Accept God's words.
- Store up God's commands within you.
- Turn your ear to wisdom.
- Apply your heart to understanding.
- Call out for insight.
- Cry aloud for understanding.
- Look for it as silver.
- Search for it as hidden treasure.

Each of the characteristics describe a person who is hungry for God; someone so desperate that they will do what it takes to obtain the promise. David expressed this heart attitude in the Psalms:

As the deer pants for the waters, so my soul longs for you. (Psm. 42:1)

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you. (Psm. 63:1)

This is not different from the words of Jesus, when he said:

Seek first the kingdom of God, and all of these things (the cares and concerns of everyday life) will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:10)

The author of the Hebrews agrees with the principle that Solomon is teaching:

Without faith it is impossible to please God, but anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

This all leaves me with one question for today: am I hungry for God? If I am, I'm in good stead to learn what it means to fear God and gain a heart of understanding and wisdom.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Day 1: The Battle For My Will

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Prov. 1:7

There is an amazing contrast that is highlighted in this, the first chapter of the Proverbs. It makes all the difference between having the ability to live in safety (v. 1:33), avoid temptation (v. 1:10), and doing what is right and just (1:3). Wisdom is accumulative (v. 1:5); a never ending pursuit of the person who truly seeks and desires to know God. Those who do not heed God's wisdom or seek Him are called "simple ones."

There are consequences for not seeking God. These are people who cannot call out His name when disaster strikes (v. 1:27). They will eat the fruit of the ways and fall into their own traps. They will be lulled to sleep by complacency; destroyed by their own schemes. In some ways the author of the Provebs says that they will get what they deserve (v. 20-32).

The call to wisdom in the beginning of this book is clear: there are consequences for our choices. It is not that God plots schemes and punishment, but the natural path of our decisions will bear fruit, either for the good or the bad. It is like the command of the Lord to the people of Israel when they were told: Be sure your sin will find you out. Deut. 32:23

Which path will I choose today? Will I seek God's wisdom and ask Him to make His thoughts known to me in my decisions and actions? Or will I love my simple ways and ignore His advice? This is a battle for my will that takes place daily; a battle for my heart and soul that determines who I will follow.

Take the Proverb-a-Day Challenge

The book of Proverbs offers a wonderful opportunity to look at what it means to walk daily with Christ, or to live the Spirit-filled life. We considered two verses that are invitations from God:

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven not give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Luke 11:13

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

While there is not an etymological root between the Hebrew word for wisdom and the filling of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament, they both refer to the ability to live out what we believe.

The Hebrew understanding of wisdom is not quantitative head knowledge, but rather heart knowledge, or know-how, or the power for living. Wisdom is not the accumulation of knowledge, but the application of knowledge to our daily lives. In the same way, it is not enough to know about the Holy Spirit, but we need to experience His power for living as we face the challenges and tests of life.

This is summed up in Ephesians 5:15 and followed by the command in Ephesians 5;18:

Be careful how you live, not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.

I want to extend an invitation to anyone who would follow this blog: Read a Proverb a day during the month of October and jot down your comments about that verse, or on another which spoke to you. I’ll post my comments between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. and will look forward to hearing form others who are taking the challenge. I believe that we’ll see that there is an amazing correlation between the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:22-23) and the wisdom described in the Proverbs.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hockey as Missions: A Canadian Perspective, eh!

(With apologies to the 3.7% of the Canadian population that are not hockey fans.)

One of the trends in the world of missions has perked my thinking. “Business as Mission” (a.k.a. BAM) describes the tentmaker’s strategy of using professional skills to reach to the difficult corners of the world with a visible, vibrant witness. Could a uniquely Canadian version of this movement be called Hockey as Mission?

It is hard to imagine the Apostle Paul skating down on a breakaway or standing at the face-off circle at centre ice, but allow me some creative leeway. Let’s think about our faith and sharing it with others through Canadian cultural expressions from the rink. It’s one of those things that you can do on a cold, winter night, after the final highlight reel has been shown and the reruns of the Leafs loosing another game come on for those who make this their late-night antidote for insomnia. Hockey as Mission (a.k.a. HAM) could be a Canadian expression that helps us to understand our role in the global church.

