Make Wise Choices (Proverbs 3:5-12)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way. 

Never let yourself think that you are wiser than you are; simply obey the Lord and refuse to do wrong. If you do, it will be like good medicine, healing your wounds and easing your pains. 

Honor the Lord by making him an offering from the best of all that your land produces. If you do, your barns will be filled with grain, and you will have too much wine to store it all.

My child, when the Lord corrects you, pay close attention and take it as a warning. The Lord corrects those he loves, as parents correct a child of whom they are proud. (Good News Translation)

“The choice to make good choices is the best choice you can choose. Fail to make that choice and on most choices you will lose.”

Ryan Lilly

The biblical book of Proverbs is a collection of short pithy statements based in experiential truth. That is, they are wisdom sayings.

Wisdom is a gradual accumulation of understanding, over time, with a combination of observation and practice.

The Teacher (the Collector of the proverbs) highlights the wisdom needed to navigate life. It’s a bit like learning the basic laws of the universe, such as respecting the force of gravity by not walking off the roof of your house.

Wisdom observes and pays attention; then applies the understanding gained to reality.

Failing to cultivate a wise life (foolishness) creates all kinds of problems.

Notice the realities we need to respect in our Old Testament lesson for today: God, God’s guidance, God’s honor, God’s discipline.

And then notice the verbs which tell us how to respond wisely: trust, remember, obey, honor, pay close attention. Submitting to reality, respecting others, and accepting situations as they are, and not as we want them to be, is evidence of a sage life.

In contrast to the sage response, foolish reactions are made up of pride, avarice, and hate.

Both wisdom and foolishness are evidenced by their outcomes.

The wise person, having been taught a respect for God and the ways of grace, will most likely have the experience of receiving guidance, health, abundance, and love. Conversely, the fool who ignores divine counsel will probably experience misplaced trust, health issues, short-sighted financial decisions, and cruddy attitudes.

“You can’t choose your potential, but you can choose to fulfill it.”

Theodore Roosevelt

All things being equal, the wise person who deliberately and carefully applies knowledge and understanding to life will have an abundant spirit full of satisfaction – whereas the fool who improvises everything will struggle to live in a small world of holistic poverty and want.

The gist of today’s verses is that one cannot live as an island. We all need to practice consultation and collaboration to achieve a good life. Instruction and correction are necessary to obtain the good life. To spurn both divine and human connections in favor of radical personal independence is plain old foolish; it leads to a lousy life.

In short, the fool incessantly airs opinions with useless sophistry to an empty room; and, the sage is an observant student to universal rhythms and has learned the timing of proper words and of silence.

I am going to state this all in a different way: Relying on God and others through making and keeping promises to one another is the basis of a solid community and a gratifying personal life. Relying merely on one’s self is a one-way road to spiritual pain and emotional damage, not to mention physical illness and financial scarcity.

Fools always think they know best. Sages always know better than that.

The collection of Proverbs we have in the biblical canon is a presentation, a dialectic, a contrast and a setting forth of two ways of approaching how to live in the world:

  • foolishness or wisdom
  • independence or interdependence
  • cognitive pride or mental humility
  • negligence of evidence-based research or consultation through books, literature, and reading
  • exploitation of resources or submission to the natural laws and rhythms of the land
  • holding-on with clenched fists or generosity with open hands
  • Grinch-like attitudes or God-like dispositions
  • incessant criticism or heartfelt tribute
  • blaming or recognizing other’s contributions
  • shame or vulnerability
  • bitterness or forgiveness
  • resistance to correction or acceptance of discipline
  • hate or love
  • judgment or grace

There is always a fork in the road. And standing at those intersections of life, we must choose whether to take the difficult path of wisdom, or amble down the broad highway of foolishness.

The two paths will lead to either life or death, joy or despair, hope or disappointment, faith or fear.

How will you choose? Which way will you go?

Choose wisely, my friend.

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Submission Is an Attitude (1 Peter 2:13-17)

For the sake of the Lord submit yourselves to every human authority: to the Emperor, who is the supreme authority, and to the governors, who have been appointed by him to punish the evildoers and to praise those who do good. For God wants you to silence the ignorant talk of foolish people by the good things you do. Live as free people; do not, however, use your freedom to cover up any evil, but live as God’s slaves. Respect everyone, love other believers, honor God, and respect the Emperor. (Good News Translation)

Submission is a word a lot of people would like to do without. And that’s understandable. We’ve all likely had the experience of being under the authority of someone who either didn’t know what they were doing, or who gaslighted us, took advantage of us, and maybe was even downright mean and nasty toward us. What’s more, it’s hard to obey someone or some institution who we aren’t quite sure has our best interests at mind.

