September 18 – Thinking and Planning

Nehemiah 2: 7 – 20 NLT

“I also said to the king, “If it please the king, let me have letters addressed to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, instructing them to let me travel safely through their territories on my way to Judah. 8 And please give me a letter addressed to Asaph, the manager of the king’s forest, instructing him to give me timber. I will need it to make beams for the gates of the Temple fortress, for the city walls, and for a house for myself.” And the king granted these requests, because the gracious hand of God was on me.
9 When I came to the governors of the province west of the Euphrates River, I delivered the king’s letters to them. The king, I should add, had sent along army officers and horsemen to protect me. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of my arrival, they were very displeased that someone had come to help the people of Israel.

Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem’s Wall

11 So I arrived in Jerusalem. Three days later, 12 I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us except the donkey I was riding. 13 After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. 14 Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. 15 So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate.
16 The city officials did not know I had been out there or what I was doing, for I had not yet said anything to anyone about my plans. I had not yet spoken to the Jewish leaders—the priests, the nobles, the officials, or anyone else in the administration. 17 But now I said to them, “You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” 18 Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king.
They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.
19 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab heard of our plan, they scoffed contemptuously. “What are you doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” they asked.
20 I replied, “The God of heaven will help us succeed. We, his servants, will start rebuilding this wall. But you have no share, legal right, or historic claim in Jerusalem.”

Yesterday we looked at the importance of prayer. So far in Nehemiah, prayer has been the focus. When Nehemiah became aware of a problem that needed to be fixed, he prayed for days. Then he waited and prayed for 4 months for an opportunity to speak to the king. He even prayed before he answered the king’s question about what was bothering him. Nehemiah prays!

But as we read these verses today, we realize that Nehemiah does more than pray. He plans! Now, he’s not one of those people who barge in with their ideas and plans and bowl you over. He starts his answer with “if it please the king”. He is gracious and not demanding. The king could have said, “No”. Nehemiah is confident that if this is God’s plan, it will happen. So, he can be kind and gracious, not pushy.

But he is ready with his plans. He knows what he needs to get this job done. He needs letters of permission and supplies. He has figured out how long this project will take because he is ready with an answer when the king asks how long it will take. When he gets to Jerusalem, he doesn’t show up with plans in hand stating why he is there. They must have wondered who was this man who arrived with some of the king’s soldiers? But once again, he was patient and waited until he could check out the situation with the walls at night. He was not pushy.

There is a phrase that appears twice in these verses that really strikes me – “the gracious hand of God was on me”. When the king agreed to let him go to Jerusalem and provided all the materials necessary for the construction job, Nehemiah was quick to say that this was God at work. When he talked to the city officials and the temple leaders, again he was quick to say that God was at work. Nehemiah was a thinker and planner, but he also readily acknowledged that God was the one in control.

You and I were created in the image of God. (Genesis 1: 26 – 27) We have the ability to think and plan. We have the ability to create new things, new ways of doing things. Following God’s will doesn’t mean we “fly by the seat of our pants”; that we don’t plan and expect everything will just fall into place. So, if you are thinking of something that you feel God wants you to get involved in, don’t hesitate to think and plan what needs to be done. If there is a situation in your home, or at work that needs to be fixed, don’t hesitate to think and plan what would work best.
Pray! Think, plan and pray! Know that “the gracious hand of God is on you”. There is where success lies – a close partnership with God.

Our song for today is Shepherd by Amanda Cook

September 16 – Praying and Waiting

Nehemiah 2: 1 – 6 NLT
Nehemiah Goes to Jerusalem
Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, (the months of either April or May) during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. 2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.”
Then I was terrified, but I replied, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5 I replied, “If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
6 The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” After I told him how long I would be gone, the king agreed to my request.”

Remember in chapter 1 how Nehemiah prayed that God would change King Artaxerxes and make him open to Nehemiah leaving for Jerusalem? Well, now it’s 4 months later. Have you ever prayed asking God to change a situation that really concerned you, and you felt that God wasn’t listening because nothing seemed to be happening? Nehemiah must have felt that way. Four months is a long time to wait when you’re concerned about something.

In 2020, our culture counts on speed. On the news this past week, it was announced that Amazon was opening 2 more warehouses in Ontario to help them make faster deliveries – within a day or two of ordering. We don’t use mail much anymore to communicate – why would you when you can email, message or text anytime? During this pandemic time, we’ve seen people get frustrated with the restrictions placed on them to stay safe – and it has been hard over the past 6 months. We’re used to doing whatever we want, when we want, for the most part. Waiting is hard for us!

We need to recognize that God has his timing, not necessarily ours. That is something I have to remind myself so often. I like things organized and want to get them done – now. So often I have to confess to God that I am desperate to run things on my timing. There is a boss or co-worker who drives us crazy. There is a neighbour who irritates us. Our kids have habits that drive us insane. We want change sooner than later. Patience is difficult. And God’s timing is definitely not our timing. These verses might make you gasp:

Psalm 90: 4 “For you a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.”
2 Peter 3: 8 “But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.”
Don’t get discouraged by those words. God does love us, and he is very aware that in comparison to him, our lives and time are short. He does listen to our prayers, but he also knows the right timing for us.

What was Nehemiah doing during those 4 months? Praying. We find on this particular day when the king asks him what is bothering him, that Nehemiah prays immediately. Prayer is an important foundation in Nehemiah’s life. I suspect that prayer is something many of us struggle with. I know I do. It seems that life starts the moment I get up, and finding time to be quiet and away from people seems hard to do. Nehemiah’s habit of praying, praying … really struck home to me. To find that patience to deal with life’s twists and turns, I need to concentrate on including prayer in my everyday life.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4: 6 – 7)

Why was Nehemiah terrified when Artaxerxes asked him why he was looking sad? Apparently, in those days, you were to look alert and happy in the presence of the king. You were not allowed to do anything that would upset the king’s day. It appears that over the past 4 months, Nehemiah had been his cheerful self, even though he was sure God was calling him to fix the walls in Jerusalem. He hadn’t let that concern change his pleasant behaviour. But he also realized here was the opportunity he had been waiting for. Pray and take a deep breath. (Note, once again, that Nehemiah prays?)

Artaxerxes wasn’t known for being a generous kind person. It’s interesting that Nehemiah includes Artaxerxes’ wife in his account of what happened that day. Maybe she leaned over and whispered to her husband that he should be generous with this excellent cup bearer. God had certainly been at work in Artaxerxes over the past 4 months, because he went beyond what Nehemiah asked for. He even sent some soldiers along to protect Nehemiah. And he asked Nehemiah when he would return, so he must have valued Nehemiah’s work in his palace and home. This moment was obviously God’s timing.

Nehemiah gives us a great example of someone who prays and waits. As LSA begins to open its services again, and programs start up in this new pandemic way, you may be hearing God speak to you about how to get involved again. Pray! Be patient! If you’re facing problems at home or at work, pray. Be patient. Ask God to give you the right moment to speak, to do something.

Our song for today is Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher

September 15 – When Problems Crop Up

Nehemiah 1: 1 – 11 NLT
“These are the memoirs of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah.
Nehemiah’s Concern for Jerusalem
In late autumn, in the month of Kislev (likely November or December), in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa.
(Hebrew In the month of Kislev of the twentieth year. A number of dates in the book of Nehemiah can be cross-checked with dates in surviving Persian records and related accurately to our modern calendar. This month of the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar occurred within the months of November and December 446 B.c. The twentieth year probably refers to the reign of King Artaxerxes I)
 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. 5 Then I said,
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! 7 We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
8 “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. 9 But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honoured.’
10 “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. 11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honouring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favourable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”
In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.”

Before we begin looking at this chapter, I want to take a look at an idea that may be floating in the back of your head. You may be thinking Nehemiah is about a person with great influence who is going to take on the leadership role in fixing the problem in Jerusalem. I am not that kind of important person. I am just an ordinary person who is willing to help, but anyone could do what I am able to do. It’s not that big a deal.

You may be a leader, or you may be just an ordinary volunteer, but … no matter how important, or unimportant, you think you are – you are an ‘influencer’. You make an impact on the people in your family, the people you meet, the people you work with, your neighbours. And what we can learn from Nehemiah’s experience is how to be that person who influences those around him/her in a positive way.

One of the first things Nehemiah asked his brother and friends was how the people in Jerusalem were getting along. Then he asked how things in the city of Jerusalem were going. When he heard things were not going well, he was devastated. To be an effective, caring person, we need to be aware of the problems. Sometimes it’s actually easier to ignore problems. You hope someone else will fix the problem. You avoid things that might lead to an argument. You hope it will just go away. But to really know what is happening, we may have to ask questions. And the answer may not be what we want to hear.

So, did Nehemiah rush to King Artaxerxes? No. He prayed and thought about it for days – not just for an hour or so, but for days. As he did that, what thoughts seemed to have been impressed on him? That verse about praying for days really struck me. How much do I consistently pray about something?

First, he recognized that God was great and awesome. That is so important when we face situations that need to be fixed. So many times as I face a problem, I get all wound up in the fact that I’m not sure how to deal with it. I go over and over several solutions in my mind, and worry about making the right decision. I need to stop and comprehend that God cares about me, and that God is great and awesome. My life is in his hands, and as I pray, the Holy Spirit prays for me and helps me to understand what God wants. Yes, there are problems on this earth, but God is with us; we are his children. He cares. Stop and let that sink into your mind and heart when you become aware of a problem.

Next, Nehemiah confesses he hasn’t been following God’s commands given through Moses. Not Nehemiah, nor his family, nor the Israelites. He understands that God disciplines those who don’t follow God. It’s not that God abandons us. He doesn’t! Even Nehemiah, whose religious practices in the Old Testament made a big deal about obeying the laws, knew that God was willing to forgive. But Nehemiah realizes he must confess and make his relationship with God right again. When life hands us some big problems, sometimes we need to stop and figure out if we’ve been ignoring God, putting him aside in our busyness. Do we need to stop and confess? There are some verses in 1 John that talk about our need to confess when we have been putting God aside in our lives.
“This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practising the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1: 5 – 9)

Finally, Nehemiah asks God to help him in the plan he has figured out. “Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.” (v. 11) King Artaxerxes is not Jewish; he does not follow any Jewish practices. In fact, he may think they are a small people, easily conquered, and not really worth much concern. It’s OK if they are allowed to go back to their home country, but not worth much more attention than his permission. Nehemiah feels that God is calling him to go to Jerusalem, so he asks God to make the king agree to his requests.

That is something we also need to do. When we feel God calling us to step into some situation, to volunteer for some project – whatever we feel God is calling us to do – we need to ask God for help in making it happen. If the ‘door slams shut’, then we know it was not in God’s plan. But we can be reassured that God will change the most difficult situations if that is God’s plan.

As LSA reopens, and as our new pastor, Brian McGiffin, arrives, we have many new opportunities coming. Church will not likely be the same for a long time – if ever. How as Christ followers can we continue to spread God’s love and concern to our community and among church members? You may have a particular concern in your mind – something you think should be done, something you think would be effective, something that could be improved. Do what Nehemiah did. Pray and think about it for a while. Be willing to confess any sin to God. Pray and ask God to make people receptive to your suggestion. Know that God is great and awesome.

Our song for today is You Say by Lauren Daigle

September 14 – How Big is This Challenge?

Summer is over for sure, and many of our kids are back to school. We’re back to reading through books of the Bible. I’m taking a plunge into an Old Testament book, something that makes me nervous. For some strange reason, I find New Testament books so much easier to figure out.

So, this is the beginning of reading through Nehemiah!

LSA has come through a tumultuous two years, and is still trying to cope with the pandemic and all its restrictions and fears. It hasn’t been easy and we still wonder what the future holds for our church. Our new lead pastor, Brian McGuffin begins this week. I can’t imagine what it’s like coming to a new city and church in the Covid-19 era. How does he meet the congregation? How does he remember who each one is since we are all wearing masks? Finding a new house also isn’t easy during pandemic times. Pray for Brian and his family as they make this huge transition from Manitoba to Windsor.

Nehemiah also faced a difficult time. We’re going to take a quick look at the history behind this book to see the issues Nehemiah faced. I’m using information I’ve gained from reading Charles Swindoll’s book, Hand Me Another Brick. I think we can learn a lot about how to face 2020 and 2021 ourselves from looking at the Book of Nehemiah.

Jewish history begins with Abraham about 2000 years BC. The country of Israel became well known under kings Saul, David and Solomon about 1000 years later. However, when Solomon died, Israel split apart in a civil war; the northern tribes were called Israel and the south was known as Judah. This was an extremely chaotic time, and then in 722 BC, the Assyrians invaded. The northern kingdom ceased to exist, and some of the people fled south.

Judah existed for about 300 years, but in 586 BC, Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar invaded and took the people captive.
“The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. 19 Then his army burned the Temple of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces, and completely destroyed everything of value. 20 The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power.” (2 Chronicles 36:18-20 NLT)
Under Nebuchadnezzar and his sons, the Israelites lived as they had before in Egypt as slaves. Then a new rising power took over and defeated Babylon – the Medes and Persia. King Cyrus of Persia decided that the Jews should be allowed to return to Israel.

The first group went back under the leadership of Zerubbabel as their commanding officer. About 80 years later, the second group went back under Ezra as their commander-in-chief. Cyrus died and King Artaxerxes took over. Nehemiah led the third group back 13 years after Ezra. Remember this is a country that had been destroyed by Babylon. They had to rebuild houses and get an economy going again. Ezra’s group rebuilt the temple and we read about that in the Book of Ezra that comes right before the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. But the city of Jerusalem is still in a mess and the walls of the city are non-existent – just piles of rubble – so there is no security or safety in that city.

So, who is Nehemiah? He is the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. That gave him a close connection to the king. He was trusted to taste the wine and any food that the king was served to make sure the king was safe from any attempts to poison him. That would mean that any time the king or his family were eating, Nehemiah was present. But, one day, Nehemiah was struck by some information that threw him for a loop. Some friends of his had returned from Israel and in their conversation, Nehemiah asked them how things were going in Jerusalem.

