Tuesday, April 29, 2014

When things seem out of Control...

Read Proverbs 21.

If you ever wonder if God is still in control, here are three statements to consider.  These will test our faith from time to time when things appear to be going in the wrong direction.

1. The LORD controls the leaders.
"The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will."  (v.1)
Do leader's sin? Yes they do.  Are some even under the influence of Satan?  Yes.  But they will ultimately fulfill God's purposes.  In the days of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar made some horrible, anti-God decisions.  But the LORD was able to protect His people and change the king.  In the days of Esther, the king made some unconscionable decrees.  Yet, God moved in a miraculous way to change the king's mind and world history.  Pray for the leaders in your life.

2. The LORD controls the plans.
"No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD." (v.30)
Satan and the selfish interests of the human mind have invented an endless array of false beliefs and directions for life.  However, none of them will stand the tests of time and truth.  Reading the Scriptures and comparing them with history provides absolute confidence that God is in charge of His-story.  Indeed, the culmination of all things is written down for us.  We are not left in the dark as to what the LORD is doing.
Learn God's plans in the Bible.

3. The LORD controls the results.
"The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD." (v.31)
This statement laughs in the face of those who claim to be self-made successes.  All power and, therefore, all glory belongs to the Owner of all things.  Are we responsible to work hard and diligently use our opportunities for achievement of good goals?  Absolutely.  But as we do, it is with the full recognition of the Source of our gifts, talents, opportunities and results.
Trust God for His will to be done.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Can I trust You?

Read Proverbs 20.

"Trust me", they say.  But are they trustworthy?  What establishes trust is verification or performance.  Did their words prove true?  Did they do what they promised?

The Bible holds in highest regard a person's faithfulness.  It is a serious matter to the LORD.  Our world treats truth as relative.  Deceit is acceptable.  Lying is rationalized and excused.  Verse 6 asks the question, "...a faithful man who can find?"
1. Claims.
Substitute words for a lack of truthfulness in claims or accomplishments include exaggeration and overstatement.  How many times in recent years have high-profile people been caught with false claims on their resumes or plagiarism in their writings?  Some can look right into the camera or under oath and lie.
2. Commitments.
Everyday people make promises to lenders to pay on time over a period of years.  They sign their name to the contract to be faithful.  The ultimate commitment in life is marriage.  Before God, family and witnesses the couple makes a lifelong promise, no matter what the circumstances.  The vow states "until death" but at least 50% of marriages do not last that long.  Usually, it is one party who decides to violate the trust and are unfaithful.  Instead of being embarrassed and humbly dealing with the sin, the guilty party wants to simply and pridefully walk away.

3. Conduct.
Verse 23 refers to how one conducts their business.  Some are willing to say anything to make a sale or cheat to get ahead.  But, accuracy is important to God who watches every transaction.

Faithfulness is a character issue of integrity.  Those who know Jesus are to reflect His character in every moment.  He is ever trustworthy and so are His followers to be.  "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Perspectives on the Poor

Read Proverbs 19.

Wealth can attract the attention of many so-called friends.  But when the money disappears, one discovers who their true friends are.  Then, what about those who never had much?  Judging the poor strictly on their financial status may well lead to a wrong conclusion.

In this chapter, the LORD provides four principles of His perspective on the poor.
1. Character. (v.1)
Here is the contrast.  Which is better: to have no money yet live and do what is right, or to have money yet speak and behave as a fool?  Character has nothing to do with one's bank account.  It has everything to do with who a person is on the inside. Even without resources, a poor person may stand tall in their integrity.

2. Connections. (vv.6-7)
A wealthy person can be surrounded by people and highly connected with others.  Most of them wanting something from them.  But when one has nothing materially to give, it can be lonely, even treated with disdain.  One of the beautiful features of a good local church is its diversity.  Regardless of one's background, race, or financial status, all stand on level ground at the foot of the cross and sit together in worship and learning to apply the Scriptures.  

3. Charity. (v.17)
Giving to the poor is not a mater of providing money but resources.  This is the mistake of most of the government's efforts.  Wealth redistribution is not helpful to either the wealthy or the poor.  Certainly, there must be provisions of care and compassion for immediate needs.  Counseling and job training with work opportunities are essential to helping people get out of poverty.  The truly poor should be helped in a dignified way that leads them to support themselves.  While a church can provide friendship and spiritual help, the practical resources are usually available through some fine local organizations.

