Friday, June 29, 2018

Proverbs 30:1-5 (ESV)
[1] The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.
The man declares, I am weary, O God;
I am weary, O God, and worn out.
[2] Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
[3] I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son’s name?
Surely you know!
[5] Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

The older I get the less I know. Or perhaps more correctly, the older I get the more that I know that there is more that I don’t know than what I do know. Hmmm, that sounds convoluted, but I think it is true. That seems to be the mindset of the author of this chapter in Proverbs. “”I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One” (Prov 30:2-3).

I recall as a young preacher thinking that I had learned so much and that I had such a clear understanding of the scriptures, of God, his ways, and the world. I was puzzled by older men of God who seemed to be always learning and discovering new truth. I expected that if I had it all figured out, they must have figured it all out years ago. But now I see that the observation of Solomon in Ecclesiastes is correct. There seems to be no end to learning.  

In my youth I thought I knew so much. Youth knows everything there is to know about everything. Wisdom recognizes one’s own lack of knowledge and understanding. The arrogance of thinking one knows much lends itself to selfishness. Selfishness lends itself to injustice, greed, and even violence. Wisdom recognizes that there are two sides to every story. Wisdom realizes that life is not about me. Wisdom has learned to acknowledge what it does not know.

Wisdom appreciates more and more the inscrutable and unknowable reality of God. We can know him, but we can never know him. To know him is life and we can know him through Jesus Christ, yet there is a balancing truth to that. How can a fallible and finite individual ever really know an infallible and infinite being. Only God knows fully? Thus Proverbs challenges us, “Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know!” (Prov 30:4).

It is only when we realize how much we do not know that we can begin to enter into the wisdom of God. It is only when we acknowledge that we have much to learn that we will not be threatened by those who are different from us. It is only when we recognize our own foolishness that we can begin to enter into the wisdom of God. That takes humility. Thus the chapter ends, “If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth. For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife” (Prov 30:32-33). Our own arrogance keeps us from learning the wisdom of God that goes far beyond our ability to know and comprehend. It all starts with humility. I know that there is so much that I do not yet know.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Proverbs 29:1-6 (ESV)
[1] He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
[2] When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
[3] He who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
[4] By justice a king builds up the land,
but he who exacts gifts tears it down.
[5] A man who flatters his neighbor
spreads a net for his feet.
[6] An evil man is ensnared in his transgression,
but a righteous man sings and rejoices.

God’s standards were never meant to be burdensome. God did not establish random rules just to keep people under his thumb. The directives of God’s word are intended to serve and protect people, not enslave them. Those who flaunt God’s standards will often speak of them as burdensome or restricting. But as you reads through this 29th chapter of Proverbs you cannot help but see that rejecting God’s standards is destructive. God’s standards and principles are there to protect people not restrict them.

“When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan” (Prov 29:2). Wisdom brings joy. Righteousness brings celebration. Justice builds up. Flattery ensnares. Injustice destroys. Wickedness oppresses. Foolishness dissipates what wealth one has. God’s ways are not oppressive. God’s ways are there to protect the individual, the family, and society. People can dance in the streets and celebrate throwing off the constraint of God’s “restrictive” ways, but they are only celebrating their own demise.

Imagine choosing to eat poison when perfectly good food is available just because the poison looks and tastes good. Even if poison looks and tastes good, it is deadly. Imagine choosing a lifestyle contrary to the scriptures because it appeals to one’s senses and passions, and then either rejecting the scriptures or redefining them to make one’s actions acceptable. It is poison to the soul and poison to society, but we choose it because we think it makes us happy. Hebrews 11:25 tells us that Moses chose “to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” That’s what drugs provide, an immediate relief or pleasure that ends up being self-destructive. That’s what violence results in, a release of one’s immediate emotion only to destroy another’s life and create an environment where there is increasing violence and less and less safety. That’s what any rejection of God’s principles and standards does. One may feel an immediate freedom by rejecting God’s principles and truths, but it results in a world that is increasingly unsafe and unfulfilling. God’s ways were never meant to be burdensome. They were intended to serve and protect people, not enslave them. Which path will you choose today? Will you follow your passions, or will you live in line with God’s ways and God’s intended purpose? In the end God’s ways create a better world.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Proverbs 28:25-28 (ESV)
[25] A greedy man stirs up strife,
but the one who trusts in the LORD will be enriched.
[26] Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
[27] Whoever gives to the poor will not want,
but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
[28] When the wicked rise, people hide themselves,
but when they perish, the righteous increase.

“Grab for the gusto!” A beer commercial. “Just do it!” A shoe commercial. “Have it your way.” A fast food commercial. “Good things come to those who go!” An airline commercial. The message of the world is that life is about me. The message of the Bible is that life is not about me. Greed is about me. Trust is about the trustworthiness of God. Self-confidence is about me. Wisdom is from God. Ignoring the poor and underprivileged is about me. Clicking a link that says we should care about the poor has replaced actually doing something to care for the poor. That takes less energy, commitment, and resources, but it makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we did something. Our world has an incredible ability to turn the message to me by redefining poor and underprivileged and making it about me and my needs. Ministering to the poor and needy is God’s heart. Righteousness always starts with an outward focus, not an inward focus. Life is not about me.

Righteousness starts with a focus on God. Righteousness walks in wisdom rather than self-indulgence. Righteousness sees the pain of others rather than the discomfort of self. Righteousness acts in the best interest of others even if it means loss for self. Righteousness sees the image of God in even the most vile individual. Righteousness recognizes the vileness of one’s own heart and realizes that God is the source of true righteousness. Righteousness is not about me.

This raises the question of who we are living for. A child is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When they grow up they are asked, “What do you want to do when you retire?” What do they ask themselves when they retire? “How many years do I have left?” You see, we are always looking for something that will satisfy us. We are always looking for the thing that will make us happy, contented, or at peace. But a career won’t do that. A spouse won’t do that. Retirement won’t do that. True contentment comes in the righteousness of God that moves us to serve others whether we are a child, a teen, a young professional, a seasoned career warrior, or a retiree. When we make life about God and others rather than about self, something changes in our hearts, minds, and perspective. We see ourselves and our world through a whole new lens. Life is not about me. Now that is a slogan that could change the world.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Proverbs 27:19-22 (ESV)
[19] As in water face reflects face,
so the heart of man reflects the man.
[20] Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,
and never satisfied are the eyes of man.
[21] The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and a man is tested by his praise.
[22] Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle
along with crushed grain,
yet his folly will not depart from him.

This chapter is ultimately about character, integrity and moral fiber. Some people are never satisfied. Fools are always fools. The verse I love in this chapter is verse 21, “…a man is tested by his praise.” Your actions affect those around you. A child’s integrity or lack of integrity reflects on the child’s parents. Foolishness irritates and discourages those around the fool. Wisdom and godly character protect, bless, and refresh. Life is about character, and character is not something you can fake.

The world says, “Look out for Number One.” People of integrity watch out for those under their care. “”Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds” (Pro 27:23). For a farmer or rancher that is good advice, but for anyone responsible for a business, a ministry, or a group of people in any way, it is essential advice. Looking out for Number One will undermine and destroy those we lead and those we influence. Caring for others comes back to us and we are blessed as well.

“Riches do not last forever” (Pro 27:24). We can choose to be people who watch out for ourselves, or we can be people who care for others. The wealthiest people in the world will lose all they own at the grave. At best, riches last only a lifetime. Character goes beyond the grave in at least two ways. First, as believers in Jesus Christ, a life of character translates into eternal rewards. Second, a life of character leaves a legacy worth leaving in this world. You can enjoy riches for a time, but character, integrity, and moral fiber last forever, and bless those around us in the present. Which defines you?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Proverbs 27:1 (ESV)
Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring.

As I read this verse I was reminded of how many Proverbs Jesus and other New Testament writers quoted. James makes reference to this verse in James 4:13-17. Jesus builds a the parable of the rich fool around the idea in Luke 12. Over and over as I read through the Psalms and Proverbs I come across passages that are familiar, and then I realize that Jesus, or Paul, or one of the other New Testament authors quoted or referenced these passages.

When Jesus preached, he based his messages on the Old Testament. When Paul preached, he based his messages on the Old Testament. When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, his message came from the Old Testament. When Jesus walked with the two men on the road to Emmaus, he taught them about Messiah from the Old Testament. As believers in Jesus Christ we have a tendency to base our practice and theology in the New Testament. We tend to use the Old Testament as a sort of Aesop’s Fables. It is used to illustrate moral behavior taught in the New Testament.

The truth is, we have failed to understand the Old Testament. But if Jesus and the New Testament authors based their teaching and their understanding of the gospel in the Old Testament, maybe we should pay the Old Testament a little more attention. There are some who would say that only the New Testament is for the church. There are even some who would say that not even the gospels are for the church. They argue that the Gospels are Old Testament in nature. I find that hard to accept.

