Thursday, February 21

House of Mourning

It’s better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting…
…because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heartSorrow is better than laughter……for when a face is sad a heart may be happy.The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.It’s better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool; and this too is futility. 
Ecclesiastes 7:2-6

In what universe is it better to be sad than happy?  How in the world is mourning better than partying and celebrating?  These are the claims made by Solomon above.  He goes on to assert that a wise person is at a funeral while the fool is living it up in Vegas – and finally that it’s better to be rebuked for your sin and/or folly than to hang out singing “praise songs” with spiritual morons. 

When I was in college I attended a funeral of an old friend.  His grandsons had been my best friends, and I knew him as “Paca,” an old carpenter who made me a toy chest and gave me my first bicycle and the father of my church’s preacher.  But attending his funeral made it clear that he had lived a giant life.  His children were missionaries and preachers and college professors.  They had made hundreds of disciples, who had in turn made thousands.  It was the most amazing funeral I’d ever seen.  The next day my Greek teacher (who had also been there) commented to the class and said: “Everyone should attend the funeral of a great man.”  He understood Solomon’s sentiments. 

Life has ups and downs; victories for some, and failures for all.  But whatever life we live, our end is all the same: we die, and when we do, we enter eternity.  If we are wise, we will live like people whose days are numbered. 

This dark world is suffering – and even here in the “wealth” of OC – people suffer horribly the consequences of sin and materialism and foolishness.  Is it wise to party with the rich while the world suffers so? 

Even if we have plenty … there are many who don’t have such basics.  If we are selfish, we can enjoy our luxuries and ignore the suffering of others.  But that’s not very wise, is it? 

Thomas Gray wrote:
To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemned alike to groan;
The tender for another's pain,
The unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! Why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise

Those of us who can sympathize with another feel pain for them, and those of us who cannot share another’s sorrow or burdens - must carry our own.  And so … it’s better not to even know what’s happening in the world, because “ignorance is bliss.” 

Go back and read carefully the text at the top of the article.  The Preacher tells why it’s wiser to mourn … because it reveals reality: life sucks, then you die. 

 We have a choice

We can hide our own suffering, avoid it, hide in temporary escapes of drink, drugs, friendships, church, family, etc.  Or – we can overcome.  We can remain ignorant of the suffering of others, or we can shrug it off with a “let them eat cake” response and do nothing.  Or – we can be like most “Christians,” and merely pray for others.  Or – we can be like Jesus, and spend our lives serving others, teaching them, helping them … and do so with urgency, sincerity and effectiveness – the prayer offered with hands instead of mere lip-service.

Everyone will die, including you and your best friends.  Children grow up to die, and if they live to adulthood they’ll suffer some.  God’s servants have work to do: we have been commissioned by God to tend to people who are suffering and struggling. 

Most people travel “the broad path,” as Jesus called it (Matthew 7.13-14) immediately after he said the words we now know as the golden rule.  This wide road is full of silly, partying people living a shallow lifestyle, helpful to few, and they become increasingly weak themselves. 

The narrow path is lonelier and harder, so few take it.  It’s the path of rescuers, of people who live to help others, teach others, serve and love others.  Mother Theresa didn't wear the latest fashions or attend lots of big gala events.  Millions more live like her in the silence of anonymity.  They are like Jesus:
He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but Yahweh has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.             Isaiah 53:3-6
None of us is perfect, none of us can save ourselves, we will all die, and we’ll all be resurrected – either to life or death.  But we have a choice about how we’ll respond to this reality.  We can ignore it, downplay it, or accept it as a challenge.  We’re all on a sinking ship – will you be the hero among survivors, or will you play with the band while it sinks beneath the waves? 

You can live for yourself, help no one … or only help those you like, or who happen to be in your family … and in the end you’ll die and your life will have been a waste – your laughter will not be remembered. 

Or you can live in service to God for others.  You will also die, but you will have gotten progressively stronger throughout your life.  The sadness you experience as you feel compassion for others will be over-matched by the contentment in your heart as you live selflessly.  And when you die, you will be remembered as the one who saved someone’s soul, who fed them when they were about to die or who consoled them in their time of grief. 

My hope is that you’ll take this to heart and live selflessly in the house of mourning like Jesus and Paca.  

