Archive for the 'Proverbs' Category

Dec 17 2008

31 Days: Proverbs 15

Published by under Proverbs

The Hip-Hop-Opatamus and a Big Statistic
One of the curiosities of my life is that I love hip-hop, rap, and R&B. While I am mainly attracted to the beats and rhyming artistry, it’s impossible to ignore the content. Typical rap songs revolve around getting money, chasing girls (porn stars and strippers, preferably), and basically letting everyone know how much better you are than everyone else. It is this last subject I’m interested in today.

I keep saying this, but in the coming months (assuming I live that long), you’re going to hear more about what I am planning to do with my life. At base, it involves working with the urban poor. And while not all urban poor are into rap music, many are.

Factoid
Did you know that violent crime in America has been decreasing for about the past decade? One notable exception to this trend are black males aged 14-24. Among this demographic, violent crime has risen 52% from 2002 to 2006. Rap music may have some kind of influence, but it is also true that poverty, lack of fathers/male role models, and other factors contribute to the trend. None of that is the ultimate cause. To me, at base, this is a spiritual problem. All of these other things (music, poverty, parents) help to build the spirit of the boys/men committing these crimes. And when you’re inputs are bad, so, too will your outputs. Garbage in, garbage out. This is NOT about bashing rap music, though.

Dead and Gone
One of the most incredible things to me is just how little it takes to set people off – myself included. About two months ago, the rapper T.I. (the self-proclaimed King), came out with a new album called Paper Trail (“paper” is a slang term for money in case you didn’t know). The final track is a song called Dead and Gone, featuring Justin Timberlake. Check out these lyrics (forgive the language if you’re offended by that kind of thing)…

Every had one of them days wish you would have stayed home?
Run into a group of niggas who gettin their hate on,
You walk by – they get wrong,
You reply then shit get blown,
Way out of proportion way passed discussion,
Just you against them pick one then rush them,
Figure you get jumped here – that’s next,
They don’t wanna stop there now they bustin,
Now you gushin, ambulance rushin
You to the hospital with a bad concussion,
Plus you hit four times, bullet hit your spine,
Paralyzed waist down and ya wheelchair bound,
Never mind that now you lucky to be alive,
Just think it all started you fussin with three guys,
Nigga pride in the way but your pride is the way you can f**k
around get shot down anyday,
Niggas die everyday,
All over bullshit, dope money, dice games, ordinary hood shit…

“You reply then shit get blown.”

How many times is this happening in our country in this age 14-24 demographic? A reply – maybe as simple as two words – f*** you – and someone ends up hurt or dead. T.I. sums up the whole thing with some sense of clarity: “Your pride is the way you can…get shot down any day.”

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
(Proverbs 15:1)

As I thought about this verse over the last two days, I remembered Jesus’ brother, James, wrote this:

…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
(James 3:5-6)

But do our tongues really set the whole course of our lives on fire? And are they really set on fire by hell? That seems a little melodramatic.

Titanic Sinking
Verses like these are one reason the bible impresses me so much and why I can believe, practically, that God inspired it. On page after page, there are notes about what it means to be human. Since God made us, He knows how we’re wired. Violence in urban areas is a great example. When people speak harsh words, anger is stirred up.

What if, instead of mouthing off, people were able to restrain themselves and either give a gentle answer or no answer at all? Well, that’s the real deal sealer for the bible.

Walk up to someone and tell them to give a gentle answer and what response will you get 90% of the time. “I can’t help it. That’s just the way I am.” In other words, they don’t have control over themselves. James points out just how the tongue can control us:

…take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
(James 3:4)

He continues…

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire…
(James 3:5)

There are 14-24 year-old males killing each other because the whole course of their lives is set on fire by their tongues. Was James really so melodramatic in saying the “[tongue] is itself set on fire by hell?” I don’t think so. Because Satan and hell, in general, are interested in one thing – destruction. The more discord and jealousy and anger and, even killing they can influence, the better. This T.I. song is a real life example: if you control your tongue you literally control your life. And if you lose control of your tongue, you may well lose your life.

The Suburban Din
For 5 minutes this afternoon, I totally trashed on a person with a couple co-workers.

