Proverbs 4

coffee

Some mornings, I have much to say.  Other mornings, I have nothing to say but much to hear.  This morning, the Lord spoke to me through His Word…  a good chapter to meditate on…

Proverbs 4

1Listen, my sons, to the instruction of a father;

pay attention and gain understanding.

2For I give you sound teaching;

do not abandon my instruction.

3When I was a son to my father,

tender and the only child of my mother,

4he taught me and said,

“Let your heart lay hold of my words;

keep my commandments and you will live.

5Get wisdom, get understanding;

do not forget my words or turn from them.

6Do not forsake wisdom, and she will preserve you;

love her, and she will guard you.

7Wisdom is supreme; therefore acquire wisdom.

And whatever else you obtain, gain understanding.

8Prize her, and she will exalt you;

if you embrace her, she will honor you.

9She will set a garland of grace on your head;

she will present you with a crown of beauty.”

10Listen, my son, and receive my words,

and the years of your life will be many.

11I will guide you in the way of wisdom;

I will lead you on straight paths.

12When you walk, your steps will not be impeded;

when you run, you will not stumble.

13Hold on to instruction; do not let go.

Guard it, for it is your life.

14Do not set foot on the path of the wicked

or walk in the way of evil men.

15Avoid it; do not travel on it.

Turn from it and pass on by.

16For they cannot sleep

unless they do evil,

they are deprived of slumber

until they make someone fall,

17since they eat the bread of wickedness

and drink the wine of violence.

18The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,

shining brighter and brighter until midday.

19But the way of the wicked is like the darkest gloom;

they do not know what makes them stumble.

20My son, pay attention to my words;

incline your ear to my sayings.

21Do not lose sight of them;

keep them within your heart.

22For they are life to those who find them,

and health to the whole body.

23Guard your heart with all diligence,

for from it flow springs of life.

24Put away deception from your mouth;

keep your lips from perverse speech.

25Let your eyes look forward;

fix your gaze straight ahead.

26Make level pathsa for your feet,

and all your ways will be sure.

27Do not swerve to the right or to the left;

turn your feet away from evil.

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Chronicling 40: Day 10 of 365

taste

I love food.  I love the presentation of food, the smell, the texture, and the taste.  I don’t mind getting my fingers dirty because of a great slab of ribs on my plate, nor do I mind using special tools to eat unconventional foods.  All of these senses coming together in an experience that is supposed to be satisfying and enjoyable.  In fact, I love food so much that I am willing to try just about anything once.

I have sat down to a plate of food that looked anything but appetizing and ended up having one of the best meals of my life.  In contrast, I’ve also been presented a plate of well crafted foods… artwork on a porcelain plate… and barely able to take a second bite.  There have been foods that smell amazing, but the flavor was lacking (my husband feels this way about coffee, it’s ok… I’ve forgiven him).

Here is the thing, because I have an openness toward trying different foods… cuts, cooking styles, seasonings, etc… I know GOOD food.  A few years ago, I was at a cookie exchange and two women were commenting on how they brought the exact same cookies and they tasted so differently.  They compared their recipes, nothing was amiss.  So, I sampled them both and replied:  “One of you used salted butter, the other used unsalted butter.  That is what made the difference.”  Sure enough, I was right.

I know that it is not just about the ingredients but also how we cook it, you can do everything right in the preparation but then flub it up in the execution.  It happens, to the best of us.  There have been a few meals over the last 20 years that I have tossed right into the trash, as we waited for the pizzas to arrive.

There are so many pieces of scripture that compare words to food, or eating food.

Matt 4:4 says that we can’t live on bread alone but the Word of God.  Jer 15:16 speaks of the joy of drinking in God’s Word.  1 Peter 2:2 compares the Word to milk.  Hebrews 5:12,15 compares it to solid food.  Psalm 113 calls it “honey in my mouth”.  Psalm 119:11 we read of storing up His word (akin to how we store up food).  We are told that it is good for us, nourishing to our bodies and souls, we are told to keep it on our lips, to consume it.

We are also warned to be careful about the words that come out of our own mouths.  How do you words taste when they come out of your mouth?  Are they bitter?  Does it sting or burn?  Are these words that destroy and divide, or tear down another?

Delivering bad news, it is so hard to do.  Yet, it amazes me how gentle we can be when pushed into that circumstance.  The words may be hard, but they are spoken with sweetness, compassion, and love.

