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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.

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.

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.

Looking for a Fight

29 Nov

argueYou can download the podcast here.

The last time we were in Proverbs, we concluded our discussion of social drinking. While this issue can result in a draw as far as definitive direction, the question is not, “Can I drink socially, but why do I want to drink socially?” While you have the freedom to drink, it may not be profitable (1 Cor. 6:12) and may even contribute to the stumbling of others (Gal. 5:13). If you weren’t here for both parts, I encourage you to listen to the podcast or read my blog to catch up. This morning, we’ll see some rephrasing of principles we’ve already looked at and we’ll dive into the issue of trustworthiness.

Our passage today comes from Proverbs 20:2-8. I hope you’ll take time to read it as we start.

Solomon starts out with a very simple sentiment: don’t do this. Solomon says, “The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion; he who provokes him to anger forfeits his own life.” We’ve seen this in Pro. 16:14 when Solomon said, “The fury of a king is like messengers of death.” In Pro. 19:12, “The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion.” Kings hold life and death in their hands so don’t make them mad.

Here is another principle you may not have known was biblical. “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel.” There are people that will argue about the dumbest things. It seems some people are always looking for a fight. Never talk politics or religion at a party. People immediately ramp up with those topics. As time has gone on, people seem to ramp up about a lot of topics.  Who has the better sports team or sports conference. Designated hitter or not. What’s the better truck, Ford or Chevy? What’s the best school to go to. Who has the best coffee or doughnuts. The list goes on and on. It’s honorable to stay away from strife. Strife is angry or bitter disagreement or conflict. Some people think that you have to fight for your rights, you have to stand up for what you believe in because it’s all about you. Of course there are times when you need to stand up for yourself, but Solomon is talking about someone that loves to fight. Someone like this Solomon says is a fool. You might be thinking of someone right now that falls into this category. Don’t be so quick to ramp up and be in total defensive mode. Have a little grace; show a little mercy; demonstrate some kindness. After all, who do you represent? Remember that you are a child of God and your behavior matters. Take the attitude of Abram when he, “said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers.” (Gen. 13:8) This is the let’s all get along mentality.

What about when that strife is in the church? That’s a whole different animal. Thankfully, we haven’t really experienced anything like this here at C4, but there are people in the church that fall into this category. There are churches where there is infighting about things that don’t really matter. The common denominator in each of these situations is people. One person tries to exert pressure, influence, or control over another. It can be the pastor, an elder, a deacon, a leader, or someone that has been there a long time. There are churches where nothing new is ever done. There are churches that have always done the same thing. I hope that we have bred a culture at C4 where there is an openness to new ideas, a desire to be more effective, and a goal of getting people involved in the decision making process. Remember Paul’s instruction to, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32) We need to have a balance of mercy, grace, patience, correction, encouragement, and all the other attributes Paul and others talk about in our Christian walk.

We’ve seen the following principles before. “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.” He’s too lazy to work so he must resort to the generosity of others. A good question to ponder is when do you cross the line from generosity to enabling?

“A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.” This verse isn’t talking about plans apart from God. This has more to do with discerning the real intent of a plan. Solomon gives us a metaphor about water. You have to have the right gear to explore deep water properly. You can’t dive into the ocean with a snorkel and expect to understand what lies at the bottom. That’s what Solomon is saying. It may take some digging to get to the real purpose of a plan. Over the years, people have made suggestions about things we need to do or should do at C4. My typical response goes one of two ways. Let me think about it or would you be willing to head that up. What is on the surface of a plan may not be what’s at the bottom of it. It takes some investigating; it takes some understanding and the only way to get understanding is to dig. That’s what Solomon is saying here. It takes some time to draw out the real reasons behind plans. This leads to the next topic.

