Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"A righteous man hateth lying: but a wicked man is loathsome, and cometh to shame."
Before he became president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln was a successful attorney in Illinois. His specialty was the then-new field of railroad law, but when the son of a friend was charged with murder and put on trial in 1858, Lincoln agreed to defend him at no cost. During the trial a witness named Charles Allen testified that he had seen the accused, Duff Armstrong, hit and kill James Metzker on the night of August 29, 1857. Allen’s testimony was that though he was 150 feet away, the light of the full moon allowed him to clearly see that Armstrong was the killer.
Once he had Allen committed and on the record with his sworn testimony, Lincoln sprang his trap. He pulled out an almanac for the previous year and showed that the moon on that date was not full but only one quarter—and that at the time of the crime it had barely risen. There was no way that Allen could have seen Armstrong commit the crime as he had testified. The jury acquitted William Armstrong on their first ballot. The truth overcame the lie, and justice was done.
When we are honest and truthful, we demonstrate our commitment to following God and obeying His commands. The temptation to shade the truth, to tell “white lies” or to try to get off the hook by lying always leads to disaster. Much of our society has abandoned honesty as a value and virtue, but that does not make it any less important for us to continue to love the truth. Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Though it may seem that lying will work out better in the short run, the truth is always the best course in the end.
"There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."
For skiing enthusiasts there are few places that top the rugged Cascade Mountains in Washington state. For “extreme skiers” who look for the most remote and steep locations, one of the best places to ski is the Stevens Pass on Cowboy Mountain. Just outside that ski park is a place known as Tunnel Creek. Though it is not maintained by the ski resort, it is known for deep snow that is perfect for skiing—and for avalanches.
In February of 2012 more than a dozen world class skiers gathered for an excursion down Tunnel Creek. The trip ended in disaster as nearly three feet of newly fallen snow and temperature changes combined to create a deadly avalanche. Three of the skiers—professionals who had spent much of their lives on the slopes—perished in the massive snow slide. The wife of one of the victims asked him that morning if the excursion was safe. She later said, “He looked me right in the eye and said: ‘Of course. I wouldn’t be going if it weren’t.’” They thought that what they were doing was safe, but they were tragically and fatally wrong.
Human wisdom and understanding is fallible. Studies have shown that people routinely underestimate dangers and overestimate their abilities to cope with them. This is true in all aspects of life, but it is especially true in the spiritual realm. The prophet Jeremiah put it this way: “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). God has given us a perfect and inerrant guide to living in His Word. Rather than relying on how things look and feel to us, we should trust and follow His precepts.
"The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so."
One of the iconic characters of early America was John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. Chapman was born in Massachusetts just before the start of the American Revolution. When he was about eighteen years of age, he left home and headed west. For more than fifty years he crisscrossed the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Chapman took apple seeds and planted nurseries across the region. He built fences to protect the new trees, and he contracted with local farmers or merchants to sell the trees as they grew.
But John Chapman was also a missionary. He loved to tell children stories from the Bible. One of his hearers described his voice this way in an article about Johnny Appleseed published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine: “strong and loud as the roar of wind and waves, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray beard.” Along with his supply of apple seeds he also carried tracts and Bible portions to share with those he met.
The life of Johnny Appleseed is a powerful reminder to us of one of the purposes God has for us here on Earth—to share the gospel and the truths of Scripture with those we meet. Rather than being isolated away from the world, we are meant to be “the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
Christians are not meant to be hoarders of the Good News or the blessings we have received from God. Peter said we are to “minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). As we share what we have, God multiplies it to do even more.
"It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness."
It seemed like a fairly simple burglary when a group of five men were arrested on the night of June 17, 1972, while breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. The arrest and subsequent trial were largely ignored during the election that year, and President Nixon was overwhelmingly reelected to a second term in a landslide. But the story was more involved than first appeared, and the Nixon presidency began to unravel.
The revelation that the burglary was connected to the Committee to Reelect the President and that Nixon and his staff had impeded the investigation eventually led to the door of the Oval Office. Tape recordings secretly made in the White House gave investigators evidence of high level involvement. By the time the dust had settled, more than three dozen people, including many top administration officials had been convicted and sent to prison for their role in the break in and the subsequent cover up. President Nixon resigned in disgrace rather than waiting for an almost certain impeachment, and only a pardon from President Ford kept him from facing trial as well.
Often those in leadership (and all of us are leaders and influencers in at least one area or another) are tempted to think that they can afford to cut corners or do things that they would condemn if others did them. They may think that their position entitles them leeway from honesty and integrity—but it does not. Every time a leader approves of or tolerates sin, he is weakening the very framework that supports his position. Because all authority comes from God—“there is no power but of God” (Romans 13:1)—any sinful act is an attack not just on His authority but on the leader’s authority as well.
"Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly."
In July of 2011, a hiker was attacked by a female grizzly bear near the Wapiti Lake trail in Yellowstone National Park. The man and his wife were visiting the park as hundreds of thousands do each year. Apparently they surprised the mother grizzly and her cubs. The National Park Service issued a statement saying, “In an attempt to defend a perceived threat to her cubs, the bear attacked and fatally wounded the man.” Though the man did not intend to harm the bear or her cubs, she did not know that and responded according to her nature—with fatal results.
As dangerous as it is to cross paths with a mother bear and her cubs, the Bible tells us that it is even more dangerous to cross paths with a fool. The folly in the heart of a fool is not limited to his own life. Instead it tends to spread and infect others and bring devastation into their lives. Think of Achan taking loot from the city of Jericho when God had forbidden it. He no doubt thought he had pulled off the perfect crime. Once they had captured another city or two, he could bring out the things he had hidden in his tent and no one would ever know.
What he forgot was that God knew what had happened. That was the height of folly, and it brought destruction not only to Achan and his family but also to dozens of others. “Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? and that man perished not alone in his iniquity” (Joshua 22:20). Although you cannot control everyone who is part of your life, you can and should guard against receiving influence from fools.
"He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him."
“Mice in Council” is one of Aesop’s better known fables. A group of mice, tired of constantly living in fear of being attacked and eaten by a cat hold a meeting to decide on a course of action. A number of possibilities were debated and rejected before one mouse stood with a proposal that proved to be very popular. “I think I have hit upon a plan which will ensure our safety in the future, provided you approve and carry it out. It is that we should fasten a bell round the neck of our enemy the cat, which will by its tinkling warn us of her approach.”
The mice were prepared to vote to approve the plan when an elderly mouse stood and said, “I agree with you all that the plan before us is an admirable one. But may I ask who is going to bell the cat?” Often people say things that sound good in the moment, but when they are fully considered, the flaws begin to appear. Other times, only one side of a situation is presented for consideration. The problem comes in when we take action based on the early information without taking all sides into account. That approach leads to foolish decisions and can result in calamity.
We should take time to carefully weigh all aspects of a matter, making sure that we have the full story before proceeding to make a decision. Choices based on partial and incomplete information rarely turn out well. Do not allow impatience or haste to push you toward moving forward unless you are sure you have understood both the current situation and the possible outcomes of any decision you make. Only then are you ready to make a wise and safe decision.
"He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul; but he that despiseth his ways shall die."
When the massive Hurricane Charley slammed into Florida in 2004 with 145 mile per hour winds, it destroyed more than 12,000 homes. But a later study by a group of insurance companies found that almost all of those homes had something in common—they had been built prior to 2001. In that year, a strict new building code was adopted which required homes to be strengthened to withstand hurricane force winds.
