More Than A “0”

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9

Recently I had a “0” birthday – a passage birthday, where you mark the end of one decade and the beginning of another – it was a BIG one, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, either!

In my family, I’m the party planner, the one who makes sure that “0” birthdays are duly and appropriately marked. As the big day loomed, I wondered whether anyone was planning anything for it, especially since it was on a weekend day, making it much easier to coordinate a family get together. Then the weather forecast turned up with snow, a winter weather advisory type of snow, and all bets were off.

So I set my sights on something that’s traditional in our family, a “pity party.” I told myself that I mattered to no one, that after all the efforts I make to mark milestone birthdays of those I love, no one could be bothered to do the same for me.  It’s funny how the mind can play tricks on you, how the smallest suggestion of uncertainty, of misgiving can snow-ball into full-on fear and dubiety.  I even tried to go down the“God-doesn’t-care-about-me-either” road, but try as I might, I just couldn’t do it.  Every time I got myself worked up to a good “poor me” cry, letting doubt and self-righteous indignation get the best of me, the voice within whispered, “who knitted you together in your mother’s womb and wrote all your days before you were even conceived?” The voice of truth reminded me that I didn’t get here of my own volition. I wasn’t the one whose plans had directed my steps and carried me to this day.

Sometimes, it’s easy to get things a bit mixed up, backwards.  We live in a topsy-turvy world steeped in self-obsession: We talk of self-worth and self-help, admire the self-made and the self-reliant. In fact, we’re so obsessed with self-importance that there’s little room for anything else. We tell ourselves if only this would happen, then I’ll be happy, or when I get that, I won’t need anything else out of life, but these yearnings are all about self-gratification. When we attach our feelings, our self-worth, our hopes to external things, focusing so intently on how great we think we are, becoming a “god” unto ourselves, we completely forget who it is that “numbers our days and sets forth our paths.”

“I will lift my eyes unto the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” We are called to walk by faith, which is trust, and not by sight. But, it’s so easy to have a blind spot in our thinking – a “board in our eye” – that keeps us from seeing the truth, from trusting, from knowing the fullness of God’s love for us, which assures us that we are so much more than a mere “0.”

A Happy Birthday comes from remembering to dance with the one who brought you and celebrating the grace by which you have arrived at this place in time.

~SLM

Out of The Mouth

hanging hearts-matt15-10

When I was a young, my momma used to say, “you can think whatever you’d like, just don’t say whatever you think.” It was one of those sayings that are passed down from mother to daughter for generations. She had heard from her mother who had heard it from her mother, and along with it, she’d also say, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” If you think about it, its pretty practical advice, sage even – what I like to call Kansas farm sense – and usually not what a teenage girl wants to hear, but wise council never-the-less, straight from the book of proverbs.

Proverbs 18:8 tells us that a “gossip’s words are like choice morsels, they sink into the inmost being,” and 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power over life and death; those who indulge it must eat it’s fruit.” Let that wash over you for just a moment. Let it penetrate and take hold. What are some of the things that come out of our mouths? Are our words bitter, sour, vile and nasty filled with outrage and hateful barbs, or are they sweet, tender, gentle and caring filled with hope and loving kindness? The things we say matter, and whether we speak praise or slander, truth or lies, those “choice morsels” are the fruit we must eat.

In Matthew 15:11, Jesus says, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth – this defiles a person,” and in verse 18 he explains that whatever comes out of the mouth precedes from the heart. Think about that for a minute. It’s what we have been holding dear, what we have filled ourselves with that we carelessly let fly out of our mouths. Our words have power, power to build up or power to tear down. They also have consequences, and that’s why it behooves us to measure them carefully, to think before we speak, to understand that what we say and how we say it will come back to us, if for no other reason than to continually examine what we’ve been holding dearest in our hearts, and to know that we’ll may have to eat those words – the fruit of our tongues, which springs from our hearts.
~SLM

 

Proverbs the Handbook of Life Part V: Words Count

When I was a kid, whenever someone was mean we’d say “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  It’s a glib little saying, meant to help us through a difficult situation by reminding us that what others say of us can only define us when we allow it to, a way to remind ourselves that it is how we are judged by God that counts. But words do have power, they may not break our bones, but they can break our will, our heart, and our spirit. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that every word we speak promotes either life or death, that our words can either encourage or devastate, build up or tear down.

In fact, the Proverbs are filled with warnings about the cavalier use of language. It behooves us, then, to not only watch what we say to others, but also how we say it. There are so many times in life when we just ramble on incessantly, carelessly repeating the latest gossip without ever stopping to think of how our words are impacting those around us. We prattle on, so wrapped up in our own little universe, so convinced that we have the “right” to say anything we want to say, never understanding that while we can say whatever we choose, wisdom dictates that we choose our words carefully, thoughtfully, lovingly.

In Matthew 12:33-37, Christ says this:

33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Words count. They can be the most beautiful sound in the world, or tear our world completely apart, and we can choose every day to speak life.