We can also take harmful words and try to envelop them in words that sound sweet.  It may look good, it may sound good, but the words are bitter to the taste.  We know they are harmful words and we do everything we can to hide that fact.  This reveals so much about our intentions, of wanting to say something that isn’t beneficial but also trying to avoid ownership for those words.  When we encase them to make them appear harmless or sweet, good intentioned… we can then claim ignorance, blame misunderstanding, or even try to convince the recipient that it is their perception of our words that is off.

There are other times when our words sting, and we mean them to sting.  When we are purposefully lashing out at another person.  It’s that old cliche saying of “hurt people, hurt people”.  Whether it is spoken in revenge, anger, jealousy, etc… these words are sharp and there is no mixed message about it.

I’m sure we can all agree that these three points are obvious, we’ve all encountered them.  But recently, I was made aware of another example that wasn’t quite so obvious.

If we are called to use our words to build up, encourage, unify, strengthen, in love, for peace, etc… than any use of our words otherwise is counter to that call.

The enemy seeks to destroy, to discourage, to divide, to weaken, to hurt, to cause chaos, and confusion.  He is also a liar and manipulator, who can camouflage his plans to look and sound like a good idea or path.

Would God present you with an opportunity that would cause division among your friends?  Would He call you down a pathway that would become a stumbling block for your family?  Would He call us to a purpose that would intersect and cut off the work of another ministry or organization that He has ordained?

Sometimes these ideas and opportunities sound good, Kingdom worthy, and they may “feel right”.  These opportunities may not be bad, evil, or destructive.  In fact, they can even be a blessing to the community (God makes beauty out of ashes, and redeems all things to be used for His glory).

How much of this has to do with our own desires impacting our perception of truth and calling?  I remember reading something to the effect of “God will never give you another woman’s husband.”  This guy may be our knight in shining armor, and everything could feel so right… so much so that you could almost catch your self thanking God for bringing this man in to your life.  No matter how wonderful it feels, the truth is that God would never destroy one marriage or divide a family in order to bring you a husband.  That is a slap in the face to the very character of God displayed in the scriptures.

It would not be of God’s character to give you something that He intended for someone else.  We must be very careful not to credit God with orchestrating things in our lives that are actually of our own doing, our own desires, or that contradict who we know Him to be.

I believe one way to flesh these things out is to taste the words of your intentions.  Do they taste sweeter than honey or are they bitter.  Do they flow easy from your mouth, or do you struggle to speak?  Are your words working toward something or against someone? Are these words that are surrounded in peace or are they littered with chaos and confusion?  Are you confident in the calling or are you trying to convince yourself that you have been called?

If we are leaning in close to God, praying for clarity and discernment, then I believe the Holy Spirit is going to reveal the truth.  I believe that if you have to struggle and attempt to justify yourself, you will taste that those words are not good.  You will feel it in your heart, mind, soul, and even body that you are going in a direction that is not right. You will feel weighted and burdened in a very negative way, even if you can’t put your finger on exactly what it is that you feel so bad.

But, when you are in alignment with God’s calling on your life, you will feel freedom to move forward at His pace.  There will be excitement and you won’t need to justify it to anyone (including yourself) because you will know deeply that this is the way you should go, and you will walk in it confidently.  You will not be weighted down with burden, but soaring!

So taste those words that come out of your mouth.  Before you make that phone call, or send that email, or even schedule that face to face meeting…

Say it out loud.  Don’t embellish it with fancy explanations and trying to justify it.  Speak it in plain simple facts.  Then ask yourself, how would I feel if I was the one receiving this message.  Would I feel hurt or betrayed?  Would I feel attacked or discouraged?  Do these words sound divisive or damaging?  Do these words taste bitter, are they unsavory?  Would I not want to receive this message?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then pull back and pray over this situation.  Ask for His peace and clarity over your steps.  Remember He is not a God of chaos, disorder, or confusion.  He does not change His Word or character to bend to the will of one person, He is consistent and constant.  He will not give you peace over a decision or direction that He does not intend.

If the words are bitter, if the mind is clouded in confusion… do not rush into anything but the arms of God.

Facing Rejection

rejection

Rejection stings.  No one likes to be rejected.  In the age of social media the pain of rejection knows no bounds.  I was reading a post on a popular Christian magazine’s Facebook page this morning.  We would love to think that only someone who agrees with the magazine would be posting comments on their page, that was hardly the truth.  Most of the comments were negative, pot stirrers, people who were running in with a quick cut to the jugular and then disappearing into internet obscurity.

Before social media, there were definitely people who were like this.  Mean girls who would reject your offer of friendship and then talk about you behind your back.  Today, the negative comments are thrown right in your face. You know every word they say about you.

