A Fool’s Wisdom

14 Feb

foolYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week, talked about budgeting – don’t spend what you don’t have. The foolish man doesn’t think about tomorrow and what might be needed, he simply spends all he has. Righteous people pursue God and find life. Wisdom is the conqueror over strength. Be careful what you say and sometimes not saying anything is the best. Don’t be foolish enough to think that it doesn’t matter how you approach a holy and perfect God. He will not accept sacrifices offered with evil intent. This morning, we’ll get some clues in identifying wickedness as well as seeing how foolish it is to go against God.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Pro. 21:29-22:4 so you know where we are.

We begin with a question. How can you spot a wicked man? Solomon says, “A wicked man displays a bold face, but as for the upright, he makes his way sure.” Bold face is not a likely description that people would use these days. It literally means makes firm with his face. It gives us the idea that the wicked man does not show anything on his face. He doesn’t blush, his face doesn’t get red when he’s angry. You can’t read this guy and he uses that to get his way.  But the upright or righteous man seeks God and determines to follow Him. Other versions translate that last phrase as, “gives thought to his ways.” That’s consistent with what we have seen in Proverbs, It’s not about following your own path, but about following the path God has set before you. When you truly seek God, that’s one and the same direction.

How smart is God? Solomon says, “There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord.” I searched Google for the smartest people in the world and found a list of really smart people. I learned that the average IQ in America is between 90 and 100. Individuals with IQ scores between 160 and 165 are considered extraordinary geniuses, and those with scores of 145 to 179 are considered geniuses. The person with the highest IQ is Australian born Chinese American Terence Tao with a verified IQ of 230. If you stack up Terence’s smarts against God, you will come up dreadfully short. It is foolish and unwise to go against God. Even though there seems to be progress made in things that are anti-Christ, don’t let that fool you into thinking there is victory against God. There is no success when you go against God. People think they’re so smart and yet Solomon says, “There is no wisdom, no understanding and no counsel against the Lord.” Ps. 2:1-6 speaks to this pretty clearly. It’s no use to battle against the Lord.

Solomon goes on to say, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” This is connected to the previous verse. The horse was used in battle, but before you go fighting, you have to make sure the horse is ready. The same holds true for foot soldiers and holds true in modern warfare. Remember the context in which this was written. We’re talking about Israel here. God was very involved with guiding Israel to battle. God can win without armies, but armies cannot win without God.

What’s in a name? I don’t know if this applies today, but back in the day, your reputation meant a lot. There is power in names. When I was in high school, if you heard that someone had a bad reputation, you would immediately draw some conclusions. It doesn’t matter when in history you are, you hear names that will evoke certain emotions. Most recently, you hear names like Trump or Clinton and it immediately brings out the worst in people. The name Jesus Christ has evoked much emotion over the course of history as well. People use the Lord’s name in jokes, in cursing others, or in ritualistic incantations. There is definitely power in a name and there is one name that is above all other names. Phil. 2:9-11 says, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” That’s some real power!

“A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold.” Solomon uses his favorite writing style of contrasting two things. In this case, it’s the reputation of a good name and wealth. You’ve heard of name dropping? That goes off the principle Solomon is sharing. People drop names in hopes of getting out of trouble or gaining favor or impressing someone else. Just because you know someone, doesn’t really mean anything. The difference as we have already seen, is when you personally know Jesus Christ. How do you get that good name?        Follow wisdom. No matter what tax bracket you’re in, “The rich and poor have a common bond, the Lord is the maker of them all.” Solomon has gone to great lengths to draw parallels to wisdom and riches and poverty and foolishness. The bottom line is that God is still the Maker of them all. Job 34:19 referring to God says, “Who shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they all are the work of His hands?” Rich or poor, good or bad, wicked or righteous, the Lord is maker of everyone. This is really a blessing too. You don’t have to do anything to gain favor from God. 1 Tim. 2:5 reminds us, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Solomon continues by saying, “The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, but the naive go on, and are punished for it.” This is similar to what Solomon said back in Pro. 14:16: “A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless.” Prudent means acting with or showing care and thought for the future. The person that thinks ahead can see the potential evil. It might not be wickedness or evil, it might be temptation. If you know you’re prone to spend money you don’t have, when you go shopping, make a list of things that you need to have and only buy those items. If you know you have a tendency to watch YouTube video after YouTube video, then you might want to set a time limit or avoid YouTube all together. If you find yourself getting sucked into Facebook and the time gets away from you, the prudent person establishes boundaries. That’s all that Solomon’s saying. Prudent people recognize the potential problems and take action to minimize the impact. “The naive go on, and are punished for it.” These are the people that want to go to the beach during a hurricane. These are the people that when the tornado siren goes off, they go outside to look at it. Don’t be that guy.

Here’s some generalities. The next verse cannot be applied to a specific individual, but is a generally applicable principle. “The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life.” We definitely see exceptions when we think of our brothers and sisters suffering for their faith all around the world. The guiding principle is humility. You’ve probably heard it said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” (Muhammad Ali) So, let’s put humility in perspective. According to Google dictionary, humility is a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness. Humility is a part of God’s character and is a quality to emulate. Ja. 4:6 says, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  What is curious in Scripture is that we get to see both sides of God. Let me highlight a few examples.

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.” (1 Chron. 29:11)

“For the Lord Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth.” (Ps. 47:2)

“There is none like You, O Lord; You are great, and great is Your name in might.” (Jer. 10:6)

“I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God.” (Is. 45:5)

God is greater than everything else and we have already seen that at the very mention of His name, people will bow down yet there is another side to Him. Paul spoke of Christ’s meekness and gentleness. (2 Cor. 10:1) In Matt. 11:29, Jesus said, “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.” Speaking of Christ in Phil. 2:8, Paul said, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Muhammad Ali would later say, “I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.” There are great people in the world, but they don’t tell people how great they are; it’s is recognizable. The reward for true humility, “Are riches, honor and life.” These riches may not be financial riches. There lots of truly humble people that love Jesus and live in poverty. These riches are seen in the immeasurable grace and mercy we receive in this world. Followers of Christ are rewarded with eternal life through the covenant of grace.

Solomon gave us some clues on identifying a wicked man. He also told us there is no one with the intelligence or smarts to go against God. It’s no use to battle against God either. Names can evoke a lot of emotion and God says there is power in the name of Jesus. Having a good name in the community is better than riches. Rich or poor, everyone belongs to God in the sense that He is the Creator. Prudent people pay attention, but fools do not. It’s good to be humble and recognize that whatever greatness you may have on this earth is because God has given it to you. The riches may or may not be material, but the reward is assuredly eternal life in the presence of God.

The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

6 Feb

biggerYou can listen to the actual message here.

Last week, we covered a lot of ground. We saw where wickedness starts and that’s in the soul of humanity as we are born into sin through one man’s disobedience. Wicked people do wicked things because they don’t know any other way. Righteous people look at pleasing God rather than any short-term gain from wickedness. Don’t shut your ear to the cry of the poor, but make the Gospel an intentional aspect of any acts of mercy you engage in. We looked briefly at gift giving, exercising justice, and staying on the path of righteousness. Don’t love pleasure so much that you forsake God. We looked at the results of Achan’s sin and finished by looking at the vexing woman and hopefully we now have a better understanding of the depth of wickedness in man. This morning, we’ll look at laziness, righteousness, and happiness.

Take the time to read our passage for today found in Pro. 21:20-28.

We start off with some financial talk. “There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up.” Believe it or not, this is a verse to support budgeting. Wise people are wise across the board while foolish people are foolish across the board. Remember the idle man from 19:15 suffers hunger and the sluggard from 20:4 doesn’t prepare his crops so he has nothing to harvest. Wisdom dictates you don’t spend what you don’t have. Foolishness dictates spend what you have and don’t worry about tomorrow. If you’ve got money in your pocket, spend it. That’s why there’s, “precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise.” Oil was an important commodity in Bible days. It could be used for a number of things. It was used for cooking, as fuel for lamps, it was part of grain offerings, was used for anointing, was used for sanctifying the priests in the temple, and was a symbol of wealth. The fool is foolish in all his activities. His desires are ungodly and unfruitful which leads right into the next verse. There is a misguided notion in America that everyone has the right to be happy. There is no such right afforded by the U.S. Constitution and no guarantee of happiness afforded by the Bible. The pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right granted by the Creator as recorded in the Declaration of Independence. I submit to you that when you pursue God, you will find what you are looking for.

