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

A Prayer for Communication

Heavenly Father, inventor and keeper of the word, fill me with Your love and compassion whenever I speak. Let me not sully my discourse with bitterness and hatred, but create in me Your spirit of benevolence guiding my words with prudence and dignity, so they may be a source of enthusiasm and inspiration, of calm comfort to others. Amen.

 

 

~SLM

Proverbs 10:17-32 Handbook for Life Part II

…and the paraphrasing continues with chapter 10, verse 17…

17 Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life,
but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.

Those who exercise discipline, who observe and follow a mindful philosophy, are like a beacon shining on a hill for others to see and emulate, but those who disregard their need for adjustment, who discount their actions, and deny their faults, are like blind curve on a mountain pass that can send you crashing into utter ruin.

18 Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips
and spreads slander is a fool.

Smiling faces sometimes tell lies, and those who cover over hatred with congenial gestures while disparaging others misuse their mental powers, reason wrongly.

19 Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues.

Misdeeds cannot be corrected by confusing the situation with word upon word of superfluous information, because words without sincerity and intention are meaningless, but when we stop and contemplate, conserving our remarks, we act judiciously.

20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver,
but the heart of the wicked is of little value.

When we live in a place of honesty and integrity, speaking with kindness and love, our actions become a gift more valuable than the choicest silver, but those whose hearts harbor selfish desires and malicious intent hold no worth, they are of little consequence.

21 The lips of the righteous nourish many,
but fools die for lack of sense.

A fool would rather die than to think differently, to use their intelligence to help others instead of for their own selfish desires. But when we come from a place of honesty, choosing a moral path, encouraging others to be the best version of themselves, we are like fertile ground; we feed the spirit.

22 The blessing of the Lord brings wealth,
without painful toil for it.

See the post titled “Count Your Blessings” for this one!

23 A fool finds pleasure in wicked schemes,
but a person of understanding delights in wisdom.

This one needs no translation. It speaks for itself in plain language, ‘nough said!

24 What the wicked dread will overtake them;
what the righteous desire will be granted.

When we walk out of step with wisdom, what we fear and worry over is called to us, but if we seek wisdom’s counsel, and live our lives rightly, then our desires are called to us.

25 When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone,
but the righteous stand firm forever.

When things get hard, complicated, and the “shit hits the fan,” the vile disappear, but the reputable stand firm and work through the tempest.

26 As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
so are sluggards to those who send them.

This verse serves to remind us that no one appreciates laziness. When we are lazy, we cause pain and suffering to those who depend upon us.

27 The fear of the Lord adds length to life,
but the years of the wicked are cut short.

Respect for things we don’t understand, the powers of nature, of the universe, of God, and a humble attitude toward these powers, makes us more prudent in our choices, while an irreverent, arrogant attitude toward them spur rash and irrational behavior that can put our lives in danger.

28 The prospect of the righteous is joy,
but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing.

When we live an honorable and faith-filled life, our outlook transforms into happiness and enjoyment, but the expectations of the hateful will not materialize.

29 The way of the Lord is a refuge for the blameless,
but it is the ruin of those who do evil.

Following God’s laws are a comfort and a sanctuary for the virtuous, but God’s way is both a threat and a disaster for those who are corrupt and unethical.

30 The righteous will never be uprooted,
but the wicked will not remain in the land.

If we live our lives with integrity and authenticity, we become like an oak tree, deeply rooted in spirit, but when we choose the path of dishonesty and immorality, we are like tumble weeds, drifting in the wind,.

31 From the mouth of the righteous comes the fruit of wisdom,
but a perverse tongue will be silenced.

The person who does the right thing speaks with the voice of wisdom, but those who twist the truth, distorting it, will be stifled.

32 The lips of the righteous know what finds favor,
but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.

Those who are decent and upright speak in love and consideration, while the unpleasant and malicious skew truth, speaking in profane and self-serving nonsense.

It is interesting to me how many references to speech are used Proverbs 10, as if reminding us that “loose lips sink ships!” To live wisely, we are advised to watch our mouths, to hold our tongues, to understand that what we say can and does have a huge impact upon others, as well as ourselves. There are consequences to everything in life, and spreading gossip, speaking badly of others, and using our faculties of language to impugn or injure others will most certainly come back upon us, will indict us with our own words.

~SLM

Proverbs 10:22 Count Your Blessings

Sometimes, when studying scripture, you’re handed a big, fat, juicy morsel to chew on and digest, and for me, Proverbs 10:22 is just such a tidbit.

“It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich,
And He adds no sorrow to it,”

A simple sentence, packed with a complexity of subtle flavors, and a rich texture of nourishing truth that speaks on many levels.

On one plane, we are reminded that anxiety and pain often times comes from our want of something, from our coveting what others have, and when we focus on our lack, lack is all we can see. It tells us that what we emphasize in our lives is what we create for ourselves. So, when we emphasize God, counting our blessings, we underscore the many gifts we are given every day, our abundance, and it changes our perception, giving us the chance to see the world around us with new eyes.

On another level, it tells us to look at life through joyful eyes. If we delight in our many blessings, our lives become welcome, and our happiness permeates our entire being, making our daily lives a gift rather than a burden to us. Even if our road takes us down a few dark alleys, scary places we don’t understand or appreciate, we can still see the positive, find the joy, and know that we are loved and cared for. The Lord’s blessings enrich us, even if they are given through difficulties.