“In late autumn, in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa. 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem.
3 They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1: 1 – 4 NLT)

Have you ever been struck by a situation that needs fixing? Perhaps in looking after your home, you have left something until one day, you realize, ‘I have to do something about this right now’. Or perhaps you’ve sensed a relationship you have seems to be slipping away, and then something happens that makes you figure out you need to confront the situation and see if it can be fixed. You can’t let it slide any longer, or it may end. Or you’ve heard your kids complaining about something at school, and then one day you realize you should likely get in touch with the teacher to find out what is really going on.
At LSA we have spent time healing from the division in our congregation two years ago. Anger and bitterness began to die down. New people were coming to the church. Hope for the future resurrected. Then Covid hit! The Search Team had been looking for a new lead pastor for close to a year, and was in contact with Brian early in 2020, but how do you interview and get to know a possible new pastor when the country is locked down? We haven’t met as a congregation since the middle of March.

It reminds me a little of Nehemiah’s situation. Israel was in captivity and hope seemed lost. Then King Cyrus said they could go back and resurrect the country of Israel. People were trying to do that, but things were still a mess in Jerusalem. It wasn’t all bad – the temple had been rebuilt. Then God laid on Nehemiah’s heart the situation in Jerusalem. Nehemiah had a good job in King Artaxerxes’ court. He could have just stayed there and enjoyed life. But that day when his friends were telling him about Jerusalem, he suddenly realized he needed to get involved. God does that! We can be sailing along through life, when God plants an idea in our minds. We need to listen.

Right now, LSA is at the edge of a new beginning. Our new lead pastor is arriving. We are cautiously and carefully emerging from severe Covid-19 restrictions. Like Nehemiah did, start praying and thinking about how God wants you to step up and help get LSA going again. There are so many ways you can volunteer in a church. It doesn’t even have to actually be in the building.

Pray! What does God want you to do? Pray!

Our song for today is Take My Life and Let It Be, sung by Chris Tomlin. It was originally written by Frances Havergal in 1874.

September 11 – Feeling a Little Overwhelmed

So, summer has ended, and next week we start looking at the Book of Nehemiah. 95% of the time, I look up commentaries to make sure I’m on the right track in writing the devotions. This time I’m using a book by Charles Swindoll – Hand Me Another Brick. I’m excited. The Book of Nehemiah really hits home today as we watch Nehemiah try to fix a mess with God’s help.

Proverbs 30
Did you know that the last 2 chapters of Proverbs were not written by Solomon? Proverbs 30 was written by Agur and Proverbs 31 was written by King Lemuel. I’m going to leave Proverbs 31, maybe until Mother’s Day, since it has that famous passage about how amazing women are. helped me find out who Agur was – sort of.
“Proverbs 30:1 says the chapter’s words are “the sayings of Agur son of Jakeh.” Agur was writing “to Ithiel and Ucal” (NAS); these men could have been disciples or friends of Agur, although some Bibles translate the meaning of the two names with the assumption that they do not refer to actual people. Most commentators believe Agur lived in the same era as Solomon. We don’t know much about Agur except what we can glean from this one chapter.
The name Agur comes from a Hebrew word meaning “collector.” Agur and Jakeh are only mentioned here in the Bible and are otherwise unknown.”

Proverbs 30: 1 – 9 NLT
“The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh contain this message.
I am weary, O God;
    I am weary and worn out, O God.
2 I am too stupid to be human,
    and I lack common sense.
3 I have not mastered human wisdom,
    nor do I know the Holy One.
4 Who but God goes up to heaven and comes back down?
    Who holds the wind in his fists?
Who wraps up the oceans in his cloak?
    Who has created the whole wide world?
What is his name—and his son’s name?
    Tell me if you know!
5 Every word of God proves true.
    He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.
6 Do not add to his words,
    or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.
7 O God, I beg two favours from you;
    let me have them before I die.
8 First, help me never to tell a lie.
    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
9 For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.”

Have you ever felt as confused as Agur seems to be in these verses? My guess is ‘yes’. I think we all have moments when we feel so inadequate. Agur feels “weary and worn-out”, unable to think clearly, and even feeling he doesn’t have the intelligence to live well. Life seems overwhelming to him.

I know I’ve felt that way many times. Something breaks and you don’t know how to fix it, or who you can call to help out. One of your kids is involved in something that scares and concerns you, and you don’t know how to get him/her back on track. They just won’t listen. A serious illness or crisis – like loss of a job – happens in family life, and you feel helpless. During this pandemic, you want to see friends and family, but you’re not sure if that is a safe decision. Do you go out to restaurants? Do you send your kids back to school? Am I really smart enough to deal with the problems life brings?

Agur does know that there are no humans on earth that have God’s power. (v. 4) No one has the ability to do life perfectly and solve all problems, or if there is, who is it? “What is his name – and his son’ name? Tell me if you know!” But, Agur also knows one more thing – “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.” (v. 5) We may feel overwhelmed and not smart enough to figure out what to do, but … God does!

One of the key things to staying calm is realizing that we can turn to God. We don’t have to do everything by ourselves. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3: 5 – 6) I think Agur lived that way. He had a prayer which asked God to help him be honest in everything. He also asked God to provide him a life that was just adequate enough to keep him humble and trusting God. Think about those requests for a minute. Being open and honest, and trusting God can lead to a much calmer life without overwhelming worry.

Here are some verses in one of my favourite chapters in the Bible that reinforce that concept of trusting God.

Romans 8

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.” (v. 8)
 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (14 – 16

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (v. 26 – 28)

“If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (v. 31)

We can feel overwhelmed with whatever is coming our way, but God is for us, taking care of us.

Our song for today is God of All My Days by Casting Crowns

September 9 – Protests

Proverbs 28 and 29

Several of the verses in these chapters of Proverbs deal with justice and leadership, and our personal reaction to it. I’m a little nervous as I write today because our world at the moment seems to be full of injustice and protests. It seems that people are of two minds – law and order at all times, or just crash everything apart. People are so divided on what is happening. What does Solomon say?

First of all, lets’ look at what Solomon says about leadership:
Proverbs 28
“When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
    But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability.
5 Evil people don’t understand justice,
    but those who follow the Lord understand completely.
12 When the godly succeed, everyone is glad.
    When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding.
15 A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.
16 A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life.
28 When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding.
    When the wicked meet disaster, the godly flourish.

Proverbs 29
2 When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan.
4 A just king gives stability to his nation,
    but one who demands bribes destroys it.
7 The godly care about the rights of the poor;
    the wicked don’t care at all.
8 Mockers can get a whole town agitated,
    but the wise will calm anger.
12 If a ruler pays attention to liars,
    all his advisers will be wicked.”

Solomon sees two kinds of leadership – leaders who are morally rotten and don’t follow God’s principles, or godly leaders. We are so fortunate in Canada to have leaders who may not be committed Christ followers, but who do follow many Christian principles of caring for others and being accountable. It doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes, but overall, their concern is for our country and the people who live here. As we look around our world today, we see leaders who seem to be only concerned with their power and with their personal wealth. For example, after the disaster in Lebanon, we’re seeing other world leaders saying they are willing to help, but only if the corrupt ruling class gets out of the way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard people be quite that open and strong in their criticism.

Solomon states that good leadership brings stability. It brings justice and fair practices to a country. It cares about the people. People who ignore God’s values only bring instability, and their people hide looking for protection knowing their leaders are only out for personal benefit.

Then Solomon addresses the average person in a country:
Proverbs 28
“Young people who obey the law are wise;
    those with wild friends bring shame to their parents.
God detests the prayers
    of a person who ignores the law.
14 Blessed are those who fear to do wrong,
    but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble.
23 In the end, people appreciate honest criticism 
   far more than flattery.
26 Those who trust their own insight are foolish,
    but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.

