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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Planning for Success

"Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22).

On Wednesdays I play ping pong with several men, mostly retired, older gentleman. Occasionally we'll draw in a school teacher home for the summer or a pastor who needs a break from the days grind. We take turns attempting to out hit our opponents. Mostly we talk about our lives, share what we are learning in Scripture and in our walk with Christ. Last week I was shocked to learn that John (not his real name), who is in his eighties, is thinking of getting married. His wife died a couple years ago and he met a Christian lady on

John exemplifies one who is continually learning and continually asking advice. He is a wise man, knowledgeable in the Scripture. You would think he would have no need to get advise from others. Yet, this is what I constantly find him doing. Today he shared that last Sunday evening, at the church picnic, he asked about eighty people to complete a survey. He asked one question on his survey, "How do you know when you are in love?" He got many answers. Many didn't know. Some said, "You will just know". Many gave him subjective, hard to grab onto type responses, like "It will just feel right".

It's a great question, worth asking and thinking about. John wants to get married and wants to be sure he is making a wise decision. If he does choose to get married, I'm confident his marriage will have a good chance of success. Wisdom works that way.

Most of us seem to think we don't need the advice of others. We think we have all the answers, all the experience, all the knowledge we need. We think our judgment is superior to others. After all, we think, "It is our life. We know what's best for ourselves". Sure this is usually not a deliberate, conscious thought, but our actions reveal what's truly in our hearts.

I know I've got some important decisions to make. Ones that could alter the course of the rest of my life. You bet I'm going to make some phone calls, get together for lunch, invite people over and most importantly, talk to God and listen for His advice in Scripture.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Building a Life of Wisdom

Proverbs 9

"...rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:8b-10).

As I write this I'm sitting at my kitchen table looking out the window listening for God's voice in what I have read in Proverbs 9 and John 2. It is so hard to keep my mind still, to rest my spirit and wait for the Lord's voice. If you are patient, He will speak.

He has spoken to me this morning. His words have lifted me up, as they always do, if I am submissive enough to listen. "Blessed is the man who listens to me" (8:34). Here is what I'm learning from His voice, the voice of wisdom. "Jay, I am building your life. Trust me and my process". Building a life of wisdom is a process that 1) takes time (9:6), 2) requires some hardship and hard work to get to the next level (9:8-9), 3) is orchestrated by God, according to his ways and his timing (9:10), and therefore, 4) requires me to have a submissive heart (9:10). And, I should add, 5) is full of God's goodness and blessing (9:11-12).

As I look out my kitchen window I see my neighbors house, which made me think of all the roofing replacement going on in our neighborhood. Hurricanes leave devastation, but as so many of my neighbors have said, "That old roof was due to be replaced". I'm fifty years old and nearly forty years old spiritually. It's time for some upgrades, remodeling and new construction. And that is a good thing, but not without some cost and effort and time.

In house construction, the foundation is quickly poured and the frame is set, often in a day or two. Then the more complex and labor intensive details are added. The process of building a life of wisdom is much the same. Proverbs describes the materials and the process of building a wise heart. It starts with a submissive heart (relationship), one that fears the Lord (1:7; 9:10). The submissive heart allows you to build on the appropriate foundation, the Solid Rock. On the foundation you begin to build your framework which Proverbs describes as the commands (rule), law or knowledge. Commands include both the direct commands of Scripture and the wise counsel of others. Commands define right and wrong for us, and they direct us in the path of wisdom.

Like putting up framework in construction, adding knowledge seems to happen relatively quickly and with ease and eagerness. I was amazed at how quickly the early phases of construction took place for the Lutheran church at the entrance of our subdivision. That was early spring. It is now summer and it appears like the construction is at a stand still. These later phases require more detail, greater patience, effort, skill and time.

The second phase in building a wise heart is discipline (rod), which requires explanation, understanding, repetition, drilling, rebuke and correction. The instruction of discipline requires us to use knowledge to correctly apply wisdom to life. Discipline slaps our fingers when we begin to do something wrong.

Trials, injustices, persecution are hurricane force winds that put our heart to the test. It reveals weaknesses and strengths, motives and desires. All this is hard stuff, but good stuff. "If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you" (9:12).

