Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it."
After decades of service to his country in both war and peace, George Washington completed his second term as president. In his Farewell Address to the nation he wrote: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”
America was never a Christian nation in the sense that everyone was a believer, but there is no question that strong Christian principles guided the foundations of our government. As we see that changing before our eyes—as the government begins to punish good and promote evil—it is more important than ever that we do what we can to influence the shape of our society. While we have the right and the duty to be involved in the government as citizens, the ultimate solution to these problems can only be found in the spiritual arena.
Paul, who understood what it was like to live under a government that was in direct opposition to God, urged Timothy to pray and make supplication, “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Timothy 2:2). We must be faithful in praying for our leaders at all levels of government. In addition, we must be diligent about sharing the gospel with others. The actions of men are never ultimately the result of law but of heart. As Christ rules in the hearts of His children, their actions and our nation will change for the better.
"The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just."
In 1938, as the Nazis continued to build their military might and the clouds of war loomed darker over Europe, Irving Berlin brought out a song he had first written in 1918 but then set aside. Sung by Kate Smith on an Armistice Day radio broadcast, “God Bless America” quickly became a national favorite. The introduction to the lyrics refers to the song as “a solemn prayer.” But it is important for us to remember that it is a prayer that can only be answered in context of our national behavior.
We cannot expect God to bless our nation unless we are willing to be a righteous nation. When the government is working in obedience to God’s design for them to reward good and punish evil (see Romans 13:3), there is a positive impact on the entire society and a basis for seeking God’s blessing. The Psalmist wrote: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance” (Proverbs 33:12).
Those of us who love God and believe His Word have a special responsibility as citizens. Though this world is not our home and our ultimate loyalty must always be to the eternal, we have also been commanded to “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Paul wrote these words to a church born from persecution by an unrighteous government. One of the first members of that church was the jailer who was converted when Paul and Silas were freed from his prison by an earthquake. These people realized that the evil of their government and their society did not excuse them from doing right, but made it more important that they do so, and it is the same for us today.
"But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day."
Today as we celebrate the anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence, it is worth looking back to remember that the foundations of this nation were laid in faith. President Ronald Reagan acknowledged that heritage in his Farewell Address to the nation just before leaving office. He said: “The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim.
“He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity.”
No nation can be truly great apart from the blessing of God, and no nation can be blessed by God without godly people praying and living according to His Word. The biggest problem facing our nation is not evil in high places, although that does exist. The biggest problem is that God’s people have stopped being shining lights, choosing instead to hide their lights and silence their voices. As society becomes darker, it is more vital than ever that we speak out—sharing the gospel and declaring the truth of Scripture, shining more brightly in contrast to a world that has turned its back on God.
"And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!"
Mt. Everest, the highest peak on Earth, has long been the goal of climbers around the globe. In the decades since it was first scaled, individuals and groups have come to the remote Himalayas in an effort to reach the top. During the 1990s Everest “tourism” reached a new high as guides began selling services to take larger and larger groups up the mountain. In 1996 writer Jon Krakauer was part of one such expedition—a trip that ended in tragedy. His book Into Thin Air recounts the series of decisions and poor choices that left eight climbers and guides dead on the mountain when a massive storm caught them on the trail and they were unable to return to safety.
There were plenty of warnings for those who choose to heed them. Many people abandoned their efforts to reach the summit of Everest and remained safe below. But others thought that their skill or their guides would enable them to make it despite the storm. Some of those who refused to listen to the warnings they received perished on the mountain.
When we decide that we know better than those who are sounding the alarm and giving warnings of danger, we are taking a grave risk. It may be that they are wrong and there is no danger, but that is seldom the case. Usually when we are being warned, it is for a reason. God graciously gives us teachers and spiritual leaders to provide words of caution to save us from destruction. Pride does not want to admit that it might need correction, and as a result, often ends in tragedy. Humility listens to these words and heeds them rather than despising them, offering protection and safety.
"A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away."
He was considered by the British to be America’s best Revolutionary War general—the most skilled at both battle tactics and the command of men. His reputation as a fearsome warrior was so great that one at least one occasion he won a battle without fighting at all. When the British hired a group of their Indian allies to lay siege to an American fort, this general sent a single messenger to tell them that the “Black Eagle” (his Indian name) was coming. They immediately gave up the siege, and the fort was spared.
Yet his abilities were marred by pride and a quick temper, and he often clashed with commanders and subordinates alike. He was accused on claiming credit he did not deserve and charged with misappropriating funds. Perhaps because of his feelings of having been wronged, when the opportunity arose, Benedict Arnold attempted to hand West Point and George Washington over to the British. When the plot was discovered, he was forced to flee to England, where he spent the rest of his life. Despite his great courage and skill in battle and his many contributions to the American cause, the name Benedict Arnold remains synonymous with traitor more than two hundred years later.
While there is mercy and forgiveness with God, and He promises to pardon us when we repent and confess, there are also consequences of sin that can never be undone. The shame and stigma remain long after whatever fleeting pleasure was derived from sin has vanished from memory. There is no undoing the harm to reputation caused by sin. The only defense is to be on guard and refuse the temptation to sin in the first place. Once we have yielded to temptation, we have also surrendered control of our future reputation.
"(She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows."
In addition to his long career as a political leader, including several years spent as Secretary of State and candidate for President, William Jennings Bryan often filled pulpits as a preacher. His powerful rhetoric opened the Word of God and challenged men and women to repent. In one memorable illustration, he told of a man from his hometown of Salem, Illinois, who once had been a drunkard. The man was convicted of the error of his ways, and signed a temperance pledge to stop drinking. But as Bryan told the story, each time he went into town, he continued to tie his horse up at the hitching post in front of the tavern where he used to drink. It wasn’t long before he was back inside with his old friends, drinking once again.
The devil for centuries has been convincing people that they are different—that they can get close to the edge with temptation without going over. He delights when Christians believe that they are strong enough to resist continual exposure to temptation without giving in. He knows he is close to triumph when we forget Paul’s admonition, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
The devil doesn’t play fair. He doesn’t care what he has to use to lure us to sin. Anything—even good things—can become tools in his hands. We need to walk through the world with our guard up and our eyes fixed on Jesus. Only then can we triumph over temptation and win the victory.
"Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them."
One of the oldest delegates to the US Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to draw up the framework for our government was Roger Sherman of Connecticut. In addition to his long and successful career as a lawyer and politician, he was for many years a professor of religion at Yale, training many of the early leaders of the United States. Sherman was widely respected by his colleagues, and as a result had great influence among them. Thomas Jefferson said of him: “That is Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.”
For a period of time the convention appeared to be hopelessly deadlocked as the representatives of the different states could not agree on representation for the new nation. Sherman was one of the main designers of the plan known as the Great Compromise that set up the Senate where every state had the same number of representatives and the House where the larger states would have more representatives based on their population. Because of his reputation for integrity and wisdom, Sherman was able to get his plan passed, and the new government was formed.
Those who spend time with us quickly develop an assessment of the honesty and wisdom of our words (or the lack thereof). It is, as the old saying goes, impossible to fool all of the people all of the time. Our words reveal what we truly value and the condition of our heart. A heart filled with wisdom will not result in a mouth filled with harmful or foolish words.
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding."
