Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Proverbs 13:1 (ESV)

[1] A wise son hears his father’s instruction,
but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

Proverbs 13 describes the difference between the wise and the fool on several levels. There are a number of lessons in the chapter, but the primary point seems to be that those who are wise listen. The wise understand that they still have much to learn. The fool thinks he knows it all. The wise hang out with wise people, listen to rebuke and discipline, and pay attention to instruction. The fool, in arrogance, despises rebuke and discipline.

There is nothing more insolent than a fool with a little knowledge. There is an arrogance in young and old that hinders them from learning. What a refreshing experience to find a young person who wants to learn. What an incredible example to find an older individual who is still learning. Do you want to be wise? Then learn to listen well. With humility comes honor and wisdom. With arrogance comes loss. May God teach us to listen well.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Proverbs 12:1-3, 28 (ESV)

[1] Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.
[2] A good man obtains favor from the LORD,
but a man of evil devices he condemns.
[3] No one is established by wickedness,
but the root of the righteous will never be moved.

[28]  In the path of righteousness is life,
and in its pathway there is no death.

Proverbs 12 contrasts the righteous and the wicked. The characteristics of the righteous person are many. They accept criticism. They have a good work ethic and are not lazy. They treat their animals well. They are just, humble, and honest. They honor their spouse. They are satisfied with what they have. The list goes on, but there are three characteristics that particularly caught my eye.

First, the righteous love discipline (Prov 12:1). Nobody loves discipline, but we can learn to appreciate it. As believers, we need to stop taking offence when we are corrected, or when fault is pointed out in our lives. We need to humbly recognize that we have not yet arrived. We need to accept the fact that we are not infallible. We need to be quick to accept discipline rather than being quick to explain ourselves or look for excuses. We need to learn to love discipline.

Second, the righteous ignore an insult (Prov 12:16). Insults weigh on us. They steal our attention and our joy. We feel the need to defend ourselves. We want to lash out in retaliation. We feel justified in remembering, and even pointing out, all the things wrong with the one insulting us. Insults are not deserved, at least not usually. We need to ask ourselves first, “Is there a kernel of truth in this insult?” If so, we need to repent and confess, then we need to let it go. Jesus did not defend himself against unbelievable accusations and insults. The righteous ignore insults and go on with life. The recognize that the real problem is not with them, but with the one throwing the insult. They have learned to listen with the same grace and mercy that God has shown them, and that Jesus expressed in his trial.

Third, the righteous reduce anxiety in others (Prov 12:25). Our natural tendency is to get caught up in the anxiety of others, or to react to it. The righteous have learned to reduce anxiety in others. The righteous have learned to listen and to speak with grace and peace. It is so easy to react to the anxiety of others. Anxiety in a room spreads like a wild fire on a dry prairie. One person who can maintain a non-anxious presence in an anxious system is like a rain shower on a fire. The flames are reduced, the heat dissipates, and rational thought returns to the room. The righteous reduce anxiety in others.

This chapter talks about the righteous. It is describing the emotionally healthy individuals who can accept criticism and discipline, ignore insults, and remain non-anxious when the heat of anxiety begins to rise in the room. This is the kind of person I pray that I will be every day. Sometimes, I actually get close. Today, join me in that prayer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Proverbs 11:1-5 (ESV)

[1] A false balance is an abomination to the LORD,
 but a just weight is his delight.
[2] When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom.
[3] The integrity of the upright guides them,
 but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.
[4] Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
 but righteousness delivers from death.
[5] The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight,
but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.

Wisdom and integrity walk hand in hand. Foolishness shows up in dishonesty, arrogance, and the pursuit of wealth through any means possible. Foolishness is self-focused and self-centered. The epitome of foolishness is the desire to satisfy self at the expense of others. But it never delivers in the long-run. Hebrews 11:25 talks about “the fleeting pleasures of sin.” Moses chose “to be mistreated with the people of God (rather) than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” In the short-term selfishness and a lack of integrity appears to pay off. Over the long haul it never does.

We serve a God of integrity.  Proverbs 11:28-30 (ESV) makes it clear that the God of integrity will not allow the lack of integrity to flourish indefinitely.

[28] Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,
but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
[29] Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind,
and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart.
[30] The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
and whoever captures souls is wise.

God has called us, as believers in Jesus Christ, to be a people of integrity. Like the Pharisees, who are accused of “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Mt 23:24). We too “tithe our mint and dill” while neglecting the “weightier matters” (Mt 23:23). Do we insist on honesty, but meet the very minimum standards required? Maybe we even fudge a bit on that. Do we condemn lust and immorality while blaming others for our own impure thoughts? Do we expect a standard of honesty and obedience from our children that we fail to live out ourselves?

 We always have an excuse, yet we fail to show grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love, while holding others to the letter of the law in any contract or agreement made. We have forgotten, or ignored Jesus’s teaching on turning the other cheek, praying for those who persecute us, and going the extra mile. Jesus said that the greatest commandments were to love God and love others, but we reinterpret what it means to love. We celebrate a God who never fails. We worship a God of integrity. We preach integrity. But do we live it? “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf” (Prov 11:28).

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Proverbs 10:8-9 (ESV)
[8] The wise of heart will receive commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
[9] Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.