4. Consistency. (v.22)
Everyone desires love, not sometimes, but faithfully.  If the poor is truly to be helped, it cannot be a hit and miss operation but a consistent act of love for them.  To say we love and not support it with actions is falsehood.  This verse states that being poor is better than that.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Rethinking personal Security

Read Proverbs 18.

Where do you run when threatened?  Where is that place of personal safety and security?

1. Physical security. 
When building a city in the days of the Old Testament, security and safety took two basic forms.  There would be a wall all around.  At the sign of trouble, those working in the fields outside could run to the nearest gate.  At night, the gates were locked.  Watchmen served as lookouts at their stations on the wall.  The second type of structure was a tower.  Sometimes, they were built outside the wall or along the road for emergencies.  Often, large defensive towers were constructed inside the wall as a stronghold.  This acted as a large safe-room for people inside the city, if the gates or walls were breached.

Today, there are alarm systems for cars and homes.  We can call 911.  Some have weapons at the ready.  We trust the police to keep our streets safe and the military to protect our nation.  But there are no guarantees.

2. Financial security. (v.11)
Living below our income level,
Keeping plenty of margin in our monthly budget for the unexpected,
Saving money equal to many months of our income in case of job loss,
Contributing the maximum to our retirement funds,
Investing wisely,
These are all prudent ways to build financial security.  But there are no guarantees.

3. Spiritual security. (v.10, 12)
"The name of the LORD is a strong tower."  His name refers to His character and reputation.  The LORD is eternally faithful.  Physical safety measures may not always protect us.  Financial losses are always possible.  But the strong name of Jesus is an unfailing place of refuge and peace.  The enemy of this security is pride.  Once a person admits their need and humbles themselves before God they discover His acceptance and protection.

Lina Sandell penned the old hymn entitled "Security."
"More secure is no one ever than the loved ones of the Savior..."
"Neither life nor death can ever from the Lord His children sever;
For His love and deep compassion comforts them in tribulation."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

6 keys to peace and Quiet

Read Proverbs 17.

Peace and quiet are missing elements in our noisy, high-tech, informational bombarding world.  We need times of turning off the noise.  Withdrawing to a place of solitude for prayer and spiritual renewal is necessary for our well-being.  Remaining quiet when we could have spoken shows wise discernment.  Living in contentment instead of striving for more brings inner satisfaction.

Several verses in this chapter underscore the values of peace and quiet.
1. Our home. (v.1)
Having more stuff often brings more stress and strife with it.  Being grateful for what we have is essential to peace at home.

2. Our listening. (v.4)
What goes in is sure to come out.  A person who allows their ears to listen to evil, wicked words will be affected in their thinking, their speech and their behavior.  We need to screen, and even steel, ourselves from people, music, and movies that are offensive to the LORD.

3. Our trustworthiness. (v.9)
Covering has to do with keeping quiet about someone else's sin.  Ideally, with confession and forgiveness, the matter can be resolved quietly and peaceably.  But when instead the sin is told to those who are not part of the problem, nor part of the solution, a person's character can be destroyed.  This will make for anything but peace.

4. Our responses. (v.14)
When conflict does come (and it will), it is important to respond quickly and not allow escalation.  It is easier to deal with a small disagreement than it is to stop a war.

5. Our family. (v.17)
Many times we are not able to cope with the trouble that comes our way.  We need someone to listen to us, to love us, and to provide assistance.  That is why God has given us a family.  Friends may come and go, but we have family by birth.  Many do not have a natural family to whom they can turn.  The church is a family of believers who are to provide that kind of mutual support to each other.

6. Our discretion. (v.20)
Knowing when to speak up and when to be quiet requires wisdom.  Telling all we know in every conversation is foolishness.  Sometimes the hardest work of all is the ministry of simply listening to another's strife.  Wisdom is often demonstrated by its restraint as much as its actions.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

6 questions to ask of every Plan

Read Proverbs 16.

