Walking Wisely Part 2 - Words of Wisdom

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 NASB)

So many books have been written on how to speak that is far past time for a new slate of books to to help people learn to be quiet. There is no place that this applies more than in our current political / social-networked / sound-bite addicted culture. For speeches and conversations to bear fruit they need to be pruned more often.

And yet is more than politicians, professors, and pastors (this one included) who need to be careful with their words. In Proverbs, King Solomon speaks to us from centuries past that watching our words is one of the wise things to do.

I can only imagine as King what all Solomon must have seen regarding the character of those around him! How ironic what President Obama has had to face this week in regards to a General who was not more careful with his words. But neither the general or the president have a monopoly on putting their foot in it! The Wise Thing is always to begin where Wisdom begins – with giving God priority in our lives.

It might seem odd to begin with Ephesians to talk about Proverbs but it seemed right that we consider the example of Jesus' life AND that God does not leave us on our own to work at being wise. When we chose God's way – to follow after Jesus – Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit is sent to us, to live in us and to be part of this journey – to live out the Wise Thing. Paul makes it clear – our words are part of this way of wisdom.

Pastor Mark Copeland notes that in Proverbs, Solomon identifies there is Constructive Speech and Destructive Speech. Proverbs 11:11 GW notes that “With the blessing of decent people a city is raised up, but by the words of wicked people, it is torn down.” When we Walk Wisely, our words make a difference.

It has been said that to teach people the difference between counterfeit bills and the real thing, the Treasury Department doesn't have their people study counterfeits. They study the real thing so intimately that they can spot a counterfeit immediately. This is my approach. While Solomon addresses the Destructive, I want to focus on the Constructive. And it starts with...

Simply put Solomon says, “The mouth of a righteous person is a fountain of life, but the mouths of wicked people conceal violence. (Proverbs 10:11 GW).” To walk wisely, is to be life giving in your words and how you speak. It only reveals an integrity of character which has been OR is being transformed. Proverbs 16:24 describes the words as pleasant - “like a honeycomb” and in Proverbs 12:25 as comforting. This kind of speech reveals the heart of the speaker.

But it doesn't stop there as the wise person uses TIMELY WORDS. It doesn't get more clear than Proverbs 15:23 to make the point that “Giving the right answer at the right time makes everyone feel happy (Proverbs 15:23)” There is truly a time for everything but everything needs to be in the right time. Solomon goes on to note in verse 28 that, “Good people think before they answer, but the wicked speak evil without ever thinking.” (15:28 CEV). You can speak truth at any time and it is still truth but that doesn't mean it is the right time or that it will be heard! At least 1 dating relationship ended from truth at the wrong time,m and I've continued to learned as a husband, a parent and as a person, that TIMELY WORDS are key in walking wisely.

Good words spoken at the right time get us so far and this speech benefits all around but it is CONTROLLED WORDS which set apart our lives.

I'm sure Solomon heard from many in his group of advisers and from numerous lobbying groups. It must have been experience after experience which taught him the importance of Controlling the words we use and how much. In Proverbs 13:2-3 he tells us...
“You will be well rewarded for saying something kind, but all some people think about is how to be cruel and mean. Keep what you know to yourself, and you will be safe; talk too much, and you are done for. (CEV)”

Controlling our words enhances our relationships and protects our soul. It also protects our bodies from violence as this Proverb notes...
A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up. Words of wisdom come from the wise, but fools speak foolishness. (Proverbs 15:1-2 CEV)

And foolish words are most often Destructive Words. Solomon notes 4 above all others. Namely, 1) Lying, 2) Flattery, 3) Gossip and 4) Cursing (or slander). Search out the Proverbs and you'll see these brought out but they all reveal a selfish bent and Solomon notes - “The food you get by cheating may taste delicious, but it turns to gravel. (Proverbs 20:17 CEV)”

In his journals, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement tells of the persecution many early Methodists experienced. Why? Because through the Holy Spirit in the lives of people willing to follow Jesus, people were becoming more like Jesus! On one occasion, Wesley noted that a group of Methodists had been tied up, thrown into a wagon and taken to a judge. The judge asked the mob, “What are the charges?” No one had thought about that before coming! The one man spoke up and said, “Please sir, they converted my wife. Before she went amongst them she had such a tongue! But now she is a quiet as a lamb.” With that, the judge said, “Take them back and let them convert all the scoundrels in the parish!”

