Monday, July 31, 2017

“Enough is as Good as a Feast”

The title comes from the popular movie, “Mary Poppins.” The children were allowed to use Mary’s wonderful magic to straighten their cluttered bedroom. When everything was put away they wanted to do more magic. Mary Poppins declared in her matter-of-fact tone, “Enough is as good as a feast.”

It is a simple statement that encourages contentment. Though quite charming and clever, Mary Poppins did not originate this teaching. In rather graphic language Solomon made an equally memorable declaration:

   Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, 
   Lest you have it in excess and vomit it.
   --Proverbs 25:16

Making this teaching understandable to a young child, my dad would say, “Too much of anything is bad for you.”

For some people this instruction needs to be applied directly to eating. Eat enough, then stop. The solution to our nation’s new favorite health issue (obesity) is not government control, but self-control. People need to learn contentment; parents need to teach contentment and self-discipline.

The instruction can be applied much more broadly. How many pairs of shoes does a person really need. How many pairs of pants? How many shirts? How many dresses?

Have you ever looked into a closet literally full of clothing and said to yourself or your spouse, “I have nothing to wear.” The clothing you bought last year is distasteful to you now. Isn't that somewhat parallel to the one who has eaten honey in excess?

Have you looked around your house and seen all the ‘knickknacks’ and accessories and hangings and then felt aggravated by all the clutter in your spare bedroom / basement / garage? The clutter is made up of yesterday's ‘knickknacks’ and accessories and hangings. Excessive.

It is also the tools, sports/fishing equipment, entertainment equipment, and the assortment of supplies that accompany each.

This is not some kind of dart being thrown at changing times or owning possessions. I simply want us to think about contentment.

Signs of  discontentment may be sagging around your waist or cluttering your house. Be honest, are you content?

Contentment is found in a realistic view of a life that recognizes God’s purpose. Discontentment is often the result of selfish desires, weak faith, and/or an unrealistic view of life.

We would do well to stop listening to the marketing message of man: "Indulge." (In general, the marketer is not really interested in putting shoes on  your feet, but taking money from your pocket.) Place a high value and sharp focus on God’s instruction and his promises.

And by the way, it’s OK to throw out that broken appliance, worn out chair, outdated wall hanging, and beat up set of golf clubs. Stuff never really fills the void in your life, only the void in your house.

Be wise. Be content.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Kill the Beast

Life is full of inequities. Or, expressed in the words of a child, “It’s not fair.”

How do you deal with the inequities of life? The rich and powerful often seem to take advantage of others. Random events in life often seem to work against people keeping them from achieving their goals. So many people feel like they can never get ahead. Many feel like victims to life and the people in their life.

When we allow ourselves to become worked up over the current issues of the day, whether personal issues or those on a larger national or global scale, we lose sight of reality. We forget our Savior and the power of our God. We forget that we have not been promised a problem-free life; rather, life will be filled with inequities. We forget that God is patient, even with evil people, even when they hurt other people.

We sometimes become so disgusted with the inequities in life that we want to lash out. We want someone to be held responsible. We want to ‘kill the beast’ who is heartless, ‘kill the beast’ who is arrogant; ‘kill the beast’ who hides behind wealth and power. Yet, when we allow ourselves to lash out, we become united with the beast. Then we react without any rational thought of our own.

     When my heart was embittered,
          And I was pierced within,
     Then I was senseless and ignorant;
          I was like a beast before You.

     —Psalm 73:21-22

It is as if the Psalmist has looked into the human soul. He sees us as we are. In the first verse of Psalm 73 he writes, “Surely God is good to Israel.” It sounds like a simple declaration of truth. Then, he writes, “But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling.” He knows the truth, God is good!, yet he feels that his world is an exception: inequities loom. Life is not fair. (He might stumble.)

The Psalmist sees the rich, the arrogant, and the wicked and he knows their evil character. Yet, he finds himself envious. They simply do not have the same troubles as ordinary men.

The Psalmist sees them mock God and treat people unkindly. He sees how easy it would be for him to be like them, but that would be betrayal. That would be going against the very things he believed to be true; the things he had taught his children and others.

So, how did the Psalmist resolve his dilemma?

     When I pondered to understand this,
          It was troublesome in my sight
     Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
          Then I perceived their end.

He realized that he could only make sense of the inequities of life when he turned to God.

When he turned to God’s divine counsel he was able to see beyond the inequities of this life. He was able to understand the ultimate end of the arrogant and the wicked. He was able to look beyond himself and beyond his problems and find refuge (peace and security) in God.

His confidence in God was restored. He better understood life. He realized why God was patient with the ungodly and he accepted that God will deal fairly with him and with the ungodly. In his mind he had solidified the truth of his opening statement. There was no longer any doubt based on his circumstances.

     Surely God is good to Israel,
     To those who are pure in heart!

Through faith, we must 'kill the beast' within ourselves.
Enjoy the security of living in peace with God through purity of heart.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Shady Deal

   Ill-gotten gains do not profit, 
   But righteousness delivers from death.
   --Proverbs 10:2

Some translations read, “Treasures gained by wickedness,” or something similar. So, what exactly is Solomon talking about?

The term ‘gains’ or ‘treasures’ is not referring to a hidden treasure or a gold mine. It is literally, ‘that which you store up.’ So, you might think about your savings account, your retirement account, your Swiss bank account. (You get the point.) Your ‘gains’ might also be material possessions that you have collected and stored up.

