Proverbs, Part 1


Proverbs 1The  Old Testament book of Proverbs was originally written as an instructional manual for young, Jewish men. It teaches God’s Secrets of Success for a meaningful, fulfilled life.

Proverbs only has 31 chapters. Spend 5-10 minutes per day reading a chapter, and  the entire book can be read in a month’s time. I reread Proverbs regularly, and I highly recommend this devotional practice to others.

The book contains observations about life, and the collected comments were designed to teach others about God’s truth. The  introduction declares its purpose: That men may know wisdom, and instruction, understand words of insight, receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity . . . .

Proverbs teaches that wisdom is essential to the Godly life. People define wisdom in a variety of ways. At its heart, Biblical wisdom is both knowing and doing God’s Word. It is applied knowledge: knowing God’s Word and then applying it to our world. Those who know and practice Scriptural principles are wise.

Proverbs teaches that God has created the world not only with physical laws but also spiritual principles. Those who follow God’s rules flourish and prosper. Those who break the rules suffer the consequences of their foolish actions.

Sometimes God’s wisdom runs counter to human instinct. We discover that God’s ways are not our ways. Proverbs warns repeatedly: There is a way that seems right to man whose end is death. (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25)

Christians have to learn a new way of thinking. At first, it feels awkward and unnatural. The more we practice God’s wisdom, however, the more we discover how much it makes sense.

So what is the first step on the journey to learning wisdom? Proverbs 1:7 is the theme of the entire book, and it tells us how to begin: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (NIV)

Proverbs declares that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. We are called to hunger and thirst for God’s Word and way in our lives. Those who seek will find. For those who knock, the door will be opened. Ask, and it shall be given.

Proverbs helps us learn from the experience of other Godly men and women. Solomon reminds us: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

One of my favorite sayings is: Life is tough, but it’s a whole lot tougher if you’re STUPID! So, wise or foolish—which would you rather be?

New Wine and New Wineskins

Last month I preached on a text from Luke 5:36-39. In his first parable recounted in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus told his followers that no one puts new wine into old wineskins.

Goatskins were used to hold wine. As the grape New WInejuice fermented, it gave off gas. The skins had enough elasticity to expand with the wine before hardening into their final shape. New wine poured into old wineskins would burst the container, leading to the loss of both the wine and the wineskins.

Jesus said that new wine must be poured into new wineskins. Then the container can provide a context for the contents. The Holy Spirit blows into our lives with a tornado force that disrupts our lives. The resulting chaos gives us the opportunity to experience God’s new order.

We forget that change can be a positive experience when we embrace the new. For example, our daughter, Katie, is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who works with the General Surgery Team at Egleston Pediatric Hospital.

If you and yours have ever undergone surgery, you know the drill—no food or drink for 8 hours prior to surgery, massive use of narcotics during and after surgery to control pain, and no solid food for a day or two after the procedure.

Everyone KNOWS this is the best way to care for children during surgery. Except maybe it isn’t.

Katie was recently part of a team that developed a new protocol with the catchy title of Enhanced Recovery after Surgery  or ERAS for short. Children receive a loading dose of pain killers along with a high carbohydrate clear liquid two hours prior to surgery. After surgery, children are allowed to eat whatever they want as soon as they want. Most will eat a full meal on the same day of surgery and be up walking around.

The results from the study have been amazing. Children’s postoperative hospital stays have shortened. Use of narcotic drugs for pain control have significantly decreased. And most important of all, the boys and girls are recovering more quickly.

Everyone KNEW the old way of doing things was best . . . until someone showed it wasn’t.

However, you know human nature. People cling to the old even when the new is better. The result is countless children will not benefit from the proposed changes which are demonstrably better for all involved. It will take years for this new protocol to become the accepted way of doing things.

The Holy Spirit calls us to be pioneers, embracing the new through the holy chaos of change. Cast off the old ways of doing things and be open to God’s fresh wind of transformation. Put on the new clothing of holiness and be intoxicated by the new wine of grace.

