Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's Your Favorite Proverb?

“The darkest hour is before the doorbell rings.” That’s one of the winning proverbs from Domino’s Pizza Proverbs Contest. Last year, that pizza company opened a contest seeking modern proverbs which would fit their pizza products. Since the contest ended, each delivery and take-out pizza box features one of the eight winning proverbs.

While on last week’s trip to Santa Fe, Roswell, and Artesia NM, I’d pondered the book of Proverbs. I’d taken my oldest Bible with me, re-read my favorite passages, and I looked for a proverbial slant for today’s column. I continued to ask myself how I could tie the book of Proverbs into the Easter story. Because this column has taken us through the books of the Bible in sequence, here we are at Easter and we landed on the book of Proverbs.

When we’re out of town and our only transportation is an eighteen wheeler, we either find motels with restaurants in walking distance or order a meal delivered. We’d ordered pizza, and I still hadn’t resolved my dilemma of a tie in between Easter and Proverbs when I heard a knock on the motel door.

The delivery man handed me our pizzas. Later, I discovered that the box had a pizza proverb on the box: “Pizzas dare to go where hamburgers fear to tread.” I checked out the site and discovered that over 7,000 people had entered the contest. We prefer Dominos thin crust pizzas to all others, but I still have to say that pizza proverbs -- as cute as they are -- are not near as meaty as the proverbs left to us in the Bible.

The “Online Etymology Dictionary” says the word “proverb” originates from the Latin word “proverbium,” meaning "a common saying," literally "words put forward." Descriptive phrases become common sayings as people watch life and see that certain things usually turn out the same way. If you do things this way, they most always have the same outcome.

Even though proverbs are general statements that come true most of the time, they cannot be held up as absolute rules that always turn out the same results. We all know exceptions to proverbs. An example: if you train up children as to how they should live, those children when they grow to adulthood generally accept those guidelines for their lives (Proverbs 22:6). However, parents and guardians use many different methods to train many different little personalities, who may have developed many different aspirations or phobias. Anytime a human is factored into efforts, results can go in infinite directions.

However, the exception to those above statements is Jesus Christ. Although he inhabited a human body, his soul remained divine – his character, his actions, his heart always represented infinite grace and truth (John 1:14). During his ministry, Judea, Galilee and surrounding areas experienced unparalleled displays of favor in the form of Immanuel, God with us.

Throughout the three years of Jesus’ ministry, he continually portrayed the Heavenly Father with exact measure: “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being." (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus gave us truth about the Heavenly Father. Jesus was more than a proverb. Jesus embodied truth and absolute results of compassionate living and eternal power.

Jesus freely gave over-the-top care: withered limbs re-muscled; fishermen's nets overflowed; thousands ate from heaven's bread basket; massive waves and atmospheric elements obeyed his voice and ceased their violent nature—because extravagant God trod the earth.

Jesus, king of hearts touched foul flesh, sat in fishing boats, and cradled children on his lap. He washed feet, forgave murderous sins, and healed bad reputations. And then the ultimate show of authority came on the third day after his crucifixion when he arose from the dead.

Every day we hear clichés, old sayings, and modern taglines advertising products and pizzas, but none compare to the Son of God who represented the truth of heaven. Jesus moved us from maybes to miracles. Happy Resurrection Sunday.

Index Card Verse for Week 16: “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home with the wise” (Proverbs 15:31).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Name that Psalm

"And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air," are familiar words from our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Those words are especially significant as we continue to experience the absence of troops from our country as they engage in foreign conflicts. Where do we go for comfort in times of anxiety over world, national, and personal events?

Dr. Anthony Ash wrote, "It has been said that somewhere in the Psalms can be found a reflection of virtually every religious experience known to man, and the person familiar with the Psalter can find balm for every wound." Mr. Ash admits that this statement may not be strictly true, but it does reflect the high regard for the Psalms from those who have experienced camaraderie and good-fellowship with the authors.

In the Psalms we find a blending of theology, worship, and daily living. One of my favorite psalms begins with these words, "God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). Within the lyrics, this psalm addresses three common trouble-areas: natural disasters, political upheaval, and battle fatigue. During any of these events, it is easy to lose sight that God remains aware of circumstances and controls the outcome. Even when world leaders topple and some abdicate, God will never abandon his post as Lord of lords and King of kings.

The third stanza of Psalm 46 portrays war and battle fatigue, and the psalmist gives advice to armed forces, those who keep the home fires burning, and for our ordinary days, "Be still, and know that I am God." What does that imperative mean to those in the middle of a raging conflict? It may seem a daunting request at first, but those who take up the exercise will find calm and solace and a place to anchor their souls in times of turmoil. On real battlefields with mortar fire or at the home front with verbal attacks, God can quiet us as we draw near to him. Inviting God to step into our landmine area is better than pulling on a flak jacket. He protects our souls from all kinds of bombshells.

In 1529, Psalm 46 inspired Martin Luther to write the words and music to a well-known hymn. Do you recognize the first line? "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing." Through the Internet and television, color pictures and news stories arrive direct to our homes, covering wars, civil unrest, and rioting. If you need a refreshing break from warfare, turn off electronics this next week, and instead think about a week long ago -- the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Read an account in one of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Enclosed in that eight day period you will read a mixture of wholesome, depraved, and holy, the same mix that goes on day to day in this world. But you’ll gain hope as you read and remind yourself that “holy” always wins and always outweighs depravity. Jesus reminded his disciples during his last days, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

"Be still, and know I am God" isn't a take-or-leave-it instruction. It's a gentle invitation to bring a blessing into your life through participation with God. It’s a good phrase to pray over the unrest in the world, for all military personnel, President Obama, our country, and those who declare themselves our allies and enemies.

This fifteenth week, our index card scripture comes from the book of Psalms where the human experience is poetically displayed in songs of lament and praise. When you seek comfort, look through the collection of 150, you will most likely find one to guide you. Name your psalm, one will fit your circumstances. Perhaps our verse for this week will aid you in finding additional peace and assurance from the Psalter and our Father.

Index Card Scripture for Week 15: “‘Because he loves me,’ says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him’” (Psalm 91:14).

Friday, April 08, 2011

Job's Resolve

Years ago, one of the television broadcasting networks decided that religion was an important part of American life. They hired their first religion correspondent to cover a broad range of how religion influences American lives. I heard that correspondent speak at a conference where she told this story:

Even though she worked out of her home in Texas, she flew to New York City for planning sessions to discuss angles for news stories. One story they were featuring was a minister’s family, and a son’s wife who had contracted the AIDS virus through a blood transfusion. The young woman didn’t know she had the virus and both of her children were born with it. The network wanted to cover this story and how the family would cope with the suffering.

As the group of corporate executives considered the angles and how best to present the tragic story with empathy, one of the un-churched team members said how about using the job angle?

The correspondent had trouble recognizing how she could report the story through the minister’s or son’s occupations and said so. The person who suggested replied something like this: “Not the preacher angle, not his job as a minister. You know job, job, that guy who suffered in the Bible.” The correspondent finally realized that although her teammate was unfamiliar with most things religious and didn’t know how to pronounce Job’s name, she had heard about Job’s suffering.

In the Bible, the written account of Job’s story drops us into the middle of his existence. He is wealthy, has a wife, sons and daughters. And he faithfully sacrifices and prays for his children, in case any of them inadvertently sin. All is well in Job’s world when we first hear about him. The only trouble is that we’re hearing about Job because a conversation is going on between God and Satan, and Job is the topic. God’s portion of that talk praised his servant Job: “[H]e is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8). But Satan goads God by naming all of God’s “umbrella” blessings: A hedge of protection for Job and his family, and he has massive wealth. Satan then wagered if God stretched out his hand and struck Job and everything he has “he will surely curse you to your face” (vs. 11).

I don’t pretend to understand what happened in that context or happened next, but I do know that God took a stand for Job’s integrity and right thinking, saying in essence, “I know my servant Job’s heart and I can count on his faithfulness.” Satan was given permission to strike out against Job. In a single day, he lost his family and wealth, and all that was left was his wife. When Job refused to turn against God, then Satan gained permission to bring illness upon Job, but that’s where God’s permission stopped. He would not allow Job’s life to be snuffed out.

