Righteousness as a Compass

CompassYou can check out the live version here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Don’t Worry, Be . . . .

WorryYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the location of our riches. Wherever our treasures are located, our heart will be there too. If our treasures are stored up on earth, that’s where our mind will be focused. If we have a Kingdom mindset, our actions here will allow Jesus to store our treasure where He is, and nobody can mess with that treasure. This morning we’re going to look at the “acceptable” sin in the church that I believe affects more people than ever and no one is talking about it – until now.

Take the time and read Matt. 6:25-34.

Why worry? Matthew begins this passage by saying, “For this reason.” This reason is v. 24. As we saw last time, wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart is. It is a deception of Satan that you can serve wealth and the Lord. Worry is the key word in this passage occurring 6 times. It comes from the word that means to feel troubled over actual or potential difficulties. Therein lies the key. It is to feel troubled or anxious. We often equate worry with love or concern. We use it as an excuse for the real problem – lack of trust in God. Prov. 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” If you trust in God, worry is useless. Remember all this is coming on the heels of Jesus talking about storing up treasure in heaven instead of on earth. He is showing us that it is foolish to put our trust, our confidence, our hope in something that quickly fades; in something that is not eternal.

Let’s keep it on context. Jesus is still talking about the same topic. He consistently speaks in Scripture about providing for the basic needs of life. We have established in past weeks that these are food and clothing – that’s it. It’s not a cell phone or computer. It’s not a new car or 80 inch TV. He is not obligated to provide you with your dream home – an oxymoron in itself. He’s not talking about college or retirement. He’s talking about food and clothing.

You want proof? Look at v. 26. This is a rhetorical question. “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns.” When you consider birds, they don’t do anything but rely on what nature provides – what God provides. No matter how hard they work, birds still need God to provide. God has given us the ability to plant and grow food, the birds can’t do that. Aren’t you worth more than the birds? We are the only creature that was created in God’s image. We are the only creature that can have a relationship with and fellowship with God. We are the only creature that God loved enough to send His Son to die for us. Why are you worried about clothes? Look at the lilies of the field in v. 28-29. These lilies are not purposefully planted in a garden. They don’t toil or spin. This likely refers to the primary occupations of the day. Working in the field and making fabric for clothing. The lilies do even less than the birds yet Solomon in all his glory, never surpassed the beauty of the flowers. Look at v. 30. Again this is more proof of God’s matchless love for humanity. He takes care of the birds, He takes care of the flowers that are growing one day and tossed into a furnace to be used as fuel the next. Jesus wraps it up by saying, “You of little faith.” That’s really the conclusion, but v. 27 asks another question we must consider in the light of what we know, “Who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” God provides day in and day out and yet we still worry. Read vs. 31-32. These are clear instructions. The contrast again is between disciples of Christ and Gentiles. Gentiles try to “do” to get to God. Matt. 6:7-8 says, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Don’t be like the Gentiles.

Here’s the mandate. V. 33 offers the contrast that so many of us miss in our lives. It says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” We are to seek first the Kingdom of God. The people that Jesus is speaking to are not doing this. That’s why they’re worried. If self preservation is your top priority, then God’s Kingdom is not. When our priorities regarding treasures in heaven and on earth are lined up properly, God will provide. It is a conditional clause. When our goals are self serving, God’s not obligated.  In v. 34 Jesus comes back full circle to the beginning of His discussion from v. 25. The challenge is to depend on God daily, just like He said in the Lord ’s Prayer: “Give us this day, our daily bread.”  Don’t worry about tomorrow.

Worry is sin. It indicates a lack of faith. God will take care of His children. We need to let go and trust that He will, but we need to establish priorities that match His.

