Campfire

Proverbs 10:26

Growing up around camp fires, I learned to always try to sit upwind rather than downwind. On nights when the wind was gentle, the smoke would often shift without much notice catching us and stinging our eyes. Squinting helped, but nothing really took away the sting. But event the sting didn’t stop us from sitting around and poking, cooking marsh mellows and listening to the crackle.

We all have someone in our lives who gets lots of eye-rolls when they let us down again. They just can’t seem to rise to any challenge, even when given many chances to do so. They consistently fail to carry out even the most fundamental tasks. Their word is worthless. They promise, but never come through on their word.

We notice this most when we have “given them one more chance” one more time. We trusted them again in hopes that “this time will be different,” but it wasn’t. And they don’t really get how much it hurts us when they let us down. We really want them to succeed. In fact, we probably want it more than they do! Maybe that is part of the problem. We want their success more than they want it. We have more invested in them than they have invested in themselves. We care more than they care.

Our text tells us it is like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes. Neither of these experiences is pleasant. Each has its own pain. Once we have been hit by either feeling, we try to avoid it in the future. The burning is something you want to avoid.

So what is our text trying to tell us? Is it saying that we should not extend grace to those who let us down, the sluggards in our lives? I think it is telling us two things.

First, expect the disappointment if you extend grace. Don’t let it take you by surprise. One way of doing this is to not expect anything in return. Instead of lending money, give it freely without any obligation. If it is given this way, when it isn’t returned, you had no expectation of the return so you are not disappointed.

Second, and perhaps a more painful lesson is that you might have to let them fall. Rescuing them has not worked. If you don’t want the pain if disappointment, don’t extend the help. Give the grace of natural consequences. Let them experience the pain of their laziness. Don’t listen to their guilt-trips and emotional manipulation.

Ketchup Packet

Proverbs 10:18-21

Have you ever stepped on a ketchup packet from a fast food restaurant? Splat! Out comes the contents in all their glory. You can’t really predict exactly how that ketchup is going come out, what pattern it will make. You know your foot is going down, but after that it is a mystery.

Our texts today talk about what we say with several different word pictures. As we read we can see the contrast between the righteous and the fool, a constant theme here in Proverbs.

Verses 18 and 19 bring to mind the small child with mommy’s makeup all over her face. “Did you get into mommy’s makeup?” “No.” Do you know who did?” And on goes the story. She begins to weave a tale that gets more and more unbelievable with every spin. And all the while, the evidence is right on her face.

Hatred can’t be hidden forever. It will squirt out at an unplanned moment. It often takes the form of slander, saying negative things about the other person in order to color their reputation. And the more words that get spoken, the more the sin is multiplied. Lies lead to more lies. It is better to just shut up and accept the consequences.

In contrast to these lies, the righteous speak words that have great value, a value that will last. You can bank on the words of a righteous person. They won’t change their story over time. Don’t you hate it when you count on someone’s word and then they let you down!

A righteous person nurtures those around them. Their words build up those who hear. This is in contrast to the drain that liars bring everywhere they go. Since you can’t trust what they say, you have to constantly make alternative plans, making up for their deficiency. This is especially true in the lives of addicts and abusers. Their lives become disappointment after disappointment. Little league games, concerts, birthdays, anniversaries, groceries, rent, utilities. Their word means nothing. It has no value.

Now, before you quit life, God has the power to redeem our lives. He paid the price so that we could truly start over and get it right this time. Today we can be honest with our words. But it will take the power of God to break the habit of lying. If you could do it yourself, you would have done it years ago. Ask for His help, and then step out and tell the truth each time you are tempted to lie. Pray that He will open your eyes to the lie before it exits your mouth.

Choice Theory

Proverbs 10:17

We are all leaders. Some of us lead many people, some just a few, but we are all leading. Anyone who is a parent, or who was parented knows this. Kids do what their parents do, good or bad. The first time your kid swears it hits you: they learned that from listening to me. Their facial expressions, the way they eat and talk, they learn it from you, if you are around.

Being a good leader requires doing the right thing, learning from mistakes and doing it consistently. This part of learning from mistakes falls under the heading of discipline. We all know kids who were disciplined, but they didn’t change their behavior. They repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Perhaps we are that kid. Perhaps we are that adult! Discipline should be measured so that the pain fits the crime, both in content and in severity. If they didn’t clean their room, cleaning should be the discipline. All other fun activities are taken away until the cleaning gets done, and done to standard.

When we learn from discipline we are choosing life. The quality of life is determined by our choices. And the life that matters is not the physical beating of our hearts and brain waves, but a connection to the eternal God. This life lasts beyond physical death. In fact, it is the only thing that matters.

When we ignore discipline’s lessons, we choose to separate ourselves from God and from others.

