Friday, November 30, 2012

Proverbs 28:8 Turn about is . . .

He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.

 Solomon is hearkening back to the Law given to Moses, and then to the Hebrew people. Here is one example of God's instructions about loaning money to someone:
And if your brother becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you; then you shall help him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner; that he may live with you.  Leviticus 25:35
So the Holy Spirit is noting for us in this verse, that if someone oppresses another, by charging huge and exorbitant interest rates for a loan, or helping someone out of a tight spot, the increase may very well be taken from him. And it would be poetic justice if those ill gotten gains were used to relieve others who are poor and needy, would it not?

Here is the heart of the principle:  If a Christian is one of those who would make a dishonest profit and charge exorbitant interest God might well take his money and give it to someone who would show mercy on the poor. Because we are supposed to be merciful, right?
Deuteronomy 15:7, 11
If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Even in the secular world, we have an example of this principle, in the old saying, "Turn about is fair play." Perhaps we should try to remember that, and always treat others as we'd want to be treated . . . whether it's a brother or sister who is in a tight spot and needs financial help, or a person who just needs some of our time. Time is such a precious commodity in this age -- but investing our time to listen and encourage someone whose heart is aching is truly showing the mercy that we'd want to receive, if we were in their shoes.

Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.  (American Indian proverb)

Lord, help me to empathize and understand those around me who need my time and encouragement.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Proverbs 28:7 The company we keep

A discerning son heeds instruction,
    but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.

Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.

Riotous . . . Webster says "profligate behavior, unrestrained revelry, wantonness, noise, uproar, or disturbance" . . . We're not talking birthday celebrations in the kitchen; we're talking about wild parties that can lead to binge drinking, sexual promiscuity, even drugs. 

"Party animal." Have you known anyone that has smiled and said that those words describe them? Have you been the person that loves to be at wild parties? Have you chosen your friends from the wild side, instead of choosing from among the godly people that you've known?

Hanging out with the "wrong" people can not only start you on a path that will lead you away from God, but it can also harm your reputation. (Many people have turned away from the party life and found that a decision they made while partying or drunk has impacted their ability to get a job or a mate.) One's best decisions are made while sober -- not while intoxicated! 
We may think that we are not allowing those folks to influence us. It can begin in a very subtle fashion, but it will happen, and will gain momentum like a snowball rolling downhill. 

The contrast here is that the wise person studies the Word, keeps it, guards it, and learns from it. And because of that, the wise person also guards their reputation, keeps it clean, doesn't let it get dragged in the dirt. 
Proverbs 22:1a A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches…
Ecclesiastes 7:1a A good name is better than precious ointment…  
Some people say that they "need" to stop at the local sports bar before going home from work, or they stop in at the club for drinks and more. It's easy to overindulge - eat too much and drink too much. After all, how many television shows portray the party life as one big, long Happy Hour, with no responsibilities and no consequences . . .
Riotous living looks like fun from the outside, and might seem fun for a while, but we all know what happened to the Prodigal Son - he wasted his entire inheritance on riotous living and wound up eating with the pigs.  Sometimes young Christians will think that it's not so bad to party with their unsaved friends, but they miss the point that they don't look a bit different from anyone else, standing there with a drink in one hand and a plate of pub food in the other -- and we're supposed to be different.
Romans 12:2a    "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind... 
Whether we are a son or a daughter, young or old, we are wise to surround ourselves with people who will help us, build us up, strengthen our faith, and display Christian character and the fruits of the spirit. In doing so, we'll be better able to avoid shaming and disappointing our Father.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Proverbs 28:6 I'd rather have Jesus

Better the poor whose walk is blameless
    than the rich whose ways are perverse.

 Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.

I highlighted two words up there for us to focus on. Let's take the second one first (I know, I know, I'm squirrely.) What are a person's "ways"?  Is Solomon talking about a person's attitude, their manner of living, the way they handle crises, or the way they treat others? Let's go exploring, shall we?
You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that you may live, and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.  Deuteronomy 5:33
In this verse, "ways" is a reference to the Law, and the Hebrew people's obedience to it. Now let's fast forward to the book of Job, and read:
Job 31:4 Does not he see my ways, and count all my steps?
So, a person's ways are how he or she lives, day by day, when people aren't watching, and when true character shows through. Of course, our ways are often quite different from God's ways. In fact, the help of the Holy Spirit is the only solution for making our ways mirror God's ways. 

Now, I highlighted another word up there . . .  if you search the Hebrew meanings for "perverse" in this verse, the first one that was listed in my commentary was "false."  That set the gears to turning.  Someone who is false, though he/she is rich.

