Archive for July 2008

Iron Sharpens Iron

July 25, 2008

Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.  A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike; to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one’s right hand.  Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Prov. 27.14-17)

How do you treat people–I mean usually?  In “psychologist” type language, what is your “interpersonal style?”  One famous psychologist of the past, Harry Stack Sullivan, went so far as to define human personality as a “relatively enduring pattern” of relationships.  He meant that how you relate to people is the best indicator of who you really are.

Solomon says something similar in this short passage–which describes three very different ways of relating to people.  Take your pick.  First, the Idle Flatterer (v. 14).  We all know this person, who seeks to gain favor for himself by oiling his relationships with compliments, flattery, affected zeal (rather than real affection), and ostentatious good wishes (rather than genuine will or caring good works).  He goes out of his way (“rising early in the morning“) to create an image of warmth; but behind the mask lurks a selfish, crass, calculating heart.  God sees behind the mask; and in time others do too-so all his flatteries “will be counted as cursing.”

Then there is the Intimate Enemy (vv. 15, 16). Solomon cites the example of a “quarrelsome wife,” but the principle applies to anyone who perverts close personal relationships into hyper-critical manipulation.  Elsewhere in Proverbs we read that “a friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17.17).  From family (especially wives!) and friends we expect support, encouragement, counsel, and comfort–at times maybe even loving confrontation.  But not Intimate Enemies, who harp, fault-find, and nit-pick.  What would those closest to you say . . . about you?

Finally, there is the People Builder (v. 17). In the first and second cases, the relationship is
one-way.  Neither the Idle Flatterer nor the Intimate Enemy has any real interest in anybody except himself or herself.  But people building is two-way– “Iron sharpens iron”–when two people, like two pieces of iron (neither piece superior to the other), give what they can and receive what they need to grow and develop.  The Apostle Paul provides the perfect example.  When he began his letter to the Christians in Rome (whom he had never seen), he said, “I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” Yes, he is an apostle–an expert, so to speak–but, no, this is not a one-way relationship, for Paul adds immediately, “that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1.11, 12).

Here then is a picture of what it means to be the people of God.  It means “iron sharpening iron.”  It means, dear South Canyon family, to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1Thess. 5.11).  You are loved.

Your Pastor

Richard Wells

Richard Wells

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Haggling in a Flea Market

July 19, 2008

‘Bad, bad,’ say the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.  There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel. (Prov 20.14, 15)

As with so many proverbs, these two at first appear to have little if any connection with each other–but a closer look tells a different story.  Or maybe we should say two different stories.  For these two proverbs describe two different ways of life.  And as we shall see, we cannot be neutral about them; we must choose one or the other.

The first story is set in the Middle Eastern market, where–as we shall see for ourselves in Israel next year–customers expect to haggle over price and sellers expect to haggle back.  Once in the famous Bedouin market in Beersheba, a vendor followed me up and down the rows of tent stalls determined to sell me one of those bejeweled Bedouin knives, haggling as he went, while I kept saying, “la, la, la“–which in Arabic means, “no, no, no.”

For the record, I still have that knife.

In Solomon’s story, of course, the seller is not “selling,” as we say, but the buyer is “buying;” and he drives a hard bargain.  Even though he values the goods, he doesn’t let on.   He treasures them in his heart and trashes them with his lips.  He plays a mind game, pretending that something he really wants is not worth having.  If he is especially skilled, he might almost make the merchant think he is doing him a favor by taking this junk off his hands!  Caveat venditor–let the seller beware!  For when he walks away, the buyer brags about the “deal” he got.

What we think about the buyer in this story says a lot about ourselves.  If we see him merely as a shrewd businessman or a smart shopper, we show how thoroughly we have bought the world’s lie about lying–that somehow it’s not really lying when it’s conventional, expected, and commonplace.  When it’s simply the way that everyday things get done.  But it’s still lying, even when the whole world takes it lightly.

That’s where the second story comes in.  Here we seem to be listening in on someone’s conscience.   Maybe it’s a businessman contemplating a highly lucrative, but slightly shady deal.  Perhaps a young woman tempted to chase her dreams by cheating her way into law school.  Or a retired couple haggling in a flea market.  In the thoughts of the conscience we hear the voice of God: “There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.”  The Voice says that you will always have opportunities to compromise your integrity for the sake of gain; but you cannot put a price tag on “lips of knowledge.” For Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12.34), and no treasure can compare to a heart where Jesus reigns, overflowing in a life that honors Him in every detail.  You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Wait till the Pie Is Done

July 11, 2008

A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul,

but to turn away for evil is an abomination to fools. (Prov 13.19)

This may come as a shock to some-but God wants you to be happy. Everybody knows, as Aristotle said in his Nicomachean Ethics (1.4) that “the highest of all goods . . . is happiness.” Yes, but sometimes we forget–or perhaps we never learned–that God is the One who gave us the longing for happiness in the first place. And He is the only One who can satisfy that longing in life. Not only “can” satisfy, but “wants to.”