Hurricane winds are unpredictable. They come by God's sovereign hand. We need them in our life. but we also need the daily "winds". Sometimes these are graciously given by our parents, friends, elders, teachers, spouse as they instruct, counsel, teach, fellowship, hold us accountable, etc. "He who walks with the wise grows wise" (Prov. 13:20a). But the majority of the wind forces should be self-imposed. "Discipline yourself toward godliness" (1 Tim. 4:7).

Now, I want to come to the part that really spoke to me today. It's the time and patience part, which again requires a submissive heart that fears the Lord. This was brought to my attention as I read John 2. Jesus performs his first miracle by turning water into wine. He did this in a very subtle, behind the scene kind of way. The master, bridegroom, nor the guests, knew where the wine came from (2:8-10). Only the servants knew what had happened and who was going to believe them? Why all the hush, hush, sneaking around in the background? Jesus reply to his mother gives us some insight, "My time has not yet come" (2:4). Even the Son of God had to wait. But in waiting God's glory could not help but seep out. "This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory and his disciples put their faith in him" (2:11).

I want to be like Jesus and I want to be like those servants who obeyed a seemingly mindless and fruitless task. They played a part in displaying God's glory. That is all we can ask for and certainly more than what we deserve.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where do we find Lady Wisdom?

Proverbs 8

"Blessed is the man who listens to me (Lady Wisdom), watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord" (34-35, italics mine). "...wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her" (11).

If my life and the favor of the Lord depend on my pursuit and discovery of wisdom, I better know where to find her. So I ask, "Where do we find Lady Wisdom?".

1) Wisdom is found at the point of decision. "On the heights along the way, where the paths meet,...beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances" (2). These are markers, intersections, and entrances where decisions are made. These are places that are both prominent and important for direction and progress. Wisdom intersects at these points of decision which impact the progress, momentum and direction of our life. Wisdom calls out at these crucial junctures of life. Will we recognize her? Will we listen to her?

2) Wisdom is found when we listen. How do I know if I'm opening the door to Lady Wisdom?

Are you listening? "Listen to my instruction and be wise, do not ignore it" (33; also v. 1, 4, 6, 32-34). Listening requires patience, humility, and a relinquishing of control. When we are truly listening we are saying, "These words, and the person speaking them, have value". Listening is an act of love. Listening is also an act of surrender. I am surrendering my right to be heard. I am yielding to anther's voice. I am saying, "Your input is more important than what I have to say at this time".

What are evidences that you are listening? You are a person that seeks the counsel of others. You are a person that asks God for direction. These are the kinds of things found in your life: you read and meditate on the Scriptures, read good books, down load sermons, you are involved in small groups, have serious accountability with other men, let your wife talk while you have eye contact, you listen for God's voice through fasting. You are a person that values solitude with God.

3) Wisdom is found when we wait. "Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting daily at my doors" (34, italics mine). The wise pursuit is one of patience and trust. A wise person plans and takes action, but these actions come only when Lady Wisdom has clearly spoken. Her directives make us bold as lions. But the lion first listens, then leaps.

4) Lady Wisdom has her companions. Where you find her you will find these companions: instruction (10), prudence (12a), knowledge and discretion (12b), the fear of the Lord and a hatred for evil (13), counsel, sound judgment, understanding and power (14), righteousness and justice (20). Seeks these and you will find Lady Wisdom.

5) Lady Wisdom is found in God. "The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works" (22). Know God and His directives and you will find Lady Wisdom.

When you find Her you also find true life and the favor of the Lord. This is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with Him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Silencing Seduction: His Words Over Her Words

Foundational to a life of sexual purity is a life filled with and dominated by Scripture. It's no wonder then that sexual sin, and sin in general, is so prevalent in our lives. Most of us are not brimming over with Scripture. Even those who have developed a daily discipline of Bible reading forget most of what they read an hour later. Even when we do remember a thought or two, how many of us are intentionally and actively using, speaking, thinking about these truths throughout our daily lives. It's no wonder we are so easily and quickly defeated by sin, especially sexual sin.

A life of victory requires some incredible diligence.

