A Cheerful Heart in Difficult Times?

Proverbs 13-15

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Disease, murder, rioting, losing your job.  There is a lot happening in our country right now that weighs on the heart.  Those are a few things that are affecting the whole country, but don’t forget about loved ones dying, car accidents, fights, floods, financial strife, break-ups, and a whole host of other bad things that happen to people every day.  How can we possibly stay happy when so many lousy things are happening in our lives?

Proverbs 15:15 says that a miserable heart means a miserable life, but a cheerful heart fills the day with song.  You might think that the verse is only stating the obvious; if I feel sad, I am going to live a sad life, and if I feel happy, I am going to live a cheerful life.  However, this is a proverb meant to teach us, and it is trying to tell us that we have a choice as to how our heart feels.  You get to choose if you have a miserable heart or a happy heart.  You still might be thinking, dude, how in the world do you expect me to choose to be happy when my mother just died, or my best friend was just diagnosed with cancer?  That is some heavy stuff for a person to deal with, especially when it involves someone you love so dearly.

I was having a bad day some time ago because of something happening with someone I love, and then it hit me.  God loves this person even more than I do so I wonder what His day is like?  Then it hit me some more.  God knows and loves every person in the world and there are many millions of them dealing with bad stuff every day.  I was down in the dumps because of the one person in my life, so God must have been super-duper down in the dumps because of all the people He loves so dearly that were suffering in some way.  However, I knew that couldn’t be true.  I just don’t picture God moping around up in heaven.

So how does He keep a cheerful heart?  I know, I know, He’s God so He can do anything, and we don’t begin to have the capabilities He has.  Though, I think there are two main reasons He is not overcome with sadness and these are reasons we can also be happy when bad things happen.  First, He focuses on all the good things that are happening.  His heart is made glad when He sees someone feed the poor, go to church for the first time, be baptized, or when someone praises Him for all that He is.  In the same way, we can also choose to focus on the good things in life.  Second, He knows what is coming, a Kingdom on earth where there is no more pain and suffering.  There is not one bad thing that can happen to you that can take away your chance to be in the Kingdom if you have made the choice to accept the gift of eternal life.  That reward FAR outweighs anything that can happen during this very short lifetime.  All that bad stuff becomes quite insignificant when you realize it has no effect on your salvation.

Will you be sad if your mother dies?  Of course, but it is your choice if you want to mope around for months or years and continually dwell on her death.  Or you can appreciate the great memories you had with your mother and focus on what is good in your world.  Hopefully, you can also look forward to seeing her again in the Kingdom after she gets done with her long nap.  Those twenty or fifty years without her in this life may seem like forever, but that amount of time is insignificant when you consider you will get to spend infinity years with her in the future.

You may be thinking, what if my mother was not a Christian and will not be in the Kingdom?  There is more sadness when that hope for her is gone.  It seems like we will be sad when we reach the Kingdom and some of our loved ones are not there with us, but we know that there will be no sadness in the Kingdom.  How can that be?  My guess is that we will understand that justice needed to occur, and we will be ok with the punishment they received because they deserved it.

Bad things are going to happen to you and those you love, but you have a choice to be happy or not.  Don’t dwell on what makes you sad, think about what makes you happy.  Moreover, don’t let the bad parts of life rob you of the joy you can feel knowing that Jesus will soon return to establish the Kingdom for us for an eternity.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+13-15&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 16-18 as we begin a week of devotions with Stephanie Fletcher on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Don’t Be a Hater

Proverbs 10-12

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I have a lot of thoughts and emotions swirling in my head after the death of George Floyd and all the events surrounding it afterward.  There is a lot to dig into and talk about, but I am going to keep this devotion simple by sharing some very pertinent verses from our reading in Proverbs today.

Proverbs 10:12 starts out by saying that hatred stirs up conflict.  Well, that has certainly been proven true.  If you want to dig to the core of this whole problem, racism, you will find hatred there.  People have chosen to hate someone based on the color of their skin.  Some of this hate is intense, and unfortunately leads to death at times, but there are also many people that carry with them a milder form of hate that still makes the problem worse even though it may not be so blatant.

