Happy To Welcome You To The Hallelujah Chorus

I will exalt you my God, the King, I will praise your name forever and ever. Every day I will praise you and exalt your name forever and ever. Psalm 145:1-2

Sunday, January 30, 2011

FRIENDS COME & FRIENDS GO, BUT.....

Friendship can be a tricky connection. Its one of those life experiences that can start strong but time and circumstances can cause it to turn a corner and run off the track.
As the King of Israel for 40 years, I doubt Solomon had a lot of close friends because of the necessity to maintain his personal security. Every person in a privileged position of authority over others always has to make friends with a measure of caution because many come bearing gifts of friendship, mouthing the right words, but with an underlying motive.
Solomon wrote - "Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family." Proverbs 18:24 MSG
And this - "A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17 NKJV
True friends are few, probably a number you can count on two hands, or one hand, or half a hand. They are the ones who stick it out, NO MATTER WHAT! They hang in there with you when your or their life is pounded by the inevitable hurricane of adversity. They always seem to be among the first to rejoice with you over your victories or sit down to weep and pray with you in the storm. They always tell you the truth rather than dodge the real issue with empty flattery. They love you warts and all with a love that can only come from God.
I am very proud to have some of those true friends in my life. I am fortunate to have married the one who tops that list. But, my list doesn't stop there because we have produced three great friends that we both count heavily on for encouragement, advice and spiritual insight, our kids. My most trusted and treasured man friend in all this wide world is my son Michael Kent Sutherland. We share everything. But doing so on the telephone is a poor substitute for eyeball to eyeball. I miss him.
Beyond my family I can honestly say that God has put some really good people in my path, all for which I am deeply thankful. A few have stuck it out but most have now become virtually invisible. But, that's okay because there are always new friends to discover and try again to make that special connection.
So, here is what I've learned in nearly 70 years - hold all of your friends forever in your heart and let them know you still treasure that connection. If all of you are truly blessed by the Father, eternity will be one huge party just catching up.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Lord, Teach Me To Have A Patient Heart"

Patience is never inherent in human DNA, we all must learn it. From the moment we come screaming and kicking into this alien world, our reality centers around what we want, how we want it and when, usually RIGHT NOW!
Solomon wrote - "A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly." Proverbs 14:29 NIV
I especially like how The Message puts it - "Slowness to anger makes for deep understanding; a quick-tempered person stockpiles stupidity."
I like this one too - "A man of knowledge uses words with restraint and a man of understanding is even-tempered." Proverbs 17:27 NIV
Patience surely must be one of our most sought after and prayed for spiritual disciplines. But, its a learned skill. We have to work through a lot of stupid outbursts and maybe hypertension or even a heart attack before the serious reality of our juvenile habit begins to get our attention. At least that has been true for me, not the heart attack, but I got very close in the mid 80's.
Hair-trigger anger is a weakness of the flesh just like pride, lust, greed, envy and jealousy, and like all such sins, God expects me to recognize it for what it really is, acknowledge it and go to war with Satan to defeat it. Satan is the absolute master at controlling us through our stuff, and we all have our stuff!
But, God is really on my side in this war. He gave me his Holy Spirit to prove it. With the Spirit's instruction and guidance, I can stop "stockpiling stupidity".
I've slowly learned to pay careful attention to what triggers or feeds my anger and outbursts. If I can shut it down before it becomes 'full blown', pun intended, it does less damage to my heart, my life and to others in its path.
Solomon was probably speaking from a podium of experience when he penned these words - "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but anger rots the bones."
I am deeply, eternally grateful to my loving Father for giving me his Holy Spirit because only he can hep me in this war with my true enemy. He has and he will continue. Hallelujah!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Foolish Person

A few years ago I was among a group of high school teens and overheard one of them call another a "fool". I wasn't really eavesdropping but just happened to be in a position where I couldn't help hearing this exchange between the two young ladies. A few minutes later I was able to catch the one girl alone and asked her, "Have you ever read what Jesus said about calling someone a "fool"? She looked at me a little shocked and replied, "No! Mind your own business." I apologized for intruding then said, "It's in your Bible at Matthew 5:22. You should read it." Three days later I happened to be at that school again and that young lady came up to me and said, "You were right. I wont call anyone that again. Thank you for intruding."
As I recall that exchange I think that young girl was only echoing a common practice among her peers and had never actually thought about it's implication or that Jesus would have anything to say about it. But, I think she got the message that calling another person a "fool" is reserved for the judgment of God.
Solomon wrote a lot about "fools" and how their lives never seem to work out.
"A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless."
"A quick tempered man does foolish things and a crafty man is hated."
"A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly."
"Lady wisdom is at home in an understanding heart, fools never even get to say hello." Proverbs 14:16-17, 29 (NIV), 33 (MSG).
Solomon's description of a foolish person is probably both the voice of inspiration and experience. We've all been there at times. Hotheaded, reckless, quick-tempered, crafty, without understanding, unacquainted with wisdom is the description of a life destined to fail.
Paul paints this very picture of himself at Romans 7:14 and following. His message is this, "THERE IS NO HOPE FOR A FOOL." But he didn't stop there because Jesus came and changed the formula. Jesus inserted the will of God the Father into the hopeless life of every fool and he has given us an absolute guarantee by putting his Holy Spirit in our own hearts. The Spirit of Christ frees us from the condemnation of our fleshly nature and then trains us to hear and walk by the will of our Father.
Paul outlined this crucial ministry of the Holy Spirit for me at Romans 8. I read it often just to remind my heart to reject the ways of a fool. I think God doesn't want me to end up like Solomon. I don't either.

