Reading Proverbs

About a year ago I read Craig Groeschel’s book Weird. And while the book is about about more than just the book of Proverbs, much of what Groeschel writes about is inspired by Proverbs, and he quotes it quite often. Near the end of Weird (p. 221), Groeschel says that he asked God to give him the same thing Solomon asked for – wisdom. He was led to read Proverbs, and ended up reading one chapter per day for the next 12 months. Proverbs has 31 chapters, so this works out pretty well to read through the book once per month.

When I read this in Groeschel’s book, I thought that it sounded like a pretty good idea, and challenged myself to do the same. (I’m sure Groeschel is not the first to do this, but he’s who inspired me to do it). I recently finished 12 months of Proverbs, reading one chapter/day (staying on schedule for the most part…), and I have to say that it was great experience.

Proverbs has some very interesting insight and some deep and applicable wisdom, but also some downright strange stuff in there! Of course, Solomon, noted as being a very wise individual, wrote much of the book, so one would expect great wisdom to flow from the pages. Maybe some of the other strange things can be attributed to the time or place in which the book was written…I don’t know.

Proverbs speaks of wisdom’s place in helping one keep fidelity in relationships, in making wise decisions regarding family and business. Put your trust in the Lord and use God’s definition of wisdom rather than your own. Be humble and generous and patient. Be honest and hard-working. And many more. The book is FULL of great wisdom and guidance and things to make you think…things we can all apply to better ourselves and those we encounter.

Many times we pull a single verse from here or there in Proverbs, but there is also great value in reading it in its entirety. I would challenge you to consider reading Proverbs a chapter per day for some time…maybe for 3 or 6 or even 12 months. Repetition is not a bad thing! See what you get out of it. I found something new each time I cycled back through. My hope is that we, as people of God, can apply some of the deep and longstanding wisdom to our own lives and to the lives of the people we touch each day.

Peace of Christ to you.

I’m not perfect. There, I said it.

I don’t think anyone wants to look like they don’t have it all together. I mean, who wants everyone else to think, let alone know, they are lacking in anything…that their life is not perfect? I certainly don’t. That’s why I make sure to take showers and make sure my clothes look “right” before I leave the house. I try to keep my car clean, and my kids behavior in check, and my grammar proper, and…and…and…

For what? Is it for me? Or is it for others?

It seems like as a people, as a society, we put a lot of time and effort into saying and doing things to make others like us, or accept us, or admire us. Even this blog…I wonder sometimes if I’m writing to simply get my thoughts “out of my head” or if I do it because I think a reader might think I’m cool or clever or spiritual or something.

Why do we derive our own self-worth by other people’s estimation or opinion of us? Why are our achievements ranked relative to what others are doing? Why is our success measured in dollars? Derek Webb of the Christian music group Caedmon’s Call has a line the song Faith My Eyes that has always spoken to me. He says, “Still I judge success by how I’m dressing.” I think a lot of us do. But should we?

And it seems like it might be getting worse. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs😉. These tools of social media make it very easy for us to put our best foot forward (while hiding anything that isn’t quite perfect) showing or telling the rest of the world what enviable deeds we have been up to. And people read these things and look at the photos of our families in perfect bliss and harmony on vacation with our matching white polos and khakis on the beach. And maybe, hopefully, they raise us up a notch on the social hierarchy scale.

The part the one who “posts” doesn’t see is when the person viewing the post/photo/etc. looks at their own life with greater and greater dissatisfaction because their life isn’t nearly as exciting and perfect. So I think we have a growing number of people who are disheartened or depressed or just don’t feel adequate compared to others because of social media. And I think that it is happening more and faster as more people use social media.

Social media isn’t the “bad guy.” It’s simply a tool. What we have to be careful of is how we use social media. We all love our kids and we love to have a good time, and we love for our friends and families to share in our happiness. But I think we need to be aware that there is a dark side, and it cannot be ignored. I don’t know what the solution is necessarily, but I know the first step is admitting we have a problem.

I wonder if there is an invisible “success bubble” that will one day burst, like the Internet stock bubble of the early 2000s, or the mortgage bubble more recently, where our society hits a point where we can’t fake it anymore and the façade balloon bursts and we all start being real with one another. It might get messy, but that might not be such a bad thing.

God, give me patience.

In Romans (5:3-5), Paul writes “…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Wow! That’s great, right? And true! But it occurred to me the other day that maybe that scenario isn’t always the purpose, or maybe isn’t always the only purpose. Let me explain.

For some time (and I’m sure I am not the only one who has times like this…) I was having a hard time in life – struggles, confusion, difficulties – in a variety of areas. And I prayed a lot for God to get me through those situations, or at least give me the patience, the endurance, the strength to make it through them. And I have, for the most part. Funny thing is, other new struggles have moved into the places vacated by the former struggles!

But anyway, as I was saying, I was thinking back on those times and all the requests for patience, etc. I prayed for and I began to think maybe attaining some new level of patience wasn’t necessarily God’s goal for me. Maybe it was, but maybe He had something else in mind instead.

See, when I pray for patience, the whole thing is still about me. When I get this patience or strength or whatever I pray for, then I can handle my problems myself.

What if, rather, in my (and in YOUR) time of need, we were to turn it over to God, seeking and trusting in His more-than-abundant strength and patience and love to get us through? What if we make it about Him and not about us? I have to remind myself to ask, “Am I trusting in me, or am I trusting in God?” Just a thought.

So, while I love the Romans passage and see great benefit and teaching in it, I also love (and take great comfort in) what Proverbs says in Chapter 3 (vs. 5-6), “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Thank You.

I don’t think we say thank you nearly as often as we should. I know I don’t. And I know I certainly don’t say it nearly enough to those who are closest to me, or who have made the biggest impacts on my life. I recently read a post on another blog I follow, I’d Laugh…But All This Happened To Me! (02/11/2013), about a youth minister who received a text message out of the blue from a girl in his youth group 19 years earlier thanking him for his influence in her life.

That made me think about and reflect on those who have “shepherded” me, and planted seeds, and mentored, and influenced, and, and, and… over the years. I also realized I probably haven’t let those people know what a profound impact their ministries made in my life.

I can immediately think of 3 guys that have had and in continue to have lasting, positive influence on my life.

My youth minister in Florida in the early 1990s is the first. He planted the first real seed of Christ in me, and showed me grace and what being a Christ-follower was really about. That it is not about saying a few words, but about living a life transformed. I could go into stories (and maybe I will later), but for now, I’ll just say thank you, Jorge. Your influence meant more in my life than you have probably ever known.

In college at Auburn University I was involved with in a college campus ministry pastored by Perry Rubin. Perry showed me, and countless others, the value of community and acceptance. Gone were the high school days of who’s “cool” and who’s not. This was a time of exploring a faith of your own and figuring out what you believe and why you do so. Much of who am I today is because of Perry’s influence and model in my life. He also married my wife and me, so that counts for quite a lot too! Thank you, Perry.

Kenny Ott is a pastor at my current church. I am proud to say he is both a mentor and a friend. Kenny challenges me in my faith and also shows that it is never too late to make a difference for the kingdom. I appreciate his honesty and energy. Thanks, Kenny.

I look up to and respect each of these people for different things, but also for their common tie of Christ, who has shaped and influenced who they are. In my life, I hope to emulate these characteristics, and maybe have an impact on someone else down the road.

Who in your life has made a meaningful impact? Who do you need to let know? Sometimes a simple word of thanks can encourage far more than we know.

Peace of Christ to you.

Slight Differences

Lately I’ve been thinking about the things we say, how we say them and also the way in which the things we say are heard or mis-heard (is that a word?). It’s prompted me to write some things down and try to hash out some thoughts on the subject.

Reading for Quality vs. Quantity:
This idea leads me to evaluate my own efficiency, or inefficiency as the case my be. If I’m reading, I would have to read multiple times quickly/for quantity rather than necessarily get the most out of the text the first time by reading carefully, slowly and for quality. It also makes me wonder if my definition of “efficiency” is the same as God’s when it comes to life in general. My guess is probably not! Am i trying to just blow through as much as I can? Think reading a “1 Year Bible.” While that’s a great feat, don’t you think we could get more out of it if we read it much more slowly…chewing on it…letting it marinate on our brains…seep into our hearts? Just a thought.

Knowing God vs. Knowing about God:
Again, this slight difference isn’t really all that slight at all. Do I want to simply know about God, or do I want to know Him and be changed by Him? Think about this: Do I just want to know about my spouse, or do I want to know her? Isn’t there immensely more value in actually knowing intimately a person or God than in simply knowing about them? So maybe it’s time to give the head knowledge a break and ramp up the heart knowledge…pray, be silent, listen, be patient.

Jesus is for Losers:
I think I saw this on a shirt somewhere. Now, some folks might take offense at this statement. But I think if you stop and let it sink in for a minute you’ll see what I mean. Matthew 9:11-13 says, “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners (Losers)?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Losers). But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Losers).”

See what I mean? I’m a loser, and Jesus is for me (and you). I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but we’re all losers. The word Loser has pretty negative connotations attached to it, but maybe being a Loser isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Jesus Ruins Lives:
Don’t take this the wrong way, but Jesus can mess up some otherwise pretty good plans. Over the years, I’ve laid out some pretty good plans for myself. I’m sure most of us have. There’s my plan, and then there’s God’s plan. And many times those 2 things are not the same. Go figure.

When I follow God’s plan (and I can only do that because the grace I receive from Jesus), my life tends to work better. I know when I am following and when I’m not. I know when it’s my plan and when it’s not. And no matter how many times it seems that I forget this basic truth, I stll make plans for myself. And then Jesus comes along and ruins my otherwise unhappy life.

So when I say that Jesus ruins lives, I mean that he ruins these lives made up of walls and facades and lies and heartbreak. Jesus can tear down our houses of cards and rebuild lives of substance and truth and meaning and love if we’ll just open our lives to Him.

Does God call us to something or away from from something else (or both)?:
Sometimes you’ll hear someone talking about being “called” by God to a certain thing or a certain place. Pastors talk about being called to ministry. Missionaries talk about being called to some faraway land.

Maybe you’re feeling a call yourself. Hopefully we all will at some point. Not that everyone is going to be a pastor, but I believe that God does call us all to something specific. Maybe to be teacher or doctor or police officer…whatever. Outside of vocation, I also believe that God calls us to action on a daily basis. From listening to a hurting friend or giving money to someone in need or encouraging a child.

But I have begun to wonder if when God calls us to something, is He not also calling us away from something else…something detrimental or just not good enough? Look at the story of Jesus calling his disciples in Matthew 4:18-22, “As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” Jesus seems to be calling them to not only follow Him, but also to leave behind the only life they knew to begin a life that they couldn’t even a imagine.

He does it again in Matthew 19, starting at verse 16: “Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”…Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” This man was being asked to leave life as he knew it, as well as all that he had worked so hard to accumulate. The difference here is that the man was unable or unwilling to leave, and did not answer Christ’s call to follow. The next time you hear God’s call to come, I wonder what it is He’s calling us to leave?

These are just some of the thoughts that have been rolling around in my head that somehow found their way out. I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

A Jesus Freak freak?


Say what you will, and I’m sure you will, but DC Talk’s album Jesus Freak is really good.

I was digging through my CD collection (yes, I still have CDs) the other day and ran across this oldie but goodie. I hadn’t listened to it in several years, so I thought I’d pop it in. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Of course as Track 1 began, it all started coming back to me.

Music can have that effect. Long forgotten memories that are interconnected to a particular song can come rushing back in a moment when the music starts. I have distinct memories, in fact, that always come to me when I hear Dave Matthews Band “Best of What’s Around” or “Satellite.”

This DC Talk record is the same way…taking me back to college…memories of friends, road trips, etc.

But the album is so much more than that. For one thing, it was such a massive advancement musically and lyrically from their previous albums.

When Track 2, “Colored People,” began I got chills. And I had to ask myself how much my own life reflects the lyrics of this song I’m singing along with…”I tip my hat to the colorful arrangement,
Cause I see the beauty in the tones of our skin,” or “Aren’t we all human after all?,” or “Ignorance has wronged some races,” or “We’re colored people, and they call us the human race. We’re colored people, and we all gotta share this space. We’re colored people, and we live in a tainted world. We’re colored people, every man, woman, boy, and girl.”

Of course, the title track “Jesus Freak” got mainstream airplay and blew up Christian radio. “What If I Stumble,” “In the Light,” “Mind’s Eye.” All great tunes with strong messages and super music.

Does it sound dated (put out in 1995)? Maybe, but so do The Beatles and Mozart, but no one will call you out for liking their music! There is still obvious value and a great sound. I think the same is true for Jesus Freak.

If you have the CD, take a listen, if you don’t then find some of the tracks on YouTube or iTunes. It’s well worth a listen.

And to use DC Talk’s own lyrics in labeling myself as a Jesus Freak freak:
What will people think
When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak freak
What will people do when they find that it’s true
I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak freak
There ain’t no disguising the truth

So, say what you will. I did.


Can you really “bloom where you are planted?”


Lately I’ve been really thinking about the old phrase, “Bloom where you are planted.” I don’t know exactly where it comes from. The internet is full of “opinions”:

1 Corinthians 7:17-20 says, “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.” I see the connection.

It’s also been attributed to The Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) or Mary Engelbreit.

For my purposes, it doesn’t matter. It’s the idea itself more than where it comes from that I’m concerned with.

You see, I struggle with this idea. Whether blooming where I am physically, or spiritually, or financially, or in my career, or an any number of other circumstances, I find it hard to bloom where I am planted. I would wager that most of us do to some degree, if we’re being honest.

Maybe it’s the society we live in…America, First World, etc. We grow up with the idea that we are always to be striving for the next thing. Where am I going next? What will my next promotion be? What will life be like when the kids are older? What is God calling me to next? Next, next next. What about now?!

Even Jesus said, in essence, that the Kingdom of God is now…”the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Jesus wasn’t waiting around for Heaven. He was bringing Heaven to earth in His day. Why should we wait? For heaven or anything else. We need to live for now, in the place and circumstance we are in, now.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having dreams or goals or aspirations or hopes. But I don’t want to get so hung up looking forward to things to come that I forget to live in the beauty and opportunity that I have right here right now. Even in our difficulties and struggles I believe that God is teaching us things. Give it 5 years.

They say hindsight is 20/20. Looking back 5 years (or even longer), I can see how I was shaped for the better by tough circumstances that I wanted nothing to do with at the time. God uses difficulties to build us up strengthen us for things to come. I may not necessarily look back favorably on those times, but I can appreciate their value.

So I’m going to slow down…look around…take it all in…and try my best to bloom where I am planted. I know there is value in the here and now…and I know I am being prepared for something greater to come. Trust me, the future will come with or without my help.