What about loyalty? “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” There is a difference between a proclamation and reality. The true meaning of this verse doesn’t come across clearly, but there is a phrase that helps us out. It’s the phrase, “proclaims his own loyalty.” When you check out the cross references for this verse, it takes you to the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew talks about the hypocrites who sound the trumpet when giving to the poor. (Matt. 6:2) Luke speaks of the Pharisee who prayed in the square thanking God that he wasn’t, “like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Lu. 18:11) There was a self-proclaimed loyalty to the things of God, but the reality was different.

True loyalty and character are very rare, especially these days. I can say all day long that I am loyal to something, but if there is no demonstration, am I really loyal? What are we loyal to these days? School, sports, extra-curricular activities, friends, recreation and the list goes on and on. I’ve gone over this before. It seems like we’re most loyal to the things that matter the least. This guy proclaims his own loyalty to God as is demonstrated by his activity, but when you really look at the life, there’s little evidence to support his claim. When Solomon asks the question, “Who can find a trustworthy man?”, I picture him saying the next verse in a nostalgic kind of way. It’s like he’s thinking back to a simpler time when a man’s word was his bond. “A righteous man who walks in his integrity – how blessed are his sons after him.” It’s a blessing to have a dad that is honorable, that demonstrates the character and qualities that honor God.

Let’s go back to the king. We have established quite easily I think, that Solomon was an incredibly wise man. How was he perceived by others? Was he respected by other world leaders? The Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon and had to check him out for herself. While the exact location of Sheba is not known, it is believed to be the area of the southern Arabian Peninsula and the eastern part of Ethiopia. 1 Ki. 10:1 says, “Now when the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with difficult questions.” Solomon’s reputation was not confined to the land of Israel. The queen was no slouch herself. She came with camels, spices, and a lot of gold and precious stones. The Bible says, “She spoke with him about all that was in her heart.” Solomon had a reputation for wisdom and after talking with him, she concluded, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom.” (1 Ki. 10:6) So when Solomon says, “A king who sits on the throne of justice dispenses all evil with his eyes,” he’s talking from personal experience. Isn’t that the kind of leader we want for our nation? Of course, we will not have perfect authority and leadership until Jesus take His rightful place. But it sure would be nice if we elected and sought leaders who hold to biblical values. It sure would be nice if we had believers that stood up and were vocal about biblical morality and truth, but that’s just not the way it works. We live in a world governed by sin and until the time comes when God says enough is enough, we live victoriously knowing the work God has done in us through the power of the Holy Spirit and the finished work of Christ. There’s more to being a good leader than sitting on a throne. No matter where you rule, or supervise, or manage, you need to learn to do so with grace, honor, and humility. The queen of Sheba concluded by saying, “Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Ki. 10:9)

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. Spend the time to ask the right questions. Loyalty and trustworthiness are qualities that are diminishing as we move through time. You become the person that God wants you to be. Finally, we sat the value of a godly king and the Queen of Sheba recognized that quality in Solomon.

My Liberty (Part 2)

14 Nov

You can check out the podcast here.

Two weeks ago, I laid a foundation for the issue of social drinking. To put your mind at ease, I’m not going to tell you to totally abstain from drinking alcohol and I’m not going to say take a drink once in a while. I want to walk you through the wisdom of Solomon and then you can determine what is the wisest thing to do. This morning, we’ll conclude the message about alcohol although we’ll see it again in Proverbs.

Pro. 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.”

alcoholSo, what’s the Bible say about social drinking? I’ve taken an inordinate amount of time to lay the foundation for this issue that seems to be gaining a foot hold in the church. Jesus turning water into wine is a very common argument people use to justify alcohol consumption. It would be great if the Bible gave us some very clear and unmistakable guidance. For other issues, God has done just that. We’ve been given hundreds of commands in the Bible. It would be far simpler if the Bible said, “Do not drink alcohol,” or “Drink one glass of wine a week.” Since it doesn’t, we have to take the time to dig out the truth ourselves and not listen to people that haven’t done the work to make an informed, wise decision.

