Sunday, November 30, 2008

December 1

Dec 1 – Today from Proverbs 1 we look at verse 22
"How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?"

The book of Proverbs reveals that there are basically four types of people in the world. Chapter one calls children (of all ages), to strive to become wise. This is the first type of person. Today’s verse reveals the other three types; the simple, the foolish and the mocker (or scorner – KJV). Wisdom (personified) calls out to each of them, revealing the basic characteristics that make them the way that they are. They are characteristics of choice – they have no excuse.
The simple love simple ways. Fighting against social currents is too exhausting. Developing abilities to excel and make things happen is too bothersome. It is easier just to stay in the flow of the mainstream and accept whatever comes your way in life. Generally speaking, the simple are only harmful to themselves.
Fools hate knowledge. We must go back to verse seven to get a clearer understanding of what this means. Verse seven teaches, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Fools may casually assent to the possibility of God, but they do not revere God. They don’t take Him serious. Fools look to take from life what they can, and trust only in their own devices. Life is a game to them, and each fool has their own rules and outcomes as to what determines a winner. Fools cause greater harm than do the simple. Generally speaking, they are not malicious – the harm they cause is a by-product of their own self-serving ways.
The mockers are the power-mongers. They are not satisfied to gain from life merely by means of their own devices and self-rule. They seek to extend their rule to include others, and to impose the rules of their game upon others. They mock God by becoming a god. They mock the purposes of God for man by imposing their purposes for man upon men. Mockers bear malice in their hearts toward any who would seek to infringe upon their self-made fiefdoms or to unseat them all together. The mockers in the world inflict the greatest damage upon mankind. They become wife-beaters and child-abusers. They become corporate powers who step on the ‘little people’ in order to advance their personal goals in life. They become political manipulators who work the systems to increase their power base. They become dictators who oppress entire nations. They become terrorists who will not tolerate anyone who stands in the way of their goals. If you carefully read the book of Proverbs, it mirrors the teaching of the Bible in that the mockers are to be sought out and brought to justice by the proper governing authorities (the Bible does not support vigilantism). When the mockers are properly struck, the simple ( e.g. Proverbs 19:25, "Flog a mocker, and the simple will learn prudence.") – and even the foolish – take note and learn that it is unwise to ‘graduate’ to become a mocker.
Of the four types of people on earth, only one brings good rather than harm to the innocent, and that is the wise. No wonder the Teacher would have us pursue wisdom – it glorifies the Father.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

November 30

Nov 30 - Today from Proverbs 30 we look at verses 21-23
"Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant who becomes a king, a fool who is full of food, an unloved woman who is married, and a maidservant who displaces her mistress."

"Three things . . . four" was a poetic literary tool of the day to inform the student that the list of illustrations was not complete, but was assembled to serve as examples. As is common with Eastern philosophy, thought is conveyed by illustrations and the learned were to extract the concepts. Here we are given four illustrations. The student is challenged to look for the common denominator within the illustrations and develop the multi-dimensional concepts contained therein. The first common element found in the examples is already stated; they 'cause the earth to tremble'. Even this is an illustration. It brings to mind an earthquake - an uncontrollable situation that makes it difficult to keep your feet under you. Thus the four illustrations before us reveal a multi-dimensional concept of uncontrollable situations that make it difficult for those involved to maintain stability in life.
Wisdom is understanding life the way God meant it to be. Thus, we begin from the premise that stability in life comes by living out God’s purpose for us in life. God purposed that man was to live in a serving community, and was to worship God alone. The second common element we see in the illustrations is promotion. Social instability comes when people are promoted to places of greater honor, authority, or influence, and are not emotionally or spiritually mature enough to handle their newfound positions in accordance with God's purposes. Their self-centered shortcomings are now going to cause instability in the lives of those affected by their influence. Because they do not possess a servant-heart, it is certain that they will abuse their authority or influence in ways that will cause 'the earth to tremble' for those who live in proximity to them.
By carefully thinking through the four illustrations, how well do you think that the main character in each illustration will display a humble heart before God and set themselves to properly serving their fellow man?
The lesson for the student? If through God's providence, you should find yourself promoted to a position of greater influence or authority, remember that there is responsibility attached to that position. The first responsibility is to God - to live humbly in His presence and to consider your position as an office of His service. He is to lead. The second responsibility is to those who are affected by your position. You are responsible to see that their world is not shaken by any self-serving attitude, but rather that they find stability in your service to them.
In Luke 12:42-46, Jesus gives His own illustration of servants who have been promoted to positions of responsibility. The faithful and wise manager will give his fellow servants their food allowance at the proper time, thus assuming responsibility of the Master's goods. They will be duly rewarded. The unfaithful will become impatient and distracted and will abuse their position and use the Master's goods for their own pleasures. On that day, it won't be good for them. He ends the illustration with this concluding thought found in verse 48, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." When Providence promotes us, Providence also gives us greater responsibility. Responsible to draw near to God and learn from Him, and responsible to our fellow man to serve him as God would have us serve.

Friday, November 28, 2008

November 29

Nov 29 – Today from Proverbs 29 we look at verse 3
"A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth."

The surface lesson of this proverb is quite clear. Every parent in pursuit of wisdom rejoices when they see their children growing to follow this same path of light. Parents of substance endow their children based on their sense of values. To see their children squander that endowment on self-serving pleasures, which only tend to consume, brings just the opposite – concern and grief.
The deeper lesson of course, is to see ourselves as the child in this proverb, and to see God as our Father (the first petition in the Lord’s model prayer). This focus gives dimension to all of life. If God is our Father, what is it that He desires of us? With what gifts and values has He endowed us? What behavior brings Him joy? What behavior brings Him concern and grief? Why should I care? All of these question – and more – deserve our sober consideration when we pray, "Our Father who art in heaven."
Jesus taught volumes about the principle involved in this proverb. One of the most pointed and popular teachings is that of the prodigal son found in Luke chapter 15:11-31. As a Middle East Rabbi, Jesus was a Metaphorical Theologian. Our Western culture is much more acclimated to the style of Conceptual Theology. The basic difference is that where Conceptual Theology begins with an idea and then uses occasional illustrations to better define the idea, Metaphorical Theology begins with an illustration and then draws out the deeper ideas from that illustration. In the West, the concept is primary and the illustration is secondary. In the East the metaphor is primary and the conceptual interpretation is secondary. Without this understanding, we will never fully appreciate the Proverbs – or Jesus’ parables. Jesus was not using illustrations as an attempt to teach simple lessons. He was a Theological Rabbi and was a Master at what He did. In the story of the prodigal, Jesus was revealing the station of every person on the face of the earth, and of the heart of a loving Father. The lost son needed to be found. He was not found when he realized his state of poverty and hopelessness and turned toward his Father’s estate to become a common servant in order to survive. That was only an awakening to the riches of the Father. He was found only when the loving Father received him back and restored full sonship out of the abundant mercy and grace of His heart. The forsaken Father did not disown the son and turn His back on him. His eye was ever on the horizon, waiting for His lost son to be found. Only the Father could find this foolish son who squandered his endowment. The Father was concerned and grieved at His son’s actions – but He never shut the door on him. It is my story. I hope it is your story. We never found God by trying to restore that which we squandered. Impossible. He found us by restoring us to His family. The parable only teaches the aspect of being found. We must study the whole of the scriptures to understand the profound truth that He was only able to restore us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. This parable exemplifies the love of a concerned and grieved Father for a lost and wayward son. The cross of Jesus tells the rest of the story.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

November 28

Nov 28 - Today from Proverbs 28 we look at verse 6
"Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverted."

I am not a Hebrew scholar, but as I look at the terms the Teacher uses in this verse, I can see a possible play on words. The term poor is derived from a term which literally means slacken or dangling. Put into the context of the verse it would portray a person who is weakened through lack. The word blameless speaks of completeness and integrity and could better be translated uprightness (KJV). Thus by using the word-picture of literal translation, the first statement brings to mind a picture of a slack rope dangling straight up and down from some sort of fixture.
The term rich is derived from a word that means accumulate. The word perverted literally means knot. Placed in the context of the verse it means distorted. Thus by using the word-picture of literal translation, the second statement brings to mind a picture of a rope which has accumulated knots and lies distorted from its original state. (It is interesting that Jesus drove out the perverted moneychangers from the temple with a whip made of knotted cords.)
This matches perfectly with the narrative of the Bible. God created man upright and useful for service to God and to his fellow man. Sin distorted God's original purposes and intent for man, and man became perverted by accumulating for himself.
This proverb speaks of values. Certainly not world values. When in the world is it ever better to be poor than to be rich? And who is it better for? As believers, we are to constantly remind ourselves: Our purpose and goal in life is not to live comfortably, but usefully. The straight up and down slack rope is much more readily useful to God and to others than is the rope lying all knotted up. There is no sin or shame in being rich, only in accumulating riches strictly for one's own comfort and enjoyment. Such a person is of little use to God and to His kingdom. One can be rich in goods without being an accumulator of goods. They can live in integrity and be ready for use when God leads. They do not 'own' their goods, they are 'God's stewards' of the goods in their possession. They seek to use their abilities and their resources to see God's justice (moral equity) prevail in a perverted world. But, there are very few of them.
If you have a concordance available, I invite you to look up the word rich, and then all of the passages in the gospels that contain the word. These are passages in which Jesus addresses the rich. I count twelve passages, and none have anything to say about the rich being blessed of God or useful to God. That was their choice, not God's.
In one of these passages Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 19:23)
The disciples were astonished. The intertestamental Jews of Jesus day had perverted the gospel to where the people believed that only the rich would enter the kingdom of heaven. "Who then can be saved?" they asked.
Jesus as much as replied, "I said it is hard, not impossible. With God all things are possible." Even to take the knots out of the rich and restore them to usefulness. Take Zacchaeus for instance. . .