Before social media,  you could plan a party and excitement would roll in as you received the phone calls of those who were RSVPing that they would be in attendance.  Now, you not only see the responses of those who have chosen not to attend but also what they chose to do with their time instead.  You feel rejected when a person would rather spend time at the beach than with you on your birthday.  You feel rejected when you see photos of your group of friends all having lunch together, and you were not invited.

Social media has even given rejection no accountability at all.  You can unfriend someone without having to tell them why the friendship is over.  A person can kick you out of a facebook group, without ever having to tell you what you did wrong.  You can be banned.  BANNED.  A term once applied to people who were bad news and thus banned from a certain store, restaurant, or event.  Now, any regular person can be banned from a group… for no reason at all, for no reason ever given.

And, the worst part about it…. you know that this has happened.  When you attempt to view their social media account.  Unfriended.  When you can’t even find the social media account. Banned.  You are left with unanswered questions… what did I do wrong?  I thought was being helpful?  Did someone misunderstand me?  Why didn’t they like me? 

It is easy to wallow in those questions, wondering why you have been rejected.  It some instances it can hurt as badly as someone rejecting you to your face, in other instances it may hurt worse because you don’t even know why and there is nothing you can do about it.

I learned a long time ago to stop running after those who can’t make time for you, and to focus on those who will.  We can too easily get wrapped up in being accepted by a particular person, group of friends, or even social media account… that we can forget about those who have always been by our side, supporting us, who have pursued us.

A new friend reminded me one day when I was lamenting over a rejections… “Gena, those are just not your people.”

So true.  Maybe it is the wisdom of age catching up with me, but I realize that I don’t have enough time or energy for those who are “not my people”.  And, I am learning to better recognize who truly are my people.  Who supports me.  Who can I trust.  Who allows me to be me vs. changing me to what they want me to be?  Who can allow me to grieve how I need to grieve?  Who treats me like an adult, a person, and not a project?  Who trusts that I am capable person vs. talking down to me like a child?

When you begin to set boundaries, identify who you want to bring into your circle… rejection begins to sting less.  I think, in part, because you stop inviting the pests into your sanctuary in the first place… and you are quick to get rid of the ones that slip by.

Caught

CAUGHT

“The Lord will be your confidence and keep your foot from being caught.” Proverbs 3:26

In the movies, during an action sequence, there is a go to moment that helps heighten the excitement.  The woman in high heels.  Running across train tracks… her heel gets caught.  Running along a pier… her heel gets caught between the planks.  Running across the street… caught in a manhole lid.  Running down the sidewalk… caught in a great or crack.

I’ve never been running for my life, but I have gotten my heel caught.  Once, at a bridal shower, my heel got caught multiple times.  At the hostess’ home there was a beautiful deck and my heel kept getting caught in between the wood planks.  The first time, I laughed it off.  The second time, I almost dropped my plate.  The third time, it brought me to a sudden stop and I almost created a three woman pile up.  I was embarrassed that I kept allowing this to happen.  I could have paid more attention where I stepped.

In life, there are a lot of times where I could stand to pay a bit more attention to what is happening around me.  Perhaps I could have been a bit wiser, or exercised a bit more caution.  I could have learned from my mistakes, instead of repeating them.  When others shared their wisdom with me, I could have heeded their warnings instead of digging in my heels and thinking I could do things my own way.

As a believer, I can learn a lot of practical wisdom in the pages of the Scriptures.  The more I commit myself to the Lord, dig into the Scriptures to understand His character, and dedicate myself to following His commands the more I walk in confidence, God Confidence.  I am confident in who He is, I am confident in His promises, I am confident in His direction.  When I am walking with God Confidence, I don’t have to worry about my heel getting caught.

Read twice, Reply once. Maybe. – #Write31Days

MBA

I am not a morning person.  Honestly, my brain can’t even engage in intelligent thought for a good two hours after I wake up.  To a certain degree, I’ve always been this way. But, when coupled with the brain fog of Hashimotos, it’s even a bigger issue.

About a year ago, I woke up… meandered around the house. Checked my email.  There was a notification that someone tweeted a response to an article I posted the previous day.  It was a question.  I quickly read it, answered it, and then in a matter of minutes… chaos.

The man had written the question in such a way that it was easy to misunderstand.  He was setting me up.  In my haste to answer, I fueled his fire.  I ended up at the receiving end of an onslaught of attack after attack.  As much as I can cast blame on the man for his purposeful attempt to discredit me and attack my character… I have culpability here.

I know that I shouldn’t answer questions like that so early in the morning.  I know that it takes time for my mind to engage.  I also know that it is important to really think about your responses before you put them out there.  I know that I should have reread the question, then replied… if at all.

