Holy Hood Ornaments …

In this post we will whack a religious bee hive with our bare hands. The stings might hurt, but they will help.

Most life topics have been covered in the previous 19 chapters of Proverbs: gaining wisdom, honoring God, relationships, taming the tongue, work, etc. One topic that hasn’t come up thus far is that of drinking alcohol. For some reason I find that intriguing. But, I am not going to rattle a saber, or even a butter knife, on this topic.

But, I do want to point out a way of thinking, or believing, that flows out of this topic. It will involve us being willing to clear two hurdles to get to the conclusion. It won’t be comforable. In fact, if you harrumph at the thought of someone challenging your approach to the Bible, and how you arrive at what you “believe,” then you should click on the “X” at the top of this post and return for for Chapter 21 tomorrow. No kidding.

 

The Starting Line:

For those of you who didn’t dash for the nearest exit, and that is a good sign for you, here we go. Out of 525 verses thus far in the Book of Proverbs alcohol has been mentioned in one verse. So, 0.018% of the verses have dealt with drinking. There have been dozens of verses about seeking wisdom above all things, taming the tongue, working hard, treating others with mercy, and so on. Careful, we are approaching the starting point. From the entirety of what we have seen in Proverbs we can deduce this: Until we get the inside aligned with the Word — Scripture soaked-mind, upright heart, and wise soul — then we shouldn’t bang the drum about external things.

 

The First Hurdle: our ease creates a focus on the external.

I can sense your religious cheeks reddening.

God, in the Book of Proverbs, and throughout Scripture makes a big deal about things we ignore, but we often create a circus out of things that He says little about. Gossip, complaining, fibbing, and backbiting are things that Proverbs, and the rest of the Bible, shout about. Have you seen any “stop gossip” or “end complaining” campaigns by churches lately. I haven’t either. Perhaps we should focus on what God emphasizes and be discerningly cautionious on things He doesn’t stress as much.

Here is a point that might cause your back teeth to grind, or ache: Christians who live in luxury (think USA, not Indonesia) often stumble over issues of style rather than substance. It’s true. Christians who are being persecuted for their faith, and/or imprisoned for it, do not debate styles of church music, tattoos, or drinking. Think about it …

The reason that I jumped into this is to make a broad point (it follows this) and a deeper one (coming in the next paragraph): It is easy for Christians who live in comfort to skip past the basics of the faith and entertain ourselves with the non-essentials. We are exceptional at taking a minor Biblical topic, rendering judgement on it, and fashioning it into a religious emblem for full display. For example, if we spend more time protesting a certain movie than reading our Bibles, praying, and serving others then we have the whole thing upside down. This is due to pride — Proverbs has much to say on this — a pride craves creations of checklists used for grading others, or condemning things that we do not like.

 

The Second Hurdle: An old problem that is new to each generation.

The Gospels describe a group of people who lived comfortable lives, were schooled in Scripture, and ached to debate minor spiritual issues. This group missed the essentials of knowing and following God, and frustrated Jesus (and, ahem, they also crucified Him). Yes, you guessed it: they were the Pharisees — religious pugilists and moral legislators of the highest order. Jesus had nothing positive to say about them. He mocked them openly, publicly, repeatedly. The danger for us as believers who live in relative ease — compared to other Christians around the world – is us slipping into Pharisee-ism, aka legalism. If you invest more time in doctrinal and moral hair-splitting than loving and serving others, then you are on your way to being a Pharisee of the highest rank. BE CAREFUL!

But, don’t bank on my thoughts about legalism. Here are some of Jesus’ words about the issue of religious high-mindedness:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:23-28

OUCH! If you read that with a mind and heart wanting to hear God, then it felt like the sting of a dozen wasps. If you felt nothing reading those words of Jesus, or worse thought of someone else to apply them to, then congratulations, you are the person that Jesus was referring to.

It is worth noting here the use of so many exclamation points in those few verses. That is very rare in the Gospels, and in the Bible in general. You know what that means … Jesus was making a strong point, very sternly.

I know that this post is long. But, it is a reminder of what Proverbs is really about. Proverbs teaches us to pursue God’s wisdom and discernment, not more religious knowledge, morality superiority, or self justification. It is about becoming like Christ, and relating to Him, not religious rule-making or keeping. You have likely picked up that wisdom has a loving side, not a judgmental one; an open hand, not a checklist; a kind word, not a whip-like tongue.

