Sunday, July 31, 2011


“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” (Gen.45:5)

The dictionary will tell you that regret is sorrow or disappointment due to some external circumstance or event, or else pain because of something done, or left undone, in one’s past. God’s Word, however, is not as sympathetic. Instead of words like pain, sorrow, and disappointment, God describes it as “anger.” According to this verse, regret is a manifestation of self-directed rage. We should not confuse godly sorrow (2 Cor.7:10) with regret or remorse. The former brings repentance, seeks forgiveness, and then moves on. The latter may or may not have the first two elements of godly sorrow, but with a lingering bitterness that seethes below the surface and saps away the ability to press ahead.

Paul the Apostle would have been a prime candidate for the league of regrets. As one who spent the first part of his life opposing Jesus Christ and persecuting Christians, he could easily have spent the remainder of it in pietistic penance, dwelling on the harm he had done. But, instead, he chose to disregard what could not be changed and focus on what could be accomplished (Philip.3:13).

Someone has characterized regret as the best of me contemplating the worst of me; but that is not the case. The best of me has other, more important, things to do. It is only a self-righteous form of the worst of me that gazes pityingly on itself and says, “Why?” and “If only…”

Ecclesiastes 7:9 tells us that anger lies in the bosom of fools, and regret—just another form of anger—is found in the same place.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Building Up or Plucking Down

“Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” (Proverbs 14:1)

You can watch a house being constructed and track the progress; but plucking it down bit-by-bit can be easily overlooked, until one day one wakes to find it a dilapidated shell of what it once was.

I feel sure Solomon was not pointing out the contrast between the construction and demolition of a residence but, rather, the nurturing and disintegration of a once happy home. Men and women are both capable of being home wreckers, of course, but it seems especially unnatural to find it in women, who down through time have been the natural “nesters” in a marriage. But even in Solomon’s day, there were such foolish women.

As I intimated in the first paragraph, it’s the slow, insidious, “plucking” that characterizes this woman that makes me shudder. It reminds me of how women used to pluck a chicken, feather by feather, till there was nothing left on the skin. It was a slow process, and if the bird were alive, it would no doubt be painful. Not enough to kill, just enough to hurt.

And that’s the way it can be in a marriage­­­­—constant picking at one another, till there is little joy left in one another’s company. It can sour what should be sweet occasions, and dull feelings of love in times of intimacy. The same is true of children. We can pick at and find fault with them for every little thing, till their only recourse it to shun the source of the pain. We have all guilty of this to some extent, but some of us are especially adept. I say this, not to inhibit helpful, constructive criticism, but to make us conscious of not making it a lifestyle. Perhaps if it were more rare it would be more prized.

Maybe this would be a good time to examine ourselves and see where we fit into this proverb of Solomon’s. Are we doing more plucking down than building up? If so, we’re fools; and we may wake up one day to find we’ve picked and picked till there’s nothing left.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Under the Circumstances

“…and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath…” (Deut. 28:13)

Circumstances cannot be denied or ignored; but they can be put in their place.

If you’re wondering where that is, you only have to examine the word a little more closely. The prefix “circum” tells us we are dealing with something going on around us, as the word “circumference” denotes the distance around a circle. “Stance” is a standing place or position. Putting the two together, we could say that circumstances are the way things stand around us at any given moment.

Now, if they are normally around us, it’s our own fault if we allow them to creep above us. There are times when we cannot change present circumstances, but we can always determine their position in our lives. Their presence may influence our decisions, but they should never determine them. They have a role to play, but for the child of God, they can never be the deciding factor.

In the first place, circumstances are temporary, notoriously fluid. What is staring us in the face today may only be hovering somewhere in our peripheral vision tomorrow. In addition, circumstances are temporal, as opposed to eternal. In reality, we, as believers, have our heads in the clouds (Eph.2:6). We are not oblivious to this world, for then we couldn’t interact and influence it; but we are above it to the extent that we recognize a higher commission that transcends mere, transient circumstances.

We do ourselves a great disservice when we fail to circumvent the circumstances. The next time you commend yourself for doing well “under the circumstances,” think how much better you would do if you were above them. When you look down on them instead of around at them, they look a whole lot smaller!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In Praise of Prudence

“…and a prudent wife is from the LORD.” (Proverbs 19:14b)

You can’t get a higher endorsement than this. The husband whose wife can rightfully wear the label of prudence can know that he made a wise choice. And by the same token, this feminine badge of distinction should be cherished by its owner or aspired to by all others. A good wife has many good qualities, but none more praiseworthy than prudence.

So what is prudence? Well, a good definition would be “having or exercising sound judgment in practical matters.” But what might God mean by the term? Staying in Proverbs, one can find many clues. Solomon says of someone who is prudent that he (and she): are able to control their emotions (12:16); don’t believe everything they hear (14:15); know how to take a rebuke, especially from an elder (15:5); are life-long learners (18:15); and can see evil a mile away and know how to sidestep it (27:12). Proverbs 8:12 tells us that prudence has a roommate. “I wisdom dwell with prudence….” And I’m not surprised. God never meant for wisdom to be sequestered. He meant for us display it in our lives, not just our words, in a practical, prudent way.

As far as I can tell, only one (named) man in the Bible is actually called prudent: Sergius Paulus. You’ll find him in Acts thirteen. We know two important things about this prudent man. 1) He “desired to hear the word of God (v.7); 2) he “believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord (v.12). This man knew the truth when he heard it; and I would submit that only the man or woman who takes the Bible for what it is: the Word of God, and is governed by it’s precepts, can honestly be considered prudent, or sound in judgment.

