The generosity of God’s people
Proverbs 21: Sinners are always wanting what they don’t have; the God-loyal are always giving what they do have.
One of my favorite people in the Bible is Paul’s first side-kick, Barnabas. His name means “Son of Encouragement;” a nick name given to him by the Apostles. We first meet this encouraging gentleman in Acts 4. There’s a financial need in the young church and Barnabas sells some land he owns and gives the proceeds to the church. As we continue reading in Acts we find that this good man is always unselfish and giving. The wise man of the Proverbs says that a characteristic of a sin dominated world is to want that to which one has no right. Meanwhile, a characteristic of God’s people is freely giving away what they do have. Barnabas is an example of that approach to living and I want my life to be an example of it too.
Take Away: The people of the Lord are a generous people, how can I best demonstrate that today?
Taking our religion outside
Proverbs 21: Clean living before God and justice with our neighbors mean far more to God than religious performance.
I love the church and owe a great deal to it. I was raised in church and most of the big events of my life are associated with it. When properly defined, I believe “religious performance” matters. That is, I think church attendance and activities are important. However, the measure of my religion is more than how I spend an hour or two on Sunday mornings. It includes how I live the rest of the week. This proverb doesn’t diminish the importance of religious matters but it does underscore the importance of taking my faith out of the church and living it in the rest of my life. Aside from extraordinary circumstances religion without the church is destined to become shallow and self-focused. However, religion that stays in the church displeases God and self-deceptive.
Take Away: Religion is best practiced out in the real world, outside the church.
Beginnings and conclusions
Proverbs 20: A bonanza at the beginning is no guarantee of blessing at the end.
Last year we had a new restaurant open in our community. It seemed the whole town decided to try it out. The place was packed out and it looked as though the owners had a real winner on their hands. However, things didn’t work out that way. After that first couple of weeks things really dropped off for them. Finally, the doors closed. The promising start didn’t guarantee a continued success. I’ve seen that happen in people’s spiritual lives too. At the beginning I think that they’re going to be a productive, consistent disciple of Christ. But it simply doesn’t work out. The promise of their lives gets derailed and, in the end not only are we disappointed, but so are they. The tragedy here is that such failure never has to happen. That restaurant might have been doomed from the start. It might be that anyone who knows about such things could have predicted that it won’t work out. However, when it comes to living for Jesus there’s every reason for success. Sometimes it seems that the one who simply decides for Christ and just starts living for him has a better chance of seeing it through than the one who makes a big splash at the beginning. That’s not only the lesson in this proverb, but Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed makes the same point.
Take Away: When it comes to living for Jesus there’s every reason for success.
My children’s inheritance
Proverbs 20: God-loyal people, living honest lives, make it much easier for their children.
Parents have responsibilities far beyond providing food and shelter for their children. We’re to teach them how to live. In fact, we do teach them whether we want to or not. “Do as I say, not as I do” was dumb the first time it was said and it remains dumb. Kids watch their parents and the values of the parents become theirs. As the years pass grown children are surprised that they not only look more and more like their parents, but they act like them too. This learned behavior can be absolutely destructive as a person finds himself or herself treating their children in some unacceptable way that they, when they were children, promised themselves they would never do. However, there’s a positive side to this. In fact, that’s what God intended when he created us as he did. If I’m faithful to the Lord and honest in my relationships my kids are likely to adopt the same life-style. Their lives will be better lives because of that. The greatest thing I can pass on to my children is not an excellent stock portfolio; it is a rich value system.
Take Away: Ask the Lord to help you be the kind of parent who passes a solid value system on to your children.
Free will with strings attached
Proverbs 19: People ruin their lives by their own stupidity, so why does God always get blamed?
The Proverbs have a strong undercurrent of self-determination that runs counter to the mysticism I hear so often. For instance, a person uses tobacco for years. When they’re diagnosed with cancer, they say, “God gave me cancer as punishment for smoking.” The wise man of the proverbs would say, “No, you gave it to yourself, don’t blame God for it!” Now, I do believe God is active in this world and touching our lives in many ways. Still, I’ve been given free will and with that freedom comes responsibility. I can’t have things both ways, declaring that I’ve been granted the freedom to choose and, at the same time, think that everything that happens to me is brought about by divine intervention. The Lord will walk with me and will guide me in my choices if I’ll allow it. However, he’ll also let me make dumb choices if I insist. When I, in my own free will, decide to get on some toll road I shouldn’t be surprised when I come to a toll booth!
Take Away: The Lord is willing to help us with our choices, but, ultimately, we’ve been granted the freedom to choose.
Love and marriage
Proverbs 18: Find a good spouse, you find a good life — and even more: the favor of God!
