Posts tagged ‘Proverbs’

ABC Extra – Our Plans and God’s Purpose

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose the prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).  In Hebrew, the word for “plans” is machashabah, a word that describes the inventions of man.  In Exodus 31, God sets apart certain Israelites to be the craftsmen of the country.  God says, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship” (Exodus 31:2-5).  The Hebrew word for “make” in verse 4 is machashabah.  Bezalel is called by God to be an inventor, or a crafter, of art.

Man loves to invent.  Indeed, some of our society’s biggest technological and medical breakthroughs are thanks to irrepressible human ingenuity.  But not only does man love to invent things, he also loves to invent plans for his future.  He plans where he will live, how much money he will make, what kind of car he will drive, and what kind of success he will achieve.  But man’s invented plans cannot stand against God’s eternal purpose.  The Psalmist warns, “The LORD knows the thoughts of man; He knows that they are futile” (Psalm 94:11).  The Hebrew word for “thoughts” is again machashabah.  Man’s plans, no matter how grand, are futile if they do not comport to God’s purpose.

In Luke 12, Jesus tells the story of a farmer who takes in a bumper crop.  In fact, his crop is so big that he doesn’t have room for his bounty, and so he has to build more grain silos to store all he has grown.  And then, with his grain safely stored, he begins to make plans.  He says to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19).  But the rich man’s fleeting and foolish plans are no match for the finality of death.  God appears to his man and says to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself” (Luke 12:20)?  This man invented many plans.  But they all fell apart.

During Easter at Concordia, we began a series titled “Living on Purpose” where we are discussing and discovering God’s eternal purpose as expressed in His Son, Jesus Christ.  All too often, however, we confuse our plans with God’s purpose.  It is against this mistake that Proverbs 19:21 warns.  You can plan all you want.  But you can’t thwart God’s purpose.  Just ask the devil.  His plan of sin could not thwart God’s purpose of salvation through the cross of Christ.

What are you planning?  It’s great to plan, but your plans should never be at odds with God’s purpose.  Why?  Because God’s purpose for us is good and loving.  The apostle Paul reflects on God’s purpose for us when he writes, “God has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9).  God’s purpose is our salvation.  And in comparison to purpose as transcendent as this, my plans seem only measly. His purpose is greater than my plans.  Praise be to God!

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April 16, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Shattered

Last Sunday, I was pulling out of my garage to come to church.  As I was backing out, still half asleep, I all of a sudden heard this loud “CRACK!”  My head snapped to attention and I looked to my right to realize my driver’s side mirror had scraped up against the garage door frame.  My garage frame was fine.  My mirror was not.  Half of it got shattered by the encounter.  Apparently, the warning, “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” really is true.  I had misjudged just how close my side view mirror and my garage frame really were…and it cost me.

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we tackled the topic of pride.  As I mentioned in ABC, there are two different kinds of pride.  On the one hand, there is positive pride.  This pride flows from our creation in God’s image.  Because we are created in God’s image, we owe each other respect and dignity.  Such human dignity is positive pride.  But then, on the other hand, there is also negative pride.  And negative pride is when human dignity gives way to human arrogance.  It is when the insistence that all human beings ought to be treated with respect and dignity gives way to the insistence that some human beings ought to have their egos stroked and their self-images inflated.

Because the Scriptural authors are keenly aware that humans tend toward arrogance rather than dignity, the vast preponderance of biblical references to pride are in its negative sense.  This is certainly true when Solomon writes, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  “Negative pride,” Solomon warns, “comes with a high price – destruction.”  The Hebrew word for “destruction” is shabar which, as I discussed last Sunday, describes a “complete collapse” or a “shattering.”  Pride eventually and inevitably leads to a shattered life.

It is important to note the preposition Solomon uses to link pride with destruction:  “Pride goes before destruction.”  The Hebrew word for “before” is lipne which can be used in both a temporal as well as a spatial sense.  In other words, if a person is prideful, destruction can and does indeed catch up with them chronologically.  A person is prideful, and destruction then ensues.  But pride and destruction are also close spatially.  Indeed, the preposition lipne is often translated as the phrase, “in the face of.”  Thus, prideful people stare destruction right in the face.  They are closer than they might think to having their lives shattered.