Solomon tells us, “He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor.” I love the two verbs in this verse – pursue and find. Pursue means follow after or chase. When you chase righteousness – the character or quality of what is right in God’s eyes – you will find, “life, righteousness and honor.” It’s a trifecta of godly qualities. Life refers to the eternal life in God through Jesus Christ. In Matt. 5:6 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” If you want satisfaction, chase Christ. I think happiness is a quality that can be achieved when you have the mind of Christ and see things through the eyes of God. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances, but when you have in your mind that God is in control, it allows you to focus on what is important and that is living a life of total and complete obedience to the King of eternity.

There’s no easy transition to the next verse. Solomon says, “A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.” As we have seen before, wisdom trumps strength every time. When WWII ended and the United States entered the cold war, military strategy had to change to keep pace with the extraordinarily strong USSR. President Eisenhower instituted the 41 for Freedom missile submarine. Then in 1980, Ronald Reagan used the phrase, “Peace through Strength” during the campaign that would see him elected president. Mighty people think their city will protect them. When Joshua led the battle of Jericho, the walls came tumbling down. Jericho thought their walls would protect them, but when God is on your side, it’s doesn’t matter how strong the walls are. Throughout history, we’ve seen the mighty defeated by the wise. Build walls around the city and wise people developed the catapult. Line up your troops for battle and the wise people used guerrilla warfare. If you can grasp this concept and submit to a wise and good man, the strongest of the strong will be defeated.

And now the power of restraint. This is a principle we’ve seen six times before in Proverbs. “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles.” Guard means keep watch over. Think about keeping watch over your kids. You’ve got a protective eye on them to ensure no harm comes to them and to make sure no one takes them. Don’t let your mouth get you into trouble. Don’t let your words take you to places you don’t want to go. No, you don’t have to say anything and once the words leave your mouth, there is no turning back. Lots of damage can be caused by what you say. If your first instinct is to say something, hold off for a second let your mind catch up. When you think about this in a relational sense, more hurt and harm have been done by words than anything else. The next verse says, “Proud,” “Haughty,” “Scoffer,” are his names, who acts with insolent pride.” This goes hand in hand with the spoken word. Insolent means rude or disrespectful. It’s really hard to demonstrate these qualities without using words. These terms are not used in a favorable light. We could avoid all kinds of trouble if we’d just learn to keep our mouth shut.

Next, Solomon revisits the sluggard. “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, for his hands refuse to work; all day long he is craving, while the righteous gives and does not hold back.” This is a really stark contrast. We have the poverty of the lazy versus the generosity of the righteous. Think back to 21:17, “He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” Righteous people work diligently and give without holding back. The sluggard doesn’t want to work and that leads to death. It’s a theme presented over and over again. Sometimes we have a tendency to think that people who work hard want to keep everything for themselves. Solomon says not true. Sometimes people work hard so they are in a position to give back. Sometimes even when people aren’t in a position to give back, they give back anyway. The sluggard craves all day what he is not willing to work for and his craving will be unfulfilled.

I am certain you have encountered this next principle time and time again. You can’t fool God. People approach God the way they want to instead of how God has prescribed. You’ve likely heard people say that as long as they’re sincere, God will accept them. You’ve heard that a relationship with God is a personal issue. Solomon puts that to rest when he says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, how much more when he brings it with evil intent!” Let’s break this down. In Jewish culture, sacrifices were an important part of their lives. When they were offered by faith in repentance, God was greatly honored and pleased. When they were offered with impure motives, God detests that. Is. 1:11-17 says,

“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Did you catch the severity in there? God has had enough. He takes no pleasure in their sacrifices and calls them worthless and an abomination. The God of eternal patience cannot, “Endure iniquity.” When they pray, God will hide His eyes even though they repeat their prayers over and over. Stop doing evil, start doing good. Don’t tell me you have an understanding with God, don’t tell me you and Him are good, don’t tell me the work you have done for Him. You will be evaluated just like the Chaldean king Belshazzar in Dan. 5 when Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall and concluded, “you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.” No matter how holy you think your sacrifice is, God will not accept it and He really won’t accept it when brought with evil intent.

One last one for today. A false witness will perish, but the man who listens to the truth will speak forever.” We’ve seen this before in 6:19, 19:5, and 19:9. Don’t lie.

We began this morning talking about budgeting – don’t spend what you don’t have. The foolish man doesn’t think about tomorrow and what might be needed, he spends all he has. Righteous people pursue God and find life. Wisdom is the conqueror over strength. Be careful what you say and sometimes not saying anything is the best. Don’t be foolish enough to think that it doesn’t matter how you approach a holy and perfect God. He will not accept the sacrifices offered with evil intent.

The Depth of Wickedness in Man

30 Jan

pitYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week, we reaffirmed that we are privileged to play a part in God’s plan for humanity. Whatever that role may be, we’re part of getting accomplished what God wants to accomplish. Our motives should be pure and holy as we seek to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. Do right in all facets of life because it’s the right thing to do. Be obedient to His leading, but line His leading up with Scripture. We quickly covered a number of principles for daily living that we’ve seen before in Proverbs. We finished last week talking about a contentious woman. If the woman in your life is contentious, show her the unconditional love of Christ. If you’re the contentious woman, allow the power of God to transform your life. This morning, we’ll see the depth of depravity that’s present in the wicked.

Take a look at what Solomon says in Pro. 21:10-19. Where does wickedness come from? I think that’s a good place to start. We need to understand the foundation for wickedness that is present in man. People born into this world don’t need to make a conscious effort to do wrong – it comes naturally. We’re born with the sin nature that is passed from father to son from generation to generation. We saw this a couple of weeks ago when we looked at Rom. 5:19a that told us, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.” Remember, “There is none righteous, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10) Sin is the lost person’s master and you have to do what the master says.

Wicked people do wicked things because they have no power to do otherwise. Of course, they can do things that society would call good, but goodness evaluated by a morally bankrupt culture is not the standard. I know that sounds harsh, but we’ve got share the truth of Scripture so people are aware of where they are. Eternity’s too long not to tell the truth. The wickedness is formed in the soul at conception because of Adam’s disobedience. That’s why, “The soul of the wicked desires evil.” Desire can also be translated crave. Evil dominates the thoughts and plans of the wicked. Remember what led to the flood: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) Remember the second greatest commandment Jesus referred to in Matt. 22:36-40? He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The wicked have no favor for their neighbor.

Let’s do some quick review. V. 11 says, “When the scoffer is punished, the naive becomes wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.” It’s the same principle we saw in 19:25. When people see that others are held accountable for their actions, it will deter bad decisions. That’s one of the reasons the news reports sentencing for high profile crimes. Wise people make themselves available to learn and are willing to receive instruction. This leads into the next verse, “The righteous one considers the house of the wicked, turning the wicked to ruin.” Even though there may be short term gain for wickedness, the righteous wants to avoid the pain and suffering that comes with it. The righteous remember Pro. 12:7 where Solomon said, “The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand.” No amount of prosperity or comfort in this world will turn the righteous from following God. I’m sure this next verse has been used to justify all sorts of pseudo outreach programs. “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.” This is a verse that speaks to mercy, but it can’t stop there. It’s great to feed people who are hungry and clothe people that are naked, but if that’s where you stop, it’s just a good thing to do. The Gospel must be intentionally woven into that work for it to be a work of God. Our primary goal as a church is to make disciples, but if all we do is feed hungry people, we’ve missed the goal established for us by Jesus Himself. This verse speaks to the cry of the poor being ignored. If we ignore the plight of those in poverty, then our cries will not be heard. Remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

The next verse is not an endorsement to bribery. A gift in secret subdues anger, and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath.” Gifts are often appropriate, especially when given in private. If you make a big show of giving someone a gift, then the emphasis is on the giver instead of the receiver. If a bribe is offered to subvert justice, that is clearly unbiblical and must be avoided. “The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.” This make sense, right? If you are righteous, and the only way to be righteous is through the blood of Christ, you want to see justice done. This is the justice dispensed by our government: you want to see right things accomplished and wrong things squashed. So, the next obvious question is, right according to who? We must stick to the unchanging standard of God’s Word. There may be amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but there are none to the Bible.

“A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead.” The path of righteousness is a straight and narrow path. Last October, Kari and I were in the mountains of NC and we went hiking. What’s nice about hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway is the hiking trails are marked. If you get off the marked path, chances are good you’ll get lost. If you stay on the path, you won’t get lost. This is the metaphor Solomon is using. If you get off the path of understanding, you’ll end up with the dead because you will be dead. In Matt. 7:13 Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” There are no alternate paths to righteousness. It is only God’s way through Jesus.

