Contentment and So Much More

Proverbs 30

Proverbs 30 8 9 NIV

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

Don’t Slip to the Default

Proverbs 11

Proverbs 11 3 NASB

Today is another comparison between the righteous and the wicked.  This time most of the comparisons are about outcomes.  Although it may already be clear, there is a relationship between wisdom and righteousness.  There is also a relationship between fools and the wicked.  Because of temptation always trying to lead us astray, fools turn towards wickedness, but it takes seeking wisdom to be righteous.

Verse 3 through 6 say:

The integrity of the upright will guide them,
But the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
But righteousness delivers from death.
The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way,
But the wicked will fall by his own wickedness.
The righteousness of the upright will deliver them,
But the treacherous will be caught by their own greed

We see that the upright or righteous person will be delivered from death.  The fool or wicked person will be destroyed.  The money, possessions or whatever else they have gained from their crooked ways cannot save them.  We see people who have gained wealth and power from all kinds of things that are not pleasing to God.   We see people that appear to have it made who are not seeking God’s wisdom.  We see righteous people who are seeking God’s wisdom go through struggles.  However, It is made very clear that no matter what people gain from their wicked ways, in the end it will catch up with them and they will be destroyed.  In the end, the righteous ones will be delivered.

Another example from this chapter is verses 24-26

24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more,
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.
25 The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered.
26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.

There are people who teach that this is specifically talking about wealth in the current time.  They say that if you give away $10.00, you will get $100.00 in return.  I don’t think that is accurate, and I don’t think it is even a great blessing compared to all the blessings that God does give us.  However, the generous man is the one who is doing what God wants, which makes it a wise decision.  The generous will be blessed.  The miser who withholds everything for himself will be cursed.  I think some of this comes in everyday life.  If someone who is generous and helpful has a problem, often people will help that person.  However, when someone who is greedy and never helps anyone else has a problem, people are unlikely to help that person.

Verses 29 and 30 say:

He who troubles his own house will inherit wind,
And the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who is wise wins souls.

The outcome of seeking Godly wisdom and following in God’s righteousness is life for themselves and for the souls they win.  We have to choose daily to seek after wisdom.  If we make no choice, foolishness and ultimately destruction are the default choice.

Andrew Hamilton

Live a Changed Life

Luke 12

Be PreparedforHis Return

In the Old Testament God set up the Jewish religious system through Moses as a way to set them apart.  By the time of Jesus the Israelites had turned away from God so many times it gets hard to count, and they had turned the law into something unrecognizable from its original intent and had given into greed, hypocrisy and selfishness.  Jesus spent much of his time on earth battling and rebuking the Pharisees who epitomized all of the flaws with the Jewish religious system of the time.  Knowing that the church will have a strong Jewish culture with these traditions and tendencies and that they will be persecuted after he is gone, Jesus gives the advice found in Luke 12.

First in Luke 12:1-3  he warns them against hypocrisy because that is the quickest way to errode the witness and testimony of the church.  Similarly for us today, if we want to reach those around us for Christ, then we have to be consistent in our actions and words.  If you are a different person on Sunday than the rest of the week, or if your friends outside of church are genuinely surprised that you are a Christian because they cannot tell by your actions, then you need to evaluate your heart.

 

Then in Luke 12:4-12 he warns them to fear God more than the world and the government and people who are persecuting them.  We are also given a promise that when we boldly stand up for Jesus despite the physical consequences he will stand up for us before God.  As believers in Jesus we cannot stand idly on the sidelines.  Now that we have the knowledge of our sin, and the fact that Jesus died for our sins and requires us to live a life set apart we have to make a choice and stand up for it every day.

 

In Luke 12:13-34 Jesus warns his disciples against greed, and being bad stewards of the things that God has given us.  Of those who are given much, much will be required.  This is true for riches as well and talents and abilities.  If we knowingly put ourselves before the Kingdom and spend all our time and talents on ourselves and buying worldly items and position and popularity then we will be held accountable for those actions.  If we are living a truly changed life for the gospel then we should be using our money and talents to further the gospel in any way we can.  If we put God first in this then he will take care of our physical needs as well.

 

Finally in the rest of the chapter he tells them to be watchful for his return, and to not grow complacent.  The entire Old Testament led up to the ministry of Jesus and everybody in Israel knew the scriptures and should have known that Jesus was the Messiah, but they did not interpret the events correctly, and their hearts were not ready.  Similarly we have been given a promise of the return of Jesus in the future and need to be always ready for his return.  We cannot grow complacent in our Christianity.  We cannot let sin creep back into our lives and we cannot allow our passion and fire for the gospel to dwindle.   We should also be familiar with the prophecies of his return so that when they start to be fulfilled we can be prepared for his return.  We do not want to miss out like many of the Israelites of Jesus’ time did.