Heavenly Father,

Fill my life with peace and love. Fill each breath I take with the wonder of your creation. Show me the meaning of faith; let me know it with every fiber of my being. Teach me to trust that no matter how it appears, I am fully taken care of, and that all of my needs are met at every moment. Help me to shine Your light brightly, so others may be witness to Your majesty. Speak to my heart; let Your Word be my guide, so I may speak life in all I do.  Amen.

~SLM

Deuteronomy #3: The Good Land

It seems the more we have, the more we tend to take things for granted. Whole generations have grown up not knowing how much they are given, how much they have in relation to those around them, how truly blessed and fortunate they are to be able to live in comfortable houses, have plenty to eat, have the latest gadgets, multiple automobiles, good incomes, and more of everything. Deuteronomy 8 tells us that it’s precisely in times like these, times of plenty, when we should “remember the Lord,” that we should praise God for the “good land” into which he has brought us.

Great blessings come with great responsibilities, and we are warned to keep our pride in check, to remember the source of our blessings. When times are good, and everything is going our way, sometimes we forget to be grateful, thankful for all that has been given us. Back in the day, we’d have said, “you’ve got to dance with the one who brought you,” meaning that we should not let it slip our notice just how we got to where we find ourselves, and who it was that made it possible. Proverbs 16:18 tells us “pride precedes a disaster, and an arrogant attitude precedes a fall,” and this is so very true; it’s exactly when we become all full of ourselves, patting ourselves on the back for all that we have accomplished, that we set ourselves up for a little humble pie.

Dear Lord, help me to affix my eyes upon you and on your Word so that I may ever remember who brought me, who has protected me and provided for me, who has given me the many gifts I possess, who has led me into my “promised land,” so that in the end it will go well with me. Amen

~SLM

Proverbs 12: The 3 P’s of Discipline

Proverbs 12 starts with this simple thought:  “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” Wow, if ever there was a mantra for the pursuit of Wisdom this would be it; the idea that accepting and even loving discipline produces knowledge, and those who cannot, or will exercise it are fools. It is knowledge and understanding that lead us to Wisdom, and it’s through discipline that we gain knowledge. Discipline is the key, and it occurs to me that discipline should be spelled with 3 P’s.

The first P is pretense, the act of deception. Fools pretend to know, they make up answers to sound more important, more impressive; they are sanctimonious in their opinions, clinging to them stubbornly. But, when we pretend, we lie, we give false testimony, we give bad advice and eventually we become trapped by our tongues. Luke 6:45 tells us, “a good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Discipline has no use for deception. Not knowing the truth of a situation doesn’t make us less, it doesn’t mean that we are not smart or that we are worthless. It simply means that we do not know, and all the nonsense in the world will not change the truth.

The second P is prudence, the act of discretion. Fools rush to judgment, and that rarely turns out well. When we are not judicious with a situation, our reckless words and deeds inflict pain and suffering that we cannot take back – once the thoughts are verbalized and the deeds are done, the words and actions are out there forever, and no amount of back-peddling, no amount of contrition can change it. Matthew 7:2 tells us, “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Discipline demands discretion, and if we approach life with humility, deliberation, and wisdom, when situations do arise, we can persevere, using the “measure” we would have given unto us.

P number 3 is patience, the act of imperturbability. Fools are easily annoyed – they over react and fly off the handle, act rashly and make snap judgments. In essence, they lack patience. Discipline requires patience, lots of patience, patience to wait for the right timing, to dig a little deeper, to contemplate our next move, to listen to the voice of God. We are wise when we look past the apparent, practicing forbearance and tolerance, looking behind the curtain with consideration and understanding, and acting judiciously.

Correction is a gift from God.  When we are so mired in our own self-righteousness, we are operating from a place of arrogance, a place where we are so filled with ourselves and our own opinions that there is literally no room for a divergent thought.  When we’re in that place we can’t even hear the wind blowing let alone the promptings of Spirit. Verse 14 says, “From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward,” and if our goal is to live life in His Wisdom, then we should welcome discipline, be thankful for it, realizing that sometimes fine-tuning is just what is needed for our growth and happiness.

~SLM

Proverbs 11 The Handbook for Life Part IV: Karma

Any handbook for life worth considering is bound to have a healthy chapter covering Karma. As defined by the dictionary, Karma is the concept of “action” or “deed” understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect. It’s the prevalent “hip” expression for payback, but, Karma is more than just “what goes around comes around,” it’s about the law of attraction, about actions; how we act and thereby live our lives dictates what we attract unto ourselves.

