[March 31]--People Who Need People, Part Two

Prov. 20:19; 22:24-25; 23:6-8

Two days ago we started talking about the importance of friends. I think that 18:24 is a pivotal verse on this subject: It’s vital that we value quality over quantity. You might have 100’s of people whom you call “friends” or “buddies,” but here’s a question: If you called them in the middle of the night and told them that you were in major trouble, would they respond? Do they love you enough to speak honestly to you when you’re messing up?

So today, let’s take a quick look at some people we should avoid as friends. Now before we get to that, it would be useful to deal with a seeming contradiction on this issue. How should we handle unsavory characters? Jesus was well-known as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners,” and this was true in his personal life. He invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house, a well-known tax collector (and cheat). In fact, one of his twelve apostles was an ex-tax collector. So are we supposed to be friends with immoral characters or not?

That’s a really good question, and there’s no simple answer to it. I think--based on Scripture and some sanctified common-sense--that I can provide some clarifying questions and general guidelines. A couple of questions: “Do I find myself influencing him more than vice-versa?” “Do I find myself falling more into sin when he’s around?” And here’s a distinction you need to make: Jesus was the friend of sinners in that he accepted them as they were, and didn’t require that they change their lifestyle before coming to him. He freely associated with them and showed that he valued the image of God stamped upon them. But nowhere do you see him confiding in just anyone he happened to meet. It wasn’t someone picked off the street to whom he chose to reveal the Transfiguration; it was his “inner circle” of three. A friend, as opposed to a “companion,” is someone whom you can trust with your life. You share the same values and the same devotion to Christ. Hope this helps.

So what type of friends should we avoid? What bad character traits out there tend to spread? First, there’s the gossip. This is a person who spreads information around to people who don’t need to hear it. Just because it’s true does not justify it. Would you say this to the person involved? Does it help the situation and the people involved? And I love how the verse gives you a selfish reason to avoid these types of people. Think about it. If someone is gossiping to you about someone, don’t you think the gossip is talking about you to other people?

Second, there’s the man with a temper. We’ll talk about righteous anger next week, but I'd submit that there’s very little righteous anger out there today. Most of the time it’s because they hurt you and you want to avenge yourself. Instead of letting the Lord handle your enemies, you feel the need to do it yourself. Of course, as in all things, our Savior provides the perfect example: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” And notice the reason given—Solomon specifically warns that his behavior is infectious.

And third, there’s the stingy man. You have to know people. If they’re always looking for a way to pay people as little as possible, and always flirt with cheating them, then watch out. He might be treating you well at a banquet or with some other enticement, but there are strings attached. Quite frankly, you can’t trust his motives.

These are just a few examples, and I could have picked a lot more. If one of these friends match these descriptions, then you should consider the danger. But also, we all need to ask ourselves: Does this point to me at all? Am I a gossip? Do I keep control of my anger? Am I stingy, caring more about things than people? If so, then there’s some confessing and repentance to do, isn’t there?

Father, your word is like a surgeon’s scalpel, always cutting and healing. In fact, you cut in order to heal. So what do we need to work on?

[March 30]--Good Friday?

[I apologize for a mix-up here. I was planning to post this today and accidentally posted a lesson on Proverbs instead. I've corrected it, so you'll see the Proverbs lesson tomorrow.]

Isaiah 53

It’s an odd thing when you think about it. The Gospels provide the story of Jesus dying, but in order to really understand the "why?" we have to turn elsewhere. Of course, there are hints in the Gospels about the purpose, such as Mark 10:45. But really, you need to read Paul’s writings, especially the book of Romans, to get the best explanation.

Theologians have a term that actually can be quite useful here: substitutionary atonement. The reason I bring it up is because today’s passage is one of the best ones to explain it to us. Simply put, it means, among other things, that Christ died as a substitute for us. All our sins and the punishment due them were placed on him. All of us have sinned, and he took the punishment that we were due. In return, Jesus’ perfect righteousness is credited to our “account” with God.

Now, to be fair, the term isn’t used in Scripture, but the concept certainly is, and there’s no better place to find it than in today’s reading. All you have to do is take a look at the chapter and see how many times you find some form of it. Here’s my count (emphases mine):

• Surely he took up our infirmities
• and carried our sorrows
• But he was pierced for our transgressions
• he was crushed for our iniquities
• the punishment that brought us peace was upon him
• and by his wounds we are healed
• and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all
• for the transgression of my people he was stricken
• and he will bear their iniquities
• For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors

How much clearer does God have to make it? So let’s bring it to the here and now. It wasn’t the Romans who nailed him to the cross. It wasn’t the Jews who sent him to his death. It was your sin and mine. My dirty, rotten, nasty, filthy, stinking sin. Your lying lips. My lust. Your hatred of someone who hurt you. My lack of love shown to a person in need. Your theft. My idol worship. That’s what nailed him there.

But the end purpose is not to lay a guilt trip on you! If you’re a believer, then your sins—past, present, and future--were all nailed to the cross. They’re gone, and God will never bring them up again. You’re forgiven.

The point of what I’m saying is to drive us to our knees in gratitude. This should spur us on to greater obedience. It should make us reeeeaaallly quick to forgive when others hurt us. It means that I no longer have to be bound to my past, since all of that was nailed to the cross and left there. And last but not least, it should fan into flame a desire to see others come into this grand and glorious grace.

So now do you see why we call it Good Friday?

Lord Jesus, let me be like Job and clap my hands over my mouth for a while.

[March 29]--People Who Need People, Part One

Prov. 18:24; 14:20; 19:4

OK, first off, I heartily apologize for delving into Barbara Streisand songs, but I couldn’t come up with anything better. So sue me! How much are you paying for this devotional again?

As you might've guessed from the Scripture passages, we’re going to see what Solomon has to say about friends. I was a bit surprised in my research to find that he talks so much about the subject. He reminds us of their importance, tells us how to avoid the bad ones and find the good ones, and he tells us how to be a good one ourselves. I know I need some instruction on this, don’t you? So let’s get started.

The first verse seems to me to be a foundational one in choosing them. Did you notice that he makes a sharp distinction between “unreliable” friends and a real one? He definitely thinks that quality is more important than quantity. Notice also the contrast here between the end results. “Unreliable” people, when they see your life is falling apart, will clap you on the back and say “Good luck with that, bro.” But the type of friend we’re talking about here will be closer to you than family.

On a side note, I think that people are dying for this type of union. Have you ever been sitting on a plane next to a stranger, and 15 minutes later you know more about their personal life than you ever wanted to know? I wish they wouldn’t do that, but it’s a symptom of a much greater problem: These people are dying to have a “friend who sticks closer than a brother,” someone to whom they can bare their soul. If you have a few people like that in your life, then you should be extremely grateful. But you need to be careful, since not everyone is worthy of this level of intimacy. If you lay open your innermost psyche to someone you don’t know very well, they might turn out to be “unreliable” who can’t be trusted instead of a friend you can trust.

I would like to point out, by the way, that the Lord Jesus certainly followed this approach. He wasn’t--nor did he try to be--as intimate as possible with everyone he met. He had about 70 followers with 12 apostles out of those. Out of the 12 he had three in the “inner circle” who got to see things about him that no one else did. And out of those three, he had one on whom he concentrated like the proverbial laser beam.

How many times have I told you that Proverbs is a practical book? Among other things, that means that Solomon deals with life as it is, which is what you have to do before you can point people to life as it should be. Based on 18:24, I would--if I were translating 19:4--put the word “friends” in quotes in the text. These are not real friends, they’re companions. If they’re your friends based upon the state of your bank account, then obviously they’re not worth having. I wish that this didn’t happen, that a poor man’s friends tend to desert him when he’s in need, but again, we’re dealing with life as it is.

I’d like to end today with a more positive note. None of us are 100% dependable to all our friends at all times. We break our word, we fail them at critical times, we either speak up when we need to shut up or vice versa. We might even gossip about them to others. But there’s one Friend that we can always trust. He certainly is “closer than a brother,” because he bled out his life for us. When we’re in desperate times, when we’re on the brink of ruin, he’s there for us. He always has our best interests at heart, he’s always available for us to bare our soul to him, and he never ever ever breaks a promise. Now, if I could just be a good friend to him. . .

Lord Jesus, you truly are the best friend I could ever have. But you said I’m your friend if I do what you command.. I want that, I really do. Please. Help.

