Commit to Live Wisely

We are all on a journey, a quest.  Somewhere between our quest for truth and facts, and our desire for virtuous character, lies a quality that is rarely considered these days: wisdom. Wisdom is competence with regard to the complex realities of life. It is the ability to know what is the best thing to do in the majority of life situations which the accepted moral rules do not clearly address. The course of our lives is greatly determined by the many daily choices we make, and the Book of Proverbs is a guidebook to help us navigate those choices wisely.

The two major themes which are interwoven and overlapping throughout Proverbs are wisdom and folly. Wisdom, which includes knowledge, understanding, instruction, discretion, and obedience, is built on the fear of the Lord and the Word of God. Folly is everything opposite to wisdom.

I will be taking you through chapters 13-16 and the verse that best encapsulates all of those chapters is Proverbs 16:3: “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”

What plans are you pursuing and are they on the wise path?  Join us on this path of discovery this week.

~ Andy Cisneros

 

 

 

Scripture: Our Corrective Lens – Proverbs 12

reading-glasses-in-use

Today brings our weeks study of Proverbs 6-12 to a close.  Chapter 12 is a continuation of the antithetical Proverbs and there are some real beauties in here and they range through quite a spectrum of wise and unwise behaviors.

It leads off with a really good set of contrasts: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”  It doesn’t get much plainer than this:  A wise person willingly accepts discipline, but if you hate to be corrected by another you are stupid.

ted williams

Everybody makes mistakes.  I’m a big baseball fan.  I’ve always enjoyed playing and watching baseball.  The amazing thing about baseball is that the BEST baseball players fail between 60 and 70% of the time.  That’s right!  The best hitters usually have batting averages around .300, sometimes .350 and very rarely (like Ted Williams was the last one who did it and that was more than 70 years ago) someone will bat .400.  But even if you’re the greatest hitter of all time, you still FAIL to hit the ball 6 out of 10 times.  What is it that sets great hitters apart from the rest of us?  They learn from their mistakes.  They study film of their mistakes.  And they listen to their coaches who help them to correct what would appear to us to be very minor mistakes.  You get to be a great hitter by accepting correction, from learning from your mistakes.  That requires a lot of humility.

The same is true in the rest of our lives.  We all make mistakes.  Often we catch our own mistakes and take steps to correct them.  But sometimes we don’t even see our own mistakes.  Sometimes someone else sees our mistake and offers a word of correction.  A wise person willingly listens to correction and attempts to change their behavior… a foolish person refuses to receive or learn from the correction of others and so they fail to improve their actions.

The whole foundation of the gospel message in the Bible is a openness to correction and a willingness to change.  Jesus himself began his ministry by calling people to “repent, and believe the good news.”  To repent means to change your direction.

As you read through the Bible, God will use His word to bring to your mind and heart his corrective word.  You will see areas where you need to change.  You’ll see a passage like “Diligent hands will rule but laziness ends in forced labor.”  You might read that passage and realize, deep down, that this is an issue in your life.  You might blame other people for some of your problems, you might make excuses for why you do or don’t do certain things, but the fact is, you might actually be lazy.  I’m not saying you are lazy because, well, I don’t even know you.  You might be a diligent, hard working person and that’s great.  But then again, you might be lazy.  Your laziness may cause you to procrastinate and put off doing things that you need to do but don’t enjoy.  Your laziness may be costing you good grades in school, or a promotion at work.  Your laziness may because causing conflict in your marriage as your spouse resents that they have to work harder to make up for your laziness.  Your laziness might be keeping you from going to Church on Sundays or serving in a ministry at your Church where you might be very gifted and very helpful.  I don’t know if you’re lazy or not, but you need to at least take a hard look and ask yourself “does this Proverb apply to me?”  If you’re not sure, ask someone important in your life who really knows you and isn’t afraid to speak truth into your life and ask them “Do you every observe laziness in me?”  And if they say, yes, then you might want to consider that you may be lazy and you might want to become more aware of ways that laziness manifests itself in your daily life.  And you might begin asking God to help you change, understanding that it won’t happen overnight.

all scripture is God-breathed

But know this, no positive change can happen in any area of your life until you are ready to receive correction.  God’s Word, the Bible is powerful.  In one place the Bible refers to itself as a double-edged sword.  It’s able to dig deep inside of you.  It is able to help you change if you allow it to do it’s work in your life.  II Timothy 3:16 says it very well: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (New Living Translation).