Wednesday, February 13

Love Rules – Wise Confession

He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.  - Proverbs 17:9

Does Solomon’s wisdom above conflict with that of John below?
If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus (His Son) cleanses us from all sin.
If we say that we have no sin……we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned……we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous1 John 1:7-2:1

It seems like Solomon is telling us to conceal sins and John is telling us to confess them openly, and that seems to be a contradiction.  It is not. 

First, when John wrote his first letter, he was writing to (and about) particular groups.  Look back again and see in that section that he repeats a phrase three times: “If we say.”  Know why?  Because that’s what someone was saying. He’s talking about a particular religious group that was making claims, and he’s arguing against them.  This group was claiming that their bad deeds were not really sin.  They were claiming to be sinless! 

Of course, this has nothing to do with what Solomon’s wisdom is about. 

The question for us is … what’s the purpose of confession – of revealing sins? 
What is the goal? 

Confession has wonderful side-effects...
It’s cathartic
That means it clears our conscience, so that we are not burdened by guilt.  But that’s just a side-effect, it’s not the goal.  Remember that sin doesn't go away just because it’s confessed.  Sin is only cleansed by the blood of Christ, and it’s behind us when we fully repent. Sometimes we want to confess just because we feel so guilty, and confessing is relief.

Confession helps us repent because it helps us to have accountability. 
John writes above, “so that you may not sin.”  In other words, his idea of confession includes prevention, which is before any further sin … not something done after the fact. 

So what’s the deal with concealing sins? 
Simply put, when we confess for the purpose of helping us repent (true walking in the light) – we do that to confess our own sin and help us. 

We can receive this help by confessing and repenting and receiving accountability with another disciple.  We also want to be careful not to make false claims, that we never sinned.  BUT – Solomon’s wisdom reminds us that sometimes revealing sins can harm others, and this is never, ever ok. 

If our sin involves another person, are we required to also ‘confess’ the other person’s sins?  Absolutely not!

Relationships are key: When two or more people sin together, each one is responsible to God for his/her own actions and participation.  Maybe even for leading the other(s) astray.  But when one of the sinners repents, must he confess to the whole church, in great detail, and include the names of all his conspirators?  If you participate in gossip, is it enough to confess that you have gossiped, or do you also need to give the names of everyone you heard it from, and everyone who told you? 

The decider in all matters where it’s hard to sort out is the Golden Rule  
“Do to others as you’d have them do to you” (Matthew 7.12)  If you and I participate in gossip, then should I tell everyone that WE did it?  Is that the Golden Rule?  NO, it’s up to you to confess and repent … it’s not my place to “out” you. 

Consider also the consequences of our confession.  When we confess to get help for ongoing issues, we let others hold us accountable, but the burden is ours alone.  When we dump old garbage on someone else’s doorstep, we force them to deal with burdens that we ought to bear alone.  Furthermore, we place in front of them the temptation to gossip, to be angry, and even to be unforgiving of a repentant person.  All this is unnecessary – if/when we confess with the right motives! (To avoid future sins) 

We are all wise to confess our sins and seek accountability for ongoing struggles.  But it’s not loving, wise, or helpful to God’s kingdom or our own salvation to ignore the wisdom of Solomon and “separate intimate friends,” just to soothe our own dirty conscience from sins in our past. 

Remember that God knows our hearts – and God alone.  That’s why He’s the Judge, and we are people struggling against the powers of evil to walk in His light.  So when you are deciding when/how to confess, and how much detail to give and how broad an audience to confess to … consider first the goal of confession, and the Golden Rule. 

“Love your neighbor as yourself” – even when you’re confessing.
love rules, and that is true wisdom
He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends. 
Proverbs 17:9

Monday, January 28

Love Covers

Hatred stirs up strife … 
...but love covers all transgressions
Proverbs 10:12

Wisdom, worship, faith and discipleship have been great studies for me.  But it wasn't until I started appreciating the depth of love that I really found what was true.  Love is the ring that rules all the others – it’s the key to everything, even wisdom. 

This morning in my Proverbs time the verse above came to me, and there it was, the word “Love” again.  And this passage brought to mind a few others.  Love and wisdom - the truth is: love is the highest wisdom.  

I challenge you who read this to “three column” these … to make a real effort to DO and BE these things as a human being.  Make a list, pray prayers, or do whatever helps you … but OBEY this.

He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.  - Proverbs 17:9 
 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.   -  James 5:19-20 
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins   1 Peter 4:8  
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart  -  1 Peter 1:22

Wednesday, January 9

Does God Listen?

