Some New Year's Eve Advice.

Proverbs 31

“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave alcohol. For if they drink, they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed.” – Proverbs 31:4-5 NET

There is no other day more associated with drinking and alcohol consumption than New Year's Day, and as we stand on the cusp of yet another year-end celebration, it's interesting that our Proverb for today carries a warning against the consumption of alcohol.

While the Scriptures do not completely prohibit the use of alcohol, there are plenty of verses that warn against it. Yes, there are some religious groups that abuse and misinterpret those verses, but there are just as many that ignore them altogether. In our desire to justify our use of alcohol, we tend to portray the Scriptures as seemingly silent on the topic. But repeatedly in the Book of Proverbs we have seen Solomon warn his sons, and vicariously, us as well, about the inherent dangers of alcohol consumption. In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel is warned against the guzzling of wine. This passage isn't prohibiting the use of alcohol, but the abuse of it. To deny the use of alcohol in the court of a king in those days would have been unheard of. It would have been absurd. But excessive use of alcohol should be avoided at all times, especially by those who hold positions of responsibility and authority over the lives of others. The problem is that alcohol distorts the senses, muddies the mind and can lead to poor decision making. Whether you're a king, national leader, company president, or parent, the last thing you should want is to have your mind clouded by alcohol, rendering your judgment impaired and your ability to perform your responsibilities diminished.

I have had far too many conversations with the wives of husbands who have a drinking problem. These men, while in most cases, hard workers and loving husbands and fathers, allow alcohol to destroy their ability to lead and protect as they should. As Lemuel is warned, when they drink, "they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed." They lose their moral bearings, their sense of right and wrong, their understanding of justice. In the end, they make unwise decisions and put their families at risk – financially, emotionally and even physically. Alcohol in all its forms can be deadly and deadening. Solomon warns us, "Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise" (Proverbs 20:1 NLT). Here are a few of the other admonitions about wine and alcohol in the Book of Proverbs:

"Those who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich." – Proverbs 21:17 NLT

"Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise." – Proverbs 20:1 NLT

"Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper." – Proverbs 23:30-32 NLT

In Proverbs, wine and mixed drinks are closely associated with the wicked and with the immoral woman. It is almost always used in the sense of excess and over-indulgence. It appeals to the senses and the sensual side of man. It can dull our senses and feed the sinful side of our sensual nature. There is a need for wisdom when it comes to the use of alcohol. We must be fully aware of its dangers. We must acknowledge its ability to impact and impair our judgment. It is a mind-altering, mood-enhancing substance that, if used wisely and appropriately, can have positive benefits. But it can also be misused and abused. It can destroy and divide. It can be used to escape reality and avoid responsibility. It can bring pleasure but it can also produce immoral behavior.

As we get ready to celebrate another New Year, alcohol will be a major player in many of the parties we attend. There will be the temptation to drink, and with it will come the risk of getting drunk. As a result, under the influence of alcohol, things will be said and done that would normally never take place. Guards will be let down, inhibitions will be let go of, and regrets will be many when it is all said and done. "Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise" (Proverbs 20:1 NLT). Be careful out there! And Happy New Year!

Father, we need wisdom. Give us insight and understanding that we might make wise decisions when it comes to the use of alcohol in all its forms. Open our eyes to its uses and abuses. Don't let us think we can escape its dangers or that we are above its negative influences. We see the destructive nature of it in our society on a daily basis – lives ruined and even ended. In our pursuit of personal rights and pleasure, we tend to lose sight of reality and jettison our need for wisdom and understanding. Protect us from ourselves. Amen.

And Justice For All.

Proverbs 28

“Evil people don't understand justice, but those who follow the Lord understand completely.” – Proverbs 28:5 NLT

Those four simple words are part of the United State's pledge of allegiance. As children, many of us recited them each day in the classroom in some bygone era. But what do they mean? What would justice for all look like and does it ever really happen? The verse for today tells us that justice is understood only by those who follow the Lord. Those who are wicked, evil, bad, or simply choose to reject the way of the Lord have no understanding of what justice is. They tend to see it from their own perspective and define it for their own good. But according to the NET Study Bible, the Hebrew word for justice used in this verse (mishpat), refers to the legal rights of people, decisions that are equitable in the community. It has a communal aspect to it. It's not just about MY rights, but the rights of all. And those who follow the Lord will understand justice from that perspective because God is concerned about justice for all. He is concerned for the rights and welfare of the poor, needy, disenfranchised, neglected, abused, and all those who lack representation and protection. God cares about the alien and foreigner, the widow and the orphan, the slave and the servant, the falsely accused and the unfairly treated. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus simply said, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind,' This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT). Love God. Love others. There it is. We are just as obligated to love others as we are to love God, because to fail to express love to those made in the likeness and image of God by the very hand of God is a slap in the face of their creator.

A big part of expressing love to others is through our efforts in assuring that they receive justice. It is making sure that their rights are protected and their status as one of God's creatures is maintained. Justice is not just an arbitrary requirement placed on man by God. It is part of His very nature, His character. God is just and righteous and always does what is right – every time, all the time. So God expects His people to love justice just as much as He does. He requires them, as His representatives, to make sure that all men receive justice. One way we do this is by ensuring that just and righteous men and women are elected to high offices in our nation. Otherwise, we will experience exactly what Proverbs 28 warns us about. "A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor as a roaring lion or an attacking bear" (Proverbs 28:15 NLT). "A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people" (Proverbs 28:16 NLT). "When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding" (Proverbs 28:12 NLT).

Justice is an expression of God's character. Injustice is anti-God. Ignoring the needs, rights, and concerns of others is selfish and, ultimately, sinful. It is ungodly, unrighteous, unloving, un-Christlike, and unacceptable in the life of a believer. To love others as we love ourselves is to do whatever we can to protect them, provide for them, and speak for them when necessary. Injustice is all around us, because sin and Satan thrive on it. Sin and Satan prey on the weak, pitting the strong against them. Our enemy's objective is to divide and conquer. Rather than community, he strives to create disunity. He breeds selfishness and self-centeredness. He thrives in an atmosphere filled with narcissism and self-gratification. He lulls mankind into a self-centered stupor that becomes insensitive and, eventually, oblivious to the injustice taking place all around us. But God calls for justice. He demands love expressed in actions. He calls us to love others as much as we love Him, as an expression of our love for Him. That's quite a calling. And it's one we have ignored for far too long.

Father, as Your followers, we of all people should be screaming for justice. And we should be expressing it through our love and actions. Open our eyes to all the injustice taking place around us. Give us Your heart and the fortitude to enforce Your justice in the world today. Let it begin in our own spheres of influence. Amen.

Worth Reflecting On.

Proverbs 27

“As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.” – Proverbs 27:19 NLT

What's the state of your heart today? Not the organ that pumps blood through your body, but your inner man. The word "heart" is the Hebrew word leb, and it refers to man's mind, will, heart, and understanding. It has to do with that inner part of us that drives us, motivates us and determines who we are and what we do. The heart is the seat of our emotions, the center of our decision-making, and the determiner of our actions. That's why this proverb compares looking into our heart to see who we are really like to looking at our reflection in a calm body of water. It is when we take a long, honest look at out heart – and closely examine our will, choices, loves, decisions, and attitudes, that we will gain a true picture of who we really are. But too often we ignore the condition of the heart, in ourselves and in others. Instead, we judge one another based on externals. We judge based on what we see on the surface. But that can be deceptive and dangerous. We have the capacity to manufacture outward behavior that is designed to influence what others think of us. We can come across as self-confident, happy, successful, with all our proverbial ducks in a row. We can fool others into thinking that we have our act together. But on the inside, we can be a fractured mess. We can be a muddled mix of discontentment, anger, resentment, depression, fear, and anxiety. Our hearts can be far from God, but we have learned to sleep-walk our way through life, going through the motions and faking a form of piety that is purely surface-based, lacking any kind of depth or basis in reality. Others look at us and see us as having it together. But in time, the truth will come out. Our hearts will get exposed.

