Sunday, January 25, 2015

This week's lesson (January 24-30): the blessings of the righteous

LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
  • He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, 
  • who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue,
  • who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, 
  • who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, 
  • who keeps his oath even when it hurts, 
  • who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken.
-- Psalm 15:1-5 (NIV)
Back in the days of the Old West it was easy: the bad guys wore black hats, and the good guys wore white.
But these days, everybody seems to wear beige.
It's not always easy to tell the bad guys from the good, in other words -- and it's especially difficult when the people who seem to talk the most about "God" and "Truth" and "Righteous" keep showing up on "Wanted" posters.
That's how Proverbs 10-13 can help. In a world full of people who claim to be "righteous," it offers some quick, easy, rules-of-thumb that will help you determine just who's on the side of the angels . . . 
Rules like, "Watch how they handle money."
"Watch the way they talk about others."
And "watch the way they treat animals."
Good advice for anyone who's dating . . . or hiring . . . or serving on a church's Nominating Committee . . . 
And even better advice when we're looking in a mirror.
From where we stand, after all, we may think our hat looks pretty good.
But in Proverbs, we can check to see what color it really is.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

This week's lesson (January 17-23): divine wisdom

"There is a mine for silver and a place where gold is refined. Iron is taken from the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. 
". . . But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell?" -- Job 28:1-2, 12 (NIV)
If you want to find the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, then you're going to need:
  • A passport.
  • And some airline tickets. 
That's because the experts all agree the Path to Enlightenment is long and winding and inevitably leads you to some far-off place you've never been before.
  • Like Tibet.
  •  Or Dagobah.
And that's why Proverbs 8 is so weird -- for in it, Wisdom does not demand that we climb a mountain, go on a vision quest in the desert, or even sign up for Outward Bound.
Instead, Wisdom comes looking for us -- and what's more, she does so in those common, everyday places we visit all the time:
  • Like the grocery store.
  • The bus stop.
  • And even in a committee.
That's why you may want to take a quick look around the place you're reading this.
You see, you don't need to go someplace special to find enlightenment.
No, Wisdom can find you anywhere.
Even the place you are right now.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

This week's lesson (January 10-16): a matter of life and death

"Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept [Wisdom's] advice and spurned [Wisdom's] 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; but whoever listens to [Wisdom] will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." -- Proverbs 1:29-33, NIV
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
  • That bloody shoot-out in Proverbs 1:18f? Started with an easy way to get rich quick.
  • The bankruptcy in Proverbs 6:9ff? Began with the understandable desire to sleep in.
  • And when he dropped by the neighbor's house in Proverbs 7, he didn't know this would lead to murder . . .  
But none of us can predict the outcome of our actions -- and that's especially true when we're the victims of greed, sloth, or lust.

No, these things guarantee wishful thinking.

Wishful thinking usually ends in disaster.

And while a disaster is no fun for the person who is to blame, it does give the rest of us a chance to learn from their mistakes.

That's the purpose of Proverbs 5-7. In a sense, it's a series of accident reports -- reports that document what can go wrong when somebody stops asking, "What can go wrong?"

You see, anything can seem like a good idea at the time.

But in Proverbs, you learn if it will seem like a good idea next time.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

This week's lesson (January 3-9): from ears to feet

Don't be misled: "bad company corrupts good character." -- I Corinthians 15:33, NIV.
Proverbs is a very crowded book.

There's Lady Wisdom, of course -- and the Evil Companions. The Loose Woman. The Concerned Parent. The Good Wife. The King. And the Fool (who appears in various roles as The Drunkard, the Sluggard, and The Know-It-All-Who-Doesn't).

That's because:
  • We don't make our decisions in a vacuum.
  • And if the Church (and our families) stopped nagging us about the way we behave, then we would not be suddenly and magically free to make decisions on our own.
No, we are shaped by the people around us; we are influenced (both intentionally and otherwise) by friends, family, and the nice people on that TV show we watch every Thursday night.
That's why peer pressure is so powerful.
That's why it influences everything from the way you vote to your chances of obesity.
And that's why Proverbs talks so much about the people in our lives -- about the people with whom we choose to hang out.
You see, if you want to know what you'll be like tomorrow . . .
Then look at crowd you're with today.