My New Friend

Last week while passing a lumber yard, I noticed a man sorting through what appeared to be clean discards. I hadn’t noticed that before, so I wasn’t sure what I had seen. With my curiosity piqued and my hoarder tendencies activated, I made my way safely into the turn lane, then backed up 50 yards or so to investigate more closely. I rolled my window down as I backed into the entrance, then asked the man, “Is that give-away lumber?” “Yes,” he responded about the time I saw the spray painted “FREE” sign in front of the rack of miscellaneous pieces of lumber. As he looked up, he said, “I’ve got lots of ideas for this wood.” That fueled my interests more, and the possibilities started to race through my brain as I clumsily tried to push pause on the Ted Talk on reducing clutter in my life that was emanating from my phone. Reducing clutter had suddenly become less important in the presence of a treasure trove of possibilities residing in that stack of free lumber pieces.

As I approached the stack, I found myself in the midst of a mental and emotional battle: On the one hand, even though I had no intended purpose for the lumber, it was there. And. It. Was. Free. On the other hand, I had listened to several Ted Talks that morning that focused on organizing my life by simplifying, which included reducing clutter and stuff that I don’t need. Should I or shouldn’t I? Yes! No! I don’t know!

In an effort to find reprieve from the “yes/no” battle going on in my head and heart, I offered to help the man get his lumber into his car. To his objection, I grabbed all his wood and said, “I’ll get this, you open the back.” As I looked back, I noticed that he was noticeably dragging his right foot. His hat said “US Army Disabled Veteran” so I thanked him for his service and used that as conversation starter, which is one of the tips for engaging with others that I teach my classes. However, while we continued with the small talk, my mind kept returning to the free wood. Should I take some or not?

During our conversation, the man struggled to remember common information. For example, when I asked where he is from, he immediately said, “California.” However, as he continued to tell me that his wife was from Missouri, he struggled to remember the city. “She’s from … just a second. She’s from … uh … uh … uh … it starts with a B. She’s from Bri___ no, that’s not it. Sorry, I can’t remember the name of the town.” As he tried to remember the name of his wife’s home town he even tried to spell it out with his finger in the air, but it never came to him. Then, he apologized again for not being able to remember the city before he confessed something really personal. “Listen, I had a stroke recently and I … uh … uh … uh …,” he said as he motioned around his head with his finger. I helped him finish his thought, “And things aren’t always connecting.” “Yes. Things aren’t always connecting.”

Then he asked me, “Are … you … uh … are you … uh … a … Christian?” In that moment, I noted something really important. My new friend who had just confessed that “things aren’t always connecting” in his brain because of the stroke, had not lost his heart concern that others know his savior. It would have been easier to let it slide and simply hope the best for me. Or, not to even think about me again. Who could blame him. He had suffered a stroke, after all. But, Christ matters.

I’ve thought much about this encounter in these intervening days. I’m thankful for a real example to share with my students. I’m also thankful for a real example to remind myself about the priorities in my own life.

I’m thankful someone cared about me. Note to self: Now, go and do likewise.

That’s Odd and Destructive

Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
    so honor is not fitting for a fool.

Proverbs 26:1 ESV

Snow in the summer is odd. Rain during the harvest is destructive. Why would the writer use these two word pictures to say that it is not fitting to offer honor to a fool?

First, it’s odd to bestow honor on a fool. In Proverbs, the fool is the one who is unwise and destructive in action, spirit, or attitude. Why would you heap honor on that person? Honor is rightly reserved for that which is good or excellent. The Super Bowl MVP gets a trophy, not the player with the worst statistics on the losing team. The kid who wins the spelling bee by correctly spelling “scherenschnitte”* receives the scholarship, not the kid who misspelled “dog” in the first round. This is intuitive; it makes sense, naturally.

Second, honoring a fool for his foolishness is not only odd, it’s destructive. Farmers race to get the crops in ahead of the rain during harvest season because of the potential harm to the crop, both in the field and in the barn. Among other things, late rain can stimulate mold growth, which can make its way up the stalk, destroying the corn or grain. A wet harvest can also require extra labor to dry the crop or risk loss of the crop due to mold and mildew while the crops are being stored.