What choice are you making when discipline comes?

Fortress

Proverbs 10:15-16

Long-term growth is better than quick gain. Investing in things that last a long time is better than buying disposable items. These statements smash into the values that arose after WWII. The suburbs were grown out of nothing. The automobile allowed people to spread out across a vast area and still get to work. And advertising pushed the lust for the newest and the greatest. “Keeping up with the Jones” became a way of life.

In ancient times the home security system didn’t dial an emergency call center. Security came when your house was inside a walled town, or you could retreat inside the walls of your town. The only way to afford to build such a town was to have extra at the end of the year for many years. Crops had to have sufficient water at the right time. Livestock needed pasture and water. Protection from raiding parties had to be successful. Disputes had to be settled in a satisfactory way for all the people involved.

So when our text says that the fortified city is a symbol of wealth, we can understand why. There were no ‘get rich quick’ schemes. If you look at the source of the richest people in America, most of it originally came from a questionable source. Because they were at the right place at the right time with a healthy dose of hard work, they were able to cash in on life. But their wealth came at the expense of others. The wealth didn’t grow out of nothing. Other people made them rich. Wealth was voluntarily transferred.

In contrast to earthly wealth, the righteous receive life. Unlike a fortified city, life continues with us after the grave. When we die everything stays here. “You can’t take it with you when you die.” This is the reason righteousness is a much better pursuit. Righteousness and life go hand in hand.

Now I don’t want you to think that I haven’t dreamed about being rich, or at least richer than I am. Riches help take away some of the stress of life. It can be very difficult to live on the edge, paycheck to paycheck. STRESS! So enough to make ends meet is nice.

I am getting ready to live on less than half of what I am used to. It will be interesting to see how I handle it. I could easily get stressed if I don’t make the immediate adjustment to my wants and desires. I won’t have disposable income. What I make will be accounted for in some category of “necessary items.”

But I am investing in righteousness. Its value will not diminish when I retire. In fact, I will have more free time to pursue it in greater ways. I won’t feel rushed when I hit a sweet spot in my devotions. I can sit and linger.

Ruin’s Invitation

Proverbs 10:13-14

These two verses give us a simple picture of the results of wisdom and folly. We can take them together because there is a parallel between the first and forth lines, and the middle two lines. The outside lines deal with what each says, and the middle lines deal with what each gains. So let’s look at each.

What wise people say is contrasted with what fools say. What we are on the inside comes out of our mouths. Our true character spills out. The fool “is asking for it.”

The text says that the fool “invites” ruin. Why would someone invite ruin into their lives? I can think of many people who make choices, dumb choices, and then try to talk their way out of the consequences. They justify their actions, often by blaming another person. Someone who drinks too much alcohol is inviting ruin. If you spend more than you earn, you are inviting ruin. Eating too much of the wrong things invites ruin. Neglecting the important relationships in your life invites ruin. With each of these, and many more, the fool will excuse their behavior and they do so with their words.

The wise person gives out wisdom by the very words spoken. Their lives match their words. It is not that the wise person is pretending or being fake, it is that what they have put into their lives spills out. They have taken the time to discipline themselves and fill up on God’s wisdom. What they have put is comes out. Of course it takes effort to fill up on wisdom. The pursuit of wisdom is a long term project. It doesn’t happen overnight. And it is a process that is never finished. The wise continue to learn.

The fool ends up getting disciplined for his actions. The rod is a symbol and sometimes an instrument of discipline. We tend to not use physical punishment in this country. People go to jail rather than getting a public beating. But we tend to punish and not discipline. Discipline is intended and designed to bring about a change of heart. Jail is about making the public feel safer. We put the “bad guys” behind bars. But little is done to change the heart.

In the end the wise person has something to show for the path he has chosen. He has stored up knowledge. I remember a professor at college who exemplified this concept. When you were around him he just overflowed with a joy that was contagious. Without even trying he gave out wisdom. And his life matched his words.

Are you storing up knowledge or inviting ruin?

Hospital Gown

Proverbs 10:12

One of the hardest things for a new couple is their first fight. How they move toward each during and following the fight makes a big difference. When we are able to move toward the other person, hear and understand their position, their hurt and pain, the better our relationship becomes. If we end up feeling alone, we can be headed for trouble.

We all know people who love stirring up trouble. At the root of that stirring is hatred. They would probably not state it this way, but that is the reality. Hate puts us in the lashing out mood. We want to strike at anything that seems to get in our way. Hate is often indiscriminate about where and when it strikes. It doesn’t need justice to step over the line, it isn’t in charge at that point. And as a result, hate often strikes the innocent.

