[April 30]--Turn That Smiley Face Upside Down!

Ecc. 7:1-8

You might have noticed that we skipped an entire chapter and some change. I mentioned this before: This isn’t a commentary, it’s a devotional. We aren’t going to study every single verse of Ecclesiastes, just some major themes of the book. And here we come to one of the stranger passages in the Bible. In fact, Solomon’s last work probably has some of the lion’s share of strange verses in the Bible. But it’s all God’s word, so it’s all useful to us.

One of my best friends in college was named Chris, and he was a pretty melancholy guy. Not that he never smiled or cracked a joke, but both of those were rarities for him. He wrote some songs, most of them focusing on the darker aspects of human existence. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Ecclesiastes was his favorite book of the Bible. In fact, he specifically pointed to today’s passage as justification for his personality quirks.

But if you know anything about the rest of the Bible, you might have some problems reconciling this with the rest of Scripture. I don’t think that you can file all of this under the “materialistic viewpoint” excuse that we’ve seen elsewhere. I don’t think he’s purposefully leaving God out of this passage. In fact, I really think that this has something to say to us as believers today.

How can I say that? We know that the Name-It-And-Claim crowd--which claims that a Christian’s life should be filled with nothing but smiles and happiness--is way off the mark (or at least we should know). But isn’t joy a fruit of the Holy Spirit? The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News (literally—that’s what the word “Gospel” means). Does the Lord want us to be miserable? Is it really better to go to a funeral than to a party? Is God against fun?

Hopefully you know our Father better than that. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and the message that we proclaim is the Good News. But today’s verses remind us to keep things in perspective. Life for the believer is not all smiles. Solomon has to say some things to the world today, both to nonbelievers and believers.

First for the nonbeliever, those who haven’t surrendered to God’s way: You’re going to die. The death rate nowadays is 100%, and that’s not going to change for the foreseeable future. For all the violence in our entertainment, this is a culture which is scared to death of death. We anesthetize it so much. We go to nursing homes and hospitals just as rarely as we can get away with it. We make sure that the corpse in the casket is as “lifelike” as possible. We love to go to parties, partially so that we can—for a little while—push aside the reality of our fate. But Solomon tells us that going to a funeral is much more spiritually healthy. As much as we try to deny it, consciously or not, that’s going to be us in that box someday. And after that. . . what? Not something the non-Christian would like to think about, huh?

And for the believer, it’s still a sobering message. Yes, we have our eternal home to look forward to. Of all truths in the universe, there’s nothing more applicable than this one: “The end of a matter is better than its beginning.” And that’s particularly true for every child of God. Like the stereotypical used-car salesman, Satan offers his “best” up front and you only find out about the “fine print” at a later time. But God is exactly the opposite: He saves his best for last. The world he created at the beginning was a marvel to behold. It was exactly what he meant it to be, for that time. But he’s building a home for you and me which will make that world look like a homeless guy’s cardboard box by comparison.

So how is today’s passage sobering for us? Because we have a very limited time in this life. We only have a short time to serve him before our hour is up. We only have a short time to tell people about Christ. We only have a short time to influence others towards our Lord and leave a lasting legacy of godliness and love. Our Savior told us that “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” And there’s nothing like a funeral for a gentle reminder of that, is there?

Lord Jesus, thank you for this reminder. I know that serving you includes rest and relaxation. But maybe I’ve learned that part a little too well, and I need to be more active. Night is coming, isn’t it?

[April 29]--Money Myths

Ecc. 5:10-20

We spent four days talking about money from the book of Proverbs, but today’s passage has some things to say about it which we didn’t cover before. At the end of his life, Solomon had some further things to say about wealth. Just to summarize what we’ve learned before: Money isn't a bad thing, but it's a dangerous blessing. Also we need to keep in mind that while money is important, there are plenty of things which are more so. Here are some myths about money which today’s passage explodes:

First, a lot of people believe, either consciously or not, that money can bring satisfaction. They tend to think “If only I made a little bit more, I’d be happy.” Hogwash! Solomon--speaking from direct experience--flat out denies it, and you’d have to agree with him if you’re honest about it. If money is your primary objective, you’ll never have enough.

Related to that is the myth that money can solve every problem. We tend to think this pretty frequently-- in government, in the church, and in the business sector. Many politicians are guilty of this fallacy, and think that any problem can be solved by throwing money at it. Of course business leaders tend to see only in terms of profits and losses. But of course pastors aren’t guilty of this, are they? Please. Show me a pastor who thinks he’s getting enough out of the offering baskets. As vs. 11 shows, bringing in more wealth also brings in problems that weren’t there before.

Let me clarify a statement I just made. None of this is an excuse not to give to the Lord’s work. I’m all in favor of giving generously. But I’d submit that most of the time, a church’s problems run deeper than a lack of funding, and so they won’t be solved with more income. Pastors (not mine, thank God) tend to treat the symptom instead of the disease.

Another myth is that money can bring peace of mind. I actually think that this is behind a lot of greed, quite frankly. It’s not that we necessarily want a mansion to live in or expensive cars to drive. We want to be secure. We want to know that if hard times come, we’ll be OK.

Again, some clarification is in order. As I mentioned before, I’m not against setting up savings accounts, not even “nest eggs” which are set aside for a “rainy day.” But where is your security? Are you trusting in your own resources, or are you trusting in your Father to provide for you? Solomon presents a stark contrast in vss. 12-14. On one hand you have a “laboring man,” a blue-collar worker who probably lives paycheck-to-paycheck, and at night his rest is sweet. On the other hand you have a rich man who'd kill someone in order to get that state of contentment that his poor counterpart has. In the end, he hoarded his money to his own hurt. And worst of all, he completely neglected the eternal perspective. Job knew this, and we have to remember it too: We came into this world naked, and we’re exiting it the same way. And if money has been your god, all that effort will be for nothing.

So what’s the proper perspective? Verses 18-20 straight out tell us. It's one thing to have a lot of material blessings in life, and it's quite another to be able to enjoy them and find satisfaction in life. Lots of people have the former without the latter, and the latter is a gift only the Lord can give. Money can buy lots of things, but it can’t buy satisfaction. Whether you’re dining on prime rib or Ramen noodles, you can be satisfied with what you have. And that’s something that a lot of multi-millionaires would love to possess.

I think it all starts with developing your relationship with him. And make sure to focus on what he’s given you, with a profound sense of gratitude. That’s how to avoid the money trap.

Father, you’ve been so good to me. You’re so quick to bless. Please please please take away anything that comes between me and you. Yes, I mean that.

[April 28]--The Worship of Fools

Ecc. 5:1-7

Let me ask you a question. If you worked in a nuclear power plant, do you think you’d approach the reactor with a certain amount of respect? Do you think you’d keep up with the stats and different readings that you need to keep it from blowing sky high? Do you think you’d pay attention to the instruction manuals which tell you what you need to know?

If so, then I would contrast that with how we approach the Almighty in worship. He’s a lot more dangerous than a nuclear reactor, isn’t he? As N.T. believers, especially as influenced by American culture, we take such a lackadasical attitude towards him. We’re so used to treating him as our buddy, someone we can “hang with.” Today’s passage has a word for those who approach him like that: Fool.

Now I can hear the objections right now: We’re not in the Old Testament times any more! We’re under grace now! Jesus has made the way for us into the presence of the Father! All of this is true, and I’m glad it is. When Christ died, the veil in the temple which seperated the Most Holy from humanity was torn in half, from top to bottom. Most of the book of Hebrews emphasizes this point.

But that doesn’t mean we can take him lightly. He hasn’t lowered his standards of holiness one iota. He's still sovereign God, and we need to respect that.

And how would that be worked out on the practical level? If we’re supposed to “guard our steps” when we enter into worship, either alone or with others, what does that mean? Does it mean we cower in fear? Of course not. If I would summarize Solomon’s counsel on worship, it would all go under the heading of “listen a lot more than you talk.” And there are two good reasons for this.

First, it keeps you from a good amount of foolishness. Notice how the “the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong” is contrasted with listening. If you listen to God’s word, it’ll tell you where you’re screwing up. If you’re there to make noise, then you can’t be listening. As we see in Proverbs, if you talk long enough, eventually you'll say something foolish or even sinful. And if there’s an area of disobedience in your life, then God isn’t going to be impressed with your sacrifice. In fact, he detests them. This includes any money you put in the plate along with any prayers that you offer.