Jeff Burton, building code manager for the Institute for Business and Home Safety said, “There is very, very strong evidence that buildings built under the 2001 code that were built properly and inspected…fared much, much better than buildings that were built prior. The building code, as it exists today did its job.” There is a reason for the building code, and those who follow it find that it works. The same is true for the Word of God.
When we view the Bible and the things it tells us to do or not do as a set of restrictions that limit what we can do, we are tempted to resent the commandments of God. Many people completely abandon any pretense of holiness or godly living because they don’t want to be tied down by rules. Yet when the storm winds blow, those who have not built their lives according to God’s code find themselves facing destruction and ruin.
It is important that we understand the purpose of God’s commandments. First John 5:3 tells us, “…and his commandments are not grievous.” They are given for our protection. God does not arbitrarily declare some things off limits to make sure we aren’t having fun. The commands of God are given for our own good. When we follow them carefully, we receive both protection from evil and blessings from above as well.
"Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?"
Late in 1944 with the war going very badly for the Japanese, a young lieutenant name Hiroo Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines. His orders were simple. He was to do everything possible to slow the American advance by conducting guerilla attacks. Under no circumstances was he to surrender or to kill himself. Onoda took his orders seriously. Even when the American forces captured the island early in 1945 and most of the other men in his unit surrendered, Onoda continued to fight.
He and three others took to the hills where they continued the struggle. Their continuing attacks alerted authorities to their presence and leaflets were dropped telling them the war was over. Onoda believed it was a trick and continued the fight. Eventually the other members of his party surrendered or were killed, but he continued to launch guerilla attacks on the residents of the island. Finally in 1974, his former commanding officer was flown to Lubang Island to meet with Lt. Onoda. He formally relieved the tenacious solider of his duty so that Onoda could leave the war behind without disobeying his orders and being dishonored.
The war had been over for nearly thirty years, but Lt. Onoda was still faithful to obey the command he had been given decades before. In a day when we see many fall away from following God, we are sometimes tempted as Elijah was to wonder if there are any faithful people left. There are! And we have the opportunity to add to that number by being faithful ourselves. Jesus asked this question, “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Each of us should resolve to live in such a way that we will be found faithful when we see Jesus.
"The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead."
In September of 2012, an Alzheimer’s support group highlighted a news story to point out the seriousness of the problem facing those with this disease and those who care for them. A sixty-seven year old man who was living in a nursing home with what was described as “severe dementia” wandered away from the facility. He had to use a walker to get around, and though it was raining, he was wearing house slippers instead of shoes.
The police and staff focused their search in the immediate vicinity of the nursing home, believing that he would be found nearby. To their shock and amazement, he had somehow made his way to a bus station, purchased a ticket and made the trip back to his former hometown—124 miles away! Statistics indicate that nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s patients wander from time to time. In that respect the disease is much like the spiritual danger that all of us face—that of wandering away from the Lord without understanding the danger we are facing.
The old hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” contains the line: “Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” The prophet Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). The truth is that no one remains in a close relationship with God by accident—it requires conscious and repeated effort. If we allow ourselves to just drift along, we will begin to wander away from God. Like a ship that has not set an anchor, we will be carried along with the currents, often without even realizing it. Then one day we find ourselves 124 miles away…or even more. Cling to the truth and to God and you will avoid wandering.
"A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished."
Anthropologist Gregory Bateson told an amazing story about the New College at Oxford in England. The college is “new” only by Oxford standards, having been founded in 1379. During the 1400s a great dining hall was built for the students to use. One of the stunning architectural features of the hall is the presence of a number of massive exposed oak beams which are some two feet thick and forty-five feet long.
According to Bateman’s story in the late 1900s the beams were found to be infested with beetles which were destroying their structural integrity. Knowing they needed to be replaced, but unsure where to find such massive trees, the college leaders were stymied. Then the College Forester came forward with the solution. Hundreds of years before, oak trees had been planted on college lands for the specific purpose of providing replacements in the future. While generations of foresters had harvested other trees, they had left the oaks to grow strong and tall. Because the need had been foreseen, a provision had been made to meet it.
God’s children should be characterized by wisdom regarding the future. Someone once said, “If you have failed to plan you have planned to fail.” While none of us knows exactly what will happen tomorrow, and we should never be presumptuous about the future, we should plan for things that can be foreseen. Trusting God does not imply that we fail to make provision for the future for ourselves and our families. In addition to making plans for the material world, we should plan for the spiritual world as well to avoid temptation and sin. It is far easier to keep from sinning if you avoid being tempted. Jesus taught His followers to pray “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).
"My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways."
The first Naval officer killed in the Iraq war in 2003 was twenty-seven year old Lt. Thomas Adams. He was one of seven who died when his Sea King helicopter collided with another aircraft over the Persian Gulf. Lt. Adams was serving as a liaison officer with the British Royal Navy at the time. In serving his county Thomas Adams was following a long family tradition. He was a descendant of President John Adams, and many other members of his family had served the nation from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to modern times.
Adams’ legacy is a wonderful example of the legacy we can leave for the future by the way we live our lives in the present. President John Adams believed in the United States and devoted his life to helping form and build the new nation. His children and grandchildren followed in his footsteps because of the example that he set for them. By observing his ways the course of their lives was set—in a pattern that has lasted for generations.
Part of God’s plan for His people is that each generation sets an example for the next to follow. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Each day we should be aware that there are others watching us, especially in our family and in our church family. They see how we respond to success and victory, and how we respond to difficulty and defeat. They watch our actions to see if they match with our words. They observe our behavior at home to see if it matches our conduct in public. While none of us are perfect, we should strive to continually set a godly example for those who come after us to follow.
"Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man."
Some people refer to Paul Railton of Consett, England, as the laziest man in the world. That would be difficult to prove, but his legal troubles certainly provide evidence that he is in the running for the title. In December of 2009, Railton was reported to the authorities by a cyclist who saw him “walking” his dog by driving his car slowly and holding the leash out the car window! Railton pled guilty to a charge of “not being in proper control of a vehicle” and was fined sixty-six pounds and ordered not to drive for six months.
As our society moves further and further away from valuing hard work, we are seeing a rise in laziness. This disease is undermining not just the foundations of our nation, but it is striking at the church as well. It is always easy to justify taking it easy. While there is a place for rest—following the pattern God established in the beginning of Creation by resting on the seventh day—few in our age are suffering from overwork. Instead too many continually “hit the snooze button” and waste their lives through laziness.
However much we would like to think otherwise, there always comes a day of reckoning for laziness. No good intention can overcome the law of work which God has placed in the universe. When we do not labor, eventually the consequences arrive. Taking the easy way out in the present always damages the future—and it will never produce the desired result. Charles Spurgeon said, “There is no fatigue so wearisome as that which comes from lack of work.” Take the tasks which you find before you and give them your full effort.
"He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls."
Alexander the Great was a conquering, military genius like few others in history. But though he commanded great armies, he frequently struggled with the control of his anger. At a banquet held to celebrate a victory, flattering courtiers heaped praise on the young leader. In the process someone made remarks which downplayed the courage and achievements of the Macedonian Hetairoi—the Companion Cavalry that was the elite of Alexander’s army. Their general Clitus was enraged and spoke out to remind Alexander they had saved his life in a recent battle.