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

November 27

Nov 27 – Today from Proverbs 27 we look at verse 15
"A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day."

Believe it or not, we are going to draw a doctrinal position from this proverb. It relates to one of the Apostle Paul’s favorite subjects – law verses grace. The law takes on the role of the quarrelsome, or more properly, contentious (KJV) wife. The root of the Hebrew word for contentious in this verse actually means to rule by judgement. In the analogy presented, the wife is unceasingly contesting the statements and decisions of the husband. He is never good enough to ultimately satisfy her. After a sustained amount of time, it becomes maddening. Like the constant dripping of water on a rainy day, it soon becomes the overwhelming focus of the senses and emotions. The more one tries to shut it out, the more pronounced it becomes. So it is with the law. By seeking to use the law as a means to save ourselves, it becomes a contentious wife. Every decision, every action is scrutinized under her ever watchful eye. No matter how hard we try, it seems we are never good enough to satisfy her. Soon the law becomes our taskmaster, the overwhelming focus of our senses and emotions. We seem to no longer be able to sense the other things all around us that God made for our enjoyment – just the constant contending of the law. Drip – drip – drip. Our strength is no match for her. We cannot divorce the law, because divorce itself is breaking the law. How then can we be freed from her?
Paul uses this very analogy in Romans chapter seven to answer this question. The solution; one of the two in the marriage must die. The law cannot die, for it is righteous and eternal. The only other alternative is you (and I). Paul gives the illustration that by law, a married woman is bound to her husband for life. Only through the death of her husband is she free to marry another. Then he reveals the wonderful spiritual truth of the analogy, "You also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death." (Romans 7:4&5) Paul is saying that the fault was never in the law, it was in our sinful nature. We remained in bondage to the law because we could never satisfy the law (drip – drip – drip). Only by putting the old nature to death could we be freed from bondage to the law. Paul goes on to say, "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit (grace), and not in the old way of the written code (law)." (verse 6, parenthesis mine). In Christ we died to the law – having no way to satisfy its demands. He satisfied them for us. Now, instead of being bound by law, we are free in His grace. The fruit of the Spirit is not a set of new laws to be kept, it is the result of an abiding relationship with Christ. The deathly fruit of the law is the result of the weakness of our flesh (old nature). The ability to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives is the result of dying to self and appropriating His power at work in us through Jesus Christ our Lord. By His grace, we are freed from the ‘constant dripping’, and free to enjoy Him forever. The law is satisfied.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

November 26

Nov 26 - Today from Proverbs 26 we look at verse 12
"Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him."

Proverbs for the king and those who dealt with the king. This was the purpose for which Hezekiah's aids collected the proverbs of chapters 25-31. Today they remain just as relevant for leaders and those who aspire to leadership. Leadership in God's economy is servanthood. Great leaders are to be great servants. Think of the greatest leader of all. . . the Lord Jesus.
Leaders are inherently called to be mentors. Moses learned this important lesson from his father-in-law Jethro (Exodus 18). He was burning himself out attempting to 'do it all'. Jethro advised him to chose 'capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain - and appoint them as officials' over various groups of people (verse 21). Now Moses responsibility was to mentor a few instead of trying to micro-manage a multitude. It was doable. The apostle Paul knew the importance of this principle. We see him instruct the young Pastor, Timothy; "The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." (2 Timothy 2:2). Timothy would have to expand his influence in the church through mentoring.
The role of mentor is inescapable if one is to fully accomplish their responsibilities as a leader. A good leader must have the ability to discern the right people to mentor into positions of authority and influence. It's not always such an easy task. Much of this chapter shares certain indicators to look for as discerning leaders choose their candidates.
It would seem ludicrous to entrust a fool to a position of leadership or influence. The fool's shortcomings are quite easily discerned; they live for themselves. If leaders are indeed to be servants, then fools cannot lead. But there is a type that is much more difficult to discern, 'one who is wise in his own eyes'. What they say often seems to make sense. They can lay out a very convincing case for their preference in a matter. They are very apt in philosophy, and are able to sway men with their craft and self-formed convictions. But, they are stubbornly unteachable, and they are dangerous. They don't appear to serve self. They appear to have the best interests of the people at heart. Only a closer examination will reveal that their motivation is not in serving God, but they are, on some level, serving man rather than God. The big flaw in their character and their approach is that they depend on their formulated philosophies more than they depend on the revealed Word of God. Woe to our churches who embrace such leaders. These leaders tend to choose and mentor new leaders of the same mould. No matter how good it may sound, wisdom is not found in the philosophies of man. We must heed the advice of Jethro and Paul and choose or follow proper leaders who will make the tough decisions by honoring God's Word.
"There is more hope for a fool" because a fool has lots of opinions but is seldom embedded in deep convictions. Fools can be corrected through chastisement. It is possible to bring a fool into line. It is much more difficult with one "wise in his own eyes". Such a person will not be corrected. Rather, they will draw a battle line. If, in the end they do not 'win', they will withdraw from the leaders - and often wage war against them from the outside. This can be a very wounding situation in the church. The caution to leaders then is never to give them a position of influence or authority to begin with. Such people need not be barred from fellowship, they simply need to be held in check. The Teacher does not say the situation is hopeless for them, he only says there is more hope for a fool. There is, in fact, hope for all in Christ Jesus.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November 25

Nov 25 - Today from Proverbs 25 we look at verses 21 & 22
"If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head and the Lord will reward you."

In December of 1989 a cruel dictator was overthrown in Romania. It was an incredible 'revolution' as without any formal organization people gathered in the streets of the cities all over the country to pray. The regular army was sent in and eventually told to fire on the people. Most would not, so Dictator Caucesceau's Special Guard was brought in to punish the people. A strange thing happened - the regular army turned on the Special Guard and Caucesceau's regime was quickly overthrown. The Christian relief organization with which I served at the time had been encouraging and supporting the persecuted church of Romania for a decade. In 1990 I made my second trip into Romania - this time to a 'free nation'. While visiting one of our contacts in the Transylvanian region, he told us an amazing story. The regular army moved into the city where he lived. Originally, they were to break the people up and keep them out of the streets and in their homes. It was very cold, and the soldiers were feeling the bitter effects of the Romanian winter. The Christians in the city got together and made sandwiches and hot tea and brought it out to the soldiers daily. Never had the soldiers experienced anything like this. When things became politically critical, instead of turning on the people of the city, the soldiers defended them. It was a living example of this proverb.
If we are to love our enemy, why would we desire to heap burning coals on his head? That sounds cruel. That sounds like revenge.
One must remember that in Bible days people did not walk around with butane lighters or have a box of matches sitting on the kitchen shelf. Fire was important for heating and cooking. The preferred source of heat was charcoal - still the most common form of household fuel in rural Africa, India, and other oriental regions. If a family's fire went out, it was common to go to a neighbor to get some live coals for use in starting a fresh coal fire for cooking or for heating in the cold season. How did they carry the glowing coals? In traditional Eastern style, they would place a thick pad on their head with an appropriate vessel on top. The neighbor would place the burning coals in the vessel and the beneficiary would carry them home on his head. Now does the proverb make more sense? The burning coals were not an instrument of torment, they were a necessity for elevating the quality of life. However, there is an added dimension to the proverb. If the recipient were to contain the coals on his head for too long, it would eventually get uncomfortable. Kind of like the soldiers receiving hot tea and sandwiches day after day - they began to get uncomfortable with their mission. It was the discomfort of unconditional love that turned enemies into protectors.
This is still a kingdom principle for the church today. It is called grace. Instead of damning the off-scour elements of society and distancing ourselves from them, we need to seek God to find ways in ministering grace to them, to the point where they become uncomfortable with their 'mission' in life. Criticism makes enemies. Condemnation burns bridges. Servanthood destroys enemies by making friends of them. Grace builds bridges. People are made in the image of God. We must respect that. Jesus did.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November 24

Nov 24 - Today from Proverbs 24 we look at verse 21
"Fear the Lord and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious."

Every once in awhile we need to contemplate what it means to fear God and other legitimate authorities. In our modern culture it is quite common to see bumper or rear window stickers which boldly declare "No Fear". That is some impressive bravado, but a person who truly has no fear is a person who is destined to live a short life.
There is a fear that can be considered an emotion. I grew up with four brothers and one of our favorite pastimes was to hide somewhere in the dark and wait to startle the first unsuspecting brother who came into the proximity. Even when you think you're prepared, you can't help but jump a few inches as your reflexes react to a shout and a grab in the dark. That kind of fear can get adrenaline flowing (as well as other things that tend to increase ma’s laundry load). That's not the kind of fear referred to here. God does not hide around corners waiting to jump out at us. The fear that we are considering here is contemplative.
Let's take fire as an example. To know that the properties of fire helps to develop a healthy fear of fire. We know that fire consumes flammable materials and spreads in the process. Thus, we know not to start a fire in the middle of the living room. Rather, we keep it contained in a fireplace. We know that it causes great pain and destruction to the flesh, so we are careful to keep our bodies from making any significant contact with it. Thus, we have a fear of fire. Not an unnatural fear (phobia), but a healthy fear. One would be a fool to say they have 'No Fear' of fire.
To fear God is to contemplate the 'properties' of God’s character. He is supreme. With His Word He created the entire universe. With His Word He upholds the entire universe. He is the ultimate Judge. His Word is certain. He is from everlasting to everlasting and none will ever usurp His authority or overthrow His throne. Ever. He is holy - unique and set apart from all creation as sovereign and eternal God. With His finger He can cast out the most powerful of demons - even Satan himself. With the command of His lips He can destroy all the armies of the world. There is NONE like God. One would have to be the ultimate fool to say they have 'No Fear' of God. Yet, there are many. Sin has perverted their view to where they believe they can choose to create their own reality, to make their own rules, and answer to no one but themselves. They fear fire more than they fear God. They are the rebellious.
The Teacher warns us not to join with the rebellious - yet we are tempted every day. Have we relegated God and worship to perhaps a few moments a day and an hour or two on Sunday, while the rest of the time we live in our own created reality? Do we choose what we want to watch on TV (or worse, on the internet)? Do we determine what we will do with our leisure time - of which we have far more than generations preceding us? Do we choose what we will do with our discretionary money - of which we have far more than generations proceeding us? Do we seek to increase our comfort and our security - while we think little of being useful to God?
Wisdom is to understand life the way God meant it to be. Wisdom also includes a healthy fear of God. We are to contemplate His character and His will, and we are to readily submit to Him - for He is worthy. How can we even begin to contemplate the enormity of His character and His will? We see Jesus.
"Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father living in me, who is doing His work." -Jesus, John 14:9, 10
He doesn’t jump at us in the dark to create fear. He brings us into the light that we might contemplate the goodness and glory of the Father. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." (Proverbs 1:7)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 23

Nov 23 - Today from Proverbs 23 we look at verse 33
"Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things."

What compels people to get drunk on alcohol or to get high on 'recreational' drugs?
In verses 29-35 the Teacher writes a short discourse on drunkenness. Today's verse describes the effect that overindulging alcohol has on the mind. In reading the verse, it would not seem that anyone would desire such a state of mind - yet it is the very effect described which attracts people to partake.
Let's examine the two effects. Strange sights. In the original Hebrew, the word strange literally means to turn aside. It was most often associated with foreigners who were required to turn aside at an inn for the evening. They were far from home, and were strangers in the place where they were traveling. Confusing things. A better translation would read perverse things (i.e. KJV). In the original Hebrew this word was derived from a root word meaning turn about or contrary. To be perverse is to be directed away from what is right. Self does not desire to be confused, but self certainly enjoys being turned away from right living according to God's original purposes. Thus we see the initial effects of alcohol and drug abuse are very appealing to self - the fallen nature of man. It is a source of escape from the real world in which one lives, they become travelers in a fantasy world. It is a stimulant to embolden them to fully live in a self-indulging setting - even if it is only for a time. People who are unhappy with the realities of life in a world of responsibilities that require self discipline readily turn to a substance which will allow them to escape. To take refuge in a surreal realm where self becomes all important and all consuming - the world of substance abuse.
I knew that world - intimately. At the tender age of 19, I was taken from the life I knew and was catapulted into the military. After a few months of 'canned training', I found myself serving a tour of duty in Viet Nam as an infantryman. I didn't volunteer to be there, and I certainly didn't want to be there. A professional soldier I was not. I looked for opportunities to 'escape' the reality of the world in which I found myself, and there happened to be an abundance of marijuana around. I discovered the world of drugs. I never smoked pot in combat conditions and I never graduated to what is known as 'hard drugs'. I simply found an escape from the realities of war when the times warranted by inhaling the pungent smoke of 'weed'. I made it through the tour and returned to the States. Six months stateside and I was out. When I got home, I discovered that there was a readily available supply of marijuana right here in west Michigan. I resumed my use, now in much more pleasant conditions. I will never tell kids that there is no pleasure in doing drugs. That would be stupid - it's the reason people do drugs. The issue with drugs - including alcohol and pot - is that it perverts life. We are to be agents of life in a fallen and needy world. Substance abuse moves us to a realm of surrealism where we not only avoid life, we become users of life. Self-serving people use up emotional resources, time resources, relational resources and material resources. Substance abuse is the epitome of self-indulgence.
After I got married and had two sons, I limited my indulgences to very controlled circumstances - but that did not diminish the consuming effects. It was only when I came to know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior did I realize what a waste of time and resources such activity was. I never touched pot again. I would be lying to you if I told you I never consumed alcohol again. I enjoy an occasional glass of fine wine with a meal, or a cold beer with a burger. But I do not get drunk. I keep my intake very limited. I want to maintain self-control of my faculties. If I am in the company of people who take offense at consumption of alcohol, I can easily refrain - it is not my master.
It is no longer my desire to see strange sights or to encourage myself in perversity. I now know the Lord Jesus, and live in the reality of His truth. He has restored me to the heavenly Father and has given me the privilege and duty to serve my fellow man. He has given me His Holy Spirit to strengthen me and to guide me. He has given my life value and purpose, and will one day come to take me home to be with Him forever. I no longer feel the need to escape this life. I now want to live it - for Him.

Friday, November 21, 2008

November 22

Nov 22 - Today from Proverbs 22 we look at verse 7
"The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender."

Wisdom is in serving others as God leads. We are to serve with the time, talents and treasures with which God endows us. In this there is value in being free from unnecessary, and particularly unwise contracts of any kind.
A contract is a binding agreement between two or more people. Those considered important, especially in today’s business world, are written out in specific legal terms and then signed by the agreeing parties. This makes the document publicly binding and enforceable in the governing justice systems. One of the most common of this type of document is in the money lending business. The introduction of the credit card has increased money lending almost exponentially. Millions of times each day people are signing a binding loan agreement when they sign off on a credit card transaction. If unable to cover all transactions at the end of the month (which is the general rule of credit card use), they place themselves into bondage to the loaning institution of which the card represents. They are no longer free to use the treasures God endows for God's purposes of serving. They are now bound to pay off exorbitant amounts of interest to a greedy and impersonal master.
To say "The rich rule over the poor" is an observation of the fallen world system. The rich exploit the poor. They have an abundance of excess money, and they are gladly willing to lend it to those who believe they don't have enough - with interest, of course. In this manner, they become masters of the masses. The Teacher is warning his students through this observation. He is saying that it is better do without and to be free than to become a servant to the moneylenders.
Such behavior causes conflict between the seen and the unseen. For the borrower it becomes important enough to enslave one's self to have those temporal possessions that impresses others and satisfies the temporal desires of self. What is unseen is incredible strain in family relationships, frustration, worry and bondage to a merciless master. I speak not out of theory - I have been there.
Wisdom is to be content with such as it has and seeks to stay free in order to serve as God desires. When easy credit came into the marketplace following World War Two and the little plastic credit card became an American icon only a few decades later, what was thought to be a blessing to a people of a great nation has proved to become a curse. It is not readily seen - but we are a nation in bondage. Even the church has lost much of its ability to be free to serve as God desires because we have altered our values.
"I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." -Philippians 4:12, 13
"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." -1 Timothy 6:6-8
"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." -Hebrews 13:5
If we have become enslaved to the lenders it is because we have become a discontent people. We have become a discontent people because we have embraced the values of the world.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 21

Nov 21 - Today from Proverbs 21 we look at verse 18
"The wicked become a ransom for the righteous, and the unfaithful for the upright."

