proverbs

Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99

Today’s readings are Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99.

This devotional is about Proverbs 27:22: “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them.”

Why do some people make a bad decision once and learn from it while others make the same bad decision many times? The answer is that the one who learns from their bad decisions is on the path to wisdom. Wisdom comes from fearing the Lord and humbly accepting rebuke--either from God or from friends (vv. 5-6, 17) or from the consequences that bad decisions inevitably bring.

The wisest person believes what God’s word says and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade A Wisdom.” This person does not try to test God’s word by making moral choices that are against what it says. Instead, he or she obeys God’s word because they believe it to be true. This person will avoid many heartaches and problems simply because they believed God. In this case, God’s word provides the rebuke in advance and teaches the wise person not to give into that sinful desire of his or her heart. Nobody does this perfectly; after all, we’re all sinners. But God’s grace allows some people to sin less than others because they wisely believe and obey God’s commands.

A step below the wisest person is the person who watches the decisions made by others, notices whether the outcome is good or bad, and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade B Wisdom.” This person learns from the mistakes/misdeeds of others and avoids many heartaches and problems as a result. In other words, the rebuke is the life and consequences that others who live immorally produce. The person with “Grade B Wisdom” believes that the bad consequences that follow the sinful choices of others will come to him or her if they make the same sinful choice.

Next we have the person who sins--either because they are ignorant of God’s commands and the bad outcomes others have or because they ignore the sources of rebuke from “Grade A” and “Grade B” wisdom. This person learns wisdom by experience. They experience the consequences and pain of their sins and, at that point, choose to believe and act differently in the future as a result.

Finally, we have the fool. He’s got “Grade F ‘wisdom’” which is equivalent to straight up folly. This person does whatever he wants, regardless of whether or not God has commanded against it or others have experienced the pain that comes from it. This person believes that he is some kind of exception. While God’s word may be true for everyone else, he or she will not be hurt by their sins like everyone else is. And, if this person sins once and pays the price for it, they believe it is an anomaly so they sin again expecting a different result. Proverbs 27:22 addressed this kind of person. It says that you can try as many ways as you want or as often as you want to drive the folly out of a fool, but “you will not remove their folly from them” even if you “grind a fool in a motar.” This person learns nothing from anyone--not God’s word, not the mistakes and misdeeds of others, and not even from their own experiences.

A few years ago, someone was planning an unwise, sinful action and several of us spoke to him about it. We pleaded with him not to do what he intended to do. This encounter was not our first with this person. I had personally witnessed him disregarding his parent’s instructions, even though he was warned. When that decision got him in trouble, he tried to sin his way out of it again even though I and others urged him not to. Finally, when I heard of this person’s plans to sin again, I told him: “Haven’t you learned anything from your experience? You sin, it gets you into trouble, so you sin more to try to get yourself out of it.” Our rebuke did not work. Showing him scripture, did not change his actions. Pleading with him to at least try a different path fell on deaf ears. This person was determined to prove God’s word right not by obeying it to avoid trouble but by disobeying it, making their own sinful, selfish choices. He thought he was an exception to the rule; I think he made a foolish choice that would hurt him, just as God’s word said.

Are you one who accepts good confrontation or someone who argues or ignores it? Few people like to confront others and nobody enjoys being confronted. A wise person, however, will accept rebuke--from God’s word, from the experience of others or from their own experiences--and change course. Is that you? Or will you keep making morally foolish decisions despite God’s clear commands or the pain that results?

God is gracious and merciful but not to the fool. He is gracious and merciful to those who accept rebuke and repent, changing their minds and choosing a different path. If you’re on an unwise path, please let these verses turn your thinking. Don’t be a fool.

Leviticus 7, Proverbs 22, Psalm 94

Today we’re reading Leviticus 7, Proverbs 22, Psalm 94.

This devotional is about Proverbs 22:9. It is a repost from NT17.

Many people--most of us, probably, at some point in our lives--live under the delusion that more stuff or better stuff will make us happy. We think that nicer clothes, or a new car, or a house in a better neighborhood, or just some more spending money to go out when we want is what we need. We think that money is the antidote to worry because if we had the money, we wouldn’t have to worry if the car breaks down. Or, we think that spending is the cure for boredom because dinner and a movie sounds better than leftovers and reruns.

One symptom of our materialism is stinginess. The person who wants more and better stuff has a hard time giving anything to someone else because each dollar spent on others is one less that could go toward that new iPhone.

Proverbs 22:9 urges us to reconsider. It says, “The generous will themselves be blessed....” Being “blessed” means being “prospered” in the loosest sense of the word “prosper.” Sometimes that blessing is material prosperity. The Bible tells us that the things we have and the money that comes into us is God’s blessing in our lives. Other times, though, being “blessed” in scripture refers to the joy or contentment that only God can give. That joy or contentment is usually distinct from our circumstances. There poor people with joy and wealthy people who are miserable. There are people who are ill or aging or who have experienced many problems in life who live each day happily as a gift from God. Likewise, there are some very bitter, unpleasant people who have only first-world problems. This verse told us that those who are generous will be blessed in some way. Is that blessing the blessing of joy or is it the blessing of material prosperity?