Second, it’ll keep you out of rash commitments. Naturally if the Lord is calling you to make some sacrifice for him, some act of service, then you’d best be doing it. But if you’re too busy talking and not listening, then you can end up making a promise that you can’t keep. And Solomon says that it’s better that you keep your mouth shut than to write checks you can’t cash. There could be some really bad consequences if you do that. If you make a vow to him, then you need to keep it.

Obviously this needs to be kept in context. Does God not want us to pray? Does he not want to hear from us? Of course he does. He told us to come to him and present our requests to him. That means speaking to him. But I find that’s it a very good thing to practice some silence when you come into his presence. Stop praying, stop talking, and listen to him. Read his word and let it soak into you. Stand (or sit) in awe of God for a few moments. Then talk.

Again, we need balance. We’re not coming like slaves before a harsh master, or like prisoners who are waiting for a condemnation from a judge. But we are coming before our Father who deserves respect, awe, and godly fear. Don’t be a fool.

Father, I’m so sorry for the times I’ve entered your presence with such casualness. So many times I need to follow Job’s example and slap my hand over my mouth. In fact, let me do that right now.

[April 27]--A Cord Of Three Strands

Ecc. 4:1-12

I actually want people to continue reading the blog, so I won’t spend too much time on the first few verses of today’s passage. It’s pretty depressing, huh? Like I said when we examined Psalm 88, I hope no one reading this can really relate to what’s being said. The first verse is a bit odd, considering that this is the king talking. I could understand it a little better if it was a poor disenfranchised peasant who was saying this. I mean, King Solomon lost his way and was involved in a disobedient lifestyle, but I don’t see him as a monster even at his worst. But even the best kings can only do so much. Sin has touched every area of existence, and there’s never been a government that wasn’t affected. As such, even with a basically good king in charge, there’s going to be some horrible injustice that occurs without his knowledge.

And then we get to some of the strangest verses in the Bible. Does he really mean what he says in vss. 2-3? Does he really believe that stillborn children are better off than the living, that every man can legitimately say that it was better that he not be born? Again, much of this is spoken from a materialistic viewpoint. If we really didn’t believe that there’s a God in heaven and an afterlife for all of us, then all the unjust suffering in the world logically leads to saying things like this. This is how dark a world separated from God can get.

I know for a fact that vs. 4 doesn’t have to be true all the time. If pleasing and serving the Lord is the motivation behind your labor, you can actually find meaning and purpose in it. But if your labor and achievement really are motivated by envy, then it really is meaningless and a waste of time. Ask yourself this: Millions of years from now, when the sun has burned itself out and all human achievement is just dust and ashes, then what difference will your labor have made?

Then we come to some verses which have some special meaning for me. Life can get hard, as we’ve read and as you’ve undoubtedly experienced. But the Lord's given us some blessings which can make things a lot easier. Yes, there’s the blessing of his presence in our lives, along with all the attendant benefits. But along with that, he’s given us companionship.

That’s why vss. 9-12 are inscribed on my wedding ring. Now, is the passage referring mainly to marriage? Probably not. But like most Scriptural wisdom, it has multiple layers of meaning. I know that in my marriage, she’s certainly picked me up when I’ve fallen. And I can certainly attest that it’s easier to keep warm when you have a bedmate!

But it can also apply to friendships as well. When life gets cold, it’s easier to keep “warm” when you have someone. And it’s important to keep these relationships alive, because it’s a lot tougher to pick yourself up without some help.

But here’s something else. Any marriage is going to come under stress, and if you’re in one in which you’ve decided to do things God’s way, you’re going to come under assault from the Enemy. But if you have the “third strand,” then it’s a lot tougher for the “cord” to be broken. I don’t know about you, but I thank the Lord that he’s the One who keeps our marriage together. But like I said before, the principle can be expanded to other areas of life. I don’t think there’s just one application here. The main point is that you don’t need to go through this life alone. You weren’t designed to. And the best relationships are those in which the Lord is the “third strand” who binds you together.

So right now who’s lifting you up when you fall? Who’s keeping you warm? Thank God for that person, and let them know you appreciate them.

Father, I thank you so much for the close friends you’ve brought into my life. Most especially I thank you for the best friend I could ever have in this life. You’ve used her to make this world such a brighter place than it would be.

[April 26]--Politics and Death, Our Favorite Subjects

Ecc. 3:15-22

I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but this little book by Solomon has been steeped in controversy for some time. A lot of rabbis and other religious leaders didn’t want it included in the canon; they claimed that it was too cynical and depressing. But I thoroughly believe that it’s part of God’s word and inspired by the Spirit. As such, it’s “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” We need to hear what this elderly king has to say to us, because God is speaking through him.

Having said that, this isn’t my favorite book in the O. T. I much prefer Proverbs, or Genesis, or Isaiah. There are passages in this book which can depress you. In fact, they’re meant to depress you. Why? So you can just wallow in depression? Of course not. Recall the words of Michael Card: “Remember darkness drives us to the light.”

We need to keep in the forefront of our studies this one little phrase: “Under the sun.” It’s the king’s term for human life outside of God. It’s the materialist mindset: Matter is the only thing that matters. He’s showing us the end result of trying to find meaning outside the Creator.

He starts out today’s passage with a small ray of hope, a whisper of eternity. It looks to our natural perspective that nothing ever really changes in the world. Peoples’ natures haven’t changed at all. We’re all still sinners living in a fallen world. But there is an end to this: “God will call the past to account,” and later in the passage he tells us that “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.” Right now is God’s time for watching history unfold and working (mostly) behind the scenes. But there’ll come a day for the time of judgment of all humanity.

But for now, until he decides to end human history, we have a heavy burden to bear. The Bible tells us the way things ought to be, but you can’t move towards that goal without being honest about the way things are. The truth is, there’s a lot of injustice in the world. My in-laws have experienced a little of this. During their work in Indonesia, it was common knowledge that in order to get anything done you had to “grease a few palms.” If you didn’t, any paperwork you submitted to the government would get lost in the shuffle. And that’s probably the most benign example of this syndrome. The 20th century saw more people who died by the hands of their own government than all other recorded history combined. So when we hear about the latest atrocity committed by a government, why should we be surprised? Solomon saw this thousands of years ago.

So how do we interpret vss. 18-21? First off, we should know what this is not. This is not a theological revelation about the final state of either men or animals. The Hebrew’s a little vague, but it doesn’t look like Solomon’s telling us if we’ll see our puppy dogs in heaven. This is a perfect example of what I was talking about in the third paragraph. He’s pointing out to us how life and death look like to the physical eye. If God didn’t reveal anything to us, then it does look like men and animals all suffer the same fate. We all die, and as near as we can tell from this side, that’s the end of everyone’s (men and beasts) existence. You live, then you die, then that’s it.

But of course this isn’t the last word on the subject. Even within this passage, we see Solomon affirm that death isn’t the end of a man—God certainly can’t judge anyone if they don’t exist, right? And of course Scripture has a lot more to say on this subject. I’ve written before about the fact that we as N.T. saints have a more complete revelation of the afterlife than the O.T. believers did. By his death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

But the point is that outside of Christ, there is no hope or ultimate purpose. We might as well just be animals, if death is just the end. There’s tons of injustice that happens every day, and if there’s no God, then the perpetrators have gotten away with it the vast vast vast majority of the time. And that’s the world in which your lost family members, friends, and neighbors live. Kind of makes you want to share the Good News with them, doesn’t it?

Lord Jesus, you are my hope, and I have no other. I’m really sorry for trying to find one. Everything outside you is darkness and emptiness, and you’re the light of the world. Please help me to be a better reflection of that light.

[April 25]--Too Small A World

Ecc. 3:1-14

If today’s passage seems a little familiar to you, there’s a good reason for it. It’s one of the few examples of Scripture being set to mainstream music. Of course I’m talking about “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (made famous by the Byrds) which was sung all over the country during the 1960’s. I could wish that John 3:16 was made into a hit song played all over the radio, but what can you do?

What’s Solomon’s point in the first eight verses? I mean, obviously the immediate purpose is stated in the first verse: There’s a proper time for everything under heaven. Just about every human activity could be lumped into one of the categories listed. But why is he saying this? What does he want us to see? Perhaps he wants us to see that if we make God the center of our lives, everything will fall into its proper place. Perhaps, given the verses which immediately follow, he wants us to see that God is sovereign over all human activity. It might just be giving us a piece of wisdom concerning life, reminding us that there’s a proper time for everything, and we shouldn’t try an activity outside of its proper time (for example, don’t be silent when it’s time to speak up). All of these are possible interpretations, and they’re all good reminders.