Clitus told Alexander that he was being flattered by those who told him only what he wanted to hear and were trying to drive a wedge between the conqueror and his most loyal supporters. Alexander did not receive that rebuke well. While he looked for a sword to strike his loyal general, friends ushered Clitus from the room. But Clitus soon returned through another door to continue his rebuke. Alexander snatched a spear from a guard and hurled it into Clitus’ body, killing him. Afterward Alexander repented, but it was too late to undo his rash act. It is said that for several days he refused to eat or drink, mourning the death of his friend. Alexander conquered many great cities and empires, but he could not conquer his anger.
Paul wrote, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Temperance is what we often refer to as self-control. It is the ability to submit to the Holy Spirit and respond properly, to resist temptation, to defer anger, and control frustration. A person who has no self-control is demonstrating that the Holy Spirit is not in control in his life.
"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly."
A number of years ago, retired NASA engineer Edgar C. Whisenant wrote a book called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. The book, which he self-published, placed the expected date of the Rapture between September 11 and September 13 of 1988, and became a massive bestseller. By the time the end of the year was reached, more than 4.5 million copies had been sold. Whisenant was certain he had the date right. He said, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong; and I say that to every preacher in town. I would stake my life on Rosh Hashanah 1988.”
Whisenant’s later books predicting the Rapture in 1989, 1993, and 1994 did not sell nearly as well as the first one—but he kept right on making those predictions despite the clear teaching of Scripture that we are not meant to know the date and time of Christ’s return.
Because we are only human, all of us are going to make mistakes. One of the things that sets fools apart, however, is that they continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. They never learn from their errors, no matter how painful their experiences may be. That is because they are committed to their folly.
Instead we should be teachable and learn from our mistakes. As Psalm 32:9 puts it, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” The path of wisdom is to consider the lessons we are being taught when things go wrong. Rather than blaming others or talking about “bad luck,” we should be looking to see if we have violated a principle of Scripture and bring our lives into compliance with God’s Word.
"Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation?"
In his farewell speech at West Point, General Douglas MacArthur praised the courage and willingness to sacrifice of the American soldier: “His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.
“In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country.”
The freedom we enjoy as Americans was purchased at great cost—but it is not a once-for-all purchase. The price must continue to be paid if the freedom is to continue. The same is true in the spiritual realm. Jude said we must “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). The faith has been delivered, but we must still be willing to stand and fight for it. Let it never be said that we allowed the flame of faith to go out.
"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy."
In May of 1948 three men robbed a bank in Hoyt, Kansas, getting away with $1,000. Shortly thereafter two men were killed in a car wreck, and police thought they were the robbers and the case was closed. Four years later, however, something unusual happened. On a Sunday morning at the Seward Avenue Baptist Church a young man named Al Johnson stepped to the pulpit and revealed to the congregation that the day before he had gone to the district attorney and confessed his role in the crime.
“I thought about the bank robbery many times,” Johnson, who was a teenager when the crime occurred, said. “I prayed about it and asked the Lord to give me an answer. It seemed that He would give me only one answer and that was to give myself up.” Johnson also revealed that he had borrowed the money to repay the bank his share of the stolen funds. The statute of limitations had expired, but Johnson said that even if it meant going to prison, he could not keep the secret any longer. Johnson agreed to help the authorities locate the other two men, who had not been, as was previously believed, the men involved in the car accident.
Sometimes we think the best approach is to hide our sin, either to avoid embarrassment and exposure, or to avoid the potential consequences. That approach never works in the long run. There is a God who sees everything—nothing is ever hidden from His view. His hatred of sin is so intense that He will never allow us to prosper by covering our sin. The toll of hidden sin on the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of the sinner is vast. It is far better for us to confess and seek the mercy and forgiveness of God.
"A man's pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit."
Evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman told of a father and son in Scotland taking a walk in the wintertime. It was cold, and the boy had his hands in the pockets of his overcoat. As they came to some slippery rocks, the father said, “You had better let me now hold your hand.” But the little boy didn’t want to take his hands out so he refused. In just a few moments, his feet slipped and he took a hard fall.
The boy reconsidered his former position, but not all the way. Now he said, “I will take your hand.” He reached up and clung to his father’s hand as strongly as he could. But when they came to the next slippery place, his grip was not strong enough to hold him up, and he fell once again. This time his pain overcame his pride. “You may take it now,” he said to his father. The older man took the boy’s hand tightly in his. Every time they came to a slick place, he kept the boy from falling.
That is a wonderful illustration of the pain and heartbreak that pride brings into our lives. When we insist on going our own way and fighting our battles in our strength, we will always fail. Only when God’s hand holds us and lifts us up can we possibly succeed. James said, “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). As Nebuchadnezzar learned to his great sorrow when he refused to give up his pride, “And those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (Daniel 4:37). God turned the mighty ruler into little more than an animal for seven years until he was willing to recognize that it was not him but God who truly ruled.
"The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;"
In the London Olympic Games, skeet shooter Kim Rhode did something no one else had ever done before—won her fifth gold medal in five consecutive Olympics. She was just a teenager when she won her first gold medal in the Atlanta Games in 1996, making her the youngest shooting gold medalist in history. She successfully defended her title again and again. In fact, in London she set a new Olympic record by hitting 99 out of 100 targets.
Her secret? According to an interview in The New York Times, Rhode fires between 500 and 1000 shells every single day all year long. Her estimate is that she has fired at more than 3,000,000 targets. The truth is that Kim Rhode did not really win the gold medal in London—she won it by going to the range every day and preparing herself so thoroughly that she was able to perform at the highest level when the decisive moment came.
All of us who wish to serve God must be willing to pay the price to prepare for that service. Paul wrote to Timothy, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Sometimes we put the cart before the horse, trying to be of service without first making sure that our lives are ready for use.
This of course does not mean that we cannot do anything for God until some far off day in the future when everything is perfected. If we take that approach we will never do anything. Instead it means that we are to be daily preparing in such a way that when the moments of challenge and opportunity arise, we are ready to glorify Him.
"She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness."
It is impossible to overstate the power that our words have on others. A great illustration of this truth is found in the life of Winston Churchill whose father was so focused on his career that he had little time for the boy. In the biography Winston Churchill: The Era and the Man, Virginia Cowles described the incredible impact on young Winston Churchill of never receiving his father’s approval. Churchill was shocked and pained to find that his father approved of his desire to join the army, not because he thought it was a good idea in itself but because he thought the boy was too dumb to do anything else.
Churchill’s father never invested in building their relationship. Cowles writes: “Winston was eagerly awaiting the day when his father would accept him as an equal. During the boy's two years at Sandhurst, Lord Randolph had occasionally taken him to dinners and weekend parties and he was confident that they were moving toward a closer understanding. But Lord Randolph never really dropped his mask. ‘If ever I began to show the slightest idea of comradeship, he was immediately offended,’ Winston wrote many years later, ‘and when once I suggested that I might help his private secretary to write some letters, he froze me into stone.’”
Churchill’s father died when he was still a very young man, and he never received the approval he so desperately sought. When we express praise or condemnation we are shaping the view others have of themselves in powerful ways. While there are times when correction is needed, even then we should address the other person with kindness. Reproof is usually far better received when it is kindly delivered rather than harshly spoken. Since our words have so much power, it is important that we choose them with wisdom.
