Mighty Slow

1 May

MolassesYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we started off talking about a different kind of evil. Don’t allow yourself to succumb to peer pressure. Watch out for the neighbor that tries to lead you in a way that is not good. You should be able to recognize this guy because he winks his eyes and devises perverse plans. Be on guard, watch out, remain steadfast. As you pay attention, you’ll grow in knowledge and understanding which leads to wisdom which leads to longer life which leads to the development of gray hair which is the normal course of our spiritual walk with Christ. Gray hair is like wearing a crown so treat your elders with respect. This morning, we’ll see that a man’s temperament is at the top of the list of desirable attributes.

Proverbs 16:32-33 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city. The lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision is from the Lord.”

Speed is relative. When I was in the Navy we had the saying, “Hurry up and wait.” It seems like we’re always waiting on something or someone. We tell our kids, “Hurry up.” “You’re slow as Christmas, or molasses.” We wait in the checkout line with the slowest cashier ever. We have to wait for our food in the restaurant and wish they’d hurry up. Being slow is not always a bad thing. We’re also told slow and steady wins the race. Slow down and smell the roses. In our seemingly contrasting world, Solomon tells us no different. Solomon starts off with the character of a man. He said previously, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.” (Pro. 14:29) He also said, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute.” (Pro. 15:18) Now he says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty.” Notice he doesn’t say never gets angry, but it takes a while for the wise man. This verse comes right after Solomon talked about the gray headed man. The general thought is that as you grow older, you develop patience; you’re not easily provoked, you don’t take the bait to get into an argument, you think before talking, you consider the circumstances. In other words, you demonstrate biblical wisdom. You know who else is slow to anger? Ps. 103:8 says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.” Listen to James’ expectation in Ja. 1:19, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” There should be progressive maturity in Christ. It should be steady. Just like in our biological growth, sometimes there are periods of growth spurts and sometimes there is slower growth, but always growth.

Being, “slow to anger is better than the mighty” is another example of how the Bible emphasizes qualities that are not elevated in our society. It doesn’t say being mighty or powerful is wrong, but when you compare it to anger, it’s better to be in control of yourself than it is to be strong and powerful. Solomon explains why when he says, “And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” This is one of the identifying traits of a mature Christian. Can you hold your tongue? Can you control your emotions? Are you anxious? Worried? It’s better to be able to control yourself than it is to be strong. The greatest battle you may fight just might be the one that you fight within yourself.

Solomon also talks about sovereignty. He says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Back in Bible days, the lot was one of the methods used to determine God’s will. Lots were cast to determine the scape goat in Lev. 16:8. The Promised Land was divided among the Twelve Tribes by lot in Num. 26:55. The sailors cast lots to determine the cause of the calamity in Jon. 1:7. Lots were cast by the disciples to see who would replace Judas in Acts 1:26. We don’t know exactly that the lot was. It could have been flat stones like coins, varying length of sticks, or some other dice like device. When you consider God’s will, I assure you that it can be quite the conundrum and it’s not left to chance. So if God controls all things, then what about the evil and wickedness in the world? I think it’s a fair question, but you have to understand a very difficult concept. There is a difference in the permissive and perfect will of God. God is in control of all that happens and there are things He allows for reasons we may never know or never fully understand. Nothing that happens catches God by surprise. He can see tomorrow as clearly as He sees yesterday.

So even if something happens by chance, ultimately, God is in control. That brings us back to the sovereignty of God question. Paul exclaimed. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Rom. 11:33) We can thwart God’s will too. The fatalist says whatever will happen will happen. If whatever happens, happens, why would God command us to pray? In fact, you can say that about all the Christian disciplines we have. Evangelism, missions, worship, etc. Just because something happens doesn’t mean it’s God’s will. Romans 1 tells us that’s not so. We have choice. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (Ja. 4:7) Some things are from God and some things are from the devil. Solomon says, “Every decision is from the Lord.” Everything that happens in our life is carefully evaluated by God and is allowed to happen or not. Don’t confuse the verbs allow and cause. Jer. 29:11 says, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” God’s plans for us are always good, but that doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen. We live in a fallen, sin filled, self-centered world where we make decisions based on us. Even in tragedy, God can be glorified. Even in crisis, God can be glorified. In sickness, God can be glorified. We don’t know the ripple effect our lives have on eternity. In tragedy and crisis, our faith can grow; our trust in God can grow. God is not the source of evil, but He does allow it in this world and in our lives. We can wrestle with the whys of it all, or we can trust that God knows what He’s doing. I admit that is a very challenging decision.

Are you going to let your circumstances dictate who God is? For some people, God’s character and love change depending on how good their life is going. God is awesome, right up until your spouse is diagnosed with some awful disease. God is awesome right up until your kids do something that turns your world upside down. God is awesome right up until you lose your job, your car dies, or a tree falls on your house. God is awesome right up until the time that something happens that doesn’t line up with your plans.       When we evaluate that in light of Scripture, we can’t find where that’s true. Either God is the same always or He’s not. You can’t have it both ways. The sovereignty of God is a very challenging concept to understand and I will not pretend that I understand all the whys of life. I think a lot of the time; God just wants us to defer to Him. Paul said, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:1-5) I walk through life; what I have observed is there are rarely periods of growth in our faith when all is going according to our plans. It’s when those plans change or are totally blown out of the water do we really learn how to trust in the One that allows those deviations. Solomon is not saying, “Hey believer, just sit back and hang while God does His magic.” We should and must engage in an intentional daily pursuit of all things Jesus.

The fatalist’s theme song goes like this: “Que Sera, Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours, to see. Que Sera, Sera. What will be, will be. Que Sera, Sera.” All we have to do to discount that is go back to the Bible. Just a moment ago I told you that Jer. 29:11 says, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” God does have plans for you. During Paul’s second missionary journey, the Spirit of Jesus prevented him from preaching in Asia and from going to Bithynia. Things don’t always make sense and God wants us to trust Him. It should be an easy enough thing to do. So you need to ask yourself, what’s keeping me from totally trusting God?

Evil of a Different Kind

25 Apr

EvilCheck out the podcast here.

Last time we were in Proverbs, we learned that we are here on this planet to live our lives to their fullest for Christ. We are driven to work to exemplify the transformation that is not only possible, but should exist in us because of the work accomplished by Christ. Only people that are worthless seek to harm others or damage their reputation. Don’t allow yourself to get burned by the words of people that are valueless – and that is a challenging concept. Recognize the schemes of the devil. He wants us to live our lives apart from Christ and other Christ followers. He wants to destroy us and make us ineffective for Christ. Don’t be fooled by that. Don’t think the worst of other people. You like it when you get the benefit of the doubt and you should be willing to do the same for others. This morning, we’ll see evil portrayed again and where wisdom can generally be found.

Pro. 16:29-31 says, “A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good. He who winks his eyes does so to devise perverse things;
he who compresses his lips brings evil to pass. A gray head is a crown of glory;
it is found in the way of righteousness.”

They might be living close to you. If you live in a neighborhood and most of us do, the people Solomon warns us about may be living next door. “A man of violence entices his neighbor.” I think it’s important to identify just what kind of man Solomon is talking about. A man of violence is someone that uses physical force with the intent of bringing physical harm, damage, or death to another. The man of violence is a bully and I don’t like bullies. This is someone that will use violence against you to get you to do something he wants you to do. Bullies tend to pick on the weak; people that they think won’t or can’t defend themselves. Entice is an interesting word. It means to attract someone, usually to do something, by arousing hope, interest, or desire. This is the kind of guy that tries to get other people to turn to the same life he leads; he tries to lure them into a life that is contrary to God’s desires. At the beginning of this book Solomon said, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Pro. 1:10) The easy answer is to just say no.