This is what it means to become disciples! When a person turns from living in rebellion against God, admits their mistakes and follows Jesus, Something is different! “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:6 NASB).” Do you truly understand the importance and wisdom of the right kind of speech? As we seek to walk wisely this week, make note of your words and all they show you about you.

Walking Wisely Week 1: Can You Answer The Best Question?

Proverbs 1:1-7

"Son," said the store owner to his new employee, "wisdom and integrity are essential to the retail business. By 'integrity' I mean if you promise a customer something, you have got to keep that promise-even if it means we lose money." "And what," asked the teenager, "is wisdom?" "That," answered the boss, "is not making any stupid promises."

When I was a youth minister, I took a group of students to a youth conference at a church some of you may have heard of called, Northpoint. Andy Stanley was speaking and he asked a question. It was a question that was an awesome question for students but I realized then, it was just as important for adults. Andy apparently thought so too, and later did a sermon series entitled, “The Best Question Ever.”

The best question isn't how far is too far or how much is too much? It isn't should I do this or should I do that? The question is, WHAT IS THE WISE THING TO DO? And it is this question that the Book of Proverbs seems to be designed to help us with. For there is a great need for wisdom in our world today. A lack of asking good questions is destroying young people's lives before they start and making fools of adults as they live. A lack of wisdom destroys marriages, friendships, and churches. At its worst, it dooms our very soul.

Ben Franklin proclaimed, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of!” He was right but Ben didn't know how to truly finish. Paul writes to the church at Ephesus and the church at Crossroads the words, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17 NASB)” Don't waste time and to not waste it, know the will of God. The Book of Proverbs is the book which puts them together and points the way.

The book identifies Solomon, the son of King David and one who assumed the throne from his father. 2 Chronicles 1:7-12 tells the story of how he was granted wisdom by God. 1 Kings 4:29-34 notes how he became famous and wrote over 3,000 proverbs. And like other books in the Bible, it is a book of compilations. At the end, there is added, “the words of Agur, the son of Jakeh to Ithiel and Ucal (Pr 30:1-33) and of King Lemuel who was taught wisdom from his mother regarding a godly woman in Proverbs 31:1-31.

The purpose of Proverbs is declared in the first six verses, verses 3 poetically makes clear: “To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity; (Proverbs 1:3 NASB).”
Solomon identifies 4 people who need wisdom:
1.Simple (or gullible) – Prudence (or insight(GW))
2.Young person - “Knowledge and discretion
3.Wise person - “increased learning”
4.Man of understanding - “wise counsel”
It is ultimately designed to help us all answer the question, “What is the Wise Thing To Do?

There are 31 chapters in Book of Proverbs. Many times, I have done a 30/31 day journey through Proverbs reading 1 chapter a day. That will be something to think about trying this summer. The first 9 books give a breakdown of the value of wisdom. The other 22, get into the specifics. Ultimately, Proverbs identifies that there are two different types of lives that exist in the world.
There is a PROSPEROUS LIFE. Proverbs 3:13-18 outline this life as the life of wisdom. To live the prosperous life, Solomon makes clear, doesn't mean one of wealth of glory, that would be inconsistent with Scripture. Solomon notes in fact... “her profit is better than the profit of silver And her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her. (Proverbs 3:14-15 NASB)” In other words, knowing the WISE THING is better than the RICH THING.
Of course there is another life, we'll call it the PITFALL LIFE. Growing up in the 80's on Atari, some of you will remember a game called “Pitfall.” Like an Indiana Jones movie, you had to swing over alligator infested ponds and jump over gorges. While Solomon wasn't advocating running into the jungle, Proverbs 3:21-26 explains what a Pitfall life looks like. In his God-given wisdom, Solomon identifies 3 regular pitfalls:
1.Evil companionship (Pr. 1:10-19). Be careful who you are spending your time with!
2.The immoral woman (Pr. 5:1-14). The wise thing would also be to change this to man!
3.Laziness (Pr. 6:6-11). This would almost be a given if it Solomon didn't write it.
Let's play with this for a moment...You get yelled at by your...BOSS / SPOUSE / FRIEND...
A. Strike back physically (go to jail)
B. Strike back verbally (get fired / verbal abuse)
C. Do nothing
D. React with a peaceful, kind reply (Proverbs 15.1)

The value of Proverbs is that instead of wasting time trying through process of trial and error, and spending more on self help books than necessary, we have a resource that already contains the truth and wisdom we're looking for. After all, it isn't in the facts but the execution that facts become wisdom.

