Answering Folly

“Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.”

Proverbs 26:4-5 (NLT)

When I first read Proverbs 26:4-5, I thought that verses four and five contradicted one another. But after pondering them and reading commentaries on them, I realized that they actually do go together. We are never to answer a fool in the same foolish way that he or she behaves, and only then in matters of consequence. And, when we do answer them, we must do so by rebuking them so that they will not continue in their foolishness. So, what does this look like?

I’ve worked with many people over the years, and occasionally have come across a few difficult people.  There was a woman I volunteered with who never had anything positive to say about the work I was doing. In fact, every time she approached me, it was to criticize the way that my co-leaders and I ran the program that she and I were both involved in. She always had a better way to do things. While input is fine, and I thought she had some good ideas, her approach was bullyish and she was always so critical. When she approached me, I could not remain calm, and honestly, would answer her “folly” the same way she approached me – harshly. My reply was never pleasant. In this sense, I was, unfortunately, acting like Proverbs 26:4, and emulating her critical ways.

What I should have done is to answer her kindly, while firmly pointing out her negativity, and told her that if she would like to remain on the team, she would need to be more positive and enjoy the current way the program was run, and if she couldn’t do that, then she would need to leave. In this sense, I would have answered her in such a way that she realized her folly, but not responded in the harsh way in which she had approached me.

There is a fine line when answering a “fool” and we must be choosy in the foolishness we address. Any time we address someone for the sake of correction, it must always be to point the person back to Christ rather than to punish the person for his or her behavior. And, first and foremost, we must pray before we ever approach someone. Pray for the right words to say, and for the other person’s heart to be ready to accept the correction. When you do these things, you will answer folly in a godly way.

Big and Little Coloring Devotional Review

My newest book review…

The idea behind the Big and Little Coloring Devotional written by Rachel C. Swanson and illustrated by Jacy Corral is fantastic because it aims to meet a need of moms who desperately want to spend time in God’s word but can’t do so because their children demand most, or all, of their time. The layout of the coloring devotion allows a mom and a child to sit across from each other at a table, flip open the book, and color the page in front of them. The child’s page is a lower skill level coloring page, and the mom’s page includes a short devotion and a higher skill level coloring page. Both pages have the same Bible verse on them.

While I love the idea, I only gave the book three stars because I’m not sure young children can or would actually color their page for five minutes, defeating the purpose of mom getting the time she needs to read and think about her devotion. However, elementary age children could color the page, and it might be a nice idea for mom and child to talk about the devotion or Bible verse while they color together. I think this is a great way to talk about God’s word with your children. However, most of the devotions are mom-focused and would not be appropriate for the child. The parent could just talk about the Bible verse and this would be good, too. But, again, this does not meet the need of moms of preschoolers.

The coloring pages are well-done and the images in them match the material of each devotion. While most of the devotions are insightful, and one even asks the mom to share the Gospel with her child, there are some devotions that include vague or flowery language that make them hard to understand. In these cases, the writer’s style seems as if she wants to write in the style of Oswald Chambers, but can’t quite make the leap. I think if she wrote all of the devotions from the perspective of a mom, and did not try to be a philosopher, this book would be much more convincing because her devotions about her experiences as a mother are very good. I also think if the devotions included discussion questions that a mom could ask her child as they color their pages, this would make the book better, and more meaningful, for both of them.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own.

Life on Purpose

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (HCSB)

Proverbs 14:34

I just finished reading The Power of Purpose: Breaking Through to Intentional Living by Michael Catt, the pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. The main message of the book made me think of Proverbs 14:34 because one of the main points the book makes is that we should live our lives with purpose, and we do that by living a life for Christ. As church members when we live for Christ, we bring life back to the church, something greatly needed in our current culture. Even though Proverbs 14:34 refers to a “nation,” I believe this same principle applies to our churches.

The Power of Purpose is unique in that it explains why and how to live a life of purpose by looking at the book of Philippians. Topics in the book include living a life of prayer, consistency and service, all of which lead to contentment as Paul defines it.

While the book is filled with practical advice on how to live, I believe Catt’s most compelling arguments focus on the reasons for the decline of the church. He argues, “The blame for the powerless church in America lies not outside the church, but within her.” Unfortunately, many of us church-goers can attest to disunity in our churches, and Catt’s illumination of the apostle Paul’s arguments about living a life for Christ are good solutions to bringing dying churches back to life.