You can apply this to peer pressure as well. Although violence isn’t often used to exert peer pressure, the application can be made. What I find really curious is that peer pressure is rarely used to exert pressure in a good way. Have you ever thought of that? That’s because people who want the best for others don’t typically use pressure to accomplish that mission. In a biblical context, we use things like prayer, love, compassion, and empathy to show people the hope that’s found in Jesus Christ. This man of violence uses his power to entice, “His neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good.” We’ve talked about the way before. It’s a metaphorical path that leads either to God or away from God. If you succumb to the pressures of the man of violence, you’ll place yourself on a path leading away from God. It’s a way that’s, “not good.” I don’t know how clearer Solomon can be. 2 Pet. 3:17 says, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” Don’t let your guard down. Just because you are being led somewhere doesn’t mean you have to follow.

“He who winks his eyes does so to devise perverse things; he who compresses his lips brings evil to pass.” These are two outward facial expressions. It’s tough to control facial expressions; I see lots of them when I preach. Solomon is giving us some tips to identify this type of person. Have you ever had a conversation with someone that closes his eyes, or won’t look you in the eye? It can be a little off putting. This wink may confirm or signal something to a co-conspirator or accomplice. The word can also mean that the person is thinking, plotting, and scheming and this is the general meaning here. He’s devising, “perverse things.”  The meaning of the word perverse has been consistent throughout Proverbs. It is a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave unacceptably. Even outside of biblical boundaries, there is behavior that is not generally accepted in society. While the type of acceptable behavior seems to grow with each day, there are still things that are generally frowned upon and some things are downright disgusting and reprehensible. The, “compresses his lips” phrase is the other facial expression that confirms his twisted plans. He wants to bring, “evil to pass.” This is not the kind of person you want in your life. Oddly enough, there are followers of Christ that hold on to people that just aren’t good for them. Maybe it’s a desire to see them come to Christ, maybe it’s a desire to hold on to the past, maybe there is no choice because this person is a family member. If that’s the case, then we really need to heed Peter’s words when he said, “be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.”

In what seems like another weird transition, Solomon talks about hair. “A gray head is a crown of glory.” In our image driven society, people seek to look younger. When was the last time you noticed someone actually color their hair gray? I just wanted to look older and wiser. I don’t think that happens too much. Generally, gray hair is found on people who are old. Children do not cause gray hair. Stress does not cause gray hair. Solomon knows why hair turns gray and now so do I. I did some research into the matter to find out the correlation between wisdom and gray hair and what I found out will rock your world. Scientists say that everyone’s hair will eventually turn gray and then white. The age at which you’ll see that first gray hair is largely determined by genetics. You’ll probably get your first strand of gray around the same age your parents and grandparents started to go gray. Smoking increases the rate of graying. Anemia, poor nutrition, insufficient B vitamins, and untreated thyroid conditions can also speed the rate of graying. The graying process has to do with the production of melanin, which is the same pigment in your skin. These pigment cells produce eumelanin which is brown and pheomelanin which is red. As those cells that produce melanin die with age, less and less pigment is deposited in the hair and it turns gray and eventually white.

Let me lay out some assumptions that will help us understand this “Crown of glory” Solomon refers to. Gray hair is part of the natural process as the body ages. Solomon assumes that as you age in Christ, you gain life experience, you gain biblical knowledge and understanding. This increase in biblical knowledge and understanding leads to wisdom. That wisdom prolongs life. Pro. 3:1-2, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” As you get older, you’re supposed to get wiser. The older you are, the wiser you should be. Lev. 19:32 says, “You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” Our culture generally does not do this. Here, old folks are often placed in nursing homes or assisted living centers. In other cultures, the aged are brought into the homes of the adult children. We should seek out wisdom from someone that is old. Older people provide a wealth of knowledge and experience. Learn from them! If old people are, “found in the way of righteousness, their age will be their honor. Old age is honorable and commands respect. Remember the verse from Leviticus I just read. There is a but. There’s always a but. If the old is found in wickedness, all bets are off. The crown of glory is forfeited. Honor is forfeited, but maintaining the path of righteousness is their crown.

We started off talking about a different kind of evil. Don’t allow yourself to succumb to peer pressure. Watch out for the neighbor that tries to lead you in a way that is not good. You should be able to recognize this guy because he winks his eyes and devises perverse plans. Be on guard, watch out, remain steadfast. As you pay attention, you’ll grow in knowledge and understanding which leads to wisdom which leads to longer life which leads to the development of gray hair which is the normal course of our spiritual walk with Christ. Gray hair is like wearing a crown so treat your elders with respect.

Serious Stuff

11 Apr

SeriousYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week we learned that when you follow your own heart, you’ll end up in a world of hurt. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” Fools think they’re right and don’t bother getting the guidance of others. Wise people seek out wiser people to check themselves. Wise people seek course corrections from other people. When you have people in your life that will tell you the truth in love, you’re going to grow. Don’t automatically ignore the good counsel from others because you think you know it already. That’s a really dangerous place to be in. If you follow this guidance, I guarantee you’ll have sweet success. This morning, we’ll see the interrelationship of hunger, shovels, fire, and speech and how they work in our faith.

In Pro. 16:26-28 Solomon says, “A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on. A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire. A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.”

From honey last week to hunger this week. Hunger drives a lot of what we do in this day and age. We have Hungry-Man dinners and Hungry Howie’s pizza. We have Hungry, Hungry Hippo and The Hunger Games. We have Food for the Hungry and Freedom from Hunger. We have government programs to ensure no child is hungry. Bruce Springsteen had a Hungry Heart and if we don’t eat, we get hangry. Hunger is one of those driving forces of man. Look at the correlation between hunger and work. Solomon says, “A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on.” What a great verse! This goes hand in hand with what the Apostle Paul told the church at Thessalonica when he said, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” (2 Thes. 3:10) Perhaps you’ve heard of the protestant work ethic. The idea was first brought up by sociologist Max Weber in his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism published in 1904. “Weber studied the phenomenal economic growth, social mobility, and cultural change that accompanied the Reformation and went so far as to credit the Reformation for the rise of capitalism.” The start of the Reformation is generally attributed to when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Church in 1517. As Weber studied the Reformation, he discovered what Luther referred to as the doctrine of vocation. Luther stressed that our vocation, or calling in life is not about what we do, but about what God does through us.  He believed that salvation should change how we do life. The gospel infuses our everyday lives with spiritual significance. This is summed up by Paul when he said, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” (Col. 3:23)

Getting back to Solomon, this work ethic means that you need to be willing to work for what you get. It matters little what vocation you’re engaged in as long as it’s legal, ethical, and moral. As a follower of Christ, that vocation must be performed with a level of excellence that points people to Christ. “A worker’s appetite works for him.” Notice the assumption – there’s a worker. What motivates him to work? “His hunger urges him on.” If you’re not willing to work at any job, you’re not hungry enough. Our culture has shifted drastically in the last 20 years or so. We have people that are in their 20s that have never worked a day in their life. The gospel is a transformative experience. Followers should be different. We must be different.

