Wisdom and Correction

The one who corrects a mocker
will bring dishonor on himself;
the one who rebukes a wicked man will get hurt.
Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you;
rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.
Instruct a wise man, and he will be wiser still;
teach a righteous man, and he will learn more” (Proverbs 9:7-9, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

“One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment” ‭‭(Proverbs‬ ‭18:1‬, ‭Holman Christian Standard Bible).‬‬

In my quest to read through the Bible in 2016, I’ve made it to the book of Proverbs. That means that I am over halfway through. It also means that I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about wisdom.

It’s hard to read Proverbs and not see how precious and priceless the gift of wisdom is. A number of verses tell us to treasure it about silver and gold, above diamonds and rubies. The last time I checked, those trinkets weren’t cheap.

Still, I confess that I see a culture where we value knowledge and belittle wisdom. I scroll through social media posts and don’t see a lot of wisdom.

Recently, God has been showing me that one very important sign that a person is wise is their ability to take a rebuke. No one likes to be told they’re wrong, but those who treasure wisdom seek any opportunity to resist complacency and embrace growth and maturity.

Most people bristle at rebuke. People get very self-defensive at even the hint of correction or negative feedback.

“How dare you judge me?” will get thrown around a lot, mostly as an excuse to avoid any kind of accountability.

But the wise not only endure rebuke; they embrace it. They know that part of Christlikeness is the discipline to put off those habits and actions that contradict our faith message. They understand that spiritual growth may sometimes involve denial and pain, choosing sacrifice over comfort.

Correction does hurt. Still, the amount of hurt from a rebuke is often nowhere near the level of pain that results from a series of bad decisions and poor choices left unchecked. 

I freely admit that I’m not the best at taking correction. Not even close. I get defensive and make excuses whenever I sense that the feedback is heading in a negative direction.

Still, I truly believe that it’s far more dangerous to cocoon yourself from any rebuke. For the record, it’s one thing to distance yourself from verbal and emotional abuse, slander, and hate (which is wise) It’s quite another to close yourself off from constructive criticism of any kind (which is very foolish).

The worst place to be is where you’re only surrounded by “yes-men” who will only agree with you and say what you want to hear but never what you need to hear. The absolute most dangerous place is outside of any kind of accountability.

So may we all seek wisdom, even if it leads to painful places and hard lessons. The payoff will be more than worth it.

 

Out of Control

outofcontrol

Has there ever been a moment in your life when you felt out of control? Like when you stopped and looked around and wondered how in the heck you got there and how you’d ever get out of the mess you’d made?

I think EVERYBODY has felt that way to some degree or other. Kinda like King David, who started out lusting after a neighbor’s wife and ended up with not only adultery but lying and mass murder thrown in. It took a bold prophet named Nathan to get David out of his downward spiral.

You will at some point get yourself into a hot mess. You will wonder how you could have been so STUPID. You may well wonder if escape is even a possibility.

I love what I heard someone say: it’s never too late on this side of heaven to become what you might have been. It’s never too late to become the dream God had when He thought you up and gave you a purpose before anything was made. That gives me hope.

That means that those days that seem wasted, those years that seem lost have really served a purpose– to get you to where you are, with all your life experiences, good and bad, all your successes and failures– to be the person God can use to do what NO ONE else can do, to the calling only YOU can fulfill.

Even if you’re an 80-year old backwoods shepherd like Moses. Or a nobody sitting in a prison like Joseph.

God can take nobodies and confound all those who think they’re somebodies. He uses the lowly and the nothings in the world to shame all those who think they’re hot stuff. That’s my take on 1 Corinthians 1:25-30. Or as one translation puts it:

You can count on this: God’s foolishness will always be wiser than mere human wisdom, and God’s weakness will always be stronger than mere human strength.

Look carefully at your call, brothers and sisters. By human standards, not many of you are deemed to be wise. Not many are considered powerful. Not many of you come from royalty, right? But celebrate this: God selected the world’s foolish to bring shame upon those who think they are wise; likewise, He selected the world’s weak to bring disgrace upon those who think they are strong. God selected the common and the castoff, whatever lacks status, so He could invalidate the claims of those who think those things are significant. So it makes no sense for any person to boast in God’s presence. Instead, credit God with your new situation: you are united with Jesus the Anointed. He is God’s wisdom for us and more. He is our righteousness and holiness and redemption.”

 

Music I Heard: For All The Ones I’ve Lost

While this year for me is a happy time, it’s also brings a bit of sadness with it. The memories of those I’ve loved and lost come more alive at this time of year than at any other time. I’ve been thinking about a particular poem by Conrad Aiken that makes me think of family members whom I wish I could talk to but never will again this side of heaven:

“Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, beloved,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart that you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always, –
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.”

The good news is that there is the other side of heaven where I WILL see all these people again. And Jesus will be there to wipe away every tear from my (and everyone else’s) eyes.

 

A Little Sunday Perspective

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“Look carefully at your call, brothers and sisters. By human standards, not many of you are deemed to be wise. Not many are considered powerful. Not many of you come from royalty, right? But celebrate this: God selected the world’s foolish to bring shame upon those who think they are wise; likewise, He selected the world’s weak to bring disgrace upon those who think they are strong. God selected the common and the castoff, whatever lacks status, so He could invalidate the claims of those who think those things are significant. So it makes no sense for any person to boast in God’s presence. Instead, credit God with your new situation: you are united with Jesus the Anointed. He is God’s wisdom for us and more. He is our righteousness and holiness and redemption. As the Scripture says: “If someone wants to boast, he should boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

Hi. My name is Greg and I used to be a nobody with no hope, no purpose, and no future. I was hopelessly lost and about as far from God as humanly possible.