 Have you ever thought about how rich we are, as Christians in this country? I believe that the majority of our readers are in the United States and the UK, where there are many, many churches, and you don't need to be registered with the government to attend one. We can walk into stores and purchase a copy of God's word, and we can read it anywhere we like -- we don't have to hide. There are radio stations that we can listen to, that only play gospel music or hymns. There are television stations that have a constant supply of preachers and evangelists for us to listen to and learn from. Wow!

Compare that to a person in China who must attend secret services in another Christian's home. Compare that to a poor person in Sudan, who will be tortured, exiled, or killed, if they mention their faith in Christ. How about another person in the Philippines, who is forced to endure hunger, disease, and persecution, in order to share a Bible and walk miles to hear the Word preached (again in secret). 

Those people who are poor in situation or environment, but are faithful to Christ, are better than the "rich" Christian whose ways are "false." The one who forgets to pray until a crisis looms. Or goes days, weeks, even months without opening the Bible beside their bed. Or the one who joins in worldly activities and attitudes, instead of standing up for righteousness. 

I've stepped on my own toes here, so I hope you will forgive me if I happen to have bruised yours as well. While I hunt for the box of bandaids, give a listen to this old hymn that was a standard for George Beverly Shea . . . 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Proverbs 28:5 Do you understand the verdict?

Evildoers do not understand what is right,
    but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.

As I studied this verse, I had an "aha!" moment when I was looking at the roots of the words, in the Hebrew language. Sometimes that can give us a better understanding of what ole Solomon was telling us.

On the surface, I think we all would agree that "evildoers" (people who are still in a sinful life without a relationship with Christ) would have a difficult time understanding what is right and wrong in some situations. Some things are pretty obvious -- we shouldn't haul off and murder someone simply because they made us angry or we decide that we don't care for the way they do things. Kinda reminiscent of the Queen of Hearts in Alice, right? "Off with their heads!"  Some of the more subtle issues of life, though, may give an evildoer some difficulty, in deciding what to do. We can be assured that we have the Holy Spirit to help us know what to do, and how to handle various situations that crop up in our lives. That's a comfort, isn't it?

Now, on the other hand, if we look at these words in bold type,

Evildoers do not understand what is right,
    but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.

 . . . then we can get a whole new take on this verse. In the Hebrew, the root there means "verdict" or "judgment."   Ah! That's different! Let's explore this, OK?

We know that our God is a righteous and holy Creator. 
 "I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King."  Isaiah 43:15
While He is full of grace and mercy, there are still times when He must enact judgment on His creations. 
For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.  Ecclesiastes 12:14
And we know that as followers of Christ, we will be held accountable for our words, our thoughts, and our deeds:
Romans 14:12-14 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Read more:
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God . . . Romans 14:12
In I Peter we read that judgment will begin at our doorstep and encompass the "evildoers" as well:
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God, and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  I Peter 4:17
But the sinners of this world may not have a clue. They need to hear the gospel, and then they need to obey it. Then they can avoid the ultimate judgment for evildoers:
                       The wages of sin is death . . .   Romans 6:23a
How can they hear? That is where you and I come in!  They simply have got to hear the second half of that verse:
           ....but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Romans 6:23b

It's up to us to tell them. They can't escape the verdict --- they can't really understand it --- unless we tell them. We are those who "seek the Lord and understand it fully." It's a hefty responsibility, but He has promised He will help us. We can say, as Paul did:
But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike.  Acts 26:22
There is nothing more compelling, more convincing, than a personal, eye-witness account. And we can give that to them. Let's be determined to live a life that is a testimony to God, and to speak a word for Him when we can. Who knows how many will avoid that verdict, because of us?
Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Read more:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Proverbs 28:4 It ain't over till it's over

4.  To reject the law is to praise the wicked; to obey the law is to fight them.

This is a war that has been going on for many, many years . . . it's the conflict between good and evil. I'm not just talking about the "dark" side and the Force here, but the serious battle that exists on this earth, between people of faith, and people with no faith.

Solomon was talking about the law handed down to Moses.
1John 3:4 Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
Since the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and His resurrection, we are not bound by the law:
Galatians 3:24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
But, even though we are not bound by the law, we are followers of Christ, and strive to grow more like Him each day, in righteousness and in grace. And today, just as in ancient Israel, there are men and women who do wrong and sin, and they are in constant conflict with those who are trying to live lives for Christ's glory. Many of the arguments, strife, and heart-ache that plague us today, are a result of this ongoing battle.

