Righteousness as a Compass

29 Jun

CompassYou can check out the live version here.

Last week we looked at a fool’s life. The fool thinks he’s right and doesn’t listen to anyone around him. He’s immediately known when things don’t go his way because his anger betrays him. Even if he can control himself, his words readily identify him as a fool. Don’t be a liar, tell the truth and that truth comes from God because His Word is truth. This morning, Solomon continues providing direction for our lives.

Pro. 12:23-28 says, A prudent man conceals knowledge, But the heart of fools proclaims folly. The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor. Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad. The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. A lazy man does not roast his prey, but the precious possession of a man is diligence. In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”

Solomon kicks this passage off with an opening salvo of some pretty common sense type stuff. Just because you know something doesn’t mean you are obligated to share that knowledge with every breathing human you come in to contact with. “A prudent man conceals knowledge.” That doesn’t mean cover up or deceit. It means just because you know something, you don’t have to share it. If you have the knowledge and wisdom, it’s okay to wait to be asked. I can admit that I have a problem doing this. I have spent a lifetime filling my brain with great and wonderful things that I want to share with you. It’s best to wait for that knowledge to be sought than it is to go around telling everyone what you know. One the other hand, “But the heart of the fool proclaims folly.” This principle applies if you’re in a seminar, conference, small groups, classroom, or meeting. When I read this verse, my mind is drawn to Bible study. Kay Arthur has said that Bible study often becomes an arena where we share our common ignorance. There is a time in Bible study to share what people think, but that comes after a thorough examination of the Scriptures. Have you ever sat in a classroom and the teacher says, today we’re going to look at nuclear fission. What do you think about that? What does that mean to you? Of course not, that’s not how it works. Too many people think things that are contrary to Scripture because they didn’t take the time to consult what it says. That’s what the fool does. He says what he thinks without any careful consideration. We established last week that you can’t trust your heart of stone. What’s really sad is that the fool doesn’t know he’s being a fool and won’t listen to the wisdom of others. In Eccl. 10:3 Solomon said, “Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool.” Everyone else knows it.

A principle that is lacking is found next when Solomon says, “The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor.” The idea is that we should be diligent in all aspects of our lives. That diligence applies to our relationships, our studies if we’re in school, our jobs, and our walk of faith and everything that entails. What reputation do you have when it comes to your life? Have you ever heard the saying your reputation precedes you? You will become known by who you actually are rather than what you want to become. If you’re not willing to put forth the effort required in whatever you choose to do, you will end up answering to those that are diligent. This is another indictment on lazy people. We’re not talking a lazy day, but a lifestyle of laziness.

While laziness might plague some folks, the next one is going to resonate with many.“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down.” Wow is there truth in that. One of the hardest things I do on a regular basis is care for people that don’t care. How can you minister to people that do not want to be ministered to? How can you shepherd people that don’t want a shepherd? How can you teach to people that do not want to be taught? How can you encourage people that want to remain discouraged? The short answer is you can’t. For me, the most difficult thing to determine is when to follow the words of Jesus, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.” (Matt. 10:14) That doesn’t mean you pretend they’re dead, but you give them over to the Holy Spirit. Understand the ground with which you’re working. Notice Solomon is not declaring anxiety to be wrong, misguided or sinful. Anxiety is an emotion and as with other emotions, they are given by God. Solomon doesn’t leave you hanging, but gives you the cure. “A good word makes it glad.” You are often afforded the opportunity to employ this principle. Someone comes to you with something that is weighing that person down or you’re weighed down. Remember v. 18 says, “The tongue of the wise brings healing.” This healing is found in God and His Word. “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.” (Ps. 94:19) The reminders of Scripture about who God is provide the hope for us to trust in Him.

In Matt. 11:28-30, Jesus gave us this very powerful metaphor: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” This yoke gives us the picture of being physically connected to Christ. The metaphor stems from the practice of training young oxen to work the fields. A training yoke was placed on them and they worked alongside the older more experienced oxen. They were physically connected. Where the more experienced older ox went, so did the ox in training. Too often we try to plow the fields of life alone, but we were never ordained to be alone. We are never called upon to go it by ourselves. We are never faced with aloneness or isolation because Jesus is physically connected to us. The idea Jesus is presenting is that we learn from Him because we are tied to Him. We are connected to Him. He shares in our triumphs, our joys, and our celebrations, and He also shares in our pain, suffering, and trials. We sometimes forget that. In your darkest hour, He is the Light. In your moment of greatest need, He is there.

Good fences may make good neighbors, but in v. 26 Solomon gives us a better principle. “The righteous is a guide to his neighbor.” This is consistent with other verses. There is no stopping the righteous man because he is following Christ. The righteous are righteous because of Christ and that always comes out. It should be evident in our day to day lives and other people will recognize it in you. It’s awesome to be righteous because of the righteousness of Christ. It’s even more awesome when we use that righteousness as a tool to show other people Jesus. In direct opposition to the righteousness of Christ, “But the way of the wicked leads them astray.” The wicked continue doing wicked things. They are of no help to someone seeking truth, seeking righteousness, seeking the things in life Christ wants us to experience. “Lead them astray” literally means cause to wander. This is intentional. I’m not talking about someone who had pure motives, but ends up giving wrong or bad guidance. I’m certain I have done that. The wicked are intentional about their wickedness. They are on the path of destruction and will take anyone foolish enough to go with them. We combat this with the righteousness of Christ.

Another character trait Solomon seems to hammer is that of laziness. “A lazy man does not roast his prey.” The exact meaning of roast is difficult to determine, but the principle seems clear. This guy is so lazy that if he does hunt, he doesn’t want to take the time to cook what he caught. “But the precious possession of a man is diligence.” I find it interesting that people place so much value on things that really don’t matter. To Solomon, this character trait matters. Of diligence, he says it’s precious – it is something of great value. Diligence is careful and persistent work or effort. It’s used numerous times in Scripture and we’ve seen it several times in Proverbs. Isaiah cried out, “At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently.” (Is. 26:9) Paul said, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15) This is a work ethic. It is a way of life. I’ve often heard people say very positively about others, “He’s a hard worker.” It’s a complement. Who wants to be characterized as lazy? Laziness is still generally considered an unacceptable character trait.

Solomon brings it home by saying, “In the way of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” We look forward to many things in this life: births, marriages, graduations, anniversaries, retirement, Christmas. As Christians, we look forward to eternity. There is no real death because the end of our physical life allows us to pass through the gates of eternity to enjoy face time with God and His only Son. That’s the path of righteousness. That’s the way of righteousness. It is the way of Jesus.

When we act like Christ and talk like Christ, there are people that will be drawn to us and people that will be opposed to us. As a passionate follower of Christ, some people will throw you in the same category as every so-called Christian that they think act hypocritically, unkindly, unloving, ungodly or whatever else to use as justification to hate us that could cause anxiousness within us. We face the same pressures of life others face and that could bring anxiousness. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7) Give due diligence to your walk of faith. Before I go out and try and fix everyone else, I need to make sure I am walking with Christ every moment of everyday. When we passionately live for Christ, people may not like us or approve of us, but we can rest easy knowing that we are in the center of God’s will.

A Fool’s Life

22 Jun

FoolYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon gave us some great patterns contrasting the wicked to the righteous. The wicked have hidden agendas and motives. The behavior exhibited by the righteous and the wicked provides evidence of what’s in the heart. Righteous men want what is good and the wicked want what is evil. This morning, Solomon hits the fool squarely in the face

I hope you’ll take the time to look up and read Pro. 12:15-22. It’ll help set the context for what you’ll read.

