Words Of Wisdom From The Wisest Man Who Ever Lived

wisdom, God's Word, the BibleTradition holds that Solomon, son of David and King of Israel from about 970 – 930BC, was one of the wisest men to have ever lived.  Several Old Testament books were authored by him (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, also called Song of Songs) and he is also said to have been the wealthiest man to have ever lived.

Despite all of that, the Bible records as many of Solomon’s failings as it does his successes and is very clear that for all of his wisdom, he was a real person with real human flaws.  What is very interesting though, is that when Solomon’s conduct lined up with true Biblical wisdom, he was always successful and prosperous but when he acted selfishly or foolishly it always brought trouble and heartache.

The same holds true for us today.  When we think and act in ways that are wise and true, we will be prosperous and successful.  When we think and act in ways that are selfish or foolish, we will bring trouble and heartache on ourselves and others.  With that in mind, can we look back to some of the wise sayings of Solomon and glean instruction and truth for our lives today?  Absolutely we can!  Solomon’s wisdom was actually Godly wisdom that was granted to Him as a result of prayer (See 1 Kings 3: 6-14) and Godly wisdom never changes or gets stale.  In short, if God said it then we can count on it and build our lives around it.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of my favorite verses from the first few chapters of Proverbs.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7) – Right away Solomon lets us know that our fear (respect, admiration, acknowledgement) of God is the beginning of our search for wisdom and truth.  No wisdom or truth exists without Him and a wise person is the one who has placed their life under the authority and instruction of God Almighty.

For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones. Then you will discern righteousness and justice And equity and every good course. (Proverbs 2: 6-9)  Much of the wisdom of Proverbs is given in “if – then” statements.  As in, “if you do the right thing, then the right result will occur”.  Proverbs 2:6-9 shows us that God grants the knowledge and understanding that we need from His Word.  Furthermore, if we walk in integrity (honesty) He will be our shield and guard and will preserve our way.  And if we do all of that then we will be granted the ability to discern what is right and good every single time (every good course).

Honor the Lord from your wealth And from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty And your vats will overflow with new wine.  (Proverbs 3: 9-10)  Does it ever feel like that you are in a hole (financially speaking) and that you will never be able to climb out of it?  Take heart, here’s your recipe for success!  Give to God off of the top of everything that you bring in, no matter how little it might be.  God will then fill your barns and vats (places of storage, up to and including our savings accounts – you do have a savings account don’t you?) with plenty until they overflow!  So many of us miss this simple commandment and suffer financial misery.  The good news is that it is never too late to start doing the right thing.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body And refreshment to your bones.  (Proverbs 3: 5 – 8)  Relationships are founded on trust.  To the degree that we trust God, we will follow His instruction and to the degree that we follow His instruction we will be blessed and in turn bless others.  And not only should we trust God with everything but we should do all that we do with an acknowledgement of God as our creator and the source of all wisdom and knowledge.  If we can do that then God will take care of us and fight our battles for us (make our paths straight).

 

The Imposition of Real Worship

worship, adore, praiseImposition is not a word with an especially nice meaning.  To impose one’s self upon another is by definition to force an unwelcome or unfair demand upon that person.  In most all cases, when someone tells us that something was an “imposition” they are telling us that they were put out and would have preferred something else to have happened.

And yet, real worship IS an imposition on our human nature, is it not?  If we remain in the flesh and have our selfish desires foremost in our minds then the thought and act of real worship is never welcome or easily accomplished.  Our bodies, which are passing away, and our minds, which  must be renewed daily, will fight the bowing of our knees and the turning of our hearts towards God Almighty and His perfect will.  Simply put, to experience real worship we must approach God with humility and allow the Holy Spirit to impose His will upon ours.