Hate is like a stick poking at the embers in a campfire, hoping to get a bit more flame to rise. Hate doesn’t even need to be in the fire. It is often content to get other people fighting. So if you see conflict, take a look at the sidelines. Perhaps the hate is throwing the punches, but poking the embers.

By contrast, love works to resolve conflicts. It does so through forgiveness and reconciliation. Love brings people together rather than pushing them apart. Love is always seeing the best in other people, perhaps deeply buried best.

Love isn’t about pacifying people. Love doesn’t bury wrongs, it covers them.

I remember being in the hospital for an operation. You know those hospital gowns that let the world see your backside, well I had one of them on. I had to walk down the hallway for a test. I covered my backside to hide my private parts. I didn’t want others to feel shame at seeing me exposed. My private parts were still there, just covered. It was not that I was trying to say they didn’t exist, but that I didn’t want other people having to divert their eyes to keep from shaming me. I didn’t want my nakedness to distract people’s attention away from other important things.

Love covers the wrongs so that they don’t get in the way of relationship. If we hold onto wrongs, soon our arms are filled with them, and we can’t experience the world without the wrongs overtaking it. We cover them so that our gaze can look beyond them to a better future, in hopes that someday the wrongs can be made right.

Fountains

Proverbs 10:10-11

Sneaky! This is one of those traits that you love to hate. You love it when someone else gets the brunt of the joke, but when you get the bucket of water on your head, it becomes a different story. These subtle deceptions, lies that seem harmless, are the high end of a category of actions condemned by God. We are supposed to be exuding life.

We are living in an age when deception makes some filthy rich, and leaves the rest of us just getting by. I think of a former Vice President who touts a “Green” agenda because of his “concern” for the warming of the earth, and yet flies around in a private jet. His life betrays his real beliefs. He becomes filthy rich when he sells his largest asset to the very people who profit from destroying his “Green” agenda. He is “Green”, alright (wink, wink).

Or the members of Congress who voted to change the law to encourage sub-prime mortgages now pointing fingers at the banking industry for getting us into a mess. “It’s their fault.” (Wink, wink) We will fix it this time. (Wink, wink) All the while there are backroom deals that create millionaires who represent us. (Wink, wink)

How about the dad who says, “I’ll be at your ball game,” and then doesn’t show up. Or the mom who is “meeting with the girls” to carry on an affair. Or the child who says, “I clean up my room” and then does nothing.

When we set ourselves on the path of deceit we are set up for failure. Our speech will betray us over time. People can’t help but tell their story. Just give them time and they will tip their hand. They will show you what is on the inside.

For the righteous, life is about sharing the life we have in Christ. Life flows from someone who obeys the LORD. They become a fountain. When we were traveling in Italy we were drawn, like so many before us, to the many fountains that flow. There is just something refreshing about sitting beside a fountain, listening to the splashing water and feeling the gentle mist touching your skin. And on a hot day it is like air conditioning.

So it is with someone who lives a life of obedience. When people are around us, the sense the Life we participate in living. They can be refreshed just by being in our presence.

Are we a chattering fool or a refreshing fountain?

Swiss Cheese

Proverbs 10:9

Living on the edge! Risk-taking! Rush! We certainly live in a world where thrill-seeking has become the new Olympic-sized sport. It is almost as if the brain gets stuck in high gear and nothing at normal pace ever feels normal.

I am a very different type of person. I like not falling off cliffs. I like staying in the middle of the road. I don’t like the possibility of pain. I think pain is God’s way of saying, “Cut that out!” It is a warning system that keeps us from hurting ourselves. I don’t believe the saying, “No pain, no gain.” But then again, I am a little odd. I like walking on steady grown.

When we lack integrity we walk on uncertain ground every day. Walking without integrity is like walking around in an abandoned, unfamiliar building at night. You never know when the floor is going to give out. Will this step be the one that gives out? Will I be caught this time?

I love to see people slow down below the speed limit when they see a highway patrol on the interstate. We are allowed to go the speed limit! They slow down because of their guilt. They hope they weren’t caught.

But the person who is consistent in every area of their life doesn’t have to worry about their day to day decisions. He knows what to expect and how to react. He has been on that path before. He won’t be caught doing something that doesn’t fit with his internal character.

Someone who lacks integrity is often called two-faced. You see different actions in different circumstances. You never know exactly who is going to show up and any given moment. In fact, often, they don’t know who will show up either. They live in fear of being discovered.

Someone with integrity has thought through what they will do and why. They have put the pieces of life together into an integrated whole. They are not like Swiss cheese. There are no potholes just around the corner.

Unfortunately, none of us has complete integrity. We all have some holes in our lives, places that we don’t want other people looking into. But the more we walk according to God’s Word, the more integrity we will have.

So when you notice those holes in your life, fill them with God’s Word. Allow Him to bridge the gap in your integrity.