The book features a host of quotes from pastors, theologians, writers, philosophers and famous Americans. But, while it is easy to read, some of the chapters are not tightly focused and feel a bit disjointed because the author jumps from one topic to another without going very deeply into any one theme. All that said, the book includes many one-line quotes that convict us to live a life of purpose, a life for Christ, and that makes this book valuable to anyone who reads it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes and the opinions I have expressed in my review are entirely my own.

Taking the Back Seat

“Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.” Proverbs 25:6-7 (NIV)

Have you ever thought too highly of yourself? Pride can get the best of us, for sure. When I was in the seventh grade, I just knew I was supposed to get an award for the highest average in at least one of my classes. Two or three of them, actually. So, when I arrived at school on Awards Day and realized I wasn’t dressed correctly for my special prize, I hurried to the school office to call my mom and ask her to bring a dress for me to wear. The office would not let me make the call. Persistent as I was, I tried a second time, and found myself being marched back to class by the assistant principal! Instead of trusting that my mom would have known ahead of time if I was getting an award and that she would have sent me in appropriate attire, I thought I knew better, and even worse assigned myself the honor prematurely.

As it turns out, of course I didn’t get the highest grade award – that honor went to my nemesis Scott Donaldson (yes, I still remember his name), to whom I lost by only one tenth of a point! I could have saved myself embarrassment and heartache (and a lecture from the assistant principal as I was literally pushed back up a set of stairs to class), if I had only heeded Proverbs 25:6-7.

Solomon understood the value of humility. When we honor others above ourselves, we avoid the risk of demotion. The Lord exhorts us to honor the leaders in our lives, whether they are a parent, an elder, a pastor, a teacher, a boss, or a political leader like the President of the United States. All positions are appointed by God (Romans 13:1). And when we find ourselves interacting with our leaders, whether we like them or not, we should give them the honor and respect they are due because of their position.

Jesus spoke on this same principle in Luke 14:7-11 when he taught the Pharisees about the wisdom of humility and proper behavior at social functions:

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (NIV)

Seeing others through the eyes of the Lord will help us to remember our place. It is always better to regard others as more important than ourselves, and to remember that life is not about being seen, but about what we did with our lives. People remember how you made them feel. They remember what you did or did not do for them. For an explanation of what it means to be “other-focused” we can look at Paul’s beautiful description of Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11 NIV)

Jesus is our ultimate example of humility. He fully understood his place before God, the Father. He knew that “taking the back seat” was actually the best seat!

Three Cornerstones

“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”

Proverbs 24:3-4 (NIV)

A few weeks ago my family visited Washington, D.C. As we walked through buildings like the United States Capitol and Library of Congress, we were awed by their ornate architecture and lavish décor and the rare historic artifacts they contained. These buildings weren’t just beautiful, though; they were storehouses filled with items of deep and lasting historical significance such as the Gutenburg Bible, murals depicting the development of our system of government and portraits and statues of America’s founding fathers.

In Proverbs 24:3-4, Solomon advises us that there are three cornerstones which establish a good “house”: wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Used in this sense, “house” represents more than just a building; it symbolizes ourselves, our family, and our church in the same way that the White House, Capitol Building and Library of Congress represent the life, history and the very essence of these United States of America.

If you looked closely at your own life, what would its cornerstones be? Is it built on the bedrocks of the fear of, and faith in, the Lord? If so, its cornerstone is wisdom, since Proverbs 1:7 tells us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

In order to finish building your spiritual house, though, you must add the building blocks of knowledge and understanding. But, what do the words knowledge, understanding and wisdom, as Solomon uses them in Proverbs 24, really mean?

Knowledge (Heb. da`ath), as the word itself implies, means simply to know or be aware of one or more facts or pieces of information.

Understanding (Heb. tabuwn) is a bit broader than knowledge and includes the ideas of insight and instruction. This means that those who have understanding not only hear or learn a fact, but they also appreciate its underlying significance and potential use and can convey that significance and use in such a way that their listeners can understand it as well.

Wisdom (Heb. chokmah) goes beyond either knowledge or understanding and carries with it the notions of skill, shrewdness and prudence. A person with wisdom has the ability to take what has been learned and apply it to her own life and is also able to determine whether, when and how to share that information with others so that it offers the most benefit to those who hear it.

So, spiritually speaking, our lives, families and churches, should be built on the solid foundation of wisdom, which comes with the regular and diligent study of God’s word (knowledge) and an appreciation of its underlying significance (understanding). Once we take hold of these things, our “houses” can then be decorated with “rare and beautiful treasures” like humility, grace, peace, love, joy, patience, goodness, self-control, and kindness.