At first reading, this verse seems a bit difficult to comprehend. The study Bible I use has a reference by the verse that points to verse eight of chapter eleven, which states, "The righteous man is rescued from trouble, and it comes on the wicked instead." This helps to bring some clarity to the composition of the thought, but what does it mean?
First, we must always remember that the book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom, not of promises. Wisdom is loosely defined as 'life the way God meant it to be' and can point to promises, but life in this temporal world is not the way God meant it to be. This particular proverb points to promise. It is an encouragement - a call to patience and perseverance - pointing to the Blessed Hope. In the context of the fullness of God's Word, the righteous will indeed be ultimately and fully rescued from all trouble - but not necessarily in this life. Jesus gives us a promise concerning troubles; He promised that we would have them! "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). Jesus points to the blessed hope. He has overcome the world. "Yet at present we do not see everything subject to Him." (Hebrews 2:8). The wicked still appear to carry out their evil exploitations with impunity while many righteous suffer. We can loose heart when we look with temporal eyes. ". . . now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:6, 7). God has given us eternal eyes through His Spirit. Jesus absolutely will return, and will have His reward with Him; eternal life, without troubles. What about the wicked? "They will have to give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." (1 Peter 4:5). They may have gone to the grave with impunity, but they will not enter eternity with it.
Peter's first epistle was written to the church undergoing severe persecution. He never told them that if they had enough faith, they would rise above it. He told them if they would be faithful to Christ, their faith would be tested and refined by the persecutions. His instruction to them was to live as God intended them to live, exercising wisdom even in the midst of severe troubles:
"Prepare your mind for action; be self-controlled; set your hopes on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1:13)
"Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us." (2:12)
"Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God." (2:16)
"Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (3:14, 15)
"Be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins." (4:7, 8)
"Each one should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." (4:10)
These are the imperatives to believers undergoing deep troubles. . . or even light troubles. This is how His church should behave in any and all circumstances - it's life the way God meant it to be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 20

Nov 20 - Today from Proverbs 20 we look at verse 8
"When a king sits on his throne to judge, he winnows out all evil with his eyes."

In Eastern theology the Teacher begins with an illustration, the student is challenged to draw out the concepts. This small proverb is pregnant with concept.
The eyes. The Teacher is not referring to the globular organs seated in the middle of the face. He is referring to interpretation of what is seen. The Old Testament contains hundreds of passages that verify this concept. Let me site the earliest example:
"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked." (Gen. 3:6,7) The first humans weren't like baby kittens, created with their physical eyes closed. Something changed when they rebelled against God and yielded to the tempting work of the Serpent - their perception changed. They suddenly interpreted the things they saw in a completely different manner. The world didn't change at that moment. Their bodies didn't change at that moment. What changed was their world view. God was no longer the center, man was. Sin entered in and corrupted man's vision. Their eyes were opened to a humanistic world view, and their souls became full of darkness. The death that God warned them about was plural; two deaths. The death of man's spirit was immediate, there was now a separation in the intimate relationship man had with God. Man would now also experience physical death, when his soul would eventually be separated from his corrupted body of flesh.
Jesus teaches about the world view in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:22, 23:
"The eye is the lamp of your body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" The Renaissance is often referred to as an age of enlightenment. It was the humanistic revival parallel to the Reformation of the church in Europe that took place in the 14th through 16th centuries. Both revivals lay claim to enlightenment. One was true light, the other was darkness that was embraced as light. Those who rejected 'religion' all together threw the baby out with the bath-water. They traded what little light was left in the Roman Catholic Church for the 'enlightenment' of the glory of man. The fathers of the Reformation traded the 'enlightenment' of the religious traditions of man for the true light of God's Word. Through them God restored the eyes of the Church. Once again the body of Christ was pretty much walking in the light.
Philosophy and religion continue to vie for the right to be the eyes of believers today. They only corrupt the eye and let in darkness claiming to be light. Leaders on any and every level ("When a king sits on his throne. . .") who must make leadership decisions (". . . to judge"), that are just and that honor God ("winnows out all evil. . ."), he or she must use a Biblical world view (". . . with his eyes"). Wisdom is not to lean on our own understanding of matters, but to view life as God meant it to be. He has revealed His purposes for us, He has given us a clear moral code, He has given us basic instruction of procedure, He has written and preserved it in His Word, and He has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. The world is ignorant. They have an excuse for walking in darkness. The Church has no excuse.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

November 19

Nov 19 - Today from Proverbs 19 we look at verse 15
"Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man goes hungry."

I am always somewhat surprised at the paradoxes of life - even the one's previously encountered. The first thought in today's proverb is one such paradox; "laziness brings on deep sleep". One would think that a lazy person would have pent up energy and become physically restless - but just the opposite is true. I must admit, I have slipped into 'laziness' more than once. Laying in bed on a Saturday morning, nothing pressing, no time commitments . . . I talk myself into staying there and going back to sleep. The longer I lay there, the more I feel like staying there. Finally, I roll out very late in the morning. I dig out something to eat, flop onto the couch and turn on the TV to see what's on. I happen onto a movie that catches my attention and sit there for another hour or two. I haven't even properly dressed yet. My mind starts shutting down. "It's getting too late to begin any projects. Anyway, I deserve a day off." I start flipping through the channels hoping to find something that catches my interest - another movie, a baseball or football game, whatever. Another hour or two goes by as I help myself to any snacks I can find. By now it's late afternoon and I begin to kick myself for wasting an entire day. Am I energized to get out and do something constructive? No. I take a nap! How can I be so dogged and tired when I didn't do anything all day? It's a paradox - and I am surprised all over again that laziness brings on sleepiness. I despise wasted days, and I get very frustrated with myself when I allow one to happen.
It is also strange that I can be pretty worn out by Saturday, and I am very tempted to pamper myself and stay in bed - but I force myself up at a decent hour anyway. If I don't have a plan, I make one - do something constructive on the front end of the day. By the time I complete the task, I am energized and ready to continue. I can have a pretty productive 'day off' and feel good about myself. I was able to get things done that I wanted to get done.
We weren't created to 'do nothing'. Even when our self-serving nature thinks it would be a treat to do nothing, we degenerate when we give in. Laziness breeds apathy. Apathy becomes a bondage of the mind. It is the same with our spirit.
We sometimes feel like it may be nice to take a 'day off' from God. Wouldn't it be great just to forget all the moral responsibilities around us and serve ourselves for once? "I'll get back into my discipleship mode tomorrow again." We don't exactly turn away from God, we're just going to take a break from pursuing Him. "Tomorrow I will be re-energized and will pursue God with zeal." The paradox strikes here too - rather than being re-energized, we find ourselves ensnared in apathy. We 'wake up' one day to discover that it's been awhile since we spent real quality time in a personal devotion. Our prayer-life is anemic. Going to worship on the Lord's Day is an option instead of an anticipation. Those who are in need around us can just fare for themselves. Our monetary support of the ministry of our church wouldn't support a kid's Fun Meal. Our spiritual laziness has put us spiritually asleep.
There is a remedy - it's known as self-control and discipline. When we think it might feel good just to lay in the bed of self-serving desire and take a day off from God, it's time to effect our will over our feelings and climb out anyway. Whether we feel like it or not, we need to implement a plan to do one constructive thing in the course of discipleship. Take out your Bible and commit to a fifteen-minute study in a favorite passage, and then meditate on it for another fifteen. Go to a quiet spot and commit yourself to spend ten minutes in 'praise' prayer, recounting the wonder of God's love for you and what He did to prove that love, and then spend another ten in opening your heart to Him to seek His leading. Look around you and find a need - and then see what you can do in His Name to provide for that need. Soon your spiritual weariness will disappear, and you will find yourself re-energized. It too is a paradox. The solution to spiritual weariness is not a 'break' from discipleship, it is a recommitment to discipleship.
We weren't created to 'do nothing'. We were created to know and enjoy God and to serve our fellow man. It is in the fulfillment of purpose that we find spiritual energy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

November 18

Nov 18 - Today from Proverbs 18 we look at verse 12
"Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor."

When pride involves self, it will eventually end in downfall. Why is that? Because pride is when one attempts to elevate self to a superior position. In the Hebrew, the term literally means to 'mount up'. It was pride that stimulated man to attempt the tower of Babel; he was going to mount up to heaven in his own ability and strength. Man was doomed to fall from such a position. Where ever man attempts to exalt himself, it is there that he is self-deceived. He has built a house of cards that will not stand because it stands contrary to God's purposes and intents. How can any mortal man ever conceive the idea that he can successfully rise above and prosper against the purposes of the eternal Creator? Satan himself attempted - and failed.
Humility is just the opposite of pride. Rather than elevating self, it elevates others. Jesus clearly brings forth this principle in Luke 14:7-11. He basically says that when invited to a wedding feast, one should not appoint himself to take a place of honor at the table. One who is deemed more important may show up and you will have to take a lesser seat. It is better to take the least important seat at the table, and if he so deems, the host will move you to a better seat. The proud (self-important), will be humiliated and the humble (those who elevate others), will be promoted. It's a kingdom principle that goes much deeper than the social order of seating at a wedding banquet.
The apostle Paul wrote it this way in Philippians 4:3, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." People who live that way are seldom disappointed and often pleasantly surprised. And they are the kind of people others like to be around.
Allow me to give you a simple example from personal experience. As a rule my wife and I keep Thursday evening clear for our 'date night'. In the midst of our crowded schedules we committed to keep one night apart just for ourselves - to catch up on each other's lives and to keep our relationship focused. We usually go out to one of the local restaurants and have a nice leisurely meal together. This experience happened on such an evening. Soon after we were seated a young man came to wait on us. I would guess he was one of the local college students. He asked how we were doing and we responded with the cordial, "We are doing just fine. And how about you? How are you?"
"I am just awesome! My name is Doug, and you have the privilege of having top service tonight! Now, what can I get you to drink?"
Doug set himself up. By proclaiming himself to be awesome and top service, he had to either be awesome or there was no other direction to go but down - and boy did he. He served our meals without table service. He neglected to get my wife a refill on her soda after asking her if he could. When she finally got his attention while some friends at a nearby table were distracting him, he replied in a too loud voice, "I know." By time her refill came she was finished and we were ready to go. 'Awesome Doug' scored very low on our service scale - and even worse he promoted himself to be at the top of the scale. We were merciful and gave him his 15%, but we walked out of the restaurant with a very low opinion of Doug's opinion of himself. He may be a good kid - but if he were more humble, others might see that goodness. Instead of looking for the person that Doug truly may be, he caused us to look for something that he is not - awesome and top service.
I share this illustration not to put Doug down. I share it as an illustration of something that lives in us all - our pride. Pride cries out for others to see us in some ideal manner. This results in others seeking us only in such a manner. When we cannot live up to the ideal of our pride, we fall. Why raise expectations for everyone? Why not start out in humility, and allow people to discover for themselves the goodness of God in each of us? This is accomplished by having the heart of a servant. People don't really care to hear us boast about how qualified or how good we are. The true character of God is revealed in our humble service to others.
"Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." -Matthew 5:16

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 17

Nov 17 - Today from Proverbs 17 we look at verse 24
"A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool's eyes wander to the ends of the earth."