In situations like this, we justify ourselves by saying, “Well, they’re super annoying, of course I’m going to talk trash about them with friends. It’s fun because they’re crazy.” But something more is going on. Our tongue is steering our lives. In the midst of the conversation today, I didn’t feel right, but I didn’t stop. My tongue was in control. And I wonder if we’re not, in some small way, losing our lives when our tongue is controlling us.

As I wrote about the urban violence above, I thought about how some (or all) of it would be curbed if everyone living there could just remember that we’re all made in God’s image. Why try to take someone’s life who’s made in God’s image? Oh, but soul, why gossip about someone who is made in God’s image? But hell doesn’t think like that. And if my tongue is set on fire by hell, why should I imagine I can control it?

The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.
(Proverbs 15:28)

And here is an insight. The righteous “think” with their heart. Answers are weighed and carefully considered. Not so the wicked. They gush evil. Can you imagine that? Their mouths are like a fountain of evil just constantly bubbling. Jesus said this:

…out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
(Matthew 12:34-35)

What is stored up inside us? Today, I was shown a good bit of evil is in my heart. And that really bothers me. I want to be like Jesus, not like Satan. I don’t want Satan setting my tongue on fire. So I end with what I hope will be my increasing appeal – Jesus. That He would help me store good up in my heart.

Conclusion
The stakes of most of our lives are not so high that an ill-spoken word will cost us our life, but we are paying a high price. Think hard about this. If we are not able to reign in our tongues, how can we ever expect that anyone else will be able to? Why should we think that an urban landscape so dominated by the fire of the tongue can be quenched with righteous speech when we can’t even stop ourselves from gossiping? In simpler terms: how will I EVER be able to help someone practically walk with Jesus if I can’t walk with Him myself?

The matter of our tongues is no small issue, suburbanites! The stakes are higher than we think.

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Dec 15 2008

31 Days: Proverbs 14

Published by under Proverbs

It was about 1:30 in the morning. I was 12 and was slowly waking up to the sound of intense yelling. Groggy, and unsure of whether or not I was still dreaming, I pushed up onto my elbows and could see light from the hallway coming in through the crack at the bottom of my bedroom door.

It was my dad who was yelling. I realized it wasn’t a dream and I knew something was wrong. My dad had plenty of occasions to yell at me in the 12 years up until that night, but I had never heard such ferocity in his voice. To this day, I cannot recall a time dad was so intense and rabid.

BAM! …… BAM! …… BAM!

Incredibly loud thuds were hitting the outside of our house. These weren’t small noises. Someone at the front door wanted in. The chaos was enough to make a 45-year old man come unhinged with what was, looking back, frightened rage. I was scared. I opened my door and dad told me to go into my parent’s room. He then resumed his verbal assault.

On entering my parent’s bedroom, I realized I was the last one in. My brothers were already hiding under the bed and my mom was on the phone with the police. The loud banging continued. And my dad continued yelling. I remember hiding under the bed with my brothers. I tried to squish as far down into the carpet as possible. My senses were overwhelmed.

Then, it stopped.

A minute later, dad came in the room and told us he had gone downstairs. The whole thing was a prank. This sounds crazy (and it is), but attached to our front door was a simple but powerful pulley system. The pranksters had wrapped up a dozen D-sized batteries with duct tape and attached fishing line to it. They then went across the street and pulled the line repeatedly, causing the batteries to slam into our door in rhythmic fashion. The batteries, coupled with our metal storm door, had combined to create such a loud noise.

And even though I had an explanation of what had happened, the next two years of my life were spent in fear of the dark. Every night before I went to bed, I would look back and forth down our street. Three times each way. And I would pray, “Dear Lord, please don’t let them hit tonight.” If it was after dark and I went out to get the mail, I sprinted out to the mailbox and I sprinted back in – terrified of being alone in the dark.

He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.
(Proverbs 14:26)

Did you know that pretty much every day, I think about dying? It’s weird. It’s a habit that has been ingrained in me over the years during my battle with depression. And what’s more is that dying still scares me. I’ve written about that before but, in my walk with Jesus, it is one of three things I am asking Him to help me with now. The apostle John said this:

…love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
(1 John 4:17-18)

My fear on that night years ago and my fear surrounding death today cause me concern. John says, “fear has to do with punishment.” This is not a reverent fear. This is terror fear. And John says that perfect love will drive out this kind of fear. So that’s what I’m asking Jesus to do – I’m asking Him to show me what this looks like to have a perfect love drive fear out of me.

