Youth Plants and Builds

Today’s pop culture acts as if youth is the time for indulgence, independence and unbridled pursuit of self-fulfilment. That idea is not only a deadly and useless one, it is a modern notion that defies the time-tested ideas of youth as a vital time to plant and build.

Let me take you back to some concepts of youth from yesteryear. Three thousand years ago King Solomon instructed youth to give special attention to God. The fear of God is something Solomon saw as vitally important for youth.

“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth..” Ecclesiastes 12:1b

Solomon dedicated the book of Proverbs to his son, giving abundant sound advice about the pursuit of wisdom, avoiding fools, keeping away from immorality and so on. The best kind of youth is first established on the fear of God and a desire to go God’s ways and fulfil His plan for our life.

Another concept from yesteryear is that of ‘sowing and reaping’. What you sow is what you reap, according the both Biblical wisdom and human experience.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows is what he will also reap. For he that sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh; but he that sows to the Spirit will reap life everlasting from the Spirit.” Galatians 6:7,8 (Apostle Paul)

“For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorn bushes, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.” Luke 6:44 (Jesus Christ)

Trees take time to grow. What starts out as a small plant becomes, in time, a huge tree or a dense bush. When young people plant things in their life they may not see the consequences for a decade or two. Initially there is no evidence that they will have any bad outcome. But if they have planted thorn bushes and brambles, they cannot expect to harvest figs and grapes. What they sow is what they are going to reap.

So take note of this quote from this important eighteenth century American writer, Thomas Paine. Paine wrote many things that were central to bolstering the revolutionary cause and maintaining commitment during the long and wearing struggle for independence.

“Youth is the seed-time of good habits”, Thomas Paine, ‘Common Sense’ 1791.

Youth is a time to plant. In fact, youth is the time when planting happens, whether the youth realise it or not. They are planting character and sowing seeds for harvests to be enjoyed throughout their lives. Time well spent and choice seeds sown in youth will provide much to draw from in later years.

Another historic reference point for the importance of youth is the idea of building things for the future. A notion which was popularised in Christian homes in recent centuries is that of our life being a house which we build when young and have to live in for the rest of our lives.

Just as a young man growing in frontier territory must learn the needed skills to build his own family home from raw materials, so too, he must learn to build his moral character to be strong and independent of outside influences.

This concept is given attention in Ralph Moody’s stories, “Little Britches” and “Man in the Family”. Moody explains, “My goal in writing is to leave a record of the rural way of life in this century, and to point up the values of that era which I feel that we, as a people, are letting slip away from us.” (Quoted in New York Times Book Review Aug 6, 1967). Consider the following quote from “Little Britches”.

“…you have injured your own character. A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. If he tells lies to be able to do the things he shouldn’t do but wants to, his character will soon become a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”

In Moody’s short story, “I Meet the Sheriff” a lad must act responsibly, or face his father’s accusation that he is “running away from the law and tearing boards off my character house”.

Youth is a time to plant and build, in the fear of God. Wise youth follow God’s instructions, are attentive to what they allow to take root in their hearts and minds, and they discipline themselves to learn the skills required to build strong character, even when the raw materials are hard to come by.

I exhort each young person to consider your creator and live in the light of His searching gaze. Plant wisely and guard against wild seed being sown in the soil of your life. Build wisely and learn the disciplines that empower you to build and re-build again and again.

God bless you as you do.

The Importance of Timing

There is a time for everything. So says Solomon in his supreme wisdom. Yet timing is a lost art for most people, especially in our opportunistic culture today. So, do you understand “times”? There’s a lot in the subject of time and timing. So this is just an introduction to the topic. You will remember that end time prophecies refer to such things as “time, times and half a time” (Daniel 12:7, Revelation 12:14).

Jesus knew the times and said of himself, “my time has not yet come” (John 7:6,8).

Members of one of the twelve tribes of Israel, Issachar, were noted for their ability to understand the times, thus knowing what Israel should do in various situations (1Chronicles 12:32). Knowing the significance of times and seasons enables people to make the right choice at the right time.

