Saturday, August 29, 2015

Google It

Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

 -- Proverbs 22:6

It's almost too easy.

When you need parts for a 1957 Chevy, a great recipe for chocolate mousse or World Series box scores from 1928, we simply reach for our laptop, tablet or smart phone...and then Google it for the answer. But just 25 years ago, printed almanacs--like Information, Please!--were many households' primary source of information Google Logoon a variety of topics. The Old Farmer's Almanac, published continuously since 1792, features articles about gardening, recipes, sports and planting charts, plus predictions for the coming year related to home d├ęcor, food, fashion and technology. Whitaker's Almanack has published since 1868. And the Farmer's Almanac (without the "Old") sold its first copy in 1818.

Almanacs are not entirely relics of the past. For example, The Old Farmer's Almanac just made the news through its prediction of frigid temperatures for much of the nation throughout Winter 2015-16. It also claims that there will be a white Christmas--in one form or another--just about everywhere in the nation that gets snow. But as plausible as that may be, there's a much more reliable source of wisdom that's guided households around the world with timeless truths and principles covering topics ranging from money management to clothing to business ethics. It made the best sellers list centuries before Robert B. Thomas published the first issue of The Old Farmer's Almanac. And you can (and should) live your life by it.

It's called Proverbs. And in the pages of this Old Testament masterpiece you'll find 31 chapters of practicality comprising what some have called the greatest how-to book ever written. Most of Proverbs was written by King Solomon about 900 years before Jesus' birth. But the wisdom it conveys--micro-lessons like "The borrower is the servant to the lender"--is as relevant in today's uncertain economy as it was in pre-Roman times. Even way back then, Solomon knew that maxing out his credit cards could lead to ruin.

Although Proverbs is filled with universal truths with broad applications, it's important to note that it also contains general principles rather than guaranteed promises. Its words are also glimpses into the mind of our Creator and how He expects us to live and treat one another. But as with all wisdom and knowledge, it's one thing to just read about it...and it's quite another to actually apply it to daily living. Even the writer himself admitted in the chapters of Ecclesiastes (another book from the Old Testament) that he had failed to heed his own advice on living a prudent, God-centered life. Instead, Solomon wasted much of his incredible wealth on nearly every excess imaginable. And he purposely ignored the wisdom and discernment that God had blessed him with with years earlier.

"Nothing makes sense! Everything is nonsense," the dejected king warns us through the pages of Ecclesiastes. "I have seen it all--nothing makes sense!"

It's a timeless lesson for modern-day men and women that complements the stark wisdom of Proverbs 20:30: "Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways."

You can even Google it.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

DIY Disaster

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.

 -- Proverbs 12:15

Do you like to DIY (Do-It-Yourself)? 

If so, you're not alone. According to the Home Improvement Research Institute (yes, there really is such an organization!), home improvement product sales at retailers like Home Depot and Lowes grew to about $303 billion in 2014, and the organization forecasts 5.7% growth in 2015. From building a backyard deck to installing indoor lighting, consumers can save thousands of dollars doing their home improvement or repair projects themselves rather than paying a licensed professional. Magazines, websites and even entire cable TV channels are devoted to showing DIYers how to do it right.

Of course, this all comes at a hefty price Hammerfor the many would-be handymen and handywomen who discover that they're in over their heads...and then have to call in the pros to fix the mess. The This Old House website features a DIY Disaster section that chronicles the woes of homeowners who thought they could do it themselves. One Colorado women wrote that because of her area's extremely-high property values, she bought a condemned home for $160,000 just to get into the market. She thought that she could afford to re-pour the house's foundation, but failed to calculate the additional cost of re-wiring, new duct-work and landscaping. And when the house was lifted during the foundation repair, the back 300 square feet of the structure collapsed! In the end, the ambitious DIYer paid $12,000 to transform her 2-bedroom house into an uninhabitable 1-bedroom shack!

In many ways, this DIY disaster story has much in common with passages we find throughout Scripture. A recurring theme is that God has a grand vision for His people and a plan for achieving it. But mankind--through its arrogance and ignorance--decides that it knows better than the Creator...and then sets out to take care of things itself.

The results are both tragic and disastrous. In one of the Bible's earliest passages, we read that the devil convinced Adam and Eve that God was holding back and preventing them from reaching their true potential. Gullibly falling for Satan's lies, the first man and woman ate the fruit that their Creator had commanded them to avoid. Unintended consequences such as illness, crime, poverty and death have plagued mankind ever since.  

Yes, there are some relatively simple household tasks that we can do ourselves to save time and money. But for the larger, more important projects that we can't afford to foul up--whether they involve our homes or especially our souls--it's always best to depend on a Pro. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Consider the Ant

Despite their desires, the lazy will come to ruin, for their hands refuse to work.

 -- Proverbs 21:25
Although they're small and have a well-earned reputation as a picnic pest, the ant is actually one of the most remarkable and industrious members of the animal kingdom. Found nearly everywhere on earth, ants have powerful jaws called mandibles that they use to haul food, build nests, Antmove objects and defend themselves. Ants are also social creatures that--like their human counterparts--adhere to class structure. For example, larger ants are called soldiers and are tasked with defending their colonies against predators (sometimes other ants). Smaller ants typically serve as workers, and they have assigned tasks such as constructing and maintaining their nest, raising the population's young, collecting and storing food, and even feeding other ants in the colony that can't nourish themselves. Needless to say, it's rare to see an ant slacking off on the job.

What does this have to do with God's message to us through the Bible? It turns out that along with heaven, hell, salvation and money, laziness is one of the most common themes addressed through Scripture. In fact, there are more than 20 Bible passages that denounce this unfortunate human inclination. One of them in the Old Testament book of Proverbs happens to use the ant as a positive example for Christ-followers:
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest--and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.
We all fall short of God's standards every day. And when we break just one of his laws, we in essence violate the others. What's more, we can never work hard or long enough to repay our Creator for our failures. But the good news is that Jesus has already paid that enormous debt for us through his own death on the cross. It's therefore up to us to accept this free, undeserved gift, and then begin to live out our faith through our words and deeds. As John the Baptist once admonished the religious leaders who sought him for baptism, "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance."

Are you following the ant's example by using your God-given gifts and talents as a worker--or even as a soldier--to produce spiritual fruit by benefiting your community, your neighbors...and your church? Proverbs 20:4 tells us that if we're too lazy to plow, we can't expect a harvest. But if you feel a bit helpless, don't be discouraged. Our Savior hasn't left us alone in our tasks.
"I am the vine; you are the branches," he tells us through the Gospel of John. "If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Staying On the Path

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

 -- 1 Corinthians 10:13 

The Christ-follower's faith-journey can be compared to a hike along an uneven, winding road or a perilous climb up a craggy mountainside. After all, we never know what's around the bend or over the next hill. Our vision is limited. And it's all too easy to lose our footing on the steep inclines and fall back a little.

An excellent illustration of this eternal lesson involves a beautiful spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains called Crabtree Falls. Located about a half-hour's drive past Charlottesville, Virginia, it demands a strenuous hike once you finally park your car. But it's very much worth it; the view is spectacular.

Like our faith-journey, the narrow, Hikerrocky trail leading to the waterfall leaves little margin for error. There's even a sign at the water's edge that warns hikers to stick close to the path. Sadly, a college student died there in June 2015 after slipping on the moss-covered rocks and falling 80 feet. Rather than keeping his eyes on the safe, marked trail, this unfortunate adventurer (plus nearly 30 people before him) decided to take a detour. His way may have promised fun and adventure. Sadly, it delivered only tragedy.

"There is a way that appears to be right," we're warned through the Old Testament book of Proverbs. "But in the end it leads to death."

God's words of wisdom--like that sign posted at the waterfall's edge--urge us to stay on the path that leads to the intended destination. But as obvious as that sounds, life's problems, temptations and tragedies seem to wait for us around the next bend. We trip up after compromising our principles with the world's values. It's then that we fall and later wonder why our Creator permitted our problems in the first place.

Rather than loose rocks, fallen trees and hairpin turns, the hazards along our faith-journey involve unemployment, broken relationships, missed credit card payments and chronic disease. Our task is therefore to focus on our Eternal Guide and remember that we worship a God who's much greater than our circumstances. He's led us safely through the rough times before...and he can do so again. And consider this: Through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus, God has already defeated our greatest life-hazard: sin.

Is your faith-journey getting a little too rough? If not now, it will soon enough. But let's be encouraged by that famous rhetorical question from Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles: "If God is for us," he asks, "who can be against us?"

As we focus our eyes toward the ultimate goal, let's strive to follow Jesus by putting our faith in him and avoiding the pitfalls of life. He's the trustworthy guide who's promised to lead us to the summit of our faith-journey. 

Get ready for an unforgettable trip. It's worth it for the view alone. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Words to the Wise

When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

 -- 1 Kings 3:28
Longtime fans of America's Game remember Yogi Berra as a remarkable ballplayer. The former New York Yankees catcher, outfielder and manager was a 15-time All-Star and a three-time American League Most Valuable Player, and he also caught a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. He attained the sport's greatest honor through his 1972 induction into the Hall of Fame. But the St. Louis native was also well known for his "Yogi-isms," unique words of wisdom about everyday life that often left people scratching their collective heads.
"If you come to a fork in the road, take it," BaseballBerra once advised. Then there was this bit of sage counsel: "You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours." And who could argue when he opined, "You can observe a lot by watching." 

Although Yogi Berra's advice may be brilliant, King Solomon probably beats the iconic Hall of Famer as a resource for wisdom and discernment. In fact, Solomon asked God for wisdom--rather than riches or fame--after he assumed the throne following his father's (King David) death. God honored Solomon's wise request with wisdom beyond human understanding. And great riches and fame soon followed. 

The Bible reveals that Solomon was an effective ruler when he lived by God's standards. Unfortunately, he tended to strike out in his personal life and make poor decisions when he took his eye off the ball. It's through his years of "learning-it-the-hard-way" that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, an Old Testament book that summarizes many of the wise king's observations about life. 

His first conclusion is that this is our one and only life. And it's only through God that we can find true happiness. Likewise, our lives are short. Therefore, we must make the most of the opportunities our Creator gives us each day. 

Although life may be brief, it's more like a cross-country marathon than a straight-forward sprint. Jesus confirmed Solomon's observation centuries later: "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction," Christ warned His followers, "and many enter through it." The takeaway here is that the road to true life is crooked, narrow and hard. And we must enter through its narrow gate rather than follow the crowd on the smooth, easy-access highway to eventual ruin. 

Solomon also wrote that everyone--one way or another--will eventually leave this existence and pass into the next chapter of reality. And since not one of us knows the exact day or hour for that certainty, we must be ready...for both when we'll die and where we'll spend eternity.  

So how do we prepare for the journey when life has so many pitfalls and distractions? The first step is to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. After all, he's the One who is ready, willing and waiting to wipe away all the failures of our past and give us new life and a fresh start. 

If you think it's too late in life to start over, the good news is that you still have time as long as you're still breathing. Yogi Berra's wise words sum it all up perfectly: "It ain't over 'til it's over."