Beware of Sure Things

March 30, 2012

While my daily Bible readings were in Proverbs, our local television news did a story on an Internet scam. This Internet company claimed to be located in Grand Rapids, which is why our investigative reporter worked the story. The company supposedly made loans.

A victim in the report told her story. She had applied for a loan of $10,000 but was told to send $1000 to guarantee the loan. This should have been the first clue that something was wrong. Now the $1000 is gone, there is no loan, and the Grand Rapids address is phony. But what made me think of Proverbs was the comment this lady made.

My friend Rose that loaned me the thousand dollars. That was her rent money and now she’s on the verge of being kicked out of her home because we didn’t get the loan.

Proverbs has many warnings about “putting up security” or “making a pledge” for someone else. The longest of the passages is in Proverbs 6:1-5. It deals with the case when you have put up security for your neighbor. It advises “to plead urgently with your neighbor” and “save yourself” like a gazelle from the hunter or a bird from the fowler. Proverbs 17:18 is a good example of the warnings.

One who lacks sense gives a pledge and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor. Proverbs 17:18, ESV

Many years ago, I had a man who called the church building. He asked me to bail out his son from the county jail. The man was out of state. The bond was $2000. I didn’t know either of them. At the time, I probably didn’t have the ten percent for the bond available in the family budget, and I certainly couldn’t have afforded to lose $2000 if the son skipped on the bail. I offered to visit the man’s son in jail and help him get in contact with a local bail bondsman, so that he could bail out his son, but I made it clear that I could not personally bail out his son. He didn’t want the help I was willing to offer, which is telling. It is not unkind to say no to what you cannot afford.

That, after all, is the point of Proverbs. It is cautioning us against putting up security, if we think we will never be asked to pay it, because we are legally and morally on the hook for the loss. If you can afford the loss and are willing to put up security that may be a different matter. You must count the cost and be able to afford the loss.

The Rose of this story no doubt was told that this was a sure thing. Her money would be back before her rent was due. Beware of sure things.


How to Read Psalm 119

October 28, 2011

To be a Bible reader is to read poetry. Someone has estimated that sixty percent of the Old Testament is in poetic form. Poetry also occurs in the New Testament. The basic marker of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. The two parallel lines will say the same thing in different words, or say contrasting things, or sometimes the second line will build on the first.

The longest poem in Psalms is Psalm 119. I have to admit in the early days of my Bible reading I would feel a little dread of Psalm 119. It is so long! It is twenty-two stanzas and 176 verses long. Even then, it was easy to recognize some high points in the psalm:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. Psalm 119:9, ESV

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11, ESV

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105, ESV

Yet 176 lines is a long way to go for a few choice nuggets. I recognized some familiar trees, but I didn’t have a sense of the beauty of the entire forest.

I wasn’t alone. Some unkind things have been said about the psalm by commentators through the years. Some have felt that the poem is disjointed. Yet to be a Bible reader is to read and to read again. In time, I’ve come to appreciate the psalm as a whole and to see its beauty.

Psalm 119 is a tightly structured poem. It is an acrostic poem. The twenty-two stanzas of the poem are usually marked in English with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Hebrew has only twenty-two letters in its alphabet. That means that each of the eight lines in the stanza begin with that letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Eight lines beginning with the same letter and a stanza for each letter of the alphabet is a challenging task. The poem uses the word law (Hebrew torah which also means instruction) and seven synonyms for law. Likely the reason for 8 lines per stanza is the fact that the psalm uses 8 words for law. One of these 8 words for law occurs in every line except four, but in five lines of the poem a synonym for law occurs twice.

What helped my reading of this psalm? Read through the psalm and look for the circumstances of the psalmist. Read through the psalm and look for the petitions of the psalmist. Read through the psalm and look for the things he says about law or instruction and its benefits. Read through the psalm and look for praise of God. Do this and I think your appreciation for the psalm will grow. You will see its lament, wisdom, and praise. You will see how the whole psalm fits together in a wonderful way.


Being Punctual

October 12, 2011

I will confess at the outset that I like to be on time, which for me usually means being early. So this amounts to my rant on a pet peeve. Being punctual means we adhere to arriving at the appointed time when we keep social engagements. It is closely related to etiquette and good manners. When I arrive on time, I’m indicating that I value the social relationship, and I value other people’s time.

Recently, I officiated at a wedding. The experience of this wedding is typical for today. People were arriving late — after the processional had started. People were arriving and entering as the bride was coming down the aisle. People were arriving and entering late after the ceremony had started.

These modern wedding goers might have a hard time understanding the parable of wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). In Jesus’ story, once the bridegroom arrived and the guests had entered, the door was shut. When the foolish virgins arrived, they did not gain entrance, but were told by the bridegroom, “I do not know you.”

But there are etiquette expectations even in modern times for weddings. You can google it for the answer. The expectation is that a guest will arrive fifteen minutes prior to the wedding time. You will need time to sign a guest register, and the seating may be ushered. All of this takes a few minutes, and with the crush of guests arriving, the time is needed.