Just like a side view mirror can be shattered in a close encounter with a garage frame, a person can be shattered in a close encounter with pride.  This is why we are called to flee from it – because pride destroys.  So you don’t want to get too close to it.  You don’t want to stare it right in the face.  Just verses before Solomon’s famous words concerning pride and destruction, he offers this sharp warning: “The LORD detests all the proud of heart.  Be sure of this:  They will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5).  When we insist on living proudly, God will not let us stand.  He will humble us in our sin.

The Hebrew word for “pride” is ga’on, referring to someone who is “exalted” or “lifted up.”  This is why Solomon writes, “A haughty spirit goes before a fall.”  For a person who ga’ons himself will not be able to maintain his position of exaltation.  He will fall.  Conversely, God’s promise to those who humble themselves is that He will do the ga’oning for them – He will “lift them up” (James 4:10).  And being lifted up by God is a much more secure position than doing the lifting up yourself.  So wait for God to lift you.  For when He does, it will be unto eternal life.  And that’s enough to lift even a troubled soul in a humble – and sometimes humiliating – life.

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August 29, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sermon Extra – Lingering Lies

Last month, Scientific American published the results of a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Western Australia.  In this study, researchers asked college students to read an account of a bus accident involving some elderly passengers.  The students were subsequently told that, in reality, the passengers were not elderly but were part of a college hockey team.  Later, the psychologists told some of the students to be vigilant about getting this story straight when they were asked questions about it and were warned about what is called “the continued influence of misinformation,” which describes our propensity to remember and be influenced by information we first hear in a story, even if that information is later updated or corrected.   In spite of this warning, however, some students continued to stubbornly cling to the lie that the people in the bus accident were elderly.  For example, when the students were asked whether or not the passengers had a difficult time exiting the bus because they were frail, many students responded that they did, citing their advanced age.  Ullrich Ecker, one of the psychologists conducting the study, commented, “Even if you understand, remember, and believe the retractions, the misinformation will still affect your inferences.”[1]

Lies linger.  That is the upshot of this story.  This is why the words you use and the truth you tell is so important.  One of Jesus’ favorite sayings is, very simply, “I tell you the truth…” (e.g., Matthew 5:18, Mark 3:28, Luke 9:27, John 3:5).  Jesus wants no part in telling lingering lies.

This past weekend in worship, I spoke about the importance of choosing your words wisely.  In Proverbs 17 and 18, Solomon gives us four tips for choosing our words wisely.  First, we must choose our words slowly.  Words quickly spoken, especially in anger, later lead to regret.  Think before you speak!  Second, we must choose our words with counsel.  In other words, we need to be willing to receive guidance and even correction from others in our words so that we learn how to choose our words better with time.  Third, we must choose our words charitably.  Especially when a person is not around, we must be very careful how we speak about them so that we do not malign their character.  Finally, we must choose our words truthfully, for dishonestly leads only to disaster.

In a world that stretches, fudges, and hedges the truth, we are called to be truth tellers.  After all, we do not want our lies to linger in the lives and hearts of others.   The good news, however, is that the lies of this world, though they may linger, will not ultimately last.  Solomon says, “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment” (Proverbs 12:19).  Compared to the truth of God, lingering lies are only a flash in the pan.  The truth will finally carry the day.  And God’s truth will endure forever.  So align yourself with that which lasts!

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[1] Valerie Ross, “Lingering Lies: The Persistent Influence of Misinformation,” Scientific American (July 18, 2011).

August 1, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Friend Me!

True friendship is not easy.  Many people do not understand, or refuse to accept, this.  Guys hang out at the bar after work.  Ladies go on shopping sprees.  But these times together, even if they’re fun, do not usually foster deep, meaningful relationships.  When a friendship gets complicated – when a buddy runs into a problem in his marriage or when a lady struggles with her self-worth – these so-called “friends” have little to nothing to offer in the way of support or guidance.  True friendship is not easy.

The Proverbs understand the burden true friendship brings.  For true friendship involves many weighty things.  True friendship involves sticking with someone through thick and thin:  “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).  True friendship involves loving someone even when they’re utterly unlovable:  “A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17).  True friendship involves pouring time, energy, and trust into a select few people, rather than being content merely to hang out with many “acquaintances” who know little about you:  “A man of many companions may come to ruin” (Proverbs 18:24).  True friendship involves faithfulness in saying things to a friend that may be hard for them to hear: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).  True friendship is not easy.