Proverbs 29
18 When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
    But whoever obeys the law is joyful.
20 There is more hope for a fool
    than for someone who speaks without thinking.
22 An angry person starts fights;
    a hot-tempered person commits all kinds of sin.”

Following the law seems to be the main idea here. Today we are seeing so many violent protests. In a way, I understand why that is happening. If people think that peaceful protests haven’t accomplished anything, and distress is running high because they think they are not listened to – then control is lost and violence breaks out. But is breaking the law, toppling statues, burning and trashing buildings the solution?

Following the law – not breaking the law – is what God wants. “God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.” We are allowed to criticize the government. We can protest in a law-abiding way. We can look for ways to access government leaders and influence the decisions they make. We can run for leadership positions in local and higher levels of government. What God wants is for us to walk in his ways, to advocate for his values – “anyone who walks in wisdom is safe”.

In our troubled times, we can be thankful that God is still present with each one of us, guiding us through each day.

Our song for today is Is He Worthy? by Chris Tomlin

September 8 – What Do You Think of Yourself?

School starts right after Labour Day – at least until the pandemic hit. As a retired teacher, I must admit that September seemed more of a start to a new year than January 1. The postponement and then the staggered start days seem so strange! As a result, I’ve decided to ‘extend summer’ this week and continue with verses from Proverbs. Next week, we’ll go back to going through a book of the Bible. We’ll be looking at Nehemiah, a book about a man who faced a mess and tried to figure out how he could fix it. That rather resonates with our times today.

Proverbs 27: 1 – 2; 19; 21 NLT

Don’t brag about tomorrow,
    since you don’t know what the day will bring.
2 Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth—
    a stranger, not your own lips.

19 As a face is reflected in water,
    so the heart reflects the real person.

21 Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
    but a person is tested by being praised.

Solomon is warning us to be thoughtful about our opinion of ourselves. We need to be careful that we’re not ‘tooting our own horn’. We also need to be careful that we don’t fall for the praise coming from others. That may make us too proud, and as a result, too careless. We might get a swelled head. On top of all that, we don’t know about what will happen tomorrow. We are foolish if we think we have it all under control. When you get right down to it, Solomon is warning us not to get too confident in how wonderful we think we are. We need to take a good look at who we are down deep – in our hearts.

“As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.”

What does God want us to know about ourselves?

The first thing we need to know is that God created us to be somewhat like him and to ‘rule’ this earth. Genesis 1: 26 – 31:

“Then God said, “Let us make human beings[a] in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,[b] and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
29 Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30 And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.
31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.”

So, yes, we have intelligence and creativity. We long for relationship. We like to organize things. We have many of the characteristics of God – “So God created human beings in his own image” (v. 27) We are special creatures on this planet; we are in charge here.

But, we are not perfect. We are not God. Sin has made a huge difference in the way this world operates. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3: 23) We still have all those amazing characteristics that God created in us, but they are flawed. Does that mean we should look at ourselves as pathetic, not worthy? No!

We are loved by God. Each one of us is special to God. (I don’t want to take up too much space in writing this devotion, but if you struggle with self-esteem, read Psalm 139.) There are so many verses in the Bible that reassure us that we are loved by God. Let’s take a look at them, and understand our worth is based on God’s love for each one of us.

Romans 5: 8 – “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
Romans 8: 28 – “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the god of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
Romans 8: 35: 38 – 39 – “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Ephesians 3: 17 – 19 – “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ.”

Our song for today is Jesus Loves Me by Chris Tomlin

September 7 – Labour Day

Today is traditionally a day to celebrate the workers in our country. It’s supposed to be a holiday, but in 2020 with our 24/7 mindset, it’s impossible for everyone to have this day as a holiday. But it is a day when we can be thankful for all the hard workers that keep our country flourishing.

Solomon had some advice/sayings in Proverbs for those who work hard:

Wise words bring many benefits, and hard work brings rewards. (12: 14)

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. (21: 5)

Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave. (12: 24)

Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich. (10: 4)

Lay people want much, but get little, but those who work hard will prosper. (13: 4)

Wealth from get-rich schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time. (13: 11)

It’s obvious that Solomon admired hard workers and was sure that they would be successful. And we would probably agree with the statements he made.

However, I was interested in Solomon’s thoughts when I read Psalm 127 – a Song of Ascent attributed to Solomon. explains what a Song of Ascent is:

“The city of Jerusalem is situated on a high hill. Jews traveling to Jerusalem for one of the three main annual Jewish festivals traditionally sang these songs on the “ascent” or the uphill road to the city. According to some traditions, the Jewish priests also sang some of these Songs of Ascent as they walked up the steps to the temple in Jerusalem.

Each of the psalms in this collection begins with the title “A Song of Ascents.” While perhaps they were not originally composed for this purpose, these psalms were later grouped together for use in travelling toward Jerusalem for the yearly Jewish festivals.” (Psalms 120 – 134)

Here is what Solomon said:
“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” (Psalm 127: 1 – 2 NLT)

Solomon may admire hard workers, but down deep he realized that God was at the root of success. It’s not just ‘working your head off’ that makes you productive. It’s putting our trust in God that brings results – and rest.
Does God work hard?
David talks about that in one of his psalms: “I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done.” (Psalm 143:5) One of the first mention of God’s work is in Genesis 2.
“So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2 On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (2: 1 – 3)
The creation of this universe was an incredible piece of work. And then God rested, and declared this seventh day was to be a holy day – a day of rest. This idea of balance in life between work and rest has been there from the beginning of creation, and it’s something we need to remember. In our culture today, we seem to find scarce time to rest. Many of us have jobs that require us to work on Sundays, and that seems to take our rest day away from us. But, we can still make it a priority to find that one day in a week where we have time to rest, to think about God, to take time to pray.

Some other ideas about work came to my mind. Some of us think that to please God, we need to work hard at it, that our work will make us acceptable to God. Our acceptance by God actually has nothing to do with our work. Romans 4: 5 says, “But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” Ephesians 2: 8 – 10 says, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

See! Our acceptance by God does not rest on how hard we work to impress Him. But God does help us to live well; we don’t just sit back and do nothing.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6)

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13)

So … all of you who are working hard – at your jobs, in your homes, at your church, in your neighbourhood – wherever God has placed you:

Remember to take some rest time and soak in God’s love for you
Remember you don’t have to work hard to be accepted by God
Remember that God is helping you to live well and please him. It’s not all on your shoulders.

“The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.” (Psalm 69: 32)

Our song for today is The Goodness of God by Bethel Music

September 4

Proverbs 27: 6; 9 – 10; 17 (NLT)

“Wounds from a sincere friend
    are better than many kisses from an enemy.

The heartfelt counsel of a friend
    is as sweet as perfume and incense.
10 Never abandon a friend—
    either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. 
   It’s better to go to a neighbour than to a brother who lives far away.

17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so a friend sharpens a friend.”

Friends are amazing! What would we ever do without them?

In this pandemic time, when we are so shut in and not meeting in groups, having a friend we can connect with saves the day. Even connecting by Zoom or Messenger – or whatever device you have – is much better than talking by phone. There is something about being able to see each other that boosts our spirits. After the weather warmed up in the spring, meeting outside while we kept distancing rules, was such a boost to the soul. Even neighbours stared chatting while gathering in spaced groups at the end of our driveways.