As believers, we must learn to look at the heart. That is where God focuses His attention. Back when God had sent the prophet Samuel to look for a candidate to replace Saul as king of Israel, He gave Samuel a piece of important advice: “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). The Lord looks at the heart. He isn't impressed with outward appearances. He is not swayed by our swagger or blown away by our pious play-acting. He looks right into our hearts and sees what we're really like. And we need to learn to do the same thing. But to do so is going to require a level of honesty and self-evaluation that is scary. We will have to use the Word of God to expose us for what we truly are. We are going to have to ask God to reveal all the flaws and faults that reside inside us. Rather than make excuses for our behavior, we will have to take the time to see what really motivated us to do what we did or say what we said. Instead of passing blame, we will have to consider the state of our own heart. Because the heart is the key to all that we do. The circumstances of life do not cause our behavior, they simply reveal what's inside. A man with anger and resentment in his heart does not need much to trigger and release what's inside. He will explode at the least little provocation. A fearful person does not require much for his fear to find its way to the surface. His fear will leak out at the least little sign of danger. The lustful person will find himself struggling with lust in the most unlikely of scenarios, because his problem is internal, not external.

Taking a long, hard look at the heart is a scary proposition. It requires a degree of honesty and transparency that is unheard of and uncommon in our day. We don't want to see what's in there. We don't want to have to expose the hidden areas inside us that are the true motivator behind our attitudes and actions. We would much rather pass blame, make excuses, and continue our charade of false piety. But God looks at the heart. He examines and exposes its true condition. And He wants to change us from the inside out. So He goes to the source. He deals with the root problem. And so should we.

Father, give me the gumption to take a long, hard look at my heart. Help me see it as You do. I can't see it without Your help. Open my eyes and help me see its true condition. Then give me the strength to change, through the power of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

No Honor For Fools.

Proverbs 26

“Honor is no more associated with fools than snow with summer or rain with harvest.” – Proverbs 26:1 NLT

Why would you praise someone who is essentially worthless and unworthy? Why in the world would you elevate to high position someone who has shown themselves incapable of making wise decisions and using sound judgment? According the the NET Study Bible, "'Honor' in this passage probably means respect, external recognition of worth, accolades, advancement to high position, etc." It seems ludicrous that anyone would want to bestow honor on someone who is undeserving, but the truth is, we do it all the time. A few areas in our society where it is rampant are professional sports, politics and entertainment. Every day we see young men being honored, praised and rewarded for their athletic prowess, while they live like fools. They are children in the bodies of grown men. They lack discernment, common sense, understanding and wisdom. They live as if they are invincible and spend their money like it is inexhaustible. We cringe at their antics and demand that they be role models for our children, but they lack the capacity. We cheer them, pay good money to watch them, and pin our sports hopes on them. Then we are shocked and disappointed when we read of their latest escapades. How about politics? As a society, we regularly elevate men and women to high positions who, while perhaps better educated, are just as foolish and lacking in wisdom as any professional athlete. Some of these career politicians have perfected the art of lying and, while elected as representatives of the people, have become much more concerned about their own well-being than the needs and wants of their constituents. They are self-aggrandizing, power-hungry fools who have no desire to rule according to God's terms and in keeping with His commands. Yet we regularly re-elect them and give them another chance to prove their foolishness.

And then there is the entertainment world, filled with countless individuals who model the life of foolishness, living in a fantasy world filled with money, power, and popularity. Their lives are followed faithfully by adoring fans who watch their every move and listen to every word that comes out of their mouths, as if they were oracles spouting wisdom directly from the throne of God. Yet their lives are marked by lack of self-control, poor decision making, promiscuity, selfishness and self-centeredness, broken relationships, financial mismanagement, emotional instability and more. And yet, we honor and esteem them. We hold them up as icons of virtue and wisdom. We listen intently as they share their opinions on everything from gun control to world peace. They are rich and influential, but they lack wisdom, common sense, and discernment. And yet, we honor them.

But Solomon warns us, "Honoring a fool is as foolish as tying a stone to a slingshot" (Proverbs 26:8 NLT). What a vivid picture. Imagine the stupidity of tying a stone to a slingshot and expecting anything useful to happen as a result. It would be idiotic. And that's exactly his point. When we honor those who are undeserving of honor, we are making a mockery of not only honor, but of the value of wisdom. The entire Book of Proverbs is filled with admonitions and reminders about the value of wisdom and it's non-negotiable role in our lives. It is the wisdom of God, not the wisdom of this world. It is understanding, insight, discipline, discernment, common sense and wise living right from the throne of God Himself. Those who reject it are not to be honored and esteemed. They are not to be given places of responsibility and power. We shouldn't elect fools or employ them. "An employer who hires a fool or a bystander is like an archer who shoots at random" (Proverbs 26:10 NLT). Fools are a menace to society. They are a danger to themselves and dishonoring to God. We are not to honor them, esteem them, elevate them, or to desire to be like them. Wisdom is God's measuring stick. It is His standard of judgment. And it should be ours.

Father, forgive us for honoring fools in our lives. We make a mockery of wisdom every time we do. Give us the determination to live wisely and to look for others who do the same. Help us raise the standard and expect more from those who lead us. May we be a wise people who value wise living. Amen.

The Intimacy of Honesty.

Proverbs 24

"An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” – Proverbs 24:26 NIV

Honesty is in short supply these days. We live in a world mired in half-truths and deception. Oh, we have plenty of people who claim to "tell it like it is." But this is usually just another way of saying that they have an opinion and aren't afraid to share it – no matter how many people they hurt along the way. Honesty in the Hebrew scriptures is about much more than bluntness or frankness of speech. It's not just speaking your mind or getting something off your chest. It has to do with saying the right or equitable thing. There is an aspect of appropriateness and timeliness to honesty. It entails a certain degree of sensitivity and intimacy. Thus, the comparison in the passage to a kiss on the lips. In Solomon's day, a kiss on the lips carried a lot of meaning. It was not something done lightly or flippantly. It signified love, devotion, sincerity, and commitment. It was a visible expression of what was in the heart. To kiss someone insincerely would have been unacceptable. To kiss someone on the lips would have given them the impression that you cared for them and that your relationship with them was close. But to do so insincerely, but without meaning it, would have been as unacceptable as lying to them.

When we are honest with someone, it is an expression of love. It shows that we care for them. But it is NOT just a willingness to be blunt with them, telling them whatever is on our heart without any regard for their feelings. Honesty involves intimacy. Honesty requires love. We lovingly express what is on our heart because we care and desire the best for them. We think about how best to say what is on our heart, so that those with whom we sharing will receive it well. Our motivation is love. Our desire is that they will benefit from our honesty, not be devastated by it. Sometimes we can attempt to be honest, but our motivation is to hurt, not help. We can say what is on our mind, simply out of anger or in an attempt to teach the other person a lesson. But the honesty Solomon is talking about is always for the good of the other. It has the other person's best interest at heart, because it comes from the heart. It is honesty that aims at building the other person up, not tearing them down. It is honesty that is selfless, not selfish. We share what we share because we wish to make the other person better, not because we're out to prove a point or voice our opinion. An honest answer is a loving answer. It is saying what needs to be said because you care for someone deeply.

Father, give us the capacity to be honest with one another because we truly care for one another. Teach us to share intimately and honestly out of love. Reveal to us any selfishness or self-centeredness that may be getting in the way. Help us to see when we our attempts at honesty are nothing more than poorly veiled efforts to hurt the other person. May our honesty always be motivated by love and focused on the well-being of the other person. Amen.

No Contest.