Then Jesus found me.

Those of you who know my story might be scratching your heads right now and asking, “Weren’t you 7 when you got saved? What bad things could you possibly have done at age 7?”

Well, according to the Bible, anyone without Christ is dead in sins and alienated from God. That was me.

I look back at when Jesus found me. I don’t remember the exact day or feelings I had. I do know Jesus changed me and has been transforming me ever since. I do know I got a direction, a purpose, a new name, and a future.

According to Forbes or GQ or Entertainment Weekly, I am a nobody. But Jesus knows my name. That more than makes up for looking like a fool and an idiot in the eyes of the world for what I believe and how I live my life.

Jesus knows my name.

I can’t get over that.

At least when I’m not caught up in mind games about how this person may or may not like me. Or how I might have offended this or that person.

If I have everything the world has to offer and don’t have Jesus, I really have nothing. I lose. If I have Jesus and absolutely nothing else, I have everything. I win.

I am so forgetful about what really matters. The best things in life aren’t free; they’re not even things. They are the people God brings into your life, whether for one hour, one day, one month, or a lifetime. They are the ones who remind you of who you really are and Whose you really are.

You can replace things. You can never replace people once they’re gone from your life.

So that’s why I can say I’m blessed. I’m rich in the currency of love. I am living my miracle every day, the miracle of seeing blessings everywhere, of finding joy in every place and circumstance, of always finding God right where I am if I only know where and how to look.

It truly doesn’t matter if people remember my name after I’m gone. It won’t matter if no one ever finds me attractive or desirable. My Abba is very fond of me, has chosen me, made me His child, and forever called me His Beloved.

That’s enough for me to last a lifetime. That’s enough for a lifetime of lifetimes. I’m good.

A Seat at the Table

titanicending

“He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, ‘When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.

“‘When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

“Then he turned to the host. ‘The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.'” (Luke 14:7-14).

I’ve observed in a few Nashville churches that the “holier than thou” club has been mostly replace by the “hipper than thou” crew. There are a few telltale signs. 1) Their pastor and/or worship leader(s) wear skinny jeans. 2) The church building doesn’t look anything like a church building. 3) The worship songs are the latest and newest songs that haven’t even hit the radio yet.

To be fair, I’ve had my share of “hipper than thou” moments, as well as “holier than thou.” I’ve caught myself a few times comparing myself with others and detected more than a little pride in my pop culture knowledge and vast and educated musical tastes.

The fact is, anyone could look at me sitting in a seat at Kairos or in a church pew and rightfully ask, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here.”

It’s true. I’ve done stupid things. I’ve said and typed much that I regret. I’ve had such thoughts that I truly hope I never run into a mind reader who can read my past thoughts. That would be tragic and awkward.

The fact is that in the Kingdom of Heaven, no one belongs and everyone belongs.

No one deserves to be there. I certainly don’t. Everyone has sinned and sin brings death to everyone every single time (to paraphrase my pastor Mike Glenn). The only reason anyone gets in is grace.

Because of grace, everyone can get in. The door is open. The invitations are sent. Everyone is welcome and no one who wants to get in will be left out.

In my opinion, there’s no such things as bad or good Christians. There are only sinners saved by grace. I love Thomas Merton’s definition of a saint– not someone who is good, but someone who has seen the goodness of God.

Don’t think you’re so very wise and holy that you get the best seats in the house. You’ll find yourself getting knocked down a few rungs on that old ladder. Remember Jesus, who didn’t consider anything or anyone beneath Him, but lowered himself to the position of a slave and didn’t think that death on a cross was too scandalous or too much of a sacrifice to get you and me into His kingdom.

If you’ve accepted the invitation, Just be thankful you’re in. And if you’re still undecided, remember there’s always room for one more– you.

The Biggest Loser

 

“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

I remember back in elementary school at recess, I always dreaded the selection process. That’s when the team captains (usually the most popular and most athletic) chose teams. I generally was picked near the end.

But what’s really bad was to be the one not chosen. The one that the first team captain said to the other, “Oh, you can have him (or her). I’ve got all the people I want.”

To be chosen last is bad enough. But to not be chosen at all is worse. Nobody wants to feel left out or unwanted. Everybody at some level wants to be appreciated and validated and acknowledged for their own unique gifts and talents.

Jesus wanted you. Jesus wanted me. He picked you and me, not because He had to, but because He wanted us. He wants us to be a part of his team and to be a part of the work he’s doing.

God picked those who are considered foolish and weak. God picked the nobodies of the world. Look at the twelve disciples. Most leaders would have picked the cream of society and the smartest, prettiest, powerful people around. Not Jesus. He picked fishermen and radicals and tax collectors, none of whom had much of an education.

That’s comforting. At least to me.

It’s also a warning. If we get caught up in how wise we think we are, God might just send someone to confound our wisdom. If we get too hung up on our own strength, God just might send some to shame us. And if we strut around thinking how great we are, God might just send a few nobodies to adjust our perspective.

But for most of us most of the time, it’s good to know that Jesus wants us around. He wants to use people exactly like you and me to reach the world, to be the people to be his hands and feet, to take this great message of reconciliation and hope to those who need it most.

To the world, you may be a nobody. You may never win any awards or make millions of dollars or make any who’s who lists. But in God’s eyes, you are a treasure beyond price. You are worth every drop of Jesus’ blood. You are the apple of your Abba’s eye. You are the Beloved.

I don’t know about you, but that’s enough for me.

PS Thanks again to Mike Glenn for inspiring this blog.