Almost exactly a year ago I had surgery to remove cancer from my body.  I let a surgeon cut through my skin and muscle to get to where the cancer was and very carefully cut it out.  Why?  Because I don’t want to die from cancer any sooner than necessary.  As I think about it today,  I gave that surgeon an awesome responsibility.  And to be honest, before the surgery I was afraid.  Who is this man with a knife that I’m entrusting with my body, my life?  I’m glad I did it, because here I am a year later and I’m still alive and I have a whole lot less cancer in my body then I did then and I’ve got a whole lot better chance of living longer now because I trusted him to perform surgery on my life.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”. (Proverbs 9:10).  I trust my awesome God to use His word to go to work removing all the bad stuff in my life and bringing me to wholeness and salvation.  God does this through his word and through Jesus Christ, who was pierced for our transgressions.  It takes some cutting and some bleeding to bring us life, and to bring us eternal life.  I trust God my awesome God, do you?

~ Jeff Fletcher

Beautiful in God’s Eyes – Proverbs 11

pig-with-nose-ring

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.”  Can’t you just picture that dirty old barnyard animal running around with an expensive gold ring in its nose?  How ridiculous!  What’s the writer of this Proverb trying to communicate?

You can be a gorgeous woman who catches a man’s eye with your beauty, but if you don’t have the proper judgment and right behavior to go along with it, that beauty is as wasted on you as a gold ring would be wasted on a pig’s nose.  Now, we can flip that if you like.  You can be a strong, handsome, hunky guy, but if you don’t have good character, you’re nothing but a handsome fool and that’s not much good to anyone.

Proverbs 11 has 31 different Proverbs, and I could have chosen any one of them to write about today, but this one jumped out at me.  First, because who doesn’t like trying to picture a 1000 lb hog with a gold ring in its nose (and for good measure, why not add lipstick and mascara?).  Good luck getting that image out of your head.  But even more so, I think it’s important for you to think about something that’s important.  Now, I know some of you who read this are old like me, but for those of you who are younger I hope you are listening.  If you’re 18, or 21, or 25 you are probably as physically attractive right now as you are ever going to be in your life.  You’ve gotten past the awkward teenage years, and you’ve not yet hit the middle age spread when things start to bulge and sag and wrinkle and gray and… oh stop, I’m depressing myself now.

We live in a society that worships physical beauty.  Now, that’s nothing new.  Physical beauty  is culturally determined and can change from generation to generation.  What’s attractive to one culture may be different in another culture.  Just go to an art museum sometime and compare what was considered beauty at one time with what you see today on TV, in movies, in magazines and on the internet.  Beauty is subjective.  Hugh Hefner made large breasts the symbol of desirable female sexuality back in the 50’s and 60’s and women started going and getting breast augmentation surgery.  Then in the 90’s rappers of a certain ethnicity made large female bottoms the new standard for desirability  (Remember, “I like big butts and I cannot lie” ?).  Suddenly, women were going out and having their bottoms increased.

Men, if you want to be desirable to women “you’ve gotta have a six pack.”  That used to be the standard of masculinity.  I’m happy that now having a “dad bod” is becoming more highly valued.  This Proverb holds all of this up to ridicule. (Remember the pig with the nose ring?)

charm and beauty

Here’s the bottom line: what you look like is not nearly as important as your character.  How you live your life matters far more than what you look like.  Now sure, we all want to make sure that we’re physically healthy and well groomed up to a point.  And there’s certainly nothing wrong with honoring other people by making sure that you are well groomed and decently clothed.  I’m certainly not a fan of people wearing their pajamas to shop at Wal-mart or wearing your grungiest jeans to go to church.  No, don’t get me wrong, if you don’t have a lot of money and grungy jeans are all you have and can afford then I’d rather you wear them to Church instead of not go to Church at all.  But, at the same time, if you’ve got nice clothes in your closet that you could wear to church, but you decide it’s not worth it, or you want to make some kind of statement by wearing tattered clothes, that’s between you and God.  I think it’s a sign of respect to others to wear decent clothing when you are around other people and to appear modest and presentable.

With all that being said, you can spend way too much time fixated on your appearance, but if you don’t invest time in wise living and godly character, you’re really no better than a pig with a nose ring… you’re not fooling anyone for very long.

~ Jeff Fletcher

Two Roads Diverged – Proverbs 10

If you didn’t read yesterday’s devotion you should go do that now.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…..

Ok, Proverbs 9 sets the backdrop for the next several chapters in Proverbs.  Proverbs 9 gives the contrast between the way of wisdom and the way of folly (foolishness).  One way leads to life, the other leads to death.  With that in mind, chapter 10 begins a lengthy section of Proverbs which give a very clear contrast between the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness.  These Proverbs are technically known as antithetical which is a very common rhetorical device used in ancient literature to hold opposites next to each other.