Friday, January 21, 2011

WATCH YOUR MOUTH!

My mouth has always been one of the greatest challenges I have had to honestly confront as a slave of Jesus Christ. I doubt I am alone in that small closet. Most of us, or probably ALL of us, have been shamed, embarrassed, even horrified by how we have failed to say the right thing, even though we knew exactly what that was at the time.
Solomon had often witnessed the failure of human speech to achieve a positive end. He wrote about his own experience and observation:
"The wise of heart will receive commandments. but a babbling fool will come to ruin."
"Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who walks a crooked path will be found out."
"The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence."
"On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense." Proverbs 10:8-9,11,13 NIV
Jesus said, "...every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned".
In my observation, we aren't only judged by God according to our words, but are also judged by other people in the same way. They hear my words and then act on the impression they formulate based on how my words have made them feel.
But that isn't the only element that I need to consider. My tone of voice can actually communicate more than my words. If my words and my tone are out of synch, my hearer will make a decision based on my tone first, regardless of my words.
Jesus said, "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No' be 'No', anything beyond that comes from the evil one." He was addressing the practice of 'swearing on an oath' that a certain thing is true, which is sill a very common practice but probably not in the same way as the Jewish practice of Jesus' day. But his words should still sting the conscience of all who carelessly "swear" on oath that their words are true.
Solomon also knew that words can be deceptive when they conceal a violent motive. Eventually lies and all forms of deceit are found out and the deceiver has to pay the price, as Solomon put it, "the rod is for the back of him who lacks sense."
The wise path is to always walk securely in integrity. But, too many of us simply enjoy hearing ourselves talk too much. It can be a risky, bad habit that will get you into more 'hot water' than even God can bail you out of.
So here's the bottom line of what I've learned and just about everything God has had to say about it, "WATCH YOUR MOUTH!".

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"I WILL FOLLOW YOU BUT............"

"Are you a FAN or a FOLLOWER of Jesus?" Recently, this question was put in front of a group of Christians during a Bible study I was part of. I guess I had never really given something like that much thought but during this study session was challenged to consider it. The leader of this discussion wanted all of us to give some serious thought to whether we are truly "walking with Jesus" or just going through the motions of a spiritual life that mindlessly repeats a traditional past.
When you really think about it, Jesus didn't come here to create some kind of "holy fan club", he never seemed to care whether people liked him or not. He wasn't into the 'how to win friends and influence people' type of leadership. He simply pointed men to the Father and made God known in a 'knowable' way.
Reading Luke 9 is a sort of summary about being Jesus' disciple. Unlike the Rabbis of his day, Jesus didn't just call the 'best of the best' to follow him, he invited ANYONE to be his disciple. But, he said to those of us who have that desire, "he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me." Luke 9:23
During the class session I mentioned above, our discussion leader posed three additional questions that get to the heart of the matter: (1) Why am I a Christian? (2) Am I all in? (3) Have I made it my own? We spent considerable time in this discussion group because when viewed in the light of Jesus' expectations, most of us probably fail to take our 'Christianity' that seriously.
I think there is a sense in which a serious disciple is both a "fan" and a "follower" of Jesus. Maybe we begin that journey as a "fan", one who admires, likes, appreciates Jesus, but along the way we either see ourselves actually becoming more like him in our thinking and actions, or we step off that path and our spiritual life becomes like an unused muscle, paralyzed by fear or social pressure.
At the end of Luke 9, he tells us about three people Jesus called to follow him but they turned out to be more of a fan than a follower. "I will follow you, BUT...." is never acceptable. Jesus said so in no uncertain terms.
So, am I a "FAN" or a "FOLLOWER?" I am grateful to Charley Bazzell for challenging my faith and my heart to ask some hard questions. I definitely am a fan of Jesus and I'm always seeking to improve on being a follower.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Making The Sun Come Up