Job’s already pitiable life got really rough, and Job described the wretched misery of his illness: “My body is clothed with worms and scabs; my skin is broken and festering” (7: 5). Besides the physical pain, his four friends came to commiserate with him, but they salted and vinegared his open wounds by their judgments and words expressing that surely Job’s personal sins had brought about his affliction. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Being misunderstood. Getting bad advice. Needing relief. Wanting empathy. Yearning to know why he suffered so much loss. Finally, a message came to Job from God himself. God told and showed Job that he doesn’t think, do, or imagine as man does. God revealed to Job that the human experience involves mystery and faith. And that some things we will never know.

Job’s faith might have trembled during his horrific ordeal, but he remained firm in his resolve that even if God allowed his life to be taken, God remained trustworthy: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (13:15).

The epilogue of Job’s story tells us that God blessed his latter years even more than the first of his life (42:12-16). Our index card scripture for this week is a portion of Job’s response when God “answered” Job out of the storm. God often brings deeper understanding to us during our storms. And we, along with Job can express our praise when God allows us deeper glimpses into his loving kindness.

Index Card Scripture for Week 14: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).

Friday, April 01, 2011

What do you live for every day?

Over a year before his death, Theodore Roosevelt was in the hospital but thought he might be near the end of his life. He and his sister Corinne talked about soldiers dying for their country and Mr. Roosevelt wished aloud to have “died for my country.”

Corinne told him, “I know you wish it, but I want to tell you something. Every one of us . . . would, I feel sure, if our country were in peril, be willing to bare our breasts to any bullet, could we, by so doing, protect and save our country.”

Corinne went on to say, “The difference, Theodore, between you and the majority of us is that you not only are willing and anxious to die for your country, but that you live for your country every day of your life.”

Corinne’s words were insightful. When one puts their life on the line, from soldiering in war zones to rescuing the helpless from burning buildings, their unselfish spirit is referred to as the ultimate sacrifice. Most of us will not have occasion to make that sacrifice, but each dawn offers a new opportunity to live an allegiance to the ideal of caring for your fellowman.

Paul encouraged the Colossians to live out their commitment to Jesus and others when he wrote, “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” If all words and deeds were carried out in the spirit of Jesus, weapons could be packed away, and we could unlock our homes and cars again.

For me the daily challenge is to lasso my selfish nature, words, and pampering to bring them under the control of someone who has will power, compassion, and love for others than I sometimes cannot muster. Rick Warren writes, “Christlikeness is not produced by imitation, but by inhabitation. We allow Christ to live through us.”

But that means that I need a new me. Making things new again is a task accomplished only by the Creator. This time of year, there is much talk about spring’s newness. We see bugs crawling out from under rocks, shaking off their many feet and trotting out to do some serious spring stuff. I saw a toad emerging from hibernation the other day. He blinked slowly, trying to warm up his cold blood, and didn’t seem to mind when I got down in his face and said, “Hello.”

Spring. Restoration. Rebirth. All, reminders of Jesus’ words. “I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Renewal means to bring something back into effectiveness. Corinne helped her brother Theodore focus on what he could do instead of what he wished he could do.

In the book of Esther, her Jewish countrymen were threatened extinction. As the Queen, she was in a position to do something. She called for her fellow Jews to fast with her for three days, and then she would approach the king about the planned annihilation of her people. Her cousin Mordecai suggested, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14).

Not knowing the outcome, Esther accepted her mission to approach the king. He had sequestered himself from everyone unless they had an invitation. To enter his throne room uninvited meant possible death to Esther.

The index card scripture for this week is Esther’s reply to Mordecai, when he challenged her into service for her people. Her selfless words indicate her willingness to die if she must to save others. Her words echo her resolve to put herself last. She risked her good favor with the king. She risked her crown. She risked her life. She risked all in an effort to save others. As you know, her God-blessed decision had a good outcome.

Few among us will be called upon to sacrifice our lives to save another, but deep down could we if necessary? May Queen Esther’s words give us courage to live out the smaller challenges we face each day. May we focus on what we can do, and be willing foot soldiers, willing to ease daily burdens of those who suffer.

Index Card Scripture for Week Thirteen: “And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).