Honoring a fool is destructive because it encourages the fool to continue his foolishness. Why would a man seek wisdom when he is being honored as a fool? Social media may be the most appropriate illustration of this principle. Outrageous behavior or speech is rewarded with likes and shares. And, rather than curb their outrageous behavior, people think … “I can outdo that. Let’s see how many likes I can get.”

Questions:

1. In what ways has my foolishness been honored? Did that honor move me toward godliness or away from godliness?

2. In what ways do I honor fools? Does that move others toward or away from godliness?

3. How has this passage helped me to see a better way?

* 13-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, was declared co-champion of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee after correctly spelling “scherenschnitte.” She shared the honor with 14-year-old Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Missouri, who correctly spelled “nunatak.”

A Golden Outcome

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
    is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Proverbs 25:12 ESV

The writer mentions two parties in this verse, the speaker and the listener, and both have an important part in the relationship.

The speaker is described as wise, and his words are corrective. And, though it is not stated specifically the speaker has a willingness to engage another who, given the context, is not doing something correctly. Thus, we could summarize the speaker’s qualities as wisdom and willingness.

In a similar way, the listener demonstrates a willingness to be engaged and corrected by another person, which demonstrates his own wisdom. We can say this with confidence, though it is not explicitly mentioned in this verse, because elsewhere in Proverbs, such a person is described as wise. For example, 10:1 says, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction ….”

The word picture used to illustrate these two people is a gold ring or a gold ornament. These items are used to add value or enhance someone or something else. Thus, the wise reprover adds value to the wise listener. In other words, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

Questions:

1. In what way are you preparing yourself to be a wise reprover? How do you build your credibility to offer reproof to another person.

2. Do you have a listening ear, one that accepts correction? When was the last time you received correction/instruction from another person? Did you receive that correction happily or begrudgingly? In what way can you improve in this area?

A Timely Re-Post: Connecting the Dots … Wrongly

This was originally published here on January 12, 2014.

In my Acts of the Apostles course, one of the projects the students are required to complete is the Personal Application Paper, which requires the student to catalog twenty principles they have discovered in their study of the book of Acts. They are then required to formulate a plan to apply each of the principles to their lives.

An example of how this project works follows:

PRINCIPLE: Everything isn’t as it immediately seems, therefore, don’t draw definite conclusions hastily.

TEXT: Acts 28:3–6

BACKGROUND: En route to Rome according to his appeal to Caesar, Paul survived a treacherous voyage at sea and landed at Malta, battered but alive. Paul was among 276 survivors who were welcomed by the local residents. However, he was a prisoner, which apparently communicated certain things about him to his hosts; namely, that he was somehow shortchanging justice by surviving the shipwreck. This conclusion regarding their assumptions is based on what his hosts said in response to Paul being bitten on the hand by a viper,

“No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”

Acts 28:4 ESV

In the minds of those who were watching Paul, certain things were obvious: a) He was a prisoner who was guilty, likely of murder; b) he deserved punishment, though somehow he had apparently dodged it by surviving the shipwreck; and c) Justice (or fate) had finally caught up to him by way of the viper.

The dots were connecting very nicely … until Paul simply shook free of the viper and suffered no ill effects (28:5). However, being certain that “a” leads to “b” leads to “c”, their confidence was only slightly halted by the delay in any obvious effects of the snake bite. Because these dots were so easy to connect, they could wait expectantly for Paul “to swell up or suddenly fall down dead” (28:6). But, after waiting a long time and having none of their expectations realized, they had to reconsider their conclusions regarding Paul.

This time, though, things were more clear: a) a man who survives a stormy sea and shipwreck, b) which is immediately followed by a deadly snakebite that has no ill effect, c) is clearly “a god” (28:6). Paul must be a god. Yes, that has to be it; those dots connect very nicely! Or, … perhaps, there is still a better – more correct – explanation.

POINT: Sometimes, things aren’t what they seem … even when they seem so obvious or clear. For those of us who believe we can read people well, this is a difficult thing to accept. Better yet, it’s difficult to practice patience. And this lack of patience can be particularly harmful (to us and others) when we begin to assign motive for their actions. Here’s the truth: sometimes people do things for reasons that appear very obvious, but in reality, are for very different reasons or for no real reason at all. Sometimes we do dumb things or do things badly, just because we are people.