Look at the quick shift. From the worker whose appetite drives him on to, “A worthless man digs up evil, while his words are like scorching fire.” Back in Chapter 6, Solomon equated worthlessness to wickedness, perversity, evil, and strife. This verse means exactly what you think it means. Is there anyone here that has not said things, thought things, or done things that they wish they could change? In the old days, when you did something stupid, it generally didn’t last long because we’d forget. Now, our words and dumb deeds are held in the digital cloud to be remembered forever. Today if something goes down, people whip out their cell phones to record the events. Just so we’re on the same page with Solomon, worthless means having no real value or use. Someone who has no value will look for something in you to gain an advantage. If nothing is apparent, they’ll go as far back as necessary. This is really apparent during the political season. During the presidential campaign in 2012, Mitt Romney was accused of bullying a classmate 47 years earlier when he was in high school and some thought that incident should disqualify him for the presidency. If you remember the snowball incident of 1992 that I shared a while ago, you might consider that I don’t have the personal temperament to pastor a church. The point is that all of us have done things we’re ashamed of or embarrassed about. The worthless person finds those events and brings them to light. “His words are like scorching fire.” Lots of crises have started because of words. Fights have started because of words even if the words are untrue. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase putting out fires. Unless you get to the root of the issue, the fire will likely reflash. Ja. 3:5, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” You have to ask yourself, what is the endgame for digging up dirt? I think it’s a good question to ask so let’s answer it.

What is the endgame? Let’s take a step back and look at the fundamental purpose for life. We were created to have fellowship with the Creator. God created us with a free will and the intention was for us to willingly engage in a vibrant, loving relationship with Him. Free will led to pride which led to ignoring God’s instruction and succumbing to the temptation of the serpent. Sin changed God’s design. Of course God knew this yet He still created us according to His perfect design. Sin entered and caused physical and spiritual death, but God already had a plan in place before He created all that we know. Gen. 3:15 points to the Messiah that would redeem mankind. Our fundamental purpose is to point people to this Redeemer we know as Jesus Christ and live our lives totally devoted to Him. The endgame of Satan is to deceive people into thinking there is a different way, another way, or simply that it doesn’t matter at all. “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends.” Perverse means a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave unacceptably. Strife means anger, bitter disagreement, or conflict. Satan doesn’t always come out and do the dirty work himself. He gets others to do it for him. He wants to tear us apart. He attacks the weak, the newborn, and the sickly and tries to separate us from others that can help. He wants us to think we can do it ourselves. He wants us to make mountains out of mole hills. He wants us focusing on the minor. We need to recognize this perversity for what it is – a plot of Satan. Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by people like this. Yes, it can happen in the church by people who claim they just really care. That’s why they’re all up in your business. Don’t fall for it, but don’t play into the devil’s hands either. Don’t get all bent out and go to attack mode. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t believe the worst about people.

We are here on this planet to live our lives to their fullest for Christ. We are driven to work to exemplify the transformation that is not only possible, but should exist in us because of the work accomplished by Christ. Only people that are worthless seek to harm others or damage their reputation. Don’t allow yourself to get burned by the words of people that are valueless – and that’s hard to understand for us. Recognize the schemes of the devil. He wants us to live our lives apart from Christ and other Christ followers. He wants to destroy us and make us ineffective for Christ. Don’t be fooled by that. Don’t think the worst of others. You like it when you get the benefit of the doubt and you should be willing to do the same for others. This is all very serious stuff that Solomon wants us to understand and put into practice.

Sweet Success

4 Apr

HoneyYou can check out the podcast here.

Last time we were in Proverbs, we learned that trusting people can be a difficult thing to do, but God is not asking you to trust Him without good reason. When you get to know the God of the Bible, you’ll see He is exactly who He says He is and you really can trust Him. When you trust Him, you’ll be blessed – you’ll find favor with God. When you gain knowledge of God through the Bible, you’ll also gain understanding which leads to wisdom. That wisdom is easily recognized by people around you and provides them a limitless refreshing fountain of life if they’ll only listen to the godly wisdom that is contained within you. Fools don’t have that persuasiveness of speech; they just have nonsense. When it comes to eternity, don’t be a fool. This morning, we’ll see some sweet success.

Pro. 16:24-25 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

I like this first verse. Solomon rephrases something he’s already talked about when he says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Even though we’ve seen words to this effect in Proverbs, I wanted to spend some time here because I think the word picture is so beautiful. A honeycomb is the storage place for honey and that’s the word Solomon intends. Honey is an incredible substance. On their trip to see the second in command in Egypt, Jacob (Israel) told his boys to, “Take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds.” (Gen. 43:11) The Promised Land was a land flowing with milk and honey. Samson killed a lion with his bare hands and then later returned to find the lion full on honey which he scooped out and ate as he walked. (Jud. 14:8) Jonathan’s eyes were brightened after eating honey in 1 Sam. 14:27. Honey was a regular part of John the Baptizer’s diet. (Matt. 3:4) Honey’s health benefits are widely publicized and it never goes bad. We use the word honey as a term of endearment.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb; they are comforting and soothing. There are many things I find pleasant, but may have no impact on eternity. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Solomon compares pleasant words to something that tastes good. The quickest way for a restaurant to fail is to have lousy food. A good, dark, strong cup of coffee brings me intense delight and comfort. And I’m sure you’ve heard the term comfort food. This type of food is supposed to transport you back to childhood where all your dreams were reality and you had no responsibility, no demands, no pressure, and no stress. Pleasant words are supposed to have an even bigger effect than that. Pleasant words can have a healing effect like a balm. I wonder if Solomon is thinking about the words penned by his father David in Ps. 19:7-11. The Law of God and the Word of God are eternally important for us. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) That’s why Solomon says pleasant words are, “Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Does this next verse sound familiar? Verse 25 is exactly the same as 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Why would the Holy Spirit inspire Solomon to say the same thing again? We’ve had a number of verses so far that convey the same overall meaning. Do you take it for granted? This is a caution against doing things on your own and it needs to be said again. When I tell you a cross reference for this verse is found in Pro. 12:15 it’ll all make sense, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” Solomon is always contrasting wisdom and folly or righteous and unrighteous. When you consider your own ways and do not take the input of others, the end result is not generally good. There seems to be a right way to do things, but when you rely on yourself, it’s typically not good. It might turn out okay occasionally because even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

Solomon is trying to get us to realize that we need other people in our lives. We don’t see loners in the Bible. The most vibrant, engaged Christians are those that are actively engaged in community. The followers that are growing the most are those that are engaged in fellowship with others that help them grow. The most authentic believers are those that are willing to place themselves under the authority of others; they don’t just do their own thing. If the way you’re going seems right to you but you’re alone, how will your course be corrected? If you just follow your heart, where will you be led? The Bible says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Sometimes it seems like we’re that three-year-old trying to tie his shoes saying, “I can do it myself.” It seems like we’re so desperate to do things on our own and we not only ignore godly guidance, we have a tendency to be offended if offered advice from someone older or more experienced. At the risk of tiring out this example, we have these mentors or guides in every aspect of life. The coach tells you what play to run or if you don’t come to practice, you can’t play. The teacher tells you to use a #2 pencil. The IRS tells you that your return must be postmarked no later than April 15th. The military tells you exactly how to wear your uniform. IKEA tells you how to put together their furniture.

