Tuesday

Four Ways to Become Wise


Four Ways People Become Wise
 The Proverbs Way
The first way to become wise is through observation and experience. “I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw; a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest - and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:30-34).

The proverbs were written from the wise man’s observation and experience of life, and he writes them to pass on the insights he has gained. Even more, his writing can orient the mind of the reader to begin observing life on his own and reflecting upon his experiences to formulate his own base of wisdom. The proverbs both reflect upon observation and experience, and encourage such wise activities in others.

In the story of Proverbs 24 the wise man observed a neighbor failing to work or care for his farm. Over time, the man’s property slipped in ruin, as did the man. This observation, and many others by the wise man, eventually became the subject of his wisdom teaching.



Secondly, one becomes wise through heeding the instruction of the wise. The observations and experiences of the wise become the content of the instruction. Behavior that led to success, such as industriousness and thrift, becomes the object of exhortation for the hearers; behavior that led to failure, such as laziness and inattentiveness, become warnings.

Thirdly, wisdom is gained by learning from our mistakes. If we fail to learn from our mistakes by our own observation, we can learn from them when we are justly rebuked by someone. The discerning man gains wisdom by correction while the mocker or fool gains nothing from the experience (19:25).

Fourthly, people become wise when they apply themselves to God’s revelation. “At the heart of wisdom is God himself. Apart from God there is no true insight into the world. God is the only source of true wisdom. Even the ability to observe and experience is from the Lord.”

These four points about becoming wise are from Tremper Longman’s book Reading Proverbs. Though simple, when applied to our lives they can have a profound effect on directing us to a better life, one blessed by God.

Warren Baldwin

Guest Post by Erin MacPherson - 50 Shades of Grey and New Book Announcement

Guest post from friend and fellow-writer Erin MacPherson -

What I Will Be Doing Instead of Watching 50 Shades of Grey This Valentine's Day
By Erin MacPherson

Have you heard of 50 Shades of Grey?

If you haven't heard of the bestselling book, you'll almost certainly hear about the movie in the next couple of weeks.  It releases February 14th, 2015 and is surrounded by tons of media buzz.  And hundreds of critics wondering why women are clamoring in droves to go see it.

Why?

The story has been labeled everything from 'chick porn' to 'a fulfilling love story'—but the basic story line involves a woman who meets a sadistic, abusive man and gets into a very sensational, very involved sexual relationship with him.  The book is known for graphic love scenes, concerning moments that could only be called sexual abuse and a highly dramatic, highly disrespectful relationship that is both complex and disturbing.

I'm sure the movie will be the same.

And honestly, that scares me.

A few months ago, my friend and co-author Kathi Lipp posted on Facebook her own concerns about the 50 Shades Phenomena.  She told her readers that she felt like 50 Shades of Grey is demeaning and demoralizing towards women and demonizing towards men.  The response was… shocking.

People responded and said things like:   "It's just a fun love story.  It's all good in the end."

Or, "I'm a married women.  Why can't I read something a little bit saucy?"

Or, "You must have a boring vanilla marriage if you don't like things like this."

But Kathi and I don't agree with these comments.  Because we believe God created marriage as a sacred covenant and that sex was created to be a wonderful expression of that covenant.  And anytime sex is distorted to be demeaning, demoralizing, disrespectful, abusive or demonizing, then it's wrong. 

And so we began a book.  Hot Mama (releasing Fall 2015) is not about judging or chastising or even criticizing 50 Shades of Grey, but instead is about empowering Christian women to pour into their marriages to make their relationships and yes, their sex lives, better.  Before we release that book, we're releasing a series of other fun, flirty materials that we hope will help women to draw closer to their husbands this year and in turn, find some fun, some flirting and yes, even some romance in their marriage.

The first e-book, '10 Ideas to Inspire Red Hot Sex' releases in mid-February, just in time for 50 Shades of Grey.  We're hoping that it inspires women in America to skip the ticket line and stay home with their husbands on Valentine's Day. 

Because we believe in marriages.

And yes, even in sex.

Just not in the way the media has portrayed them.


Bio:  Erin MacPherson is the author of more than nine books, including her 2015 series, Hot Mama, which includes her Valentine's Day e-Book 10 Ideas to Inspire Red Hot Sex.  She lives with her husband Cameron and three kids in Austin where she loves to cook, swim, ride bikes and enjoy the warm (okay, hot) Texas sunshine.


Books:  http://www.christianmamasguide.com/books/

Blog: www.christianmamasguide.com

Thursday

Healing Relationships


Healing Relationships

We have three normal reactions to people who are hurting or who have done something we don’t agree with. I call them normal because they are patterns of response we typically fall into when confronted with a challenge in someone’s life.