And the first place to start, Solomon says, is the place we just ended up with Job. You see, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” And that fear isn't a terror but a recognition, that our journey of faith starts where our last series ended: God is God and I am not.

Now since summer is upon us and we're all going so many directions, it seemed to me a "wise thing" to give you a challenge. I call it the WISE31 Challenge.

I want to challenge you, that even though we're on the go, you can still grow in wisdom. Read the Book of Proverbs through, one chapter a day for 31 days. Start now and you can get through it twice by the end of August or simply start in July and read 1 chapter a day for the 31 days of the month.

Don't waste time - walk wisely this summer!

When Days End With Why? The End?

Job 42 (NASB on YouVersion)

How many pithy little sayings exist about reading the Bible to discover all the answers to life? I've lost track No car could hold the bumper stickers. It just isn't that clear. We pull out the Bible and discover it is no self-help manual to alleviate all our woes. You'd think here with Job, God would make this incredibly clear but instead we find a story – broken, indirect, meandering...just like life.
If you want answers, you've got to look between the lines – in the gaps. Life isn't prime-time, it is the commercial breaks.

In the encounter with God does Job discover answers? No. Instead, Job is led into the power and wonder of creation. Not an explanation from God, but an overwhelming experience of God that came from a desperate need FOR God.

In his book “Have a little faith”, Mitch Albom talks about meeting an ex drug addict who commits his life to the gospel of Jesus Christ and becomes a true disciple.  He opens a rundown church called “I am my brother’s keeper”  in the middle of downtown Detroit with a hole in the roof, no money, no heat, and parishioners who can offer nothing more giving their broken shattered lives of crime and addiction to Jesus Christ. Mitch starts the book as Jewish skeptic yet as he comes to know the pastor and struggle with his own faith; he reflects on how little this church has and compares it to others he has heard of. Then Mitch writes...
"I thought about how churches and synagogues usually build memberships. Some run schools. Some host social events. Some offer singles nights, lecture series, carnivals and sign-up drives. Annual dues are part of the equation.
At I am My Brother’s keeper, there were no dues, no drives, no single nights. Membership grew the old-fashioned way: with a desperate need for God."

Job's desperate need FOR God brings the experience WITH God and us to our passage, and another “between the lines” moment with translation.
Translation of 42:6:
NRSV: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
But there are problems with that closing statement.
“I retract. I even take comfort for dust and ashes.”

But the phrase “dust and ashes” is found throughout Scripture and readily understood and associated with our mortality. A more accurate translation is given by Stephen Mitchell ... “Therefore I will be quiet, comforted that I am dust.”

In coming face to face WITH God, what should give us pause, Thomas Long notes, is that Job is not reduced to dust and ash. No, Job discovers the desperate truth that he is not God, something we all need to discover – truly. God is God and we are not. He discovers the answer that theologian Ireanaus later theorized – this world God has made is not a wealth-making world, god-making world, pleasure-satisfying world – it is a soul making world. Fallen though it is, harder than God had designed, yet all things, good and evil – will form our souls.

It is a journey we do together, as Job discovered, even though we maybe lonely in a crowd of friends. God addresses this as well with Job's friends. It is a reminder that we need to be, no we MUST be careful with our words and our rush to speak for God. “What if we DO live by the picture of God these friends of Job have painted?” Even they will be forgiven as we are reminded that God will listen to the prayer of those who seek after Him.

“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends …”
“and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
A ridiculous amount of stuff. So much, in fact, that it becomes meaningless. Or maybe again, we should read between the lines...

Contrast with chapter one:
Restless control to peaceful freedom
The friends and Job’s family and friends
A Focus on the sons to …
Mysteriously, the shift is to the daughters whose names mean Dove, Cinnamon, Eye Shadow. The daughters were the most beautiful in all the land and they received an inheritance along with the brothers. Oh yeah, who are the brothers? They go unnamed. Which leads translator and professor Stephen Mitchell to note, “There is something enormously satisfying about this prominence of the feminine at the end of Job. … It is as if, once Job has learned to surrender, his world too gives up the male compulsion to control. The daughters almost have the last word … We can’t quiet figure out why they are so important, but we know that they are.”

The world is turned upside down OR maybe right side up: God’s ways are not our ways. We assume the rules of our culture are God’s rules. But it ain’t necessarily so. God doesn't play by our rules – his are the one's that count, the rules are the rules of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus reminded us, do you remember the story? The wheat and the weeds would grow up together. Rejoice with those who rejoice! BUT weep with those who weep.