Paul wrote to the Ephesian elders, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). That whole counsel of God included the Old Testament. As believers in Christ who claim to value the Bible as the Word of God, we need to value the whole of God’s Word. The Old Testament is not just a series of stories to be used as illustrations for moral behavior, or to teach children to behave. The gospel is rooted in the Old Testament. The New Testament is rooted in the Old Testament. Our understanding of God, sin, the world, Satan, holiness, truth, and who we are as people created in the image of God but fallen… all of that is grounded in the Old Testament. Maybe, as those who claim to value the Bible, it is time for us to actually read, study, and meditate on the whole counsel of God.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Proverbs 26:9-12 (ESV)
[9] Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard
is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
[10] Like an archer who wounds everyone
is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.
[11] Like a dog that returns to his vomit
is a fool who repeats his folly.
[12] Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Proverbs 26 is filled with warnings and instructions. There are warnings about fools, drunkards, the lazy, gossips, etc. Sermons could be written on almost every verse. The verse I find most interesting today is verse 12. After eleven verses of warnings about fools the author suddenly switches gears and drops these words on us, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Pro 26:12). For all the warnings about fools, this person is worse. Wow!

What is worse than a fool? Those who are wise in their own eyes. That pretty much sums us everyone. Youth, in particular, seem to think that they know everything. When I was a young college student I thought I knew everything. I knew more than my parents. I knew more than some of my teachers. I certainly knew more than the rest of the people sitting in the pews. Such arrogance leads only to failure. It fails to love others. It thinks more highly of self than is appropriate. It distances people from us, leaves wounded people in our wake, undermines effective ministry, and sets us up for failures of all kinds. “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Pro 26:12).

Thankfully, God is gracious. The Apostle Paul warned, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3). My guess is that he wrote those words our of his own experience. From all external appearances, Paul was a righteous man. Then he met Jesus and became a broken man. But it was in his brokenness, not out of his self-righteousness that God used him powerfully for the Kingdom. Thank God for the grace he has to faithfully break us in order to make us into a vessel for his use, glory, and good.

When I was a young preacher I wondered at those elderly preachers who were still learning. I thought, “Haven’t they learned everything there is to know by now? What’s wrong with them?” But it is the wise individual who knows what he/she does not yet know. Humility is the key to holiness. Not false humility that seeks for affirmation through self-deprecation, but true humility. The humility that knows that one has much yet to learn. The humility that recognizes that all I am is by the grace of God. The humility that understands Jesus words, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

As dangerous as it is to be a fool, it is even more dangerous to be arrogant. Thinking too highly of ourselves makes us useless and destructive. Humility is the means to greatness in God’s eyes. The only cure for arrogance is brokenness. It is s painful journey, but it is well worth the pain. “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6). That is a lesson worth learning, whatever it takes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Proverbs 25:25 (ESV)
[25] Like cold water to a thirsty soul,
so is good news from a far country.
[26] Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain
is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.
[27] It is not good to eat much honey,
nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.
[28] A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls.

Four concepts or principles run through this chapter. 1. Be careful who you listen to. 2. Be careful what you say. 3. Be careful to minister to the less fortunate. 4. Be careful not to think too highly of yourself. First, be careful who you listen to. Good news is “like cold water to a thirsty soul” (Prov 25:25),  but listening to the wicked, or to unwise counsel has consequences. Part of the political divide in our country today is the result of people listening only to those who think like they do. We fail to listen. We fail to seek to understand. We fail to respect others. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (. Prov 25:2). Rather than searching things out we prefer to listen to those who agree with us.

This is a result of failing to heed the fourth principle: Be careful not to think too highly of yourself. We assume that our perspective is right. We assume that those who think like us must be right. But there is always another side to the story. Proverbs 25:7b-8 warn, “What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?” Our perception is not always right. We need to learn to listen well.

We also need to learn to speak slowly. James 1:19 warns, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” Too often the opposite is true. We are quick to speak and slow to hear. We react instead of discerning. The result is that we speak words that reveal ignorance. We speak words that pass on misinformation. We speak words that lack God’s wisdom. We speak words that harm and destroy rather then heal and build up. We fail to exercise self-control over our tongues.

The third principle, be careful to minister to those less fortunate, almost seems out of place with the other three. Principles one, two, and four all are related to listening and speaking. But, there is a cross-over between them. Principle Four, Be careful not to think too highly of yourself, is related to what we listen to and what we speak, but it is also related to how we treat others. Further, our words can deliver life or they can wound terribly. Finally, listening well to those who are less fortunate is the first step to ministering effectively to them. All four principles work together.

So, that leaves us with four questions. First, who are we listening to, and are we listening well? Second, what are we speaking. Are we speaking words of life, health, and peace, or words that wound, kill, and destroy? Third, are we even aware of the hurts of those around us. Those less fortunate may be the poor, but they may also be the hurting, the lonely, and the broken. Fourth, are our thoughts and decisions based on self-focus or on listening well to others? Are we more interested in our own acknowledgement then on serving others? In the end, all of these principles come down to this last one. Don’t think too highly of yourself.

The Apostle Paul warns us, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3). Perhaps if we heeded his warning we would listen better, speak less, seek to understand, reach out to serve others, and think less of ourselves. That is really what Proverbs 25 is calling us to do. Will we listen?

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...