Many times, the fact that I fear death makes me question whether or not I actually know Jesus at all. After all, if I really believe He died on the Cross and that I’m going to heaven because I’ve been forgiven of my sins by having faith in Him, then isn’t it impossible to be scared of dying? John doesn’t seem to think so. He doesn’t say “the one who fears is damned and has no faith in Christ.” He says, “the one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I usually don’t like thinking about all this (it feels yucky inside), so I try to distract myself with some inanity that will numb my brain and move my train of thought away to a happier place. But I’ve started doing something different. Instead of pushing aside these negative emotions about my fear of death, I’m embracing them. I’m letting myself feel them. And it FORCES me to wrestle with questions like, “Does the Lord really have control over the eternal destiny of my soul?” And, IN FAITH, I consider both answers. It’s forcing me to ask my HEART what it believes about a verse like Matthew 10:28.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Do I (DO YOU!?) really believe the Lord has this kind of power? And do we really believe we can be saved by faith in Jesus’ blood for the forgiveness of sins!? What I’m realizing more and more in my life is that walking with Jesus isn’t about simply knowing WHERE a verse is in the bible that answers these questions because I know where the verses are and they don’t seem to help me in all honesty. It seems to me that a connection is missing in my heart.

It is one thing for me to command you, “Sail a 60ft yacht.” But it is totally another thing for you to actually do it. “How?” you’d ask. Is there a difference with fearing the Lord? “Fear the Lord,” we’re commanded in the Word. And we’re even told all the GOOD that comes of it…like these two verses out of our Proverb of the Day:

He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.

The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.
(Proverbs 14:26-27)

Those are great results of obeying the command. But HOW do we come to fear Him? The thieves who hang next to Jesus on the Cross are a great example of this mystery.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at [Jesus]: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said.
(Luke 23:39-40)

I don’t have an answer tonight, friends. Who can explain why one feared the Lord and the other didn’t? Perhaps it is to be explained by the Spirit, who, like the wind, blows where He pleases. I don’t know why I fear death (maybe I am still scared of judgment) and I don’t know how to fear God. I’m at an impasse. And it seems to me like the Lord is the only One who can fix these things.

What is most curious to me is how my heart could be so terrified every night for two years after that prank when I was 12 and that three days from now, I may not even remember any of this. Oh, if my heart could only muster 1/10 of the fury my dad had that night all those years ago – that I might beat on God’s door and that He would hear my knock and answer. Well, this is the best I have tonight. I’m trusting Jesus’ promise that if I ask for no more fear that His love will drive it out…

…everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
(Matthew 7:8)

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Dec 13 2008

31 Days: Proverbs 13

Published by under Proverbs

Truth be told, I swear. Not all the time, but I definitely still have some potty mouth left in me. When I was younger (up until my senior year of high school or so), I would string together expletives like a necklace. Each verbal creation had its own luster.

One day when I was 13 or so, my brothers tape recorded me in one of my tirades – aimed directly at some friends during our fantasy football draft. Everyone kept picking my players and I was sure they had all conspired against me before the draft, stealing my draft card (which had my top players on it), and decided to pick them all in succession. Nobody had done that, but I “knew” they had. I let them know I wasn’t happy about it with some colorful language that makes a 128-pack of Crayolas look like shades black and white. If I remember right, it was about 3 hours later that my brothers took the tape to my mom and dad who had been out doing errands during the draft. Yeah. This is where the chorus of, “Oooooooohhh, BUSTED!” rings.

Dad came up with one of his ingenious punishments. Some parents make their kids wash their mouth out with soap. Not dad. That’s bush league. No, dad felt like my TEETH were dirty, too, so I had to brush my teeth with Liquid Dial soap. Awesome. The next month of my after-school life was spent looking out my bedroom window as everyone else (including about 15 other neighborhood kids) played in our front yard.

Misfortune pursues the sinner
but prosperity is the reward of the
righteous.
(v. 21)

I had mentioned I still swear sometimes. You may wonder why and in what situations. I do it in a few situations, but it frequently happens when I watch movies and the bad guy/girl finally meets his/her demise. An f-you or heck-yeah (with a substituted word for heck). I get excited. And you may not swear, but I bet you get excited, too.

As I write this, Revelation says there are martyrs in heaven asking the Lord when the bad guys will get theirs. John, the author of Revelation, says this:

I saw under the altar…those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each one of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer…
(Revelation 6:9-11)

The martyrs are asking, “When will misfortune overtake the sinners?” Today, we despise the financial barons and predators that ruin people’s lives. We want them punished to the full extent of the law. We want their misfortune to happen as soon as possible.

Almost unbelievably, there are rulers around the world right now who are so corrupt that they allow their people to starve while they live lavish lifestyles. They eat the choicest of foods while many of their people literally starve to death. The take international aid and divert it to their own bank accounts. We don’t often think of these things, but the scope of injustice in the world is massive. Some people take this to mean that God is incapable of preventing such things. I don’t believe anything like that.

The righteous eat to their hearts’ content,
but the stomach of the wicked goes
hungry.
(Proverbs 13:25)

That sure isn’t the case in many places today, is it? The righteous get trampled on and the stomach of the wicked is satisfied. Ah, but God never designed this earth as we know it now to be our eternal place and Jesus told us so.

The wicked have a place. They will be punished. Jesus says there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, an unquenchable fire, some kind of worm that never dies. It is absolutely miserable.

But because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, the righteous will one day eat to their hearts’ content. When Jesus talks about the day of judgment, he says the righteous will “go in with him to the wedding banquet” (Matthew 25:10). Have you ever wondered why wedding banquets are so opulent? In my mind, it shouldn’t FIRST be to celebrate the bride and groom’s marriage (as awesome as that may be). It is first a foreshadow of the wedding banquet of the church with Jesus as the first meal of eternity. Just another note about that meal – something I realized a couple months ago. You know how Jesus ordained Communion at the Last Supper (i.e. take this bread, drink this cup). He says something at that meal that I’ve glossed over for years.

I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.
(Matthew 26:29)

Jesus’ next serving of wine is going to be on that day when the righteous will eat to their hearts’ content. Do you ever wonder why so many of us are so taken with wine? I really think it is because we’re going to drink it in heaven! And if Jesus made awesome wine in a matter of seconds at the wedding in Cana (John 2), what in the world might He do if given all this time to make a nice vintage ETERNAL wine?

Can you imagine it? Jesus, the Ultimate Servant, pours you a glass of wine. You take a sip. Your senses go crazy. You swallow and burst into laughter! “Good grief, Jesus!” you exclaim with an ecstatic tone, not knowing what else to say. Jesus responds. “There’s plenty more where this came from, friend. And just wait until the food comes out.” For us in America, that sounds tremendous. Imagine what that will be like for those who are severely oppressed around the world today. All of the righteous with Jesus at the banquet table will eat to their hearts’ content!

The Day is coming when Jesus will make all things right. When justice will be administered perfectly, the wicked are punished perfectly, and God’s goodness to the righteous will be seen perfectly. Paul says, “now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known…This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

Prosperity is the reward of the righteous. (Proverbs 13:21)

The righteous will eat to their hearts’ content. (Proverbs 13:25)

Every state in America has this saying: “Don’t like the weather? Wait 5 minutes.” I think the Lord puts it a little differently. It’s like He told the martyrs: “Don’t like the world. Just wait.” Yes, we can work to make the earth more like heaven, but it won’t be perfect until Jesus returns.

Don’t like the world? Don’t feel you can do anything about it? Maybe you can’t. Don’t fret. A whole bunch of really happy people are going to eat a meal together with Jesus. It’ll be worth the wait!!

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Dec 12 2008

31 Days: Proverbs 12

Published by under Proverbs

Well, I’ve decided in the last 15 seconds that I’m going to write about one Proverb a day for the next 31 days (since there are 31 Proverbs). Welcome to my 31 Days Series! <Trumpet blasts, confetti, and dancing giraffes fill the streets>

“Diligent hands will rule,
but laziness ends in slave labor.”
(Proverbs 12:24)

Have you ever felt called to do something? Like felt as though it was your destiny to accomplish x, y, or z? I have. And I do. Present tense. What I will be doing (something you’ll find out more about in the coming weeks and months) requires so much focus and so much work. I feel ill-equipped – not smart enough, not organized enough, not compassionate enough, not rich enough, not close enough to God. Yet the feelings of my destiny persist – a destiny I’ve felt for almost 7 years now.

Also from Proverbs 12…

“He who works his land will have abundant
food,
but he who chases fantasies lacks
judgment.”
(v. 11)

Let me briefly rehash what has often been said. Any dream you and I might have will remain a dream unless we put our hand to the plow. It takes work to realize dreams. Nobody that ever accomplished anything did so by merely dreaming about it. Don’t mishear me. Dreaming is essential but it should never be our exclusive act.

This weekend, there are a ridiculous number of parties I could attend. Tonight alone, there are three. And I am tempted to go! Seriously, I feel like my hair looked pretty great today (NOTE: I don’t think I have especially great hair, but I noticed it today). I have this little voice inside me saying, “Hey, Andy, if you go out tonight, there’ll probably be some girls that will think you’re decent looking. And you’ll probably meet some people you can be friends with on Facebook.”

Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and talk to little Andy – the Andy that was 8 years old. I want to ask him what his dreams are. “What do you want to do with your life, Andy?” You know what he would have said, “Well, I want to play in the Superbowl. And I want to eat pretzel rods. And I want to help people.” But what is my focus tonight? My hair, girls thinking I’m decent looking, and getting over 400 friends on Facebook. Have 20 years changed me so much? No, they haven’t. Inside me, the dream is there – helping people is what I long to do.

Friends want me to come out tonight. A part of me wants to go out, too. Why? Because I’m a fantasy chaser. Are you? We want to be liked, we want to be admired, we want to be popular, we want to be seen. But I wonder: for what are we being liked and admired? Is it because we look good and tell jokes? Are we liked more for our personalities than our character? Do even half our friends know what our character is all about? Do we know ourselves?

So many of us want to do so much good with our lives, but when do we ever WORK toward our dreams? Why has my vision of helping tons of people largely languished as a pipe dream inside my popularity-starved head? Because I am not diligent and I lack judgment.

“He who works his land will have abundant food.” Now, I don’t farm. But there is a law at work here. If you do x, you will get y. “Laziness ends in slave labor.” Again, if you do x, you will get y. If we work to achieve our dreams, they will be realized. If we DON’T work to achieve them, they will never happen!

Do I want to see my dreams realized? 100% yes! And that’s why I’m not going out tonight. I have work to do! How will I add real value to this world? Will it be done in this endless string of parties and events I go to? In truth, I can think of very few fantastic things that have come out of all my attendance at parties. I’m not hating on them. I enjoy them. I like talking with people. But if that’s all I ever do, my dream will never become real. And my dream holds huge potential to add real value to many peoples’ lives.

Yes, we need to have balance in our lives. Socializing is a great thing, but so many of our lives are so UNbalanced with excessive socializing. How many social activities do we need?

Work is difficult and it is with the difficult we are called to be diligent. Do you want to see your dreams realized? Take a night…soon…and don’t go out. Tell your friends you need a night to WORK on your dreams. They may make fun of you. Do you see that, FROM THE BEGINNING, diligence is difficult? It is hard to stay in, it is hard to resist your friends’ pleadings, it is hard to get to work on your dreams. Oh, but think of the harvest. You will have “abundant food” and you will “rule.” Whatever those things might be for your dream, imagine them! Tonight, I’m thinking about the people who I don’t even know exist – the people whose lives will cross with mine in the next few years (Lord-willing). They’re keeping me company as I work because I’m working FOR THEM as much as myself. The Ultra Selfish Andy Merrick is slowly being taught selflessness.

Slowly.

Very Slowly.

Hyper Slowly.

I can only imagine the parties I’m forsaking tonight will be paid back to me 10 fold when I party with my imaginary friends in a few years. I believe they’ll thank me and admire me. And the funny thing is, I’ll probably be uncomfortable with that (unlike today where I crave it and bask in it when I get it). They’ll thank me and I might be inclined to say, “It’s no big deal, friend.” But the truth is, it WILL have been a big deal. And I’ll catch myself, remembering all the nights I disappointed my other friends by staying in, and bringing my attention back to my new friend in front of me, I’ll say warmly, “You’re welcome! Let’s drink some more Juicy Juice and play Guitar Hero 12!” No, those won’t be lavish parties, but I know they will be rich.

Take a night off from socializing. See what good may come of it! Your hair looks great, friend! Get to work.

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