[March 28]--It’s All About The Benjamins: Keeping Your Balance

Prov. 23:4-5; 28:22, 25; 11:4; 11:24-25; 22:9

This’ll be the last day of talking about money for a while, so I thought it might behoove us to look at some proverbs which can help us keep our perspective. Again, context is the key. If all you read about wealth and poverty were the verses from yesterday, then you'll get a pretty skewed view of the subject. Based on the reading for today, here are some things to keep in mind:

The same Solomon who warned against laziness--and told us how to become wealthier—also warns us about dangers from the other direction. He doesn’t--and the rest of the Bible certainly doesn’t--advocate putting your work first. We know from a few days ago that there are more important things than money, and here he warns us not to “wear yourselves out to get rich.” Just as there people who are prone to laziness, there are other folks who are prone to workaholism. If that describes you, keep in mind that it’s all going to be dust and ashes someday. As my former pastor once said, no one on their death bed ever regretted not spending more time in the office.

Along with addiction to work, we also need to be on the lookout for stinginess. I mean, think about it: We as redeemed children of God ought to be the most generous with our money, right? We’ve been given so much in Christ, and that should spill out into the smallest details, like how much we tip the waitress. And according to this verse, stinginess is a recipe for poverty (cue the irony).

If you’ve read the rest of the Bible (which I highly recommend), then you know that God’s word is replete with multiple warnings against greed, especially in the Gospels (e.g. here) and in Paul’s writings (e.g. here). Just wanted to point out that “Mr. Get-Off-Your-Rear-End-And-Get-To-Work” (otherwise known as King Solomon) also warns against it along with them.

And why should we hold lightly on to our possessions? Well, one reason is noted in 11:4—On the “day of wrath,” which is coming for all of us, obviously you can’t buy your way out of it. Of course, none of us are really “righteous” when compared to God’s standards. But from an N. T. understanding, we know that we have a righteousness which is not our own, which is given to us. Christ Jesus is our righteousness, and we claim no other. But the main point is that we need to keep the eternal perspective when it comes to our possessions: It’s all going to be dust and ashes some day.

Another reason to be generous? It will tend to come back upon you. Again, not 100% of the time, just like we’re not going to always be healthy by following God’s plan. But by proving that we have the right attitude towards our possessions, we’re showing to our Father that we can handle greater blessings. And of course the greatest "payback" we'll see isn't in this life, but in the next one from our Father.

Let me end here by reminding you of what type of Father we have. He’s quick to bless and loves to give good gifts to his children. But he’ll always give us what we need, not necessarily what we want. Just trust him, and the only way you can demonstrate that you do trust him is by doing things his way.

Father, every thing I have belongs to you, to use as you see fit. Please remind me of that, as often as I need it.

[March 27]--It’s All About The Benjamins: Ka-Ching!!!

Prov. 11:1; 20:17; 8:18-21; 10:4; 13:11; 10:22

Ok, yesterday we learned how to become poor. Actually, this isn't quite accurate. If you’ve traveled the world at all, or if you’ve studied human history, then you should realize this: The default position for humanity is poverty. As Jane Jacobs put it, "To seek 'causes' of poverty is to enter an intellectual dead end because poverty has no causes. Only prosperity has causes." We were brought into this world naked, and we have to work to move out of that state. Most people who've ever lived had to do so in a constant struggle to stay alive. If they had enough to eat during the day, if they had basic clothing and shelter to protect them from the elements, and if they were able to fight off predators, then that was success. But as you’ll recall, we’re made in God’s image. We weren’t supposed to merely survive like animals; we’re supposed to improve our situation. We’re meant to take what the Lord has created and improve upon it. He created the trees, and we cut them down to make houses. He created the flowers, and we use them for a variety of purposes. Of course, we can’t create anything out of nothing like he can, but we’re designed to reflect our Creator and glorify him by imitating him in a small way. And one word that we use to describe this improvement process is called “wealth.”

So what’s Solomon’s pathway to getting wealthier? You won’t find any “get rich quick” schemes in his book. That makes sense, since he’s already said that that type of foolishness (“chasing fantasies”) only leads to poverty. No, if you want real wealth, which is as secure as we can get in this world, here’s what he says you need to do:

Be scrupulously honest in your business dealings. Both 11:1 and 20:17 warn us against cutting corners in order to make a buck. If you’ve heard about the “dishonest scales” before, then I apologize. But for those unfamiliar with the reference, merchants selling a product in the market would typically have two different types of weights to use when measuring for a transaction. If they were selling products, they'd use the light weights. If they were buying, they'd use the heavy weights. All of this was so that they could cheat other people, and the Lord "detests" it. Money gained by dishonest means might taste “sweet” at first, but it certainly doesn’t end up that way.

Cultivate wisdom. That’s Wisdom--anthropomorphized as a woman--speaking in 8:18-21. Yes, it starts with our relationship with the Lord, but as we start to understand his word more, that’ll lead to understanding people better.

Not to beat a dead horse, but you’ve got to work hard. If you’re the last one punching in and the first punching out at the end of the day, then that’s not the path to prosperity.

Save. I know, for a lot of people, that’s a four-letter word. And I know that there are some (sincere) Christians who believe that you display a lack of trust in God when you save up for retirement and for emergencies. But the same Lord who told us not to trust in wealth for our security also advises us to “[gather] money little by little [and make] it grow.” Don’t invest in a fool’s trap like the lottery. Find some good investments and save up over time.

And finally, trust in your Heavenly Father to prosper you as he sees fit. Some of his children he decides to give only what they need; there are some believers who are called to live in poverty. Others are called into a life of relative prosperity. But whether he decides to feed you on Ramen noodles or to make you as rich as Bill Gates, you can be sure of one thing. Whatever wealth he blesses you with, it won’t come with any “painful toil.” No guilt because you stole it from someone else. No looking over your shoulder for an enemy out for revenge. And no worries attached to it: If you lose it all in one day like Job did, then you can respond like Job did.

And that’s Solomon’s formula for success. No deep dark secrets. No financial wizardry that’ll make you rich overnight. But if you adopt these principles, then you’ll be better off than if you don’t. I’ve said it before, to myself as much as to anyone else: No one ever did things God’s way who regretted it in the end. And that you can take to the bank.

Father God, I know that you want what’s best for me, and you have my best interests at heart. No matter how you choose to bless me, you do all things well. Please help me to be a good steward of what you’ve loaned me, because one day I’ll have to give it all up and give an accounting to you.

[March 26]--It’s All About The Benjamins: Brother, Can You Spare Some Advice?

Prov. 14:23; 20:13; 21:5, 17; 23:21; 28:19; 22:7

Why are people poor? Why is there such a disparity between the wealthiest in the world and the poorest? Well, there are lots of reasons, and we’ll examine some of them today.

Before we get to them, let’s go ahead and handle some objections. Obviously there’s a certain amount of poverty that people suffer due to reasons that have nothing to do with choices they make. I'd be naïve to claim that there’s no racism or other injustice in our culture or nation, for example. There’s also such a thing as a bad economy, which we’re experiencing as I write this. There’s economic upheaval, and industries change as technology improves (such as when the automobile displaced the horse-drawn carriage). Proverbs recognizes (and bemoans) the sad truth that there are times in which people are poor due to government oppression.

But instead of focusing on poverty which is caused by “the system,” how’s about we take a look at problems which we can actually fix today, right now. Some of the problems (such as racial injustice) are not going to be completely solved until Jesus returns, because they’re rooted in a sin issue. You and I can’t do much about that, at least not in the short term. But there are decisions which we can make today about this.

Work hard and take action to improve yourself. No one ever improved their financial situation by talking about it.

Avoid laziness. This isn’t to say that “sleeping in” is always a bad thing, but it certainly isn’t a license to print money, is it?

Get a financial plan and budget and stick to it. Spontaneous (“hasty”) spending should be kept to a minimum.

Be self-disciplined. This is not a plea for asceticism, but realism. Do pleasure or a desire for self-indulgence control you?

Avoid any addictions. Of course there are the obvious ones like alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, but Solomon also makes a big deal about addiction to food as well (or do you have another definition of “gluttony”?). What are the latest statistics on obesity in America again?

• Read 28:19 again. Now what could possibly be a common, modern equivalent of a “fantasy” that people are chasing? My number one candidate for this? The lottery. My favorite joke about the lottery? It’s a tax on people who are really bad at math. Can I apply some tough love here? If this is your retirement plan, there’s no other word for it. You’re a fool. I love you, but you’re being a fool.

Now let’s spend a moment on debt. We’ll probably discuss this more at a later time, but let me summarize my understanding of it here. God’s word, as best as I can tell, doesn't absolutely forbid debt, but it certainly discourages it in pretty strong terms. Do I think it’s sinful to have any debt at all? No. But if what Solomon says about it is true (well, duh!), then we need to make some pretty hard decisions about it.