In Roman times, a general who had won a great victory was given a triumph—a great parade through the streets of Rome to celebrate his accomplishments and give him honor and glory. In his book Apologetics, Tertullian (one of the leading pastors of the early church) said that each time a general made this trip, he was accompanied by a slave who had a single assignment. Periodically along the route as the crowds cheered the conquering hero, the slave would whisper in the general’s ear, “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!”: “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!”
The humanistic philosophy that surrounds us has its focus on man rather than on God. Our society glories in our achievements and accomplishments. We revel in breaking records and establishing new goals to reach for. We find the conceit that we can solve all of our problems with better education and social structures apart from God. Yet while that approach is alluring to our fallen natures, it is based on a lie. There is no truth or knowledge apart from God. He is the sources of all good things, and there is nothing meaningful or lasting that we can achieve apart from Him.
Describing the Roman society of his day, Paul wrote, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:28). Truly that could be said of our age as well. When people leave God out of their thoughts, true wisdom vanishes. They may have advanced degrees and great education, but they lack true knowledge. Only when we turn to God and believe in and fear Him can we say we have understanding.
"He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth."
There were 128 runners in the field for the cross country race at the 1993 NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships. As they set out on the 6.2 mile run, they were following a course that had been marked for them by the race officials. Toward the end of the course, one of the runners in the middle of the group realized something was wrong. Mike
Delcavo of Western State College in Colorado saw that the main pack had missed the turn. “I was waving for them to follow me and yelling ‘This is the right way,’” he told an interviewer after the race.
Delcavo was right—but only four other runners followed him. The rest continued on the shortcut, which allowed them to run a shorter distance and finish the race sooner. In a widely-criticized decision, race officials allowed the abbreviated route to stand as the “official course” and Delcavo officially finished 123rd.
The world does not always reward staying on track—literally or figuratively. But the path we follow is important to God. One day, those of us who have already trusted Christ for our salvation will appear before the Lord for an evaluation of our service. Our entrance to Heaven is sure—that was settled when we received Christ. But rewards—or the loss of them—for how we spent our lives are not so sure. When we stand before the Lord, no shortcuts will be recognized, and only those who have run the race by His guidebook will be honored.
Paul wrote, “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (2 Timothy 2:5). There may be times when most of the people around you are going in a direction that Scripture forbids. Do not allow your convictions to be swayed by the actions of a group, even if it is a large group. Be willing to stand firm for truth, even if it means that you stand alone.
"Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered."
When Diana Valencia was arrested in Texas on drug charges in September of 2008, there was little doubt regarding her guilt. Anyone caught with two kilos of cocaine is going to have difficulty explaining that away as an innocent mistake. However she came up with a novel attempt at getting off—she and her sister decided to bribe the judge who would be hearing her case to make sure she got off. The plan might have worked, since the judge was willing to take the money—except the FBI got involved.
Agents had been suspicious of Judge Manuel Barraza, and they cut a deal with Valencia’s sister to record her meetings with the judge. She taped a total of five conversations with the judge in which they agreed on the price for getting her sister off. Barraza was arrested and convicted and lost his judicial position because of his attempts to circumvent justice for profit.
Many people think that they can enjoy sin and then find some means of avoiding the consequences. As one old preacher said, they sow wild oats and then pray for crop failure. But no matter what devices we come up with, God is a sure and certain judge. We cannot bargain with or bribe Him. His hatred of sin parallels His perfect holiness. He does not turn away from sin.
The only hope that we have when we have sinned is to repent and seek forgiveness through the blood of Christ. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Sin that we attempt to hide or cover will always result in condemnation—sin that we confess will be forgiveen.
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise."
Though it doesn’t rain often in the Arizona desert, when it does rain, it tends to rain heavily, and flash floods are a common occurrence. In many places the natural washes and arroyos take the water across roadways. Often people attempt to drive through the water and find themselves trapped as the force of the current takes them off the road. Sometimes people even die trying to drive through the floodwaters. Many times they require rescue by local authorities.
In an effort to combat this, Arizona passed what is officially called Section 28-910 of the Arizona Revised Statues, but more commonly known as the “Stupid Motorist Law.” This law makes it illegal for people to drive around barriers in an attempt to cross flooded streets—and provides for a $2,000 fine for anyone who does so and has to be rescued. Despite the warnings, the potential fine, and the example of those who have been injured or killed in the attempt, people still try to make their way through floodwaters with deadly results.
We all have the tendency to think that we can make it through warnings that we convince ourselves only apply to others. Yet the end result of such folly is often damaging—if not worse. Our own wisdom and understanding is a poor guide to making decisions.
We see an illustration of this in the Old Testament at the death of Joshua. As long as Joshua and the leaders who had known Joshua lived, the children of Israel served the Lord. Once they were gone, however, the people went their own ways. Several times in the book of Judges we find the expression: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Rather than going by our sight, we should obey what God declares.
"Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured."
Much of the foundation for the modern computing world that we take for granted was laid by Thomas Watson, Sr. who founded the International Business Machine Company and made it a leader in the world of data processing. He was the one who popularized the company motto “Think” which still appears throughout buildings owned by IBM. One of the things that distinguished Watson from many of his less successful peers was his belief in the value of mistakes. He correctly felt that the difference between success and failure was not in avoiding mistakes but in learning from them.
In the 1940s, an employee reportedly made a catastrophic mistake—an error that would cost IBM one million dollars. That is a lot of money today, but those days it was an enormous sum. Certain that he was about to be fired, the erring employee typed up a letter of resignation and took it to Watson’s office. To his shock, Watson refused to accept his letter or fire him and said, “Fire you? I’ve just invested one million dollars in your education, and you think I’m going to fire you?”
Because we are only human, it is certain that we will make mistakes. One of the primary things that distinguishes between the wise man and the fool is whether he learns from those mistakes. When we fail, when we are corrected, when we are reproved, we should realize that we have been presented with a wonderful learning opportunity. One business consultant told a potential client, “When you hire us, you are getting to avoid over one hundred years of other people’s mistakes.” Rather than responding in pride and refusing to learn, we should humbly submit to correction when we make mistakes—and then not repeat them.
"He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly."
“The Bear and the Bees,” like most of Aesop’s fables, focuses on behavior in an animal world that contains lessons for people to apply to their lives. In the story, a hungry bear found a hollow tree in the woods in which bees had built a hive that was filled with honey. The bear approached cautiously, not wanting to alert the bees to his presence. Before the bear could reach the honey he craved, one lone bee returning from the clover field saw him and stung him.
Enraged the bear attacked the tree, trying to get at the honey—but in doing so he roused all of the bees in the hive. They flew out to defend their sweet treasure. The bees stung the bear over and over until he fled for his life. Finally he found a pool of water and dove under the surface until the bees went away. Aesop’s point was that it is far better to suffer a small injury than to allow our fury to put us in great danger.
The difference between those whose anger controls them and those who control their anger is not found in whether things happen to provoke anger. All of us are going to experience disappointments, hurts, and insults from time to time. The question is how we will respond. We have the choice of keeping our anger in check no matter what has transpired. While there is a time and a place for righteous anger, far more often we “fly off the handle” and respond in the heat of the moment. Thomas Jefferson said, “When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” Knowing that an immediate reaction is likely to be wrong, we should carefully consider our response when we are provoked.