Solomon begins with the understatement of understatements. When you think about this first verse, you immediate think of someone in your past or someone that currently gives you fits. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” This is so true. You know it because you’ve dealt with people like this. What keeps this guy from becoming wise? He think he’s right about everything. He doesn’t ask anyone for advice, doesn’t research anything, thinks he knows more than Google, fails exams and concludes the teacher doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t think he’s right or have a hunch he’s right – he’s confident he’s right and it doesn’t matter what anyone says because he’s not asking. He determines the path that is right and it can have very broad applications. So how are the fool and the wise different? “But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” The wise person knows and understands he doesn’t know everything. He knows he can learn from someone else. He’s not afraid to ask for help or guidance or advice and he’s selective about who he asks. It can be incredibly frustrating when these two types of people get together in a meeting or collaborate on a project. The fool typically just begins something. The wise person wants to chat about it, wants to brainstorm, wants input from others, wants to evaluate past successes and failures, wants to consider people’s strengths and weaknesses. The fool says, “That’s a waste of time, I’m doing _______.” The fool determines he’s right, the wise seeks the guidance of others to ensure the best decision is made. Obviously, the application for this is very broad. As I have said, we can be foolish from time to time or we can make a foolish decision. But those are, or should be, single points in time and are not how our life is characterized

Be sure the truth will find you out. It’s tough to keep who you really are under wraps. It takes a lot of effort to pretend or play a role. The wise man has the ability to control himself and does, but the fool lacks this character trait. “A fool’s anger is known at once, but a prudent man conceals dishonor.” When the fool gets angry, regardless of the reason, everyone else knows it. The fool’s anger controls him – he is the ranter, he is the one that flies off the handle, he is the one that others will be embarrassed for him. Does anger have a place in the life of a Christian? The wisest answer is, it depends. People will quickly be reminded of Jesus in the temple driving out people with whips and overturning tables and use that as justification to be angry. Eph. 4:26 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin.” There are some circumstances in which anger is an acceptable emotion, but we should be slow to anger as James says in 1:19 of his book because, “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Anger is an emotion and emotion comes from God

There are things in this world that will, and should anger us, but the difference is that anger does not control the wise man. Think about the times we get angry. Our kids don’t listen or don’t perform as we think they should. We get slow service in the restaurant or the fast food place gets our order wrong. A friend doesn’t text or message back. We don’t get that promotion. Our car breaks down or our house needs to be repaired. We drop our cell phone or tablet and the screen shatters. Our internet runs slow or the cable goes out. Someone in church doesn’t speak to us. The pastor says something in a message and we think he’s talking about us

In the famous temple scene where Jesus used a whip and overturned tables, He wasn’t angry for the reason we think. When you study the passage in context, Jesus says, It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robber’s den.” “It is written” refers back to Is. 56:7. Isaiah is sharing the vision of foreigners and outcasts joining themselves to the Lord and ministering to Him, and serving Him at His house. As Jesus approached the temple, He saw the court of the Gentiles overrun with merchants that had set up tables to buy and sell. Yes, there was price gouging and improper business practices, but that was only part of the issue. There was literally no room for the foreigners and outcasts to get to God in the temple. “The mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised about the hills; and all the nations will stream to it.” (Is. 2:2) The ultimate place of worship at the time – a place where God’s people could meet with God – had been turned into an outdoor shopping mall and the religious leaders of the day let it happen. Jesus was angry because what He saw was not the worship that Isaiah saw and He had enough.

That’s hardly the same as us blasting the clerk because the gas pump won’t start. At some point, the pretending will stop and the real you will come out. I have done and said things in my Christian walk that I am ashamed of, embarrassed at, and horrified by. I can honestly say those times are getting fewer and farther between. Things that used to bother me don’t bother me any longer and there are things that I never thought of that are at the forefront of my mind. I am growing, and learning, and being transformed by Christ – present tense – into what He wants me to be. I wanted to spend time here because I am increasingly concerned with Christians that dismiss their behavior or the behavior of other Christians because they use an overall justification model called “I have an anger problem.” I made that model up. I don’t find anger problems in Scripture. We don’t accept when someone lies to us and says I have a truth problem. We don’t accept when someone steals from us and says I have a theft problem. We don’t accept when someone spreads rumors about us and says I have a gossiping problem. We need to accept responsibility for our ungodly behavior and take the steps necessary to restore fellowship with God and one another. I am also growing weary of Christians that have a falling out and do nothing to reconcile with one another.

What Solomon says about behavior moves to the spoken word. Let me read the remainder of our verses today because the theme is the same. (Read 17-22). Let me hit the highlights of what Solomon writes. “He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness is deceit.” This not a shocker and we need to make sure we use love when speaking the truth (Eph. 4:15). The truth can hurt, but when it is bathed in love, the resulting sting is eased. Remember when you’re told what is right, best, better, wise, or smart and you refuse to listen, Solomon says you’re stupid. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the people that are so easily offended these days are often the most offensive and hard headed people around. Thinking back to Pro. 6:19, a false witness that speaks lies is on the list of seven things the Lord hates. “A false witness, deceit.” Plain and simple and in direct contrast to the truth speaker. “Rashly” in verse 18 means acting or behaving without careful consideration. When you don’t consider your words, they become weapons that pierce to the core. Think about it this way, in the hands of the wrong person, a scalpel can become an instrument of destruction or death, but in the hands of a skilled surgeon, that same scalpel can facilitate the removal of disease, repair broken bones, ease pain and suffering and leave little evidence behind. The words of the wise edify, lift up, and encourage. When in the right hands, they can also bring healing. “Truthful lips will be established forever.” Truth is truth. It is not relative, it is not changing, it is not dependent upon the source. If truth is spoken, it remains the truth regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the people involved, regardless of any variables encountered. Even though we are in the world with all its changing values and standards, we are not of the world. Jesus set the standard in Jo. 17:17 for truth as He was praying to His father, “Your Word is truth.” Since God is unchanging, it makes sense that His Word is also unchanging.

“But a lying tongue is only for a moment.” Those liars out there or those that tell lies, it’s only fleeting because the truth always comes out. Typically, all you have to do to find out if someone is lying is continue talking to them. The seat of deceit is the heart. You hear people today saying things like trust your heart or follow your heart to find the course of action or direction you should take. Jeremiah the prophet reminds us that, The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Your heart will lie to you because that’s where deceit finds its home. So we need a new heart. Ez. 36:26 says, Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” You can be new in your heart, your thoughts, and your actions. Jesus can make a whole new you if you’ll only let Him. One final thought. You’re probably going to have trouble with v. 21 when Solomon says, “No harm befalls the righteous.” Righteous people are harmed all the time: car accidents, they fall victim to crime, they get sick, their kids rebel, they have challenging relationships, and they suffer persecution. Is that what Solomon is talking about? Your first thought might be people that suffer from these kinds of harm aren’t righteous. We know from Rom. 5 that God allows trials to build our perseverance which leads to proven character which leads to hope. Solomon is saying that even when harm comes, whether it be in the form of suffering, persecution, sickness or whatever, that those troubles allowed by God will not cause us to lose hope. Our focus is on God. We are God centered. We understand that God works in us and through us to bring glory to Him.

The fool’s life is not a life we should envy. If people look at you and conclude you are a fool, step back and ask yourself why. Do you think you’re always right and don’t want to listen to guidance. Are you prone to anger? Do you words bear witness that you are a child of the King?

Thoughts Lead to Deeds

15 Jun

ThoughtsYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon reminded us that we should be on a lifelong journey in our pursuit to know Christ. Our learning never ends and he said we should be loving instruction. We don’t dismiss instructions from people that are godlier than we are, that are more experienced than we are, that are more like Christ than we are. This morning, we’ll discover additional characteristics of the righteous and the wicked and look at the speech of each.

I encourage you to take the time and read Pro. 12:5-14 so you understand where Solomon is coming from.

Verses 5-7 contain the familiar patter we’ve seen Solomon use before. He speaks of the righteous, wicked, wicked, righteous, wicked, and righteous. “The thoughts of the righteous are just.” You know this because he said it in 11:23. In Ps. 119:15 David said, “I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways.” That’s a good principle to live by. If you’ve ever wondered how to clear your mind, this is one way to do it. For many of us, if we could get a handle on our thoughts, we’d be free from many of the issues that seem to plague us. An issue marinates in our mind and it grows because we continue to think about it. Oftentimes, there is a small issue, but is allowed to grow big and strong and it festers. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8) The thoughts of the righteous, those that belong to Christ, are just and fair. The righteous give the benefit of the doubt. Don’t you just hate it when someone thinks the worst of you? That’s something that the wicked do. “But the counsels of the wicked are deceitful. The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood.” Notice in the previous verse, Solomon talked about thoughts and now those thoughts give way to words. I cannot emphasize strongly enough just how important our words are. The wicked are deceitful; there are often hidden agendas or motives. What you see or hear may not be what you get. The words of the wicked are full of lies, slander, false accusations, and half-truths which put people’s lives in danger. In a practical application, I think of the false teaching out there about who God is. God is love and patience and all the things that go along with the idea that God approves of all people and it doesn’t matter how one thinks or acts because God is love. People that have no idea who God really is are defining who God is and other people are being led astray. People are acting wickedly and may not even know it. I think Solomon is talking more along the lines of people that do know what they’re doing and are intentional about it.