And then there’s an association with the word “submission” as being forced to do something you don’t want to do. That sort of understanding of submission is actually slavery and oppression, not submission.

Simply put, to submit is the informed and willing choice to place oneself under the authority of another. If it isn’t a willing and informed choice, then it’s either manipulation or coercion by another.

The Apostle Peter was referring to submitting to human authority by a volitional choice of our will. And what he was encouraging believers to do was no small thing.

The Roman Empire was an ancient behemoth. At the time of Peter’s writing, the Romans were firmly in charge of Palestine – Gentile rule in a Jewish land – and they did not take kindly to any ideas of rebellion. The Jews wanted their own autonomy and rule. To be subject to the Romans was, for many, humiliating and unacceptable.

So, why in the world should anyone willingly choose to submit to an empire that doesn’t align with their values, aspirations, and goals in life?

Peter made it clear why: Submission helps clear away the obstacles to freedom (both personal and corporate) and doesn’t give the persons in authority a reason to speak or act foolishly.

It’s hard to submit; it’s not an easy thing to do. Yet, if we will continually connect submission with why we are doing it, this helps us persevere, especially under leadership which is less than stellar.

The real issue is how we deal with unwanted circumstances in our lives. Although we didn’t ask for many of the unfortunate situations in life, our response to them is critical, and makes all the difference.

“Evil is changed into good when it is received in patience through the love of God; while good is changed into evil when we become attached to it through the love of self. True good lies only in detachment, and abandonment to God. You are now in the trial; put yourself confidently and without reserve into his hand.”

François Fénelon, Let Go: To Get Peace and Real Joy

Admittedly, it is maddening when an injustice is done to us, or we observe someone else experiencing something they don’t deserve. Unjust actions and words perpetrated against us are out of our control. What is, however, within our control is our response. We can choose how to react in each and every situation we face.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

We, indeed, have a range of responses we may choose from: We can react in passive-aggressive anger, become sullen and morose, stuff all our emotions down and ignore them, lash out and verbally attack; or we can choose to accept the situation for what it is (and not what we want it to be) and submit ourselves to God.

All of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve one another; for the scripture says, “God resists the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time. Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5-7, GNT)

Submission to God often comes in the form of submitting to the human authorities in our lives – even when those persons and institutions over us are imperfect. Systemic evil isn’t changed by our response of perpetrating even more evil back upon them. Rather, unjust structures are transformed through godly persons choosing to work within the system to do good, not harm, and to love, not hate.

Christian freedom is never a matter of simply doing whatever the heck you want to do, regardless of how it impacts anyone else. Our freedom is in the ability to make choices about what sort of attitude we are going to have in all the circumstances of life we encounter.

Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:

He always had the nature of God,
    but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.
Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had,
    and took the nature of a servant.
He became like a human being
    and appeared in human likeness.
He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death—
    his death on the cross. (Philippians 2:3-8, GNT)

Therefore, what we’re left with is the willing choice to alter our own life, instead of continually trying to make everyone else change. It comes down to showing respect for all humanity, honoring God with our attitudes, and loving our sisters and brothers in the faith who face the same sorts of challenges we do.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Viktor Frankl

Be safe. Be strong. Be spiritual. We are all in this life together.

Receiving Blessings or Woes? (Luke 6:17-26)

Ethiopian artist depiction of Jesus teaching

He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (New International Version)

There are double meanings throughout these words of Christ for us today; the expressions used by Jesus are specifically meant to be understood in two ways.

In order to speak to the people, Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. In other words, the actual act of doing this is also to be understood as a means of identifying with others and getting on their level. The Lord intends not to speak down to people but to relate with folks alongside them.

The blessing of God is provided, up close and personal, not from afar. The word “blessed” is much more than a reference to physical health and wealth; it also refers to enjoying God’s stamp of approval on the whole of your life – body, mind, emotions, and spirit. And that is also what healing does for us; it effects the entirety of our being and not just one dimension of it.

To be “blessed” does not mean an absence of struggle. Indeed, blessings can and do rest upon us, even though we may be on the unfortunate end of someone’s hatred, exclusion, and defamation. It is to live through opposition, aware that our struggles are temporary and that our reward is great in heaven.

To have a “woe” pronounced means the opposite of blessing – to have God’s disapproval. It is to experience a curse – body, mind, emotions, and spirit – in the holistic sense.

The woeful may not experience apparent discomfort during this life. They mistake their wealth, their stuff, and their high connections as approval from God. However, they will find a fiery existence awaiting them. Apart from repentance and faith in becoming poor in spirit, their end is sure.

We are being led and guided to choose the way of blessing – and to avoid the path of woe.