Hockey as Mission would help the average pew sitter to understand that the world of spiritual and physical hunger is much like living in Winnipeg or Hamilton. There is only one thing that will satisfy the hungry souls of those NHL-starved fans; a franchise that is their own. But how long will it take for the league to actually consent to sending a team and unthawing the relationship between head office and their cities? How long will it take the church to understand that Christ’s commandment is for his followers to bring a relevant expression of his body to every corner of the earth?

Canadians have a rich history in sending both their hockey players and missionaries into the arena of global impact. Jonathan Goforth’s ministry in China was marked by Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered evangelism; he was a leader with the determination and heart of Gretzky. A.B. Simpson’s world-wide movement began with a small band of German and Italian immigrants; their passion to reach the world birthed the Christian and Missionary Alliance and left a legacy that rivals the Montreal Canadiens. Robert Jaffray had the skill and grace of Bobby Orr as he stick-handled his way around various political encounters, using his upbringing as the son of the owner of the Toronto Globe and Mail to influence governments and open the countries of Vietnam and Indonesia to missionary activity. Like “Sid the Kid,” Don Richardson spent hours honing his skills as a teenager talking to Portuguese sailors on the wharfs of Victoria’s harbour; here he developed his ability to listen to the stories of others and began to form the concept of redemptive analogies as a vehicle to share the Gospel. Canadian missionaries and hockey players share a determination and sense of destiny that drives them to become world leaders.

And what would Don Cherry have to say? He’d be wearing an odd-coloured sports coat with a tie that blazed a stylized fish circling the words of the fruit of the Spirit. He’d rip into the worship leader for including an anthem that breaks from the traditional HNIC hymn. He’s point out that the ushers in church are the real heroes, mucking it up in the corners and always ready to pass off to the superstars. He’d pull out a long-forgotten story of when he was a coach and the heroic ways that he led his group of ordinary boys into an impossible battle; a tale of victory that deserves a volume in Canadian history. His analysis of how Canadians are doing in the task of the Great Commission would be controversial, yet to the point.

Canadians have something to offer the world that goes beyond hockey. Our rich history in missions and the faith of our fathers needs to be celebrated. Our multi-ethnic make-up provides tools and skills for a new generation of young Christians to listen, understand, and share Christ with an increasingly global community. We as Canadian Christians have something unique and special to offer.

When God called Moses he asked him to use what he had in his hand; a rod or a stick. When God calls Canadians, it just might be that we can learn from one of the tools we have in our hand. We need to be in the game and bring what we have to offer to a world that needs to know Christ. We need to be participants – not just observers – of the Great Commission. In the words of Red Green, a man who is known more for his comedy than his theology, we need to “keep our stick on the ice.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Here am I Lord - Send Moses!

There is no excuse for making excuses. That’s the basic gist of the conversation between God and Moses in Exodus Chapter Four. God had called Moses to a specific task, but Moses spent time laying out his list of excuses as to why he is not the one to lead the people of God out of slavery into the promised land. In the end we’re told that the Lord’s patience came to a limit and His anger burned against Moses (Exodus 4:14). That must have been like a deafening roar of a lion and a terrifying experience, because in the following verses we see Moses change his mind and begin to follow God’s orders.

In the days of Jesus people gave their excuses to put off His call to discipleship. The old chorus “I Cannot Come” lists those excuses: “I have bought a field, I have bought a yoke of oxen, or I’ve just taken a wife” (see Luke 14:15-24). To others who justified their disobedience Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead,” and “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (See Luke 9:57-62). It is nothing new that the call to follow Christ was met with excuses.