Solomon says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler.” Solomon is personifying wine and strong drink. Wine, in and of itself, cannot speak so what’s going on here? How does wine mock the person drinking? Mocker is a synonym for scoffer that we have seen so many times in Proverbs and the use of the word is never a positive one. Remember scoff is frequently used as a method of derision or profaning things that are holy. Wine says it’s just one drink, it’s healthy, it’s for my benefit, it helps me relax. A German proverb says, “More are drowned in the wine cup than in the ocean.” “Strong drink is a brawler.” Strong drink is the Hebrew word sekar. It means an intoxicating drink not made from grapes. Brawler means to murmur, growl, roar, or be boisterous. So we have this verse that says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Other versions translate intoxicated as deceived or led astray. I’ll say it like this: if you are deceived or led astray by the influence of alcohol, you’re not wise. Maybe you’re a responsible drinker. You never get drunk. You don’t drink and drive. You make sure you eat while you drink to maximize the metabolism of alcohol that you take in.

So let’s break it down in accordance with wisdom. I think I have made a very strong argument that drinking alcohol is not a sin, so that’s off the table. You can read point paper after point paper from people in the church that are dogmatic on this topic. The anti-alcohol people quote Pro. 20:1 along with Pro. 23:29-33. Another one is, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) The pro-alcohol people will cite 1 Ti. 5:23, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” We can certainly enjoy our freedom in Christ. We have been set free from the bondage of sin and have become slaves of righteousness. We’re free to enjoy food that was once restricted. We don’t follow the Law because Christ has fulfilled the Law. People tend to define this as an issue of liberty or legalism. I think the issue is much more complicated than that. In 1 Co. 6:12 Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” If we take this verse in context, Paul just told the Corinthians that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Right after this verse he talks about food and fornication when he says, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.” (1 Cor. 6:13) This verse relates back to Acts 15:19-20 where the Apostles prohibited, “things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” So it’s not as easy as just saying I have liberty to do this or that.

Let’s put some practicality to this issue. I acknowledge that you are not responsible for the decisions other adults make as a result of watching you, but what of the principle of being a stumbling block to another believer? In Lev: 19:14 stumbling block refers to treatment of others: “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” In Matt. 16:23 Jesus told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” This shows us that Satan influenced Peter to distract Jesus from His primary mission. In 1 Cor. 1:23 Paul said, “but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,” which shows that Jesus was not who the Jews were expecting in a Messiah. When we talk about stumbling block today, it represents a spiritual metaphor that refers to hindering another’s walk of faith. In Rom. 14:13 Paul says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” Then later in Rom. 14:21 he says, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Some of the Roman believers were converted Jews and wanted to uphold the feasts, the Sabbath, and other ceremonial laws that Gentile converts did not know about. Those Jewish converts looked down on the Gentile converts and passed judgment on them because they ate meat and did not observe the Sabbath. The 14th chapter is really an eye opener when you take it in context.

People also cite 1 Cor. 8:9, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak,” and this time, he’s talking about meat sacrificed to idols. This principle of Christian liberty really has nothing to do with alcohol specifically, but what we consume in general so it’s really inaccurate to say we have the liberty to drink and use those verses as proof texts. That’s not to say we should not consider how other people perceive what we do or do not do. Stumbling blocks arise when there are what we believe to be gray areas of Scripture. As I mentioned earlier, it would be far easier if the Bible gave us direction on this. I’ve heard believers talk about the good taste of a fine wine or the smoothness of whiskey. I really enjoy a dark, bold cup of coffee or a frozen coffee. It tastes good and my inhibitions are not lessened because of it. My thinking is not affected by consuming diet Pepsi. Research has shown that even one drink can affect your thinking. I don’t develop a sense of courage because I drink it.