Poverty, hunger, and weeping, on one level, are broad social categories. At another level, they are spiritual categories which describe the true follower of Jesus.

Christ’s church includes people who are poor, hungry, and weeping – in the full sense of the term. They, therefore, rely upon the community of the redeemed sharing all things in common as their means of provision. (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34)

We really need to avoid the temptation to make complex situations simple. To look upon those who now have wealth, eat well, laugh, and enjoy high standing, as under a curse from God, makes us simpletons who likely don’t understand what’s going on.

Others may make direct associations with wealth as blessing, which it may or may not be. And the same can be said for poverty and hunger – the presence of it doesn’t necessarily mean either blessing or woe.

The watershed issue is what we do with the life we have been given. Do the rich rely upon wealth or on God? Do the poor seek the Lord or just try to look for patrons who will help them? And do we all accept where we are right now and look to use whatever we have, and whoever we are, to benefit the benevolent and gracious kingdom of God?

We all may come from different places, have differing experiences, and be at various points along the continuum of poverty and wealth. Yet, we are all human and we are all in this life together.

So, we need to make the best of it with each other – instead of continually being at cross purposes with one another through simple stereotypes and hackneyed approaches based in little research or rational thought.

Jesus is leading us to a place of abundance, peace, and blessing – if we have ears to hear and minds receptive to his leading. It’s a place of healing; and not a place of woe. It is the realm of God, in which morality, ethics, kindness, and joy abound forever and ever.

Help us, O God, to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.

How, Then, Shall We Live? (Luke 16:19-31)

The Rich Man and the Poor Man by Laura Jeanne Grimes, 2005

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

 “The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So, he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

 “‘No, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (New International Version)

Many people look for a miracle at some point in life, especially for family. Whenever we see relatives walking far from God or siblings living without much thought to the words and ways of Jesus, it can be disconcerting. We may reason that if they could just experience or see some great miracle, then they will surely believe and embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. 

Yet, Christ’s parable to us of the rich man and Lazarus graphically depicts an important message: God has already revealed divinity to humanity through Moses and the Prophets (the Old Testament). 

If people are not convinced by what already exists and what has existed for a long time, they likely will not respond when the miraculous slaps them in the face.

Maybe we too often look for the dramatic because the mundane typically rules the day. Perhaps what we are really looking for is already present in God’s revelation to us. It could be that the greatest task we have is not to beg for a miracle (even though there is nothing wrong with that!) but first to be quiet and listen to the Spirit of God speak through the Word of God so that our prayers to God arise in God’s way and God’s time.

Today’s Gospel story gets at the heart of where we immediately and reflexively turn when in dire straits. There is nothing wrong with turning to others, consulting trusted resources, or even Google. Yet, Holy Scripture is timeless. It contains everything we need for life and godliness in this present age. And I believe it has the answers to life’s most pressing questions.

Everyone has their trusted sources, as well as sources we don’t trust. If a person has a pattern of not consulting or investigating Holy Scripture, then it doesn’t matter who encourages them, even if it is a trusted person who shows up from the grave, to look into the Bible’s contents and believe it’s message.

If we look closely at the story, we are told the poor man’s name: Lazarus. And we are not told the rich man’s name. You see, the poor man, Lazarus, had his name written in the Book of Life. The rich man’s name cannot be spoken because it is not found there.

There are two choices in life, two opposing paths we can take. One is to choose pleasure and overlook the great needs of the earth. Like old Jacob Marley in the Christmas Carol, it is to forge a chain, link by link, day after day, which will eventually leave one in bondage and regret.

The other choice is hope. To look ahead by faith and see the eternal things which are coming, then shaping our existence to act in sync with permanent values, is to choose life. Although this may bring deprivation, even suffering, in this present existence, the decision to forego temporary pleasure for eternal glory shall be rewarded. It is to live for future prosperity through present affliction.

So, how shall we then live?

  • Will we anchor our souls in the good bosom of bettering our fellow humanity?
  • Is there an acknowledgment that the measure we give to others shall eventually be given to us?
  • Do we seek to hold faith with a neighbor in their poverty?
  • Are we trusting so much in our five senses – sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch – that we either cannot or will not trust in the sixth sense of the spirit which tells us to believe Moses and the prophets?

Christ has risen. Christ is coming again. If we align our lives with spiritual truth, we shall find our names written in the Book of Life. Let us actively look for Lazarus in our lives, so that we don’t carelessly step over him day after day while selfishly indulging in the good things of this life.

Mighty God, you have done miraculous things. Help me see what you have already done and teach me to listen so that your revelation becomes alive to me. Holy Spirit, impress the redemptive event of Christ’s resurrection on the hearts of all who do not know you so that they might know your amazing grace. Amen.