We may smile at the idealistic young person who dreamily says they'd like to change the world, and usher in an era of world peace. While it's a laudable, lovely idea, there is very little chance (for now) that all of the world's peoples will live in harmony. We know that Bible prophecy points to a time when "the lion will lie down with the lamb" but that is with direct and divine intervention -- not a result of mere mortals!
Closer to home, we realize that there will always be those who mock our efforts to imitate Christ and live for Him. We are indeed in a battle:
We are human, but we don't wage war with human plans and methods. We use God's mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil's strongholds... break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God... conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ. II Corinthians 10:3-5
And there may soon come a time when we will actually be persecuted for our faith:
But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions... what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  II Timothy 3:10-16
It's an ongoing battle, and we can count on strength from above . . . and we know that "it ain't over til it's over" . . .
Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Revelation 12: 10-11

Isn't it wonderful to know the conclusion, the end of the battle, the outcome of all this strife, will be a victory for Christ and all of His saints? It's kinda like reading the end of the book first, and then the rest of it! The Devil will keep trying to change that outcome, but God's Word is sure, and it's faithful -- He (and we) will win in the end!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

I'd like to wish all of you a blessed Thanksgiving Day and a happy day of celebration with family and friends. Spend some time thinking about (and maybe adding to) your list of Gratitudes from yesterday's post, and pause to pray. 
Praise the Father for all of His blessings.

We'll be resting today and tomorrow . . . we'll be back on next Monday to resume our studies in Proverbs!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I'd like to challenge all of you to join me in a "Gratitudes" activity. I'm sure that at some point in your life, whether as a child or an adult, you have been encouraged to make a list of the things for which you are thankful.

Not a going-through-the-motions kind of thing, but a real, stop in your tracks, grab a piece of paper one. Do you have paper and pen handy? Good!

We have so much to be thankful for. We are so blessed. Try to go beyond the things that first come to your mind, and think about your life. What makes you truly grateful when you think about it?

First on my personal list would be my salvation:

Psalm 118:21
I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.

Colossians 2:6-8
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Of course, I'm grateful for my health, and for the love of my family. I'm also grateful for all of you:

2 Thessalonians 1:3
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.

I've been blessed by the opportunity to post here and be challenged and encouraged by your responses. God has used this in ways that I never would have dreamed, and hope that I have been able to help some of you.
2 Corinthians 4:15
All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

I'm grateful for the small things, too, like when I can go to bed in a warm house, hearing the hum of the clothes dryer and the dishwasher going, while I lie down to rest.

I hope that you will take a few moments to make a "Gratitudes" list, and to lift up a prayer of thankfulness to our Father, the source of all of our blessings.
If you have time, leave a comment with a couple of your "gratitudes" for others to share.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Proverbs 28:3 "I've been there"

A ruler who oppresses the poor
    is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.

A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food. 

I added the second translation of this verse, because after studying it, I believe it is closest to the meaning Solomon intended. (That is, however, purely my opinion, and I'm not a Hebrew scholar, so please don't fuss at me!)

A gully-washer.

A frog-choker.

These are terms that my grandparents used in the days that they cultivated crops on their farm. They were talking about extremely heavy rains; rains that would wash a gully in a newly-plowed field. Storms that came on fast, and so furiously, and poured down so much rain that it seemed it would choke a frog (and he is supposed to be used to the rain, right?). 
The end result of these storms is not pretty. You don't get lush fields and waving plants from this kind of rain. It happens so fast that the water is unable to penetrate the earth, soften the soil, and nourish the plant life. It actually runs off - goes downhill and into the streams so fast that it carries precious soil and nutrients along with it. This kind of storm will often strip roots bare of their soil covering, and leave the plants to wither instead of thrive.
Solomon is comparing people to this type of rainstorm. What kind of people? In this particular instance, he notes poor people who oppress the poor. In other words, a person who was poor at some point in his life, and who now is wealthy -- and uses his position to oppress, rather than to assist, people who are still in need. Someone who really ought to say, "I've been there" and give someone a hand up. Instead, they look down on the poor person, and perhaps even do things that cause the unfortunate person to wither instead of to thrive. . . just like the rainstorm we talked about.
We may not be wealthy, and we may not oppress poor people . . . but what about that Christian sister who confides to us about that sin she can't seem to shake? The one that we were able to overcome, by the Holy Spirit's help? Do we offer her encouragement? Do we think (and say) "I've been there" and give her the help she needs, the verses that helped us?  If we don't, we are just like that rainstorm that pulls the soil out from under a plant.
And, in reality, what about that Christian brother or sister who is struggling to make ends meet? Perhaps they don't seem "poor" to us, but they are searching for work while raising a family, and must minister to an elderly relative, as well.  Do we look down our noses at their noisy (hungry) kids because they don't have nice things, or do we offer to let them use our washer and dryer to clean their family's clothing? We can witness over folded towels just as easily as over a cup of coffee. Do we think proudly about the great job we did, finding a job, and "surely they can do the same...they just have to try harder."  Or do we think, "I've been there" and slip a gift card for groceries into their pocket? 
Many times after a driving rain, a farmer will go into the fields and gently use his hoe to pull soil back around the roots of storm-ravaged plants. The plants will survive, because of the gentle work the farmer does.
Let's try to be farmers, and help people, instead of being gully-washers, that tear them down!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Proverbs 28:2 "Too many cooks"