For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:
A reporter saw Jim Taylor, star running back on the Green Bay Packers football team standing in the team’s hotel lobby more than 45 minutes before the bus was scheduled to take the team to the stadium for a playoff game. “Why are you here so early, Jim?” he asked. “I don’t want to get left at the hotel,” the Hall of Fame running back answered. The Packers were coached by Vince Lombardi, and soon after his arrival in Green Bay, he instituted a schedule that came to be known as “Lombardi Time.” He would announce the start of a practice or the departure time for an event, only to begin early—leaving those who showed up “on time” behind or critiquing them for being late.
The essence of Lombardi Time is that if you were not fifteen minutes “early” you were late. In honor of the famed coach, the clock at Lambeau Field that faces Lombardi Avenue is still set fifteen minutes ahead! Lombardi was known as a fierce disciplinarian, and his players were expected to comply with his rules without question or argument. Despite his great talent, Jim Taylor was more afraid of disappointing his coach than of almost anything else.
Many people in our society today view God casually. This is not just true in the world, but sadly this attitude has infected the church as well. Despite this tide of neglect of the character and nature of God, we must make another choice—to swim against the current and maintain our fear of the Lord in recognition of His holiness. When Isaiah saw a glimpse of God’s throne in Heaven he said, “Woe is me! for I am undone…for mine eyes have seen the King” (Isaiah 6:5). Make it your choice to maintain a holy fear of God.
That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous.
In a remote mountainous region in central China lies what many hikers believe is one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world. Along the south peak of Mt. Huashan, a trail winds its way to a summit approximately a mile and half high. The views are breathtaking, but you literally take your life in your hands to get there. One particularly notable section of “trail” close to the peak is known as Changkong Zhandao—Floating in Air Road. For some two hundred feet there is no trail but a narrow wooden walkway fastened to the side of the sheer cliff with an iron chain attached above to cling to as you make your way along. Because of the elevation, snowstorms can arise with little warning, leaving the steep trail and steps covered with ice. Without extreme care, hikers can find that mountain trail dangerous and even deadly.
As we make our way through life, God has given us a path to follow and instructions to obey. The prophet Isaiah said, “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). In the pages of Scripture we find the guidelines which allow us to walk safely through the world. The enemy attempts to get us off course, luring us into danger.
While some of his bypaths may see alluring, the reality is that there is only one safe path for us to take, and that is the path of the righteous. Every sin is a step off that path, and leads to destruction. Instead of taking risks and seeing how far we can go without disaster, we should stay safely on God’s course.
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
Though his grandfather and uncle were well-known preachers, Robert Rundle initially planned a career in the business world. But God burdened his heart for missions while he was in school, and Rundle determined to go to western Canada and work among the Cree Indians. He arrived in Fort Edmonton, Saskatchewan in 1840. For the next eight years he traveled and ministered in the wild country, bringing the gospel to remote areas. Badly injured in a horseback accident, he was forced to return to England. His health never allowed him to return to the mission field, and he instead pastored for much of the rest of his life.
Near the resort town of Banff, Alberta, Mt. Rundle, which is named in Robert Rundle’s honor, towers in the Canadian Rockies. Though Runle did not see massive numerical results, his sacrifice and ministry left a lasting impact. The Cree Indians said of Rundle, “He came among us poor and poor he went away, leaving us rich.” The world would hardly judge Rundle a success, but God measures with a different standard.
The way we spend our time, our talents, and our resources reveals a great deal about what matters the most to us. There are some who gain great worldly wealth and yet have very little in the eyes of God. A man with much gold is highly esteemed here on Earth, yet in Heaven God uses gold to pave the street. Instead of focusing on the temporal, we should devote our lives to that which is eternal—that which worth far more than any form of wealth.
Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.
In April of 2011, a line of deadly tornadoes ripped across the state of Alabama, leaving some 250 people dead in its wake. Near Wellington, Alabama, the Hardy family realized the storm was coming too late to find a permanent shelter. They considered trying to take shelter in a metal clubhouse, but it had already been turned on its side by the strong winds. So in desperation, they took shelter in a small stand of trees. They tied a rope around the children and huddled around them in the trees as the storm passed. A family member said that while they had been scratched by flying dirt and debris, none suffered any serious injuries.
Imagine how tightly you would cling to the trees and rope in such a situation. Knowing that your life or the life of your child might depend on your grip would give you all the motivation you needed to hang on with every ounce of power you could muster!
Although there are no warning sirens or news alerts, each of us is living in the path of destructive storms. There are temptations and destructive philosophies abounding around us, and if we do not have a secure place of protection, we will be destroyed.
Because the Word of God is so readily available to us, we often take it for granted rather than treasuring it as the precious resource it is. When you view the Bible as a lifeline designed to keep you safe through the storms of life, you begin to take it more seriously. If you knew the truth you were hearing in church on Sunday was the difference between life and death, you wouldn’t have trouble focusing and listening to the message. If you remembered that your daily time in God’s Word was your lifeline to spiritual strength, you would be less likely to neglect it. Truth is that important, and it deserves our careful attention.
"Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable, that thou canst not know them."
One of the largest freshwater turtles is the alligator snapping turtle. Found primarily in the southeastern United States, these massive turtles have been known to weigh as much as 250 pounds. They are carnivorous, and while their diet is primarily fish, they have been known to eat almost anything else they can find in the water—even in a few cases small alligators! Though they are very large, the force of their jaws is not greater than that of other turtles. Instead of force, the alligator snapping turtle relies on a uniquely deceitful method of foraging for fish.
The turtle will lie completely still on the floor of a lake or river with its mouth wide open. At the end of the turtle’s tongue is a small, pink, worm-shaped appendage. The turtle wiggles the end of its tongue so that it looks like a worm moving through the water. When a fish comes to eat the worm, the turtle’s jaws rapidly close, trapping the fish so that it cannot escape.
Similarly to the snapping turtle’s lure, temptation comes in the guise of something desirable, but it always carries destruction with it in the end. If we could see the end result rather than the tempting part, it would be far easier to resist. But Satan knows this, so he cleverly disguises what is deadly in the guise of something pleasurable. If the devil came to us in a red suit with a pitchfork and forked tail we would not be tempted. Instead as Paul wrote, “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Recognizing that our enemy is a master of disguise, both for himself and in his temptations, we need to always be on guard to protect our purity.
"Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend. Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids. Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler."
The final eruption of Mount St. Helens in May of 1980 was not a sudden event. For two months prior to the massive blast—the most deadly and destructive in American history—earthquakes and volcanic activity signaled a major event was underway. Authorities had plenty of time to sound the alarm and warn those living nearby of the looming danger. Yet despite the seriousness of the threat, some people chose to disregard the warnings.
Probably the best known of those who refused to evacuate was Harry Randall Truman. The eighty-three year old man was the owner and caretaker at the Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake. He had survived the sinking of his troop ship by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland during World War I, and he was not about to leave just because scientists thought there was danger. Truman told reporters, “I don't have any idea whether it will blow. But I don't believe it to the point that I'm going to pack up.” On May 18, 1980, Truman and his lodge were buried beneath 150 feet of mud and debris from the volcanic eruption. His body was never found.
It is foolish to recognize danger or temptation and think that we will somehow be exempt from the consequences if we linger. If we believe Scriptures warnings concerning temptation, we will surely flee. The only real protection that we have is the approach taken by Joseph when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife. “…and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out” (Genesis 39:12).
"Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves."