1) It requires storing up Scripture. Do you have a full pantry of Scripture to draw from? Is your store house stocked for the challenges of spiritual warfare, persecution, and the lonely and empty times? Wisdom says, "Store up my commands within you" (7:1). Study, listen, learn, memorize and meditate on God's Word.

2) It requires continual practice. "My son, keep my words" (7:1). "Keep my commands" (7:2). As Christians, we know more spiritual truth than we ever use. The gap between knowledge and obedience is much greater than the gap between ignorance and knowledge. We are obese with spiritual knowledge. Like an exercise training routine, we need to do daily reps, focusing on specific character and behavior traits that need strengthening. We need to be intentional, focused and consistent in our application of Scripture. I've found it helpful to spend a whole year or more working on one specific growth goal in my life. Work that specific spiritual muscle group until it becomes reflexive, almost instinctive thoughts and behaviors. "Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart" (7:3). "...Guard my teachings as the apple of your eye" (7:2).

3) It requires a new relational motivation. "Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister,' and call understanding your kinsman" (7:4). Relatives are loved and valued. You will sacrifice for your family. There is nothing that will motivate and drive you more than personal relationships. When you fall in love with God, you will hold his Word dear. The lure of sinful desires will pale in comparison to the lure of His love (7:5).

Wisdom and understanding are from God and lead us to God (1:7; 2:1-8). When we embrace them, we embrace God. We can do nothing apart from Him (John 15:4). Wisdom is the skill of loving Him. "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love" (John 15:10). "You are my friends if you do what I command " (John 15:14).

What gems will you mine today as you study, search, learn, memorize, meditate on Scripture? What jewels will you wear as you carry God's Word into life? Will God's truth be at your finger tips and on your heart so you can apply it, speak it, teach it, proclaim it, live it? Will you remember your Beloved who gave you these gems and who died and lives for you? Will you talk to Him, listen to Him and experience His presence in your life today?

He will silence her seductive words into oblivion (7:5).

Monday, July 6, 2009

Untrapped and Unstuck

Are you stuck in life? Have you made some poor decisions that have kept you from a more fruitful life for God? Or perhaps you are stuck because you struggle making decisions. You are polarized by your own unwillingness to take personal responsibility, to discipline yourself, or to take the leadership and the self-initiative in your life. Proverbs 6 gives us wisdom to free us from our frozen state.

We are given two examples of a stuck person in Proverbs 6:1-11. The first makes a financial and verbal commitment that is rash, impulsive and risky (1-2). This entraps him to the consequences of his poor decision. The second example is one who does nothing. He is like a sluggard. He can't or wont make decisions and commitments (6-11). This seems like the easy route, but quickly leaves this person empty, robbed of God's best.

What do you do if you've made a foolish commitment or a poor decision? Perhaps you've purchased a car or home you can't afford, or committed to a job that has robbed you of precious family time, or volunteered to do something beyond your ability to deliver. The wise person will make every attempt to free himself (v.3). This will take humility -- "Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor". You are admitting you made a stupid decision. We are then encouraged to act swiftly -- "Allow no sleep to your eyes" (v.4). And with great intensity, like a wild animal caught in the hands of a hunter (v.5). Your life is on the line, so move.

For the person caught in his inability to make decisions, to move forward and change the status quo, learn from the ant. The ant is an example of unsupervised, uncoerced self-discipline. Without any outside leadership or pressure, this tiny creature gathers and stores provisions for the more difficult days ahead. When we are stuck in life, whether by our own foolish decisions or our own laziness and lack of self-discipline, the wise course of action is to humbly admit our condition and then get to work. Just start moving in the right direction. Take responsibility for the future.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Outside Influence

The inclination of men's heart is to trust in himself. After all, who knows our heart better? Obviously we are going to look out for our own interests. We know what we like. We know what is best for ourselves. Each day we make independent choices, often without the inclusion of others. This all seems natural, right and best. But Proverbs 28:26 warns us, "He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe". It is foolish to think that we can trust our own hearts, our own motives, and our own decisions. We need outside influence. Most importantly, we need God. We need God's direction, God's Word, God's Spirit, God's people.

From my study of Proverbs I see three guiding influences that should guide us down the path of wisdom. I've categorized them under three words: rule, rod and relationship. The principles or truths of God's Word (rule), the discipline of God (rod), and the love of God (relationship) lead us down the path of righteousness.