Proverbs 21

“No human wisdom or understanding or plan can stand against the Lord.” – Proverbs 21:30 NLT

If God were the petty and petulant type, I could almost hear Him say, "Oh, you think you're so smart! Well go ahead, do it your way and let's see how that works out for you!" This would be His response on those far too numerous occasions when I have decided to follow my own advice or put my own plan into action, all while rejecting anything He might have for me to do. But of course, God is not petty or petulant. He is patient. He is long-suffering and He simply allows us to learn our lessons the hard way – through experience. The simple truth is that there is NO human wisdom or understanding or plan that can stand against the Lord. But wait, you say, who in their right mind would want to stand against the Lord? Who would be dumb enough to go mano y mano with their Maker? Just every single person who has ever walked the face of this earth. Every one of us have stood against the Lord every time we have done things our way, instead of His. We have stood against the Lord when we have refused to seek out His will through time spent in His Word. Each time we have made a decision without consulting God or seeking His input, we have stood against Him. To stand against the Lord does not require a raised fist, a defiant gaze, and a declaration of war. It is not just the atheist or agnostic who stands against God, but every individual who chooses to reject His sovereign will and replace it with their own. Whenever I know what God would have me do and I willfully choose not to do it, I am taking a stand against God. And I will learn that my wisdom, understanding and plan is no match for Him. I will discover the hard way that His way is the best way, bar none.

There is another way in which we stand against God. When we listen to the lies of this world and accept the prevailing wisdom of the day. It could be something as simple as subtly succumbing to the if-it-feels-good-do-it mentality of our society. If we give into the pleasure-at-any-price mindset that dominates our culture, we are standing against God. If we worship work, idolize entertainment, make money our god, or seek satisfaction in anything or anyone other than God, we stand against Him. This world shakes its fist in the face of God and says, "We will do it our way!" It rejects His will, His way, and His Word. It relies on a wisdom that is neither godly or good. It depends on an understanding that is faulty, flawed and highly limited in its perspective. It makes plans that are short-sighted and self-centered, ultimately designed to elevate man to the role of god, making him the center of the universe.

But ultimately we all will learn that God's wisdom, understanding and plan are not just optional, but mandatory. They are without match and incapable of being replicated or replaced. Regardless of whether our stand against God is subtle or arrogantly stubborn, the outcome is the same: We will fail. We will suffer defeat. We will discover our brand of wisdom is a cheap, unreliable knock-off of the real thing. We will find out that our understanding is limited and a lousy replacement for His. And we will become painfully aware that our plans are a poor substitute for He has sovereignly, lovingly created for us. It may take us a while, but we will learn.

Father, why is it that we so often have to learn our lessons the hard way? Why are we wired to have to do things according to our own plan, trying to depend on our own wisdom and relying on our limited understanding? All the while we have Your wisdom, will and Word available to us. Forgive us of our stubbornness and stupidity and thank You for Your unbelievable patience. Amen.

The Detestability of Dishonesty.

Proverbs 20

“The Lord detests double standards; he is not pleased with dishonest scales.” – Proverbs 20:23 NLT

Dishonesty has become a comfortable, close friend to a lot of us. No, we would never admit it and some of us may not even be able to recognize it. But if the truth be known, dishonesty has become a natural and normal part of our lives. It's a subtle thing. We don't think of ourselves as liars or cheats. We don't try to take advantage of others by twisting the truth or falsifying information. But there is a tinge of dishonesty in our dealings with others and even in our relationship with God. And that should scare us, because Solomon warns us twice in this Proverb about God's disdain and dislike for dishonesty in all its forms. Yes, he seems to be talking about financial dealings or dishonesty in commerce, but God's hatred for double standards goes well beyond just false weights and unequal measures. If we deal with this passage so literally, we will all escape unscathed because none of us use actual scales and measures anymore. Those are antiquated business tools that no longer apply, but the heart behind them does. These verses are dealing with an attitude of dishonesty and deception in the heart of an individual that causes him to use any and all means at his disposal to take advantage of others for his own selfish gain. God despises it. He detests it.

While most of us would never think of cheating someone in a business transaction, we have probably fudged the facts slightly in order to make a sale or close a deal. We have withheld important information that we believe might hurt the negotiations. We may have not disclosed some income on our taxes or we might have over-estimated our income when applying for a loan. And what's interesting is that we would be the first ones to scream, "Injustice!" if someone had done those same things to us. We would cry foul and demand restitution. That's a double standard and God hates it. It flies counter to the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That is why God hates dishonesty. It is disingenuous and incredibly self-centered. It reveals an attitude and heart that is self-focused and cares little for the well-being of others.

The problem with dishonesty is that it can become a habit. We can do it for so long and so well, that we even end up deceiving ourselves. We begin justifying our actions as acceptable and understandable, given the circumstances. We become sly and subtle in our dishonesty. And it can take on all kinds of forms. One of the most common is our tendency to act as if we're something we're not. We put on a facade and pretend to be something or someone other than who we really are. We act more successful than we are. We pretend to be more sophisticated than we actually happen to be. We try to give off the impression we are financially better off than our bank account might reveal. These are all forms of deception and dishonesty. Another common form of dishonesty is our unwillingness to be transparent and open with one another. Our lives could be cratering and falling apart, but we will put on the happy face and muster up the energy to try and fool all those who know us, just so they won't know the truth about us. God hates it when we do this. It's dishonest and deceptive. It is untruthful, and when exposed, causes those who know us to lose trust in us. People lose faith in us because we refuse to be honest with them about who we are and what we are going through.

One of the realities about dishonesty is that we may fool others, but we can never fool God. "The Lord's light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive" (Proverbs 20:27 NLT). God sees all. He knows all. He is aware of every occurrence of dishonesty in our lives. He knows when we lie. He is aware every time we withhold the truth in any form or in any way. He is never deceived by our deception. And He despises, dislikes and disdains it when we attempt to cover up, hide, fake it, or live our lives dishonestly or deceptively. He is a God of truth. He longs to see His people live in integrity. The biblical concept of integrity is wholeness or completeness. It carries the idea of a life with no compartmentalization. There are no hidden areas. Not skeletons in the closet. We live our lives in integrity before God when we recognize that He sees all and so we stop trying to hide anything from Him. We wholly and holy before Him. No deceit, deception or dishonesty.

Father, help me to live openly and honestly before You. Show me when I am being dishonest because sometimes I think I have grown so accustomed to it that I don't recognize it anymore. Don't allow me to live in dishonesty and deceit. Remind me daily that You see the motives of my heart. Amen.

An Unexpected Outcome.

Proverbs 19

“Children who mistreat their father or chase away their mother are an embarrassment and a public disgrace.” – Proverbs 19:26 NLT

A rebellious child. Nobody plans for one. But they also don't just happen. At the same time, there is no magic elixir or five-step strategy that will guarantee you won't have one. While we must do all we can to discipline our children while they are young and attempt to raise them in a godly atmosphere, there is no assurance that our children will never stray, never disappoint us or never become an embarrassment and a public disgrace. While our children are young and pliable, we must do all we can to teach them the truth of God's Word and model for them the life of wisdom and righteousness that God desires. But as our children grow older, they also grow increasingly more independent, until they reach that inevitable point at which they must determine and decide their own faith and what they are going to do with all that they have been taught. What happens at that point has as much to do with their personality and the way they're wired than anything else. Two children raised in the same home by the same parents and under the same set of rules can turn out completely different from one another – solely based on their personality profile.

Every day, countless parents ask the pain-filled, guilt-ridden questions, "Where did we go wrong?" "What could we have done differently?" "How could we have prevented this from happening?" No doubt, there are always answers to those questions. There are inevitably some things we could have done differently, better, or not at all. None of us are perfect parents. We make mistakes. We sin against our children. We overlook some sins in our children and overreact to others. We are inconsistent and non-perfect parents. But there are those times when our children turn out differently than we had hoped our dreamed, not so much because of our shortcomings as parents, but because of choices our children have made along the way. That is why Solomon cries out to his sons to listen to his instruction. He begs them to listen to what he is trying to tell them about wisdom and the life of righteousness. "If you stop listening to my instructions, my child, you will turn your back on knowledge" (Proverbs 19:27 NLT). "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life" (Proverbs 19:20 NLT).

