Saturday, May 26, 2018

Proverbs 24:1-3 (ESV)
[1] Be not envious of evil men,
nor desire to be with them,
[2] for their hearts devise violence,
and their lips talk of trouble.
[3] By wisdom a house is built,
and by understanding it is established;

This chapter begins and ends with the same idea. Do not envy evil doers. Build with wisdom and understanding. How often we look at the wealth and experiences of those who do not follow God, and envy their lifestyle!? We somehow buy into the idea that if only we had what they have, if only we had the breaks they got, if only we possessed what they possess, or experienced what they experience, then we could be really happy. But it is all a lie, a smokescreen.

It is amazing how we pattern our lives after the wicked and place them up on pedestals as models for life. Foul mouthed comedians breed more foul mouthed comedians and foul mouthed followers. Self-centered artists and actors/actresses are exalted, celebrated, and emulated. The recent Me-Too movement has exposed countless actors for who they really are. People that we held in high regard turned out to be lechers, immoral individuals who lacked the respect and self-control that decency demands. We discovered that people we thought might be believers, or at least felt that they modeled Christian behavior, were in fact nothing more than immoral, self-centered individuals.

We have envied and followed after a lie. But wisdom leads down another path altogether. Wisdom recognizes that God is there behind the scenes taking notes. “If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Prov 24:12). Wisdom listens to wise counsel rather than to the distortions and false images of a world that is more interested in appearance than in substance.

Wisdom recognizes and embraces the value of delayed gratification over instant gratification. Wisdom understands that in the end, “the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out” (Prov 24:20). Wisdom refuses to take advantage of others. It speaks truth, works honestly, and lives justly. Wisdom doesn’t make a big splash. It doesn’t promote self. But wisdom is the path to follow. Let’s look behind the curtain of celebrity smokescreens and realize the vanity and emptiness of their ways. Let us embrace wisdom and stop envying the lifestyle of the wicked. Let us walk the path of God’s wisdom, not the world’s.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Proverbs 23:6 (ESV)
[6] Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;
do not desire his delicacies,
[7] for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.
“Eat and drink!” he says to you,
but his heart is not with you.

This chapter is all about the discernment that leads to self-control. Discernment combined with self-control enables one to recognize the impure motives behind others’ offers. It warns, “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite” (Prov 23:1-2). Discernment with self-control keeps one from taking advantage of those less fortunate. “Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless” (Prov 23:10). Discernment with self-control  keeps one from gluttony, drunkenness, and laziness. It disciplines children when they need it, whether you feel like it or not. It listens to wise counsel, and ignores fools. It recognizes the subtle dangers of immorality and avoids it. Discernment with self-control recognizes the lies that offer life only to deliver disappointment, sorrow, and death.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Discernment is learned through observation, practice, and listening to wise counsel. Foolishness and lack of self-control causes one to return to the very thing that brought pain into one’s life in the first place.

Proverbs 23:31 (ESV)
[31] Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
[32] In the end it bites like a serpent
and stings like an adder.
[33] Your eyes will see strange things,
and your heart utter perverse things.
[34] You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
like one who lies on the top of a mast.
[35] “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I must have another drink.”

How often we repeat the same foolish behavior over and over again only to wake with regret and do it again. That is why the counsel of Proverbs 23:17-9 is so crucial to understand.
[17] Let not your heart envy sinners,
but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.
[18] Surely there is a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.
[19] Hear, my son, and be wise,
and direct your heart in the way.

Too often we believe the empty lies and promises of those without self-control. We hear stories of “great parties” and feel we have missed out. We fail to , wealth of unbelievers, the Facebook smiles, and the staged photo-ops and believe that they somehow have something we are missing. We don’t see the loneliness, the private struggles, the emptiness that plagues their lives. We believe the lies.

Wealth, dishonesty, immorality, and drunkenness have nothing to offer us. Joy is found in the contentment of being satisfied with whatever God has provided. Peace is found in the assurance of God’s protection, care, and oversight. Discernment and self-control offer much more than indulgence and selfishness. It is time we stop listening to the lies and distortions of the world and heed the words of the Apostle Paul.