Now, if I follow this counsel, will I definitely avoid poverty? Of course not! This isn't an iron-clad promise or a science like physics or chemistry. If you follow God’s plan, you will—in general—tend to be healthier and wealthier than if you don’t. If you need to see my earlier post on this, it’s here.

Do I follow all these principles? All the time? I plead the fifth on that. Just kidding—Of course I don’t. I wish I did. But I’m trying, through God’s grace, to do it. How about you? Are you still making excuses, or are you going to start concentrating on what the Father wants you to do?

Father, your word is so packed with wisdom. My problem isn’t so much right beliefs as it is doing what I know I’m supposed to be doing. No matter what happens, I can never go wrong by doing what you tell me to do, can I?

[March 25]--It’s All About The Benjamins: Getting Your Priorities Straight

Prov. 15:16-17; 17:1; 16:8; 22:1

If you could go to Bill Gates or Warren Buffet (both multibillionaires) for financial advice, would you do it? Well, duh! Of course, if these guys are that rich, they tend not to give away their counsel for free. But here’s some good news. The richest and wisest man of his time has laid out his philosophy towards money, and it’s all free! You can’t get a better deal than that.

Someone pointed out to me a long time ago that Jesus spoke more about money than about heaven and hell, and that’s true. The point is that the Bible is a very practical book. It deals with enigmatic mysteries like the nature of God and the afterlife and the spiritual realm, but it spends a lot more time on practical issues like this one. So for the next few days we’re going to see what Solomon and the other authors of Proverbs had to say about it.

Before we go any further, maybe we should settle an interesting question: How should we view money? If you listen to some preachers on TV, you'd surmise that it’s an unmitigated good. God wants you wealthy, and if you aren’t then something’s wrong with you. On the other hand, throughout the history of the church, however, there've been not a few teachers who taught that it’s wrong for a believer to even think about it, and that being wealthy by definition is sinful. “Filthy rich” was almost repetitive. Some of these teachers I hold a lot of respect for, like Francis of Assisi. He was born of an extremely wealthy family, but God called him out of that lifestyle to embrace the poor and a lifetime of abject poverty.

As you might have guessed, Scripture takes a more nuanced approach. It’s foolish to say that money isn’t important at all. It is. If you don’t think so, try going without it for a while. If you try to do without possessions, then you’ll probably end up living off of someone else’s wealth.

But look at the verses for today. I think we can sum them up in one sentence: Money is important, but there are higher priorities in life. Let’s unpack them one by one.

Obviously it’s not nearly as important as your relationship with God, crystallized by the phrase “fear of the Lord.” Notice the contrast here: If you don’t have “the fear of the Lord,” the alternative is “great turmoil.” Money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t buy peace. It can buy something to knock you out (like drugs), but it can’t get you a truly restful night’s sleep.

It also can’t buy a loving home. Think of all the children of world-famous actors who are growing up in a family infected with “hatred.” Many of those kids dine on steak and lobster every night if they want it, but they would trade it in a heartbeat for Ramen Noodles in a home “where there is love.”

It also won’t buy a peaceful home. How many happy marriages do you think there are in Hollywood, anyway? I’m not saying that money is necessarily bad for a marriage, but it’s obvious that in those cases that it didn’t help.

Money’s also useless in buying a good conscience. Not every rich man has gotten there by dishonesty and by trampling others, but a lot have. You can keep that pile of money if it comes by way of “injustice.” I think this accounts for some philanthropy: They’re trying to bribe away the guilt, and that’ll never work.

And finally you can’t use it to purchase a good reputation. What type of person are you known as? Do wise people really respect you?

Again, please don’t misunderstand me. Money is--in and of itself--not a bad thing. There were plenty of godly, wealthy men whom are commended by Scripture: Abraham, Job, David, Joseph of Arimathea, and others. But there are lots of things that are more important, and that should be reflected in our lifestyle, right?

Father God, I don’t want to despise anything you give me, but I refuse to let anything get between me and you. Anything that does, it’s gone. Now.

[March 24]--SEX!!!! Now that I’ve Got Your Attention. . . (Part Two)

Prov. 6:25-29

Yesterday’s devotional could be summed up in six words: “Just say no to sexual immorality!” It’s dangerous and it’s wrong to step outside of God’s plan for sexual expression. Just so we’re clear on this, we’re talking celibacy until marriage (between a man and woman, in case there’s any confusion), and then faithfulness to your spouse until death. Now, I was born on a Monday but not last Monday. I know that the vast majority of everyone who reads this has fallen short of that standard. If you want to count “mental adultery” (like what Jesus describes in Matt. 5:27-28), then there’s not a guy who reads this who can claim to be sinless in this area. But in this day and in the pumped-up oversexualized culture in which we live, it’s pretty clear that a believer who tries to stick to God’s plan is facing an uphill struggle.

But Proverbs is a practical book, not some “pie-in-the-sky” theory on how people ought to act. So it shouldn’t surprise us to see that he’s also given us some tips on how to avoid the worst of this.

First, you’ve got to realize where the battle begins and ends: In your thought life. Solomon warns us not to “lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.” And guys? Read vs. 26 and think about the model on the website you’ve been viewing. Is she engaging in sexual behavior for money? Then do you think that the attitude of the prostitute in vs. 26 applies here? She doesn't care about you! She only cares about your money! 

Second you’ve got to learn the “butter” principle (vss. 27-29). You know that one? “If your head’s made of butter, don’t stand next to the fire.” Do whatever you need to do to stay away from stuff that you need to avoid. Yes, whatever it takes.

Third, channel the urges in a positive direction. Your Creator gave you these desires for a reason. If you’re married, then read 5:15-23. This is his anti-adultery plan. I mentioned this last year, but it bears repeating: God is pro-sex, and the Bible is pro-sex. One of the main reasons why the Lord is so much against sexual immorality is because he loves marriage and hates to see the damage that this mess does to people and to marriages.

Now, what about singles? I know it’s rough. I’ve been there. I’ve been single for more of my life than I’ve been married, so I know how tough it is to stick to his plan. My friend, I was in the U. S. Army for six years, so I know what I’m talking about. All I can tell you is this: There's never been one person in all human history who followed God’s instructions who regretted it in the end. And the converse is true also: There has never been a person in history who didn’t follow his instructions who didn’t ending up regretting it. If God desires for you to get married (and I believe that’s his will for most people), then commit yourself to doing things his way, wait for his timing, and trust him to do what’s right.

And for all of us who are burdened by guilt from things done in the past, please remember this. The day that’s most important is today. Commit yourself that you’re going to do things God’s way starting today. Start depending on his grace to forgive and to change you. Prov. 28:13? Still in effect.

Father God, thank you for caring about us so much. Thank you for the mercy and grace we find in your Son. Starting today, we’ll do things your way.

[March 23]--SEX!!!! Now that I’ve Got Your Attention. . .

Prov. 5:7-14; 7:6-27

A lot has changed since people started recording human history: technology is advancing so rapidly it’s almost impossible to keep up, the world has become a lot smaller due to instant communication, and medical advances are making strides that no one could have predicted 50 years ago. But humanity itself hasn’t changed at all since our first Parents, and that's especially true in the the area of sexuality.

With a book so practical, it’s not hard to grasp that Proverbs deals extensively with this topic. This is especially true since its primary audience is young men. We’re going to spend the couple days on this, since the stakes are so high.

Today’s passage is an anatomy of a seduction of a naïve (“simple”) young man by an adulteress. Please remember, of course, that the principles found here could apply to women just as much guys. Here’s what I notice about it:

• At first glance it might seem that the woman is the one completely at fault here, but there's no way to claim that the man is completely innocent. He’s at the wrong place (her street), at the wrong time (at twilight) and with the wrong type of people. He was seduced, but he placed himself in the place where he could be seduced.

• Solomon certainly makes his opinion of this woman quite clear, doesn’t he? If you go back and examine the wife described in Prov. 31, this is the exact opposite. She’s crass, brash, loud, gaudy in dress, brazen in her flirting, and about as subtle as a brick in the head.

• In case you didn’t understand the references to the “fellowship offerings” and fulfillment of “vows” in vs. 14, she's saying that she had meat for a feast waiting back at the house. If you offered a sacrifice, you had to eat it that day (no refrigeration). The really sad part of this is that she's bringing what was supposed to be used as worship of holy God into her sordid scheme.

• I love the comparison of the young man to an ox or a bird. Animals are led and controlled by their instincts, and this is how you trap them. And of course that’s the last mistake that the animal ever makes.

Exactly how this ends up costing the man his life isn’t made clear from the passage, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? Whether there’s a sexual predator involved (like here) or it’s just a case of both parties refusing to follow God’s plan, it’s still a self-destructive path. Yes, there are physical consequences to this, such as unplanned pregnancy, STD’s, and the like. But there’s invisible damage as well: emotional scars, guilt, problems with intimacy, and a host of others. And when you add the collateral damage to the betrayed spouse and any children, the costs really start to add up.

And most of all, this completely wrecks your relationship with the Lord. If you're a believer, then you have to know better, and the Holy Spirit is going to make you miserable as long as you indulge in this. He's going to get your attention one way or another, and the longer it takes, the less pleasant the method.

It looks to me like there’s no better time to remind us all of 28:13. If you're hiding this sort of thing or thinking about indulging, then you’re cutting yourself off from the type of life that he offers. But the good news is that this sin, just like all the rest, was paid for in blood by the Lord Jesus Christ. To find mercy, all you have to do is A) Confess it, and B) Renounce it.

Lord Jesus, I recognize that my head is a gasoline-soaked rag and the world is full of lit matches. But I also know that where I’m weak, you are strong. Where I’ve fallen short of your standard, please forgive, restore, and change. And by your grace, I want to be pure.

[March 22]--Family Values: Arrows In The Quiver

Prov. 30:17; 10:5; 28:7; 23:15; 15:20; 29:3; 23:24-25

If you read the devotional last month, you might recognize the reference in the title: Psalm 127, in recounting how much a blessing children are, compares them to arrows in a quiver. We’ve looked at husbands, wives, and parents, so children get the scrutiny today.

Now, I would love to think that there are a lot of teenagers who are reading this, but that'd be pretty naïve. Just about everybody who’s reading this now or in the future are probably adults, at least in the physical sense. But believe it or not, God’s word actually has a lot to say to us as children who’ve moved out of the home and who are reasonably self-sufficient.

First, before we examine the verses today, we need to make a distinction. Paul commanded children to obey their parents, and it seems that he'd be addressing those who are still under the authority of parents, by virtue of still living with them. Once a child leaves the home, he’s not obligated to obey them. However--and this is really important—God put the commandment to honor one’s parents in his Top Ten List, and there are no conditions here. It doesn’t end when you leave home, it doesn’t end when you marry and have kids of your own, and it doesn’t even end when they’re dead.

So what does it mean to honor them, since God considers this so important? Well, Proverbs has some ways for us to do that, and they apply just as much to adult children as to those still living at home.

Let me make one little disclaimer before we delve into it. The principles in these verses are most applicable if your parents are believers. If they’re not Christ-followers, then their skewed priorities make these not quite as relevant in all the points after the first one.

First it means respect. The first verse for today is presents a pretty disgusting image for us, but there’s an important lesson here. What type of person is going to be punished? The person who mocks his father. Excuse me, but I just described about 98% of the family sitcoms on television. We point and laugh at the doofus dad on TV who doesn’t know anything. And even worse, we poke fun at the foibles of our own parents. I don’t think that’s a good idea, do you?

Second, take a look at 10:5 again? Who’s a person who “gathers crops in summer”? It’s a person who sees opportunities and takes advantage of them now. When it’s time to gather the crops, it’s time to work. That’s another way we can honor them.

Third, 28:7 tells us to show some self-discipline. Show your maturity by not being self-indulgent and just giving into your impulses. I’m sure they didn’t teach you to act that way, so how can you honor them if you ignore this?

Fourth, as the next three verses express, I’m sure your parents would feel honored if you're displaying wisdom in your life, especially if it's a tribute to their raising of you. They'd want you to demonstrate wisdom in all areas of your life, but in the context of the third verse here it especially refers to being sexually pure. And not following God’s plan in this area is going to cost you more than you thought. It’s going to cause you to “squander [your] wealth” in more ways than one.

Finally, you can demonstrate righteousness in your life. This is not the same as sinlessness; this is the main direction you’re heading. Are you sticking to God’s plan, by his grace? If so, then this is a great way to make your parents “rejoice” in you and “be joyful” when they think of you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to email my parents to tell them how much I love them.

You're the perfect Father to me, and I know that you want the best for me, much more than my earthly parents. May every word out of my mouth and every action I take bring honor to the family name. Please.

[March 21]--Family Values: Parenting God’s Way

Prov. 14:26; 20:7; 13:24; 19:18; 23:13-14; 22:6

Now we get to one of the toughest jobs that God has ever given to a human being: Parent. I just love how women who are employed outside the home are called “working mothers,” don’t you? If a mom stays home with the kids, then I assure you that she’s a “working mom.” And just to be honest, being a dad is a job that I’m looking forward to with fear and trepidation.

Let’s go ahead and get the objection out of the way, shall we? I don't have a lot of experience of being a parent—yet. So everything I say today is coming from God’s word (as best as I can interpret it) and from my understanding of human nature. You can dispute the second without getting me upset at all, but if you take issue with what Scripture plainly says, then there’s a problem.

First, you might have noticed, if you’ve read Proverbs all the way through (which I can’t encourage enough), that Solomon repeatedly addresses the audience as “my son.” This could have been a case in which a teacher was calling his students his “son” or “sons” in a metaphorical way (like Paul did with Timothy). I’m pretty convinced, however, that this is Solomon teaching his literal sons on how to live a wise life and avoid the dangers of a foolish one. It really doesn’t affect the application of it, but I’ve always envisioned the book of Proverbs as being first addressed to teenage boys, since it’s so focused on things like sexual purity, the importance of good friends, and the dangers of alcohol. This doesn’t negate the usefulness of the book to anyone else, but I'd certainly make sure that my son (and daughter) was really familiar with it.

So what are some recurrent themes for parents? First, let’s take some promises. Now, I have to remind you that these aren’t ironclad promises like the ones that promise salvation if we trust in Christ. Each person has to make the choice to follow God’s way, so it’s possible that children can turn away from their parents’ teachings. But in general, parents can influence their children towards godliness. Look at 14:26 and 20:7. I'd like to remind you that fear of the Lord is shorthand for healthy and balanced  relationship with him, and keep in mind that "righteous" and "blameless" don't mean "sinless." So I'd ask you: What lessons are your children learning from your example? Do your children see that the Lord is your secure fortress? Are you blameless in your business dealings and in how you treat outsiders?

Then we get to the sticky issue of corporal punishment. There is disagreement among Evangelicals as to whether or not the “rod” in 13:24, 23:13-14, and other passages refers to actually spanking the child. I’ve heard people try to convince me that it’s not, and they haven’t succeeded yet. But that’s not central to the point I’d like to make about this.

When I go head-long into parenthood, probably the tallest hurdle I’m going to have to conquer is to avoid becoming the “passive” parent. And I’m going to have to do this. It’s not an option. The language is pretty strong here: If you fail in this regard, then you “hate” your child and are a willing party to his death. A child left undisciplined is abandoned to “Death” (literally Sheol, the place of the dead). Most parents would never abuse their child. Even the ones who exercise corporal punishment would never strike him in a way that would really harm him. But Solomon couldn’t be any clearer that you’re not doing your child any favors by shirking your duty.

And finally we get to 22:6. Of course, there’s only one “way they should go”: God’s way. If you provide the proper teaching, proper discipline, and proper example, then you’ll be setting them on the path of life. This includes reading the Bible with them, praying with them and over them, and modeling our Father for them.

Children are like wet cement. You can influence them only for a few short years, and then they’re set for life. If you didn’t have reason enough to cry out to the Lord for his grace to work in you, then this is it. Go to our Father, the only perfect Parent, and he’ll help. I promise.

Father, for all the parents out there, please give them an extra measure of your grace and wisdom. For those of us who aren’t parents yet, please remind us that little eyes are still watching us.

[March 20]-Family Values: Now It’s The Ladies’ Turn!

Prov. 18:22; 19:14; 31:10-31

I have to admit, I approach today’s topic with fear and trembling, with more reason than one. First, there are a LOT of proverbs which cover the topic of wives and God’s expectations of them. Second, there’s a problem with political correctness, which tends to exonerate women and even pretend as if the Fall doesn't touch them. This might sound strange to modern ears, but it needs to be said: Women are just as much sinners as men are. They tend to have different struggles than men do, but they need a Savior to forgive and change them just as much as the guys. Not any more than men do, but not any less either.