Tomorrow, after reading Proverbs 29, we will look more specifically at these three. Until then, meditate today on Proverbs 28:26 and ask yourself, "Who or what is influencing my decisions?"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Priority and Passion of the Pursuit

God has always wanted us to enjoy his creation, to benefit from it, and even to need it. Food, wine, money, sex and relationships are all part of God's created order, designed to sustain and bring pleasure to man. These same things are mentioned throughout Proverbs as things that can destroy us if they become the driving focus and pursuit of our life. "Do not crave his delicacies..." (23:3). Do not wear yourself out to get rich..." (23:4). "Do not move an ancient boundary stone" (23:10). These stones were property markers indicating boundary lines. "Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat..." (23:20). "Do not let your heart envy sinners..." (23:17).

You will notice in all of these statements that it is not the thing pursued that is dangerous or sinful, but the priority and passion of the pursuit. They are given to high of a value and thus are pursued wrongly and to excess. Wisdom teaches us to have a value system (heart) that pursues God's priorities and passions. It is a life that is zealous for the fear of the Lord (23:17). It is a heart that applies itself to instruction and listens to words of knowledge (23:12). Revelation of God and a relationship with God guide the pursuits and passions of our heart. Wisdom gives us an appetite and taste buds for godly passions and pursuits.

Think about your day thus far. What was on your mind when you woke up? Have you talked to God and listened for his voice? What goals and plans do you have for the day? Do they include God? Better yet, are they guided and dictated by God? When you eat, work, drink, play, is it done for God and in his way? Passionately pursue God and surely there will be "a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off" (23:18).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Caught in the Cookie Jar

"The sluggard buries his hand in the dish, he will not even bring it back to his mouth!" (Proverbs 19:24).

Cookies are delicious. My favorite is a fresh and chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. Cookies are made to be eaten. In fact, a good cookie doesn't last long in the cookie jar. It may not even make it to the cookie jar. But what if I hated the effort that went into making the cookie and also the thought of not having one on hand so much that when I put my hand in the cookie jar I couldn't bare to let go? This is the attitude and actions of a sluggard.

A sluggard wants, desires, covets, hoards, possesses but refuses to put forth the effort to plan, make, create, or even to consume. He just wants to hang on to what he has. He doesn't want to make any effort to replace, restore, replenish or maintain what he does have. He is stuck like a slug. No movement. He is a sluggard.

Are you stuck in some area of life? Is your hand caught in the cookie jar? Is it because you are afraid to lose what you do have? Are you thinking, "If I make any changes it will upset the apple cart"? Or maybe you want something but you are just not willing to put forth the effort to get it. Most of the time this effort is psychological or emotional. We are frozen by fear. Fear of failure. fear of the unknown. Fear of rejection.

Are you stuck with your hand caught in the cookie jar? You might have a sluggards attitude. Let go. Release whatever you are hanging on to - fear, possessions, your comfort and ease, security, a broken relationship, your pride, your anger, vengeance. Get moving. Have faith in God. Faith is acting on God's promises. Faith moves.

I smell the aroma. See the golden baked dough and the soft, melted chocolate chips. Now, what are you waiting for? Pull that cookie out of the jar. It's time to chow down.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Oozing Jesus

When you squeeze a bottle of ketchup, what comes out? Ketchup, of course. When a Christ-follower is squeezed, what comes out? Well, you would think the character of Christ, the fruit of his nature. But as we all know that is not always the case.

When Christ was "squeezed" by betrayal (Luke 22:5), mocking and beating (Luke 22:63-65), false accusations (Luke 23:2), he did not retaliate or try to defend or justify himself. When Herod questioned him before the vehement accusations of the chief priests and the teachers of the law, he said nothing (Luke 23:9-10).

What comes out when you are "squeezed"? What comes out when you are lied to, or worse, lied about? What comes out when you are hurt, treated unjustly, belittled, overlooked, disrespected, or ignored? Proverbs says, "A man of knowledge uses words with restraint" (17:27a). There are times when it is best to say nothing. "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue" (17:28; see also 17:14, 19).

