Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Website for the Church

Littleton Christian Church, the amazing group of people I get to serve as pastor, have revamped our website.  I am debating whether or not I'll move this blog over there... until I decide, it'll stay here.  If you have an opinion on that, do tell.

Nonetheless, you can find it at  No one will be upset at you if you make it your homepage.  It's a work in progress, and eventually I expect it will be very cool, and very usable.  But even now, for all those who remember the old site, it has a ton more functionality.  

From now on, when I post links to sermons, they'll be on that website.  For example, Sunday's sermon discussing Proverbs' Wisdom regarding Honest Speech ("Wise Words, Part II"), can be found HERE.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Freethinking on Words

(Much of this made its way into last Sunday's message. The link is coming as soon as our new website goes live. Right now has slipped into the void...)

Freethinking on Words:
We are all of us moved by words.  The power of words and thoughts is, when you consider it for but a moment, astounding.  Many people have done extraordinary work to narrow the gap between the human species and other animals, but quick observation will reveal the most clever of all animals simply learning to respond to human words.  No doubt, they may have an intelligence of their own, but the prowess of concepts and ideas rests in the human mind alone.  And we share those ideas not through scent, or intimidation, or mere survival, but through words.  Words are our connection to the unseen, to the intangible.  When I have an interior experience, or an experience with an invisible being – be it the non-created, Personal God of Christianity or a created but non-physical thing commonly referred to as an angel or a demon – my only outlet for sharing that experience is words. 

Words as mere symbols for things – and I’m talking about every type of word, including numbers, though numbers is in many ways a separate and equally astounding category – are the vehicle by which anything is communicable from one of us to the other.  While I thought Erin was beautiful from afar in college, and realized it even more so when she visited this church from California, it wasn’t her striking appearance that caused me to fall in love with her.  That happened while she was 1200 miles away, but was writing a  long wonderful email to me nearly every day, engaging the emails and letters I had written her, and thereby “showing” me who she was.  Truly, the words revealed so much more than anything my eyes could see.  Even when the first few dates we had were difficult, the words that we had shared had already formed an intimate bond that caused us to battle through the embarrassment of now knowing how to “be” around each other.  Words did that. 

And isn’t that the case with the billions of people you don’t know on this earth?  You see them, and may be able to make a few guesses about who they are based on – what do we call them? Non-verbals – but each person has so much hiding inside their mind and heart, the only way into it is words.  Each culture will use words differently (not to mention different words all together, given the manifold languages of this globe, both past and present), and yet the words are how people come to know one another.  They are the tangible window to the invisible world all over the world.  “The words of the mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a gushing stream.”

Flying way under the radar for most of us is the most provocative format for words: poetry.  Of course, poetry has continued to hold preeminence in our society, though most of us are unaware, in the form of song. 

“Poetry is an effort to share a moving experience by using language that is chosen and structured differently than ordinary prose.”  To say it differently: poetry opens the window into the unseen and removes the screen of grammatical rules (which are important).  It exposes words for all their power, in many different ways.  Words that we would otherwise not expect to be paired together are paired together.  The Proverbs, which in many ways are simply a collection of poems expressing wisdom, regularly employ shock value to express ideas.  “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout,” they say “is a beautiful woman without good sense.”  Poetry connects ideas together.  And, as I said, song employs poetry regularly, but the poetic power of metaphor has perhaps been so normalized for us that we miss it.  We have been so inundated with provocative language that it no longer provokes us.  As we discussed last week: the abundance of noise around us teaches us not to listen.  There are so many words around us that we’ve forgotten how to take them in, to understand their power.  When we drive down the street we see thousands of words, we register hundreds of them, and the rest simply pass by.  Would the words of Jesus infuriate us the way they infuriated the Jewish leaders?  Or have we been “shock-valued” so many times that we can no longer hear when a true shock arrives?