 

It’s funny to me how we like to pick and choose the attributes of Karma that suit us at any given time, and we are more apt to apply it to others than to ourselves. We are quick to point out how we think the actions of others are bound to return “bad Karma” to them, while completely ignoring our own actions. Saying things like, “well, maybe I’m so-and-so’s karma,” or “Karma’s a bitch, man. Maybe you should think about what you are saying [to me],” meaning that if what is said is egregious enough, we’d be justified in meeting out our own brand of Karma. When we take matters into our own hands, avenging a real or perceived wrong, then our revenge is met with further revenge, and the cycle continues to spiral downward until only hate and prejudice remain. And, if you think about it, the idea that we have the right to make someone pay for what we believe is wrong, is the height of arrogance. It’s the ego throwing a temper tantrum, because someone dared to be thoughtless, unkind, or unjust to us, and, in our own hubris, we are determined to punish the offender.

Karma is a concept that involves consciousness, the thoughtful awareness of one’s actions, and the realization of how we impact others, and to me, it is synonymous with the idea of turning the other cheek. Not reacting to a situation takes strength of will, it takes courage. It’s the ultimate state of being mindful of our actions and their consequences, allowing us the opportunity to treat others as we would be treated, no matter what the situation, creating a positive charge, and giving the responsibility of retribution to a power greater than us, which frees us from the cycle of cause and effect.

 

The law of attraction compels us to trust in spirit, to strive to do the right thing, even if doing so seems naive or foolish at the time, because it teaches us that we attract to ourselves those things which we seek. If we seek goodness, we find it, if we seek spirit, we find it, if we seek wisdom, we find it, and if we seek trouble, we find it. We are continually seeking every day of our lives, whether consciously or cavalierly, whether fully engaged or on auto-pilot, we usually find exactly what we seek, we reap what we have sown. Therefore we must guard our thoughts, our tongues, and our actions, being ever mindful of the fruit we bring to bear.

 

Luke 6:43-45 tells us “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

 

We eat the fruit of our own choosing, and if that fruit is bad, rotten, then it is we who shoulder the blame.

~SLM

Proverbs 11:1-16: Handbook for Life Part III

…and the interpretations continue…

1The Lord detests dishonest scales,
but accurate weights find favor with him.

Treating everyone and everything with honesty and fairly is pleasing to the eyes of God.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.

Pride is the great downfall of mankind. When we let our pride get in the way, we cannot hear the voice of wisdom, but unpretentiousness opens our ears to God’s guidance.

The integrity of the upright guides them,
but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.

Those who strive for decency have truth and authenticity to guide them, while the false and faithless will be ruined by their deceitfulness.

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.

The accumulated possessions of this world hold no value in times of disaster and crisis, but wisdom, knowledge and honesty provides safety.

The righteousness of the blameless makes their paths straight,
but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness.

The very act of living honestly and respectably simplifies our lives and makes them straight-forward, but if we scheme, our schemes become our undoing.

The righteousness of the upright delivers them,
but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires.

It is our integrity that carries us forward, that gives us rectitude and keeps us truthful, but the dishonest, the devious, the treacherous, are enslaved by their malicious desires.

Hopes placed in mortals die with them;
all the promise of their power comes to nothing.

Faith given over to humans is misplaced faith, because all of mankind’s promise and power comes to nothing, for men die and with them dies all their desires, all their prospects, all their hopes.

The righteous person is rescued from trouble,
and it falls on the wicked instead.

An honest person is liberated from trouble, which falls on the despicable instead.

With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors,
but through knowledge the righteous escape.

With their words, godless people destroy others, but through wisdom and judiciousness the decent can escape the trap of gossip.

10 When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices;
when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.

When good triumphs over evil, or when the wicked are destroyed, we all celebrate it.

11 Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted,
but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.

Through their blessings, good people exalt others, and through their words, the malicious tear others down.

12 Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense,
but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.

Someone who put others down, ridiculing and disparaging them spreads ruin and destruction, while those who are wise do not judge.

13 A gossip betrays a confidence,
but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.

If a gossip will tell just one thing, he will tell all, but one who is trustworthy will hold his tounge.

14 For lack of guidance a nation falls,
but victory is won through many advisers.

It is best for leaders to listen to the points of view from all sides, to consider the advice of many in order to give wise counsel and provide for stability safety.

15 Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer,
but whoever refuses to shake hands in pledge is safe.

Vouching for the credit of someone you do not know well is a fool’s errand, better to walk away than to suffer for a bad decision.

16 A kindhearted woman gains honor,
but ruthless men gain only wealth.

Honor and respect are given to a kind and gracious woman, while money only goes to heartless men.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

This section of Proverbs is clearly about how to treat others, about how to live our lives in conjunction with others. It instructs us to live our lives honestly and conscientiously, to think of how our actions, or lack of actions, affect others. Romans 12:17-18 advises us, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Proverbs 11:1-16 serves as a reminder of the laws of physics, which demand that for every action there is an equal and/or opposite reaction. Living consciously is the key; being aware of how our actions produce re-actions, of how our daily lives, and what we choose to do and say, influences all those with whom we interact. We should think of ourselves less and others more, remembering that community is as important as we are.

If we would simply hold our tongues, close our lips, open our eyes and ears, seeking God’s wisdom and guidance, keeping His commands, we would see and understand many things we have never even thought it possible to know.

~SLM