But ultimately, every child must come to the point where they begin making their own choices and deciding what it is they believe. They must choose to listen to all that they have been taught and begin obeying it, not because they have to, but because they want to. Their faith must become a choice of the will, not an act of submission to their parents' wishes. Watching your son or daughter choose to reject the faith you have tried to instill in them is a painful thing to endure. It is gut-wrenching. The word "mistreat" in this verse is probably a poor choice to convey the thought behind the original Hebrew word. It means, "to devastate, ruin or violently destroy." This pictures a son or daughter who does some serious damage to their father. It could be financially, physically or even just emotionally. They devastate their father. Their actions bring him down, knocking the props out from under him. And they end up chasing or driving away their own mother. They want nothing to do with her. And as a result, they become an embarrassment and a public disgrace to their parents. How difficult it is to have to watch your children live ungodly lives in front of all who know you. Their lifestyle is in plain view of all and a constant reminder of what you could easily interpret as your own failure as a parent.

But at the end of the day, we must place our children in the hands of God. We are stewards, and not their saviors. We cannot make our children godly. We cannot make them righteous. All we can do is teach them the truth of God's Word and model for them the life of faith and godliness. But ultimately, they will have to choose for themselves. They are free-will creatures who must one day choose God and accept His will for their lives. Many do, but some do not. Like the father of the prodigal son in scripture, we must continue to pray for them, looking for their ultimate return. We must turn them over to God and ask Him to do what only He can do. Only He can soften their heart and convict them of their rebellion. Because their sin, while painful to us as parents, is ultimately against God, not us. They are rejecting Him, not us. And only God can restore them to a right relationship with Himself. Nothing is impossible for Him.

Father, parenting can be a blessing, but it can also be hard work. There are times when it is difficult and things don't turn out quite like we expected or wanted. Give us the faith to trust You even when things look dark and our children appear to have rejected us. Help us to recognize that their rebellion is against You and only You can restore them. Give us faith to trust You with the lives of our children, even when they don't turn out the way we planned. Amen.

Crushed In Spirit.

Proverbs 18

“The human spirit can endure a sick body, but who can bear a crushed spirit?” – Proverbs 18:14 NLT

We've all been amazed to watch other individuals endure unimaginable pain and suffering as a result of a debilitating disease or injury. We've observed them as they somehow managed to smile and maintain their composure even as they were going through seemingly unendurable tragedy. We wondered how they could do it. We questioned where they got the strength to go through so much and not give in to defeat. This verse tells us that the human spirit is a powerful resource in times of pain. It is life-sustaining and energy-giving, providing much-needed stamina and stability even in the face of what appears to be insurmountable circumstances. The very word "spirit" in the Hebrew language means "life or breath." It is the essence of who we are as human beings. At creation, God "breathed" into man his life or spirit. It is God-given and therefore powerful. Our spirit is the very thing that sustains us through all of life.

But what happens when our spirit gets crushed? What do we do when the very thing that sustains us becomes broken and incapable of enduring? It can and does happen, and when it does, we find ourselves in a dangerous place, completely susceptible to the attacks of the enemy and open to his lies: "You are not loved!" "Nobody cares about you!" "Life is not worth living!" "God has abandoned you!" "Things are just going to get worse!" "Just give up!"

It is at those times that we must recognize that our spirits, because they are God-given, must also be God-sustained. We must look to Him for help and healing. As we read in Proverbs 17:22, "a broken spirit saps a person’s strength." Without a healthy, whole spirit, we begin to find that our entire life, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, begins to suffer. We can easily lose our determination to endure, and ultimately, our will to live. In the Old Testament story of Job, he found himself in a place where he had lost everything – his health, his wealth and all of his children. But he somehow was able to endure, because his spirit sustained him. He was able to look at his dire circumstances and see God in the middle of them. He told his wife, "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?" (Job 2:10 NLT). But there came a time, thanks to the incessant "counsel" of his friends, that Job began to lose heart. His spirit was slowly crushed under the staggering weight of their accusations of guilt. He began to lose hope and the will to live. He took his eyes off of the goodness of God and his spirit began to shrivel up inside of him.

It's interesting that in His Sermon on the Mount, the very first thing Jesus said was, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3 NIV). The poor in spirit are those who recognize the deficiencies of their hearts and turn to God for help. God came to heal our spirits and restore our souls. Without Him and without the death of Christ on the cross, our spirits were crushed, lifeless and incapable of sustaining us. But the kingdom of God was designed for just such people. The death of Christ was intended to deliver those whose spirits were crushed and dead. And He still gives life to our spirits today. When we feel down, defeated, and disheartened because of the events of life, we can turn to Him. God, who breathed life in us at creation, can breathe life into us spiritually. He can and will restore and revive us. Like Job, we will be able to say, "I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes" (Job 42:5 NLT). We will experience the life-giving, spirit-sustaining power of God first-hand and be able to say, "I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you" (Job 42:2 NLT).

Father, I find myself in a place where my spirit is crushed and broken. There is a sadness that threatens to overwhelm me, but I know I can come to you in my brokenness and receive hope and healing. You are my sustainer and strength. Help me keep my eyes focused on you and not my circumstances. Replace my sadness with joy and my despair with delight. Amen.

Correctly Handling Correction.

Proverbs 17

“A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool.” – Proverbs 17:10 NLT

How do you handle correction? When someone critiques your work or criticizes your efforts, do you get mad, upset, frustrated, lash out, throw it back at them, or simply clam up and turn away in hurt and disappointment? None of us actually like to be corrected, but how we handle it says a lot about the condition of our heart and the degree of our wisdom. You see, a wise person, one who sees things from God's perspective and attempts to live in obedience to and dependent upon God for all that he does – that person tends to see correction as beneficial and an opportunity to reflect on his life and learn from it. If correction makes us mad, it is usually due to pride and a reluctance to want to see any fault in our lives. We don't like to have our faults exposed. We don't like to have our shortcomings made known. We spend a lot of time erecting our facade of respectability and reliability, so when someone corrects or criticizes us, we can naturally react in anger and resentment. But the truly wise person is fully aware of his weaknesses, even when he can't see them. He knows he is not perfect, but is a work in process – he is constantly being transformed by God through a slow, steady process that requires the revealing of sin so that it might be confessed and forgiven, and the "putting on" of his new nature, the very nature of Christ Himself.

Here's a simple test. The next time someone critiques or criticizes you, watch your reaction. Do you get angry? Ask yourself why. Take time to determine the cause of your anger. Are you angry because they exposed a mistake and made you look bad? Are you upset because they made you look silly in front of your peers? The truth is, even if their criticism of you is unwarranted and undeserved, if you get angry, there is something being revealed in your life that you need to see and learn from. Criticism oftentimes reveals the condition of our heart. While the person may be exposing a flaw in something we said or did, our reaction to it is revealing a problem with the condition of our heart. Our anger, resentment, desire for revenge, or tendency to pull away in self-pity, all reflect a heart condition. A person of understanding has the capacity to learn from moments like this. He is able to assess and accept the criticism and learn from it. A fool simply gets mad gets even. In fact, this verse tells us that you could beat a fool or give him a whipping of a hundred lashes, and he still won't learn anything. But a person of understanding will learn from a single word of correction.

Wise people are always learning. They're always open to critique – in fact, they invite it. They know they are works in process and appreciate any help they can get that helps them see areas of weakness in their lives. They have the capacity to take even correction given in anger as potentially positive, because they view it as if from the very hand of God. This all reminds me of a an incident in the life of King David. His son, Absalom, had taken over his kingdom and David was escaping from Jerusalem in an attempt to save his own life. On his way, a man named Shimei, began throwing stones at David, cursing him and calling him a murderer. David's men wanted to kill him, but David's reaction was interesting. He said, "No! Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today" (2 Samuel 17:11-12 NLT). David took the words of this man as from the Lord Himself. He viewed the entire affair from a divine perspective. God was in control and God was fully aware of all that was going on. So David was content to let God teach him what he needed to learn through this situation.

How we handle criticism and correction reveals a lot about our relationship with the Lord. If the correction is accurate, we can learn from it. If it is wrong, and yet we still get angry, we can examine our reaction to it and see if there is something in our hearts that needs to be corrected. But either way, we can learn to correctly handle correction, and grow from it.

Father, help me learn to take correction well. Thank You that you are always exposing weaknesses in my life. I am always in need of correction. And I need to be open to critique. Otherwise, I can grow complacent or overly confident, seeing myself as better than I am. Amen.

The Best Medicine.

Proverbs 14

“A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body; jealousy is like cancer in the bones.” – Proverbs 14:30 NLT

We spend a fortune on medicine, herbs, minerals, vitamins, and supplements of all kinds. Every day we are bombarded with ads making us all kinds of promises regarding the benefits of a certain pill, mix, nutrient or miracle elixir. And we buy them – by the truck loads. Most fail to deliver on their promises. Whether they're offering a thicker head of hair, more energy, a faster metabolism, a way to burn fat, improve our memory or increase our sexual stamina, they usually don't measure up to their billing.

The truth is, a lot of our problem has less to do with what we take into our mouths or rub on our skin, than it has to do with the condition of our hearts. This proverb puts it in very simple terms; no warning label required, no scary side effects to worry about. "A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body." The NET Bible translates this verse, "A tranquil spirit revives the body." In other words, a healthy spirit is tranquil, bringing peace to the body. When we find ourselves at peace with our live and content with our circumstances, our bodies benefit greatly. But a lot of the reason we end up buying so many supplements and miracle elixirs is because we are trying to stem off the side effects of our discontented, peace-poor hearts. We are full of anxiety, stress, and tension, finding ourselves unable to sleep soundly or rest fully. Exhausted, we turn to vitamins and supplements, medicine and minerals to help us recover and rejuvenate. But there isn't pill or potion in the world that can heal a heart that lacks peace.

At the core of it all is our struggle with discontentment, jealousy, pride, envy, lust, and a whole host of other maladies of the heart. We are a people who lack peace because we don't know how to find our satisfaction with God. Our eyes are always focused on others, longingly looking at what they have and comparing their lot in life with our own. The result is jealousy and as this proverb states, "jealousy is like cancer in the bones." It destroys us from the inside out and there's nothing we can take that will heal it. The word translated "jealousy" or "envy" in this verse describes an intense and sometimes violent excitement and desire that is never satisfied. And that lack of satisfaction produces a lack of peace. Rather than experiencing tranquility, our spirits become anxious and, ultimately, angry. Our jealousy and envy is a symptom of our unhappiness with God. He has not provided enough for us. He has proven to be a lousy Father to us. He has failed to give us what we believe is due us. Rather than experiencing contentment with His unfailing love, mercy, grace, and goodness, we look around us and begin to make a list of all that's missing from our lives that we just can't seem to live without. Our desires turn into demands. Our demands turn into disappointments. Our disappointments turn into a destructive, debilitating cancer that invades our bodies and wreaks havoc on our hearts.

But a peaceful heart and a tranquil spirit contain powerful properties that produce guaranteed results. Much of what ails us is spiritual, not physical. It's a health problem related to our spirits, not our bodies. But our bodies suffer because they are intrinsically linked to our spirits. It is a peaceful heart that leads to a healthy body. If we spent more time concentrating on our spiritual well-being, we would probably spend far less money on supplements to address our physical maladies, and have far more room in our medicine cabinets.

Father, peace of heart and tranquility of soul. That's what we need. And the only place we can get it is from You. It doesn't come in a bottle, pill, pouch, or with a prescription. It comes from spending time with You and learning to accept and appreciate Your unfailing love for us – regardless of what we might see going on around us. Your Son came that we might have peace. He died so that we might have tranquility of soul. May that be true in our lives today.  Amen.

Turning Dreams Into Reality.

Proverbs 13

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12 NLT

"I want to lose 20 pounds."

"I wish I could go back to school and get my degree."

"I hope I make varsity this year."

"I am going to get out of debt this year."

"I am determined to spend more time with my family this year, and less at work."

There are all kinds of dreams out there, and we all have them. We dream of success. We dream of getting married or, if we are married, of having a better one. We dream of our kids becoming successful at sports or growing up and having a family of their own. We dream of a day when we will be financially free and emotionally happy. We dream of getting into better shape or accomplishing a long-sought-after goal. We all dream. But many of us never see those dreams come to fruition. And as the verse above states, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." The frustration of an unfulfilled dream can result in depression and discouragement. It can leave us frustrated and wallowing in self-pity, wondering why everyone else seems to have it so well and so easy.

But there is a second verse in Proverbs 13 that is a companion to this one. It says, "It is pleasant to see dreams come true, but fools refuse to turn from evil to attain them" (Proverbs 13:19 NLT). Wow! That one hurts. It seems that there is a certain degree of responsibility when it comes to seeing our hopes and dreams become reality. We have to make certain decisions and alter our lifestyles if we want our dreams to ever happen. And a big reason they never do is because we refuse to turn from evil. That word "evil" is a hard one for us to get our hearts around. It sounds so, well, evil. It sounds like we must be doing something really wicked and ungodly. But in the Hebrew, the word carries a range of meanings. It can simply mean "bad" or "wrong." So when it says that fools refuse to turn from evil, it can also mean that they refuse to turn from doing what is bad. So if your dream is to lose 20 pounds, it never happens because you refuse to cut down on your eating and neglect doing any kind of exercise. That's bad. It's wrong. You see, a fool dreams of losing weight, but won't stop doing the bad things that are contributing to the problem. If you dream of having a better marriage, but refuse to stop doing the bad things that are harming your marriage, your dream will never come true. The Proverbs are full of admonitions about diligence and hard work. Dreams rarely come true with both. I can dream about running a marathon, but if I refuse to go out and train, strapping on my running shoes and putting in the miles each day, my dream will never become a reality. It will be hope deferred, and it will lead to a sick heart.

But when we do what is necessary to see our dreams fulfilled, it is like a tree of life. It enthuses and encourages us. It invigorates and revitalizes us. Setting a goal and achieving it is a powerful motivator. But only a fool would believe that dreams are possible without hard work and a determination to stop doing those "bad" things that are counterproductive and potentially destructive. God has wired us to pursue transformation. He has placed His Spirit within us and given us His Word to direct us. He inwardly and outwardly motivates us to pursue transformation into the likeness of His Son. But there are going to be things we must give up and turn away from if we want to see change take place. If our goal is godliness, we must turn from evil, from doing what is bad or wrong for that goal to come about. The Spirit of God gives us the capacity and capability to say no to those things that are detrimental to our transformation. If you want to lose weight, you can't keep a box on donuts in the pantry. If you want to become godly, you can't surround yourself with ungodly influences. That would be counterproductive and lead to defeat. What dream has God placed on your heart? What are you willing to give up to see it become a reality?

Father, we all dream, but so few of us ever see our dreams come true. All because we refuse to give up those things that are holding us back. We hang on to the wrong things, then wonder why our dreams go unfulfilled. Open our eyes and show us the part we need to play. Thank You for giving us Your Spirit to motivate and empower us. But never let us forget that we have a responsibility to do our part. Amen.

A Polly-Anna Proverb?

Proverbs 12

“No harm comes to the godly, but the wicked have their fill of trouble.” ­– Proverbs 12:21 NLT

As I read through the Book of Proverbs, I inevitably run across verses that sound really good, but that don't appear to be realistic about life. They seem to make sweeping promises that aren't necessarily true. But then I have to remind myself that these proverbs are not actually promises. They aren't even necessarily principles for life. They are truths. They reflect how the world should operate. The picture how things were designed by God to be, but because of the fall and the presence of sin, things are not always pristine and clear. When we read "No harm comes to the godly," it isn't hard to think of instances in our own lives, as believers, when we may have experienced harm or hurt. We can come up with countless examples of godly people who have suffered and even been martyred for their faith. So what is this passage really telling us? Is it a lie or simply wishful thinking?