According to the original Hebrew language, the definition for discerning in this verse is to mentally separate, or to distinguish. The KJV uses the term 'a man of understanding.' The Bible teaches that we live in a fallen world and everything in it is tainted by corruption. This world system functions in spiritual darkness. Man is on a continual quest for enlightenment. He searches everywhere. He seeks enlightenment through religion. He seeks enlightenment through science. He seeks enlightenment through knowledge. He seeks enlightenment through mysticism. He seeks enlightenment through his own psyche. Throughout the centuries man has pushed his shopping cart down the aisles of 'awakening', picking and choosing from any or all of these various forms of discovery, and then puts together his own form of enlightenment. In spite of all his effort, without viewing life the way God intended it, the light he so fiercely embraces is still darkness. Jesus makes clear reference to this in Matthew 6:23 where He says, "If your eyes are bad, you whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"
There is only one way by which man is able to separate the light from the darkness. The Psalmist declares, "Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path." (Psalm 119:105). Then there's God's revelation through John; "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." (John 1:1). "In Him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of men." (John 1:4). "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." (John 1:14). "I am the way the truth and the life." (Jesus, John 14:6). "Your word is truth." (Jesus, John 17:17).
In order for any man to have proper understanding, he must have God's revelation of life. In the Old Testament, man could know God's revelation through ‘the law’, the written Word. The gospel and the outpouring of His Spirit was still a mystery. The law and the prophets were still the only light in the world. A discerning man was discerning because he kept wisdom in view. He studied God's law and applied it to his life. This gave him the light he needed to separate that which was deceit from that which was truth. It was not able to save him, but it was able to keep him on the safe path, the path of understanding. No wonder the Psalmist expressed such love and compassion for God's word in Psalm 119. Virtually every one of the 168 verses mentions God's word in some fashion or another.
Our first task as believers is to discipline ourselves to keep wisdom in view. We are to seek God and His Light through His Word on a regular basis. If we don't, the darkness will creep in and the light will gradually diminish without us even knowing it. We will lose our ability to separate moral right from wrong, and we will wander off the path of understanding. It's not a good place to be -- even for a blood-bought, heaven-bound saint! KEEP wisdom in view. As New Testament believers, we have an added benefit. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit who has baptized us into Christ Jesus. We have the opportunity to walk with Him each day in a living and vital relationship. ABIDE in Christ. He is perfect wisdom. We have access to the discernment of the Holy Spirit. What a blessing!
Our second task as believers is to bring the Light to those who continue to stumble in the darkness. Jesus revealed that He didn't come to judge them, neither should we. Instead, He brought them Light. He preached and taught the kingdom of God for over three years. When He sent the Holy Spirit, following His death and resurrection, He ignited the word Peter preached and three thousand people received the Light of Life that very day (Acts 2:41). Peter reaped where Jesus sowed. Our task is still to labor in His fields, both sowing and reaping. Imagine all of the people around you today, pushing their shopping carts up and down the dead-end aisles of darkness in this world, seeking for some way to enlightenment. Everything they put in that cart and place their trust in is death. Apart from the gospel, they are already condemned. The Light you bear does not condemn -- it pardons. Share it. If they reject it, you have done your best. Who knows, someone may come in the future and reap that which you have sown. When that happens, God gets the glory! And that is the reason for our being.
Keep wisdom in view for yourself, and seek to bring others to the Light so that they too might grow in understanding.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

November 16

Nov 16 - Today from Proverbs 16 we look at verse 26
"The laborer's appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on."

Have you ever observed a believer serving with tenacity and fervor in an unappealing situation, and wonder how they could possibly stand it? It's probably because even though it may be somewhat repulsive to you, they actually have an appetite for it.
An appetite is a great motivator. Food is a critical element for living. Man labors in his field of training and experience to earn his 'daily bread'. Fortunately, most of us have more than enough to eat - so our appetites extend to things other than food and life's necessities. We get 'hungry' for luxuries and accessories. We get 'hungry' for recreational things. We get 'hungry' for a bigger house, a newer car, a summer (or winter) home, a big-screen plasma TV, a boat, ability to spoil the grandkids, cosmetic surgery, membership at the club, . . . well, you know the list. We get hungry enough to get a second job, or for the spouse to earn a second income in the home. People wouldn't put up with all of that frustration and inconvenience unless they had an appetite for something.
Hunger for food is universal. Appetites for other things vary according to the individual's tastes and values. Everyone is wired a little differently. It's the same with spiritual gifts. If you want to see people roll up their sleeves and dig into some area of ministry, just get them working in an area that they have an appetite for. It's like when you have put in a long hard day and at about dinner-time your stomach is rumbling in anticipation. You sit down to a good meal and dig in. When you're finished, you are satisfied - fulfilled. That's what it's like when you are serving in your area of giftedness. The desire to be satisfied and fulfilled drives you on. Did you know that we were created to serve? Sin messed that up, but Jesus Christ came to restore it.
When God made you, He gave you a spiritual appetite for something. That's what a spiritual gift is. You will never really find fulfillment unless and until you begin to feed it. Every believer should be in the process of discovering, or in the process of utilizing their spiritual gifts in God's kingdom. A spiritual gift may be a natural gift taken one level deeper. It may be something that you never had any desire or interest in until you came into a relationship with Christ. But you can count on this - God gave you something to use in service in His kingdom. There is an abundance of material out there to help identify spiritual gifts - and even more opportunity to use them. A very wise old Hungarian Pastor once told me, "There are no unemployed in the kingdom of God - only the idle." Folks, that's a sad truth. I think the reason there are so many 'idle' disciples in the church is because they have not yet discovered what they are hungry for. By the way, you don't have to start out big - just get started. You may have to experiment some to find your gift, but it’s worth it. Keep at it. You will be amazed at how God's grace flows once you put your hand to serving in your area of giftedness. After all, if you could accomplish it in your own strength it probably wouldn't be a spiritual gift, now would it?

September 15

Nov 15 – Today from Proverbs 15 we look at verse 17
"Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred."

Once again the Teacher sets forth a lesson on values. Values asks the question, "What is most important?" In relation to today’s proverb, the Teacher asks, "What is most important, that which satisfies the stomach, or that which satisfies God?" When framed in this context, we quickly answer the obvious. "That which satisfies God, of course." But when framed in the more subtle context set forth in the proverb, the practical choice becomes more difficult. More often than not, the student does not equate the two comparisons in every-day living. We are often willing to sacrifice a little of our integrity in order to satisfy a desire of the flesh. It’s called compromise – one of Satan’s most effective tools.
Our values are not so much found in the declarations we make as they are in the actions we take. "You shall know them by their fruits," Jesus says in Matthew 7:16. Values are defined by actions taken through decisions made. The choice the Teacher offers in today’s proverb is between a plate of greens and a plate of veal cutlet. The Hebrew word interpreted as vegetables here is very narrow in definition. The KJV interprets it as herbs, which is much more definitive than the broader context of vegetables. The meal offered is a plate of greens, enough to sustain life. But it certainly lacks the culinary delight provided by a choice cut of roasted veal. There is no moral value involved in simply choosing between the two. The moral value enters in the circumstances surrounding the meals being presented. When it involves a choice of placing the needs of another first (love), or satisfying my own desires at the cost of meeting the need of my personal neighbor (hatred), I am confronted with a moral choice. Why is it better to choose to deny the desires of my appetite in order to live well with my neighbor? Because my neighbor’s well-being is more important than my stomach.
Values are choices one makes, not desires one experiences. The values of the righteous are to be based on the moral code of God’s Word. God’s Word became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived out this principle to the most extreme conclusion when He left the glory of His position at the Father’s right hand and came to befriend and restore us by becoming a servant. A servant obedient to the Father – even unto death. His values are unmistakable. His decisions were consistently enacted on the basis of those values. His life continues to bear fruit in accordance with those decisions. I am a benefactor who will be eternally grateful that He chose to deny Himself in order that I might benefit. What love is this, that the Son of God would die for me? My choices now determine whether I ‘dine’ in the presence of His love – no matter what the serving, or whether I will compromise and choose a more delectable serving – no matter whether He is there or not. The choice lies in the object of importance – His presence or the menu being offered. It’s a matter of values.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November 14

Nov 14 - Today from Proverbs 14 we look at verse 35
"A king delights in a wise servant, but a shameful servant incurs his wrath."