It also speaks to the fact that the things of this world, our clothes, our cars, our home, or our nifty little electronic toys, are very transitory. They do not last, nor do they hold any real significance in the overall scheme of things. The point we should hold in our hearts is this: It is God’s blessings that make us rich, and when we realize this simple truth, realize just how fortunate we truly are, our daily “toils” are no longer painful, they shrink away to nothingness.

~SLM

Proverbs 10: The Handbook for Life Part I

So now we come to it, Solomon’s guidebook for living, an “owner’s manual” for life that compares and contrasts wisdom with foolishness, virtue with vice. In the next several posts on Proverbs, I will treat The Wise Sayings of Solomon as if they are a foreign language to be decoded, explained, translated into plain English.  These two-line Haiku style poems, found in chapters 10 through 22:16, and continuing in chapters 27 to 29, represent the wisdom of the ages, condensed and codified, divided into 16 parts (and for my purposes, 32, so as to keep any one posting from hitting the realm of a doctoral thesis!), and showing us how to lead a good life before the eyes of God.

Solomon’s Wise Sayings begin with a simple, yet profound observation;

1A wise son brings joy to his father,
 but a foolish son brings grief to his mother.

If you make good choices in life, it’s your dad who is the proudest of you, but it’s a mother who feels it most, whose heart is broken when a child turns out wrong. Dads are more apt to cut their losses and distance themselves from a hurtful situation, but moms suffer for it. They’re the ones who hold out hope, even when all hope seems lost, that some good would come from a difficult situation. That’s why it’s such a joy when a prodigal child to return home, such a blessing when one realizes the error of one’s ways.

2 Ill-gotten treasures have no lasting value,
but righteousness delivers from death.

The things that we hold most dear are those that we have to toil to achieve. If we don’t have to work for something, we have no concept of its worth, its true value. If we are dishonest, take short cuts or take advantage of others to get what we want, it usually doesn’t turn out very well.

3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,
but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

God takes care of those who follow his way, his instruction, yet he also frustrates the desires of the nefarious. He takes care of his own. Luke 12:24 tells us “consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”

4 Lazy hands make for poverty,
but diligent hands bring wealth.

We are keepers of our families, our homes, our communities, and productivity is the better part of good stewardship. There are things in life that simply need to be done, and when we neglect them, whether it’s our health, our finances, or our spirituality, we find ourselves in situations that can bring us to ruin.

5 He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son,
but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-22 we are told that to all things there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Wisdom teaches us the practicality of taking action at the appropriate time, of “making hay while the sun is shining,” but if we are heedless or neglectful of our duties we dishonor ourselves.

6 Blessings crown the head of the righteous,
but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

When we are honest and decent, living our lives respectably, and treating people with honor, the blessings we bestow upon others returns to us manifold.  But, if we let our mouths over load our backsides, disrespecting and demeaning others, causing them pain and anguish, then we can expect to reap vehemence and cruelty.

7 The name of the righteous is used in blessings,
but the name of the wicked will rot.

We remember and honor virtuous folks, and we use them as examples to follow, to pattern ourselves after. But the wicked are reviled, detested and condemned, and they are irrevocably linked to corruption and perversion.

8 The wise in heart accept commands,
but a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The idea of attaining wisdom is connected to the notion of learning from our own or others’ mistakes, listening for and accepting instructions, taking responsibility for our actions and moving forward. But the foolish never listen, take responsibility, or accept directions. They blabber on, smugly believing they know it all, and their arrogance is their down fall.

9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.

If we take the high road, walking in truthfulness and decency, our road is protected, and we can feel confident in our dealings with others. But, if we are deceitful, telling half-truths and twisting the facts, it is our scheming that eventually exposes our falseness and dishonesty.

10 Whoever winks maliciously causes grief,
and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

When we are unkind, making fun and talking behind other’s backs; the consequences are pain and suffering for ourselves and others. When we chatter on without regard to what we are saying, we are the one who ends up with egg on our face, who is disgraced.

11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

When we speak honestly, have decency and are respectful of others, we become a source for understanding and inspiration to them, but the malicious and contemptuous, disguise their true intent with their words.

12 Hatred stirs up conflict,
but love covers over all wrongs.

Animosity always precedes conflict, and discord begets more hatred, but love, love is the answer. It erases all wrongs and understanding is its progeny.

13 Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning,
but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense.

You can think whatever you want to, but it’s not very wise to say everything you think; discernment is the key to getting along with others, and those who show no sense inevitably suffer for their lack of judgment.

14 The wise store up knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.

To become wise, we must adopt the habit of listening. It’s through our ears that our knowledge builds upon itself, like a house is built from the foundation up, but those who are foolish attract ruin, because they are incessantly bragging of all they know, rather than listening.

15 The wealth of the rich is their fortified city,
but poverty is the ruin of the poor.

When we appreciate the blessings in our lives, we recognize God’s abundance, and our blessings become our fortification, but if we are never satisfied, and see only the thing we do not have, then our attitude of ingratitude becomes our ruin.

16 The wages of the righteous is life,
but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death.

When we live in an honest and virtuous manner, what we gain is character, spirit, life, but if we are corrupted, dishonest and malicious, then we are as zombies, we are dead inside.

And so ends my translation of The Handbook, Part I.        ~ SLM