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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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The Hollywood Heart

June 13, 2008

All the days of the afflicted are evil,
but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
than great treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it. (Prov 15.15-17)

At a checkout line the other day, my eyes happened on one of those blaring headlines that clamor for attention with the latest from Hollywood.  Another celebrity couple, it seems, had called it quits, and for a price, the tabloid would tell you “why.”

But we already know “why,” don’t we?  All the gold in California, “all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave” (Thomas Gray), cannot put joy in a human heart.  That explains the Hollywood heart.  It is “afflicted”–lavish on the outside, sterile on the inside–and all its days fill up the tabloids.  Solomon describes it perfectly: “great treasure and trouble with it.”  But, of course, Solomon had everyday people in mind, not just the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  He means people like you and me, who have everything we need (and then some), but somehow seem to be missing something.

Together these three proverbs present a very different vision for life.  The vision stands on the principle that happiness begins and ends in the heart-“the cheerful of heart has a continual feast” (v. 16).  We find happiness in homes, not in houses.  In meaning, not in money.  Peace, not portfolio.  Satisfaction rather than silver.  Goodness rather than gold.  In love, not liquid assets.  We have joy not in material things, but in matters of the heart.

We all know that principle of a cheerful heart–sort of.  But not well enough, so Solomon explains with two illustrations.  The first one says that a cheerful heart is a heart for God.  Far better to have only a little in this world with “the fear of the Lord,” than to have “great treasure and trouble with it” (v. 17).  Solomon doesn’t criticize wealth, nor does he say that wealthy people always have trouble.  No-he only means that holiness, a heart for God, is the truest treasure, the noblest wealth.  Only God can put joy in our hearts, and when He does, “the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.” Remember Paul and Silas in prison, praying and singing hymns at the midnight hour (Act 16.25)?  A heart for God gives songs in the night.

The second illustration (v. 18) says that a cheerful heart is a heart for people.  Far better a simple meal with love, than a banquet with strife.  Again, Solomon doesn’t mean that every big event is tense with trouble (but you’ve attended some that were, I’ll bet!).  No–he only means that a lavish hall, celebrity guests, and sumptuous cuisine have nothing to do with joy in the heart.  Just ask the Brown-eyed Baby–“would you rather feast at the Waldorf, or have the kids and grandkids home for hotdogs?”

Holiness plus love equals “a cheerful heart.”  That’s a gift of God, and a vision for life worth living.  And that’s a message for fathers this Father’s Day.  No matter what happens in Hollywood.  Or anywhere else.  You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Face the Dwarfs

May 30, 2008

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Prov 1.7)

Here is the theme of Proverbs, and one of the great themes of the Old Testament.  Almost these exact words occur twice more in Proverbs itself (9.10; 15.33), and in Job (28.28) and the Psalms (111.10) as well.  And the phrase, “the fear of the Lord,” appears more than 100 times from Genesis to Malachi.

To many modern ears, “the fear of the Lord” sounds strange, archaic, maybe even a little depressing-like something from the dark superstitions of cavemen.  We “believe” in God, of course.  We might even say we love God, worship God, celebrate God.  But to “fear God” is so . . . well . . . so “Old Testament.”  It’s a turn off to lots of folk.

Yet “the fear of the Lord” is the very stuff of belief and unbelief.  In the Psalms we read, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Ps. 36.1).  On the positive side, we recall that Cornelius the Roman centurion (a Gentile convert to Judaism) was “a devout man who feared God” (Acts 10.2).  And again, preaching to other Gentiles in the home of Cornelius, Peter spoke of how his own eyes had been opened to see “that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10.34, 35).

What then is this “the fear of the Lord?”  First of all, it’s not anxiety, dread, terror, foreboding-the kind of trembling anticipation that makes little boys whistle as they walk through a cemetery.  Nor is it slavishness-the servile, cowering fear of making a mistake, like a woman who “submits” to her husband because she fears for her safety (see 1 Pet. 3.6).  Stephen Charnock, a 17th century Puritan, once observed that such fear is really a form of hatred.  The “spirit of bondage,” he said, “only eyes [God] as a judge,” not as “a Father.”  And if they could, those who serve God only by “the whip and the cudgel” would gladly banish “the master that commands them to another world!” (On the Existence and Attributes of God, 1:98).  We all understand, I think.

The fear of the Lord” stands at the other end of the universe.  It speaks of adoration, worship, reverence-deep respect “tinged with awe,” as someone has said-glad submission to the greatness of God, sincerely seeking the glory of God.  The fear of the Lord is the proper response of who we are to Who He is.  “There is none like you, O Lord,” wrote the prophet Jeremiah, “you are great, and your name is great in might.  Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?  For this is your due” (Jer. 10.6, 7).

But what is it to say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?”  Stephen Charnock again.  Among many other things, the fear of the Lord teaches us “not to fear the pride and force of man.”  When we “glorify His strength,” Charnock said, whom shall we fear?  “Who would tremble at the threats of a dwarf, that hath a mighty and watchful giant for his guard?” (2.106).  Fear the Lord; face the dwarfs.  You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells