Sunday, February 22, 2015

This week's lesson (February 21-27): words of truth

You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." [But] if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. -- Galatians 5:13 (NIV)
It's easy to believe that "too much is not enough."

We've all seen this happen with alcohol or drugs. Yes, we all know how addictive these things can be . . . and we all know how destructive those addictions can be.

But wine "when it sparkles in the cup" is not the only thing that can lead to excess.
  • So can the pursuit of power.
  • So can the pursuit of money.
  • And even the desire for justice can turn you into a vindictive monster.
That's why Proverbs urges us to set limits on the good things in our lives: on the pleasures of food, sleep, sex, fame, wealth, and power. It's not that these things are wrong in themselves -- in fact, each of them can be a great blessing.

But just because something is a blessing doesn't mean more of it would be an even greater blessing.

No, we need to know when "enough is enough," even for the good things in our lives.

That's because too much of a good thing . . .

Is still too much.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

This week's lesson (February 14-20): words of wisdom

[Jesus said to his disciples], "Every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." -- Matthew 13:52 (NIV).
Think of as it as Twitter -- Twitter for people who don't have electricity.

Read the Book of Proverbs, after all, and you'll notice:
  • It has short, punchy sayings -- just like the stuff you read on Twitter.
  • It has a definite attitude -- again, just like the stuff you read on Twitter.
  • But just like the stuff on Twitter, there's always more that could be said.
Take Proverbs 22:6 for instance: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

As a rule of thumb?

Great.

As a call to action?

Terrific.

As the definitive word on this subject -- an iron-clad promise that always comes true?

Well . . . the Bible itself has more to say about this.

A lot more.

But a proverb such as this is gives you a good place to start the conversation (even if it doesn't always finish it); it tells you how to take the first step (even if it doesn't tell you what the next step should be).

In short, Proverbs says a lot.

But just like Twitter, it can only say so much.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

This week's lesson (February 7-13): dealing with fights

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips . . . [but] as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. -- Colossians 3:8, 12-15 (NIV)
I'm always amazed by just how fast a church fight can turn "spiritual."

I mean, one minute you're happily fussing about the exact shade of puce the new church carpet should be . . .

And the next, you're being told that anyone who doesn't like mauve must be one of those Muggletonian heretics condemned by the 1932 Bible Conference (or something like that).

To be sure, I know that some people are just plain cantankerous.

What's more, I know the Church has its share of people who are just plain cantankerous.

That's why I'm not surprised when a discussion about the new church carpet turn into a donnybrook -- no, I expect the occasional church fight.

But fights about privilege and power don't stop being fights about privilege and power when we dress them up in spiritual language . . .

And cantankerous people who use spiritual language are no less cantankerous than the people who don't.

That's why Proverbs reminds us that the mark of a Godly person is not their bad-temper -- and the sign of God's Spirit is not our inability to get along with others.

No, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22f, NIV).

Just because it's a church fight, in other words, doesn't necessarily mean it's "spiritual." Sometimes, as a matter of fact, a fight about a carpet is nothing more than a fight about a carpet.

And that's why, sometimes, you just need to leave God out of it.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

This week's lesson (January 31-February 6): what you get is not what you see


Where there is no oxen, the manger is empty,
but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.
-- Proverbs 14:4 (NIV)

"The first thing to do when you're in a hole," or so I've been told, "is to stop digging."
And if you've read the Book of Proverbs, then you've learned a lot of ways to stop digging -- ways to keep bad situations from getting worse, such as:
  • "Don't try to get even."
  • "Don't do nothing because you can't do everything."
  • "And don't rely on the people who got you in trouble to get you out of trouble."
So far, so good -- and if Proverbs does nothing but help us avoid mistakes, then it's worth reading.
But negative virtues are not enough.
Avoiding mistakes is not enough.
And if our only goal in life is to stay out of trouble, then we won't end up with much of a life (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).
That's why Proverbs doesn't just talk about the sins we should shun; no, it talks about the positive virtues we should embrace -- virtues such as generosity, cheerfulness, and hard work. 
To be sure, these things don't come easy; like the ox of Proverbs 14:4, they need to be fed and cared for . . . but even if life is easier without them, it's still better with them.
So take a look at the positive commands of Proverbs (and not just its prohibitions).
Take a look at the rewards it promises (and not just the pitfalls we can avoid).
When you're down in a hole, after all, then your first move should be to stop digging.
But your next move?