“But the mouth of the upright will deliver them. The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand.” Our speech should define who we belong to. As I have often said, it is a primary indicator of who has our heart. Our words should reflect the love of Christ in all circumstances. Our speech often denies who we belong to and is a primary indicator of our relationship with Christ. We should take the advice of James and be quick to hear and slow to speak, and slow to anger. (Ja. 1:19) Even though the wicked may prosper in the short run, or at least seem to prosper, they will be overthrown and will be no more. The house of the righteous will stand because it’s built on the foundation that is Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s righteous.

Solomon now addresses the area of respect. I would venture that most people would like to be respected. We want to be treated and spoken to respectfully. What’s funny is that even when we don’t treat people respectfully, we still want the respect we believe we deserve. “A man will be praised according to his insight.” Praised means approval or admiration. Insight means understanding. Insight can also be translated – you guessed it – wisdom. This is a guy that lives by wisdom; that provides practical evidence of a life that is guided by wisdom. This is a smart guy, well mannered, stately, honorable, and all the other adjectives you can come up with for a man held in high regard because of who has his heart rather than any office or position of authority he might hold. Listen to how David is described: “So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered; and Saul set him over the men of war. And it was pleasing in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.” (1 Sam. 18:5) This is a man that is recognized and appreciated because of the wisdom that exudes from his being. David wasn’t just pleasing to his friends; he was pleasing to all the people – the common folk and to the servants. It says a lot about a man when the servants have high regard for you. To put it in a modern context, think of the supervisor employee relationships. David was a man of honor and integrity. Instead of being respected, “But one of perverse mind will be despised.”  Perverse here means a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave badly. We are living in a day according to Is. 5:20 where evil is being called good and good is being called evil, but there still remains behavior that is generally viewed as acceptable or generally viewed as wrong.

Solomon now provides us with a series of one liners. “Better is he who is lightly esteemed and has a servant than he who honors himself and lacks bread.” This is an interesting collection of words so let me rephrase it. It’s better to work hard, be considered average and have someone to help you around the house than it is to pretend you’re something you are not and have nothing to eat. Another way to say it is it’s better to be unknown and be able to afford a servant than it is to pretend to be rich, but can’t even eat. “A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.” This is for all the animal lovers out there. Animals were an important part of life back in Solomon’s day. They provided the power to work the land, to make flour from grain, to mill corn, provide milk, provide transportation as well as a number of other uses. The righteous man recognizes their importance and takes care of the animals to make sure they have what they need not just to survive, but to prosper. On the other hand, the compassion of the wicked is cruel. Even when they are trying to emulate some good qualities, they fall short.

“He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.” If you work your land, you’ll always have food to eat. This applies even if you’re not a farmer. If you’re willing to work hard, you’ll have food to eat. Pursue worthless things is also translated chase fantasies. All kinds of things are coming to mind. I’m sure people back in the day made fun of people like Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Wright brothers. There is a difference between having a vision and being visionary. Chasing a fantasy is telling the judges that you can sing when you can’t carry a tune in a bucket. “The wicked man desires the booty of evil men, but the root of the righteous yields fruit.” Wicked people want what other wicked people have. Pirates steal from other pirates. Drug dealers steal from other drug dealers. The righteous are planted in good soil rooted in Jesus Christ. When you’re a healthy plant rooted in good soil, you can’t help but produce fruit.

The next ten verses or so deal specifically with the speech of the wicked and the speech of the righteous. “An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips, but the righteous will escape from trouble.” Proverbs has a lot to say about getting trapped. We saw this first back in 6:2 and in context Solomon was talking about debt – making promises to repay what could not be repaid. Now he’s talking about talking too much. It could be slanderous speech, gossip, speaking out of turn, or having an opinion about anything and everything and then making sure everyone knows that opinion. We see that on Facebook all the time. Matthew Henry refers to this as cutting one’s own throat with his tongue. Ps. 34:19 says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” The righteous are delivered by the wisdom of their speech and that wisdom comes from God. “A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, and the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him.” Sticks and stones the saying goes, but I think that’s way off the mark. We cannot overestimate the power of words. With our words we have the power to edify or tear down. The power to lift up or lash out. The power to encourage or the power to deflate. The tongue is just like the rudder that controls the direction of a ship: even though it’s very small, it can change the course of that big vessel pretty quickly. Think of a time you used words that picked someone up, that encouraged them, that gave them the hope they needed to go on, or the words you used to help them resolve some conflict. The righteous man uses his words for good and is deeply satisfied. When you work for the Lord, the Lord will reward you, but that’s not why we serve Him. All the good you do for the Kingdom is doing something. Keep working and allow God to work things out. The good you do for the Kingdom does not go unnoticed.

Thoughts often lead to deeds. When you can control your thoughts, life is easier. There are always challenges, but God gives you what you need to be an over comer when you need it. Don’t waste your time chasing fantasies. The righteous continue to do what is righteous and the wicked continue to do what is wicked. Use your words to encourage and edify rather than tear down.

Lifelong Learning

8 Jun

LearningYou can check out the podcast Lifelong Learning.

Last week Solomon reminded us of the folly in trusting in the world’s riches and we found out that when we think globally about our finances, we are rich. He referred to the troubler in the house that will have no inheritance. We also saw the wonderful reminder of just how far reaching the impact of a righteous person is – both to his household and the community. This morning, we’ll see some familiar principles that just make plain sense.

In our passage today Solomon writes, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. A good man will obtain favor from the Lord, but He will condemn a man who devises evil. A man will not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will not be moved. An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who shames him is like rottenness in his bones.” (Pro. 12:1-4)

Education is a lifelong pursuit. In America, we have systems in place to ensure our children are educated with the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Education is so important, there are laws that require parents to have their kids in school. Our government funds public school through taxes in order to educate our kids. Other countries in the world are not so fortunate – the mid-central area of Africa is the world’s worst for education. Research shows that kids who are not educated are at a higher risk for substance abuse, gang activity, and criminal activity. Kids who aren’t educated are also, “more likely to have health issues, experience mental health disorders, and be incarcerated. Why the background? To help us understand the practical application of what Solomon says here. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.” The word translated discipline means instruction. Rom. 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Everything in Scripture is valuable. It is through the Scriptures that we get to know God better; that we get to know Christ better and understand how the Holy Spirit functions in conjunction with the Father and the Son.

A hunger for God’s Word can be developed and I am an example of that. In the beginning of my walk with Christ, no one that I can remember told me I needed to study God’s Word. Maybe someone did, but I didn’t get it. That’s just one reason why it is so important to have godly people in your life. We have these mentor type of people in nearly every facet of life including school, sports, clubs, and jobs. For some reason, in our walk of faith which is the most import aspect of life we will ever engage in, we prefer to go it alone, to figure it out by ourselves, to neglect it, to dismiss the importance of our faith, or be content with where we are. If our faith were like our other endeavors, we’d be sent back a grade, benched, kicked out of the club, or fired. Why do I keep coming back to the same thing? Because we’re not identifying who our enemy is. We think it’s other people, parents, teachers, bosses and the real enemy prowls around looking for people to destroy. When we deemphasize the importance of the written Word, we fall neatly into his trap. I was unknowingly trapped by Satan until I finally figured out what God was trying to tell me. I sometimes wonder how long He had been telling me and if others around me had told me the same thing, would I have gotten it sooner? It doesn’t matter because I can’t get that time back. What’s important is that you learn from my mistake and don’t repeat what I did. In this area, God’s desire is the same for all of us. You don’t have to be a vocational pastor or engage in vocational ministry to benefit from the principles of Scripture – they are for all people! 1 Pet. 2:2, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Matt. 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Solomon is telling us that we should have an attitude that expresses a longing, a deep desire to get into the Word. Think of the moment in time when you were physically more hungry or thirsty than you had even been. All you could think about was food. You couldn’t wait to get that meal. That is the natural, physical desire for nourishment; the exact same desire we should have for the spiritual nourishment that sustains us in our walk of faith.

In direct opposition to this Solomon says, “But he who hates reproof is stupid.” Anyone that can have their mistakes corrected, that can broaden their horizons, can learn the better or best way, the right way, the wisest way and yet refuses to learn these things is stupid. Hey Solomon, tell us what you really think. Stupid means lacking intelligence or common sense. Think about how you may have attempted to instruct someone and they refused to listen to you. Think of the person that attempts to put together that toy or piece of furniture, or hang that ceiling fan, but won’t look at the instructions. Think of the person that attempts to repair to a car and there are pieces left over. You try to correct it and they get all bent out and refuse to listen. They’re stupid. Come on, you might be thinking, that’s different. Let me put it in Solomon’s context. I think of all the people that I have had dealings with in a ministry or Bible context that refuse the instructions found in Scripture. They have less experience, less knowledge, less education, less time on this earth, less everything associated with walking by faith, but will not listen to good, solid, biblical guidance. They’re stupid. Harsh you say? Look at the stakes involved. A broken car versus eternity. Overly dramatic? That’s part of Satan’s plan to downplay the importance of walking a life of passionate authenticity for Christ. It does matter what and how we think and it matters what our life looks like.

