Strong-Willed for God

Proverbs 22-24

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If you are just jumping in now, I have been pulling out a few lines in Proverbs that stand out to me, but I encourage you to do the same – you will likely find different ones!

22:6 Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

My mom always tells these horror stories from when I was a young child about how I was a nightmare to deal with (I’m sure she exaggerates…), but that didn’t mean that she just accepted it.  She tells me she prayed and asked that God would turn my stubborn, strong-willed self to be stubborn and strong-willed for God.  I can’t say that I have done a perfect job, but I know I am thankful for the prayers my mom said.  I don’t hit people in anger anymore (or throw whatever is in my hand across the room when I get mad).  Though I sometimes struggle to stay on fire for God, I am trying to do what I can to stay faithful through it.  The attribute of being strong-willed has been put to use in staying steadfast even when I go through times of struggle.   If you are the child who was raised in the faith and is still in it, thank your parents!  If you are someone who has children or plans to someday, keep this in mind.  It starts young.

23:4-5 Saying 8

4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

Finding a balance between providing for life and accumulating wealth can be difficult.  Most of us want to have nice things in life, but it can consume us.  That first line stands out to me – “Do not wear yourself out to get rich;” If I am so focused on work that I am worn out everyday, or don’t have time to spend with my family, I don’t think that is right.  Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of other places in the Bible that tell us we should be hard workers and not to be lazy (see next section), but overworking yourself just to gain wealth doesn’t feel right.  You might not be able to get everything you want, but learning to be content with what you have is for the better.  Contentedness is something I have been working on the last few months. What I have is enough.

24:30-34

30 I went past the field of a sluggard,
past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
31 thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
32 I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
34 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.

Being lazy leads to an inability to thrive.  We have to find that balance of hard work, but not letting it consume us to where gaining possessions becomes our sole focus.  How are your priorities?  Where is God on that list?

We are moving out of Proverbs tomorrow, so enjoy these little bits of wisdom!

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+22-24&version=NIV

 

Tomorrow we jump from Proverbs (many of Solomon’s writings) to 1 Kings 5-6 and 2 Chronicles 2-3 to read some of the events of King Solomon’s life and reign.  We return to the rest of Proverbs next week on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan.

Contentment and So Much More

Proverbs 30

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The author of this proverb, Agur, begins by belittling his understanding. The irony is that his words hold great wisdom. He is not bragging about his knowledge and understanding. He is declaring the LORD our God as unfathomably great. He asks six questions, five of which identify the power of God. The sixth is prophetic of the yet unborn son of God, Jesus. Additionally, his understanding of the perfection of God’s word and the refuge it provides us is astounding. This is a man of great wisdom who humbly recognizes his insignificance before God which in itself makes him all the more wise.

He then focuses on two requests of God; honesty and contentment. He asks that falsehoods and lies be kept far from him. He provides a variety of ways in which lies and deception can bring curses down upon our heads. They destroy our relationships and cause us to spiral ever further from the God who loves us. Entwined in these illustrations are lessons of being satisfied with what we have. Appreciating that our needs are met and being content with that is not easy when there is often so much more that we want. God provides for our needs, the author acknowledged this. Everything beyond our needs comes from our desires which are, more often than not, borne of our sinful natures.

Agur then contrasts contentment with greed. First pointing to leeches which will gorge themselves beyond their needs. Then he personifies four things which are never satisfied. Two of these are actually life-giving; the womb and land. These are bookended by destructive examples; the grave and fire.

Verse seventeen seems oddly out of place and more than a little disturbing. It actually goes with the theme of honesty. The person suffering such a creepy fate has been dishonest in action and words with their family, and likely with everyone else in their life. Ultimately they will be alone and everything they had will be scattered among the people around them.

How do the eagle, snake, ship and couple fit together? Is this what Agur did not understand? I doubt it. Each of these examples can be seen as somewhat mysterious in what path they will take. The eagle is not limited in the great expanse of the sky just as there are few obstacles that the snake could not overcome. Without a rudder and someone to steer, the ship would be tossed at the whim of the sea just as the whims of men and women often make courtship, that is dating for all those not familiar with the term, tumultuous. So how does this fit in with what Agur is trying to convey? It goes back to his self-proclaimed ignorance of, well, everything but specifically of God’s ways and will.