Saying nothing is saying more than you will ever know. Saying nothing shows the depth and quality of what is on the inside. Saying nothing reveals the degree of your faith. When we say nothing we are saying a ton. We are saying that I am a son of Royalty. My Father King will take care of the injustices. Nothing anyone can do to me can escape his sovereign rule and power. This King is Daddy. He will defend me.

Godliness is living life as if God is always present with you. You know that God sees, knows, and will act. By saying nothing you are relinquishing control and ultimately, justice to His hands.

Yes, Jesus said nothing. Yes, Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross. But he also rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father. And when he left, he sent his Spirit to indwell us, power from on high (Luke 24:49). So, the next time you are "squeezed", be sure you are filled (controlled) with the Spirit so His power and His character comes out.

Are you oozing Jesus when squeezed? You'll know by your words, or lack there of.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's Show Time! But Who Has Top Billing?

Today began my sixth month of unemployment. Many lessons have been learned. One of which is to be thankful for my weaknesses, trials, and for the unknown, because it makes me run to God. It makes me so aware of Him and desperate for Him. This is a good thing. After all, the point of my life is to point to Him. Life is all about Him. He is life.

It is easy, so human to go through life without a God-awareness. We live life as if each day is just another day and that there will be many more to come. We live life as if it is all about us and we are in control of it all. Francis Chan, in his book, Crazy Love, compared this attitude to a person who plays as an extra on an upcoming movie. For two-fifths of a second you can see the back side of his head. He rents a theatre for opening night and invites all his friends and family to see this movie which he proclaims is about him. This is stupid thinking. This movie is not about him.

How dumb we are to think the movie of life is all about us and that we have any control over its plot. Life is all about God. This chapter proclaims the sovereign control of God. "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" (16:9). " "To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue" (16:1). "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (16:33).

Life is God's movie. He is the main character, but he invites us to play a part in his movie. Our part is to point to Him, to live for Him, to glorify Him. First Corinthians 10:31 says, " So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." In the words of Frances Chan, "That is what each of our two-fifths of a second is about" (Crazy Love, p. 44). Solomon says it this way, "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed" (16:3).

It's show time. Give Him top billing!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Discipline: Look, Listen, Learn

Discipline is corrective, protective and instructive. It corrects us from error in our life, protects us from a way of life that is destructive and deadly (Prov. 5:23; 6:23-24; 19:18), and instructs us toward right living that is honored by the Lord (10:17). Discipline comes from the Lord, from yourself, and others (13:24). It is based on knowledge (12:1), knowledge of the truth. If there is no truth, no standard, there is nothing by which to make a judgment, to evaluate whether correction is necessary.

Our responsibility is to listen to correction (13:18; 15:31), even seek it out (15:12), and then apply it to life (9:8-9). Here are three practical suggestions to grow in discipline - look, listen, learn.

1) Look for discipline. Seek it out. Get the council and advice of others. Open up your life to as many trustworthy and wise people as you can. Schedule regular accountability. Ask your spouse if she sees areas in your life that need growth and change. Daily ask God to reveal sin in your life.

2) Listen to discipline. Don't be defensive. When someone corrects you, realize it is for your benefit, no matter how much it hurts. Take time in your life to reflect and think and do self-evaluation. Make solitude and sabbatical time a regular practice in your life.

3) Learn from discipline. It is one thing to recognize an area that needs correction, but it is quite another to make the necessary changes. Change is hard, especially those life long, stubborn habits. This requires regular, consistent discipline. The Bible calls this "training in righteousness". It requires repetition of new information and behavior. It will also require you to monitor, be on the alert, for the encroachment of old, stubborn sinful thoughts and behavior. Learning requires practice, practice, practice - discipline yourself for godliness. Write it down. Say it our loud. Share it with a friend. Ask for God's help and wisdom.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hard Heart Help

Avoidance, denial, stuff it, ignore it, procrastinate, these are all signs, indicators that there is something we don't want to face. We don't want face the possibility of failure, or face a fear. We don't want to deal with the hardship and hard work required to overcome, change or confront. We don't want to face the shame and guilt of our sin. It remains unmoved till it becomes a calcified callous in our heart. Callouses in our heart hurt. 

The bottom line under all this is a heart of unbelief. If this goes unearthed it becomes a hard heart. This heart of unbelief keeps us from moving forward and finding rest for our soul. We've bought into lies that keep our hearts resistant to transformation. Lies such as, "I can't change," "It's better to hide my sin," "God wont come through for me," "This is too big, even for God," "If people find out I'll lose too much," "God isn't doing anything, so I might as well take matters in my own hands," and "I have the right to be angry and bitter". This heart of unbelief keeps us stuck, disturbed and unforgiven. Men, don't trust your heart. "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered" (28:26). "He who hardens his heart will fall into calamity" (28:14b). 

The only way to deal with your unrest is to confess. Expose your heart to yourself, to God, and to others. "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion" (28:13). Don't be like the Israelites who hardened their hearts in the wilderness. God said of them, "For forty years I loathed that generation, and said They are a people who err in their heart, and they do not know My ways. Therefore I swore in My anger, truly they shall not enter into My rest" (Psalm 95:10-11).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tethered to God

"Losing self-control leaves you as helpless as a city without a wall" (Proverbs 25:28).

Do you remember playing Tether Ball during school recess? My recollection of the apparatus is that the ball generally hung motionless with children running by, finding enjoyment else where. You rarely find the game in modern day school grounds. I'm sure you are already coming up with many good reasons for this, one of which is the shear frustration caused by the inability to connect with a wildly flung ball on a string. This is the kind of frustration that we often experience when we are trying to maintain self-control; control of our tongue, our actions and our thoughts.

Solomon's wise sayings in Proverbs 25 are full of relational advice, which at times seem like trying to connect with an out of control tether ball. Don't gossip (9), say the right word at the right time (11), listen (12), keep your promises (14), be patient (15), use gentle talk (16), don't wear out your welcome (17), be honest and trustworthy (18-19), sympathize with people (20), be kind to your enemies (21-22), use kind words (23), don't nag (24), be encouraging (25), and don't be needy for praise (27). Solomon then seems to summarize all the previous admonitions with one all encompassing warning, "Losing self-control leaves you as helpless as a city without a wall" (28). You become defenceless, vulnerable and susceptible to hurt and defeat.

At this point you may be feeling the weight of playing the relational tether ball game. Life can be wildly unpredictable, unmanageable and full of right-in-your-face stuff. How do we keep the relational ball under control? Our answer can be found back in chapter one, verse two: "Proverbs will teach you wisdom and self-control..." (CEV).  And wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (9:10). It all starts with our relationship with the Lord. To have self-control our life must be tethered to His control. True self-control comes out of God-control, or what Proverbs refers to as the fear of the Lord. This reverential awe, submissive fear is foundational for all spiritual knowledge and wisdom, out of which flows self-control.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). When He is in control of our life we will not carry out the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:16; refer also Proverbs 3:7; 8:13). When we are tethered to the poll of his control, He will tame our tongue, temper and thoughts. 

The true beauty of all this is that it is no longer self-effort, but God-effort. He is doing the empowering and guiding. Gone is the "tether ball" frustration. No longer do we struggle with the constant swing - miss, swing - miss. Ball in the head. Tired arm. Exhaustion!

Quit trying men! Give up the frustrating play ground attempts. Give in to God. Play on his play ground. You'll have a lot more fun with your play mates and best of all, you're on his team, and he always wins!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Heart Perspective

"Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life. In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them" (Proverbs 22:4-5).

Humility and the fear of the Lord give us a proper perspective. We see ourselves for who we truly are - sinners, deserving of the wrath of God. We see God for who he is - holy, deserving of our worship. This perspective changes our life. It's what leads us down the path of wisdom. It's the path that brings "wealth and honor and life" (4). It's the path that guards our soul from wickedness and from the thorns and snares that come with wickedness (5).

How do you see yourself? Maybe that's all you see is yourself. Maybe you see things from an external perspective. This is how the Pharisees and the teachers of the law saw things when they saw the disciples eating food with hands that weren't washed (Mark 7:1-5). It was all about the outward stuff. Our good works become blinders to the realities in our heart. We are self deceived by thinking, "I pay my bills; provide for my family. I'm a nice guy. People like me. I go to church faithfully. I'm in a small group. I even read my Bible and pray every day", so my heart must be alright.