An Odd Mandate

cooltext1454834924You can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Jude told us we have a responsibility. Jude told us very simply to keep ourselves in the love of God and we saw that is an intentional, consistent pursuit of Christ. There is no tomorrow. It is a personal responsibility that cannot be transferred to another. Others can and should help us, but the responsibility rests on each of us. Adding to the responsibility to, “Keep yourselves in the love of God,” Jude tells us to do something else in v. 21b. In the second half of verse Jude 21 he says, “Waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”

It’s another straight forward command yet seems a bit odd. Jude begins by telling us to, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Then he says we are to be, “Waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” “Waiting anxiously for” seems to be an oxymoron, but in the original Greek it is one word. Jude tells us to play the game none of us wants to play. It is the waiting game. You’ve heard people say, “I have no patience for that.” We even hear this in the church. Particularly when seeking someone to serve in the nursery or some other aspect of dealing with children. In Gal. 5:22-23 Paul emphatically says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” As children of God, Paul is saying we have these qualities. In the context of Gal. 5, Paul is contrasting the flesh with the Spirit. His conclusion is that, “Those that belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passion and desires.” Some of us are better at waiting than other people. Some people are extraordinarily patient, but the expectation is that every Christian is supposed to be patient. One way that we grow and develop these qualities is to, “Keep ourselves in the love of God.” Again, it is a consistent, intentional process.

What are we waiting anxiously for? The word waiting is eschatological. It points to the end times and is sometimes translated looking. We see this idea of waiting  from others in Scripture too.

Mark 15:43, “Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.”
Luke 2:25, “And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”
Luke 2:37-38 referring to Anna, “And then as a widow to the age of eighty four, she never left the temple, serving day and night with fastings and prayer. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Titus 2:13, “Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”

We wait just as the saints of old waited.

So what are we waiting anxiously for, with eager anticipation for? Jude says we wait for the, “Mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” Back in v. 2 Jude prayed that his readers would have, “Mercy and peace multiplied” to them. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Our children sometimes beg for mercy. Criminals will throw themselves on the mercy of the court. Often when it comes to us, we want mercy and not justice. 2 Cor. 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”   Jude wants us to wait for God’s mercy and that mercy will not be fully realized until Christ’s return. God is merciful to His children and He’s merciful to those that curse Him. Matt. 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

We wait until Jesus returns. How can we wait, how can we finish well? As I mentioned earlier, waiting is not a game many of play well. Sometimes our impatience manifests itself in prayer. We’ve prayed for something and we don’t get the answer, or don’t get the answer we want and for some reason that causes us to doubt. Jude taught that we are to keep ourselves in the love of God. We must remain in the love of God until the end, until Jesus returns or until we die. There is no quitting, no giving up, no giving in. We fight the good fight. We finish the course. We keep the faith.

Jude, among others, didn’t believe that we would achieve a state of perfection in this world. We look forward to the mercy of God because we will need it when we stand before Him. We maintain ourselves in God’s love to minimize the influence and corruption of the world. As we’ll see in the coming verses, authentic believers cannot remain in God’s love and be immersed in the world. If you don’t keep your eyes on God and eternity, you’ll find yourself slowly slipping away. If Jesus truly lives in your heart, there should be a hunger, a passion, a supernatural desire and ability to follow Him.

Peter’s Shift in Age

You can catch the podcast here.

Last week Peter spoke of the elder as overseer and he talked about the nature of the elder. Elders are examples not just to God’s people, but to people everywhere. This week Peter closes out this section by speaking to younger men.