The first reaction is to retreat from them. Retreat means to pull back or get away from. We often do that because we simply don’t know what to do for the person, or we may fear helping them will involve too much time or effort.

The second reaction is to reprove the person. Reprove means to correct or reprimand. It is almost impossible to refrain from telling someone, “You should have known better” when they have done something foolish or wrong and has resulted in them getting in trouble. Correcting them requires nothing of us except for judgment, which is so easy to make and deliver. Other phrases used in reprimanding are, “What were you thinking of?” “I told you not to do that.” “You have it coming.” All of these judgments may be true, but they are likely not helpful.

The third reaction is to refer them. We may refer them to a counselor, preacher or some other person who has some expertise with the sin or problem they are struggling with. (From Larry Crabb, Connecting, 25).

Retreat, reprove, or refer, are three relatively easy and normal approaches to handling problem-laden relationships. Sometimes they are appropriate. But, more often they are ways for us to avoid the more time-consuming and laborious task of entering into someone’s life and helping them.

How do we help people who are struggling with tough issues? How do we impact them with the compassion of Jesus?

Jesus is the best example of how to enter into the life of hurting souls and connect with them. Jesus didn’t retreat, reprove or refer people to avoid their ailments; he entered deeply into their lives and problems.

“The Son of Man came neither eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” Matt. 11:19. Jesus entered so deeply into the lives of others that he became associated with their behaviors and lifestyles. We might question if that is a wise course of action today. Do we want our preachers, elders, deacons, and Sunday School teachers confused with the cast of people Jesus was confused with? We might also ask,  Do we love as Jesus loved?

 If we want to help struggling people, and if we want to see relationships become sources of healing, we can do three things. One, delight in people just as Jesus did. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with or like what they are doing. But, we can delight in them as fellow human beings.

Two, look eagerly for the goodness in someone’s heart, and look for the passions that drive their choices. You may be able to use these insights to steer their decisions into healthier directions.

Three, expose the sin and pain in someone’s heart to the grace and kindness of the savior. Exposing sin doesn’t mean we call people out on everything they do, or correct every misstep we perceive they make, or announce eternal judgment over them. It means that as we visit, talk, and gain the confidence of people, we can discuss the tough and sensitive issues that plague their hearts. (Connecting, 21).

I believe that is exactly what Jesus did. When he was sitting with the tax collectors and sinners he became one with them, identified with them, and entered their lives. He didn’t enter their lives to participate in the sin and dysfunction with them; he entered to shine the light of God’s grace and mercy into their darkest corners, and they loved him for it. Lives were transformed then, and are today, when people bearing the love of Christ care.

Warren Baldwin

Saturday

The Spirit of Giving


 The Spirit of Giving

One of the things that has most fascinated people with the story of Jesus’ birth is the three gifts the Wise Men gave to the baby Jesus. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Matt. 2:11.

All three of these gifts are items of value. Gold is mined from the earth and panned from rivers. It has been valuable through history because it is rare, durable and malleable, meaning it can be formed into various shapes. That has made it useful for coinage and jewelry.

Frankincense is an aromatic resin used for burning incense. It is harvested from trees in the middle east and orient by slashing the bark and allowing the sap to ooze out. The hardened resins are called tears.


 Myrrh is also an aromatic resin harvested from trees. Like Frankincense, myrrh is used for incense, but it has also been used as perfume and medicine. Some people mix it with wine for ingestion.

The traditional interpretation placed on these items in Christian history is that gold reflects Christ’s kingship, frankincense reflects his deity and myrrh reflects his suffering. These are fanciful interpretations, but there is no substance to them.

There is a lot of history to these items, though. When the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon, she brought a pile of gifts, among them spices and large quantities of gold (1 Kings 10:2). In Psalm 45:6 & 8 the Psalmist writes, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever ... All your robes are fragrant with myrrh ...” Psalm 72 is about bestowing gifts upon the true king. Verse 15 says, “Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long.”

Isaiah 60 envisions the kings of the earth honoring the true king of Israel. “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn ... All from Sheba will come, bringing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord” (vs. 3 & 6). Gold and frankincense are the kinds of gifts people in the Old Testament gave to royalty. Kings even gave gifts of these items to other kings.

Matthew’s use of this narrative recalls these past stories of giving gifts to the king of Israel, and shows that Jesus, the newborn king, is the real king of all the world. He is the real king to whom all homage should be paid, even by other kings and nations. Ironically, it is a group of Gentiles who make this connection and call Jesus “the king of the Jews,” while Israel, to whom Jesus came, largely rejects him as king.

