Thursday, May 22, 2008

Making the Right Choice


Proverbs 7:1-27
How many movies or books have used the sort of literary device we find in this chapter: two women and the man who must choose between them? On the one hand we have “Wisdom” which here is personified as a sister or intimate friend, terms of loving endearment. In her company a young man will be saved from the dangers of seduction and adultery. On the other hand we have the seductress, a literal woman, married but playing the part of a prostitute (and doing a pretty good job of it, according to the passage). Once she sets her sights on the young man he, as so many before him, is doomed. In the company of this woman the young man will find himself “going down to the chamber of death” (verse 27b). This is really a compelling passage that highlights the tension we all face; knowing what we should do but doing something else. Paul addresses this reality in Romans 7:15 where he writes, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” For the writer of Proverbs the answer is clear: if the young man had only trusted sisterly Wisdom then he would have been saved from the snares of the evil woman. I say, if only it were that easy. Over and over again we sin, and yet God remains faithful to us, and the story is allowed to continue, too often repeating the same refrain.

1 John 5:13-21
In this passage from 1 John the person of sisterly “Wisdom” has been replaced by Jesus. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true…” (verse 20a). The struggle with sin continues, but in Jesus we find God’s fullest expression of mercy and love, the one who confronts our sinfulness and defeats it for us so that we may rise above it and live as God’s people. Still we fall short of God’s intentions, but in Jesus Christ we find forgiveness and, more importantly, hope for the future.

Matthew 11:25-30
And here in Matthew we find words that offer hope. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (verse 28). The “heavy burdens” we carry are our sins and the “rest” we receive in Jesus Christ is forgiveness. Thanks be to God for the opportunity to start over again and to live as forgiven people!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Work as a Blessing and a Curse


Proverbs 6:1-19
One of Aesop’s fables tells the story of the ant and the grasshopper (you may be more familiar with the Walt Disney cartoon version of this tale). In the story the grasshopper literally fiddles away the summer while the industrious ant stores up food for the winter. When the weather turns cold the grasshopper has nothing to fall back on, but the ant is well-supplied and able to survive. Proverbs 6:6-11 tells a similar story, though in this case the contrast is between the ant and a lazybones who sleeps when he should be at work. “You are never more than one step from poverty,” the proverb seems to indicate. Much has been made over the centuries of the “Protestant work ethic,” or the great value that some place on hard work and determination. But there is a point at which even work can become a problem for the Christian. When we place too much importance on work it can become an idol, something that stands between ourselves and God’s will in our lives. The story of the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21 comes to mind. After a bumper harvest this man builds bigger barns and prepares for a life of ease. But that very night he died. “So it is,” Jesus said, “with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” There has to be a balance between our hard work and our willingness to do God’s will in our lives. I believe this is ultimately what the writer of Proverbs would want us to hear.

If you are feeling nostalgic you may watch the Disney version of Aesop's fable below.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Love and Wisdom


Proverbs 4:1-27
The fact that our daughter is about to graduate from high school makes this reading especially meaningful for me today. Soon she will enter college and be faced with challenges and choices that will determine a great deal about her life. For nearly 18 years her mother and I have had the privilege of offering her what wisdom we could and what council we thought best. But the greatest source of hope I have for her is that she has been raised in the church where she has been exposed to greater wisdom than her mother or I could have offered alone. She has heard us preach, yes, but she has had others to teach her Sunday school classes, and others to sponsor the youth group, and others who have visited with her at pot lucks and church gatherings. It is the collective wisdom of that community, blessed by the Holy Spirit and centered on God in Jesus Christ, that I believe will serve her best. Her life will not be perfect, but she knows that God loves her and she knows there are people of faith who genuinely care for her. This is how she will “keep straight the path of (her) feet” (v.26a).

1 John 4:7-21
I’ve got most of this passage underlined in my study Bible for various reasons. But just today I have underlined verse 21: “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” And what a challenge this is! I can honestly say that I have hated very few people in my life, and mostly when I was a child. Now that I’m an adult I can rationalize my antipathy toward others without calling it hate. But if I am to love God, truly love God, I’ve got to recognize the imperative to love my sisters and brothers, no matter how difficult that may be. And by love I believe the writer of this passage would mean to have genuine concern and compassion for. This means that it is my responsibility to love even the people who cut me off in traffic, or who vote for “the other guy,” or who, regardless of their motivation, cause me pain. Clearly this is tough work. But then, who ever said the way of the cross is easy?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Creation and Boldness Before God


Proverbs 3:11-20
Verse 19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding (God) established the heavens.” In the continuing debate between those who accept the theory of evolution as fact and those who reject evolution for creationism this verse seems uniquely qualified to support either argument. Which is why, more and more, I find myself saying, “Who cares?” Who cares how God created the universe, established the order of things, made human beings in God’s own image? For me it is far more important to acknowledge the superiority of God’s wisdom to my own, and to praise God for the magnificence of the created order. In Psalm 8 the psalmist expresses awe at all that God has done, and marvels that God would even be mindful of humanity. But God is mindful of us, and by the same wisdom with which God “founded the earth” we were created in God’s image to act as stewards of creation. There are some arguments that just aren’t worth having, and the one about how God brought the universe into being is one of them as far as I’m concerned. It’s enough just to marvel at the vastness, the wonder, the majesty, the power and to thank God for our own lives.

1 John 3:18-4:6
I was struck by 1 John 3:21 which says, “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God…” I’m not sure where to go with this verse, because it seems to me that my heart is constantly condemning me; for things I have failed to do, for things I should not have done, for words that have left my mouth. I regret many things from my life, and even wince at some of my memories. How can I ever show boldness before God? I don’t think I can, at least not alone. But because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on my behalf my sins are forgiven and I am able to go on living, even with my regrets and misgivings. I’ve got to think this is the only way I am emboldened before God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 15, 2008



Ezekiel 37:21b-28
1 John 2:18-29
The words that really caught my attention in the Ezekiel passage were those in the last part of verse 22: “Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.” This brings to my mind the words of Psalm 133, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” Unity is something to be desired, to be worked for, to be prayed for, to be cherished, but not at any price. The congregation to which the First Letter of John is written has obviously experienced division, but in this case the ones who have left the community represent deception and lies, a faith which the readers of First John cannot accept as true. For this reason there can be no unity. But assuming that we all strive for the common good, that we seek justice and righteousness, what stands in the way of unity in our neighborhoods, our country, our world? It’s a question that perplexes us. Too often we see peoples united in evil, bound together in hatred or war. Too seldom do we see peoples united in love and compassion. Or if we see a shared, common purpose, as in the world’s response to tragedy, it seems to last only so long, and soon we are back to a state of disunity. Ezekiel promises that the people of Israel will someday be reunited into one nation. We should pray that such unity and harmony would come to us as well, that we might find common cause in our own nation, our own day and age. But clearly, if we do find such unity it will be a gift from God and something to be prized.