1 Peter 5:5-7 says, You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

Peter shifts from speaking about elders to the younger men, but what does younger mean? Some people get really hung on this phrase. Remember that Peter is writing to believers scattered across Asia. In 5:1 he speaks directly to the elders among the church. In light of this, it is likely that Peter is speaking to the younger men among the people as a specific age group. Why would Peter call out young men? The answer comes from what he says next. He says, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders.” Likewise – just like everyone else in the congregation. It’s a reminder to the younger men. Why them? Think about the young men you know. As a rule, are they compliant? This isn’t the first time Peter mentions the idea of submitting to authority. In 2:13, he told us to submit to every human institution. In 2:18, he told servants to submit to their masters whether they were good and gentle or unreasonable. In 3:1 and 5 he told wives to be submissive to their own husbands. The idea of submitting to others is not new. But it’s the younger men in particular that Peter reminds to submit to those in authority. There seems to be a rebellious streak in young men that may not be as prevalent in young women and Peter wants to be firm in his reminder to submit to those in authority. But it’s not blind obedience for any follower. We saw earlier that Peter told leaders not to use their authority as dictators. If teaching or guidance is given that is contrary to God’s Word, it shouldn’t be followed. At the same time, people should be inclined to follow the leadership and submit to their authority and not complain about everything that goes on.

Now Peter shifts again. “And all of you.” If there’s any doubt, he includes the entire congregation scattered about. “Those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (1 Pet. 1:1) Everyone who is reading this letter, who is having this letter read to them. “And all of you clothe yourself with humility.”  Smooth relations will exist in the church if we have a spirit of humility. If we simply have the attitude that everyone is important, things will be smooth. If we have the attitude that we’re all on a journey of discipleship, we’ll get along just fine. Problems can arise when someone wants to exercise some kind of power over another, or wants to dictate how something must be done, or gets upset if their idea isn’t adopted or supported. The foundation of Peter’s challenge is found in Prov. 3:34: Though He scoffs at the scoffers, yet He gives grace to the afflicted.” James quotes the same proverb in 4:6 of his letter. God is against the proud. It’s as simple as that.

Peter’s concludes by saying, “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on Him because He cares for you.” Let’s look at the first phrase. The “therefore” is there to tell us that since God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, we need to be humble. When we humble ourselves, we’ll experience God’s grace. We know contextually that believers are suffering through trials and persecutions and afflictions for their faith in Jesus who is the Christ. Believers are challenged to persevere regardless of their circumstances. We need to accept the suffering that God allows in our lives as part of His plan for our purification that Peter spoke of in 1 Pet. 4:7. He will lift you up at the proper time. When is that time? It may not be in this world, but we’re under God’s mighty hand.

The second phrase is one of the most often quoted verses in times of trouble. All you have to do, troubled Christian, is throw the cares or worries of this would to the Lord. It’s that simple! But too often, those words are hollow reminders of our inadequacy and we continue to worry over matters that are beyond our control because no one ever told us HOW to do that. Cast is a verb – an action word and it’s connected to the phrase humble yourselves. It tells us how to actually cast all your cares on Him. Here’s the relationship between the two. Believers humble themselves by casting their worries on God. If we continue to worry, then we are giving in to pride. How can anxiety and worry be characterized as pride? No one would argue that at the very least, worry could be a lack of faith, but pride? When we worry – also a verb – we’re convinced that we must do something to fix or control a situation. We’re trusting in ourselves. When we throw our worries to God, we acknowledge our trust in Him. We acknowledging that God is Lord and He is sovereign over everything. Peter knows the church is suffering; he knows they are under persecution and affliction. Casting your worries on God wouldn’t bring comfort if God wasn’t able to provide help in time of need. You wouldn’t tell someone your troubles or concerns that’s apathetic, cold hearted, or cruel. You wouldn’t do that because they don’t care. Giving your worry to God makes great sense, “Because He cares for you.” God is not indifferent and He’s not cruel. He has compassion on his children and will sustain them in every distress. Ps. 55:22, “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Affliction and trials will either drive you into the loving arms of God or will separate you from God. You think Peter doesn’t know a thing or two about pride? Peter told Jesus in Matt. 26:3, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.” I’m sure Peter’s pride haunted him.

Regardless of your affliction or trials, God really does care for you. When you trust Him, you acknowledge His mighty hand, His power, His strength, and His sovereignty. When we humble ourselves before Him, it opens the floodgates for His grace to pour down on us.