Screaming in the Streets | Enlarging Your Word – Proverbs

This week we’re wrapping up our series we’ve been in this summer in Proverbs.  We’ve been looking at this ancient book of wisdom literature that’s full of these short, pithy statements about the way that the world generally works.  Most of it is Solomon writing to his son, wanting to pass down to him how to live well in the world that God has created.  Essentially, how to live in light of reality, how to live in light of truth.  To align ourselves with the way that God has wired the world to work.  That’s what this book is all about.  Last week we looked at justice as part of our mission focus, this week we’re going to look at a different topic, but looking out and asking God the question, “God, what are you inviting us to give our lives to?”  Everything good that we have is a gift from God.  Now, let’s just pause for a moment.  EVERY. GOOD. GIFT. YOU. HAVE. Is from God.  Your family is a gift from God.  Friendships — a gift from God.  A house to live in — a gift from God.  Well, you go I worked for that, I strove for that…..and God goes exactly, but who gave you the body and the ability and the skill and the mind to do that?  If you push it back far enough, you’re going to find that HE is the source.  If we aren’t convinced that God is the source of all, we’ll live in a narrative of scarcity instead of a narrative of generosity.  He’s the source. If you want to get buy a gift, then Shield Republic Co is a best gift shop.

Close your eyes for a moment.  I want you to imagine that you are Adam or Eve, waking up on the morning that you find yourself in this garden, that the Scriptures talk about in Genesis 2.  In this garden there’s a river flowing. There’s trees coming into bloom.  There’s flowers that fill the space.  Everywhere you look there’s something for your eyes to take in.  Can you see it?  Open your eyes.  That story for the Hebrew people was significant.  It was different than other stories about the way that God created the world.  When Adam and Eve woke up—the story is told in Genesis 1 and 2—they are surrounded by beauty.  It’s significant.  It tells us something, the Scriptures do.  Not just what it means to be human—it does tell us that.  It tells us we’re created in the image of God, that we’re given a role in God’s world to fulfill.  But more than that, the first chapters of Genesis tell us something about God.  They tell us that God is exceedingly, abundantly, lavishly generous.  Adam and Eve didn’t wake up in the middle of a desert.  They woke up in the middle of a garden.  You should take a note of that—it tells us something about who God is, it tells us something about what God is like.  Every time we drive from Colorado to California, we drive through Nevada.  I’m like, “Who in the world would want to live here?!”  No offense, if you have.  But our story as humanity begins not in a desert, but in a garden.  This tells us something about our God. From the very first pages of Scripture, what we find out is that God is not stingy, God is not scarce, that God is abundantly, lavishly generous. Just this last week we paused as a nation and we all put on stupid glasses and stared at the sun.  We were reminded for just a moment that this world that we live in is full of beauty.

I saw a story about a man named Sasha Dichter.  He’s the Chief Innovation Officer at a non-profit that’s in charge of distributing wealth among the poorest of people in the form of micro-loans.  What he found as he traveled to his job on the subway was that he was getting jaded just walking past all these people in need every day.  He decided that he was going to do an experiment.  He decided that for thirty days he was going to give to anybody who asked him.  He called it the “Thirty Day Generosity Experiment.”  {Could you imagine being one of his friends, knowing he’s doing this experiment?  “Hey, man, can I borrow some money for lunch?”  You know he has to say yes.}  He does this for thirty days.  He wanted to try to rewire his brain to be more and more generous.  Listen to what he says at the very end of it: “Giving is an act of self-expression, and generosity is a practice.  Each time I decide not to give, I’m reinforcing a way of acting —- one that’s critical and analytical and judgmental.”  That was his take.  He goes after these thirty days of “yes,” my mind was just totally rewired.

His experiment reminded me a little bit of my wife.  When we were first dating and I was on vacation with her family in California, we were at this T-shirt station on the boardwalk in San Diego.  She (Kelly) wanted to buy a T-shirt and took it to the register and there was a little tip jar at the T-shirt register.  I thought to myself, “Who in the world would tip a T-shirt person?”  They’re not doing anything but standing behind the register. They’re just doing their jobs. My wife bought a T-shirt, then started digging into her wallet and pulled out a few dollars and stuck them into the T-shirt tip jar.  We got outside the T-shirt place and I’m like, “Let’s have a conversation!”  I think we may have been engaged at this point and I’m like, “I’m not sure I can go through on this marriage if you’re going to be tipping the T-shirt lady!  I’m not sure this is going to work out between you and I.”  I’ll never forget what she said —- Ryan, if I want to be generous with my money, don’t try to stand in my way.  {Mic drop!}

I think I struggle with what a lot of us struggle with.  We, in our heads, want to be generous people.  In fact, recent studies have shown that when we are generous people, there are parts of our brain that light up and go “Yes!”  We’re wired for generosity.  Many of us, myself included, live in a totally different narrative, don’t we? We don’t live in this narrative of abundance, like the world we’re created in.  We have a hard time really believing the words of Jesus that are quoted by the apostles in the book of Acts: It is more blessed to give than to receive.  We go, “I know that in my head, but it’s really hard when it comes to my pocketbook.” Is anybody with me?  We know it….we want to go there, but we have such a hard time doing it.

The book of Proverbs talks a little bit about why.  Like I’ve said over the last few weeks, after chapter 9 in the book of Proverbs, we have a potpourri of wisdom statements.  In order to pull together a sermon on generosity, we’re going to take it from a bunch of different parts.  Listen to the way that Solomon writes in Proverbs 18:10-11 —  The name of the Lord is a strong tower; {In ancient wisdom literature, this would be a picture of security, of strength, of goodness.}  the righteous man runs into it and is safe.  A rich man’s wealth is his strong city.   Here’s what the book of Proverbs is pointing out—we have two different choices of where we run.  We have two different choices as to where we find our security.  We have two different choices of where we find our strength and what we put our hope in.  We could put it in God, the strong tower, or we could put it in ourself.  We often put it in, as the book of Proverbs points out, our wealth.  We say that this is going to keep me safe, this is going to be my security, this is going to be my safety net.  Proverbs would push back on us and say the very same thing Jesus says to the people who want to follow him—-there’s only one source.  {Would you look up at me for just a second?}  It’s not you!  Which should take a little bit of the weight off of us.  In fact, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who doesn’t know what to do with all of his wealth —- And he told them a parable (story), saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, {Anecdotally, by the way, when they would farm back in this day, farming was a true partnership between the divine and the human.  People would plant seeds and then God would make it rain.  This plentiful take of a crop was the result of not just a person’s work, but of the God who provided the rain.}  and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’  And he said, ‘I will do this:  I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’

There’s one word that stood out to me in that passage.  Any guesses what it was?  I.  I’m going to do this.  I’m going to make sure that I’m okay.  What we do because we have a narrative of scarcity that goes around in our brain, and we forget that the world we live in is God bathed and ridiculously beautiful and that God is exceedingly generous, we start to go I, alone, have to make this happen.  We forget that the Scriptures teach us that ALL things come from God.  From Him and to Him and through Him are all things, the book of Romans says (Rom. 11:33-36).  But, hey, look up at me for a second, we forget that, don’t we?  We think we have to be the source of our own security and the source of our own safety.  I love the way C.S. Lewis put it: “For many of us the great obstacle to charity (generosity) lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear — fear of insecurity.”

I have this conviction that there’s not a person in this room that does not want to be a generous person. Whether you follow the way of Jesus or you don’t, my conviction is that you want to be a generous person, because you know that there’s something in you that lights up when you share with the people around you.  But there’s some challenges to that.  The first challenge is we forget what the source of everything is.  My invitation this morning is trust the source.  The Scriptures are clear— Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  

Flip over to Proverbs  with me.  Wisdom literature is going to push it further than just remembering who the source of everything is, but they’re going to put out—the book of Proverbs, the Scriptures, the Word of God—a little carrot, as it were, for the way of generosity.  One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.  Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.  If you were to read this passage in the Message Version of the Bible, here’s what you’ll find:  The world of the generous gets larger and larger; (Isn’t that a great line?  The world of the generous….people who give themselves and their stuff…what happens to their world is it gets bigger and bigger.}  …the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.   The New Living Translation says it like this:  Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything.  If you’re going hey, Paulson, this sounds a little bit like something I could watch on TV, real late on TBN, with an appeal for money coming after it, here’s the thing….no appeal for money to come.  This is just an appeal to live in the way that God has wired the world to work.  As we are generous people, as we live in this way of abundance, not scarcity, the narrative of God is good and He’s the source of all, therefore my hands can be open, they don’t have to be closed…..as we live in THIS way, our world gets bigger and bigger and bigger.  That’s what the Scriptures teach.

Here’s what you’ll find if you look back at the ESV, this idea of “gives freely” literally could be “scatters.”  It’s a picture of a farmer who goes out into his field and scatters seed.  But notice, when a farmer comes to harvest time, they do not find themselves harvesting seed.  They harvest fruit, they harvest wheat, they harvest grain. What happens when they sow the seed is that it turns into something even better than what they gave away. The Scriptures are teaching the same thing.  They’re not going hey, if you give money away, you’re going to get it back ten-fold on you.  That’s not what it’s saying.  It’s not putting that outside the bounds of what God might do.  What it is saying is your world gets bigger and bigger and bigger and stuff better than money, when you’re generous, starts to fill up your life.

It goes on to say that the person who blesses will be blessed, they will be watered.  It’s not just giving away our stuff, it’s giving blessing.  It’s being people who speak a good word over those around us.  It’s being people who see gifts in others and calls them out.  Did you know that’s a form of generosity?  What you say with your mouth is a form of generosity.  What the Scriptures say is the people who bless others don’t find themselves with a lack of people around them with good things to say about them; they are filled up as they give out.  Is your life in line with this?  That’s the question that the Scriptures ask.  Not only do we have to trust the source, but we’ve got to understand God’s plan.

I was coaching my son’s baseball team—-little eight-year-olds.  After a few batters, all the balls would be behind the backstop.  They would be caught by the backstop because of swings and misses, or bad pitches.  The kids would all go there and I would make them go behind the backstop and throw me the balls on the pitching mound.  Eventually I got to the point where my glove was filled up and I tried to catch them with my bare hand. Soon I had all these eight-year-olds pelting me with balls, right?  My hands are full.

I think it’s this picture of what Proverbs is teaching.  In order to give, your hands have to be open, right?  Did you know that in order to receive, your hands have to be open too?  If your life is so full of stuff, if your time is so jammed pack with zero margin and you’ve got so much going on and your life, proverbially speaking, is just like this and you’ve got no hands open…..listen, you also have no ability to receive from God.  The picture that Proverbs paints is this open hands—both to give and to receive.  Is that a picture of your life?   I want to challenge you to embrace this invitation.  To step in line with the way that God has wired not only your body and your brain to work, but the way that He’s wired his world to work.  To embrace the invitation to live generous lives, open-handed lives. It’s simply saying God, my life is yours.  How do you want to use it?  What do you want to do?  What type of story do you want to tell with my eighty- or eighty-plus or eighty-minus-years that you give me on this earth?  What do you want to do?  My hands are open to you.  My life is open to you. What do you want to do?

In the next few minutes, I want to paint three pictures for you of ways you can be generous.  Really practical things that you can do this week, in light of the challenge to trust the source, understand God’s plan, and to embrace the invitation.  Here’s the first thing.  The book of Ephesians (5:15-16) says:  Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Literally, the picture painted in the Greek is of one who redeems the time, makes the most of opportunities that God brings to our path.  You know what I found as I thought about just my last week and the things that God brought into my world, opportunities to be generous?  I could think of three, right off the the top of my head from this last week, and here’s what every single one of them had in common — they were inconvenient!  Every one of them! They weren’t in my schedule.

Here’s the distinctive about generous lives—people who live with open hands to God saying, “What do you want to do with my life?”  They trust that God’s calling is more important than their calendar.  It doesn’t mean that they don’t show up for work, please hear me on that.  It means that they show up to work with a completely different lens.  God, what might you want to do in my life today?  As I was looking at our message last week on the issue of justice, one of the stories that I read a few times was the story of the Good Samaritan.  You might be familiar with it.  If you’re not, it’s in Luke 10.  There’s a lawyer that comes to Jesus and asks him what must he do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus responds and asks him what do the Scriptures say?  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.  And he said him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”    The person responds with, “Who is my neighbor?”  To that question Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  In light of the priest and the Levite who walk right passed the person on the side of the road, who’s in need, you have this Samaritan who stars in the story.  He shows up and he cares for the person.  The thing that struck me this week is….that must have been a huge inconvenience.  Not just of money, and not just of care, but of time.  He’s on that road because he’s going somewhere.  How many times do I use the excuse, “God, I’ve got things to do; I’ve got places to go; I’ve got things that I’ve got to take care of?”   Here’s what generosity says —- I’ll stop what I’m doing to fill the need.  I’ll take on some liability to bring hope.  I’ll embrace the interruption as divine calling. People who live with open lives to God try to live under the mantra that opportunities often look like inconveniences.  They do!

Even if you’re not a follower of Jesus, you can practice this this week and see what it does in your life.  To say God, your calling on my life is more important than my calendar.  It might look like….Dads, when you get home from work, instead of continuing to work on your phone, generosity might look like turning it off.  There’s this thing called ‘airplane mode.’  Do you know about it?  It means nothing can get in, right?  That’s what it might look like.  It might look like taking time to have a conversation with somebody in your workplace, or your neighbor that comes and wants to chit-chat with you while you’re mowing your lawn. {Please, God, help these people!}  That’s what it might look like.  It might look like somebody who’s struggling at work and saying hey, if there’s anything you need, I’m willing to help you out.  It might be having somebody over for dinner.  It might be signing up to lead a Life Group.  There’s a lot of different ways you can practice going, “God, let me see the opportunities you bring my way.”

Here’s the second thing. In that parable Jesus tells, he ends with this impartation — But God said to him, {This person who’s the ‘I,’ ‘I,’ ‘I,’ ‘me,’ ‘me,’ ‘me,’ bigger barns guy.}  ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21)    Here’s the picture — It’s of the generous person who says God, your kingdom is more essential than my accumulation.  God, what you’re doing in the world is better than bigger barns.  It’s better than nicer cars.  It’s better than bigger houses.  God, what you’re doing in the world is so much bigger and so much better and so much more beautiful, I want to be a part of it.  This is where we give a piece of our resources back to God and go, “God, I want you to take this little gift and I want you to multiply it, and I want you to make it beautiful, and I want you to make it way bigger than it would ever be in my bank account.”  I’m not saying that saving is bad; I think it’s actually a very biblical principle found in Proverbs, but the other principle alongside of it is generosity.  With our time….and with our resources.

Let me give you four things that being a generous person does.  According to the Scriptures…..we could do a whole series on this, but let me do a flyover.  One, being a generous person shapes your heart.  Here’s what Jesus says in Luke 12:34 — For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  When you give to a non-profit that’s doing great work to wipe out malaria in Africa, you find yourself praying for them more, don’t you? When you give to South Fellowship Church—and so many of you do and so many of you have, in sacrificial and really beautiful ways—you find yourself going, “I’m invested here.”  It shapes our heart.  Second, it opens us up to see God’s provision in our life.  When we’re generous people, we see God provide.  2 Corinthians 9:8 says it like this — And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”  God fills you up in order to spill you out.

