Back to School … Attitudes and Choices

Today: Proverbs 15

Summer break is over for my three younger kids. This year, our youngest, Anna, starts high school. She is excited and anxious (worried she’ll get lost in the hallways). Sarah is a junior this year, and Dru is a senior. Both are focused on “what’s next” after they graduate: colleges and careers.

I woke up early and before waking them up, I read Proverbs 15. I immediately knew what today’s verse of the day would be:

The wise person makes learning a joy; fools spout only foolishness (Proverbs 15:2, NLT).

As we sat together at the kitchen table and they ate chocolate chip muffins and drank their Starbucks frappuccinos (special treat for the first day of school), I shared this verse with them and encouraged them to think about it today.

My hope is that learning will be a joy for each of our kids this year! But this verse is not based on my hope. It’s based on their attitudes and choices. “The wise person makes learning a joy.” This will be a choice each of them will make each day. They can choose to say: “I hate school. I don’t like my algebra teacher. I don’t understand chemistry (Oops, that’s what I said in high school!). I’m bad in math. I’m going to get lost in the hallways……” Or they can choose to say: “My algebra teacher has some personality flaws, but I’ll have grace on her and focus on completing my assignments. Chemistry isn’t easy, but I’ll find a way to get this! I’ll find my way through the halls and there are plenty of people to help me if I need them.” You get what I mean.

This is not just about our kids, of course. As adults, our attitudes will often determine our outcomes. Maybe we need to go “back to school” to learn how to make better choices! Maybe we need to have other people, wise counselors, in our lives to show us the way and encourage us. Who are those people? How will I choose to respond to my challenges today?

What challenges are you facing today? How will you choose to respond? Do you need any attitude adjustments? Who will you talk to about this?

Doctrinal Impurity in Small Groups

Today: Proverbs 14

As a “small groups guy,” people often try to suck me into a debate about doctrinal impurity that may come about in a small group discussion. In a recent discussion on a Facebook forum, one leader said, “Without the right leadership you end up with far too much ‘I think’ or ‘what this means to me’ and not enough solid truth.”

The guy is right; the “right leadership” is vitally important. But what is meant by “right leadership”? Others on the forum pointed to a need for high control by the church over what is taught in groups and by whom. Some believe that to be a small group leader you must first become a Bible expert so that you don’t unintentionally teach doctrinal error. And yet, doctrinal error has been taught by some of the most Bible-literate people in the world, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, for instance.  Others believe that church leaders must select what curriculum every group will use and figuratively look over leaders’ shoulders in an attempt to guard what is taught. This high-control form of leadership leads to low trust in the leaders who have been called to shepherd the flocks entrusted to their care.

As I think about this issue, I have a few questions that I think are worth considering:

  • Who is the “right leader” for a small group? What skills, knowledge, personality traits, and heart attitudes does this person need?
  • How can church leaders equip and empower leaders to lead, and then entrust them to lead? How does good coaching help to equip, empower, and entrust?
  • Is the Bible to be read more for head knowledge or for wisdom and understanding? Do these two necessarily go together or can the latter be found without a comprehensive amount of the former?
  • Do the fears that people have about small groups fostering doctrinal impurity also apply to individuals reading the Bible themselves? (The same issue has been applied to individuals as to groups; some–entire religious bodies, in fact–have said that a person should not read the Bible without a religious expert in the room so that this expert can interpret what the Scriptures mean.)
  • What is the role of the Holy Spirit in groups and for individuals? (Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Counselor” and the “Spirit of truth” [John 14:16-17] who would “teach you all things” [v. 26] and “guide you into all truth” [16:13].)
  • Have we come to a point where we trust Bible scholars more than the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our groups?

I am not against gaining knowledge of the Scriptures. If you are a leader, you should know how to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). But remember that knowledge is not your aim, love is (1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:2). Knowledge is a means to the end of getting understanding. As I am reading through Proverbs, it’s obvious that what God wants for us is wisdom and understanding:

Wisdom is enshrined in an understanding heart; wisdom is not found among fools (Proverbs 14:33, NLT).