And then we get back to a verse that makes us scratch our head. The mention of the adulteress is actually an example of someone who is neither content with their relationship or dealing honestly with others. Additionally, she is completely without remorse as she sees nothing wrong with her actions. My prayer is that none of us would get caught up in this specific type of behavior but even more so that we would be remorseful of any actions that we take or words that we use which hurt others.

Up until verse 21, Agur has been consistent with themes of God’s power and majesty, honesty, and contentment. Somewhat enigmatic but consistent nonetheless. Beginning with verse 21 though he expands his words of wisdom. First to include the injustices of the world or what he refers to as four things by which the earth cannot bear. Of the four examples the first and last are of one who is raised to a higher position, likely without the benefit of knowledge or understanding of their responsibilities. This type of unfair promotion can lead to disaster in most cases. It is not uncommon though to see someone with little knowledge of how to manage situations or how to lead people placed in a high position. Additionally it is a warning to us not to seek after something we are not prepared or equipped to handle. I guess that goes back to one of the main ideas as well, contentment.

Agur then reminds us that wisdom and understanding are not reserved for anyone. Young and old, big and small may seek after these great treasures. His specific examples are of course of the small creatures and the wisdom found in how they act. The contrast however is of larger creatures and their “stately bearing.” The imagery used is of pride and arrogance. Perhaps a reminder of humility in our own positions, whatever they may be. Given how this proverb concludes that would certainly seem to be the final lesson.

So what have we learned from Agur, other than that he has a pretty cool name? Humility is greatly valued, especially in light of our amazing God’s power. He was in awe of the gift of God’s word that has been given to all men. He esteemed honesty and contentment as the greatest gifts to request from God. And he reminds us that it is not our age or size that matters but our willingness to seek after wisdom that counts.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

What Do You Owe?

Proverbs 6

Proverbs 6 23 NIV

This chapter can be broken into two sections.  The first section is about how we deal with situations where we owe something to someone.  Some of you may be thinking that you don’t owe anything to anyone, and you have not offered a security for what someone else owes, so this doesn’t apply to you.  That is good, but remember it is unlikely you will go through life without owing anything, so be prepared.

So, how do we deal with owing someone?  Verses 3 and 4 say:

So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go—to the point of exhaustion—
and give your neighbor no rest!
Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.

 

We need to work hard to free ourselves.  We need to repay what we owe as quickly as possible.  We also need to repay this through honest measures.  Verses 16-19 talk about this:

 

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17         haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18         a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19         a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

These verses by themselves are good wisdom, but don’t seem to have anything to do with owing someone.  However, in the context of working hard to repay what we owe, it could be tempting to scheme, or cheat our way out of what we owe.  Doing this would cause us to do at least one of the things God hates.  So, when we owe anything, we need to take responsibility for it , and work hard and honestly to pay it back as quickly as possible.

The chapter then transitions to talking about adultery.  This seems to be an abrupt transition to me, and I thought about that for a while.  Then, I thought of the 10 commandments, and specifically Exodus 20:17:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

So, both parts of this really come back to wanting what we don’t have.  We borrow to get what we don’t have, and adultery comes from wanting what we don’t have.

Acting on either of these will cause us trouble, but the problems caused by adultery will be much greater.  Verses 30-33 show this:

People do not despise a thief if he steals
to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.
31 Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold,
though it costs him all the wealth of his house.
32 But a man who commits adultery has no sense;
whoever does so destroys himself.
33 Blows and disgrace are his lot,
and his shame will never be wiped away.

 

I think the chapter really shows the perils of not being content with what we have.   We can be content with everything we have in live because God is always with us as stated in Hebrews 13:5:

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”

 

Andrew Hamilton

Preach it!