It shapes our heart, it frees us to see God’s provision, third, it furthers God’s mission.  My friend, and yours, Dr. Jeff Brodsky, who started JOY International that works with slavery victims, told me this over lunch the other day.  He said, “When JOY International has money, girls get rescued.”  That’s part of God’s mission….wholeness, goodness, beauty. That’s part of our mission too.  This last year, as you give to Benevolence, it frees us to help practical needs within the church body.  We were able to give out $30,995.12 this last year to people in our church body who are hurting and needed help.  That’s awesome!  We were also able to come alongside 24-25 missionaries to the tune of $100,000 to support them this last year, because we, collectively together, believe that when we’re generous, we further God’s mission and we want to see his name proclaimed on every corner of this globe.  He’s that good!  Because of your generosity, we were able to have 88 outside organizations who have zero association with South Fellowship Church, use our building this year.  Eighty-eight groups of people!!  Either every week or one time in the last year, come and benefit from your generosity.  I love that!  That’s God’s mission being furthered.  That’s awesome.  That’s a beautiful picture of this truth that we’re seeing that God’s kingdom is more essential than us just accumulating or getting a really nice building, or facility, or car, or whatever.  Finally, it results in praise to God.  2 Corinthians 9:11 — You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

How might you start this week?  Maybe you’re here today and you’re not a follower of Jesus.  One, you’re welcome here and we love having you here.  This is for you also.  Maybe it’s finding a non-profit that you’re feeling is doing really, really good work.  Give.  Maybe it’s deciding, for the first time, that you’re going to give just a little bit, every week, to what God’s doing here at South.  Praise the Lord.  Here’s my challenge to you this week—will you practice this biblical principle of trusting that God is the source, understanding His plan, and walking in His invitation to say, “God hasn’t given me this stuff just to hoard it, He’s actually calling me to have open hands.”  Will you take that to Him?  What does that look like for you this week?  I don’t presume to know; I just know His calling for you is to live a life of generosity.

The question a lot of us ask is, “God, how could you even use my life?”  Lord, I’m willing to give you my time, but I don’t have a whole lot else.  What might you want to do with me?  I love this picture of Moses in the Old Testament.  He’s one of the main characters that God uses to chart the course of the nation of Israel. He’s having that same conversation with God.  I think Moses wanted to be generous, but he sort of felt like…I’m the last guy in the world you’d choose to do something great through, God.  Listen to this conversation after Moses tells God he’s not the best talker, he’s not the guy God should choose.  Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.'”  The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”  {I highlighted that because I think it’s the same question God asks you.  What’s in your hand?  What do you have?  And you do know that anytime God asks a question it’s not because He doesn’t know the answer.} He said, “A staff.”  And he said, “Throw it on the ground.”  {This is a picture of generosity. Throw it down.  It’s out of my hands now.}   So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. (Exodus 4:1-3) 

Here’s the thing, you guys, there’s some things in your hand that look like a stick, they look like brokenness, they look like pain.  They look like abuse that you’ve walked through.  They look like raising a special needs kid that’s taken everything you’ve got.  They look like a past that you would rather forget than remember.  There’s some things in your hand this morning, and the question God asks you is will you surrender those things, give them over to me and trust that I can do something with them?  Generosity looks like saying back to God, “God, your strength is more significant than my skill.”  So whatever is in my hand, God, I’ll give to you.  I’ll throw it down.  Availability is way more important than ability.  Saying to God, “God, what do you want to use my life for?  It’s yours.  Lead me.  Guide me.”

We have a couple in our church, Chris and Joy Copeland, they’ve been on this journey with God over the last few years saying, “God, we want you to do something great in our life.  We want you to show yourself powerful.” They started to ask the dangerous question….God, what do you want to do with us?  Our lives are open to you. I want to share with you a portion of their journey.  My hope is that it’s an encouragement to you as you say back to God, “God, our lives are open to you also.  What do you want to do?”

{Video plays}  Hi! We’re the Copeland clan.  Hi, I’m Gage and I’m 13.  Hi, I’m Gavin and I’m twelve.  Hi, I’m Garrison and I’m 15.  I’m Joy.  And I’m Chris.  {Voice asks, “No ages?”}  {Joy speaks} — I spent that week praying, God, I don’t know what you’re doing and why you would call this unadventurous girl overseas.  Chris and I, for our anniversary, give each other goals.  My goal for Chris, a couple of years ago, was you need to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.  I asked him, for the next year, to spend some time in prayer about what God would want him to do.  {Chris speaks} — I started praying through that year and I felt, almost immediately, like God was saying missions.  I thought that doesn’t make any sense.  We just bought a house and Joy…..I wasn’t sure she’d be on board with that.  I was afraid of what her reaction would be if I told her that. After about nine months of wrestling with God, I finally said, “Okay, God, if this is what you want for us you’d better work on Joy’s heart so that she’s prepared for this.”   {Joy} — One day we were walking at our church and I was just talking with Chris and said, “Hey, do you think we missed our calling?  Maybe we should have been missionaries.”  Chris said, “Yes!! Let’s go!”  And I went “What???”  I didn’t talk to him about that after that because I’m not adventurous.  I spent the week praying and God kept pushing, “Talk to Chris. Talk to Chris. Talk to Chris.”  I was like, “Fine.”  At the end of the week, I talked with Chris and he told me what God had been putting on his heart and I was like, “Awww, man.”  We can wrestle with God or we can just pick up and go where God calls us.  {Chris} — We started praying God would reveal to us where we should go.  We had three different conversations with different staff at World Venture.  We told them our background…..my growing up Catholic; her growing up in an alcoholic family.  They said, “You should consider Ireland.”  We’re like, “Ireland? Are there missionaries in Ireland?  What’s going on in Ireland?”  Three different conversations, unrelated, and they all confirmed Ireland.  We like, “Okay, God, you must be trying to tell us something.”   We decided to do some research and meet the team and God really confirmed for us that’s where He wanted us.  It was strange for me, because I’m not a pastor.  We’ve done ministry before, both of us, but I’m a business guy.  I thought, “Okay, what’s God going to do with me?”  My master’s degree is in leadership development so I wondered how He was going to use that on the field.  {Joy} — January of 2015 is when we really hit the ground running.  Two-and-a-half years we’ve been raising support.  That’s been hard, because God’s plan isn’t easy.  God’s plan isn’t black and white.  It’s not….I’m going to tell you every step of the way.  It’s a…..you trust Me and trust Me to lead you.  {Chris} — Even though it’s a struggle, we’ve also seen really awesome things happen.  We got a $10,000 anonymous gift once.  We’re like, “Where does that come from?”  We’ve seen God work even when we’re doing our best and it just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, God will say, “Here, here’s some stuff for you.” It’s like cherishing the time we have here and the growth that God wants us to go through before we get to the field, and really embracing what He wants us to learn here.  It’s easy to go, okay, this is our destination, this is where God wants us and that’s our end-all.  God’s like, “No, no, no, no.  I’m taking you through a process.”  It is hard.  You wake up and go, “God are we ever going to get there.  What’s going on?”  {Joy} — We’re very open with our boys about how we’re feeling that day.  Our kids, 9 out of 10 times, will go, “God has called us, so we need to remember that, Mom.  God’s called us, He’ll get us there in His time.”  {Chris} — Now when we hit difficulties we go, “Okay, we know God CAN, we’re just waiting for whether He will or not, in this case.”  That’s how we get through our difficulties.  {Joy} — This journey of ups and downs, and twists and turns, and joys and sorrows and frustrations….where you want to go, “Ughhh!” is so worth it.  It’s worth it because God calls you. It is probably the greatest adventure ever.  Coming from a non-adventurous person, I’d recommend it.  I would do it again, and I’d probably do it the same way, because this is how we learn and grow deeper and stronger in our faith.

The Copelands are going to be out at a table if you want to talk to them further and hear more of their story.

Here’s my closing question for you — How’s God challenging you and inviting you to be generous?  To believe the truths that God’s calling is more important than my calendar, God’s kingdom is more important than my accumulation, and God’s strength is more important than my skill.  What step might you take this week that would say, “I believe those things?”  Here’s the thing….here’s the thing….here’s the thing.  If you are a follower of Jesus this morning, you have everything you need, every motivation, to be that kind of person.  Listen to the way that Paul says it to the church of Corinth (2 Corin. 8:9) — For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, {He was generous to us!  He gave his very life for us.} ….so that you by his poverty might become rich.   That’s the story we live in; those are the songs that we sing.  The invitation from the Scripture is will you be a picture of your great God to his beautiful world?  I pray that we will.  Let’s pray.

Father, this morning, we say back to you that we believe that you’re the source.  We say back to you that we trust that your plan is good, that it’s true.  That the world of the generous grows larger and larger.  We want our world to grow.  We want our influence to grow.  We want our relationships to grow, Lord.  Teach us to be generous people.  Lord, with the time that we have, with the resources you’ve given us, and for the gifts you’ve provided, we want you to use them in our lives, for the glory of your name.  Would you teach us more and more what that looks like?  It’s in the name of Jesus that we pray.  Amen.

Screaming in the Streets | Enlarging Your Word – Proverbs2020-08-20T13:58:33-06:00

SCREAMING IN THE STREETS:  People of Justice   Proverbs 29:7, 31:8-9, 16:11, 21:3

SCREAMING IN THE STREETS:  People of Justice   Proverbs 29:7, 31:8-9, 16:11, 21:3

The stories we tell as a culture, in many ways, shape the lives that we live.  They shape the direction we go, they shape the values that we hold.  It shouldn’t be any surprise to you that the same was true for the nation of Israel. The stories that they told and that God commanded them to tell and retell were intended to shape the lives that they lived.  One of the most prominent stories that the Israelites told over and over and over again, both through festival and ritual and through direct command from God, was the story of their exodus from slavery.  All over the pages of Scripture we find this command “Remember where you came from Israel.”  Israel was under the mighty, oppressive hand of the Egyptians for 400 years.  They were commanded to make bricks without straw; they were beaten down; they were oppressed, and God miraculously and mightily stepped in….and you may have seen Charlton Heston reenact it….but He stepped in and led them out of Egypt.  He parted the Red Sea; they walked through it on dry ground.  They wandered around in the desert for 40 years and God shaped them and formed them as a people, then eventually led them into the Promised Land.   He gave them this command: Never forget where you’ve come from.  Don’t forget what it’s like to be on the bottom as I bless you, God said.  You are intended to be a people who bless those around you and don’t forget…don’t forget…don’t forget about the least vulnerable people.  Remember, that’s who you were when I took you by the hand and I led you into freedom.  In the book of Deuteronomy, it’s not unique and just one passage, we start to see this shine through.  Speaking to the nation of Israel, God says:   You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner (foreigner or immigrant) or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. (Deut. 24:17-18)  This is a formative narrative for the people of God.  Never forget where you’ve come from.

Why does God have to command Israel to remember?  Because they’d forget.  The same is true for you and me. It’s easy to forget where we’ve come from when we stand where we are.  So he says to them, my nation, my people, my voice, my light, will be a people of justice.  Not just a people who can serve you back, and not even to people who are part of your nation, but you’re going to be a unique people amongst all the people of the earth, because you’re going to do justice to the sojourner, to the fatherless, to the widowed, to the groups of people that everybody else takes advantage of.   You’re going to be unique, Israel.  Why?  Because you remember what it’s like to be on the bottom.  The hard part is….you forget.  The hard part is we trend away from justice naturally because it typically doesn’t benefit us.

My oldest son has a strong sense of justice.  So when it’s his birthday he expects to get presents….because that’s what’s right.  But the thing is, he expects to get presents on everyone’s birthday!  He’s going, “Why did Avery get that?”  Well, because it’s her birthday. Well, what am I going to get?  Why did Avery get to have that friend over?  When is my friend coming over?  Your friend’s been….he lives at our house, man!    {Ethan} has a strong sense of justice through his own lens.  Only when it benefits him does he want justice!  {Will you look up at me for a second?}  We never grow out of this.  This is part of what it means to be human.  We have this deep longing for justice in our souls.  If you disagree with me, explain to me why we have CSI:Lincoln, NE?!  We have twelve different versions of CSI…Crime Scene Investigators because we love justice.  Nobody’s rooting for the bad guy who murdered all the people to get away.  Have you ever wondered why that is?  We’re all rooting for the person to get caught, for what’s right to be done. It’s the reason the podcast “Serial” was so compelling. Episode after episode.  I’m going, “Well, is Adnan guilty or is he innocent and are you ever going to tell me?” The answer’s no, they’re never going to tell you.  Spoiler alert—if you’re in the middle of it, you’re going to be disappointed….because you love justice, just like I do. It’s the same reason “Making a Murder” on Netflix was so wildly popular…because we love justice.  We want things to be fair.  We want things to be right.

I would consider this to be the image of God that’s stamped on the human soul.  We want justice, we want right, because we’re made in the image of God.  What sin does to us is it turns us and it fractures us.  Instead of seeing justice as it is, we start to see it through our lens.  We start to see it through the lens of….what benefits me?  What serves me?  What God says to his people all throughout the Scriptures is listen:  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner (the immigrant, the wanderer, the person without a country to call their own), giving him food and clothing.  Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:18-19)   Don’t forget the story!!  Don’t forget the bigger narrative that you’re a part of.  I redeemed you, I rescued you, and you are to be a people who do the same.

As we see in this passage, justice is really, really, really important to God, because all people are important to God. That’s why it matters.  That’s why it matters to God, that’s why it should matter to us as God’s people. Justice matters to God because all people matter to God.  In our time together in the Scriptures this morning, we’re going to ask God to press on us a little bit, because, like I said, we start to see things strictly from our point of view and what benefits us.  It’s not because we’re intentionally evil or we’re wrong, it’s because it’s part of our human condition.  So let’s just admit this morning that we may have some blind spots. Maybe there are some things in our life that we don’t see, so we’re going to go to the Scriptures and we’re going to ask that God would open our eyes and that justice would matter to us because it matters to God.   And that justice would matter to us because people matter to us.  So even if it costs us something, let’s be people who pursue justice.

You may be going, alright, Paulson, that’s great, but what is justice?  There’s two words in the Hebrew scriptures that are typically translated ‘justice.’  They’re sort of like two sides of the same coin.  The first word is the word “mishpat.” {mish-pawt} It’s used over 200 times in the Hebrew scriptures and it simply means “that which is equitable or fair.”  To do what’s right.  {So, you have this scale in your bulletin….and I understand that if I put all the good things on one side of the scale, it’s going to be uneven.  I get it.  The metaphor’s going to break down at some point, so we’re going to stack the justice things on one side and injustice on the other.} Equitability means that things are fair and that’s what mishpat means.  But it’s more than just correcting wrongs.  It’s both punishing the wrong doer, but more than that, it’s restoring the person who is wrong.  All throughout the Scriptures, you see this word mishpat that carries with it this relational component…that the person who was taken advantage of is somehow made right again.  That they’re made whole.  So sometimes when justice is talked about in the Scriptures, the wrong doer, as it were, gets off, but the wronged is restored and God says that’s justice, that’s mishpat.  It’s this idea that the wronged is made right and is restored.

We see this all throughout the Scriptures.  It tends to focus, in the Old Testament, around Israel being the kind of people who have mishpat, or have justice, towards the people that everybody else takes advantage of. Deuteronomy 27:19 — Cursed by anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and widow.   If you add “the poor” in there, what you have is what many people refer to as the quartet of the vulnerable.  The people that everybody takes advantage of simply because they can.  God says, no, no, not my people.  They do justice or they’re right in their dealings with everybody.