As is typical in the rest of the book, what we have here is a contrast between godly living and wickedness. The individual who loves God and seeks to live his life according to God's will and way, is juxtaposed with that individual who has determined to live in rebellion to God. And this verse tells us there are benefits to godliness and consequences for wickedness. This isn't a promise for a trouble-free life. It isn't a guarantee of protection from harm. I think it is telling us that a life of godliness will never be the cause or root of our pain or problems. In other words, if I follow God's way and walk according to His will for my life, it will not result in trouble. Think about this carefully. As a Christian, I may suffer because of my faith. In fact, Jesus told me I would. But when others attack me or cause me pain because of my relationship with Christ, it is because of their own hatred, bigotry and sin, NOT because of anything I have done to them. Jesus suffered greatly at the hands of men because He claimed to be the Son of God. He was accused of blasphemy. The Jewish religious leadership demanded His death. But even Pilot could find no fault in Jesus. He was innocent of all wrong-doing. His crime was that He was telling the truth and they simply did not want to hear it or accept it. Yes, Jesus faced trouble. But He was not the cause of it. Godliness does not result in harm. Wickedness does. The two men hanging on the crosses next to Jesus deserved to be there. Their lives had determined their fate. They were guilty as charged and worthy of their punishment, as cruel as it may have been. One of them even admitted, "We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn't done anything wrong" *(Luke 23:41 NLT).

When we suffer pain or undergo persecution in our lives, it is NEVER because of our faith in Christ. It is not a result of godly living. It is because we live in a godless world. People may attack us because of our Christianity, but what they do to us will never be justifiable because of our Christianity. Godliness does not produce pain and suffering. Yes, we will suffer pain and suffering, but those things are the byproduct of wickedness. Jesus' death on the cross was not caused by His righteous, sinless life, but because of the wickedness of men.

So what do we do with all this? It should be a reminder to us in times of difficulty, that any pain and suffering we encounter are not the result of our faith in Christ. At no time do we have the right or are we justified to shake our fist in the face of God and complain that our faithfulness to Him is causing us harm. We may be suffering because of the sinfulness of others or even because of our own sin, but not because we did things God's way. And we must remember that God can and will always use our pain and suffering for our good and His glory. When Joseph looked back on his life, a life filled with all kinds of setbacks and disappointments, including his own brothers selling him into slavery, he was able to say, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people" (Genesis 50:20 NLT). The life of godliness or faithfulness to God, never results in harm. It will never be the cause of our troubles. It is the presence of wickedness in our own lives and the lives of others that will always be the culprit. "The way of the godly leads to life; that path does not lead to death" (Proverbs 12:28 NLT).

Father, living my life according to Your terms and in faithful submission to Your will is right where I need to be. It results in life. It will produce pain or result in harm. But I know there will be pain and suffering. Help me to realize the source and recognize that it is not because of my faith in You.  Amen.

Wrong Priorities.

Proverbs 11

"Trust in your money and down you go! But the godly flourish like leaves in spring." – Proverbs 11:28 NLT

This verse is pretty straight forward. It doesn't leave much to the imagination or require a lot of explanation. If you trust in your money, you will find that it lets you down. It can't be trusted. It is a poor substitute for God. In fact, money makes a lousy god.

Yet, most of us worship it in one form or another. If we don't have enough of it, we dream of getting more. We devote our time and energy trying to earn more of it so that we can feel more secure, live more comfortably, and look more successful. The lack of money makes us desire more of it. It consumes our thoughts and causes us to envy those who have more than we do. We feel inadequate and as if we have been dealt a bad deal. We can't understand why we have to struggle financially when others do not. Money becomes the solution to all our problems. With more of it, we think, all our troubles will be solved.

On the other hand, if we have money, there is an interesting reality that we can become either dissatisfied, always wanting more, or constantly worried that we will lose what we already have. Contentment is a rare commodity for the wealthy. Not only can wealth be illusive, it can be fickle and hard to keep your hands on. Elsewhere in Proverbs we read, "Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit.In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle" (Proverbs 23:4-5 NLT). Here today, gone tomorrow. Most of us have seen the truth of that statement in our own lifetimes as we've our 401k accounts and investment portfolios dwindle right before our eyes. Retirement accounts that at one time were our hope for the future no longer provide the peace of mind we were counting on.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with money. Having wealth is not a sin. But when we make money our god, we will ALWAYS be let down. This proverb is dealing with the issue of trust. In the Hebrew, the word has to do with placing our confidence in someone or something. It is what we hope in and rely on. It is that thing that gives us comfort and provides us with motivation and security. The problem with placing that kind of requirement on wealth is that it can't deliver. A beautiful home is great, but it can burn down just as easily as a shack. It can be broken into or destroyed just as easily as a home of far lesser value. We have seen images of beautiful homes destroyed by hurricanes and ravaged by tornadoes. Forest fires don't seem to care how much a home costs before it turns it to ashes. Expensive cars wear out, break down, get stolen, lose their value, or end up junk yards. If we trust them to give us self-worth of value, they will let us down. Wealth will ALWAYS let us down.

But those who trust in God will flourish like leaves in spring. That is what it means to be godly. The godly are those who have learned to rely on and trust in God. Like a leaf on a tree, they are dependent on God to provide them with all they need to survive and thrive. Their job is to rest in Him and allow Him to produce His life in them. When we trust in money, we become like a dead leaf, ultimately falling to the ground, dried up and lifeless. The godly flourish, regardless of how much money they have, the kind of car they drive, the quality of the neighborhood they live in, or the schools their kids attend. Money and wealth are illusive and fickle. God is not. Trust in Him. Put your hope and confidence in Him. He alone is reliable, and worthy of any investment you make in order to know Him better.

Father, open my eyes and help me understand just how faithful You really are. Help me to know that money makes a lousy god. It will never deliver what it promises. It ALWAYS lets me down. But You never do. Amen

Some good advice.

Proverbs 10

"Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep you mouth shut." – Proverbs 10:19 NLT

Let's face it, our words can get us into trouble. There was a popular saying during WWII that said, "Loose lips sink ships." In other words, because of the reality of spies, it could be dangerous to speak about things concerning the war because you never knew who might be listening. A simple case of gossip could have devastating consequences for the entire nation. Our tongue can get us into trouble. James wasn't a huge fan of the tongue. "And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself" (James 3:6 NLT). But the tongue can also be used for good. Solomon says, "The words of the godly are like sterling silver" (Proverbs 10:20 NLT). They have value and worth. He also reminds us that the words of the godly can be used to encourage many. "The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice" (Proverbs 10:31 NLT) and "The lips of the godly speak helpful words" (Proverbs 10:32 NLT).

But the truth is, we all struggle with knowing what to say and when to say it. We speak too quickly and we can too often say the wrong thing and the wrong time. We mean well, but we can still speak words that harm rather than help. We are too often too quick with an answer. We fail to think about what we are going to say and we we tend to think what we have to say is always right. And then we wonder why our words blow up in our face and end up doing damage to the ones we love. Maybe we need to heed Solomon's advice. "Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut" (Proverbs 10:19 NLT). This verse reminds me of one of the Old Testament prophets. His name was Ezekiel and he was given the unenviable task of speaking the convicting word of God to the people of Israel. They were a rebellious and stubborn group of people who refused to listen, and Ezekiel, being human, found himself getting frustrated with their lack of obedience and response. God had appointed Ezekiel a watchman over Israel. He was told that every time he received a message from God, he was to tell it to the people. God was going to hold him personally responsible for the deaths of anyone whom he failed to warn. If he warned them and they failed to listen, then their death was own their own hands. So it was vital that Ezekiel say ONLY what God had told him to say. It would have been dangerous for Ezekiel to ad-lib and come up with his own version of the truth. So God did him a favor. "Then the Spirit came into me and set me on my feet. He spoke to me and said, “Go to your house and shut yourself in. There, son of man, you will be tied with ropes so you cannot go out among the people. And I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. But when I give you a message, I will loosen your tongue and let you speak. Then you will say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’." (Ezekiel 3:24-27 NLT). God struck Ezekiel dumb. He could only speak when he spoke what God had given him to say. His own words got stuck in his throat. If he was angry and wanted to read the Israelites the riot act, he was unable to do so. If he got frustrated and wanted to give them a peace of his mind, he couldn't. If he felt like he had some good advice they needed to hear, he had to keep it to himself. He could only speak when he spoke what God had give him to say. Think about it. Wouldn't that be a great restriction for all of us to be under? Wouldn't it be better for all parties involved if the only things we could say were what God had given us to say? Our tongues get us into trouble when we speak on our own behalf and according to our own "wisdom." We say what is on our mind. We respond in anger of frustration. We give what we think is good advice, but it ends up being ungodly. It's not biblically based or Spirit motivated. James tells us, "Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry" (James 1:19 NLT). We need to learn to shut up and listen. We need to hear what's being said by others before we determine what it is we are going to say in response. And we need to learn to listen to God, so that when we do speak, we say what He would have us say. There are times when silence is truly golden.