“He who loves pleasure will become a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” I could spend a whole lot of time here because this is sure a verse for today. The pursuit of pleasure drives many people – even in the church. Solomon is not just talking about pursuing pleasure, but coveting pleasure. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a good time, but if that’s your focus, something’s wrong. If you’re looking for the next fun thing, the next thing to entertain you, the next thing to wow you, Solomon says that you will become poor. Solomon also says, “He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.” At the risk of being labeled old fashioned, I think this loving wine thing is an epidemic in the church. I know I spent a lot of time on 20:1, but Solomon addresses the topic again. Do you look as forward to getting into God’s Word as you do having that glass of wine? The oil in this verse refers to olive oil. This seems a strange addition to the wine. Wine and oil were common at banquets. Overall Solomon is saying if you pursue pleasure and luxury, you’re going to be poor. Turn over to 2 Tim. 3 and we’ll tie up this thought nicely with Paul’s warning to Timothy. Look at vs. 1-5. Avoid here means keep away from. That’s a pretty stern warning.

“The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the treacherous is in the place of the upright.” This is a pretty challenging verse that has to do with justice. The same idea occurs in Pro. 11:8 where it says, “The righteous is delivered from trouble, but the wicked takes his place.” The wicked are atonement or payment for the righteous, but don’t confuse that with the atonement of Christ that brings redemption to those that believe. In Exodus 12, the Israelites were told to put blood from a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts and lentils of their houses. The Lord said He was coming and when he saw the blood, He would pass over the house and go to the next. The Jews followed the instructions and were spared at the expense of the Egyptians. In that manner, the Egyptians became a ransom, or payment for the righteous. Righteous and upright don’t mean perfect here, but an overall desire to follow after God.

In Joshua 6, God told Joshua to lead Israel into battle against Jericho where the walls came tumbling down. Israel was instructed to take nothing as spoils from the battle: no gold or silver, bronze or iron – those are holy to the Lord. Following the victory at Jericho, Josh. 7:1 tells us, “The sons of Israel acted unfaithfully in regard to the things under the ban, for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, took some of the things under the ban, therefore the anger of the Lord burned against the sons of Israel.” Achan’s sin affected the entire nation of Israel. Their next battle occurred against the much weaker Ai where they were soundly defeated causing Joshua to tear his clothes and go into mourning. God told him to get up and told him what had happened to cause Israel to be defeated. God declared that, “Israel has sinned,” and because of that, “Israel cannot stand before their enemies.” (Josh. 7:11ff) God instructs Joshua to cast lots to find the guilty party and the lot eventually falls to Achan. Joshua confronts Achan who says, “When I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it.” (Josh. 7:21) Joshua sends people to Achan’s tent and they find the spoils exactly where Achan said it would be. Achan the wicked, was used as a ransom for Israel, the righteous. Achan was stoned to death and then burned. Everyone else in Israel followed God’s instructions – they had a desire to follow after God. I know that was a somewhat lengthy explanation, but sometimes, you really have to work at understanding the meaning of Scripture.

Let’s get one last one in for today. “It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman.” This is similar to 21:9 that we looked at last week and Solomon adds vexing here. Vexing means intending to harass and full of disorder or stress. Now, that’s a lovely woman. First, the man is alone on a roof top and now he’s alone in the desert or wilderness. The commonality between the two verses is that it’s better to be alone than deal with an argumentative and unruly wife. I don’t know if that woman from 21:9 found her way to the roof and now the guy has to get away even more or not. It’s better to be exposed to the harshness of the wilderness – the wind, the weather, and the sand than it is to be with that harsh and vexing woman. And before you allow the thought to enter your mind, this is not an endorsement to leave a woman that is constantly arguing and causing stress in your life. The best way to handle a contentious wife is to love her as Christ loved the church.

Another message that covered a lot of ground. We saw where wickedness starts and that’s in the soul of humanity as we are born into sin through one man’s disobedience. Wicked people do wicked things because they don’t know any other way. Righteous people look at pleasing God rather than any short-term gain from wickedness. Don’t shut your ear to the cry of the poor, but make the Gospel an intentional aspect of any acts of mercy you engage in. We looked briefly at gift giving, exercising justice, and staying on the path of righteousness. Don’t love pleasure so much that you forsake God. We looked at the results of Achan’s sin and finished looking at the vexing woman and hopefully we now have a better understanding of the depth of wickedness in man.

God is Always on the Throne

23 Jan

Check out the podcast here.

Last week, we covered a lot of ground. We started by looking at the parental relationship and the implications of being a bad child. Solomon spoke of being a virtuous king and the responsibility that comes when you’re the one determining punishment. We saw some important aspects of our relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to conduct a critical self-evaluation of your faith and also suggest you ask someone you love and trust to provide you with some feedback regarding your walk of faith. This morning, we’re going to look at who is ultimately in charge.

Our passage today comes from Pro. 21:1-9. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

throneSo, who’s in charge? That’s a great question that many people ask, particularly in times of national or international crisis. Solomon reminds us that, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” What’s that really mean? Are we all just puppets in a crazy game controlled by God? The answer lies in the very difficult concept of God’s sovereignty. I really believe that if you take God out of the equation, life would implode. It is God who keeps everything in motion. In Is. 46:10 God said, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”

Ultimately, God’s purpose will always be accomplished. Don’t confuse sovereignty with God’s will. When we consider the model prayer offered by Jesus in Matt. 6, He prayed that God’s, “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will is not always accomplished here. One significant example is people dying without receiving the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. 2 Pet. 3:9 tells us that God is, “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” So, what can be gained by people dying apart from Christ? I can honestly say I don’t know. God uses everything at His disposal to accomplish His ultimate goals. He often uses you and me to accomplish it. That is the privilege of free will. God wants us to choose to do His will just like you want your kids to choose to do what’s right instead of forcing them to. Sometimes you might use enticements or rewards for your kids to do what you want. You supervisors and managers will sometimes do the same thing – a bonus or time off. But it really does your heart good to see people do what’s right because it’s the right thing and they choose to do what is right. When you consider a higher plain, God will lead and guide people to do what will ultimately accomplish His plan. For us, it’s spending eternity with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t know what lies beyond that and does it really matter?

 We saw God’s way, now look at man’s way. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” Back in Pro. 16:2 Solomon said, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives.”  There’s not much difference in the two verses. Evaluating the motives of people can be very difficult. I confess that I sometimes am not a good discerner of people. I tend to believe what people say at face value, but I do learn to read them. When you consider motives, you can do the right thing for the right reason, the right thing for the wrong reason, and you can do the wrong thing for the right reason. Does that sound like gibberish? Let me give you some examples to help you understand. Here’s the right thing for the wrong reason. You financially support the work of the ministry because you can take a tax deduction. Your kids are good and obedient all day so they gain favor to go out that night. You volunteer to teach a class so everyone sees how smart you are.  What about the wrong thing for the right reason? You steal food to feed your family. You lie to someone to avoid hurting their feelings. You withhold the truth from someone so you don’t alienate them. The best and wisest thing to do is the right thing for the right reason. You give to the work of the ministry knowing that ministry costs money and God has blessed you with financial resources. You speak the truth in love regardless of the consequences knowing that truth sets people free. That’s where God wants us. If you’re not sure, pray like David when he said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

This leads right into the next verse. “To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice.” When I read this verse, I immediately thought about Samuel and Saul. In 1 Sam. 15, the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint Saul as king of Israel. Samuel gave Saul this command from the Lord: “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam. 15:3) Those instructions are clear. So, Saul got together his troops and went to battle and defeated the Amalekites. The Bible says, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” (1 Sam. 15:9) Saul is the king of Israel and blamed the people for his disobedience. The conclusion is found in 1 Sam. 15:22-28 that tells us by one act of disobedience, Saul is stripped of his throne. Obedience is the utmost and highest principle in the Bible. As I often say, everything we do can be placed securely under the umbrella of obedience. Giving, prayer, Bible reading and study, serving God and others, as well as a boatload of other commands and principles in Scripture.

Let’s review some principles already covered. “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, is sin.” Don’t be proud or your torch will be snuffed out. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” The way to gain advantage in this world is to work hard. The word diligent means careful and conscientious in one’s work. The assumption is that the work is not sinful and the hard work puts you in a favorable position. If you’re hasty: that is, you cut corners, take the easy way instead of the right way – you’ll come to poverty. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Dishonesty and fraud get you nowhere. Cheating is stealing whether it’s knowledge or material goods. “The violence of the wicked will drag them away, because they refuse to act with justice.” This verse is tied to the previous one. Solomon is talking about the violence that the wicked use against others. The violence they engage in will come right back to them. “The way of a guilty man is crooked, but as for the pure, his conduct is upright.” It’s a contrast between the guilty/wicked and the godly/pure. Evil people do evil things. Righteous people do righteous things. The only power in us to do what is good, right, holy, and pure comes because God has granted us the power of the Holy Spirit when we accept the gift of His one and only Son. When we go back to Genesis, we learn that. “The Lord said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.” (Gen. 7:1) Noah was righteous and that’s why he was spared.