Story Teller

Story Teller

Our back-to-school worship series at church is entitled Story Teller. During August and September worship, we have been exploring eight parables told by Jesus in the Gospel according to Luke.

Parable comes from the Greek word parabole which means to cast alongside or to place beside. Parables are stories that include comparisons, contrasts, exaggerations, illustrations, analogies, similes, and metaphors.

During seminary, our professors taught us: A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Which says everything—and nothing! Most of the stories are based on ordinary life but reveal extraordinary truths. Jesus’ parables give human insight into God’s kingdom.

Some parables are quite short, told in the turn of a phrase or a few sentences. Others are rather long, containing plot, characters, descriptions, conflict, and resolution.

Parables typically make one point—except when they don’t. The details are usually secondary—except when they’re not.

The Gospel parables are also insidious. They seem simple enough. After listening to Jesus’ words, the listener concludes: “Oh, well, the moral of the story is                  .”

However, it’s not that simple. Parables are multilayered and multidimensional. There are always new depths to plumb. They cast fishhooks into our minds, tugging at our thoughts and catching our imaginations. We wake up in the middle of the night, exclaiming: “OH, THAT’S what Jesus meant!”

Yet there is a richness to Christ’s parables that can never be exhausted. We read the same story years later and discover new and unexpected truths.

The parables—like all stories—are also eminently memorable. They define the difference between the declarative and the narrative—between statements and stories.

It’s one thing to say: God loves you. It’s another to say: There once was a man who had two sons . . . .

It’s one thing to say: Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s another to say: One day a man was going down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by a band of thieves . . . .

Parables are also dangerous. They slip past our defenses and through the backdoor of our minds, inviting us to change and challenging us to act.

So we’re invited to sit at the feet of the Master Storyteller and ask: Jesus, will you tell us a story?

15 Years Later

The horrific images of September 11, 2001 are forever seared into our collective conscious. Kamikaze planes, billowing smoke, imploding buildings, panicked crowds, and broken bodies overwhelmed our souls. To borrow a phrase from President Roosevelt, this day of infamy changed the landscape of our country forever.

In the aftermath of theWorld-Trade-Center-Cross terrorist attack, the United States appeared to experience a religious reawakening. The catastrophe literally brought America to its knees in prayer.

We did not engage in ACLU approved, politically correct moments of silence or personal meditation. God’s people prayed. We prayed in churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques. We prayed at home, work, school, and worship. We prayed at flagpoles, street corners, courthouses, city halls, and seats of government. We prayed in words, song, silence, and tears.

People also turned to the church for comfort and consolation. In the aftermath of the Twin Towers’ attack, believers and non-believers alike attended worship services in record numbers. Church attendance grew a dramatic 25% in the days following September 11.

According to a Barna survey, however, church attendance quickly returned to normal levels within a month of the tragedy. People who had packed sanctuaries in September found better things to do in October. The immediate crisis had passed, a semblance of normalcy had returned, and people seemed to remain the same.

Military chaplains say that there are no atheists in a foxhole. Life-threatening crises often evoke a temporary faith. People play “Let’s Make a Deal” with the Lord God Almighty serving in Bob Barker’s stead as the game show host.

There are no atheists in a foxhole; but it does not take folk long to lose their faith once the crisis has passed. Perhaps this observation is too harsh. It might be more accurate to say that people lose any URGENCY about their faith on the far side of a disaster.

However, in the aftermath of September 11, we dare not be the same people or nation ever again. We are called to live faithful lives as citizens and Christians.

America was brought to its knees on September 11. As God’s people, we are challenged to remain upon our knees in service, remembrance, prayer, and changed lives. In the midst of uncertain times, we also remember that our lives are based upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Even if all else around us falls apart, our God will care for us this day . . . and forever more.

Fifteen years later we are called to pause . . . to remember . . . to pray . . . and to hope.