Saturday, January 26, 2008

Being Wise About Family – Proverbs

Being Wise About Family – Proverbs
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 27, 2008 AM

Television shows about family life have been popular for many decades. Think about the television shows you watch that feature family life. How do they depict parents or the father figure? Often not very well. Our society loves to talk a lot about the condition of the family. Psychologists and sociologists, pastors and counselors, and yet families are increasingly devalued in our society. The divorce rate continues to rise. Parents and children continue to be alienated from one another. In fact, there are those right now in the Washington State Legislature that want to redefine the sanctity of what a family is by saying that marriage is not just between a man and a woman.

God wants people to accept His design for the family, particularly that husbands and wives be a blessing to each other and to their children. God wants parents to teach children by example, wise instruction, and discipline to become responsible, godly adults. We find that the Book of Proverbs frequently addresses family issues. Studying these Proverbs can help us experience the biblical wisdom in relating to our spouse and to our children. Proverbs can also give single adults insight into biblical principles concerning relationships with family members, including their children, parents and or siblings. Let’s discover how we can be wise about family…

READ: Proverbs 18:22; 31:10; 24:3–4; 14:1; 21:19; 19:14; 20:7; 16:21; 29:15; 22;6; 23:24

The Bible devotes much attention to family life. From a systematic study of families mentioned in the Bible such as those of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and Joseph and Mary, we could glean lessons for today. Another approach is to look at passages that instruct us more directly on family life. Genesis 2:21-25 and Matthew 19:4-6 present the biblical ideal for marriage and family. Paul listed responsibilities of family members in Ephesians 5:21–6:4. However, the material on the family in Proverbs is scattered throughout its chapters. I will bring together some of them as we first look at…

I. Accepting God’s Design for the Family! (Proverbs 18:22; 31:10; 24:3–4)

1. Family happiness is not just homemade, it is God-made! Although Proverbs is in the form of an instruction manual mainly for fathers in teaching their sons, its truths relate to both men and women. Proverbs affirms God’s design for marriage and exalts the kind of character required of both husbands and wives. They are the most basic unit of the family. The first family, Adam and Eve, was constituted when God created a wife for Adam. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18a). Proverbs 18:22 reminds men that having a wife is a wonderful thing. Certainly, single people can live meaningful lives with strong friendships, but being married is also good. The Hebrew word translated “favor” also means “delight” or “pleasure.” A happy marriage is a gift from God. Proverbs does not give details on choosing a mate but it does emphasize the wisdom of relying on divine guidance in making that choice. Verse 31:10 begins the well-known description of the ideal wife. A man should rejoice that his wife has “noble character,” however, the same holds true for the husband! Both are to be “worth far more than rubies” to one another. Paul upholds this ideal in Ephesians when he tells spouses to, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) Wives are to “submit to your husbands as to the Lord” and husbands are to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church!” Proverbs compares a family to a house. A strong family is like a house built by wisdom and established by understanding. We should construct our families on the foundation of biblical principles. An empty house is incomplete. Normally, a house is furnished. The writer says our family life should be furnished by “knowledge.” The word translated knowledge often refers to personal relationship. A personal relationship with God is essential to building a strong family and it is like “rare and beautiful treasures.” Being wise about family means we need to accept God’s design for the family!

EXAMPLE: Biblical principles are often in conflict with portrayals of family life in the media. Jesus compared the Christian life to a house built on a solid foundation. That house can withstand the storms of life (Matt. 7:24-25). How many families, even Christian ones, in our day are in turmoil? Most I fear. Why? They do not rely on Biblical principles to guide their home life. This past year I bought a used set of golf clubs. I may never play the game, yet they are there if I ever need them. I have lots of stuff in my garage that is like that, do you? Whenever I need it I just have to go out and find it. You know what? Families were designed by the Lord that way. You may laugh but it is true! Everything wonderful about family is in His design and all we have to do is discover it! In the garage of our lives there exists a happy family! Far too often we have misplaced the one main ingredient, God, that will make it whole again. Being wise about family means we need to accept God’s design for the family!