Let’s spend some time on the next one. Solomon says, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” He makes a comparison between two things. Living in a relatively uncomfortable place at peace or living in a comfortable place with an uncomfortable situation. No one lives on a roof, right? In biblical times, the roof of a dwelling was typically flat and often served many purposes. In 1 Sam. 9:25, “Samuel spoke with Saul on the roof.” In 2 Sam. 11:2, David walked around the roof where he saw a beautiful woman bathing. In Ps. 102:7, David was, “like a lonely bird on a housetop.” In Acts 10:9, “Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.” The roof was a great location for prayer, meditation, meetings, and was sometimes used as a place to sleep.

It’s better to be on that rooftop than it is with a contentious woman. Just what is a contentious woman? This woman is quarrelsome, prone to argue, disagreeable, and is no fun to be around. What does she argue about? Anything and everything. She fights against everything done. She is desperate to be the boss, to be in charge and to control everything that happens in the home. If the man tries to exercise his authority, she gets all the more contentious. He finds it more comfortable to retreat to the roof. As we have seen, Proverbs is a book of wisdom and perhaps this is the wisest thing for the man to do. Go to the roof where he won’t be tempted to engage in her contentions. Little is accomplished by arguing with someone that will not hear the other side, will not listen to reason, and will not accept what they consider defeat. I can imagine that it’s difficult living with some spouses. I know that some people come from dysfunctional homes where the love of God was not prevalent. I know it may be tough to be at home because of what you have to deal with. Wisdom dictates the best course of action. You still need to be the man that God has called you to be. Have you loved your wife unconditionally? Have you demonstrated it? A dedicated time of earnest prayer away from the fussing and fighting is better to do than quit. Too many people take the easier road and that’s to give up. I’ve heard a ton of reasons why not holding true to the marriage covenant is the only course of action. When you say, “I do,” that’s a very serious commitment that should only be broken by death.

Don’t take the road that Adam took when he blamed Eve. Take responsibility for the relationship as the one that is in authority. And don’t what if: what if she won’t follow? What if she leaves me? I assure you that God understands what you’re going through and He understands the seriousness of the marriage covenant. We just saw in 21:1: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” When God told Abraham that Sarah was to have a baby and she overheard and then laughed, God asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14) It really comes down to a matter of trust and no one ever said it was easy, fun, or would change overnight, but don’t exclude the power of God from the equation. Waiting on God to move and work in people’s lives is tough, especially when they’re in your own home or family.

We are privileged to play a part in God’s plan for humanity. Whatever that role may be, we’re part of getting accomplished what God wants to accomplish. Our motives should be pure and holy as we seek to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives. Do right in all facets of life because it’s the right thing to do. Be obedient to His leading, but line His leading up with Scripture. God’s not wishy washy, so don’t you be either. We quickly covered a number of principles for daily living that we’ve seen before in Proverbs. It’s best to be honest always. We closed out with a very difficult relationship. If the woman in your life is contentious, show her the unconditional love of Christ. If you’re the contentious woman, I pray that you would allow the power of God to transform your life because He is always on the throne.

Dealing with Heavenly and Earthly Relationships

16 Jan

relationshipsCheck out the podcast here.

Last week, we began by asking the rhetorical question, who is without sin? The cleansing we enjoy is not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus did. Youngsters say what comes to mind because they haven’t developed the ability to hide their motives. We looked at a number of principles for daily, principled living for the home, the job, and at church. This morning, we’ll finish up this chapter by looking at some important relationships.

Our passage for today is found in Pro. 20:20-30 and I hope you take the time to read it.

We start with a relationship that everyone has. Not everyone may have children, but everyone has parents. “He who curses his father or his mother, his lamp will go out in time of darkness.” Ex. 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” Under the Law, cursing your parents was a capital offense; it was punishable by death. That seems pretty harsh by today’s standards. Rebellious kids can be extraordinarily draining on parents. When this occurs, the lamp will go out. We’re not talking literally, we’re talking metaphorically. In Survivor, when you’re voted out, they snuff your torch signifying your death in the game. This is the illusion Solomon is giving us. When it’s dark out, you need a lamp to see. If you’re rebellious to your parents, you are metaphorically put in the dark.

“An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning will not be blessed in the end.” If your mind is drawn to the prodigal son, you’re on the right track. This verse is connected to the previous verse about parents. Inheritances typically come from the parents and sometimes the worst thing you can do for your kids is give them money or possessions they don’t have to earn. There’s nothing wrong with providing for your children in the future, but the kids shouldn’t expect it. And most certainly, they shouldn’t demand it early. That’s what the prodigal did in Luke 15. In Lu. 15:12, the son says, “Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.” The son leaves and, “squandered his estate on loose living.” (Lu. 15:13) Easy money does not guarantee financial stability.

Our next relationship involves the Lord. “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and He will save you.” Paul repeated this in Rom. 12:17-19, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Paul quotes Deut. 32:35. The Lord will take care of you and will fight your battles on your behalf, but don’t assume that your enemies will be struck down. We’ve got to keep Paul’s command in the forefront of our mind when dealing with people that provide us with challenges. As much at it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Do what you can to foster peace: do what you can to be kind and loving, patient and compassionate. If people don’t respond the way you think they ought to, so what? It’s not on you. Don’t think you’ve always got to be the one looking out for yourself. Many times, He puts someone in the path that will fight on your behalf, but it’s still God working.

“Differing weights are an abomination to the Lord, and a false scale is not good.” We saw this exact principle in 20:10 and way back in 11:1.Don’t be dishonest in your business dealings.

“Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way?” I’d like to spend a bit of time here to talk about some important principles that many people discount. Keep in mind that Solomon said in 19:21, “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.” And back in Pro. 16:9 when Solomon said, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” In everything we do, we have a necessary dependence on God. That is not a bad thing. Our understanding of what goes on around us is severely limited. We can only see so far and we rarely understand or consider the impact our actions have on others. When you talk about God’s sovereignty, there is a tendency to become fatalistic. Whatever happens, happens, and that’s the way God wants it. We become like little puppets controlled by God. I think that’s the wrong way to look at life. Of course, we should have a desire to follow God’s will and I believe He has a purpose for us to fulfill. I don’t think it’s necessarily to have a global impact or somehow accomplish incredible things for Christ. I think for most of us, a simple life of passionate, zealous, and complete obedience will accomplish much for the Kingdom of God.

We often cannot comprehend what God is accomplishing behind the scenes of life and we would be foolish to think that it doesn’t matter. Humanity has free will, but God is the One that connects the ties that bind us together to accomplish His will. While I can assuredly say that not everyone follows God, everyone does play a part in fulfilling God’s will. God knows all the variables; He knows everything that can and or will change; He knows how the weather affects us, how people affect us; He knows all that and He is still the One that controls the universe. The fatalist says that nothing I do will change what will happen. Not true. Follow God and watch Him work in you and through you. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had not divorced; I wonder if my dad had not changed companies that led us to SC; I wonder what would have been if I went to Carolina instead of Winthrop. I wonder if I had not joined the Navy or only served for six years; I wonder if Kari and I had not married. I could go on and on, but God knew the decisions I would make that affected not just my life, but the lives of all the people in the last 53 years that I affected and those lives that affected me; good or bad, positive or negative. Don’t underestimate the impact you can have through God.

“It is a trap for a man to say rashly, “It is holy!” And after the vows to make inquiry.” This is a strangely worded verse has been interpreted several different ways. When taken in light of Eccl. 5:4-6 and Pro. 18:7, it seems the best interpretation is don’t make promises you cannot keep. It doesn’t matter if it’s a promise to God, although that one is really bad, or promises to a person that you either cannot keep or do not intend to keep. A common occurrence these days is saying you’re going to do something and in the back of your mind it’s true unless anything else comes up. One of the troubling things to me is how quick people are to let go of commitments they have made. It can be as simple as a child agreeing to clean their room and then doesn’t or being a member of a church committing to participate and support the body and then allowing that commitment to be superseded by other things. There truly are few people that can be relied upon.