-Chris Mattison

Still Seeking the Next Big Thing?

PROVERBS 30

Proverbs 30-8

Before writing this post, I did some research about other commentaries and devotionals from Proverbs 30.  Many writers have speculated about the author of this passage, whether Agur is a pseudonym for a known author or what wisdom this author may possess.  Most of the devotionals focus on verses 5-6: “Every word of God is flawless, he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.  Do not add to his words or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”  These verses tell us that we can confidently put our faith in the Lord and warn against tampering with His Word, the Bible.  2 Timothy 3:16-17, Numbers 23:19, Deuteronomy 12:32, and Revelation 22: 18-19 all reinforce these 2 verses in Proverbs 30.

 

When I read this chapter, however, I did not latch onto those 2 verses like most of the commentaries and devotionals I read.  I was drawn to verse 8.  “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”  As a whole, our society is never satisfied.  We are always seeking something more.  I remember talking about marriage in a psychology class, and the professor was explaining how studies have shown that one reason marriages tend to fail more often now than they used to is often because one of the spouses is seeking something more, whether that be a more attractive partner or a partner who makes more money or whatever qualifications are deemed important, rather than being content and wholly loving the current husband/wife.  We are never satisfied, always looking for the next-best thing.  Verse 8 asks the Lord for neither poverty nor riches, only what is needed for the day.  The writer isn’t seeking more.  He’s seeking to be satisfied in the Lord.  We’ve all read that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:25), and verse 9 reinforces that someone who is “full” is quick to deny the Lord.

Proverbs 30-9a

Though society tells us that we always need the newest and next-best thing, the newest iPhone, the bigger tv, the prettier woman or more handsome man—the Bible teaches us to be content with what we are given.  Our daily bread is enough.

-Megan Bryant

Caring for the Poor

Proverbs 23  (Tuesday)

Prov 23-10-11

 

 

There are two strong images that emerge in this proverb.  The first is that of moving a landmark so that it encroaches on “the field of orphans” (Proverbs 23:10).  This is most likely a reference to the Israelite practice of leaving the corners of a field for the poor to glean from (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21).  This institutionalized care for those in need meant that farmers would always leave part of their field unpicked.

 

Just like surveyors today, the properties of each person would have been laid out by various markings: large rocks, stakes, or a cairn (pile of rocks).  While there wasn’t a board or city commission the farmers could check against, a greedy farmer could slowly move a marker year after year to make their own plot larger while taking from their neighbor – or in this case, shrinking the portion of their field that is left for the poor.  Human greed to take from those who already have so little is nothing new today.  So, this proverb is a warning that if we try to steal from the orphaned and poor, we have their redeemer to answer to — God.

 

The second image comes in verse 11 and is connected to the story of Ruth.  It is the role of the “redeemer.”  In the Hebrew, this is the word Gaal or Gaw’al (spellings vary).  We might more accurately translate it as a “kinsman redeemer” like Boaz is in Ruth.  This is the person whose responsibility it is to care for family members who don’t have a means to protect themselves.  And God will not only protect them, but plead their case against us if are the ones threatening the little that they have.

 

Our God is one who jealously guards His children, even more so those who have no protector themselves.  As the people of God, this Proverb reminds us that God is one who stands as the kinsman redeemer of the poor and that it is our responsibility as part of his family to take up their cause as well.

–Graysen Pack

VOMIT!

Proverbs 26-28

fool-folly-cartoon-complete-500

Sunday, January 29

My husband Jason and I have been in youth ministry for many years and one boy who was in the youth group about 20 years ago comes to mind every time I hear his very favorite Bible verse, “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11)  What middle school boy doesn’t love a great vomit verse!  But middle school boys are not the only ones to love this proverb.  Jesus’ disciple, Peter, the Rock Jesus would build his church on showed his wisdom (and knowledge and reliance on God’s Word) when he quoted this very proverb in 2 Peter 2:22.  Peter was referring to the foolishness, and danger, of false prophets who had once been worldly, then accepted Jesus, but then, “turned their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” (2 Peter 2:21).  Just like a dog who returns to his vomit.  How disgustingly gross.  All of us have some gross vomit and worldly foolishness in our past.  What vomit in your life would you be wise to not return to?  How will you avoid turning back to your gross folly?