God’s design for marriage is that husband and wife commit themselves to each other for life and relate to each another with godly wisdom and understanding. God’s plan for marriage involves a husband and wife who have integrity and who are mature, loyal, honest, and faithful to each other. Both the husband and wife should have a strong faith in God. The “house” or home they build together will be strong when it is based on biblical principles. We discover that we must…

II. Relate Wisely to Our Spouse (Proverbs 14:1; 21:19; 19:14)

1. Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage! While attention is focused on the wife in these verses, they are equally applicable to both husband and wife. A wife has a tremendous impact on a family. A wise woman helps create and build a strong, godly family, while a foolish one destroys family life. Although males played the more prominent role in Hebrew society, the writer correctly acknowledged the key role played by wives and mothers in a family. Proverbs presents the ideal pattern for married life but it is also realistic about problems married couples face. The husband does not escape his responsibility. We discover in our own day that many households lack godly men who are involved in the day to day spiritual and emotional nurture of their homes. Too many children suffer from a lack of a father’s care. We also discover that a wife that is nagging and hot-tempered makes family life more difficult. A husband married to this kind of wife would prefer to isolate himself in a wilderness! Children tend to ignore mothers who constantly nag rather than gain respect. Fathers need to be responsible as well in this area. We cannot control another person’s behavior, but we can exercise control over our own. When we take proper actions, often we will receive the proper reactions. The writer turns to the idea of inheritance. Inheritance is a major concern in many societies. In Hebrew life, the sons inherited from fathers. Good common sense in a spouse in our day isn’t often seen as a wonderful thing. Far too many want what they want when they want it. Few save anything and spend far beyond their means expecting the government or others to bail them out. We discover that “houses and wealth” are not worth as much as an intelligent mate in life! Being wise about family means relating wisely to our spouse.

EXAMPLE: My father was a real character. He was often the one that could find humor in any situation. When my mother threw a fur coat she hated off a bridge into a stream, a young man diligently waded in and returned it to her. Disgusted at not getting of rid of her fur, my father smiled and remarked, “Lark, ‘cast thy coat upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.’” Another essential ingredient in a happy marriage is love. Our society portrays romantic love or sexuality as the basis for marriage. A problem with this is that all too often this kind of love is limited to a feelings or to a temporary physical attraction. The highest kind of love is that which acts in the best interests of the other person. It is sacrificial. The Hebrew word often used for love means “to have affection” and can also refer to a friendship. Husband and wife need to be best friends. A loving husband-wife relationship makes family life happy without a lot of material things. An abundance of stuff cannot replace the absence of love in a home. Being wise about family means relating wisely to our spouse.

Inheritance of material possessions is fine, but God’s gift of a sensible spouse is far greater. If we are open to God’s leadership, He will help us find the right person to marry. Again, we need to recall that not all people need to be married. Being single is also a gift from God. Single adults can fulfill their needs for companionship with strong Christian friendships. As we continue in being wise about family, we discover that here in Proverbs we must also…

III. Relate Responsibly to Our Children! (Proverbs 20:7; 16:21; 29:15; 22;6; 23:24)

1. Some say that some “smart” kids today do not smart in the right places! Proverbs includes many verses on parent-child relationships. Verse 20:7 stresses that parents should set positive examples for their children. The parent marked by integrity will provide the right model for their children. The children will be happy or “blessed.” Children do not always follow the parents’ examples, but parents are obligated to be good role models anyway. Ethics is more caught than taught! Therefore, a wise parent knows that pleasant speech is important in parenting. Parents need to offer constructive criticism to their children but not by tearing them down. And children should be expected to use proper respectful speech with one another and adults. Some parents try to control a child’s behavior through manipulation. They set unrealistic goals for the child and discipline becomes oppressive. Paul warned about stirring up a child’s anger (Eph. 6:4). Other parents go to the opposite extreme. They wrongly believe that if you love your child, you will not discipline them. A youth left to himself will not know how to behave properly and will act inappropriately. Verse 22:6 may be the best-known verse in Proverbs! We should see it as a principle, not a promise. A parent should discipline or teach a child the right way to live. When the child is old, he will generally retain these basic values learned as a child, however, “a child left to himself disgraces” both parents! Verse 23:24 reminds us that parents are proud of children who act responsibly. We can rejoice greatly at the strong moral character of our children. Parents often compliment their children about things such as good grades in school, musical accomplishments, or athletic achievements. We should also let our children know we appreciate their honesty and integrity. Being wise about family teaches us to relate responsibly to our children.

EXAMPLE: Some people have attributed to Mark Twain the statement, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years.” The attitude of children toward their parents changes as they mature. Some young people show little respect for their fathers and mothers. It's disheartening to see this. But if they mature, many begin to recognize that Mom and Dad knew a lot more than they gave them credit for. On the other hand, some young people come to realize with deep regret that if they had followed the counsel of their parents they could have avoided much heartache both for themselves and their family. Christian parents need to evaluate the way they are relating to their children. They need to consider the examples they are setting. They need to reflect on the messages they send both by what they say and by how they act. A parent, for instance, who talks about other ethnic groups in a demeaning way teaches the child to be racially prejudiced. A parent who openly demonstrates love for his or her spouse communicates a positive model for family life. A husband who berates his wife sends a message to the child that his or her mother is inadequate. Being wise about family teaches us to relate responsibly to our children.