Father, keep me from speaking my own words. I do it far too often. Help me learn to listen to You and to keep my advice to myself. Let me learn to hear from You so that I might speak for You. Forgive me for the damage I have done with my tongue. Give me an ever-growing sensitivity to Your counsel and an increasing desire to say only what You would have me say. Amen

Prone To Wander.

Proverbs 7

"Don't let your hearts stray away toward her. Don't wander down her wayward path." – Proverbs 7:25 NET

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.

Those are the lyrics from one of my favorite old hymns and they go well with today's topic. Prone to wander. That's a big problem for all of us as Christians today. We have happy feet. We just can't stand still. Constantly on the move, because we grow quickly dissatisfied and discontent, we find ourselves prone to leave the God we say we love. We stray off the path and start to pursue other temptations, other delights that promise us more and offer to satisfy our passion for pleasure. This proverb is a warning from a father to his son regarding the danger of sexual promiscuity and immorality. It was a problem then, and it remains a problem today. And the enemy knows that we still can't seem to control our most basic urges and animal instincts. We are far too often driven by the desires of the flesh. If not for sex, then for some other sensual pleasure, whether for food, a good buzz, a momentary thrill, sleep, entertainment, or our insatiable need for acceptance.

It's interesting that the young men in this proverb are described as naive. They are lacking in common sense and good judgment. They are in the wrong spot at the wrong time. They have put themselves at risk by being where they had no business being. They're in the wrong neighborhood and after dark. Not a good combination. Spotting her prey, the immoral woman approaches one of them and begins to ply her craft. She is "seductively dressed and sly or heart." She's a pro. In her day, before she went professional, she was "the brash, rebellious type, never content to stay at home" (Proverbs 7:11 NLT). On other words, she was a wanderer as well. Now she plies the young man with all kinds of tempting tools of the trade, appealing to his sensual side. She applies false flattery and butters him up with offers of sensual pleasures and forbidden fruit. And before he knows it, he's hooked, like a striped bass to a lure.

And it all began with a simple step off the path. He wandered away from the truth. He took a dangerous detour and it led to a dead end. But isn't that always the way sin works. The problem is that it almost always begins with a wandering heart. We find ourselves somehow dissatisfied with life as it is. Unhappy or discontented with our lot in life, we begin to look around. We get off the path. It could be as simple as surfing the Internet while in a state of boredom or mild depression. Or what about channel surfing late at night while everyone else is in bed. Your guard is down. Your sensual side is on high alert. Your body tells you it needs more. It is unhappy and dissatisfied. Pretty soon, you find yourself somewhere you don't need to be – off the path and in for an attack from the enemy. And he will use all the subtle, seductive and yet sinister resources at his disposal to lure you in and trap you.

So what are we to do? Simple. Don't wander. Recognize the fact that you are prone to wander and ask God to bind your heart to Him. You see, it's always a heart issue. It's about love and misplaced affections. When we begin to fall out of love for God or doubt His love for us, we wander. We start to look for love in other places and from other people. And we all do it. We turn on the TV to anesthetize and numb us, or simply take our mind off our problems by distracting us for a few minutes. Some feel unloved or unwanted, so they turn to the false allure of pornography or sex outside of marriage. Some attempt to shop their way to satisfaction and happiness, or they work themselves to death in an effort to feel a sense of worth and accomplishment. But in the end, all these things turn out to be wrong turns that lead to dead ends and disappointment. Don't let your hearts stray. Don't wander. Let the goodness of God bind your wandering heart to Him.

Father, I am prone to wander. I tend to forget all that You have done and are doing in my life and begin to think that something is missing. Then I begin to look elsewhere for something or someone to provide what I think I need to have. But You are all I need. You are sufficient. Bind my heart to You, Father. Continually remind me of just how much You love me. Keep me from wandering off the path and away from Your love. Ame

Entomological Life Lessons.

Proverbs 6

"Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise!" – Proverbs 6:6 NLT

Nature is full of lessons if we will just stop long enough to look and learn. It seems that God has wired into His creation some valuable and highly practical illustrations from which we can glean insights for living. In this verse, the lazy person or sluggard, is told to wake up long enough to examine the work ethic of the ant. They're small, apparently leaderless and lacking anyone to make them work, yet they labor hard all summer gathering food for the winter. These tiny, insignificant creatures instinctively know how to diligently sustain not only themselves, but their entire colony, through hard work. Don't don't sleep in or shirk their responsibilities. Every one of them does their fair share of the work to help make the colony successful. But the lazy individual thinks only about himself, and prefers sleep over work. They just can't seem to get out of bed in the morning. Elsewhere in the Proverbs they are described to be like a door on hinges, they just keep rolling right back into bed every time they attempt to get up.

It would seem to me that if God has wired the ant with a basic instinct for hard work and diligence, the same thing would be true of man. Man was created to work. Man was created to be creative. But what has gone wrong? In short, the fall. Sin entered the picture and muddied the water. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, work became drudgery. What used to be enjoyable became laborious and required sweat and effort. And because work became difficult, man began to look for shortcuts and workarounds. He began searching for a better way, an easier way. Because God had wired man to work and create, Satan began to tempt him with alternatives and distract him with easier options. Sleeping in seems so much more appealing than getting up and going to work. A few more hours of rest beats work hands down. But when we choose the Enemy's options, we find ourselves in rebellion against God. Just as Eve listened to the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit, in direct violation of God's command, every time we give in to the temptations of Satan and shirk our God-given responsibility to work, we are sinning against Him.

Laziness is sin. When we fail to work, we are refusing to obey God and do what He has created us to do. But wait, you say, "I get up early every morning and put in a full day at work. I never sleep in and I work long, hard hours." But you may still be lazy. Because when all is said and done, the work we are called to by God is to do His will. Ants are created to work hard for the colony. They are communal creatures whose soul purpose in life is to minister and contribute to the good of the whole. You don't see ants starting side businesses or taking a well-deserved two-week vacation to Barbados. From the minute they are born to the second they die, they are laboring, not for themselves, but for the community. And all they do, they do in conjunction with others. They labor together, not individually. There is a sense of shared responsibility and corporate cooperation. Too often, our hard work is self-centered and for our benefit only. We live in a society that has lost its corporate and communal sensibility. We have become Lone Rangers, doing what we do with diligence and determination, but with little sense of our responsibility to the body.

As believers, we are called to labor for the cause of Christ within the context of the body of Christ. But many of us have become so distracted with other cares and concerns. We work hard, but we have lost sight of our mission. We spend countless hours earning a paycheck and accomplishing work that benefits primarily just ourselves. But when it comes to the work for which God created us and for which Christ redeemed us, we can become lazy, disinterested and distracted by other concerns and cares. God has work for us to do, but we are too busy doing what we want to do. We have become lazy about accomplishing the will and the work of God. And we make excuses, justifying our actions and attempting to make ourselves feel good about all we are accomplishing – for ourselves. "Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise!"

Father, it is sometimes so easy to be lazy about the things You would have me do. I can put off Your work and replace it with my own. I can delay doing Your will in order to accomplish my own. I can also become so self-centered that I lose sight of the Body of Christ and my responsibilities to it. Help me learn a lesson from the ant and diligently do the work You have created me for and called me to do. Amen

God Sees.

Proverbs 5

"For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes." – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

Have you ever stopped to think just how silly it is to attempt to try and and hide anything from God? After all, He is all-knowing and is not limited by space and time. He is everywhere at once and does not have to deal with the limitations of past, present and future as we do. He sees everything equally well, regardless of whether it has already happened or has yet to take place. David put it this way in Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

You know when I sit down or stand up.

You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

You see me when I travel

and when I rest at home.

You know everything I do.

You know what I am going to say

even before I say it, Lord.

You go before me and follow me.

You place your hand of blessing on my head.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too great for me to understand!

He knows it all, including what I am going to say before I even say it. God sees everything I do. He examines every path I take. He literally weighs out our actions, putting them in a scale and determining their value or worth. And He measures them against His own righteous standard, not the flawed and fickle standards of this world. The context for this verse is a serious warning from a father to his son regarding the dangers of sexual immorality and promiscuity. He is trying to get his son to realize the deadly ramifications of being unfaithful to his wife and allowing himself to fall for the temptations of adultery. He gives him all the dire outcomes, but then wraps it up by reminding his son that God sees ALL our actions, and He measures and examines them against His own righteous requirements. We can't hide what we do from God. We may fool our spouses and our friends, but God sees all and knows all. And He knows exactly what is going on in our hearts even if we choose not to act out our adulterous desires. He knows every time we lust and every time an immoral thought goes through our brain. That realization should sober us and cause us to seriously consider our ways.

The fact that God sees all and knows all should only scare us if we are guilty of doing things of which He might disapprove. The existence of traffic cameras should not strike fear into the hearts of those who are obeying the traffic signs. The presence of a policeman on the side of the road should not make our palms sweat and our hearts race unless we happen to be breaking the speed limit. If we are living in obedience to God's Word and in reliance upon His Spirit, His all-seeing eye should bring us comfort, not fear. We should rejoice in the fact that God is always looking out for us and never takes His eyes off us. And if He does happen to see us do something contrary to His will, He makes it known to us so that we can confess it and receive His forgiveness. We live under His watchful eyes at all times. There is no time when He is unaware of us or cannot see us. That realization should bring us peace and cause us to consider our ways more seriously. "For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes."

Father, thank You for never taking your eyes off of me. What a comfort to know You are always there and you are always fully aware. Never let me forget that I am living under your loving, watchful eye at all times. May that realization influence my behavior and my thoughts. Amen

Choices Have Consequences.

Proverbs 4

"Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment." – Proverbs 4:7 NLT

Choosing to live wisely has its benefits, and the Proverbs lists them all. The wise life results in good judgment, guidance, protection, greatness, honor, good life, straight paths, light for the journey, the key to life, and healing, just to name a few. But we can all choose to reject the way of wisdom and find ourselves living like fools, and there are consequences that come with refusing wisdom. "But the way of the wicked is like total darkness. They have no idea what they are stumbling over" (Proverbs 4:19 NLT). That sounds pretty bleak, doesn't it? But think about it. If we refuse to live wisely, according to God's way, then we lack good judgement, we have no guidance, we find ourselves outside the protection of God, our lives are not marked by greatness and honor, our paths are crooked and difficult, and we find ourselves walking in darkness.

Oh, we may see individuals who are not Christ-followers who appear to be happy and successful, living care-free lives and enjoying what appear to be many of the benefits of a life of wisdom. But looks can be deceiving. What we fail to recognize and realize is that the benefits of wisdom are more internal than they are external. Walking according to God's way does not promise a life without difficulty or days without sorrow. But God does promise to give us the guidance we need and the peace required to make it through. He gives us light for the journey because the way can often times be dark and dangerous. He gives us good judgment, because too often we are faced with the task of making difficult decisions. He provides us with healing because we can become sick and weakened by constant exposure to the sin of this world. But those who choose to live foolishly, refusing to walk according to the wisdom of God, will always find themselves at a loss when tragedy strikes or times of difficulty come. Their possessions and prosperity will prove incapable of providing what they need. Their success will do little to help them survive. Choosing to live life without the wisdom of God will always have consequences. That's why Solomon warns us, "Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the straight path. Don't get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil" (Proverbs 4:26-27 NLT). To follow evil is to reject God or refuse to live according to His terms. It is not referring to a life of complete and total debauchery. Wickedness is not talking about a life marked by pure evil. The wicked are those who are guilty of sin and hostile toward God. They live in opposition to God. They reject His way and walk according to their own agenda and obey their own rules. They live lives that are unpleasing to God, because their lives are not lived according to His desires. And their decision to live that way always has consequences. Living life according to God's terms is a choice – a daily choice. Seeking His wisdom and applying it to our lives is a lifelong endeavor. Applying His good judgment to the decisions of life is a daily requirement. But it has its benefits. It will bring life, peace, joy, guidance, direction, comfort, and enough light to guide our next step.

Father, help me to understand that my choices have consequences. Sometimes it is so easy to forget. I can convince myself that everything will work out just find, no matter what choice I make. But only a life marked by wisdom has benefits. Only living according to Your way results in blessing. Never let me forget that. Amen

Be Ready To Be Used.

Proverbs 3

"Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it's in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbor now, don't say, 'Come back tomorrow, and then I'll help you.'" – Proverbs 3:27-28 NLT

God has us on this planet for a reason. He could have taken us when He saved us, but instead, He chose to leave us here. Rather than some sort of sick joke, God has a purpose for our presence in this world. We are His ambassadors, His representatives, and we have the distinct privilege of acting as His hands and feet, making His love and mercy visible to all those around us. According to the apostle Paul, "God has given us this task of reconciling people to him" (2 Corinthians 5:18 NLT). Because of what God has graciously done for us through Christ, we should be ready and willing to share this message of hope with others. "So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!'" (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT). But not only are we to tell people about the good news of Jesus Christ, we are to act as agents of His love and mercy to all those around us. And that means that we are not only to be ready to share the gospel, but we must be ready to meet needs. These verses in Proverbs are interesting. When they say, "Do not withhold good from those who deserve it," it carries the idea of withholding something from the one to whom it belongs. In other words, you have something that belongs to someone else, and you run the risk of keeping it for yourself. God has given you the responsibility of stewarding something that He intended for you to give to someone else.

This makes me think about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Who is to be the beneficiary of this fruit? You and I? No. The fruit is intended for others. God does not produce patience in my life so that I might enjoy it for me. It is to be shared with those who try my patience. Self-control is not intended for my own benefit, but to bless those around me as I practice it. Each of these characteristics of the Spirit are given to us to share with others. In essence, they are the owners of it and we are simply giving them what is rightfully theirs.

Take it a step further. If God blesses us with material possessions or financial means, does He do so simply for our own good? I don't think so. He gives to us so that we might be able to give to others. Once again, He makes us stewards of His blessings so that we might be ready to share them with those we meet along the way. And according to Proverbs, we are to be ready to help immediately. We are not to delay or postpone our acts of goodness and generosity to another, more convenient time. We are to respond immediately. James gives us the same words of advice and reminds us that our actions are an expression of our faith. "What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well'—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless." (James 2:14-17 NLT).

Our faith must have an expression. It must show up in our actions and attitudes towards others. Each day we are given opportunities by God to act as His agents, His instruments of change in the world. We are like vessels through which He pours out His love, mercy and grace to those in our sphere of influence. We are conduits carrying the love of God to those in need, and one of the best ways to help them to see God is for them to experience His love through us as we respond to their physical needs in a timely manner. Our faith must be actionable, our love must be tangible, so that God's presence might be palpable.

Father, through Your Holy Spirit, give me the sensitivity I need to know what I have that others need. Forgive me for selfishly keeping for myself what You intended for others. Help me see the needs of others more keenly and respond quickly. Amen