Let’s shift over to royalty. Back when kings ruled the land, part of their responsibility was to mete out justice. This is handled by judges today and this is the angle I’m coming from. “A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them.” Winnows means scatter. Wisdom dictates that you separate criminals so they cannot devise evil schemes against people. It’s a great idea, but we put criminals together. One of the best places to learn how to commit crime is in jail or prison. We don’t do a great job of rehabilitating criminals that are incarcerated. Here’s a good question: is that what prisons are for? I submit to you that jail and prison are a place to go to pay the debt owed to society for the crime that has been committed. “Driving the threshing wheel” over someone gives further evidence to support a separation. The threshing wheel was used to separate grain from the chaff. A common form of the threshing wheel consisted of a couple of wooden planks that had several rollers attached underneath that were fitted with iron teeth. The thresher sat on the planks that were pulled by a team of oxen. As the threshing wheel rolled, the iron teeth would separate the grain. If you picture the threshing wheel rolling over a man, you can imagine the damage that might occur – even death. Our constitution protects people from cruel or unusual punishment so this method of punishment would obviously not be used here. Solomon is telling us that it takes a wise judge to mete out the proper punishment. I’ve got to remind you that biblical wisdom comes from God. The wise ruler must distinguish between the godless and the good and also has to use discernment in determining the punishment required.

The next verse is a really beautiful depiction of Christ’s love. “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts of his being.” When you look at God’s design for humanity, this makes perfect sense. Each of us has life breathed into our soul by God. Every human conceived, whether that life was actually born or not, was created by the power of God. Rom. 1:20 tells us that God put in us a desire to know Him. Humans are the only segment of God’s creation created in the image of God. We are created in God’s image with the ability to think and understand. In 1 Cor. 2:11, Paul said, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.” The spirit of man is an illusion to our conscience which has been designed in us by our Creator.

Solomon mentions two virtues of a good king. “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness.” Loyalty and righteousness come from the same Hebrew word which means covenant loyalty. Loyalty means a strong feeling of support or allegiance. In context, Solomon is talking about a mutual loyalty between the king and his kingdom. By application, you can see the far reaching implications of loyalty. I’ll ask the question, what are you loyal to? Certainly, family comes to mind. There are people loyal to their jobs, sometimes at the expense of loyalty to their families. Given that we’ve just finished the college football season, we saw a lot of people very loyal to their teams. When it comes to your loyalty to God, how is that demonstrated? If we keep the meaning of loyalty in mind, can you demonstrate a strong feeling of support or allegiance to God if you don’t pray, read or study your Bible? What about not participating in the things of the church? I often wonder how someone can say they pray and read their Bible faithfully yet don’t participate in church. Coming to church every week is included in that, but I’m talking about a daily loyalty to God because He is worthy of our loyalty.

“The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair.” Young men tend to rely on strength while older men tend to rely on wisdom. I’m not as strong as I used to be, but I’m a whole lot wiser than I used to be, and that’s not to say that I have my wisdom tank filled.

Finally, “Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts.” This is still talking about kings and punishment. Stripes refer to actual punishment inflicted as a result of a wrongdoing. “Strokes reach the innermost being” refers back to verse 27.

I know we’ve covered a lot of ground today. We started by looking at the parental relationship and the implications of being a bad child. Solomon spoke of being a virtuous king and the responsibility that comes with punishment. We saw some important aspects of our relationship with the Lord. I encourage you to conduct a critical self-evaluation of your faith. Ask someone you love and trust to provide you with some feedback.

Rapid Fire Principles

9 Jan

rapid-fireYou can check out the podcast here.

The last time we were in Proverbs, we learned the wise man stays away from strife, but the fool argues about things that don’t matter. Don’t allow yourself to be baited into an argument. There are fights to fight, but this isn’t what Solomon is talking about. He’s talking about nonsensical arguments where you’re wasting breath. Be mindful of the plans others have or present to you. They may not be what they appear to be so take the time to ask the right questions. Loyalty and trustworthiness are qualities that are diminishing as we move through time. Become the person that God wants you to be. We saw the value of a godly king and the Queen of Sheba recognized that quality in Solomon. This morning, we’ll see some rapid fire principles; some that we’ve already looked at and we’ll also dive into the issue of trustworthiness.

Take a look at our passage found in Proverbs 20:9-19.

Let’s start with one of my favorite topics. Solomon says, “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from sin?’” It’s a rhetorical question, but we can quickly answer it. The standard for holiness is not being good. The standard for a relationship with God is not made on our terms.  No matter who you might think God is, you have to approach Him in the manner He has determined. The only way to approach God is in perfection and folks, we fall short. That’s why Solomon asks the simple question, “Who can say I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?” The answer is no one. Rom. 3:10 reminds us, “There is none righteous, not even one.” But it didn’t stop there. The conclusion to that thought is found in Rom. 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” New life can come only after death. I know it may not make sense, but it’s true. When there is new life, the old is passed away. Your life is like the changing of the seasons. The dead, cold winter gives way to new life in the spring time. This verse is a realization that we are sinners and we cannot do anything to cleanse ourselves. 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” In Rom. 3:9, Paul made sure everyone was on the same page when he asked the rhetorical question, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” We are all born into sin. We can choose to stay in our sin or acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Savior and turn from our wicked ways. Read Rom. 5:18-21 to learn that the purification comes from what Christ has done.

The shady business practices in v. 10 are the same things Solomon addressed in 11:1 when he said, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.”

Look at the lad in v. 11. Notice it’s not what someone says although that’s important. “It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself if his conduct is pure and right.” The lad Solomon mentions is a young man. The idea is that young people generally are free from the pretenses grown-ups have. They have not yet learned the finer points of discretion. You’ve heard the phrase, “Out of the mouths of babes?” Kids are generally are a what you see is what you get kind of people. Kids don’t hide their motives. When they want something, they ask or demand it. The point is that it is the actions of the child indicate who he really is. Of course, the conduct of people can be evaluated as well. Solomon says so in the next verse: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made both of them.” This points to the fact that the Lord has given us ears to hear and eyes to see. You are able to judge the character of someone by what you see and hear.

Here’s a series of verses regarding work. There’s a lot here, but it’s pretty straightforward. Solomon says, “Do not love sleep, or you will become poor; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food.” Before social media, if you were tired, few people knew about it and it really didn’t matter because you had to live life. Today, being tired is a viable excuse not to fulfill any commitments you may have. You’re too tired so you call out of work. I’ve heard of people that are too tired to do housework and yard work; they’re too tired to go to Bible study, or Community Group and sometimes people can even be too tired to go to church. What’s funny is that people are rarely too tired to go to a party, baby shower, the movies, a concert, or the beach. I bring this up in light of the previous verse Solomon just said about the seeing eye and the hearing ear. You can talk a good game, but your actions scream out true intentions. Don’t be sleeping when there is work to be done.

“Bad, bad,” says the buyer, but when he goes his way, then he boasts.” This is for you people that love to shop in places where you can negotiate for the best price. You’re looking to get the best price so you tell the merchant what a piece of junk it is he’s trying to sell. You talk him down to a lower price then you go about bragging about how slick a negotiator you are.

“There is gold, and an abundance of jewels; but the lips of knowledge are a more precious thing.” This is a common theme throughout Proverbs. It’s way better to have knowledge than gold.

“Take his garment when he becomes surety for a stranger; and for foreigners, hold him in pledge.” Back in Bible days, it was common practice to use a garment, a coat or cloak, as security for a debt. Today, we could think of this a title loan. There are a number of warnings in Proverbs about acting as security for other’s debt. We’ve seen it in 6:1, 11:15, 17:18, and we’ll see it again in 22:26. This isn’t a verse promoting harsh treatment. The point here is that if a person ignores this sound financial advice and makes a pledge for a stranger, then hold that stranger accountable. Take his garments or hold him in pledge as a servant so you don’t suffer loss. There is a difference between Christian charity and a lack of accountability. In today’s society, we think if someone is held accountable for their actions, whether it’s debt or holding to their faith or challenging someone on their ungodly beliefs that we are judgmental, unloving, and intolerant. Remember the housing crash where people were foreclosed on their homes? They couldn’t make their payments and the bank took back the house and somehow, the banks turned out to be the bad guys. Now, it’s awful that people lost their homes, but if you say you’re going to pay back a debt, shouldn’t you be held accountable?

“Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.” This is about honesty. As I have mentioned many times, we often get requests from people that need help with a variety of financial issues. From the electric or water bill to repairs for their vehicle. Many times they have just gotten a job, but won’t get a paycheck for another week or two. Some of these people are telling the truth and some are not. How do you tell the difference? You don’t. If the Lord leads you to help someone and they misuse your generosity, that’s not on you, it’s on them. The advantage gained by someone being dishonest will be short lived. The gravel is not literal gravel, but the discomfort, pain, and suffering that come as a result of being dishonest.

“Prepare plans by consultation, and make war by wise guidance.” This is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to point out something I have experienced a number of times. As a shepherd or pastor, I am rarely brought into a discussion early in a decision making process. Too often, the person that has willingly submitted to membership and has voluntarily placed themselves under the authority of the church and her leadership, refuses to seek my guidance or input. There are a few exceptions, but my experience is that people will typically do what they want to do. Is it the day in which we live. The church has become really no different than any other organization. “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” A secret is just that.

It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong or sinful about it, but the person may not want it revealed at this point in time. People do have a right to privacy and no one wants that privacy violated. Maybe you reveal a secret under the guise of, they wouldn’t mind if I tell so and so. There are people I will never tell anything private. Solomon says don’t even associate with someone that has loose lips.

We began by asking the rhetorical question, who is without sin? The cleansing we enjoy is not because of anything we have done, by because of what Jesus did. Youngsters say what comes to mind because they haven’t developed the ability to hide their motives. We looked at a number of principles for daily, principled living whether it’s at home, the job, or in church. Next week, we’ll hopefully finish up this chapter by continuing to look at principles for daily living.

Good News for 2017

3 Jan

2017Check out the audio version here.

Take a look at our passage for today found in Rom. 10:11-15.

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.”

I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2016.  There were some items that people will consider good news while most people will consider it all bad. Here are the top news stories of 2016 according to AP.

  1. US ELECTION: This year’s top story traces back to June 2015, when Donald Trump descended an escalator in Trump Tower, his bastion in New York City, to announce he would run for president. Widely viewed as a long shot, with an unconventional campaign featuring raucous rallies and pugnacious tweets, he outlasted 16 Republican rivals. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton beat back an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, and won the popular vote over Trump. But he won key Rust Belt states to get the most electoral votes, and will enter the White House with Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.
  2. BREXIT: Confounding pollsters and odds makers, Britons voted in June to leave the European Union, triggering financial and political upheaval. David Cameron resigned as prime minister soon after the vote, leaving the task of negotiating an exit to a reshaped Conservative government led by Theresa May. Under a tentative timetable, final details of the withdrawal might not be known until the spring of 2019.
  3. BLACK MEN KILLED BY POLICE: One day apart, police in Baton Rouge, LA, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and a white police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. Coming after several similar cases in recent years, the killings rekindled debate over policing practices and the Black Lives Matter movement.
  4. PULSE NIGHTCLUB MASSACRE: The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded on Latin Night at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people over the course of three hours before dying in a shootout with SWAT team members. During the standoff, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
  5. WORLDWIDE TERROR ATTACKS: Across the globe, extremist attacks flared at a relentless pace throughout the year. Among the many high-profile attacks were those that targeted airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a park teeming with families and children in Pakistan, and the seafront boulevard in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed when a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration. In Iraq alone, many hundreds of civilians were killed in repeated bombings.
  6. ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ambushes and targeted attacks on police officers in the U.S. claimed at least 20 lives. The victims included five officers in Dallas working to keep the peace at a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in MN and LA. Ten days after that attack, a man killed three officers in Baton Rouge, LA. In Iowa, two policemen were fatally shot in separate ambush-style attacks while sitting in their patrol cars.
  7. DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMAIL LEAKS: Hacked emails, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed at-times embarrassing details from Democratic Party operatives in run-up to Election Day, leading to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials. The CIA later concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hacking in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton.
  8. SYRIA: Repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia’s help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction.
  9. SUPREME COURT: After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to fill the vacancy. However, majority Republicans in the Senate refused to consider the nomination, opting to leave the seat vacant so it could be filled by the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump has promised to appoint a conservative in the mold of Scalia.
  10. HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS: Amid the presidential campaign, the FBI conducted an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails she sent and received as secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton for carelessness but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges.

Those are just the top stories and you might argue there was one piece of good news, but the rest are clearly what we would call bad news. We typically focus only on bad news.

As Christ followers, we have the privilege to share the good news that is always good. The good news we have is called the Gospel. We just celebrated Christmas which tells the story of how Jesus was conceived of a virgin and born into this world. We must go further and tell people that He lived a sinless life as He walked the road to Calvary where He willingly gave up His life so that we could be reconciled with God. Jesus died on that cross, but three days later, He rose again defeating death. He was seen walking about by the multitudes and He gave people hope. Jesus ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. That’s all exceedingly good news. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

As we move into the New Year, there’s going to be crises, challenges, and problems. Let’s focus on living for Christ in spite of our circumstances. Let’s adjust our attitudes and focus on the positive.

As I look forward to the coming year, there are a few things I would like to see happen:

I’d like to see people truly commit their life to Christ. It’s clear that this is what God wants: 1 Tim. 2:4 says, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Somewhere along the way, we decided that sin is relative. There is no standard of conduct, but the Bible is very clear that we have a sin problem. Rom. 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Is. 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But I have more good news: God has given up on us. God draws us to Him through the power of the Spirit. Jo. 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” God made a way through Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We have been justified in Christ: we are declared righteous based on the merits of Jesus. We have been sanctified: Christ’s righteousness is applied to each of us every single day. It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone knows they’re welcome at the foot of the cross. Jo. 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Peter said it this way:“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Pet. 3:9) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (Jo. 3:16) You don’t have to be a certain way to get Christ, come as you are.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about their personal faith and ministry. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in the life of the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 records his conversion experience. The same Holy Spirit that transformed that murderer into an apostle lives in us so why do we have such low expectations from Christians today? Saul was lost. He finally recognized where he was without Christ and made a decision to follow Him and immediately began preaching. The people of the day were confused at this miraculous transformation, but that didn’t deter Saul from telling others what had happened. Acts 9:22says, “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” We need a renewed passion for Christ.

These days, a general commitment to Christ substitutes for repentance. We’re satisfied with mediocrity; we’re satisfied being halfway committed to Christ and His bride. Committed means to be wholeheartedly dedicated. I often say I wish people would be half as committed to their walk of faith as they are their favorite sports team. Faithfulness has been replaced by casualness. We spend a lot of time and energy engaged in things that don’t really matter when you consider eternity. We have a tendency to take things for granted. We think God will always be there and we’ll start really serving Him when we’re ready or when we have time. Remember Saul persecuted the church and then met God and his life was never the same. Today we have people meet this same God and their lives are no different. What’s really disturbing about that is many people in the church are okay with it.

In 2017, I’d love to see people get passionate about God. I’d like to see people take Bible study with us. In 2016, we had over 200 people take Bible study with us in person and online and studied the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and now we’re studying God’s covenants. What I have observed over the last 17 years I’ve been in ministry is that people who consistently study and apply the Bible to their lives grow stronger in their faith. When the challenges of life occur, you’re better equipped to handle it. Other people will see this and ask you how you did it. You use that as a springboard to tell people about the power of God that is available to them. It would be really nice if that power you speak of is evident in your own life. More often than not, we treat God as the genie in the bottle. We reach for Him when we want something and then we put Him back on the shelf for another day. That is not how you worship the God of the universe. We’ve got it backwards: we look for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him.

I think we have a tendency be complacent. Matt. 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” To put anything above the Lord is foolish, but we do it all the time. I think few people would admit that, but our actions speak louder than our words. I’d like to see people get more involved in the opportunities we have here. I think we’ve gotten lazy in our faith. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work hard. Fewer and fewer people make themselves available to do the hard, stressful, and emotionally draining work of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are willing to persevere. More and more people say no to serving in the church What have you said yes to? I’d like to see people really make connections with others. There are people very casual about participation in the things of the church. We have people that miss one, two, three, four weeks and no one seems to notice and if they do notice, nothing comes of it. I’d like to see people participate in intentional ministry.

I’d like God’s people resist Satan. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (Ja. 4:7) We cannot resist the devil in our own strength. We must first submit ourselves to God.  Then we can stand against Satan in the strength and might of the Lord Himself. Resist his destructive plans. Satan is a destroyer. He will try to destroy your home, your church relationship, your testimony, etc. Once you say yes to Satan, it becomes easier the next time, and easier. Satan’s way is never good, but unfortunately, even Christians are too ignorant to recognize this. Stay far from sin. Don’t see how close you can get.

I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2017. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised in John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” We’re too attached to this temporary home. We work to have things that will pass away. We spend the majority of our time on things that have no bearing on eternity.

What do you want to hear and see by the end of next year? How many will you share Christ with? How will you serve the Lord by serving others? Will you live the life of holiness God has called you to live? How authentic will you be?

The Fascination of the Shepherds

19 Dec

angel-and-shepherdsCheck out the podcast here.

Last week we focused on the shepherds and the angels for good reason that we will see this morning. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time we look at it. The shepherds were scared out of their minds when the angel of the Lord appeared, but the angel told them something incredible: a Savior had been born. The angel even gave them a sign on how to find the One. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. This morning, we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

Read Luke 2:11-20 to get a feel for the context as we take a final look this year at the Christmas story.

How did the shepherds respond? They heard the message from the angel of the Lord. “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” It was a message of hope, a message of peace, a message of salvation, a message of deliverance. Maybe you’ve shared the same message except you change it around and say 2000 years ago, a Savior was born. The shepherds could have responded in a number of ways. We’ve heard the message before. We’re too busy with our jobs to listen. Apathy, indifference, disdain. All the same things you hear today. Maybe there’s something lacking in our lives that was present with the angels that had them convincing the shepherds to find out more. Maybe we lack the glory of the Lord in our lives. Maybe we use words to speak about His power, but it seems to be lacking in our own lives. Maybe we don’t confidently share what God has done in our lives because we fail to see what He has done. Maybe the message of the manger is ignored because we’ve lost or never had God’s glory. The glory of God should be evident in our lives. It’s an acknowledgement of who He is, of His power, of His compassion, of His mercy, and His grace. It doesn’t mean everything is going great, will be great, or that we’ve figured it all out; it’s just that we recognize that God is God. When presented with the incredible message of the good news of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds responded in an incredible way. They went to Bethlehem. An angel appears and tells them a Savior has been born, the multitudes break out in shouts of praise and the shepherds move from fright to fascination. “When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” The angels left and they immediately began to talk among themselves. The talking wasn’t a debate. They said let’s check it out. Let’s, “See this thing that has happened.”

What did the shepherds do? I love how Luke portrays what happens next. “So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph.” We have no idea how they found Mary and Joseph. Maybe they asked around about a pregnant girl, maybe they knew all the inns that were in Bethlehem, maybe they knew all the places where a traveling couple could stay; who knows? One thing is for sure – they were in a hurry. Hurry means move or act quickly. They were obedient and they were quick about it. I could spend a whole lot of time here. We don’t see the shepherds praying about what to do. We don’t see them getting advice from their friends. We don’t see them making excuses about why they can’t go check it out. We don’t see them saying I’ve seen a fresh born baby before. They left the fields and went to Bethlehem to see this thing that had happened. They wanted to be a part of something that had never happened before. If I could take a side trip here. God is doing incredible things all around us if we’ll just take the time to recognize it. The shepherds were told to go and they wanted to check it out themselves so they went.

There is an indication that they were told to go because the angel tells them, “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.” They found Mary and Joseph, “And the baby as He lay in the manger.” Not only did they find Mary, and Joseph, and the baby . . . they found Him exactly as they were told. It was specific. I’m laying odds that there weren’t any other babies born that night in Bethlehem. Don’t underestimate the significance of this. The shepherds found the baby exactly as they were told. Since they found the baby exactly as they were told, it stands to reason that the identity of the baby would be exactly as they were told. A Savior has been born and there will not be another one. Messiah is here! Col. 1:19 says, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” This is the way God designed it. Full access, full grace, full mercy, full redemption, full restoration, and full peace. Can you imagine being there? Did the shepherds fully understand what they were seeing? Did they understand they were seeing the face of God? Could they possibly comprehend that they were looking at the salvation of mankind?

The shepherds visited with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and, “They made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” This is fantastically brilliant. The shepherds met the Savior and what did they do? They became evangelists telling anyone and everyone who would listen. They shared the message from the angels, they shared about meeting with Mary and Joseph, and they shared about the baby that God had given for mankind’s redemption. It was a story that was absolutely incredible. They heard the announcement of the angel and they responded. I can imagine them seeing someone in Bethlehem and beginning a conversation, “You are not going to believe this, but let me tell you what has just happened.” “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.” There is one word that really gets to me. It’s the pronoun all. Everyone that heard the message about Jesus from the shepherds wondered. Wondered is also translated amazed. Without exception, people were amazed at the story of Jesus’ birth. Do we find that today? Today, even in the church, we have lost the incredibleness of the birth of our Savior. We’ve heard it so often, that it’s just another Bible story. Believers get caught up in the same things that draw other people away from Jesus. We’re inundated with events that fill up our December. We think about presents that need to be bought and the bills that are going to come in. We have believers that make a jolly old fella with a white beard the center of a season that must be reserved for the Savior of the world.

How did Mary respond after the shepherds left? “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The things she treasured is everything concerning Jesus. How He was conceived, His birth, and His life. Was she thinking of Gen. 3:15 when Jesus birth was first prophesied? Since you’re already in Luke, take a quick look at Lu. 2:25-35. At this point, there’s no indication that Mary understood the implication of being the Savior. She pondered these things. She wondered, she thought, she tried to wrap her brain around the things she was told and the things she saw with her own eyes, but it is really hard to understand and remember, she was likely a teenager. When we consider Is. 9:6-7, she was probably asking herself what it meant to have the government rest upon His shoulders. She probably didn’t understand that there, “Will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.” You think about what you know and how hard it is to understand this precious gift that God has given to us. Mary pondered these things, she thought about it and I’m sure it perplexed her.

What did the shepherds do? “The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” Matthew doesn’t mention the shepherds, Mark and John start off their gospels with John the baptizer. We don’t see the shepherds again. They drift off into scriptural oblivion not to be mentioned again. I find it curious because the shepherds played such an important role in this event. No matter the incredible and great things the Lord calls us to do and we accomplish through Him, it’s still all about Jesus. The shepherds told Bethlehem about Jesus and they went back into the fields praising God – present tense. When we see and hear things about God, do we praise Him? This is what I’m talking about. We are so underwhelmed with the things of God. The shepherds had a personal encounter with God and they responded by telling anyone who would listen about the Messiah. As a professing believer, you’ve said you’ve had a personal encounter with God and how do you respond? Do you immediately tell others about what has happened? You cannot acknowledge the gift that was given by God without acknowledging the reason the gift was given.

After Jesus is circumcised on the eighth day, He continued according to Lu. 2:40, “to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” We don’t see or hear anything about Jesus until he’s 12 years old when His parents make their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. After the Passover, Mary and Joseph leave to head home and don’t realize Jesus isn’t with them until they had traveled a day’s journey. One final passage I’d like you to read for yourself. Look at Lu. 2:45-51. We find the same phrase when Mary is treasuring these things in her heart. Jesus must be about His father’s business. You cannot have Christmas without recognizing the reason it had to happen. Jesus was born of a virgin to enable Him to be our Passover lamb. He lived a sinless life so that He could affect the redemption of mankind. He is a gift. Maybe you have never received and accepted the gift of God. Maybe this year is the year you will.

The Fright of the Shepherds

12 Dec

shepherdCheck out the audio version here.

Last week we reviewed the journey that Mary and Joseph took to get from Galilee to Bethlehem and why they had to make the trip. We saw what must have been a difficult birth process with only Joseph attending to Mary and what did he know? This was his first child too. We left Jesus in the manger all wrapped up in the swaddling cloths. Let’s keep going and see how the other characters responded to the birth of Christ.

Read over Luke 2:6-20 to get an idea of the context of the birth of Christ.

Luke tells us that there were, “Some shepherd staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.” The shepherds are always part of the story. I want you to put yourself in the place of the shepherds. How would you respond if, “The angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them?” Have you ever suddenly appeared to your spouse? Your kids? They screamed. Do you think the shepherds would have done anything different? Of course not because the text tells us, “They were terribly frightened.” They were scared out of their wits. Frightened is the Greek word phobeo. What’s really interesting is the shepherds of that day were generally not the most well respected, wonderful folks in town. Why the shepherds? Why not merchants? Why not the elders of the city? The shepherds were generally dishonest, dirty, and smelly people. The shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks. It was dark and likely very quiet when all of a sudden, the angel appears.

The angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a little late for that! They’ve just had the fright of their life and they’re already scared, but don’t you do this with your kids? They’re in their dark bedroom and they tell you they’re afraid and you tell them, “Don’t be afraid” and they’re supposed to respond by saying okay. The appearance of the angel is different. Your kids are afraid of what might be in the dark. The shepherds were afraid of what suddenly appeared out of the dark. You’d be scared too. The angel told the shepherds something very specific. “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel speaks directly to the shepherds so make this personal. The angel told the shepherds that the good news was for all people. That phrase good news is from the Greek word euangelizo where we get our English word evangelize. The good news is not only of Christ’s birth, but that there has been born a Savior and He is named. Don’t miss the fact that the Savior has been born for all people. All is an interesting word that means all, not a select number, not a few chosen ones, but all. A Savior has been born. In Matt. 1:21 an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “She will bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is the Savior, the long awaited Messiah, our Deliverer, our Redeemer, He is Lord.