The last half of verse 9 may hold the answer. It says that they generous will be blessed “for they share their food with the poor.” This phrase gives the reason why God blesses them. Because they share with others, God shares blessings with them. But what if sharing “food with the poor” IS the blessing? In other words, what if the blessing God gives to the generous is the joy of helping others? What if God is telling us that there is a blessing built in to generosity because it triggers gratitude in those who have their needs met by your gift? What if God wants us to know that within every poor person there is a potential relationship that your generosity might unlock?

If you have no needs, no threats, no real problems in your life but you lack real joy, it’s time to open up your wallet and start sharing. When you share your time serving others in need and spend your money on those who don’t have it, you might find joy like you’ve never experienced before. Take this truth statement and think about how to apply it in your life; the result might make you happier than you can possibly imagine because it will make a real, meaningful difference in someone else’s life.

Leviticus 1, Proverbs 17, Psalm 89

Here are your readings for today: Leviticus 1, Proverbs 17, and Psalm 89.

This devotional is about Proverbs 17:9: “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”

If someone sins against you or hurts you, even unintentionally, it is wise to speak to that person and resolve the issue directly, in person. Jesus commanded us to seek reconciliation with anyone who might have an issue with us (Matt 5:23) and with anyone who has sinned against us (Matt 18:15). So remaining silent about problems in our relationships is not a biblical way of dealing with those problems. Sometimes we tell ourselves that something shouldn’t bother us or that “it’s no big deal.” Sometimes we may forget but more often the problem simmers and produces resentment and distrust. There is no virtue in hiding problems; in fact, they usually resurface later and with greater intensity when we can’t take it any more.

So what do we make of Proverbs 17:9a, “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense”? On the face, it appears that Solomon is telling us not to deal with issues directly. But Proverbs are designed so that the first line is clarified by the second line. Sometimes that clarification comes by contrast, other times clarification consists of just a restatement of the first line. Given that, Proverbs 17:9b says, “....but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” This phrase suggests that “covering over an offense” in the first line refers to telling others--friends, family, or other third parties--not the person who sinned.

In other words, I interpret this Proverb to be teaching that, once a matter has been dealt with, you drop it and never talk about it with anyone else. That is, if someone sins against me or hurts me in a way that causes me resentment, I deal with that biblically by speaking directly to that person to try to resolve it. Once it is resolved--or even if it isn’t but I’ve tried my best--then the best course of action is not to tell anyone else about the incident. Verse 9b says, “whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” to remind us of the destructive power of gossip. It is so much easier to complain about someone else than it is to speak directly to that person and resolve problems biblically, but it is only “easier” until the damage is done.

How much better would your relationships be if you dealt with problems directly and biblically?

Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, Psalm 87

Today’s readings are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, and Psalm 87.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:4.

The words that come out of our mouths are clear, direct expressions of what is in our heart. Jesus said so (Matt 12:34) and my experience shows that it is true. What you say reflects what you think about, how you look at the world, where your trust is, what you value, and what you desire.

But words have more power than merely revealing what is inside of us. In fact, the right words can change a person’s heart. Proverbs 15:4a says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life.” The “tongue” in this verse, of course, is a literary way of describing someone’s words. Those words are described as “soothing.” Who needs to be soothed? An angry person, a heartbroken person, and anyone else who is troubled. Soothing words to a troubled heart are described here in Proverbs 15:4 as “a tree of life.” This is another figure of speech that harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where the Bible tells us there was a “tree of life” in the Gard of Eden that would give eternal life to anyone who ate its fruit. When Solomon said here in Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life” he is telling us that words can be life-giving to someone who is troubled. The right words have the power to turn the thinking (repentance), feeling, or decision making of someone who is angry or someone who is hurting or anyone else who is troubled.

In contest, the other half of Proverbs 15b says, “but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” The word “perverse” describes words that are twisted morally. Solomon is describing speech that is sinful--critical, angry, unthankful, inappropriate, or twisted in some other way. This kind of talk “crushes the spirit,” indicating its affect on someone’s internal meaning-maker--the way they think and feel about the world. When are troubled and receive criticism or bad advice, it hurts us both in the sense that it causes us pain and points us in a bad direction.

This Proverb gives us an opportunity to think about the power of words to change a person’s life. First of all, your own words to yourself about God or yourself can either bring life or crush your spirit. This is one of many reasons why we need to read God’s word daily and apply it ourselves.

A second application of this Proverb has to do with how we speak to others who are troubled. The right words can be life-giving to troubled heart that trusts God but is hurting. Job found that with his friends and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. When you see others hurting, do you think about what you might say that can bring life into their troubled situation or at least point them to God, the source of life?

Finally, where do we go when we are hurting? Do we go to God’s word? Do we seek prayer, advice, or comfort from people who love God? Do we turn within where our self-talk can be self-defeating? Do we turn to unwise people who will encourage us to seek revenge or who will say things that make us even more discouraged?

Words reflect who we are on the inside but they also have the power to change us on the inside, too. Respect the power of words and learn to use them in a way that gives life to yourself and others.

Exodus 38, Proverbs 14, Psalm 86

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Exodus 38, Proverbs 14, and Psalm 86.

This devotional is about Proverbs 14:2, 16, 26, 27.