Everyone has dreams and desires they would like to see accomplished.  But without plans and action on those, our desires will be merely wishes that will never happen.  Planning requires thought.  What should we be thinking in regards to things we want to see take place.

1. Who is in control? (vv.1, 33)
Ultimately, we must be willing to submit our wills to His sovereignty.  We can come up with ideas, even wonderfully helpful ones, but primary in our thinking must be what the LORD wants us to be doing.
2. What is my motive? (vv.2, 18)
Is this a selfish idea to feed my pride or is this a great plan that will help others?  Pride is the enemy.  Getting ahead at all costs will not go unpunished.  Winning is a worthy goal, but it is not everything.

3. How have I prayed? (vv.3, 9)
Notice, it is not did I pray but how.  Was I trying to talk God into my idea or was I surrendering my thoughts to His will for my life?  The outcome of the latter will be a settledness in my heart as I move forward.

4. Do I recognize God's purpose? (v.4)
Ephesians 2:10 states that our lives are His workmanship.  In Romans 8:28, Paul wrote that all things in life work together for our good and God's glory.  Envisioning how this plan fits God's purpose for my life provides a boldness and confidence nothing else can.

5. What influence could this have on those who do not like me? (v.7)
A wrongful competitive spirit can be warlike.  But one of the indicators that the Holy Spirit is in control is peace.  We cannot control nor are we responsible for how others may respond.  We are accountable to God for actions.

6. Where is this leading? (vv.17, 25)
Is this plan clean before God and is it headed in the right direction?  A hallmark of the right plan is that it leads away from anything sinful or evil.

A valuable verse to memorize:
"Commit your work to the LORD and your plans will be established." (v.3)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

2 things that are free and have a high Price

Read Proverbs 15.

The best things in life are free...and come at a high cost.

In the middle of this chapter, are two verses that declare somethings that are "better" for life.  Each is free, in that they do not require any money.  Yet, each of them bears a high price.

1. Holding God in reverence. (v.16)
Repeatedly in the book of Proverbs we are admonished to fear the LORD.  This is the starting point of all wisdom (1:7) and it is the requirement for the path of life.  Experiencing such a relationship with the Living God is free by His grace.  It is His gift to us (Romans 6:23).  Yet, it comes at such a price we cannot imagine.  The sinless Son of God took our sin upon Himself so we might have His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  This, according to wisdom, is better than having all the money in the world.

2. Loving family at home. (v.17)
The household income may be meager.  One's financial ability may be limited to an extreme.  But expressing and receiving love is free.  Yet, it costs us repeatedly in the daily sacrifices in every way.  Maintaining a loving relationship with family involves giving up what we want for the needs of the people God has given to us.  It changes the use of our time, deflates our egos, changes our plans, and will drain what finances we do have.  It will drive us to our knees for intercessory prayer.  True love is more than an emotion.  What separates love from lust is commitment.  When one is willing to commit themselves for life to their family and their needs, it will be better than all the other provisions one could possibly give to their family.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Is truth relative or Absolute?

Read Proverbs 14.

Nothing is more foundational to a person's character that truthfulness.  If one's words cannot be trusted then any relationship with them will prove futile and, perhaps, dangerous.

1. Living a lie. (v.2)
How a person responds to the LORD is the first step in building a life of truthfulness.  It is the understanding that we are accountable to God for every word.  Jesus said,  "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak." (Matthew 12:36)  Those who try to ignore this basic truth will find themselves living a lie, pretending they have no accountability.  With God as Judge, no one gets away with lying.  

2. Telling a lie. (vv.5 and 25)
Both of these verses refer to a witness providing public testimony.  The example in verse 25 appears to be a capital trial where a defendant's life is at stake.  The point is that what we say has direct effect on the lives of others.  Always telling the truth is the recognition that our words are accountable to others.  Sooner or later, the truth will be known.  No one gets away with lying.
3. Knowing the truth. (v.6)
When a person is right with God they are committed to the truth.  Understanding the applications of truth is the essence of spiritual growth.  Sid S. Buzzell wrote, "Mockers look for wisdom in all the wrong places." (Bible Knowledge Commentary).  Some are being told the lie to look within themselves.  Some are told the lie to trust in systems or organizations.  The Apostle Paul wrote strong words of condemnation for those who would seek truth in other places in 2 Timothy 3:  The entire chapter makes the point that without a commitment to Jesus Christ and the Scriptures one is doomed to "always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth." (v.7)

Jesus, the Living Word of God.  "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
The Scriptures, the Written Word of God.  Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17)

Monday, April 14, 2014

6 principles of financial Prosperity

Read Proverbs 13.