There are two levels of thought here, but only one principle. There is the level of the temporal - that which is seen, and the level of the eternal - that which is unseen. The principle is that of servant hood.
When we consider ourselves servants, our focus should turn to duty rather than to wages and promotion. A wise employee (servant), seeks first to fully understand what his duty is in the position he is to fill. The employee is then expected to commit himself to fulfill that duty to the best of his ability. The employee committed to integrity in his service will seek to further his understanding and increase his skills in performing his duty. Such an employee will certainly delight his employer, and will serve as an asset to the organization. A good employer will recognize the integrity and excellence of the service of the employee and will hold fast to all employment agreements. The employer may even choose to reward the employee's excellence. The employee has no right to expect such reward - he was merely fulfilling the duty for which he was employed. Anything he receives beyond the employment agreement is grace.
In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus gives the illustration of a servant who worked hard in the fields all day and returns to the master's house. Jesus then queries his disciples, asking them if they thought the master might say to the servant "Come along now and sit down to eat." Preposterous! The thought would never enter the disciples' minds. Any person in the Middle East in that day would never expect such a thing. Instead the master would tell the servant to prepare the meal, clean up, and then serve the master's meal. That was the fully expected duty of the servant. There would be no debt of gratitude on the master's behalf simply because the servant was carrying out his duty. Jesus closes with this statement to His disciples;
"So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ''We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"
There is no implication that there was a love relationship between the master and servant in the illustration. The servant fulfilled his duty because it was expected of him. The master provided all of the servant's needs because it was expected of him. But, we are in a love relationship with our Master. We serve Him because He is worthy. We discovered that He loves us, He redeemed us at the cost of His own shed blood, and He offers us sonship in His own family. Our duty then is to worship Him alone, and to serve our fellow man. Wisdom has taught us that this is our purpose. Even though God loves us, He owes no man a debt of gratitude when man performs his duty. In our relationship with God we are to serve out of duty, not out of expectations of reward for our good works. God has promised to provide our needs, anything we receive from Him beyond that is grace - and He gives abundantly.
There is incredible freedom in being a servant and in understanding our duty. Discouragement comes by way of unmet expectations. When we perform our duties with expectations of reward, we can get discouraged. When we perform our duties to the best of our ability out of gratitude to our Master, we find fulfillment. A true servant lives in contentment because he understands that the Master will provide for the task. I struggle to reach the day when I can consistently say along with the Apostle Paul:
"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." -Philippians 4:11-13

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

November 13

Nov 13 - Today from Proverbs 13 we look at verse 2
"From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things, but the unfaithful have a craving for violence."

Determining that fruit is an outcome containing creative seed that bears after its own kind, we continue to look at the creative power of words. Perhaps there is nothing more demonstrative of this concept than that of being a parent. Parents are sowing seed into their children 24/7. I became acutely aware of this when my son began driving. Whenever our family traveled by auto, I was the driver about 99% of the time. Without realizing it, I was seeding an attitude into my boys concerning other drivers with the fruit of my lips. When my son began to drive, and I rode with him, I was shocked to hear and see all of my improper attitudes displayed in his attitude. How could I rebuke him? I sowed that seed! As I thought about it, that seed was sown into my life by my dad. What if I had made a conscious effort to employ the power of the Holy Spirit to manage a 'crop failure'? What if instead of making wise remarks in front of my children about the perceived ineptness of other drivers on the road (a craving for violence?), I would have yielded my lips to the Holy Spirit and displayed patience and kindness (good things)? Perhaps then my son would have been one of those rare drivers who shows consistent courteousness to the other drivers on the road. Instead, he had taken on my arrogant, competitive edge. I didn't really like what I saw in him - and I never saw it in myself until I saw the fruit of my sowing it in him. That did not excuse him for his behavior, but it sure made it more difficult for him to be a courteous driver.
One of the truly good things in the life of a parent is to see their children grow in good character. This proverb reveals that the choices of words we use in the presence of our children can be one of the most dynamic influences in this process. Not just when we are trying to get their attention to teach or instruct them - but 24/7. The seed finds soil whether we realize we are sowing them or not. When mom and dad are in 'the other room', or in the front seat of the car, they are not isolated. Little ears are constantly on the alert. Fruit is offered, seeds are sown, little hearts emulate the ones they naturally trust and admire most. Something of the parent's own attitudes of life become ingrained in the lives of their children. It's an awesome responsibility.
True story. My sister-in-law was in the choir in her church. One Sunday morning during practice, the little daughter of one of the other choir members showed up wearing a beautiful frilly little dress. "My, what a beautiful dress you have on today," said one of the ladies. "Yeah, but I've gotta be very careful because it's a b--ch to iron," replied the little girl.
Mom, of course, was mortified. That seed quickly came to fruition in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had she not heard it in the original context, mom would have probably wondered where her little girl ever picked up such coarse language.
Thank goodness for each of us there is One who can break the chain of poor attitudes and corrupt seed. When we appropriate the grace that Christ so freely offers, the old passes away, and we become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Instead of the corrupt fruit of self-centeredness being offered, the good fruit of the Spirit begins to take its place. In that fruit is contained the seed that bears after its own kind. The chain is broken.
My language and attitude toward other drivers is significantly different these days. I am a new creation. My sons are not consistently there now to witness that change as I am driving. It makes me wonder if the fruit of my dad's driving attitude is going to continue to influence my grandchildren's driving attitudes? It makes for a great incentive for prayer for a crop failure. Nothing is impossible with God!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November 12

Nov 12 – Today from Proverbs 12 we look at verse 3
"A man cannot be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted."

The twelfth chapter is loaded with counsel on the value of integrity – a very common theme in the book of Proverbs. In our verse for today we are given a clear and defining picture in the original Hebrew. The word used for established draws a picture of an object that is perfectly perpendicular to its base. One can think through the implications the Teacher is making here. The object needs no visible supportive attachments to remain standing. There is no stress at the foundation, and no fear of toppling. In contrast, consider the Tower of Pizza. The foundation has settled on one side to where it is precariously leaning. The situation has given it world-renowned attention – but it also has caused the Italians a great amount of anxiety, effort, and money to keep it standing. Even today, after all that has been done, it is fearful that it might topple at any time. It has no integrity.
The wicked may appear to be established, but there is something terribly askew at the foundation. Even the most ‘prosperous’ (sic) of the wicked have no rest for their souls. They are constantly watching over their shoulder, worried about who might topple them. It takes a lot of effort for the wicked to remain standing, there is constant stress somewhere at the foundation of their personal security. Their temporary confidence lies in temporary things that help to support and stabilize their position in life – but in the deep corners of their souls, they know how fragile the balance is. No one fears toppling more than do the wicked.
The contrast is the security of the righteous. The righteous are those who practice moral values in light of God’s Word. Where the wicked devise their own moral code, which becomes the unstable ground like the Tower of Pizza was built upon, the righteous accept the moral code of the Creator. This code is the unchanging and stable bedrock of God’s purposes for life itself. Jesus condensed the entire moral code down to this, "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself." It is the great commandment – the royal law. Without the objective source of truth that God reveals in His Word, man quickly begins to build his life on the shifting sands of philosophy, opinion, and circumstances. Such a structure will never stand the test of time – much less eternity. The key to living the righteous life is to trust God explicitly – even above current philosophies, opinions and cultural trends. The man who does this does not fear toppling. When the storm is passes, even he is amazed that God’s Word is bedrock, and he still stands. God is able to make the righteous stand.
Jesus may have alluded to this proverb when He shared His own illustration in the parable of the wise and foolish men who built their houses on two different bases; the wise on the rock, and the foolish on the sand (Matthew 7:21-27). The lesson is as timeless as God’s Word.
Where does your house stand? Is it as secure as you would like it to be? Unlike the Tower of Pizza, there is a solution.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November 11

Nov 11 - Today from Proverbs 11 we look at verse 17
"A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself."