The second word is similar.  It’s the word “tzadeqah” (tsed-aw-kaw’).  It means ‘righteousness.’  It means to treat others the way that you would want to be treated.  It’s the type of thing where if everybody lived with tzadeqah, mishpat wouldn’t be necessary because people would be treated right.  Here’s what God presses on his people.  In fact, early on in the Scriptures, you see the calling over Abraham’s life is this —  For I (God) have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness (tzadeqah) and justice (mishpat).  (Gen. 18:19)    It’s the first time the word ‘justice’ is used in the Scriptures and it’s tied together with this term ‘righteous.’  Living rightly in relationship to the people around you.  Justice isn’t just this judicial ‘somebody’s wrong and somebody’s right.’  Justice is this relational ‘somebody’s broken and restored.’  That’s what’s at the heart of God when we talk about justice…..people who are fractured being made whole and being made right.  So this righteousness is living in right relationship to God and to everyone around us, and mishpat is God stepping in and saying, “I’m going to right the wrongs and restore the broken and heal the hurting.”  God says to you and I, “That’s really important to me and it should be really important to you too as my people.”  He doesn’t mince words about this.  It’s all over the pages of Scripture.

As I said, in your notes you see a scale.  It’s a scale of justice.  The book of Proverbs is going to take this idea of God’s justice and put it on the ground for us.  The book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom literature, of short, little sayings that reflect the way God has designed the world to work.  One of the ways that God’s designed and wired the world to work is that it would be fair, that it would be just, that it would be good.  As his people, he presses on us and says this is not something you get to pray about.  You hear me?  We don’t get to pray about whether we want to be people of justice.  We get to pray about HOW we’re people of justice, but we don’t get to bring this before the Lord and go, “God, do you want to be just?”  He’ll come back, “Have you read my word?” This is something I’ve commanded my people from the beginning of time; that you would reflect my heart for all people.  So as a follower of Jesus, this just in, you don’t get to pray about whether you care about justice.  God cares about it and therefore, he calls his people to care about it.  Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision, says: “So often there’s a hole in our gospel when it comes to justice.”  There’s a lack.  There’s a lack of care, sometimes.  There’s a lack of voice, sometimes.  As we go to the Scriptures today, let’s go with the heart attitude that maybe, just maybe, there’s something that God may have for us.

If you’ve been with us over the course of the summer as we’ve looked at the book of Proverbs, you know that after chapter 9, it turns into a potpourri of wisdom sayings.  There’s not one single thread per chapter, or per section, there’s a number of themes that the author of Proverbs wants to draw out, but they’re scattered all over the book.  We’re going to draw together this theme of justice and see the way it plays out over the course of this book of Proverbs.  Proverbs 29:7.  A righteous (tzadeqah) man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.  Other versions say a righteous man remembers the poor.  Doesn’t just walk right by.

I was reminded of a story I read a while back — In January 12, 2007, a man by the name of Joshua Bell took his 3.5 million dollar violin and went and sat at the entrance of a subway in Washington, D.C.  It was during rush hour and thousands of people walked by him as he played this beautiful instrument, in the way only a professional could, because that’s exactly what he was.  He played for 45 minutes, six different pieces by Bach. At the end of the 45 minutes, he had $32 in his case.  He had 20 people that had stopped, for just a short period of time.  The most compelled was a child, who leaned in.  The ironic part about it was that three days earlier, Joshua Bell sold out a stadium in Boston to play the same violin, the same songs, for the same amount of time…$100 a seat.  Context matters.  He had dressed like a homeless man to play the violin in the corner and people just walked right by him.  Didn’t even notice him.  Just in the background.  Just noise.

I started to wonder how many people do I just walk by?  How many people are in my background?  How many people are just noise?  The reason God tells his people to remember the rights of the poor is because it’s easy to forget.  It’s easy to forget that if we perceive that people don’t add something to our life they don’t deserve something from us or the people around them, or they don’t hold or have value.  But God says that in my kingdom things are different.  Instead of ignorance….I don’t mean that in the sense that we are actively ignorant, I mean in the literal sense that we ignore things, we ignore people.  Instead of that, God says my people are people of compassion.  They see the foreigner, the fatherless, the widowed, and the poor and they care.  In a book that is all about the Gospel, the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul slips in there what he longs to and hopes to do as he goes to visit the churches in Galatia.  Listen to what he says:  Only, they asked us to remember the poor…  {In the midst of all this beautiful, marvelous, gospel proclamation….Paul says, the one thing I want to do when I’m on the ground, I need to remember the poor and he says…} …the very thing I was eager to do. (Gal. 2:10)   His preaching was accompanied by his living.

{Will you look up at me a moment?} I’m not, at least in this section, I’m not making a political statement.  In fact, I think it’s way too easy to put our calling as a church on politicians.  This is our calling as a people of God, not a politician’s calling.  Our calling as a people of God is to remember the poor.  Let’s not give somebody else the church’s job.  This is our job.  I think…..one of the reasons I absolutely love pastoring this church is because I think you guys do it in a real beautiful way.  In the course of a given month, did you know that there would be over 425 people that come through our food bank to get food?  Seventy to a hundred families every single week. We collect between 3,000 – 3,500 pounds of food every single week.  This last year, we’ve hosted Family Promise four different times, because you are a church that says if there’s anything within our power to do, we want to provide a place for homeless people to sleep.  We partnered with twelve other churches around the Denver area to open the doors of our church to 21 families, to 69 people, with over 100 volunteers (you guys) saying, “This matters to us.”  We’ve been able to provide housing to those people four different times throughout the course of this year, because we believe that all people matter to God and therefore, all people matter to us.

I love this picture of Jesus….when it would have been so easy for Jesus to be on his “mission” and miss the people, we see that your king is the kind of king who, when he sees the crowds, he doesn’t just walk by and he’s not so busy that he looks passed, but he actually sees them.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt. 9:36)  Maybe the question back to God today is God, are there people in my life that I don’t see because of the position that they have?  Are there people in my life that I just walk by that have become background noise?  That you want me to see, that you see, God, and that you want me to see differently?  Did you pray that prayer today?  Did you ask him if there are people that you’re not seeing because of where they’re situated or what they lack?  God says that my people are the kind of people who take note of the poor and we’ll see what they do in the light of that.

Proverbs 31:8-9 give us this next invitation to be people of justice.  Open your mouth for the mute, {For people that don’t have a voice.  God’s people are designed and intended to be a voice.}  ..for the rights of all who are destitute.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.   The tendency throughout all of history is to trend away from the poor, away from the needy, away from the oppressed, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  There’s never been a time—-unless people were intentional about saying that’s not who we’re going to be—-that it didn’t happen.  So God’s says, “I want my people, when they start to see injustice, to not be people who remain silent, but to be people who raise their voice.”  To be people who say something.  Who, when they see something, they say something.  So, it’s this movement from apathy to advocacy.

Let’s have a quick talk.  We cannot raise our voice, if we have not first opened our ears.  If we haven’t heard the stories of people who are oppressed and listened without a judgmental attitude.  Or, if only you would have pulled up your boot straps.  Or, if only you would have done what I’ve done.  Listen, if they were in your situation, they may have done what you’ve done.  But they’re not, they’re in their situation.  Until we start to hear people’s stories and start to actually listen to people’s hearts, we will not be able to stand up and speak on their behalf.  So before we speak, we’ve got to first listen.  What if the church became known as a community where people listened to the stories of the broken?  Instead of deciding whether or not we think that they were right or wrong or what they should have done, what if we opened our heart and listened?  The tendency in all of us when we are in a system (and we are) that benefits us, it’s hard to see the way that it hurts others.  That’s true of human nature, you guys.  When we listen, what we start to do is we start to say there may be a different narrative going on that’s other than my own.  You do know that’s possible, right?  When we listen, we open ourselves up to go, okay, maybe the systems we’re in have some flaws.  This just in—they’re designed by humans, they DO have flaws!  They do!

How do we become the kind of people…..all throughout the Scriptures, God gives people power so that they would leverage their power for those who don’t have it.  That’s the invitation of our God.  You do know that Jesus is not down on power?  You do know that Jesus is not down on influence?  He’s not down on authority. He’s actually down on people in positions of power using the power to benefit themselves rather than to advocate for the people underneath them.  You’re looking like you don’t believe me.  Mark 10:42-45 — And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, {See, Jesus isn’t down on power or greatness, he’s down on people of power using greatness to benefit themselves rather than those around them.}  and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. {The narrative came in again—don’t forget where you’ve come from.} For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”    Silence isn’t an option.  Richard Stearns, again, said:  “A church that’s lost its voice for justice is a church that’s lost its relevance in the world.”  Elie Wiesel, Jewish author and concentration camp survivor, said: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Let’s be honest, guys, as a Church, capital “C” Church, we’ve got a checkered past.  I’m going to be an equal-opportunity offender today.  We have a checkered past.  In Great Britain in 1787, William Wilberforce and his friends started to speak out about slavery in Great Britain.  In 1807, they passed the Slave Trade Act that dramatically limited the way that they were able to not only obtain slaves, but for the rightful treatment of slaves.  In 1833, that same group abolished slavery in Great Britain.  They were holding their Bible in their hand while they did it.  Praise be to God!  At the same time, on the other side of the Pond, we had people in the United States going, “No, no, God’s for slavery, God wants slavery…”  What happened was people that were greedy and needed a system that would perpetuate itself based on free labor, because they wanted to line their pocketbooks, neglected the invitation from God to value all people.  They were blinded and they were greedy and it drove them to do things that we would say were wrong or evil. Oftentimes the Church was silent.  That’s what prompted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to say:  “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

It got me thinking, what are the issues that need the Church’s voice today?  We saw one of them last weekend on full display.  The issue of racism needs the Church’s voice.  It does.  It needs us to say that all people are created equal, that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.  Nobody is better or worse because of the color of their skin.  It needs the Church to rise up and say, what happened in Charlottesville is symptomatic of what’s in all of us, not just a unique thing that happened one weekend, because a statue was removed.  The removal of a statue didn’t create a monster, it revealed it.  As a church we need to go, “No, no, there’s a better way. His name is Jesus.”  We need to say something about racism.

Did you know that there’s 45.8 million slaves in the world today?  Here’s the deal, you guys.  Even as I say that—-I had lunch with Dr. Jeff Brodsky, JOY International, this week—-I’ve got stories in my mind.  It’s such a huge number that it feels insurmountable.  Will you pray about what you and we can do to say with our voice, THAT’S. NOT. OK!  I’m not okay with people being treated like that.  We believe that justice matters to God because all people matter to God, and we want to be the kind of church that advocates and says yes, we believe that’s true, not only with our mouths, but with our lives.

The issue of abortion.  Talk about someone who has no voice.  In a room this size, I know that some of you have walked through abortion, you’ve walked through that pain.  One, I want you to know that you are welcomed here and loved here.  We want you here.  We also need to say that our position is that life begins at conception. God cares about all people and God cares about those babies; the one million babies that are aborted annually here in the United States.  How do we become the type of church, the type of community, that says no, no, no, these things MATTER to us?   We can’t just turn a blind eye.  So we choose advocacy instead of apathy.

Proverbs 16:11 goes on to describe another scene — A just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work.   Proverbs 20:23 — Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good.    Here’s the picture — If you were selling goods, before 600 B.C. when they developed coinage, you did it by weights.  Some people would have a stone on one side of the scale and then put goods on the other side of the scale, but depending on who they saw coming to their business, they would use a different stone. Ironically, if they saw somebody rich coming, they would use the lighter weight so they could give a better deal if you were buying.  WHY?  Why would you do that?  Because you can.  Because the poor people didn’t have a voice to stand up and say hey look, can we remeasure?  What about that rock behind your table?  All throughout the Scriptures, God talks about his scales; the people who use scales and represent Him and carry His name use equal scales.  They don’t have one measure for some people and a different one for others.  They operate with tzadeqah, righteousness, rightness.  They operate with integrity instead of exploitation.

Exploitation is simply taking advantage of somebody because you can.  Because you’re in a position of power or authority where the person underneath you doesn’t have a voice.  You can rip them off because they don’t have a place to raise their hand and go, “Hey, are you sure that’s how much I should get for working in this factory all day?”  The implications for us as people that value right scales are huge, are they not?  I’ll admit it…..ALMOST so big that we don’t know where to start.  Here’s the thing, if you start being a person that cares about scales, as it were, you’re going to pay more.  It’s going to cost you financially…..because you’re going to go, “I might not be able to shop there anymore, because they don’t pay their workers right.”  I might not be able to go there….it’s going to cost you financially.  Make no mistake about it, it will!  You can find out where your clothes are made, and whether or not the farmers who grew the food that goes onto your table got paid a fair wage. You can find out.  One of the changes we’ve made at Solid Grounds is that now we’re working with a direct trade source for our coffee.  It’s better than fair trade because fair trade gives a fair wage, but direct trade means that the buyers are in direct contact with the farmers and we KNOW that they are helping women who are downtrodden and in need (especially in Uganda).  Are we going to pay a little bit more?  Yep.  Is it worth it?  It is to me.  It’ll cost you financially.  It’ll cost you relationally because you’re going to have people who stand up and say, “I don’t see it that way.  I’m not sure I agree with you.”  That has to be between them and the Lord.  It’s integrity versus exploitation.

And finally we’ll land the plane here.  The book of Proverbs (21:3) says — To do righteousness and justice (mishpat and tzadeqah) is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.   Here’s what’s going on.  What the author of Proverbs just did is attacked and, in some ways, supplanted an entire religious system that was based around when we offer these sacrifices for sin, when we offer these sacrifices for thanksgiving, when we offer THESE sacrifices we are then in right relationship with God.  What the book of Proverbs says is whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it there!  If you’re not a type of person who does what’s right (righteousness) to the people around you, and you’re not a person who cares about what’s fair and you don’t advocate for people who  don’t have a voice, and you use your power to get up one more rung on the ladder, but you sacrifice……..He goes are you kidding me?!!  The prophet Amos (5:21-24) says it more strongly, recording God’s words —- I hate, {and just in case you think I stuttered..} I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.  Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.  {You get this picture of God up in heaven and as his church gathers to worship and doesn’t care about justice he’s going, “La-la-la-la!”  But, but, but……}  But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.    He’s going listen, if you’re not going to be people who care about the foreigner, the fatherless, the widow, and the poor then don’t come into my house and sing songs about how great I am.  I care about those people and I’ve commissioned my body to be a body who cares about those people.  As we look at justice, what we find out is that what God is looking for is surrender not singing. He’s not just looking for people that would go through the motions of ritual, but ignore the people that he says I care about.

Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is and he responds by saying — You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. {But he goes, I can’t just leave it at one, lest you think you could come to worship and that that would be the end of the game. Jesus says, no, no, no, no, no, the second is like it.  It’s from the same place.  It carries the same DNA.  It’s of the same origin.}  ….You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   Look up at me for a moment.  God never, never divides, in the Scriptures, loving Him and loving others.  It’s always vertical and it’s always horizontal, throughout all of the Scriptures.  This is God’s call for God’s people.  If you’re going, “Hey, Paulson, sounds like a social gospel to me,” I would say to you if the gospel doesn’t have social implications, it doesn’t sound like the gospel.  It doesn’t sound like the gospel Jesus preached and lived.  It certainly doesn’t sound like the gospel the apostles preached and lived.  It doesn’t sound like the gospel that I read about in our Scriptures where God says absolutely do I care about your soul so much that I’m going to give my own Son that you might be redeemed, that you might be made whole, that you might be forgiven, that you might be made right with God, that you would then therefore be like a city on a hill whose light shines.  That you would be a people who do justice, who love mercy, and who walk humbly with your God.  The mantra of the church from the very beginning is there is no difference between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but we are all one in Christ. Anybody who comes to Christ comes saying, “I am broken and I am in need!”