Resources are everywhere on the subject of financial planning, wealth management, and how to retire to the life of your dreams.  Then, in fine print, all legitimate investments will include a disclaimer that there are no guarantees.  When the Bible speaks to these subjects it is in the form of principles that are rooted in personal character.  Yes, your financial results may vary, but the wisdom is timeless.

1. Always tell the truth. (v.5)
"The righteous hates falsehood."  How many get-rich-quick schemes have been based upon false assumptions?  How many sales presentations have exaggerated or lied to close the deal?  Lying may result in a sale but when the truth is known everyone involved will be hurt.

2.  Do not pretend to be something you are not. (v.7)
Quite often the person who flaunts a wealthy image is a pretender.  They become so concerned how others perceive them that they behave foolishly.  It is form of lying.  On the other hand, one whom God has blessed with a degree of abundance should use discernment as a good and accountable steward of what they have been given.

3. Be patient and take the long view. (v.11)
We live in a world that increasingly wants instant gratification.  And, in the area of money, the tendency is to get all you can and get it now.  That is the consistent thinking of the foolish.  Wisdom takes the long view and sees that a life is built by the decisions made day by day.  The question of good stewardship is what are we doing with what the LORD has already provided?  In the parable of the talents, part of the rewarding phrase is "You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much" (Matthew 25:21).

4. Listen to wise advice. (v.18)
A sure sign of a fool is that they reject wisdom.  The results are poverty and disgrace.  One who heeds sound counsel and behaves accordingly is on the opposite path.

5. Plan to impact future generations. (v.22)
No one takes their wealth with them.  One day we will leave everything behind.  The foolish spend all they have on worthless and selfish interests.  The wise are thinking of how they can help others, even after they are gone.  A good steward is one who not only is generous with their income, but also is a good steward of their estate.  Not having an updated will and an estate plan is poor stewardship to say the least.

6. Learn to be content. (v.25)
Being diligent in our work and trusting God to provide for our needs is basic to faith in Him.  Controlling our wants is absolutely crucial.  So, whether we have plenty or in need, it is our character that is being put the wisdom test.  The Apostle Paul wrote, "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound."  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Wise people are Encouraging

Read Proverbs 12.

No one needs to search for things to discourage them.  There is plenty enough to be found for all of us in every direction.  One of the character traits of a wise person is their kindness and words of encouragement.  Any fool can criticize.  It requires thoughtfulness to add value to others.

"Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad." (v.25)

Burdened by sin, plus the cares and worries of this life cause a person to mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically droop.  But one kind, loving, word of good news can release that weight and set a person free.

The Institute for Biblical Preaching, founded by Dr. Stephen Olford, provided the following outline of this single verse.
I. The Weight of Discouragement
   1) There is a Cause of Discouragement
   2) There is a Curse of Discouragement
II. The Word of Encouragement
   1) The Source of Encouragement
   2) The Strength of Encouragement

Speaking encouraging words to others does not come naturally.  But once we have experience the life-changing power of Christ and His kindness to us, we of all people have more than enough hope to share.

"For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us..." (Titus 3:3-5a)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

13 benefits of being right with God

Read Proverbs 11.

What difference does it make in real life if one is right with God?  Righteousness is the result of being spiritually born into God's family through personal faith in Jesus Christ.  "If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him" (1 John 2:29).  Faith in Christ saves us.  But as James reminds us, "faith without works is dead."  So how does being right with God show itself?