"The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness."
During the War of 1812, British soldiers captured the city of Washington DC and set fire to a number of government buildings. Among those destroyed was the Library of Congress. In 1815 former President Thomas Jefferson agreed to sell his personal library to the nation to start the replacement process. Nearly 6,500 books were purchased, and they formed the foundation for the rapidly expanding national library. In 1851 an accidental fire destroyed many of the books Jefferson had donated. Recently the Library of Congress has been working on recreating Jefferson’s personal collection, trying to acquire a copy of every book in the original set.
Some criticized Jefferson’s collection as being too broad back in his day, but he wrote a letter defending the wide array of topics, pointing out: “There is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” Jefferson had a great appreciation for knowledge and understood how important it is, both to individuals and to nations, to be careful students.
This is true in the spiritual realm as well. The word “disciple” comes from the Greek word for a student or pupil. Though in our society formal education ends at a fairly young age, learning should never stop.
Paul certainly knew more than most about the things of God. He had a personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and then spent years in the desert being taught the truths of God. Yet when he wrote to the Romans he declared, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33). No matter how much we know, there is always more to study and learn. We should heed the instruction of 2 Peter 3:18 and “grow in…the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
"The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness."
In the midst of a youth-obsessed culture where people go to great lengths to hang on to youth chemically, surgically, and psychologically, it is easy to forget how much God values wise and godly men and women in their later years. These elders in the faith, those who have walked with God for many years, have great wisdom to impart both to their own families and to those who are younger in the faith. Rather than dreaded growing old, we should rejoice in the opportunities it presents.
In his book The Best Is Yet To Be Henry Durbanville wrote, "I feel so sorry for folks who don't like to grow old...I revel in my years. They enrich me...I would not exchange...the abiding rest of soul, the measure of wisdom I have gained from the sweet and bitter and perplexing experiences of life; nor the confirmed faith I now have in the...love of God, for all the bright and uncertain hopes and tumultuous joys of youth. Indeed, I would not! These are the best years of my life...The way grows brighter; the birds sing sweeter; the winds blow softer; the sun shines more radiantly than ever before. I suppose 'my outward man' is perishing, but 'my inward man' is being joyously renewed day by day.”
For our later years to be godly ones, we must walk in the way of righteousness during our young and middle years. Many of the people in the Bible who suffered serious moral failures—Noah, Judah, David, and others—were in the latter part of their lives when they sinned greatly. They abandoned the glory of old age and the consistency of their testimony for momentary pleasure. We should heed these examples as a caution of the need to finish well in our Christian walk.
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.
Norman Cousins was a well-known author and teacher when he was diagnosed with several serious illnesses, including heart disease. Doctors gave him little hope of recovery. Rather than giving up, Cousins decided to try something unusual—he laughed. In his best-selling book Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins described the effect of finding ways to make himself laugh, including watching old comedies. He wrote, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.” Cousins lived 36 years after his first diagnosis.
He had discovered a powerful spiritual principle—our attitude has a major influence on our physical health and well-being. God does not intend for His children to live in misery and despair. If our spirits are broken we are not as effective in witnessing or serving God. Instead we should find our joy in the Lord regardless of what is happening around us. Circumstances may change, but He never does.
When Ezra and Nehemiah led the people of Israel in celebrating the Feast of the Tabernacles after the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt, the people mourned when they realized how they had violated the law of God. Yet Nehemiah encouraged them, reminding them that God was merciful and forgiving. “Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Keep your heart happy and enjoy the presence of God in your life every day.
"He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster."
Frank Gilbreth may be best remembered today for the book about the family written by two of his children, Cheaper by the Dozen (Frank and his wife Lillian had twelve children), but in his day he was best known as a major innovator in the world of work. First in the bricklaying trade where he got his first job and then later in the Army during World War One, Gilbreth was an expert in studying work and finding ways to do things faster and more efficiently. Not surprisingly, many workers objected to being studied, analyzed, and told they were expected to do more work in the same amount of time.
Laziness is not just shown when people avoid work; it also appears when they are present on the job but not producing. Many people have perfected the art of looking busy while doing as little as possible. This is unfair both to their employer and to themselves. But even more it is a disgrace for a child of God to behave this way. Paul wrote, “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:22-23).
Our work should be the same whether we are working in isolation or with the boss standing directly behind us. God expects us to be diligent in our effort rather than giving in to the temptation to coast by on less than our best. Recognizing the value of our time and effort, and more importantly the value of our testimony, we should give the full measure of effort to every task, whether great or small.
"Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying."
Parents have many things they need to teach their children. There are physical, social, emotional, moral, and most of all spiritual lessons they need to learn in order to be prepared for life. The earlier those lessons are taught, the better off children are. If we fail to instruct them, they will pay the consequences. Yet sometimes parents fall into the trap of thinking that it is mean or unkind to discipline children, and so they let them get away with things that deserve loving, firm correction. This inevitably leads to tragedy.
Children are born with a sin nature that leaves them prone to doing wrong. God’s grace combined with loving discipline and teaching from parents leads children to make wise choices. Neglecting to train children is unkind in the long run.
There is a powerful illustration of this truth in the life of Eli. Though he was a godly priest, his sons were wicked, and Eli did not stop them or correct their behavior. God spoke to Samuel when he was just a boy and delivered this condemnation of Eli: “For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (1 Samuel 3:13).
Unrestrained behavior soon becomes the habit of a lifetime. There is a time when wise chastening has the hope of changing behavior, but that time will pass. If the investment of effort and diligence in training and disciplining is not made when children are young, it becomes very difficult to change later on. There is a unique window of opportunity to shape morals and character in youth that is never repeated. We need to be careful to take advantage of it. In the end, the temporary relief of avoiding discipline will produce a bitter harvest.
"Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD."
There are always people looking to take advantage of others and make money dishonestly. Many times we hear their stories and think, “If they just worked that hard at something honest, they would have true benefit for their labor!” But there is a far more important reason to be honest—the fear of angering God through our dishonesty. Simply put, God hates it when we cut corners and cheat people in an effort to get rich.
Back in 1993, four executives from a Florida rental car company were convicted and jailed for defrauding their customers. Using what con artists have long referred to as a “salami technique” (you slice off tiny pieces in hopes that no one will notice and that those little pieces will build up to a large amount of money over time), they cheated at least 47,000 customers over a four year period. They had modified the computer billing software to overstate the size of the gas tanks on the cars. Then whenever a customer returned the car without filling it up, the gas charge would be increased to cover those “extra” gallons of gas purchased. It took a long time to uncover the scam because most of the customers were only charged small amount—sometimes as little as $2.00—and very few people noticed.
God demands that we be honest and aboveboard in all of our dealings. With His blessing and favor, what we are able to acquire through honest effort will be enough. Whether we are selling a product or selling our time to an employer, we need to be diligent to ensure we are giving full value for what we receive. Even if you are convinced that no one will ever discover your scheme, God will know. It is far better to live with transparency and honesty.
"There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up."
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States has one of the lowest savings rates in the developed world. Over the past ten years, our savings rate—the amount the average household keeps rather than spending from what they earn—has declined. In fact, OECD figures for 2012 show the rate overall at just 4 percent. By contrast, many other developed countries have a rate of over 10 percent. The fact that most people in America save almost nothing is a testimony to the spirit of foolishness that has gripped our nation.