Just five days after accepting the position as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team in December of 2001, George O’Leary resigned in disgrace. An investigation had revealed that more than twenty years before he had included false claims on his resume, including saying that he had lettered in football when he was not even on the team and that he had a master’s degree which he had not earned. The lies had not been discovered at any of his previous coaching jobs, but the high profile accorded the position of coach at Notre Dame led to his exposure.
In a statement O’Leary said: “Due to a selfish and thoughtless act many years ago, I have personally embarrassed Notre Dame, its alumni, and fans. With that in mind, I will resign my position as head football coach.” Though a considerable amount of time passed between O’Leary’s deception and its discovery, it did come to light with devastating results. He had seemingly reached the heights of his profession, only to wake up and find it all taken away.
When we are tempted with the allure of sin, we must remember that no matter how enjoyable the sin may be in the moment, there will certainly come a day of reckoning. This is the decision that Moses faced, and the Bible says he responded: “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25).
No one has ever successfully sinned without consequence. Though sin may be hidden for days, weeks, or even years, “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Contemplating the coming of morning and the day when we must account for what we have done will help us resist temptation.
"When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:"
John Newton was a wicked and immoral man before his conversion. Active in the slave trade he would later work so hard to outlaw, Newton was on his way home to England from Africa when a storm nearly sank his ship and he cried out to God for mercy. Newton eventually became a faithful pastor in Olney, England, where he wrote the poem we know as the wonderful hymn “Amazing Grace.” Late in his life Newton was almost completely blind and deaf, but he insisted on continuing to do what he could for the Lord.
In his diary Newton wrote: “Oh, for grace to meet the approach of death with a humble, thankful, resigned spirit becoming my profession. That I may not stain my character by impatience, jealousy or any hateful temper but may be prepared and permitted to depart in peace and hope and be enabled, if I can speak, to bear my testimony to thy faithfulness and goodness with my last breath. Amen.” A friend who visited Newton just before his death recorded some of his final words. Newton told his friend, “My memory is nearly gone but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour.”
No matter what else happens in our lives, we can always rely on the faithfulness of God. From the very creation of the world all of His decrees and promises have been kept. His Word never fails, and we can fully rely on Him to do everything that He has said. Trials and difficulties do not shake our faith when we focus on the God who never changes. The author of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).
"She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled."
In his short story The Masque of the Red Death first published in 1842, Edgar Allen Poe describes a terrible plague sweeping across the land. Prince Prospero invites numbers of noblemen to come to his palace to escape the plague. They lay in great stores of provisions, then weld the doors shut behind them to keep out the danger. Though the invitation appears to offer safety, in the end it only brings death as the plague is revealed at a great masked ball to already be within the palace.
In contrast, the invitation that God offers to us to come and claim wisdom offers safety, security, and protection from danger. His invitation is genuine, and we should eagerly respond to it.
When we answer the invitation of wisdom—God promises to give it to us freely. James said, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Because our need of wisdom is so great, God graciously provides it when we ask.
So why then do God’s people not always have the wisdom they need? Part of the answer is found in the invitation of wisdom: it is extended to those who are willing to acknowledge their need. The invitation is extended to the “simple”—those who need instruction. When God appeared to Solomon and offered him whatever he desired, the young king responded, “I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in” (1 Kings 3:7) and asked for wisdom. Solomon received wisdom because he was humble enough to ask for it.
"He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame."
The three days of fighting at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in early July, 1863, were a major turning point of the Civil War—but they could have been even more decisive. The final day of the battle saw a major defeat for the Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee, and he was forced to retreat from the battlefield. When his army reached the Potomac River, Lee found it in flood stage and was unable to cross. It took ten days before Lee was able to get his men across the river and back to safety in Virginia.
During those ten days, General George Meade of the Union Army did not attack. Lee’s forces were trapped against the river and badly outnumbered. They were low on supplies and ammunition following the great battle and probably could have been crushed with a decisive attack. Instead Meade dithered, and as a result, the war lasted almost two more years. Meade’s failure to seize that opportunity caused great hardship and suffering. Eventually it would be the more decisive General U. S. Grant who would defeat Lee and end the war.
Someone wisely said, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized in the lifetime of the opportunity.” There is a season for harvest, and if we do not take advantage of it, that opportunity may well be gone forever. Though there are sometimes second chances, some opportunities once lost can never be regained. Instead we should wisely take advantage of the things God places in our path. An opportunity to witness to a lost person, to comfort one who is grieving, or to meet a need of someone who is suffering may never come again. Do what you can today, realizing that none of us are given the promise of tomorrow.
"A gracious woman retaineth honour: and strong men retain riches."
Things bought at garage sales don’t usually end up on the evening news, but a Chinese bowl bought by a New York family in 2007, became famous in April of 2013. The new owners paid just three dollars for what turned out to be a bowl from the Northern Song Dynasty that was more than one thousand years old. Until someone told them what they really had, the family had the bowl stuck on the mantle over their fireplace. When they placed the bowl with Sotheby’s Auction House for sale, it was estimated to go for approximately $200,000. Instead a dealer from London purchased it for more than $2,000,000!
Why would the first owners sell something so valuable for just $3? The answer is that they didn’t appreciate what it was worth. We may shake our heads at that, but the truth is that every day men and women give up things far more valuable than money could buy for something that is ultimately worthless.
When a woman sacrifices her integrity to steal from her employer to be able to buy something she wants or a man sacrifices his purity to commit immorality to satisfy his lust, something of great worth is being given up for something very cheap. This is a clear indication of misplaced values. When parents ignore their children’s need to further a career (or even a ministry), they are giving up something that cannot be regained for the sake of something that will not last.
We need to live by God’s values—caring most about those things that matter most to Him. And this commitment must be demonstrated not just in our words but in the way we invest our time and our resources. When we value things that matter, we will not give them away cheaply.
"The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment."
In one of his addresses to his ministerial students, Charles Spurgeon related the following story. “On one occasion, when Mr. Wesley was preaching, he said, ‘I have been falsely charged with every crime of which a human being is capable, except that of drunkenness.’ He had scarcely uttered these words before a wretched woman started up and screamed out at the top of her voice, ‘You old villain, and will you deny it? Did you not pledge your bands last night for a noggin of whisky, and did not the woman sell them to our parson’s wife?’ Having delivered herself of this abominable calumny the virago sat down amid a thunder-struck assembly, whereupon Mr. Wesley lifted his hands to Heaven, and thanked God that his cup was now full, for they had said all manner of evil against him falsely for Christ’s name-sake.”
Doing right is certainly no guarantee that people will speak well of you. In fact in some cases it seems to motivate them even more to criticize and condemn, even when they cannot do so honestly. But that does not mean that you have to descend to their level and answer falsehood with falsehood. Honesty and integrity establish a foundation that cannot be destroyed from the outside in, only from the inside out.
There may be a temporary benefit derived from lying. People often lie to get out of trouble or to prevent something they have done from being discovered, but any such benefits will always be short lived. The truth will eventually be revealed, and those who commit to it in the beginning find themselves vindicated in the end. In the final analysis, what others say of us doesn’t matter compared to what God says, and He weighs us in the balance of truth.
"He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed."
The courtroom was hushed as Saleem Williams testified that his friend, nineteen-year-old Monique Robinson, had handed him the gun and told him to pull the trigger. Williams had already pled guilty to his role in the September 2011 murder of a twenty-two year old man in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, named Selvin Lopez-Mauricio. Now he was testifying against Robinson, his girlfriend as part of his agreement with prosecutors. Williams claimed that he would not have been involved in the murder at all except for her influence.