King Solomon gave us a poetic celebration of the reality of times and seasons.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

The most sobering reflection on ‘time’ comes out of the life of Elisha, the powerful prophet of Israel, approx 850 years before Christ. After this man of God healed the Syrian leper, Naaman, he declined to accept the lavish and valuable gifts offered him by the grateful military captain. Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, however, had no qualms about getting a share of the goods and so he secretly went to Naaman and asked for some of the booty, which Naaman happily gave him. When Gehazi returned to his post Elisha challenged him, since the prophet knew by divine revelation what Gehazi had done.

Significant in Elisha’s challenge to Gehazi is the issue of ‘timing’.

“And Elisha said to him, Didn’t my heart go with you when the man (Naaman) turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive-yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?” 2Kings 5:26

Elisha knew something about timing that Gehazi did not know. It was not the right time to get wealth. Gehazi’s problem was not greed, nor deception, but ignorance of the time in which he was living.

Now, considering how vital timing is in such a case, how well are we acquainted with timing and seasons in our lives? I suspect that most of us think opportunity is all that is required. If there is an opportunity to get something then the opportunity speaks for itself. Many people end up in some kind of curse, just as Gehazi did, when they act without regard for the times and seasons.

I suggest we all need to be much more prayerful and sensitive to times and seasons. We need to seek God for insight and revelation about how times and seasons impact our lives. Let’s do that and stay in step with what God is doing in us and our community, and the world at large.

The Potency of Kings

Kings have authority and potency. That is why they are called ‘potentates‘. They wield authority over their domain and go to war with other kings to gain or preserve territory and authority.

Kings possess inherent qualities of authority. That authority has been expressed to the degree of the ‘divine right of kings’, which suggests that their superiority is divinely endowed.

King Solomon attested to the potency of kings when he declared…

“Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say to him, What are you doing?” Ecclesiastes 8:4

Where am I going with this? I am not here to tell you that kings have authority. What I want you to see is that people who are doing the will of God have authority that is equal to that of kings. So I’m pointing out that kings have quite some authority. Kings can virtually do as they please, and no-one can challenge them. Yet the same is true of the truly godly who are fulfilling the will of God in their lives.

Now, before you head off to defy authority, let me say again that what makes men equal to kings is that they are about their heavenly father’s business. You will not get to a place where you can defy authority just for the sake of doing your own thing. But if you are God’s man (so to speak), doing what God has called you to do, His way, then you can do business with kings, as an equal.

Let me show you several evidences of this in the Bible.

Abraham rescued the whole city of Sodom when it was captured by invading armies. Following the rescue the King of Sodom came to Abraham to offer him a handsome reward. Abraham flatly refused to take it, saying he did not want it said that Sodom had contributed to his wealth (see Genesis 14:1-24).

Abraham dealt with the King of Sodom, not as a lesser man who relied on the King’s graces, but as a man at least equal to the King, who would act as he so chose. Later Abraham proved to be of a higher authority than the King of Sodom when God allowed Abraham to negotiate for the city, but God did not even consider giving such a privilege to the King of Sodom.

Later we see Abraham doing business with a king of the Philistines. We know of this king as Abimelech, which is a dynastic title, like the title Pharaoh in Egypt. God told Abimelech that Abraham was God’s man and he was not to do him any harm. Abraham had no qualms in rebuking this king when his men stole wells from Abraham.

Rather than being in awe of kings, Abraham knew his own place as God’s servant and that he could go about his own business independently of the rulers of the land.

We later see Moses challenging Egypt’s Pharaoh with the same disregard for that king’s earthly authority. Moses had been sent by God and so he acted as an equal, or even a better than Pharaoh, going boldly into his presence to do business with him.

Yet again, even in the trial of Jesus Christ by Pilate, the delegated Roman ruler of Palestine at that time, Jesus declared that the only authority Pilate had over him was what God allowed.