When we first start our Christian walk, it can feel unfair and unnatural to empty ourselves of our own wills and seek to adore and commune with God through the Spirit.  Our old human nature wants nothing to do with this sort of thing and it is only as we gradually persist in this practice that the Holy Spirit can, little by little, imprint the act of worship upon us so that it becomes as natural as breathing.  And like any healthy habit, if we persist  we will reap continual rewards but if we slack off or stop for a period of time then it can become difficult to get started again.  The more we put into it by seeking God and praising Him for who He is and all that He has done, the better our worship will become for ourselves and those around us.

The upside of real worship and the rewards and benefits that it brings are a topic that could span several full size books.  Suffice it to say, all of the fruits of the Spirit will be born out of real worship and God’s presence will be felt strongly.  Additionally, those closest to us will be blessed and encouraged in their faith.  Finally, and most importantly, God’s Kingdom will grow as we make ourselves useful and grateful vessels for His service.

Real worship of God, in Spirit and truth, is a completely foreign concept to those who are walking in darkness and who have never trusted Jesus as Savior.  But for those of us who have the Holy Spirit living inside, real worship of God is a necessity for our spiritual growth and always worth the time and effort.  God can use us in incredible ways when we live a life of praise and adoration that is yielded to Him.

New Year, New You?

new year, goals, plans, surrenderLast year is gone and a new year is here.  With the arrival of the new year our thoughts will often shift to reflection and review of the past year and how we could improve and do things differently going forward.  Some folks make resolutions or plans for improvement and there are probably more diets started in January and promises to begin exercising than there are at any other time of the year.  There’s just something about a new calendar year that makes us think about a clean slate and a fresh start and a desire to begin again in a better way and this is not a bad thing by any means.

But from a Christian perspective there are a couple of things that we need to keep in mind before we make any improvement plans or start any journey towards a goal and the first and most important of those is this: we are not our own.  We belong to Jesus and therefore anything that we set our minds to needs to be done in a way that brings glory to Him and His name.

We first need to prayerfully examine our motives (do we want to diet and exercise to be more healthy or just because our vanity tells us that we should look better in that pair of jeans?) and once we have done that we can then include the Lord in every step of our planning and preparation with the knowledge that the outcome and the victory already belongs to Him.

We can praise Him and thank Him for His provision and draw strength from His presence and from His counsel.  We are not alone and we best show that when we work towards a goal hand in hand with Him, filled by His Spirit.  Difficulties and challenges can and will be overcome if God is with us and our relationship to Him will be strengthened as we work with Him towards our goal.

The most joyful aspect of all of this is that our improvement and the power to reach our goals does not rest with us and is not dependent on our strength.  God provides based on our surrender to Him and our obedience to His Word.  We don’t have to wonder about what will happen or worry about the outcome.  If God is in it, it will be done!

And furthermore, we never have to wait for a new year to come around to decide to do things God’s way or to commit our ways and thoughts to Him.  He provides renewal and regeneration to all who come to Him and it is available 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

I hope, like me, that you are excited about the new year and the new opportunities and challenges that it will bring.  I also hope that you are walking into the near year hand in hand with Jesus and secure in the knowledge that you belong to Him.  Because once you are in that position there is no power in the world that can stand against you and you will be amazed to see what God can do in your life.

 

The Importance of Preparation

Christmas, The Gospel, Malachi 3:1As I write this it is a little bit less than two weeks until Christmas.  Even if I were not aware of the calendar date I would surely know that something important is about to happen because of the amount of preparation that is happening all around me.  All the shops and stores, both big and small, are decorated for the season and seem to be announcing new sales daily in an attempt to get customers in to the store or shopping online.

Suddenly there are lights appearing on my neighbors houses that weren’t there before and even in my own house a small army of snowmen (snow-people?) have taken up positions in most every room of the house dressed in their winter finery and holiday garb.  And on my list of things to do today are a Christmas luncheon with some extended family members and an afternoon Christmas shopping expedition with my wife.