The Hebrew term for ‘ill-gotten’ is rooted in the idea of ‘wickedness.’ So, the idea is that of possessing money or things which you have accumulated through dishonest means. Perhaps it was a white lie, fudging some numbers on your income taxes, taking supplies from your workplace, withholding information on the sale of a house or car (a shady deal); perhaps something more serious.

On the surface it would appear that you beat the system. You may have even eased your conscience by rationalizing that you were not caught; or it was so small it really did not matter; or other people do it all the time, or ________ (fill in the blank with your favorite rationalization).

It would appear that you have benefited from your gain, but consider the contrast found in the proverb: Profit is set in contrast with . . . death.

The brutal reality is that while there ‘appears’ to be a profit (benefit), there is death.

In stark contrast: Righteousness (doing what is right in God’s eyes) delivers from death.

We know the opposites: life and death. We would never choose death over life. However, Solomon sets things in a more practical language:
There is life and there is wealth gained through dishonesty.

Be wise.
Choose life.
Do right.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Fool in the Gate

As an opening in the defensive wall of an ancient city, the gate was a point of vulnerability. However, in peacetime the gate was a bevy of activity. Residents passed through the gate to and from their fields and livestock. Merchants approached the city gate to do business. In many cities the entrance was beautified and marketplaces were built at the gate.

The Ishtar Gate (Berlin Museum)
As a central area of activity, the city gate was a natural place to address the citizens. Kings, judges and city leaders would meet at the city gate to hear legal cases, settle disputes, and engage in discussions pertaining to the welfare of the city and her citizens.

‘The gate’ was not merely a door, it was an opening in the city walls, walls which could be 15 to 20 feet thick. At the gate opening might be watchtowers and other structures built into the walls. Some ‘gates’ housed chambers of two, four, or six rooms.

City Gate at Istanbul
Those who sat at the city gate were men of wisdom and discernment. It was no place for the childish ‘fool.’

   Wisdom is too high for a fool, 
   He does not open his mouth in the gate.
   --Proverbs 24:7

The leaders of God’s people today are 'elders.' The Apostle Paul taught that they are to be men who are dignified, godly, family men, and full of integrity. (More in 1 Timothy 3.)

God’s leaders, elders, are not unlike the men who sat at the ancient city gate. They are mature and serious-minded about God, God’s word, and God’s people.

In our entertainment crazed society there are fewer and fewer men who are true leaders. The Apostle Paul wrote:
   When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, 
   think as a child, reason as a child; 
   when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
   --1 Corinthians 13:11

I wonder if today we have too many churches filled with adults captivated with fun, entertainment, and leisure; too busy to serve; too busy with their games, activities, and hobbies that they cannot even understand God’s wisdom. I wonder if we are seeing a generation of men emerge who are not men at all, but simply grown children.

Who will be able to sit in the gate and open his mouth with God’s wisdom in the years to come?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Don’t Be Too Nice

There is a time to leave.
You do not have to make excuses.
You do not have to explain.
Perhaps you can explain, perhaps not.
However, when it is time to go . . . GO!

   Leave the presence of a fool, 
   Or you will not discern words of knowledge.
   --Proverbs 14:7

We really would not want to admit the times when we were in the presence of fools, especially when we realize that the ‘fools’ are sometimes our friends, and especially when we know that we went along with their pranks and their plans.

The term ‘fool’ in this verse is associated with ‘stupidity.’ The message is simple: If you hang around with fools, YOU will be ‘dumbed down’ to their level. You will lose your ability to discern God’s word.

Choose your friends wisely.
And if you ever come to the realization that you are among fools, get up and leave; no explanation needed.

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Deeper Sense of Honor

At this time of year we are encouraged to remember those who have played a part in securing our freedom as Americans. It is a fitting reminder for many of us who are more likely to focus on holiday fun.

We will probably enjoy fun, food, and friendship, but that is not what Independence Day is about. It is a day of celebration of our nation’s independence. It is good to reflect on our independence and the sacrifices made by our forefathers. It is good to remember battles fought and won that have insured continued freedom. It is honorable to salute our flag, the symbol of our nation and a symbol of the freedom we enjoy.

Our forefathers saw injustices in their land and determined to make a change for the better. For some it was political injustice; for others religious oppression. They decided to break free from enslavement of various kinds. To do this they also left their past behind.

It would seem that most did not come to America with a divided mind. In other words, they did not think they would simply return home if things did not go well. They came to the new land breaking ties with family, friends, and homeland. They boarded ships knowing that it was a one-way ticket. They sacrificed. They paid. We should honor. We should salute.

I believe there is somewhat of a parallel to our freedom in Christ, and yet, also a stark difference. The forefathers of our great nation yearned for freedom. They set out to break free and they accomplished their goal. Yet, in contrast to our American forefathers, there was no man to lead in a spiritual revolt against sin. There was no man to rally the courage of others to oppose Satan. No one set out to a new land, a land of freedom.

The scriptures remind us that we were dead in our sins. We were powerless to do anything about our pitiful condition, even powerless to realize our profound weakness. We did nothing.

Unlike our forefathers, it was God who was moved by our sad condition. It was God who decided to act.  It was God who sacrificed. It was God in the flesh who became the sacrifice. He paid.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
          —John 3:16 (NASB)

Yet for that tremendous sacrifice we do not stand straight, chest out and then with pride snap a crisp salute.

Rather, in humility we honor...with heads bowed...on bended knee...then falling face down before God’s throne...
We worship.
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshipped.
           —Revelation 5:12-14 (NASB)