“Jesus answered, You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above: therefore he that delivered me to you has the greater sin.” John 19:11

As you grow in your godly authority be aware that the time may come when you will stand before kings, not as a menial whom they wish to deal with as they will, but as an equal, or indeed even as one who has power over them. This is as it has always been.

Do not despise the authority of kings, for it represents the authority you may one day have as you pursue God’s purposes in your generation.

The School Bully

Imagine settling into a new school and being accosted by a school bully who demands that you pay him money each week. You survive the meeting and then ask others what the story is with this bully.

You find out that everyone is paying money to the bully. You find that the teachers have no plan to stop the bully’s activities. You also find that the bully isn’t regarded as a bully, but just part of normal life at the school.

It turns out that the “bully”, as you call him, has had his place passed to him through generations of bullies. Payment of the bully levy is a tradition that goes back as far as anyone can remember. School teachers rely on the bully to help them maintain order in the school, even though they know he has self-interest as well. They see the arrangement as both normal and appropriate.

When you decide to stand up to the bully everyone looks at you in horror. You are urged to stop your bizarre behaviour and to just get used to the way things are. The whole social order is built on the status quo. Would-be bullies are competing with each other for the honour of displacing the incumbent. The more offended victims have their support groups. A code of penalties has been defined and each new student is briefed in the mechanisms of the school-yard order.

Most alarming in this whole situation is that anyone who stands up to the perverse system is confronted on all sides. You encounter apathy or antagonism from those who should support you; despisement and oppression from the bully system that seeks to rule you; and abandonment from the authority figures who should have stopped this situation long ago.

Now, that’s just a fanciful scenario. But it is an allegory for situations which occur around the world.

At Sydney University in the early 1970’s, for example, I confronted compulsory Student Union membership. The Student Union engaged in many activities which offended my personal values and which I would never engage in. I saw no reason why I should be forced to pay anything to what seemed like a group of self-indulgent people who used their position to peddle their own ideology and morality. However, that was the system. There was no changing it, so it seemed. Thankfully, in subsequent years compulsory student unionism was abandoned.

The same situation may be seen in workplaces where a strong union presence imposes compulsory union membership on anyone who wants to work there.

Yet again, in some cultures the police force is corrupt and imposes various unwarranted penalties on people. I was once pulled over by a traffic policeman who was not interested in giving me a genuine penalty, but sought some “coffee money” from me.

Totalitarian regimes impose this “school-yard bully” system at a national level. Various limitations are imposed on their constituents, which people are powerless to object to.

I am not saying in all this that forced subscriptions are necessarily evil, or that unions, police forces or governments are suspect. I simply use these examples to illustrate a point. I am drawing your attention to the fact that some situations are actually oppressive and out of order.

Now, the correct way to deal with such situations, if it is possible, is to take the matter to higher and higher authorities, until someone resolves what is out of order, putting it right. In many situations even the judiciary is compromised or intimidated and true justice is denied the citizenry. In those situations the only court in which effective appeal can be made is before the throne of God.

Reading the book of Ecclesiastes recently I noted Solomon’s awareness that God is the true Sovereign in all of life’s situations. While men will oppress others and ply their evil agendas, those who trust in God and are not overcome by the evil of others, have the best outcome.

Being consumed in rage at the system means you have been overcome by evil. Making it your life passion to right the wrong system may also be a sign that you have been overcome by evil. You were not created to be moved by your enraged sensibilities, but to fulfil God’s plan for your life. If He calls you to deal with the system in some way, then you will have to do it. But that won’t be for self-gratification or to get even for wrongs experienced, or any other personal agenda. You will be most effective when you can be dispassionate and focus your affections on Him and His glory, rather than being moved along by personal arousal.

School-yard bullies exist in many contexts. You may be called at some point to do something about it. But if you are, it will be God’s call, not yours. The methods and all that is part of the process will be at God’s behest, not your own direction. If you engage in the process with that kind of spirit you will be a worthy instrument in God’s hands to see His Kingdom come and His will done on earth as it is in Heaven.