The person who spends everything he makes (and often more) is not living according to wisdom. While hoarding all of our money is not God’s plan for us, neither is using it all up as soon as we get it. In addition to tithing and giving offerings and providing for the needs of our family, we should be saving some money to provide for needs in the future. It is presumptuous for us to assume that the car will never break down, the washing machine will never need to be replaced, and the roof will never leak. Knowing that such unexpected events will occur, we should do what we can to make provision for the future by saving in the present.
At the same time as we make our plans and preparations for the future, we should remember that our preparation is not our true source of security. James reminds us, “Ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). Rather than trusting in our strength and resources, we should be relying on God as our provider. Only then are we ready to face the future.
"Thorns and snares are in the way of the froward: he that doth keep his soul shall be far from them."
If you have ever picked blackberries, especially wild blackberries, you know two things. First, when they are plump and ripe and juicy, blackberries are delicious. Second, picking them can be painful. Blackberry bushes are scientifically known as brambles—they are thick and thorny, and the berries are difficult to get to without getting cut up. This is why in the 1920s scientists began work on creating a truly wonderful invention—the thornless blackberry bush. These varieties now offer the sweet and succulent blackberries without the thorns that made picking blackberries so painful.
The obvious question is: Why would anyone deal with the thorns if there was an alternative? The obvious answer is: They wouldn’t unless they either didn’t know there was an alternative or unless they were foolish. The same is true in life. The Bible tells us that the way of the forward—those who are stubbornly determined to go their own way rather than God’s way—is filled with thorns. Yet it is possible to avoid those thorns by walking in God’s way instead.
Of course we realize that as the old saying goes, “Bad things happen to good people.” That is a result of living in a world that has been cursed by sin. But there are specific painful consequences that naturally occur when we decide that we know better than God how we should live. People sometimes say that they are being judged by God for doing wrong, but in most cases they are simply experiencing the pain that God’s Word warned would come when they go their own way. Though these thorns and snares are real and present, they can be avoided if we turn far away from the wisdom and pleasures of the world and follow Christ.
"Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge."
In May 2013, thirteen-year-old Arvind Mahankali correctly spelled the word “knaidel” (a German-Yiddish word for a dumpling) to win the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee. Mahankali had finished third each of the two previous years. In both of those years he was eliminated when he failed to correctly spell a German-derived word. In preparation for his third attempt at the prize, Mahankali diligently worked to strengthen his area of weakness. “This year I prepared German words and I studied them, so when I got German words this year, I wasn't worried," he said after his victory.
No one has yet invented a way to magically acquire knowledge—or anything else worthwhile—without effort. If we are going to learn what we need to know to succeed in life, whether in our ministry, our career, our family, or even our hobbies, we are going to have to devote the time and effort required to gain the skills and knowledge we need…and then continue to devote the time and effort required to maintain what we have learned. Renowned concert pianist Vladimir Horowitz said in an interview that if he skipped one day of practice he could tell a difference in his performance. If he skipped two or three days, other top-notch pianists could tell. And if he skipped a week, members of the audience would notice.
We need to take learning seriously. A person who is dedicated to acquiring skills and information on the job will quickly stand out from his peers. A parent who is serious about gathering the tools to more effectively meet his children’s needs will reap great benefits in his children. And a Christian dedicated to studying and applying God’s Word will gain wisdom. We must obey the admonition of 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
"If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?"
A total of 636 people were murdered in New York City during 1963, but one of those victims is still remembered because of the circumstances of her death. Early in the morning of March 13, Kitty Genovese was returning home from work when she was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant named Winston Moseley. Though she screamed for help, no one came to her aid. Finally, one man raised his window and yelled at the attacker and he fled. But no one helped Genovese. Severely injured, she staggered toward her apartment door and then collapsed. A few minutes later, Moseley returned and finished his evil work. At least six different people saw or heard the attack and did not respond.
Many times we are not certain about what God wants us to do in a particular case. But there should be no doubting or questioning how we should act when we are presented with an opportunity to help someone in urgent need. This is one of the lessons of the parable of the Good Samaritan—when we see someone in distress, we should do whatever we can to help. A very simple act can be the difference between hope and despair, between success and failure, and in some cases even between life and death. We must not miss these opportunities. James warns us, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). There are no accidents with God. When we come across a situation where someone needs help, He has placed us there to provide help.
"By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone."
The value of kindness over harshness is clearly illustrated in Aesop’s fable of “The Wind and the Sun.” The two were arguing over which was stronger. They saw a man walking down the road toward them, and the Sun proposed a contest to resolve the dispute. He said, “Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger.” They agreed on the terms of the challenge, and the Wind took the first turn while the Sun went behind a cloud.
The Wind blew hard upon the traveler. Harder and harder he blew to make the man cold, but that only succeeded in making the traveler clutch his cloak more tightly around him. At last the Wind gave up in despair. Then the Sun came back out from behind the cloud and began to shine upon the man. The brighter his face became, the hotter the man grew. Soon he found it too hot to continue and took off his cloak. By kindness the Sun accomplished what the Wind could not by force, and he won the contest.
While it may be satisfying to give someone a “piece of our mind” or tell them exactly what we think, that approach is unlikely to produce a positive result. If we want to have influence with others, our words need to be kind and soft rather than harsh and grating. Paul put it this way: “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6). By patiently continuing to use kind words and a soft tone in our interactions with others, we improve the prospects for a positive response. Remember, the goal is not to win an argument or a fight. It is to influence behavior for the better.
"He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage."
Mark McCormack was one of the first professional sports agents. Among his first clients were the three best golfers in the world at the time: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. McCormack’s company, the International Management Group, later branched out to many areas beyond sports. In his best-selling book What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, McCormack describes a vivid illustration he used to impress on his employees the importance of hiring only the best people available.
He had received a set of Russian dolls—the kind where each doll has a smaller doll inside it. Each one is painted to look alike, so that the only difference is that they get smaller as they go. He told his managers, “If you hire people who are less talented and intelligent, our company will continue to shrink.” The point was clear: they needed to be looking for good people to hire if their company was to prosper and grow.
That is true in the secular business world, and there is a lesson in that story for our lives in any field. If we are depending on people who are fools, we are headed for trouble. There are clear indications that we can see in the words and actions of others that let us know whether they are living according to wisdom or according to folly. It is not a matter of unfairly judging someone to correctly evaluate that they are behaving foolishly and then act accordingly. In any situation where you must rely on someone who is a fool, you must recognize the danger of unintended consequences that can arise from their actions. Try to find ways to minimize this risk by surrounding yourself with wise people and relying on them as much as possible.
"A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished."
In April 2013, the southbound side of I-77 near the North Carolina-Virginia border was closed for hours following a massive chain of accidents. Police later reported that eighteen different collisions involved ninety-six cars and trucks. The wrecks left three people dead and more than two dozen injured, many of them seriously. The cause of the accidents was people driving into a thick fog that descended over the Interstate that Sunday afternoon. A police spokesman said, “Visibility at the time this accident occurred was down to about one hundred feet or less.”