Proverbs 10 is filled with comparisons between the wise person and the fool. Wisdom controls its tongue. Wisdom leads to prosperity and peace. Foolishness brings despair and death. Foolishness speaks even when it doesn’t know what it is talking about. Foolishness manipulates for its own purposes. Wisdom loves truth and righteousness. Fools twist truth, embrace deception, and grasp only that which is perverse. Laziness characterizes fools, as does violence, and talking without thinking or listening. Wisdom plans and works diligently, blesses even its enemies, and speaks slowly while listening well.

It is easy to point to others and recognize foolishness. The bigger, and more personal, challenge is to examine our own lives. Which of these characteristics do I find in my life? Nobody wants to be considered a fool. We all like to think of ourselves as fairly astute. But here are a few questions that I need to occasionally ask myself. Do I speak without listening well first? Is my speech filled with grace, peace, and blessing, or with threats and complaints? How do I respond to those who oppose me? Do I bless them and pray for them, or do I retaliate in like kind? Do I read the scriptures carefully or do I bend them to my own purposes? Do I speak truth about others, or do I reinterpret conversations to my own ends? These are questions that get to the heart of the matter.

Solomon was called the wisest man that ever lived, yet I would suggest that Jesus was wiser. Solomon did not follow his own advice. Jesus lived out what Solomon called wisdom. Which life is closer to my own? Do I live out the wisdom of God, or only talk about the wisdom of God? “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Prov 10:17 ESV).

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Proverbs 9:7-8 (ESV)
[7] Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
[8] Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
 reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

Wisdom and Foolishness give the same invitation. “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here! To him who lacks sense she says…” (see Prov 9:4 and Prov 9:16). The invitation is the same. The promises and the results are very different. The verses after Proverbs 9:4 promise honest food and deliver life. The verses following verse 16 promise joy from stolen food, but they deliver death. How do we know which voice we are listening to?

There are two telling clues. First is the promise. Wisdom offers its own bread. I cries out, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed” (Prov 9:5). Foolishness offers the bread of others and focuses on self. It promises, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Prov 9:17). The first clue as to which voice I am listening to is the message I am hearing. Does it offer refreshment and peace at God’s expense, or selfish happiness off the backs of others?

The second clue is even more obvious. It has to do with ourselves. The chapter warns, “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse” (Prov 9:7). By contrast, “reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Prov 9:8). Recognizing who we are listening to has a lot to do with how we are listening. Am I able to receive criticism? Am I able to accept rebuke? Am I able to hear not only praise, but critique as well?

Several years ago I spoke for a retreat in Romania. Afterward we debriefed the weekend. The Romanians did not want to offend their American speaker. They said everything was great. The American missionary had some criticism regarding the discussion questions I had provided. The truth is, she was right. The questions were poorly written and did not connect with the audience. I knew that, but I needed to hear it. The Romanians were shocked that the missionary would criticize anything I had done. I had to assure them that not only was it appropriate, but that she was right. We can never grow if we are unwilling to listen to the critical voices as well as to the voices that speak approval and affirmation.

Certainly, there are those who only speak negative words into our lives. This is not to say that every criticism is valid. It is not to say that every critic or critique is to be equally valued. But the one truly seeking wisdom will look for the kernels of truth in even the harshest criticism and learn from it. Which voice are we listening to, Wisdom or Foolishness? One clue is how we respond not only to their invitation, but to the criticism of others around us. Are we able to receive criticism and learn from it, or are we unable to accept anything but praise? Wisdom and Foolishness give the same invitation. Which one will we heed?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Proverbs 8:12 (ESV)
[12] “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
[13] The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
 Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
[14] I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
[15] By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
[16] by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly.
[17] I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.

Wisdom, prudence, knowledge, and discretion are connected to the fear of the LORD. What is interesting in this passage is the definition of fear of the LORD. “The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil” (Prov 8:13). This chapter ends with these words, “All who hate me (wisdom) love death” (Prov 8:36). We have two choices before us. We can fear God and hate evil, or we can hate wisdom and love death. Death is not a good thing. Death was not something that we were ever intended to experience. Death is the consequence of sin (Rom 6:23). To love death is to love evil. To hate evil is to fear God.

Proverbs 7-8 sets up a contrast between a prostitute, who stands on the corner enticing young men with lies, and wisdom standing on the corner shouting out truth, only to be ignored. Why is it that we so often ignore wisdom and embrace evil? Why is it that we choose the enticement of the flesh over the counsel of God? Why is it that we so easily choose evil over good, death over life, fear over fear of the Lord? To hate evil is to fear God.

To fear God is not to be afraid that he will hurt us. To fear God is to recognize that we are in the presence of the one who is greater than our greatest fear. In Mark 4 the disciples are in a boat with Jesus. When a storm hits they wake Jesus, fearing the storm. When Jesus calmed the storm with a word their fear turned to “great fear” (Mk 4:41). They recognized that someone was in the boat with them who was bigger than the storm they had feared. To fear God is to recognize that he is bigger than our greatest fears.

When John saw Jesus in his vision on the Island of Patmos he “fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17). To fear God is to recognize his greatness. When Moses encountered God on the mountain “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Ex 34:29). To fear God is to be changed by his greatness and glory. We cannot love the world and fear the Lord at the same time. They are mutually exclusive. But fear is not the dread of God’s impending judgment if I step out of line. Fear is a recognition of the infinite greatness and goodness of Almighty God. That kind of fear changes a person.

To hate evil is to fear God. In fearing God, we find wisdom, prudence, knowledge, and discretion. To hate God’s wisdom is to love death. Every day we have the choice to fear God and hate evil, or to hate wisdom and love death. Which do you choose today?

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...