We have little to no issue with this. After all, we want to play and we want to win. We want the computer to see our answers so we can pass the test. We don’t want to get a monetary penalty for filing late. We want our cool IKEA furniture to look right. When we transfer these same instructional ideas to the church, what happens? The music leader tells you your solo is cut or you’re singing flat. Someone offers some marriage advice or parenting guidance and all of a sudden, it’s none of your business. We have some misguided notion in the church that the only people that can offer advice are perfect people. Of course my marriage isn’t perfect, but how about learn from what I’ve messed up on and from what works for us. My kids aren’t perfect and I’ll tell you where I messed up so you won’t make the same mistakes I did. All of us tend to learn more from our mistakes and the mistakes of others, so why is it we’re so hard pressed against spiritual advice? “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

The most vibrant, effective ministries are the ones where there is a spirit of unity, a spirit of mutual love and respect where Jesus is elevated to His appropriate place above all other things. It’s a place where the focus is on the main thing. It is entirely unrealistic to think we will have success in every single thing we do. Thomas Edison figured out 2000 ways the light bulb didn’t work before finding one that did. Our first year going to Romania was not what we would define as a success, but the lessons learned were invaluable in refining the goals for how we do mission work in Romania. Every trip we learned something that didn’t work and that forced us to self-examine what we were doing. Each year at C4, we learn things. I don’t want us to get so routine and stagnant, that we just continue on regardless of how ineffective we might be. Just because we’ve always done it, doesn’t mean we’ll continue. The church is a living, breathing organism. We are made up of people that are learning and growing Do you want to be more effective in life? In ministry? In Eternity? Surround yourself with people who want the same thing. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. There is no room in your life for people who will tell you what you what you want to hear, who will lie to you, who won’t hold you accountable. That’s not love. That’s foolish. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” Fools think they’re right and don’t bother getting the guidance of others.

Wise people seek out wiser people to check themselves. Wise people seek course corrections from other people. When you have people in your life that will tell you the truth in love, you’re going to grow. Don’t automatically ignore good counsel from others because you think you know it already. That’s a really dangerous place to be in. If you follow this guidance, I guarantee you’ll have sweet success.

The Kiss of Death

28 Mar

KissYou can listen to the podcast here.

Today marks one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar. This day along with Christmas are the most attended church services across our nation. The story of Easter is filled with all the makings of a modern day movie blockbuster. It’s filled with intrigue, action, adventure, love, and betrayal. The story is of Jesus and He will always have our focus, but there is another man who plays a significant part in one of the greatest stories ever recorded. We know Jesus had 12 disciples and the names Peter, James, and John are widely recognized. There is another man whose name will be recognized and it is his kiss of death that we will look at today. The name Judas is synonymous with hatred, betrayal, personal gain and a host of other less than ideal adjectives that could be used to describe someone. I’d like to dig into what we know about this man that will help us understand the real miracle of Easter.

Matt. 26:1-5 tells us, “When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. But they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise a riot might occur among the people.”

Betrayal is something only a friend or loved one can do. A stranger or even an acquaintance can’t betray you. Betrayal can only come after you trust someone. Trust is developed after time. No one trusts strangers. Others can plot your destruction, but betrayal is something that can only come from one that has pledged you support – someone close to you. Rejection may cause hurt, but betrayal rubs salt in a wound that makes it sting. Failure may knock you down, but betrayal kicks you and stomps on you while you’re down. No one likes to be criticized or insulted, but betrayal breaks your heart like nothing else and affects you deep in your soul. We look at Judas as the picture of betrayal. He used a kiss, something that we hold precious, as a symbol of betrayal. “But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Lu. 22:48) Jesus’ favorite term for Himself is Son of Man and that’s the title He used here. I always find it strange when people refer to themselves in the third person. Why didn’t He say, “Betray Me?” Mark records the same title. This wasn’t a disagreement or misunderstanding between two friends. This was a demonstration of Judas’ total opposition to Jesus’ purpose. This gives us the scope of Judas’ betrayal – it wasn’t just against Jesus, but against humanity.

Are there people like Judas among us? I think there will always be questions about Judas’ life. Why him? Was he just an unwitting pawn in God’s plot for humanity to make the story more exciting? Judas is part of the story and I think we often give him a pass. Following this betrayal, Judas doesn’t get much space in Scripture and after all, it is all about Jesus. In simplistic terms, I think it’s easy to hurry past Judas in order to get to Jesus’ glorious resurrection. I think there’s a deeper, more meaningful purpose we need to explore. It’s a theme Jesus brought to the forefront in His earthly ministry. When you consider who felt most threatened by Jesus’ teachings, you begin to understand who’s behind the proverbial curtain. I encourage you to read Mark 11:27-33 to get an understanding of what Jesus was up against. It was the religious leaders of the day that were on the offensive against Jesus. It was the religious status quo – they made the rules, they enforced the rules, they changed the rules when necessary to ensure they stayed as the religious elite. These were the visible enemies of Christ and they knew what they were doing. Jesus goes on to tell a parable of a man that planted a vineyard. The conclusion of the parable is quite startling when Jesus asks them, “Have you not read this Scripture?” (Mark 12:10) For all of life’s challenges and problems we face, I often find myself asking the same question. Have you not read the Scripture?

And then Mark 12:12 says, “They were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for they understood that He spoke the parable against them. And so they left Him and went away.” Judas represents something that has always been a source of confusion and danger throughout history. It is the illusion that religion provides someone a place in eternity. Judas provides us with something we are seeing all too often today. Judas shows us that you can walk with God and talk with God and yet not be a part of God. It is possible to know who Jesus is and yet not know Him as Savior. It’s possible to have the knowledge and not the relationship. This revelation was not shocking to Jesus. Throughout His ministry, He warned about the deception that eventually destroyed Judas. Jesus declared there would be wolves in sheep’s clothing. He warned of false teachers. He explained that the enemy planted tares among the wheat. A tare is a weed that resembles wheat until it matures. It may look like wheat on the outside, but it’s not. At the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:22-23) We need to remember the story of Judas and remind ourselves that an authentic relationship with Christ is not just knowing about Jesus or believing that God exists. It’s about embracing Him as our Redeemer, our Mediator, our Atonement, our payment and penalty for sin. It is about the transformational power of Christ. You cannot make a credible claim that you have a relationship with God when you do not embrace Jesus as Messiah. In Christian circles we often associate asking Jesus into your heart for salvation. In our study through Proverbs, we’ve seen numerous times that the heart is the seat of emotion, the center of who you are. When Jesus resides there, transformation must result.  Jesus didn’t just lecture about doctrine and theology. He used stories to tell the wonderful story of redemption and freedom. He wove doctrine and theology into the fabric of everything He said. He illustrated the truths of God in a manner that the people would understand. Judas’ place in history ends with the harsh reality that there really are eternal consequences for our decisions. Judas walked and talked a good game, but in the end, no transformation was evident in his life.