Fear is feeling that motivates people to act in ways that other things do not. You may love America, for example, but I’ll bet you pay your taxes more because you fear being prosecuted than because you love America. These verses are linked by the concept of the “fear of the Lord.” The first two of them describes about how the fear of the Lord motivates people to do what is right:

14:2: “Whoever fears the Lord walks uprightly....” 14:16: “The wise fear the Lord and shun evil....”

We often hear that “fearing the Lord” doesn’t mean being afraid of God but rather having a sense of “reverential awe” toward him. Reverential awe is good but there is more to fearing God than just being in awe of him. Someone who fears God is reverent because of who God is personally but a God-fearing person also respects his role as Lord and judge. Fearing God does not mean serving him because he’s angry and we’re terrified of being annihilated at any moment for doing or saying the wrong thing. It does mean, however, that we submit to his authority to make the rules and we obey the rules because we believe in him and all that he is, including that he is just. Verses 2 and 16 tell us that this kind of proper fear of the Lord causes someone to do right (“walks uprightly”) and avoid doing wrong (“shun evil”). These are the consequences when someone fears God.

Verses 26 and 27 show us, however, that fearing God is not negative at all; it is positive. Verse 26 says that fearing the Lord provides a person with “a secure fortress” and verse 27 says that it “is a fountain of life.” When you believe in God as the Bible presents him, it brings security (v. 26) and blessings such as joy and purpose to your life (v. 27). Why is that true? Because sin is dangerous! Verse 27 says that the fear of the Lord turns “a person from the snares of death.” Sin kills but fearing God will help you avoid it.

We need God’s grace to fear him and to live obediently because we fear him. That means extending grace, of course, to others who truly fear God but still give into the desires of the sinful nature within. But, please understand, we do ourselves and our loved ones no favors at all when we act like sin is no big deal because God’s grace in Christ covers it all anyway. Sin is a big deal! The wages of it “is death” (Rom 6:23). When we rebuke someone who is sinning because we fear God, we are not trying to cut them down personally; we’re trying to save them from the destructive effects of sin. If you’ve ever had a loving friend step in and help you avoid or extricate yourself from sin, you know what a blessing that is. Until we are fully redeemed by God (at death or Christ’s return), we are vulnerable to the deceptive lives of our sin nature, the world, and the devil. But if we fear God and his discipline in our lives, it will help us avoid sin and find the fountain of life Solomon described in v. 27.

Exodus 37, Proverbs 13, Psalm 85

Today we’re reading Exodus 37, Proverbs 13, Psalm 85.

This devotional is about Proverbs 13:7: “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.”

Two of the best books I’ve ever read about personal finance were written by the late Thomas Stanley. They are The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind. Stanley was a research professor who studied millionaires in America. He found that most millionaires did not come from wealthy families. Instead, they acquired wealth by owning their own business or businesses and being frugal with the money they made. They were far more likely to drive Ford F-150s than any make or model of sports car or luxury car.

In one of the books (I think it was The Millionaire Next Door) Stanley quoted a millionaire he had interviewed as part of his research. This man was a Texan and had a phrase to describe people who drove expensive cars and wore expensive clothes. That phrase was, “Big hat; no cattle.” The image is of a man who thinks he’s a cowboy because he wears a big cowboy hat but he’s not a cowboy because he’s got no cattle. A “big hat; no cattle” person, then, spends like he’s wealthy but, in part because he spends so much, he has very little actual wealth.

Thousands of years before “Big hat; no cattle,” was first spoken, Solomon observed the same truth. Here in Proverbs 13:7, he warns us to beware of appearances when it comes to wealth. On one hand, “One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing.” This is able to project the appearance of wealth by spending money on expensive items. While he or she may have excellent taste in fashion, they have little to nothing in actual assets because they don’t make enough money to both save money and buy expensive luxury brands. Car leases with low monthly payments and easily available credit cards make the appearance of wealth easier than ever. But the fact that someone drives a BMW and wears Gucci shoes tells you nothing about that person’s actual level of wealth.

On the other side, Proverbs 13:7 says, “another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” This is the person who spends far below what he or she earns. People in this category may have a high income or an average to low income but they spend as little of it on consumer items as possible. Instead of spending everything they earn, they put the money in savings. Once they have enough saved, they look to buy assets that build wealth instead of material objects that lose wealth. Which is better--to buy a $1000 iPhone or $1000 in Apple stock? The Apple stock is not tangible or visible. It doesn’t impress your friends or new acquaintances. But, if it is a good investment (and this is not investment advice, by the way), that $1000 can grow and keep increasing in value long after the iPhone has been recycled.

People in our world make snap judgments about someone’s wealth based on the cost of what they own but, the truth is that what someone owns has nothing to do with how wealthy they are. In fact, the more they spend money, the less likely they are to be building wealth. Those who become wealthy live frugal lives, save money, and invest it well.

This passage does not commend us to be greedy; it encourages us to be wise about what we do with the money that God enables us to earn. How are your finances? Are you saving and trying to build wealth as a good manager or do you spend every dollar that comes your way? Which of the two types of people described in Proverbs 13:7 would God want you to be? How can you get there?


Here’s an article from Dr. Stanley’s blog where he wrote briefly about all of this: http://www.thomasjstanley.com/2014/05/america-where-millionaires-are-self-made/

Exodus 36, Proverbs 12, Psalm 84

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 36, Proverbs 12, and Psalm 84.