So we have to consider wisdom. After all, that’s what this entire book is about. How does drinking alcohol glorify God? You can apply the same standard for everything we do. What is our primary function on earth? To live a life of obedience. To glorify God in all we think say, and do. And there it is. If our primary motivator in life it to glorify God, how are we intentionally engaging in that? In the days before Facebook, Twitter, and for the really old timers . . . MySpace, the only way to find out what was going on is people’s lives was to talk to them. If you wanted to see pictures of what they were doing, you looked at a photo album. If you wanted to make new friends, you were introduced to them. If you wanted to give a message to someone, you called them on the phone or wrote them a letter. Now we have instant access to everything going on in our life so in this new age of communication and social media, what messages are we conveying to our friends and followers? What message is sent when you post pictures of your favorite alcohol beverage on Facebook? Especially when you tag on a caption that says something like, “Unwinding after a long day” or something like that. Do we really need alcohol to help us forget a tough day? David said, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.” (Ps. 94:19) I’ve even seen pictures of professing believers with a glass of wine next to their Bible with a caption along the lines of, “Getting ready to spend time with God.” If you want to have the attitude that people need to get out of your business, then why have them on your friends list and why post all the stuff?

Since we can’t call this a sin issue, we have to call it a wisdom issue. I think we have established that drinking alcohol is not a sin. One thing is clear: drunkenness is always condemned in the Bible. It’s not only for safety and health reasons, but drunkenness leads to other problems such as anger and violence, addiction, and the lessening of inhibitions that lead to lustful temptations. So the question must be asked, “What is drunk?” Are we to use the laws of the state to determine drunkenness? Are you supposed to carry a portable breathalyzer to determine blood alcohol content to avoid crossing the legal limit of intoxication? I have never seen anyone that is drunk that did not begin with the first drink. Is. 5:11, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!” I would think that kind of attitude isn’t present in authentic believers. Remember, this is not a sin issue, but a wisdom issue. Would you be embarrassed if I, or someone from church, saw you out in town drinking alcohol? What are you missing by not drinking? For me, I don’t want to drink because it reminds me of my life before Jesus. It represents my old self and who I used to be. It’s not who I am now. I am a tee-totaler and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything because I don’t drink.

While the issue of social drinking can result in a draw as far as definitive direction, the question is not, “Can I drink socially, but why do I want to drink socially?” While you have the freedom to drink, it may not be profitable (1 Cor. 6:12) and may even contribute to the stumbling of others (Gal. 5:13). If you want to enjoy an alcohol beverage, I implore you to exercise wisdom. I suggest you exercise restraint before you post anything on social media regarding alcohol because people are watching you. “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14)

Persecution in the Church

7 Nov

persecuteCheck out the podcast here.

How many have seen a submarine in the water? If you haven’t seen one in the drydock, you don’t have the big picture. Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and many Christians don’t have the big picture regarding persecution. What is persecution? Where does is come from? Why does it happen? When will it end? These are questions we’ll answer this morning.

I hope you break out your Bible and read Jesus’ words in John 15:20-25.

So what’s the big picture? Jesus begins by saying, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’” He has told his disciples this truth already. He said the same exact thing back in John 13:16, “A slave is not greater than his master.”  Why does he repeat Himself? In 13:16 Jesus is talking about humility and service. In 15:20, He is talking about opposition and persecution. Jesus tells them to remember and makes a very troubling statement. “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” Remember that Jesus is talking to His disciples. In context, “You” refers to the disciples, but the persecution applies to anyone who is, or will become a disciple of Christ. What is the church made up of? Disciples of Christ. “They” refers to the world. Why all this opposition? Why all the hatred? “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.”  (Jo. 15:18) “Me” is a statement of reason for persecution. It’s not that the world doesn’t recognize Christ in us, opposition and persecution comes because they do recognize Jesus in us. 2 Tim. 3:12 reminds us, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Persecution is inevitable, but there is a caveat. It will come to those that truly want to live for Christ.