What I’d like to focus on for a moment, however, are the remaining verses. There’s a lot of intriguing mystery about vss. 9-14. After regaling us with another deep but depressing question (Vs. 9 could be paraphrased as “So what’s the point of it all? Why keep wasting your time?), he goes into a discussion on what the Lord's done to us and for us.

Vss. 1-8 remind us that the world is a large place. At any moment, there are countless people being born and dying, planting and uprooting, killing and healing, etc. And God has made a beautiful world. Yes, it’s fallen, but much of its original beauty still remains. But at the same time that it’s too large for us to comprehend, in another sense the world is too small. No matter what we do, no matter how we fill our hours and days, we end up feeling empty. Why? Because God has “set eternity in human heart.” That’s a reflection of the fact that we’re created in his image, and it’s also caused by the fact that we live in a fallen world. We’re not animals. Yes, we need to eat, sleep, breed, etc. We have instincts in common with the beasts. But we’re made for more than that. We were made for more than just gratifying our physical desires.

But we’re not angels either. We yearn for more than what this world has to offer, but we keep getting tripped up by our worst desires. That’s the quandary we’re in. We’re caught between two worlds. Maybe that’s why I’ve always hated to see birds in cages. Not just because of my last name, but because I can empathize with them. We were all made to fly, and we’ve all got clipped wings.

So what’s Solomon’s (and God’s) solution to this? Well, it’s actually quite simple. Step one is to enjoy the simple things in life. Instead of seeking the latest thrill (which Solomon could tell you is a dead end), find pleasure in simple things. Eat, drink, and find satisfaction in what you do. Enjoy life! Enjoy God’s blessings!

And that leads us to the second part of the solution to our misery, the really essential part. Recognize that God has given you all of this. Gratitude will go a long way towards improving your attitude. You won’t be able to really enjoy the gifts of God apart from the God who gives the gifts. Also you need to revere him, which means you give him what he’s due: worship, honor, and obedience.

And trust is implied in that. Solomon only hinted at it, but the rest of God’s word tells us this: We won’t be locked in the cage forever. He's placed eternity in our hearts for a reason. What’s wrong now will one day be made right. We’ll finally be everything that we were created to be. Sweet. . .

Lord Jesus, I know that I’m trapped between two worlds, and that really stinks sometimes. Thank you for being here with me. Please get me ready for the big move.

[April 24]--Job Satisfaction

Ecc. 2:17-26

Why do you work? Is it just to pay the bills? Is it just so you can maintain your standard of living? Is it just because you’d go stir-crazy just sitting around the house? I recently heard on the radio about a lottery winner who got the huge jackpot, and he reported that he was still planning to continue working at his old job, at least for now. He didn’t have to do it, but he wanted to. If you won the lottery (and I’m not advocating it for one second), would you still be doing what you do?

Regrettably, most people don’t find that much satisfaction in their work, at least judging by how much they constantly complain about it. Of course, there isn’t a job out there that doesn’t have any negatives to it—That’s why someone has to pay you to do it.

If there was any guy you’d think would be satisfied with his job, it’d be Solomon, right? I mean, his job is to be king. That means he sets his own hours, gets out of bed when he wants, and takes breaks when he wants. If there happen to be any unpleasant parts of his job (which would be rare), he can always delegate!

But no. If you read today’s passage, his despair is about as subtle as a brick upside the head. He'd accomplished more than most anyone would dream of doing, and he still found it empty. There are two reasons listed here, and both of them merit consideration.

First, he saw the fragility of everything he had built. Not so much the physical weakness of the buildings he had constructed, or the possibility of losing his wealth. What about the next generation? He'd worked hard for what he'd accomplished. His son would have it all handed down to him. Would he take hold of the heritage given to him, or would he squander it? Would he throw it all away?

By the way, his fears turned out to be well-founded. If you’ve read 1 Kings, then you know what happened after Solomon passed on. His son Rehoboam turned against his father’s advisers and ended up losing half the kingdom. You can read the sordid story here if you’d like.

But there was something else, a much deeper problem. In fact, this goes to the heart of the entire book of Ecclesiastes. It’s not that work in itself is bad or useless. We were created to be creative. It’s part of the image of God with which he stamped us. But we need to acknowledge him in all we do, just like Solomon himself told us earlier in Proverbs. Put the Lord at the center of everything. Paul also told us “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” If you do that, then you’ll find meaning and purpose in whatever you do. If you happen to be a janitor, and that’s what God has called you to be (for now), then you can find fulfillment in that. If he's not the center of it, then you'll find nothing but despair in the end, even if you're the king of the world.

And here’s a final word for those who are worried about the first issue. Maybe you’re worried about the next generation. Will they appreciate the hard work that it took to give them the inheritance they have? Well, maybe and maybe not. But I do know this. You can give your children an inheritance which is worth much more than all the money and land in the world. This is something that Solomon didn’t give his children. You can give them an example of a godly parent, a parent who does things God’s way. A parent who reads God’s word and takes it seriously. A parent who has a biblical attitude towards possessions. If you succeed in that, then whatever else you give them will be icing on the cake, and they’ll be less likely to squander whatever else they inherit from you.

Father God, whatever task you put in front of me, no matter how small it looks, is the most important thing I can do. Whenever the next generation looks at me, let me point them towards you, not away. Please.

[April 23]--The Pleasures of a King

Ecc. 2:1-11

I would submit that Western culture has got to be the most sex-obsessed since ancient Rome. I won’t go into details, since this is a PG devotional, but you know what I’m referring to. Billboards, TV, movies, popular music, and especially the internet have all fed this. But there’s a major problem with it, which is even worse than the depictions themselves: They don’t show the end result.

Some people, even nonbelievers, are starting to recognize why this is bad. They want us to turn away from the more animalistic desires to the more refined ones. They’re still hedonists, in a way, but their pleasures are more geared to the spiritual side of humanity. They take gratification in the arts, in human creativity, in philosophy, in great works of literature, etc.

The interesting thing is that today’s passage actually speaks to both avenues of approach. First for the physical side. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. If he had sex with a different woman every night, then he wouldn’t have to repeat himself for over three years. He lived a life that many, if not most, men fantasize about. And if he wanted more, who'd ever stop him? If he showed any restraint at all, it certainly wasn’t due to peer pressure from surrounding nations: It was the norm for a king, when he saw someone or something he wanted, to just take it. It’s a life that Hugh Hefner could only dream of.

But his pursuits, despite what some other men might choose, weren’t just in the physical realm. He indulged his creativity, designing and building grand houses and gardens and parks. He constructed the temple of God, taking six years, and his own palace, which took thirteen. He bought slaves and flocks. He accumulated gold and silver, making himself the richest man in the world at that time.

And just in case we missed the point, here it is: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” He even had the pleasure of seeing his projects successfully finished—he “took delight” in all his work.

And after all those years of having sex with multiple women, with indulging his creative side, with seeing the completion of all his work, at the end of his life, how did he summarize it all? “Meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” He said that “nothing was gained,” so it was all a waste of time.

But what’s the point here? Is God anti-pleasure? Of course not. He’s all in favor of it. And I’m not just talking about the spiritual side of things. He also created physical pleasure. Who do you think created sex? Who do you think designed the pleasure sensors on your tongue, so you can tell the difference between sweet and bland? Who do you think gave us the desire and ability to create and design works of art, such as architecture?

But to pursue those things, like Solomon did, is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. If you let the Lord guide you through life, you’ll be amazed at how many pleasures there are out there. Too bad Solomon didn’t listen to his father David. Psalm 16 tells us “[he] will fill me with joy in [his] presence, with eternal pleasures at [his] right hand.” He really is the source of all lasting pleasure. Just trust him, and do things his way, and you can’t go wrong.

Father, even after all these years of knowing you, I still hear the siren's call. Your way is best. I know it, and I’ve seen it. Help me to trust you, please.

[April 22]--The Futility of Wisdom. . . I’m Sorry, What Did You Say?

Ecc. 1:12-18

Biblical scholars and church tradition both say that Solomon wrote this book near the end of his life. He started out as the wisest man on earth, recognized by foreign leaders all over the known world. If you actually stayed with me during the study on Proverbs, then you might grasp how shocking today’s passage really is. In fact, it might seem at first like a contradiction. His main point here? Wisdom is useless and worthless, a “chasing after the wind.” What?!?!?!