Take a few moments and consider the previous points. It was not about wine or beer — or, for us Arkansans, moonshine — at all, they were the topic that got us to the root of it: focusing on what God emphasizes and minoring on what He minors on. Please, go back through this. Ponder. Pray. Ask yourself hard questions. Then, have a glass of wine. Just kidding.

 

Now, let’s sum up the rest of the chapter with a wide array of principles:

  • Verse 3 – Any fool can start a quarrel, but the wise seek to end them. (even if they slipped up and started it).
  • Verse 4 – The lazy wait for the perfect day to do their work. The perfect day never arrives. You just have to work anyway.
  • Verse 9 – We all need a Savior who can cleanse our conscience, remove our guilt, and forgive our sins. His name is Jesus!
  • Verses 10, 14, 17, and 23 – Cheating for gain — at work or personally — dishonors God and harms others. Do not do it. You can cheat with your motives as much as with your money. Yikes!
  • Verse 12 – Our natural eyes and ears cannot receive from God, we must have spiritual eyes that see and ears that hear. God creates this by His Holy Spirit.
  • Verse 13 – You will never read a book called, “Snoozing to Success.” Work and rest must be balanced, but much rest without much work has a name … you know it.
  • Verse 19 – Gossips cannot wait to find your secrets, so they pry them out of you with flattery.
  • Verse 22 – Trust God to right your wrongs and deal with others. We do not see the whole picture, have the right motives, or possess the authority to decide punishment.

 

Whew, I am tired from writing and are tired of reading. Thank you for hanging on through this post. Here’s the summary: Do not take a moral trinket and turn it into your spiritual hood ornament. Legalists do that. Do take time to grow in wisdom and grace, and share them with others. Christ-followers do that.

So, let’s both get some rest. Tomorrow’s post will be shorter. Maybe …

There are two kinds of people in this world …

My grandfather said it, my dad said it, and I say it. My children hear the familiar refrain, “there are two kinds of people,” more than they wish. That statement is true. Given any matter of life, it holds up. It holds up because it is biblical. On most any topic in Proverbs, we see how two kinds of people — the wise and foolish — think, speak, relate, work, and act. The same is true in life.

This post will be slightly longer than usual. That is because chapter 14 is like a sock drawer, it is stuffed full and things pop out when you open it. Let’s plan our walk through this chapter. First, we need to shift gears down and move slowly. Second, as we tour more slowly we will take in more scenery. This will result in us examining more verses than we have in previous posts. Third, we will circle back and dig into verse one. Fourth, we will gather up some verses and pray though them. This last step might be new to some. I’ll gladly demonstrate how to wrap a verse around yourself and personalize it through prayer.

So, before we set off on this hike through chapter 14 you might want to visit the restroom, pour a cup of hot tea or coffee, and light a cigarette (just kidding).

 

 

Base Camp: Verse One

Verse one will serve as our home base.

“The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” Proverbs 14:1

This verse has it all: striking word pictures and penetrating truth scrunched into 16 words. The general idea here is that some people build and others destroy. We know who is who here. In fact, someone in each of those two categories of people might have flashed in your mind. Let’s move along the trail and take in some eye-opening principles.

 

 

Strolling and Studying:

As we meditatively mosey along I will attempt to offer a summary and application of a few key verses:

  • Verse 4 – Excuses aid the lazy in remaining sloth-like. It goes like this, “I didn’t get an ox to plow with because I would have to clean up after it; cleaning stalls is hard work. Even though I do not have grain stored up in my barns, my ox stalls and troughs are clean.” Some people exert greater effort in manufacturing excuses than in working.
  • Verse 6 – As you grow in wisdom, further growth is more attainable and consistent. See Matthew 13:10-13
  • Verse 8- The wise live deliberately by knowing what they are doing and why; fools stagger along with no direction.
  • Verse 11 – A fool can fail in a fancy house; the wise can thrive in a tent. In other words, it’s not your situation that brings, or ruins, abundance, it’s your character.
  • Verse 23 – Big plans and words do not put food on the table; the wise see work as honorable and profitable. Remember, God speaks highly of work and doing work well. He commands us to work, and to do our work for His honor. See 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and Colossians 3:23.
  • Verse 30 – You cannot have a satisfying life with envy (or bitterness) slithering around inside you. When envy, then bitterness, invades your heart it will strangle your life.
  • Verse 33 – Wisdom rests quietly in the heart of the wise; foolishness constantly drips out of the mouth of fools. Consider this verse and apply it to talk shows. Hmmm …

Now that we have made the loop around the chapter we arrive back at base camp – verse one. Let’s unpack it, and apply it through prayer.

 

Building or Breaking:

Verse one teaches us that wise women (or men) are builders. In particular, whether it is family, friends, or those in need, wise women and men encourage and build up others. (See Romans 15:2, Ephesians 4:28, and 1 Thessalonians 5:11). God wired us for relationships; we were created to relate. We are relating at our best when we are building up others.

Verse one also shows us that the foolish are destroyers. They divide and tear down others and poison relationships. This is because they cater to themselves in everything, at all times.

 

Applying and Praying:

We have seen many first-rate truths in this chapter. Reading and appreciating them isn’t the end of the exercise though. It’s the beginning. As with any time in the Bible, application is the end point. How do we link reading and marveling at God’s Word to living it? Through prayer. As you finish your reading in Proverbs 14 select a handful of verses and personalize them through prayer. Here are three of the verses from our previous list with a prayer of application to prime your pump:

“The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.”Proverbs 14:8

*God, please help me to examine what I do and why I do it so that I can discern how to follow you better. Please use Your Word each day to keep me from focusing on myself and following my plans.

“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23

*God, please remind me to work hard as a way to honor You and help others. Help me to do my work as service to others. And, please provide me with a huge raise this year. Just kidding. I’m making sure that you are still paying attention.

“The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.” Proverbs 14:1

*God, please remind me that a mark of wisdom is to build up others. Help me to be a builder and to stay away from those who divide and destroy. Give me opportunities today to encourage, build up, and love others as Jesus would.

 

Wrapping it up:

There are two kinds of people in this word: the wise who are building and the foolish who are breaking; those who are listening and applying, and those who are ignoring; those who are doing and those who are making excuses. There are two kinds of people in Proverbs, you know who they are. There are two kinds of people in your life, are you recognizing them with greater clarity now?

The on-ramp to wisdom …

Like many others, you are considering resolutions for 2019. You know the typical ones: exercise more, lose weight, spend less, stop shouting swear words at your children, etc. Just kidding on that last one, unless you actually do cuss your kids on a regular basis. If you do, stop it, or at least cut back a little.

So, now that some of you with a potty mouth have been pointed out, let’s get on with the blog post. May I suggest a remarkable resolution for the New Year? One that will only take a few minutes a day and can improve most every area of your life. What is it? It is reading one chapter per day of the book of Proverbs.

When I became a Christian in 1993, a wise man told me, “Son, you are an idiot, you should read the book of Proverbs; that might be able to help you.” Actually, that fine gentlemen told me that reading a chapter of the book of Proverbs each day would help a young fellow immensely. I tried it. He was right. I continue to do so to this day. The Proverbs are bite-sized truths that can transform us. If they can help me, then they can help anyone!

If you are up for a challenge, will you join me for the month of January in reading one chapter of the book of Proverbs? Beginning on January 1, please read chapter 1, then chapter 2 on January 2, and so on. As a help to you, I will post a short introduction to the next day’s reading that will share hints and helps for the next chapter. This will serve as a tail wind to propel you along. Are you in? C’mon, it’s better than counting calories and trying to be “keto.” And, it won’t make you hangry.

With that said, here is the map for tomorrow’s reading of Proverbs 1:

The book of Proverbs — written by Solomon, the wisest man of his time — focuses on gaining wisdom and growing in your relationship with God. The Proverbs cover many areas of your life: family, work, relationships, money, discipline, taming your tongue, etc. The Proverbs were written in the form of Hebrew poetry, which might seem repetitive at times, but the style was intended for impact and contrast. Roll with it. It’s like Old Testament-style Twitter: short thoughts, plainly stated, that pack a punch.

The book of Proverbs focuses on three types of people:

  1. The wise: they seek to honor God and grow in His grace and truth.
  2. The foolish: they are selfish and sinful. They only look out for themselves and want harm for others. The Hebrew word for these folks is pronounced “in-laws.” Hehe …
  3. The simple: they are not wise, but not foolish; they could go either way depending on their pursuit of God’s truth or hanging out with fools. Most of us fall into this category.

Before you read chapter one, commit those three categories of people to memory. Look for them in each chapter. As you read each day ask yourself which category describes you, your family, and your circle of friends. Trust me. You will see that a pattern will soon form.

In the first chapter of Proverbs, verses 20-23 provide great hope to us all:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”

These verses paint a picture of God’s Truth standing in the middle of the city, at the frequent meeting places, and in the city gates calling out for us to listen, and grow in wisdom. These verses also link to a great promise in the New Testament in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Here’s the take-a-way truth: God wants to provide His wisdom to us. It’s there for the asking, and receiving. Will you spend a few minutes each day reading one chapter of Proverbs? It could be your on-ramp to the road to wisdom. C’mon, let’s go. I’ll share a daily map for the journey. The map will point you down the path, make you smirk some, and also serve as a way for us to dialogue. Please post here and share your thoughts, what you are learning, and suggestions for upcoming posts for the month. My hope is to shape this in a way that assists you. Your feedback would be appreciated!

Blow the dust off your Bible, grab a cup of coffee, scream at your kids for the last time, and let’s get going.

Yours for the asking…

2 Chronicles 1:7-12 records an encouraging interaction between God and Solomon. God asks Solomon a question, Solomon responds discerningly, and God blesses him for it. Take a look:

 

“In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.”….Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?”God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” 2 Chronicles 1:7, 10-12
For the sake of brevity, let’s cut the principles into large pieces. This will save you from reading details and allow you to spend time in reflection instead. Here are the big slabs of truth:

 

  • Solomon had intimate fellowship with God. Notice that the interaction was not one-sided; it involved Solomon both listening to and responding to God.
  • Solomon’s response to God was wise and selfless. Solomon could have asked for riches, power, revenge on his enemies, or a long life; he did not. He asked for something that would honor God and help His people.
  • God granted Solomon his request for wisdom, and, also granted him the things that he didn’t ask for. We need to pause, grab ahold of this point, and wrestle with it. Play some mental ju-jitsu with it for a bit. Keep grappling with it, that’s it; wait, don’t knock over the lamp. Whew. Keep it down, someone in your house may become annoyed with your tussling with truth and mumble, “Are they in there reading The Bearded Acorn and wrestling with God’s Word again?” The word picture begged to be played out. Sorry, mostly.

 

Here’s the scoop on the third principle: After Solomon showed God-honoring reasons for his request God then granted him more than he had asked for. To state it another way, God doesn’t provide us with acres until we are faithful with inches. This principle should encourage us. It does so in several ways. First, it shows us that there is soul-building, joy-giving purpose in day-to-day living. Each day of honoring God leads to deeper days of it later. Honoring God in the most mundane of activities — work, house work, relationships, etc. — is proving ground for the events and tasks that lie ahead. Second, what we consider needful may actually be harmful. We must be satisfied in letting God determine what we need and when it is best for us to receive it. Third, following God is a daily process made up of successes and stumbles, watching and waiting. Rest assured that He gauges and guides the process perfectly. All three of these points direct us to trust God in the smallest areas of life as we grow toward more sizable ones. The super-sized Reese’s cups in life come after we have eaten our broccoli, with a good attitude.

 

To see these things in the day-to-day requires wisdom. You might be thinking, “If I was only as wise as Solomon…” The same wisdom that was granted to Solomon is available to you!

 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

 

Ask God for wisdom. He has plenty to give, and is pleased to give it to you. Remember, that wisdom is not magic dust sprinkled on your head from heaven. Wisdom is found in God’s Word. As you read and study the Bible the Holy Spirit will provide wisdom for understanding and application to your life. As you ask for wisdom each day, study God’s Word, and rely upon His Spirit exercise patience. You will begin to recognize His wisdom germinating, and then sprouting in your mind and heart. Growing in wisdom is like the slow and steady growth of an oak. The growth rings of wisdom are added as you seek God, soak in His Word, and follow Him.

Ask, and like Solomon, you will receive…