Proverbs 3–Trust and Good

There are two different things going on in this rumination on Proverbs 3.

The first comes from that classic passage–3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Recently I worked on this passage for a sermon (okay, it was last Sunday) and I played around a bit, rewriting these words with a different twist. I called the first one “Still True From A Negative Angle.”

Trust in yourself with half your heart, and lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge and call attention to yourself, and you will utterly destroy your path.

I enjoyed doing that so much, that I decided to write what I called the “Spiritual Sounding But Not Right Angle.”

Trust in The Lord when things are tough, and lean not on the understanding of fools. In all your spiritual ways acknowledge him, and your path will become evident.

This rendering sounds true. The problem is that is not what the Bible teaches, but rather accurate of what we often teach and how we talk.

The last one I wrote is just ridiculous. I call it the “All Wrong But Exactly How We’d Like It To Read Angle.”

Trust in The Lord with some of your heart, and pray through your own

understandings. When you are hurting, acknowledge him and he will send a Facebook meme to cheer you up.


My second thoughts come from Proverbs 3:27. Here, the writer tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” I think this verse properly applied could change the world. Seriously.

My mind began to think about current political issues. The application of this is much broader, but here is a place to dialogue.

  1. Immigration
  2. Health care
  3. Taxes
  4. Opioid crisis
  5. Mass killings

You’re doing right now what I was guilty of, I think. If not, you are a better soul than me. For each of these, I assumed that what I thought and what I felt emotionally would be the ‘good’ that should be done.

But my opinion, or my knee-jerk, is not always the good. My perception of the writer’s intention is to inform us of the hard work in the application of wisdom to perceiving what the good is. Let’s take the opioid issue. I readily admit this is complicated, but fixing it might involve something more than more crisis managers, more first responders, or more federal dollars. Perhaps the good involved is about addressing the cultural, economic, religious, and educational systems that provide such a fertile ground for destruction. As such, maybe the best good is to admit not much good can be done for those who are addicted now, but the money should be spent on the next generation. My power for the now is low, but my leverage for the power to do good for the future is high.

And if that is not enough to push me along, the question comes with the phrase “to whom it is due.” Is help due to someone who has willfully, voluntarily, and repeatedly put themselves and others in harms way? I know that is a tough line, but goodness you have to ask at what point has someone’s actions disqualified them from assistance and help. This question is important. Resources are limited.

To children, to communities, to the unborn next generation, much is due. They are due a healthy environment. They are due a hopeful, optimistic world. They are due security. The are due a fighting chance.

What is in my power? To whom is it due?

If we apply these questions, we might find we don’t like the answers, and that is the exact point of wisdom.

 

 

PASTORAL ADVICE

I’ve written several blogs of late on “advice,” varying from money, marriage, children, and a few other things.  One thing I know a little something about is pastoring, so today’s blog is advice for pastors about pastoring.  So that probably makes for a smaller audience, but hey, it’s what I know so here we go.

1.  Make certain your children live in as normal a home as possible.  A pastor has a special responsibility to safeguard his or her children and spouse from the crazy, erratic, and emotionally depleting world they have to work in every day.

2.  Take a sabbath day once a week.  Sunday and Saturday do not count because you work very hard on those days.  I always took Friday, most people take Monday.  Monday never worked for me because I always felt so drained on Monday that when I took that day off I didn’t feel like enjoying anything.  That is when I decided to go on into work on Monday.  If I was going to feel bad I might as well not do it on my own time.  On your sabbath refuse to answer the phone, and train your spouse not to answer her’s/his either because they will call her/him to get to you.  I wish I’d had the strength to hang up the phone immediately whenever I answered and they said, “I know it is your day off but . . . ”   It always ruined my day.

3.  Read books, but don’t read so many churchy books.  I regret spending so much of my time reading one ‘how to do church book’ right after the other.  Maybe pick about five of them that others recommend and then stop, perhaps then reading one more every other year.  Instead read literature (Dickens, Poe, Dostoevsky, Wilde, Shakespeare) and current best sellers.  I also wish I’d read more history and thrillers and less about church.

4.  Accept the fact that church is a broken institution and live in the midst of that brokenness.  People are messed up (including you) and that makes it impossible to have the perfect church system, so stop trying to make it perfect.  You are only wasting your time.