This segues nicely into the next principle. Solomon then says, “A good man will obtain favor from the Lord.” Don’t confuse this with earning salvation. A good man here is someone that remains good no matter the circumstances. His thoughts are good; his heart is pure; he is in tune with God. The world may be against him, but he remains steadfast in God’s arms. This is the glass half full person, this is the silver lining person, this is the person that continues to keep the mission of this life at the forefront of his mind. Our walk of faith takes no breaks, there is no vacation, there are no off days. The good man seeks to passionately follow Christ all the time, but He will condemn a man who devises evil.”   It’s a straight forward contrast with no deep, hidden meaning. This person cannot be good because he is plotting and planning what is not godly. “A man will not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will not be moved.” This is a neat and tidy restatement of the previous verse. The root of any goodness we have is God. In order to grow big and strong for God, we must be planted in good, fertile soil. We are mighty because of God. He infuses Himself in us. Regardless of how strong the wind blows, we are held firmly by the roots that are planted in God and in His Word.

Here’s another vivid word picture. “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband.” Who wears crowns? Royalty wear crowns and this presents us with the idea that men are the kings of their castle. So what is an excellent wife? Every man in here has an idea of what an excellent wife might look and act like. To save us from ourselves, let’s make sure we define excellence from God’s perspective. Excellent here means extremely good or outstanding. That probably comes as no surprise to you. It also means virtuous. Virtuous means having high moral standards. Remember the morally ugly woman of 11:22? The excellent woman is not morally ugly. Ruth is one of the most wonderful pictures of godliness in Scripture. She is called a woman of excellence in Ruth 3:11. This woman of virtue is not just loving, godly, and morally pure, she is a crown to her husband. This is symbolic of the crown or wreath that grooms often wore at their wedding. The woman of virtue finishes off the man. The opposite is also true. “But she who shames him is like rottenness in his bones.”   Shame here means act shamefully. That’s any type of behavior that could be shameful. Gossip, short tempered, arrogant, conceited, immoral, lazy, etc. Before you women get all antsy on me and call me a caveman and a chauvinist, there are abundant principles regarding the behavior of godly women in Scripture. I am not in favor of restricting the vote of women, or not allowing women to walk alone in public, have a job, drive, or any of those things that we might define as antiquated. Let me be clear, while Scripture calls women the weaker vessel, that does not mean women are not as smart, not as valuable, not as wise, not as knowledgeable, etc. as men. That’s not Solomon’s point here. He is simply saying that a wonderful, godly woman is like putting a crown on her husband’s head. Our wives can and often make us as men look very good. Our wives are often called our better half. When that half causes shame in our lives, it’s like a rottenness that destroys from the inside out.

Part of the lifelong learning we pursue, is a change in our behavior to mimic Christ. He transforms us to look more and more like Him. All of us can change. We should all desire to change to become more and more like Christ.

Household Troubles

1 Jun

TroubleYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last time we were together, Solomon provided some vivid word pictures about beauty. It is far more important to have the inner beauty of God than external beauty. We learned that the desire of godly people is only good. Godly people rejoice in the good fortune of others. We also saw the comparison of the greedy to the giving. This morning, we’ll continue down the road of generosity and riches to see where it takes us.

Pro. 11:28-31 says, “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf. He who troubles his own house will inherit wind, and the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls. If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!”

This is a beautiful segue from our last message. Solomon compared greedy to generous and he reminds us, “He who trusts in riches will fall.” (Pro. 11:28) Rich is a relative term that we typically associate with the ultra-wealthy. According to the Social Security Administration, the average income of an American is about $44,000 a year. That seemed a bit high, so I lowered the income to $25,000 a year and checked globalrichlist.com to determine what rich is on a global scale. If you make $25,000 a year, you are in the top 2% of the richest people in the world. The point is that riches are fleeting; they can disappear in an instant. People that brag about how much money they have are in a dangerous place. In 1 Tim. 6:17 Paul said, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies  us with all things to enjoy.” If you’re hope is in your job, your investments, your 401k, or any other financial type account, at some point, you’ll find yourself lacking. Of course it’s nice to have money, but that’s not where our hope lies. In this congregation, I doubt anyone is putting their hope of eternity in their finances. For the most part, I know you, I know your families, I know where you live, and what you do for a living. While this idea may not apply to anyone here, you probably cross paths with people that have this type of thinking. It’s always about the money. It seems like every conversation you have with them is about money. They tell you how much everything costs or what things are worth. They track the rise and fall of the stock market, they want their kids to have the best education so they have the best job. Maybe they talk about retiring at 40 or 50. Life is more than money.

Think of the hope you can offer someone that is hung up on money, but that doesn’t mean the conversation will be an easy one. Jesus said, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24) All the financial and material blessings you have on this earth will be left behind. The idea is the rich may not see a need for Jesus because they have what this world offers. When you stand before the Lord, riches will fail you. “But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.” Maybe you’ve heard this type of analogy before. In John 15:5 Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Ps. 1:3, “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” Righteousness causes us to flourish. Flourish means to develop in a healthy or vigorous manner. When riches fail, righteousness remains. No one can take that away because we are grafted into Christ and the more we grow, the more we look like Jesus.

What looks like a shift in topics is not. Solomon speaks of the household. “He who troubles his own house will inherit wind, and the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.” These represent extremes in the home. There are a couple of different schools of thought on this verse. When you take the whole passage as one, which is the most accurate way to do it, you get the idea that there is a person that causes trouble in the house. You might quickly conclude that person is a child. I don’t really think Solomon is talking about children because there are other parts of Proverbs that we have seen already that deal with kids and there are others that we will see later that talk about kids. It seems that Solomon is talking about mismanagement in the home. Solomon is talking about the head of the household that does not take care of those under his authority – particularly servants. They don’t have adequate food, shelter, or any of the others things you would expect in a home. So who’s in charge of the home? The man, the husband, the father. If the leader of the home is consumed with riches and getting ahead in this world, that will lead to other less than desirable traits. Have you ever encountered someone that is like this? He totally neglects his family for the pursuit of riches. He’s not involved at all in leading the family. He can’t tell you what grade the kids are in, doesn’t know their activities, he really doesn’t know anything that is happening in the home. It seems that most scholars lean to this interpretation.

The troubler of his own house inherits the wind. At least he gets something right? Think about this for a second in the time in which this was written. Wind was useless, it was noisy, it kicked up dirt and sand, and was overall unpleasant. Now you get the idea. If it’s your responsibility to take care of the household and if you don’t, your inheritance is worthless. In fact not just that, but the fool becomes servant to the wise. Wisdom always wins out. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.” This is more than just a nice verse. Think of the metaphor. The seed of one fruit can generate a tree that will produce fruit over the life of that tree. Remember, Solomon is still comparing wise to foolish, godliness to wickedness, good to evil. In light of those comparisons, the benefits of a righteous person cannot be underestimated. The overall good that person infuses into life are immeasurable. Where I live, we have a lot of citrus trees. When you consider the fruit produced by a healthy tree, you typically have more fruit than one family can consume. The righteousness produced by that godly individual not only benefits that person’s family, but provides spiritual nourishment to those around him.

The second part of that verse has been the subject of some controversy among Hebrew Bible scholars. Since I am not an expert in the Hebrew language, I am limited in how far I can understand this. The phrase, “wins souls” is translated to kill where it’s used in other places in Scripture. In fact, the Revised Standard Version read, “But lawlessness takes away lives.” The New Revised Standard Version and the Holman Christian Standard reads, “But violence takes lives away.” The Message reads, “A violent life destroys souls.” When we consider the comparisons in these verses and read the verse to say, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away,” it seems to make more sense. We’ve seen patterns in Solomon’s writings to this point so it makes sense to interpret it this way. What’s the point? According to 2 Tim. 2:15, we are to rightly divide the word of truth. Solomon has been making a great case to support the principle that leading a life of wickedness, evil, deception, and ungodliness leads to death while leading a life of godliness and wisdom leads to life. So if you want to read there is wisdom in saving souls – that’s a good principle to live by. I would even suggest it’s a principle we’re commanded to follow in Matt. 28:19-20 as the primary mission of the church. If you think that’s too much info, change your thinking. Don’t fall into the trap that you just don’t need to know all that. Remember what Ravi Zacharias said, we have people that “know[s] less and less of why they believe what they believe.”