Got this note from a friend today:   

"Found this gem today:" If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
Proverbs 28:9
What do you suppose this proverb means?  

I'd like you to take a moment and read the words and pray and think to yourself exactly what this may mean.  Challenge yourself to find the answer, and once you've thought it through in your head, read on... 

When I was young, I thought this verse meant that if we don't study the bible, God won't grant our wishes. Now I know better (sorta).  

First, when it says "the law," that's really "the Torah."  We know the Torah sometimes as the first five books of the bible, sometimes as the law of Moses, or sometimes the Old Testament.  So if we take this seriously, we have to study the O.T. in order to get God to hear our prayers?  If that's true, then it's no wonder many of your prayers go unanswered, right?  How many of you have studied the OT as diligently even as, say, English, fashion or even math?  

But then again ... this proverb also is in the OT - and written to/for Israel about 3,000 years ago.  So maybe it's just true for them, and not for us???  

I ask these questions, because I want you to learn to ask questions like that when you're studying the Proverbs.  Seeking wisdom in the proverbs takes some practice, some work and some thought.  And speaking of that, there's one other thing you want to do when studying Proverbs: compare different versions.  Proverbs is very hard to translate, so check each translation and see how they differ.  

Now the Real Issue - Is God even listening to you? 

Does God hear ALL prayers, from ALL people, ALL the time?  
Obviously not. 

This isn't the only passage in the bible that speaks of a time when God isn't listening ... 
Behold, Yahweh’s hand is not so short that it can’t save; nor is His ear so dull that it can’t hear.  But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He doesn't hear.Isaiah 59:1-2

Now let's focus on our proverb.  
If God wouldn't listen to the prayers of ancient Israel unless they listened to the Torah, what must we do to make sure our prayers aren't also ignored by God? 

Answer: If you don't care enough to listen to God, He is indifferent to your cries for help when you have gotten what you deserve.  

Notice again that in the proverb it says the person has turned his/her ear away from "hearing" the law.  In other words, we listen to God (or not) and then He listens to us (or not).  

What happens when we refuse to listen to God?  We behave foolishly.  
What are the consequences of folly and sinfulness?  Pain, hurt, suffering. 

Have you ever warned someone not to do something, then they did it, and then cried to you for rescue?  Sometimes we need to live with the consequences of our bad behavior for the lesson to soak-in.  God knows this. 

God is never surprised, because He knows the future.  But even if He didn't, it is easy to see that one who wastes money is going to be broke.  One who drinks too much too often is going to have trouble.  One who behaves immorally will suffer consequences.  And one who is lazy in seeking God or bearing fruit will also "reap what he has sown."  
 Don’t be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.   Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.Galatians 6:7-9 
Listen to (study) God's word like your soul depends upon it, because it does.  And not only your soul, but the souls of everyone around you is affected by your actions.  

Will you seek God's will by finding it in God's word?  Or - will you listen to other sources, including your own stupid self ... and then have the nerve to call out to God when things go awry?  

Abraham tried to warn Sodom & Gomorrah, Noah warned his generation, the prophets tried, and so did Jesus.  If you listen to the ten spies along with the majority, and refuse the word of God from the two spies ... don't be surprised if you die in the desert.  

After all, it 's not really God who isn't listening - it's you. 

Thursday, January 3


My brother Ross and I were talking recently and he told me of some advice he had given and the advice was ignored.  As we talked, it occurred to me that the advice Ross gave was based on the outcome of this person’s actions … the consequences.  Have you ever thought about the fact that consequences are the basis for all wisdom

Here’s some advice a father (David?) gave his son (Solomon?) as found in Proverbs:
When I was a son to my father, tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, then he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live; acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Don’t forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Don’t forsake her, and she’ll guard you;
Love her, and she’ll watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; & with all your acquiring, get understanding.
Prize her, and she’ll exalt you; she’ll honor you if you embrace her.
She’ll place on your head a garland of grace;
She’ll present you with a crown of beauty.”       Proverbs 4:3-9

Do you see that here the father is telling his son why he should seek wisdom?  It’s about the consequences – so his son will receive honor, grace, and protection.  Consequences

We don’t usually like thinking about the consequences of our actions.  We usually choose the short-term benefit over the long-term one.  That’s why many of us over-eat and don’t exercise … consequence = weak and fat.  It’s why we don’t have savings accounts that grow, but rather have increasing debt … consequence = burden to others.  And sadly, it’s why we sin … consequence = loss of our soul or that of others. 