This is what Solomon has in mind here. God has made provision for our happiness in Christ. True happiness. “Sweet-to-the-soul” happiness. He graciously satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts–and “desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul.”

You have only to read the Psalms to realize how strongly and consistently God’s people testify that Solomon was right. David especially spoke passionately and often of a God-kind of happiness. For example, contrasting his life with the hard-driving, “Type A” types of his day, he said “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Ps. 4.7). Even when surrounded by enemies (as he often was), David found that in the presence of the Lord, “There is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16.6, 11). Again, in less troubled language, David declared that “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Ps. 19.8). God makes us happy with truth that proves itself in real life everyday.

But “fools” don’t want this God-kind of happiness. Or more precisely, they refuse to turn from their sin in order to have it. They prefer the pleasures of sin, if only for a season (Heb. 11.25), to the joys of life with a capital “L.” Like Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, they prefer “to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” Or more realistically, as someone has said, they consign themselves to serve in hell rather than reign in heaven!

These many years later, I can still all but taste Mom’s blackberry pie. She used wild blackberries that I would pick along the creek banks. Then she rolled out the dough, put butter and sugar on top, and put it in the oven for what seemed like forever. You could skip the oven part, I suppose, but then flour, Crisco, sugar, and a stick of butter with blackberries is not quite the same. Our sinful desire to “have it now” is something like eating the raw ingredients of a pie. It may do something for you (and you probably don’t want to know what it does!), but it won’t melt the ice cream.

So wait on the Lord. For (believe it or not) He has a plan to fill you with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet. 1.8)–but you have to wait till the pie is done. You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Houses Nearly Dark

July 7, 2008

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,

and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life. (Prov. 6.23)

What do you do when the lights go out?  At night.  You do what everybody did every night before Thomas Edison.  Our great-grandparents would light a candle and use it to light a lamp.  And then, no matter how deep the darkness outside, the lamp would flood the whole house with light.  People do not “light a lamp and put it under a basket,” Jesus said, “but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Mt. 5.15).

Our great-grandparents would have the advantage over us in reading those words of our Lord or in reading this proverb.  For us, light comes with the flick of a switch, and we can light a whole city if we want.  But Jesus and Solomon (and our great-grandparents) lived in a world of overwhelming, enveloping darkness, pushed away only here and there, house by house-by lighting a candle and lighting a lamp.

If ever there was picture of Christian living in the world, this is it.  For Solomon says that “the teaching” is “a light.”  He means the light (like a candle) that lights the lamp.  And by “teaching” he means the truth of God concerning all of our relationships and responsibilities, and every other aspect of life.  He means thinking like a Christian, he means a mind saturated with scriptural truth, he means seeing the world and seeing it whole as God sees it.  This “teaching,” like a candle, is a light shining in the darkness that surrounds us.

The “commandment” then, “is a lamp.” The “teaching” informs us, equips us, arms us with weapons of war “to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10.4), while the “commandment” directs us, guides us, applies the unchanging truth of God in the ever-changing world we face.  Too often, however, we content ourselves with knowing truth-and we can never overestimate the importance of knowing truth-but knowing is not doing.  Years ago in Texas, I counseled a couple about their marriage.  They honored God’s Word and they held marriage in high esteem, but they despised each other.  (Divorce-never!  Homicide-maybe.)  The candle of truth had never lit the lamp of life, so to speak, so there was no light in the house.

As believers, we all (like that couple) know more and better than we do.  We know what Scripture says, for example, about integrity, truth-telling, and promise-keeping, but then a lucrative business “opportunity” invites us to compromise, or something comes along to make a promise seem like a burden (say, a ministry team meeting versus a movie or golf).  In this passage, Solomon mentions sexual sin (6.24-35).  Here too (especially!), it’s one thing to know what God says-in this case, about sex and marriage-but quite another thing to live that truth in the internet age.  So most Christians wind up living in houses nearly dark.  Over in the corner a feeble candle flickers, but the lamp has never been lit.  It’s better than a cave, but not much.

So light a candle, and light a lamp-and flood the darkness of the world with the light of Jesus Christ.  You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells