Month: January 2014

Wisdom in Unlikely Places

TableTopics, a game every person should own. I played this game last Friday with a few close friends. One person reads the question on the card and everyone else answers. No winners or losers, just conversations. The card read, “Is it possible to live in the moment?” 1436776_54414604

My strategy for this game is to say the first thing off the top of my head. Immediately, “Impossible, you can’t live in the moment. You will always be looking behind or ahead.” Over the next ten minutes, each other person refuted the impetuous answer. Many of us can look back to moments we lived in the present. I still have yet to forget that question and what it means to the way I see life.

Often, the wisdom we gain comes in unlikely places. This word conjures up images of carved statues leaning their heads on their hands, large books on a shelf, or a teacher lecturing in an Ivy League classroom.

I started reading the Book of Daniel from the Old Testament this morning. This book chronicles the lives of godly people thrown into a foreign land of Babylon. The writer twice mentions the acumen of wisdom and knowledge (Daniel 1:4, 17). Where do we see the application of wisdom? The young men of this first chapter alter the eating habits of the best and brightest of Babylon. Thoughtfully serving God by following His instructions on eating and tactfully gaining respect among their leaders.

Isn’t that the way wisdom looks in our lives? Rarely, do the moments of receiving and applying wisdom come in prepared and packaged opportunities. Unlikely characterizes this virtue, for example a game of TableTopics or a midst foreign land employing a diet contrary to your culture.

What does this mean? All to often we fail to listen to our life. Though we do not hear the audible voice of God, He often saves His best lessons in the everyday and mundane.

We experience wisdom when….

We rightly assess disappointment of being overlooked and responding with perseverance.

We actually listen to the oft suggestions in conversations instead of dismissing them.

We see the small graces of gratitude as opposed to the momentary frustrating detours.

We take conflicts with others as an opportunity to learn tact as opposed to lashing out at people.

You may find yourself today in receiving and applying wisdom from an unlikely place. These are the moment to step back and listen to your life.

Where have you experienced wisdom in an unlikely place?

Misquoting Philippians 4:13

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” A few major athletes have adopted this verse as motivation. You may also hear this verse in passing when a person starts a major endeavor. 22110I still remember memorizing this verse as a child. Thoughts of accomplishments for the future resonated in my dreams. We love nothing more than watching the underdog conquer Goliath. When I look back at this early interpretation,  I missed the key to grasping 4:13; the verses surrounding it.

The book of Philippians reads like a letter to a friend. Paul, the Apostle, writes this while in prison. A far cry from holding a trophy at the end of a match. Not even the snapshot of a keynote speaker in front of thousands of people. The verses leading up to 4:13 (vs. 10-12) communicate Paul’s thankfulness for the Philippians’ concern and a the vital key of contentment.

Notes from one of my professors Dr. Ron Hall for his class on Philippians says, “Paul’s sufficiency is in Christ. Christ has strengthened Paul to get through everything, and he is confident in that provision, no matter what the circumstances! We must be sure to place verse 13 in its context of contentment or we will misappropriate the verse.”

What does this verse mean to us in 2014? Christ gives us more than merely accomplishing our goals, dreams or championships – but He gives His strength to persevere in our current context. 

We can become enamored with the life we wish for the future or even a future version of ourselves. Attempting circumvent the difficulties in front of us. Yet, the words of Paul invite us to contentment in the present. The strength Christ gives does not depend on the circumstances around us, but the sufficiency of His grace.

Misquoting Philippians 4:13 can rob us of the present realities of this verses. This verse applies to us today. We have the strength in Christ to make it through.

How does understanding the meaning this verse change the way you live today?

 

The Methods and Ways of God

I began to share a few challenging circumstances with a friend, Mike. Mike has the keen ability to bring people to the big picture. He turned to me during the conversation and asked, “How would you be growing by having perfect circumstances?”
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We want the perfect circumstances. We want to know that our plans will work out. The problem is often our lives do not play out in this manner. Our stories include conflicts and struggles. Antagonists attempt to thwart us. The journey even wearies the most energetic traveler with unforeseen detours and delays.

The question Mike asked brought me back the following words I have heard many times in sermons. You may want write this down and put it somewhere you can see daily:

“When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man, And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart.
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out—
God knows what He’s about!”

(Source Unknown found at Bible.org)

Most growth in our lives happens in the midst of the “bends” and “blows.” God like a blacksmith with iron removes the imperfections and forms us with His design. I remind myself of Mike’s question and this poem, because I can recall God’s work in my life in the past. Many followers of Christ resonate with this same sentiment. The trials did not indicate their demise. On the contrary, the grace of God was made evident in their lives by enduring.

So on this Monday morning, you may find yourself in the midst of a less than perfect episode. Like most of us, you might be tempted to think God has abandoned you. Or you may think you will never see the end of this episode. “Watch His methods, watch His ways…” And the question all of us can ask ourselves, how would we be growing by having perfect circumstances?

The Investment of Curling

How does a person find out about their curling talent? Each Winter Olympics, I start the conversation with myself or others about taking up curling. Think about it. You simply have to learn how to brush the right amount of ice for the stone to hit the target. Often, this leads to googling a local curling club.724706_75777469Suffice to say, I have never pursued my curling dream. Curlers will gather in Sochi for the Winter Olympics. They have practiced their pushing the rock and ice brushing. Hours of early morning and late night practicing have led them to pursue qualification for the winter games. What observers may not understand is investment of time no one sees.

Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” I use to read this verse with focus on praying. The last time I read this verse this week, a new point of emphasis emerged. We find Jesus throughout the Gospels withdrawing by Himself and also with other disciples. The Sermon on the Mount implores us to practice love and generosity without public relations. The point: There’s an element of faith which invests in what only God can see.

People in this season have started to pursue change: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. You may find yourself wanting transformation. Most of God’s greatest work in our lives comes in the behind the scenes. The time we spend practicing alone. Investing into another person’s life one on one. Or simply, the space we invite God to speak to us in silence and solitude.

Investing in the behind the scenes moves us from talking to walking. The confidence we so desperately need is not from our own self-reliance or even the crowd, but from experiencing the unseen work of Christ in our lives.

When you watch curling, remember the investments that no one sees. These are the moments that we begin to see the work of Christ in us.

New Year: New Word

My wife Robyn instituted a new tradition when we started dating. In a previous post, I shared that we choose a word for the year. Over the last few days we have discussed our potential choices for this year. I wrote down my word this morning and then read the quote below:unnamedThe words of Charles Spurgeon connected powerfully to my 2014 word; Perspective. Think of this. You wake up to the darkness. Bewildered and agitated, you walk outside to sit and wait. All evidence points to something new, but often we find ourselves focusing on the black sky. Then dawn approaches with the slightest glimmer of light. A sunrise over the horizon is God’s way of giving us perspective on reality.

Here are four facets in which I will be looking trekking through perspective:

Perspective shapes our view of God – Following Christ means embracing the surprises. Often, what we see as disappointments and encouragements bring us to a greater understanding of His work in us. As in most stories of the Bible, God does His best work behind the scenes.

Perspective brings us past ourselves to see others – People can tend to create narratives of other’s motives and actions. What if we started by seeing people made in the image of God? Starting there might give insight to their past, present, and even their potential.

Perspective sees our circumstances as temporary – Mundane. Tragedy, Drama. Comedy. Success. Our lives shift through seasons. The underlining characteristic of gratitude points us the mercy for today.

Perspective pauses to reflect on growth – Perhaps, your harshest critic is you. Grace allows us to see how Christ has transformed our lives to His likeness. Pausing for solitude invites us to meet with God and see how He has been shaping us.

Welcome to the new year! I hope you are ready for another exciting year. What will be your word for 2014?  

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