So how should we combat hatred?  The second part of verse 12 says that love covers over all wrongs.  Love is what is needed to make this situation better.  Considering everything that has happened, you might not be feeling that right now.  There is a lot of anger out there, and it is ok to get angry sometimes.  Some things are worth getting angry over. However, that anger can’t last.  It will ruin you and those around you if you hold on to anger for too long.  There have been many wrongs through the years that can’t be undone, but love can cover those wrongs, and forgiveness needs to be part of that love.  The wrongs can be forgotten with forgiveness and love.

You have a choice to make.  Are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?  Proverbs 12:18 states, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  You can speak harshly and blame people for their wrongdoings.  You might even be accurate about what you are saying, but if your tone is cruel and insensitive, it is like piercing them with a sword.  A wise person’s words are softer, gentler, loving, and empathetic, which brings healing.

I think it is safe to say that most people have been feeling anxiety over what has been happening.  The first part of Proverbs 12:25 says that anxiety weighs down the heart.  I’m sure many of you have experienced that during these trying times lately.  The good news is that there is a cure for your heart.  The second part of verse 25 says a kind word cheers it up.  Again, you can choose to speak harshly to others about what they have done wrong and make the wounds worse, or you can say something kind to help make their heart glad.

Proverbs 12:20 goes one step further by saying those who promote peace have joy.  Peace feels so good and it is what most of us strive for.  If you can promote peace, even in very small ways, it will bring joy to your heart.  The only thing that will completely end racism is the return of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should just give up until then.  I encourage you to make this world a better place one person at a time.  You can’t solve this whole problem by yourself, but you can make it better by being a light to the individuals you come into contact with in your daily life.

I am not saying we all need to pretend nothing happened and try to live happily ever after.  There are many conversations that need to take place and changes need to occur.  I am saying that we need to embrace the wise words from scripture and go into those conversations with love, not with hate boiling on the inside.  You also need to search your own heart to see if there is any hatred there, no matter how strong or mild it may be, and rid your heart of that hatred.  Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all wrongs.

Rick McClain

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+10-12&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 13-15 as we find more of God’s wisdom on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Status:  In a Relationship

Proverbs 4-6

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This is going to get a little weird since I am happily married.  I am also in a relationship with another woman.  I love her, I prize her, I embrace her, and I guard her because she is my life.  She watches over me, exalts me, honors me, places a garland of grace on my head, and has presented me with a crown of beauty.  We are truly in love.  Her name is…Wisdom.

Proverbs says wisdom is a lady and chapter 4 describes the relationship you should have with her.  When a man falls in love, he usually falls pretty hard.  He can’t stop thinking about her and will do anything for her.  He wants to be with her and just can’t get enough of her.  I suspect the same is true for women, but I don’t have any experience with that.  I suspect this analogy was written to make us understand how important wisdom is and how it should be an integral part of our life.  We need to search out wisdom, especially in the Bible, and not forget about the wise teachings from our parents growing up.  We need to be in love with wisdom as much as that guy was in love with that girl in “The Notebook”.

Why is wisdom so important?  It is because it will lead us on the straight path and keep us away from evil.  Chapter 5 tells us to beware of the sweet lips of the adulteress and her words that are smoother than oil.  If you are married, you should rejoice in the wife of your youth.  In verse 19, it talks about your wife’s breasts.  I can say that because it is in the Bible.  If you think the Bible is too boring to read, you haven’t read far enough yet.  Verse 19 is not boring.

I love the book of Proverbs because there is so much “quick-hitting” wisdom that gets right to the point.  In chapter 6, out of nowhere, it lists six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him.  I admit that the wording is a bit confusing here.  Is one of the things detestable to Him, but He doesn’t hate it?  If so, which one?  Anyways, if you are wise, you will pay attention to the list of things God thinks is detestable:

  • Haughty eyes (proud, snobbish, or arrogant)
  • A lying tongue
  • Hands that shed innocent blood
  • A heart that devises wicked schemes
  • Feet that are quick to rush into evil
  • A false witness who pours out lies
  • A person who stirs up conflict in the community

Maybe the confusion between the list being 6 or 7 is that #2 and #6 seem to be quite similar – I dunno.  You can quickly read this list and move on to the next verses; however, if you are in a relationship with Wisdom, you will slow down, study this list, and put it in your heart and mind.  This is your chance to see into the mind of God.  I am fascinated to learn what God thinks!  When you embrace the wisdom that is found in scripture, you are embracing the wisdom of our all-knowing Father.  He knows everything – and that is a lot of stuff to know.  I am extremely grateful that He has put so much wisdom in a book for us to read.  The opportunity we have to become wise is right there for the taking.  You just need to take the time to search it out.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+4-6&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Proverbs 7-9 as we continue to seek the things of God’s mind on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