I see prudence in Biblical wives like Abigail, who was able to keep David from succumbing to his anger (1 Sam. 25); Manoah’s wife, who allayed her husband’s spiritual panic by calm reasoning (Jdg. 13; and the “virtuous woman” of Proverbs 31, whose husband knew he could always trust her in life or death. I’ve also seen prudence in women I have met through the years. In most cases, I was able to gauge their worth by the contentment and trust I could see in their husbands. Their prudence may not always have been appreciated, but it could never be denied.

If you are the husband of such a wife, see her for what she truly is: a gift from God. If you are a single woman, hoping to be a wife one day, nurture the attribute of prudence in your life now, especially by reveling in the Word of God. If you are a wife, ask yourself how important Biblical prudence is to your job description. It’s nice to be pretty; but it’s better to be prudent. Long after the glow of youth has faded from her face and form, the prudent wife will still shine in the eyes of a godly husband. For this reason, and because of the high value God puts on it…

“Prudence, I praise thee!”

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Easily Impressed

“Let me not, I pray you, accept any man's person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man.” (Job 32:21)

Someone once said, “Tell me who you love and I’ll tell you who you are.” But I would go further and say, “Tell me who impresses you and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Several years ago, someone with whom I was talking shared with me that he had entered into a friendship simply because of the prestige and attractiveness of the other individual. “Actually,” this person candidly admitted, “I think I’m easily impressed.” Aren’t we all? Though some more so than others, it would seem. The individual’s admission smote my own heart, and I had to ask myself, “Who or what impresses me? And, just as important, “How easily am I impressed?” It’s not a subject without consequences.

The word, “impress” means, “to apply pressure so as to leave a mark.” And that is the risk we take in our associations. Those who impress us leave their own mark upon us. Subtle, perhaps, but, nevertheless, indelible. More than anything else, their ideas will influence our own thinking. Somehow, faulty thinking is more attractive in impressive packaging. Whether it is looks, wealth, scholarship, or popularity, some people wield personal influence that is undeserved; because, beneath the trappings, they lack the moral character and Godly reasoning that marks a truly great person.

At the risk of offending someone (myself included), I think it should be pointed out that to be easily impressed suggests a nature that too pliable. It’s the difference between putty and pewter. In the case of the person I mentioned earlier, youth is involved, which is reasonable, though perhaps even more harmful. But it’s even less acceptable when older Christians, who should have developed more discernment, look wide-eyed at (spiritually) small people, who substitute clichés and diplomacy for precepts and principles. Instead of deep calling unto deep (Psl.42:7), it would appear to be shallow responding to shallow.

I should say, however, that the person who cannot be impressed at all is an individual convinced of his or her own importance. Such a person has stagnated, with a mind set in concrete. (Very unimpressive!) I guess what’s needed here is an “impression gauge,” a built in yardstick to measure the eligibility of those with whom we come in contact. No one is perfect, of course, but we should never allow the man or woman who disobeys the direct commands of Scripture, or who is content to live the Christian life on a low plain, to leave his or her mark upon us. In other words, their impression on our lives should be as significant as a bird’s on tempered glass.

Now, here’s a question for all of us: How easily, and by whom, am I impressed? Our answer says far more about us than them.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Wringer Washing Machines and Other "Blessings"

“Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” (John 13:7)
This statement by Jesus Christ was in reference to something happening then that would be more fully understood at a later date. But the principle is true for many things in life, especially for the man or woman for whom Jesus Christ is Lord of his or her life. Romans 8:28 corroborates this: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” The qualifiers are “thou knowest not now,” and “all things work together.” In other words, there is much in life that seemingly cannot be rationalized at the time, but have a yet to be revealed purpose. I heard a good illustration of this today.
One of the over-eighty ladies in our water aerobics group told us that as a five-year old child she had one of her arms mangled when it was caught in the rollers of a wringer washing machine. The damage was so severe that the doctor wanted to take the arm, but her mother would not permit it. As it was, she forced to wear a steel cast on her little arm for six months. It was her right arm that was affected, so when she went back to school, she was forced to use her left hand during those long months. The end of it was that she became, and is to this day, ambidextrous. And the odd thing is that when it was suggested that it must have been very painful, she admitted, “Actually, I don’t remember the pain.”
How many of us can look back on heartaches—even tragedies—in our lives and realize now that they were used by God to make us more agile and resourceful—ambidextrous, if you will—for Him. Better equipped to address other trials in our own lives and the lives of others. We know, too, from the Psalmist that those who suffer affliction have unique insight into God’s Word (Psl.119:71).
One of the most precious Christian ladies I know lies in a hospital bed in Florida at this hour trying to fight off a bone infection in her leg that already cost her most of the other one. She has lived with paralysis and pain for many, many years and is probably the most spiritually “ambidextrous” person I know. She has lived long enough now to experience the “hereafter” of which Jesus spoke in our text.
It is possible, as any woman who had given birth knows, to go from great pain to great joy, when we are finally able to hold the end result of that pain in our arms (Jno.16:21). And I can look back on painful, heartbreaking experiences that I lived through in my life, and because of the spiritual insight and deeper fellowship with God that they spawned, say in all honesty, “It’s hard to remember the pain then because of the joy now.”