Finally, Solomon says, “If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, how more the wicked and the sinner!” Since we’re still in comparison mode, it’s fair to say that there are often times God gives us what we deserve. Heb. 12:6 reminds us that God disciplines us not just to correct unacceptable behavior, but also because He loves us. It’s the same reason you discipline your children. Many times, He chooses not to give what us we deserve and that’s called mercy. Solomon is saying that if God chooses to hold us accountable and we have examples of this in Adam, Moses, and David among a whole host of other regular people we see in Scripture, He will also hold the wicked accountable. Peter says it this way, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17)

The wicked will not get a free pass. Solomon has gone to great lengths to teach us about wisdom. He’s taken the time to compare godliness and wickedness: greed and generosity. We are challenged over and over again to live a life that glorifies God. Are we going to accept the challenge and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, or are we going to believe the lie that God doesn’t care how we live as long as we’re sincere.

Lipstick on a Pig

18 May

lipstick-on-a-pigYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us that our lifestyle does impact the community we live in. As the behavior and thinking of people move away from God, the impact in the community or society is evident. God does not declare that it’s progressive thinking or tolerance, it is simply ungodly. We combat this with a lifestyle that demonstrates the power of God in our lives that is evident by our love for one another and for others. This morning, Solomon provides us some vivid word pictures as he continues telling us how to live for God.

In Pro. 11:22-27 Solomon says, As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.  The desire of the righteous is only good, but the expectation of the wicked is wrath. There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered. He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.”

Solomon kicks this passage off with our first and perhaps most vivid word picture. “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a woman who lacks discretion.” I love this verse because it’s so true. Solomon is talking about beauty and this is another way of saying that beauty is more than skin deep. It’s much more important to have inner beauty, but that’s not what the world says. That’s why you see so many beauty enhancing products. That’s why you see products that claim to be age defying. Our society is so desperate to look good on the outside that we forget what God looks at. 1 Pet. 3:3, “Your adornment must not be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses.” Are you thinking this is a crazy analogy? Gen. 24 tells us the story of Abraham sending his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant prayed a very specific prayer so that he would know that God had sent just the right girl for Isaac. He ends up in Mesopotamia and comes upon a spring where he could water his camels and see his very specific prayer played out. A beautiful young girl named Rebekah walks up and Abraham’s servant says to her, “‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him’; and I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her wrists.” (Gen. 24:47) This was a practice in the days of the patriarchs to signify a marriage or a wife.

Think of putting a ring on a pig’s snout. Pigs represented what was unclean, dirty, forbidden, they represented a threat to agriculture, they were overall useless. Dogs and pigs are often considered along the same lines. The behavior of these two animals reveals who they really are. 2 Pet. 2:2 says, “It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” It is nonsensical to put a ring on a pig’s snout. It’s equally nonsensical to look only at the external beauty of a woman and that’s what Solomon is saying here. You can dress up a pig and put lipstick on it, but it’s still a pig. A woman can be gorgeous on the outside and look horrible on the inside. In this context discretion means moral perception. So put it all together, a beautiful woman that lacks discretion is ethically bankrupt, is valueless, and morally ugly. Now, that is a word picture.

Here’s another comparison. Verse 23 reminds us, “The desire of the righteous is only good, but the expectation of the wicked is wrath.” Again, Solomon paints with a broad brush. All of us can have unrighteous desires from time to time, but Solomon is telling us that the overall desires of the righteous are good. You want good things for people; you want them to get that new car, that promotion, that new house, to have children or adopt a child, or to find the spouse they long for. You don’t want them to endure pain or suffering and your heart breaks when theirs breaks. That is the thought pattern of the righteous. You don’t have the attitude of judgment; they can’t afford that car or house. They wouldn’t be very good parents. That’s the way the wicked think. The righteous want what’s good for people, the wicked want what is bad and they really want wrath. Wrath is generally attributed to God’s judgment and that’s accurate here too. They don’t want God’s discipline which is designed for our growth and demonstrates God’s love for us; they want God to exercise judgment to satisfy their own twisted desires, they want God to remove those that stand in the way of what they want.

Here is something I want you to think about. Have you noticed how divisive it is has gotten today, even among believers? Have you ever heard anyone affiliated with the church at large say that as Christians we just need to love everyone like God does and we need to accept people where they are? The church, at least the American church, is no longer doctrinally and theologically sound, but is bent toward feeling and emotion. Ravi Zacharias said it this way,

“We manufacture feelings in our churches. We manufacture emotions in our churches. Feelings have come unhinged from the mind and unbelief. Feelings are a powerful thing, but they should follow belief, not create belief. In our churches this whole move towards this emotional celebratory stunts that was born in doctrinal vacuum where the person knows less and less of why they believe what they believe but more and more of how ecstatic they are because of it has been a dangerous amputation that has taken place.” (The Truth Project)

The real issue that divides people is the Word of God. Are we going to believe what the Word says, or are we going to allow people that claim a relationship with God to define the Bible as outdated, irrelevant, intolerant, and simply not essential for life? Everyone here can likely think of a divisive issue that is in the news today and probably has had a conversation about it this week. This all plays nicely into Satan’s schemes to shift the focus away from the truth that will set people free and that will lead authentic believers into a passionate, zealous pursuit of Christ where there is no giving up or giving in.

Solomon now makes some direct comparisons with two character traits that are in direct opposition to one another. Vs. 26-27 tells us, “He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.” There has been much talk regarding finances and there will be much more before we finish this study. One of the predominate reasons Solomon brings it up is that money is necessary. God promises to provide for us and for most people, working at a job to earn wages is the process by which is happens. Even when we go way back, although actual currency may not have be exchanged, bartering of goods and services were necessary to ensure people had what was needed to sustain life. We do have examples of God supernaturally providing for the physical needs of people. In Ex. 16, God provided manna and quail for the Israelites as they wandered. 1 Ki. 17 tell us of Elijah and the cruse of oil and jar of flour that did not run out. In Matt. 15, we see Jesus feeding 4000 with just seven loaves a few fish. We see the principle of working all the way back to the garden when God gave the mandate to Adam and Eve to take care of it in Gen. 2. I have given you this background to help you understand the importance of working in order to be generous, but it is not a prerequisite. In God’s economy, you will not be able to out give God, but it’s not a competition. People who think if they give, then they will lack have not tested God. Solomon says when you give, you increase all the more. When generosity is demonstrated, more will be given.

Look at the disclaimer in v. 24, “Withholds what is justly due.” The issue here really revolves around hoarding. When you refuse to give or even sell what you have, v. 26 says, “The people will curse him.” I think of fictional characters like Mr. Scrooge and Mr. Potter. They had lots of wealth, but they were hated by the people. They were hated because they refused to share their abundant wealth. These folks were known for their shady business dealings, but let me be clear. I’m not in favor of Robin Hood tactics. We’re talking about generosity from a godly perspective. God expects us to share when we have bounty to those in need and when we’re in need, God will provide through the generosity of others. Sometimes though, the opposite happens. People who have relied on the generosity of others often fail to exercise the same generosity when they have more than they need. Those who are generous tend to continue to have more than they need and they continue to give it away. Most of us are born with a sense of self-preservation – it’s our sin nature. Generosity comes supernaturally and those that exercise this Christ like characteristic will be prosperous according to v. 26. It means to be successful or flourish, especially financially. The more generous you are, the more prosperous you will be. Again, we’re talking generally.

Finally Solomon says, “He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.” Just by trying to find good, by searching to do what is good for others and for yourself will find favor with God. Nothing is said of achieving it, but God takes pleasure in you looking for good. On the other hand, if you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it.

If you are righteous, you’re going to want what’s good for everyone. You’ll go looking for it and that is pleasing to God. If you withhold what is rightly due someone, the people will not be happy. We’re to be generous, not greedy. We’ll check this topic of generosity in greater detail next time.

Community Disorganizers

11 May

You can check out the podcast for this message here.

Last week Solomon laid out some principles that will help us sail smoothly through life. Righteous people are delivered from death where the wicked take their place. A very important principle Solomon introduced is the value and wisdom of godly counsel. Smooth sailing does not mean there won’t be issues or trouble in this life, but the righteousness of the godly provide the tools necessary to glorify God and remain steadfast in His will. This morning, Solomon provides us some principles that apply as we engage in activities typically associated with the community.