As people continued to drive blindly forward, they could not see the danger that was just ahead until it was too late. Prudence reminds us to be on guard for danger—not just in the present but in the future as well. Because of the way our minds work, we often tend to discount what may happen in the future simply because it hasn’t happened yet. It’s a little like the old joke about the optimist who fell from the top of a large building. As he passed the 10th floor on his way down he said, “I’m okay so far!” That approach places us in a dangerous position because if we fail to foresee the danger, we are almost certain to find it.
When the Bible talks about someone who is “simple” it means someone who has not received instruction. One of the purposes of Proverbs (and indeed all of Scripture) is to give us an education that equips us to live wisely. Paul told Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible offers us a guidebook that warns of dangers in the road ahead and tells us how to avoid them. We should carefully heed these warnings.
"Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief."
There is probably no greater illustration of the danger and destructiveness of a hardened heart in Scripture than the story of Pharaoh. When God sent Moses to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land, He told Moses that Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened—and that is exactly what happened. When the plagues began to fall upon Egypt, Pharaoh realized that the God of Israel was real and powerful, yet he did not yield to the commands of God given through Moses. And when one plague after another ended, Pharaoh continued to refuse to obey: “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said” (Exodus 8:15).
Each time we choose in stubbornness and rebellion to go against what God has said, it has an effect on our heart. Over time, if we continue to sin in this way, it becomes easier to do wrong and harder to do right. Our hearts become like hard and stony ground where there is no room for the seed of the Word to take root and grow. The end of this process is always tragedy because it results in continued disobedience—and eventually in disastrous consequences.
When we feel our hearts becoming cold and hard we need to repent and seek God’s face. In His mercy He offers us hope for renewal. Through the prophet Ezekiel God promised, “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). When we properly fear God, we will be careful that our hearts do not become hardened against His Word.
"A man's pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit."
Hank Gathers of Loyola Marymount University was one of the best college basketball players in the nation. During the 1988-1989 season he became the second player in NCAA history to lead all players in both scoring and rebounding in the same year. Gathers’ next season, his senior year, the Lions basketball team was even better and won the regular season conference championship. Before a conference tournament game at the end of the season Gathers told a reporter who was interviewing him, “God couldn’t guard me tonight.”
Just minutes into the game, Gathers scored on a fast break dunk and then collapsed on the floor. Paramedics were unable to revive him, and the twenty-three year old was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Gathers had been suffering from an irregular heartbeat, but because he felt like the medication that was prescribed interfered with his ability to play basketball, he had apparently stopped taking it which led to his early death.
When we have success in any area—career, family, or ministry—the temptation is for us to take the credit and allow pride to fill our hearts. That is a dangerous place. Through the prophet Isaiah, God declared, “I will not give my glory unto another” (Isaiah 48:11). The reason pride is such a danger is because it seems so reasonable to us in the moment. Like the great king Nebuchadnezzar walking the walls of Babylon, we are tempted to look at the work and accomplishments of our lives and proclaim, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). If we give in to that temptation we are dishonoring God and heading for destruction.
"Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?"
When Satan received permission from God to launch a devastating attack on Job, he succeeded in taking away Job’s belongings and even most of his family, but he did not succeed in taking away his faith. The Bible records, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly” (Job 1:22). But Job was suffering greatly, and throughout the book he expressed his desire to be able to confront God and find out why all of these things were happening to him.
Yet when God did appear, rather than explaining Himself, He begins describing the enormous power He possessed—enough power to create and control everything in the world. After listening to God’s voice, Job no longer wished to present his case. He said, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:4-5).
As far as the record given to us in Scripture goes, Job never did receive an explanation for the tragic events he experienced. God replaced all that he had lost and more, but He did not declare the purpose behind what had happened. God does not need to give explanations or reasons—He is the mighty Creator and all things belong to Him. Since they are His, He has the perfect right to dispose of them however He pleases. We should not demand a God who conforms to our sense of justice but rather bow to the God who defines justice by His actions.
"The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil."
In William Shakespeare’s famous play The Merchant of Venice, a character named Bassanio is hoping to win the hand of a wise and beautiful woman named Portia. Her father’s death left her a wealthy woman, and many men want to marry her to get rich. Portia’s father left a will that her hand will be given in marriage to the suitor who chooses correctly when presented with three caskets—one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. The rich princes who came to court Portia chose gold or silver and failed the test. Finally Bassanio arrives and wisely chooses the lead casket with the inscription “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” He passed the test and married Portia.
Generosity and sacrifice are, of course, noble expressions of lovebut they should be indicators of a love that already exists. True love cannot be bought or bribed. The husband of the wise woman in Proverbs 31 does not need “spoil”the gain of battle or businesswith which to secure his wife's affection. He knows where her heart is, and as a result he has confidence. Love that is based on anything outwardwhether wealth, possessions, or beautynever produces security because it is based on something that can be lost.
Only when love springs from within can it be a lasting foundation on which to build. God does not intend for us to buy our way into each other’s hearts. Instead, He commands us to love for the sake of the other, and not for ourselves. Without love present, all of the possessions in the world will not create it. With love, lack of all possessions will not destroy it. Build your relationships on this firm foundation.
"She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?"
It is possible to clean a pig, but unless you intend to never let it go outside, it is pretty much impossible to keep a pig clean. Anyone who has visited a hog farm has seen them rolling around in the mud and muck. Now for most of us that isn’t our idea of a good time, but the pigs love it. Because pigs have almost no sweat glands, they are prone to overheating. Coating themselves with mud provides relief from the heat. In addition, the mud acts as a kind of sunscreen, protecting pigs from sunburn. Finally, mud gives pigs relief from biting insects that they have no other means of avoiding. The short answer to why pigs roll in the mud is that to pigs it feels goodthey like it.
When we see people sinning, covering their lives in the filth and muck of the world, we sometimes wonder why they choose that. The simple answer is that because of our fallen nature, sin is attractive. Even though it may stink, at least figuratively and sometimes literally, it feels good to the sin nature to be covered in sin. Though we have been given a new nature as Christians, we still have the flesh and old patterns and desires. Left unchecked, our flesh will draw us back to the mire of sin, just as pigs are drawn to mud. To counter this effect, we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
"Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God."
On December 29, 2006, the United States Treasury received a payment from the government of England for $83,000,000. It was the final payment on a loan negotiated in 1946 to help England recover from the devastating effects of World War II. The original loan of 3.5 billion dollars (about 55 billion in today’s money) was made at 2% interest, and the funds were used to prop up the staggering British Empire. Over the years, the payments continued to be made, until the loan was finally marked "paid in full." Even though six decades had passed from the original loan, the terms of the agreement had not been forgotten.
Such dedication and commitment should not be rare. But in our day, all too often people make covenants they are not willing to keep. We see evidence of this in the spiraling divorce rate, people walking away from their homes and mortgages and people breaking employment contracts. Whether they never intended to keep the commitments they made or whether they feel they are justified in breaking them because “things have changed,” people are abandoning their covenants at an alarming rate.
As God’s children, we should never lose sight of the fact that He is a party to every agreement we make. Every promise, every commitment, and every covenant we enter should be carried out to completion. God is quite blunt in evaluating those who break their commitments: “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed” (Ecclesiastes 5:4). Keeping our promises is so important for Christians because it is so much a part of God’s character. In his prayer at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon said, “There hath not failed one word of all his good promise” (1 Kings 8:56).
"Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken."
Many Christians risked and gave their lives opposing the evils of Hitler’s Holocaust. One of the best-known of these was Corrie ten Boom. She and her family saved some eight hundred Jews from death camps by concealing them in the “hiding place” behind the wall in Corrie’s bedroom. Eventually, the ten Boom family was betrayed to the Gestapo. Corrie’s father and sister both died in prison, but Corrie survived and traveled around the world telling a story of faith and courage that has challenged many. She once said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”
Despite what some prominent preachers like to say, God does not promise us that everything is going to go well and things will always turn out the way we think they should. There will be dark times when we cannot see the way forward and don’t know where to go. The truth is, whether I can see the way clearly or not, God can. He revealed this facet of His nature to the prophet Isaiah, describing Himself as, “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).
Years ago, a son went to his father, disturbed about how the book he was reading would turn out. His favorite character was in jeopardy, and he was afraid. “Don’t worry,” his father advised, “I’ve read the whole book, and it turns out fine.” God is in control of your life, and it will work out according to His planHe hasn’t just read the Book, He wrote it!
"My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh."
Hymn writer Philip P. Bliss was killed in a train wreck along with his wife in 1876 when he was just thirty-eight years old. Yet, in his short life he penned many songs of faith and inspiration that we still sing today. One of the best known is “Wonderful Words of Life.” Bliss wrote the song two years before his death. A new publication was being planned called Words of Life that was meant to encourage believers to read and study the Scriptures. The name was taken from John 6:68 which reads: “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” Bliss was asked to write a new song for their use, and he penned these words:
Sing them over again to me,
Wonderful words of life,
Let me more of their beauty see,
Wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty
Teach me faith and duty.
The Bible is the book God has given to us to teach us how to live according to His guidance. This is what wisdom is all about. Yet often people are looking for new ideas and new directions rather than going by what God has already said. Over the centuries man has learned much about science and the natural world, but the principles God established in Scripture never need to be updated or revised. They simply need to be followed. When the Word of God is in our hearts and our minds, it will guide our steps, build our faith, and keep us from sin.
"Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well."
If you have ever traveled in other countries, you have probably received the advice, “Don’t drink the water.” But it is not just third world countries where water poses a danger. In 1999, hundreds of attendees at the Washington County Fair in New York became seriously ill after drinking water that had been contaminated by E. coli bacteria. Two peoplea young child and an elderly mandied. Authorities believe that runoff from a stock barn may have contaminated the water supply, making it dangerous.
In detailing for his son the importance of purity and faithfulness to his wife, Solomon placed great emphasis on being satisfied with what God has given you. Though he foolishly did not heed his own counsel and God’s commandments in this area, Solomon nevertheless highlights a key point we must rememberthe pursuit of satisfaction outside the means of satisfaction God has provided always leads to tragedy.
The first temptation in the Garden of Eden offered knowledge and the opportunity to “be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The devil used the same tactics in the temptation of Christinviting Him to avoid the cross and take authority over the world by worshipping Satan. But where Adam failed the test, Christ triumphed, refusing to use any means except those ordained and provided by God.
This principle is true in every area of life, but is particularly applicable to the area of marriage. Our society encourages people to look outside the marriage relationship for satisfaction. This is a deadly mistake. If you are not content with what God has given you, you will certainly not be content with something new. Instead give thanks for what He has given you, and keep the vows you have made.
"Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour's wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent."
In 2010 Adam Galinsky, Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at the Kellogg School of Management, conducted a series of experiments to measure the effect of power on people and their moral judgments. What he found would not surprise any student of Scripture or human nature. When people in the experiment were placed in positions of authority, or even told they were in a higher position than others, their judgment of both themselves and others changed radically.
Galinsky summarized his findings by saying, “In all cases, those assigned to high-power roles showed significant moral hypocrisy by more strictly judging others for speeding, dodging taxes, and keeping a stolen bike, while finding it more acceptable to engage in these behaviors themselves. The powerful impose rules and restraints on others while disregarding these restraints for themselves, whereas the powerless collaborate in reproducing social inequality because they don't feel the same entitlement.”
Right and wrong do not change, regardless of position or power. There are no exceptions to God’s rules. His moral standards are absolute, and He accepts no excuses from those who violate them. Though we may convince ourselves that somehow we will escape punishment because of our special circumstances, we are wrong. No one is above God’s law, and no one is allowed to sin without judgment.
The world has done everything it can to destroy the concept of absolute truth. But God’s Word is not subject to revision or alteration. It is settled, and it is true. God has not changed His mind about anything that He has spoken, and He holds each one of us accountable for obedience to His commands.
"I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon."
In September of 2006 the United Nations General Assembly was the scene of a geopolitical confrontation. President George W. Bush addressed the body on Tuesday. The next day, one of his most ardent foes, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, took the microphone to decry the US leader. “The devil came here yesterday,” Chavez said, referring to Bush, “And it smells of sulfur still today.” Of course neither the American president nor the Venezuelan leader is actually the devilbut the devil is very real nonetheless.
The idea that the devil would appear smelling of sulfur is ancient folklore, apparently because of Scripture’s description of brimstone being part of the punishment of Hell. But in truth, when Satan and his minions come to tempt us, they bring a very different smell. If they actually showed up stinking of evil, we would be on guard and more likely to resist temptation. Instead they come to us with the sweet smells of perfume, designed to lull us into complacency so we will be more likely to yield to the enticements placed before us.
Paul warned the church at Corinth that Satan was able to appear as “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Like a skilled fisherman, he knows exactly how to get us to pay attention to the lure rather than the hook. The stench of sin comes to us well disguised, in hopes that we will lose sight of the end result. Every temptation is based on the immediate momentmaking the pleasure that is offered all we consider. Yet when we see beauty and sweetness on display, we should remember to look behind the curtain. We may not be able to smell the sulfur, but it is there.
"Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men."
Joshua Bell is widely regarded as one of the best violinists in the world. When he was a little boy, Bell pulled out the drawers of his dresser, strung rubber bands across them, and “played” music on them, changing the position of the drawers to get different notes. When his parents saw that, they enrolled him in violin lessons. Bell’s concerts routinely sell out, but in January of 2007 he took part in a unique experiment. Dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap, Joshua Bell stood in the L’Enfant Plaza Subway Station in Washington and played his violin.
A reporter watched to see what people would do. Bell played six classical pieces on his Stradivarius for nearly an hour. More than a thousand people passed by. Only seven stopped to listen for as much as a minute. A world class violinist playing some of the most beautiful music ever written on a violin made by the greatest master of the craft did not attract attention from the crowdthey had no delight in what he was doing.
When we think about the things that bring delight to God, we often immediately focus our attention on external thingswhat we can see or feel. Yet the Bible tells us that God delights in wisdom…and that the same delight is available to us. The things in which we delight tell us clearly what we love. When we find it difficult to focus on reading God's Word or hearing it preached and taught, we are revealing that our delight is not in the things of God. He has made so much available to us, and it is a tragedy if we miss out on what delights God.
"A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing."