Solomon was either the world’s greatest expert on women or else he was the world’s greatest dunce! He married hundreds of women and then tells us that having a good wife promises a man a good life and the blessings of God. Seriously, I know that his marriages were nothing like the marriages of my culture. For him, as Head of State, marriage was part of sealing a treaty between one nation and another. Since Solomon’s influence spread throughout the known world there were lots of treaties to be sealed! With that in mind I’ll cut him some slack on this one. Another thing that brings a smile is that he tells the other side of the story in the next chapter. If finding a good spouse equals having a good life, finding a nagging one, he says, is like having a leaky faucet in the house: drip, drip, drip. Apparently, some of his “treaty wives” weren’t all that much of a blessing! When I put these two proverbs together I see what a powerful influence husbands and wives have on one another. We can become a constant irritation, making the other miserable or we can be a source of joy and blessing. It’s reasonable that every husband and wife take stock once in a while to be sure that their spouse views them as evidence of the favor of God on his or her life.
Take Away: Be a blessing and not a constant “drip, drip, drip” to the person you love the most!
Friends and family
Proverbs 17: Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.
I’ve lived long enough to know that “all kinds of trouble” comes to every life. Sooner or later its each person’s turn to face disappointment and be let down by people and circumstances or be betrayed by their own humanity. At such times it becomes easier to see what and who matters the most to us. I’m thankful today for family of both the “blood line” and the “relationship” variety. There’s power in positive relationships. Even when we’re at the end of ourselves, we can draw strength from those dear ones who stand with us. I’m reminded today that, first, I need to appreciate precious friends and family and not take them for granted even though they love me enough that I could probably get away with it. Also, I remember that I’m privileged to be such a friend to some. It’s an honor, but it’s also a responsibility that I must take seriously no matter what the “weather.”
Take Away: Thank the Lord for friends and family and, thank the Lord for the privilege of being friend and family to others.
Leadership, not dictatorship
Proverbs 16: A good leader motivates, doesn’t mislead, doesn’t exploit.
Solomon knows a lot about leadership. He’s watched his father, David, lead Israel for many years. Then when he becomes King he asks God for wisdom that he might lead His people. In all this he comes to understand leadership dynamics as well as anyone who ever lived. In the passage before me today I get just a taste of his philosophy of leadership. The guy who says these things isn’t some pastor with an all-volunteer staff of church people who might just walk off if they don’t like the way things are going. Rather, he’s King of Israel. He has “off with their heads” authority. In other words, if he wants he can order the direction and everyone has to follow. However, Solomon has learned that dictatorship isn’t leadership. He says his job is to motivate people to move together in positive directions. He says he isn’t supposed to promise what can’t be delivered and he isn’t to get people to do what he wants just to get something for himself. Honesty, unselfishness, persuasiveness — these are leadership qualities Solomon brings to my attention today.
Take Away: Dictatorship isn’t leadership.
Proverbs 15: First you learn humility, then you experience glory.
Humility has to be learned because we’re all born thinking the world revolves around us. Unless I learn humility I spend my life, not necessarily thinking I’m better than others, but thinking that everything that happens should happen the way I want it to. For me to be humble is for me to realize that I’m not the center of the universe and that the world has no obligation to please me. Beyond that, to be humble is for me to come to the realization the most satisfying life is not all about my getting my own way about things, but is, instead, found as I live with others in mind. Jesus said that I’m to “love my neighbor as myself.” The result of such a life, according to the wise man of the Proverbs, is “glory.” That is, others will be irresistibly drawn to me and my life will influence them in positive ways. Not only that, but God will be pleased with me for patterning my life after that of his own Son who humbly lived and died for others. This proverb reminds me that the route to glory isn’t by my taking power and trying to shape the world to suit me. Instead, it’s achieved by loving others and placing their needs at a level equal to my own.
Take Away: Contrary to what we may think, humble people are some of the most influential people there are.
Communicating with kindness
Proverbs 15: Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.
Several years ago I started watching a news talk show on CNN named “Crossfire.” Every day a conservative and liberal team of hosts interviewed a guest who was caught in their “crossfire.” Depending on the guest, one host played “good cop” and the other played “bad cop.” I found the show to be unique and interesting. That program has influenced a lot of TV news and we see programs similar to it all the time now. Aside from TV though, I don’t think “Crossfire” influenced society as much as it reflected society. Kindness and gentleness is out and “Telling it like it is” is the approach of the day. On the internet I’ve seen people who I’m sure are fine, caring Christians in person who can however, when on line, cut and slash with their words without mercy. I think there’s a great need for kindness in society. Most people don’t need to be put in their place nearly so much as they need to be treated as people of value. Whether we’re talking about how we conduct ourselves while driving in traffic or how we speak to the slow moving clerk at Walmart God’s people ought to lead the way in this. We’re to be “helpers” and “healers” and not “wounders” and maimers.”
Take Away: When under pressure or when somehow operating “out of the box” our words are windows to our hearts.