The beauty of this all is—-as we see these scales in our bulletin—-the beautiful picture of what the gospel does.  It doesn’t extinguish or wipe out the scales; what we see is that the cross overshadows the scales.  Here’s what we remember in the cross — that we were in slavery and he’s brought us out.  That’s our story too.  He’s moved us from darkness into light.  In the cross we remember that we are better than absolutely no one.  The only way we get in is being broken and destitute and receiving the grace of God that’s ours because of the work of Christ.  In the cross we remember that we were loved when we were God’s enemies and we’re given the ability by his Spirit to love ours (enemies).  In the cross, what we see is that God’s mercy and his justice kiss. Friends, we are people of that cross.  Not in a way that extinguishes the scales of justice, but in a way that empowers us to be people loved deeply by God, knowing that we got more than we deserved, that we’ve been freed, and therefore, we say we’re going to be people who use our voice for the oppressed.  We’re going to be people who open our eyes and do our best {please, Lord} not to just walk by.  We’re going to say integrity’s important to us.  It’s hard in a global economy, but integrity is important to us because it’s important to God. And by no means do we want our worship to end with our singing, but we want it to be demonstrated through our lives.

In 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College.  In that speech, he began with the story of Rip Van Winkle.  Rip Van Winkle had climbed up to the top of a mountain and he’d fallen asleep for twenty years.  {Sounds sorta good some days, doesn’t it?!}  Here’s what Dr. King says — “And this reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution.  {He woke up and a different person was in charge.}  And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands.  They end up sleeping through a revolution.”  Friends, I believe that we’re at a significant point for us as a country.  The question for this church, for our church, for God’s Church is are we going to sleep through this revolution or will we join in?  Let’s pray.

Good God, we know, we trust, based on your character and based on Scriptures, that justice matters to you because people matter to you.  We’re here to say we don’t just want to sing worship songs to you, we want to live lives of worship along with you.  That you would empower us to be a voice.  That you would empower us to carry your name.  That you would empower us to demonstrate your love.  That even if we benefit from systems that are wrong, that we would have enough integrity to stand up and say so.  That we’d have eyes to see people that maybe we walk pass.  That we would have a voice to raise on behalf of people that don’t have a voice for themselves.  May we be people who remember our story, and may that story shape the lives that we live.  That we’ve been rescued and we want to live it.  It’s in your name, Jesus, that we pray.  Amen.

SCREAMING IN THE STREETS:  People of Justice   Proverbs 29:7, 31:8-9, 16:11, 21:32020-08-20T14:03:40-06:00

Screaming in the Streets – Work Life – Proverbs

What’s the first job you ever had?  My very first job was working for a church.  Before you think, “Wow! How spiritual that young man must have been,” or “How Jeremiah 1:5—that God had his hand on Ryan’s life from a very young age”……before you go there, let me tell you how I got said job at the church.  I was required by the State of Colorado to be of service to my community.  Middle freshman year in high school caught up with me a little bit and I made some bad decisions, got caught {Praise the Lord!}, and was asked to be of service to my community, so I was of service to my church community.  I actually stacked all the chairs in a big sanctuary and then wheeled them to a closet after service on Sunday.  I did such a great job that they hired me to actually do it after I was done.  Every Sunday afternoon, I would have my little radio set up on the stairs in the church, listening to the Bronco game and doing my job.  I had a complicated relationship with work from the beginning.  I just wanted to get it done and over with so I could go actually watch the Bronco game.

I think a lot of us, if we were to be honest, have a relationship with work that’s a little bit complicated.  Anyone want to say that they have a complicated relationship with work?  We do!  Part of it is that we spend an awful lot of time at our jobs.  Think about it.  How much are your waking hours are actually spent working?  {Research shows…} Roughly we live somewhere around 78 years.  If you divide up the time by how we spend our time typically, here’s what they found out through a number of different surveys {World Bank, Bureau of Labor & Statistics}.  They said we spend 28.3 YEARS of our life sleeping.  The second most allotted time you and I spend in our lives is working.  We spend 10.5 YEARS of our life working!  Do a little bit of research and here’s what you’ll find right now—-well over 50% of people say they dislike their job.  In 1987 it was 40% of people who didn’t like their job.  Now it’s around 52-53% (depending on the survey).  Statistically speaking, over half of us, in this room, would say, “We’re going to spend 10.5 YEARS of our life doing something that we don’t really love a whole lot.”  Not only that, but a recent study put out by Gallup research said that happiness in our job is actually one of the main indicators, or main predictors, of being successful in the workplace.  The happier you are at your workplace, the more productive you are.  The more you enjoy going to work, the better job you do. It’s a cyclical pattern, isn’t it?  You stack all these things on top of each other…..we spend a lot of our time working.  Many of us don’t like what we do.  Our productivity and success in our job is a large part driven by how much we enjoy what we’re doing.  So we’re in a little bit of a tough place with work, aren’t we?  We have a complicated relationship with our work life.

What if there was a small mind-shift, just a small change we could make, that would redefine the way that we spend these forty-plus hours a week, or these ten years of our life?  What if there’s just a small tweak that, as the Scriptures press on us, we could make in our heart and in our thinking that would really dramatically change that time and, in many ways, redeem it?  I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the Scriptures speak a lot to our work life.  They speak a lot to what happens, not just on a Sunday morning for one hour, but to what happens in the forty-plus hours we spend in a cubicle, or a field, or in an office, or wherever you are.  The Scriptures speak to you. They speak to the way we go about our work.  I believe, this morning, that the Bible wants to teach us all how to find greater purpose in the work that we do.  Whether it’s as a mom or as a missionary.  Whether it’s as an accountant or an architect.  Whether it’s as someone who is in business, or teaching, or trench digging.  Whatever you do….I’m convinced the Scriptures want to press on us and push us into more joy and meaning in these 10.5 years that we’ll spend in our jobs.  Now, given that we spend that much time there, would you agree with me that this is sort of important, yes?

Let’s just ask, “What DOES the Bible say about work?”  We’re in the book of Proverbs 16.  If you’ve been with us this summer, we’re in a series in the book of Proverbs.  Proverbs is all about really practical wisdom.  Solomon, the author of many of the proverbs, wants to press on his audience (his son, specifically and his family) how to live in line with the way that God has actually created the world.  That’s what wisdom is.  Wisdom is stepping into life, stepping into reality, stepping into truth and saying, “We’re going to live our lives in the way that God has designed us to live our lives.”  So, praise the Lord, the Bible doesn’t skip out on telling us how we should operate in our work.

Proverbs 16:1-3 — The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.  All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.  Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.   The skeptics in the room, even those that are people of faith, are going it can’t be that simple.  It can’t be that simple, Ryan, that all we have to do is commit our work to the Lord and he’ll establish our plans?  So whatever we dream, whatever we hope, if we commit it to Him, he’s going to just put his rubber stamp on it and go now you got it?  Remember, proverbs are principles, not promises.  This is a general abiding principle of the way that God has wired the world to work.  You may go, “Hey, sometimes this doesn’t work for me,” and Solomon would go, “No, I understand that.”  But, generally this is true and this holds up.  We’ve got to dive into the words a little bit.  The words in verse 3 really matter.  In the King James Version of this same Scripture, it says this:  Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.  A little bit different.  In the New Living Translation it says:  Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.  

The word ‘commit’ in the Hebrew is literally the word “to throw off” or “to throw aside.”  It was used when somebody would walk up to a well that had a covering on it.  They would take the covering off the well and put it off to the side so you could access the water that was down in the well.  It’s this picture of carrying a burden and you say, “I’m not going to carry that anymore.  I’m not going to carry that in the same way.  That’s not going to weigh me down.”  So, throw off your work, your actions, your deeds, what you do in life, the way that you live 24 hours a day….throw that off to the Lord.  Give it to him, not to go back and pick it back up, but trust him with it and your plans…..   A way better translation of this word ‘plans’ is ‘thoughts or mind.’  If you roll away or throw off your work to the Lord, if you trust him with it, your mind will be established.  It’s this picture of a foundation that a house is built on.  So put it all together, what Solomon’s saying.  He’s saying that when we approach our work in such a way where we take it off of our shoulders and put it on God’s….  The song Aaron wrote ties in beautifully…that we trust Him to build something, trust Him to multiply, trust Him to make the meaning.  We take it off of our shoulders—all that pressure—and we put it on Him.  It’s not that God says yes to every dream that we have, it’s that God says yes to the peace and the security of our minds.  You’ll be grounded in him!  So here’s the principle of the Scriptures that leads us to how we approach our work — Work surrendered to God leads to a mind securein God.

Work surrendered to God….God, this is yours.  I want you to do with it what you will.  I want you to make of it what you will.  I want you to be not only the Lord over my life and the Lord over my salvation, but I want you to be the Lord over those 10.5 years that I’m going to spend in a cubicle, or in a field, or in an office, or in a boardroom (whatever it looks like for you)….God, I want you to be Lord over that as well.   Solomon says that when you throw that off to him, your mind can sort of take a deep breath and go…oohhh yeah, that was a lot of pressure to carry.  That was a lot of weight—to make meaning out of all of that time and all of that energy and all of that effort.  So the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Colossae — Whatever you do, {Fill in your occupation here.  Are you a mom?  Whatever you do.  Are you a business person? Whatever you do.  Are you an engineer?  Whatever you do.}  ..work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. (Col. 3:23)    Whatever you do, work for Him.  When our work is surrendered to God, we step back into the blessing of God.  You and I would probably agree that part of the reason that 52.3% of us would raise our hand and go, “Man, I’m not sure I love my job,” is because we’re wrestling with the way it connects to God’s greater purpose, to actually leaving a legacy, to doing something significant.  So, I just want to take a brief moment and reframe work for us.  I want to give you three things work is designed to be and then, for the rest of the time, I want to teach us, collectively, from the Scriptures, how we can, literally, throw off our work to the Lord.

Three things work is designed to be:  1)  You are wired to work for provision.  To provide for your friends, for your family, for the food that’s on your table.  I think one of the greatest blessings of being a dad is to sit around the table and to watch my kids eat and to know that they have enough and to know that they have clothes on their back and that they’re able to do the things that they love to do.  I love being able to provide for the people that I love.  Who’s with me?  It’s one of the great blessings of work…provision.

Second is contribution.  Not just to your family, but to the greater good, the common good of our society. Here’s what happened—-We’ve drawn a distinction between secular jobs and sacred jobs.  Some jobs are good and blessed by God because God uses them, for example, my job would be considered a “sacred” job.  Other jobs….listen, if you do plumbing—except if you do my plumbing then it’s sacred…. Other jobs, well, those are secular jobs.  Did you know that you can’t find that in the Scriptures?  We’ve lost the idea and the reality that every job that contributes to the common good of humanity, which in some way they all do, is a sacred job. Martin Luther, back in the 16th century, said that we often pray, “God, give me this day my daily bread.” Luther said we’ve got to think about how God answers that prayer, because he does answer that prayer.  But think about how he answers it.  How many of you have seen a loaf of bread fall out of the sky?  {No hands in the air.} So how does God answer the prayer ‘Give us today our daily bread?’  Well, a farmer goes to work.  A farmer tills a field and plants seed in the field.  God brings the rain and the farmer has an irrigation system that waters it also.  Then, in harvest time, the farmer harvests the grain.  Then he sells the grain and he sells the grain to somebody who bakes the grain.  Then somebody picks up the bread and takes it to the store.  Somebody else stocks the bread on the shelf…..it’s really a wonder that all this bread shows up.  Somebody sells you the bread.  You then get in your car that’s maintained by some mechanic, drive home to your house that was built by a carpenter, sit at your table that you built from IKEA….    You sit down at your table and pray, “God, thank you for our bread.”  God’s going, “You’re welcome and you can also thank the farmer…and the harvester, and the baker, and the stocker, and all of these jobs.”  Martin Luther argued is that you can do this with any occupation to see the way that they’re contributing to the good of society and culture.

We work for provision.  We work for contribution.  And we work because it’s in our bones to be creative.  To make something of the world that God has made is a human endeavor.  If you look at it from the beginning of time, people have been saying, “We should make something of what God has made.”  It’s called culture….creating culture.  It is not unique for us to want to contribute, to want to make something.  It’s in our bones.  Whatever you do is for provision, it’s for contribution, and it’s because God has put it in you to be creative.  This morning, one of the things I want to do is to redeem work a little bit and say that it’s not just a job you’re called to do—whatever you’re called to do—it is a calling.  It’s a vocation.  Vocation is our call to bear the image of God faithfully by living with God for the world.  With God for the world, that we remember that we are people created in the image of God.  By the way, being workers is part of God’s creation, not part of the fall of humanity.  In Genesis 2:15, before sin ever enters into the picture, God approaches Adam in the garden:  The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.   This is before sin enters into the picture, before the fall of humanity.  You and I are called to carry the image of God by living with God, not just for God, but living with God for the good of his world.  What does that look like as a teacher?  What does that look like in business?  What does that look like in marketing?  What does that look like in real estate?  What does that look like where God has placed you?  All work is sacred…because we provide, because we contribute, because we create, because it’s what God designed us to do.

The question becomes….alright, Paulson, that’s reframed work a little bit for me, but how do we really roll it off?  How do we say God, this is yours and I want you to make much of it?  What does that actually look like? The Proverbs talk a lot about that truth and that reality, so let me give you four ways that we throw it off. Four ways we roll it over to God and say, “God, I want you to be not just Lord over my salvation, but Lord over my work.”  Proverbs 26:13 says this:  The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!  There is a lion in the streets!” What’s he doing?  He’s painting this picture of somebody that’s trying to push back against their calling and responsibility to work by making all sorts of excuses.  I couldn’t possibly go to work today….there’s a lion in the road.   How many of you have run into a lion on your way to work?  It was as rare for them as it was for us.  For the person to say, “The dog ate my homework,” right?  If you’re a teacher, you’ve heard something to that effect, right?  We’re the king of excuses; we make them all the time.  Here’s the way we start to roll off, or surrender, or commit our work to God.  Our excuses start to give way to execution.  Instead of making excuses as to why I can’t get the job done, or why it’s going to take too long to do that, or…..this system that’s created is absolutely ridiculous.  Does anybody have some ridiculous systems at the work that they do?  {Most of us do.} It’s called working in a fallen organization.  Not every system works perfectly.  Here’s the humbling part—If you’re ever the person that’s in charge of the systems, they won’t work perfectly when you’re in charge either! {I was the best senior pastor I knew when I was a youth pastor.}

Here’s the deal—With our work and in regards to our work, we can either make excuses or we can work towards execution.  Here’s the way that Solomon says it: In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. (Prov. 14:23)   I read a study a number of years ago that said if you have an idea—an idea for a business (like on Shark Tank)—here’s what the experts would suggest to you: Don’t talk about the idea.  Don’t share it with too many people and don’t beat it to death.  Don’t TALK about your idea….work on your idea.  When we start talking about something, we actually believe that we are doing it.  There’s a difference between talking about something and doing something.  If you’re self-employed, you can just remind yourself of that.  If you work for somebody else, your boss will thank you tomorrow.  If you go in and go, “Hey, I’m not just going to talk about my job, I’m going to do it.”  Here’s one of the main ways we talk instead of working…..we complain!  This system isn’t perfect.  I’m not being treated right.  This is somebody else’s job.  Those things may all very well be true, but what we’re doing as we’re complaining is we’re convincing ourselves we’re actually working when all we’re doing is talking.  The Scriptures will say in Paul’s writing to the church at Philippi, right after he says your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped, but lowered himself to take on the nature of a servant (Phil. 2:6) —- Do all things without grumbling or disputing, {NIV says without complaining.} that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom {…when you don’t grumble or complain or dispute…} you shine as lights in the world. (Phil. 2:14-15) You want to stand out in your workplace?  Work.  Just don’t talk.  I’m serious.  Your boss will be like, “Something’s different about that person.  I can’t put my finger on it.  What is it that they’re doing?”  They’re working!!  I love the way that Randy Pausch put it.  He wrote the book Last Lecture, shortly after he found out he had pancreatic cancer.  He was a college professor who wanted to impart something to his students: “Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. {Quick timeout—Complaining takes both.}  Any time we spend time whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals.  And it won’t make us happier.”   Yeah, absolutely!