This devotional is about Proverbs 12:6: “The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them.”

This cryptic little proverb takes some thinking to make sense of. The first part of the proverb says, “The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood....” What could that possibly mean? to “lie in wait for blood” evokes the image of a hunter. The goal of a hunter or trapper is to take the life of his prey. He goes out looking for prey and hides, lying “in wait” until that animal arrives. Unaware of the danger nearby, the animal walks into the crosshairs of the hunter’s rifle or trots into the trapper’s trap. In that moment, his life ends and he becomes the trophy of the man who plotted against him. When Solomon wrote, “the words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,” he described someone who lays a trap for someone else and waits. This is a way to describe dishonest speech. It might be speech that misleads for a purpose or lies that entrap someone else. Either way, it is dishonesty that is deliberately calculated to take advantage of someone else.

What saves someone from this kind of verbal trap? The truth: “but the speech of the upright rescues them” (v. 6b). The truth leaves clues most of the time. The person whose words make the best sense of those clues is most likely to be believed. When we are dishonest, we maybe be playing into the hands of someone wicked who wants to trap us. When we tell the truth, we can escape those traps, even when we walk right to them unaware.

It is a sobering thought that there are people out there trying to use words to entrap us, but there are. Instead of being cynical about others, or becoming defensive and hyper-vigilant, just tell the truth in every situation in life. When we are always truthful, we not only save ourselves from traps, we mirror the glory of our God who IS truth. Protect yourself and glorify God by speaking the truth always and never lying.

Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, Psalm 72

Today we’re reading Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, and Psalm 72.

This devotional is about Proverbs 1.

We live in the information age. Knowledge abounds and most people carry a device in their pocket or purse that can access it. Although knowledge is readily available, wisdom is rare. People in our society know more than ever but seem to have fewer and fewer basic life skills.

The word “wisdom,” biblically speaking, at least, refers to skill. It is the skill of living a successful life according to God’s definition of success. Although I said that wisdom is rare in our society, Proverbs 1:20-21 claims that wisdom is ubiquitous---nearly as common as oxygen. To demonstrate this, Solomon imagined wisdom as if it were a woman and wrote, “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:”

If wisdom is everywhere then why is it so rare? The speech of “woman wisdom” in verse 23 tells us why: “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you....” Wisdom is rare because only the humble receive it. It takes humility to admit that you lack skills with God, with money, with other people, with the opposite sex, with career choices, with your own bad habit like laziness, etc. Most of us are too proud in one or more of the areas where we need wisdom which is why we continue to make foolish decisions.

As we read the book of Proverbs over the next 30 days, note how often the idea that your own ideas or understanding will lead you astray. That’s how our pride manifests itself. We try to figure everything out on our own, so we don’t ask God for wisdom, turn to his Word for wisdom, or seek the counsel of wise people. If we would only change our minds (v. 23: “repent”) and admit that we’re on the edge of big trouble most of the time, wisdom would be right there waiting to give us a great big kiss.

Sometimes we succeed or avoid danger / failure despite our lack of wisdom but very often our foolishness gets the better of us. But living in folly and making decisions without wisdom catches up with us most of the time. The reason is that there are built-in effects to the decisions we make. When we make wise decisions, good things happen; when we make foolish decisions, we suffer for it. Verses 25-27 promise that disaster and calamity will come to those who refuse wisdom’s rebuke. Verse 30-31 tell us that this disaster and calamity is embedded in folly; it is the direct consequences of unwise choices: “Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them....”

Wisdom is a moral thing. That’s why it starts with fearing the Lord (v. 7). God’s commands are wisdom. When we sin, we choose folly and put ourselves directly in the path of a category 5 hurricane of disaster. But our sin nature fools us into believing that we know better than God and his Word; consequently, we humans make the same foolish decisions over and over, generation after generation, never learning from foolish disasters created by those older than us. We need God’s grace to overcome our foolishness so that we can be wise. This is what we have in Christ.

Is there anything in your life right now that you need to repent of? Any sins you’ve committed or have committed that you need to change your mind about? Wisdom is begging you to do it before calamity comes. Turn toward her open arms! God’s promise to you through her is, “whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (v. 33).

Proverbs 31

Today’s reading is Proverbs 31.

Proverbs 31 is known for “The Proverbs 31 Woman,” aka the “wife of noble character,” who is described in verses 10-31. It is, of course, fair that this chapter is known for the woman described here. After all, 2/3rds of the verses in this chapter are given to describing her.

I would point out that many of the qualities described in this section are applicable to men and women. Both men and women should be:

  • beneficial to family (v. 12: “brings... good not harm”)
  • kind to the poor (v. 20)
  • hardworking (vv. 13, 15, 17, 19, 27)
  • productive (vv. 14, 16, 18)
  • prepared (vv. 21-22, 25)
  • wise (v. 26)
  • God-fearing (v. 30b)

So, when I read this passage, I see more than the description of a great woman. I see the description of what a godly life looks like when lived by a woman. You might call it a feminine portrayal of godliness or, better, a godly life applied specifically to women in daily Old Testament life.