So what’s this all mean for us today? I think it’s a great question that many people in the church dismiss. I think the rationale is that answering this question would mean coming to a very personal conclusion about themselves, their families, and their friends. When people talk about Judas, the question is often asked, “Was Judas a Christian? Was he saved? Was he a follower?” Some would say, he lost his salvation. Others answer the question with a question, “If he wasn’t a believer, why would Jesus pick him as a disciple?” Still others might be inclined to think that the money was too great a temptation for him. Still others conclude the devil made him do it. When we examine the Scriptures, we’ll see the real answer. “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” (John 6:64) Later in Bethany, we see Mary anoint the feet of Jesus with some very expensive perfume. Judas protested saying that the perfume should be, “sold for 300 denarii and given to poor people.” (John 12:5) That equated to about eleven months’ wages. The Bible tells us that Judas wasn’t concerned with the poor. He was concerned because he was a thief and that meant there would be less to pilfer from the money box. In Matt. 26:14-16 we learn, “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.” Judas conspires against Jesus and looks for the right opportunity for the betrayal to take place. Judas knows the place where Jesus will be because he had often been there with Jesus and the other disciples and according to Jo. 18:2, he passes on that information to the chief priests. The plot against Jesus is complete and following the last supper, Jesus and His disciples minus one retreat to the place they had gone so many times before. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the disciples were told to sit. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John a little further and asks them to keep watch while He prays. Shortly thereafter, Judas comes along with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs and Jesus is taken into custody. The verdict against Jesus was in before a real trial, without any real evidence presented because there was no real crime. Matt. 26:59-63a says, “Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent.” All because Judas betrayed Jesus.

Here’s what we know about Judas. He refused to believe the claims of Christ although he spent a significant amount of time with Jesus and His followers. He chastised the humble and heartfelt worship of Christ by others. He stole money that was given to support the ministry of Christ. He used his inside knowledge of Jesus and the disciples for personal gain. He betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Finally, Judas, “saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.” (Matt. 27:3-5) He dies a broken man unwilling to call upon Christ for forgiveness. After looking at the Bible, one can only conclude that Judas was lost. The words of Jesus spoken at the Sermon on the Mount ring loudly in our ears, “‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:23) Many people today will hear these same words when they stand before Christ.

How does that affect us? The story of Judas is not meant for our entertainment and it’s not supposed to be taken as some metaphorical tragedy. This is a real life story meant to show us the consequences of denying Jesus the Messiah who offers us eternal life through His death, burial, and resurrection. We need to understand what this means for us today and we can see these things or lack thereof in Judas’ life. Salvation creates positive change in a person’s life. The Bible is filled with examples of people who had a life-altering encounter with Christ. Judas never changed because he was never saved. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) God is not against the rich. The Bible reveals that Judas’ greed enslaved him and was a big factor in controlling his actions. Here’s a big one. You can deceive people into thinking you are something you are not. I picture the surprised looks on the faces of the disciples during that last supper when Jesus tells them, “Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me . . . They each began to say, “Surely not I, Lord.?” (Matt. 26:22-23) This was a man that was at every meeting, was involved in everything the disciples were involved in yet did not know Jesus as Savior. He went through the motions of being a follower. It’s possible to fool others, it’s possible to fool me, but you cannot fool God.

One final question asked in Heb. 2:3, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” The answer is we cannot escape in ourselves. Jesus Christ is the only way of escaping the judgment for our sins. What do we do? Make the decision to become a follower of Christ today. Not like Judas where he just went with Christ and played the part. The longer you put the decision off, the harder it will be to respond. Your heart grows harder without Christ. Don’t confuse knowing about Christ with knowing Christ. Getting smarter is not the same thing as saving faith. If Christ is not your Savior, then call upon Him to save you today. Judas saw Jesus give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, heal the sick. He was there serving alongside the other disciples that fed 5000 people from just five loaves and two fishes. Judas saw Jesus walk on the water. He heard Jesus say, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” (John 6:35-36) Judas knew that Jesus claimed to be the Savior of the world, but Jesus was not his Savior. Don’t make the same mistake. Make that decision today.

A Matter of Trust

21 Mar

trustYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we learned that God has provided us with the latest, up to date, accurate road map that offers a guarantee on finding the destination . . . if we’ll just use it. Staying on God’s highway will cause you to depart from evil. It doesn’t mean evil will be eliminated from your life, but it won’t take hold of you because you evaluate it from God’s perspective. Solomon tied the dreadful sin of pride with robbery – an angle you may not have previously looked at. The prosperity of the thief is short lived, so that’s not even an option for the Christ follower. Society tells us life is all about us, but that’s a deviation from God’s plan. Life here on earth is all about God and life in eternity is all about God. You’ve probably heard that you can’t trust anyone, but this morning, we’ll see how trust plays into real life.

Proverbs 16:20-23 says, “He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly. The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips.”

Who can you trust? It’s a question often asked. Some people will say, “You can’t trust anyone.” Others will say you can’t trust certain people. There are people that have betrayed your trust that resulted in you trusting no one and then conclude, “I have trust issues.” You’ve heard me say, “You can trust me.” So what’s Solomon talking about? He says, “He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.”  So we have to first know what the word is. Pro. 13:13 says, “The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, but the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded.” Solomon is talking about a willingness to place yourself under the authority of the written Word of God. Just because someone doesn’t like the Bible, understand it, believe it, or follow it, doesn’t mean it’s not applicable. People can disagree and hate the Bible, but it doesn’t make it less applicable to them. Even if they don’t know everything in it, they’re still accountable to it and so are we as believers. When you pay attention to the commandments, teachings, and principles of Scripture, you’ll find good. Good in this verse means pleasant and joyful; that which pleases the senses or give moral satisfaction. Paul uses the Greek form of the word good when he says, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12)

We don’t need to be afraid of the word of God because it brings life changing instruction for us. “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” That means that you lay aside what you don’t understand and you simply place your confidence in the One that created all that you see around you. You place your complete confidence in the One that hand crafted the human body. You place your complete trust in the One that keeps the stars in the sky, that causes the earth to continue rotating that gives us night and day, that gives us glorious sunrises and sunsets. You’re placing your complete confidence in the One that knows tomorrow as well as He knows yesterday. It is a choice and the choice is yours. Remember, this phrase is attached to the previous phrase about giving attention to the word. It’s the written word of God. When you read it, study it, and get to know the Author of it, it becomes easier to place your complete confidence in the Lord.

The proof is in the pudding. Most people that you are around probably have a good idea about who you really are. It’s very difficult to hide your true identity from those people that you spend a lot of time with. Your family, co-workers, and classmates probably are not fooled by who you really are. Sometimes, people of faith go undercover. Don’t be afraid of revealing your true identity of faith. Don’t apologize for being a follower of Christ. If you’re a true follower, you’ll never be able to hide it anyway because you will be different. That’s what Solomon is saying here, “The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” Let’s break this down and start with, “The wise in heart.”  The heart is the same heart that Solomon refers to as the center of who you are that we’ve seen numerous times. If you’re wise in heart, it’s who you are regardless of how you came to be like that. Contextually, we’re talking biblical wisdom as we’ve seen before. I think we’ve established throughout this study that real wisdom comes from God; real wisdom comes from  understanding the Bible and when you have that understanding, other people will recognize it in you. That’s why you will be called understanding.