Looking at all of the evidence around me I can conclude that Christmas seems to be something that we spend a great deal of time and effort preparing for and that we place a very high degree of importance on.  As a nation and as a culture we really like Christmas and that is not a bad thing so long as we take great care to remember what Christmas is all about.

What would happen, I wonder, if we were to take that same attitude and a similar amount of effort in preparing ourselves for worship and communion with the Lord and in telling other people that Jesus loves them?  Because as important as Christmas is, it isn’t more important than our personal relationship with the Lord and it isn’t more important than the work of preparing hearts and lives to receive the gospel message.

Behold, I send My messenger,
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the Lord of hosts.  Malachi 3:1 (NKJV)

As Christians we should know that Jesus is coming back one day and that day could be soon.  Malachi 3:1 begins by talking about the messenger and his work of preparation but quickly shifts to talking about how the Lord will come “suddenly”.  God’s word also says that “No man knows the day or the hour” of His coming and so there is no more important work for us than that of preparing ourselves and those around us for the coming of the Lord.  We are the messengers.  To us is given the responsibility of telling the world that Jesus saves and that He is coming back soon.

Personally, I want to make sure that I am spending time with the Lord every day and offering up the sacrifice of my praise and the worship that is due to Him.  I want to make sure that I am drawing strength from His presence and His word and that I am using that strength and that power to prepare the hearts of those around me for the coming of the Lord.  Even as I and my family are preparing for Christmas and will enjoy it immensely it is not the most important preparation that I will do today or this week or for the remainder of this year.

I pray that God would bless you and your family this Christmas season and that your hearts are prepared to receive Him and His love for you.

 

Our Greatest Danger

danger, Truth, ignorance, SinIf you were to, right now, head out into your neighborhood, school or work place and ask the next ten people that you encountered what the greatest danger we are currently facing is, what do you think their answer would be?  Some might say terrorism or foreign powers who wish us harm, some might say climate change or man’s destruction of the planet and still others might answer that we ourselves are our greatest danger.  And although those answers all have validity, to find out what our greatest danger actually is we must go deeper.

As Christians, our first answer might be Sin, with a capital “S” that indicates man’s fallen and unrepentant state before God.  And while that is an excellent answer it isn’t actually our greatest danger either.  While Sin can broadly be thought of as the main issue behind every other problem we face we know that Sin is not greater than Salvation and that Salvation comes by hearing the Word of God.  Sin is certainly destructive and dangerous but it has a ready answer and a powerful solution.  No, our greatest danger, for both believers and non-believers alike is ignorance of God’s Word and a lack of knowledge of the Truth.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?  Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.  Romans 10:17 (NASB)

For the non-believer, not hearing the Word of God is the most catastrophic thing that could ever happen to them.  Romans 10 lays it out very clearly.  How can there ever be an answer to their Sin problem without calling on the name of Jesus and how can they call on the name of Jesus unless they believe on Him by hearing His word? In fact, you can rephrase this problem by asking why God calls preachers and teachers of the Gospel in the first place and why 1 Peter 3:15 says so clearly that we should always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for the hope that is in us.  Quite simply, souls hang in the balance of whether or not we can clearly communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to those around us.

God’s Word is the answer to the Sin problem but without it there is no remedy for Sin and if we, as believers, are ignorant of what God’s word says and can’t clearly communicate the gospel by our lives, actions and speech then we are in the wrong and are contributing to the Lostness of everyone around us.  That’s a hard truth to hear and to acknowledge but it is so important and so critical that we must not try to tone it down or take it in any other way than head on.  And furthermore, even as believers, none of us our perfect and all of us have areas of our lives where we need to grow and improve in our faith.  Here again, it is knowledge of God’s Word and the study of His book that will give us the strength we need and all of the answers that we are searching for.

Every problem, challenge or danger that we face can be overcome by the power of God and the way that He equips His children is through His words (the Bible) and the Word (Jesus Christ, God in the flesh) as they are one in the same.  Without it, we have no hope and no power.  With it, we have everything we need and all of the hope in the world.

and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free  John 8:32 (NASB)

Do you know the truth?  If so, do you know how to adequately express the truth to those around you by the way that you walk and talk?  My prayer this week is that we would all take our knowledge of the truth seriously and thank God for the revelation of Jesus Christ while we commit to greater understanding of His powerful word.  May God Bless you as you seek Him ever more.

 

How to Overcome and Gain Victory in Suffering

victory, suffering, character, Isaiah 54:17I’ve been watching a Netflix show recently about a group of young adults who, one and all, have had to overcome great obstacles and, in many cases, personal tragedy in order to reach their goals and be successful.  What’s interesting to me is that even though the series has a positive tone, it hasn’t pulled any punches or tried to gloss over the suffering that each of these characters has experienced nor has it failed to show the consequences of their decisions.  A few have thrived and really used the difficulties that they have faced to become stronger and wiser while others have tried to cope by running away or turning to substance abuse.  One, in particular, decided that his greatest problem was caused by some of the people close to him and that led him to act in a way that had truly tragic circumstances for several of them.

You could say then, that even though they were completely different people with varied backgrounds and abilities, what really defined them in the end was how they overcame adversity and responded to suffering.  And even though this was based on fictional characters and a fictional story, I am convinced that this is a lesson that we need to learn well and take to heart.  Our lives and our legacy will be, in large part, defined by how well we overcome adversity and the character that we show while experiencing suffering.

One of the main characters in the show was a young lady who struggled and made it through law school but as a result of her singular focus on passing the bar exam she developed very bad eating and sleeping habits that led to weight gain and poor overall health with some serious side effects.  She had to learn how to be a healthy person and treat her body with the same attention and care that she gave to her learning while still taking care of her responsibilities at her job and in her home.  She likes to say that she isn’t the smartest or most attractive but that once she puts her mind to it, she can do anything and over the course of the series she displays this same plucky attitude over and over again and refuses to ever give up or quit.

This type of positive thinking and inner fortitude is admirable and makes for good television but, in the real world, it often doesn’t work like that.  There are some chains that just can’t be broken, some illnesses that can’t be overcome and some problems that can’t be solved by positive thinking and inner strength.  With all of the things that afflict us, both from without and within, there is only one power and one solution that can overcome the greatest obstacle time and time again.  That power belongs to God and God alone but is available to us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Many problems, many obstacles and many afflictions and not one of them can stand in the face of the power of God Almighty.  At the sound of His name every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord and even Death itself must give way.  In Him there is hope, there is strength, there is love and there is forgiveness.  Whatever we have faced in the past, are facing today or will face tomorrow He can redeem it and give us the ultimate victory.  This is God’s promise to those who would give Him their hearts and lives and this is the best response to the obstacles we face and the suffering we must endure.

Whatever it is, cry out to God and give it to Him.  Admit your inability to solve it on your own and confess your trust in Him.  Then, prepare to be amazed with God and His work in your life!

No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the Lord.  Isaiah 54:17 (NKJV)

Small Steps Big Rewards

Hebrews 11:6, diligence, faithWho likes rewards?  I know I do!  It’s satisfying to receive a reward, especially after having worked towards a goal or purpose and then accomplishing it.

The right reward can help us to stay motivated and to keep on working even over long and difficult periods where it seems like we are making little progress.  It is natural to want quick results but when we don’t see them it is tempting to get disheartened and to give up.  That is where the promises in God’s word can help us.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV)

The book of Hebrews has a lot to say about faith.  And Hebrews 11:6 begins by letting us know that we must come to God in faith.  As we strive to do God’s work we must do it through our faith in Him and His power.  We can be sustained in our efforts only by placing our faith and trust in our Heavenly Father who is always there for us.

Notice also the last part of Hebrews 11:6.  Not only must we have faith to please God but we must also trust that God rewards those who diligently seek Him.  And what is diligence?

diligence: constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken, careful and persistent work or effort, steadfast application

Diligence is not giving up.  Diligence is keeping on, little by little, day by day.  Diligence stays the course even when times are tough and nothing seems to be going right.

I find it encouraging that God will reward my consistent and persistent efforts.  Sometimes I feel like I might be close to the end of my rope physically and mentally and all I have left is my desire not to give up.  And instead of being discouraged by my weakness and lack God wants me to understand that he is sufficient at all times if I will just continue to rely on Him.

The Lord says to us “don’t give up, I have what you need.  Keep coming to me with your weakness and failings and I will be your strength and your success”.  He wants us to stick close to Him, even when we can’t understand what’s happening or where we might be going.

What He doesn’t want us to do is to give in to our discouragement.  It’s very tempting to run and hide or even to get mad at God and stop talking to Him when things aren’t going well.  But if we remain diligent then God tells us that we will be rewarded.

And what are the rewards that God offers us?  Ultimately, being with him in a place called heaven, which will be beyond anything that we can imagine.  But here on this earth He offers us peace in the midst of trials, grace that is greater than any of our failings and His steadfast love that is strong enough to see us through.  God’s presence is real and powerful and true fellowship with Him is one of the sweetest things that we can experience in this life.  All of this He offers to us.

Will we remain diligent and faithful and experience all that God has for us?  I pray that we would.

As Iron Sharpens Iron

Proverbs 27:17, knowledge, wisdomAs iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another – Proverbs 27:17.  We all need to be sharpened and we all need to grow in our faith and knowledge of the Lord.  In doing some research for my writing I came across several excellent articles that really sharpened and helped me immensely and I want to share a few of them with you.  But before I do so, let me say this:

Although I fall short in many areas God has richly blessed me with an intense curiosity and a strong desire to learn.  If I want to know something or solve a problem or if I am having difficulty in a certain area of my life then I will always try to figure out what the problem is and how to solve it.  Most of the success that I have had in my life is due to my seeking out those who are wiser and more successful than I and modeling their behavior.  This is good advice no matter who or where you are.  If you want to be a smarter, wiser and sharper person, find the sharpest and most successful folks you can (and the internet is a fantastic resource for doing this) and learn to think and act like them.

(For two great Biblical examples of this, see the writings of King David in Psalms and the writings of Paul in the New Testament).

Now to the articles!

On the topic of Christian liberty and with an excerpt that should really get you thinking:  https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/80-11/the-true-meaning-of-christian-freedom

What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?  Walk is the idea of daily conduct, daily conduct, routine life pattern.  And how do you walk in the Spirit?  Very simply, where does the Spirit reveal His will?  Where does the Spirit give us His direction?  In the Word of God, right?  I don’t think walking in the Spirit is mystical or ethereal, I don’t think it’s some kind of heavenly thing, I don’t think it’s some kind of ecstatic emotional experience. Walking in the Spirit is very simple, it is walking in obedience to the mind and will of the Spirit of God.  And that means to be saturated with the Word of God so that the Word of Christ dwells in you richly and that then, that word then becomes the control factor used by the Spirit of God to lead you into obedience.  It isn’t enough to become a Christian and then stand around in a vacuum of knowledge without any information out of the Word of God and hope everything turns out right.  We have to be saturated in the Word of God on a day-by-day basis so that the Word of God implanted in the mind and the heart becomes the control vehicle by which the Spirit of God leads us as we live day by day.  And when we’re filled with the Word of God, controlled by the Spirit of God, walk in obedience to that revealed will of God, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh, but we will fulfill the law by loving each other.

The whole sermon is quite a read but is well worth your time and effort!