Excuses give way to execution and talk, not just landing there but actually leading to toil and work.  The second way it happens is from Proverbs 13:4 — The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.    Here’s what Solomon says to his son….Hey, son, look up at me for just a second. It’s one thing to want something, it’s another thing to work for something and don’t confuse the two.  Here’s what we would call wanting something without being willing to work for it.  There’s a word for that.  It’s called entitlement.  In many ways, we’re raising a very entitled generation, where they crave but they’re not willing to work.  That’s MY generation — we crave, but we’re not willing to work.  We want the dream job without being ready or willing to work the entry-level position. Here’s what one person may say: “I’m going to work on execution, I’m not going to make excuses.”  The person who makes excuses says, “I’m only going to work hard when I get the job I really want and I really like.”  The person who values execution says, “I’m going to work hard in any role that I’m in to do my best and to trust that God will lead and that God will provide.”  There’s a difference.  I love the way Tom Nelson, in his great book Work Matters, says it:  “Work is where perseverance, proven character, and hope are deeply forged.”  Yes and amen.

So, here’s what we do to throw it off:  First, we allow excuses to give way to execution.  Second….lot of verses coming at you, but we’re just going to read through them, okay?  Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. (Prov. 6:6)  The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor. (Prov. 12:24)  Proverbs 15:19 — The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.  Proverbs 19: 24 — The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth.  {I love it!!  They thought it was so good that it’s actually in Proverbs twice.  So is the lion-in-the-street line!  I love it.  They’re like, you can’t miss this.}  Proverbs 26:16 — The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.  

Let’s be real for a moment and just step back.  The sluggard is someone who is idle or habitually idle. Somebody who’s lazy and, as you can see here, somebody who’s distracted.  Somebody who wants to fight against the wisdom that God’s wired into creation to say that no, hard work does pay off, hard work does provide for my family, hard work does all these things…..the sluggard is one to sleep through his commitments and his work, instead of actually being diligent.  The Scriptures go on to say:  The plans of the diligent {The person who works hard, even when it’s hard.} lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. (Prov. 21:5)   Here’s the second movement.  The first one is from excuses to execution; the second one is exhaustion is abandoned for diligence.  The sluggard is somebody who is exhausted and we’ll talk about why in a second. The sluggard is somebody who’s energy is depleted constantly and always.  The diligent is somebody who’s working hard even when it’s hard.

As I thought about this and diligence, my mind immediately went to George Whitefield, the great English preacher of the 18th century.  George Whitefield, before the times of planes and automobiles, preached to roughly 80% of the Colonies in the 1700s.  He gave 18,000 sermons!  Do the math!  He didn’t preach every single day.  If he would have that would have been roughly 48 or 49 years every day giving a sermon.  He made seven trips from where he was born in England over to the United States, and during those times just preached up and down, up and down, up and down (the coast).  He’s one of the fathers of the Great Awakening here in the Americas.  Unbelievable man!  Some would estimate that he preached to somewhere around ten million people…before there was Internet.  He’d wake up at 4 A.M. in the morning and start preaching at 5 or 6 A.M. {Which, by the way, we’re starting our 5 A.M. service next week!  I’m inspired!}  Unbelievable!  When it was hard, he kept going.

When it’s hard at your workplace, what do you do?  The reality, friends, is that exhaustion isn’t just from energy depletion, it’s also from vision depletion.  It’s because we lose sight of the way God’s at work within our work, and the fact that there’s a calling over our life, and that God is good even in giving us this thing that we call work.  I think people who navigate exhaustion well do two things.  One, they understand that in life there are seasons.  Proverbs (20:4) talks about this — The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.  The book of Proverbs is saying that there’s a time that you have to work and it’s not all the time.  It’s not every single moment of every single day; there’s SEASONS where you’ve got to press hard and there’s things that you have to get done.  Parents, every season is not going to be changing dirty diapers.  It’s not.  Every season won’t be getting woken up in the middle of the night—at least not for crying babies, maybe for other reasons.  Not all seasons are harvest seasons either.  I think we lose energy and turn towards exhaustion when we’re hoping for the harvest and it’s another season of sowing.  Whatever season you’re in right now in your workplace, would you recognize that it’s a season?  Even it’s a really good season, it’s just a season. If it’s good, enjoy it.  If it’s difficult, endure it and know that it too will pass.  If it’s a sowing season, do it faithfully.

Instead of embracing the season, the sluggard sleeps.  Sleep is just simply an ancient escape.  I was trying to imagine what it would be if it were today.  I think today it would be social media, binging another Netflix show, or watching something else on TV, however we avoid diligence and slip into exhaustion.  Have you ever realized that binging that show on Netflix never actually feels good in the end?  Nobody ever wakes up the next day and goes, “Now THAT was a good decision.”  Nobody ever wakes up and goes, “You know what?  Since I spent the whole day on the couch, NOW I feel rested.”  Have you recognized that?  It’s not actually rejuvenating for our soul, it just occupies our brain for a moment and then we’re back.  And we’re like, “I’m exhausted!”

Secondly, the people that navigate exhaustion well understand the value of planning.  The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. (Prov. 14:15)    We can go and do a number of verses, but the value of planning is all throughout the Proverbs.  Benjamin Franklin, in one of his proverbs, said:  “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”  If you have a plan, you know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and you’re ready for the season that God has you in.  Those two things go hand-in-hand.

{I’m going to fly through the rest of these.} Number three — Do you see a man skillful in his work?  He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. (Prov. 22:29)   Remember, principle not promise.  Not everyone that’s skillful in their work is going to stand before kings, but the principle of the matter is….what do you focus on in your work?  You don’t focus on trying to get the promotion.  You don’t focus on trying to get the raise.  You don’t focus on trying to climb the corporate ladder.  Proverbs says if you’re skillful and if you’re diligent, those things take care of themselves.  Skillful, in the Hebrew, is gifted.  This is something that is wired into your bones.  Look at the skillful person and his work — Somehow God continues to raise that person to the top.  Not because they want to get there, but because they’re excellent at what they do.  Here’s how we’ll say it today — Instead of advancement…I want to make it to the next level; I want more people under me; I want the office in the corner….    Instead of the focal point being I want to continue to move up, the focal point is I want to do what God has called me to do as best as I can.  I want to be a little bit better tomorrow than I was today.  It’s this chasing after excellence not advancement.  {Slide — Advancement is exchanged for excellence.}

Excellence is important.  I love the way that Dorothy Sayers, in her great little essay called Why Work?, says this:  “The church has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred.  Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.”  AMEN!  She’s saying that excellence is important.  We’ve got to take what we do seriously.  My encouragement to you comes from people that are way smarter than me….Instead of being goal-oriented, or advancement-oriented, be growth-oriented.  Think about how you want to continue to grow, whatever profession you’re in, whatever vocation you’re in.  How do you want to continue to grow?  Then trust that God would allow you to stand before whoever God wants you to stand before, but be growth-oriented instead of goal-oriented, instead of trying to climb the corporate ladder.

One of the things I love about Proverbs is that it’s followed by Ecclesiastes.  If you read both of them back-to-back, Proverbs paints this idealistic picture of the way that wisdom works in the world.  Then Solomon goes in Ecclesiastes, “Well, some of the time THAT doesn’t work.”  One of those times is when he talks about work.  In Ecclesiastes 2:18, he says: I hated all my toil…  {I’m like, “Dude, we just got done taking advice from somebody who says, ‘I hated my work.'”}  …in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me.  His son, right?  He’s like, “I’m raising this moron who I’m going to have to give all of this to.” That’s what he’s saying, I’m just reading between the lines a little bit.  He’s where most of us are.  Man, we work so hard and we invest so much of our time and our energy into something that isn’t going to last in the way that we hoped it would.  That’s his lament.

Then he comes to this conclusion in verse 24:  There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.  {Not only in the work that he’s doing, but in the fact that his work is producing.  In order to find enjoyment in your toil, you have to step back from your toil.  You have to be willing to stop.  You have to be willing to pause.}  This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  {He’s saying you’ve got to press into God if those things are even going to be good or taste good or bring joy, because they don’t in and of themselves.  Verse 26.}  For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, {This is the person who’s unwilling to roll off their work to God.}  only to give to one who pleases God.  This also is vanity and a striving after wind.   Here’s what Solomon invites us to in Ecclesiastes — Work, in and of itself, is a dead end.  But work under the banner of God’s design and God’s calling and God’s goodness, and, when we’re willing to step back and enjoy it and recognize……here’s what Solomon’s really wrestling with — I’ve built my identity in my work and it can’t handle that weight.  I’ve put too much prominence in what I produce.  The recognition he comes to at the end of his life is I can’t take any of this with me when I go.  The person who rolls off their work, or surrenders it to God and makes him Lord of their life and Lord of their work, is the person that’s able to say, “Okay, God.  I’m going to move from being disenchanted with work because it’s not who I am and it’s not all that I have. It isn’t my identity and it isn’t my idol.  I’m giving it to you.”  The person that does that, ironically, steps into the joy of God’s design in their work.  {Slide — Disenchantment diminishes for delight.}

I’m going to invite Aaron to come up for a moment and lead us in one last song.  But what is it for you?  Where are you at with your work?  Are you encouraged?  Are you discouraged?  Which of those points that we talked about today—-how we roll off our work….    Maybe it’s just that.  Maybe it’s a surrender piece.  Is it excuses?  Is it excellence?  Is it delight?  What is it for you?  How does your work connect to God’s design?  Here’s the beauty of where we find ourselves this morning, friends.  The truth of the matter is that you and I are freed to work with confidence, we’re free to surrender our work to Jesus, because Jesus has already completed the hardest work.  The redemption, the hope, the restoration.  You and I are free to spend those 10.5 years of our life working under the banner of his goodness and under the banner of his design, because the hardest work—reconciling us with God—has already been taken care of.  I’ve seen you live into this.  Our high school students serving in Mexico a few weeks ago; I saw the pictures of the way you lived into this.  I see the way our Whiz Kids tutors live into this.  The parents who care for special needs kids — I see the way you embrace your mantle of work.  People who work hard, in this place, volunteering AFTER they’ve worked hard at their jobs—-I see the way that you’re doing this and it’s beautiful.  Let’s not leave it here, let’s carry it into our Monday, also.

Lord, thank you for your design in work, your calling in work, and your blessing over work.  Lord, I pray that you would help us to be people who don’t make excuses, but who work.  That we would be people, Lord, who don’t get exhausted, but understand that those are seasons and continue to work hard.  Father, that we would be the kind of people who find delight in our work because of your blessing over it.  It’s in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Screaming in the Streets – Work Life – Proverbs2020-08-20T14:06:18-06:00

SCREAMING IN THE STREETS: Friendship and Friction Proverbs 27:17

What if they could, scientifically, dissect a human being and find out what makes us tick?  What makes us flourish?  What makes us healthy?  What makes us happy?  They actually tried to do this, not by dissection but by study.  Back in 1938, roughly 80 years ago, the Harvard Study of Adult Development embarked on one of the longest studies ever done.  It’s been going on for the past 79 years. They’ve been interviewing as many of these men that are still alive; 724 started in the study and around 19 are still alive.  Now they are starting to interview their kids or their grandkids.  They would send out an annual survey and ask a number of questions trying to figure out if they were happy, if they were healthy.  They would ask about their workplace, they would ask about their home life, they would ask a number of questions.  They even interviewed some of these men in their homes. What they found out is that there was one variable, one factor, that contributed most strongly to happiness and to health.  If you were to cut inside of us and be able to figure out what it is that makes a human being tick, what it is that makes a human being flourish, there would be one thing for all of us in this room that would be a foundation for flourishing.  They found out that it had nothing to do with wealth, because they had a wide variety of socio-economic statuses involved in this study.  It had nothing to do with fame or power.  It had nothing to do with work or how hard somebody worked.  The number one thing they found that determined flourishing for human beings was good relationships.  Here’s how a director of this study framed it (Robert Waldinger, the fourth director) — “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”   Good relationships, according to him, keep us happier and keep us healthier period.

As someone who believes in the validity of the Scriptures, this is recognizable.  The Bible has been saying what that study proved for years!!  Listen to the way it’s said in Genesis 2:18 — Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.  Now, just some background here.  After the first chapter, this is a surprise. In chapter one of Genesis, God says five times ‘it is good.’   He creates…it’s good; he creates…it’s good; he creates…it’s good.  Day six, he steps back from his creation, high fives himself and goes, “I’m really good.  It’s VERY good.”  Chapter two, we see it’s ‘not good.’  Nothing has changed.  Sin has not entered the picture. Brokenness has not consumed, or impacted, God’s creation.  Nothing’s changed.  God looks at the world he’s created and goes, “Listen, we’re missing something.”  When he says it’s not good, he’s not just talking about marriage that the context directly applies to, but he’s talking about relationships.  He’s talking about friendships.  He’s talking about what the Harvard Study of Adult Development has found out, surveying 724 people over the course of almost 80 years.  That it’s not good.  Maybe you’ve experienced seasons of loneliness (and maybe you’re in one right now), or seasons where it felt like there was nobody you could call in order to share what was going on in your life.  Maybe you’ve lost somebody who was really, really close to you, they were that person for you.  You would raise your hand, or if you were on this platform, you would go, “Absolutely! It is not good.”  It hurts on the soul level to get to the point where we feel like we’re alone or we’re abandoned.

In 1985, they did a poll and asked people all around the United States, “How many people do you feel you have to call if something were to go wrong, or just to share your heart?  Somebody you could tell anything to.”  In 1985, people typically answered around three.  People had three people they could call and say anything to. They did a similar study recently and found that the number has dropped from three people to two people. You’re going, “Paulson, that’s not all that much.”  We’ve lost a third of the people we could call.  What they’re finding out is that even in an age of social media and hyper-connection, we, as a human species, feel more disconnected than we ever have.  With all of the things we have to AID connection, we feel more disconnected than we ever have.  If that’s you this morning and this resonates with you, or you agree with this, or if you feel it’s something you need to dig deeper into and figure out what’s going on, this morning is for you.  If you feel like you’re lonely, this morning is for you.  {Will you look up at me a second?}  So much of the time when we talk about relationships, it’s easy to identify ‘I don’t have people in my life that I can talk to’ AND to blame it on everybody else.  So as lovingly as I can, can I propose to you that you are THE only common denominator in all of your relationships.  Whether they’re flourishing or whether they’re failing.  I say that to you in love and I want to follow that up by saying to you, “There’s hope!”  It’s way to easy to get into the pattern where it’s everybody else’s fault.  So let me just throw it out there — Maybe it’s your fault.  That’s okay.   There is something that you and we, together, can do about it this morning, because like I said, the Bible has been talking about the importance of relationships for millennia.  It’s been saying that this is something that causes human flourishing from the dawn of creation.

As we embark on this study in the book of Proverbs, we shouldn’t be surprised that when God talks about wisdom, and when Solomon writes about wisdom, he talks about friendship.  It takes wisdom to know how to navigate relationships.  If you’ve ever been in a relationship or a marriage, you know it takes wisdom to know how to navigate relationships.  Anybody want to say amen?  Amen, it does!  It’s really easy to get into a pattern where we start to experience death instead of life.  The book of Proverbs is going to warn us, encourage us, and edify us to choose a different path.  Remember, proverbs are short, pithy statements about the way the world generally works.  They’re principles, not promises.  They’re going to help align us with the way God’s wired the world to work.  Friendship is one of the things, relationships are one of the things we need to know….God, how have you designed this thing to work, because part of our human flourishing depends on it?  Here are a few tidbits from the book of Proverbs that might be helpful.