Our behavior says a lot about who we are. If you have some time, I encourage to look at Acts 11:19-26. The people recognized their actions and called them Christians. It happened in Antioch first because the people were acting like Christ and other people called them Christians. We didn’t come up with the description ourselves. Other people saw Christ in these early disciples and concluded they were like Him. When you are wise in heart, the conclusion is that you are controlled by Christ. Since you’re controlled by Christ, you have the fruit of self-control. Since you have self-control, you’re able to control what, when, and how you say things. This is the, “Sweetness of speech” in the verse. The Hebrew word for sweetness can also be translated pleasant and persuasiveness is better translated learning. When we take it all together, Solomon is conveying the idea that when wisdom fills your heart, you’re able to increase learning in others. People will be drawn to you to find out what makes you tick; they’ll seek you out for answers to life’s issues because you exude wisdom, not in a haughty arrogant way, but a confidence in knowing who you serve.

This leads directly into the next verse. “Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it, but the discipline of fools is folly.” We’ve seen where understanding comes from. I’m not talking about understanding how atoms split to make energy or how an engine works. I’m talking about understanding what really matters. I think we’ve been pretty clear about that. The only thing that matters here is preparation for eternity. We all need a fundamental understanding of what is at stake so we have the proper perspective. When Jesus came to earth and walked around Galilee and Jerusalem, it wasn’t just to teach great things or provide an example to follow. He understood the importance of what He was called to do. I think many of us discount the importance of what we are called to do. That fountain of life flows freely from those who have the understanding of their purpose. The purpose I’m talking about is far more important than a vocation. We have a vocation to fund our primary calling and that primary calling is the same for every believer. We are to point people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. When a believer has that purpose in mind, it’s like a free flowing fountain that satisfies all who drink from it.

The opposite is also true. “But the discipline of fools is folly.” Discipline here doesn’t mean punishment, it means learning. You’ve heard of academic disciplines. That’s the meaning here. Solomon is talking about areas of learning, but it can also be applied to the nonsense that fools teach. Foolish people tend to get more and more foolish because as they live their lives in their foolishness, they tend to move farther and farther away from wisdom. Solomon gives us another restated verse when he says, “The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips.”

Trusting people can be a difficult thing to do, but God is not asking you to trust Him without good reason. When you get to know the God of the Bible, you’ll see He is exactly who He says He is and you really can trust Him. When you trust Him, you’ll be blessed – you’ll find favor with God. When you gain knowledge of God through the Bible, you’ll also gain understanding which leads to wisdom. That wisdom is easily recognized by people around you and provides them a limitless refreshing fountain of life if they’ll only listen to the godly wisdom that is contained within you. Fools don’t have that persuasiveness of speech. They just have nonsense. When it comes to eternity, don’t be a fool.

The Road to Success

14 Mar

MapYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we learned that power can lead to corruption and absolute power can lead to absolute corruption. Exercising biblical wisdom can placate the fury of kings. It’s great to find favor with earthly kings, but it’s far better to find favor with the King of kings. As Christ followers we have a responsibility to passionately follow Him who is the source of perfect wisdom. Biblical wisdom is essential in making godly decisions in our lives. When we utilize biblical wisdom, we’ll utilize the incredible power of God and avoid absolute corruption. This morning, Solomon gives us a road map with better directions that Siri or Google.

Proverbs 16:17-19. Says, “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil;
He who watches his way preserves his life. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

Are you a map user? Most people like to know where they’re going. I recently took a drive with someone that still uses a Garmin GPS that mounts on the windshield. That technology was cutting edge 10 years ago. I still love looking at a paper map. If you have a smart phone, you have the technology that will prevent you from getting lost . . . if you use it. With your smart phone you can ask Google maps for directions and it will give you turn by turn instructions. You iPhone users can ask Siri (Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface) and she will tell you exactly how to get where you’re going. The problem with this technology is it gives you a very limited screen to actually confirm your route. Sometimes you need to see the bigger picture. That’s why it’s sometimes better to break out that paper map. You can see the entire route. That’s what Solomon is saying here.   “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil.” If your view of the route is limited to a few miles of the roadway, you won’t see obstacles that might be in your way like toll roads or bridges. I know people that will not drive over bridges. Sometimes you need to pull back and see the whole road.

When you follow God’s road map, you will stay on the correct route and there will be no need to recalculate. That doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps, potholes, or bad weather. In reality, there won’t be detours either. The detours of our walk with Christ come as a result of our choices or the choices of others. When we choose to deviate from God’s directions, we get lost. We end up on a roundabout that we can’t navigate off of. In Des Plaines, we had a roundabout that was nicknamed suicide circle. When we deviate from God’s plan, we might end up on a toll road and we don’t have the money that allows us to continue on. When we decide to go our own way, we end up going the wrong way on a one-way street; we end up in the wrong lane to take an exit. Is. 35:8 says, “A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it.” You notice Isaiah said fools don’t wander on the road. Sometimes you get lucky and find your way without a map, or you just happen to make a turn that puts you on the right road. Isaiah and Solomon both tell us to be intentional. We’ve been given the way to go, we just need to read the map and follow it. “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who watches his way preserves his life.” When you depart from evil, you preserve your life. In 13:3 Solomon said, “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life.” Now he adds when you watch your way, you preserve your life. All the secrets of life are contained in God’s Word.

Now for one of the most recognized verses in Scripture. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Lots of people can quote the first part of the verse and it has become a mantra of sorts for people to avoid the sin of pride. Pride is on the list of things the Lord hates. Does this verse really mean what it says? What other possible meaning could there be? We’ve looked at pride several times in this study and it always produces results that are contrary to godliness. When pride is present, dishonor and unrighteousness typically follow. We need to look at the next verse because they’re really connected even though they can stand alone. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” There are several principles in the passage that we can apply individually, but the two verses tell us something we probably have not considered in the famous pride goes before destruction verse everyone likes to quote.

Solomon tells us there is a correlation between pride and robbery. Do you find that curious? In Georgia, a person commits the offense of robbery when, with intent to commit theft, he takes property of another from the person or the immediate presence of another: by use of force; by intimidation, by the use of threat or coercion, or by placing such person in fear of immediate serious bodily injury to himself or to another; or by sudden snatching. If convicted, you could spend up to 20 years in prison. If you rob a person 65 or older, you’ll get a minimum of five years in prison. Solomon was not familiar with Georgia law when he wrote this. For him, robbery includes anything taken that does not belong to you whether it’s from a person or a house or a garage or Wal-Mart or anywhere. So how does pride factor in? People that take from others generally are not concerned with the rightness or wrongness. Maybe they think they’re above the law, they think they won’t get caught and even if they do get caught, they’ll somehow get away with it. The very idea of taking something that does not belong to you shows the self-centeredness of that individual and the indifference toward others. They want something and they’re going to take it. When this is done, destruction will follow. When you study career criminals, you see this played out. What they were so careful to do, they no longer do and they leave evidence behind. They get away with something over and over and they get sloppy. They talk to their friends; they brag about their misdeeds. That arrogance or haughtiness will lead to stumbling. Again, “It’s better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Lowly means low in status or importance and has a real life application – it’s a contrast between the proud and the humble.  Ps. 138:6 says, “For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.” Lu. 1:51b, “He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.” In the grand scheme of things, who are we really? In the hugely popular book, A Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren nails it in the opening line: “It’s not about you.” It’s the issue we’re constantly facing, it’s the personal character trait that might just be the single most important factor keeping us from being who God wants us to be. It’s not about us and where we fit in, it’s all about God.