When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers,
    but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order.

Did your grandma tell you that "too many cooks spoil the broth"? It's an old saying, but a true one. If cooking is done by a committee, or group of cooks, each one will have his or her own idea of what the dish needs . . . more salt, less salt, more sage, more thyme, more pepper, etc.  There's no telling what the finished dish will taste like!
Many commentaries deal with this verse and bring in historical applications and political notes -- both current and past situations. A more simple application came to my mind.
When we are rebellious in our relationship with our Father, we are opening ourselves up to being ruled by many "rulers." There is first the ruler named Rebellious, who instigates the trouble. He tells us that we have a right to run our own lives, and we don't really need any interference from anyone, even God.
Another ruler that wiggles his way into our heart is Resentful. We begin to resent the Holy Spirit as He tries to nudge us back to the right path. And we resent other people in our lives who may try to gently counsel us to change our ways.
The next to stick his spoon into the mix is Disobedience. Once on the slippery path with Rebellion and Resentment, it's a short slide into disobedience to our Lord's loving instructions. 
We end up being pulled this way and that, and are really a mess -- when all we needed to do was be single-minded and focus on what God would have us to do.
Let's look at James 1:8 . . .
he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (NIV) 
 And the New Living Translation puts it this way:
Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
I'm reminded of the words of Jesus in Luke 16:13 . . . "No servant can serve two masters . . ."

Let's be single-minded in our devotion to our Father. We don't need to be pulled in several different directions --- the only one that needs to be stirring the pot and perfecting the recipe is the Holy Spirit!  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Proverbs 28:1 The sound of a shaking leaf, Part II

Yesterday I asked if you could find examples of times that enemies of the Hebrew nation had been scared and run away, even though they may have had a numerical advantage in their favor.  I found a couple of examples that I thought you might like to look at, too:

One such example was that of the Midianites, whom Gideon vanquished with just 300 men (Judges 6-7). 

And what do you think the reaction of the enemies of Israel was, when they heard about the death of all of the Assyrian army, in II Kings chapter 19?

Unfortunately, there have been times when the children of God have shown fear and faithlessness, instead of courage and fearlessness . . . and there may have been times in our lives as well.

Can you think of a time that your faith wavered? When you were frightened by the "sound of a shaking leaf"? I can. I'm not happy about it. But I know that next time, I can be as "bold as a lion."

Remember our passage in Leviticus? What was the prerequisite for blessings and fearlessness?  Obedience. Yep. We chafe against that sometimes, don't we? But the rewards are so huge, and the "yoke is easy - the burden light."  
The only thing we must do is obey His commands that we find in His word.  True obedience comes from a heart overflowing with gratitude for His grace.

He promises fruitfulness, peace, and His presence. 

Exodus 19:15
Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me.

I John 5:2-3
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

(Lord, give me boldness. I covenant with You that I will follow your word and your commandments. I hold to your promise of blessing, and praise You for it, even before it happens.)  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Proverbs 28:1 The sound of a shaking leaf, Part I

The wicked flee though no one pursues,
    but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

You might be wondering about the title for this post . . . be patient, and we'll get there! Some commentaries treat this verse as an example of how people feel when they have a guilty conscience -- they get paranoid, and think that they see a pursuer behind every lamppost, and that the whole world is after them. While that is true, and we see it happen often, I was reminded of something different when I read this.