Grab your Bible and read Pro. 11:15-21.

The first principle we’ll look at today  has been said before and the question remains, who would do this? Back in 6:1 Solomon used the conditional clause, “If you have become surety for your neighbor.” That verse was generally directed at debt and it was conditional. The principle comes full circle when Solomon says, “He who is a guarantor for a stranger will surely suffer for it.” The answer does not have to do with sin, but with wisdom. There is no prohibition against cosigning a loan for someone. Insert the word someone for stranger and you get the application for us. Since we’re talking about wisdom and not sin, you need to evaluate the circumstances. Solomon is saying when you act as surety for someone, as a guarantor for someone, you “will surely suffer for it.” Not everyone that has served in that capacity has suffered for it. He’s speaking in general terms. And what kind of suffering are we talking about? The word used here for suffering means to be affected by something. Even if that person you act as a guarantor for pays back the loan, you still had that responsibility hanging over your head. You take on the responsibility for the loan because you know the person, you know his circumstances, you know their habits, and their values. You believe it’s safe. When you get involved in the financial affairs of others, it’s generally painful. That’s what Solomon is saying. “But he who hates being a guarantor is secure.” If you don’t cosign this loan, I won’t be able to buy that car, house, boat, etc. There is no scriptural mandate to take on the responsibility of someone else’s debt. When you have a general aversion to this, Solomon says you are secure. There’s nothing in the back of your mind, you don’t think about it, nothing hanging over your head. You free up brain cells because it’s one less thing to think about.

Our second principle tells us, “A gracious woman attains honor.” I love that word gracious. I think of the ladies of Downton Abby with their proper manners, their decorum, their sophistication, their elegance. Of course, it’s easy to do all that when you have someone else that gets you dressed and feeds you and takes care of all the chores. Gracious here means courteous, kind, and pleasant. You do not have to be wealthy to be gracious. He’s talking about the beautiful character of a gracious woman. Families and communities honor such women. I think of women like Barbara and Laura Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Princess Diana. Of course those are all famous women. I also think of my wife whom I absolutely adore. It’s not just because she’s gorgeous, she is a true woman of God. In the context of Proverbs, I think graciousness and godliness go hand in hand. We’re not talking about perfection, but a passionate pursuit of Christ.

What’s very curious is the contrast Solomon uses next. “A gracious woman attains honor, and ruthless men attain riches.” It’s good to be ruthless in business, right? We have shows like the Shark Tank and the Apprentice that demonstrate the ruthlessness needed to get ahead in business. Being ruthless is how you get rich in business. It means showing no compassion. Cut throat, eliminate the competition, work harder and smarter than the other guy. We even have corporate espionage. This is the only place in Proverbs where Solomon makes a comparison of this type between a man and a woman. He compares a kindhearted or gracious woman and a ruthless man. That ruthless man wants to get ahead and he’ll get ahead by any means necessary. They seek respect and honor by what they do, but the gracious woman gains honor by being nice. It seems that grace is better than strength and honor is better than wealth. If you let that verse stand alone, it can easily be misunderstood. When you take v. 16 with v. 17, the whole picture becomes clearer. “The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm.” Look at the pattern of the people in these two verses: kind woman; ruthless man; merciful man; cruel man. It seems mercy has a medicinal quality to it – someone that practices mercy makes himself good. When you are cruel, you end up hurting yourself so don’t be cruel.

Here’s a familiar principle. Vs. 19-20 says, “He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death. The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord, but the blameless in their walk are His delight.” We see a pattern here as in the previous two verses. Solomon talks about wickedness, righteousness, righteousness, and wickedness. Those exact words may not be used, but they convey the same idea. Solomon is driving home the point of the results of wicked behavior. “The wicked earn deceptive wages.” Those wages are deceptive because they are fleeting. Those riches are left behind and all are made equal at death. The wealth of a person is not taken into consideration at judgment. Paul said it this way, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) If you’re thinking that’s not the same thing, Solomon goes on to say, “But he who sows righteousness will attain to life.” That life will be long, healthy, and prosperous. The opposite is true, when you pursue evil, you will die. You can’t blame God when your evil ways, your evil behavior, and your evil manner of life leads to your death. Paul’s next thought was, “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Righteousness and wickedness are incompatible. Goodness and evil are incompatible. Those qualities may have been part of your character, but God changes you through Christ. That’s where true freedom lies. The wicked earn deceptive wages, but the righteous are paid in wages that are eternal. That’s what verse 19 is saying. When you are consistent and persistent in righteousness, you attain life. Steadfast means dutifully firm and unwavering. If you are truly a child of the King, this quality is supernaturally infused into your DNA. That’s why I get so weary with people profess to be Christians and the only evidence to support that is occasional church attendance and some don’t even do that. Pursuers of evil bring about their own death. To close out this section, Solomon gives us another contrast and it has to do with judgment.

Verse 20 says, “The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord.” Perverse means an obstinate desire to behave unacceptably and in context, it’s from God’s perspective. Perverse is translated “froward” in other versions which means hypocrisy and double dealings. Justice is pretended, but wrongdoing is what’s in store. Notice that it’s the heart – the seat of the soul. What’s in the heart comes out. You can pretend with other people, you might even fool yourself, but you can’t hide it from God. “. . . .but the blameless in their walk are His delight.” I’m sure you know why this is. It’s a no brainer really. Walk refers to manner of life. It refers to who a person is . . . . really. I think people spend a lot of effort pretending to be something they are not. People pretend they have a relationship with God, but without a corresponding lifestyle of godliness. Its often veiled in false spirituality where the words lead, led, feel, moving, etc. are used to put people into an incontestable position to do what they want to do. I always find it amusing that this leading rarely is to a place of deeper commitment, devotion, or duty, but rather to places of limited accountability and lower expectations. God takes great pleasure in His children that are willing to follow Him in directions they were not expecting.

Just to be sure you know exactly where Solomon is coming from, “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished, but the descendents of the righteous will be delivered.” I think we all know that evil will be dealt with, but the second part is not so clear. Do not read that to say if you are a child of God, your children have a place reserved for them because of who you are. Don’t equate deliverance with eternity. Deliverance does not mean salvation.  The idea is that your behavior affects not just you, but your children and your grandchildren too. Sometimes God sees fit to deliver because of their godly ancestors. The Old Testament is filled with examples of this.

In these verses, Solomon speaks of the affect of our lifestyle on our community. That lifestyle, whether godly or wicked impacts people. As the behavior and thinking of the people move away from godliness, the morality of the society declines. I think we would agree that we can see this happening all around us. The answer is not for us to shrink away from godliness, but to boldly live our lives as an example of Christ’s transforming power in our lives.

Smooth Sailing . . . For Some

4 May

smooth-sailingYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us God is more concerned with your character than your comfort. Solomon called out corrupt business practices and pride. We must avoid these not only because it leads to dishonor, but also because those qualities cannot be part of our character make up as a follower of Christ. The righteousness we have through Christ will deliver us into eternity with Christ and death will not harm us. This morning, Solomon tells us the key to ironing out our path.

I encourage you to take the time and read our passage for today found in Pro. 11:5-14.

Where does responsibility rest? That’s a great question to ask. It’s a question that fewer and fewer people are willing to answer. It seems that few people are willing to take responsibility for their actions. We’re a blaming society where we know one thing is for sure – it’s not my fault. It’s always the other guy’s fault. We hear things like,

If she would have been a better wife, I wouldn’t have . . .
If he wouldn’t make me so mad I wouldn’t . . .
If my boss paid me more I wouldn’t have to cheat on my taxes.