Solomon talks about how friends can encourage us and help us grow into the people God intends. A friend can give us “heartfelt counsel”. A friend can “sharpen” us. So many times over the years, especially at work as a teacher, I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. Was I connecting with the students in a way that helped them learn? Were my lessons interesting enough? It was so good to have teacher-friends where I worked, who told me they thought my ideas were great. Or they told me some new ideas to try? Or they would reply to a suggestion I was making that they had tried it, and it flopped. As a teacher, I knew I improved because I had friends on staff.

As a young mom, I had friends who I met with for Bible study a couple of times a month. Having that group of friends where I learned to grow In my faith was so helpful. The fact that we could be honest about our stresses as moms and wives with each other, also helped us be better moms and partners. We learned so much from each other. This fall as the pandemic rules allow us to meet in small groups, think about starting a small group with friends who will encourage you to grow.

Over the years doing volunteer work, I’ve met people who have become friends. As I watched others work their heads off helping whatever cause we were volunteering for, I learned how valuable volunteers are. I learned so much from listening to the experiences of those volunteers – things I later could apply to my life.

Friends are also great when you don’t live close to family. Solomon talks about the importance of friends in that situation. “When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. It’s better to go to a neighbour than to a brother who lives far away.” My husband and I lived far from our families, and our kids as they grew up took off for far-flung places too. (no surprise since we did that too). There were moments of crisis when friends came to the rescue, and we appreciated that so much.

My husband was my best friend. He saw me at my very worst – when I was losing it and being really nasty. He saw me make mistakes because I wouldn’t listen to good advice. Thankfully, he also saw me at my best. But he was such an encourager. He kept telling me I could do something when I was sure I couldn’t. He was the one that persuaded me that living in Kenya for close to a year at a mission station would be something our family could do. A partner who pushes you when you are afraid and reluctant is a friend who “sharpens” you, and one I’m so glad I had.

Even better, our very best friend is God. He knows us inside out, he knows our thoughts, he knows what we’ve done, and still loves us.
“For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
(Romans 5: 10 – 11 NLT)

We mess up, but God doesn’t abandon us. We can go to him and ‘fess up’, and he is willing to forgive us and keep on encouraging us. The Holy Spirit lives within us and helps us to grow in our faith. He is the one who produces “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” in us. (Galatians 5: 22 – 23 NLT)

Reread these verses from Proverbs:

9 The heartfelt counsel of a friend
    is as sweet as perfume and incense.
17 As iron sharpens iron,
    so a friend sharpens a friend.”

Isn’t God our very best friend?

Our song for today is What a Friend by Matt Maher

September 2 – Am I A Fool?

Proverbs 26: 1 – 16 (The Message)

Chapter 26 of Proverbs spends a lot of time talking about fools. I looked the word ‘fool’ up on to see how it would be defined. As a noun, it said “a silly or stupid person; a person who lacks judgement or sense.” As an adjective it said “resulting from or showing a lack of sense; ill-considered, lacking forethought or caution, trifling, insignificant.” So with those definitions in mind, here is what Solomon says about fools:

“Honor is no more associated with fools
    than snow with summer or rain with harvest.
2 Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow,
    an undeserved curse will not land on its intended victim.
3 Guide a horse with a whip, a donkey with a bridle,
    and a fool with a rod to his back!
4 Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools,
    or you will become as foolish as they are.
5 Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools,
    or they will become wise in their own estimation.
6 Trusting a fool to convey a message
    is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison!
7 A proverb in the mouth of a fool
    is as useless as a paralyzed leg.
8 Honouring a fool
    is as foolish as tying a stone to a slingshot.
9 A proverb in the mouth of a fool
    is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk.
10 An employer who hires a fool or a bystander
    is like an archer who shoots at random.
11 As a dog returns to its vomit,
    so a fool repeats his foolishness.
12 There is more hope for fools
    than for people who think they are wise.”
13 The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion on the road!
    Yes, I’m sure there’s a lion out there!”
14 As a door swings back and forth on its hinges,
    so the lazy person turns over in bed.
15 Lazy people take food in their hand
    but don’t even lift it to their mouth.
16 Lazy people consider themselves smarter 
   than seven wise counsellors.”

Basically, Solomon is saying you can’t trust a foolish person. Why? They are all over the place with no firm foundation for why they act the way they do. You can’t rely on them to do a job well, or even to relay a message correctly to someone. They think they’re smart and love to argue – arguments you should avoid getting involved in. They don’t appear to learn from their mistakes, but just keep on repeating them. They have a tendency to be lazy and think they have everything under control.

It would definitely be wise to avoid people like that, or at least not get caught up in going along with a foolish person. Be kind, but don’t try to change them because you’re not likely to succeed.

I wondered what Jesus thought a foolish person was.
Matthew 7: 23 – 29 (NLT)
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.”

A foolish person is someone who hears Jesus’ teaching but doesn’t obey/follow it. A person who follows Jesus’ teaching and takes it to heart, has a life that is built on a solid foundation. Difficult times will come, but you will stay firm and intact. A serious illness, the death of a loved one, financial crisis, job loss, difficult situations at home or at work, etc. – these will happen, but you won’t fall apart. Your foundation, what you trust in, will stay strong. That is why it is so important to read our Bible. That is where we learn Jesus’ teaching, what God wants and values.

For example, Jesus says:
35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 35 – 39)

Jesus tells us that our relationship with God is the most important one we have. It has the priority. Jesus does say we should love ourselves; we don’t have to think we have no value. But, we are to treat our neighbours as we would want to be treated.

That is a really difficult teaching of Jesus. In our culture in 2020, God is often not our priority. We’re just too busy to find time to spend with him every day. Getting ready for work, looking after our kids – our days start out running in the morning. By the end of the day, we’re exhausted. Bed can’t come soon enough.

We even often ignore our neighbours – or any people we are in contact with – because we are concentrating on our own lives. We don’t have time for them. That’s not exactly loving our neighbour. We tend to concentrate on loving ourselves – something that Jesus agrees that we should do – but do we forget to love our neighbours in the same way?
Yet Jesus says that following his teaching is what builds our lives on a firm foundation. It’s easy to read Solomon’s advice about fools, and think in our heads that we definitely are not foolish. But ….

Our song for today is Perfect Wisdom of Our God by Keith and Kristyn Getty

September 1 – Reliable?

Proverbs 25: 12 – 14 (The Message)

“Reliable friends who do what they say
    are like cool drinks in sweltering heat—refreshing!
14 Like billowing clouds that bring no rain
    is the person who talks big but never produces.”

If there’s one thing I’ve heard over the past several years from my kids and my grandkids is the complaint about their friends backing out of arranged events. They had plans to go to a friend’s house for an evening, and things got cancelled at the last moment. I’ve also heard from people involved in various committees and leadership positions about how excited they are when they find volunteers who they can rely on. It looks from these verses written by Solomon that this is an issue that goes waaaay back.

As Christ followers, I think we should look to God for our example about faithfulness. Isn’t faithfulness a prime characteristic of God? Can we count on him? God who created this universe loved us enough to put aside his ultimate power and live a simple life on earth as a carpenter’s son, and then as a travelling teacher – isn’t that incredible? Talk about faithfulness. When Jesus faced the crucifixion and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, did he decide to abandon his mission? He actually sweat drops of blood because he was so stressed, but still went ahead with the plan. Talk about faithfulness.