I look around now as, I have journied my own road of suffering and this story of Job and I wondered, in this soul making world, how is my soul shaping up? How is yours? God is an enconomist – he wastes nothing – it all matters. I have looked back on my own mission statement and come to realize God intends to make every moment of my life matter. And this is my mission and mantra – to make moments matter. The moments between the lines – the commercial breaks.

So what about you? Will you continue to grasp at prime time opportunities or will you begin to see in your own suffering, that life IS in the commercial breaks? Will you begin to READ and LIVE between the lines? It is there, after all, where you will find God.

When Days End With Why? Part 3 - God Speaks

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, "Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? "Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? "On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy? "Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, So that an abundance of water will cover you? "Can you send forth lightnings that they may go And say to you, 'Here we are'? "Who has put wisdom in the innermost being Or given understanding to the mind? "Who can count the clouds by wisdom, Or tip the water jars of the heavens, When the dust hardens into a mass And the clods stick together? "Can you hunt the prey for the lion, Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, When they crouch in their dens And lie in wait in their lair? "Who prepares for the raven its nourishment When its young cry to God And wander about without food? (Job 38:1-7 ; 34-41 NASB)

“He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!” When you sing it – do you think Santa or do you make the leap of applying that to God? His got his list and he is checking it twice after all!!!

Is he the universal Santa? A slot machine of miracles for the right amount? A confessor in the darkness? Does he even care? Or is there a better question behind our “whys?”

Do you want God or just God's gifts? It is a question at the heart of Larry Crabb's book Shattered Dream. Dr. Crabb speaks from his own experience with both cancer and his career in ministry.

Ask yourself – What are you wanting from God? (A good job? Meaning for life? Wealth? Healing?) Who taught you this? Is it Scriptural? Is it grounded firmly on God's Word?

I have been called a good man. What does that mean? In this world and in this society, what does that mean? What does it count for? My being a “good man” doesn't influence people to change behavior or even make them listen. What does it count with God? He is no score keeper – it will do no good for you to think about God that way.

If God were to be a score keeper, then it would be like the umpire this past week in the Tiger's game. No one will remember how many calls he nailed in his career or how many World Series he served in. He robbed Galaragga of the call. No matter all that God gives, we'll hold it against God – like Job's friends, the accountants – God is tracking the box scores and the tally sheet. BUT Job ain't buying it.

Job says, “God is no where to be found.” BUT he is wrong there. Job, in his suffering and grief, is stuck at Janet Hagberg calls “The Wall” in her theory of spiritual growth. Job cannot go back – the accounting method doesn't work but he is struggling before this huge “Why?” But God is more concerned about Job than he thinks – It was God who pointed Job out in the first place.

Each of his friends, has their own account and Elihu, this friend of Job, places God WAYYYYYY!! up there from us all. He says, “The Almighty, whom we can't reach, is great in power and judgment, has more than enough righteousness, and does not oppress. That is why people should fear him. He does not respect those who think they're wise." (Job 37:23-24 GW)

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. "Who is this that belittles my advice with words that do not show any knowledge about it? Brace yourself like a man! I will ask you, and you will teach me. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have such insight.
(Job 38:1-4 GW)

God doesn't come in answering but asking. Is that right? It is a bit dismissive and God pulls no punches on Job's three friends either. But asking good questions is part of teaching. Socrates used it. Rabbis were great. But another was the master....
The pharisees asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” In reply Jesus asked them, “What did Moses command you?”
A rich young man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him, “Why do you call me good.”

BUT what could God say to answer the question “Why?”
How could he explain the loss of 10 children and all that he had?
Sin? No – it doesn't fit the crime.
God's will? Then what kind of God is this? (CS LEWIS)
God shares with Job images of the mystery of creation – an intimate look at God's involvement in the details of life itself. The images show the wildness and still untamed and uncontrollable power of nature. And if a picture is worth a thousand words God said it all, “I am God and you are not.”

God is beyond our control – He is beyond our debating and definitions, our boxes and boisterous natures. The prophecy Isaiah noted God's words, “My ways are not your ways.”

But we're still only looking here at part, we're not done with Job's story and neither is God. The verses which follow move the story forward and move the questions to a better resolution of God's design. After all, God is no score keeper – God seeks something more – a depth of relationship – God didn't give Job answers – God gave himself.