This story serves as the foundation for giving at Christmas time. Jesus is the gift of God to the world (John 3:16). The magi brought gifts to Jesus to honor him. This story then becomes the model for the spirit of gift giving at Christmas.

But, let’s not forget that the real spirit of giving at Christmas is not to just give gifts to people that may be able to return the favor. The real spirit of giving is to share with those who may have nothing to offer in return but a thank you. That is the spirit God sees and rewards. “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).

Celebrate Christmas. Enjoy the special meals, company and gifts. But especially celebrate the gift that lasts for eternity, and that we participate in every time we share with one in need. Merry Christmas!

Warren Baldwin

Thursday

Five Things You Can Do To Build Community

Five Characteristics of Community

Newer subdivisions today often have wide streets with long driveways to the houses. Any family activity is often in the backyard that is cut off from the neighbors by high privacy fences. American’s value their privacy and individuality, and that is reflected in our community development and neighborhood development.

It was different years ago. If you drive through neighborhoods that are fifty or more years old, you will notice that the streets are narrow and the houses are closer to the sidewalk or curb. Many of the homes have front porches, designed for families to sit together and relax during a summer evening. These older neighborhoods were often built within walking distance of grocery stores, schools and churches. The reason is because fifty and sixty years ago most families only had one car, and dad took it to work, so mom and the kids had to walk to where they wanted to.

The very nature of the older neighborhood promoted neighborliness: walking, stopping, talking, listening. People knew the families living next door, across the street, and down the road, because they were always walking around together. Also, because there wasn’t the second car to drive the children to a multitude of activities, or to a friend living thirty minutes away, the children were forced to play, fight, and make up with the annoying kids who lived right next door. Children learned to be good neighbors by virtue of having no other choice but to. Something developed in these older communities, a spirit of neighorhood.

Our wider roads and high fences, along with less walking and more driving, have robbed neighborhoods of neighborliness. Instead of drinking iced tea or coffee on our front porches, visiting with passers-by, and watching our kids walk across the street to play neighborhood ball, we are racing across town, watching a movie, or working our tech device. In the place of community conversation and bonding we now suffer from solitary confinement, and with it, loneliness and isolation. Maybe you feel this way. Is there a way out? Yes.

Randy Frazee, author of The Connecting Church, calls upon Christians to be the force that rebuilds a sense of community and neighborhood through the church. He identifies five characteristics of a neighborhood that we can work to establish for people. The first is spontaneity. Friendly neighborhoods are characterized by children walking to the store and older neighbors yelling greetings. “Hey Marie! Hey Bobby! How’s your mom and dad? Tell them to stop by.” In communities friends linger over fences talking about their children, jobs, and health issues. Such encounters aren’t planned, they just happen due to proximity. Friends are spontaneous with each other.

A second characteristic is availability. We think we have availability due to email and cell phones. Availability years ago meant you could see someone in person, like a neighbor, and they were usually only a stone’s throw a way. Or a short walk. And the encounter was in person. Notice how we don’t have many drop-in visits anymore?


Picture from bryan2012.com

A third characteristic of community is frequency. People spent a lot of time together. Churches that take relationship building seriously often utilize small groups to allow people to get together for an hour or so a week. The early church did that every day, enjoying meals, prayer and conversation (Acts 2). Christians in many less developed countries still get together about that frequently. Frazee says that many of the fees people pay to counselors could be saved if we would simply reach out to other people for intimate conversation and connection.

Sharing common meals is the fourth characteristic of close communities. For families, that means we should be sitting at a table together at least two or three times a week. Sharing food together promotes talking, listening, and love.

Finally, there is geography. Close proximity means we can be spontaneous available to each other for conversation and meals. The immediacy of internet chat rooms gives us the feeling of connection, but the widespread loneliness of Americans suggests it isn’t working. We simply miss those frequent face-to-face encounters. (Pp.118-36).

How can the church help? By being a community to and for people. By creating opportunities for people to sit down, share a drink, tell a story, and get engrossed in the life of another. “Come to me,” Jesus said. Let’s be his voice sounding out that call to lonely people today.

What are some ways the church today can promote the development of these five characteristics of community?

Warren Baldwin

Tuesday

Small Groups and Spiritual Revival

Small Groups and Spiritual Revival

Spiritual growth means to develop into the character of Jesus Christ. It means to care for and do the things he did. To mature spiritually means that you are better able to love the unlovable, forgive  hurts, and give to the needy from your own possessions.

It is no wonder that this process is spoken of as growth or development, because just as our bodies require proper nutrition and exercise for growth, so do our spirits. Physical growth doesn’t just happen; it has to be fed and nurtured. Spiritual growth has to be fed and nurtured, too.