Some of what is described here would have been considered “typical” for women in the time and situation when this was written. For instance, providing “food for her family” (v. 15b), making sure her family has warm clothing (v. 21), and watching “over the affairs of her household” (v. 27) were all considered women’s responsibilities. In many ways, they still are “typical” for women in our times.

But notice that this woman does many things which were not considered “typical” for women, especially in the Old Testament. The women described in this chapter is a first-rate businessperson according to verses 16, 18, 24. Many people who talk about the biblical role of women today don’t seem to notice this particular detail. Also, verse 26 says, “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” In a world where women were confined to an outer place in the temple and, later, to the back of the synagogue, one might not expect a woman to be wise and insightful, but she was.

Also notice that this exceptional woman is not forced to be exceptional because she is married to loser. Instead, “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (v. 23) and he “has full confidence in her” (v. 11a). The point is that this couple makes quite a team! The husband is himself faithful, hardworking, and successful but he is even more successful and resourceful because his wife takes care of business at home and even outside the home as well.

Already I have written more about this passage than I intended, but I never read it without (a) giving thanks for my wife Suzanne who fits the description in these verses and (b) thinking about what a slacker I am compared to this remarkable woman. Guys: this passage gives us a lot to think about for ourselves. Look to your own life before you start judging your wife by these words.

But please indulge me as I come to the real point I wanted to make in this devotional. It is Saturday, after all, so you probably have some extra time to read and think today. So, consider this:

The description of this woman was given in a particular context. The author of this chapter, King Lemuel (v. 1) was trying to give good life-advice to his son, presumably the future king. Lemuel prayed (v. 2b) for his son. Having received him, he urged him to be wise about how he lived his life. Lemuel’s concern was that his son would become a lazy, self-indulgent man. Because he was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” (as they say), he might live for himself. Because he was a child of wealth, power, and privilege, it would be easy for him to make bad decisions that were pleasurable in the moment. Specifically, he could get involved with women who had loose morals and low character (v. 3) and he could spend his days getting drunk (vv. 4-7).

A prince of a guy like Lemuel’s son would probably find it easy to meet beautiful girls who would do and say anything to get with him. Win the future king’s heart and she would be set for life. Likewise, guys who wanted an easy route in life would show up with booze to share with the future king in hopes that they, his drinking buddies from way back, would get high paying, low stress jobs in his administration.

So the description of the wife of noble character in this chapter, while giving us all much to aspire to, was really designed to sober up (pun kind of intended) a young man destined for leadership. It was designed to get him to be wise about his choice of spouse. Don’t look for a beautiful girl who is easy, Lemuel was saying. Look hard for one of those precious ones (v. 10) who loves the Lord (v. 30), cares about people (v. 20), will nurture her family (vv. 14-15, 21) and will be a supportive, hardworking partner with you to build a successful life (vv. 28-31).

Beauty and godliness are not mutually exclusive. But there are great looking people--both men and women--who have low moral character. If we choose a partner in life based on looks alone or based on looks and personality, we are making a serious decision based on very weak grounds (v. 30a). A well-lived life depends on forming a strong partnership with someone you’re attracted to physically who also walks with God and works with you to make the most of whatever God allows into your life (v. 30b). I think my wife is gorgeous; I always have. I was attracted to her the first time I saw her and that has not changed. But I knew plenty of attractive girls before I met Suzanne who seemed to like me but didn’t care so much for the Lord. I kept looking for a godly, wise, and gifted young woman who was also attractive to me. When I found her, I kept pursuing her until she decided she wanted to be with me. Some of the girls I knew when I was single have made good choices and built admirable lives; Lemuel acknowledged in verse 29 that there are plenty of good women out there. But this entire chapter beckons to us all—men and women--to aspire to much more than a pretty good life. It calls us to be men (vv. 1-9, 23) and women (vv. 10-31) who take life seriously as believers in God and work together as a couple to build a praise-worthy union (vv. 28-29, 31).

Are you working with your spouse on that? Or are your wasting your time in self-indulgent behavior such as mindlessly watching TV for hours, undisciplined consumption of food and/or alcohol, dabbling in sinful pleasures, and making shallow, short-term decisions? The beginning of a new year, which arrives on Monday, gives us a chance to look at our lives and change them based on the wisdom we find in this chapter.

And, don’t forget to give your children a vision of what a well-lived life looks like. Encourage them to think about the long-term consequences of their choices in life and to make wise and godly choices.

May God use this convicting chapter as a means of grace to us, calling us to a higher way of living for his glory.

Proverbs 30

Today’s reading is Proverbs 30.

This chapter was authored by “Agur” (v. 1a) We don’t know who he is, nor does anyone recognize “Ithiel” (v. 1b), the man to whom Agur wrote.

Agur’s words in this chapter, though, show us a man who is yearning for God. He told us in verse 3 that he had not “attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.” Consequently, he was “weary” (v.1c) and lacked understanding (v. 2). In verse 4 he described the one he is looking for. Only God can gather up the wind in his hands and wrap up the waters in a cloak. Only he “has established all the ends of the earth” (v. 4d). All of this, and the parallelism that we find in poetry like these Proverbs, leads us to conclude that the one “who has gone up to heaven and come down” is also a reference to God. It is interesting, isn’t it, that when he asks God’s name he also asks, “what is the name of his son?” The phrase “who has gone up to heaven and come down” and “what is the name of his son” foreshadow the coming of Christ, whose birth we celebrate on Monday.