Way back in Leviticus (chapter 26, if you'd like to turn there), God told the Hebrew people that there were consequences to their actions and attitudes. He laid out rewards, and he noted punishments.
If they rejected Him as their creator and provider, and despised His judgements, standards, and leadership, then they could expect some pretty dire consequences. If, on the other hand, they obedient to Him, and followed Him in righteousness, He would pour out His blessings. Let me show you what I mean:
‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.
“‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.
“‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.
Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Why in the world would they go against an almighty God who promised them so much?
But we all know the story -- they had their ups and their downs. And when they rejected Him, then verses 14-39 of that chapter came into play . . . that's a long passage, so I hope that you will look at it in your Bible, instead of my posting it here. There's a long list of "baddies" there, from disease, to fearfulness, to famine, to wild animals, to enemy armies.
One of the consequences noted is that they will be so fearful that the sound of a shaking leaf will cause them to shake and quake and run away. 
There are numerous examples of the enemies of the Hebrew children running away, even when they had an advantage on them --- can you tell me in a comment one of those examples?
We'll finish up this study tomorrow, in Part II.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Proverbs 27: 23-27 Work hard and work smart (Part II)

23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks,
    give careful attention to your herds;
24 for riches do not endure forever,
    and a crown is not secure for all generations.
25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears
    and the grass from the hills is gathered in,
26 the lambs will provide you with clothing,
    and the goats with the price of a field.
27 You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed your family
    and to nourish your female servants.

This is our second day on these verses, because there is so much here for us. Yesterday I noted that Solomon was telling us that " Whether our business is indoors or outdoors, large or small, we must apply our minds and our hearts to it." 
Let's look today at some Biblical reasons for that. 

I think the first thing that this group of verses says to us, is that we should have some business to do in this world, and not live in idleness. On this blog, we try to stay out of the political arena most of the time, but I think in our present day we can see that not everyone wants to work and provide for themselves and their families. Many people are indeed disabled, unemployed, or elderly --- these people need the help of family, friends, or the local church. For those who have not received help from these avenues, some sort of assistance is beneficial. However, we probably all agree that the "system" is being abused by many who are able to work but simply desire to avoid that responsibility; instead of working, they live a life of idleness and survive on government assistance. Christians have a responsibility to support their families, and when they are blessed with more than they need, to use some of it to give others a hand up.

These verses also speak to the issue of knowing our own business, and not meddling in someone else's business! It is wise and well for us to understand what is needed for our particular job to be completed, and to let others do theirs without interference from us. We may think we know the best way for them to complete their tasks, but we can be mistaken -- and the time we take to try to "set them straight," is time taken away from doing our own job well.

Thirdly, we should keep our own eyes on our business, and not turn it over to someone else. Who better to mind the particulars and "inspect our herds" than ourselves? We have the final responsibility for the outcome, so we should shoulder the task, as well.

We must take considerate and thoughtful care of our business, not allowing any opportunity to slip by. It's good to do each task in the proper time and order, and take every advantage that presents itself.

Lastly, we must be diligent and we must take pains with our business opportunities -- not just sitting down and thinking of ways to do things better and more efficiently, but getting up and doing the work that must be done. 

Are you tired yet? Sometimes we think and talk about "working" and "doing" and we get a little apprehensive that we'll not be "up" for the task at hand!  
..and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you . . . I Thessalonians 4:11 
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters . . .  Colossians 3:23
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.  I Corinthians 15:58
We've been promised that our labor is not in vain . . . let's work harder AND smarter! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Proverbs 27:23-27 Work hard, and work smart (Part I)

23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks,
    give careful attention to your herds;
24 for riches do not endure forever,
    and a crown is not secure for all generations.
25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears
    and the grass from the hills is gathered in,
26 the lambs will provide you with clothing,
    and the goats with the price of a field.
27 You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed your family
    and to nourish your female servants.

(There is so much good for us in this passage that it is pretty overwhelming. I hope that I can do it justice! )

I think that first we should review our knowledge of the people of the times . . . not the wealthy and powerful, like Solomon, but the everyday folks --- like you and me! Most of the everyday folks were farmers or tradesmen; you might say that they were self-employed. Farmers, whether they raised crops or animals, were almost entirely self-sufficient: they produced most everything that they needed to have in order to survive. They built their own houses, and furnished them with simple things. They made their own clothing and raised food in small gardens for their households, often having olive trees and vineyards  for their own use, as well. Picking their produce, pressing the olive oil, and making small amounts of wine for their own consumption were jobs that they willingly did, in order to provide well for their families. 
All of this was in addition to the labor that they did every day, to either tend flocks, raise crops for sale, or craft items for sale in the local marketplace.  Tradesmen carefully worked with their hands to produce items to sell or to barter, to provide for their families and for their later years, when working might not be so easy.

These verses appear on the surface to be directed at those shepherds, husbandmen, and dealers in cattle of the era; they encourage them to give "due diligence" to their callings.  But I feel that this encouragement is to be extended to all callings, great and small. Whether our business is indoors or outdoors, large or small, we must apply our minds and our hearts to it.  