But problems with being punctual are not just issues with weddings. I’ve seen funeral home directors also fret with attempting to start a funeral on time as they watch a number of cars pull into the parking lot late. People may not realize that funerals involve the scheduling of a number of things (fellowship time after the funeral and coordination with the workers at the cemetery for the grave side service and interment), and that the funeral home director may have more than one funeral that day.

I also have the same concerns for being punctual for church gatherings. (I do recognize that Wednesday nights are a bit of exception, because we have people rushing home from work and attempting to make it for our time together. Not everyone’s schedule is exactly the same.) I’m concerned about the message we convey to students in classes and visitors to our assemblies when so many people are late. It is especially important for teachers to be in the classrooms to greet students. If you have a special function or are a church leader, it is good to be early, so that guests and members can be greeted.

It is frustrating to teachers to have students coming in 10 to 20 minutes late. Now obviously, we would rather the student come than not come, but I don’t think we would tolerate this kind of tardiness in our students secular education. In our faith, we claim that the eternal is greater than the temporal. Are we living out that commitment, or are we demonstrating carelessness?

When we start talking about punctuality, someone will often bring up the fact that Christians in third world countries don’t worry about the time so much. In other words, punctuality is just so much cultural baggage that maybe we should jettison it too.

Yet most moderns only want to partially jettison the cultural baggage of punctuality. They still want events to end on time. In the third world situation, the start time may be fluid, but they usually spend a long time together when they assemble. The end time isn’t as important to them either.

I think there is a case for punctuality for us. We live with careful time keeping and most of us are not far from a watch or clock. We live with calendars and even appointment alarms on our smartphones. We live with busy schedules. Most of us receive rewards or punishments for being on time or late for things like work or school. So punctuality is something that we practice for at least certain events in our life.

Being punctual is a way of communicating to others that we value the time of everyone involved in a social activity. Being punctual communicates that we value the social engagement that has been scheduled.


What Jesus Means to Me

April 22, 2011

Jesus is the wisdom of God. I probably would not have called it wisdom as I was first coming to know Jesus. The more common phrase would be moral teaching. But it may very well be that Jesus attracts us at this beginning point, and we begin to connect with him.

The moral teachings are accessible. Even a child can understand the basics. The greatest command is to love God with all of our being. The second greatest command is to love our neighbor as ourself. We need to control our anger. We shouldn’t lie. Jesus teaches us a simple beginner’s prayer. We need to trust God as our heavenly Father. We must build our house on the rock, and not be like the foolish man who builds his house on the sand.

As we mature, it may hit us how challenging some of these teachings are. To love our enemies is not an easy task. To go the second mile may chafe us like an ill-fitting suit. We may also grasp that Jesus is the wisdom of God because he has come from the Father. Jesus is the one who has come down from heaven to reveal God. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is Immanuel — God with us.

Jesus is the gift of God. At a young age I learned “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” Jesus died for my sins.

To understand those words, we must come to accept that God is holy. The basic human problem is sin — moral failure. My moral failings estrange me from God. They lead to my spiritual death if not forgiven. Forgiveness is possible because of a life sacrificed in my place. Jesus is that sacrifice, that offering.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Seen by witnesses and predicted by prophecy, the resurrection is also God’s great affirmation of Jesus. Sin and death are conquered. New creation has begun. In Christ, I am a new creation having been born again of the Holy Spirit. With God’s help, a moral transformation is at work in my life. The same Spirit will raise me from the dead giving me a resurrection body or transform me in the blinking of an eye if I’m alive at Jesus’ coming. Because of Jesus we experience new life now, and we look forward to resurrection and life with God for eternity.

Jesus is wisdom, a gift, and life. And Jesus is so much more. Jesus means much to me. What does Jesus mean to you?


The Difficult Thing about Wisdom

April 7, 2011

The book of Proverbs was written to make us wise. Yet Proverbs itself indicates that more information is insufficient to produce wisdom. For example, wise words, a rebuke, and even a proverb on the lips of a fool may be to no avail.

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words. Proverbs 23:9, NASB

A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool. Proverbs 17:10, NASB

Like the legs which are useless to the lame, So is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Proverbs 26:7, NASB

So what is so difficult about wisdom?

Proverbs lays the foundation for wisdom and identifies the difficult thing for us: we must trust God more than ourself. We must fear/respect/reverence God, so that we go His way rather than our way.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body And refreshment to your bones. Proverbs 3:5-8, NASB

More information won’t help, if the attitude is wrong. It’s like the Tree of Life in the center of the garden (see Genesis 3) all over again for each of us. Will we listen to God, or will we listen to our own lusts and the Serpent’s call?

Someone has noted the different approaches people take to the Bible, God’s word.

  • Some people accept none of it.
  • Many people accept part of it.
  • A few people accept all of it.
  • Some people live none of it.
  • Many people live part of it.
  • A few people live most of it.

Which approach describes you? It’s precisely at this point that Proverbs and the rest of the Bible challenges us. The difficult thing about wisdom is that it requires us to trust the Lord with all of our heart. The prerequisite for wisdom is faith.