 

And on the Christian perspective of boredom (do you get bored?  I do, and from what I read here I need to be very careful about that!)  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-s-beauty-for-the-bored-busy-and-depressed

“What immediately leaps to our mind when we see the word holiness?” asks Dane. “Austerity. Coldness. Grim-faced. Jaw-set. In one of his early sermons Edwards says, ‘Holiness is a most beautiful, lovely thing. Men are apt to drink in strange notions of holiness from their childhood as if it were a melancholy, morose, sour thing.’ But Edwards says there is nothing in holiness but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely. Sin is mire and filth. Holiness is sweet, lovely, delightful, serene, calm. That corrects me. Holiness is calming. It is the only route by which I can actually enjoy my life, because I am not delighting in the world’s fraudulent offers of happiness. Holiness is quietly thrilling. Where else would you want to live but in the brightness of holiness?”

How does not being bored fit in with holiness?  Well, you’ll just have to read the article to find out!

And finally, still one more fantastic resource on the Christian perspective of boredom.  This one really convicted me!  http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/overcoming-boredom/

This week I was asked if boredom is a sin. Good question. After contemplating the matter, I think the answer is that sin and boredom go together, but I would rather say that boredom is a disease of the soul. It is a warning sign from God that there is a “dis-ease” in your heart that must be faced. Boredom is a sign that your life is moving in the wrong direction.

How can we overcome boredom? It requires a reorientation of the way we approach each day. I’d like to combine two very familiar verses—Ecclesiastes 9:10 and Colossians 3:17—in order to find a biblical answer to boredom.

Using the above resources God really opened my eyes about some things in my life.  You may not need the specific lessons that these articles are trying to teach but I would still encourage you to be a knowledge seeker and a wisdom searcher in all that you do.  God has provided everything that we need to be strong and complete in Him but it is up to us to learn and apply those resources.  No matter what you are working on or where you happen to be in your search, my prayer is that God would richly bless your efforts as you go.

 

The Power of a Simple Gift – Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child, shoeboxes

Vicki is hard at work on shoebox gifts.

Operation Christmas Child is an endeavor that is near and dear to my heart.  Not only do I sincerely believe in the power of one simple gift, it also happens to be one of  my wife’s most favorite things.  Anything that brings her that much joy and happens to be an amazing tool for ministry deserves all of the support that I can give it.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about then I invite you to read the  following excerpt from Operation Christmas Child: A Story of Simple Gifts.

A Story from Operation Christmas Child

Not sure that your one shoebox will make a difference?  Read an actual account from Bosnia in 1993 (one of the first shoebox distributions).

 If any American city had experienced a December snowfall of five feet, no school would have been open.  But on that frosty morning in Bosnia, Lejla’s mother woke her, dressed her, and put an old pair of shoes on her feet.  The toes of the shoes were ripped open.  Her father had tried to close them up with steel wire but the leather was so rotten it wouldn’t hold together.  Lejla’s mother wrapped her feet in bags and sent her out into the arctic chill that defined Balkan winters.

A bulldozer had come through early that morning and cleared a narrow path in the road that remained slippery and messy.  Lejla may have been walking toward the school five miles away, but she had no intention of showing up there.  If ever an adolescent was on the brink of giving up, it was Lejla.  To prove it, she purposely detoured into a landmine field where just the day before her best friend had been killed and another friend had lost his leg in an explosion.  Maybe if she walked through the same field she could end her miserable life.  She had no reason to live.  With no coat to keep her warm, maybe she would even die from the frigid temperatures, she thought.  She was tired of being cold, weary of hunger pains, and afraid of the future.

After fourty-five minutes of wandering through the landmine field with no answers and no explosions, Lejla looked into the sky and cried, “God, I hate you for hating me so much and wanting me to suffer like this.  If you think I’m going to live like this, I’ll show you.”  Then she headed toward Sniper Alley with the certainty it promised; a one hundred percent guarantee of being shot to death.  She slipped under the barricade and wrenched her neck up toward the mountain, waiting for the powerful boom to end her misery.  It didn’t happen.