God is so faithful in many ways. The Psalmist, David, tells us in glowing terms:

Psalm 36: 5 “Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.”

Psalm 86: 15 “But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.”

God is faithful to us personally. When we come to him admitting our sin, he will forgive us and accept us as his own child.

1 John 1: 9 “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

1 Corinthians 1: 9 “He is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

God also promises that he will be with us as we go through life and face difficult situations and temptations. He will help us to grow with the Holy Spirit’s help to be those faithful people ourselves.

1 Corinthians 10: 13 “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

Galatians 5: 22 “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.

We are not perfect, and I am very aware of the times when I’ve promised something and then backed out. But Solomon’s advice about keeping our word is something to really think about. As Christ followers, we want to become more like Jesus as our lives go on. Faithful.

A person who keeps their word is “like cool drinks in sweltering heat—refreshing!”

Our song for today is Great Is Thy Faithfulness by Maranatha! Music

August 31 – Advice: Critical or Encouraging?

Proverbs 25: 11 – 12: 15 (The Message)

“The right word at the right time
    is like a custom-made piece of jewelry,
And a wise friend’s timely reprimand
    is like a gold ring slipped on your finger.

15 Patient persistence pierces through indifference;
    gentle speech breaks down rigid defenses.”

Solomon has some good advice on how to get along well with others.

I like his first statement – “the right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry”. When someone gives you an encouraging word just when you are stressed and working hard, it’s so uplifting. It’s just what you needed. I can think of times at work, or on volunteer committees, when decisions had to be made, and you wonder if you’ve got it right, and then someone says, we usually make good decisions, so stop worrying. You can just feel the stress ebbing away.

I can also think of another place where encouraging words make a huge difference. When you encourage your children by complimenting them on various things they do, it encourages them to continue doing all those good things. I realized over my years as a parent and a teacher that I tended to make comments about the mistakes and how they should correct them, more than I made encouraging comments. When I began teaching in alternative education where the students were already crushed and sure they would fail, I saw how encouraging words made a huge difference, and it helped those teens to really try and succeed. Solomon is right –
“The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry”. It’s extremely valuable.

And then there’s the opposite piece of advice. Sometimes you need to correct something. “A wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger.” I am not very tech savvy, so if someone told me I was doing something wrong with my computer, I would appreciate it so much. I’m also willing to ask for advice on lots of other things. But, if you are like me, I suspect that if someone criticizes something you are doing that you think is OK, you would go into protective mode.

When I look at Solomon’s advice in this instance, I see the words – “a wise friend” and “timely”. If someone you respect tells you that you need to change something, listen. Don’t get upset. That advice could change your life for the better. And if you are thinking about offering some advice to someone you know, make sure it’s at the right time. Be very sensitive to how the other person feels. Carefully think over the words you will use to make sure your advice doesn’t come across as too critical or harsh.

Solomon has some other advice about the words we use:

Proverbs 16:24
“Gracious speech is like clover honey— good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.”

Proverbs 15:4
“Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.”

Our song for today is You Raise Me Up by Selah

August 28

Proverbs 24: 17 – 22 (The Message)

17-18 Don’t laugh when your enemy falls;
    don’t crow over his collapse.
God might see, and become very provoked,
    and then take pity on his plight.
19-20 Don’t bother your head with braggarts
    or wish you could succeed like the wicked.
Those people have no future at all;
    they’re headed down a dead-end street.
21-22 Fear God, dear child—respect your leaders;
    don’t be defiant or mutinous.
Without warning your life can turn upside down,
    and who knows how or when it might happen.

So that’s the end of the Thirty Wise Sayings. I’m not sure why those thirty are singled out for a list, because Solomon goes on for another 6 chapters of advice. But I think I’ll go back to picking and choosing the ones I like best. Hopefully, I won’t have to scratch my head as much.

From this last three, the one that catches my interest is the last one – “respect your leaders”. It seems to me that in the last few years, it is more common to complain about our leaders. We complain about the people leading our country, our province, our city, our church, the organizations we belong to, our kids’ school. You name it, we have something to complain about.

I understand that we don’t move forward and improve things unless we are willing to analyze and figure out where improvements are necessary. If we always just accepted the status quo, things would never get better. But the thing that improves things the most is not the criticisms. It is the willingness to jump in and help make things better. If we see a place where improvements need to be made, we also need to be the one who volunteers to help make those changes.

If anything, leaders need to be encouraged. A comment about how hard they work or how much you appreciate what they do is so uplifting. So think about the leaders you know. They don’t have to be some amazing, well-known person. They may be a member of staff at LSA. They may be on Session at our church. They may be leading your child’s Sunday School class. They may be organizing a neighbourhood event. They may be a leader at your child’s daycare or school. It may be your child’s teacher who is stressing over keeping everyone safe during Covid19. Make a comment, or write a note. Leave a small gift where they’ll find it with a ‘thank you’ written on it. Support the leaders you know by pitching in when they ask for help. So think about one leader you know and do some small thing to show your appreciation.

Our song for today is Grateful by Elevation Worship

August 26 – Mmm … Honey

Proverbs 24: 13 – 16 (The Message)

 Eat honey, dear child—it’s good for you—
    and delicacies that melt in your mouth.
Likewise knowledge,
    and wisdom for your soul—
Get that and your future’s secured,
    your hope is on solid rock.
 Don’t interfere with good people’s lives;
    don’t try to get the best of them.
No matter how many times you trip them up,
    God-loyal people don’t stay down long;
Soon they’re up on their feet,
    while the wicked end up flat on their faces.

In some ways, these verses are connected to the ones posted yesterday, but with a slightly different slant. These verses look at the resilience of God’s children. We’re not the “perishing” and “falling apart” people. According to Solomon, you can try to knock “God-loyal people” down, but they’ll get right back up and keep going. Where do they get that resiliency?

The word “honey” in the first verse caught my attention, and it made me think of some verses in Psalm 19.

Psalm 19:7-10 (NLT)
7 The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
    reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
8 The commandments of the Lord are right,
    bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
    giving insight for living.
9 Reverence for the Lord is pure,
    lasting forever.The laws of the Lord are true;
    each one is fair.
10 They are more desirable than gold,
   even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
    even honey dripping from the comb.

The honey that keeps you fed and secure is God’s Word. Reading your Bible on a daily basis can keep you grounded in what is truth and who God is. That provides such security. Picture in your mind a house or building under construction. If it has a good foundation and the materials used are dependable, that building can withstand a lot of storms. Perhaps some shingles will blow off, or a brick may come loose, the painted trim might look worn, but the building stands.

That is so like our lives. Tough things do happen that can be terrifying or just a little scary, but life does go on. But according to the verses you read today, life just doesn’t continue; rather, people are back on their feet after a crisis. That would indicate that they are ready to keep going, instead of barely coping.

There is another psalm that describes Israel as they are going through the desert on the way to the promised land. They have been moving through a large desert area for 40 years, waiting for God to lead them to the land He had promised. That does not sound like a wonderful life to me – 40 years of living in a desert. In Psalm 81, the writer tells the people to praise God using all kinds of instruments in thankfulness for His faithfulness over the past years. The writer of the psalm also chastises them for the times when they rebelled against God and the disasters that brought. But he concludes with an interesting verse with God pleading with His people to trust him no matter what.