 I believe God gave us his Word as a guidebook for how to live life the best way — his way — not merely as a book of doctrine (although it does contain the right doctrine). When we sit to read God’s Word, we come into a time of communion with God where we can hear from him, where we can get a glimpse into his heart and how he cares for us and how he wants us to live. As we read God’s Word, we allow his Spirit to work within us to show us things we would not see, to change us in ways we could not otherwise be changed, to give us wisdom for life that we would not otherwise have, to empower us with his love so that we may overflow into the lives of others around us.

As I begin reading God’s Word each day, I like to pray something like this: God, here I am, I’m listening. Through your Holy Spirit, guide me into your truth today. Show me what you want me to see today. Use your Word to transform me — to mold me into what you want me to be.

If you lead a small group, you can start out your group meetings in a similar way. Jesus is present with you when you meet in his name (Matthew 18:20). His Spirit will guide you if you let him.

Look at the bulleted questions above. How would you answer those?


Dumb Criminals and the Hope of the Godly: It’s All in the Mind: Proverbs 10

Today: Proverbs 10

A man was released from jail at 12:01 a.m. At 12:09 a.m. he was spotted climbing over a chain link fence back onto the jail grounds, and attempting to pass a cigarette to an inmate through a steel grate covering a window. At 12:10 a.m. the man was back in custody, charged with illegal entry into a prison facility and disorderly conduct. True story.

I love dumb criminal stories. They prove the saying, “A person reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7) to be true.

Out of Proverbs 10, verse 24 stood out to me this morning:

“The fears of the wicked will all come true; so will the hopes of the godly” (Proverbs 10:24, NLT).

This proverb shows that a person’s attitude, the way he thinks about things, affects what he does and how his life goes. The King James Version of Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Our actions begin with what is inside of us. What we do starts with how we think. Our emotions get ahold of the way we think and they can solidify those thoughts within us until we act upon them.

Some people live with a lot of anxiety, which probably stems from guilt for the way they are living or even just the way they are thinking. Because their hope is not in the Lord, because they do not trust him to provide, they worry, and because they worry and cannot trust him, they steal and cheat and lie and slander and more to try to take care of themselves. Eventually their anxieties come true and they must deal with the consequences.

But what about the hopes of the godly? Do they always come true? I can tell you that it does not always seem that way, not at first anyway. My own hopes may not immediately come true, but I know they eventually will. The godly do not put their hope in this world, because they know this world is not their real home. Yet, sometimes God still gives the godly the things they hope for in this wolrd when they keep their eyes and hopes fixed on what God wants, not what they want.
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires”
Psalm 37:4, NLT). 

Taking delight in the Lord is a way of thinking about life. It’s an attitude that comes as you grow in your relationship with God. How do you get to this way of thinking and living? The apostle Paul told us exactly how: “Give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will accept. . . . Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is” Romans 12:1-2, NLT, my emphasis).

What do you think about your thoughts and attitudes affecting who you are and what you do?

Please Rebuke Me! Day 9 of Proverbs

Today: Proverbs 9 

Wise people love being rebuked. In fact, Proverbs 9 tells us, a wise person will love you all the more because you have helped him see something in himself that perhaps he did not see, and he can change it. I want people to give me feedback, criticism, and rebuke because it makes me wiser.

Mockers and fools, however, hate you if you rebuke them; they get defensive and may even counter-attack you. So what can you do to help the mocker or fool? Pray for  him. Pray God will bring her to the place where she will seek wisdom.

Here’s the passage I’m referring to:

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get a smart retort. Anyone who rebukes the wicked will get hurt. So don’t bother rebuking mockers; they will only hate you. But the wise, when rebuked, will love you all the more. Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more (Proverbs 9:7-9, NLT).

Now, this raises a question in regards to what Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-17, where he provided guidelines for dealing with someone who sins against you. We use Jesus’ guidelines all the time in small groups and in the church at large. But what if the person who has sinned against you is a fool? Do you go to him and show him his fault, and if he doesn’t listen, take someone else along, and if he still won’t hear you, take it to the church?