We live in an age when volume of speech too often substitutes for careful thought. People confidently declare their opinion whether or not it is based on substance. Someone said, “The problem today is that those who know the least know it the loudest.” The fact that someone is speaking loudly or even eloquently does not guarantee that they are saying something that is worth hearing. In fact one of the characteristics of a foolish man or woman is that they speak much and loudly. Solomon wrote, “A fool's voice is known by multitude of words” (Ecclesiastes 5:3).
Because words of folly are so prevalent, it often leads to a casual attitude toward our speech. But what characterizes the world should not characterize us as children of God. In fact our words are very powerful and very important, and we should carefully guard what we say. Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).
When we consider the importance God places on every word, it should lead us to speak wisely—and often, not at all. There is no shame or disgrace in keeping silent when we have nothing constructive to add to a conversation—in fact, it may be the course of greatest wisdom. There is no shame in not knowing the answer to a question. The shame comes when we blather on without anything of value to say. The Lord has given us His inspired Word and His Holy Spirit to teach us wisdom. The more that our hearts and minds are filled with God’s Word and the more we are yielded to the Holy Spirit, the more wisely we will be able to speak. When we speak God’s truth, we will never speak foolishly.
"He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known."
Chilon of Sparta was considered one of the wisest men of the ancient world. Acclaimed as one of the Seven Sages of Greece, he was instrumental in bringing about the Peloponnesian League which greatly strengthened the city of Sparta. Chilon is probably best remembered for his motto, which was rendered into Latin as finem respice—consider the end. That was good advice six centuries before Christ was born, and it is good advice today.
Every path we choose leads to a destination. The path of upright and godly living leads in one direction. The path of perverted and ungodly living leads to a different place. It is not always possible (though often apparent) to immediately discern where a person is headed, but if you watch them long enough, it will become clear. Even before a person reaches the conclusion of his path, whether it is right or not, it becomes plain where he is going. There is no way for us to conceal our direction and escape the consequences of our choices forever.
Eventually the day of reckoning comes. But that day is not the product of random chance or circumstance. Instead it is the culmination of a series of choices. Some will reach the end and hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). Others who have never placed their trust in Christ will hear, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23).
Over the years as I have counseled people who are dealing with sin, I’ve seen that they rarely considered the consequences of what they were about to do. If they had considered the end at the beginning, they might well have made a different decision. Instead of falling for the lie of the present, we should always consider the future when we are tempted and do what is right.
"The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way: but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them: but transgressors shall be taken in their own naughtiness."
In his short story How Much Land Does a Man Require? Leo Tolstoy tells of a peasant named Pakhom who is not content with his lot in life. He believes that if he had more land, he would be content. Pakhom sets out to buy more land, working hard to get the money to acquire more and more, but contentment continues to elude him. His possessive nature leads to arguments with his neighbors, and he finds himself unable to trust anyone.
Finally he hears of a simple group of people known as the Bashkirs who own huge plots of land. Pakhom goes to them and makes an arrangement. For the sum of one thousands rubles, they will give him as much land as he can walk around in a single day. The catch to the deal is that if he fails to return to the starting point before the sun sets, he will forfeit all his money and receive no land. Starting early in the morning, Pakhom begins to walk, going far to ensure he will receive as much land as possible. Late in the day he realizes he has gone too far and begins running back. He reaches the line just as the sun sets—and falls dead. Pakhom is buried in a grave six feet long, answering the question in the title of the story.
When we allow any sinful desire to linger in our hearts, it will not stay small. Instead it will continue to grow and grow until it takes control of our lives. When we tolerate wickedness inwardly, it will eventually be expressed outwardly, and it will lead, as sin always does, to death.
"The wicked are overthrown, and are not: but the house of the righteous shall stand."
One of the best-known of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poems is Ozymandias. In it Shelley tells of a report brought by a traveler from a distant land of the remnants of a statue erected to a great ruler. The ravages of time have left only the legs still standing. The head of the ruler is mostly buried nearby in the sand. But the inscription boasting of his prowess was still there on the pedestal. The poem concludes with these lines:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
There are times when it appears the wicked are prospering. Perhaps you know someone who is dishonest or immoral but seems to be doing very well. This can be confusing and discouraging when we are trying to do right. The prophet Jeremiah knew this feeling. He asked God, “Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” (Jeremiah 12:1). When we are in this position, it is important for us to remember that God is keeping record of all that is done, and there will come a day of reckoning.
Rather than allowing the seeming prosperity of the wicked to discourage us, we should remember that at best it is only fleeting. One day all of the possessions and power they accumulate will disappear along with them, and in that day it will not profit them at all. When the judgment comes, those who have turned away from obeying God will see too late the folly of their evil ways. On that day we will know the value of the decisions we have made to follow and obey God.
"The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death."
Jesus was always talking to people about their need for salvation. One of my favorite stories is found in John 4 where Jesus witnessed to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well by the city of Sychar. By the time their conversation was done, she was not just a believer in Jesus as her Messiah and Saviour, but she was bringing others to hear Him. That well had been dug by Jacob and his men centuries before. It was still giving water in Jesus’ time, and it is still there today.
A British visitor during the 1800s described the well this way: “a narrow opening, just wide enough to allow the body of a man to pass through with arms uplifted, and this narrow neck, which is about 4 ft. long, opens into the well itself, which is cylindrically shaped, and opens about 7 ft. 6 in. in diameter. The well appears to have been sunk through a mixture of alluvial soil and limestone fragments, till a compact bed of mountain limestone was reached, having horizontal strata which could be easily worked; and the interior of the well presents the appearance of having been lined throughout with rough masonry.” The well, which was dug by hand, is nearly 150 feet deep.
While we usually take water for granted in our day, in Bible times finding a source of good water could literally be the difference between life and death. It was worth a great deal of time and effort to obtain and defend.
In the spiritual realm the Bible is compared to a constant source of life-giving water. Ephesians 5:26 refers to “the washing of water by the word.” Just as Jacob treasured his well and took care to ensure it would last for generations, we should treasure the Bible and labor to learn, study, and obey it.
"A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth, and is confident."
In September of 1923 the USS Delphy under the command of Lt. Commander Donald Hunter led a flotilla of naval vessels along the California coast on a training exercise. Partway through the trip a dense fog settled over the small fleet. Rather than stopping until they could tell for certain where they were and what direction they were headed, Hunter led the other ships full speed ahead, confident he knew what to do.
The resulting shipwreck came to be known as the Honda Point disaster. It was the largest peacetime loss of ships in US history—seven of the destroyers ran aground and were sunk. Twenty-three sailors died and dozens more were injured. If they had simply waited until the fog cleared, the disaster would have been avoided. Instead, overconfidence led to a great disaster and loss of life.
We all face the temptation to overestimate our abilities and knowledge, but that leads us down a dangerous road. Paul reminds us, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). Pride leads us into overconfidence—and into danger.
The path of wisdom requires that we properly evaluate potential dangers. It is foolish to think we are immune to dangers. When we take that approach we fail to take precautions that would prevent tragedy. The fences placed around the wild animals in the zoo are there for a reason. They are not decorative, but protective instead. Similarly, the dangers of this world are real. The devil is seeking to destroy us. Rather than taking a lax attitude toward our security, we need to keep our guard high.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
In June of 2013 news broadcasts across the country featured a little boy named Grayson Clamp doing something he had never done before. The three-year-old was born without the auditory nerves that carry sound to the brain. Attempts to restore his hearing with a cochlear implant were unsuccessful, so doctors at the University of North Carolina tried an experimental procedure to implant an auditory nerve directly into Grayson’s brain. This procedure proved successful, and millions of people enjoyed seeing the look of wonder and joy on the little boy’s face when he heard his father’s voice for the first time.