God has provided us with the latest, up to date, accurate road map that offers a guarantee on finding the destination . . . if we’ll just use it. Staying on God’s highway will enable you to depart from evil. It doesn’t mean evil will be eliminated from your life, but it won’t take hold of you because you evaluate everything from God’s perspective. Solomon tied the dreadful sin of pride with robbery – an angle you may not have previously looked at. The prosperity of the thief is short lived, so thievery is not even an option for the Christ follower. Society tells us life is all about us, but that’s a deviation from God’s plan. Life here on earth is all about God and life in eternity is all about God.

Absolute Corruption

7 Mar

Absolute PowerYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us about royal rules. We want leaders who are sensitive to the Lord’s leading and will listen to God. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of in business and God doesn’t like it at all. Being in leadership comes with expectations. Whether it’s in government, the church, school, or the fast food restaurant, we want leaders who exemplify the righteousness of Christ. We don’t want our leaders to act wickedly or unrighteously. There are royal rules that need to be followed if leaders are to act in a godly manner. This morning, we’ll see how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Pro. 16:14-16 says, “The fury of a king is like messengers of death, but a wise man will appease it. In the light of a king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain. How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.”

Solomon starts off like a trailer for an action movie. “The fury of a king is like messengers of death.” What guy wouldn’t go see a movie like that? This has all the makings of an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone blockbuster. When you talk about absolute power, a king might come to mind. If you remember the statistics about ruling authority from last week, few royal figures today wield the absolute power that can be so frightening. This verse is talking about real power. The power can be far reaching and oppressive. Here’s something to think about: when was the last time you heard of a ruler with absolute authority that actually took care of his people? The absolute power quote really is, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The quote is attributed to English historian and author Lord Acton who wrote that opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. Someone that has absolute authority is very likely to abuse that authority. So when Solomon says, “The fury of the king is like messengers of death,” he’s talking about the far reaching power of absolute rulers. In biblical times and in the middle ages, kings typically attempted to expand their kingdoms. They generally did this by force, coercion, threats, and intimidation. The more ruthless the king, the more expansive the territory.

Fury means extreme anger. Their power was absolute and arbitrary. When the king wanted someone dead, they got dead. When the king wanted someone to live, they lived. There didn’t need to be any logical reason or thought behind it. When kings get furious, people die. Solomon says, “But a wise man will appease it.” The right words spoken at the right time can have a huge calming effect. In 1 Sam. 19, King Saul was so furious with David that he wanted to put him to death. Enter Saul’s son Jonathan who speaks to King Saul with wisdom and adoration for David and causes Saul to change his mind. 1 Sam. 19:6 says, “Saul listened to the voice of Jonathan, and Saul vowed, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” Jonathan used wisdom when talking with Saul and appeased his anger such that David would not be killed. I encourage you to read the whole story.

How about some royal favor? It’s not good to be in the line of fire with a furious king, but what happens on the opposite side? This is the place to be. Solomon says, “In the light of the king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud with the spring rain.” This is where I want to be. With a furious king, you could be put to death just because. But in the light, it’s “like a cloud with the spring rain.” Talk about a contrast. Spring rain brings restoration, it brings new beginnings, it brings life! Remember Solomon is king of Israel. He doesn’t want Israel to do anything that will cause his wrath because he can be like other fury filled kings that were around in his day. It’s awesome to find favor with the king. It’s even awesomer to find favor with the King of kings. Favor with God is like that life giving spring rain that brings restoration and new life.

Solomon makes a great comparison. He says, “How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.” What price do you put on wisdom and understanding? If only you could buy it. In our culture, wisdom and understanding of the things of God are not as prevalent as they used to be. Even if you could buy, I think few people would make the purchase. Listen to Rom. 1:18-23, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” That’s really what Solomon is saying. Remember Solomon could have asked for all the riches in the world, but he chose to ask God for wisdom. He ended up with both. Think about it this way. If you’re wise, can you use wisdom to gain wealth? Of course, but is achieving wealth the be all to end all? That’s what culture tells us, but the biblically wise person thinks eternally. There is no direct correlation between how much we have here and what we will have in eternity. All material possessions will be left on this earth when you die.

I asked a moment ago, what price do you put on wisdom and understanding? Wisdom is not something that you can learn. Pro. 2:6 told us, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Pro. 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” If you go way back to the beginning of this, Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Pro. 1:7) Wisdom is something we can obtain because as followers of Christ, God can and will give it to us. James 1:5-8 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” There’s the caveat. It’s like saying, well . . . I’ll pray about it, but God doesn’t hear my prayers. God can do that, but He won’t do it for me.

Maybe you’re thinking, you know, it’s easy for Solomon to say it’s better to have wisdom than gold, but wisdom doesn’t pay the bills. Actually, it does. Exercising biblical wisdom could prevent you from getting into financial binds in the first place. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve counselled over the years that made financial decisions that could only be classified as stupid. They’ve determined what they want to do and they do it without thinking of the impact of their decision. Those unwise decisions generally lead to other issues that are brought to light under the intense pressure of trying to make ends meet. Heavenly wisdom enables you to make decisions from God’s perspective.

Power can lead to corruption and absolute power can lead to absolute corruption. You’ve probably heard the quote that says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Exercising biblical wisdom can placate the fury of kings. It’s great to find favor with earthly kings, but it’s far better to find favor with the King of kings. As Christ followers we have a responsibility to passionately follow Him who is the source of great wisdom. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Lu. 12:48) Biblical wisdom is essential in making sound decisions in our lives. When we utilize biblical wisdom, we utilize the incredible power of God and avoid absolute corruption.

Royal Rules

29 Feb


CrownCheck out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon spoke of financial issues again and said it’s better to have a little and be righteous than to have a lot because you were engaged in injustice. It can be pretty scary to place blind trust in someone, but we do it all the time with our doctors, lawyers, and teachers. Be sensitive to the Lord’s leading and align your goals and ambitions with God’s first. This morning, we dig into the responsibility of kings.

Pro. 16:10-13 tells us, “A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err in judgment. A just balance and scales belong to the Lord; All the weights of the bag are His concern. It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and he who speaks right is loved.”

We don’t have a king. You’ve probably figured that out. I know the temptation exists to ignore this first verse because we don’t operate with a king in the U.S. I need to remind you who is writing these inspired words of God. He is the king of Israel so he knows what he’s talking about and understands the importance of the words he’s writing. “A divine decision is in the lips of the king.” While this has some significant application for today, I’m going to tell you the decision that Solomon refers to. When we began our study in Proverbs, we went to 1 Kings 3 and checked out Solomon’s early life. In 1 Ki. 3:5, God told Solomon, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” We learned that Solomon asked God for, “An understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil.” God rewarded Solomon by giving him wisdom to discern and also gave him a pile of cash. Later in 1 Ki. 3, we come to Solomon’s first dilemma. Two harlots come to Solomon about a dead baby. They each say the dead baby belongs to the other. It’s a pretty complicated dilemma, but Solomon quickly dispenses judgment and all of Israel was floored by his wisdom. That decision is brilliant because it reflects the wisdom of God. That’s what Solomon is saying. When you are in tune with God, you’ll render decisions that come from a biblical worldview.

We don’t have a king, but we have leaders in nearly every facet of life. Our leaders should make decisions based on a fear and reverence for God because He is the standard of right and wrong, of morality and faith, of wisdom and justice. Our reality is most likely far from that ideal. So we should sincerely pray for our leaders to employ godly wisdom in their decisions. Remember, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Pro. 21:1) I wonder what would happen if the church collectively and individually prayed for the world’s leaders to govern biblically.