Proverbs 21:19 — It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.  {Wouldn’t it be great to have a coffee mug with that on it?!}   It’s difficult to live with somebody who constantly wants to fight.  Here’s another piece of friendship/relationship-wisdom from the book of Proverbs (25:17) — Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.   Some of the things we talk about today, you’re just going to want to temper with yeah, you have to have wisdom in the when and the how much. There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing.   You might be that good thing.  {That’s for free.}  Proverbs 27:14 — Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.Anyone want to say amen to that?  This is a 10:45 service; the 9:45 service didn’t get that.  You guys get it. Solomon is saying that the content of what you say matters, but the timing of what you say matters too.  This is the better part of wisdom.  If you call somebody early in the morning—even if you tell them something good—they’re not going to like you.

And Proverbs 27:17.  I would consider this to be one of the most popular verses in all of the Proverbs, and probably one of the most prolific passages on friendship in the entire Bible.  Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.  The Harvard Study of Adult Development can identify that human flourishing happens because of human relationships, but Solomon’s going to take it a step further.  He’s going to say it’s not just any type of relationship that causes human flourishing.  There’s a type of relationship that’s iron on iron. {Ryan uses a hatchet and a (steel) file to visually show this point throughout the sermon.}  It’s two people who care about each other coming in contact with each other.  Solomon says that type of interaction changes us.  That type of interaction shapes us.  That type of interaction causes us to grow and become different types of people.  Here’s how we’d summarize it today:  Relational devotion is designed to inspire personal development.  You know this.  You know the type of people who you go out to a meal with, and you sit around a table, and you walk away from it going, “I’m encouraged,” or “I’m challenged,” or “I feel like they know me.”  Or maybe it’s even just a quick text conversation you have with somebody you know cares about you, you know loves you, you’re walking through a difficult season and they get back to you and say, “I’m with you.  I’m praying for you.”  It’s that relational devotion that strengthens us, that encourages us, that builds us up.  That’s part of the way God’s wired the universe Solomon is saying.  We grow as we connect with each other.  None of us are designed to be an island.  Part of the power in gathering together as a community of faith is these relationships that happen and start to take place.

I love the way the author, Ruth Haley Barton, puts it:  “Spiritual friendship is a relationship devoted to paying attention to the invitations of God in our lives and supporting one another in making a faithful response.”  Let me repeat that so it can soak in a little bit.  Spiritual friendship is a relationship devoted to paying attention to the invitations of God…..so God, where are you in my life?  Where are you in this person’s life that I’m walking with?  AND supporting one another in making a faithful response. That’s what it means to be in relationship with people of faith.  I want to fight for your good.  I want to see you flourish.  I want to be that iron-on-iron type of a person for you and in your life.  I want to see you grow.  True friendship is about mutual formation.  It’s not just about fun, it’s not just about enjoyment, it’s walking together in life and being mutually formed more and more into the image of God.  Which means that there are times when friendship is painful, when it stings a little bit.  There’s times when it’s providential, when God uses a word from a friend.  Have you ever experienced this?  God uses a word from a friend to just sort of get you beyond that place where you’re stuck.  That friend just sort of gives you that proverbial push in the right direction. {Look up at me just a moment.}  Our lives are either enhanced or diminished by the people that are in our closest circle of friends.  It’s the number one factor that determines the vitality with which we walk through life.  This morning I want to walk through this passage specifically, and I want to explore some other passages in Proverbs that give us instruction on what it looks like to have genuine friendship that do this for each other….they pay attention to the invitations of God and support each other in making a faithful response.  Here’s the thing….if you’re going, “Hey, Paulson, I wanted some meat today.  I wanted some theology,” I just want to push back gently and encourage you that this may be one of the messages we all most need to hear.  It’s so practical.  My hope is that you walk out of this with an encouragement, number one, and a challenge to say, “There are some things I’m going to do differently because of what I’ve seen in the Scriptures.”

Here’s the way that happens.  Proverbs 27:17 again.  Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.  Did you know that iron very rarely comes into contact with iron accidentally?  That may be hard for you to believe. It just doesn’t happen on accident.  Not only that, it doesn’t happen at the right angle and at the right rhythm with the right sort of force by accident.  Neither to relationships.  They take some pursuit.  They take some intentionality.  Proverbs 27:17 would say listen, if we want to live this type of life—the type of life that flourishes because of relationships—then we’ve got to choose to make it a priority.  I understand that we live in a very busy culture, we live in a very busy time, you always have things you could be doing with your time….Solomon would say to us that this is such a priority—-your sharpening, your vitality, your flourishing depends on it—-we need to create space in our life to forge and form friendships.  Acquaintances happen by accident.  You can run into somebody and have a few things in common and that’s an acquaintance and that happens by accident.  Friendships happen only through intention.  Only through intentionality do you form the type of friendship that Solomon is talking about.  Here’s one of the challenges — Whoever isolates {Whoever builds this sort of wall around himself or herself….} himself seeks his own desire.  {Solomon would say I get it….introvert and extrovert….that’s a real thing and there’s ways that people are wired and programmed, but if you choose to have zero contact with other people, that’s actually a selfish thing, you’re seeking your own desire.  He says not only that, but it leads to a place where this person who isolates….}  …. he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Prov. 18:1)   They start getting so in their own head, they can’t see the outside world for what it actually really is.  There’s time where we need people to speak into our life.  He’s saying we should be intentional about breaking through the tendency that some of us have to be isolated.  Maybe for you it’s….I’m going to make the phone call to that person that we’ve lost contact for a few months and I really need to follow up with them.  Maybe it’s a phone call.  Maybe it’s an invite to somebody to come over for dinner; or maybe you invite yourself over to their house.    What’s the intentional step that God would have you take in light of this?

It’s not just presence, it’s not just being in proximity with a person.  It’s actually being open to a person.  We all know that we can be physically close and emotionally closed.  Yes?   We can with somebody and not give them access to us.  Not give them access to our hearts.  Not give them access to our minds and what’s really going on. One of the biggest challenges we have is not that we live in a culture of isolation, it’s not that we live in the rugged individualistic West….one of the biggest challenges we have as human beings is the same challenge that human beings have had since the dawn of creation.  It’s the challenge of shame.  It’s the ability to say to somebody else, “I’m going to let you know the full, real, true me.”   I’ll give you the ability to see the dirt, the things that I wish I hadn’t said, the things I wish I hadn’t done, and I’m going to believe, because of the relationship we have together, that you’re going to love me anyway.  Most of us have this tape that plays, this narrative of shame that plays in the back of our minds that tells us this lie — If they know the real me, I’ll be rejected.  If they know the real me, they won’t want anything to do with me.   We hear express pursuit and we go, yeah, I’ll make a phone call, or yeah, I’ll invite somebody over to dinner, but I’m not going to let them know the real me because I don’t want them to hurt me.  When we say we’re pursuing other people in a life-giving community that sharpens each other, it’s not just being in proximity, it’s being known.  It’s intentionality AND…AND…AND it’s vulnerability.  It’s getting to the place with people who you trust, where, because of what they know about you, they could hurt you if they chose to.  Do you have people like that in your life, who you’ve been that honest with, that raw with?  Solomon would say our vitality depends on it.  The life that we long for is actually found in that place.  Do you have that type of sharpening relationship?  Or, maybe better said, do you want that kind of growth?  Maybe, just maybe, the Spirit would put his finger on some things in your life, this morning, and say, “I’m inviting you to a different face of being you.”  Open.  Vulnerable.  Honest.  The person who isolates himself seeks his own desire and walks in judgment, meaning he doesn’t experience life fully.

Proverbs goes on talking about friendships, relationships, and says this:  Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend;  {How many of you have been wounded by a friend before? Or someone said something to you that was true, that was honest, that was good, but you didn’t love it, but it didn’t feel good at the time.}  …profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Prov. 27:5-6)  It’s better to have friends that speak truth to you than it is to have enemies who tell you a good thing.  My wife, Kelly, absolutely hates driving in the snow. She would rather walk to work, which is five-plus miles away, than drive in the snow, even if it’s like a little bit. Here’s what we learned about Kelly this last winter — she has a really good prayer life.  It was really dry this whole winter.  You can thank her….she prayed away all of those storms.  But here’s what I learned — It takes friction for us to go.  It takes friction for us to drive in a car.  The only reason your car makes it down the road is because there’s friction between the tire and the street.  You take that away and it’s really hard to get anywhere.  It takes friction to go; it also takes friction to grow.  What happens when iron hits iron is that there’s a friction that happens between each piece of iron.  That sometimes isn’t fun.  If we’re going to be the type of people who thrive in relationships the way God’s designed us to, we’ve not only got to express pursuit—-say I’m going to be intentional and I’m going to be vulnerable—-we have to also be willing to embrace friction.

In my chronological reading through the Bible this year, I read a story in 2 Chronicles 18:4-8 about two kings. One was the king of Israel, Ahab, and the other was the king of Judea, Jehoshaphat.   They made this alliance, this friendship, together.  They were debating whether or not they were going to go to war against Ramoth-gilead.  In 2 Chronicles 18:4-7, listen to how Jehoshaphat frames the decision:  And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the Lord.”  {What great advice!  Hey, you know what we should do before we go to war?  You know what we should do before you make that decision about that relationship?  You know what we should do before you make the job change?  Let’s ask God.  Let’s see what God thinks we should do.}  Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?”  And they said, “Go up, for God will give it into the hand of the king.”  But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?”  {Is there anybody else who has something to say about this?  Is there anybody that maybe has a dissenting opinion? Maybe we should ask another person.  Verse 7 says this…} And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but always evil.”    Ahab did not say there’s this guy Micaiah and I hate him because he’s always wrong.   Or, I hate him because he always prophesies something that actually doesn’t come to pass.  No.  What he says is I hate him because he doesn’t tell me what I want to hear.

Here’s what I found throughout the course of my life, it is really hard to have a Micaiah in your life, is it not?   But the truth of the matter is they didn’t listen to Micaiah, they went off to war, and they got destroyed because of it.  This type of friction in a relationship, in a friendship, in a group, is not something that is optional, it’s absolutely necessary. We need to surround ourselves with people who don’t just tell us what we want to hear, but who tell us the truth.  Because that’s what sharpens us.  You could find a hundred people who would just tell you what you want to hear, but to find a Micaiah who’s going to tell you the truth…that’s a gift. Do you have that kind of person in your life?  Do you have the Micaiahs in your life who, even when it’s not popular and even if they know you’d rather hear something else, are going to tell you what’s true.  We need it. We need it because we all have blindspots in our life.  We have things that are going on, decisions that we’re making, attitudes of our heart that we can’t see ourself.  We need people in our life that have the guts, have the bravery, have the love to speak into our life….Hey, here’s what I see.  I see you going down a road that I don’t think is going to end well for you.  I don’t think having that relationship is going to be good for you.  I don’t think taking that job is going to be good for you.  I think you need to let go of that dream.  We need people in our life who are going to speak truth, as Paul would say to the church at Ephesus: But rather, (saying to this church) instead of going this direction against the ways of Jesus, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way. (Eph. 4:16)  The Apostle Paul just said that you and I, we grow as people speak the truth to us in love.  Not only that, we grow as we speak the truth to others in love.

Iron sharpens iron, but marshmallows do not sharpen marshmallows.  It’s that willingness to speak up, and to speak life, and to speak truth, but here’s the problem.  For you and I to be the kind of people who speak the truth in love to others, we need to stand firmly on the gospel of truth.  We need to stand firmly on the reality that my worth and my identity is not tied up in what other people think of me, so I’m willing to say things that may be difficult for people to hear.  If I don’t stand on that foundation, I’ll just tell people what they want to hear all day long.  I love the way Henri Nouwen puts it.  He’s talking about what allows for the bravery to do this, because we need it.  It builds each other up in love.  Here’s what he says:  “The greatest spiritual task facing me {Think of the gravity of that statement.} is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world—free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…  I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”  YES!  That’s the power of gospel infusion into this topic of friendship and relationships that makes it all possible.  It makes it all possible because we stand on a foundation of his love that’s unshakable.

Quick clarification — Speaking the truth is all that we’re called to do.  Speak the truth in love, right?  This verse and this idea that true friendships involve friction is not a license to be a jerk.  It’s not a license to just…well, it’s true so I’m just going to say it, right?  That’s not what they’re saying.  Speaking the truth in love….you can say things multiple ways.  Some ways people can hear it, and receive it, and respond to it.  Some other ways people resist it.  It’s the challenge I face every single week preaching.  There’s multiple ways to deliver one message.  My goal, because I love you, is to deliver it in a way that you can actually hear.  Honesty does not equal harshness.  It doesn’t!  It means truth.

What does this actually look like and what does this actually mean?  Let me give you a few things this actually means in real life.  How can we do this?  How can we create the type of friction in relationships that leads to growth?   1) We can ask better questions.  Which means that we need to be better listeners.  We need to actually hear what people are saying and listen actively in a way that allows us to push the conversation a little deeper, a little bit beneath the surface, to really get to know people.  To be able to ask not just about the objective facts, but ask about the feelings beneath the facts.  2) Invite feedback.  Our new executive pastor, Larry Boatright, has modeled this for me really, really well.  We’ll get out of an interview that we’ve done together or a hard conversation that we’ve had to have with an employee and he’ll come into my office.   The first time that happened, he came into my office and said, “How could I do this better next time?  What type of feedback would you give me?”  The first time I was a little bit caught off-guard.  The second time I was like “Oh, so I guess this is a thing.  So we do this now.”  I can tell you that to have a platform to speak truth to somebody….they’re going “I want to hear it.  I want to hear the stuff that’s hard, the stuff that’s dark, the stuff that I don’t see.  Tell me please.”  It opens up all sorts of conversations.  If you want to take a relationship deeper with a friend, or a spouse, or a roommate, invite feedback.  What would you tell me about myself that I maybe cannot see on my own?  Then put on the gear and back up a little bit, right?  Because my guess is they’ll have something to say.   3) Tackle tough conversations.  Instead of letting things fester get it out in the open. You know the longer you wait to have that conversation you’re dreading, the worse it gets in your mind and in the mind of the other person.  Not only that, the longer you wait to have the conversation, the less true it actually becomes.  These things take on a life of their own in our mind and they grow.  The sooner you have that conversation….and my guess is, in a room this size with this many people, that most of us have something in our mind, a conversation we would have with somebody if we knew it would turn out well.  My encouragement is have that conversation. Don’t put it off.  Here’s the last thing.  If we’re going to be in the type of relationships where we embrace friction instead of running from it, we have to 4) assume the best about people.  Give them the benefit that they’re coming from the place of love.  Even if we don’t necessarily agree with what they say, we agree to choose to assume they’re coming from a place of love.

So, we ask better questions.  We invite feedback.  We tackle tough conversations instead of running from them. We assume the best.  In those types of relationships, you know that not only does iron sharpening iron need contact or pursuit.  Not only does it mean that we embrace friction, it’s not only how we go, it’s how we grow. So we’re going to ask better questions, we’re going to invite feedback….we know that if we do this long enough, there’s going to be some heat that’s created, yes?  There’s going to be some heat created, not only between the iron and the iron but between friends.  So what do we do with that?  Here’s what the book of Proverbs says:  A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Prov. 17:17)  Yet these are the moments that friendship is created for.  Those moments of friction, those moments of heat, because those are the moments we’ll look back at and go “Yeah, that’s when I grew the most.  That’s when I changed.”   So, we express pursuit, we embrace friction, and we endure the heat.  In the marriage, we endure the heat.  In the friendship, we endure the heat.  When it’s easier to run away, when things get uncomfortable, when things get to a place where we normally say “That’s where I tap out,” we choose, as a people of faith who stand on the foundation of being loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords, to stay when it’s easier to go.