1. We are to embrace God’s design for marriage and family life.
2. Each believer is to follow biblical principles in building strong and enduring relationships with his or her spouse.
3. Parents are to train their children to be responsible, godly adults.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sacredness of Human Life - Exodus 1:15-2:10; Proverbs 24:11-12

The Sacredness of Human Life - Exodus 1:15-2:10; Proverbs 24:11-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 20, 2008 AM

Imagine that a 16-year-old girl from your church comes to you for advice. She knows you well and needs to talk to someone outside her family. She tells you that she recently discovered she is pregnant. She has not told anyone, not even her boyfriend. She is a Christian and has grown up in your church. What advice would you offer this girl? What options does she have? What should a Christian do in this situation?

This story is imaginary, but all too real and I expect some of us have encountered similar situations. Some people in our society would condone an abortion. Others would suggest the girl give her child up for adoption. Still others might insist that the girl get married and raise her child. All concerned parties need to be involved in such a serious decision. Many people in today’s world view life as cheap. Entertainment, including books, TV, movies, music, and video games, frequently exalts violence and killing. Constant exposure to portrayals of brutality, abortion, and assisted suicide tends to desensitize people to the value of human life. What should we as believers do to sensitize ourselves, reeducate others, and help our society be aware of God’s view of the sacredness of human life? I am glad you asked…

READ: Exodus 1:15-2:10; Proverbs 24:11-12

The two verses from Proverbs this week remind us to help those who face death. Although abortion is not mentioned directly, the unnecessary deaths of unborn children are a relevant application of these verses. The actions of the Hebrew midwives and Moses’ family illustrate the need to protect human life. The Egyptian king felt threatened by the population growth of the Hebrews living in Egypt. He enslaved them and ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill any newborn baby boys. The midwives, however, disobeyed the king because they feared and honored God. This study will emphasize the sacredness of human life. In doing so in our lives we need to…

I. Act with Faith (Exodus 1:15-21; Proverbs 24:11-12)!

1. Christians are to always act in faith! People feel threatened by all kinds of fears, but fear of the Lord should motivate the believer to live by faith. However the unsaved are often motivated to react to fear by lashing out in ungodly ways. The pharaoh of Egypt, frightened by the booming Hebrew population, took measures to control their population growth. First, he enacted a forced labor program. The enslaved Hebrews were put to work building supply cities for the pharaoh (v. 11). When the Hebrews continued to multiply rapidly, the king increased their workload (vv. 12-13). The king’s next strategy was to order the Hebrew midwives to take an ungodly radical action: “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” What would these women do? The writer of Proverbs tells us that “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” In fact he goes on to relate that we cannot use the excuse of not knowing: “If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” The midwives had a choice to make and they made the right one. They protected the unborn and God blessed them in several ways: “God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” We know that life comes from the Lord. It is sacred to Him and we must act with faith not fear when it is threatened.

EXAMPLE: People might attempt to excuse their failure to rescue those being taken away to death by saying that they did not realize the great atrocity taking place around them. This is what was done in Nazi Germany and in places like Laos and Cambodia or with the Kurds in Iraq. These verses remind us that ignorance is no excuse. God will judge us for our actions. We are responsible for protecting human life. This story of Moses’ people and the proverbs remind us that God protects our lives, and He expects us to value and protect other human lives as well.
These precious midwives acted with extreme faith and courage by refusing to take the lives of Hebrew male infants. We should act on our faith in God by opposing abortion and other practices that undermine the value of human life. We are called to act with faith.

Human life has been cheapened in our world. We mentioned the violence before. Abortion has become a common practice. People like movie stars or Bill Gates support the taking of human life for convenience sake. How should a Christian respond to this low view of human life? Many of us need to become better educated about the issues and we need to make the sanctity of human life a high priority in our value system. Christians also need to be active. Our actions demonstrate the value we place on human life. For instance, Christians can volunteer in tutoring or mentoring programs for children, volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers, or support groups that value human life with our money and our prayers. The sacredness of human life means that Christians will…