How to Become Smart

Proverbs 1-3

Proverbs 1 7 NIV (1)

How do you become smart?  Are you just born that way?  Do you have to go to school to get smart?  Proverbs 1:7 says that the beginning of knowledge is to fear the Lord.  You will start down a path of intelligence as soon as you fear the Lord.  You might be a great doctor or an impressive lawyer that studied a long time to get where you are, but if you don’t fear God, you aren’t that smart.  Fear seems like a very odd first step in becoming intelligent, but let’s talk for a second about why that is true.

Why should we fear God?  Well, He knows everything, has the power to do anything He wants, has been around forever, made everything, is in control of the whole world, and could squish you like an ant if He wanted to.  That is really intimidating!  If you are not fearful of someone with that kind of power and control over your life, you probably don’t really believe He exists.  If you don’t believe He exists, you’re not very smart.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

The first step in becoming smart is to fear God, but what are the next steps?  You may think that certain people are born intelligent, that some people are just naturally smarter than others.  That may be true to an extent, but wisdom is not going to just automatically happen for you.  Proverbs 2:4 says that you need to search for wisdom and understanding like it is a hidden treasure.  It takes the action of searching on your part to become wise.  Proverbs 2:2 mentions that you need to make your ear attentive to wisdom and incline your heart to understanding.  You need to study the Bible and listen to what it has to say and listen to what wise Christians may also be telling you.  You need to open your heart and mind to the possibility of changing your mind and learning from the Bible and others.  You may think you already have all the answers and can handle everything on your own, but you don’t and you can’t.  Verse 3 goes on to say that you need to cry for discernment and lift your voice for understanding.  You should take the time to ask God for wisdom, and not be scared to ask others you can trust for their help or advice.

On a side note, in Proverbs 1:20 it mentions that wisdom is a “she”.  Gentlemen, take note of that.  I don’t think it is just a coincidence that the author says wisdom is female.

There are many benefits of wisdom mentioned in today’s chapters:

  • God will protect those with integrity and discretion will guard you.
  • It will deliver you from the way of evil and from evil men and women.
  • Days and years will be added to your life.
  • Peace will be added to your life.
  • You will find favor and have a good reputation with God and man.
  • Trust in God with all your heart and He will make your paths straight.
  • It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones if you fear God and turn away from evil.
  • It will give you riches and honor.
  • All her (wisdom’s) paths are peace.
  • Happiness to all who hold her (wisdom) fast.
  • You will not be afraid and your sleep will be sweet.
  • Confidence will come from the Lord.

Fear God, search for wisdom, study the Bible, listen to wise Christians, be open to different viewpoints, and ask God for wisdom.  That is how you become smart.  And once you become smart, you will live longer, have special protection, be at peace, have riches, have honor, and be happy.  Seems like the smart thing to do.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+1-3&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 4-6 as we learn more about wisdom on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Ooh La La

Song of Songs 1 to 8

Song of Songs 7 10 NIV sgl

Song of Songs…it’s in the Bible, and since we are going through the whole Bible, someone needs to write about it.  I know Marcia was probably a bit apprehensive when she saw that I was the one that signed up for this book, but I am very experienced with this topic, so I think it is a good fit.  When I was much younger, I wrote a poem about my girlfriend and gave it to her, and she is now my wife.

You may know this book of the Bible as Song of Solomon, but in the original Hebrew it was called Song of Songs.  It is saying that this is not just a song, it is the song of all songs, like King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  I must admit, it is a very unforgettable song and I was a bit surprised to learn such a book was in the Bible when I first read it long ago.  For some reason my Sunday School teacher did not cover this part of the Bible with us when I was a child.

The visuals painted in these chapters about a bride and groom are very sexual in nature, but is that what this book is about?  Some say it is an allegory of Jesus and his bride, the church.  I doubt this is true because Jesus wasn’t even around in the Old Testament when this was written.  I don’t think the concept of the church being the bride of Jesus was known back then so why would someone write an allegory about that?  It is also believed by some that it could be an allegory about God and the people of Israel.  There are no doubt similarities between the relationship of a bride and groom and the relationship between God and His people, but why would someone use such erotic sexual material to describe how God thinks about Israel and vice versa?

I believe it is love poetry and I am thrilled that the Bible has affirmed that the sexual desire I have for my wife is a good thing.  I know that will make some of you squirm a bit because we don’t usually talk about this stuff, especially in church.  However, I think one of the main points of this book is to show that the physical attraction between a bride and groom is a beautiful thing that God has created for them to enjoy.

I could be very wrong about this, but how much does that matter in this case?  What if it turns out it is about Jesus and the church?  It is perfectly ok for people to have different opinions about topics such as this because it will not affect your salvation if you are wrong.  I really look forward to the day when we will be able to sit and talk with the authors of the Bible and ask them to explain what they were writing about.  I can’t wait to be in the same room as God and Jesus and listen to them talk about so many things we weren’t totally sure about.  That does not mean we should twist meanings and be wrong about things that are plain to see, but you must admit that you don’t completely understand everything.  It is sometimes ok to say “I think” something is true without being 100% positive it is true.

But back to the song of all songs.  I am not going to go in great detail here about this book because you should read it for yourself.  I couldn’t stop thinking about how much in love these two seemed to be.  It reminded me of when you see two young people in love, and their love is just oozing all over each other so much so that they don’t even notice anyone else is around.  They can’t stop smiling at each other and they are on cloud nine.  We usually roll our eyes at them and think they are being ridiculous, but this is exactly the kind of love that was on display in these eight chapters.  Solomon gushed about her eyes, hair, neck, lips, and body parts that reminded him of fawns, but it didn’t stop there.  I knew this was a story about real, intense, true love when he mentioned her teeth.  He didn’t just say she had beautiful teeth, he said her teeth were like a flock of newly shorn ewes.  Don’t picture dirty ewes that have been rolling around in the dirt, Solomon said the ewes had just come up from their washing.  Moreover, all these ewes bore twins, and not one of them had lost their young.  He said all of that about her teeth!?!?  That dude was crazy in love!  And she was just as ridiculous as him, which can be seen when she says her beloved is like a cluster of henna blossoms from the vineyards of Engedi.

We might shake our head if we saw a bride and groom going on and on about each other like that, especially since they focused so much on the physical aspects of love, but this is not a trashy book from the local bookstore, this is a poem about love in the Bible.  The Bible teaches us that true love is on the inside, but this book teaches us that true love can be on the outside as well.  Our world has made a complete mess of love on the outside; not all love between any two people on the outside is good.  However, when a bride and groom love each other on the inside, God created another way for them to show that love.  Song of Songs is not a ridiculous poem to shake your head at; it is a beautiful expression of how much two people can love each other.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Song+of+Solomon+1-8&version=NIV

Tomorrow we begin the book of Proverbs – chapters 1-3 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Too Many Rules

Psalm 119:89-172

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Being a Christian isn’t for me.  There are way too many rules.  My life would be so boring if I followed all those rules.  Have you heard anyone say that before?  Or maybe you are a Christian and you try to follow all the rules, but you feel like you are missing out on the fun.  Or worse yet, maybe you are a Christian, and during your weak moments you don’t miss out on the fun.  The Bible is a huge book with a lot of Do this’s and Don’t do that’s.  Why did God make it so difficult to be a Christian?

If you have ever felt a bit strangled by all the instructions to follow in the Bible, Psalm 119 will open your eyes to a whole new way of thinking.  God’s laws are not some kind of test to see if we can show self-control and prove we want to be Christians.  Psalm 119 says God’s commandments will make you wiser than your enemies, have more insight than your teachers, and understand more than the aged.  Let that sink in for a second.  These rules were given to us to make us smarter – even more intelligent than our teachers and those older than us who have more experience than us.

God did not make all the rules to make our lives MORE difficult; He gave us all the rules to make our lives LESS difficult.  He is watching out for us and has our best interest at heart.  God knows a lot of stuff and He is just trying to share with us some of what He knows to make our lives better.  Don’t be rebellious because you don’t like someone telling you what to do; instead, be thankful for the pages and pages of advice that God has shared with you that will help you out in life.  You might have an urge to lie, steal, have sex outside of marriage, look at porn, get drunk, or do any other sin of your choice.  All these things may seem like a worthwhile option in the heat of the moment, but God’s word lets you know that doing these things will make your life worse.  Trust Him; He knows what is best for you.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.”  Life can be difficult, and many obstacles will get in the way on your path.  You can ignore God’s word and try to go it alone, but you will assuredly stumble around in the darkness.  Or you can read God’s word and follow the instructions so your path will be lit up.  Those same obstacles will be on your path whether you read your Bible or not, but if your path of life is lit up with God’s word, you will more easily see how to maneuver through the obstacles you will face.