The food for spiritual growth is the gospels, the inspired stories about the life of Jesus Christ. As we read, reflect, and think deeply about the life of Christ, and pray for that message to fill the fiber of our being, we become filled with his thoughts. That is part of the process for spiritual growth. But, it is only part.

A child who eats good food is providing herself the proper nutrition to build strong bones and have a healthy heart. But, she must also exercise. Running and climbing are some of the fun activities of childhood, but they are also important developmental activities, strengthening muscles and developing coordination. Good food is important for growth; activity is important for growth, but neither of them are sufficient alone. They must both be present for a small girl or boy to become a strong and healthy young man or woman.

The same is true of our spiritual life. The gospels, the story of Jesus, is the food for our spirits. It is the nutrition for our soul, the thoughts to think about and make our own. But, where is the exercise? The exercise is in doing what Jesus did. Spiritually, we flex our muscles when we walk in the steps of the savior and love the people he loved, feeding them, forgiving them, restoring them to places of respect and honor in society. We flex our spiritual muscles when we eat with people no one else wants to eat with, having them in our homes, watching their children when they look for work, and becoming their friends.

If you feel uncomfortable being in someone’s presence, if you worry if your friends are going to see you with them, if you wonder if you are going to be judged by others, you are probably with the right person to flex your spiritual muscles.

Philip Jacob Spener started a major revival Germany in the 1600s. That poor nation had been ravaged by a major war lasting for 30 years, much of the fighting done by other countries within her borders. One-third of her population was killed. Orphans numbered in the tens of thousands. Young women sold themselves for a loaf of bread. Untended children became criminals. Spener wept over his beloved nation. But, he did more. He read the gospels and learned about Jesus. He filled his mind with the ministry of Jesus to the poor, the sick, the children, the morally questionable, and the sinners. He wondered, “How can I do for Germany in my day what Jesus did for Israel in his?” Spender gorged himself on the nutrition of Jesus. But, he knew that wasn’t enough; he needed exercise.


Philip Jacob Spener. Both pictures are from wikipedia.

The next thing Spener did was organize members of his congregation into small groups. The purpose of the small groups would be for more than studying the Bible; they would do some of that, but the real emphasis would be upon exercise. The members of the small groups would reach out into the community to actually do the things they learned about Jesus doing. They would provide food for the poor, homes for the homeless, child care for the orphans. Spener’s ministry led to a major revival in Germany, with the development of food programs, orphanages and schools started and led by Christians trying to be like Jesus. Those folks developed some muscle.


A Haugean pietist meeting in Norway, influenced by Spener

Studying the Bible does to our hearts what eating raw carrots does for our bodies. Sharing a meal with a hungry child does to our spirit what running a mile does for the muscles in our legs. It strengthens. Small groups are a vehicle for people to get that exercise.

Spiritual growth is not produced just by reading about Jesus. Spiritual growth is produced by living like Jesus, and being obedient to the mission he gives us in service to others.

Warren Baldwin

Wednesday

The Dark Side of Leadership

The Dark Side of Leadership

Inherent within every leader are personality traits that guide them to success. Parents, teachers, preachers, elders and CEOs all share these positive traits in common. They can’t be avoided. But, they can be identified and used to our maximum advantage.

The first dysfunctional leadership trait is the compulsive personality. The compulsive personality likes order and systematization, leading them to be rigid. They tend to exercise control over all activities within their reach. If these traits aren’t enough to drive their coworkers to frustration, compulsives also tend to be perfectionists. When others don’t measure up to their high standards and exceptional performance, compulsive personalities can get angry and judgmental of others. They can’t understand why other people can’t be as driven to succeed as they are. Obviously, those other people need to be controlled. The positive side of the compulsive personality is that they will get a job done, and it will be done very well. A biblical example of the compulsive personality is Moses, who was both a judge and leader over Israel. It took the intervention of his father-in-law Jethro to relinquish control to other leaders. Compulsives need to recognize God’s control and trust him.

From Forbes.com

The second dysfunctional leadership style is narcissism While outwardly narcissists seem sure of themselves, inwardly they rage with feelings of inadequacy and a hunger for esteem. Their inner sense of dissatisfaction drives them with an intense ambition to succeed, leading them to downplay the accomplishments of others while overemphasizing their own. The narcissist likes to feel important and have the admiration of others. The positive side of the narcissistic personality is that their drivenness to feel good about themselves does help them accomplish many good things, even if it is at the expense of the feelings and good will of others. Solomon is a good example of a narcissistic personality in the Bible, especially seen in the self-promotion of his wealth and achievements in Ecclesiastes 2. Narcissism must be met with the realization that achievement will never satisfy the hunger of inadequacy. Only Christ can do that.