That’s the big picture of persecution. As Christians, we are associated with a real Savior. When you identify yourself with Jesus Christ, it implies a stand against the world – a life that is different and the difference is only explainable in terms of Jesus. If we are living consistent lives, our works and words will regularly contradict the lifestyles of those around us. Our work ethic, our language, our goals, our attitudes, our values set us apart. We should take to heart the admonition found in Eph. 5:11 where Paul says, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” The integrity of our speech, our unwillingness to gossip or slander, our joy, our willingness to forgive – these character qualities will provoke opposition. We need to recognize why that opposition comes. It’s not necessarily what we do, it’s Who we represent. Jesus is emphatic in v. 20: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” He provides the reason in v. 21 and says, “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake.”  Matt. 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” These verses provide the church with perspective and reason. Persecution is linked to the person and work of Christ. How people respond to us, positively or negatively, is ultimately determined not by who we are, but who Jesus is.

Scripture provides us with a number of examples where the apostles and disciples suffered persecution because they identified with Jesus. Peter and John were imprisoned and told not to speak to people about Christ because too many people were becoming followers (Acts 4:1, 17). The other Apostles were thrown in jail (Acts 5:17). Stephen, “full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” until Acts 7 where he is stoned to death for preaching the gospel. Great persecution of the church in Jerusalem began in Acts 8 where men and women were dragged out of their houses and thrown in jail led by a man named Saul. Herod killed James and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1). Paul speaks of numerous instances of persecution, particularly in Corinth, Ephesus, and Jerusalem.

During the period of the Roman Empire, persecution was widespread beginning with Nero about 60 AD. Roman historian Pliny described the Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) as a, “Beast from hell who sat in its den, licking blood.” Trajan (AD 98-117) was the first emperor to persecute Christians fully distinct from Jews. Marcus Aurelius (AD 161–180) was convinced Christianity was a dangerous revolutionary force, preaching gross immoralities. Under Marcus, anti-Christian literature flourished for the first time. In 202, Septimius Severus issued an edict forbidding conversion to Judaism or Christianity. A great persecution followed especially in North Africa and Egypt. Decious became the first emperor to initiate an Empire-wide persecution of Christians. After executing Pope Fabian, he said, “I would far rather receive news of a rival to the throne than of another bishop of Rome.” Valerian blamed Christians for plague and civil unrest in the empire. In 257, he ordered clergy to sacrifice to the gods of the state. Diocletion (AD 303) ordered all Christian churches and books be destroyed and persecuted the church because of a fear of treachery, conspiracy, and secrecy. In order to maintain better control of the empire under Diocletion, the empire was divided into the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire which was also known as the Byzantine Empire Those two were ruled by Maxentius and Constantine. In 312, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and became the sole emperor. Believing that Jesus Christ was responsible for his victory, Constantine enacted laws that mandates religious tolerance throughout the empire.

You might be thinking, “But that’s all in the first couple of centuries.” A boat captain is facing charges for an incident took place in December 2014 when he and his second in command severely beat six Christian refugees before throwing them overboard to their death. On August 28, 2016, 11 missionaries to Syria were crucified or beheaded. An Oct. 5, 2016 attack on a Kenyan church left six dead. On Oct. 11, 2016, eleven believers were arrested at a house church in Uzbekistan when officers barged in the flat representing KGB, counter terrorism unit, police, and other agencies. All equipment and phones were confiscated and a search is being conducted of those devices. If Bibles or other Christian literature is found they will be prosecuted further. ISIS claimed responsibility for a mass shooting on Oct. 12, 2016 that killed at least 18 worshippers at a shrine in the Afghan capital. And remember Michael and Julie, our own missionaries to central Asia were under surveillance and faced deportation for engaging in unidentified activity. These recent stories reflect most, if not all, of the first century reasons for persecution – suspicion, fear, religious and political strategy, and protection of old beliefs and customs. It’s not just physical persecution that occurs, but we now see social, psychological, economic, and legal persecution. It is the consistent moral standards that set us apart. You won’t make many friends when you take a stand.

