Wait till the Pie Is Done

Posted July 11, 2008 by Mr. Sheehy
Categories: Lighthouse Letter, Proverbs

Tags: ,

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

Posted July 7, 2008 by Mr. Sheehy
Categories: Lighthouse Letter, Proverbs

Tags: ,

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

A Culture of Miscreants

Posted June 27, 2008 by Mr. Sheehy
Categories: Lighthouse Letter, Proverbs

Tags: , ,

“If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked.” (Prov 29.12)

Everything we do affects somebody else, often in ways we couldn’t imagine or wouldn’t intend. In this remarkable little proverb, Solomon paints a picture of unintended consequences. At center stage we see a “ruler,” a person with influence over other people. Naturally we will think of kings and presidents and potentates in palaces; but remember that almost everybody is a “ruler” sometimes, with some people–from managers to moms and dads–so as you look at this picture, see yourself.

The ruler in Solomon’s scenario “listens to falsehood.” Maybe it takes the form of flattery. Or slander. Or empty promises. Or rosy predictions. Or padded reports. Or back-scratching recommendations. Or tattle-tale criticism. The “falsehood” can take as many forms as the genius of Satan can derive. And because the “father of lies” (Jn 8.44) never sleeps, anyone who deals with people (and that’s all of us) will have to deal with “falsehood.” The question is whether he or she (or I) will “listen to falsehood.” Give it credence. Take it to heart.

If he does (if I do), this is what will happen: “all his officials will be wicked.” If a leader listens to falsehood, he will create a culture of miscreants. The inmates, as we say, will run the asylum. Think about it. If a supervisor listens to flattery, for example, he will soon be surrounded by sycophants, people who tell him not what he needs to hear, but what they think he wants to hear, all trying to outdo each other in servile, self-seeking faint praise. Likewise, a parent listens to falsehood by giving in to a toddler’s tantrums (remember, children can lie before they can talk!). When that happens, the little one learns that the world revolves around his ego, and that if he makes enough noise he can get whatever he wants. You can trace these consequences all through human life, from the boardroom to the basement.

This principle even applies to politics. Jeremiah, for example, writes about corruption in high places–prophets who “prophesy falsely” and priests who “rule at their direction”–and then he adds, “My people love it so” (Jer 5.31). Corrupt rulers (who listen to falsehood) create a corrupt culture (the people love it that way). The average Israelite, of course, had little to do with those rulers; but we have a lot to do with ours. Which makes this little proverb all the more sobering–for it tells us that we will become as a people the kind of people we elect. That alone should stir us to pray and work for righteousness this election year. You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

The Mouse in the House

Posted June 21, 2008 by Mr. Sheehy
Categories: Lighthouse Letter, Proverbs

Tags: , , ,

Drive out the scoffer, and strife will go out,

and quarreling and abuse will cease. (Prov 22.10)

On the shelves in my study, you can find literally dozens of books on the broad subject of “church.” Pick a feature, there’s a book. And there are many more out there waiting to be read. But over the years, I have observed a curious omission in all those books–they almost never deal with “discipline.” One book has a whole chapter, for example, on “Resolving Congregational Conflicts,” but says not a word about the elephant in the room–I mean the “scoffer” of Proverbs 22.10. The author defines “conflict,” identifies “types” of conflict, and suggests techniques for conflict management such as “circular seating” and “Rogerian repetition.” All well and good, but what about the “scoffer?”

Maybe almost all the church books ignore the “scoffer” because almost all are written by seminary professors, not pastors (and that’s not a knock on seminary professors–I was one). But in the rough-and-tumble of everyday living, every pastor knows (indeed we all know) exactly what Solomon meant about the “scoffer” in the assembly. In any church or any organization–a class, a deacon body, elder board, ministry team, even a family–one person with an attitude can subvert everything good and godly. The classic case is Diotrephes (3 John), who loved to “put himself first,” talked “wicked nonsense” against the Apostle John, and kept the church from doing Kingdom work. John pledges to “bring up what he is doing,” because the scoffer must either (a) repent or (b) he must go. Hear Solomon well: You can’t “manage” a scoffer, you must drive him out.

These hard words make better sense when we understand the character of the scoffer. The Hebrew word (lēts) originally meant “interpreter.” The scoffer, we might say, “interprets” everything, but always in a negative light. Maybe he jokes about everything (so nothing is ever serious). Or he criticizes everything (so nothing is ever good). Or he mocks everyone (so no one is ever respected). However he does it (scoffing takes many forms), he casts everything in black light.

You don’t need a book on conflict management to predict the results. Solomon mentions “strife” and “quarreling,” but also “abuse.” That sounds a little odd, doesn’t it? Here again, the Hebrew word (qālôn) helps us–it means “disgrace,” “dishonor,” “shame.” (The King James Version has “reproach.”) Solomon is saying that the scoffer not only disturbs the assembly with quarreling and strife, he dishonors it with shame and reproach. He gives it grief within and a bad name without. A dead mouse stinks up a whole house.

We all know people like that; but most of us would say that we aren’t like that ourselves. And rightly so. Most of us aren’t–most of the time. But shouldn’t this proverb teach us how important unity is? And how fragile? Be “diligent“–let the force of the word sink in–be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.3, NASV). Get the dead mouse out of the house. You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

The Hollywood Heart

Posted June 13, 2008 by Mr. Sheehy
Categories: Uncategorized

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

Our Answer to Aristotle

Posted June 6, 2008 by Mr. Sheehy
Categories: Lighthouse Letter, Modern Issues, Proverbs

Tags: , , ,

I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly. (Prov 8.14-16)

In these verses, “Wisdom” speaks, and she speaks specifically about government. Note the five subjects (vv. 15, 16): “kings,” “rulers,” “princes,” “nobles,” “all who govern.”

As the election-year rhetoric heats up, we might wish it weren’t so (!), but government is necessary. It was said of the Reformers in Geneva (and of American patriots 200 years later) that they established “a government without a king.” Yes, but it was still a system of rule through rulers. Indeed, John Calvin himself (in Geneva) considered it “perfect barbarism to think of exterminating [government]” (Institutes, 2.652). “Government” of any sort will always fall short of the ideal, but the only alternative is anarchy.

Aristotle said long ago that “politics” must exist because every polis (Greek for “city”) must determine (a) the way of life best for it, and (b) how best to promote that way of life. Much earlier still, Solomon had an answer for Aristotle. The “best way of life?” Wisdom says, “By me . . . rulers decree what is just.” And again, by wisdom, those who govern, govern “justly.” Here in a word is the whole teaching of the Bible about civil government. It exists, under God, to do “justice.” Nothing less.

And nothing more. Government exists to do “justice,” not to conduct social experiments or try to create heaven on earth. The recent California Supreme Court decision striking down the state’s marriage law shows us how easily this principle can get out of whack. By a 4-3 vote, the “justices” set aside the will of the people to define “marriage” exclusively as the union of a man and a woman. One of the dissenting justices called it “legal jujitsu.” A “bare majority,” he said, has not only violated “our society’s most basic shared premise-the People’s general right . . . to decide fundamental issues of public policy for themselves,” but has claimed a right it “simply does not have . . . to erase, then recast, the age-old definition of marriage, as virtually all societies have understood it, in order to satisfy its own contemporary notions of equality and justice” (p. 134).

How best to promote the best way of life? In a word, “Wisdom”-“by me [wisdom] . . . rulers decree what is just.” In other words, the only guarantee of real justice in the world is biblical wisdom in the halls of power.

Yeah, like that’s gonna’ happen! True enough, but as God’s people, we must never lose sight of the principle, even if the whole world laughs it out of court. We must, God helping us, do all in our power to promote biblical wisdom in the public square. For the good of all persons (that’s justice), and for the glory of God. That’s our answer to Aristotle. You are loved.

Your Pastor,

Richard Wells

Face the Dwarfs

Posted May 30, 2008 by Mr. Sheehy
Categories: Uncategorized

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