Another proverb that got my full attention was 28:9 – “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable”.  Look at that – God’s detest list shows up again.  And this time PRAYERS are on the list??  I thought God loved to hear us come to him in prayer with our long list of wants and occasionally a praise or thank you thrown in – who wouldn’t love that?  When in the world would prayers be detestable to God?  I don’t think I learned this in Sunday School, or Facebook for that matter.  Thankfully, Solomon (or the writer of this proverb, who was inspired to write this by God) doesn’t leave us clueless.  He says prayers are detestable IF the “prayee” doesn’t listen to the law – doesn’t abide by God’s Word.  Perhaps you have seen someone quite content totally neglecting God’s law, hands over ears, living life their own way, returning to their vomit frequently, when all of a sudden – BAM – a crisis sends them to God in prayer.  They are ready for their miracle.  And some days, I am also guilty of not being fully tuned into listening to God’s law.  And then I could become quick to blame God for not hearing my prayers and giving me the answer requested, on my time schedule of course.

The good news is, there are many prayers God does NOT find detestable.  “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”  (James 5:16).  Next time you are frustrated with a “silent” God who doesn’t seem to hear you at all, one possibility is to do a check-up on how well YOU have been listening to HIS law.  Perhaps, God is not the one with the hearing problem.

The lovely thing about the book of Proverbs is there are SO many topics and brief nuggets of truth.  Each time you read them you can see something different and new and exceedingly wise for you at whatever point you are in life (even a middle school boy) and at whatever stage you are in following God (even those not currently listening to Him.)   Dig in regularly to gain another morsel of truth and Godly wisdom.  So many pearls of wisdom in today’s chapters, with not enough time to touch on them all, but just a few more quick thoughts. . .

ON HUMILITY –      “Do you see someone wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him” (26:12)     “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips” (27:2)    –  Don’t be the proud bragger.  No one likes the proud bragger.

ON CONFESSION –    “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)     –   God’s not looking for perfect people, just ones willing to ask for forgiveness and turn from their sins.

ON GREED & GIVING –   “A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.”  (28:25)     “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.” (28:27)     –   Greed does not bring about the prosperous life intended – but giving does.

God Bless You as you Listen to His Law,                                                                                              Marcia Railton

(Photo credit: cartoon by Elgin Bolling.  Maybe a little posted reminder would help you steer clear of revisiting your vomit/folly.  You can go to the ministry-to-children website to color your own black and white version of the dog cartoon above created by Elgin Bolling.  Just go to http://ministry-to-children.com/fool-and-his-folly-proverbs-26-cartoon/)

Even When it Hurts or Doesn’t “Make Sense” (2 Kings 4-5)

Sunday, November 6

naaman80

There are so many interesting stories and characters and lessons in today’s two short chapters, but here’s a few nuggets that strike me as extremely valuable.

First, there is the wisdom of the widow who faced debt collectors who were going to sell her two sons (her only assets) as slaves.  What a devastating predicament!  She did indeed feel like she had NOTHING.  But she went to a source of Godly wisdom and strength (Elisha), opened her eyes to what she did have (oil), and carefully followed Elisha’s directions – even when it was unclear how this was going to solve her problem.  As it turns out, the size of the miracle God blessed her with was in direct proportion to how much she prepared for a miracle. If she had left Elisha mumbling about how this didn’t seem like useful advice at all, such a waste of time, grumbling about feeling foolish going door-to-door asking for jars, and decided to ultimately just get 2 or 3 jars to give it a try – just enough to be a little obedient – her sons may well have been sold.  Skimping by, just doing the minimal and hoping for the best doesn’t lead to results that glorify God.  Even in a crisis situation – seek Godly wisdom, open your eyes to what you DO have, and throw yourself “all in”as you follow God’s direction – and be prepared to watch for God’s miracles.

The story of Naaman delivers more nuggets.  There was the foreign army commander who humbles himself, follows directions from a Godly prophet even when those directions didn’t appear to make sense.  He receives healing as well as the revelation that “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15).  There was also the greedy scheming and lies that turned Elisha’s right-hand man, Gehazi, into a leprous outcast who brought this curse on all of his descendants.  His greed didn’t get him the spoils he was thinking it would.  AND, perhaps my personal favorite – the young Israelite slave girl who remembered God and continued to believe in God’s almighty power and work through His prophets – even though her life had personally seen many heartaches at a young age (stolen from her homeland and made a slave in a foreign land).  Rather than trashing God and becoming sullen and bitter towards God and her foreign master – she shows compassion for her master and courage in speaking up and becomes a witness that leads Naaman to a miracle of healing  and the worship of the One True God.  It appears her trials had put her right in the place God wanted to use her.  May we handle our adversities as well – remaining faithful to the faithful God.  Be a witness of His power and love which just might lead someone else to healing and a new-found belief in Yahweh.

By Marcia Railton