He starts out by detailing just how much he poured into this self-improvement project. Yes, he was given Divine wisdom, but he sought to cultivate that gift through study and by getting the counsel of other wise people. And the end result? Despair. It looks to me like he tried to make some major reforms using this wisdom, and he found out that fallen human nature can’t be changed by royal fiat. Vs. 18 almost sounds like he envies fools and less-than-bright people who just wander through life and who never ponder the tough questions.

But we need to take this in context. This has become sort of my life slogan, as you might've guessed since you’re probably sick of it by now. But here it comes again: No one in the history of mankind has ever done things God’s way who regretted it in the end. And does that describe Solomon? I looooove the book of Proverbs, but as we mentioned yesterday, he didn’t follow his own advice. Moses warned the people of Israel, when they got a king, that the new monarch must meet some requirements: 1) He can’t accumulate for himself a huge number of horses or a large amount of gold. 2) He can’t take for himself a large number of wives, and 3) He must write out a copy of the Law for himself to read, and he needs to read it every day. We know that Solomon completely failed in # 1 and # 2, and I would bet my last dollar that he didn’t do # 3. 

So my proposition still stands. This is not a man who sought a right relationship with God, who feared the Lord and followed in his ways, and who was disappointed in the end. The “wisdom” that today’s passage is talking about is not the wisdom of Proverbs. According to Proverbs, real wisdom starts out with the fear of the Lord and knowledge of the Holy One. At best, right now he had knowledge about him.

By the way, you can tell this by the Hebrew. God is mentioned about 30 times in this book. Each time it’s Elohim, which emphasizes his sovereignty over creation. Not once in Ecclesiastes does the author use the term Yahweh, which is the covenant name by which the people of Israel were supposed to know the Lord on a personal level. It’s like addressing your dad as “Mr. [last name].”

Let me tell you, I’ve been through periods like this. I’ve gone through times in my life in which I knew what the Bible teaches without knowing the Author on personal basis. It’s quite possible to do so, and Solomon stands as a warning against it. He was completely orthodox in his beliefs, but his relationship with the Lord had fallen by the wayside. That’s where vs. 18 applies.

I suspect that at least some of the people who read this are not that familiar with the Bible, and haven’t been a Christian for very long. But for those of us who've known the Savior for years, this is a real danger. Familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe you’ve read the Bible to the point that you know it backwards and forwards. Maybe all your beliefs are completely in line with Scripture. But do you still have your First Love? If not, why not?

Lord Jesus, please don’t let me stray away. When my love grows cold, set it ablaze by your Spirit of Holiness. Whatever it takes.

[April 21]--Making the Twilight Darker

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

It’s amazing the difference in perspective you get as you get older. Benjamin Franklin said that “Experience keeps a dear [harsh] school, but fools will learn in no other.” Solomon probably wrote the book of Proverbs in his earlier years, but he didn’t remain a young man forever. Quite frankly, he’s the best example I’ve ever heard of someone who needed to listen to his own advice.* He wrote very eloquently about doing things God’s way, about listening to Divine instruction, and doing this especially in the area of sexuality. But unfortunately, he didn’t follow his own counsel.

Traditionally the book of Ecclesiastes was also written by Solomon, and there’s no good reason to believe otherwise. The author calls himself a “teacher,” and now, near the end of his life, he’s about to give us some hard-earned lessons that he’s learned. I have to warn you in advance, it’s not pretty.

Where did I come up with the title for this study? People in this world, especially those who don’t know Christ, are living in twilight, the period between daylight and darkness. I believe that one of the main purposes in this book is make the twilight darker. Michael Card, when commenting on the book, tells us in one of his songs, “Remember darkness drives us toward the light.” Most people are happy walking around in twilight, not walking in the light but not wanting to completely abandon it either. I think the main purpose of this book is to shock us out of our half-sleep and see what our choices really are.

I do have to make a disclaimer before we go any further. This is a devotional, not a verse-by-verse commentary. I definitely won’t be talking about every verse. My goal here is to highlight some of the main points and themes.

One word you’ll see over and over in this book (35 times) is the word meaningless. It could also be translated “empty” or “vanity” or “futile.” The Hebrew word originally meant “breath,” indicating how unimportant something is. It’s quite possible that James had this word in mind when he said that our lives are nothing but a “vapor” or “mist.”

Another phrase which is heavily repeated is “under the sun” (over 25 times). This is something that’s really important to note, because this one phrase defines the Teacher’s viewpoint. Whenever you see this phrase, you can paraphrase it as “from the natural perspective.” This describes our situation as without any Divine revelation or intervention. He’s taking on the outlook of the materialist, the person who believes that matter is the only thing that really matters.

There’s another word that keeps coming through my mind as I read this: depressing. He looks at the cycles of nature, and instead of filling him with awe from the Creator, it fills him with weariness. Summer follows spring which follows winter which follows fall. The rain falls, is absorbed into the earth, flows into streams, goes back into the atmosphere, and the whole process starts all over. Nothing ever changes. Nothing ever really gets any better.

But again, there’s hidden hope, even here. It’s concealed within the phrase “under the sun.” Under the sun there is no hope. There is no real, lasting, positive change. There is no ultimate meaning. So it would seem to me to make sense to look elsewhere, right? Maybe Someone who promised us life to the fullest, maybe?

And for your enjoyment and edification, here's the before-mentioned song by Michael Card: "Under The Sun."

Lord Jesus, thank you for doing whatever you need to do to drive us towards yourself. You are our life, our hope, our everything.

* Did you know that there's an actual term for this, literally named after him? Solomon's Paradox is a common situation in which people "reason more wisely about other people’s social problems than about their own." 

[April 20]--He Chose. . .Poorly, Part Two

Prov. 27:1; 11:23; 12:28; 14:32

And thus we end the studies from Proverbs. Through this short 31-chapter book, we’ve received God-given counsel on money, our emotions, sex, marriage, parenthood, proper speech, friends and money. If anyone who tries to tell you that the Bible is just a “pie-in-the-sky” fantasy that doesn’t have anything to do with the real world, you know better. We saw yesterday about how the choice to follow wisdom or folly is a choice between life and death. And even though Proverbs isn’t the final word on the afterlife, it has some things to say about that subject as well. And I would contend that there’s no issue that’s more relevant. I don’t know who said it, but it really rings true: You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Let’s see what Solomon had to say about this.

First, he would remind us of the fragility of life. It’s always in our nature to make plans. We’re going to get up in the morning, get ready, go to work, muddle through our day, go to lunch, fight off the afternoon blahs, go home to our family, watch some TV, etc. Maybe this summer we’ll actually go on that vacation we’ve been talking about. Maybe the boss will finally notice the work I’ve been putting in and give me that promotion I deserve. Maybe my car will make it another week before I have to bring it into the shop. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Not to be completely morbid, but there were about 3,000 Americans on September 11th a few years ago who had pretty similar thoughts and plans going through their heads. And that morning, with absolutely no warning, their plans came to nothing. BTW, if this passage seems a little familiar, it might be because James pretty much echoes and amplifies this topic in his epistle.

Second, he'd remind us that the "righteous" and the "wicked" have two very different outcomes at the end of their respective roads. For those of us who love God and are in a right relationship with him, we’ll eventually get our heart’s desire. We’ll walk with him in this life, and that will only continue into the next one. But for those on the wrong side, there’s only the expectation of wrath. If it doesn’t show up so much in this life, it’ll definitely be on display in the next one.

Just a reminder, though. The N. T. gives us a much fuller understanding of what righteousness we’re talking about. What the O. T. saints only had hints of, we see much more clearly. The only way to be in a right relationship with God is not by being righteous but by receiving righteousness. Christ Jesus is our righteousness, and we claim no other. We could never be righteous enough, but what we couldn’t do, Jesus did.

Third, he'd tell us that in this righteousness, we can find final victory. The word in 12:28 for “immortality” literally means “no death.” Since our first parents, death has always been part of our curse. It’s like the Sword of Damocles, hanging over our heads. We know that eventually it’ll fall on us. But like the old joke about the weather, everyone talks about it but no one actually does anything to change it. That is, until Jesus.

And finally he'd point us to safety and security. Notice the wording in 14:32—the wicked feel and look secure only as long as their house of cards stays up. But all it takes is a breath of wind called “calamity,” and it all tumbles down. But "even in death" we have a refuge. This tells me that it doesn’t start at death. Because of my relationship with God through Christ, I have a refuge right now, and it just continues on. He’s my hiding place, the One who keeps me safe, both now and forever.