2 Timothy 4

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Several years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to accompany my husband to Rome on one of his business trips.  It was amazing.  Being in the city that received Paul’s letter to the Romans thousands of years ago.  Seeing the ruins that date back to the time of Paul.  Walking on the ancient stone road that has led into town for many, many centuries – most likely the very road that Paul travelled.  Even standing at the doors of the Mamertine Prison which housed Roman prisoners awaiting execution which very well may have been the last known address for Paul, as he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7).  It makes you think about your own fight – your own race – your own faith.

 

For, whatever cell he was writing from – Paul faced death knowing he had been faithful – not perfect, but faithful.  He was now more than ever looking forward to, “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8).  He was content with how he had spent his life serving Christ, even with the persecutions and ultimate death it was to bring. Now, he looked forward to Jesus’ return – on that day!

 

I want to have that same assurance and that same contentment.  And, I want that for you, too.  And for those who will go after us.  Paul, too, was thinking ahead – not only for himself – but for those who would remain fighting the fight, running the race and keeping the faith.  And so he was passionate about having Timothy prepared and encouraged and strengthened to, “Preach the Word: be prepared in season and out of season, correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”  (2 Timothy 4:2).  Paul wrote of those who would be forsaking truth to follow their own desires and what their “itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).  Sadly, there are a lot of itching ears today and truth is too often abandoned in exchange for what is politically correct, socially acceptable or just plain convenient and selfishly desired.

 

Do you still have life in you – then fight like Paul fought – for the sake of Christ.

Do you still have a race to run – then run like Paul taught Timothy to run – for the spiritual lives of others.

Do you still have faith – then keep it, grow it, and pass it on!

 

Longing for His Appearing,

Marcia Railton

 

 

 

It’s always a pleasure writing on God’s Word with you – but for the rest of this week I will be passing on the torch to my daughter Makayla who will be writing 3 days on the book of Titus.  Stay tuned.  Stay faithful!

A Legacy?

eccles 5 10

Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

Do not be surprised if you lose the fruits of your labor to a higher authority. Solomon lays out a hierarchy of power and thus was born the phrase, “there is always a bigger fish.” Well I doubt that phrase came from Solomon but you get the picture. Some actually use verses 8-9 of chapter five to say that Solomon did not write this book, that he would never paint his own rule in such a poor light. Have these people ever read the rest of the Bible? It is full of people acting stupid and not sugar coating it. They fully disclose the heights of their idiocy because they were compelled to write the truth. Solomon may have been generalizing but we see in 1 Kings 12 how the Israelites demand Rehoboam to reduce their oppression, to lighten their load. This suggests that Solomon’s governors made financial demands of the people in order to support Solomon’s extravagant lifestyle. So I am thinking that his government was not excluded from this ugly truth.

But what did his wealth gain him? What does it gain anyone? The covetous are characterized as never satisfied. The more they have, the more they want. They never have enough. It is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with water using a teaspoon with a hole in it. Additionally, the more you have the more avenues by which you could lose it. When one suddenly comes into a large sum of money they instantly find themselves surrounded by relatives that they never knew existed. It is no wonder that Solomon says there is no sleep in the abundance of a rich man. Between striving for more and keeping an eye on what you have to protect, it sounds like a miserable life to me. Solomon argues that the only results for increased wealth for a covetous person are increased anxiety and increased vigilance, not increased enjoyment.

All of this striving is meaningless! You chase after it and you protect it yet it could be the very reason you lose your life. And if all of that did not suck enough, Solomon realized that you cannot take any of it with you when you die. We all enter the world with nothing and we all leave it with nothing. The realization of this can cause great “frustration, affliction, and anger.”

But Solomon realized that God gives us life and labor and the fruits that each produces. God also gives us something that we cannot find anywhere else, true joy! This is a gift from God: that He enables us to enjoy the fruits of our labors and to be happy in our work. He grants us contentment as nothing else on earth can. However, he warns us that God can provide the materials but not grant the ability to enjoy them. It is a blessing from God, a gift, not a right or guarantee.

Solomon pities the one who does not know joy from their work. He characterizes it as a life devoid of meaning. And yet there numbers are great. So many have appetites that are never satisfied. Constantly searching, impatiently looking for something new, something better or something that is not certain. In contrast “what the eyes sees” is at hand. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” never made sense to me until I read this. (Go ahead and get the “nothing makes sense to you” jokes out of the way now.) Ready to continue? Good. This continues Solomon’s theme that is woven throughout the book; that of being content with what God has blessed us with.

Solomon ends the chapter with a number of questions, all of these point to the One True God. He created the universe and every living creature. He has blessed us above all the rest of creation. Blessed us with an awareness of our Creator and knowledge of the promise of salvation for those who come to Him through His son Jesus. He knows what was, what is, and what will be. He alone is the Almighty, the All-powerful God Yahweh. None can stand against Him and none can hope to change His mind with many words. He knows what is good and He has revealed this to us through His word and the life, ministry, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

All of this points to the gift from God who enables us to enjoy our works and that which we have produced. To be content with what we have and not striving after the hollow and decaying things of this world. This is the legacy that we have access to. To draw closer to God through His son and see every moment and circumstance of this life as a blessing. To enjoy life and labor with gladness in our hearts.

To be continued …

Jeff Ransom

Stand in Awe of God

Eccles 4 4 (1)

Ecclesiastes 4:1-5:7

Solomon, as cheerful as ever, writes about what he witnessed around him; the tears of the oppressed, power on the side of the oppressor, and no comfort for the oppressed. Who are the oppressed today, in our world, our country, our community? People are oppressed based on ethnicity, religious beliefs, economic status, gender, you name it. Some appear to less oppression than others but it is an illusion. We are all subjugated to one great oppressor, sin! Solomon rightfully says that we have no comforter … here on earth at least. He reminds us to look at what role we each play in the oppression of others for we cannot be a comfort if we are part of the problem, whether we realize it or not.

The dead! The dead are free from oppression … and happiness … and joy … and living. Peter wrote that it is only those who trust in God that may see the good that can come out of suffering. Thank you Peter for being a ray of sunshine! He says this though because we have a hope in Jesus of an eternity where sorrow and suffering will be no more. Peter was, as we are, on the other side of the cross so to speak so we have a better understanding of the impermanence of this life and its troubles and of the future promise of life in the coming kingdom.

But for today, greed and envy are tremendous motivators for oppression. When people strive for more wealth and power they rarely care for who gets pushed aside, trampled on or abused. It is a grabbing after that which will only give momentary happiness. Solomon suggests that it is better to have one handful with tranquility. … Yeah I read that and did not get it at first either. He is saying that we should not over reach or overextend ourselves. His wisdom guides us to be content with what we have, with what God has provided.

In chapter four Solomon gives two examples. The first is of a rich man whose insatiable thirst for more isolated him to the point that he had no partnership. He did not share with anyone and one day realized the immensity of that loneliness. In contrast, Solomon commends sharing in relationship. There are advantages in this as he points out. In companionship we find greater profit, a good return from our labor. We are able to help one another in difficult times when we are together. He pities those who have no one to help them when they fall. Together we can provide each other with comfort but there is no one to comfort the selfish and greedy. Companionship also affords greater protection when facing dangers. He goes further with that by saying that two is good but three is even better.

The second example is that of a poor but wise youth who succeeds the foolish king. He comes from nothing and it is implied that he was imprisoned at one point. But he rose to power and everyone followed him. He had it all! In time the people grew tired of him and he lost everything. All of his striving after money, power, and adoration was ultimately meaningless. It all comes and goes like the wind.

You might look at the opening verses of chapter five as advice or instruction on proper worship, the proper attitude, appropriate practice of prayer, and the respectful payment of vows. The reality though is Solomon is warning against straining our relationship with God. He warns against making rash vows. Rash vows become the “sacrifice of fools” and the “speech of a fool”. He advises us to be thoughtful before coming to God with an oath or vow. To consider our own limitations and our motivations. We ought to weigh all things against God’s word so that we know that it is good according to His perfect will. “What is the big deal about making vows?” A vow is a promise and for the God who always keeps His promises, breaking our promise is detestable to Him.