The video here is the result of someone who didn't consider the consequences:     

If you find that unsettling, consider the eternal consequences when we fail spiritually.  Or as Jesus asked: “What will a man give in exchange for his soul”

Although there are unintended consequences, most of the time we know the consequences of our actions, if we will stop and think about it.  Sadly, we make choices based on what’s “OK technically” or what’s “fun” or what gives us some satisfaction or frees us from discomfort, fear or guilt. (selfishness)

Sometimes we even make choices intended to be ‘obedient’ to God – but we don’t consider the consequences, and so hurt others.  This was a theme of problems between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day.  He called them “blind guides,” and the consequences of bad leadership is that not only is the shepherd doomed, but the sheep under his care are also jeopardized. 
 “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?  Luke 6:39
Consider the failure of the watchman in Ezekiel 33 or that of the shepherds in Ezekiel 34, for example. 

Disciples of Jesus who want to be like him must remember that the consequences of our actions and speech can have eternal results for more than just ourselves!
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.  For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.  James 3:1-2
Consider consequences as you make your resolutions this year.  Maybe you should resolve to act with love from faith, even when it means you will suffer in the short term. 

Wisdom happens when we behave and speak so as to produce fruit for the kingdom.  We are foolish when we do that which causes spiritual harm to others. 

Consider the consequences before you act or speak – it’s the wise thing to do
The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.  He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.  Proverbs 5:22-23
“wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” - Jesus  
Luke 7:35

Wednesday, December 12

Wisdom & Light

There are references to light & darkness in Proverbs & Ecclesiastes, and as I've been studying these things elsewhere, it seemed a good idea to also shine my own spotlight on some passages in the wisdom literature.  

Below are some passages that speak for themselves.  Pay attention to the promises God is making.  If we will receive His words and treasure His commandments … look at the benefits!  It’s staggering, and far better than the ways of darkness. 

Prayerfully consider these teachings, and challenge yourself and your brothers and sisters … are you taking seriously the pursuit of wisdom?  Are you encouraging your fellow travelers to do so?  If not, how can you claim to love them, to be the light, or even to walk in the light?

If you will …
receive my words & treasure my commandments within you, Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding…
if you … cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding;
If you … seek her as silver & search for her as for hidden treasures;

Then you will … discern the fear of the Yahweh & discover the knowledge of God. For Yahweh gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice, &
He preserves the way of His godly ones.

Then you will … discern righteousness and justice & equity & every good course….  
Wisdom will enter your heart & knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
Discretion will guard you,
Understanding will watch over you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things; from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who delight in doing evil & rejoice in the perversity of evil; whose paths are crooked, & who are devious in their ways…. 
Proverbs 2:1-15

- - - - 

Hear, my son, and accept my sayings and…
The years of your life will be many.

I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths.
When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; & if you run, you will not stumble.

Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked & do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; & they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness & drink the wine of violence. But…

The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day!
The way of the wicked is like darkness; they don’t know over what they stumble.

My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. don’t let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them & health to all their body.
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you a deceitful mouth & put devious speech far from you.
Let your eyes look directly ahead & let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
Watch the path of your feet & all your ways will be established.
Do not turn to the right nor to the left…. 
Proverbs 4:10-27

Monday, December 10

Investing in the Bank of God

Check this out:

One who is gracious to a poor man lends to Yahweh, & He will repay him for his good deed.
- Proverbs 19:17

When I read this, I always think of Jesus’ description of Judgment Day in Matthew 25, when the Judge says, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it for me.”  Giving to the poor is giving to God.  Caring for the poor is worship, love, praise and glory. 

But this morning I saw something different.  We loan money to get back interest, right?  We invest in something so we can get a return on our investment, and we want to invest in something that’s not too risky, and has the potential for a high rate of return.  Normally those two things are proportional: the greater risk, the greater possible reward.  But in this case, we give to the poor, but really we’re investing in God.  What has less risk than God?  What has a higher potential return? 

My wife and I agreed some years back to be extremely frugal and save for our semi-retirement so we could spend the last years of our lives in self-supported ministry.  That has turned out to have been risky and foolish.  We expected things to go differently than they have.  I wish now we’d have invested based on this truth from Solomon.  

The question is ... will you walk by faith or sight?