Have you noticed the pattern here? It all comes back to Christ. The wisdom that Solomon was seeking is found in Christ. 1 Cor. 1:30, noted above, tells us that he not only is our righteousness: He’s the Wisdom of God incarnate. And so we come full circle, making the same point we made at the beginning of the study. It all really revolves around the Son, doesn’t it?

Lord Jesus, I thank you. You are my righteousness. You are my wisdom. You are my redemption. Please forgive me when I seek any other.

[April 19]--He Chose. . . Poorly

Prov. 1:32; 5:22-23; 10:21; 15:10; 29:1

Well, folks, this is it. We’re on the last topic in our study in Proverbs. Whether or not we listen to Solomon is not a game. It’s literally a question of life and death, and over the next couple of days we’re going to see why.

I get the title for today from one of the best movies of all time—Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In one of the last scenes, the bad guy has to pick out a goblet among many. The right cup will give him everlasting life, while the others will kill him immediately. He picks up the one he thinks is the right one, and drinks it. You can see the results in the short video below (warning, gets a little gross), along with the last line.

We talked about the fool last month, so we won’t go too much into it here. Just want to remind you: From the Bible’s standpoint, a fool is not someone who’s deficient mentally but morally. He’s someone who’s consciously turned away from God’s way of doing things. The end of his road is not pretty, and here’s why:

He’s complacent. When someone talks to him about spiritual matters, he doesn’t care. He thinks he’s secure in his own little world, but he’s about to find out it’s a house of sand.

He has no self-discipline. Whatever he wants, he wants it now. And Solomon tells us that this aspect of his character will kill him.

He lacks "sense," or judgment. He thinks that he knows everything he needs to know, and ends up destroying himself.

He hates correction, to be told that he’s wrong. Of course none of us really like correction, but he refuses to listen to anyone who tries to help him in this way. And because of this, he’s heading towards a sad end.

And finally, he’s “stiff-necked,” which is Bible-ese for “stubborn.” Even when—in his heart of hearts—he knows he’s wrong, he can’t admit it. And Solomon tells us that he eventually will be destroyed, and there’s a point of “no remedy.”

All of these are self-destructive behaviors. Why do I bring them up? Because none of us are immune to this. If we’re honest, we’d have to admit that this guy’s description is uncomfortably familiar at times. And apart from God’s intervention and our cooperation with it, it'll kill us. Whether it’s a specific judgment from the Lord or whether it’s a case of him just leaving us to our own devices, it’s really the same result.

But that’s the bad side of the Good News. He hasn’t left us alone. He has intervened. He's the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. And if we just listen to him, he offers us life. And not just life, but life to the fullest.

For today’s prayer, I’d recommend that you take a minute to go through each of the points about the fool, and ask the Father to show you where you’re displaying that behavior. He promises that if we confess, he’ll forgive and cleanse.

[April 18]--Get Up Slug Boy, Part Three

Prov. 10:4-5; Ex. 20:8-11; Col. 2:16-17

I just wanted to wrap up the short study on laziness/diligence with some final thoughts on balance. I haven’t read Aristotle yet, but I intend to someday. He was a Greek philosopher whom the early Christians used quite a bit to build a bridge between the Roman culture and the Good News of Christ. The reason for this is because a lot of what he taught is right in line with Scripture. Probably the biggest contribution he made was the “Golden Mean.” This meant that the best way to live was to find a happy medium between extremes. If you’re too passionate, you might tend to fly off the handle and offend people unnecessarily. If you completely repress your emotions, you’ll isolate yourself and be something less than fully human.

If you’ve been reading this devotional for a while, you can probably figure out why this appeals to me. Scripture is all about finding the proper balance between extremes. That’s why I love pointing out “tension” verses, those in which two opposite Biblical truths are held in tension in order to provide the perfect balance for us. The Lord has made each of us different, with different personalities with the attendant strengths and weaknesses. As we’ve discussed before, some Christians are more comfortable as “faith” Christians who like to trust God for everything but have a tendency to let things go when they should act. Others are more “action” types who want to “do something” and tend to end up trusting in themselves and not enough on the Almighty.

That’s why it’s important to work towards knowing the Bible in its entirety. No one expects you to know it overnight, but it needs to be your goal to get on a systematic plan to eventually read it through on a consistent basis. That's the only way you get exposed to everything God has to say on a subject.

It’s the same way with work and rest. Solomon really hammers home the importance of hard work and the dangers of laziness. But he’s not the only author the Spirit used to compose the Scriptures. This issue made it into God’s “Top Ten,” so it’s pretty important to him. In fact, the fourth Commandment is a “tension” passage itself, providing good balance for us. For those of us (including myself) who tend towards laziness, it assumes that we’re going to work for six days out of the seven. For those who are in danger of succumbing to workaholism, it tells us to rest and to let those in our employ rest as well.

And even that’s not the end of the subject! Paul tells us that we shouldn’t let someone else judge us regarding the observance of Old Testament holidays, and he specifically mentions the Sabbath as an example. He then goes on to tell us that all the ceremonial aspects of the Law (including the holidays) are only shadows, and that the reality is in Christ. We’re not under obligation (in a legalistic sense) to follow the Sabbath. But the pattern of work and rest is something that the Lord has woven into creation. You can see it everywhere: in the plant world, in the insect world, and among mammals. If you ignore that pattern (in either direction), it’ll catch up to you.

I think the trick is some self-evaluation under the guidance of the Spirit. Get to know the weaknesses that come with your personality. Learn and focus on Scriptures that focus on those weaknesses. And cooperate with the Holy Spirit to make some changes. I know, easy to say. But it seems to me to be the only way to grow to be more like Jesus. Make sense?

Lord Jesus, I'm so weak, but you are so strong. Thank you for grace that’s more than sufficient, both to forgive and to change.

[April 17]--Get Up Slug Boy, Part Two

Prov. 19:24; 22:13; 15:19; 26:16; 10:26; 21:25

Today we’re continuing our brief study of laziness and diligence, and I have a few points to make before we end this tomorrow.

First, I’d like to make a note about humor in Scripture. Despite some peoples’ understanding of the Almighty, the God of the Bible has no problem with laughter in itself. He's made us in his image, after all, and as far as I know we’re the only the creatures which can grasp humor. The problem is that the Bible is meant to be a cross-cultural book and is supposed to be for people from all cultures and societies. Unfortunately, as I’ve discovered multiple times myself, humor rarely—if ever—makes it across a cultural divide. That’s my theory as to why you don’t find a lot of humor in his word.

Having said that, there are some pretty funny images in Scripture if you care to look. The first two verses for today are prime examples. Look at them again and tell me that you don’t see it. But I need to mention that the purpose behind anything humorous here is not so much to entertain but to instruct. The reason why Solomon (and the Spirit behind him) pokes some fun at the sluggard is to get past our natural defenses (as humor tends to do) and make a serious point. You’re supposed to look at those verses and say (with a slight grin) “I certainly don’t want to be like him!”

But now let’s look at some more serious issues:

Why are people lazy? Well, either consciously or unconsciously they think that it’s easier. They expect to “get by” with just as little work as they can get away with. But the sad irony is that they’ll find their path “blocked by thorns” and end up working harder (with less to show for it) than someone who just decided to take the straight path. On a side note, see how the sluggard is contrasted in the verse with an “upright” man. If you want to be upright in God’s eyes, laziness is not an option.

He not only thinks he’s going to work less, but he also thinks he’s going to “get one over” on people who earn their pay honestly. He sees himself as much wiser than the “suckers” who actually believe in hard work. But again, God thinks differently. Who do you think is right?

And how do you think his boss sees him? Mr. Boss sends his employee to go do a job, and then finds out that the job was half-done or not at all. Or how do you think his co-workers see him, the ones who often have to pull his slack? Vinegar on the teeth and smoke in the eyes have something in common: They’re irritating and annoying. They’re not funny, and neither is the sluggard to the people who depend on him.