We’ve seen the big picture of persecution, we’re associated with a real Savior, and finally we are called to a radical servant hood. The church may suffer for reasons other than persecution. Pride, politics, class, ignorance, distraction, fear, or apathy, but it is only really persecuted when this relationship with Jesus Christ comes into play. What we consider persecution in the West really isn’t persecution at all. Dictionary.com defines persecution as the act or practice of persecuting; especially, the infliction of loss, pain, or death for adherence to a particular creed or mode of worship. It is part of a radical servant hood. Real persecution comes with the spiritual territory of a real and vibrant walk with Christ. But wait, something isn’t quite right. If real, authentic Christianity includes persecution, then how come there are millions of quiet, godly people serving Christ all over the world with no hindrance and no opposition? Let’s go back to John. Why did they persecute Jesus? There are spiritual things going on that we cannot see. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day persecuted Him because of Who He said He was. In Jo. 10:30 Jesus said, “I and my father are one.” In Jo. 14:9 Jesus told Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Jesus was persecuted because he taught things the leaders considered subversive. It was dangerous; what Jesus taught undermined established religion; it went against the status quo. Remember Jo. 15:20 when Jesus said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  Peter said it this way, “If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”  (1 Pet. 4:16). The “if” clause expresses certainty, not probability. It is going to happen, expect nothing less. They did persecute Jesus so they will persecute people that are like Jesus and as long as there are people like Jesus, persecution will continue. The persecuted will always be with us. Paul told the Thessalonians, “We kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass.” (1 Thes. 3:4) Throughout the history of Christianity, the church has grown the fastest where persecution is the greatest.

So what now? As we’ve looked biblically at persecution, we need to overcome some misconceptions and shift paradigms that have produced a weak and anemic Christianity in the western world. First, we need to challenge the thinking of contemporary Christians that have a purely rational, two-dimensional worldview. Life in God is always more than flesh and blood. There is a spiritual dimension in the persecution of Christians, past and present. When you think about what you can’t see, the picture gets bigger. Persecution is never random, but is linked to a visible and real identity with Christ. Persecution is inevitable if the body of Christ is living in bold obedience to the Head of the Church.

Second, we must challenge the thinking of supporters and their role in the pastoral care of the persecuted church. The lessons from believers in extremes are invaluable to the present church on earth. They provide us with the costliest forms of discipleship known to Christianity. They enrich the whole body of Christ, but persecution also wounds the body. So, the unaffected parts (non-persecuted) are called on to minister to the affected (persecuted) parts of the body. We are a part of the big picture and must invest in their support.

Third, we need to teach persecution as integral to the gospel. We must enlarge and energize the support system for Christians facing persecution by educating and mobilizing the non-persecuted sections of the Church. Finally, we need to challenge the thinking of local churches and Christians that are involved in largely unimportant matters and help them recognize the big picture.

The church cannot forget its eternal purpose or be distracted with trivial matters. Just like the submarine on the water’s surface, you don’t see the whole picture and you’ll never appreciate the enormity of the boat. Persecuted Christians are radicals living in hard places sent to be our teachers. A man from Tajikistan asked Mia and Costel Oglice, “What will happen if I am not persecuted? What is wrong with me? I really want to live for the Lord.”  He has seen persecution first hand. This man is from the same place where Pastor Sergey Bassarab was killed in 2004. He was shot four times while praying in his church. His crime? Sharing Christ. What are you willing to do?

My Liberty (Part 1)

31 Oct

drinkCheck out the podcast here.

The last time we were together in Proverbs, we learned that laziness and authenticity as a follower of Christ are not compatible. It’s incomprehensible to use an ungodly adjective to describe your walk of faith. We should be growing more and more like Christ as we allow the transforming power of God to change us from the inside out. When you discipline someone and it’s made public, others will see that there are consequences for wrong doing. We must take the time to intentionally instruct others in the ways of faith. What if they don’t listen? It shouldn’t stop us from doing what is right. One thing that works my patience is for people to stop listening or refuse to listen to wisdom when it’s obvious they could use some help. We finished up by talking about that rascally witness. Don’t be him. Judgment is coming one day, let’s make sure we’re doing God’s work. This morning, we are going to talk about an issue that will cause some to turn a deaf ear, some will say I’m old fashioned or a prude, or that I’m living in the dark ages. I pray that you will hear my heart as we talk about this issue and I hope you will stick around until we finish.