How valuable are the words of God?  The psalmist who wrote Psalm 119 says in verse 127 that he loves the commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold.  The words of God are more treasured than gold!  Do you believe that also?  Your actions speak louder than your thoughts and words.  If you truly find the scriptures to be that valuable, you will search diligently by reading the Bible, and then you will mold your life to fit the words you have learned about.

One last part of this psalm that really drove home the value of God’s words to me was in verses 163-165.  He said he loves Thy law and praises Him seven times a day because of Thy righteous ordinances.  I feel like this is not an exaggeration to make a point (like forgiving someone 7 times 70 times), but probably a true practice that this individual followed for the most part.  If you are awake for about two-thirds of your day, you would need to praise God for his rules about every two hours to keep up with that psalmist.  You would be in a constant state of thankfulness for God’s laws every day, which seems like a bit much, but verse 165 tells us about the huge reward we receive for following His words.  He said that those who love Thy law have great peace and nothing causes them to stumble.  If you want to add stress to your life, just go ahead and break a rule.  However, if you want true peace in your life, search through the scripture looking for God’s advice and follow that advice.  Thank you to the psalmist for giving us this great perspective on rules.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+119%3A89-172&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Song of Solomon 1-8 on our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

How Was I Supposed to Know?

Romans 10 14b

Imagine that judgement day is here and you are standing before Jesus.  Imagine that you grew up outside of the church and nobody ever shared a Bible with you or even bothered to explain what was going to happen in the future.  Imagine Jesus telling you to go get in the line where they throw you into the fire because you did not accept Christ as your savior.  I suspect you would go kicking and screaming saying that wasn’t fair.  You would probably shout back at Jesus, “How was I supposed to know?”

In Mark 16:15, Jesus said to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  He said to go into ALL the world.  Like many of you, that is why I am passionate about missions.  That is also why I went with a team to Peru on a mission trip.  We have an extremely important message to tell others; in fact, lives depend on that message.

Romans 10:13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  And then verse 14 asks the obvious: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  That is so obvious that you don’t even need me to explain that to you.

But I like explaining things.  Let’s imagine that you know of someone that is locked in a room that is on fire and the only way they can get out is to unlock the door with a key.  The problem is that they don’t know where the key is, but let’s say that you know where the key is.  Would you take the time to call them and let them know where the key was so they wouldn’t die in the fire?  Or would you not really have the time or energy to make that call?  I am very confident that each person reading this devotion would take the time to call that person to tell them where the key was.  People respond with crazy amounts of urgency when there is a life to be saved in a fire.

So why don’t people respond with the same urgency when trying to save a life for eternity?  We have information that people need to hear to save their life.  We have the “key” that they need to save their life, and that key is Jesus.  If they don’t ever hear about Jesus, they are going to be sent to that line where they get thrown in the fire.  In my story and in the future in real life, you are going to die in the fire if you don’t have the “key”.  Someone needs to tell them about the key to life.

Don’t be the reason that someone says, “How was I supposed to know.”

Rick McClain

Are you Blind?

john 8 34 35

Are you blind!?!  This is one of our favorite questions to ask when those around us are missing something that is so obvious.  It is extremely frustrating to us when they just don’t get it or they just don’t believe us when the truth is right in front of their eyes to see.  This is how Jesus felt when he was dealing with the Pharisees.  His frustration with them oozed all the way through John 8 and 9 because they just “didn’t get it”.  They didn’t believe he was who he was even though it should have been very obvious to them.  They were closed-minded and not willing to listen to witnesses like the blind man who had been healed.
In John 8:34-35, Jesus says that anyone who commits sin is the slave of sin, and the slave does not remain in the house forever.  If you have a sin in your life that you deliberately keep doing, you’re going to get kicked out of the house because you are a slave to that sin.  When you keep choosing to sin, God is getting very frustrated with you, just like Jesus was frustrated with the Pharisees.  He’s probably thinking, “They know I don’t want them to do that, but they keep doing it anyways.  I have given them my Word to read, but they don’t see how they are supposed to act.  Are they blind!?!  They just don’t get it.”  Don’t be that guy.

-Rick McClain