Jesus' response, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men" (Mark 7:6-7).  There is that word again, "heart", that we've seen in abundance in Proverbs. They didn't fear the Lord and worship him. Their hearts were distant. They didn't enjoy and experience the presence of the Lord (see Phil. 4:4-9). They were doing the right stuff but there was no heart relationship with God.

Jesus addressed their problem by pointing to the heart. He taught that "it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' " (Mark 7:15). "For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean'" (Mark 7:21-23). 

It's there men. Don't be deceived. There are impurities in our hearts. We must humbly and deeply look at our hearts on a daily basis. Acknowledge what is there. Be vigilant. Guard our souls (Proverbs 22:5).  Sin is there, but so is the Lord. Acknowledge His presence. Fear Him (22:4). Worship Him. Bow at his feet in humble confession and repentance. Embrace his forgiveness, grace and mercy.

What comes out of your heart will be the true test of where you are at with Him. Are you headed down the path of wisdom? Take a look around, what do you see? Do you see a humble heart that acknowledges sin? Do you see Him walking by your side, ready to make you holy and take you down paths of righteousness? 

G.E.T.* the right heart perspective.  Humble yourself. Fear the Lord.

*G.E.T. see May 21

Thursday, May 21, 2009

G.E.T. a Heart of Wisdom

Proverbs 4:23; 20:5, 9, 27

Man has had a heart problem since Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Their heart disease literally spread to the entire human race.  The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). This continues to be the condition of man’s heart.  “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Who can say, "I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin"? (Proverbs 20:9). But, in God’s grace and mercy, he provided a way to redeem the heart of man through the redemption of Christ. Ezekiel prophesied concerning this heart transformation, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The New Testament repeatedly proclaims this truth, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). Does this mean that the heart of the Christian is completely sanctified? No! “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).


In practical terms, “How do we develop a pure heart?” Wisdom is found in Proverbs to answer this question. There are three concepts which I have put in the acrostic G.E.T. to make it memorable.

G: Guard your heart from impurities “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Life flows out of our heart. What is in our heart is what we think. What are we gazing on? What are we dwelling and thinking about most often? Our behavior is directed by our thoughts, not our environment, genetics, or anything else outside ourselves. What are we allowing to come into our minds? Is our mind full of lies? Our attitude and behavior is a barometer of what is in our heart. Anxiety, fear, anger, bitterness, irritability, impatience, apathy are all symptomatic of faulty thinking. Out of our thoughts come sinful behavior.

E: Examine your heart – The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). “The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the innermost parts of his being” (Proverbs 20:27).  This admonition to examine our hearts is given repeatedly in the New Testament. Look for the plank in your own eye before you point out the speck of dust in someone else’s eye (Matt. 7:5). “Each one should test his own actions” (Gal. 6:1-5). If you are having problems seeing the dirt in your life, just ask your wife, or a good friend. Better yet, ask God. "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind...” (Jeremiah 17:10).  The New International Version gives this rendering of Proverbs 20:27, “The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being”.

It is so easy to just read scripture and feel like we have done our part. We are now going to automatically grow spiritually. It is important that we take the time to listen and look. Listen to what God is saying to you personally. Before moving on, ask him to reveal what is in your heart and what he wants you to learn for that day. Then write it down. This begins to cement it in your heart and mind.  Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach, for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips” (Proverbs 22:17-18).   

Train your heart with Truth  – The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:8). To see true, lasting transformation in our life we must repeatedly apply the truth. Truth changes the heart. Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge” (Proverbs 23:12). The Word must break the hard ground in our hearts.  Sinful thoughts and habits don’t die easily. It will take the power of the Word and the Spirit as it is applied to our life. "‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’” (Jeremiah 23:29). 

When God speaks to you each day, write it down, take that thought with you and share it with others. Ask others to hold you accountable. Memorize the truth. Study it. Meditate on it. The Hammer of Truth will chip away until an image starts to immerge, the image of Christ.

This is truth training, training in righteousness. You are training your heart by applying the truth to your heart. GET wisdom!