Isaiah 33:6 tells us, “He will be a sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.” So, follow his wise advice and build and decorate your own spiritual house with wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

A Glad Heart

“My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad indeed; my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.”

Proverbs 23:15-16 (NIV)

“I give it to the floor.”

This was the response that our fifth grade daughter gave to the child who touched her as part of a game some kids at her school created to be mean to a few children whom they deemed “disgusting.” In the game, if you accidentally touch one of the “unworthy” kids, you have to pass on the touch. Once a person passes it on, they can’t be touched again.

This game, harks back to the humorous “Cheese Touch” described in Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and movies, the cruel “Plague” epidemic that took place in R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, and the game of “Cooties” played by kids from earlier generations.  Regardless of the form this game takes, it is isolating and unkind.

When my daughter told me how she responded to this cruel game by throwing her hands to the floor and saying she gave the touch to the floor in order to not perpetuate the game, my heart was glad because, like Solomon said to his son in Proverbs 23:15-16, I rejoiced in seeing her use godly wisdom to show love.

As parents, our hearts leap for joy when we see our children live by God’s wisdom. That said, for our children to live godly lives, we, as parents and caregivers, must not only teach but also exemplify that wisdom to them.

Do you teach your children how to respect others? Do you demonstrate godly love to them? Do you pray with them and for them daily?

To speak and to live wisely, our children need to learn boundaries and receive support from home in order to help them learn what is right and stand up for their beliefs. The best parenting plan for teaching godly wisdom can be found in Deuteronomy 6:7-8. We teach our children in the course of everyday living. And, remember this does not just include telling them God’s commands. It also means we, as parents, must model those same commands.

I asked my daughter what she thought were the most important things Bert and I had taught her, and she said, “the importance of kindness and honesty.” In addition to these two virtues, I believe that humility is equally important.

Consider memorizing the verses below for each of these virtues with your children.

  • Kindness: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12 (NIV)
  • Honesty: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” Proverbs 10:9 (NIV)
  • Humility:  “Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life.” Proverbs 22:4 (NIV)

When you and your children study God’s word together, you will begin to see changes in them that will make your heart glad.

 

Excuses, Excuses

“The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!’”

Proverbs 22:13 (ESV)

What’s the most preposterous excuse you’ve heard, or even better, that you’ve given for not doing something you knew you were were supposed to do?

While we can laugh at the sluggard’s not wanting to go to work in Proverbs 22:13 because he believes that lions roaming the city streets will surely kill him (when in fact, lions stayed in the woods and outside of town), his situation isn’t nearly as funny when we begin to consider our own irrational fears that propel us not to do things that we should.

I will admit that I have made up some of my own preposterous excuses, one of which stems from my irrational fear of germs. When my daughter was little, there were times when I wouldn’t take her to certain fun places for kids because I was fearful of what she might catch there. Let’s just say she didn’t play in a public park till she was over two years old. My excuse: It’s not safe.

But, in all seriousness, regarding the things in life that really matter, do you make excuses to not do them? Do you take your work seriously? On a spiritual note, do you tell others about Christ? The Lord wants us to reach out to a world that needs Jesus and tell them the Good News. How often do you do that? What are your excuses for not telling others about Christ?

I’m ashamed to say I’ve felt all of the following excuses at one time or another. But I want to let go of them and leave my sluggardness behind as God reveals to me the preposterousness of those excuses.

I’ll be rejected and/or it will ruin my relationship with a friend/family member. If fear of rejection is an obstacle, remember “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NASB) We should keep our focus on Jesus, and remember the reason for telling someone about him: those who are not in Christ will be eternally separated from him. It is worth saying something, whether we are rejected or not. The results of never saying anything is eternal separation. How can we live with that?

“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”      Matthew 25:46 (NASB)

I don’t know what to say. There are many ways to present the Gospel (plans, tracts, programs), but the most effective way is to tell the story of how Christ has changed your life. Prayer is vital before you speak, as well.

“and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. ” Ephesians 6:19-20 (ESV)

I simply don’t have time. What is most important to you? Search your heart to determine what you treasure. Do you believe running errands is more important than heavenly eternity for a person’s soul?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (NIV)

The person is hopeless. Why bother? God created us all, and if he can be patient with us, then we should be patient with each other. Aren’t we glad the Lord was patient with us?

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)