Walk with the Wise… #1

Walk with the wise & become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20 NIV

My parents repeated some version of that from  Proverbs to me just about every day of my early life, usually right before I went to school or was headed out on an outing. I didn’t give it much thought or really (mostly? fully?) connect the dots on what that really meant for me until I was in my teen years; before that, the people I hung out with were mostly people who didn’t choose what I like to call The Way of Pain,” as their main learning method.

It was simple really: the kids who were constantly pushing the boundaries, ignoring instruction from teachers, not paying attention in class, acting out, & disrespecting/mistreating others were usually  the ones that were in the most trouble. And so “The Way of Pain” meant “if you won’t learn from what you’re told, taught, or what you observe, then you will have to learn through consequences, punishment, loss of privileges, & stricter discipline. Nobody had to tell me, “Don’t hang out with Jason,” because I could see with my own 8-year old eyes that he was a magnet for trouble & that he seemed to revel in the fact that his “thing” was getting constant (negative, punitive, & corrective) attention from the teacher, the dean, the principal.

I didn’t really  know what it meant to be “wise” or what “wisdom” was, though I was pretty familiar with what the  terms “fool,” & “foolish” meant, & I could’ve given a pretty good explanation of “foolish fools” using graphic examples from lives I’d observed in my 8 short years.


Life is a lot more complicated than the elementary years. Wisdom & foolishness don’t always readily (& immediately) present themselves as such; often the outcomes (aka ‘the fruit) of a particular way of life, pattern of choices, etc are what it takes to reveal(?) wisdom & foolishness for what they are.

So is there a way that we can know before we see the outcome?

The Psalmist points us to & celebrates the Law of God as a way (path) towards wisdom; rather than depending on our own experiences or trying to sort through myriad examples of how others have chosen to live. In doing this, he challenges us to engage with the idea that God gave us His law not to restrict, bind up, limit, &/or minimize the things of life that are enjoyable, life-giving, & fun. His Law isn’t merely a laundry list of things NOT to do; it’s an invitation to walk a path that has been laid out in such a way so that we can be blessed by God – by  taking His word for what is wise & what is foolish, beforehand, so that we don’t have to see the consequences/results show up in our lives & then, at that point, determine if we’ve been following a good course of action or a bad one.

There’s a lot of trust & faith involved – not “blind trust” or “blind faith,” but the kind of trust & faith that comes from careful observation of a long list of people, just like us, who either made their own choices to do it “My Way,” or who made the choice, over & over, to follow the trustworthy guide of God’s law. Learning from those examples in the Bible is one of the reasons we have an Old Testament – to see how people lived, what they chose, & how their obedience to God’s law (or rebellion & abandonment of it,) worked out in their lives.


And  so. Here I am at 50. I (still) start my day with  Psalms & Proverbs, with an invitation to God to lead me on His paths, that I can walk with Him & grow to be wise. The longer I live & the more I experience the consequences/results of those choices to walk on God’s path, the more thankful I am that my parents showed me that way, back in the day, when I was just a kid.

It happened again, & other musings during the holiday season…

It happened again, just a minute ago. Answered a phone call at work – the caller immediately launched into the story of their current seemingly hopeless life circumstances, & their great need for help. Meaning financial help. After listening for a minute, I answered, “I’m sorry – we don’t have…” The caller interrupted with a string of expletives, a few more choice words, & hung up.

Sigh.

I work as the pastor of a church, & these types of calls (& drop-in visits) are a fact of every day life – even more so during the holiday season. The requests come from people I don’t know & have never met. People in genuine need. Desperate people. They need rent money. Gas money. Food money. Money to get the electricity turned back on. To reactivate their cell phone.

It breaks my heart.

And at the same time I think of the people that we have been able to help… & just about every time (I’d bet 95%,) it has been someone we have at least the beginning of a relationship with – whether it be through church, extended family, &/or the friend of a friend. And that makes me happy, because we can be a part of not only helping someone with a specific need, but also walk through life with them to see them come out the other side.

Until the next drop-in. The next phone call. And the expletives. And nasty words. Accusations of “church corruption” & a “god who doesn’t care about people.” In the role that I serve in, I am often the first line of contact with people requesting financial assistance – & I make the decisions I make based on the policies our church financial council has put into place, an understanding of our current church budget, & what our current financial obligations are. And it tears me up.

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine talked to me about the significance of good stewardship – basically acknowledging God as the One who provides all of our needs from HIS resources. A steward doesn’t function with their own resources, but is acting on the behalf of others. And as such, WHAT we do with our finances & resources, individually & as a church, is viewed through the lens of being a good steward – especially since we don’t function with unlimited resources. And that means being willing to say, “No.”


I think about Peter, Jesus’ disciple, when he was standing outside the temple on the way to prayer. A guy who couldn’t walk hit Peter up for money – & Peter didn’t have any. His response was, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have I’ll give you. In Jesus Name, stand up & walk.” (Acts 3:1-7, The Message.)


 

I think about when Jesus’ treacherous disciple, Judas Iscariot, freaked out when Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume in preparation for His crucifixion & burial. How he said the perfume should have been sold & the money given to the poor. (The kicker in his case was that, as the keeper of the disciples’ communal purse, he wanted to have access to the money.)

But the point of that story is what Jesus answered him, simply saying, “The poor you will always have with you.” (John 12:1-8, The Message.)

It makes me think that poverty & the poor are by-product of a broken world system, one where the rich get rich, & the poor suffer. That the results of sin in our world put people through hell on earth, where they suffer injustice & lack.


 

So I pray. A lot.  I ask God for clarity & for wisdom – to be able to know who & in what situations we can help. And to keep a soft heart instead of letting it get calloused & crusty… & falling prey to the wrong of lumping those people into a category instead of treating them with the love & compassion that is due to people created in God’s image.