For everyone with tendencies like mine, are you ready for some "tough love"? Here's William Arnot (in Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth: Illustrations of the Book of Proverbs), commenting on 10:26:

"You would not select activity and punctuality as the cardinal tests of a man’s condition before God: and yet these things are by no means of trifling importance. Indolence is a great blemish in a man’s character. Such a spot may sometimes be on one who is a child of God, but it is not the spot of God’s children. “What thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might.” Sluggishness is a continual injury inflicted on others: it is a cutting, vexing thing. Those who are Christ’s should crucify this self-pleasing affection of the flesh. One of the Christian laws is to look, not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. If we would adorn the doctrine of Christ, we must be active, early, punctual. It is a sin to waste another man’s time, as much as to waste his property. “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” No doubt it is the natural disposition of some people to be slovenly, and unexact; but what is your religion worth if it do not correct such a propensity? A person who is nimbler in body and spirit than you may find it an easier thing to fulfil his appointments; but he has some other weak side which he must watch: “watch and pray,” each at his own weak side, “that ye enter not into temptation.” If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; and if the new life is strong in the heart, it will send its warm pulses down to the extremest member."


I know we had some fun at this guy’s expense before, but here’s where Solomon gets serious. Dead serious. If not dealt with, this will likely end his life prematurely. You can be sure he’s going to be poorer than he should be, which usually leads to a shorter lifespan. Or possibly God will step in and intervene against him. I’m not sure how exactly it works out, and I don’t want to find out.

I want to remind you that I’m preaching against myself as much as against any of you. This is something that I’ve struggled with for some time. But the Good News is that he offers forgiveness and grace. 28:13 is looking mighty good right now.

Father, you are so good to me. I want to be diligent, someone that you find working in your Kingdom when you do your final inspection. Please.

[April 16]--Get Up, Slug Boy!

Prov. 6:6-9; 24:30-34; 20:4

Boy, the book of Proverbs covers a lot of different subjects, huh? Money, family, emotions, the tongue, sexual purity, and a lot more. But for the next couple of days we’re going to tackle a real sore spot for me, because it’s one of my greatest weaknesses. If you’ve read the passages already then you know I’m talking about laziness. I get today’s title from what I have to tell myself in the mornings, because I hate having to get out of bed before I have to.

I don’t know if it’s come through during the last six weeks, but I love the book of Proverbs. I mentioned it before, and I meant it: If I had to pick one favorite book out of the O. T., this would be it. But Solomon really hammers it on laziness, and that’s something I’ve struggled with as far back as I can remember. It’s only through the intervention of Christ himself working in me that I’m not worse than I am.

So what’s a “sluggard,” anyway? It’s a person who’s naturally lazy, who wants to get by with the least amount of work, and who loves sleep. If no one forces him to, he’ll never advance in the world. I find it interesting that the author takes the creature at the top of the food chain (us) and points us to one of the creatures near the bottom (ants). As the first passage points out, they’re always working. But what else do we see about this little guy? 1) He doesn’t have to have someone constantly looking over him in order to get him to work. Some bosses, if asked if X works at his company, might have to respond “That depends on whether or not I'm here.” But not the ant’s boss! An ant puts out the same output whether he’s watched or not. 2) He’s a fortune teller. That’s right, he actually sees in the future. He can look ahead and say “If I don’t work now, I don’t eat later.” Amazing trick, huh?

Boy, that Texas weather is something, right? It'll rain and and rain and rain for days on end, and then suddenly we have warm weather for months. It’s pretty useful sometimes, however. It was a handy excuse not to mow my lawn, and then the next thing I knew, my yard was a jungle. My dogs had to skip through my back yard in order to do their business. But according to Proverbs, laziness’s consequences are like that: They sneak up on you, and you might face something worse than a bad-looking yard. Look at the image presented in 24:34—“poverty” is waiting ahead. Just like a mugger, it doesn’t announce its intentions in advance. But then “suddenly” (but not really) you’ve been “robbed” by massive credit card debt, unpaid bills, and not-so-polite phone calls.

And the really frustrating thing is, I know how this ends, so I can’t claim it’s really a surprise for me. The ant knows the future, so I have no excuse. It’s actually a little funny: I neglect to “plow in season,” and then “look” for a harvest. Well, genius, the harvest doesn’t come by way of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny, so why were you surprised? What exactly did you think was going to happen?

If you’re reading this, and you’re actually a workaholic, then we’ll talk later. And I have to remind myself--as well as anyone else out there who’s stung by these words--that there’s grace. Even for sluggards. But just like with A. A., it starts with admitting you have a problem. Hello, my name is Keith. . .

Father, this is a real problem for me. Please forgive and restore and change. By your grace, I can change, cant’ I?

[April 15]--Original Sin, Part Three

Proverbs 3:7, 27:2, 25:6-8

We’ve spent a couple of days on pride, and I just realized that we never really got around to defining it. Webster’s says that it’s “having or displaying excessive self-esteem”; that’s helpful, but it doesn’t quite capture the essence. The Hebrew word is literally “to be high.” It also can be defined as “haughty.” It’s basically regarding oneself as the most important person around, and it finds its worth in being above others. It also measures one’s value in one’s accomplishments. Humility, on the other hand, finds one’s worth/value in God’s unearned favor. It really doesn’t focus on oneself at all.

Why do I bring this up? Because there are some misunderstandings about what pride and humility really are. Pride is not feeling good about your accomplishments. And humility is not putting yourself down all the time, nor is it a lack of recognition of what you’re good at. I’d like to think that I’m gifted in teaching and in writing out devotionals. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing this. But I acknowledge that all my gifts come from my Savior, and I need to turn all praise and honor and glory back onto him. Per usual, C. S. Lewis put it so well: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It's thinking of yourself less."

So what other insights does Solomon provide on humility?

Near the beginning of the book he tells not to be “wise in [our] own eyes.” What does that mean? It means that you have a healthy mistrust of your own wisdom and judgment: You continually check yourself against other believers’ judgment. Of course this assumes that you’re seeking advice from mature believers. But there are at least four times in which Proverbs tells us to seek counsel from others.

• How different is Scripture’s instruction from what the world advocates? In politics and in business, if you don’t promote yourself, if you don’t “toot your own horn,” no one else will. But Proverbs tells us not to seek our own honor. Don’t be the one to point out your own accomplishments; let someone else do it. And of course, it’s far better to let our Savior do it than fickle people!

By the way, does 25:6-8 sound at all familiar? It should, since Jesus spoke words that were very similar. Naturally this makes sense, since the same Lord inspired both the book of Proverbs and the Gospels, and they have equal authority. In most dinner parties, you weren’t assigned a specific place at the table, so you had to pick your own. It was a judgment call on your own part as to where you placed yourself in relationship to the host. The point is simple: Pick the lowest spot for yourself, and let the King promote you instead of you promoting yourself.

This is so profound, isn’t it? Instead of worrying about your place on the “totem pole,” let the Lord pick it for you. Let him exalt you as he pleases. And if he doesn’t do it in this life, so much the better! There's never been a better application of the old saying: “Good things come to those who wait.” Trust him, he’s saving his best for last.

Lord Jesus, whether you want me to increase or decrease, that’s none of my business. I’m going to follow you and please you and obey you, and let you handle the rest.

[April 14]--Original Sin, Part Two

Prov. 13:7; 18:2, 11, 19; 25:14

Since pride is such a deadly problem, how can we recognize it? We mentioned yesterday that it’s the most insidious of sins, and the most destructive. Lewis (I know you’re sick of hearing about him) gave one pretty good test. He asks (again, paraphrasing) “If someone gets more attention than me, does that bother me? Or how’s about if I get snubbed, or insulted? How quick does that get a reaction from me?”

That’s a good test, but Solomon has some even better tests than that. In fact, they’re Divinely inspired. Pride has many faces, and can show up in some surprising ways:

Do you have a desire to make people think you’re better off than you really are? This can be in the financial realm, when people go into debt in order to put on an ostentatious lifestyle. Why do they do that? Because of pride. I remember hearing stories about Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart and the richest man in the world. Reportedly he brought a sack-lunch to work, drove a middle-class truck, and waited in line at Wal-Mart like any customer. That’s the classic example of the second half of the verse, and a great modern display of humility.

How important is it that everyone agrees with your opinions? I’m not talking about God’s immutable and indisputable truth, but about things that aren’t eternally important. This is something I desperately need to work on, since I’m a lot better at talking than at listening.

Do you trust in your wealth, or other resources? Do you think that they will shelter you when trouble comes? Do you actually think that your wealth is a “wall too high to scale”? If so, Solomon (along with Jesus) says that you’re deceiving yourself: That perfect security is only in your imagination.