Hearing the voice of someone we love is always a pleasure. I think of the missionaries who served in the past when it took weeks for letters to travel back and forth from home to the field. Today with the technology available communication is instant—but even then it is a delight to hear from a friend or family member who is far away. Just as we respond to those familiar voices with pleasure, God delights in hearing from His children.
Why do we pray? Certainly it is not to inform God of what we need. He already knows everything about our situation, and, far better than we could devise, He knows the answer that will be best for us. Prayer is meant in part to remind us of how dependent on God we truly are.
But prayer is not just for our benefit. God enjoys hearing us pray! When we come to Him in faith and make our petitions before His throne of grace, His heart rejoices. He likes hearing our voices. Let us never go long without going to Him in prayer.
"Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly."
In 2008 and 2009, public schools in Atlanta, Georgia, saw an impressive increase in student test scores. Schools where a majority of the students had been struggling suddenly were producing students scoring well above grade level. Accolades followed, and many teachers and principals received raises and bonuses. Atlanta School Superintendent Beverly Hall was named national superintendent of the year. Teachers and leaders from other parts of the country wanted to know the secret to Atlanta’s amazing success.
Then the house of cards came crashing down. Following rumors of widespread cheating, special investigators appointed by the governor of Georgia determined that the improvement of test scores had nothing to do with student performance and everything to do with educators cheating. In 2013 nearly three dozen educators were indicted on charges of racketeering, theft, conspiracy and lying. The investigation revealed that they would gather in “grading parties” where teachers would sit around and change the students’ wrong answers to correct ones. Many of the teachers claimed they had not wanted to go along with the scheme but felt “forced” to do so.
Unfortunately not everyone who is in a position of authority and leadership is going to give you wise teaching and counsel. Some will look for shortcuts in their own lives and encourage you to do the same. They will tell you how to get around the rules—both man’s rules and God’s rules—and show you the “benefits” they have gained by doing so. If you listen to these teachers of folly, your life will surely suffer as a result. Instead you should look for those who live and teach God’s wisdom and accept their input and direction. The instruction of fools may seem wise to man for a short time, but it leads to disaster.
"He that hath a froward heart findeth no good: and he that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief."
Almost 8 percent of men of Northern European ancestry suffer from some degree of color blindness. The problem is not actually blindness but the inability to see shades of certain colors, most often in the red and green color families. Deficiencies in the cone receptors of the eye lead to the problem, which is sixteen times more common in men than in women. Even less common is a condition known as total color blindness, in which the person sees everything in black and white and cannot identify any colors at all.
But far worse than not being able to see color is not being able to see good. Yet that is the end result of a heart that is turned away from following God. The modern teaching that man is basically good and there is good in everyone is clearly contradicted by Scripture. Romans 3:12 says, “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
And yet, there are many good things all around us. God has created a wonderful world for us full of beauty and pleasure, meant for our enjoyment. He has given us Christian friends with whom we can fellowship. He has given us His Holy Spirit to live within our hearts and guide us in our way. He has given us His perfect Word to provide comfort, direction, and blessing. Yet many look around and find themselves unable to identify anything good in their lives. When the discouraged prophet Elijah complained that only he was faithful, God told him there were seven thousand more doing right. Rather than constantly looking for what is wrong, we should focus on the good things God has given us.
"The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?"
Viktor Frankl was a prominent Jewish psychologist in Vienna during the 1930s. During the Holocaust, he and virtually all of his family members were rounded up and placed in concentration camps. One by one they perished at the hands of the Nazis. By the time the American army liberated the camp Frankl was in, the only surviving member of his family was a sister who had fled to Australia before the war started.
After the war, Frankl wrote a book about his experiences called Man’s Search for Meaning. He detailed the suffering he endured, but he also noted the vital importance of attitude and outlook to whether a person survived that awful experience. Though Frankl was not a believer, he had hit upon an important truth found in Scripture. The spirit of man—our inward thoughts and emotions—plays a vital role in our success or failure in life.
Certainly Daniel had a great deal about which he could have complained. His nation had been conquered, and he had been carried far from home and placed in a training program designed to destroy his allegiance to God. Rather than allow his circumstances to dictate his outlook, he kept his spirit right. On the night the handwriting appeared on the wall in Belshazzar’s palace, the queen described Daniel this way: “an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding… were found in the same Daniel” (Daniel 5:12).
We do not have to let what is going on around us dictate our inward thoughts and attitude. Paul wrote, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). As believers we have access to a source of strength and power that will allow our spirit to overcome injury and trouble.
"A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape."
A pastor who grew up on a farm in a small town in Missouri recounted a painful lesson from his childhood. His father tasked him with clearing the thistles from a field where their cows would be grazing later in the year. The day was hot, and he had no appetite for the work, so rather than digging out the thistles as he was told, he simply cut them down. The job was finished, and he went on to other things. Because the field was over the hill from the farmhouse, his shortcut could not be seen. But a few weeks later when his father moved the cows to that field, there was a sea of purple thistle flowers that revealed the deception.
Though people lie for many reasons, one of the most common motives is an attempt to get out of trouble—to escape the consequences for what we have done. They hope that in covering up the truth they can avoid the pain of facing what they did. This pattern was set early in human history. After Cain killed his brother Abel, God confronted him regarding what he had done. “And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).
The reality is that lies are not just wrong, but they are self-perpetuating. One lie leads to another and then another, and eventually the entire edifice of dishonesty comes crashing down—leaving the person in far worse shape than he would have been in had he simply confessed when initially confronted. Telling the truth is always the best course, even if the immediate results are unpleasant. In the end, the lies and cover-ups always fall apart, leaving heartbreak and pain behind.
"Divers weights are an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance is not good."
The American quarter is something of a throwback in its design. It has grooves around the outside, known as “reeded” edges in the coin business. The reason for this unique design dates back far into the past. When governments began minting coins from precious metals, usually gold or silver, dishonest people quickly saw an opportunity. They would file the edges away, taking a little from each coin, which over time would add up to a significant sum of money.
Isaac Newton, who in addition to being a brilliant scientist and devout Christian, was in charge of the Royal Mint in England and devoted much of his time to prosecuting counterfeiters and “coin clippers.” To combat this kind of theft, a new coin design was introduced. Having grooves along the edge of the coin made it impossible to file away part of the metal without it immediately being spotted. Though US coins haven’t been made with silver for decades, the design remains.
When people decide to get ahead by dishonest means, they will do almost anything. Clever thieves exert diligent effort into creative ways to take advantage of others. Yet this approach is doubly wrong. First, it is wrong to be dishonest, to lie and cheat to try to get ahead. But second, this approach misses the value that God places on work. Jesus said, “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17).
Work is honorable and part of God’s plan for His creation. Adam was given assignments prior to the Fall. God’s plan is for us to work to provide for our needs and for our families. Rather than looking for shortcuts, accept your work assignments as being from God and pursue them diligently.