Whether facing oppression or battling against the sins of greed and envy, trying to stay humble enough to be content with what we have or avoiding quick words and rash vows, Solomon always returns to our Creator God. ”Therefore stand in awe of God”, trust in Him and His providence. In awe of Him rather than standing in awe of ourselves. Then we can face the troubles and strife with great endurance. Then we can rise above our baser nature. We can find contentment and dare I say … meaning!

To be continued …

 

Jeff Ransom

 

Happiness vs. Joy

Joy

Joy is the foundation for a positive life.  Our world lacks joy and has way too much fear, worry, discouragement, and depression these days.  We need to fully trust God and have joy even in the hard moments and seasons of life. It we are not fully trusting our Father, then we will never be able to experience pure joy.

Biblical joy, the true joy, comes from filling the spiritual void with good relationships, mostly the intimate relationship with the One who is pure joy.  Jesus put it this way: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5). That fruit includes much joy!

The Bible speaks much more often of joy than of being happy. “Hap” means chance and is the root of several words— happen, happening, haphazard (dependent on mere chance), hapless, happenstance (a chance circumstance) and happy.

Happiness is a glad feeling that depends on something good happening. God wants you to experience happy times (as long as God approves of what is happening). But His greater desire is that you have unconditional joy. Jesus said His joy would “remain in you” and “your joy no one will take from you” (John 15:11; John 16:22).

Think of joy as a strong foundation that supports a variety of healthy emotions, including happiness. The long-range evidence of joy is general gratitude, contentment, optimism, a sense of freedom and other positive attitudes.

-Katie-Beth Fletcher

God’s DETEST List

Proverbs 14-16

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Wednesday, January 25

A phrase that is repeated numerous times in the Proverbs is “The Lord detests…”  It’s not just, “God doesn’t really like it very much when we ….”.   No, The Lord DETESTS!  I for one want to be far, far, far away from God’s DETEST List.  Sounds like we need some more information to know what to avoid.

— 15:8 – The Lord DETESTS the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.
— 15:9 – The Lord DETESTS the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness.
— 15:26 – The Lord DETESTS the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are pleasing to him.
— 16:5 – The Lord DETESTS all the proud of heart.  Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.

My heart sinks.   Wasn’t it just yesterday I said my PRIDE leads me to believe I am usually right.  Perhaps I am inching closer to that Detest List than I would like to admit.  And, the dangers don’t end there – there are numerous other “The Lord DETESTS” throughout the Proverbs: haughty eyes, lying tongue, hands that shed blood, a scheming heart, feet rushing to evil, a false witness, a man stirring up dissension (6:16-19), perverse hearts (11:20), acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent (17:15), and dishonest scales (20:23).  We are so comfortable with the warm and fuzzy “God of Love”, that we sometimes prefer to forget about the Lord DETESTS list.  So, while we are spending some time evaluating our mouth this week, let’s also examine our heart and deeds and attitudes and thoughts.  May we not become like the Pharisees, so proud of our “righteousness” that we lose sight of God and His many-faceted and always right –  love AND judgment.
Dear God – Help me to see myself clearly, as You see me.   Help me to grow in my understanding of You and what You desire of me.   Help me steer clear of ALL that is on your DETEST list and seek to please you always.

And, speaking of pleasing God . . . here’s just a sampling of some more great lessons from these 3 chapters of Proverbs . . .

On our Attitude

  • “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (14:30)
  • “All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.  Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.” (15:15,16)

Contentment with what you have and what comes your way.  It is well with my soul – even if I don’t have what others do or what I thought I wanted.  Enjoy the feast before you – whatever it may be.

On Patience vs. Temper  –

  • “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (16:32)
  • “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel” (15:18)
  • “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (14:29)
  • “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1)

Watching our mouth is so much easier when we learn to think before speaking.  Slow down, simmer down – it will save you, and others, a lot of grief.

On Helping the Needy –

  • “He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” (14:21)
  • “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (14:31)

How can you honor God this week with an act of kindness to the needy?
God Bless You as You Seek Him,

Marcia Railton

 

(Photo credit: photo by Bob Smerecki, found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/snapnpiks0304/10636599685)