Play Someone For A Fool

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” – Romans 1:22-23.

Look again at Proverbs 13:20 (ESV): “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”  This verse is telling us that there is an alternative to wisdom. It contains a contrasting preposition, “but.” The clause is a warning: “but the companion of fools will suffer harm.“

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Oh, he’s a great kid; he just got in with the wrong crowd.” We can easily become like the people we surround ourselves with. It would seem good advice to surround ourselves with good people.  I know some of you may be thinking, “the Bible says to love all people.” Yes, we are all called to be kind to others, regardless of their state of need or brokenness. So how do you balance your heart to love people without finding yourself suffering harm from being a companion of fools?

The key is to give people different levels of access—to knowing you, spending time with you, speaking into your life—and thus controlling the influence they have on you. That is a way of letting the right people into your life while minimizing the influence that “fools” have on your life. It requires wisdom. We need friends who love us as we are, but are also courageous enough to speak the truth, even if you don’t want to hear it. These type of friends really listen and then speak wisdom and truth. They are the friends who come alongside us when we are not at our best and encourage us. The truth is we all have blind spots, things we may not even know we need to work on. It’s important to get help from others to see them clearly and grow into the callings in our lives. Proverbs 11:14 (NASB) says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” These are the people that need complete access.

On the other hand, if we associate with fools, we can easily find ourself ourselves looking in the mirror only to find another fool. So choose your companions wisely.  Be with people who can help you grow into the person you want to be.  Spending time with fools will only hurt you in the long run.

Thankfully, wisdom is not a fleeting dream. Instead, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5). In order for us to be intentionally wise, we must walk with the wise.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What qualities do you value most in a friend?
  2. Read Proverbs 13:20. How has this proverb been demonstrated in your life?
  3. What can we do to ensure we don’t suffer from the companionship of fools?

Don’t Hesitate To Ask

“ But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” –  James 3:17. 

King Solomon left quite a legacy. He was known for being the son of King David, for building the Lord’s temple, and he was incredibly rich and famous. But Solomon is most known for being the wisest man to have ever lived. Solomon wasn’t born with incredible wisdom, and he didn’t spend years reading books and going to school until he became the wisest man. Solomon was wise because he asked God for wisdom. 

If God asked you, “what do you want? Ask and I will give it to you,” what would you ask for? Hypothetical, right? No, God actually asked Solomon that very question. Solomon was a pretty new king, and one night in a dream, God appeared to him and said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon asked for wisdom. 

In most cases when we are at our wit’s end, when we have painted ourselves into a corner or we simply don’t have the answer, we pray for wisdom. It makes sense that we would pray for the wisdom to help us understand why we are going through this trial or that test. It makes sense for us to ask for wisdom when we are faced with important decisions in our lives. We can trust God when the time comes for making big decisions, or for that matter, any decisions.

We serve the decision-making-God. We can trust God to order our steps. But we must guard against the terror of error, or the paralysis of analysis because we think we can be wise without God. We need God to free us from second and ten-second guessing our decisions.

Our decisions, like every part of our life, should make us more like Jesus. And for that we need wisdom.  Wisdom to recognize the opening and closing of doors that are in front of us. Wisdom to know when God is leading us in a new direction and wisdom to know when He is telling us to stay where we are. We need the wisdom of God to become the person God wants us to be.

If you lack wisdom in a situation, or in a decision, then ask God to give it to you.”If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5) .

God wants us to live life with wisdom. How many times in our lives can we look back and see how much better it could have played out if we would have asked for God for wisdom before going into the situation? God is willing. We simply need to ask.

Discussion questions:

  1. Why did Solomon ask for wisdom? What keeps us from asking for wisdom?
  2. What can we do this week to incorporate wisdom from God in our decision-making process?

Where Do I Find Wisdom?

“ So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. ” – Ephesians 5:15-16. 

Are you wise? That’s really not a fair question because a truly wise person would probably say no, yet many of us would like to answer yes. We like that idea of being wise, but it would seem arrogant to claim that we are. It’s much easier to talk about someone else being wise.

So what makes a person wise? There have been people throughout history that people view as wise; Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Aristotle, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein are some the people considered wise.  Why would we call one person wise and not someone else?