Philippians 4:10-13 (ESV)
 [10] I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. [11] Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. [12] I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. [13] I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Discernment is learned through observation, practice, and listening to wise counsel. May we listen to  wise counsel of God’s Word today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Proverbs 22:4-5 (ESV)
[4] The reward for humility and fear of the LORD
is riches and honor and life.
[5] Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked;
whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.

What are you striving for in life? Are you motivated by the needed to be needed, by the desire to be wealthy, or by the yearning for peace, safety, and prosperity? These things quickly become idols. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Prov 22:3). When wealth is our motivation in life we often find poverty and debt. “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty” (Prov 22:16). Humility, knowledge, and understanding ought to be the focus of our pursuit, not wealth. Service, responsibility, and diligence ought to be our practice, not seeking the approval of others.

The need to be needed is a powerful force. It results in overcommitment, and fails to adequately train others. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). No wise parent trains their child to be dependent on the parent. Wisdom trains a child to take responsibility, to be wise, to understand the value of a strong work ethic, and to use money wisely, not pursue money selfishly. That is what this chapter in Proverbs is about.

Neither should we lead ministries, shepherd congregations, or influence co-workers in such a way that we become their Bible answer-man. Humility always points those we influence to Christ, not to us. The need to be needed can quickly undermine and destroy effective ministry.

Proverbs 22 contains a collection of wise sayings. At its heart is this question: What are you striving for in life? What is at the base of your decisions, actions, and life direction? If it is the need to be needed then failure will result. If it is the desire for wealth, then abuse, compromise, or debt often result. Is it a yearning for peace, safety, and prosperity? That begins with humility, service, and commitment. It results from the wisdom of listening well to others. It results from taking personal responsibility for one’s decisions and tasks. It results from a willingness to humbly pursue God above all else. As believers in Jesus Christ we need to stop pursuing these idols and learn to trust God.

Proverbs 22:17-19 (ESV)
[17] Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
and apply your heart to my knowledge,
[18] for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
if all of them are ready on your lips.
[19] That your trust may be in the LORD,
I have made them known to you today, even to you.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Proverbs 21:1-3, 29-31 (ESV)

[1] The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;
he turns it wherever he will.
[2] Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the heart.
[3] To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.

[29] A wicked man puts on a bold face,
but the upright gives thought to his ways.
[30] No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel
can avail against the LORD.
[31] The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but the victory belongs to the LORD.

Proverbs 21 contrasts two ways of living and thinking. The way of the wise and godly individual is a life of simplicity, honesty, personal responsibility, justice, and humility. The way of the wicked is just the opposite. The wicked always wants more. The wicked twists the truth to their own ends. The wicked expect others to serve them, fail to take personal responsibility for their own actions and success, and lack compassion for the less fortunate. The wicked are more concerned about themselves than about others. Yet they are convinced that they are right.

But what is that the heart of the matter? This chapter begins and ends with a reference to the sovereignty of God. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov 21:1). “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD” (Prov 21:31). At the heart of the matter, the wise and the godly recognize that their lives and their future rests in the hands of their God. The wicked still think that life is about themselves.

That raises a frighteningly obvious question: How do I live? Too often I have talked as though God is God but lived as though life is about me and my satisfaction. Too often I have talked as though I believe that God is sovereign, but live in fear, as though he does not exist. Too often I have talked as though I believe that God has things in control and will accomplish his purposes but have lived in anxiety and selfishness.

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart” (Prov 21:2). “A wicked man puts on a bold face, but the upright gives thought to his ways” (Prov 21:29). We take offence but believe that we have good reason to be offended. We ignore the cries of the hurting and needy, while clamoring for wealth and believe that we have a right to do so. We live in fear and anxiety, failing to trust that God truly is in control, but believe that we are justified in our fears and anxieties.

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (Prov 21:2). Isn’t it time that we consider the truth that God is not concerned with what we think is right. “The LORD weighs the heart” (Prov 21:2). Isn’t it time to step back and give some reflection to how we have been living and what values and real beliefs have been driving our behavior? Isn’t it time to really believe that God is in control.

A life of faith is a life of peace. It is a life of simplicity, honesty, personal responsibility, justice, and most of all humility. It is time that we listen to what we say we believe, admit the lies we have really been believing, and start living as though God really is God. The king’s heart really is in the hands of the Lord whether the king realizes it or not. The victory really does belong to the LORD. It is time we stop believing the lies we have been telling ourselves, and actually trust God.

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...