What tragedy, that so many masses are being sedated with images which do not engage nearly as much of their minds!  I am among them – by the grace of God, I have a deep enjoyment, and even a sort of deep confidence, in words – and yet I surely have traded 90 or more percent of the time I could have been engaging words in my lifetime watching fruitless images in television, video games, movies, etc. 

Before I go too far in blaming our culture for ruining the power of words (and ruining so much, as I am often inclined to do), I should allow the words which I claim to value above all other words instruct my perspective.  If the repeated warnings of Proverbs are correct, words driven by greed or another form of wickedness, as opposed to knowledge, seemed to be rampant 3000 years ago as they are now.  2000 years ago, the Apostle Paul rings his hands at the ease by which persuasive words derailed his ministry (“You foolish Galatians,” he sighs, “who has bewitched you?”).  And in perhaps the most famous discussion of speech in all of scripture, James laments that that “no one can tame the tongue.”  In so many forms, words have been misused. 

That fact, however, is not an excuse.  It is a recognition of our need for redemption and renewal.  When Paul calls forth the fundamental self-surrender of the Christian, he instructs us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  It is the Spirit who transforms, and the transformation happens at the core level: the mind.  The result is that our thought processes, the invisible worlds in between our ears and beating in our chest, will be different. Which means that eventually, the way in and the way out will be different.  James laments you cannot bring fresh water from a source made up of salt-water, and that is true – yet, many of us who have had our source replaced by giving our lives to Christ continue to spew saltwater.  Why, if the source within is one of Fresh?  I propose that it is possible because we continue to take saltwater in.  Similar to the common adage, “what goes up must come down,” we might say “what goes in must come out.” 

If words are as powerful as I am here suggesting, if they bring the invisible and intangible into the visible and tangible, then there is no doubt that believers who want fresh water to come forth – blessing and not cursing, as James says – must be incredibly critical about the words we choose to bring in.  In a world where countless words are available to every one of us with the click of a button, this is hugely significant.  I would include here all the images we see – every television show or movie you’ve ever watched is the signifier of a set of signifiers; it started with words, either spoken, thought, or (most commonly) written.  The most powerful movies started with the most powerful words.  Be incredibly careful what you let in.  This has a limit, of course.  Jesus offers a crucial corrective in a discussion about clean and unclean food - some of what goes into us (mostly food) ends up in the sewer.  It may be the case that the words out of your mouth are much more disgusting than the objects in your toilet (Matt. 15:10-20).   

Monday, March 28, 2011

Poet Recommendations?

After preaching on the power of words (I'll post a link soon), I have a strong desire to get back into reading great poetry (and hopefully writing a bit.  What I've posted recently isn't what I'm looking for)... but the world of poetry is huge, so I'm looking for recommendations.  Either of poets, poems, or collections.

Also, it's likely that sometime this week I will move this blog from here to Littleton Christian Church's new website (which should be up and running in the next 24-36 hrs).  I'll make sure to over-communicate that when it happens.  Most of you come here through the links I put on facebook, so I'm thinking you won't really care where it is.  Just an FYI.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

On Bearing False Witness

As I'm studying what the Proverbs say about what we say, it becomes clearer and clearer that this wisdom is built upon and expanding the 9th Commandment: "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor."

The Westminster Larger Catechism, a brilliant presentation of the foundational Christian truths in question and answer format, extensively expands this commandment, and cites biblical references for every sentence  of the expansion.  Proverbs is mentioned 15 times in the notes - I know now the divines (that's what the authors of the Westminster Documents are called) must have had to pick and choose.

I'm not sure whether I will present this to the congregation on Sunday, but have produced it here because it so succinctly captures the heart of the Scriptures on the use and abuse of words, and because even if I do read it aloud on Sunday, it's a lot to take in, and requires some reflection:

"Question 144: What does the ninth commandment require?