In our day, there is a saying, "don't work harder, work smarter" but I think that Solomon had both in mind here. He gave three reasons for his commands:
          1. First of all, Solomon says, worldly wealth is uncertain. "Riches are not forever" is how he phrases it. He considered the lambs, the flocks, and the crops to be stable commodities, not like metals that can corrode, tarnish or decay.  Present day application? Anyone have any investments in the stock market? Enough said. (Grin)
          2. Secondly, he points out the graciousness of God's providence. "The hay appears," Solomon tells us. How does it appear? Can we control the rain, the sun, the growing season? Nope. Our Father does that.  And it is our responsibility to use those blessings of crops and vineyards -- not to let them go to waste.
          3. Thirdly, Solomon points out what his farmer listeners already knew: there is profit in wise husbandry. The shepherds and farmers would have been well aware of the value of the meat and the clothing that could be gotten from judicious usage of the flock animals. The masters (and mistresses) of families must provide well for themselves and their families, and must realize that plain food and serviceable clothing are sufficient and wise to be used. One need not have fancy or expensive clothing, or rich and dainty food, to be content with his blessings. 

All of these verses encourage us to be careful and industrious about our business, so that we can provide for ourselves and our families.
We'll continue with these verses tomorrow, OK?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Proverbs 27:22 Back to the grind

Though you grind a fool in a mortar,
    grinding them like grain with a pestle,
    you will not remove their folly from them. (Proverbs 27:22)

Solomon is talking here about some tools that were very familiar to his hearers, but that we don't think about much, today. A mortar is a bowl, and it's typically made of very hard wood, ceramic, or hollowed-out stone. The pestle is a heavy object with one end larger than the other, which is usually made of wood (or porcelain for medicinal grinding). Whatever you wish to crush or grind is placed in the mortar and then the pestle is used to grind or crush the substance. Sometimes a mixture would be made by crushing more than one substance together in the mortar. This system was used in food preparation, as well, in removing the husks or hulls from grain, so that it could be ground for flour.

Though it is not impossible for a foolish person to be reached by the Holy Spirit, a fool will continue to do evil, no matter how he or she is pressed or punished. Solomon says it is the identifying mark of a foolish person. Look at what the prophet Jeremiah said:
Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
    You struck them, but they felt no pain;
    you crushed them, but they refused correction.
They made their faces harder than stone
    and refused to repent. 
(Jeremiah 5:3)
A foolish person is not willing to change. It is part of their nature to do what they do, and many times they do not even believe that there is a God. Jeremiah said that the people "hardened their faces and refused to repent."

Is there something in our lives that God has pointed out to us, that we need to correct, or get rid of? Has He nudged us and reminded us of that sin? Will He have to place us in a "mortar" of hardship in order to get our attention, or will we repent --- turn away from that sin and become more like Him?  Through prayer and study of His word, He can gradually change us into the person that we can become; we can reach our full potential, and be used by Him for His glory. Perhaps we need to pray and ask our Father to show us the "foolishness" that is lurking in our lives, and help us to root it out.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Slowdown

The composer of our hymn for this Friday was a pharmacist and amateur photographer, C. Austin Miles.  One day in 1912, he was in his darkroom, waiting for his photos to develop, and while in prayer, experienced a profound spiritual moment.
He envisioned Mary Magdalene, visiting the tomb and then meeting the risen Christ in the garden. He penned these words that have become a favorite for many Christians.

I hope that you find time to meditate on these lyrics and perhaps enjoy the recording that is below. May they bring a blessing to your heart on this Friday, as we slow down to think of our Father and to thank Him for His many blessings to us.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Proverbs 27:21 Giving and receiving praise, Part II

Today, we're continuing our study of this verse:
The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.
Yesterday we concentrated on how we can affect other people's lives for the positive, by using praise. Today we will look at what our response should be when we are on the receiving end of praise.
I've heard it said that vain men seek praise, that weak men are inflated by it, and that wise men disregard it. I believe that is what Solomon was expressing here.

We need to be careful not to extol our own virtues --- although some people say, "I have to toot my own horn; nobody else will!"  And so, many people in our society love to praise themselves. They point out how thrifty the are, how knowledgable, how generous, how experienced, etc, etc, until there's hardly a soul left that wants to be around them! Of course, there are a few times when it is appropriate to commend yourself -- for instance, if you are in the midst of a job interview, you must talk about your experience and your accomplishments. Another instance would be a time when it was necessary to defend yourself against accusations. Paul defended himself several times in the book of Acts, and then again in several of his letters to the churches.