Verses 5-9 describe Agur’s life after he found God. He treasured the “flawless” nature of God’s word, it’s completeness (v. 6) and how he protects all who trust him (v. 5b). Instead of sin and wealth, Agur longed for God to protect him from sin (v. 8a) and from the false self-sufficiency that would come from wealth.

Although we are material beings and, therefore, need stuff to survive, what we need more than anything is God’s self-revelation and sustaining grace. Agur’s words remind us that we have nothing apart from God and that knowing him brings joy and satisfaction. These are important lessons at any time in our lives but as we give and receive gifts this Christmas, may the Lord cause us to yearn for him and find our satisfaction in his flawless words, including the “Word” incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Proverbs 27:14-27

Today we’re reading Proverbs 27:14-27.

If you leave your ice cream bowl on the counter, it will warm up to room temperature and melt. If you leave your coffee on the same counter, it will cool off to room temperature as well. Left alone, things drift toward mediocrity. That’s how the world works.

It’s also how business works. In verses 23-27, Solomon urges farmers to pay close attention to their flocks and herds (v. 23) because things that are valuable decay without routine maintenance and careful attention (v. 24).

Likewise, if you pay attention to things that are valuable and cultivate them, you will prosper (vv. 25-27). These are helpful instructions for us to consider as we come to the end of 2017. Are there areas in your life that you’ve stopped paying attention to? Anything that is drifting, coasting, lacking your attention? Whether you realize it or not, those areas are drifting toward mediocrity or worse. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that much of life is like a garden. It doesn’t need constant, intense attention, but consistent, proper attention. If something is wilting but hasn’t died yet, you can often restore it with the right kind of attention. Take a few minutes now and think about your walk with God, your personal health and growth, your family, your work, and anything else that comes to mind. What in these areas needs attention? What kind of attention and how much? Learn what “the condition of your flocks” is, then “give careful attention” to them. They will pay you back benefits in the future (vv. 25-27).

Proverbs 27:1-13

Today, read Proverbs 27:1-13.

Got any leftovers from Thanksgiving? Maybe you don’t mind eating turkey for several days in a row, but there are probably some of you reading this who would rather not eat turkey today.

This illustrates one of our proverbs for today, Proverbs 27:7: “One who is full loathes honey from the comb....” Honey was one of the best tasting treats available in the days of Solomon. There was no ice cream, or Snickers bars, or pumpkin pie. If you wanted sweets, you ate fruit or honey. But, if you’ve had too much to eat already, you’re not going to eat even a tasty treat like honey.

This is what happens to people who get everything they want. They become entitled and no longer value what they have or what is offered to them. By contrast, verse 7b says, “...but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” When someone doesn’t have much, that person has a greater capacity to enjoy what he or she receives.

Did you find it hard to feel grateful about your life this week? If so, give some thought to what you have. Earlier in your life you might have been thrilled to have the life you have now. There are probably people around you--people that you know--who look at your life and don’t understand why you are so unhappy all the time.

In an imperfect, sin-cursed world, there are always reasons to be unhappy about something. But the truth is that there are people who are much worse off than you are. If you can think about what it would be like to be “hungry” again, maybe God will use this Proverb to help you and me be grateful for what we have instead of complaining about how our bellies ache.

Proverbs 26:17-28

Today’s reading is Proverbs 26:17-28.

Verse 17 of today’s reading starts with a strong image to make an important point. Imagine a German Shepherd walking along the road. It is looking for food because nobody owns it and it is hungry. All of a sudden, someone walks over the to the dog, grabs its ears, and picks it up. What will happen?

My guess is that the person who picked up the dog will be bitten squarely in the face. And he will deserve it! He picked up the dog in a way that would be excruciatingly painful for any dog. He also disrespected the dog by picking it up. Finally, given that the dog is a “stray” (v. 17), the dog has no loyalty to the stranger who laid hands on his ears. Of course he will lash out in self-defense against someone who appears to be a threat.

Verse 17 tells us this is what will happen to someone who jumps into an argument where he is not the injured person or the injuring person. Instead of being the mediating influence that he expected to be, he is going to be severely hurt.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” but that doesn’t describe someone who got involved in an ongoing argument without any first-hand knowledge. Only God knows the real truth; the person who wants to drag you into his or her argument wants to convince you that they are on the side of justice. Unless you are appointed or elected to interpret the law, stay away from someone else’s dispute. It will hurt you and do little to no good for anyone else.

Proverbs 26:1-16

Today’s reading is Proverbs 26:1-16.

Self-discipline is a character quality. It is the ability to do things that are necessary or required ore productive when you don’t feel like doing them. Someone else defined it as doing what you don’t want to do in order to get a result that you do want to get.

Self-discipline does not come naturally in every area of life for us. You may be painfully aware of some areas where you are not as disciplined as you want to be or should be, but there are some areas where you are very disciplined, but you just don’t think about it. If you brush your teeth every day, twice a day, you have self-discipline in that area.

But there is probably at least one area in your life that is suffering from a lack of self-discipline. Verses 13-16 in today’s reading describe the opposite of self-discipline which is laziness. A “sluggard” is another word for a lazy person. What is he like?