II. Act with Determination (Exodus 1:22–2:4)!

1. Live today as you will wish you had lived when you stand before God! Pharaoh was frustrated that the Hebrews kept increasing. The midwives were not cooperating, so he ordered all his people to kill any Hebrew baby boy by throwing him into the Nile. The Hebrews faced a major threat on their infant population. Scholars use the word infanticide for the killing of infants. Some ancient cultures discarded infants who were sickly or deformed. We see it occurring in Islamic nations, India, China, and Africa. Yet in the midst of this turmoil God had placed strategically a family who would honor Him. We do not know how Jochebed hid her son, but we realize she must have faced great risks in following through with her determination to save her son’s life. The entire family would act with determination to rescue their small sibling and son. When the mother could no longer hide her son, she resourcefully developed another plan. She put her son in a papyrus basket, made from reeds. The Hebrew word translated basket literally means “ark” and is the same term used of Noah’s boat! In the safety of this small ark of God made by a loving mother’s hand floated the hope of the Israelite nation – Moses. Hebrews relates that “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.” (Hebrews 11:23) We find Moses’ older sister, Miriam, stealthily following and she “stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.” What an act of courage and determination! When a life is threatened God’s people must act with determination to rescue as many lives as possible.

EXAMPLE: Imagine that you are visiting a foreign country when you realize that you're being followed. Your every move is watched. Your every conversation is monitored. Your hotel room is bugged and the restaurant tables are electronically rigged to pick up every word you speak. It's as if at all times someone wants to know what you are doing, saying, thinking, and planning. You are constantly under the scrutiny of another, and it seems there is no place to hide. Like Moses’ family must have felt in sheltering their little boy.
Fortunately, most of us don't know what it's like to live under that kind of surveillance. Yet in reality, we do live every moment of every day under the watchful eyes of the Lord. He sees everything we do; He hears everything we say; He knows every thought we think.
For those who love and trust the Lord, this is an awesome yet comforting truth. But for those who are determined to resist Him, it's a different story. Our lives are not lived for ourselves. The family of Moses understood this as well. Sure, Moses’ parents and sister acted with faith and determination to save the baby’s life they loved. Most of us would do anything we could to save the life of our child. However, God expects us as His children to have high regard for all human life. When we see that life threatened we must act with determination.

The sanctity of human life is a high priority for many Christians. Some use their money to support politicians and groups that share their values. Others write letters to the editors of newspapers or take other political actions. Some show their determination to protect human life by educating their own children about this priority. Some have chosen careers that enhance human life. Teachers, counselors, and medical professionals often are motivated by a high regard for human life. When we see human life threatened, Christians must act. In fact, we learn that it means we…

III. Act with Creativity (Exodus 2:5-10)!

1. God’s providence in action using people’s creativity! Moses’ mother had an inspiration from the Lord and his sister followed along, watching, to make sure he was safe. A princess of Egypt went to bath in the Nile and found the little ark. Seeing the baby she immediately felt sorry for the little boy in the basket. The Hebrew term translated felt sorry also means “to have compassion.” Basically the word conveys the idea of an emotional response that results in an active attempt to save its object from impending difficulty. The princess recognized that the baby was a Hebrew boy. Although her father had ordered the killing of all Hebrew baby boys, she had compassion on this baby. Through God’s providential action, the daughter of the king who had issued the decree for the babies’ deaths becomes the channel for Moses’ deliverance. Miriam was there to make a heavenly suggestion, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” God’s providence in action using people’s creativity. Moses’ mother would even receive a salary for taking care of her own child—another ironic and providential element in the story! God was working behind the scenes to preserve the life of the man who would eventually lead the Hebrews out of Egyptian captivity. The mother’s and sister’s high regard for human life plays a key role in the story. They both acted with creativity to save a human life they valued. How about you? How do you value human life? Can you imagine what would have happened if they had not acted with creativity? Moses could have been killed. Imagine the same scenario with Mary and Joseph if Mary decided not to birth Jesus? Yet because of their willingness to act with creativity we have salvation!

EXAMPLE: Moses’ mother and sister acted with creativity to save Moses’ life. We can think of several options this Hebrew family might have exercised. For instance, they might have tried to flee Egypt. As a slave people, however, they would have found it difficult to escape the Egyptians. They could have continued to lie about Moses’ birth but that would have soon been discovered as well. Moses’ family creatively responded to the crisis generated by the king’s decree by putting their baby boy in the Nile. They trusted God to help them save the baby’s life.
We can value and protect human life creatively today as well. Christians can refuse to buy services or products whose companies or manufacturers support abortion, they can depend on God to help them seek ways to be creative to save lives, just like Moses’ mother and sister did. Perhaps it would be to support an impoverished child, make clothing for newborns, supply diapers and such, give to missions to help build Christian hospitals in impoverished nations, or help a crisis pregnancy center buy a 3D ultrasound machine so pregnant mothers can see their unborn infants. Whatever it is, believers need to act with creativity concerning human life.