Paranoia is the third leadership trait. Paranoids feel insecure, and are constantly worried about being undermined by others. They overreact to the slightest criticism from even their own followers, fearing it is an effort to undermine their position. This leads them to being distrustful, suspicious and hostile toward others, while being guarded and hypersensitive as a defense mechanism. Because they feel others are out to get them, paranoids keep a close watch on others through a network of spies. Paranoids can use their network of allies to achieve good things, but their constant fear and suspicion often proves to be their own undoing. King Saul had the  support of his loyal follower, David, but his own paranoia undermined the relationship and led to his ultimate failure as a king. Trusting God for one’s reward, and learning to recognize, appreciate, and promote the achievements of others will help diffuse the paranoid spirit.

The fourth leadership style is codependency. Codependents like to please others, have a hard time saying no, and try to ease the pain of others. They work hard to keep peace, and will even take responsibility for the attitudes and actions of other people. Because they like to please, and hate to disappoint others, they have a high tolerance for bizarre behavior from family and friends. This means they can adapt to dysfunctional situations, like an alcoholic home. But, this is also problematic because it indicates codependents have poor boundaries. Because they want to avoid hurting feelings, they also tend to avoid confrontation. They do, however, like to mediate in the disagreements of others, especially if there is a positive outcome. Codependents are always willing to help others. This makes them sound like very nice people, and generally they are. But, they overextend themselves with commitments and helping, causing them to overload and then get angry that other people aren’t doing more. Codependents are good to have on a leadership team to help keep peace and to consider peoples’ feelings. But, they may not be the best leaders to get important things done because they are too busy worrying about what others will think or feel. Codependents need to give up several tendencies: feeling responsible for other people’s feelings and actions, trying to fix others, and keeping the peace. They need to allow other people to be responsible for themselves. Samson is one biblical example of a codependent personality. His inability to say no to his own impulses and his unhealthy relationships with women indicate a man with weak boundaries.

A passive-aggressive tendency of leaders is the fifth and final personality trait. Passive-aggressives resist change, procrastinate, dawdle, are forgetful and inefficient. One reason for this is their fear of failure. Interestingly, they also fear success, because they know that will create a higher level of expectation for their behavior. Passive-aggressives are prone to emotional outbursts, a pessimistic disposition, and complaining. Their coworkers are understandably edgy around them. Passive-aggressives don’t plan for the future, largely because their pessimistic tendencies lead them to think nothing is going to change, anyway. In a group setting, such as church or a business, they will resist putting new plans into effect, will complain that their leaders don’t support them, and they will even sabotage the plans of the group. To overcome their dysfunctional tendencies, passive-aggressives need to commit their emotional turmoil to God, and need to realize that a good plan is better than manipulative and emotional outbursts. The prophet Jonah’s resistance to God’s will for him, followed by remorse at his own success and anger at God, make him a good example of a passive-aggressive in the Bible.

Just reading, or listening to, this discussion of dysfunctional leadership styles is probably enough for most of us to realize which one or two of these categories we fit into. Hopefully, this discussion will alert us, even alarm us, about some of the negative tendencies we might have, but it should not overwhelm us with fear or regret. Everyone of us has both the negative and the positive attributes that go with any of these five leadership styles.

Compulsive and narcissistic personalities are well positioned to get tasks done, but they will start a lot of fires with people along the way. This is where the traits and skills of the codependent personality are valuable to soothe the hurt feelings of those bruised by the compulsives and narcissists. The lofty dreams and high aspirations of the compulsives and narcissists can be kept in check by the paranoids and passive-aggressives, who will see all the reasons why the high goals simply can not be reached. The concerns of the paranoids and passive-aggressives need to be considered because they will be the ones to spot potential problems but, leaders need to be careful to not be mired in their fear and inactivity. While compulsives and narcissists are the people to set and achieve new goals for their church or business, they need to be aware that just as important as the final achievement of the project is the process getting there. Are they developing their people along the way? Are they teaching, nurturing and inspiring capable people in the organization to take over the reins one day? Are they allowing for everyone to use their gifts? Everyone of these personality traits is necessary for the healthy functioning of the organization.


I got much of this information from Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima, Sr. The authors provide a series of questions for readers to answer and identify their leadership style. They also provide a lengthy discussion about how to deal with the dysfunctions in our lives.

Every trait has its set of weaknesses and strengths, so don’t despair. Accentuate your strengths and work with God’s grace to minimize the effects of your weaknesses, and God will bless you with his power for today.

Warren Baldwin
Nov. 2014