Psalm 81:16 (NASB)
“But I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

Honey from a rock? This tells me that God is willing to provide for me even in the hardest places. It’s that trust in Him that brings resilience to my life. I can keep going despite what happens because I know Him. How do I know Him? Through reading His Word and talking to Him daily. What a foundation for life!

I know through personal experience that it is easy to put my relationship with God on the back burner, and just carry on in my own strength. The busyness of life just takes over, especially with so many people and things depending on us 24/7. But I’ve also learned there is no other way to keep me going strong than by keeping my relationship with God on a priority basis. Foundations are built first in decent weather; they don’t get built while the storms are raging. So I challenge you and me as we face a difficult time in this pandemic that we take that time for a few moments with God every day. Get that strong foundation built.

13-14 Eat honey, dear child—it’s good for you—
    and delicacies that melt in your mouth.
Likewise knowledge,
    and wisdom for your soul—
Get that and your future’s secured,
    your hope is on solid rock. (Proverbs 24)

Our song for today is Word of God Speak by Mercy Me

August 25 – Do I Have To?

Proverbs 24: 10 – 12 (The Message)

10 If you fall to pieces in a crisis,
    there wasn’t much to you in the first place.
11-12 Rescue the perishing;
    don’t hesitate to step in and help.
If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,”
    will that get you off the hook?
Someone is watching you closely, you know—
    Someone not impressed with weak excuses.

I’m not sure I like verse 10. I have a lot of sympathy for someone who falls apart when a crisis suddenly shows up. I am so aware we are human and not perfect. I’ve faced enough crises in my life to know what it feels like to have the bottom drop out. But I guess that verse could mean that if we fall to pieces. and don’t recover fairly well, then we don’t have a secure foundation in life. And that I understand. I may feel like a bomb just went off, but when I stop and get my breath, do I understand that God is in control and is with me? That is where that secure foundation in life that Solomon frequently talks about comes from. It’s not that we personally are really strong people; it’s God’s presence in our lives that makes the difference.

But then the next two verses almost seem to contradict the first one in this section. At first, it says you are pathetic if you fall to pieces in a crisis; then is says we have an obligation to rescue those falling apart people. When you stop and think about it, who is going to rescue ‘drowning’ people if it’s not us? They need to know that we are there to support them, and the reason we can do that is because God is supporting us. Who else can tell them about a Heavenly Father if it’s not us?

So look around you. Are there people you are ignoring? I know we can’t solve all the problems of the world, and you aren’t required to take all those problems on yourself. But take a peek. Is there someone on your street who could use your help? Is there someone who would really appreciate a phone call or a small gift left at their door? Is there a volunteer place at your church that you could fill? Could you donate to a cause in Windsor that strikes your heart? Could you support a child through Compassion International or World Vision? Who comes to your mind when you read, “rescue the perishing’ today?

Before you say you already have enough on your plate, think about this:

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Our song for today is Life Song by Casting Crowns

August 24 – Brains or Brawn?

Proverbs 24: 1 – 9 (The Message)

 1-2 Don’t envy bad people;
    don’t even want to be around them.
All they think about is causing a disturbance;
    all they talk about is making trouble.
3-4 It takes wisdom to build a house,
    and understanding to set it on a firm foundation;
It takes knowledge to furnish its rooms
    with fine furniture and beautiful draperies.
5-6 It’s better to be wise than strong;
    intelligence outranks muscle any day.
Strategic planning is the key to warfare;
    to win, you need a lot of good counsel.
Wise conversation is way over the head of fools;
    in a serious discussion they haven’t a clue.
8-9 The person who’s always cooking up some evil
    soon gets a reputation as prince of rogues.
Fools incubate sin;
    cynics desecrate beauty.

Today’s title brings back memories of the TV show, Survivor, on the season when they divided the contestants into 3 categories – brains, brawn and creativity. On that show, it seemed that the brawn group with the big muscles always won. And sometimes in real life, that is the way it seems to go as well. The most aggressive and noisy people seem to get their way the most often. You may have experienced this at work or in your extended family. Who seems to get the most attention – the quiet, thoughtful ones or the loud, pushy ones?

Yet Solomon is clear about what the winning side is like. Here are some of the words and phrases that stand out to me – wisdom, understanding, knowledge, intelligence, strategic planning, good counsel and serious discussion. These words emphasize listening and taking careful looks at all the options before making decisions. Frankly, that’s often hard to do. Our culture moves so quickly; decisions are made in a hurry. We often feel like we have to make a move or we will lose out.

I don’t know what decisions you have to make today, or this week – decisions about finances, about a job, about a big purchase, about a health issue, about whether to send your children back to school, etc.. But take Solomon’s advice and think it over. Get some good counsel. Have some serious discussions with people you respect. Make sure you understand all the consequences and advantages of what you are planning to do. “It takes wisdom to build a house, and understanding to set it on a firm foundation” (v. 3). That’s what we really want more than anything.

There’s another verse that comes to mind when I think about this issue. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46: 10 (NIV). Pray about those decisions. There is no better counsel than our “discussion” with our Heavenly Father.

Today’s song is Take My Life by Chris Tomlin.
It’s an older hymn written in 1874, but the words are so appropriate for 2020.

August 21 – What Can I Say?

There are no comments I can make on these pieces of advice from Solomon. He says it as clear as can be. When I decided to plow through the 30 pieces of advice, I knew there would be some sections that were pretty self-explanatory, and this is certainly one of them. I’m glad it’s Friday, and we can start with something a little more upbeat on Monday.

Proverbs 23: 26– 35 (The Message)

 Dear child, I want your full attention;
    please do what I show you.
27-28 A whore is a bottomless pit;
    a loose woman can get you in deep trouble fast.
She’ll take you for all you’ve got;
    she’s worse than a pack of thieves.

29-35 Who are the people who are always crying the blues?
    Who do you know who reeks of self-pity?
Who keeps getting beat up for no reason at all?
    Whose eyes are bleary and bloodshot?
It’s those who spend the night with a bottle,
    for whom drinking is serious business.
Don’t judge wine by its label,
    or its bouquet, or its full-bodied flavor.
Judge it rather by the hangover it leaves you with—
    the splitting headache, the queasy stomach.
Do you really prefer seeing double,
    with your speech all slurred,
Reeling and seasick,
    drunk as a sailor?
“They hit me,” you’ll say, “but it didn’t hurt;
    they beat on me, but I didn’t feel a thing.
When I’m sober enough to manage it,
    bring me another drink!”

August 19 – Look Behind and Ahead

Proverbs 23: 22 – 26 (NLT)

22 Listen to your father, who gave you life,
    and don’t despise your mother when she is old.
23 Get the truth and never sell it;
    also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment.
24 The father of godly children has cause for joy.
    What a pleasure to have children who are wise.
25 So give your father and mother joy!
    May she who gave you birth be happy.
26 O my son, give me your heart.
    May your eyes take delight in following my ways.

The Message paraphrase:

22-25 Listen with respect to the father who raised you,
    and when your mother grows old, don’t neglect her.
Buy truth—don’t sell it for love or money;
    buy wisdom, buy education, buy insight.
Parents rejoice when their children turn out well;
    wise children become proud parents.
So make your father happy!
    Make your mother proud!
26 Dear child, I want your full attention;
    please do what I show you.