1. We should act on our faith in God by opposing abortion and other practices that undermine the value of human life.
2. We are to demonstrate a determination to protect human life.
3. We need to be creative in our efforts to express our value of human life and in our means to protect human life.
What will you do this year to show the sacredness of human life?
The outline for this sermon was taken from a Sunday School lesson by LifeWay, Adult Explore the Bible, Winter 03-04.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Benefits of Wisdom – Proverbs 1:1-19

The Benefits of Wisdom – Proverbs 1:1-19
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 13, 2008 AM

Imagine that you have a child who watches way too much television. (This may not be too hard for some of us to do!) You’ve struggled with how to discipline your child and redirect their interests into more wholesome activities. Where would you look for advice regarding this parenting dilemma? Would you read books by noted psychologists, talk to Christian friends, look on the Internet, or ask Doctor Phil? In today’s world many groups and individuals claim to have solid advice for addressing life’s problems. The world is filled with conflicting voices, all claiming to speak wisdom. Some people are easily persuaded to follow those who speak with assumed authority. Others have concluded that people must determine what is wisdom for themselves and pursue it, denying that any one “wisdom” is appropriate for everyone.

In contrast, God expects people to find wisdom for living through a reverent, obedient, and loving relationship with Him. We live wisely when we base our decisions on biblical principles. The Book of Proverbs provides for us the benefits of wisdom. Let’s discover how for ourselves this morning.

READ: Proverbs 1:1-19

Attaining wisdom is important to living morally and spiritually upright lives. Genuine wisdom is rooted in the fear of the Lord. Parents need to impart wisdom to their children, and children need to listen to their parents’ guidance. Young people need to beware of those who try to entice them into evil activities. Sin has serious consequences, and sinners will ultimately reap the results of wrongdoing. Wise persons will avoid associating with people who can lead them astray. We learn that…

I. The benefits of wisdom begins with proper guidance! (vv. 1-6)

1. A wise person will listen and increase their learning, and a discerning one will obtain Godly guidance! Solomon is known for his wise decisions when he served Israel as its king. His wisdom is attributed to his asking God for it and the Bible tells us that “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.” (1 Kings 4:29) He is attributed to writing thousands of songs and proverbs. (2 Kings 4:32) Even the Queen of Sheba came to investigate his wisdom (1 Kings 10:1-13)! We know that Solomon did not always act wisely, but he did receive wisdom as a gift from God and he tried to hand it down to future generations. Solomon did this so that those who read these Proverbs would have “wisdom and discipline.” Wisdom is more than just knowledge. A person can have a lot of knowledge but little wisdom. Wisdom brings about “a disciplined and prudent life” to those that are willing to heed it. Solomon understood that “doing what is right and just and fair” does not come just from being practical. “Prudence…, knowledge and discretion” comes from learning from God and then doing not just the right thing, but the righteous thing. Even Jesus’ disciples could not understand His parables without godly wisdom and insight. A person who gains wisdom from God will excel in righteousness, justice, and integrity. Biblical wisdom has a moral or ethical dimension. A wise person, according to the Bible, is someone who makes decisions in light of biblical principles. Solomon knew that “for understanding proverbs and parables,” the benefits of wisdom begins with proper guidance.

EXAMPLE: Have you heard of a GPS? The Global Positioning System (GPS) is changing the way we work, travel, and play. You find them in cell phones, cars, and in iPods. Using the signals from multiple satellites, an inexpensive GPS receiver can compute your location anywhere in the world. Using the information can help a lost hiker return to camp, enable a driver to locate a house in a strange city, or guide commercial fishermen back to the place of a big catch. In a very real sense, it is "guidance from above." But it helps only the person who believes the information and acts on it. What if a person viewed the GPS readout and said, "I can't possibly be where this says I am"? What good would it be if a person turned off the unit, jammed it in a pocket, and headed out on his own, saying, "I know I'm going east, even if this thing says I'm going south"? In a similar way, God's guidance through the Bible benefits us only when we trust His Word and obey it. Solomon knew that “for understanding proverbs and parables,” the benefits of wisdom begins with proper guidance.