And third, I always feel a little weird dishing out biblical commands which might appear to be self-serving, like Paul's command to wives to submit to their husbands. But as the old saying goes, "I gotta calls 'em as I sees 'em." If God tells someone to do something, that obligation to obey doesn't depend on who the messenger is.

There are a lot of verses in Proverbs which talk about how bad it can be with a woman who’s not under the control of the Holy Spirit. In fact, at least five times Solomon talks about how horrible it is to live with a “quarrelsome wife.” Of course, no woman is sinless, but I’m very thankful that my wife really puts a lot of effort into being sweet, kind, and considerate. But ladies, before we get to the positive portrayal, we need to at least glance at the negative one. Are you “quarrelsome” or “ill tempered”? It’s the man’s responsibility, as we saw yesterday, to be at home and not to find excuses to stay away. But his responsibility is made a whole lot easier if you make home a place that he wants to come to. Your obligation (as well as his) is to make home a refuge from all the stress and. . .crud that's out in the world, not a place to add to it. Just food for thought.

But let’s look at the positive side of this, shall we? First let’s take a look at the first two verses in today’s reading. Just like a quarrelsome wife is a curse, a godly and Christ-like wife is a sign of “favor” from the Lord. If she’s prudent (meaning a good keeper of the household’s resources), then she’s a blessing straight from God, and you should value her and treasure her and cherish her more than any other gift--outside of salvation itself--he’s placed in your hands. All the gold in the world, all the fame and power a man can ever dream of, is not worthy to be compared to her. Now on to the last passage (from chapter 31); what does a “wife of noble character” look like?

• Her husband can trust her with any of the family’s resources and can have full confidence in her.
• She's extremely hard-working, and not afraid to get her hands dirty. You know the saying “burning the candle at both ends”? This is a prime example of that.
• Her focus might be on the running of the household, but this is a business woman as well. She is shrewd in her business dealings, and drives a hard bargain. She knows how to invest in order to help provide for the family.
• She's very generous to those in need.
• In contrast to the simple man, she prepares for the future. She doesn’t wait for disaster or hard times to come, and that’s why she doesn’t have to fear when it “snows.”
• She’s not averse to being clothed well (“in fine linen and purple”) but more importantly, she’s clothed in strength and dignity. Does this sound like a fragile flower of a woman who faints when trouble appears?
• Instead of idle chatter and gossip, her mouth is filled with “wisdom” and “faithful instruction.”
• Considering what it’s like to get most children out of bed, the way this woman’s children greet her in the morning is a strong indication of their love and respect for her.
• And then there’s the judgment of her husband. He knows that he’s found a precious jewel in this woman, and he’s not afraid to tell her so. And based on the last verse, he loves to brag about her in public ("at the city gate").
• And most importantly, she’s a woman who fears the Lord. All her other virtues are founded upon her intimate relationship with her Savior God.

Let’s take note of a couple of final points here. First, does any woman measure up to this standard perfectly? Of course not! Every woman out there is a sinner. Every woman who reads this needs God’s grace to forgive and to change her, just like every man needs it for himself. All of us fall short of what we’re supposed to be.

The application for ladies is pretty obvious. But what about guys? To all the husbands out there, if your wife is anywhere close to this, then you need to encourage her. Undoubtedly she’s got some of the virtues listed here, and you need to focus on those like the proverbial laser-beam. Praise her both in a private family setting (vs. 28-29) and as publically as possible (vs. 31). And pray for her. And show her the same type of grace and patience that you want God to show you.

And to any single men out there—Is this the type of woman to which you’re attracted? Or are you just on the lookout for a pretty face and body? And are you the type of man to whom a Proverbs 31 type of woman would be drawn?

See? I’m an equal opportunity offender. Solomon manages to step on just about everybody’s toes today, doesn’t he?

Father, none of us meet your standard perfectly. All of us desperately need your grace to both forgive  us and to change us. And that’s what I’m asking for.

[March 19]--Family Values: Love and Marriage

Prov. 27:8; 13:10; 27:15-16; 15:18; 20:22

What do you think is the most important institution in society? Well, if you go by order of creation, then family would head the list. Think about it: God created marriage (and the family by extension) before he created the state or the church. And I'd submit that you can’t have a strong church without strong families, and you certainly can’t have a viable nation for long without stable families. So for the next few days we’re going to see what Proverbs has to say about the issue. We’ll see what it tells us about husbands, wives, parents and children, and what God expects from everyone.

Today we’re going to briefly examine what it says about marriage, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The book doesn’t really have a lot to say to husbands as such. Not that they don’t need instruction from Scripture; they certainly do. But most of the time, the characteristics which make a good man also make a good husband, and there’s not a lot of distinction between the two to be drawn from this book.

For example, one of the most important qualities husbands need is the willingness and ability to listen to good counsel. They mustn’t just trust their own judgment, but must listen to good advice, both from their wives and from other godly friends. But that quality is repeatedly extolled all over the book for anyone reading it; it’s just not specifically designated towards husbands per se. But for today I picked a few proverbs which can be applied to marriage in general and husbands in particular.

First let’s take a look at 27:8. How many men are described here? How many of them find any excuse to avoid having to spend time at home with their families? If so, there’s a problem. We have responsibilities at home, and some of us tend to shirk those when we can.

Second, we need to remember that one of the most corrosive threats to the home is a quarrelsome spirit. But where do quarrels come from? Well, 13:10 tells us that the source of this is pride. Now, this is not just a problem with men. As you can see by 27:15-16, wives can be guilty of this as well. Each of us, deep down inside, has a desire to be God. I’m obviously not talking about just disagreeing with each other. What’s pictured here is a person who's on the lookout for an excuse to assert oneself.

Another real problem that husbands need to be on the lookout for is a bad temper. Yes, there are women who have a problem with anger as well, but Proverbs seems to be addressing mostly men on this subject. Notice that 15:18 tells us that a hot temper stirs up "conflict," or "dissension" (as otherwise translated). What does that mean? How does unrestrained anger do this? Because no one wants to follow a bad tempered man. If a husband wants to be the spiritual leader of the home (which he’s supposed to be), then he’s got to show that he’s got a cool head when he doesn’t get his way.

And finally we get to another real destroyer of harmony in the home: A desire to “even the score.” What do I mean by this? Well, do you feel any pleasure when you have an argument and your spouse is proved wrong? How important is it for you to feel like you’ve “won”? Or do you feel any desire to lash out when you’ve been hurt? This is a natural desire within each of us. But in any relationship, especially in a marriage, this is deadly to the intimate union which the Lord wants. As long as we’re holding onto a grudge, then the Enemy has a foothold. God's standard for us--if we claim that we love our wives--is that we keep "no record of wrongs."

I realize that some ladies might have some of this apply to them. But I’m specifically addressing this to all my brothers in Christ who are married: Take a good hard look. Do you look for excuses to stay away from home? Do you have a quarrelsome spirit? Do you have control over your anger, or does it control you? And are you keeping any kind of “ledger” to monitor how often your wife has “done you wrong” or “owes you”? What do you think Christ wants you to do? I think you know.

Lord Jesus, I fall so far short of your standard sometimes. You treat your Bride with gentleness, compassion, patience, and self-sacrificing love. And I need to do that too. Please. Help.

[March 18]--Righteousness and Government

Prov. 28:15, 28; 29:2, 12; 20:26; 16:12

You might've noticed that I haven’t gotten a lot into politics on this blog, and there’s a good reason. I have strong political beliefs, but for the most part I intend to keep them out of this venue. Mostly it's because the Bible doesn’t specifically address most of the political debates which we’re having at the moment. There are some broad issues which the Bible speaks on, like capital punishment or abortion, but there’s no verse to which anyone can point as to how high taxes ought to be, or whether we should be in Iraq, or whether God wants a universal health care system. Christians on both sides can point to passages which they think bolsters their argument, and sometimes they have some merit. But Alistair Begg summarized it well: The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. We need to be extra cautious not to inappropriately link the Bible to any political program or party. I do have another blog in which I try to hammer out where the Bible meets politics, if you happen to be curious about I think about more specific issues.

Having said all that, the book of Proverbs has some things to point out about righteousness in government, points on which Christians of every political stripe should agree. Solomon was a king and the son of a righteous king, so he definitely knew what he was talking about. Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to apply this to any particular Presidential administration, either past or present. There have been administrations on both sides of the aisle which have fallen far short of the standards which we’re going to discuss.