Solomon is remembered as one of the wealthiest (2 Chronicles 1:14-17) and wisest men of all history.  He wrote more than 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, plus the Song of Solomon and the book of Ecclesiastes (1 Kings 4:29-34). Kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. But with all his magnificent wealth and possessions, he understood the value of wisdom: “For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it.” (Proverbs 8:11). He also stated, “How much better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver!” (Proverbs 16:16)

Solomon also said: “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” (Proverbs 13:20)  Who we surround ourselves with has a direct impact on our desire and ability to pursue the kind of life Jesus wants us to live.The friends we run closely with influence the direction we go in. If we want to be wise, we have to surround ourselves with people who encourage us to make good decisions. Proverbs 13:20 tells us we acquire wisdom by walking with the wise. The person who lives in the company of the wise cannot help but to grow in wisdom because they will learn from the experiences and knowledge of their companions. When you spend your time with wise people, you will become wiser yourself.

The alternative to walking with the wise is surrounding oneself with fools, and Proverbs 13:20 warns us that those who do that will “get in trouble.” We are to avoid fools if we don’t want to become one. Fools put themselves in all manner of precarious situations. Which means that you too can be put in precarious situations.

The course of our lives is greatly determined by the many daily choices we make, and wise people can help us navigate those choices wisely.

Discussion questions:

  1. Read Proverbs 13:20: How has this proverb been demonstrated in your life?
  2. How do you manage the tension between “walking with the wise” and yet still have relationships with people who need to have Christ in their life?
  3. What can you do to ensure you have wise people in your life?   

Decisions. Decisions.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8.

If you had the chance, what decisions would you make differently? Probably more than you could count. But as we all know, we can’t go back in time. So in the present, we stress over the decision-making process. An executive who routinely made big decisions was asked about those decisions. His response was surprising. He said it isn’t that he is afraid of making a wrong decision, but rather he is afraid of missing out on the right decision.

That fits nicely with most of us who make decisions. We don’t just want average or even good decisions, we want the right decisions. We don’t want the regret that comes from bad decisions. So we let the pressure build up until making a decision becomes stressful, even paralyzing.

It is paralyzing because as Christians we want to choose the “godliest” option. We’re also paralyzed because we think our decisions will define the rest of our lives. Everything you’re hoping to do depends on this one decision. Lastly, we’re paralyzed in our decision making because we’re waiting for a sign from God. As a result, we begin to overanalyze every choice, every circumstance, and ultimately every decision. What we need is a process with steps to put things through to help us make better decisions.

That process is found in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Add to that James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”

Fortunately for us, God is more than willing to provide guidance and direction. He is even interested in the small details. We need to remember that our perspective is limited, only seeing the here and now. It is wonderful to know that God can see the whole picture and will instruct us accordingly to live the life that He has planned for us.

Stop spending so much time worrying about your decisions. Stop asking everyone you know what you should do. Good counsel is great, but the best counsel comes from above. God is in control of all things, including decisions.

Discussion questions:

  1. Why is it so hard sometimes to make the right decisions?
  2. How might being a follower of Jesus make it easier to make good, wise choices? 
  3. What is your best defense against making poor, unwise choices?

Why Do We Do What We Do?

“You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.” – James 4:2-3.

The Bible has a lot to say about our motives. A motive is the underlying reason for any action. Motives are what’s behind what we do, did or about to do. Proverbs 16:2 says, “People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives.” Jeremiah 17:9 says,“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” Because the human heart is very deceitful we can easily fool ourselves about our own motives. We can pretend that we are choosing certain actions for God or the benefit of others, when in reality we have selfish reasons. God is not fooled by our selfishness and “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

Our motives matter because God cares more about who we are becoming than what we are achieving. Our motives determine what we do, who we are, and who we will become. Motives give meaning to our behaviors.

Every person since the beginning has experienced moments where their motives are put to the test. In 1 Samuel 18, King Saul became jealous of David because his growing popularity was just too much for Saul to handle. Saul began scheming of ways he could kill David. Motives give meaning to our behaviors. God knew the true motives of Saul’s heart were to harm David. Just as God knew the motives of David’s heart were to be humble and honorable. Psalm 26:2 says, “Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.Test my motives and my heart.”

One of the best ways to keep our motives pure is to ask God to show us the real reasons we do the things we do. Because when we consider our motives before taking action, we are more likely to act in a way that honors Jesus.

Discussion questions:

  1. How can we tell if our motives are more like Saul, selfish and harmful, or like David, genuine and honorable?
  2. James 4: 3: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives. What would some examples of wrong motives be? What could be some ways we could know our motives are right?

Where You Stand Determines What You See

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Where you stand determines what you see. Taking it one step further, where you stand determines what you see and how you respond. Many people today do most of their seeing and responding on Facebook. But this is different. This is about being the person who sees as God sees and identifying with the people that He came to redeem, restore and heal. And once we see them, do we know their heart, hear their questions and respond to their struggles.  Where we stand may make us miss what God wants us to see.

Where you stand makes all the difference in the world. Your viewpoint and perspective changes significantly depending on where you are standing. From atop a skyscraper you can see for miles; but it’s not until you come down to street level do you get a completely different view. On the 100th floor observatory you see the city’s vastness – glass and steel super structures rise from the street giving unique views of the city. But walking at street level gives you a completely different perspective. You see a man in shabby clothes, braving the weather near a highway exit ramp, while holding a sign that says, “Hungry and Homeless. Please Help. God Bless You.”   

Where you stand, your proximity to others, will determine what you see. At a distance from people it is easy to overlook a single individual and even easier to overlook the pain in their eyes. How often do you get close enough to others that you can see who they are and what the needs of their life really are?  As you are standing and looking at your surroundings this week, I want to challenge you to see the people, see the needs, etc. that God has placed around you.

Where you stand determines what you see, but in the end it comes down to how you respond. If we want to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world around us, we must act and do what the Bible says. We must see those who have needs and sacrifice our comfort, time, convenience, and even our resources. That is imitating Jesus and that is who we want to be.

So where you are standing and what do you see? Stop every once in a while and notice where you are standing. Where are you? Why are you there? 

Discussion questions:

  1. Where do you stand today? Does where you stand enable you to see?
  2. What can we do to respond to what we see?

Just Who Are You?

“ See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.”  1 John 3:1-2. 

Who are you really? Seems a simple question, but is it? There is a lot of focus these days on who I want to be, what I want to do, how to be successful, how to make money, etc. Today, it is chic to be real, find your “authentic” self.

That has never made sense to me because you are already yourself. Sometimes it just takes a little digging to discover who you are. But as Oscar Wilde said,“ Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken”. As a Christian, there are two ways to look at life: what you do determines who you are, or who you are determines what you do.” God is all about the second option: who you are determines what you do. Or in other words, what you believe determines how you act.   

The question, “who am I?” is a question that everyone asks themselves at some point in their life. It is a question that needs an answer because who you are determines how you live your life. The only one who knows you well enough to teach you who you really are are not your parents, not your friends, but your Creator. The one who made you is the only one that knows you well enough to teach you who you really are.

Unfortunately, God does not have office hours and a couch for you to lie on when the two of you are addressing who God made you to be, and teach you about your identity. You don’t need an analyst couch. All you need to know about life and godly living is found in the Bible. The only way to know who you truly are is to go to God and have Him teach you through His word. “Every word of God proves true…” (Proverbs 30:5)

Discussion questions:

  1. Someone asks you the question, “who are you?” How would you answer?
  2. What struck you most about this devotional?
  3. What would you change in your life if you knew who you are?

Arriving At A Decision

“ Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” – Proverbs 3:5-6.

One of the problems with giving a sermon on making decisions is that people assume the pastor is good at making decisions. They assume the pastor has the answers. The truth is, it takes me as long to pick what toothpaste I want to use as it does you. We are all shaped by our decisions. I have been confronted with the question at times, “How can I know how to make the right decision?” And so today, I would like to leave you with some wisdom that I believe is sound and supported by Scripture when it comes to making godly decisions.

Some decisions have life-or-death consequences, while others, like toothpaste, are not really all that important. There are people who are good at making decisions. But even those people make bad decisions here and there. How can we as Christians make less bad decisions and more good decisions?

 In order to “not depend on our understanding” and instead fully trust in the Lord, we must be intentional in every decisions we make. We must be faithful in all of our patterns and everyday decisions: how we deal with our relationships, money, and work environments as well as how we take risks and step out in faith. Trust involves a humble reliance in and an active pursuit of God.

When we make decisions, it can be so easy to follow our own inclinations and seek our own desires apart from God. We can get so consumed with what we are doing or where we are going, that we forget our true identity: who we are in Christ. 

No matter how big or how small the decision is that you have to make, you can always call on the Lord for wisdom and receive it through prayer, godly counsel, and the Word of God.

The beauty of leaning on God for all of your decisions is that it puts the direction for your life in the right hands; God’s hands. God is faithful and wants the very best for you. If you think about it, God knows the beginning from the end. Who better to put your trust in regarding your decisions than God?

Just make the choice that what you want ultimately is the grace and wisdom to do what God created you to do.

Discussion questions:

  1. What are some of the tough decisions that you had to make? What are some of the consequences you have seen from others’ decisions?
  2. Do you struggle with trusting God instead of the world or yourself when you’re making difficult decisions (or even in the easy ones)?

Stepping Out

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:25.

Have you ever watched a precision military drill squad? They are always in step. But if you tried to march with them, stride for stride, step by step, the outcome would be disastrous. If we would have a hard time keeping in step with a drill team, how do we keep in step with God? 

Because as the Psalmist confessed, “…I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born.” (Psalm 51:5 Message) We can probably relate to this all too well. The Lord turns right, and we go left. He walks upward, we turn downward. He picks up the pace and we lag behind a little bit. So as we get started, as we take those first steps in the direction of what God has planned for us, the next challenge is to stay in step with the Spirit as we step forward.

The Holy Spirit not only speaks the words of Jesus to you, but He actually is the one who leads and directs your steps into the abundant life that Jesus promised. Paul wrote, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you….The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you….”  (Romans 8:9, 11). The Holy Spirit is the conduit of life from God into your heart. He is the one who controls your thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions as you follow His leading. He will direct your steps through all the complicated paths of life. 

So today, be encouraged that the Spirit is with you and beckoning to keep in step with Him. Like a bicycle, He is pushing His pedal down, and now it is your turn to push your pedal down. Like a dance, you and God move together in sync. So dance with Him. Pedal with Him. Talk with Him. Live with Him. And you will naturally keep in step with Him. One step at a time.

My prayer is you will keep in step with your Holy Spirit today—not lagging behind or trying to run ahead, but keeping in step.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does it mean to you to be in step with the Spirit?
  2. What can we do this week to be more in step with the Sspirit?

Do What You Can

“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” – Galatians 4:4-5.

There is an interesting dynamic in Christianity today. Maybe paradox is a better word. Most Christians believe that God loves them. But if you asked those same Christians if they believed God could use them or would even want to use them, they will hem and haw and never really land on an exact yes or no. Why? Because people feel unusable.

“I have flaws. I have deep insecurities. I have a lack of discipline and Biblical knowledge. And if that is not enough, my sins and mistakes disqualify me. Jesus loves me? Yes, He died for me. But could Jesus use me? Ummmm…seriously? Seems very unlikely to me.”

People have been saying some of those same things since Biblical days. And since Biblical days God has specialized in taking ordinary, regular people of average intelligence and average gift and marred backgrounds and doing something extraordinary. Here is where Moses got it wrong when he made excuses and where we get it wrong today: Our limitations are not prohibitions to God using our lives. God specializes in taking that very limitation and making it the platform where He shows His greatness and His glory and His grace.

But for that to happen, for ordinary people, people like you and like me, something has to happen. It’s not dependent on your intelligence, it’s not dependent on your education, your giftedness, your background, your wealth, your age or your personality. This one thing is what separates religious people from people who revolutionize the world. This one thing is always rewarded by God. And finally, this one thing is what God is seeking to develop and grow in your life more than any other thing.

You are probably reading this and wondering what is this one thing. The one thing is faith. The faith to believe who God is and what He has said to the point that you act on it. You act on it when you are unsure, or when things don’t make sense. Faith that enables you to get started, to take that first step. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What excuses do we sometimes use in not making the most out of the life God has given us?
  2. What responsibility do we have to be available for God to work through us?
  3. How can you prepare yourself for the future when God calls you to some step of faith or action or obedience?