  • He makes up crazy excuses for his lack of action. Verse 13: “a fierce lion is roaming the streets!”
  • He moves a lot, but only within his comfort zone. Verse 14 says he turns on his bed like a door turns on its hinges. That describes constant movement but only in the horizontal position. Sometimes we do a lot for our own comfort when we should be doing the uncomfortable--but much more productive--thing.
  • He quits halfway through a productive project. Verse 15 says that he puts food on his fork, but never moves it to his mouth. This is like getting your paycheck but being to lazy to take it to the bank and cash it. The benefit is right there, but it requires a little effort to receive it. The sluggard--the undisciplined person--can’t be bothered.
  • He thinks he’s got all the answers. Seven wise people can all give him the same bit of great advice, but the undisciplined person thinks he has better ideas.

Do you see any of these qualities in your life in areas where you know discipline is lacking? Why do we act this way? Often it is about fear. We fear putting in effort and having the project fail anyway, so we make excuses, stay in our comfort zone, quit doing productive things just before the productivity benefit shows up, and refuse skillful advice.

Living a self-disciplined life requires faith. It requires believing that God has structured the world in ways that reward productive behavior. Could it be that your laziness in one or more area of life is really an expression of unbelief? God has promised that a person reaps what he sows and you see it everyday in the corn fields that surround our church building and are throughout our community. Don’t let laziness and unbelief rob you of the blessings and benefits of disciplined work. God will reward effort that is invested in productive things.

Proverbs 25:15-28

Today, read Proverbs 25:15-28.

I have been the leader here at Calvary for almost 8 full years now. Before that I was the assistant pastor here, a staff teaching pastor (not the lead pastor) at a church in Illinois, a senior pastor for 2 years before that, and a seminary staff member. So, I’ve been the main leader and I’ve been a leader who was subordinate to the leadership of others. I think I’ve learned some things about leadership but I have also learned some things about being a good follower. Being a good follower is the subject of this devotional.

It is helpful to understand that the main leader sees things differently than everyone else. The main leader is accountable for the whole situation--the things he knows and doesn’t know that are happening, the decisions he makes and that he doesn’t make, and the results of all of it. This means that the main leader is accountable for more than anyone and everyone else. Consequently, the main leader can often be slower to make decisions. A wise leader needs to consider what the outcome might be of any decision. He also needs to think about the cost of the decision. Every decision has a cost--people question or complain, people leave the church or become less active, customers take their business elsewhere, money and resources are denied to other things, etc. Until you are the main leader, you rarely think about the costs of a decision. Until you are the main leader, you will tend to underestimate how much a decision might cost. This can make it frustrating to be a follower of the main leader.

Different kinds of people can be described as “influential followers.” An assistant pastor can be an influential follower; so can an elder, a deacon, or a respected church member. In other contexts, a staff member or vice-president or highly skilled worker can be an influential follower. So can a customer. When you are an influential follower, you see things that the main leader might not see or might not want to see. You see things that need improving and have ideas about how to improve them. You see opportunities that the main leader might not see or appreciate. I know from being in this situation what it is like to see an opportunity that the main leader doesn’t see or doesn’t think is important. I know how frustrating it is to know that you’re right about something but get very little interest from your main leader. It is easy to get so frustrated that you become obnoxious to the main leader or to leave in order to become the main leader or find another main leader to follow.

So what do you do if you are an influential follower but you haven’t been able to persuade the main leader to take your advice or suggestion? You patiently keep proposing the idea to the main leader. As we read today in Proverbs 25:15, “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Leaders often make mistakes by not listening to others with good ideas but followers often make the mistake of impatience when proposing new ideas. This proverb counsels us not to give up or leave or get mad when the main leader doesn’t listen. It counsels us to be patient and learn how to gently but persistently persuade those who lead you.

Do you have a leader that is frustrating you? A parent, a husband, a boss, or some other kind of leader? Please understand that the burden of leadership in these roles is heavy. You can’t appreciate how hard it is until you’ve done it. So be patient but don’t give up trying to influence the leaders above you. Be gentle but persistent, like a stream that slowly shapes and smooths the rock it flows over. You can persuade those who lead you, but you need to approach that persuasion the right way. This proverb gives excellent advice for how to do that.

Proverbs 25:1-14

Today let’s read Proverbs 25:1-14.

I know nothing about metallurgy but I read on the Internet that “dross” is the “scum or unwanted material that forms on the surface of molten metal.” Verse 4 here in Proverbs 25 told us that if you “Remove the dross from the silver” that “a silversmith can produce a vessel.” This suggests--and, again, I’m not sure because... metallurgy--but it suggests that the dross weakens the silver in some way. If you separate that scum from the silver, though, the silversmith can make something more valuable. That principle is applied in verse 5 which says, “remove wicked officials from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.” Evil men who advise a ruler weaken him. They weaken his decision-making and his moral authority. Separate that scum from his rulership and his authority and rule will be strengthened.

As with most of these proverbs, you don’t have to be king to apply this to your life. Each of us has influences that weaken us. We have friends that get us thinking or talking negatively or friends that tempt us to sin. We watch too much TV and then complain that we don’t have time to read God’s word and pray. We listen to music or talk radio on the way to work when a good podcast or audiobook would encourage us or challenge our thinking.

What scummy influences in your life are weakening it? Skim them out and be a stronger person!

Proverbs 24:19-34

Today we’re reading Proverbs 24:19-34.

You’ve moved to a new area. Which is more important--finding a home that you love or finding a job that will enable you to provide for yourself and--eventually--find a home that you love?

This is a question about priorities. It is about what needs to happen first in order to enable other things to happen. That’s what verse 27 is telling us when it says, “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” In terms of comfort, it is appealing to do it the other way. You build yourself a nice comfortable home. Get out of that tent you’ve been living in and move into a nice, big, warm farmhouse. Then you can get busy being a farmer. A good night’s sleep in a warm home will help you plant and cultivate and reap those crops more effectively anyway, right?

No. That’s a rationalization for operating in your comfort zone rather than doing the wise thing first. If you’re going to be a farmer, you need to till up that soil, plant those seeds, and let them start growing. It takes a long time for that stuff to grow to productivity so the sooner you start on it, the better off you will be. The work you do now on those fields will pay dividends later for years and years. After you have a productive system started, you will have time to build yourself a nice home. You’ll also have the financial resources to pay for it.

How does this apply to us non-farmers? It teaches us to cultivate and work toward the long-term value. It teaches us to sacrifice personal comfort for a time in order to provide for the long term. For young people, start learning to save 10% of your income and tithe 10% of your income from the very first paycheck you receive. Don’t spend everything on a nicer apartment, leasing a new car, subscribing to cable TV and buying whatever new gadget. Sacrifice now to plant seeds in you life that will pay off when you are older and in eternity.

It applies to more than just young people, though. All of us are inclined to feather our nests and make our comfort zone more comfy at the expense of doing work and making sacrifices that will take years to pay off. It is easier to to eat that doughnut today and think about dieting tomorrow than it is to forgo that junk food for a healthy diet. It’s easier to sit on the couch and watch Netflix than it is to go for a run. Do you spend every dollar you have--and more thanks to easy credit--or are you disciplining yourself to set aside money for the future?

Think about something you’ve been neglecting because it will take sacrifices now and won’t pay off until the future? Then, make that your priority. Spend the first hour of your day on it every day, then go about doing the day-to-day stuff that seems urgent but is rarely important. These are some ways to wisely apply ourselves in the present that will benefit us in the future.

Proverbs 24:1-18

Today’s reading is Proverbs 24:1-18.

This week saw the unraveling of the reputation and career of a successful Hollywood mogul named Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein used his influence to take advantage of and assault multiple women. He is not the only man to have done this kind of thing. Other wealthy and famous men have committed these sins and so have plenty of guys who are neither famous nor wealthy.

Because of his success, however, Weinstein (and others--entrepreneurs, politicians, athletes, entertainers) was envied. Many people wanted to be like him or to run in his circles of influence. Proverbs 24:1-2, however, warns us against that: “Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble.”

Be careful about who you admire, who you pattern your life after, and who you want to know or become. Visible success is attractive, but wickedness is destructive. It is much wiser to fear the Lord than to envy the wicked.

Proverbs 23:19-35

\Today’s reading is Proverbs 23:19-35.

Among the moral teachings against over-indulgence (vv. 19-21, 29-35) and adultery (vv. 26-27), is the encouragement for children to follow the ways of their parents and live a righteous life (vv. 22-25). Verse 24 says, “The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.” Why is this true?

The main reason is that sorrow follows sin. It doesn’t follow sin immediately; pleasure follows sin immediately. That’s what makes sin so alluring to us--the promise and immediate payoff of pleasure. But there is a hidden price tag to living a sinful life. First of all, the pleasures sin offer diminish over time. This is why people go deeper into sin or sin more regularly. Secondly, sin leaves brokenness and broken relationships behind it. The brokenness sin leaves is guilt. You can ignore your conscience and choose to sin but after you’ve sinned, your conscience will make you feel guilty about it. Sin also breaks relationships because it betrays trusts and puts the sinner ahead of others.

Anyone who been an adult for a decade or two (or more) has seen this. We have seen people chase and embrace the excitement of sin. It might be materialism, fame, immoral sexual relationships, or substance use. Sometimes it is dishonesty or manipulating others or simply living as if God does not exist. These things provide pleasure for a while but they produce a life that is undisciplined, a person that is unreliable and dishonest. They can cause physical problems, emotional damage, wrecked families, and ruined reputations. If a person’s parents live to see their children grow up to be like this, of course they do not rejoice. Parents like this feel sorrow for the consequences their children experience, sorrow for the lives they have damaged, regret about decisions they made when raising their children, and shame for how their family turned out.

If you are a young person and are figuring out what kind of person you will become, you should trust the wisdom of your parents (v. 22) if they walk with God. Above anyone else alive, they want what is best for you. Because they have seen how others have lived and died, they know which choices are life-giving and which ones are destructive. Follow the wisdom of your parents! It will make them happy (vv. 24-25) and it save you from many of the sorrows and problems that sin leaves behind.

Parents, you can’t live your child’s life for him or her. But, while they live with you, you make the rules. Teach your children about wisdom and righteousness. Show them examples of people who sinned and are paying for it. If they do their own thing after they leave your home, that’s sad but don’t enable them to sin while they’re with you.