Things have not changed much. Today when we hear the call of missions and global impact, but we also hear a disheartening number of groups that tell us that we should stop sending Western missionaries. “North Americans are expensive and just mess things up (either culturally or with their sense of superiority),” they say. “Don’t you know about the history of Western missions and their connection with the sins of colonialism?” And then there’s the argument that “it’s much cheaper and more effective to pay for a national worker or evangelist without having to send ‘expensive’ Western missionaries.” Such arguments encourage us to use surrogates that will go in our place, but it’s an example of how we are content to throw out tidbits of cash, but unwilling to invest what really counts; send our flesh and blood to train those national leaders and walk alongside them as living examples of Christ’s love. It’s nothing more than veiled excuses and blatant disobedience to the Great Commandment.

Remember this: Justified disobedience is still disobedience, no matter how good the excuse.

In the past the Church measured its health and zeal by its passion to send out people into the world. People like Oswald Sanders, A.B. Simpson, and many others knew that there was a dynamic link between vibrant spiritual life and personal involvement in Great Commission ministries. If we are honest and look at the Church in North America, we would have to say that world evangelization has dropped a notch or two. In some cases it has been taken off of the agenda, and the excuses listed above are given as a justification. Is it any wonder that the North American church has begun to sag, and now begins to sit sadly on the sidelines as it watches a vibrant missionary Church in the developing world take up the torch?

I’m struggling with this. How can I mobilize a generation and culture that is saturated with comfort and complacency? How do I balance the need for missionary supporters and prayer warriors with the equally weighty need to send out workers into the harvest fields? How do I communicate that the primary motivation to responding to the Great Commission is loving obedience, not guilt or other devices of manipulation? But perhaps the most important question that I must always ask myself is this: Am I obedient to the voice and calling of God in my life, or do I settle for passing this off to another?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

They Were No Fools

“He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot loose.”
Jim Elliot, Missionary Martyr

Over fifty years have passed since Jim Elliot penned the prophetic words which describe the sacrifice he and four others made along the banks of Ecuador’s Curaray River. The world called Operation Auca a failure and tragic loss of life, but the Church responded by sending many others who took up the challenge of the missionary martyrs.

Ethnographic Media and Bearing Fruit Communications produced three films in recent years, telling the story from different perspectives. Beyond Gates of Splendor told the story in documentary form, hearing from the widows and survivors of the martyrs. End of the Spear told the story from Steve Saint’s point of view, first as a young child, then as a grown man. Those who come to Missions Fest Vancouver this year will be able to watch The Grandfathers, the third part of a trilogy that considers the story of the Auca martydom. The film follows Jamie Saint as he goes back to live among the people who helped kill his grandfather, Nate Saint.

As I watch these films and review the events of January 8, 1956, I cannot help but ask some questions. How will the sacrifice of the five men be remembered? What impact does this have upon us today?

The climate in the church in the 1950s was one of rebuilding and triumphal optimism. The world was recovering from World War II and the economies of the West were bursting at the seams. There was a race to get into space, Elvis Presley and other rock and rollers shook up America, and the generation known as the “Boomers” was born. While the church faced challenges from modernity, evolution in the public school system, and philosophical liberalism, it was also enjoying a season of growth and reasonable comfort.

The death of five young men in Ecuador shook the Church from its perch of comfort and complacency. The exact numbers are not known, but thousands accepted the call to missionary service in response to the story of the sacrifice of the Auca martyrs. The growth in the number of Christian missionaries sent out from North America in the late 1950s and early 1960s was measurable. The events of January 1956 took place on an isolated sand bank in the Ecuadorian jungle, but they had an impact upon the world.

What became of the many who joined the ranks of the global missionary family? They planted churches and translated the scriptures. They started Bible Schools and equipped national leaders. They brought practical relief and development to millions of needy people. They made a difference and touched the lives of an untold number of people who today are a part of the world-wide body of Christ.

But where is this army of missionaries today? They’ve returned and are either in retirement homes, or gone on to glory. If you do the math you will realize that the decrease in numbers of missionaries going out from countries like Canada and the USA in the last decade is partially due to the homecoming of this group.

Allow me a couple of final questions. If it is true that the events of January 1956 resulted in a mass movement of young people in obedience to God’s call to world missions; and if it is true that this group today finds itself in either their national or heavenly home; then may I ask, what will it take for the next generation to take up the standard and finish the task of the Great Commission? Will it take another tragic martyrdom? What will God use to move us from a sense of complacency and comfort which rivals that of the 1950s?