In case the shepherds doubted the message, the angel of the Lord told them there was a sign. Really get this in your mind. An angel appears out of thin air and tells the shepherds that the Savior, the One that had been prophesied from the beginning of humanity, the Savior that has been talked about for thousands of years has been born and then the angel tells them how they can find Jesus. He’s in the City of David – Bethlehem, and He’s wrapped up tightly in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger. This is a very specific description to eliminate any confusion in case there was another new born baby in the town. They were given specific instructions on how to find the One. It’s no mistake that the angel appears to these lowly shepherds. Isn’t that the message of hope that we all need? Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. After Jesus grew up, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lu. 5:32) The angel delivers the life changing news that had been prophesied about from the beginning of time and they get to be a part of it.

What is the collective response to this incredible announcement? “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Here’s the same “suddenly” that we saw earlier. Without warning, the angel of the Lord is joined by his heavenly colleagues. Multitude comes from the same word as plethora. It was the hallelujah chorus. Hallelujah means praise Ye Yahweh. Many people think of Handel’s Messiah. Handel was actually inspired by Rev. 19, but it still works here. Imagine for a moment that you are a heavenly being and you’ve also been waiting for the Messiah, not for yourself, but to see the plan they knew of in Gen. 3:15 come to fruition. There was a boat load of heavenly beings and they were, “Saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” I think it’s important to define the words we so casually say and sing this time of year. Glory comes from the word doxa which means splendor which means magnificence. When the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest” they were expressing God’s incredibleness, His awesomeness, His uniqueness, His majesticness, His greatness, and every other accolade you can attribute to a perfect, holy, righteous, all powerful being. In all of eternity there is none like Him and no one will ever be like Him.

“And on earth peace among men.” The only way to have true peace is to embrace Jesus as Savior. With Him, we can know true peace and it passes all understanding. That word peace means completeness or wholeness. Don’t overlook the significance of this message! If you don’t know Jesus, you cannot have peace. What the world defines as peace is not peace. Jesus provides the opportunity to be complete, to be restored to the relationship God designed for humanity, but it can only come through the gift that was found in the manger. Later in 19:38, Luke says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And in Acts 10:36, “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” When confronted with the reality of who God is and what He has done there is only one response and that is worship!

In this message, we focused on the shepherds and the angels and there’s a reason for that. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time. The shepherds were scared out of their minds when the angel of the Lord appeared, but the angel told them something incredible: a Savior had been born. The angel even gave them a sign on how to find the One. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned for the next installment as we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

What’s the Harm with Santa Claus?

7 Dec

This is a reposting of an article I wrote in December 2010 concerning Santa Claus and believers. This is my perspective as a child of the King, a father, a grand-father, and a pastor.

He’s fat and jolly. He loves kids. As Christians, is there a problem including Santa in your Christmas festivities and if so, what’s the big deal? I get asked that question fairly often during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

We see it all too frequently. Parents drag their kids all over town to get their picture made with Santa. Many children are placed on Santa’s lap kicking and screaming. I mean, really kicking and screaming. Think about it, some children don’t want to sit on the lap of someone they know let alone a complete stranger, but Santa dutifully endures the children, no matter what kind of mood they’re in.

By most reports, the origin of Santa Claus can be traced back to the 4th century and a man named Saint Nicholas. He was the Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors supposedly stole his remains and moved them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe. St. Nick’s reputation for generosity gave rise to the idea he could perform miracles. It wasn’t until 1822 when Clement C. Moore wrote the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for his family on Christmas Eve that the idea of Santa Claus grew to legendary proportions. The story became known as, “The Night before Christmas” and was first published on December 23, 1823. The rest I suppose, is history.

Santa Claus continued to live on in the hearts and minds of children and adults as well. He is on TV every December in the classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” as well as others. Santa has appeared in a myriad of movies including, “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Polar Express,”  The Santa Clause 1, 2, 3,” “Santa Claus, the Movie,” and “Ernest Saves Christmas.” And who can forget the popular 1964 movie, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

Santa is so fun, who could find fault with such a popular, lovable, jolly, old guy in a red suit?

I’m not going to tell you what to do, mostly because my experience has shown me that people will do what they want to do anyway. I would however, like to offer up some ideas why bringing jolly old St. Nick into our lives might not be the best thing to do as an authentic Christ follower.

Can we be authentic Christians if we include Santa in our Christmas activities? There are people that I love and respect that include Santa in their family Christmas traditions so I don’t want you to think I live with some lofty, high, and mighty, holier than you people attitude because I don’t. I love the Santa Clause movies (all three of them) and I love Elf. But what’s the difference in enjoying a good Santa Claus movie and telling our children that Santa Claus brings them presents? I would say there’s a huge difference.

 

SPOILER ALERT!       SPOILER ALERT!

 

Santa Claus is not real. At all. He’s totally fake. Really.

Look at the characteristics of Santa.

  • He knows when you’ve been good or bad, so you need to be good, for goodness sake, right? The idea is that Santa brings gifts to those children that are good. Often forgotten now a days, is that he gives a lump of coal to those naughty children. Have you ever known any child that got a lump of coal in his stocking? Can you name just one kid? Have you ever known someone that knew someone that knew someone else that heard of a kid getting coal at Christmas? Me neither. The idea here is that a child needs to earn the gifts that Santa brings. I’ve never met a kid that didn’t think they were “good” enough to receive presents.
    • Santa’s reward system is contrary to that of God. God’s gift is unconditional. John 3:16 tells us that God gave His son to us simply because He loved us. We didn’t have to earn God’s love.
    • So God’s gift is not dependent upon our behavior. Can I get a Hallelujah?!?!? In fact Romans 5:8 tells us God’s criteria is the exact opposite of Santa’s. Even though we are currently bad (sinners), Christ  died for us. It’s not whether or not we are good or bad, it’s simply because we are here.
    • Only God is omniscient.
  • Santa has the supernatural ability to deliver presents to children all over the world beginning on Christmas Eve by flying around in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Think about the logistics of that. Does he go back and forth to the North Pole to restock, or does he carry all the gifts at once? Is the sleigh equipped for landing on any type of terrain? I mean does it work on sand so Santa can go to places in Saudi Arabia? Does he have a conversion package that adapts the sleigh to concrete landings? I know these are silly questions, but you see how far you have to go to continue the myth of Santa. He has to be everywhere at once in order to carry out this feat.
    • Jeremiah 23:25 tells us that God fills the heavens and the earth.
    • Proverbs 15:3 says the eyes of the Lord are everywhere.
    • Psalm 139:7-10 tells us there is no place where He is not.
    • Only God is omnipresent.

So Santa takes on a God-like character. Is that a problem? I think so. I’m pretty sure that God said there shouldn’t be any gods before Him. Now I’m not saying anyone out there is worshiping Santa, but come on, when did it become okay to lie to your children? I don’t know a parent out there that would be okay with their children lying to them. After all, isn’t that what you are doing by perpetuating the myth that Santa is real? Do you tell your kids that there really is a talking sponge that wears square pants?

What about selfishness? Acts 20:35 says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Doesn’t the idea of Santa bringing presents contradict that? When a child sits on Santa’s lap, the conversation typically goes like this: Santa: “Have you been a good boy (girl) this year?” As a side note, why does Santa ask this? I thought he knew if you’ve been good or bad. Well perhaps it’s to give the kid an opportunity to fess up for wrongdoings. Anyway, back to Santa. After that question, he generally asks, “What do you want for Christmas?”  The child then recites a list of acceptable gift ideas for Santa. Now it’s about getting gifts, not giving which is consistent with Scripture.

In light of this, when do you talk to your kids about Jesus? Isn’t He the reason we celebrate Christmas? What about the manger? What about His miraculous birth? What about His purpose for coming? What about God’s incredible, unconditional gift to us? I cannot reconcile Santa with the Bible.

As Christian parents, our primary mission regarding our children is to introduce them to Jesus Christ at the earliest age possible teaching them who He is and why He came.

I am certain there are people that completely disagree with me including pastors and people a whole lot smarter than me. That’s fine. It is my choice to exclude Santa from our celebration. It is your choice to include him. I don’t love you less, I don’t think bad thoughts about you. When I present my case, some people get down right angry with me. Yes, it’s true. They’ll say, “Pastor Ian is just an old-fashioned fuddy duddy that wants to take the joy out of Christmas for my child.” On the contrary, I want to introduce you to Jesus Christ, the only person we can truly find joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas, not Santa Claus. What are you missing out by excluding something that is not in the Christmas story found in the Word of God? Remember, I’m talking to people who profess to be followers of Christ. Why would you want to take any of the focus off of the One that made our salvation possible?

One more thought. When your kids find out that you have been perpetuating a myth about Santa (okay, when they find out you have lied to them), how will they feel about what you have told them about Jesus. Will He be viewed as a myth or make believe too? Hmmm.