Are you still holding onto an old grievance? Someone offended you a long time ago, and you’re still holding onto it. Emotionally you’re like a “citadel,” and even though that person has tried to reconcile with you, you’ve barred them out. How many relationships, from marriages to friendships, have this on their tombstone: “I knew I was right!”?

All of us make commitments, and sometimes they’re rash. In a later book, Solomon tells us it’s better not to vow something before God than to vow it and not follow-through. You might want to look better than your fellow believers, but your pride is going to cause major problems down the road. And I promise you, the Lord’s not impressed. In fact, this is the reason why Annanias and Saphira dropped dead, remember?

So how’s the checkup looking? Has the Holy Spirit pointed out anything in particular that needs confession and repentance? Same here.

Lord Jesus, please root out the pride. Whatever it takes, I’m ready. Empty me of myself, and fill me with you.

[April 13]--Original Sin

Prov. 16:18; 18:12; 6:16-19

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but I have a section of the blog page which lists some books I recommend. The one that heads the list is Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. There’s a reason why it’s still being read over 70 years after its first printing.

Lewis makes a strong and profound point on Christian morality. He spends a chapter on sexuality, but he contends very early on that the center (or centre, as he spells it) of morality is not there. Later on in the book, when he gets to the chapter on pride, he says (I’m paraphrasing here) “Do you remember that when we were talking about sex, I told you that the centre of Christian morality wasn’t there? Well, this is the centre. This is what made the Devil the Devil. It lies at the foundation of every sin, every misery, every evil we find in the world today. And worst of all is its insidious nature. People will admit that they have problems with alcohol, with lying, with all manner of sin. But pride will be the last thing they confess, and it’s also the fault they show the least mercy for when they see it in others. It’s the total anti-God state of mind.”

Not only did it cause the Devil’s fall, it also caused the Fall of our original Parents. At the back of their mind, whether conscious or not, there was this thought: “I know better than God does.” And like Lewis said, that’s the foundation of every sin. He tells us to do something, and we think we know better.

So for the next couple of days we’re going to mine the wisdom of Solomon on this. What are some insights he offers?

• You might have heard 16:18 quoted before, since it’s pretty famous. But there are good reasons why it’s so familiar: It’s true. I’ve seen it in my life, as you’ve undoubtedly seen it in yours. Just when I start to get a “big head” about something, he mercifully pricks it and deflates my ego. And the bigger the ego, the worse the pain.

And of course the converse is true as well. Maybe not at first, but eventually, honor will come with humility. And of course it's best if our honor doesn't come in this life but in the next one. In Heaven, I’m pretty sure that there'll be quite a few names lauded that we’ve never heard of before. These Christ-like souls did their God-given tasks quietly outside the spotlight. But when they're finally applauded, it'll be by nail-scarred hands.

• We’ve looked at 6:16-19 before, but there’s another point to make with this. It lists seven things that God hates. What tops it? What’s # 1 on his hit list? A haughty (or proud) look. God hates pride. Why? Not just because it’s an insult to his honor and worth, but also because of what it does to us. As long as we let this cancer go untreated, we cannot have a right relationship with him.

So are there any areas of your life in which you’ve given in to this? Let me let you in on a little secret. If you don’t think that pride is a problem, then you have a problem with it. Put it down, and come to him.

Lord Jesus, I know that I need to deal with this, and I so desperately need your help. Please.

[April 12]--Feelings, Part Four: When Green Is Bad

Prov. 14:30; 24:19-20; 19:23

Nowadays everyone wants to “go green.” All of us are concerned about the environment, so we’re learning how to recycle, drive more fuel-efficient cars, and fight pollution. But there’s at least one form of “green” to which all of us are susceptible, and we need to avoid it like poison. Actually, it is poison—of the spiritual variety.

Of course I’m talking about envy. I’m sure each of us has fallen into it at one time or another. We think we’re supposed to grow out of it when we reach adulthood, but it’s still there. On a side note, need I remind you that envy prompted the very first murder? So what words of wisdom does Solomon have for us?

• Remember when we first started talking about emotions? Out-of-control negative emotions can—and eventually will—affect your physical health. And envy? That’s just about the worst. When you let envy fester within your thoughts, it’ll eventually corrode everything like battery acid.

Another reason to deal with this as soon as it crops up? When you’re envious, you’re not taking the eternal perspective. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. In fact, we ought to tattoo it on our skull: When you’re going through rough times, remember that this is as close to Hell as you’re ever going to get. And when you see a lost man, keep in mind that this is the only Heaven he’ll ever see. You’re a co-heir with Christ! How in the world can you be envious of anything that anyone else has?!

• So what’s the cure for this? Solomon’s term for it is “the fear of the Lord,” an O.T. term for having an intimate and reverent relationship with the Almighty. I spoke about it here. When you have a right relationship with the Father, what do you have to fear? Bad financial times? Problems at the job? Health issues? These might knock you for a loop, but they don’t have to really “touch” you in your soul where it really counts. That’s the key to contentment.

Let me remind you of one more reason, which Solomon didn’t directly address but Moses did. We discussed this last year, but definitely bears repeating. The last of the Ten Commandments is one of the most misunderstood. It’s not a prohibition against improving your situation, or even against acquiring more money. No, it’s forbidding you from wanting what your neighbor has. If you are, then it means, quite frankly, that instead of being grateful, you’re despising what your Father's graciously given you. Let me put this in clear terms: It’s none of your business how he chooses to bless someone else.

Want peace of mind? Want to be rid of the envy bug? Want contentment? So do I.

Father God, I have soooooooo much to be grateful for, starting with the fact that my sins are forgiven both now and forever. I’m asking for a grateful heart, please.

[April 11]--Feelings, Part Three: Anger Management

Prov. 14:29; 29:11; 25:28

As I write this, the most famous golfer in the world is embroiled in a scandal regarding his personal life. I won’t go into that, since this isn’t the Enquirer or one of its clones. But one thing that was brought to the nation’s attention, at least for a moment, was his chosen religion, namely Buddhism.

Believe it or not, there are some positive elements in Buddhism. That doesn’t make it true, of course, and this doesn’t negate the fact that there’s no salvation outside of Christ. But one of the aspects which I find fascinating about it is the ultimate goal. According to its belief system, all passion leads to suffering. Anger, passion, and especially hatred have to be shunned, because they always lead to bad things. So we need to empty ourselves of all that.

But is that the picture that Scripture presents of anger? Well, first let’s take a look at Proverbs, and then we’ll look at some other passages which provide context.

• Repeatedly Solomon counsels against losing control of your temper. In both 14:29 and 29:11 he associates it with foolishness. Remember that in the Old Testament, a “fool” isn't someone who’s mentally deficient, but morally deficient. He’s not saying that it’s stupid to be quick-tempered, or at least that’s not his main point. Foolishness is linked to rebelliousness and disobedience against God. It is—and leads to—turning away from his plan for you.

• But there are self-centered reasons to get this under control as well. Look at the image presented in 25:28. Why did a city in those days need a wall? For protection against invaders. Without walls, a city was at the mercy of any army that passed by. In the same way, a man without self-control is at the mercy of his circumstances. If you’re letting that obnoxious co-worker make you angry on a regular basis, that person is controlling you. Do you want to be under the control of the next person who ticks you off?

But here are some other things to consider which Solomon doesn’t address here. Anger in itself is not a bad thing. Jesus was angry, and there are multiple accounts of this. He was angry at the merchants and priests who were abusing people in the Temple courts. He was also upset at his disciples when they tried to keep children away from him. Our Lord was very passionate, but he channeled it in the proper direction. Paul also was extremely angry with false teachers who were trying to sway immature believers from the truth (you can see one sample in this passage in Galatians).

Speaking on anger in his book on Proverbs, William Arnot put it thus (way better than I ever could, naturally):

"Anger cannot, indeed, be, and in a certain sense ought not to be, cast wholly out of man in the present state. On some occasions we do well to be angry; but in these cases both the nature and the object of the affection should be jealously watched. The only legitimate anger is a holy emotion directed against an unholy thing. Sin, and not our neighbour, must its object: zeal for righteousness, and not our own pride must be its distinguishing character. The exercise of anger, although not necessarily sinful, is for us exceedingly difficult and dangerous. It is like fire in the hands of children. Although it is possible for them in certain cases to handle it safely and usefully, we know that in point of fact they more frequently do harm with it than good. Accordingly we are accustomed, as a prudential measure, to forbid absolutely its use among the children. If anger in the moral department is like fire in the physical, we, even the best of us, are like little children. Unless we have attained the wisdom and stature of “perfect men in Christ,” we cannot take this fire into our bosom without burning thereby ourselves and our neighbours. Thus it comes about, that although anger be not in its own nature and in all cases sinful, the best practical rule of life is to repress it, as if it were. The holy might use it against sin in the world, if the holy were here, but it too sharp a weapon for our handling. Let any one who tries to crucify the flesh and to please God, scrutinize his own experience in this matter, and he will find that the less he has felt of anger, the better it has been for the peace of his conscience and the usefulness of his life." 

We’ll probably go into this in more detail at another time, but for now let me make some clarifying distinctions. 1) There’s a huge difference between being angry and losing your temper. If you do the latter, you’re acting foolishly and letting something or someone control you besides Christ. 2) There’s also a huge difference between standing up against injustice and trying to avenge yourself. If you’re trying to “get back” at someone who hurt you, then you obviously aren’t dealing with legitimate anger.

Just from my own observations, I would guesstimate that about 90% of the anger expressed in the world today is in the negative category. If and when we’re angry, I think it’s a very good idea to let the Holy Spirit examine us, don’t you?

Lord Jesus, you hate lots of things: sin, injustice, the destruction of people. I tend to hate the wrong things, don’t I? Please make me more like you.

[April 10]--Feelings, Part Two: Who Let The Joy Out?

Prov. 29:6; 15:30; 12:20; 23:24; 10:28

We looked yesterday at one reason why our emotions are important: It can affect our health. For the next few days we’re going to examine some different emotions and see what Solomon tells us about them. Today’s talk is about joy.

One of the cruelest lies which the Enemy foists upon us is the notion that joy, peace, and other positive emotions just “happen” to us, like a case of the flu. Yes, it’s true that you have limited control over emotions as they come upon you. But it’s also true that there are some things which you can do—right now--to cultivate these things. So what can nurture joy?

The first and foremost thing is to develop a right relationship with the Lord. The term which this verse is referring to is righteousness. This is not talking about sinlessness; it’s referring to developing a connection with the Savior and letting him change you from the inside-out. When you do that, he puts a song in your heart like no one else can.

• Next is 15:30. Obviously you want to hang around cheerful people, but what about the “good news”? Well, the best news I ever heard is that God loves me and has paid the penalty for my sin through Jesus Christ. Focusing on that truth certainly puts health in my bones.

Joy is a wonderful benefit of promoting peace. The Lord Jesus also blessed the peacemakers, those who promote reconciliation between people, and especially between God and people. I don’t know about you, but telling people about what my Lord’s done in my life--and could do in theirs--certainly has brought joy to my heart.

• I’ve also experienced the truth of 23:24. As of this writing I haven't been a physical father to anyone, but I’ve been a spiritual “father” by leading people closer to our Lord. The joy I’ve found in watching people grow into more mature followers of Christ is indescribable. And if you’re an actual parent, you have such an opportunity to lead that little one in the direction of righteousness. What more of a blessing do you want out of life?

And finally, here’s what puts a real “spring in my step”: the “prospect” I have as a child of God. Truly any believer can say that the best days are ahead of him, and I can’t wait to see what our Father has planned for us, both in the near future and when we reach our Home.

So in summary, here are the five things I’ve found in Proverbs which cultivate joy: 1) Developing my relationship with my Savior, 2) Focusing on his truth, especially the Good News of his love for me, 3) Telling other people about that Good News, 4) Leading people into a closer walk with him, and 5) Focusing my thoughts on the future that’s just around the corner. Sounds good to me. How about you?

Lord Jesus, you're my Joy, the Lifter of my head. Whatever it takes to walk closer to you, I want it. Please.

[April 9]--Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

Prov. 15:13; 17:22; 18:14

This has got to be the most emotion-based society in the history of mankind, and for the most part that’s not a good thing. If you listen to discussions of controversial topics (which I do), take note of how often someone says “I feel that. . .” in order to introduce their opinion on a subject. They might really mean “I think that. . .” or “I believe that. . .” but quite frankly emotions might be the source of a lot of peoples’ worldview, so maybe it’s a more accurate introduction after all.

I thoroughly believe that waaaaaay too many people base what they believe, do, and say on their emotions, and that can be highly destructive. However, just because you can’t base your worldview on them doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. We’re made in God’s image, and that means—among other things—that we have emotions which are a reflection of our Creator. In some sense, he experiences anger, joy, satisfaction, even jealousy. The fact that he experiences them in a much different way than we do doesn’t negate that truth.

So if emotions are important, then does Solomon say anything about them? Well, since they affect us almost every waking moment, you'd expect so, and you'd be right. Any major subject that has to do with our daily existence is addressed by the book of Proverbs, and our emotions are no exception.

Before we get into the specific emotions, I’d like to make the case as to why they’re important. Let’s take the area of physical health. I don’t know about you, but I love how modern medicine is finally catching up with Scripture. The truth is that the spiritual and physical aspects of a person are intertwined in ways we really don’t understand. That’s why the field of medicine, to an ever-increasing degree, is trying to approach our health in a holistic way. What that means is that your spirit, mind, and body are all connected to each other, and each one affects the other two. Attacking physical illness in just a physical way doesn’t really deal with it in an effective way.

If this sounds weird at all, it shouldn’t: Solomon told us this thousands of years ago. Take another look at these verses with me:

• "A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit."

• "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."

• "The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?"

If you have a joyful or a positive attitude towards life, you’ll tend to be healthier. If you have a sour, negative attitude towards life, your health will deteriorate. You’ll have less immunity against disease, and you’ll have a shorter lifespan. There’s nothing magical or “spooky” about any of this.

We’ll talk some more about joy and despair tomorrow, but let me leave you with this thought. If you didn’t have any more reason to let your Lord take control of your emotions, this would be enough. You want to be healthier, right?

Father God, truly we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. You're the Lifter of my head, you're the Source of my joy. Thank you so much.

[April 8]--Sticks And Stones, Part Four: Keep The Trap Shut!!!

Prov. 18:13; 10:19; 17:27; 15:28; 31:8-9

One of the things that has really changed over the last century or so is our attitude towards silence. Possibly due to new technology, or possibly due to the fast pace in which we live, we seem to have a strict aversion to it. Once we come into a house, what’s the first thing we tend to do? Turn on a TV or music, because heaven forbid we don’t fill up the silence with some noise.

This dislike for silence has definitely spilled over into our interpersonal relationships. Try to go on a date or spend time with a friend, and the only type of silence is an awkward one. We feel that there has to be something said, even if there’s nothing noteworthy to say.

This need to fill in the gaps with talk is not in the spirit of Proverbs (or the rest of God’s word). Solomon has plenty of warnings to us about talking too much, and here are some of them. . .

How many times has my wife complained to me about not listening to her? I have a very active brain, and while someone is talking, I’m usually forming the response to what they’re saying before they even finish. But according to this verse, it’s not something to be proud of. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

All of us are sinful people, and sin has affected every area of our existence. Therefore, it shouldn’t really surprise us that this includes our speech as well. But an interesting point to be made here is that if you talk long enough, eventually something foolish or sinful will come out. The odds are against you. If you let your words be few, then you have less chance of letting something negative slip out.

• Both 17:27 and 15:28 make basically the same point, but with different emphases. Notice that 17:27 links restraint in your speech with being “even-tempered.” In other words, he’s advocating controlling your tongue, especially when your temper is about make you say something you’ll later regret. In 15:28, he’s telling us that one mark of a righteous man is that he weighs his answers instead of just “[gushing] out” with whatever’s on our mind.

But as always, Scripture provides us with a perfect balance. As we’ll see in a later book by Solomon, there’s a time to be silent (or keep our words to a minimum), and there’s a time to speak up. What’s the time to speak up? Well, according to 31:8-9, it’s when there’s injustice in front of us, when the powerful are trampling the helpless. When someone has no voice to raise to defend themselves, then one of our jobs is to give them that voice.

What’s the most obvious application here? Well, there is a certain class of people in the United States who are routinely marked for death. They have no legal right to protection, and it’s just assumed in the public square that it should be legal to kill them. The elephant in the room, the fact that someone’s basic humanity is being denied, is rarely debated. I’m talking, of course, about the preborn child. We’ll get into what Scripture has to say about this issue at another time. But for now, I just want to point out that this seems like the most immediate application here. Just food for thought.

Father, so often I speak up when I need to be silent, and I keep my mouth shut when injustice prevails. Please give me wisdom, and courage.