This opening section stresses the benefits of becoming wise. A wise person chooses to apply God’s principles to life’s decisions. God’s people should take advantage of opportunities to grow in wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is designed as a guide to attaining wisdom. Studying the Book of Proverbs provides a wonderful opportunity to learn more about how to live wisely in today’s complex world. In fact, we discover that…

II. The benefits of wisdom are key to spiritual knowledge! (vv. 7-9)

1. Foolish people not only despise parental advise, they hate Godly wisdom! The Hebrews viewed knowledge as more than intellectual comprehension. Knowledge often included an experiential dimension. Hosea reported God’s disappointment with the people’s lack of knowledge of God (Hosea 4:1, 6). They did not lack intellectual knowledge but rather their lives reflected a lack of intimate, personal relationship with Him. True wisdom comes from a vital relationship with God. The fear of the Lord is primarily a reverence or respect for God. The word fear does not completely refer to a cringing type of fear. Bible scholars recognize that wisdom teaching occurred in several contexts in the ancient world. A king might have wise advisors. Wise instructors taught students. A parent would share wisdom with children. In these verses a father addresses his son. The father, using two figures of speech, told his son that listening to his parent’s advice would bring rewards. First, these wise teachings would be like a garland of grace on his head or like a “graceful wreath.” Second, the shared wisdom would be like a gold chain around his neck. Both of these items symbolize success in life. His godly wisdom would affect his life! Those who listen to God’s wisdom add beauty and honor to their lives. The benefits of wisdom are key to spiritual knowledge that affects every area of our lives.

EXAMPLE: Are we "Time-magazine Christians"? A Pastor used this phrase to describe how some believers divide their lives into departments, with the religious section given a half-page somewhere near the back. Little if any attempt is made to relate matters of faith to the everyday issues of life. Some think that the spiritual part of their lives can be taken care of by church attendance or doing some good. Then they are free to run their own businesses, choose their entertainment, or relate to people in whatever way pleases them. But Christianity can't be confined to just one area of our lives. When Paul prayed for the believers in Colossae, he related that “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way.” (Colossians 1:9-10) Our relationship with Christ must affect all areas of life. There is no way we can live a life that is pleasing to God if we keep our faith limited to the religious section. Solomon taught that the benefits of wisdom are key to spiritual knowledge that affects every area of our lives.

Godly parents share what they have learned from life and from following God because they love their children. They want their children to learn from their mistakes and to experience life in a more meaningful way than they did. The guidance of the Book of Proverbs is rooted in love and results in the well-being of those who follow it. This is why we read that…

III. The benefits of wisdom warn us against following sin! (vv. 10-19)

1. Do not be fooled in life because your bad companions will ruin your good character! Parents are always concerned about how their children will make decisions when they leave home or are away from their influence. That is the success most parents measure their parental skills by – that is if their wisdom has been imparted to their offspring. Not just intellectually but spiritually and internally that results in actions of godly integrity and character. Solomon issued a warning against the enticements of sinners. Most parents realize that children and young people want to be popular. They are tempted at times to join in activities that lead to sinful behavior. The apostle Paul warned, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33b). The father here described the kind of appeal the gang might make to his son. The group might plan on killing a person just for fun or entertainment! While this was written thousands of years ago, we find it occurring far to regularly in our day and age. The father compared the life of crime to a road or a path that the young person might travel. Such an individual might fail to see the eventual result of such a life. Many today are motivated by immediate gratification. They do not take a long hard look at the consequences of their actions. The parent urged the youth to consider the long-term consequences of keeping bad company. When several young people get together, they often will engage in wicked behavior that they would not normally do individually. Like a bird caught in a trap, they do not realize the danger involved. While some may seem to get away with sin in this life, Christians know that all sin ultimately will be judged by God. Here Proverbs relates to us that the benefits of wisdom warn us against following sin.

EXAMPLE: According to Greek mythology, sirens (sea nymphs) inhabited certain Mediterranean coastal areas. As ships passed by, the sirens sang such enchanting songs that the sailors, drawn by the music, would jump overboard and drown. Odysseus was on a ship that had to pass that way. Aware of the powerful allurement of those songs, he ordered that he be bound with ropes to the mast and that the crewmen's ears be sealed with wax to block out the tantalizing music of the sirens. Having taken such precautions, Odysseus and the rest of the crew were able to sail past without yielding to the lure of the sea nymphs. As Christians, we should be prepared to resist any temptations to evil. We must hate sin and be so serious about not giving in to its allurements that we are determined to deny our desire to participate in it. That’s why Solomon related that the benefits of wisdom warn us against following sin!