The people we choose to be our close friends and companions truly have a dramatic and powerful influence on our lives. Someone said, “You will be the same in five years as you are now except for the books you read and the people you meet.” Those with whom we choose to spend our time have a powerful influence on us, either for good or evil.
There are no neutral parties when it comes to influence. We either spend our time with those who are wise and are better for it, or we spend our time with those who are foolish and suffer the consequences.
There is an old saying that says, “A man is known by the company he keeps.” While that statement is true, it is only part of the picture. Not only does the character and nature of those with whom we fellowship say something about us, but it shapes and molds who we are as well. While we should strive to be a positive influence and role model for others, it is foolish to expect to spend all of your time with bad influences and not have it impact your life and character. Healthy people don’t make contagious people well by being around them—they just get sick themselves.
"The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going."
In the long history of con artists, George C. Parker holds a special place of dishonor. He is remembered as one of the most successful and daring swindlers in American history. He set up an office in New York City and “sold” some of the city’s most famous attractions to tourists. His favorite was the Brooklyn Bridge, but he also sold the Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden, and Grant’s Tomb. He produced elaborately forged documents and deeds to convince his targets that he was the rightful owner of the landmarks he was selling.
Parker was so persuasive that on more than one occasion, police had to come and explain why the new “owners” of the Brooklyn Bridge couldn’t put up tollbooths to collect money from those who tried to cross. After his third conviction for fraud, Parker was sentenced to life at Sing Sing Prison in New York, where he spent the last eight years of his life. He dishonestly made a fortune preying on people who foolishly believed his empty words. He not only was an expert salesman, but he realized that many people were gullible and he could use that to his advantage.
God expects us to be careful and prudent with the resources that He entrusts to us. Of course, this applies to far more than financial matters. Prudence and wisdom also keep us from falling for the lies of temptation and protect us from great suffering and heartbreak. We should not be easily fooled, but rather we should investigate what we are told and be certain that it is true before making decisions. Paul wrote, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). Develop godly discernment through reading and meditating on God’s truths and remaining responsive to the Holy Spirit. Walking with prudence will save you from a world of sorrow.
"Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."
In his narrative poem “The Faultless Painter” about the Italian artist Andrea del Sarto, Robert Browning used the expression “less is more.” Because of his careful attention to detail, del Sarto was known as a painter senza errori—without errors. However, his perfectionism also seems to have reduced his output. It was this tendency that Browning highlighted with a phrase that has entered into our language. But though the expression “less is more” is often true, it seems many struggle with understanding the spiritual truth behind the words.
There is a driving spirit of discontent in our day that makes it hard for people to be satisfied with what they have. In truth, if our focus is on our “stuff” we will never be content because there is always one more thing we don’t have or one more person who has more. Solomon put this principle this way: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). No matter how much we get, it will never be enough.
But there are some things far more important than possessions. If we have those we will be content even if there are not great material blessings. And in that contentment we will find something that cannot be purchased for any amount of money.
It is said that on her deathbed Queen Elizabeth I said, “All my possessions for one moment of time.” Though she was fabulously wealthy, in the end even her resources could not purchase what she most wanted. Let our hearts be set on that which is eternal, and we can be truly happy.
"By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil."
Charles Spurgeon told of a godly Christian man who became a magistrate in the Scottish village of Wishaw. One day a man was brought into his courtroom who had been the judge’s childhood friend. But their paths had diverged, and while the judge did right, his friend had lived a life of sin and crime. Those in the courtroom who knew the relationship between the two thought that the judge might go easy on his old friend. Instead he sentenced him to the maximum fine for his offense.
Once the sentence had been pronounced, the judge left the bench, went to the officer of the court, and paid the fine from his own pocket. He both did his duty as a judge in upholding the law and showed mercy toward his old friend by paying the fine. This balance of truth and mercy is vitally important for fathers as they work to rear their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Too much focus on rules provokes rebellion. Too much focus on mercy promotes riotous living.
In a task that is daunting—bringing up children to love and fear God in a world that is radically opposed to Him and His law—fathers need to maintain this healthy balance between mercy and truth. By doing so, we are giving them a powerful illustration of how God deals with us.
It was a sobering realization to me as a dad that much of our children’s view of God would be shaped by how I treated them as their father. Truly this is a task beyond human strength. “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). But He will help as we ask for His power and wisdom for this vital task.
"The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with."
In June of 2012 a large wildfire threatened the town of Elbert, Colorado. Many people were forced to evacuate their homes, and it took more than one hundred firefighters to finally control the blaze which consumed more than six hundred acres. Alex Averette, a member of the volunteer fire department, was the first to spot and report the blaze. Months later he admitted to investigators that he had started a small fire with a cigarette lighter “for the experience.” But the fire quickly grew out of control and threatened thousands of lives. Averette was arrested and charged with arson.
Many times we think we will be able to control the consequences of a word or action, only to find that things rapidly spin out of control. It’s impossible to gather water back up after it is poured on the ground, and it is very difficult indeed to restore broken relationships once careless words and deeds have damaged them. Before the fight has started, there is no problem keeping things in check. Once it has begun, however, things often spiral far beyond what was intended in the beginning and the problems become much more difficult to resolve.
Just as the difficulty of overcoming a habit like smoking can be avoided by never starting it, the problem of restoring a battered relationship can be avoided by not allowing the conflict to begin. While there are some things that are worth fighting for—such as the truth of the gospel itself—in many cases it is simply a matter of pride that causes a battle to begin. Like the water poured out, the words once spoken cannot be recalled. God expects us to control our tongues through the power of His Spirit, and when we do, we will avoid damaging our relationships.
"A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul."
When the Cornerstone Bank in Waco, Nebraska, was robbed of some $6,000 in November of 2012, the bank employees were able to give the police a fairly good description of the teenage girl who pulled off the crime and the car in which she escaped. As it turned out, the investigators didn’t really need those descriptions, because the thief recorded a YouTube video titled “Chick bank robber” boasting of her criminal prowess.
Fanning out the cash in front of the camera, 19-year-old Hannah Sabata held up a sign that read, “I just stole a car and robbed a bank. Now I'm rich, I can pay off my college financial aid, and tomorrow I’m going for a shopping spree.” Later she held up another sign which said, “I told my mom today was the best day of my life... she just thinks I met a new boy.” Hannah’s brief criminal career ended later that week when police took her into custody.
The number of people who have gotten into trouble because of something they said goes far beyond boasting criminals. Lies, gossip, criticism, and slander can damage not just those about whom they are spoken but the speaker as well. The words that come from our mouths reveal the condition of our hearts and minds. Jesus said, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34).
We should exercise great care in our speech, knowing the power of our words. Though there is a time when we should speak, more often the problem comes from speaking too much instead of speaking too little. Let wisdom guide every conversation.
"Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge."
As the 1963 college football season drew to a close, Alabama coach Bear Bryant faced a dilemma. He was known as a strict disciplinarian, but his star player, quarterback Joe Namath, had broken a team rule. Normally he would be suspended, but with the Sugar Bowl against highly ranked Mississippi coming up, that meant the team would be forced to use a lesser player and might not win the game. Most of Bryant’s staff opposed a suspension, but in the end, Bryant enforced the rule. Namath sat and watched as his teammates pulled out a 12-7 win without his help.