So what does it say about this topic? First and foremost, we need to understand how important this is. It’s really easy, when our “guy” is in power, to overlook what he’s doing that’s unjust or dishonest. We can't do that. Government, even a democratic representative one like we have, can be very dangerous, and will destroy lives if it’s in bad hands. Look at what bad government is compared to. First, it’s like a “roaring lion or charging bear,” a wild animal which devours everyone in its path. Nowadays we can go to zoos and point and laugh at the animals in cages. But the author knew quite well that these things are not to be trifled with. And of course people go into hiding when something dangerous is on the loose, as 25:28 tells us. And finally it’s compared to a crushing burden, one which causes people to “groan” like they did in Egypt (another unrighteous government).

And there’s one more bad result listed in 29:12, which is even more insidious. A leader who allows dishonesty in his administration will open the door to corruption, and it’ll spread like gangrene from the top down. Dishonesty becomes the standard, and trust is eventually dissolved.

But a righteous leader can reverse this, at least to some degree. Of course every administration at every level of leadership is going to be infected by sin to some degree. But there’s a huge difference between a king like David, a good man who occasionally did bad things, and a bad king like Ahab who never made the effort. And what do we notice about a righteous leader? Well, according to 20:26 he has a “zero tolerance” policy regarding this mess. Of course, we don’t live in a theocracy like ancient Israel, so it’s not a President’s job to deal with wickedness in the same way that David did. Under the New Covenant initiated by Christ, our weapons in this age are spiritual--not of the world--when it comes to issues like this. But what’s his attitude towards dishonesty and injustice among his aides and others who work for him?

And there are great benefits to this, as noted in 16:12. Again, we don’t live in a monarchy. But why was a king’s throne “established through righteousness”? Because this kind of leader inspires loyalty. Honesty and integrity will cause someone to stick with a leader when there are plenty of reasons not to.

So how does this apply to us? I’m not a President, nor do I have his ear. But I can pray for him like I’m commanded to. And this provides all of us with a good, even selfish, motivation to pray that the people who lead our nation, from the White House on down, are people of righteousness. We need leaders who try to follow God’s plan and who attempt to live up to these standards. We can’t afford not to have this, can we?

Lord Jesus, you are the King of kings and Lord of lords, and the heart of the king is in your hand. You direct it like a watercourse wherever you please. Please steer our leaders towards righteousness.

[March 17]--“Don’t Be Like This Guy!” Part Three: The Fool

Prov. 1:7; 29:11; 17:10; 26:11; 19:3; 28:26

The last couple of days we’ve looked at a couple of men who are supposed to be “warning shots” to us (“He gets shot and that’s a warning to the next guy”). We studied the mocker and the simple man, and today we’re going to examine the type of man who’s mentioned most frequently in the book of Proverbs, the fool. A cursory word search tells us that the book of Proverbs mentions him around 72 times. Actually I could have picked several more verses for today, but I pared them down to six. He’ll crop up some more as we delve into more specific topics.

So what do we mean by the term “fool”? Like the term “simple” from yesterday, we have to go beyond the common definition. We mentioned this back in January, but it bears repeating: Notice the footnote at the end of 1:7. The term in Hebrew is not talking about someone who’s intellectually deficient, but someone who’s morally deficient. He’s made a conscious decision not to do things God’s way. He might not be as openly rebellious and defiant as the mocker, but as we’ll see he’s going to end up in a place that’s not pretty.

So what do we learn about him from these verses? In 1:7 he’s contrasted with someone who fears the Lord, and he despises wisdom and. . . .discipline. So here’s one characteristic: he’s undisciplined. He doesn’t like to be “tied down” to a schedule or responsibilities.

Second, and this is linked to the lack of self-discipline, he has no self-control. He “gives full vent to [his] rage.” If he’s mad about something, then he makes sure the whole world knows about it. We’ll talk about appropriate anger at another time, but for now we need to understand that his anger is obviously not under God’s control, or anyone else’s.

Third, from 17:10 and 26:11 we discover that he doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Wise people listen to a good rebuke, but it takes a lot more to get the attention of a fool. And he keeps making the same mistakes over and over. I love my dogs dearly, but they have some pretty disgusting habits. However, they’re just going off instinct, and the fool has no excuse.

And speaking of excuses, he makes plenty of them for himself. Doesn’t 19:3 really describe a lot of people? Someone smokes like a chimney or drinks like a fish and gets angry at God when their body’s health starts to break down. They sleep around and are surprised when they get an STD. They make poor financial decisions and wonder why they’re always struggling to pay their bills.

But there’s hope. If you read the description of this man, he might seem more familiar than you might find comfortable. All of us find ourselves walking in his footsteps more often than we care to admit. So what’s the cure? The last verse hints at something we’ve been saying all along. Quit trusting in yourself. You don’t have the resources to really change from the inside-out. Don’t be like the dog that keeps on going back to. . . the same old habits again. Cast yourself on the Lord’s mercy and grace, first to forgive you and then to change you. He’s waiting.

Lord Jesus, I'm so foolish at times. Please forgive and make me like you. I want to walk in wisdom, and to get to know you better.

[March 16]--“Don’t Be Like This Guy!” Part Two: The Simple

Prov. 14:15; 22:3; 8:5; 1:32

Yesterday we looked at the mocker, so today is Mr. Simple’s turn. Unlike the first man, this one has some hope. He hasn’t completely turned away from God’s ways, but he has some major problems, as we’ll see.

So what do we mean by this term? In English the word's not always pejorative; we sometimes say that someone has “simple” tastes (as opposed to refined or ostentatious ones). Politicians will often try to present themselves as having a “simple man” background, by which they usually mean lower to middle class. But the term here has absolutely nothing to do with one’s place on the economic or social scale.

Here it's used for someone who doesn’t think clearly about the issues and dangers of life. Per MacArthur, "The root of simple is a word meaning 'an open door,' an apt description of the undiscerning, who do not know what to keep in or out of their minds." Like my wife has had to warn me repeatedly, an open door lets things in which you don't want in your house (like bugs) and allows things out which you don't want out (like the heat in a cold winter). 

Another word might be “naïve.” They aren’t evil, and they don’t consciously set out to rebel against God. But because of the world in which we live, and the sinful tendencies we’ve inherited, they’re going to eventually drift onto a self-destructive path unless there’s some direct intervention. Let’s look at some characteristics of this guy, and then we’ll briefly discuss the prevention/cure for his ailments.

The first word that comes to mind when Solomon holds him up for study is “gullible.” He believes whatever he hears, and fails to put the latest rumors to the “smell” test: Does this make sense? Another proverb tells us that “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines,” which obviously applies in nonlegal settings; in other words, critically examine what you hear, and hold it up for skeptical scrutiny. If someone claims something, keep in mind that you're only hearing their side of the story. Try to get both sides of a story before you make a judgment on one person's veracity.
This gullibility is especially serious when it comes to spiritual matters. How many immature Christians have fallen for heretical nonsense because they heard it from a man who has “Reverend” or “Pastor” in his title?! In journalism school they have a famous slogan: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” That goes double for anything that any preacher or pastor says from the pulpit.

The second word that should be stamped on this man’s head is “unprepared.” We need to follow the example of the Boy Scouts and “always be prepared” for what lies ahead of us. Take for example a man who has a severe drinking problem. He wants to be sober and turn his life around. So would it be wise for him to be hanging around bars and “friends” who are pressing drinks into his hand? If you know that you have a problem with a certain form of temptation, then you’re following in this guy’s footsteps if you fail to take precautions against what you know is coming.

On a personal note, the verse above has a special significance for me. When I and my future wife were courting, 22:3 was our "slogan" verse when it came to our dealings with each other. We both knew what type of temptations we faced in the sexual arena, and we made an agreement with each other that we were going to do things God's way instead of what our feelings or hormones told us to do. We didn't go into my house together unless someone else was there, we mostly met in public places, and made a conscious choice not to give any opportunity to the temptation to indulge in something we'd regret later. And it worked: By his grace, we were both complete virgins on our wedding night.

So what’s the cure/prevention for this man’s problem? Well, the third verse advises him to “gain prudence.” And where do we get that? Well duh, from wisdom! Prudence is one of the characteristics of wisdom which are listed in the first chapter, remember? And how do we get wise? Well, we said it before: We have to develop a deep and abiding relationship with the Source of all wisdom. But a big part of that is reading his word which he’s given to us. That’s the best resource for seeing beyond appearances and into what’s really going on in the world

Folks, this isn't a game. This is not an option. The final verse for today warns us that the “waywardness of the simple will kill them.” Remember, left to ourselves--just drifting along in life--we'll inevitably end up on a path that’ll wreck--and finally end--the life that God’s given us. The only way for us to avoid it is to consciously decide--by his empowering grace--that we’re going to do things his way, no matter what.