Here’s the way Solomon would say it looks like.  A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prov. 18:24)  There’s a difference between a companion and a friend. A companion, when things get hard, is gone.  A friend, when things get hard, sticks close.  My friend, Donna Burns, (part of our writing group that meets every Thursday) told us there’s this great picture from old Westerns.  There’s two types of friends in Western movies.  There’s the type of friend who when the gun battle breaks out they’re the runner and they’re gone.  Then there’s the type of friend who when the battle breaks out goes “I’m right by your side and I’m not going anywhere.”  It would be really easy to ask if you have those kind of friends in your life….the ‘standers’ rather than the ‘runners.’  Let me ask a tougher question — What type of friend are you?  Are you a ‘stander’ or are you a ‘runner?’  When life gets hard, when the heat gets turned up, are you a stander or a runner?  When the heat gets turned up, Proverbs would encourage us to address it quickly — The beginning of strife is like letting out water {Picture a dam.  When there’s conflict in a relationship, it’s like a little stream of water that gets let out of a dam, but eventually it takes on a life of it’s own.} ..so quit before the quarrel breaks out. (Prov. 17:14)   We’re going to choose to address things quickly, and we’re going to address things honestly, because that’s part of the way we endure the heat.

I think the second thing is more important, because sometimes the heat in relationships is around the way that we’ve hurt each other.  Here’s what Proverbs would say about that — Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.  (Prov. 19:11)   That’s an interesting phrase.  It’s to someone’s ‘glory.’ Literally, their ‘weightiness,’ or their ‘beauty,’ or their ‘majesty,’ when they overlook something that someone’s done that hurt them or was wrong.  So we address conflict immediately and we offer forgiveness freely.  We just started a class called When Sinner’s Say, “I Do.”   It’s the recognition that people who are married are married to somebody who’s imperfect.  How do we life together?  How do we embrace a relationship where both parties are imperfect?  That class will be addressing that.  If you’re engaged or married, I’d encourage you to check it out.  But that’s the way that we do it.  We do all three of these things — we express pursuit, we embrace friction, and we endure heat.

Here’s the way Solomon concludes this thought.  There’s something that happens when iron hits iron.  It doesn’t just create friction and heat.  That actually serves a purpose.  It creates sharpness.  It creates usefulness.  It creates more joy.  As the Harvard Study of Adult Development found, it creates human flourishing.  We expect that.  We expect that there will be sharpening in our life.  Actually, what happens when you sharpen a knife, or hatchet, or ax is that one piece of iron starts to shave down or take off the impurities of another piece of iron. That’s how it makes it sharper.  It got jagged by getting used and when you sharpen it you shave off all of those rough edges and you bring it back to “normal.”  Jesus talks about the exact same thing going on when he says he prunes us in John 15:1-2.  I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Do you have friends like that in your life that are sharpening you?  If not, can I encourage you….the three things we talked about — pursue, embrace friction, endure heat.  Maybe those are a word from God for you this morning.

In 1948, Billy Graham sat with three of his really good friends in a hotel room in Modesto, California.  Graham had just finished a real successful evangelistic tour with Youth for Christ.  He and his friends sat in this hotel room—Bev Shea, Grady Wilson, and Cliff Barrows—and made this commitment to each other.  It went on to be referred to as the Modesto Manifesto.  They committed to each other to guard against allegations of abuse of money, sex, or power.  From that day forward, Bill Graham pledged not to eat, or travel, or meet with a woman one-on-one, other than Ruth, his wife.  It’s now called the Billy Graham Rule.  If you were to sit Billy Graham down now and ask, “What was the thing that allowed you to sustain through a really difficult, fruitful, and beautiful ministry,” he would answer, “The partnership he had with those three guys.”  He would say that that manifesto, that agreement, that accountability, that they entered into was one of the things that shaped his ministry more than anything else.  I love that Billy Graham was humble enough to know that he needed that, was wise enough in order to pursue it, and was determined enough to follow it over the course of decades.  And what God did in his life…..it flourished and so did his ministry!

I want that for you too.  I want you to get to the end of your life and know man, I walked well with the people who God put around me.  I pursued people.  I allowed them to really know me.  I embraced the friction….those hard conversations, I was willing to have them and I received them well when people had them with me.  Man, when the heat got turned up, I wasn’t somebody who ran away and found something that I thought was better, but I endured and it made all the difference.  Friends, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you have every resource at your fingertips to step into this type of relationship with other people.  Think about it!  The King of kings and the Lord of lords has said, “I’m pursuing you!”  Think about it!  He’s going “I know you’re messy, I know you’re messed up, but I’m not going anywhere!” I’m with you, heart and soul, good times and bad, mountaintops and valleys, and nothing, nothing, nothing….  “I’m going to endure the heat,” he says.  Nothing can separate you from the love of God that’s in Christ Jesus, your Lord.  Friends, that’s the foundation you stand on, and my encouragement for you is to use that foundation to step into the life-giving relationships Jesus is inviting you to pursue.  It’s not going to be easy, but it will be life giving.  Let’s pray.

Before you go rushing out of here this morning, I just want to invite you to ask the Holy Spirit….maybe it’s just one little piece of that.  Maybe it’s one of those things….it’s pursue, it’s friction, it’s heat, it’s sharpening. What’s he inviting you to this week that may be different?  Jesus, we, as your Scriptures teach, believe that part of the thing that allows our souls to come alive is relationship with other people.  There’s so many things that can stand in the way of that.  Things in us, things in others, things in the world.  I would pray today, would you give us a bigger vision for walking with people you’ve placed in our life.  In more honesty, in more light, in more goodness.  Father, I pray, would you take one thing this morning, in each person here, and impress it on their heart that they might walk into relationship with you, more fully, and with each other, more fully.  We pray it in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

SCREAMING IN THE STREETS: Friendship and Friction Proverbs 27:172020-08-20T14:07:38-06:00

Screaming in the Streets – It’s in the Bones – Proverbs

SCREAMING IN THE STREETS:  It’s In The Bones   Proverbs 4:20-22

I had a dad/husband fail yesterday.  I planned this tubing trip for my wife’s birthday.  We were going to go tubing down the Platte river, starting in Deckers.  A friend gave me specific instructions which started with go buy river tubes from Costco.  What I heard was ‘go buy the cheapest tubes you can from Target.’  I did — the Target one.  I got two tiny tubes for the two oldest kids.  I figured the youngest would ride in the tube with us, because I’m not a cruel parent.  I got a big river tube from one of my friends, the kind that gets towed behind a boat.  I thought we would be good.  I got the upscale version from Target also, thinking, “If we need to get two kids in that one, we’ll be fine.”  We showed up at the river with four tubes.  I dropped the car where we were going to get out and ran the two miles back to meet them.  When I got there, we did not have four tubes, we had three tubes.  BUT, the biggest river tube was the one that popped.  I asked what happened and my wife said, “We were just standing here and it blew up!”  I was a little frustrated, but since we were up there, and two miles from the car, I figured we were going down this river one way or another.  The bigger Target tube held myself and our two youngest kids.  Ethan, our oldest, was in the $4 Target tube, which was just big enough for him.  My wife was in the other $4 Target tube, which was just big enough for my son Ethan.

In my head, I had this picture of a lazy river at a resort when in reality, this water was snow yesterday.  We get in the tubes and start floating down the river.  We got to this one part where we hit these sort of rapids, right before we’re going to get out.  We hit this rock and the tube I was in, with my two youngest kids, capsized.  We went forward and the tube flipped over.  My youngest, Reid, is in a life vest and he’s just panicking.  Avery’s doing the same thing.  Someone down the river yells, “Oh no!!  There’s babies!”   At this moment I think, “Oh, we’re in trouble here.”   I start gathering kids and throwing them in the tube as quickly as I can.  We got everyone in and got over to the side.  My heart was racing for the next hour.  My pulse was up there.  My blood pressure was just going through the roof.

I was reminded of the reality that we’re all aware of and may loose sight of sometimes.  We’re very complex beings.  Your physical body and your soul and your spiritual self.  I think, sometimes in churches, we minimize that and forget that we are complex.  If you were to look at a picture of yourself, there’s three major parts to who you are.  This experience in the river yesterday reminded me of it.  You’re spirit — There’s a part of you that connects with God.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you and you have direct access to him.  You also have a soul.  You have a mind.  You have emotions.  You have a will.  You make decisions.  We talked about the heart a few weeks ago and how important that is to the way that we live and who we are as people.  You also have a body.  You’re aware of that, I know.  We often lose sight of the fact that all of these pieces of us (body/soul/spirit) talk to each other.  We’re holistic beings is the way that we would describe it.   So, when you go on a run, your brain releases endorphins and there’s this chemical exchange that happens in your brain.  When you get finished with the run, you think, “That was a good time.”  Endorphins suppress pain and increase pleasure.  Or, if you were to go and sense a smell.  Smell happens in your physical body — there’s a reaction that happens in your brain that smell triggers memory.  Every time you smell a certain smell, you think of something.  It’s because all of these pieces of your body are talking to each other.  They’re all in communication.  You’re a holistic person.

I haven’t heard a lot of messages, or given a lot, on the body.  The way our physical body actually impacts our soul and impacts our spirit.  We often leave that to doctors and other realms of thought and education, but the Scriptures talk a lot about you being a holistic person, and what happens in your body impacts your soul and what happens in your body impacts your spirit.  If you’ve every been, or are, in chronic pain, you know that’s true.  If you’ve experienced some of the “benefits” of aging, you know that’s true.  Your body is not inconsequential, but we live in a time and a place where we spend $2.5 billion a year on gym memberships, in our culture at large, and, in large part, worship the body.  But in a church culture, we very rarely talk about it at all.  We almost ignore it.  We have these two, sort of, competing ethoses that are going on, that are driving us, and I think as followers of Christ, as people who love the Scriptures, we wrestle with the fact that we are physical beings.  As Karl Barth so beautifully put it: “We are embodied souls and besouled bodies.”  But the bones matter!!  There’s a long tradition that pushes back against that.  I need to invite you into that so you know where we’re coming from and why, in large part, we’ve ignore the fact that we have a body.  {Although we could pinch ourselves and remind us of it on a daily basis.}

It started with platonic thought.  Plato taught that the ideal could only be found in the conceptual.  Plato really distanced himself from anything material, because the ‘perfect’ was only an idea.  Let’s chase after ideas, let’s have conversations, but we don’t need to worry a whole lot about the physical world that we live in.  That evolved during the time of the writing of the New Testament into a heresy that’s called ‘gnostic dualism.’ Gnostic dualists believed that matter was inherently evil and that the spirit was inherently good.  It even evolved into this heresy where they believed that Jesus didn’t actually have a physical body—it’s called docetism—and that he was just spirit.  They started to say that the body is something to be suppressed and you’ve got to control the body, otherwise it would impact your soul and your spirit.  They’re partially right — the body DOES impact the soul and the spirit.  It’s not just something to be subdued or pushed down, it’s actually could be a great tool for you as you walk with Jesus.

So, you have gnostic dualistic thought, but then you have Scripture.  As followers of Jesus, that’s where we want to land.  Here’s what the Scriptures say.  There’s three affirmations, in Scripture, of the physical world that we live in.  Not three verses, but three themes that transcend it all.  One is creation.  God creates the physical world and he steps back from his creation and he says, about human beings who have physical bodies and about his creation and about food that we’ll need to eat, etc., “It is very good.” (Gen. 1:31)  That’s God giving himself a high five, which you can do if you’re Trinity.   He’s going listen, I’m a pretty big deal here and this is an amazing work.  You live in a physical world.  {You are a material girl living in a material world.}  That’s number one.

Number two is the incarnation.  Jesus clothes himself in humanity.  The book of Hebrews will go so far as to say that he is like us in every way. (Heb. 2:17)  Jesus had a physical body like you and like me.  And the third theme in Scripture is resurrection.  The story doesn’t end with you and I as disembodied spirits floating around on a cloud in heaven.  Heaven is a great hope and I would encourage you to hope in heaven, but it is not the ultimate hope according to the Scriptures.  The ultimate hope, according to the Scriptures, is actually resurrection.  So we have it backwards.  A lot of followers of Jesus think that life on earth is just a holding tank until they get sucked out of here and get to heaven and that that’s where the really good stuff starts.  The irony is that that’s exactly backwards.  Heaven is actually a holding tank for resurrection.  It’s a holding tank for the physical.  When we die, we’ll be absent from the body, present with the Lord, but that’s not the end of the game.  The end of the game is that you and I will be united with Christ and we will have a resurrection body just like his.  Some have said Christianity is the most materialistic of any religion, because we believe that the end is, in and of itself, material.  New heaven.  New earth.  Resurrected bodies.  We don’t talk about that a whole lot.  We’ve lost sight of it.  We talk more about escape from this world than how to live well as embodied souls.  How does our body, and our soul, and our spirit interact with each other and feed off of each other? When of my favorite theologians, Dallas Willard, said it like this:  “Probably the least understood aspect of progress in Christlikeness is the role of the body in the spiritual life.”

We’ve been walking through this series, this summer, in the book of Proverbs.  This theme of flesh and bones in the Proverbs started to jump out to me.  Open with me to Proverbs 3, that’s where we’ll start.  Remember, proverbs are short, pithy statements about the way the world generally works.  Proverbs are principles, not promises.  We’ll read some things today and you’ll go, “Well, that doesn’t happen every time and there’s a few outliers to that.”  Solomon would agree.  What he wants to write about is the way the world generally works; the way of wisdom — that’s how we align ourselves with the world that God has created.  These phrases started to stick out to me, and I started to think, “How did I miss this?”  Maybe you’ve missed it to.  Here’s what he says in Proverbs 3:8, talking about the way of wisdom — It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.  I always read that and thought that it was going to be really good for us….our soul and our spirit.  The only problem is is that’s not what it says.  It says wisdom will actually be refreshing to our bodies.

Proverbs 4:20-22 — My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. {Lean in.  Take this seriously.}   Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.   Here’s the crazy thing that Solomon is saying — The life of wisdom brings wholeness and healing to our bodies.  To our physical bodies.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  We could go through almost all through the entire book and point out ways that he claims the way of wisdom—when to say something and when not to say it, when to do something and when not to do it, making the right choice at the right time—makes you a holistic being.  Wisdom doesn’t just affect your heart, your soul, your mind, your emotions, your spirit.  But wisdom actually touches every single piece of you.

I ran this by a number of people just to see if I was crazy.  Every person, in one way or another, cautioned me not to imply that people get cancer because they do bad things or they don’t walk in the way of wisdom.  I said, “No, no!”  I want to be really clear….that’s NOT what I’m saying.  People get cancer, people get sick, you get colds, because we live in a fallen world that’s fractured, that’s permeated with sin.  It’s not specific sins that make you get sick, it’s just part of living in a fallen body.  What I do want to say is when we choose the path of wisdom, it has an impact on our physical bodies, because when we align our lives and ourselves with the way of truth, the way God created the universe, we step into the flow that He has created from the beginning of time. Remember, Wisdom screams in the streets…it’s woven into the very fabric of the world that we live in.  When we step into THAT flow, even our bodies go, “Oh yeah! That feels right.  That feels good.”  There’s something even in our bones that cries out, “Yeah!”