This section of Solomon’s advice is interesting because you can apply it to two generations – the one before you (your mom and dad) and the one following you as you parent your little ones.

If you are anything like me, there are things you learned from your mom and dad that you treasure, and there are things you’ve sworn you will never do. From my mom I learned how to love each child deeply and let them know how much they mean to me, how much I enjoy them. I also swore I’d never make any comments to my kids about what their house looked like – my mom was a neat, clean freak, and having her come to visit me was always big-time stress. From my dad, I learned leadership style – humility and being inclusive even when you are the leader. I also learned that I should never go into science or math areas; I still remember his sighs as he tried to explain physics and math concepts to me while I struggled with them in high school.

But overall, when I look back at the generation before me, I am so thankful for their teaching and encouragement. I know my parents were really proud of each of the four of us, and it was a wonderful opportunity to give back as they aged and needed our help and encouragement. But as I look ahead at my own kids and grandkids, I also look at verse 23 – “Get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment.” That’s what I want to stress with my kids and grandchildren. I want to encourage them to get their priorities in the right order. In all those daily activities – play, chores, school, sports, church – how do I encourage them to make wise choices and enjoy learning? How do I encourage them to seek the truth and not get sucked in by all the social media and cultural influences?

It’s a real challenge for sure! But there’s one good thing to look ahead to if you manage to parent wise children.
“The father of godly children has cause for joy.
    What a pleasure to have children who are wise.
So give your father and mother joy!
    May she who gave you birth be happy” (verses 24 and 25)

Our song for today is Lead Me by Sanctus Real

August 18 – Lots More to Think About

When The Message paraphrases these verses, it actually puts in the number of the 30 pieces of advice. So that is why you see those numbers before each grouping of verses as you read.

9 Don’t bother talking sense to fools;
    they’ll only poke fun at your words.

10-11 Don’t stealthily move back the boundary lines
    or cheat orphans out of their property,
For they have a powerful Advocate
    who will go to bat for them.

12 Give yourselves to disciplined instruction;
    open your ears to tested knowledge.

13-14 Don’t be afraid to correct your young ones;
    a spanking won’t kill them.
A good spanking, in fact, might save them
    from something worse than death.

 Dear child, if you become wise,
    I’ll be one happy parent.
My heart will dance and sing
    to the tuneful truth you’ll speak.

Don’t for a minute envy careless rebels;
    soak yourself in the Fear-of-God—
That’s where your future lies.
    Then you won’t be left with an armload of nothing.

 Oh listen, dear child—become wise;
    point your life in the right direction.
Don’t drink too much wine and get drunk;
    don’t eat too much food and get fat.
Drunks and gluttons will end up on skid row,
    in a stupor and dressed in rags.

So which ones of those pieces of advice made you stop and think? For me, there is a down side to my decision not to leave out verses as we go through these 2 ½ chapters. Sometimes I’m scratching my head while I figure out what to comment on. Those are the days when I wish I could just leave it all to you to make the comments with your reactions.

So I’m going to pick one that many of you might say – “Oh No – not that one”

13-14 Don’t be afraid to correct your young ones;
    a spanking won’t kill them.
A good spanking, in fact, might save them
    from something worse than death.

Right up front, I’m going to say that I’m not a fan of spanking, although I have spanked my children. The interesting thing in my years of parenting young children, the number of spankings went down dramatically as the years went by. My oldest daughter likely got the most spankings, and I don’t think the youngest one was ever spanked. I don’t think that had anything to do with their personalities. I do know my oldest was the most stubborn and ‘in-your-face’ one, but my youngest could give her a ‘run for the money’ in the stubborn department. I think it had more to do with gaining experience in dealing with unreasonable, scary preschoolers.

I do need to say that in no way do I condone spanking done by an angry, upset parent who lashes out at their child. That is abuse! But, sometimes a spanking or smack on the hand makes a young child realize that what they are doing actually puts them in danger. They need to understand that what they are doing leads to being badly hurt – better by you than by a car or a hot stove.

I know that our culture really frowns on spanking, and I understand that comes from seeing way too much abuse of young children. The fact that we are grown adults with much more muscle power and speed does not give us the right to inflict hurt on defenseless children. But the word “spanking” is not the main idea that jumps out at me when I read those verses.

“Don’t be afraid to correct your young ones” is what gets my attention. In our culture of “more is better” and “success is what counts”, I think we may tend to lead our children down a path that won’t serve them well. How many times do we buy our kids toys and clothes so that they are the cutest, and most delighted kids? How many times do we push our kids because we don’t want them to be behind the development of our friends’ kids? How much do we jump to our child’s defense telling them that “it’s not their fault’ when something doesn’t work out for them? Mommy/daddy will do it for you.

What is your goal for your child? What are the most important characteristics you want developed in your child? Is that where your corrections lead? I’m not going to say anything more. I just want you to reflect on those questions and your own parenting style.

August 17 – Getting Ahead

Proverbs 23: 1 – 8
While dining with a ruler,
    pay attention to what is put before you.
2 If you are a big eater,
    put a knife to your throat;
3 don’t desire all the delicacies,
    for he might be trying to trick you.

4 Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich.
    Be wise enough to know when to quit.
5 In the blink of an eye wealth disappears,
    for it will sprout wings
    and fly away like an eagle.

6 Don’t eat with people who are stingy;
    don’t desire their delicacies.
7 They are always thinking about how much it costs.
    “Eat and drink,” they say, but they don’t mean it.
8 You will throw up what little you’ve eaten,
    and your compliments will be wasted.

These next 3 pieces of advice seem to centre on how to get ahead, or how to get rich – except, the usual ways of doing that are put down by Solomon. If you hang out with rich people, you might find that they are actually trying to take advantage of you. If you hang out with really thrifty people as you try to figure out ways of saving that will get you ahead, you will figure out it’s really not worth it. In fact, the thriftiness may make you sick.

The real deal is the second piece of advice. Trying to get rich is not the best goal in life. Wealth can disappear, and then what have you got? If getting ahead is your ultimate goal in life, you may end up distraught. “Be wise enough to know when to quit,” Solomon says. That’s some good advice. Figure out how much is enough, and know when to accept what you have or when to push for more.

This kind of reminds me of my grandson, Caleb (13 years old), who has been a goalie for travel hockey teams for several years. In his early years, his notion of success was winning every game, and not letting more than one goal get in his net at most. When he didn’t achieve that, he got really upset and sometimes lost it. Goalies flopping on the ice in all their equipment is not a pretty sight – actually, it’s rather sad and funny at the same time. His parents talked a lot to him about how hockey is just a game, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. They talked about how it’s not always the goalie’s fault when a puck goes in the net; sometimes it’s your team that lets you down. But in the end, life goes on just fine. But at his young age, you could see Caleb struggle with this more sane approach to hockey. So, his parents figured out a way of helping him calm down when a goal is scored against him. Janet yells, “Reset” as she sees him start to smack his goalie stick against the goal posts. A couple of years later, she doesn’t have to do that anywhere near as much.

I think that’s what Solomon is saying in these verses. Reset your priorities, and don’t make getting wealthy (or getting ahead) one of your main goals. Be wise enough to know how much is enough.

Our song for today is Keep Me in the Moment by Jeremy Camp