5.  Work hard at pastoring on two fronts.  The most important front is learning to pastor the system(s) of your church.  I know that is counter-intuitive, but trust me it is the most important aspect of what you do regardless of your church’s size.  You have to learn to think systemically and then fix, repair, change, grow and adapt the systems of the church you lead.  The second front is learn to pastor people in their crisis moments.  It is faddish today, especially among those untucked goateed Calvinist pastors to neglect classic pastoral ministry but it is vital for the long term health, credibility, and integrity of people of faith.  Learn how to do a funeral the right way.  Go to the hospital.  Visit the nursing home.  Show up unannounced at a home in crisis.  Dedicate babies.  Learn some liturgy.  Conduct marriage counseling.  Be a pastor, not just a CEO.

6.  Watch your back, at all times and really, I mean this, trust no one.  If you want an example, just read the Bible.  My small group right now is learning about Moses.  Yeah, you see how the people he led treated him.  They will do no better by you.  Love them, but don’t trust them.  Jesus didn’t trust the people around him either (John 2:24).

7.  Learn to say no.

8.  Don’t be afraid to say yes.

9.  You’re not the solution to every problem.

10.  Make decisions and stick with them.  One of the greatest defects I saw in pastors and in churches was their inability to make a decision about most anything.

11.  Never use shame, guilt, or manipulation to get people to do things.  That is not how the Kingdom of God works.

12.  One more–enjoy what you do, this divine calling that is also our daily work, or else it will become a bitter pill.  I decided a long time ago that I would have fun, always, because I couldn’t control other people’s enjoyment level anyway.  Therefore, I might as well have a good time.  Yeah, there will be hard times and difficult moments but there must be a level of satisfaction, deep in your soul, that the work you are doing matters.

AZTEC THEOLOGY AND CHRIST VIA NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

There is a fascinating article in this months edition (November 2010) of National Geographic.  The cover story is about migrations, which is nice in an eye candy kind of way.  I love the pictures in National Geographic!  But that is not the article which made me think real hard.  No, it was the one near the back of the magazine.  It is a report on the archaeological digs in Mexico City of the Templo Mayor (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/11/greatest-aztec/draper-text)

 The dig has been ongoing since 1978 and continues to increase in scope as more and more finds are discovered.  My interest in archaeology aside, there were two theological themes which stood out to me.  Granted this is comparative religion, but I have fun thinking about these things.

  • The Aztec practiced a ritual sacrifice of human beings which deeply disturbed them.  These sacrifices took place on top of large pyramids, like the Templo Mayor.
  • The writer, Robert Draper, refers to the Aztec religious thought as troubled.  He quotes one of the dig experts who label them as living with a “cosmic insecurity.”

Both of these religious themes are interesting to me.  As to human sacrifice, the article rightly indicates it was not uncommon in ancient, pre-modern societies.  David Carrasco, the Harvard historian on the topic indicates that the Aztec themselves had a great deal of anguish about the human sacrifice situation.  They were not psychopathic barbarians who enjoyed it.  They felt it had to be done, but it bothered them.          

It should have.  It is wrong to kill human beings.  However, there are innate human understandings that sacrifice and the shedding of blood is the only way to achieve atonement.  This deep psychological and spiritual need erupts in so many cultures that it cannot be ignored as an innate human characteristic.  As a person who claims Christ, I realize that it is not a victim or a conquered foe that must die.  Instead, it is Jesus who became the one human for all time that died for my sin so no one else has to.  Ever.

The second theme, “cosmic insecurity” is what any rational person would deduce form a world filled with chance and thousands of apparently meaningless, random actions each day.  Will it rain or will it not?  Does my child live at birth, and will my wife survive labor?  Why would I get this disease and not a thousand other people? 

The Aztec turned to superstition and ritual to guarantee some control of the randomness.  Of course their efforts failed; as do our efforts to control the Lord with manipulative prayer.

The world truly is insecure; and it is intentionally so.  It rains on the just and the unjust.  Yet there is an amazing difference between the workings of the One True God and the superstitious pagan rites of the Aztec.  The Aztecs were right about the role of chance, but the scriptures teach God himself is not insecure.  There is nothing that threatens him or that can thwart his purposes.  My temporary, individual cosmic fate is unknowable and seemingly prone to chance.  However, my eternal fate is far from insecure.  It is held in the tight grip of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As such the two concepts of sacrifice and security are woven into the work and being of one person. 

The Aztec performed ritual sacrifice as a means to keep chance at bay and buy a little security in an insecure world.  In Christ’s sacrifice on the cross he secured for me freedom from fear and insecurity by trusting him to shepherd me through an insecure world.