Monthly Archives: May 2014

Proverbs 22-27

When I was learning to be a carpenter, I would frequently cut corners in my work in an attempt to get finished quickly. I wanted to see the end of the project, not be bogged down in the middle of it. And just as frequently, my foreman would always require me to go back and do it again. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. I was not allowed to call myself a carpenter until I could be excellent in my work. Anything less would be stealing from the customer and from the company owner.

 

Why is it, then, that we allow much less than excellence in the house of God? Why do we consider church to be the place where we give as little effort as possible, have no thought toward excellence, and frequently avoid it altogether? These are unbiblical attitudes. We know that Jesus gave His life for the Church, so He doesn’t disdain her. Why do we?

 

 

[22.29]

See a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings, not before common men.

 

[24.10]

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.

 

[25.4]

Take away the dross from the silver, and a vessel will come forth for the finer.

 

[27.17]

As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the wits of another.

 

Solomon has already observed that we are made to work. We were given this one chance on the earth, and our time should be spent in the work that we were born to do. In keeping with that theme, he remarks, in 22.29, that one who is diligent in his work will stand before kings. “Diligent” is sometimes also translated “skilled,” which is perfectly correct. A person who is diligent enough to become skilled in his business—whatever that may be—is worthy of honor and respect. Excellence is a true virtue. He also observes the maxim “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (24.10). The word that I’ve translated “faint” is רפה, and means “to show oneself without courage.” The NASB translates this word as “slack.” The thought here is that when adversity comes, one should not become slack or lazy; one should not faint or retreat in the face of it. So along with excellence as a biblical virtue comes courage and grit. Adversity, after all, only serves to sharpen man’s ability to achieve the work he’s called to do for the Lord (25.4). Of course, it would be an exercise in futility to attempt this alone. Solomon observes that man was meant to live and be in community; the relationships between people serve to sharpen them (27.17).

 

We are in a time of transition—and therefore adversity—in our local church. We need to be reminded that God desires our “A game” in church. He likes excellence, and He created us to do our business with diligence and skill. Since the Church is a committed band of evangelists, that means that you have a job that you were created to do for your church, as well. You were not intended to sit it out; your spiritual growth is not merely vertical (only between you and God), but is also contingent on growing horizontally (collectively with the community of Christ—commonly called the church). What is your skill? What is your talent? Your ability? Your strength? If you’re not giving of it to your church, you have an unbiblical attitude concerning church, God, and yourself.

 

Sharpen one another in relationship. Encourage one another. This time of adversity is a blessing; it is a time in which we reboot our commitment to excellence in the house of God, and dedication to one another.

 

 

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Proverbs 17-21

No one “works” their way to salvation, theologically speaking, but to assume that God hasn’t designed the human being for work is to lose all focus on the Almighty. God Himself works, and He has created us to work. He has also given us families in which we thrive when we love and honor them. Our postmodern culture rejects the importance of family and work, tending to narcissism and indolence—the direct opposite of the wisdom of Solomon.

 

 

[18.9]

He that is slothful in his work is brother to him who is a great waster. [cf. 19.15, 24; 20.4; 21.17, 25]

 

 

[18.22]

He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the LORD.

 

 

[19.26]

He who wastes his father and chases away his mother is a son who causes shame, and brings reproach.

 

 

One of the major themes in this section is work ethic. Solomon observed that people who worked hard seemed to have more creature comforts of life and more social power. People who worked less seemed to have less and struggle more. While there are exceptions to every rule, what Solomon is observing is a connection between hard work and a good life. Moreover, the benefits of hard work are not only pecuniary; they are moral, as well. The person who tends toward indolence is not fulfilling his potential and purpose in this life—and that is a form of disobedience. If the average person thinks of a destroyer as a really bad person, Solomon observes that the lazy guy is that destroyer’s brother. When we also see 19.15, 24; 20.4; 21.17, 25, we can see the common theme of the dangers of sloth being taught consistently. Mankind was made to work, and to squander the small amount of time he has on the earth is a willful disregard and disdain for the gift of life and time from the hand of God.

 

Solomon also has observations about familial culture and obligations. He reminds his audience that marriage is a good thing, and that finding a spouse is a gift from God. He also teaches an enduring respect for one’s parents, even after they’ve reached an age in which they are seen by society as “useful.”

 

Much of what Solomon observed in today’s readings should be common sense. But our culture has gone so far off the rails that it may even seem controversial. Thus it is that we have to revisit truths that earlier generations of Puritan-influenced Americans were raised on: hard work is good for the body and the soul. Find what you were born to do and do it with all your strength. Work hard to do what you need to do. There will be time enough for sleep when you are dead. God gave you an engine that runs; let it run for a purpose.

 

Our postmodern culture disrespects marriage, as well. Not only do we devalue it with our cultural shift toward homosexual marriage, but we were disdaining it 40 years ago with our choice of no-fault divorce. In the western socialist countries of Europe, marriage has been on the decline for so long that the native population is dying out from lack of family. The same value system is in full swing here in America; Millennials have been taught that marriage is a big scary thing that must be avoided until your thirties—if indulged in at all. And children? P-shaw. The value of deep commitment to another and responsibility for others is ingrained in us by Almighty God, and we’re never truly happy or fulfilled without it. When we attempt to replace that with a life lived to and for ourselves, we pervert God’s ways. Little wonder, since we’re rejecting God’s plan of the family, that we also routinely “waste” and “chase away” our parents. Any cursory reading of the Old Testament will show how important it is to God to respect and honor one’s parents. But our youth-obsessed culture makes all of us irrelevant by 45, and completely useless by 65. We have ceased to find value in our fellow image-bearers simply because of their age. Even in the Church, every other ecclesiological book is some jeremiadic warning that our churches must get “younger,” thereby casting aside those who’ve had much more experience living out their theology in the real world.

 

Respect and honor for your family and hard work. These don’t seem overly “spiritual,” but family and the ability to work are from God. Why do we disdain His gifts? Because we think we know better. Don’t fall into this trap today. Honor your parents while they’re still here, and teach others to model theirs if yours aren’t. And put your hand to the plow; you haven’t much time to work, but you were put here to get it done. So get it done.

 

 

Proverbs 12-16

My sons witnessed a road rage incident after school yesterday while walking to the pre-arranged spot where I pick them up. A man rear-ended another man, then both men emerged from the car and began screaming and threatening each other, ultimately culminating in both leaving the scene of the accident—and then crashing their cars into one another again! This seems more commonplace now than it used to be; to honk your horn at someone who’s still texting when the light turns green is to invite possible violent repercussions. As our society slides further and further away from God, we become more and more unhinged and violent, and we do crazy things in front of our children, who in turn grow up and do those same things—but without the stigma of their being “crazy.” The sins of the culture have a tendency to seep into the Church, as well. One of the most pressing needs today is for the people of God to learn self-control in the area of wrath.

 

[12.10]

The righteous has regard for his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.

 

[13.3]

He who keeps his mouth keeps his life; he who opens his lips destroys himself.

 

[14.29]

He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is hasty in his spirit exalts folly.

 

[16.32]

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

 

Solomon is interested in a topic that eludes many Christians: self-control. Modern-day evangelicalism is so preoccupied with not appearing legalistic or Pharisaic that it has now become a soft-pedaled inner creed that requires neither commitment nor sacrifice. People think they can somehow be Christians apart from the Church, which is antithetical to New Testament teaching. People no longer want to hear that teaching because they are convinced that they are just as expert an authority in dividing the Scriptures as trained ministers and theologians—hence, they believe that God is telling them to get a divorce, or follow their heart, or some other behavior that elevates the Self over God. And as a result of this disrepair into which the Church has fallen, we also see a lack of teaching on self-control. Wanting to err on the side of grace, we stop short of helping people understand the day-to-day need for controlling our base instincts, muzzling our mouths and disciplining ourselves to do what’s right. We’ve separated salvation and sanctification, and we’re hoping the two never meet again.

 

But Solomon is under no such cultural delusion. He knows full well the trouble that a YHWH-truster can get into by failing to control his own passions. After all, his deceased older brother was a product of David’s failure to control his sexual impulse, and Solomon himself eventually allowed that one to run away with him. One area that stands in dire need of self-control in the modern Western mind is that of wrath. While it is true that Man is not an animal and that the rest of creation is held distinct from humanity, it is also true that cruelty to animals is a mark of the enemy, not God. When Solomon observes that the righteous care about the lives of their animals, he is describing behavior that emulates how God takes care of Man. In 13.3, he also notes that a man of self-discipline with respect to his mouth tends toward life. In fact, he employs the phrase “He who keeps his mouth keeps his life,” using two separate Hebrew words for “keep” (נצר and שׁמר) to poetically play off each other and create the catchy line. In 14.29, he tells his audience that giving in to one’s hasty spirit only elevates folly—something that should be a source of shame, not pride. The parallelism of 16.32 demonstrates the grammatical equality of the phrases “he who is slow to anger” and “he who rules his spirit.” To rule one’s spirit is to be slow to anger. And it is a sign of strength.

 

Real strength is, indeed, self-control. When we run our mouths without thinking, we invite a world of trouble into our lives and the lives of others. When we practice keeping our temper and controlling our passions, we bear the spiritual fruit of self-control, which is always godly. It is easier to be kind to everyone—including our animals—when we are slow to anger and able to control our tempers.

 

A martial arts instructor that I had many years ago made a statement that has somehow stuck with me: word are like arrows—you can fire a thousand of them downrange, but you can never get them back. Today, let’s commit to each other that we will rein in our tongues in our dealings with one another and those outside the Church. Let’s control our passions, including our tempers. Then we’ll be walking in the strength of the Lord.

Proverbs 6-11

When I was learning my trade in carpentry, I remember the last two hours of the work day being the worst. All day, we had worked, and we were tired—but there were still those last two hours to go. It became a hard slog, and attitude had everything to do with our productivity. If we simply tried to run out the clock, our work suffered. If we continued consistently in the work we had been doing up to that point, our work was good and the time was well-spent. Sometimes just being consistent in our labors—despite the temptation to be inconsistent—is the key to good work.

 

 

[10.16-17]

The labor of the righteous tends toward life, but the fruit of the wicked leads to sin.

He is in the way of life who receives instruction, but he who refuses reproof errs.

 

[11.3]

The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the perverseness of the treacherous will destroy them.

 

 

Solomon explains that the work of the righteous will always shake out toward life, while the work of the wicked lends itself easily to sin. In the Hebrew parallelism style, he’s saying WORK OF RIGHTEOUS = LIFE, WORK OF WICKED = DEATH. Again, we can always find examples of exception to this “rule,” but we must bear in mind that Solomon is making a general observation of anthropology. This tends to be true. Additionally, the person who can take correction will tend toward the way of life, while the one who cannot ever be wrong will be even more so. This is the sin of pride; the inability of one to admit that he could be wrong. In so doing, he is the most wrong. Finally, Solomon contends that “the integrity of the upright will guide them.” The Hebrew תֻּמַּת carries with it a sense of consistency, rendering another good reading here “the moral consistency of the upright will guide them.” The opposite of that moral consistency is perverseness or treacherous behavior; one who is inconsistent and deviant from the path of life. A moral consistency in the labor of the righteous will include humility, and will yield the fruit of the way of life.

 

Pride is the most insidious force, in my view, of all human error. When we cannot admit our fallibility, we are in essence arguing with the most central theological precept of all: that we are fallen at all. The truth is that we hold wrong views, and even teach them—until we are corrected. Grace and humility toward one another is the key to corporate spiritual growth. We should also be consistent in the day-to-day work that we do on behalf of the church and the gospel. It may not seem like it, but this work yields the fruit of life. We may not have much at the end of the day in the way of money, but we have ushered others into the kingdom of life when we remain consistent with our labors.