I’ll throw out the Scriptures where you can read about the body.  We prayed it this morning.  David, in Psalm 63:1, says: My soul AND my flesh cry out for you.  Even my physical body longs to meet with you.  The psalmist will write in Psalm 32:3 that when I held my sin inside and refused to confess, even my bones cried out.  He’s saying that confession is this holistic release—body, soul, and spirit—where we come back into the presence of a God who’s already redeemed and already forgiven and recognize it.  It feels like a weight has been lifted off of our shoulders.  Has anyone felt that?  Yeah.  You can either choose to carry it or choose to surrender it, but you can’t do both.  We can only surrender it in the presence of God.  Or, you have Jesus saying, in the Garden of Gethsemane when the disciples were sleeping:  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)   Even Jesus identifies that you have more than one part of you.  You have flesh, which is fragile and frail.  He doesn’t say the flesh is evil.  He says your flesh is weak.  Your spirit wants to, but your flesh just can’t go there.  Anybody fall asleep reading, almost every night, like I do?  I’m reminded the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Yeah, amen!  Jesus would say that this ‘body’ part of you—the body/soul/spirit—is fragile and it needs some attention.  It doesn’t need to be discarded.  You need to listen to it more.  You need to pay attention to what’s going on, because it needs you to know that it matters.

Here’s what we’re going to do in the next few minutes.  We’re going to go off the beaten path a little bit.  We’re going to explore a few of the passages in Proverbs, that you might read twice and go, “I’m not sure.”  Proverbs that talk about our physical well-being and our soul’s interaction with the body.  Let me give you three of them that I’ve seen as I’ve read through the book of Proverbs.   Proverbs 14:30 says this:  A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.  I scratched my head when I read that, for a second, because, like I said, I always read it, “A tranquil heart, or a heart at peace, or a heart that’s healed (according to the Hebrew) gives life to our soul. And envy can destroy your soul or spirit.”  The only problem is….that’s not what it says. What it says is the condition of your heart has a bearing on the health of your body.

If we could rephrase what Solomon is saying, I think he’s saying that the emotions that we embrace (this emotion of envy or jealousy) get into our bones.  Emotions can either rot or restore our body.  It takes wisdom to know what emotions we should continue to carry and what emotions we should let go of.  {Would you look up at me a moment?}  You are in complete control of the emotions that you carry.  Oftentimes we think we’re carried by them or we’re carried away by them.  If you’ve read either of the great books on emotional intelligence, Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Intelligence 2.0—I highly recommend them—the author talks about one of the things that emotionally healthy people do is that they step back from their emotions and try to look at them from the outside looking in to recognize what’s going on.  Why do I feel the way that I feel?  What’s going on in my soul to make me go there?  Amazing, right?  I mean, a thousand of years before, the Scriptures are going to say, “Oh yeah, a healthy heart gives life to your body, but envy…oh, that will rot your bones.”

In a recent study done by the American Psychological Association, results show that jealousy and envy have a negative effect on your brain, your stomach—-so your gut starts to turn (you’ve heard this terminology?). Literally, it affects your gut.  It affects your brain, it affects your gut, it affects your eyes.  They’ve actually been able to prove that we perceive situations differently and inaccurately when we are acting in jealousy or envy.  And, your blood pressure starts to go up.  Jealousy and envy affect your brain, your stomach, your eyes, and your heart.  That’s crazy, isn’t it?  This emotion, or this conviction (I deserve that) actually has a negative effect on our whole body, not just our soul and our spirit.  I can’t believe that person got the promotion and I got looked over.  Are you kidding me?  That thought in the back of our mind….I’ve been getting there early every single day and THAT person gets a raise.  Seriously?  I’ve longed for so long to be in a relationship and it seems like every single one of my friends is getting proposed to.  There’s something in us that goes, “I don’t have that and I long for it and I want it.”

Solomon would say the heart that’s tranquil, that’s happy, that’s at peace, can actually influence your flesh positively, but when you act in envy, he affirms what every single social scientist now is proving, that can rot our bones.  So what do we do about it?  Let me give you two things we can do.  One, we can be honest.  We can be honest about the things we’re disappointed about.  We can be honest about thinking we got overlooked.  We can be honest about wishing we had something we didn’t have.  We can decide then that we’re going to let it go.  I think people who let envy rot their bones don’t even know they’re carrying it.  They are consciously aware that this is the baggage they carry every single moment of every single day.  We can get honest about it and go, “Yeah, that’s in there,” and then, “God, it’s yours.”

The second thing we can do is create a rhythm to our life that is drenched in gratitude.  It’s one of the best disciplines you can develop.  To just start to look for things in your day….maybe you do this right before you go to bed at night.  Maybe you make a list of five things today that you’re thankful for.  You go, “Alright Lord, thank you.”  Because the emotions you carry, whether it’s envy or jealousy, have an ability to actually impact your physical body.

Solomon writes: A joyful heart is good medicine {I read that and thought it’s good to be joyful.  Joy is great. Who would choose sorrow?} but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.  (Prov. 17:22)   Sadness, or grief, or depression doesn’t just stop in our soul, it actually transcends into our body.  You know this if you’ve ever lost someone you’ve loved, if you’ve ever had a dream die that you put a lot of weight in, if you’ve been divorced and walked down that road.  You know this feeling of being so dried up on your soul level that you don’t feel like you can get out of bed.  Has anyone been there?  {Yeah! Yeah!}  Why?  Because the emotions that we carry have a way of impacting not just our spirit and not just our soul, but our entire body.  One research said that out of the emotions that we go through in life, sadness and depression and grief are the longest-lasting. Depression doesn’t just affect the mind, it affects our physical bodies.  It shows up in erratic sleep habits, or loss or increase of appetite, or constant fatigue, or muscle aches, or headaches, or back pain.  These things get into our bones.

Here’s my encouragement.  I’m not a medical doctor, but if that’s you…if you go, yeah, I’ve experienced that or am experiencing it on an ongoing basis, can I encourage you to reach out?  There’s help available.  Sometimes it is a physical thing.  It may be an imbalance that’s going on in your brain.  Maybe it is a spiritual or emotional thing.  Can I encourage you to pursue wholeness and health as if your life depended on it.  It might.  If you’re sitting here, it’s not too late to reach out.   As you do that, my other piece of encouragement would be don’t leave God out of that.  David has his heart ripped out and it says in 1 Samuel 30:6 — And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters.  But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.   I love the way that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his sermons on spiritual depression, says:  “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”   Let’s hit pause there for a moment.  Most of the emotional baggage, or unhappiness, or depression, or grief happens because we listen to what we’re telling ourselves rather than telling ourselves something that’s true.  So he points to David, in Psalm 42, where David speaks to his soul and asks, “Why are you downcast, o my soul?”  {Back to Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ quote.}  “His soul had been depressing him, crushing him.  So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”  Some of you need to have that conversation with you.  I know it sounds schizophrenic, but you need to speak to your soul, encourage your soul.  The truth of the matter is that you’re a holistic being—body, soul, and spirit—and a tranquil or peaceful heart gives life to your flesh, and a joyful heart is really, really good medicine.

Here’s how he continues.  (Prov. 16:24)  Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.  I know, it’s crazy!  I didn’t see it either!  Every time I read it, I read when somebody says something good or nice about you, it’s like honeycomb to the soul and health to the soul.  But that’s not what he says.  Solomon’s point is the words that we carry will either carry us or they’ll bury us.   They have a very real impact, not just on our soul and not just on our spirit, but actually on our body!  Have you ever seen somebody or said something to somebody….as a parent, if you’ve said something to your kids and you’ve seen their shoulders slump.  Words have a real weightiness to them.  I think Solomon would say to us that the words we carry either strengthenor suffocate our bodies.  It takes wisdom—which is what this book is all about—to know when to carry a word and when to bury it.  When to identify it as truth and when to identify it as a lie. We are much more concerned with the things we put into our body than we are with the words that we carry.  We want to know….hey, is that organic?  Is it cage-free?  Is it farm fresh?  How many pesticides have been on this? {To sunscreen or not to sunscreen — the new rage.  Kelly posted on Facebook about the most amazing chemical-free deodorant and 65 people had some comment about the deodorant–Primal Pit Paste or use other products as the best organic deodorant by JK Naturals which are great for this as well.  We care a lot about what we put in our bodies.

Did you know that the words that you carry matter just as much as the things you put in your body?  They have just as much of an impact as the food you put in for consumption.  We have an easier time carrying negative words than we do carrying positive words.  I’ll prove it to you.  How many of you can remember a cut-down or something somebody said about you back in elementary school?  Would you just raise your hand?  Yeah, me too. Here’s why.  We have what’s called a negativity bias.  It’s a physical thing — two-thirds of the neurons in your brain that are looking for experiences to process are looking specifically for negative experiences.  Two-thirds!!! Why in the world would that be?  Because negative things have the ability to kill you and you want to live, so God’s programmed us in such a way that we remember the things that are painful, we remember the things that hurt.

When my wife and I were away for a few days, our son, Reid, who is four, was being cared for by my mother-in-law.  She was cooking something and had the oven open.  He walked passed the oven and saw the red element in there.  He walked up to it and touched the element.  I’ll tell you, he remembers that.  He also revised the history — his story is Memaw didn’t tell me the oven is hot!  {Ryan} says, “We’ve told you every day of your life, child. Now you’re going to remember!”  Why? Because you brain has the ability to process….  Not only that, two-thirds of the neurons in your brain are looking for negative experiences.  Also, the pathway to convert that negative experience to long-term memory is way shorter than the pathway to convert a good experience, or a positive word, to long-term memory.  The latest studies show that in order to have something positive sink in on your soul, you need to hold on to the comment or the event for at least twelve seconds to have it sink in.  So, Rick Hanson, who is a researcher, said: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.”

What do we do with this?  If the words we carry either strengthen or suffocate us and it’s way easier to carry negative words—things people have said about us that aren’t even true, but have just stuck with us—what do we do?  That’s why I would say that gathering under the Scriptures on a weekly basis, but even more than that on a daily basis, to remind yourself of what’s true is so important.  Because it’s so easy to carry things that are false and have them destroy us.  The Jewish people had this rhythm, this tradition, that every time they would gather together they would read a blessing over each other, over the whole community of people, because they know that words can either ignite a soul or they can kill a soul.  They wanted to remind themselves of the story that they lived in so they would read the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 — The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.  Why did they do it?  They wanted to remind themselves of the story that they were in in order to drown out the lies that they’ve been told.  They wanted to remember we are children of the Most High God, that by his grace and by his mercy we are known and we know him and he is with us in it to speak to our body, our soul, and our spirit to give his good and gracious health and wholeness and shalom over our entire beings.

Can I just encourage you with two things?   (1) There are people who have spoken a good word or blessing over you (my guess is in the last few days) and you just didn’t hear it.  I want you to go back and think through if there’s a way you can pull those back from the past and into the present to say, “Yeah, this actually is true.” Choose to dwell on the good.  As the Apostle Paul so beautifully writes to the church at Philippi — Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)   Dwell on them.  Let them get in you, because a good word has the ability to speak life to body, soul, and spirit.

Just a quick word for parents. {Would you look up at me for a moment?}  I’ve had a chance this week to do a lot of research in the social sciences regarding brain activity.  It’s fascinating!  One of the things that stood out to me as a parent is this:  It takes 5-10 positive words to outweigh ONE negative word.  Think about that for a moment.  5-10 positive words to outweigh one negative word.  What kind of words—as parents, or people living in a house with others, or in your neighborhood, or at your place of employment—do you put on people? Blessing or curse.

So, first, dwell on the good.  Second, choose to believe the truth of the Scriptures.  That you are loved by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  He has called you by name and knows you.  He loves and is for you.  He that is in you is greater than he who is in the world.  He has adopted as his sons and his daughters.  He has made you holy, pure, and blameless and you are His!  Hold on to that!  It may actually give life to your bones!  It’s in the bones.

Finally, Proverbs 19:23 says:  The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied.   This idea of putting God in his rightful place helps us sleep well.  When we lay our head down on our pillow at night, if our worship has been directed in the right place, there’s a direct effect on…..{big sigh} oh yeah.  Another way to say it is that the worship we offer either builds or breaks our bones.  What we do here on a Sunday morning actually can affect how you go to sleep tonight, if we do it right and we do it well.  If we remember that God is in his rightful place, that he sits enthroned above the universe, that he’s in control, then I don’t have to be…and neither do you.  There’s some amazing effects that stress, and anxiety, and worry, and control have on your body.  The anecdote to those, scripturally…..not all of them.  There’s some reasons that some of you can’t fall asleep at night that are completely physical…I get it.  Don’t email me!  Actually, I have a folder on my email of encouraging notes.  People email me all the time.  It’s great!  I could have ten wonderful, encouraging emails and one negative one and I remember the negative one.  I discard the negative one and keep the positive ones in a folder.  There’s some days where you just have to read through them and remind yourself the world is not falling apart.

Our worship affects not just our soul and not just our spirit, but our physical bodies.  Worry and control and stress have the ability to bury us.  They do.  The Scriptures will say things like:  Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication…(Phil. 4:6-7)   So, instead of anxiety, which is worship in the wrong place, turn yourself to worship your great God.

What do you do with a message like this?  Let me give you two things:  1) Listen to your body.  Your body is one of the loudest instruments you have to tell you what’s going on in your soul.  Things like stress, anxiety, neck pain (which has been associated with all sorts of things) are God’s bullhorn to you that something on a soul and spirit level is off.  Learn to listen to your body.  Learn to see anxiety, or an increased heart rate, or even envy as something that….alright God, what do you want me to relook at?  What do I need to carry and what do I need to bury?  What’s the way of wisdom here, because I’m convinced that words can either strengthen me or suffocate me, that my emotions will either build me or they’ll break me, and that the worship I offer has a very real effect on my physical body.  So, can we agree to listen better to our bodies?  They can tell us what’s going on in our soul.

Second — Care for your body.  You’re only going to get two of them!  You should care for them.  You have one now and then you’ll have a resurrected body.  I don’t need to go into all the things your doctor would tell you, but I’ll just give you a few.  Exercise every once in a while.  Eat healthy, it’ll help you be more aware of what’s going on in your soul.  Drink more water.  Praise the Lord that coffee is 99% water!!  Care for your body.

Let’s take a moment before we go running out of here.  Just between you and God.  What’s the Spirit of God saying to you?  About the reality that you’re an ensouled body—you’re body, soul, and spirit.  Are there some emotions that you’re carrying—envy, jealousy, grief, or sadness?  Those things are hard to discard nor should we, but to be honest about them, bring them before the Lord and ask that he would work.  There’s some things that you’re carrying that maybe today, for your holistic health, God would say it’s time to let that guilt go…it’s time to let that shame go…it’s a new day and I’ve got new things for you.   Jesus, this morning, would you, in these earthen vessels that we live in—body, soul, spirit—would you meet us?  We know, according to Scripture, our body’s a temple of the Holy Spirit, that you live and dwell within us. Would you just put your finger on some things going on in our life….maybe it’s emotions, maybe it’s words, maybe it’s worship.  Would you put your finger on some things in our life and call us out?  Call us to more.  Call us to wisdom.  We believe that the way of wisdom is health and healing for us, holistically, and we want it.  It’s in Jesus’s name we pray.  Amen.

South Fellowship Church, our benediction is out of 3 John 1:2 — Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.   Remember, true spirituality is not disembodied faith.  Creation, incarnation, and resurrection remind you this physical world matters.  So, let’s walk in wisdom with the emotions we carry, the words we carry, and with the worship we offer.  I pray it in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Screaming in the Streets – It’s in the Bones – Proverbs2020-08-20T14:09:11-06:00
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