The message was received loud and clear, not just by Namath but also by every other member of the team—no one is above the rules. The following season, Namath returned to the team and led a highly focused group to an undefeated regular season and the national championship. His public correction benefitted him, but its biggest impact was probably on his teammates. They received the benefit of the principle Paul relayed to Timothy: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Timothy 5:20).
When we correct those who do wrong, we provide a vital example to all who see it. If they see people sinning and getting by, they are tempted to follow their example. Solomon wrote, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:10).
For those whose hearts are devoted to wisdom, correction is not a grievous insult, but rather an opportunity to increase their understanding and avoid mistakes in the future. If we respond in pride and anger when we are reproved rather than with gratitude and humility, we are missing one of God’s great tools to impart wisdom to us.
"Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right."
In his story “The Goat and the Goatherd” Aesop tells of a young man who was charged with tending a flock of goats. One of the goats wandered off and refused to return. The boy called him, whistled to him, and shouted at him, but the goat would not budge. Finally the exasperated youth threw a rock at the goat. It hit the goat and broke his horn. Afraid that he would get in trouble for harming the animal, the goatherd begged the goat not to say anything to the owner. The goat replied, “You silly fellow, the horn will speak though I be silent.”
Though it may be possible for a time to deceive people by our words, eventually our actions will reveal what is really in our hearts. And in the final analysis, what we do holds far more weight in shaping how others view us than what we say does. If we say all the right things but do not match those words with our deeds, our message will be lost in the fog of hypocrisy. The world is looking for believers whose lives match what they profess to believe. There is enormous power in a witness that is supported by a life.
James wrote, “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:25). God blesses those who do what they read in His Word. The prayers for blessing some people offer are not answered because their deeds do not place them in a position to receive God’s blessing. Recognizing the importance of testimony, it is vital that our deeds, both in public and in private are in keeping with what we proclaim as the truth.
"He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich."
We live in a society that is obsessed with the pursuit of pleasure. While this is not a new thing, the lengths to which it is being taken today are beyond what has been known throughout most of history. The airwaves are filled with ads which promise happiness and success for those who have more stuff than they know what to do with. These ads are used for everything from cars to toothpaste. But they—and the mindset they promote—are based on a lie.
A study published in US News and Report some years ago did some digging into what people’s expectation of life really was. Rather than just asking general questions, those who conducted the study were specific about what people thought they would need to have in order to feel like they had achieved the “American Dream.” Interestingly enough, the responses were quite similar regardless of the current income the respondents had. For the average person in the study to feel like they had made it, based on their specific answers for what kinds of things they wanted, their income would need to basically double. This was true for those making $25,000 and those making $100,000. When you added up all the possessions and purchases that they felt would make them content, it was roughly twice as much money as they currently had—and that clearly isn’t attainable for most people.
As those around us focus on increasing their income, to increase their ability to spend, to increase their appetite for more, they do not realize that they are chasing a circular dream that can never make them happy. No amount of money and no group of belongings can bring contentment to a heart that does not already hold it.
"Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul."
In March of 1991 a twenty-four year old man named Carl Kerr went to a friend’s house along with several other people. He and his friend, twenty-one year old John Sheppard, were drinking and watching television when an argument broke out. Witnesses later told police that while Sheppard was normally even-tempered, he “got very angry when things didn’t go his way.” He left the room and returned with an ax and struck Kerr with it nine times, killing him. After just ninety minutes of deliberation, the jury found Sheppard guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
While that is an extreme example of the principle Solomon lays out for us in Proverbs on the danger of friendship with an angry man, the damage done by such relationships is a real danger. Even if we never suffer direct physical harm, we are learning a destructive pattern of behavior when we keep company with those who cannot keep control of their emotions and anger.
The friends with whom we choose to develop relationships and spend time have an enormous impact on our lives. They help shape our attitudes and our responses when things go right and when things go wrong. While a good friend helps us do what is right (think of the wonderful relationship between Jonathan and David as an example of the power of such a relationship in action), a bad friend helps us do what is wrong (think of Jonadab and Amnon).
The reality is that we do not choose the impact our friends have on us. That happens automatically as a result of the relationship. The choice we have is in the friends we select. Choose your friends carefully because they will play a major role in determining your future.
"Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long. For surely there is an end; and thine expectation shall not be cut off."
Many people lose their faith in God when they do not immediately see good rewarded and evil punished. Instead of continuing to believe and fear Him, their hearts turn away from following God and seek satisfaction elsewhere. But even if we do not quickly see what God has promised come to pass, it is still certain. Think of Abraham who waited some twenty-five years for the birth of his promised son, Isaac. Though there was a moment when his faith wavered with Hagar, he continued to believe until the promise was fulfilled.
Then after Isaac was born, God instructed Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice. Rather than struggling against God’s direction, Abraham obeyed. The level of his belief and fear of God commanded his obedience. Though no one had ever been raised from the dead at that point, Abraham believed that if he did what God said, Isaac would not remain dead. The Bible tells us that Abraham acted in faith, “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Hebrews 11:19). We should demonstrate that same level of hope and fear in our obedience and consistency as believers.
Though hope and fear may seem like opposite traits, our belief that God will do what He promises is reinforced by our fear of His holiness and righteousness. We can depend on His unchanging nature and unfailing love no matter what the circumstances may seem to be. We should never allow those who are doing evil and seem to be doing well to make us doubt the goodness of God—or His judgment of sin.
"If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small."
In April of 2007 Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech University, went on a rampage. By the time his murderous spree ended by suicide, Cho had killed 32 people and wounded 17 more. Most of those killed were shot as they sat in classes in the engineering school. Cho chained the doors shut to ensure it would be hard for his intended victims to escape. Panic broke out as students began to realize what was happening. When Cho came to one classroom, he found the door barred by the professor, 76 year old Liviu Librescu.
Librescue, a Romanian Jew who survived the Nazi Holocaust and later moved to Israel before coming to America to teach, told the students to open the windows and escape outside. He saved the lives of a number of his students before falling victim to the gunman’s bullets. His son later told of the emails he received from young people who had been in the classroom when their professor saved their lives by literally placing himself into the line of fire. In the moment of adversity, his courage rose to the occasion and he proved himself a hero.
Most of us don’t face tests that are quite that severe, but each of us faces moments when our faith and courage is put to the test. The opportunity to share the gospel with a friend or co-worker or stay silent, the temptation to take something that doesn’t belong to us or leave it—these are moments of adversity. These moments do not determine whether or not we have strength of character. Instead they reveal it. The crucible of adversity is the moment when what is in our hearts is shown to the world. Our responsibility to God is to live every day in His strength so that we do not fail the test.
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver."
Before he became a preacher imprisoned for refusing to take a license from the Church of England to preach, before he wrote the powerful allegory Pilgrim’s Progress that has influenced so many people, John Bunyan was a wicked ticker in Bedford, England. He had no care or thought for the things of God and lived solely for himself. In his book Grace Abounding, Bunyan recounts the crucial events that placed him on the path to salvation. Bunyan wrote that he was sitting outside a neighbor’s shop “cursing, swearing, and playing the madman, after my wonted manner.”
A woman inside, though she was not a Christian herself, was shocked by the depth of Bunyan’s profane declarations and told him that his words made her tremble. The unexpected reproof sobered and took root in Bunyan’s heart, and he stopped swearing from that point forward. It seemed to have an effect on him that led him to consider the path on which he was headed, and it was not long after that experience that he was saved. Simple words of correction from an unsaved woman radically altered Bunyan’s life.
Our words have great power. They can build up and encourage someone who is struggling or they can tear down and discourage someone who is seeking help. When we choose our words, we should always be aware of the impact that they can have on others. David wrote, “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (Psalm 39:1).
There is a time for strong words in confrontation of sin. There is a time for comforting words when someone has a broken heart. There is a time for instructing words when someone needs guidance. Wisdom rightly assesses the situation and the need and then uses words which are appropriate to meet the need of the moment.
"He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.""
A Christian worker noticed that his young son was prone to getting involved in fights between two brothers who lived across the street. One day he took the boy on a walk. As they passed one house, a large German shepherd bounded into the yard and ran along the fence beside the sidewalk. The father waited for a moment and then asked, “Would you like to reach over the fence and grab his ears?” Of course the boy had no interest in that. Then the father quoted this verse and pointed out that by intervening in fights between the two other boys, he was doing something very much like that foolish act.
There are few people who face so little trouble in their own lives that they need to go borrowing it by getting involved in the strife of others. Yet for a variety of reasons, we often give in to the temptation to take part in a conflict that does not involve us. While these actions and interventions may be well-motivated, they are certainly not the path to peace and serenity in life.
Instead we should be minding our own business. If there is a role for us to play in a conflict, it will probably find us fairly quickly. There is no need to jump into other people’s battles. If we feel the need to get involved, we should first spend time in careful evaluation to determine whether it is an area where we can contribute to an actual solution. Only if the answer to that is yes should we take part.
"Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."
Charles Spurgeon said, “Give me for a friend a man who will speak honestly of me before my face; who will not tell first one neighbor, and then another, but who will come straight to my house and say: ‘I feel there is wrong in you, my brother, that I must tell you of.’ That man is a true friend. He has proved himself to be so, for we never get any praise for telling people of their faults; we rather hazard their dislike.”
Many people suffer because they lack a friend who is deep and committed enough to offer correction when it is needed. Often the reason no one speaks to point out a flaw in time for us to correct it without serious damage is found in our response to those who attempt to offer advice or correction. A man or woman who responds with anger or frustration to such an attempt will soon stop receiving them—but that is a very dangerous position to be in.
Ecclesiastes 4:13 says, “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.” None of us are wise and godly enough not to need friends to help us improve. None of us are able to identify all of our blind spots and see where we may be vulnerable without even realizing it. Corporations pay huge sums of money to people who attempt to break through their security systems and identify weaknesses before they can be exploited. Our friends—true friends—provide such a warning system for us if we have the humility and wisdom to listen to them. The fact that correction comes from a friend does not make it painless. But we should view it as a needed wound—and appreciate it.
"He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough."
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus told of a young man who after gravely insulting his father took all of the money from his inheritance and left home. In a land far away, his wealth made him the center of attention, but once his money was gone, and a famine came, the boy found that all of his so-called friends had vanished. Knowing how Jewish people regarded pigs, and knowing what pigs eat, think of the depths of desperation expressed in this statement: “And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him” (Luke 15:16).
The people who are our closest friends have an enormous influence on our lives. They are either setting good examples and encouraging us to do better, or they are setting bad examples and encouraging us to do things that are of no lasting values. The Hebrew word translated “vain” in Proverbs 28:19 is the same word used in Genesis 41:27 when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream that warned of the coming famine. The seven years of famine were represented by “seven empty ears” of corn. They were ears of corn, but they had no value in them.
Those people who have no vision from God for their lives, who are not willing to work and labor to reach their vision and provide for their needs, are not productive people. While we should love, pray for, and encourage them, we should not make them our examples. A person who is surrounded by such people may start out working hard to do better, but over time they will be influenced by such vain companions. Instead look for people whose lives and attitudes challenge you to do more for God, and you will benefit greatly.
"In the transgression of an evil man there is a snare: but the righteous doth sing and rejoice."
Germany in the early part of the 1600s suffered two huge tragedies. The Thirty Years’ War, one of the longest periods of continual war in modern history, swept across Europe as nations struggled for supremacy. In addition, the Bubonic Plague rampaged through the population. Millions perished from war and disease. The German town of Eilenburg had four pastors at the beginning of 1637, but by the end of the year, only one—Martin Rinkart—was left alive.
During that awful year, more than 4,400 people died. Rinkart conducted all of the funerals, sometimes as many as forty or fifty in a single day. In May, his beloved wife died. Yet through all of that suffering and heartbreak, Rinkart retained his faith. He later penned a wonderful hymn of rejoicing that is still sung today.
Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother's arms,
Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.
There are times in all of our lives when things do not go the way we wish that they would. Sickness comes, financial reversal strikes, trouble comes into our homes—we live in a fallen and sinful world, and each of us suffers the consequences of that at times. If you observe people very long you will see that while some go through difficult times and fall apart, others go through the same kinds of difficulties and maintain a strong and vibrant faith. The difference is not in the hardship, but in the faith that chooses how to respond. When we are resting in the love and goodness of God, we can sing and rejoice even in the midst of our trials.
"The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;"
When the Jewish revolt against the Romans was put down and was Jerusalem captured in 70 AD, a small of Jewish fighters broke away and fled to the mountain fortress of Masada to continue their struggle for freedom. Herod had built a great palace and fortifications there years before. The narrow winding passes that led to the top of the mountain helped the Jews hold off the Romans for nearly three years before the siege finally was able to breach the defenses. Nearly a thousand Jews committed suicide rather than being captured by the Romans. According to historical accounts only two women and three small children survived.
There was no comparison between the military might of the Roman legions and the band of Jewish revolutionaries. What equalized them for so long was that the Jews had a fortified place of safety from which to fight. We are involved every single day in a spiritual struggle. And it is not a casual battle, but a matter of life and death. Peter reminds us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Knowing the seriousness of the threat that we face, wisdom encourages us to find safety in a place that offers a defense from danger. Like the defenseless conies, we must seek shelter from a relentless enemy. God offers us the sure place of protection in His Word. David cried out, “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). Before trouble comes, find your place of refuge by filling your heart and mind with Scripture. When trouble comes, use the sword of the Spirit as your weapon.
"My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood."
In August of 2012, vacationers at the beach in Terracina, Italy were shocked when a car pulled up next to a man who had just left the water and shot him seven times. The man was Gaetano Marino, leader of the Camorra crime family. He was known as “Stumpy” because his hands had been blown off nearly twenty years previous when a bomb he was attempting to set for someone else went off prematurely. Police said they believed the killing was part of a struggle for control of the cocaine business between rival mob factions. Marino was part of a “family business” that placed him on the path that resulted in his death.
The law of sowing and reaping has not been repealed. When we set out on a course of action, there are consequences that we can and should anticipate (both good and bad) that ought to play a large role in our choices. Many people get in trouble when they decide to associate with people who put them on the wrong path. Though they never intend to end up in great danger, they begin walking an evil road, which always results in destruction in the end.
The only safety we have is to avoid such paths. Continuing down the wrong road and hoping to get off at the last moment is a recipe for disaster. The assumption that we know enough to evaluate where the danger will strike and we can afford to continue on a sinful path up until that moment is both arrogant and false. Instead we should quickly turn away from an evil path and from evil companions. Only in repentance can we be safe from the consequences of sin.