The choices we make regarding others will always have an effect on our circumstances. Kind acts are an asset not only to the beneficiary, but also to the benefactor. Cruel acts are a liability not only to the victim, but also to the perpetrator. "Count on it," says the Teacher.
To the self-serving, kindness just for the sake of being kind is deemed a waste of resources. They figure if there is no immediate benefit or self-serving ulterior motive, then there is no benefit to being kind toward another. Kindness is merely one of the 'tools in their bag' meant for manipulating and not a true characteristic.
What then is kindness? It is a genuine attitude void of pride. Kindness is laced with mercy. The literal translation for the word 'kind' here reveals a picture of one 'bowing at the neck.' It shows courtesy, as regarding another as an equal. Kind people are comfortably approachable. Jesus was kind to all. Even though their disdain for Him grew, even the very richest and learned of His day felt comfortable in approaching Him. Jesus Himself was a Rabbi - a highly regarded Teacher of the Law. He was identified with the group of 'righteous' known as the haberin or the associates. These were the societies of scrupulous Jews who pledged themselves to the study and strict observance of the law. This would include the societies of the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Not many associates in Jesus' day were kindly toward the 'sinners' in the land. The 'sinners' were the common people, known as 'the people of the land'. For the masses of sinners, the associates were not approachable - except for One that we know of; a Rabbi named Jesus.
What a wonder this associate must have been to the people of the land in His day. He received them. He ate with them. He touched them, healed them, forgave them and blessed them. Even the worst of them; the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the lame and the lepers, were beneficiaries of His kindness. Such kindness was unheard of from the 'righteous' of the land. But how did that benefit Himself? Many of them turned on Him when the chips were down. They crucified Him!
The benefits eventually came. They came on the day of Pentecost when 3,000 were broken under conviction and repented of their selfish and sinful lives and were added to His family (Acts 2:36-41). The benefits continued as His family grew among the nations (Gentiles!), and through the generations. The benefits continue to grow today. Oh, the blessed kindness of our Savior!
I don't believe that any of us would have seen Jesus as the beneficiary of His kindness on that historical day of Good Friday. All of His kindness seemed to have gotten Him nothing but trouble. It seemed it was the cruel associates who appeared to have won the day. But now, as we look back, I don't think that any of us would see the self-righteous associates who were standing by looking on at the events of the day, as the ones who benefited. Indeed, the events of next seventy years would reveal that they brought great trouble upon themselves. Yet even some of these were found of Him and discovered the secret of His kindness - Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee named Paul, and others - and they became agents of His kindness. I am convinced that they also benefited themselves; "Well done good and faithful servant. Come, and share your Master's happiness." (Matthew 25:23). What better benefit could there be?
Kindness is not an expenditure, it is an investment. We may not see any immediate returns, but we can be sure of this; the returns are sure. He is faithful.

November 10

Nov 10 – Today from Proverbs 10 we look at verse 9
"The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out."

Integrity is one of those terms that everyone kind of knows what it is, but hardly anyone can give a clear definition. In the past I have looked at this word and the best definition I could come up with is, "Doing the right thing for the right reason on a consistent basis." Doing 'the right thing for the right reason' still needs an objective basis from which one can determine what 'right' is. For a believer this objective source is the Word of God. Jesus says in John 17:17, "Your word is truth". Psalm 119:160 says, "All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal."
Here's the meat of this Proverb; "Truth is eternal. Everything else will be exposed and dealt with." If a person is honest, even to his own hurt, that person will be vindicated. But the person who tries to manipulate others and cover up their self-serving motives, that person will be found out. They may get away with it for awhile, but the truth will ultimately prevail because it is eternal.
1 Corinthians 11:31 says, "But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment." That's what a person of integrity does - they constantly judge themselves. When a man of integrity finds himself guilty he keeps the account short by quickly confessing to God, make any restitution necessary, and turns away (repents) from such behavior. By doing this on a consistent basis, he grows and establishes himself in integrity. Conviction is not meant to bring condemnation. Romans eight is a chapter of incredible assurance for believers, and begins by stating that "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Why? 1 John 1:9 teaches that confession brings mercy. When we confess, the guilt is removed. Restitution is the evidence that our confession comes from a sincere conviction. Repentance keeps our heart toward God.
A person of integrity is not a person who never makes mistakes; it’s a person who properly deals with and learns from their shortcomings. The believer who can go to another and say, "I have done you wrong, and I am sorry. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?" is a person of integrity. These kind of believers can walk securely - secure in the knowledge that they are accepted before God and secure that they need not fear anything hidden in the darkness of their soul which might be exposed at any moment by the light of truth. The old adage is true; "Confession is good for the soul."
A wise person is a person who walks in integrity.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

November 9

Nov 9 - Today from Proverbs 9 we look at verse 1
"Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out her seven pillars."

This verse tells us that wisdom is firmly and finally established. The number seven is the number for completeness or perfection. This verse is telling us that wisdom lacks nothing. It never did, and it never will. The Teacher writes in Ecclesiastes 3:14, "I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it." Wisdom personified speaks in Proverbs 8:22 & 23, "The Lord brought me forth as the first of His works, before His deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began." Our verse today is simply one more effort of the Teacher to instill this great and immutable truth.
Anthropology is such a fascinating field. Should the Lord tarry, I wonder how generations several hundred years from now will view this age of postmodernism. Under the guise of Enlightenment, it seems that mankind is continually moved and carried by invisible waves of its influence. History seems to be the better vantage point for viewing these ebbs and flows. The current generation does not appear to be fully aware, but the severity of these ebbs and flows are related as to how well the culture is 'anchored'. If it is not anchored to some common absolute, the chaos becomes more severe. Today's Postmodernism places highest values on personal preference and tolerance. "You establish your belief system and I will establish mine, and we will respect each other's systems. This will bring harmony to our culture and to our world." (sic). In putting such philosophical musings into practice, all anchors are pulled up and the culture begins to drift and ebb and flow into a chaotic state. The only intolerance in such a culture is with those who refuse to pull up anchor. They are perceived to ‘hinder’ the evolution of human experience. James sensed this human condition when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in James 1:5 & 6, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But, when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." Believe and not doubt what? To believe that wisdom is firmly established and that God's ways are immutable. To say, "My reality is truth and your reality is truth, and therefore we must respect each other's realities," is intentional double-mindedness that perpetuates moral chaos.
God created a good world out of chaos. Sin entered into that good creation and initiated a direction back into chaos. God intervened with His Moral Law to control the move back into chaos until the promised Messiah came. Jesus partially restored good into the creation in time by receiving the penalty for the cause of this chaos in His own physical being. Ephesians 1:9 & 10 says that He will fully restore all things to good at the end of time. Chaos will ultimately and finally be thrown into the pit. What will we, who have received the goodness of His restoration, be fully restored to? We will be fully restored to God's original intentions and purposes for mankind - wisdom from above (James 3:17).
Who will stand firm in the midst of moral chaos today? Those who walk in wisdom and are anchored in Christ will stand firm in His strength. Wisdom is understanding life the way God meant it to be. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is not evolving out of human experience. It has been established from the foundation of the world. Apart from the fear of the Lord, and from man seeking to walk in His wisdom, the only thing evolving out of human experience is more chaos.

Friday, November 7, 2008

November 8

Nov 8 – Today from Proverbs 8 we look at verses 30 & 31
"Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind."

Verse 1 of this chapter finds the Teacher using the literary technique of personification – giving something inanimate a voice in order to clarify the object lesson. In this case, wisdom is personified in the feminine gender. She reveals that she was brought forth as the first of the Lord’s works, before He began creation (verse 22). In today’s passage, she is at His side, observing His crowning achievement of creation – man! The sequence of this chapter reveals that God did not bring forth a purpose for His creation as He created, and certainly did not make up a purpose for it after He created. Wisdom is essentially understanding life the way God purposed it – and wisdom was the first of His works! Before He spoke anything into existence, He already had the purposes all worked out. In all of His creation, only one creature was made in His own image, and that creature was the ultimate purpose of all of the rest of creation. God created man in His own image in order that God could expand His love to someone who could return it. Thus He created man with a free will and with the capacity to choose to love.
It is certain that if wisdom did have a personality at the time of creation, she indeed would have delighted in this creature God called man. He perfectly glorified (reflected the character of) God. God’s purpose was for man to multiply and to live in a serving community as He abode in their midst. Sin fractured this delightful setting, and man no longer chose to love God and serve his fellow man. Sin had corrupted man’s heart to love and serve himself. The wisdom that ‘served at God’s side’ was traded for a darker wisdom, that which James refers to as ‘the wisdom of this world’ (3:15). A wisdom based on temporal values and man’s own limited understanding.
Wisdom never lost her voice. Even today she calls out to all who will listen. God did not give up on mankind. Instead, He restored man to His original purpose at the cost of His own Son’s life. In the story of creation the Holy Spirit created life out of chaos through God’s spoken word. Today He restores the chaotic heart of man to life through the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. Man can be ‘born-again’ to his original purpose in creation through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It makes no sense in the wisdom of this world – no more than it makes sense that God spoke life out of chaos in the beginning. But to all who will trust in the Word of their Creator, they can be restored and can once again hear the clear and pure voice of wisdom. She still delights in this marvelous creature whom God called man – and now even more so as God ‘re-created’ him from a dead and chaotic state. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

November 7

Nov 7 - Today from Proverbs 7 we look at verse 5
"(Wisdom and understanding) will keep you from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words."

