Day Thirty One: Other-Wise

Psalm 148
Proverbs 1:1-7
James 3:13-18

The book of Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings which distil God’s truth for good living. Short, insightful, and often humorous, they cover every aspect of human experience – from marriage and parenting to government and economics to lifestyle and habits – presenting the choice that is ever before us:

to act (and react) wisely, OR foolishly.

These sayings (attributed often to Solomon, the wisest of Israel’s kings),
were written down
so that we know how to live right and well;
so that we can get a firm handle on what is right
and just and fair;
so that we (and our young people) can get a grasp on reality;
and those already well-schooled in the ways of the world can find that they have yet something valuable to learn
(Proverbs 1:1-6).

Yet they are not the only proverbs on offer. The English language is strewn with wise-sounding sayings like:
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
“Fortune favours the bold.”
“God helps those who help themselves”
(which many people mistakenly believe is in the Bible).

Self-help books, empowerment seminars, business gurus, and marketing moguls have added to these an assortment of slogans, catch phrases and positive affirmations that influence – sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously – our values, perceptions and responses:

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
“I embrace my power.”
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

“Start small – finish big.”

List any proverbs, quotes, affirmations and/or sayings that you catch yourself saying or that you think may have an influence on how you think, speak, act, spend, live. 

With so many powerful, positive, wise-sounding “proverbs” shaping our subconscious mind, it can sometimes prove difficult to discern which words to pay attention to and which to discard.

The mark of true wisdom that keeps us on track for right living, however, is that it gives life – not only to us, but to others! – for it springs from the mind and the will of the living God:

“Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God;
only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.” 

(Proverbs 1:7, The Message).

In our reading from James 3, we find four marks of a wisdom that begins in and blossoms through God:

1. Godly wisdom is meek and humble: it does not lead to boasting or bitter jealously or selfish ambition ….

2. Godly wisdom is authentic: no cunning, no conniving, no twisting the truth, no two-faced friendships – what is said matches perfectly with what is done ….

3. Godly wisdom is open and conciliatory: impartial and sincere, it helps to build a healthy and robust community and encourages us to do the hard work of getting along, of treating each with dignity and honour.

4. Godly wisdom is pure and peaceable, seeking good – for me, for my family, for my neighbour, for my community, for my colleagues, for my friends, for the stranger on my street, for my so-called enemy, for my country, for my continent, for my planet ….

Look back over your list.
Which of the words or phrases are of a worldly wisdom?
Which reflect the wisdom of God?    

Pray for the wisdom – not only to live well, but in your right living to be a life-giver to those searching for wisdom and their way in the world.

Day Ten: No Leftovers

Psalm 27
Isaiah 4:2-6
Acts 11:1-18

One of the constant complaints in a household containing two teenage boys (the very ones who are responsible for the problem, I might add) is that there are no leftovers for their Nana’s magical smoosh-up lunches which generally consist of the remnants of Sunday’s roast with Monday’s mash potato and Tuesday’s green beans etc. fried up with a little extra onion and bacon and served on thick slices of white bread … DELICIOUS!

Today’s readings remind us of the wonderful news that with God there are no leftovers, no after thoughts, no left-outs; nothing gone to waste.

The survivors of the Exile, the small remnant left in Zion – those too old, too young, too small, too weak, too ugly, too poor, too uneducated – would be cleansed, called holy, and branch into something beautiful, something glorious: a living testimony to the power, protection and presence of God come rain or shine (Isaiah 4:2-6).

But the plans of the God who didn’t throw them out, who hadn’t abandoned them, went far beyond the boundaries of their expectations and narrow imaginations.

For God opened wide the door and took others in – into God’s shelter, into God’s love, into God’s family.

The problem with being made holy, however, is that we can often take it to the point of being “holier than thou,” or use it as a measure by which to judge or exclude even as we are celebrating and savouring our inclusion in God’s kingdom.

So Peter, one of the apostles, finds himself under attack by fellow Jewish believers for going into the house of uncircumcised men and eating with them: What do you think you’re doing rubbing shoulders with that crowd, eating what is prohibited and ruining our good name?(Acts 11:2-3, The Message).

It is only after he explains his vision of being commanded to eat unclean things and his personal witness of the Holy Spirit coming upon the “unclean” messengers with whom he ate that his brothers praise God for breaking through to other nations and opening them up to life (Acts 11:18).

The no-leftovers had no right to make others feel left out! And nor do we!!

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” Peter’s vision reminds us today (Acts 11:9).

Are there any specific people or groups of people that you think of as impure, or unclean, or excluded from God’s love and grace?

But Peter’s words apply to much more than groups of people that we might dislike or distance ourselves from or secretly hope not to be surprised by in heaven one day ….

If you are anything like me and like much of the modern Western world, you might feel a continual tension between two parts of your life: the part that belongs to God and might be considered “sacred,” and, well, everything else really.

At Christmas time, in particular, we can feel this push and pull between wanting to celebrate in an authentic and meaningful way the coming of the Christ child and the need to feed and please and shop for and entertain friends and family members so that they can fully experience the love and joy and peace that we’re often prattling on about.

Today, divide a page into two columns. Make a list on the one side of everything that draws you nearer to God; on the other, everything else that makes up the routines of your life.

Now draw a large circle that encompasses both lists and write “no leftovers – everything belongs.”

Spend some time wondering about the validity of that statement, the possibilities of a “whole” view of life, items which may not actually belong etc.



Day Eight: Open Up The Way

Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

During the first week of Advent, our call to watch and wait for the coming of Christ found expression in our lament for God to turn us again:
~ from the busyness that dulls our aching need for a Saviour,
~ from the pain of the world that makes us wonder where God actually is at times,
~ from the hopelessness and despondency that comes from seeing the “wicked” prosper time and time again,
~ from our apathy and inactivity in the face of the immensity of the world’s problems,
~ from our fair-weather faith and half-hearted commitment to live in loving relationship with God,
~ from the rubble and ruin of our plans and ambitions,
~ and from those who exercise authority over us in destructive and debilitating ways.

Which “turning from” was of most significance to you?

Which will be the hardest to maintain?

The readings throughout this second week give us a glimpse of what we’re headed towards as we invite God to open up the way to the good fortune and forgiveness, love and faithfulness, peace and righteousness that are characteristic of God’s coming shalom community (Ps. 85).

Today, in particular, we immerse ourselves again in the familiar story of John the Baptist who came, as the prophet Isaiah had said, to prepare for God’s arrival (Isaiah 40:3-5, Mark 1:2-4).

The message he preached was simple: forgiveness was possible; the old could be washed away; and One was coming with such power and presence that all could be transformed from the inside out.

We claim both the hope and the truth of that message through the sacrament of Baptism: that outward symbol of our inward turning from our old way of life to a new way of kingdom-living.

As a Christian, I have no memory of my own baptism as I was a toddler at the time; and as a teenager and young adult, I struggled to understand how something I could not even recall was supposed to be so significant.

But as a mother who has placed her children into a minister’s outstretched arms and entrusted them into the care of Christ and his Church, the imagery of Isaiah has special significance:

“Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture”
(Isaiah 40:11, The Message).

This is the One of whom John the Baptist spoke with such reverence: a Gathering God – the Good Shepherd – who bundles us up in his arms and hugs us to his heart as he carries us and leads us to good pasture ….

On a large piece of paper express what the words “good pasture” may look like in your life – you may want to draw, paint, put together a collage, use words. Feel free to add to it over the course of the week.

Alternatively, you may want to remember your baptism. Ask a parent or family friend to share any memories they may have. Look through family documents for a picture or a certificate. If you have children, tell them the story of their baptism and why it’s significant. 

If you are not yet baptised, you may want to explore this further with your pastor and/or faith community.