Abu Graib (gra-eb)
Was a notorious Iraqi prison under Sadaam Hussein, it became even more notorious on an international scale in 2003 while under American supervision.
That year reports of prisoner abuse by American soldiers and contractors became public, along with pictures that confirmed these accusations.
What was done there…in that remote place…off the battle field…by a relatively small group of people…had world-wide strategic impact.
Impact that included international setbacks in partnerships, revenge killings, and more…the actions of a few people caused damage that exceeded what billions of dollars and thousands of soldiers could not counteract.
It was international strategic impact caused by a couple dozen people in a remote prison…doing foolish things.
Fast forward to 2020, Wichita, Ks…Several weeks ago, I was filling out some paperwork for the AF that included a form where I had to certify, as part of package of papers, that I had not been a part of detainee operations in Iraq…all those years ago.
The impact continues…amazing to me…but not surprising.
I thought as I signed the paper…I wish a chaplain had been there at that prison…hopefully that would have a made a difference…maybe not.
But what would have a made a difference…if the ones who engaged in those actions…had consistently walked the path of wisdom before that time…small steps, small forks onto the good path…that would have shaped into a different kind of person…the kind of person or people…who would not do those things.
Let’s go back in time and take a look at a single soldier…what were the different forks in the road he or she (females were involved) took to get to the point where these actions were seen to be acceptable.
God only knows…but no doubt there were many small decisions…they probably didn’t look that dramatic at the time…say this, do this, think this…become this…walk this way…small steps.
They were no large signs that read “Go this way and ruin your life” or “That way and have a great life.”
There were many small forks that at the moment probably don’t seem to be a big deal…what’s the difference, really…between taking this path and that path?
This is a fork in the sidewalk across the street on campus…I took this picture last week.
As you can see if we stood together at this fork…I could go one way, you the other and we would initially be only a few feet from each other…but look at this next picture…
The fork leads to one path heading due east the other west…totally opposite directions…take the fork and don’t turn around…and you end up as far apart as you possibly can be.
I have a friend…who took a series of forks in the path several years ago.
-First…engaging with another women in electronic media (not a big deal)
-Then then another fork (in his mind), then another…then an affair (with years of heartbreak)
Now…let’s don’t stay gloomy…let’s go the other way.
There are many stories…I know them personally…many in this room…of men and women who took the forks towards the good path or back on to the good path…then again…then again…and the fruit of their life is blessing and joy.
This year we are in the book of Proverbs…This month we are seeking to understand how to read and apply the book so we can maximize its impact on our lives.
*Please do not think this is merely a “spiritual/devotional/optional/churchy” exercise…divorced from real, everyday life.
*You and I will be wiser or more foolish…when this year is over…we will not stay the same.
-We will encounter forks along the way…we will take those forks…words, thoughts, actions…they will shape us.
*Even if you say “I’ll stand still then, stay the same”…then the path becomes a moving sidewalk…and your passivity will take you down the wrong fork…but we are not going to stay the same.
God is inviting to enjoy his wisdom…but we must seek it, value it, dig for it, embed it in our souls.
We want to understand how to accurately read and apply Proverbs…because wisdom requires application not mere information.
Information + Application=transformation.
Today we look at the key image for understanding the book…and I think for understanding life itself.
The image or metaphor of two paths…the path of wisdom, the path of folly.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly refers to one thing by mentioning another.
“life is a stage” “She is cold as ice” “he is hard as steel”
Life is not literally a path, but then again…it is, in a real sense a path.
The Hebrew word for “way”, “path”, “road” occurs over 25 times in the first 9 chapters of Proverbs…and is implied throughout the book.
The path is a great picture of one’s actions in life.
It implies a current point of origin (where you are now)
A destination (where you will end up)
And key transitional moments (forks in the road)
I’m going to read just one passage that illustrates this principle of paths…pay attention to the path theme as I read.
Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways. It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. For her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life. Thus, you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous.
We will begin in February looking at Proverbs 1-9…these chapters are a series of discourses on wisdom that teach there are two paths:
-Right path, good path, wise path….that leads to life
-Wrong path, bad path, foolish…that leads to death.
In those discourses the son is walking the path of life, and his father is warning him of the dangers he will encounter as well as the encouragement he will find to walk the good path.
The dangers we will see included:
*Traps and snares:
-The fool is like prey to the huntress named “folly”
-“Hey, look at that tasty peanut butter…wonder why it’s inside that steel cage attached to that sharp pointy thing…oh well…let’s eat”
-The wise avoid these things…they learn to see danger, they see a trap.