I should have discerned what he was up to. If I had waited until I was fully awake, I would have caught on to his attempt to bait.

When ever we read something for the first time, we are tempted to respond.  I have found, and learned the hard way, that is better to take a step back first.  Re-read the comment, question, or even entire article.  Make sure you fully understand before you comment.

I have also learned that sometimes it is better to NOT comment.  I do not need to respond to every invitation to debate.  I don’t always need to share my two cents.

There is also a lesson in making sure that before you respond, you read the whole article or comment.  I’ve witness people respond to something they read in just the first few paragraphs, and had they read the whole thing they would have had a different opinion.

Be wise.

One last thing, from a life lesson a friend learned the hard way.  When you respost an article, if you do not make any comment with it… you are by default seen as agreeing with it.  That means do NOT repost something with the intention of reading it later. You may be inadvertently telling your circle that you agree with the contents.  You may be spreading false information before you had a chance to verify it.  If you are on FB, you can “save the post” and read it later without posting it to your wall/feed.  If it came via link on other social media, copy the link and email it to yourself.  You could save yourself a LOT of trouble.  My friend almost lost her job over it.

Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

Understanding is not Condoning

praytogetherRight now, there is a vein of pain in the United States.  Yes, the media (including social media) are quick to paint pictures without all of the facts.  Yes, there are some responses to what is happening in our country that are not RIGHT.   Yes, there are good cops out there who love and are committed to their communities.  Yes, there are people out there under the guise of “protestors” that are just trouble makers.  A predominant question I am seeing a lot of lately is about the protests that have become riots, coupled with looting.  It is a question of not understanding WHY communities are responding in such a radical… and violent way.  

Understanding what brings a group of people to this place is NOT condoning.  Understanding however does bring clarity, sympathy, and empathy.  Understanding can be the catalyst for change as more eyes open to what is happening around us.

I penned this on my Facebook page today:

If you have ever been so mad about something that you slammed a door & a picture fell off the wall and shattered…

If you have ever been so frustrated that you threw whatever was in your hand down hard on the table and it snapped in half…

If you have ever snapped back at a family member or raised your voice before you gave them a chance to speak…

If you have ever punished your child based on the evidence before you without giving them a chance to explain…

You have a FRACTION of the understanding needed to wrap your head around what is happening in Charlotte.

Sometimes it hurts… it hurts deep. It is raw and you just can’t control your actions. Right? No. Real? Yes. There are real people who are hurting right now, and it’s not because of one incident but the culmination of incidents. A boiling point.

Will there be opportunists who take advantage of this situation for their own gain? Who are not truly protesting or broken, but happy to take advantage of an opportunity to create mayhem … knowing with the # of people protesting they most likely won’t get caught? Of course.

We have a media who is happy to tell us about the long wrap sheets of these people who have been killed. Yet celebrates the accomplishments of guilty men who are let off with minimal to no consequence.

But you do have to scratch your head and wonder how in the world NY police took down the bombing suspect during a gun fight with a shot to the leg… and yet an unarmed man, walking away from the officers was such a threat that lethal force was required.

Just as much as scratching my head and wondering why a routine traffic stop has to take the life of one of our officers. Or, how the calculated attack on the Dallas officers occurred.

What this tells us is that there is still work to do. There are still strides to take forward. There is still hurt, pain, and marginalization. Just because we don’t see it here in our own lives or cities doesn’t mean it isn’t existing elsewhere.

As I have been listening to my fellow human beings talk about their experiences with racism… whether they are my grandmother’s generation or young kids… we can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist. We can’t ignore it. Because, when we try to pretend or ignore… it impedes our ability to be honest and take the necessary steps to move forward.

We need to be the change.

 

Perhaps in God’s providence he is bringing forth an injustice to people whom he loves greatly that are being mistreated? He is exposing a bitter root that has gone deep and been ignored. Perhaps God is saying to his people STOP … LISTEN… and be my hands and feet. Stand up to injustice of all types. Maybe we are not in chaos and confusion, but instead the Lord is dropping the scales and opening our eyes to hurt, pain, and suffering of a group of people who are created in His image. Perhaps the Lord is calling us to STAND up for what is right, honorable, noble, and good. And in our stubbornness to see the sin before our eyes… we had to be shaken from our stupor.

Lord, I pray for our communities… the people who live in them and those who serve to protect them.  Let there peace and calm that comes, let real conversations happen that lead to healing and growth.  Let us more forward and not backward. Protect us from those who mean us harm.  Open our eyes to injustice.  Let us stand united, every color… civilians and officers… for good.  Amen.