Yes, Lord, I will. I don’t trust myself, I trust you. Thank you for your grace which not only forgives but keeps me from falling in the first place.

[March 15]--“Don’t Be Like This Guy!” Part One: The Mocker

Prov. 21:24; 15:12; 29:8; 22:10; 3:34

The book of Proverbs is a study in contrasts: Solomon and the other authors present to us a decision to make. Either we’re going to do things God’s way, which is the wise thing to do, or we’re going to do things our own way, which will end in disaster.

Last month I pointed out the value of a negative example. Everyone has a purpose in life, and God will use everyone in his plan. But some people’s purpose is to be a cautionary tale, held up on display so you can look at him and say “I sure don’t want to end up like this guy!” It’s like the old joke about the man who was concerned about people breaking into his house in a bad neighborhood. He let it be known that he was all about firing “warning shots.” If anyone broke in, he'd shoot the intruder, and that would be the warning to the next guy. Or as I heard in another (horrible) joke, two men walk into a bar, and the third man ducked.

The book of Proverbs has three distinct men whose value is that of negative examples, people whose behavior we're supposed to investigate and then do the exact opposite. They’re the mocker, the simple man, and the fool. Today we’re going to look at the mocker and see what lessons we can learn from him.

So what is a mocker? It’s a person who's so far away from God’s path that he's rejected it utterly. He makes fun of those on the path as naïve simpletons. Warnings from the Bible are nothing but a joke to him.

What are some characteristics about him that we find from these verses? Well, first and foremost he's consumed by pride. No one's going to tell him what to do! He might even, in his heart of hearts, know that he’s destroying himself, but he doesn’t care. He'll rebel against authority just for the sake of rebellion.

Second, he won’t accept any correction from anyone. If someone tries to warn him about the path he’s on, he’ll laugh it off. He hates to hear from anyone that he’s wrong, and resents it.

Third, he tends to incite others. Unfortunately, his rebellion against the Lord doesn’t just affect him. It’ll quickly spread to others, since this rebellious spirit appeals to all of us with a sinful nature. We’d like to think that we’re in charge.

Fourth, he loves a good quarrel or a good fight. He’s not happy unless there’s strife in a room, and he'll purposefully stir things up in order to see it.

So what does the Lord think about him? Well, how do you think he’ll respond to someone like this? This foolish man might think he’s in charge of his own destiny, but once the Lord starts removing the breath of life from him, he’ll see differently. Not that God delights in the destruction of a soul. Of course not--he “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” But the Judge of all mankind will hand out cosmic justice, and this man who made a habit of laughing at such notions will find out--in the end--that the joke is on him.

So how do we apply all this? Well, if the Lord is pointing out someone like this, then it’s our job to look at what he’s doing and do the exact opposite. This means we desperately need to A) take God’s warnings seriously, B) Be willing to listen to correction from God and his representatives, C) Direct others towards God’s ways, not away from them, and D) Be a peacemaker, someone who loves to see unity among God's people.

And take a last look at 3:34. If we turn away from the mocker’s ways, then we have a wonderful promise. He will give us "favor," or "grace" as it's otherwise translated. It all starts with dropping the pride and follow the example of Alcoholics Anonymous. We all have to admit we have a problem, see that we can’t solve it ourselves, and throw ourselves on his mercy. He’s waiting.

Lord Jesus, I find the picture that your word paints of the mocker is uncomfortably familiar sometimes. Please forgive me for not taking your word seriously, for not listening to correction, and wanting to win arguments more than souls. By your grace, I can change.

[March 14]--Parallel Parking

Prov. 9:10; 12:2; 25:12; 15:3

Starting tomorrow we’re going to begin some more in-depth topical studies on the book of Proverbs, but before we do that, we need a quick primer on Hebrew poetry.

When you hear about O. T. poetry, you probably think of Psalms, and that’s certainly true. However, the book of Proverbs is all poetry as well. And Hebrew poetry has some very different rules from the English variety. Our poetry is based upon rhythm and rhyme (at least traditionally). Hebrew poetry, by contrast, is based upon ideas and concepts. If you’ve ever heard it in the original language, there usually isn’t that much more “flow” than in prose. It’s the ideas contained within each line, not the way they flow off the tongue, which guide a reader or speaker.

The main structural feature is parallelism. This means that the lines are parallel and are linked to each other. The second line builds upon the first, and if there’s a third line then it builds upon the first two. How the lines relate to each other determines what type of parallelism is used.

The first is called synonymous parallelism. The concepts in the first line are parallel to similar concepts in the second line. For an example we have one of the most pivotal verses in Proverbs, namely the first verse listed in today’s passage. This doesn’t mean that the fear of the Lord is exactly  synonymous with knowledge of the Holy One, and it doesn’t mean that wisdom is exactly equivalent to understanding. But it does mean that they are similar, and that they’re linked together in this verse. They build on each other.

The second is antithetical parallelism. This is probably the most common form; it’s when the second line is the opposite of, or in contrast to, the first. You see this in 12:2, but I could have picked many more examples.

The third type is emblematic, where one line illustrates or clarifies the other with a word picture. They’re pretty easy to spot, since they’re usually translated as a simile (using “like” or “as”) or just a straight comparison (a metaphor). An example of this is found in 25:12.

Finally we see synthetic parallelism. This is where the second line continues the thought of the first. We see this in 15:3.

Why did I bring this up? Did I set out to bore you today? No, these are important to understand, because they help us interpret a proverb. Take for example 12:2, our second verse. What’s Solomon mean when he talks about a "good" person? He could have been referring to any number of characteristics. But in the context of this verse, "good people" are contrasted with “those who devise wicked schemes.” So the way I would apply this verse is pretty simple: According to this verse, what’s one characteristic of a good man? Among other things, he needs to be the opposite of someone who devises "wicked schemes”; in other words, he needs to be above-board in his dealings and scrupulously honest.

Or take 25:12. I would start by asking myself, “What is it about an earring of gold or a golden ornament that makes it like a wise person's rebuke?” An ornament of gold would be valuable and treated with care. It’s rare. If a friend gave me one, I'd be honored and grateful.

Do you see how these could be valuable in interpreting the book of Proverbs?

Father, your word is shallow enough that a child can wade in it, and deep enough that an elephant can drown in it. Please help me to correctly interpret your word, since it’s the lamp for my feet and the light for my path. May it be as precious to me as it should be.

[March 13]--Man’s Response To God: Trust

Prov. 3:5-6; 28:25; 29:25

Yesterday we discussed one aspect of how the book of Proverbs wants us to respond to God: fear. Now we’re going to look at the other main response the author wants us to display, namely trust.

The first passage for today’s reading is one of the most familiar ones on this subject; in fact, I remember as a child singing these verses set to music. We shouldn’t let its familiarity, however, distract us from the profound meaning here. I think that this passage is one of the pivotal in the book of Proverbs, actually in all of Scripture. Let’s take a look at it.

There are three commands here, with a conditional promise attached to it. First we’re to trust in the Lord with all our heart. That means we do what he says, just like a child trusts his parents enough to follow their instructions even when he doesn’t fully understand them. It also means to rest on him and not worry about what we can’t control.

The second command is not to lean on your own understanding. As someone once pointed out to me years ago, it doesn’t forbid you from using your own understanding; we just aren’t to lean upon it. When God doesn’t give clear direction, then we go with what we know. But we’re always supposed to be flexible when he changes our direction or gives instructions which are counterintuitive.

The third command is to acknowledge him in all our ways. In everything we do, we’re supposed to acknowledge his goodness, his grace, his providence, and his ownership of us. This actually sanctifies, or sets apart, “normal” activities such as eating, sleeping, going to the movies, going to work, etc. When we do this, there is no such thing as the mundane. And if you can’t acknowledge him during a certain activity, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

And finally we have his promise at the end of vs. 6. The Hebrew could be translated either way (see the NIV footnote), but the meaning is still the same. We’re on this path of life, and he’ll remove the obstacles in front of us—if that’s the way we’re supposed to go. We don’t know what’s ahead of us, but we do know that he’s already ahead of us, so we have nothing to fear, including going in the wrong direction.

The other verses today deal with trust as well. In 28:25, greed is presented as the opposite of trusting in the Lord, which is a sobering thought. I think one of the main reasons why people give in to greed is because of a desire for security: They think (either consciously or unconsciously) that if they have enough money in the bank, then they’ll be secure against poverty. Au contraire! The route to true prosperity is through trusting in him, not by leaning on your own resources.