Perhaps Jesus’ first words in this passage are helpful: “If a brother sins against you.” This is a fellow Christ-follower in your community. But does that mean he or she is wise? Maybe not. I think Proverbs is cautioning you about how to approach a person–in your group, in your church, in your family–who does not have the emotional maturity and wisdom to receive your rebuke well. You’ll likely get a smart retort and you won’t win your brother or sister over. Instead, pray for the person. Pray that the Holy Spirit convicts him or her to what is right. Keep loving the person regardless (See Matthew 5:44).

God brings wisdom to those who seek him and are in community with others.

The other side of this is how you receive a rebuke. If you are wise, you will welcome constructive criticism. You want to grow and gain more wisdom, so you listen and then work on the issue. Many of us are blind to areas in our life that need to become better … but others see them! So welcome a rebuke from a friend. Thank him for it. And then ask for some accountability to deal with the problem.

 I’d love to hear what you think on this one. How is it best to deal with a fool who is in the wrong?

Top 3 Ways to Get Wisdom: Day 8 in Proverbs

Today: Proverbs 8

Solomon gives voice to Wisdom in this chapter. We get to hear what Wisdom would say to us, and mostly it is to seek her.

How do we receive Wisdom? First, through God’s Word. It is our primary resource for getting Wisdom; God gave us Scripture so we might gain Wisdom and know how to live the way he wants us to live. He has the best life in mind for us (life to the full), and his Word is our guidebook to that life.

Second, we receive Wisdom by spending time with God daily. While his Word is our main resource, He is the true source of all Wisdom, as well as every other good thing. Spending time communicating–both listening and talking–with Him every day is vital.

Third, we receive Wisdom by hanging around with people who are also seeking God’s Wisdom. This is why the Bible talks so much about the importance of being in authentic community where we can spur each other on, encourage one another, pray for one another, and confess our sins to one another. God speaks to us and through us when we take our whole selves into this kind of community. This is why I love small groups!

I think we also receive Wisdom as we persevere through the dark valleys of our lives, but only if we do the three things shared above. Trials and perseverence in life are part of the environment where Wisdom comes.

James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials 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 anything. 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 1:2-5). The apostle Paul said that our sufferings bring perseverance and that perseverance leads eventually to character (Romans 5:3-4). Proverbs shows us that having Wisdom produces character in our lives. Wisdom for its own sake is meaningless.

What other ways do we receive Wisdom? Which of these three ways described obove do you need most?

The Creator’s Guide to Living the Best Life Possible: Day 5 of Proverbs

Today: Proverbs 5 

On one level this chapter is about adultery and having the wisdom to run away from it. But adultery also represents disobeying God in any way. God’s Word is The Creator’s Guide to Living the Best Life Possible — life to the fullest. God’s Word does not restrict us, as many think. No, when we live life God’s way we have abundantly more freedom than we can imagine.

God has set boundaries for our behavior, because when we stray out of his boundaries we walk into all kinds of danger. There are things out there that will take us bondage and even lead to death. Our loving heavenly Father gave each of us free will and allows us to decide, but he gave us his Word to help us make the right decisions!

The verses that really stood out to me today are 12 and 13. After chasing after the adulterous woman (disobeying God’s Word), the person admits,

How I hated discipline! If only I had not demanded my own way! Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers? Why didn’t I pay attention to those who gave me instruction?

Regrets. Demanding my own way rather than trusting God and going his way will always lead to eventual regrets. Yet, with repentance, our creative God can turn even those bad decisions into good for us and for his glory!

Of course, we could avoid those regrets in the first place by living a disciplined life, a life focused on living for God within the protective, life-giving, Eden-like boundaries he has set.

Look at the end of this chapter, verses 21-23. It must sadden God to see his children use their free will to go down their own paths that lead to captivity and ultimately to death. But as the loving Father that he is, he waits for us to repent and come back to him.

What do you think about this idea of God lovingly setting boundaries for our good? Do you see the Bible this way? Do you see God’s Word as giving freedom or holding you down?