Solomon's Proverbs aren't really rules or promises or predictions of the future. Most of them are simply general observations about life as he saw it playing out in his own life and his people. To me they should be viewed as guidelines rather than commands or laws. Here is a great example:
"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day." But in contrast, "The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble over." Proverbs 4:18-19 ESV
Since moving back to rural Kentucky in 2006, one of the difficulties we have had to deal with is the darkness. After living in large cities for more than half a century, I have had to get accustomed to the absence of street lights and driving in the dark. Of course my car has headlights and we have an outside light near our front door that comes on automatically at dusk. But I just don't like the dark any more, even though I grew up in it.
The human psyche naturally seeks light over darkness. God made us that way. When we enter a dark room, the first thing we do is feel for the light switch. Darkness seems to pose danger because we are unable to see ahead. Most of us have had the painful experience of stumbling over something in the dark.
Solomon's observation continues - "Let your eyes look directly forward and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet, then all your ways will be sure." Proverbs 4:25-26 ESV
Our common enemy certainly knows if he can distract our attention away from the path laid out for us by our loving Father, he can lead us into the darkness of a Grand Canyon type ditch.
So, how do I make the sun come up every morning to light my path? Its always about choices. Follow your instincts, trust your gut, there is a reason you hate the dark. "Deep darkness" is never the destination of the "path of the righteous", but even a divinely appointed wisdom like Solomon's can run his life into a ditch. We ignore the "path of light" to our own peril.
Crafting the lifestyle of light virtually always begins in the young mind that hasn't yet decided which path is the one for them. Think ahead, look ahead, keep your head up to actually see where you put your feet and where you're going.
Trust me, Solomon knew what he was talking about.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wise Living OR Stuck On Stupid?

Unchallenged ignorance gradually becomes stupidity. We all are born into ignorance and life either educates us out of it or ignorance becomes a way of life. We depend on others to mentor us into a more positive way of life that works. But, sadly, some of us seem to get stuck on stupid.
Solomon had observed a lot of good and bad growing up in the palace of King David. He seems to have acquired a deep sense of awe of his father because he wrote "When I was a boy at my father's knee, the pride and joy of my mother, he would sit me down and drill me: 'Take this to heart, do what I tell you - live! Sell everything and buy wisdom! Forage for understanding! Never walk away from wisdom - she guards your life; love her - she keeps her eye on you'". Proverbs 4:3-6 MSG
David taught him about God and about listening to His divine counsel as THE crucial aspect of crafting a successful career and personal life. He taught him to worship God with singing and prayer and to recognize the power of music in a spiritual life. He taught him to honor God's word and live daily in His presence. Solomon is said to have written 3000 proverbs and at least 1005 songs. He wrote extensively about botany, animals, birds, reptiles and fish. He was consulted by "all the kings of the world who heard about his wisdom" (1 Kings 4:29-34 NIV
BUT, like all of us, Solomon failed to live up to what he knew. At some point in his 40 year reign as Israel's King, he began to listen to voice other than God's. He started strong but along the way he somehow got stuck on stupid. His personal testimony to the pointless nature of a faithless life is chronicled in his book of Ecclesiastes.
Living wisely is a learned skill that begins with God. But it isn't a 100 yard dash, it's an every day marathon.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Last Words of David

Over the years I have read and heard some of the last speeches made by some of the most revered men and women from around the world. To me the most impressive "last words" were spoken by Jesus on the cross, "It is finished". Those words were not the end but the beginning of something that would ultimately reach out to all the human family just as God had promised many thousands of years before at Genesis 12.
Then I read these words at 2 Samuel 23:1 "These are the last words of David." Maybe these literally are David's final words uttered as he drew his final breath. Or maybe they were his last recorded words. Or maybe they are the last song he sang. Whatever the case, David's last words are spoken directly to God in this final prayer of praise and thanksgiving - "The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me, his word was on my tongue. The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me, When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth."
Every time the Holy Spirit speaks, he speaks the true, actual words of God, never some subjective interpretation.
I think David is recalling an early encounter with God that was a guiding principle for his 40 year career as the King of Israel. God certainly knew the heart of the one he had chosen to succeed Saul and he gave David a lofty vision of what a real leader is and does. That vision also showed him the result of his divine mission.
The first step for any leader, regardless of where or whom he leads, is the humbling recognition of who rules/leads him/her. American business, political, education and even church leaders are most influenced by the stock market, the voters, the bottom line, family and friends. The voice of God is generally a faint whisper in the background if at all because in politics, business and education the very mention of God or his word is forbidden lest someone be offended. God's voice is generally respected in the Christian church world if it lines up with what the leaders and/or the people want. If not, men and women tend to write new rules and propositions that may quote scripture but with subjective interpretation.
The poetic vision God gave David of the kind of leadership he expected of him has hardly gone out of style even if it may be politically incorrect in our time. But defining the phrase "in righteousness" for a skeptical generation is the sticking point. I think David knew exactly what that phrase meant and to his eternal credit, he lived by it, although at times imperfectly, right to the very end. HALLELUJAH!