I found myself walking toward the school, disappointed I had survived Sniper Alley.  As I approached, I saw some kids holding boxes and I wondered where they had gotten them.  We had nothing new; even primitive items were scarce.  As I got close, I noticed how bright and beautiful the boxes were.  One of the boys said, “There are people inside giving these away.  You can get one too.”

Why do I need a box? Lejla thought.  I don’t have anything to put in it.  It’s pretty, but it won’t do me any good.  When I walked inside, I saw an older gentleman sitting on the steps.  He jumped up and grabbed a box from the top of the pile and headed toward me.  But I didn’t want any interaction.  I wanted to be left alone.  I was bitter and hateful.  To make matters worse, the man had a big smile on his face and gently said, “I want you to have this.”  I took it so he would go away quickly, but to my surprise the box was not empty.  The heaviness caused my hands to give way slightly.  I took hold, turned and ran as fast as I could until I found a solitary corner and slumped to the floor, cradling the box in my lap.  My heart was racing and my emotions were fragile.  Do I dare hope for what might be inside?  After all, this is a shoebox.  I looked down at my frozen feet, and then with great apprehension, lifted the lid.  Inside was a pair of brand new sneakers.

For some time I sat and cried while lifting the lid and closing it.  The crying had left me weak and quivering.  I felt sick, then happy.  As I drew the sneakers out of the box, my hands bumped into other things.  The shoes that fit perfectly were enough, but more?

I pulled out a twelve pack of pencils.  My entire class of fifty-eight students had been sharing a nub of one pencil all year long, and now I had my very own!  A notebook was there to replace the one I had used for three years, with hardly scribble space left.  Then I discovered erasers that smelled like strawberries – the first smell of anything pleasant that I could remember.  When I clasped a tube of toothpaste, I opened and tasted it.  The flavor was so delicious that I nearly ate it all.  Energized by the thrill, I gathered my new belongings and got home as fast as I could, hoping that none of the kids would steal my box from me on the way.

My mother was stunned when I came through the door and inquired where I had gotten all of my treasures.  “A man gave them to me and said the box was from Jesus.”  I assumed there was someone in America by that name.  That night, I pulled out my new pencil and notebook and wrote a letter to Jesus, telling Him things I had never told anyone.

At school the next day, I found the man who had given me the box and asked him if he would take the letter to America and give it to Jesus.  He explained that Jesus was God’s Son and that He came to pay the penalty for man’s sin.  He told me that Jesus is the One who died for our sins and that if I confessed my sin to Him, Jesus would forgive me and love me as His very own.  The man spoke truth to me and I had no reason to doubt him, for I already knew that He had heard and answered my prayer.  He was real and I knew He had mercy. 

In Jesus’ wonderful way, He reached down from Heaven into a little girl’s frightened heart and saved me, and He used a shoebox to do this miracle in my life.  Today, I may not have the physical possessions that filled my shoebox that day, but I have the most valuable and lasting possession – eternal salvation and assurance that my soul belongs to Him.

To make it sweeter, He allowed me to come to America and personally say “hvala” (thank you) to all those Christians who make the shoebox ministry possible.  I have my own family now and we are privileged to pack fifteen hundred shoeboxes each year.  If only one person finds salvation through these boxes, my life will have been worthwhile.  I am among the one hundred million souls that have been touched by Operation Christmas Child, and changed by the Jesus of Heaven and Earth who reached out to me.

Choose to Get Involved

The power of one simple gift in the form of a shoebox full of goodies is this: it beautifully and simply illustrates a gift given out of love with no expectation of anything in return to someone who has most likely never received a gift before.  In other words, it shows by example just what Christ did for us and opens a door in a child’s heart to receive His love.  This is the message and the ministry of Operation Christmas Child.