"This commandment requires that we maintain and promote truthfulness in our dealings with each other and the good reputation of others as well as ourselves. We must come forward and stand up for the truth, speaking the truth and nothing but the truth from our hearts, sincerely, freely, clearly, and without equivocation, not only in all matters relating to the law and justice but in any and every circumstance whatsoever.  We must have a charitable regard for others, loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good reputation as well as regretting and putting the best light on their failings.  We must freely acknowledge their talents and gifts, defending their innocence, readily receiving a good report about them and reluctantly admitting a bad one.  We should discourage gossips, flatterers, and slanderers; we should love and protect our own good reputation and defend it when necessary; we should keep every lawful promise we make no matter what; and finally we should do the best we can to focus our lives and thoughts on things that are true, noble, lovely, and admirable.

Question 145: What particular sins does the ninth commandment forbid?

This commandment forbids everything detrimental to the truth and good reputation of others as well as our own, with special reference to legal matters in the courts.  We must not give untrue evidence, suborn perjury, knowingly appear and plead on behalf of an evil cause, or engage in overbearing and boastful exaggeration.  We should never participate in passing an unjust sentence, call evil good or good evil, or reward the wicked in a way appropriate  to the wicked.  Forgery is forbidden, as is concealing the truth, remaining silent in a just cause, and not taking it on ourselves to reprove or complain to others about some wrong.  We must not speak the truth at an inappropriate time, or maliciously to promote a wrong purpose, nor pervert it into a wrong meaning, into ambiguous equivocations, or in such ways as to undermine truth and justice.  Also forbidden are: saying anything untrue, as well as lying, slandering, backbiting, belittling, gossiping, whispering, ridiculing, reviling, and expressing any kind of judgmental opinion that is rash, harsh, or prejudiced; misconstruing intentions, words and actions; flattery and ostentatious boasting; thinking or speaking too highly or too poorly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts of God or the effects of his grace on us; exaggerating the significance of trivial faults; concealing, excusing, or rationalizing our sinful behavior when we are called to confess it voluntarily; gratuitously revealing the problems and failings of others; spreading false rumors, receiving and approving evil reports, and refusing to listen to a just defense; harboring evil suspicions; being envious of or grieved by the deserved honors others receive, trying to discredit those honors, and rejoicing at someone else’s disgrace or evil reputation; scornful contempt and foolish admiration; breaking our lawful promises; and finally, failing to promote everyone’s good name, and doing, not avoiding or not hindering in others, as we can, those things that give people a bad name.”  

Let's assume for the moment that the Westminster Divines got it right, that this great detail is exactly what the 9th commandment requires and forbids (Given the nature of Proverbs, as well as Matthew 7, 15; Colossians 3; James 3; and others, I think they're right on).  Assuming they are right, at how many points in the last 24 hours have you transgressed? How about the last week?  What about the last time you were angry?  Embarrassed?  Trying to make an impression?   

Suddenly, Paul and James seem onto something - Paul says that all our throats are open graves, that everyone utters lies (Romans 3), and James laments the reality that no man can tame the tongue... truly, like the great hymn declares: "I need thee, Oh I need thee, I need thee every hour!"  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Words are So Powerful

Words are so powerful
that the wisest way to use them
is sparingly.

On the other hand,
The ideas that words create
require extensive practice, and a plurality of errors.

Pray Continually - let most of that be listening.

[Here is a sermon on this]

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

Monday, March 14, 2011


As you can see in my last post, I finally caved in and signed up for Twitter a couple days ago.  Twitter uses interesting language.  On Facebook, the people who can "hear" and "see" you are your "friends."  On Twitter, people who can "hear" and "see" you are your "followers."  And the tweets (Twitter's terminology for the 140 character messages that are the backbone of their network) that I receive on my home page are from those people I "follow."