 

Be kind to one another. Be humble enough to learn new things every day. Be morally consistent. Then the work to which you put your hand will be established and you will walk consistently on the path of life. After all, I have nothing else BUT my integrity; why toss it in frustration at the seeming lack of reward for my work? If I am consistent and humble in my work, I will continue in the path of life—and my work will lead to life.

Proverbs 1-5

We listed our house a couple of weeks ago. We felt we were ready for a move to a different property—perhaps one more rural, but definitely one with a touch more room, since everyone in our family except my wife is destined for a height of more than six feet. We felt this was a path that God was in, and went out on a limb and did it. We’ve only had two showings, despite the fact that this is a very hot seller’s market right now. There are moments in which I wonder if I made a big mistake—did I do this too soon? Did I let the agent over-value my property? If, in the course of following God, I make a mistake, how badly does that hurt me? And what does that say about my ability to hear God? I know I’m not alone in these questions. Fortunately, a great teacher asked and answered them already.

 

[3.5-6]

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

 

[3.26]

For the LORD is your confidence, and He will keep your foot from being caught.

 

[4.26-27]

Ponder the path of your feet, and let your way be established.

Do not turn to the right or the left; remove your feet from evil.

 

 

The Teacher, commonly believed to be Solomon, writes the most famous of all “wisdom literature.” This type of work is easily misinterpreted by some who don’t read carefully. These are not iron-clad maxims that circumscribe God’s behavior; rather, they are general observations about life, God and Man that are timeless. In general, it tends to be true that if you raise your children in the admonition of the Lord, for example, they will follow Him. It is not, however, some sort of evangelically-understood “promise.” Wisdom literature requires—well, WISDOM. In today’s reading, we see a consistent theme of “walking” and one’s “way” or “path.” This is a reference to the day-to-day operations of a YHWH truster. The Teacher tells his audience that if one trusts in God and not himself, He will keep his way. His foot won’t be caught in an inextricable trap if he commits his way to the Lord. While walking on that path, it is important to remain consistent—to not turn to the right or the left and therefore become distracted from the path on which God is leading him.

 

It is difficult to know my way. I wonder if this decision of that one was a huge mistake. But the truth is that I have committed my way to the Lord. I trust in Him, and acknowledge His sovereignty over me. Because of that, I don’t have to worry about such things. He keeps my foot from being caught in the trap, so to speak. He knows that my heart is committed to Him. My confidence is in Him, not the housing market or others. It is important that I keep myself from being distracted by things other than what God has called me to do. If I turn aside from this path on which He’s called me, then I will entrap myself. My way is established because it is His way.

 

This is not a guarantee that you won’t make mistakes. It is not a promise that you won’t suffer consequences of your mistakes. It is a recognition that the YHWH-follower is a child of grace and godly provision, and should trust in that and let God handle the other details. Today, commit your life to the Lord. Commit your morning to Him—your afternoon and evening to Him. Acknowledge His sovereignty over you and your circumstances, and trust Him to take care of you. He’s been in this business a long time, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. Don’t let yoru circumstances or hurdles or problems distract you from the incontrovertible truth that God Almighty is in control, and is guiding your destiny.

 

Psalms 141-150

One of the great unspoken stigmas in the Body of Christ is depression. For reasons that elude me, we Christians like to pretend that being a servant of the Lord means that we are never sad, depressed, lonely, or broken-hearted. While it’s true that when we meet together for worship, we should do so in gladness, it is just as true that that can be an act of supreme self-discipline for the one who has been beaten down by life. The other six mornings of the week, it might well be chore to get out of bed and function with the rest of the living beings on earth. God knows this person, and knows them well.