Chances are, at some point in your educational journey, you became acquainted with the following poem by Robert Frost.

two roads

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

~ Robert Frost

 

That is poetic and filled with all kinds of metaphorical imagery, and it leaves it to each reader to fill it with its content.  What do the two different roads look like and where do they lead?

Proverbs 10 leaves very little to our individual imagination.  It spells things out like Mapquest.

These are my paraphrases of Proverbs 10:

If you are wise, you make your Daddy happy.
If you are foolish you break your momma’s heart.
If you are lazy, you’re broke
if you work hard, you’ll have plenty of money.

 
If you are wise, you’ll take instructions from those in authority
If you are a fool you’re always running your mouth and you’ll ruin your life because you don’t listen.
If you do things the right way, you have little to fear
but if you cut corners and break rules, it will eventually catch up with you.

 
If you go around spreading hate, it leads to more hate, and fights.
If you love others, it puts an end to the hate and helps bring about peace.
If you willingly accept correction your life will improve
if you ignore correction, you’ll not only hurt yourself, you’ll hurt others too.

 
If you live the right way, you have good things to look forward to.
If you spend your life doing evil things, life eventually becomes a dead end.

 

wisdom verses foolishness

That was fun, putting that wisdom into my own words.

You try it.  Take some of the Proverbs which contrast the way of wisdom with the way of foolishness and put it in your own words.  That’s the practical,  analytical, left-brain approach.

If you are more right-brained, creative and artistic, then write a story or poem or paint a picture contrasting the way of wisdom or the way of foolishness.

And if you’re really into it… try doing both the left and right-brained approach- and then you’ll never forget Proverbs 10.

~ Jeff Fletcher

Wise Choices lead to the Path of Wisdom – Proverbs 9

path of wisdom

Some of my happiest times are when I go out to eat with friends.  And some really memorable times are when a friend invites you to their house for a dinner party.  Something about the combination of good food and good friends coming together usually results in a lot of joy and laughter.

Proverbs 9 compares two very different kinds of dinner parties.  The first dinner party is hosted by Wisdom.  Wisdom has gone to a lot of work to create a top-notch get together.  She has had a beautiful house built, set up high on pillars, it’s a lovely place.  Inside her house, she has set a beautiful table that would impress Martha Stewart.  The steaks are all prepared to perfection and paired with the best wine.  It’s an elegant set-up to be sure.  And then she sends out her servants to invite people from all over the city to come and enjoy the fine dining experience.

Her invitation isn’t just for the wealthy and elite.  She’s inviting the simple folk to come.  Everyone is welcome at this table.

On the other side of town, there’s another dinner party being thrown by another woman.  But this woman’s name is folly.  She’s throwing a dinner party, but there is no evidence that this party has the elegance and preparation as Wisdom’s dinner party.  There is nothing said about preparing fine meats and wines.  In fact, this whole thing is sketchy.  She doesn’t send out servants with invitations; she’s just sitting on her doorstep yelling at everyone who comes by: “come to my house, stolen water is sweet, hidden food is delicious.”  Sounds pretty un-legit to me.  But wait, there’s more: “little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.”  Huh?  A dinner party where all the guests die from drinking stolen water and secret food?  I may be projecting 21st-century American culture onto this Proverb, but what I hear is “crack house”.  Of course, that wasn’t the original authors meaning, but he was clearly showing the stark contrast between a life lived in pursuit of wisdom vs. a life lived in pursuit of foolishness.

The way of wisdom leads to life, the way of foolishness leads to death.  This is just common sense.  With that being said, who on earth would choose the way of foolishness?  The answer, fools.  You can’t make decisions for other people.  You can’t force other people to make wise choices.  And nobody can force you to make wise choices.  At the end of the day, we are each responsible for the decisions we make in life.  Proverbs sets it out in simplistic language and or course there are exceptions.  Even good and wise people occasionally suffer accidents and calamities that impact or prematurely end their lives.  And yes, sometimes people who make terrible life choices still manage to survive and live long and somewhat successful lives.  We can usually find exceptions to almost any rule.  However, in the most simple and general way, if you make wise choices in life, things usually go well, and if you make stupid choices in life, they usually end up not so well.

I have a friend from high school that I haven’t seen in over 30 years, but we keep up with each other via Facebook.  This friend and I made some radically different life choices when we were in our late teens/early 20’s. My friend rejected God in college and embraced a life of atheism.  My friend rejected the traditional Biblical route of marriage and family, spent years shacking up with others.  Finally married, my friend divorced after a short time, remarried, but chose not to have any children so they could “enjoy life.” This friend recently posted that their spouse was gone on an extended trip when their birthday came, so they chose to go out and celebrate their birthday alone at a fancy restaurant (the bill for just my friend came out to over $250.00).  My friend took pictures of every course of the meal and the final bill to prove how much they had spent.  I read their birthday post with great sadness.  My friend has arrived at a place in life where they are all alone on their birthday with no one to share it with except their friends on social media where they tried to impress us with how much they spent on themselves for their birthday.