If you subscribe to (or at least grapple with) the Christian worldview, the idea of "following" should bring pause.  Jesus didn't use the word Christian, but he certainly called people to "follow" him.  When he confronted Levi (aka Matthew) the toll-collector, he commands, simply: "come follow me."  Our 21st Century Western ears miss the power of that moment, the power of that phrase.  Perhaps we think of Jesus as such a gravitational figure that Levi couldn't resist; or we assume the Holy Spirit was doing a mighty work in Levi's heart, such that he was already longing for Jesus before Jesus walked up to his booth.  While both of those imaginations are likely true, the cultural weight of that moment makes it even more powerful.  The invitation "come, follow me" was the manner in which a Rabbi would invite the best and brightest of his students to become his apprentices.  Culturally, when a Rabbi asks such a question, it would be rare (if ever) that a student would say "no."  The Rabbi had extended a rare honor. And by leaving his life behind, the student was now on the road to becoming a Rabbi himself.

"Following" shapes one's identity.  Who we follow will form who we are.  And every thinking person should be very critical about who we follow and why we follow them.  Paul gives the most significant criteria in 1 Corinthians 11:1, "Follow me, as I follow Christ."  The NRSV, my translation of choice, draws out the nature of biblical following (Paul thought like a Rabbi too): "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ."  The weight of this criteria rests on the word as. Follow me, as I follow Christ.  In other words, if one isn't following Christ, don't follow that one.   

For those odd people who think of me as a leader, I implore you: only follow me as I follow Christ.  That puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.  

Now, with Twitter, the terminology is a bit misleading.  My friend Jeff "follows" 924 Tweeters, at present.  I may have the distinct honor of being his 924th.  Among my close friends, he's one I consider to be a "master of social media."  Just because Twitter uses the lingo, doesn't mean we're really following all the people we're "following."  But, the lingo has left me wondering... who do I follow?  In the Church, there are a handful of pastors and thinkers that I pay very close attention to.  In the Body of Christ, it seems to me that we all should be following Christ, and EVERY ONE OF US should be following people who are following Christ.  You could call this a version of mutual submission.  Below is a non-exhaustive list of people I follow.  As I consider who is and isn't on this list, and especially as I think about people who used to be on this list but were intentionally removed, I realize that my own personal criteria have more facets than Paul's first big requirement from 1 Cor 11.  There are a number of people I used to follow who began to teach, preach, and write things that were a twisting of the Bible.  Others were people who's passion inspired me, but ultimately their message created a false tension between Christianity and the mind; anti-intellectualism is a disturbing trend in Evangelicalism (though it seems to be fading... maybe just in my world, since I've stopped paying attention to those who pushed it).  Anyway, who do I follow?  These leaders, thinkers, and writers shape the way I speak, write, and think.  This list is in no particular order, nor is it anywhere close to exhaustive:

  1. Douglas Groothuis, PhD.  Professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. 
  2. Rev. Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City. 
  3. Britt Merrick, Teaching Pastor of Reality Carpinteria (and founder of the Reality movement of churches which has now planted several churches along the west coast).  
  4. David Platt, Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills, and author of Radical.
  5. C.S. Lewis, author.  Though he is no longer alive, I follow him actively through his many books.  
  6. John Piper, Pastor, author, and teacher.  I love how seriously he takes the truth.  
  7. Ben Patterson, Campus Pastor at Westmont College, author. The man who, by his life and manner of speaking and related, defines the word "pastor" for me. 
The spark for this whole post, as I scanned Twitter this morning, was this thought: "Hmmm.  I'm a follower."  I've been trained to think that's a bad thing.  The truth is, it would be bad if I wasn't! Who do you follow?  And why do you follow them?  Entertainment value?  Shock value?  Character? Or because they follow Christ?  Choose critically and carefully.  Be willing to stop following someone who isn't worth following.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

@the_wright_mike is me on Twitter

I joined Twitter yesterday.  It bothers me that I would have to limit myself to 140 characters... but it probably will make you (if you're a regular reader of mine) happy.  If anyone has advice on how to use twitter in an effective, kingdom building, church edifying way... I'm all ears.

My Twitter "name" (or is it "address?"  Or "profile?"  Or "handle?") is @the_wright_mike

Friday, March 11, 2011

Headlines Scanned, Laments Required

(This looks like a poem; it's not.  It's an observation, a reaction.)

As I grow wickedly used to Libyan nightmares
As the layers of disaster in Japan unfold
I sit on a padded chair, sipping coffee.
Facebook is full of posts laughing at funny photos,
complaining about work, ignoring the world.

Break our hearts, O God!
People are underwater,
Others are starving,
Still others are captive to a wicked dictator
hunting their brethren down with automatic weapons.
(this stanza could continue for pages)

A prayer we must learn to pray:
"How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?"
I hold to hope: in eternity, this will make sense, bring joy, cause worship.
I understand hope: it doesn't yet.

"For in hope we are saved. 
Now hope that is seen is not hope.
For who hopes for what is seen?"

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Yesterday began the season of Lent, the spiritual countdown to Easter Sunday.  What's it about?  Here, rather than giving an encyclopedic answer, I'd like to offer a few of my own thoughts.

In one of the most commonly repeated prayers of Paul, his prayer for the Ephesian Christian in Ephesians 1:15-23, he connects all his requests (wisdom, revelation, knowing the hope to which they've been called, knowing the reality of their spiritual inheritance, and knowing God's power available specifically for believers) to a very unique sort of power: the power of resurrection.  That is the climax of the prayer: that they may know the power of the resurrection.

Paul tells us more about this power: "God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this page but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all."  (Eph 1:20-23).  It's amazing language, and quite a description of the current status of Jesus, the Anointed One.  BUT, the main purpose of this description of Jesus is to tell the Ephesians (and you and me) about this crazy sort of power available to believers.  The power of resurrection.

But knowing that power is, in the ebb and flow of normal life, difficult (to put it mildly).  It's no wonder Paul is praying this rather than just telling the Ephesians about it.  The build up in the prayer describes the heart of the Lent season:

1. Recognize God as the Father of glory
2. Receive from him a spirit of wisdom and revelation which happens as we come to know him
3. After, or as a result of receiving the spirit of wisdom and revelation, knowledge of hope, inheritance, and the available power is the fruit.

So, what is Lent about?  It is about receiving a spirit of wisdom and revelation.  That is why people traditionally choose something to abstain from during this season - don't just choose something to choose it, or because it's fattening, or because it's expensive, or because that's what you've always fasted for Lent.  Honestly evaluate your life and ask: what is impeding wisdom and revelation from taking root in my life?  What am I holding onto or doing that is (or might be) keeping the spirit of wisdom and revelation at arm's length?

Easter at its best is a recognition of the "immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe," because Easter is when we remind ourselves overtly: Jesus really died on a Roman cross, and his body really got placed in a tomb, and he really walked out of it on the third day.  And that is really supposed to completely alter the way we live, speak, love, pray, and hope.  Otherwise, there is no Christian hope, there are no "riches of his glorious inheritance," and there is no power.

To put all this in different words: Lent is not about giving something up and griping about how much it stinks; Lent is about opening your eyes and seeing what you have (or could have): immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sermon: Wise Marriage (and Singleness)

Wise Singleness

Yesterday, I attempted (rather un-wisely) to cover everything Proverbs has to say about the marriage relationship, as well as give a cultural context for marriage in Ancient Israel compared to now, and even trace some of the trajectories that started in the Proverbial observations through the Apostle Paul and into the present day about singleness.  Oh, and tie the living metaphor of marriage to the invisible reality of Christ and the church and therefore practice some intimacy through communion.  We don't have the sermon uploaded yet, but when we do, I'll post a link.

For the many single people who were in the audience (and the single people who listen online), I apologize for trying to do too much in the message, because the important "trajectory" that I wanted to trace as an encouragement to you was far too rushed and missed some important points.  These are conclusions that are available to anyone who calmly observes a handful of marriages, as well as clearly studying Proverbs' (and 1 Corinthians') teachings on marriage:

To begin with, Proverbs talks a lot about the "contentious wife."  She is quarrelsome, fretful, and argumentative.  To slow her down, according to 27:15-16, is like trying to stop the wind or grasp oil in your hand.  Now, nearly everyone gets contentious once in a while; this is talking about those who are contentious as a point of character: constantly, repeatedly, naturally disagreeing to everything first, rarely trusting of her (or his) spouse.  The basic observation is: life with her (or him) is really bad.  It would be better to live on the corner of a rooftop (25:24), or in a desert (21:19) than with her. Poverty, the wise observer notes, is better than riches with constant bickering and arguing.  It is important to note, here, that Proverbs does not give license for divorce; rather, these observations are to serve as "wake up calls" for those couples living in contention.  Peaceful, kind, loving, and respectful ways of interacting can be learned.

With all that in mind, what "trajectory" is this starting?  By the time Paul was offering wisdom to the early Christians, especially in 1 Corinthians, he was instructing the single or widowed believers that it was better NOT to get married (1 Cor 7:8-35).  Ancient Israel may have expected basically everyone to be married, but Paul swims against the stream.  How did he get there?  I think it starts with the observations of Proverbs.

The contentious wife observations are a flashing neon sign saying to singles: "DON'T SETTLE! DON'T MARRY JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE LONELY!" I am 29, and I have already seen several of my peers' marriages fall apart because contentiousness took over in their relationship.  Every one of them has said to me: it is miserable and they wish they had never married.

Let's take it a step further: Some marry because they so longed to have sex that they were willing to marry anyone. For those who have chosen purity in their singleness, I applaud you, AND I urge you to resist the message of our culture that says sex is so good that it's worth marrying someone you have trouble relating to because you want to have it.  For men and women alike, sex is an apex in the mountain range of intimacy, but like any apex, you must climb the rest of the mountain to get there.  In other words: sex without emotional and spiritual intimacy is NOT fulfilling... no matter how loudly our culture (and your hormonal impulse) shouts that it is.  In other words: some people are burning with desire, as Paul says (see below) and should get married, but I believe many people are merely tricked by the sexual zeitgeist ("spirit of the age") to THINK they are burning with desire... when the Lord's best for you is actually to be single.  Why would that be his best?

1 Corinthians 7 highlights a prioritization in these questions that is worth repeating here: Paul teaches that it is easier to be a messenger of the gospel if you are single, as marriage introduces responsibilities that single people don't have to worry about.  In other words, the communication of the gospel is more important than marriage.  No matter what the fear-mongers say about how fast other religions are pro-creating, let us hear Paul clearly: it is better to pro-create spiritually than biologically. BUT, the gospel hinges on the purity of the messenger - that is the way of Jesus, who communicated the kingdom most effectively in his pure life and sacrificial death.  What that means is that because the gospel is more important than marriage, purity is more important than efficient gospel communication, because without purity the gospel cannot be effectively communicated.  Or in Paul's words: if you are burning with desire, go ahead and get married.

This line of thinking should impact Church leadership decisions, too.  Some of the wisest people in church communities are the mature single people, those who for any number of reasons never married, and therefore have grown very deep and intimate relationships with Jesus and with others in the Christian community.  Some Protestants are tricked to believe that marriage is a sign of maturity (forgetting that Jesus and Paul were bachelors all their lives... would you NOT let Paul be an elder in your church?).  I am very happy that our church has often had mature single people on the Session (the "elder board"), and I hope we never get deceived by the evangelical cult of marriage that says we shouldn't.

These are the points that did not get made very clearly about the Wisdom of Singleness in my sermon yesterday.  Thank God for blogs and other media that give frustrated preachers like me a chance to patch the holes!  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Proverbs, Relationships, and Exposed Nerves

This last Sunday I attempted to communicate the heart of Proverbs' message about the Parent-Child relationship.  You can hear that sermon here.  I am not a parent (yet), nor am I all that old and experienced (yet).  However, this particular issue, and the one I'm preparing to discuss next Sunday (marriage, unless the Spirit alters the plan), exposes nerves.

After all, sitting in the relatively small congregation on Sunday (I'd guess we had about 70 adults there, but I'm not great at making that guess), there were people who:

  1. Have tried to have kids and were never able to. 
  2. Have tried to have kids, weren't able to, and so adopted. 
  3. Have had a great experience with their adopted kids.
  4. Have had deeply painful experiences with their adopted kids, despite their best efforts. 
  5. Have kids at several stages of life and because of divorce and a host of other issues are now separated from them. 
  6. Have kids and are doing the best they can... but can feel them slipping away. 
  7. Have kids and it all seems to be going according to plan. 
  8. I'm sure there's more... but I'm just doing a mental scan of the people in the room!

Not only that, but the heart of the message was not supposed to be to parents, but to all of us as children of parents - which comes in many forms: biological parents, spiritual parents, adopted parents, and more.  Suffice it to say, my list of painful issues with all of those relationships would be much longer than 7 points.

And yet, as I've written in previous posts, Proverbs is mostly optimistic about things.  It generally says: "Live wisely and ultimately reap the benefits."  It is at times realistic about the fact that people can find themselves in very luxurious or typically-desirable situations (such as wealth, feasts, marriage, lots of kids, influential positions, etc.) even though they are immoral, dishonest, vindictive, cruel, or otherwise wicked and foolish (See the many "better than" statements which honestly recognize that some people are wicked but have material luxury: 16:8, 19; 17:1; 21:9, 19; and several more).  I'm grateful that it has this realistic balance, and that such a balance forces us to read the promised rewards for the wise and righteous as beyond the scope of this life.

The point of this post, however, is to ask: what does one do in light of the fact that the pithy sayings of Proverbs, which are indeed generally true, don't line up well with the painful and messy situations of life?  I've been wrestling with this in the wake of preaching on Parenting and in the preparation for preaching on Marriage. And it certainly will continue when we get to Proverbs on money, on the way we speak, on business practices, and more.

The answer is Jesus.  Really.  Tonight I stumbled across an excellent article by Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City on "The Importance of Hell."  For reasons far beyond the scope of this discussion, I hope many Christians read it and grapple with it; it very succinctly explains my beliefs about hell (and adds new insights and explanations that ring deeply true).

Inside the scope of this article is his suggestion that Hell serves to teach the radical redemptive power of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.  As I read that thought, this whole discussion of parenting and marriage happening inside my head clicked with a new life: everything Proverbs has to say about parenting surely ultimately points us to Jesus.  God, whom we lovingly call Father (as Jesus always called him), sets the supreme example of loving parenting by Incarnating as Jesus and enduring the corporal, spiritual, emotional, and social punishment that was justly deserved by all of his children.  Sacrifice proves to be the key to parenting; God the Father proves to be the perfect parent.  And even he, like several of the people sitting in the congregation of Littleton Christian Church last Sunday, endured the worst sort of suffering in hopes of a great sort of gladness knowing that many whom he loved would continue to reject him.

What I'm trying to say is: Proverbs on Parenting sets our hopes high by saying it like it is: a wise child makes his/her father and mother deeply happy (generally), while a foolish child brings great pain and sadness to his/her father and mother.  Present and future parents alike long for that happiness.  And yet, these high hopes lead to anxiety, shame, confusion, and ultimately, to the recognition that even the perfect parent, with the perfect discipline, must walk the way of the cross.

O God, you are the Perfect Parent, and for us to know you and know your wisdom, you became the Perfect Penitent.  We turn from our human attempt at wisdom yet again, and walk to your cross, denying ourselves and following you for ourselves, and for those in our care.  Amen.