 

 

[145.14-19]

The LORD upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all wait on You; and You give them their food in due time.

You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

The LORD is righteous in His ways, and holy in His acts.

The LORD is near to all who call on Him—to all who call on Him in truth.

He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will hear their cry, and He will save them.

 

 

Verse 14 is powerful: “The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down.” The psalmist knew what it meant to be “bowed down.” His back was bowed from the pressures of being king. Even before then, he knew what it was to suffer bouts of depression, and had watched Saul transformed by them. He was a man who understood sadness and grief and loss and just generally feeling as though the world had beaten him down. When he pens this line, he does so with the full knowledge that God can and will care deeply for such a person. He also testifies to the recurrent theme that God is the Provider of every living thing; we will see this same message referenced by Jesus when He asks the crowd on the Mount of Olives if they understand that God clothes the birds of the air—and considers them to be of much more significant import. God provides all for all—good and evil. Everything He does is righteous and good, even when it doesn’t seem so from the psalmist’s perspective. He is teaching God’s people that if they call on Him, He will answer them—save them and provide for them.

 

God Almighty is immutable. He is unchanging in His attributes. He didn’t USED to be a providing, saving, empathetic God to those who are bowed down; He still is. He still lifts up the head of the one who is deeply saddened, troubled, depressed, lonely, broken-hearted. He still provides everything needed by every living being. And He most definitely still saves and redeems people from the Pit.

 

When we stop to think of how mighty and awe-inspiring our God is, we should begin to feel worry and fear melt away. There is no sin in feeling down; but know that your God wants to lift you up. You are that significant to Him, and He loves you and takes great pleasure in providing for you.

Psalms 131-140

I taught my sons stress. I remember the moments in their lives where it began to take root; they had emerged from infancy, toddlerhood, and the first six grades of schooling with their humility and trust in me and God intact. But somewhere around the time that I began teaching the causal relationship between their homework and their grades, it began to dawn on them that they controlled their own destiny. In so doing, they failed to achieve it, of course. As soon as they began to realize that it might be possible to work hard and still not achieve, stress was born. Now, like me, they need to allow the Holy Spirit to constantly remind them that they are not in control of their destinies; Someone else is.

 

[131.1-3]

 

A song of degrees of David:

LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty;

                I will not exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.

Surely I will behave, and quieten myself,

                Like a child weaned from its mother; my soul is as a weaned child.

Let Israel hope in the LORD from now and for ever.

 

The psalmist does a couple of things in this little song that are of great importance. The first is that he associates stress and worry with pride and haughtiness. When the lyric speaker claims that his heart isn’t haughty, and that he doesn’t “exercise” himself in matters that are too great for him, he is drawing a grammatical parallel between the two statements. To not exercise oneself in a great matter is to be “not haughty.” Logically, then, we could conclude that to exercise oneself in such matters IS to be haughty. If the lyric speaker had been stressed and worried, he would have been, in effect, making the statement that he was his own Savior. Instead, he quietens himself—as a child does who is being nurtured and grown. Here we see the simile so consistently employed throughout scripture: He is the heavenly Father, and we are His children. Children that are as young as he describes here are never stressed or worried. They take no thought of mortgages or gas prices or savings or 401K’s. They don’t grip with fear about the stock market or the job market or how things will get done. They completely trust in their parents. The second thing that the lyric speaker here does is to apply that same teaching broadly to his nation, Israel. What is true for the individual servant of God is also true for the nation of Israel; she has reason to hope on her God forever.

 

Stress is pride, plain and simple. When we exercise ourselves in great matters, we are attempting to micromanage God’s job. The very thought is preposterous. If He is God, He’s got this. When we are wracked with fear and stress, we reveal that we aren’t convinced that He is God. This is a powerful teaching contained in this little psalm. The same God Who delivered Israel from her worries throughout history is the same God Who has your situation well in hand.

 

Today, like the psalmist, let us behave. Let us quieten ourselves. He’s got this, not us.