The benefits of wisdom begins with proper guidance, is the key to spiritual knowledge, and warn us against following sin!
This article is copyrighted by Pastor Lee Hemen © 2007 and the property of Pastor Lee Hemen. You are welcome to copy it, email it, or use it but if you copy it, email it, or use it you must do so in its entirety.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Understanding God’s Compassion – Jonah 4:1-11

Understanding God’s Compassion – Jonah 4:1-11
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 6, 2008 AM

Not all Christians believe God truly desires that all people be saved. Among those who do believe that, a number think that Christ really is just for people like themselves. Many believers take a passive rather than an active approach to being involved in supporting God’s redemptive work in the world. God, however, wants all His people to be involved in His redemptive work with all people. Let me ask you a question: How have you assisted in God’s redemptive work in the past year? What could you do in the new year to help take the good news to other people around you and in the world?

When the Lord first commanded Jonah to preach to the Ninevites he chose to run from God instead. God used a large fish to swallow Jonah and his disobedience, and from inside the belly of the fish Jonah began to view things a little differently. He began to gain a new perspective, however Jonah needed to mature still. God again commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh, and this time Jonah reluctantly obeyed. Surprisingly, the Ninevites repented after hearing Jonah’s message. How did Jonah respond to the heartfelt repentance that resulted from his preaching? Not as we might expect. Instead, this prophet of God burned with anger because the Lord had showed compassion. Jonah heads outside the city to see what would happen next. He also begins to pray that he might die. Jonah failed, as many of us do, to understand God’s compassion. Let’s find out what that means for us this morning…

READ: Jonah 4:1-11

Not everything in life turns out the way we desire it to. Our life goals change over the years, children grow up and leave home, and even our marriages and relationships can change. However, for those whose focus is on the Lord and what He desires, we soon discover that he never changes. He remains the one constant we can rely on. In fact, as we read the story of Jonah we soon discover that it teaches us…

I. About God’s Character (Jonah 4:1-4)

1. Our ways are not God’s ways… and thank you Lord they are not! Jonah became childishly upset when he realized that the people of Nineveh had repented. He considered the Ninevite revival a great personal calamity. He responded in the way any self-centered person would – he became angry. Perhaps racism, national pride, or his own personal reputation could have motivated Jonah’s response. Whatever it was, it was wrong. He actually whines, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home?” In fact, he interjects, “Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” What a pathetic person we find in Jonah. Yet he demonstrates our misunderstanding of God’s character. He identifies five characteristics of God: 1) God is merciful or “gracious,” which communicates the Lord’s attitude toward those who are undeserving. 2) God is “compassionate.” He understands our suffering and our needs. 3) God is slow to become angry. God is patient and forbearing with sinners such as “us.” He gives us second chances just as He did with the rebellious Jonah. 4) God has faithful love towards us. And 5) if we are willing to confess our sin, God may relent from disciplining us as we truly deserve. Even when it is a rebellious Jonah! Notice God responds to Jonah’s childishness with a question: “Have you any right to be angry?” The answer of course is , “No.” These four verses relate to us a lot about God’s character and ours.

EXAMPLE: Rather than telling Jonah directly that he was selfish or disobedient, God asked a probing question. Those who truly love us often challenge us in areas we do not like to address. Asking questions can be a less threatening way to help people reflect on their attitudes and reach some conclusions about them. Therefore, “How are you growing in Godly character?” Character is not something you earn, but rather something you learn. Companies often display their corporate slogans or core values for all to see. It helps the public and their workers to always be aware of what their business is to be about. God’s core qualities are always on display to the world through us, His people just as they were through Jonah. Jonah is taught a tough lesson that many in the Christian church need to be reminded of and it concerns God’s intrinsic character that is to be displayed in those who claim Him as their own. Jonah teaches us about God’s character and our own.

One of the major themes in the Bible is that God’s people should be imitators of Him. For example, since God is holy, we should be holy (Lev. 19:2). Jonah had stressed several of God’s characteristics but he was not willing to demonstrate those attitudes himself. God was compassionate, but Jonah had no empathy for the sinful Ninevites. Jesus told His followers, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36). As God’s children, we should love other people. We should show mercy even to our enemies because God loves them. How can we do that? Jonah teaches us…