While it is good for us to remember that Jim Elliot and his companions were not fools and that they made an incredible sacrifice for the advance of the Gospel, will their example move us beyond awe and reverence to action and obedience? Each generation must answer that question as it continues to address the call to serve God in the midst of a world that does not know Christ.

For those who live in the Metro Vancouver region, I invite you to come to Missions Fest 2010 (January 8-10). This is a great opportunity to rub shoulders with people who are making a difference in the world.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Finish the Race

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Missions Fest Vancouver 2010’s theme is “Finish the Race;” a fitting metaphor that matches the atmosphere of our city in the days leading up to the Winter Olympics. It is also fitting because Paul’s declaration encompasses two timely and important aspects of Christian missions. These aspects are seen in the two principle characters; the author of the book (Paul) and its recipient (Timothy).

Paul as a Finisher

The obvious reference of the 2 Timothy 4:7 is to Paul himself; he wants to finish well. His attitude to serve God as long as he is given life and breath is seen in some of the books he wrote in the last months and days of his life:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two; I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me. Philippians 1:21-26

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will awarded to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8

My work at Missions Fest allows me to work with many people who embody this attitude. It’s my privilege to work with those who see their “golden years” as a time to serve God and be involved in ministries around the world. I enjoy working with these people and helping then find a place where they can find significance in the global work of the Kingdom of God. But simple demographics would tell me that they are in the minority.

The so-called “Boomer Generation” is entering their retirement years as the best educated, richest, and healthiest generation ever seen in history. In Canada alone there are an estimated 200,000 Evangelicals that entered retirement, and unfortunately many of them are more concerned about their golf score or next trip to Florida, than the state of world evangelisation or the plight of the poor. I don’t think that I am the only one that would question if they are truly finishing well.

Timothy as a Disciple

Paul is able to make his declaration about finishing well because he already began the process of passing along the torch of leadership to Timothy and others. He is concerned with the on-going work of evangelisation and the health of churches that he is planted. Paul says to Timothy:

You then my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2)

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction ... do the work of an evangelist. (2 Timothy 4:2, 5b)

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift ... Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:12-16)

One of my mentors, an older pastor whom I worked with, once told me, “Never measure success in ministry in the moment; either for the good or the bad. Measure your impact 2 years or more after you have left, because then you will see the fruit that lasts. The only thing that matters is lasting fruit.”

Camille F. Bishop, a long-time YWAM leader and author of We’re in this Boat Together: Leadership Succession between the Generations, states that the “face of leadership is changing across America, and the stakes have never been higher.” This is true in the business world, but it is especially true in the world of evangelical mission agencies. Many organizations are facing the challenge of passing the torch from founders and their supporters, who are comprised of builders and boomers who were part of the formation and development of the organization.

There is a double-sided irony that disturbs me in the world of North American Evangelicalism. First, I see a generation of people interested in making an impact for the Kingdom of God who founded movements and worked hard, but have done little or nothing in terms of passing along this torch or preparing younger leaders. Then there is a generation that is known as the most digitally connected group of people to ever enter the work force, yet they are starving for relationships and mentors that will guide them. Someone has to bring these two groups together. Someone has to help these two groups see that “finishing the race” includes identifying, equipping, and releasing the next generation of leaders. This will result is an impact and lasting fruit that will.


There is a need in the North American Church for both groups of people – those who are like Paul and are leaders and visionaries, and younger leaders like Timothy who will take up the torch and run with it – to be aware of the mandate of Jesus in Matthew 24:14:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Followers of Christ are all invited to run a spiritual race in obedience to the commissioning of God and to engage in the work of making Christ known through word and deed. We are all encouraged to run that race with perseverance. We are all called, no matter at what stage of life we are in, to finish well.

Missions Month

In the month of January I will be posting weekly editorials which speak of trends and movements in Evangelical Christian missions. It is my hope that this will spark conversations and challenge people to consider their participation in the work of the Kingdom of God both at home and abroad.

Dwayne K. Buhler