Thursday, March 15, 2018

Watch Out for Little Foxes!

Little foxes are so cute you wonder how they can do any damage, yet Solomon warns us that it is the little foxes that spoil the vines:

Catch for us the foxes, 
the little foxes that
ruin the vineyards.
Song of Solomon 2:15, NIV

Some years ago, Robert A. Cook, then president of the National Religious Broadcasters, wrote something that recently caught my attention: "We tend to think of our lives as being shaped by great decisions such as, for example, where shall I study, whom shall I marry, what job shall I have, what house or business property shall I buy, shall I divorce or tough it through an unpleasant marriage, shall I throw my child out because he is on drugs and steals from me, or shall I keep him at home and hope?"

Of course, all of those decisions are very important and will certainly affect the outcome of our lives. But we make hundreds of other decisions in life that turn out to be more important in terms of our life-long direction. Our real character and our final destiny are determined by the routine decisions we make every day of our lives.

Like the "little foxes that ruin the tender grapes," our seemingly insignificant daily decisions can derail even our best intentions. Some things we do without making a conscious choice. For example, we intend to check our email and get hooked playing a game. Precious time is wasted on something of no real lasting value.

We become what we repeatedly do.
--Sean Covey

I remember watching a demonstration of how habits are formed. The presenter wrapped one thread around the clasped hands of another. He easily broke the ties. Then the present wrapped many threads around the clasped hands until the person was no longer able to break the strands. A habit had been formed. Habits may be either good or bad, but they all begin with doing it the first time. Good habits require us to be intentional, whereas we can easily fall into bad habits, which, apart from the grace of God, can be difficult to break.

Here is a checklist to help us evaluate our day-to-day choices:
  • Do I observe small courtesies, such as please, thank you, and what is your opinion? 
  • Do I tell the truth (all of it) in love?
  • Do I take the time to really listen to the other person, whether it be spouse, child, employer, employee, client, neighbor, or friend?
  • Do I let Christ monitor my thoughts and daydreams, or do I allow my mind to become the garbage dump of suppressed emotions, lust, rage, malice, and covetousness?
  • Do I pray every day about everything?
  • Do I really put Christ first in my daily life, or is my dedication a facade which is shown periodically in church?
  • Do I ask for and receive God's help when I am on the verge of losing my temper, or do I go ahead and blow my top regardless of who gets hurt?
  • Do I, in the final analysis, have God and His will on my mind during my workday, or do I take a merely secular approach to living?
  • Do I treat family and coworkers in a manner that demonstrates to them that Christ is real to me in my life?
  • Do I use my money and my job as a ministry and exercise stewardship, or am I only interested in getting and keeping all I can? What do my daily calendar and checkbook say about my actual choices in these matters?

When I was growing up in Sunday school, we used to sing a little chorus that sums it up well:

Dig them out; get them gone; 
all the little bunnies in the field of corn:
jealousy, envy, malice, and pride, 
all the other sins that in the heart abide.

What seems small and unimportant here counts really big for eternity. Are we living with eternity's values in view? What do our daily decisions say about whom we are really serving? Let's get rid of those "little foxes" that spoil the vines.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Flattery or Frankness?

When I hear flattery, I recall a favorite childhood memory of my father entertaining us by dramatically reciting Aesop's fable, "The Fox and the Crow," in French. Even though we didn't speak or understand French, his expressions and hand gestures made us understand every word

A crow who had stolen a piece of cheese was flying toward the top of a tree, where she hoped to enjoy it, when a fox spotted her. The wily fox came up with a plan to get that piece of cheese for his own supper.

The fox sat under the tree and in his most polite tones said, "Good day, Mistress Crow! How well you look today! Your wings are so glossy, and your breast is the breast of an eagle. And your claws--I beg your pardon--your talons are as strong as steel. I have not heard your voice, but I'm certain it must surpass that of any other bird just as your beauty does."

The vain crow believed every word the fox had spoken. She waggled her tail and flapped her wings in pleasure. She especially liked what the fox said about her voice because sometimes she had been told that her caw sounded a bit rusty.

Intending to surprise the fox with her beautiful song, she opened her beak wide. Down dropped the cheese into the clutches of the wily fox. As he walked away, licking his chops, he said to the silly crow, "The next time someone praises your beauty, be sure to hold your tongue."

The moral of this story, of course, is that flatterers are not to be trusted. And that is why, in the long run, frankness is appreciated more than flattery.

The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about flattery:

"In the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery" (Proverbs 28:13, NLT).

"A lying tongue hates its victims, and flattery causes ruin" (Proverbs 26:28, NLT).

"Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy" (Proverbs 27:6, NLT).

Nobody really likes criticism. It can "wound" us and make us angry. We may feel that we are being attacked personally and are being rejected, instead of just our ideas or actions.

Billy Graham was once asked how he handled criticism. He responded to the effect that he handled it the same way he reacted to praise. He evaluated it to extract the truth and ignored the rest.

Initially, flattery makes us feel good, but it can also be our downfall, just as the vain crow discovered.
This humorous fable can help us appreciate constructive criticism and grow by it but become immune to the vanity that flattery can cause.

We must learn to react graciously to criticism and take flattery with a grain of salt. In addition, we need to make sure that our words are always constructive and trustworthy, not full of flattery and deceit. As  Christians, we must learn to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Soaring with Eagles

As a teenager growing up in Seward, Alaska, I lived at the foot of 3,000-foot Mt. Marathon. Every Fourth of July the town hosted a race from the center of town up that mountain and back. People came from all over the world to compete.

Seward, Alaska, at the foot of Mt. Marathon
Several times I too climbed to the top of that mountain. Not in the race, though! My legs ached, and my lungs screamed for air, but what a vista awaited at the top!

Have you ever noticed that towns are not usually built at the top of mountains? I couldn't stay up there and be of any use to anyone else. I had to go back down to my town.

That mountaintop experience, however, gave me a grand perspective of the setting in which I lived. From sea level, I couldn't see all the mountains that unfolded behind Mt. Marathon and all the ice fields and waterways beyond. My town was only a small part of my very big state.

Ephesians 2:6 tells us that God has saved us by His grace and raised us up with Christ to sit with Him in heavenly places. Why? To give us a bird's eye view of His glorious eternal plans for us and all humankind.

But He doesn't want us to stay on the mountaintop yet. He has work for us to do here. He sends us back down from the mountaintop experience to walk among people to show them the great mercy and grace of God.

Many Christians are like chickens, pecking around in the dirt and never using their wings to rise above the storms of life to gain perspective and renewal of strength. God wants His children to soar like eagles.

Soaring is not hard work. Eagles simply set their wings and allow the very winds that bring the storms to carry them along above the fray.

God wants us to soar with Him and see life from His perspective. Only after we have been refreshed by His Holy Spirit can we come down and run life's race without growing weary and walk among people and not faint.

Are you more like a chicken or an eagle? How can you soar with God and be refreshed spiritually today?

To order the following faith-building stories, see