October 22 – Living From Hand to Mouth

From the fruit of his words a man shall be satisfied with good, and the work of a man’s hands shall come back to him [as a harvest]. Proverbs 12:14 AMP

Old Zan and I quickly became friends. Every couple of months or so he would come by the church hustling a “few dollars.” Most of the time we would give him enough to stay out of too much trouble and send him on his way.

But one day, I decided to bring him in my office and learn a little bit of his story. I was serving a church in Oklahoma City at the time as an Administrative Pastor and I was located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in town. Zan was one of many recipients who frequented the doors of that church in need of basic food, clothing, and shelter.

What I learned that day changed my perspective on the poor. For all practical purposes, on the surface, Zan appeared pretty needy. But in all actuality, through his disability check and other benefits he received from his military service days, we were clearing about the same amount. That was a wake-up call for sure.

So why was I working at the church while he was begging from the church? Why was my money feeding and clothing seven people at that time and he wasn’t even covering himself? It was because my friend was a broken man on the inside. I don’t know if there were issues before his accident in the service, but in an effort to heal up, addiction to the meds set in and never let him go.

At the time, that was all new to me. But any more, Zan’s story is commonplace. Though he never let me in deep enough to help with the real “monster,” he did hang around long enough to change some of his conversation about himself and his attitude about using his hands constructively…even if he couldn’t do what he used to could do before he got hurt.

In this life, things happen and sometimes they are life-altering and unfortunate. But today’s Proverb assures that if we will find ourselves saying the right things with our mouths, doing the right things with our hands will happen. And we will look up from the ashes and see a harvest of good things all around us.

September 18 – The Blame Game

His own iniquities shall ensnare the wicked man, and he shall be held with the cords of his sin. Proverbs 5:22

I’ve done some really dumb stuff…I mean life threatening stuff, in my lifetime. Like the time I almost fell off the side of a cliff. I was about forty feet up on a nice rock climb when, all of a sudden, everything went negative. There was nothing to grab and I had no harness. I truly thought I was about to die. All I could see underneath me was a sea of trees growing out of the side of the mountain.

When I could hold on no longer, I let go. Well, almost. Right before I did, a belay rope hit me on the top of my head. Somebody heard me and came to my rescue. What a miracle, right? I mean, I wouldn’t have been here to write this account if that “angel” hadn’t come to my rescue.

That’s true, but I left out some pretty significant details. See, I was a counselor for a group of boys. And as they were doing their climbs (secure climbs) I decided I would break off from the group and show my buddies (the other counselors) my “climbing skills.” Though I had very little experience, my first climb felt so natural and I felt confident I could do it solo.

Now, doesn’t that shed a little light on the subject? If I had broken my neck that day, it would have been tragic. And a host of people (my kiddos!) would have never graced this planet with their beautiful faces. But it would be quite irresponsible of me or anybody else to lay that potential misfortune on God.

I played the fool and God played the gracious Judge. We all have our “cliff-hanger” moments, but freedom comes when we can see our foolishness and mismanagement as the culprit and not God’s “mysterious ways.”

The Message Translation puts it this way…I like it:

Mark well that God doesn’t miss a move you make; he’s aware of every step you take. The shadow of your sin will overtake you;
  you’ll find yourself stumbling all over yourself in the dark.
Death is the reward of an undisciplined life;
  your foolish decisions trap you in a dead end. Vs.21-23

I’m so ashamed of the times I’ve played the “blame game,” Lord. Today is a new day. Amen.

And thanks for all the times You’ve “saved my bacon!”

September 15 – A Line in the Sand. . . and Ten Steps Back

Let your way in life be far from her, and come not near the door of her house [avoid the very scenes of temptation], lest you give your honor to others and your years to those without mercy, lest strangers [and false teachings] take their fill of your strength and wealth and your labors go to the house of an alien [from God] Proverbs 5:8-10 AMP

“No” is naturally hard for me to form my mouth to say. And unfortunately, that one inability has cost me dearly over the years in time, talent and tenacity. For those who have a similar struggle, maybe you will agree that when you go along just because you don’t want to make anyone upset, you ultimately can become that way yourself!