20645844_10155711264968489_1572574631_n

My last birthday was spent at home with my family.  They cooked foods I liked, they made my favorite desserts and sang happy birthday and gave me my “obligatory birthday gifts”: (That’s actually what the gift bag my daughter gave me said on it- she has my sense of humor). The meal for 9 of us probably came to less than $25.00.  There were some pictures taken (not by me).  I was certainly not alone, and I was extremely happy.  How did I arrive at such joy?  I took a path that I believe was the path of wisdom.  I married a godly woman while I was in Bible college, we made having a family and raising godly children a priority, and we are now enjoying the blessings of a life where we chose the path of wisdom.  Now, we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and we are far from perfect, but together we’ve made a great life and are now enjoying our 11 children and 4 grandchildren.  And we are part of an extended family of believers around the world in the Church of God.  We love God, and we love life.

How do you want your life to go?  Make sure you go to the right dinner party.

The first step of wisdom is to make God first in your life and center your life around God.  God is an Awesome God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)  That’s our memory verse for the week, and it’s how you make sure that you get on the right path for life.

~ Jeff Fletcher

Pursue Wisdom – Proverbs 8

wisdom more precious than rubies
per·son·i·fi·ca·tion
/pərˌsänəfəˈkāSH(ə)n/
noun
1. The attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.

The ability to make observations of all things whether physical or abstract and transform them into practical understanding that helps us to live better lives is an important aspect of wisdom and wisdom literature.  It certainly is a time honored tradition.  If you’ve ever read Aesop’s fables you are familiar with this kind of use of metaphor, here’ an example:

The Ants and the Grasshopper

THE ANTS were spending a fine winter’s day drying grain collected in the summertime.  A Grasshopper, perishing with famine, passed by and earnestly begged for a little food.  The Ants inquired of him, “Why did you not treasure up food during the summer?’  He replied, “I had not leisure enough.  I passed the days in singing.”  They then said in derision:  “If you were foolish enough to sing all the summer, you must dance supperless to bed in the winter.”

It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow.

Proverbs 8 is a textbook example of personification.  The writer takes Wisdom as an idea and personifies it all over the place.

Wisdom calls out and raises her voice.  Wisdom takes her stand.  She cries aloud at the city gates.  Wisdom speaks truth and rejects lies.  Wisdom is older than the earth, she was alongside God before the creation.  Wisdom has children and imparts blessing to all who listen to her.

I’m a big fan of metaphorical language and so this kind of personification of wisdom is very appealing to me and how I think and communicate. To me, the theme which rises above all in Proverbs 8 is that Wisdom should be highly valued:

  • “Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold.  For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.”
  • “My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver”
  • “Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.  For those who find me find life and receive favor from the LORD.”

The importance of wisdom can’t be overstated.  It’s essentially giving high value to common sense and good judgment.  The writer of the Proverb wants the reader to value common sense and good judgment so much that he or she looks for it every day.  Where can I find valuable insights that will help me to live a better life?

Here’s the problem, there’s an awful lot of foolishness in the world and our entertainment industry and now social media traffics in a lot of foolishness.  Now, don’t get me wrong- technology is a double edged sword and there’s a lot of wisdom to be found at our fingertips.  I’m not the most skilled mechanic or carpenter in the world, but when I have a household repair job I need to tackle, I can usually find at least a dozen Youtube videos showing me how to get the job done.  But there’s also a lot of stupid stuff on there that can be an extreme time waster.  We all have the same amount of hours in a day, we need to be wise in how we use it.  We can eagerly use it to search for wisdom where it can be found… or we can waste it on foolishness.  Do you value wisdom enough to eagerly pursue it like it was gold?

One gold nugget from Proverbs 8 to close “To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” (vs. 13).  If we fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, then we need to love what God loves and HATE what God hates.  So pay attention to the things that God hates: “pride, arrogance, evil behavior, perverse speech.”  If God hates it, so should we. So we need to reject attitudes and actions in ourselves that are offensive to God.

So let’s learn to love wisdom (even if it isn’t a person).