Sadly, the term “friendship” has been largely stripped of its biblical content in our day.  For many people, “friendship” means nothing more than a person they happen to know.  This is not to say that it is bad to know many people, but when you are “friends” with everyone, you become close companions with no one.

One of the things I enjoy doing is checking my Facebook page.  It is fun for me to keep up with a whole bunch of people, some of whom I haven’t seen in years.  I like to read about what’s going on in their lives – their joys and their challenges.  Sometimes, when it seems appropriate, I’ll even drop someone a note on Facebook letting them know I’m praying for them.

Currently, I have 550 Facebook “friends.”  Though I do care about every single person with whom I am “friends,” I also know that I am not a friend to every one of these people, at least not in the biblical sense.  For I do not live up to what the Proverbs have to say about friendship.  Nor could I.  I simply do not have the time, strength, or smarts to be a perfect friend to everyone.  The good news is, where I fall short when it comes to friendship, Jesus does not.

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).  Jesus says these words to His disciples shortly before He is betrayed by Judas to be crucified.  He calls His disciples His “friends,” even Judas, who is no friend to Jesus.  And Jesus is indeed a true friend – to each and every one of His disciples – even when His disciples are not faithful friends to Him.  And He is a true friend not only to His original twelve disciples in the first century, but to the countless billions of disciples that have since followed.  He is a friend to you!  As the song says, “What a friend we have in Jesus!”

Are you a true, biblical friend to others?  If not, you are called to be.  Do you have true, biblical friends for yourself?  If not, you need them.  We all need friends to share in our joys and support us in our sorrows.  Finally, is Jesus your friend?  If not, He can be.  By faith, you can be a friend of Christ, for Christ wants to be a friend to you.  I can’t think of a better friend to have.

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July 25, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Wising Up with Christ

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off our summer message series called “Wise Up!  Lessons from Proverbs.”  The purpose of Proverbs is explicitly laid out for us in its prologue:  “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight” (Proverbs 1:2).  The book of Proverbs was written so that we may read them, apply them, and so be wise.  Of course, we do not always apply the Proverbs as we should.  Even Solomon, the author of the bulk of this book, did not always follow his own advice.  Solomon sings:  “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19).  Later in his kingship, however, we read about how “King Solomon loved many foreign women…from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love” (1 Kings 11:1-2).  Solomon did not remain satisfied with the wife of his youth.  And the result was apostasy:  “When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:4).  Thus, Proverbs ought to call Solomon – and all of us – to repentance.  For none of us completely heeds its call to wise living.

Interestingly, at the same time Proverbs reveals to us our shortcomings, it also introduces us to one who is perfectly wise.  Indeed, this person seems to be the very personification of wisdom.   This person says:

I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion…The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old.  Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth…When He established the heavens, I was there; when He drew a circle on the face of the deep, when He made the firm skies above, when He established the fountains of the deep, when He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him, like a master workman. (Proverbs 8:12, 22-23, 27-30)

This person named Wisdom is as ancient as God Himself.  He was with God even as He laid the foundations of the earth.  Who is this perfect personification of wisdom?  The evangelist John gives us a clue:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-2).  This incarnation of wisdom is none other than Jesus.  He is wisdom personified and exemplified.  The apostle Paul explains it this way:  “Christ Jesus became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

A famous theologian of the Lutheran Church, Horace Hummel, offers one of my favorite definitions of wisdom.  He describes wisdom as “the ability to cope.”  I like this definition a lot, partly because there is a whole genre of biblical literature known as “wisdom literature.”  This genre includes Proverbs, of course, but also books like Job and many of the Psalms.  Especially in the case of Job, Hummel’s definition of wisdom proves to be spot on.  For Job had to cope with tragedies and terrors on every side as his life fell apart around him.  And yet, through it all, he coped and hoped in God.  And at the end, He got to see God.  I finally appreciate this definition of wisdom because Jesus is its supreme embodiment.  For when we act in unwise ways – when we sin – Jesus, as wisdom personified – “copes” with our sin through His cross.  He takes us foolish sinners and saves us.  By His Spirit, He then gives us the capability to cope with the trials and tests we face with wisdom that comes from God and with wisdom that finally is God.  For we cope with this broken world with Christ by our side.  I thank God He is kind enough to share the wisdom who is His Son with a fool like me.

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July 4, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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