This may be the most controversial message I preach at C4. It’s controversial because people have decided to do what they want to do rather than do what is wisest. I am not going to paint with a broad brush and say that everyone is the same. I pray you’ll keep an open mind and really determine what is best to do from God’s point of view. Some people have already made up their mind that they’re going to drink or not drink alcohol regardless of the compelling argument one way or another that I make here this morning.

Solomon starts Chapter 20 with this new topic, one he has yet to address to his son: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Before we even begin, I have had alcohol and my first memory, as I have shared before, comes from my childhood. My parents liked to entertain and I remember dinner parties where the alcohol flowed quite freely. Before and after dinner, I would walk around drinking left over drinks. I have been drunk a number of times in my life and not one of those times was I glad the next morning. I have several people in my family that drink to excess. I have seen the wake of destruction left behind because of alcohol and it occurred as a youngster, while in high school and college, the Navy, police work, and my ministry. I hope you know me well enough that I generally do not fly off the handle with knee jerk reactions or make decisions without first doing my homework. I have carefully studied this issue and I have seen a notable shift in recent years regarding the consumption of alcohol by Christians. I like to think of myself as a student of God’s Word and I have allowed my study of the Scriptures to change doctrines I have been taught in the church over the last three decades. Some have allowed their eisegesis of the Word to formulate their doctrine instead of allowing the Scripture to speak.

So how will I approach this topic? I am not going to preach about this as a do or don’t drink alcohol. I’m not going to say we must totally abstain from drinking alcohol and I’m not going to say take a drink once in a while. I want to walk you through the wisdom of Solomon and then you can determine what the wisest thing to do is. Regarding alcohol, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson said, “You don’t have to look like the world. You don’t have to ride as close to the edge as you possibly can without falling off.” There are church denominations that provide guidelines or distinctives for alcohol.

In a 2006 resolution, the Southern Baptist Convention resolved to, “express our total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages.” In the same resolution, they urged that no one be elected or allowed to serve in any capacity that consumes alcohol. Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood said, “We require all ministerial applicants to agree to refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages; and recommend to our constituents that they also abstain.” Our own denomination says it this way: “We believe in Christian liberty, but freedom always has its limitations. Responsible Christians do not abuse freedom. The apostle Paul wrote forcefully about Christian liberty in the Book of Galatians. He shattered the legalists with the doctrine of grace. But in First and Second Corinthians and Romans, the apostle also rebuked believers when liberty was abused. He declared boldly the principles of Christian liberty, but spoke with equal forcefulness about Christian accountability. The EFCA desires to preserve our freedom in Christ. We encourage our people to be responsible, godly men, women and young people who desire to live under the control of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the principles and precepts of God’s Word, and in harmony with God’s will for life as revealed in the Scriptures.”

We also don’t want to take a legalistic approach either. Legalism has caused lots of pain in the church. Women can’t wear pants; men can’t have long hair; no working, card playing, or sewing on Sunday. Legalism determines the godliness of an individual on what is done or not done by following a strict set of man-made rules. We’ve heard a number of comparative arguments as well. Just because someone doesn’t drink doesn’t mean he’s any godlier than someone that does drink. Kari and I were invited over to a family’s house for a meal several years ago and the host was drinking beer. He offered me a soft drink or water, but not a beer. He obviously didn’t think drinking was a sin, so why wouldn’t he offer me one? I was a guest in his home, but if he knew I abstained and might be offended by him drinking alcohol, why wouldn’t he skip the beer for that one meal? So, he was either offensive or rude. In the church, we typically isolate the stumbling block verse to alcohol, but it applies across the board. If you’re going to cause someone else to stumble, then you should rethink your actions and we’ll dig into that more later. Drinking alcohol in excess is undeniably addictive. Do you find yourself wanting wine or beer with every meal? Do you find yourself going to the fridge as soon as you get home from work? I can honestly say that I’ve never met anyone that would describe themselves as an alcoholic that has never had alcohol. Some people make a faulty comparison between over eating and over drinking. If you eat out at a restaurant and have an 8000 calorie meal high in saturated fats, you’ll likely not get pulled over by the police. The chances of getting into an accident that results in serious injury or death because of your cholesterol level are minimal so that’s not a good comparison. This isn’t a cultural issue either. I know wine is used as a beverage throughout Europe, but they also have nude beaches there. Polygamy is practiced in much of Africa as well as the Middle East because it’s part of the culture, but we don’t allow it here.