~ Jeff Fletcher

Don’t Fall for the Bait – Proverbs 7

son this is bait

Imagine the following conversation between a daddy bass and a child bass: “Now son, there are all kinds of delicious things for you to eat down here.  There are bugs and mosquitoes that float up on the surface of the water, and when it rains sometimes big, fat, juicy worms are swept from land into the lake and they are delicious for sure.  But you’ve got to be careful with those.  I’ve seen good friends latch onto a worm and then just shoot straight up through the water and disappear altogether.  One tiny little friend came back and shared the most amazing adventure.  He said he bit on the worm and felt something sharp go through his top lip.  Before he knew it, he was being dragged up faster than he could have ever swum. A huge hand grabbed him and pulled on him, he was held up in the air for a few seconds gulping for air, and then, wham, he was thrown back into the water.  Some of the fish didn’t believe his story, but I saw the scar on his lip and I believe it.  So, before you go biting into a big juicy worm, look to make sure there isn’t anything shiny poking out, and no thin little string going up out of the worm… or you might never come back to us.”

bait stop falling for it

Bait!  It’s the worm we use to trick fish to bite on a hook so we can catch, kill and eat it.  Bait!  It’s the cheese we put into the mousetrap so that a steel rod will smash their neck and do away with them.  Bait is all about predator and prey.  Bait is about seduction.  It’s about getting someone to put down their common sense and natural defenses so that we can lure them in for the kill.

In Proverbs 7, the writer provides a scenario of predator and prey.  In this case, it’s the young man and the prostitute. (I know, pretty racy stuff in the Bible).  The young man goes out onto the street in the evening, on the edge of danger.  Maybe he’s not intending anything bad, but he’s curious.  He’s heard that this is the “bad” part of town.  His parents have warned him to stay away, but maybe his friends have told stories about the fun that’s to be had there.  So he goes out to see.  And out comes the prostitute with her seductive clothing and seductive words as she seeks to lure him back into her house where she promises to show him a good time.

Her body and her words are the bait.  How will it end for the young man?  About the same as it does for the fish who bites the worm or the mouse who goes for the cheese.  It usually ends in death.  Oh, maybe not right away.  Maybe the death is slow.  Maybe it’s not the death of the body, but the death of the heart, the inner person, the death of innocence, the death of purity.  It could lead to the death of a relationship.

As I seek to apply this wisdom to our world today, I can’t help but see the comparisons to this story and pornography.  Instead of physically going to the bad part of town, one needs simply to click on a website.  In fact, there are websites that have ads that pop up on your browser trying to lure you in.  Pornography starts off by looking enticing but ends in death.  It kills purity, it kills relationships. It kills marriages.  Sometimes it kills one’s soul.

Sexual seduction comes in many forms and faces.  How many women are pulled into literary pornography (ever hear of 50 Shades of Gray?- that’s literary porn for women).  Seduction is everywhere and it’s impossible to avoid.  Even on Facebook, I get friend requests at least once a week from young women that I know I don’t know and they are usually wearing something seductive.  They are trying to pull me in.  In fact, there’s a thing now known as catfishing, which seeks to pull people in and then take advantage of them.

I once met a patient in the hospital who had been catfished.  He was in his 60’s and had lost tens of thousands of dollars, his marriage, his home and all his friends and had attempted to commit suicide.  Yet, he was still convinced that this poor little young woman from Russia was going to come and marry him if he could just send her a few thousand dollars more (than the thousands he had already sent her).

Proverbs 7:21 warns: “With persuasive words, she led him astray, she seduced him with her smooth talk.”  Of course, this is targeted at young men.  But young women can also be targets of predators, and often are.  You are never too young or too old to be the target of a predator.  Seducers can be male or female, young or old.  They lure you in with whatever bait they think you will go for.  They look for areas where you are vulnerable.

When the Bible illustrates evil and temptation from the devil (or the serpent in Genesis) it operates in the same way.  The serpent uses the forbidden fruit as the bait and seductive words to convince Eve (and Adam) that God is a liar and that they won’t die if they eat the fruit.  In the wilderness, the devil uses Jesus’ hunger and his ability to transform stones into bread as the bait.

Green Apple In Woman Hands

What can we do to protect ourselves from such seductions from evil?  Jesus used God’s word.  Every time he was tempted he used the truth of God’s word to counter the temptation.  This is where Eve missed the mark.  She didn’t have a foundation of trusting God’s word to help her resist the seductive words of the tempter.  Jesus did, and it made all the difference.  Proverbs 7 begins here: “My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you.”  When we embed the word of God deep into our hearts by reading it, studying it, meditating upon it, and living it out, we create for ourselves a foundation of truth upon which we build our lives and it will protect us in times of temptation.

Just remember, worms are delicious, but make sure they don’t have a hook hidden inside before you bite.

~ Jeff Fletcher