This chapter repeatedly contrasts the wisdom of the wise with the foolishness of the wicked.
1. The righteous have security beyond this life. (v.4)
2. The righteous live a consistent life. (v.5)
3. The righteous are free from the bondage of sin. (v.6)
4. The righteous discern and protect themselves from trouble. (v.8)
5. The righteous know they must control their his words. (v.9)
6. The righteous serve for the community's benefit. (v.10-11)
7. The righteous do not place their faith in the uncertainty of money. (v.18)
8. The righteous pursue those things that protect their lives. (v.19)
9. The righteous make decisions that protect their family. (v.21)
10. The righteous have a passion for good. (v.23)
11. The righteous are not dependent on circumstances to grow as a person. (v.28)
12. The righteous add value to others by their wisdom. (v.30)
13. The righteous understand that no one gets away with sin. (v.31)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Watch your wealth and your Words

Read Proverbs 10.

"A wise son makes a glad father."  Every parent wants their children to grow up to be wise in their life choices and decisions.  Solomon touches on numerous points of wisdom in this chapter but he keeps coming back to two in particular that demonstrate wisdom.

1. The Wealth of the Wise
v.1-It must be earned honestly.
v.4-It is earned through diligence.
v.5-It is the result of timely work.
v.15-It provides personal security.
v.16-It is used by the righteous for a meaningful life.
v.22-It needs God's blessing to have lasting value.

2. The Words of the Wise
v.11-They provide refreshment to others.
v.13-They bring clarity to life circumstances.
v.20-They are of high value.
v.21-They benefit others.
v.31-They are the fruit of the cultivation of the heart.
v.32-They delight those who listen.

Friday, April 4, 2014

7 pillars of Wisdom

Read Proverbs 9.

Wisdom is pictured as having prepared a feast and sent out messengers to invite anyone to come.  The question of life is who will respond to wisdom and who will choose to continue to behave foolishly.

It is interesting that the announcement states that wisdom is built on a platform of seven pillars.  But we are not told what they are.  Though many have made various suggestions to explain the symbolism, the reality seems to be that wisdom has a large, spacious place with plenty of room for all who wish to respond.

I am indebted to Dr. Henry Morris and his masterful synthesis of Scripture as he connected the seven pillars to James 3:17.  "But the wisdom from above is...
1. First pure.
Without a commitment to maintaining a life of piety and holiness, wisdom can go no further.  Without purity, everything will be tainted.  We are to be holy, because the One we worship is holy.

2. Peaceable
A wise person seeks peace, even in times of confrontation.  There is a settledness and contentment in the demeanor of one who is wise.

3. Gentle
Who does not feel safe in the presence of a person who is mild-mannered?  The soft voice is most often more effective and heard above the yells of others.

4. Open to reason.
A sure sign of a wise person is how they respond when presented with a decision.  Do they foolish try to intimidate or are they easily approachable?  Do their decisions make sense to all?

5. Full of mercy and good fruits
This is not the picture of an inert guru.  One who is wise is known by their many acts of kindness to others.

6. Impartial
The wise are characterized by fair and equitable decisions.  There is no favor to one side or prejudice involved.

7. Sincere
What you see is what you get.  There are no hidden agendas, no hypocrisy or double messages.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The sound of Wisdom

Read Proverbs 8.

Solomon often personified wisdom.  Here, wisdom openly calls for attention.  As people are going along in life, at a crossroads decision, or in the market place of business choices are being made.  God is not silent in those times.  We will act wisely or foolishly depending upon whether we listen to what He has to say to us.

There are at least four key characteristics of God's wisdom.  In making decisions here is a quick checklist.

1.  Is it Noble? (v.6a)
Something noble is a cut above the rest.  It stands out like a military officer is dress uniform.  Everyone notices.  Think of the right sort of pride in excellence.  Choosing wisely is like that.

2. Is it Right? (v.6b)
When something is right, it is morally and legally just in the sight of the LORD.  There is no partiality.  It is simply the right thing to do.

3. Is it Truth? (v.7)
A lie is an abomination to God.  A half-truth is a nothing more than a big fat lie.  To represent the One who claims to be Truth and has given us His truth in writing means we must speak and act truthfully at all times.

4. Is it Straight? (v.9)
Speaking in a straightforward manner means there is no duplicity.  God's wisdom is plain for all to understand  It has integrity in that what He has to say is consistent throughout.

How valuable is God's wisdom?
"...all that you may desire cannot be compared with her." (v.11b)

How do you know when you have it?
"The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil." (v.13)

What is the reward of wisdom?
"For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD." (v.35)