It is supposed that Solomon composed most his proverbs early in his reign. In his proverbs he often alludes to the dangers of being ensnared in the act of adultery - here he devotes an entire chapter to it. Adultery is the subject of one of the Ten Commandments. The seventh command admonishes, "You shall not commit adultery." You're on very solid ground when you base the teaching of wisdom on one of the Ten Commandments. In spite of all this, Solomon's downfall ultimately came through his weakness with women. We read these sad words in 1 Kings 11:3 & 4, "(Solomon) had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God."
Perhaps Solomon attempted to justify his actions in that his father David was a polygamist (although it is quite clear that there were many consequences in David's life for this behavior). Perhaps Solomon justified his actions in that his marriages were politically expedient in expanding the size and influence of the land of 'God's people'. Regardless of the motive - it was a self-serving attitude and it violated God's law. The spirit of the law is to keep sexual relations within the confines of a covenant relationship (matrimony), one man with one woman. Jesus clearly states this was God's intent from the beginning (Matthew 19:4-8). Jesus should know, He was there at the beginning.
The New Testament writers expanded adultery to fornication - or all sexual immorality. It includes adultery, but stands for any sexual relationship outside the bonds of one-man/one-woman matrimony. This relates to all manner of extramarital sex including pre-marital sex, homosexuality, pedophilia, bigamy, polygamy, and bestiality. Besides any obvious reasons for keeping integrity in this area, it extends into the mystery of the spirit realm. Paul touches on this subject in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Paul quotes the first revelation of the mystery from Genesis 2:24 where God says, "The two will become one flesh." There is an unseen bond that takes place in a sexual encounter. The second revelation of the mystery is found in verse 17 where Paul writes, "He who unites himself with the Lord is one with Him in spirit." and verse 18, "he who sins sexually sins against his own body." Paul is asking the believer if he wishes to engage the Lord in an act of sexual misconduct. The final exhortation . . . "Therefore honor God with your body." That too is the spirit of the law.
It is interesting that metaphorically speaking, the association of pagan idolatry with doctrines of the Christian faith are referred to as fornication (adulteries), in the book of Revelation (14:8; 17:2&4; 18:3; 19:2). Solomon's physical fornication led to his spiritual fornication. Now his legacy, which could have been a shining example to the generations, was forever tainted and corrupted. God's intent is not to humiliate Solomon, but to warn us that we too can attempt to twist God's Word to make it fit our selfish ambitions - but in trying, we will end up as nothing less than spiritual fornicators.
So, we must ask ourselves; "Is that which is so appealing to myself today worth corrupting my legacy?" The simple young man of Proverbs seven never bothered to ask himself this question - at least in the heat of the moment of temptation. If we will but honor God for the moment, He will honor us for eternity. His grace is sufficient for the moment.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 6

Nov 6 - Today from Proverbs chapter 6 we look at verses 12-14
"A scoundrel and a villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart - he always stirs up dissension."

To start, I would like to extract and couple the first and last thoughts of this comment; "A scoundrel and a villain always stirs up dissension." Always. It is my belief that the Teacher is not instructing the students not to become a scoundrel, rather he is instructing them to be discerning of a scoundrel. To stay away from them (not get relationally involved), because the outcome of the scoundrel's activity is consistently the same. More often than not, there is a seductive way about scoundrels. They have a charming air about them, and they are very convincing in drawing others into their mischief. We see reference to this in the middle section of today's scripture. He's not cloaked in some dark corner whispering a dastardly plot, he is very openly animated and enthusiastic about what he is presenting to his audience. (He is also very selective about where he is and who is in his audience.)
Things are not always as they appear. Consider the greatest scoundrel of all, "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14.) How do we know when we are being duped by a scoundrel, being pulled into one of his/her schemes? We need to know two things: (1) Our purpose before God, and (2) the quest of the scoundrel.
First, our purpose: To love God with all of our heart, soul strength and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love. Love bears fruit of righteousness. Love makes peace. Love provides for. Love lifts the other. Love puts other first. We are to live in a serving community in a vital relationship with God. We need to continually focus on and strive toward that purpose, functioning in the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of unity and fellowship.
Second. The quest of the scoundrel: To stir up dissension. Self. Selfishness is fruitless. Selfishness causes divisions. Selfishness is more interested in 'serve-us' then in 'service'. Selfishness puts the other down. Selfishness puts self first. The Hebrew language in this passage is very graphic in regards to such a character. Scoundrel is one who produces no profit to society. They are takers, not providers. Villain is one who exerts himself in vain. The word vain has two definitions, and both are applicable here. One is 'to think highly of self' and the other means 'to no avail'. If our purpose is to be fruitful in service to others, it stands to reason that one who thinks highly of himself will exert himself to no avail in God's economy. He always stirs up dissension. Dissension is to quarrel, striving with another over preference or opinion.
Dissension is both a tool of the scoundrel, and a result of the scoundrel's activity. Divide and conquer. The pieces are not as strong as the whole. Without the introduction of a cause for dissension, the scoundrel will never achieve his self-serving goals. His/her first step in a scheme is to build a dissenting power base. He/she does this by pulling in unsuspecting comrades. "He winks with his eye, signals with his feet, motions with his fingers. . ." all cultural activities of comradeship; "letting you in on the action" (sic). He/she convinces others that "we are right in our stand and cause," and because we are right, it's okay to be unkind. Because we are right it's okay to bend the rules. Because we are right, it's okay to sow discord. It's amazing how easily even believers will abandon grace because it is more important to be right.
"Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." We do well to heed the lesson of the Teacher. The scoundrel does not wear the costume of a scoundrel. Often it is the costume of the righteous. The discerning then, must look at the heart; is the motivation 'fruitfulness through unity and love', or is the motivation 'my way because it's the right way'?
Avoid the scoundrels - even the righteous ones. They always stir up dissension.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

November 5

Nov 5 - Today from Proverbs 5 we look at verse 8
"Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house."

We will remove this verse just a bit from its context (pertaining to the adulteress), and expand the warning to the principle of most any object of temptation. "Keep a path far from it, do not go near a place of entry into it."
In His time of ministry here on earth, Jesus would personally confront sinners, forgive them, deliver them, and then leave them with this instruction, "Go, and sin no more." His grace is not cheap. We are not to be presumptuous with His mercy. I find from my own personal experiences, and from the experiences of many other believers, that once we have been deeply ensnared in some area of bondage, that area remains to be a target of the enemy pretty much for the rest of our life. Once we have been forgiven and delivered, it doesn't necessarily mean we are free from the enticement. It is usually just the opposite. We must be very careful after repentance from an area of sin. We need to hear the imperative of Jesus' command often; "Go, and sin no more."
The Teacher gives sound instruction as well, "Keep a path far from any area of temptation." I was once in a men's accountability group with three others. One was a young Pastor who in earlier years had become obsessed with pornography. The Lord delivered and forgave him, and he pursued a call to ministry. He was provided with a computer by the church, and at that time the internet was just beginning to become popular. He convinced his church that it would be a good resource for his studies. You can pretty much guess the rest - he found a path that led right to the door of his area of weakness. He got drawn back into the trap and became ensnared in pornography in the privacy of his own office. By God's providence, he was in a Christian accountability group right at this critical time in his life. He was very ashamed, but very honest with us regarding the circumstance. We promised we would stand by him and pray with and for him, but he had a tough decision to make; we required him to give up the internet (there were no ‘filters’ available in those days). He agreed. After weeks and months of prayer and being personally accountable, he once again found freedom and a clear conscience to boldly proclaim God's Word to his congregation.
Our hearts may long to follow the Lord in obedience, but the flesh is weak. The flesh desires gratification, especially of that which it once tasted. The exaggerated memory of the pleasure of sin can tend to blot out the guilt and misery it created. When Israel was in bondage to Egypt, Exodus 2:23 says they groaned and cried out for help because of their slavery. God heard their cry and delivered them. God then led them into the wilderness to reveal Himself, His purposes for them, and to teach them to totally depend on Him. Time and again Israel grumbled and complained. They actually said such things as, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted." (Exodus 16:3). The exaggerated memory of the pleasure blotted out the misery they suffered in bondage. That is the power of the flesh.
We have a greater power, but we must access it in order to benefit from it. Jesus puts it in the simplest terms in Matthew 26:41, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." The first imperative is to watch. Keep your eyes on the path so that you know in advance where you are headed. As soon as you see yourself wandering into a dangerous area, pray. Prayer of this nature is a personal accountability to the Lord. "Okay Lord, I can see that opening this web site is going to fill my eyes and mind with intensely lustful pictures and thoughts." You are in direct communication with the Lord. Are you going to follow Him in obedience? Or are you going to push Him aside and allow your flesh to prevail? If you choose to obey, He will give you grace. "Thank you Lord, that through the shedding of Your own precious blood on my behalf, you delivered me from bondage to pornography. Thank you for the strength to walk away." Then do it. His grace is sufficient.
Pornography is just the example. The principle applies to all forms of temptation; gossip, slander, selfishness, dissension. . . read Galatians 5:19-21 . . . Paul gives a whole list of them. In all things we are to be led of the Spirit. We can only be led of Him if we will but listen to Him. Practice His presence and you will keep to a path that leads away from temptation.