If you’d like to participate there’s still time.  Shoebox collection week is November 13th through November 20th and there are drop-off locations nationwide.  Packing a shoebox is easy!  Don’t have time to pack a shoebox?  Each shoebox costs $9 to ship and that is a very inexpensive and easy donation that would sponsor a gift that could save the soul of a child.  Or, you can build your box online through the Operation Christmas Child website.  And please don’t forget to pray that each box is guided by the Holy Spirit to the child who needs it most!

However you do it, choose to get involved.  On that glorious day when you are walking down the streets of paradise you could be approached by another child of God who says to you “Thank you for your gift.  I am here because you chose to give”.  That is indeed the power of one simple gift.

Do What You Want?

plans, goals, 2 Samuel, King DavidHave you ever planned something that seemed like a great idea at the time but then turned out to be totally wrong?  I know I have and I think the answer for most folks who are old enough to make their own decisions would be an emphatic “yep, I’ve done that!”.  Despite our best intentions, sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes even our best ideas are not what God has in mind.

The thing of it is, God most certainly does use and bless human initiative.  We can study the Bible and see many instances where this is clearly the case.  Not everything that we desire to do is wrong just as not everything we desire to do is right.  So how do we tell the difference?  How can we be sure that we aren’t going against God’s will as we are making our plans and living out our lives?

For sure, this is a complex question and one that I will not be fully able to answer with a simple blog post.  But it is a question that is worth asking and worth thinking about if we want to be the kind of Christ followers that God would have us to be.

Here are a couple of examples from scripture to get us started:

 Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing.  When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf.  Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might,  while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.  2 Samuel 6:12-16 (NIV)

David, as King of Israel, decided that he wanted to bring the Ark of God home.  David and a group of men went to retrieve the Ark from where it had been staying and David purposed in his heart not only to sacrifice a bull and fattened calf but also to “dance with all of his might” before the Lord.  Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly what God thought of David’s plan and his subsequent behavior but it certainly does tell us that someone very close to David (Michal – David’s first wife and daughter of the former king Saul) thought very poorly of how David went about praising God.

David’s response to Michal is recorded in verse 21: David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.  2 Samuel 6:21 (NIV)

In essence he says “God made me King and I will celebrate and praise Him in the way that I see fit” which is, it seems to me, a reasonable response.

I think it is interesting to note that God could have stopped either plan (the moving of the Ark and David’s enthusiastic praise) but chose not to.  And I think that sometimes, just as David did, we need to make the best plan that we can with what God has already revealed to us and just do it.  David could see how God blessed the former resting place of the Ark (the household of Obed-Edom) and I am sure he wanted those same blessings for his home city.  He set about carryout out his plan to bring the Ark home and he did it with praise and thanksgiving – always the best way to carry out any plan!

Here’s another instance from scripture with a different outcome:

After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him,  he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:

 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?  I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’  2 Samuel 7:1-7 (NIV)

David has now brought the Ark home and has now finally subdued the Philistines and another plan begins to form in his mind.  He now wants to build God a temple (and by extension, move the Ark into a permanent resting place instead of the movable tent that it was in at the time) and “upgrade” God’s dwelling.  And this sounds like such a great idea that Nathan, a highly respected prophet and man of God, immediately agrees with him.

That night, most likely as Nathan slept, God gave Nathan a message for David.  David’s plan was not God’s plan, at least not yet.  We know from history that Solomon, David’s son, was tasked with building God’s temple but that was not to be David’s task.  God had other plans for David and He used Nathan to deliver His message.  This time, God stepped in and asked David to change his plan and, to David’s credit, he listened to God and did as he was asked.

It comes down to trust and acknowledgement.  We must trust God with our plans and trust that He will lead and guide us as we go.  We must also acknowledge that only He has the authority to change us, change our lives and change our direction.  He has the final say and we must give Him the opportunity to change our minds, change our circumstances and ultimately to change any plans that we might have.

His plans are perfect.  Ours tend to be less so.  Do we trust Him with our plans and then acknowledge His authority in our lives as we go?