It is one measure of our maturity in our walk with Christ, to check how we respond to praise. If we are made proud, puffed up, conceited, even scornful, then surely we are foolish, and not showing the wisdom that Solomon has been teaching in the Proverbs. Do we fail to give the glory to God, and instead steal it for ourselves? Then we are in danger of grieving the Spirit. Matthew Henry's commentary on this verse calls our attention to Herod, who accepted the people's praise, when he should have given it on to God. He paid for his arrogance and ingratitude rather quickly. (Acts 12)

Henry's commentary continues:
 If, on the contrary, a man is made by his praise more thankful to God, more respectful to his friends, more watchful against every thing that may blemish his reputation, more diligent to improve himself, and do good to others, that he may answer the expectations of his friends from him, by this it will appear that he is a wise and good man.
And in I Thessalonians 2:4b, Paul states:
Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts.
So now, we've come full circle. We've plowed all the way around the field, and the tractor is headed to the barn. The last thing we need to consider is the Person who should receive our praise --- morning, noon, and night!
The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.  (Exodus 15:2)

I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness,
And will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.  (Psalm 7:17)
I'd love to hear if you have favorite "praise verses" that you would like to share with everyone. Let us know in the comment section.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Proverbs 27:21 Giving and receiving praise, Part I

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.

We've discussed refining of precious metals before. There have been verses that have caused us to examine the refining process, and to draw some applications for our lives. This verse is a little different --- we are "tested" by the praise we receive.

In a nutshell, the way that we respond to praise will reveal our character, just as a refining pot or furnace reveals the nature and purity of silver and gold. There are many examples in the Bible of people receiving praise, and their responses to it . . . look at I Samuel 18 when you have the time.  In that passage, praise brought out the best in David, but the worst in Saul.

By ourselves, we are totally inadequate for the tasks set before us -- sinful and helpless. However, (and this is a BIG however) because we are created in God's image, and because we have accepted the gift of salvation from His Son, we have great worth. Since God created us, and then redeemed us, our whole existence and our righteousness are completely dependent upon Him.
Biblical humility, then, is recognizing that our great worth is none of our doing --- it is the work that Christ has done (and is doing) in us!

There are so many ways to give and to receive praise . . . we can give praise personally -- face to face, or we can send it in writing -- real paper or electronic message.  We can even give it indirectly, like when we talk to someone and tell them about a nice thing a shared friend has done.
Whether we are praising their performance, or their character, it is such a positive thing to do.  There are three by-words that are important here --- praise needs to be:
  •  timely
  •  specific
  •  sincere
Here's what I mean by "timely" praise: immediately upon completion of a task, or the moment when we realize that something has been done for us. A thank-you or words of praise that seem to come grudgingly, or too late, certainly don't mean as much for the intended hearer!
Let's be specific in our praise, too. Say exactly what that person did, that impressed you. Or thank them for a specific action, and the way it impacted your life in a positive way.
Lastly, be sincere. Don't gush or seem "over the top," but use words that express your sincere admiration or your gratitude. Let the person know that they are truly appreciated.
I hope you'll let me know in the comments if you have something to add to our study today. It's always good to let others know what you are thinking --- join in the discussion!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election day - some thoughts

I thought I would post some thoughtful quotes and scripture that are appropriate for today. I hope that wherever you live, and whatever your political persuasion, you will make it a point to go and vote today, if at all possible.

While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian."   George Washington
When we view the blessings with which our country has been favored, those which we now enjoy, and the means which we possess of handing them down unimpaired to our latest posterity, our attention is irresistibly drawn to the source from whence they flow. Let us then, unite in offering our most grateful acknowledgments for these blessings to the Divine Author of All Good."   James Monroe
Dear Lord,
There is no greater feeling of liberation than to experience this freedom from sin and death that you have provided for me through Jesus Christ. Today my heart and my soul are free to praise you. For this I am very thankful.
On this Election Day I am reminded of all those who have sacrificed for my freedom, following the example of your Son, Jesus Christ. Let me not take my freedom, both physical and spiritual, for granted. May I always remember that my freedom cost others their very lives.
Lord, today, bless those who have served and continue to give their lives for our freedom. With favor and bounty meet their needs and watch over their families.
Help me to live my life in a way that glorifies you, Lord. Give me the strength to be a blessing in someone else's life today, and grant me the opportunity to lead others into the freedom that can be found in knowing Christ. Amen.

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.  Titus 3:1-8
We'll be back tomorrow with our studies in Proverbs. See you then!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Proverbs 27:20 Eye problems

Death and Destruction are never satisfied,
    and neither are human eyes.