And God has never stopped giving himself. In our anguish, our grief, our pain, our confusion, our betrayals, our sin – God walked among us, human like us, on the cross, he faced death like us and says, “ Here I am. Come follow me.”

Walk in His Ways

join in as we share His Word!

When Days End With Why: How low can you go?

My apologies for the delay in posting, I got sick this week and fell behind. I'm up and around again, getting ready for the weekend. I hope you all like the new design of the blog too!

Today's text:
Job 23:1-9, 16-17

When last we met, a conversation had begun between God and Satan in heaven. It would be the first of two such conversations. The results ended with Job losing all of his children, his possessions and his home. Then it progressed to where he suffered from a painful skin disease. We find Job here, with three friends coming to comfort him:
When they saw him from a distance, they didn't even recognize him. They cried out loud and wept, and each of them tore his own clothes in grief. They threw dust on their heads. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw that he was in such great pain. (Job 2:12-13 GW)

Job is alone and isolated… though it is three of his friends who sit around them. Thankfully they have enough sense to keep their mouth's shut. They make it seven days before Job finally breaks the silence. But Job's words are harsh. They are challenging and in the minds of his friends, borderline blasphemous.

A reason must exist! It has to exist! Pastor Mark Westmoreland notes “the real struggle here, the one we all fear and dread: If there is no reason, suffering is random, and no one is safe. And everything they believe is at risk.” DROWN IT! SHOUT IT DOWN! REASON IT! CONDEMN IT!A back and forth conversation begins between Job and his three friends. It is one that probes deeply into the problem of pain and suffering and where God is in the midst of it all.

In his book, A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking tells the story of A scientist who “once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever", said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"

His friends see that Job is trying to knock over their stack of turtles but the truth is Job is simply dealing with the question of “WHY?” It isn't their turtles he cares about, Job's turtles are the ones in a mess. And too often, when others are in the midst of the low lands, we try to explain the suffering of others. We find ourselves on holy, sacred ground, and for the guest, fragile ground.

I read the story of a chaplain at Scottish Rite. It is a story most of us as pastors could tell, except for the end. The chaplain was sitting with a woman who had recently experienced the death of her daughter. A friend came in to visit and tried to say something helpful: “God never gives us more than we can handle.” The mother responded, “Does that mean that if I were a weaker person my daughter would still be alive?”

When you've got it all going for you; when you're living “the dream,” there are answers that “pop-Christianity” can hand you and it will taste fine. But don't bring that stuff to the table of the one suffering or you'll likely to have a food fight.

Then Eliphaz from Teman replied to Job, "Can a human be of any use to God when even a wise person is only useful to himself? Is the Almighty pleased when you are righteous? Does he gain anything when you follow the path of integrity? Does God correct you and bring you into a court of law because you fear him? "Aren't you really very wicked? Is there no end to your wrongdoing? (Job 22:1-5 GW)

Admit it Job – You are a sinner, you've done something to deserve it! And Job in essence says, “Maybe I am, but God went a bit overboard don't you think?!?!”

Job is alone in the crowd. Alone in his suffering. Have you ever felt that? Hear the words again of Walter Wangerin who said, “The one for whom Why has no answer is even further isolated by those for whom Why has no interest.”

You can talk about it, explain it, reason it out but you can't MAKE anyone take interest in asking why. I can't do that today but I can tell you I have asked why and because I have talked with you, and I have lived life long enough, I know that many of you, if you aren't now, have asked why? And the answer/answers or lack of anyone who cared left you hollow – like Job – alone in the crowd.

But not alone.

Following Jesus' teaching, John tells us in 6:66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. Mark gives us this simple statement to remind us that at Jesus' arrest: “...they all left Him and fled. (Mark 14:50 NASB)” That meant Peter - “The Rock” and John, “the disciple Jesus loved.”

Throw your pity party all day long but you need to know, there will always be a guest in the corner. I love the way Author, Anne Lamott, described her coming to faith in Jesus as something like a stray cat following her home. Finally, she opened the door and said in essence, “Fine, you can come in.” Will you let him?

In times of suffering we often hear Paul's words saying, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 NASB)” They ring hollow until we remember that those words were written by a beaten, bloody man alone in a prison cell.

It doesn't mean it is fun or something to look forward to but it does mean NO SUFFERING goes on that God cannot redeem. By faith, Job stands his ground asking for meaning to his “Why?” The question is will you?

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