II. To Stay Away from Our Petty Concerns (Jonah 4:5-9)

1. Pettiness has no room in the heart of one of God’s people! We do not know if Jonah ever answered God’s question. No answer is recorded. However, Jonah trudges outside Nineveh on a hillside to see what would happen to the city. Jonah knew revival had broken out in that awful pagan city. Perhaps, he wondered God just might still punish the Ninevites and he did not want to miss the action! He build for himself a small shelter from the heat of the sun. Jonah cared more about his personal relief from the heat than about the eternal destiny of an entire city. God graciously “provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.” Yet, before Jonah could enjoy his new shelter and the vine, God supplied a worm that destroyed the plant. I believe God was trying to teach Jonah a lesson with this plant and its short life. It was kind of reminder that God could do what He desired, but also that life and its comfort is short. Nothing lasts. Jonah needed to stay away from the petty concerns of his own comfortable life and remember those God sent him to in the first place – the Ninevites! God again addresses Jonah with a question about his anger, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” Selfishly, Jonah thinks he does have that right, just as many of us do when we think God is playing “unfairly” with our lives. “That’s not fair!” we protest. We fail to see the bigger picture of what God desires. That in this life He has given us we are to stay away from our petty concerns and focus on what God desires.

EXAMPLE: God desires our involvement in His creation. We, as Christian believers and members of a church, are the body of Christ in the world, working to do His will to seek the lost, tell them about the good news of Jesus Christ, and discipling them. Far too often we think it “unfair” when life does not go the way we desire. Perhaps God is trying to plant a vine in our life to help us to stay away from our petty concerns and to get back to where He desires our hearts to be in the first place – with Him. Jesus would ask, “Isn’t life more important?” Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice is the story of an upper-middle-class Englishwoman named Lizzy Bennet who is pursued by Mr. Darcy, a brooding and complex man of great wealth. Lizzy’s first impression of Mr. Darcy was that he was arrogant, introverted, and self-serving. So when he declares his love for her, she rejects him. Later, when she learns of his many secret acts of kindness for others, Lizzy admits that she had been wrong about Mr. Darcy and agrees to marry him. We, as Christians, are far too often like Lizzy. We too often use our worldly eyes to focus on pettiness rather than seeing others with the eyes of God. Jonah teaches us to stay away from our petty concerns and focus on what God desires.

God wants us to be involved as much as possible in His redemptive activity around the world and in our own community. All of us can be involved in prayer for missionaries, neighbors, co-workers, and classmates. Many of us can provide financial support for missionaries and ministries. Some of you may even be called to go as short-term or even career missionaries. However, all of us are called to reach out to our community with the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. We are to witness, testify, and tell others about Jesus. We should never forget God’s willingness to reach out to the Ninevites and that He loved the whole world enough to send Jesus. Therefore, Jonah helps us to understand…

III. God’s Divine Compassion (Jonah 4:10-11)

1. Compassion looks beyond our needs and seeks God’s heart! After Jonah’s angry outburst, God responded to him with a direct statement and another question. God noted that Jonah had cared more about the plant than people. Jonah had done nothing to bring the plant into existence yet he wanted the shade it provided. Jonah apparently had no concern for the city of Nineveh; its people; the men, women, and children who lived there. The prophet had reluctantly obeyed God’s command to preach in Nineveh but had no real concern for the Ninevites’ spiritual well-being. Jonah’s concern was focused on his physical condition. If we looked closely at our own lives we would have to conclude that is often the case for us as well. We say we love Jesus, we honor God, and yet those around us are dying without ever hearing of the gospel. God has placed each of us right where He desires us to be to share with the “Ninevites” around us about His love and compassion through Jesus Christ. God mentioned that more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left were in Nineveh. It is a reference to their spiritual state. Not knowing good and evil or right from wrong. To worship the true God or some idol. Until Jonah brought God’s compassionate message, the Ninevites had limited knowledge of God, morality, and spiritual truth. Who around you is the same? God asks Jonah a very piercing question, “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Of course God should because of His divine compassion, and so should you.

EXAMPLE: The Book of Jonah ends with a question from God. The question is both for Jonah and for us. Depending on how you and I answer this question, we have caught the message of the book or we have missed it. I have often wondered about the people who lived in Nineveh. There were mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. Friends, co-workers, politicians, soldiers, a King, office workers, clerks, shop keepers, beggars, thieves, drunks, violent people, and priests. There were high born, low born, and the in-between born. They woke up on that morning unaware that God had a message for them. The most important message of their lives. While it was short and told of their immediate destruction, it also had within it a message of compassion and hope. One person could either hold that message to his chest and never share it or he could proclaim it as God desired. Each day as you get up there are all kinds of people around you, in your neighborhood, at school, work, play, or the store, doctor’s office, gas station, and such. They all wake up not realizing that there is a message for them from God, but someone has to deliver it… you. Jonah teaches us about God’s divine compassion. Will you share it?

Jonah teaches us about God’s character, to stay away from our own petty concerns, and God’s divine compassion.
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