And finally we see in the last verse a stark contrast between the “fear of man” and trusting in the Lord. You can’t do both. If you’re overly concerned about what people think and are saying about you, then it’s a snare. How great a burden this is for a lot of people! As B. J. Hoff once put it, however,

It matters not if the world has heard,
        or approves or understands;
the only applause we’re meant to seek
        is that of nail-scarred hands.

Just to be repeat and clarify: Fear of the Lord and trust in him are not opposites or even in tension. They’re so similar in concept as to be almost synonyms, just with a different emphasis. As you fear him, you’ll trust him more. As you see more and more of his workings in your life that encourage trust, you’ll fear him more (in the Biblical sense). What an incredible God we serve!

Lord Jesus, I do trust you. I need to do better at it, though. You are completely worthy of trust, how could I do any different?

[March 12]--Man’s Response to God: Fear

Prov. 9:10; 10:27; 14:26; 19:23

In looking at what the book of Proverbs says about God, you might have noticed a pattern. First we examined what it says about his nature and how we can apply that knowledge. Second we took a couple of days to see how he takes the initiative to reach out to humanity. Today and tomorrow we’re going to take a look at how we’re supposed to respond to him. There are two words which summarize what we’re expected to do: fear and trust. Today’s fear, tomorrow’s trust.

I’ve touched upon this concept of the fear of the Lord before, so I’m not going to delve into it too deeply. Just keep in mind that it’s the furthest thing in the world from being afraid of God. Being afraid of him would drive you away from him, just like being afraid of reptiles means my wife will never approach one. The fear of the Lord, however, means that we're in awe of his majesty, his grace, his power, his sovereignty, etc. It means that we approach his throne of grace with confidence, not arrogance.

We’re going to discuss the concept of parallelism in more depth at another time, but for now let me give you a one-sentence primer. It’s a method that Solomon and other authors use to link two phrases together in a verse. For example, in 9:10 he links “the fear of the Lord” with “knowledge of the Holy One.” So in this verse they’re associated with each other, which helps us gain insight into what fear of God means: It includes developing a personal relationship with him. And according to this verse, it’s the starting point of wisdom, and there’s no wisdom without it.

There are three benefits to this path that are listed in the remaining verses. First, there’s long life. We talked about this on the 5th, but just a reminder: This is not a blanket promise that God will make sure that you live to be 120 if you follow him. Believers all of the world are having their lives cut short by persecution. But in general you'll tend to live longer and better if you stick to God’s plan.

Second you’ll have a secure fortress, and there’s something even better. If you have children, don’t you want to leave them a good inheritance? Even better than money or property, however, is the invaluable heritage of a godly home, where children learn early on that God’s way is the best way of doing things. Again, this isn’t a blanket promise, since each person has to make his own choices, but it certainly helps.

Third, there’s peace. No matter what happens, no matter how crazy it gets, we can rest content, untouched by trouble. It doesn’t mean you won’t have any trouble, but it does mean that you won’t really be touched by it. I believe that this applied to Job, by the way. When he lost all his possessions, his children, and his health, this was his attitude: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Trouble can only touch you if you’re holding onto something too tightly that you shouldn’t.

All of this comes from fearing God the way we’re supposed to. Isn’t that what you want?

Yes, Father, that’s exactly what I want. Having a close relationship with you is rewarding enough, but all these other blessings as well? You really love to bless your children, don’t you?

[March 11]--God’s Relationship With Mankind, Part Two

Prov. 30:5-6

Continuing our study on how God relates to us, today we’re going to briefly look at the main way he speaks to us, namely his word.

I think it’s a given that we don’t take God’s word to us as seriously as he does. Heaven and earth will one day pass away, but not his words. But I think that today’s passage offers some insight into the subject that we haven’t considered.

First, all of his words are “flawless.” If you check out the other translations on the website I use for Scripture references, you might also see it as “tested,” or “proved true,” or “pure.” The reason for this is that word was used for the process of refining metals. Once something was purified by fire, it was considered “flawless” or “tested.” The Psalmist declared that his word is “like silver refined in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.” In other words, his word has been tested. Over the thousands of years of recorded history, not one of his words has failed to come to pass. Skeptics mock it, dictators burn it, and most American Christians ignore most of it, but it’s been proven time and time again to be “flawless.”

But again, Solomon is a practical man, so when he tells us something about anything, there’s a reason. After telling us that God’s word is flawless, he tells us that our Lord is a “shield to those who take refuge in him.” Why would he say this in the second half of the verse? Because here God “shields” us and we “take refuge in him” in the context of trusting and obeying his word. As we do that, we can rest assured that we’re safe from all real harm.

But the second verse today is a warning to all of us, especially those who teach from his Book. We need to be extra extra extra careful about distinguishing between what God has actually said from our own opinions and thoughts. As someone once told me, our clarity on an issue needs to be in direct proportion to how clear the Bible is on it. Where it’s less than clear, then we need to be charitable to those who disagree.

And if I disobey vs. 6, if I add to his words, then he’ll prove me a liar. I think this is a public rebuke. It’s not totally clear on how he’ll prove me a liar, but I for one don’t want to find out.

So what’s an application here? I think we need to be very careful about using the phrase “God told me. . .” Unless you’re willing to produce a 23rd chapter of Revelation, I'd avoid that wording. If you want to say that “I believe that God is leading me to. . .” I don’t think that’s so much a problem. But he’s got some pretty dire warnings about adding to his word or taking away from it or distorting the meaning of it.

None of us like to be misquoted, and the Lord likes it even less. And keep in mind that the stakes couldn’t be higher. . .

Father, I want to be a clear channel for your truth. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing other than what you’ve said. Nothing else matters.

[March 10]--God’s Relationship With Mankind

Prov. 16:2; 21:2; 17:3; 20:27

We’ve spent that last few days studying God’s nature from Proverbs, so now we’re going to look at how he relates to humanity. Like I mentioned before, we’ll have to skip around a bit because of the nature of the book.

Today’s verses deal with a subject that modern humanity would like to ignore: God’s searching judgment of the human heart. If you ask most secular people what’s the main reason why they don’t become Christians, any honest anser would probably have to rank this at or near the top. Most Americans have no trouble with “spirituality,” but this concept of being accountable to Someone is completely unacceptable to them.

The interesting thing is that, deep down, most of them really don’t have a problem with the concept in and of itself. This can be proved by asking them a simple question: Do you think that Hitler is enjoying heaven right now? How’s about child molesters or serial murderers? The vast majority of people take no issue with the idea of eternal punishment, as long as it’s not them or someone “nice” or someone they care about. As long as it’s “bad” people that God judges, then it’s OK.

But the same Bible that tells that there’s a heaven also tells us that there’s a hell, and the standards for enjoying God’s presence for eternity are a little more stringent than “nice.” As I’ve mentioned before, it would be convenient if the Judge's standards were “better than Hitler,” but that’s not the case. His standard is perfection. His standard is his Son, who always pleased his Father and who never sinned. In a sense, the coming of Christ could've even made it worse for us, since he certainly “blew the curve” (as if God ever had one).

But I think that--when you examine it a bit further--this is one of the reasons why Pantheism, Neo-Paganism and similar religions are becoming more popular. C. S. Lewis talked about this: He said that if you want “spirituality” and don’t want to believe that everything is just a random dance of atoms, then you can buy into this and receive all the comfort that this notion provides. But if you’re participating in something rather shady that you wouldn’t want made known to the world, then this “god” won’t judge you. It’s always the appeal of idol worship: You can pull him out of your pocket when it’s convenient, and put it back when it’s not.

But the God of the Bible is not like that. We’re all capable of massive self-deception, and “all [our] ways seem right to [us],” but he weighs our motives. Just like silver and gold are checked for purity by exposing them to fire, the Judge of all mankind tests our hearts. The “lamp” of his Holy Spirit searches out our inmost being.

But the Good News is that this God also offers forgiveness. Not someone who overlooks our “mistakes,” but who really forgives sin no matter what we’ve done. If you’re reading this and have never placed your faith in Christ for salvation, then the only day you can do that is today. Tomorrow may never come. If you haven't done so already, please read this.

If you’re a believer, then this is good reminder for all of us as well. As followers of Christ, we’re capable of self-deception as well. That’s why it’s a good idea to ask him to search out our hearts and redirect us when we’ve strayed from his way. For all of us, Prov. 28:13 still applies: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

Lord Jesus, I am so blind sometimes to my own faults. Only you can forgive, only you can cleanse, only you can restore. Please.