Let’s talk about some facts. There are two kinds of wine mentioned in Scripture: fermented and unfermented – it depends on the context. We know that a Christian should not drink to get drunk because drunkenness is always condemned in the Bible. There are prohibitions about drinking anything of the vine during certain periods of time. Priests engaged in temple service were instructed to abstain from drinking fermented wine in Lev. 10:8-11. Nazirites were forbidden from drinking during the course of their vow in Num. 3:6. Lemuel’s mother told him drinking wine or strong drink was not appropriate for kings in Pr. 31:4. Paul’s qualification for overseers in 1 Tim. 3:2-3a includes the phrase, “Not addicted to wine” which literally means not at, by, near, or with wine. Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s all good! I’m not a Temple priest, Nazarite, king, or overseer.” Here are some statistics for you to ponder. Almost 88,000 people die every year from alcohol-related causes, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) According to one study, of the 490 million people in the European Union, more than 23 million are dependent on alcohol.

According to the Center for Disease Control, excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or people younger than age 21. Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive drinking and is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women during a single occasion and five or more if you’re a man. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight or more drinks during the week for women, and 15 or more for men. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. In addition, the Dietary Guidelines say that if you do not drink alcohol, don’t start drinking for any reason. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says, “Expanding our understanding of the relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and potential health benefits remains a challenge, and although there are positive effects, alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks moderately.”

Just so you don’t think I’m coming at the issue from a biased angle, there are some benefits from drinking alcohol. There are studies that show wine can be good for the heart and can prevent colds. Vodka is shown to eliminate bad breath, as long as you use it as a mouth wash and spit it out. Beer is rich in Vitamin B and lowers the risk of heart attacks in women. There is a dizzying number of studies involving the benefits and detriments of alcohol consumption.

The Harvard School of Public health sums it up like this: “It’s safe to say that alcohol is both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose. Moderate drinking seems to be good for the heart and circulatory system, and probably protects against type 2 diabetes and gallstones. Heavy drinking is a major cause of preventable death in most countries. In the U.S., alcohol is implicated in about half of fatal traffic accidents. Heavy drinking can damage the liver and heart, harm an unborn child, increase the chances of developing breast and some other cancers, contribute to depression and violence, and interfere with relationships.”

Let me throw out some surprising statistics. People ages 12-20 drink 11% of all the alcohol consumed in the United States.[1] Oddly enough, cooking sherry is a favorite item among teens because it’s considered food and not subject to the same legal requirements as alcohol, but contains 17% alcohol.[2] People who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.[3] One in five Americans have lived with an alcoholic relative while growing up.[4]

I know we haven’t gotten to the meat of the verse yet, but I needed to lay a foundation for what is to come. If we fail to apply wisdom to this area of our lives, it could impact other areas of our lives that have far reaching consequences. My hope and prayer is that you return next week and listen to the conclusion to this message.

[1] (http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm, n.d.)

[2] http://www.forwardlookout.com/2012/06/drinking-cooking-sherry/15454/comment-page-1

[3] http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/UnderageDrinking/UnderageFact.htm

[4] http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx