Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Releasing the Heavy Load of Anxiety

Life is full of uncertainty, trials, and challenges. It is easy to get our focus on the "what ifs". What if this happens? What if this doesn't happen? This can create a heavy load called anxiety and worry. Proverbs 12:25a puts it this way, "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down". Is your heart heavy today? Do you have this cloudy feeling that is closing in on you? What you need is a good word. "But a good word makes it (your heart) glad" (Proverbs 12:25b, italics mine). What better place to find a good word than from the sufficient Word of God. Instead of focusing on the "what ifs" we need to dwell on the "what is" (The Truth) and "who is" (The Source of Truth).

The strangle hold of worry, fear and stress is released by the good Word of Truth. Listen to these words and be glad.

John 14:26-27

26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Philippians 4:4-9

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:13

13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Colossians 3:1-4

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:15-17

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Proverbs 29:25

25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

Proverbs 20:22

22 Do not say, "I'll pay you back for this wrong!" Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.

2 Timothy 1:7

7For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

What good word of cheer can you add to this list?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Life is Found at the Cross Roads

Proverbs 9

Life is made up of our choices. Each point of decision is a cross road. At these cross roads sit two women, Lady Wisdom and The Woman of Folly. They beckoned us to make decisions that will direct us down one of two paths of life. Everything in life can be boiled down to which path we choose. Each choice appeals to our desires, but only one path will truly and ultimately satisfy. These two alternate paths of life are called the way of the wise and the way of the fool. They both call out to you on a continual basis.

These two life voices seek to draw you down two very distinct and opposite paths. Yet, in some ways, they are very similar. They both offer satisfaction of our desires (comp. v.5 with v.17). They are both visible options that strongly urge for our attention (comp. vv. 3-4 with vv. 13-16a). This is where their similarities end.

These two paths have dramatically different orientations (comp. vv. 6, 8-10 with vv. 7, 13, 17) and destinations (comp. vv.11-12 with vv. 7-8, 18). The way of the fool is oriented by deceit and lies and a lack of discipline, knowledge, instruction and understanding. They ultimately lack wisdom and the fear of the Lord (v. 10). Their destination is death (v. 18).

The way of the wise is oriented by two guide rails - revelation and relationship. Proverbs call these knowledge and the fear of the Lord (v. 10). When they are applied together they are called wisdom. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). Get more of Him and you will be well on your way to the house of wisdom which leads to life. He is Life.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's a Law You Can't Escape

Proverbs 5

Some time in middle school I learned the basic scientific law that says, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". So, if you throw a baseball into a window it will create a significant reaction - a loud sound wave will reverberate, shards of glass will fly down, out and in, and some unhappy home owner will have a sudden spike in their blood pressure. God's law says, If we mess with immorality, especially adultery, we will experience devastating consequences. We need to get it in our thick heads that we will not get by with immorality and we will not escape the on slot of its ravishing results.

Let these words echo in our mind from Proverbs 5. Adultery will end in bitterness (4a), mortal wounds (4b-5), instability (6), depletion of your strength, your wealth, and the best of your youth (9-10), your physical health will be ravished (11), your character will be left in utter ruin (14), and in the end it will kill you (23).

The tools for victory are simple: 1) give yourself fully to the words of wisdom (5:1-2, 7). Remember all the active words of a wise listener in chapter four? 2) Take drastic measures to stay away, avoid, run from temptations to immorality. "Keep your way far from her and do not go near the door of her house" (5:8). Jesus said it even stronger, "cut off the hand that makes you stumble" and "tear out the eye that makes you stumble" (Matt. 5:29-30). Turn off, unplug, throw out, close your eyes, look the other way, bounce your eyes, run, flee - you fill in the rest. Just do whatever it takes. 3) Fill yourself up with intimacy and love for your wife (15-19). Spend quality, undivided time with her. Love her fully. Express your gratitude to her and for her. Give yourself fully to her in every way - your time, attention, affection. Have sex with her frequently. 4) Finally, and most importantly, be aware of God's watchful eye (21). He knows and sees and is not winking, ignoring or avoiding. He will respond to our rebellion and rejection of His ways in righteousness and justice. The "when" and "how" is determined by his sovereign grace and mercy.

Don't push it, men! Don't push Him!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Listening to the Voice of Wisdom

"Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding" (2:2).

Wisdom flows out of a right relationship with God (1:7;2:6) and key to any relationship is the skill of listening. Repeatedly wisdom calls for a listening ear and a receptive heart (2:2; 3:1; 4:1, 4; 5:1). When I think of a good listener I think of skills like discipline, self-control, self-denial, a love and respect for the person talking, a hunger to learn, a zeal for knowledge, time, patience, freedom from distrations, effort, focus, intentionality, and humility. Indeed you will find these same qualities as prerequisites to the pursuit of a life of wisdom. Look at the action words used in chapter four used to describe the pursuit of wisdom and her words.

  • Hold fast; keep (4)
  • Acquire; Don't forget (5)
  • Don't forsake; love her (6)
  • Prize her (8)
  • Accept my sayings (10)
  • Take hold; guard her (13)
  • Give attention; incline your ear (20)
  • Keep them in the midst of your heart (21)
  • Look directly ahead (25)
  • Gaze fixed straight in front of you (25)
  • Watch the path (26)
Is this the kind of focused, aggressive, intentional listening that I'm engaged in on a daily basis? Not only, how am I listening, but who am I listening to? As I've pa roused Proverbs these past few months I've noticed these sources of wisdom.

1. God and His Word (1:7; 2:6-7; 8:22; 9:10; 15:33; 16:20). He is the origin of all wisdom. But he also uses people as His channel to disperse wisdom.
2. Fathers and mothers (1:8,9; 23:22-25)
3. The Humble (11:2)
4. Wife (12:4, 14:1; 18:22; 31:10-11)
5. The Righteous (12:5-6, 26)
6. Counselors (12:15; 13:10; 19:20)
7. The Wise (13:14, 20)

Am I actively engaging, inviting, pursuing, seeking these voices of wisdom? This all requires time, discipline and selfless living. Most importantly, it requires me to listen with my heart.

Here are some practical ways I've sought to engage the voice of wisdom.
  1. I regularly download sermon podcasts and listen to them while I'm exercising, running, mowing the lawn, etc. My favorites are John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler and James McDonald.
  2. I have a couple older, wiser men that I meet with on a regular basis to receive their counsel, advice and knowledge. When I first came to my most current ministry position I asked several people who they thought were the wisest and most respected men in the church. I asked two of these men to meet with me on a monthly basis.
  3. My wife is probably my best source of wisdom. No one knows me and my life circumstances better than her. We love to walk our neighborhood in the evenings and talk about life.
  4. A couple years ago I began the discipline of writing in a notebook in conjunction with my other spiritual disciplines. You'll notice I didn't use the word "journal" intentionally. I've tried journaling in the past with a very minute measure of success. The majority of us men are not writers. What I'm talking about is engaging God and the Scriptures with pen and paper. This is very broad in scope. Sometimes I write a prayer in response to my time with God. Other times I will write out a verse that has been meaningful. Most frequently I will write down one thought that God has spoken to me from His Word that I need to apply and carry with me that day. Many times I'll incorporate different Bible study techniques, like recording observations, key words, key verses, outlining, summarizing, etc. The bottom line is writing engages my ears, my mind, and my heart.
  5. Reading books, especially in conjunction with others has been a wonderful source of wisdom. Currently, my son Kyle and I are reading Crazy Love by Fancis Chan. I just began reading Disciplines of a Godly Man by Kent Hughs with a group of men I meet with every other Monday morning at Panera.
  6. This blog has been a source of wisdom for me as it has encouraged me to dig deeper in Proverbs.
Are you listening to the voice of wisdom? She is a voice that will lead you to God and to the fullness of life He offers (see Proverbs 2:10-21).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Relaxing in the Recliner of Life - Wake Up!

Our loved one speaks, but we're not listening, at least not whole heartily. We've all been caught doing this. Our mind is given to the latest sports program, newspaper article, or magazine interest. All we want to do is escape from the exhausting grind and pressures of daily life. Just for a moment. Just a little harmless devotion to our whimsical desires. But our love wants our attention, our devotion, our affection. There are important things to communicate. We say we are listening, but that is only a lip service lie.

At this point you are probably thinking, this is going to be about listening to and loving your wife. But no, the loved one I'm referring to is our Beloved Savior. I was challenged by verses 27 and 29 in today's chapter.

27 The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable— how much more so when brought with evil intent!
29 A wicked man puts up a bold front, but an upright man gives thought to his ways.

These verses provoked me to ask, "Am I in any way living like the wicked, who do religious things (27a), but with wrong motives (27b); who act as if everything is going great (29a), without giving any thought to the true state of things (29b)?" The wicked do "spiritual things" and put up a bold front without examining the reality of where they are at with God. Is that us? Are we relaxing in the recliner of life, pursuing our own comforts and desires, while at the same time saying, "Yes, Lord. I'm here. I'm listening"? We are like the husband who goes through the motions but is not fully engaged with his love.

Prior to reading Proverbs 21, I read the book of Jude which is a call to contend for the faith (v3) and to be on the alert for "godless men who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ..." (v4). Jude paints a vivid picture of their deeds and demise. He concludes with a challenge to the called to be different, not to be men "who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit" (v19). He sounds the alarm to instead, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord...Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear -- hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh" (vv. 20-23). Does that sound like me? Does that sound like you?

Buzzers, alarms, and maybe even your wife's voice, can be irritants. But ignoring these reminders and warnings can be perilous to our health. Ignoring spiritual warnings can be worse. The voice of God is one we dare not disconnect. Engage him fully. Listen to him closely. Be attentive to your relationship with Christ.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Love and Faithfulness

I have a question for you today. Why does Proverbs couple together "love" and "faithfulness"?

There are several occasions in which Proverbs simultaneously extols the virtues of love and faithfulness together. "Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?" (20:3). "Love and faithfulness keep a king safe" (20:28a). We also see these two virtues coupled together in 3:3, 14:22; 16:6. The Psalmist continually praises God for demonstrating these two qualities (Psalm 25:10, 40:10, 61:7, 85:10, 86:15, 89:1, 14, 28, 115:1, 138:2, 145:13). See also Ex. 34:6; Is. 55:3; 1 Thess. 3:6; 2 Tim. 1:13-18;; Col. 1:5).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Robbing the Offender of Glory

When you are hurt, offended, treated unjustly, you want to fight back, even the score, defend yourself. This seems normal and justified. And in fact, offenses usually do need to be confronted in truth and love. But is there a more glorious way, a way in which the glory is snatched from the hands of the offender? Proverbs says "Yes!", " is to his (a wise man's) glory to overlook an offense" 19:11b).

The offender offends because he wants to gain something. His intent is to hurt, use, control, and offend so that in some way he comes out on top, to seemingly better his situation. He believes the offense will give him the glory he seeks. He may want to feel better about himself, superior to another, more powerful, or to gain position, leverage and control. When the offended reacts, attempts to defend himself or to vindicate himself the offender knows he has accomplished he desired outcome. He expects and wants a reaction. He has mastered you. This feeds into his desire for greater glory.

A wise man can snatch the glory from his hands through patience and mercy. "A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense" (19:11). Where is the glory in overlooking an offense? Patience and mercy demonstrates your faith in God. You believe in God's ultimate justice and vindication. Your patience and mercy demonstrates your belief that God is present, he knows your situation and is powerful enough to deal with it in his time. When you are patient and overlook an offense you are taking the control away from the offender and putting God in control. And when we shift the glory to God, he allows the glory-giver to share in his glory.

Though righteousness has a price, it also has a reward. The righteous who show mercy can anticipate a future reward that is certainly more glorious than immediate vindication or justice on this earth. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven..." (Matt. 5:11-12). Overlooking an offense also has benefit in this life, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (5:7). When you are gracious to others who don't deserve mercy, people sit up and take notice for it is certainly not the norm. Your character and faith is gloriously displayed. Your mercy will beget mercy and your patience will be met with patience.

Go ahead, be a robber. Rob the glory from the offender and give it to God. Be patient; overlook the offense. God, who is most patient and merciful, will graciously share his glory with you.