Solomon shifts gears a bit and talks about the wheels of justice. Solomon declares, “A just balance and scales belong to the Lord, all the weights of the bag are His concern” The balance was used in the market place to weigh out a product against a standard. We do the same thing today. You go to the grocery store and you pay a price per pound for many items purchased like vegetables, meat, and sugar. Sometimes crooked merchants would use a faulty balance or weights that were rigged to deprive customers of getting what they paid for. Weights were standardized back in the day as they are today. You’d be pretty ticked off if you paid for five pounds of coffee and received only four pounds. There was a huge scandal in our area back in 2005-2006. The owners and operators of three gas station/travel plazas were indicted on charges of conspiracy and fraud. They had rigged the gas pumps to dispense 19 gallons for every 20 purchased. That’s 5% difference. Not much, but in just two years, the FBI estimated that amounted to about 7 million dollars. This is exactly what Solomon is talking about. God is concerned when people fall victim to unjust business practices. Why? Because God knows that you need to buy things to live and He takes a really dim view on people that engage in fraudulent business practices.

There are certain expectations we have for people. We have expectations for teachers to teach our kids what they need to know to live a productive life. We expect our employers to pay us for the jobs we do. We expect firefighters to show up if our house catches on fire. We expect our military to defend and protect us against all enemies near and far. When we talk about royalty, we have a disconnect because don’t have an earthly king or queen. You might have heard of Queen Elizabeth II. She’s the longest reigning queen in history. Of the 44 countries or territories with a monarch, Queen Elizabeth rules over 11 of those. What’s interesting is that the Queen doesn’t rule with absolute authority. She has limits to what she can do. Of the 44, only 6 monarchs rule with absolute authority and one of those is the Pope.

“It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness.” What if I made a word substitution and said, “It is an abomination for leaders to commit wicked acts, for the office is established on righteousness.” If we apply this to our leaders, we get the understanding Solomon is going for. Paul said in Rom. 13:1-2, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Our leaders should act responsibly and appropriately and if they don’t, they should be held accountable. Leaders ought not to lead with an iron fist, but with compassion, consideration, integrity, and honor. Dictators like Hitler, Stalin, and Qadaffi made people follow them out of fear. Those that opposed or stood up to them were killed. That’s not the way God wants it to be. Isaiah said it like this: “A throne will even be established in lovingkindness, and a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; moreover, he will seek justice and be prompt in righteousness.” (Is. 16:5) Solomon is setting up whoever might succeed him as king. Good kings mete out justice. Good kings have high moral character. A good and righteous king hates wickedness in others and won’t even consider wickedness in his own life even though he might be in a position and have the power to act wickedly and get away with it. Good kings rule with lovingkindness.

Here’s another royal quality that goes with what he just said. “Righteous lips are the delight of kings and he who speaks right is loved.” This is not how the king speaks, but for those that speak to them. Have you heard the term yes man? This type of person tells their leaders what they think they want to hear instead of the truth. They use empty flattery. Real leaders want honest feedback even if it might be displeasing to them. In an ideal world, your supervisor, work leader, manager, or whoever you report to wants you to speak truthfully. Real leaders take on board what is said. Undercover Boss uses this technique in a mildly deceptive way. The boss goes undercover in his or her organization to find out what is really going on in the company because it can be challenging to find people that will tell the truth to their leader. When you do speak right, you will be loved by your boss – at least you should be. It’s an entirely different scenario when leaders ignore or dismiss what they’re told. If you stay in the work force any length of time, you’ll likely work for someone that doesn’t care what you think, doesn’t want to hear new or innovative ideas, that’s totally satisfied with the status quo, or doesn’t think you’re competent enough to have a good idea. That makes for a tough work environment. The best leaders to work for or have are the leaders that love Jesus because the righteousness that is present in them compels them to be like Jesus. What does that look like? They love Jesus so they want to lead like Christ. They love Jesus so they want to lead righteously. They love Jesus so they want to lead courageously, respectfully, full of grace and truth. They love Jesus so they want to please Him. That’s a great leader to work for.

We want leaders who are sensitive to the Lord’s leading and will listen to God. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of in business and God really doesn’t like it at all. Being in leadership comes with expectations. Whether it’s in government, the church, school, or the fast food restaurant, we want leaders who exemplify the righteousness of Christ. We don’t want our leaders to act wickedly or unrighteously. There are royal rules that need to be followed if leaders are to act in a godly manner.

Money and Planning

22 Feb

PlanningCheck out the podcast here.

Last week we asked the question, can we all get along. We learned about the importance of the Bible and knowing what it says. Confrontation is not something that is fun, but is a necessity. The Apostle Paul talked of the importance of coming together as a church and he assumed that it’s a regular occurrence. This morning, we talk about two topics that are essential to our lives; money and planning.

Proverbs 16:8-9 says, “Better is a little with righteousness than great income with injustice. The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”

And now for some more money talk. The Bible has a lot to say about finances and we see it again here. “Better is a little with righteousness than great income with injustice.” Someone that equates prosperity with righteousness has a very narrow view of Christianity and likely has never left this country. Solomon says it’s better to be right with God and not have everything under the sun than it is to have a lot and be at odds with God. Remember back in 15:27 he said, “He who profits illicitly troubles his own house.” He’s not saying it’s wrong to have a lot. He’s saying it’s better to have a little that was obtained honestly than it is to have a lot that was obtained by injustice. So the obvious question surrounds injustice. What is Solomon talking about? Injustice here is defined as an unjust act or occurrence. Not everyone that has a lot gained it dishonestly, but Solomon is providing a contrast. He knows that we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others and we don’t need to do that. The assumption is also that if you’re reading these words, you’re likely someone who wants to walk with God, who has a desire to live a holy and godly life or you’re at least seeking how you can be reconciled to God. I think that’s a good assumption for most of Scripture. There are things in Scripture meant only for believers, but the principles found in the Bible are good and right regardless of who puts them into practice. I think of all the scams out there that defraud people of what they earned. I think of the theft related crime out there that defrauds people of their own property. I think there is even an idea among some people that take from the “rich” because they can afford it, but this isn’t a political issue. Solomon is contrasting righteousness with unrighteousness – plain and simple. The righteous man walks with God; the unrighteous man does not.

Here’s some strategic planning. “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Planning is one of the keys to success regardless of your vocation. Moms plan weekly menus to facilitate nutritional and supermarket success. College students plan their classes to make sure they meet the requirements of their degrees. Coaches plan practices to make sure their athletes are ready for competition. Some of you guys even planned a nice Valentine’s Day date with your sweetheart. People use planning for everyday life, but it’s important in your spiritual life too. Solomon is saying that men make plans to accomplish goals, but it is, “The Lord that directs his steps.” This ties in with the ways of a man’s heart. We have lots of verses regarding the leading and guiding of the Lord. Ps. 37:23 reminds us, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way.” We’re not talking about getting from one geographic place to another. People today spend a lot of time planning out their lives. Solomon is talking about seeking God and fulfilling the plans He has for you. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with making plans for your life, but God must be considered before everything else. What will you do if and when God changes your plan? Will you be willing to submit yourself to God? Regarding worldly planning, Ja. 4:14-15 says, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Are you afraid of the Lord’s will? I think it’s a valid question. Are you willing to accept His will for your life? 

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