 You even hear people making excuses for others. He couldn’t help it, he comes from a broken home. He couldn’t help it, he has an anger issue. Where does the responsibility rest? Solomon tells us the answer. “The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness.” Righteous people do what is right in God’s eyes and that’s what smooths the path. This is a general principle that generally happens. Even when the path is rocky, the righteousness imparted on the believer because of who he is in Christ enables that person to be blameless. Blameless can mean perfect, but that’s not the meaning here. Blameless means innocent of wrongdoing. There really are instances of ignorance, you just didn’t know, but you don’t follow that with, it’s not my fault, someone should have told me. That attitude demonstrates irresponsibility. Righteous people do not put themselves in situations where they can be compromised. They make wise choices. Their best friends are not people with opposite values and ethics. They surround themselves with people that will hold them accountable, that will tell them the truth in love; that will help them stay on the godly path. These people exemplify the principle Solomon told us about back in Pro. 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Maybe you’ve heard the saying God helps those that help themselves. The reality is that God has expectations for us, but He is the One that is working unseen to carve out your path, the One that evaluates everything in your life to see if it fits in with His plan. The key element to a straight path, is in the first part of that verse. Don’t expect smooth paths when you don’t acknowledge Him in all your ways. Don’t expect smooth sailing when you make a decision apart from God and then inform Him what’s going to happen. Don’t expect smooth sailing when you’re disobedient. For the wicked person, he, “will fall by his own wickedness.” The wicked have no one to blame but themselves, but they don’t take responsibility for their actions. The decisions they make directly impact their outcome. The principles they follow lead to their demise. Their code or lack of code causes their downfall. They alone are responsible. Verse 6 says the same thing as verse 5, but uses different words. 

So what happens when a wicked man dies? It’s a question people have asked over the ages. Solomon says, “When a wicked man dies, his expectation will perish, and the hope of strong men perished.” Everything that guy put his confidence in for the future vanishes. What he thought would get him to his goals, did not. He thought operating his business in whatever way necessary to get ahead would bring him success. He thought his riches would carry him through. He thought making himself number one was the way to go. All those expectations gone. Sometimes you might think: it sure seems like the wicked do get ahead in life. Those that are unkind, untrustworthy, unloving, unethical, immoral: it sometimes seems like they prosper. We must look at our world through God’s eyes. Those that have lofty positions here on earth do not transfer to eternity. Remember the rich man and Lazarus I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. The rich man had it all on earth, but Lazarus had nothing. In eternity, the roles are reversed. The wicked think they have it going on, but at least in death, the playing field is leveled and a just and holy God makes things right. The righteous are delivered from trouble and the wicked takes his place. I know there is a huge temptation to pray that God will make His justice swift and visible, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out like that. We’ve got to understand that He is working things out for our good, for His good, for His glory, for His plan, for His purpose and He is under no obligation to let us in on that plan!

Probably all of us in here understand the power of words. We’ve talked about it over and over yet Solomon sees the need to one again remind us of the way the wicked uses speech. “With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor.” Sticks and stones the saying goes, but that’s not what Solomon means here. In light if what we have seen to this point, it could mean actual words, but when you take it with the other verses, it seems more likely Solomon is referring to false accusations. You’ve heard that fences make good neighbors because there is often trouble between neighbors. It seems like there’s one on every street. He’s the one that always has a problem with one neighbor or another. He says things about them that are not true, he has little to no integrity. “But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered.” This is a slander versus integrity issue. I know it’s difficult to hear things about you that are false and our natural inclination is to try and counteract those false statements. If people know you, they’ll typically default to what they know. This is a generality. I have been on the receiving end of people believing lies about me and I have had the fortune to have people defend me. The people that believe lies pushed aside what they knew about me, what they’ve seen demonstrated in my life, what they knew to be against my character and believed something that simply wasn’t true. Remember the first half of verse 6. Deliverance from these difficult situations comes through righteousness because that’s who we are in Christ. 

Does the good guy always win? Verses 10-11 convey the same idea so we’ll look at them together. Why does the city rejoice with the righteous? Because an intrinsic characteristic of righteous people is they share good fortune with others. They are not self centered or selfish. On the other hand, “When the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting.” All you have to do is check out some YouTube videos to see this in real life. We don’t like seeing someone being taken advantage of or bullied. Who can forget the joy in the streets when that statue of Saddam Hussein came down in 2003. We like it when judgment comes . . . to others.

Check out vs. 12-13. This is a reiteration of the principle that fools are loose with their lips and wise people know when to keep silent. A talebearer is a gossip. It’s someone that is a constant talker and I think it’s fair to say that this person is always in someone else’s business. They generally can’t be trusted to maintain confidentiality. Sometimes it’s under the guise of, “I told so and so because I was really concerned about you.” Confidence is confidence and there are only rare exceptions to this rule. The word conceal can have a negative connotation. Here is means discretion. Just because there is knowledge, does not mean it needs to come out. I’ve heard people say really mean or unkind things and offer the caveat that it’s the truth. Just because something is true does not mean it needs to be said. There is much wisdom in silence. Solomon has said it before.

Now perhaps one of the most important principles in Scripture. “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.” KJV translates it, “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Counselor means the ability to steer or pilot. It is someone qualified or trained to give guidance on personal, social, psychological, or spiritual matters. It does not mean the random stranger at Walmart. It does not mean the person that will tell you what you want to hear. It is not anyone that starts off with, “Whatever makes you happy. . .” It doesn’t mean continuously asking people until you get the answer you want. It doesn’t mean avoiding people that will tell you the truth either or avoiding people that you know will disagree with you because deep down, you know what you are seeking isn’t the wisest thing to do in the current circumstances. I can’t tell you how many people have informed me of a decision they have made in their spiritual walk of faith or regarding church and never one time talked to me. On the other hand, just because you think you can offer guidance does not mean you can. If you do not have a fundamental understanding of God’s Word, you may not be ready to offer guidance, but you can pray for that person. I have not experienced everything that you may be going through, but that does not mean I cannot give you wise, biblical counsel. Solomon is not just talking biblical guidance here either. There are people around you that can offer life guidance too. People that have expertise in areas like car or home repair, investing, relationships, they can recommend a good book or a good school, day care, or medical professional. You were not intended to go it alone. Some believe this principle also applies to government with the idea that a government that has checks and balances built into it is far superior to governments led by a single ruler.

Cities rejoice at the good fortune of righteous people and God makes sure that the wicked perish for their wickedness. That’s why we need to convey the message of redemption through Jesus Christ. Seek wise biblical advice from God’s Word and those that He has placed in your life after all, two godly heads are better than one. If you want smooth sailing in your life, you must follow the principles of Scripture. That’s not a guarantee that there won’t be storms or treacherous waves, crises, or tragedies, but you’ll have the confidence to know that God will help you through.

Character Matters

27 Apr

character-mattersYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us that it’s tough to avoid issues when there’s a lot of talking. The tongue of the righteous is worth a lot, it’s like silver. If you use restraint in your speech, you’re classified as wise. Our speech really is an incredible indicator of what’s in our hearts. He also told us what’s it’s like to deal with lazy people. It’s nauseating, it’s irritating, and aggravating. This morning, Solomon hits on a topic he’s mentioned before, but gives us some additional insight into what qualities make up a person. Over the next couple of weeks as we look at these series of verses, we’ll see Solomon use the familiar pattern of contrasts that he love so much.

Proverbs 11:1-4 says, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight. When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom. The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.”

What is character and why does it matter? Character can be defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Character is who a person is and it’s normally shaped by a person’s upbringing. Honesty and integrity are part of that make up. A lack of honesty and integrity also form that make up. Have you ever asked your kids to lie for you? You probably didn’t call it that when you told them if my boss calls, tell him I’m sick. If so and so calls, tell them I’m not here. Have you ever kept the extra change the clerk gave you? Are you habitually late? Are you generally unreliable? We might conclude these are minor things, but it reveals who we really are and that matters.

So Solomon brings out a business practice, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord.” Back in the day, balances were used for nearly all commercial transactions. An item was placed on a balance and a stone or stones would be placed on the opposite side and balanced out to give a weight to whatever item was being sold. There was often corruption with merchants that used a false balance. In other words, the balance would not give an accurate weight of the item. This verse can be applied to any fraudulent or unscrupulous business practices. We see this evident today as well. From the guy selling meat and seafood off the back of his truck to the guy selling homemade DVDs of first run movies. From Jay Bans and Foakley sunglasses to the “authentic” Coach purses and Rolex watches found in the straw market in the Bahamas. Locals will remember the Cisco Travel Center at I-95 exit 1 in our little town that gave you 19 gallons of gas for the price of 20. God takes a dim view on crooked businessmen and calls these deceitful tactics an abomination.

Not only do businesses need to practice honesty in their dealings, but so does the customer. It has become quite commonplace for customers to try and swindle businesses. From the fake slip and fall in a store to the stealing of an item with an attempt to then return it, or the girl that buys the prom dress then returns it after prom. God expects honesty in all business dealings regardless of which side you’re on. As is his custom, Solomon offers the contrast that, “A just weight is His delight.” Does it seem strange that time is taken to mention this? It does because honesty is an integral part of godliness. You cannot be dishonest and be godly at the same time, it’s that simple. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying the customer is always right. That’s utter nonsense. Sometimes the customer is right and business owners need to acknowledge that. One thing is for sure, God takes pleasure in seeing people engage in honest business.

Here is it again. Solomon talks about pride once again. This time it’s not in a list of things God hates, but instead refers to who a person is. “When pride comes, then comes dishonor.” The end result of pride, whatever form it may take, always leads to dishonor. Dishonor is a state of shame or disgrace. 1 Cor. 10:12 reminds us, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” Those that are filled with pride will fall at some point. This verse is consistent with a familiar verse found in Pro. 16:18 tells us that pride goes before the fall. When you’re proud, you take your eyes off of what’s important. The focus turns inward, it’s a self serving characteristic. When you read the biblical account of Lucifer’s fall in Isaiah 14, you will see that Lucifer was driven by pride. That passage has several occurrences of the phrase I will. That’s a good tip off to what the root is. This was the same appeal the serpent made to Adam and Eve in the garden. “You will be like God” the serpent told Eve. She wanted to be something she was not and could not be. Pride is a sin. Hold on a minute, you say; I’m proud of my kids, am I wrong? There is a difference in the pride you feel in your children and that which is self centered. No one would criticize a parent for saying I take great delight in my child. When Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan by John, God spoke from heaven and said, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased.” (Lu. 3:22) It’s the same thing as saying, this is my son, I’m proud of him. Of course, that can lead to a sinful pride where your child does no wrong and is way better than that other kid. The contrast to the proud is the humility of the wise. That’s how we know the pride Solomon is talking about is sinful. The idea is proud people are not generally wise or else they wouldn’t be prideful. Wise people know they haven’t arrived, they know they don’t have everything together, and they don’t pretend to either.

When no one is watching, authentic believers maintain their character. “The integrity of the upright will guide them.” Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. I lean strongly to the idea that integrity cannot be learned: you either have it or you don’t. I do believe it can be supernaturally given. I do believe that God can do an incredible work in someone’s heart that transforms the DNA of an individual into something supernatural. When that transformation takes place, that integrity will guide them. The opposite is true, “But the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.” In this context crookedness means exactly what you’re thinking it means. It’s their dishonesty, their underhanded tactics, they’re deceit, their overall opposite way of life. Wickedness and treacherous are used synonymously. It is this way of life that will destroy them. It’s a repeat of Pro. 5:22, “His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin.” It’s because it’s who he is. No matter how rich or wealthy you think you are, in the end it just doesn’t matter. “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath.” At death, everyone becomes equal. Royalty is removed, status is removed, position is removed and everyone is the same. On that day, presidents are the same as paupers. Kings are the same as commoners. Death is the great equalizer. Ez. 7:19 says, “They will fling their silver into the streets and their gold will become an abhorrent thing; their silver and their gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their appetite nor can they fill their stomachs, for their iniquity has become an occasion of stumbling.” The understanding is the day of wrath refers to what will happen to the wicked because there is no relationship with Christ. If there was, there wouldn’t be wickedness or treachery.

“But righteousness delivers from death.” Yes, righteous people die all the time. That’s not what Solomon’s talking about. The death we experience is a separation of body and soul. The physical body dies, but the soul lives on. Some theologians believe Solomon is referring to the second death mentioned four times in Revelation. That’s the death commonly associated with the lake of fire. A person dies first physically and temporarily, but this second death is eternal. Righteousness can only be gained through a relationship with Jesus Christ and that is what Solomon says will deliver us. We will likely still experience a physical death, but not a spiritual death. Our souls will live on in eternity with God the Father, His one and only Son, and the Holy Spirit of God.

In this short passage, Solomon links arrogance and pride to fraudulent or corrupt business practices and links humility to wisdom. Money gained by corrupt business practices will do no good on the Day of Judgment. That corruption is part of the DNA of the wicked, but humility and integrity are character traits that are the best to display in our day to day lives and reflect the power of God in our lives.

The Shotgun Approach – Part 2

20 Apr

Shotgun ApproachYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week we began looking at a series of verses that came quickly and unfortunately, we ran out of time. We saw that transgression is unavoidable when there is constant talking. Someone who speaks all the time and does not listen will cause problems. But if you restrain your lips, Solomon declares that you are wise. We briefly talked about riches and poverty and neither equate with the riches of God. This morning, we’ll continue these rapid fire principles.

Maybe you read Pro. 10:24-32 last week, but take the time to read it again.

Here we go again. For context’s sake, let me review from last week. “Wickedness is like sport to a fool and so is wisdom to a man of understanding.”  The fool enjoys sin and the man of understanding enjoys wisdom. This is a huge contrast. The man of understanding is in active pursuit of wisdom. He looks for it, he longs for it, he wants it, he runs to it. The fool finds joy in wickedness, but the man of understanding finds joy in wisdom. There is a truth that hangs in the back of the fool’s mind though. “What the wicked fears will come upon him.” While these thoughts may not dominate his thinking, they’re there floating in the back of his mind. They know it’s coming, they know the hammer will drop, they know that there will be judgment, but they lack the wisdom to do anything about it. Ps. 90:11, “Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?”

Again the opposite is true for the man of understanding because, “The desire of the righteous will be granted.” Let’s spend a bit of time here because there are some that will immediately draw a conclusion that Solomon is talking cold, hard, cash. There are some that will tell you that your material possessions are directly proportional to your spirituality or favor with God. They’ll even quote verses like Ps. 37:4 that says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” They treat God like He is some genie in a bottle that exists to grant their wishes. So let’s go back to the verse. The first thing you need to evaluate is are you righteous? Remember this is the character or quality of being, thinking, and doing what is right in God’s eyes. When you look at it like that, the goals or desires of the righteous will match the goals and desires of God. The desires of the righteous are the same as God’s. That desire is in line with God’s will and God’s plans. When we think in this light, verses that deal with this make more sense. 1 Jo. 5:14 says, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” God is not against you having things, but is that the end game? Of course it can’t be because that’s not consistent with Scripture. If I’m righteous, then my desires will line up with God’s will and His will will be done. It may not be in this lifetime, but it will certainly come to pass. What is lurking in the back of the fool’s mind will occur, so what happens to the wicked? The speed by which this certain destruction of the wicked is seen, “When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.” The wicked will be consumed by judgment from a holy and pure God and the time for changing his ways will be over. The wicked ignored biblical teaching, godly instruction and wisdom for a lifetime and now he will endure judgment for eternity. The righteous man built his foundation on the rock that is Jesus Christ.

The next verse is a great word picture and it describes the pain associated with a lazy person. Verse 26 says, “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who sent him.” While vinegar might be great in salad dressing and it’s quite effective in pickling things, try drinking it as a beverage. We’re literally talking sour grapes here just like in Ez. 18:2. It’s a stomach turner, it’s irritating, annoying, and unpleasant. So is smoke in your eyes and that’s what Solomon is saying about someone that doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do. Maybe you’ve dealt with someone like this and had to endure their nonsense. Clear instructions for a task are given, but they’re so lazy, you’d rather just do it yourself. It’s almost like their job is to frustrate others. They spend more time trying to get out of work than the actual work would take.

The remaining verses are familiar comparison and contrasts. Look at s. 27-32. Painting with a broad brush Solomon says if you’re wise, you’ll typically live longer. Yes, sometimes good and righteous people die by what we define as too young. This is a generality. If you don’t have a fear of the Lord, your life will be shortened. Again, there are some pretty awful people that live to a ripe old age. “The hope of the righteous is gladness, but the expectation of the wicked perishes.” It is our blessed hope, the hope of Christ. Paul says it this way to Titus: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Tit. 2:11-14) The wicked have no hope, they have nothing to hope in, but believers, “Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.” (Rom. 12:12)

On the other hand, Ps. 112:10 says, “The wicked will see it and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked will perish.” “The way of the Lord” should be a familiar phrase and means exactly what you think it means. It is the godly way, the Bible way, the righteous and upright way. It is the way of holiness. What is in our hearts will flow out of our mouths and for some people, those words will betray what’s in their heart. So how can you avoid behavior that is contrary to the way of the Lord? Verse 32 is pretty clear.

When we have the righteousness of Christ, our desires line up with God’s desires. His will is our will. I think it is clear in these verses that our behavior characterizes who we follow. Solomon has given numerous examples of the folly and foolishness of the wicked that are all inconsistent with a life that belongs to Christ. We may do foolish things at times, but that is not who we are. Follow the path of wisdom because it is the path of God.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 124 other followers