“Why did you throw a rock through Mrs. Jones’ barn window?” the teenager’s mother angrily enquired. “It’s because she told us that she saw you smoking at the back of her property; it’s payback, isn’t it?” his dad accusingly interrupted, conveniently wrapping up the mystery. “No! I didn’t even think about whose window it was. I don’t know why I did it; Joe and I were walking behind her barn and we saw some rocks and a dusty old window, and without really thinking we thought, ‘let’s see who can hit the window.’ He threw first and missed. Unfortunately, I won; I hit it on my first try,” the teen explained.

In the fictional conversation above, the dots connected very easily for the teen’s parents: a) They knew their son; b) Mrs. Jones had reported his smoking; and c) that report obviously led to retaliation. Or did it? In reality – as much as a fictional story can portray reality – their son broke the window because: a) he is a teenage boy in the company of another teenage boy; b) he had access to rocks and an old window; and c) it seemed like fun to see who could break the glass. Pretty simple. Pretty reasonable, … if you know teenage boys who have access to rocks and old windows.

But, if the glass is still broken, what difference does it make if it was broken for revenge or the result of a poor decision? It makes all the difference in the world in terms of how the matter should be handled. In this case, revenge is a matter of the heart; a poor decision is a matter of maturity. Furthermore, the revenge angle wrongly assigns evil intent to the teen, which unfairly harms his reputation and the relationship between him and his parents.

APPLICATION: I will endeavor to be slower and more considered (i.e., investigative) in connecting dots, particularly when the dots lead to negative conclusions about others based on their actions. Proverbs 18:17 offers wisdom to this end:

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

Take the Long View

Fret not yourself because of evildoers,
    and be not envious of the wicked,
for the evil man has no future;
    the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

Proverbs 24:19-20 ESV

Wise parents teach their children the value of the long view, especially when their emotions typically overrule their reason. We can see things our kids can’t. “Be patient, and let’s see how this works out,” we might encourage them in a moment of crisis. “You may not think you need that now, but you will when you go to college … or get a job,” we may warn them when they don’t see the value in a particular course or assignment. “If you spend your money on that, it will be that much longer before you can buy that car,” we remind them at that moment when money is burning a hole in their pocket and they feel like they have to buy something. There are a variety of ways to say, “Take the long view.”

Here, the writer reminds us to “take the long view.” For those worrying that evildoers will ultimately triumph, don’t. For those thinking the wicked have it best, don’t. In those Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 moments, it’s easy to lose heart or focus … or hope. Do you ever wonder why those who pursue evil seem to succeed? You are not alone. In the words of some Old Testament prophets: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (Jeremiah 12:1) “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13)

God answers Jeremiah and Habbakuk and you and me with a three word phrase throughout the Old Testament: “in that day.” This phrase, occurring more than 60 times (see list below), indicates a day of reckoning is coming. Take the long view because things will not always be as they are now. “In that day, … when all things will be made right” is the idea being conveyed. This is what the writer of Proverbs is conveying as well: “for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out” (24:20).

Don’t lose heart; take the long view. Perhaps spending time in Revelation 20-22 would be helpful in giving meaning to the “long view.”

Questions:

  1. In what circumstances are you most tempted to take a short view of life or circumstances?
  2. In what way(s) could you encourage someone who is tempted to fret because of evildoers, or someone who is envious of the wicked?

NOTE: The phrase “in that day” occurs in:

Amos 8:3,9,13, 9:11

Isaiah 2:11,17,20, 3:7,18, 4:1,2, 5:30, 7:18,20,21,23, 10:20,27, 11:10,11, 12:1,4, 17:4,7,9, 19:16,18,19,21,23,24, 20:6, 22:8,20,25, 24:21, 25:9, 26:1, 27:1,2,12,13, 28:5, 29:18, 30:23, 31:7, 52:6

Jeremiah 4:9, 30:8, 48:41, 49:22,26, 50:30

Ezekiel 38:14,18

Hosea 1:5, 2:16,18,21

Joel 3:18

Obadiah 8

Micah 2:4, 4:6, 5:10, 7:12

Zechariah 2:11, 3:10

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