What Trusting God Really Means: Day 3 of Proverbs

Today: Proverbs 3

Proverbs  3 contains one of the best-known and oft-memorized verses in the Bible, Proverbs 3:5-6. Living out verses 5 & 6, however, depends on how we do with verses 1-4. And if we do live out Proverbs 3:5-6, we will receive the blessings in life God promises in the rest of this chapter!

If we want God’s guidance and want to know his will, we start by storing his commands (his Word) in our hearts (vv. 1-2) and we remain loving and faithful (vv. 3-4). These show us how to trust God with all our hearts. For followers, these attributes actually become part of our being, written on our hearts.

Warren Wiersbe says, “The word translated ‘trust’ in verse 5 means ‘to lie helpless, facedown.’ It pictures a servant waiting for the master’s command in readiness to obey, or a defeated soldier yielding himself to the conquering general.” Trusting God means letting go of my own way of doing things. It means surrender of my own will for his. It means acknowledging that he is the Leader of my life … and, just as importantly, I’m not.

Leaning on our own understanding simply means doing things our way or being wise in our own eyes (see v. 7). We can’t trust in God and lean on our own understanding at the same time. It’s an either-or proposition. God wants us to trust him with all our hearts. He is totally trustworthy.

Acknolwleding him (v. 6) means acknowledging that he is in charge, he is God and I am not, he is the Creator and Master of everything. When I acknowledge him, I acknowledge that his Word is true and his ways are best.
The promise, if we follow him, is that he will make our paths (our life) straight. That does not mean life won’t sometimes be hard or an uphill climb or even treacherous. But God will guide us on the path of life and we’ll be secure in him.

God may even discipline or rebuke us when we begin to wander off his path (vv. 11-12). Sometimes this “discipline” is the natural consequence of our choices and leaning on our own understanding, but other times it is God’s direct pruning of us (see John 15:1-2) to help us live more fruitful lives for him. This proverb tells us to not despise his discipline, to accept it as part of his growth plan for us.

If you are facing difficulties, don’t ask Why? Ask, What are you showing me through this Lord? How can I grow because of this? Don’t forget that like any good parent, our Heavenly Father disciplines those he loves!

Look at all the blessings in verses 13-35 for the follower who trusts God with all his or her heart! These verses also provide a variety of life lessons to live by (proverbs). Which one do you need to live by today?
Share what jumps out to you from Proverbs 3 or what you want to put into practice in your life today.

Top 10 Retweets – July 2012

Here are ten tweets I’ve retweeted over the last couple months. A lot of great wisdom here!


Rick Howerton‏  @rickhowerton

Either a leader leads like Christ, from a heart of love and mercy, or they aren’t a Christlike leader.

Jim Lyon‏  @PastorJimLyon
Everbody has some baggage. The trick is to let God pack your bags + develop the itinerary. Travel light. Travel right. Travel on purpose.

Sarah Michelle Mack  @Sarah_Mack123 (yes, this is my daughter!)
When no one else listens, turn to god. When everyone listens, turn to god. No matter what, he will listen.

Ed Stetzer‏  @edstetzer
“Consumerism reduces God from a deity to a commodity and reduces Jesus Christ from Lord to a label” @Skye_Jethani

Alan Danielson‏  @AlanDanielson
Great dreams and great people won’t accomplish much without a great strategy. Do the hard work. #3Threat #Leadership #fb

David C Cook‏  @David_C_Cook
“If you keep saying things are going to be bad, you have a chance of being a prophet. – Isaac B. Singer

C. S. Lewis‏  @CSLewisU
God doesn’t want something from us, he simply wants us. #CSLewis

C. S. Lewis‏  @CSLewisDaily
“If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.” #CSLewis

This Is Today‏  @This_Is_Today
Your Father knows you’ve sinned and rebelled – and he still comes running to meet you with open arms.

not a fan.‏  @iamnotafan
“Prayer is designed to adjust you to God’s will, not to adjust God to your will.” — Richard Blackaby

Step-by-Step Trust

Jesus calls you and me to follow him on this path of life, and that decision takes trust. Not just that first primary decision to start following him, but also the daily, minute-by-minute, step-by-step decisions to follow him.

As I’ve read through the Psalms lately, trust is a continual refrain. In fact, it’s a refrain throughout the Bible. Today in my daily time spent with the Father, I read Psalm 50:15: “Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory” (NLT).

This verse doesn’t say, “work harder in your times of trouble” or “go to counseling in your time of trouble” or “run to all your friends for their support in times of trouble” or “feel sorry for yourself in times of trouble” or a thousand other things humans tend to do in times of trouble. (None of those things are necessarily wrong, of course, and they can help, but none of them are the primary places to whch we should turn.) God keeps it simple. “Trust me in your times of trouble.” His promise is twofold: He will rescue you and me and, when he does, you and I will give him glory because he did it.

God will rescue me. That’s his promise, and I believe him. My part is simply to trust him. And when he does rescue me, it will be because he has done something only he could do! That’s the only way for him to receive glory! If the transformation happens because I did something, or it can be accredited to a counselor or pastor or book or whatever or whoever else, then they will receive the credit and glory. God is not a credit hog, but he is very interested in getting all our worship–all our worship! God will use other people and other things in his process, but he is Jehovah Jireh. He is the one who brings real transformation of the heart and mind. He deserves the glory!

And he will receive it.

I’d love to hear your feedback. in what are you trusting God these days? How are you seeing him rescue you? (Tell us your story!) How is he receiving glory through it?

In what ways do you struggle with this? Why is it so hard to trust God step-by-step?

The Shortcut: A Parable on the Path of Life

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I don’t know this trail very well. I don’t have any idea what is around the next corner, and the corners are many. It’s dangerous. It’s an adventure.

I’m hiking on someone else’s land. I’m a visitor on these trails, so I have no rights to go wherever I please and do whatever I want. The owner of this land is also my guide. He knows the trails. He knows what is around every corner. He knows every rock and root and drop off. He’s already conquered every climb and is victorious in every valley. Even the dangerous creatures in this land belong to him and must obey him.

As I travel along, I see  shortcuts on the trail. They appear to get me to my desired goal easier and faster. My guide looks straight ahead as he leads me along the main trail, and whispers, Trust me. Keep your eyes on the trail ahead of you, no matter how rough it may look. I’ll go with you on this journey. 

As i walk, I become aware of an enemy prowling around on this land. My guide warns me that it is the enemy who has blazed those shortcuts. But the shortcuts look so desirable. They look easier than this trail. They appear to be wide, paved paths leading directly to what I most desire. My guide whispers to me that there are thieves hiding along that shortcut who want to steal my heart. The enemy wants me to take the shortcut so he can kill what’s inside of me. That shortcut is intended to destroy my soul.

I look away from the shortcut and back to my guide, and he waves his hand to summon me to follow him. He lovingly looks me in the eye and whispers, My dear child, you may choose to take any shortcut you wish, but I will not walk with you there. I know you desire to get to that thing you want along this trail, but the shortcut will not get you there. Be patient and wait on me. Trust me. I know the desire of your heart. Follow me and take delight in being with me along this rough and treacherous trail. I promise: If you walk with me, I will not let your foot slip; I will never leave you alone, even when you don’t think you can make it. 

Despite the assurance of my guide, I look down some of the shortcuts and begin to wander down many of them. At first these shortcuts seem so smooth and easy and fun. Many around me cheer me on, enticing me to keep going. “You are strong on your own,” some shout. “Do what’s best for you,” others encourage. “Now you are on the path to freedom and happiness,” some declare.

As I continue, the shortcuts grow dark. I feel alone without my guide. What at first looked like paved pathways now lead into thorns and muddy mires. My feet feel trapped as shadows descend upon me. Then I remember the words of my guide.

As I turn around and take a step back toward the main path, I see my guide waiting for me, arms outstretched to help me back onto his path of life. The creator and owner of this land, the trail guide, also looks a lot like my Father.