Claudius (of course that’s not his real name!) was a childhood friend I met through some distant relatives. We were both about ten and full of gusto. I had rules to abide by and he didn’t. Granted, it gets hot in West Texas in the summer, but I would have never conjured up the notion to go swimming at the downtown Hilton! Claudius did. Here we were, two little “chocolate drops” in cut off jeans trying to slip past a Valet in the middle of the af-ternoon, unnoticed.

Thankfully, we got caught before we got in the hotel or I really, really would have been embarrassed. I was so mad, I could have punched him in the nose. But since he was obviously crazy, I just agitatedly grumbled, “I thought you did this all the time and we weren’t going to get in trouble?” His response made an indelible mark on me that would last a life time. “We didn’t get in trouble; we just need to go back when that guy isn’t there.”

For the wayward soul, right and wrong is relative. And often, they are so desensitized to the laws of cause and effect; they can’t even correlate them with the outcome.

That day I decided I wasn’t okay with being in trouble or being embarrassed, so I started paying attention to the buddies I was hanging out with. And if or when some crazy stuff started “cooking,” little Lorenzo got to “booking!” (i.e., I ran away really fast!)

For me, that’s what today’s Proverb is all about. Boundaries are a necessity and everybody needs some. But with them, it’s a good idea to know where they start and back up a good distance. That way, your name isn’t able to be associated with the drama.

If you’re not standing by the fence, you won’t be as tempted to open the gate!

September 12 – Turkish Delight, and Other Sweet Nothings

The lips of a seductive woman are oh so sweet, her soft words are oh so smooth.  But it won’t be long before she’s gravel in your mouth, a pain in your gut, a wound in your heart. Proverbs 5:3-4 MSG

Any of us may battle some sort of addictive challenge. And though today’s Proverb refers to the “seductive woman,” the picture in view is anything that takes possession of your mind, will, and emotions.

No one is exempt. It may not be alcohol, but it might be anger. It might not be drugs, but it might be greedy gain…never enough. And it might not be pornography, but it might be religion. We all are susceptible to some type of subtle seduction.

In my own life, I have had to shake myself out of a few unconscious comas over the years. And no matter what it was, I first had to see it was a problem for me. Verse 2 of Proverbs 5 talks about exercising discrimination and discretion in order to guard and keep wisdom. Therefore the realization often came when I got tired of the bad taste of something that used to seem so sweet.

At that point, the lion’s share of the battle was won. Then God could spiritually nudge and navigate me step by step to wholeness and health.

All around us is divine destiny calling us to live life “loud” and unencumbered. And all around us there is a devious deception crawling about lusting for just the right moment to steal a piece of freedom from each and every one of us.

If today finds you pushing through the dark clouds of addiction, know that God has not forsaken you, we are all here, and you are not alone. When you are desperate to be done with the deception, say it! Then watch for the way out. . . from within.

August 15 – Not Until Enough’s Enough

How long, O simple ones [open to evil], will you love being simple? And the scoffers delight in scoffing and [self-confident] fools hate knowledge? Proverbs 1:22

From time to time, my boys and I engage in a good healthy dose of in-house horseplay. And at some point, the excitement narrows to a finale when I get one of the more prolific pain-invoking aggressors in an immobilizing maneuver. At that moment, with the last bit of energy I have, I bellow the infamous, “You give?!”

Depending on how much more punishment the victim is willing to endure, my request may be met with, “Give!” or “Never!” But rest assured, until he says he’s had enough, I am not letting go. Because these tussles have taught me I am in a world of hurt if I let go.

Now, this is all in good clean dad and son bantering. But the principle of “enough being enough” applies to this Proverb.

I can’t even began to count the times I have visited with a spouse, mom or dad, even teacher who was holding on for dear life to a defiantly destructive soul they cared about. For some, the dynamics were of such that their efforts were proving promising and change was just over the horizon.

However, in many, many cases, foolishness in the heart of the individual left no other option than to cut them loose and let the chips fall. Why? Because for them, enough wasn’t yet enough. And until it is, they will destroy everything in their path, including themselves.

What do you do? I speak for myself here. But I have seen this response work better than anything else in the case of the stubborn: Let them alone.

Then pray for “Enough” to come!

When enough comes, you will know because they will seek wise counsel. And that’s when miracles show up. But not until!