The King James translation of this verse says, "Hell and destruction are never full, so the eyes of man are never satisfied."

Wouldn't it be great if we were to get the news that Hell was full up? No more room! We wouldn't have to worry about our relatives and friends -- there would be nowhere else for them to go but heaven! Oh, wait a minute . . . that would mean that some pretty bad characters would get into heaven, too. OK, let's reset and try again, here.
In God's plan, there is holiness, righteousness and justice, and there will be a place in Hell for those who don't accept His free gift of salvation and the wonderful life and relationship with him that He offers. It's difficult for us as mortals to envision heaven and hell, and the different descriptions of each of them. But it's a fact that hell is not full, and destruction is not finished --- there are catastrophes and storms, wars and conflicts, and destruction of all kinds here on the earth.
Solomon is comparing these concepts to our human eyes --- and the way that we use them. You see, we all have an "eye problem."  We inherited it from Adam and Eve . . . they were in a gorgeous garden, surrounded by awesome plants and animals, and even had the privilege of walking in the garden with their Creator. They could have anything and everything that they wanted, except for ONE THING. And you know what they did? Yep, you know! They sinned and got hold of the one thing He said "No" about! 
The problem with our eyes is that what they see, they usually want.  Other people in the Bible have had eye problems. King David saw Bathsheba, and he started on a path that he later wished he'd never set foot upon. Many people have eye problems when they see what their neighbor has --- how much "stuff" he has accumulated. 
The biggest consequence of our eye problems is that they take our eyes off what they should be focused on: our Father. If we are living in a constant state of dissatisfaction with our house, our car, our clothes, our social status, or even our spouse, we are allowing our expectations to rule us. And when that happens, we are putting our expectations ahead of our service to God --- you know what that means? 
Our expectations have just assumed the role of an idol in our lives. It may not be a statue or tangible item, but it's an idol just the same. And we need to knock it down and get back to focusing on our Lord.

Job was referring to man's tendency to look upon women, but he did something that we can do, too. He said, " I made a covenant with my eyes, not to look lustfully at a young woman." (Job 31:1)  It may sound a little wonky, but he made an agreement with his eyes . . . and we can do that, too.
We can determine to be content, to be satisfied, and to fill our eyes with His word.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Proverbs 27:19 Mirror, mirror

As water reflects the face,
    so one’s life reflects the heart.

Isn't it amazing how sometimes you can look at a lake and see such a perfect reflection? Sometimes it is difficult to tell where the land ends and the reflected image begins!

Sometimes when we look in a mirror, we see what we want to see. Remember the wicked queen? "Mirror, mirror, on the wall . . . "  Now, she had an advantage in a mirror that would speak to her, and magic spells to change her appearance.  Even if we don't have an enchanted mirror, we may look into it and ignore the gray hairs, the wrinkles that are starting, and the fact that we just don't look quite as young as we feel!

I wonder if we ignore things about ourselves when we look into our best mirror - God's Word?

The Bible tells us many things about how we should appear -- does our reflection match up with the ideal? Are we paying attention to "walk" or are we satisfied just to "talk"?

Let's check out this group of verses from the book of James:

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.  (James 1: 22-25)
Staying close to our Father in prayer, and shining the light of His Word onto our lives will allow us to "see" ourselves clearly, and then reflect that light for others to see.

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! (Ephesians 5:8)

And we have been charged with a large responsibility:
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16
We need to remember that our outward lives reflect our inward heart. A life of strife or of foolish behavior reflects the fact that we are not absorbing the wisdom found in the Bible and living it out. Let's always try to reflect the light of Christ that is within us!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Proverbs 27:18 Honorable service

The one who guards a fig tree will eat its fruit,
    and whoever protects their master will be honored.

You might have heard someone make a comparison before --- starting with one thing that was certain, and then noting that the other will happen, too.
Something along these lines: "As surely as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, I will get it done."  Since we assume that all's right with the world, and that the sun will rise as it always does, we conclude that they are quite determined to do whatever they have promised. 

I think that is what Solomon is doing here. It was obvious to him that whoever tended a flock would use the flock sometimes for milk or meat, and that someone who tended a vineyard or a field would make use of the products that they were given responsibility for. It's even noted in the Bible:

 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?  I Corinthians 9:7
So, Solomon is saying here that it is also every bit as certain that "whoever protects his master will be honored." The Hebrew word that is translated "protect" here in the NIV also has meanings of "hedge about with thorns," and "guard, attend to, wait upon, serve."

Jesus told us:
Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26 
How can we best serve Him?  Let's look at Romans 12:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. 
We must determine what our gifts are, and serve Him with all our hearts!