-If we walk with God in community(wisdom is communal…walking with God and others)…traps look like traps not opportunities.
“The one who walks with the wise grows wise, a companion of fools suffers harm.” 13:20
-When we walk with God in community…we are not taken in by people whose association will do us harm…we become thermostats not thermometers.
So the path is a key principle for understanding Proverbs and life…a path with multiple forks in the road…many dangers…but many opportunities as well.
In the First 9 chapters there is another powerful metaphor…two very important people we will encounter along the way.
-These two people are: Woman wisdom and Woman folly.
Let’s look at these two
Woman wisdom desires to enter into an intimate relationship with the young man walking the path…we will talk about her in more depth when we work through chapters 1-9.
In fact she speaks directly throughout almost all of chapter 8.
Woman folly only speaks once…directly…that is in chapter 9.
As the father is instructing his son regarding the path…he tells the son about these two women.
You are the “young man” (this is how you to read the first 9 chapters)…you are walking along a road (called life) and all of sudden you see two women…each is speaking from “the heights” overlooking the city.
Each is calling out to you…come dine with me, come have relationship with me.
Before I read let me point out two important things to keep in mind.
- In the ancient Near Eastern culture to eat with someone was to form a relationship with them…these women both want a relationship…but it is impossible to be united to both of them…which one will you dine with?
In our culture…a guy asks a woman out…what are his intentions…what is the level of relationship implied in the invitation?
-“Let’s go to coffee”
-“Let’s go to a high priced dress up dinner”
*These women are inviting us into relationship…not a casual invitation to coffee…they want exclusive, intimate relationship with us…we have to choose.
- Of course these are not literal women…but what do they stand for?
Tremper Longman says the key is found in the location of their houses.
Both live at the highest points of the city…overlooking the city.
The building on the highest point of the city was the temple…this was true throughout the ancient Near East.
When the land was flat…they built these things called “Ziggurats” or stepped pyramids…human made mountains where the gods were said to dwell.
I once climbed this particular Ziggurat in Ur, in modern day Iraq…the birthplace of Abraham…it is a man-made high point for worship of the gods.
The Jerusalem temple is on the high point overlooking the city…the temple mount.
The location of Woman wisdom along with the way the book reads makes it clear that Woman Wisdom stands for God…his wisdom.
Many other metaphors are used in the Bible to describe God’s relationship with his people…warrior, shepherd, father, bird that spreads its wings, spouse, king…etc.
These images point to the various aspects of God’s character and interactions with his people.
God is more than these images…but they are ways of understanding who he is and how to have relationship with him.
In Proverbs God is seen in this metaphor of “Lady Wisdom”…we don’t worship wisdom…we worship God…wisdom follows worship of God.
Woman folly also has her house on the highest point of the city…but she represents the false gods and goddesses that tempted Israel away from the true God.
Often these false gods, religions…used ritual prostitution (male and female) as a part of their worship…so woman folly invites the fool to intimacy…let her fully into his heart and life…folly takes over a life.
As does wisdom.
So as I read…remember God is calling us into relationship with him…false gods are likewise inviting us into intimacy with them.
Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids, and she calls from the highest point of the city. “Let all who are simple come in here!” she says to those who lack judgment. “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding”…”For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.” 9:1-6, 11
The woman Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way.“Let all who are simple come in here!” she says to those who lack judgment. “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” (sexual overtones here, illicit, forbidden…sweet) But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave. Prov. 9:13-18
See the power and impact of God’s call…to follow him, and to know him, to love him.
And the warning to watch out…because Lady Folly…her idolatry…putting things other than God first in our lives…calls us to our own destruction.
The destinations of folly and wisdom…God/Idolatry…are dramatically different…life and death.
So all of us…even if you are a woman, or an older man like myself…we are to put ourselves into the sandals of the young male reader…will we heed the voice of wisdom and walk her path?
Will we heed the voice of folly and walk her path?
Wisdom and folly…are calling for intimacy of relationship…to wrap our hearts and lives around them.
So when Christians talk about “their walk with Christ”…this is not some “worn out cliché”…this is a really good description of the Christian life.
in fact Christians were first called followers of “The Way” before they were called “Christians.”
This life with Christ is a journey, a path…with a point of origin, a destination, and many decision points (forks along the way)
It is a relationship…to walk the good path is to enter into and maintain an intimate relationship with Christ…the wisdom of God.
Again…our goal this month is to get a fix on how to read and apply Proverbs…in order that we can actually become wise people.
Wisdom is not intellect (though it does not exclude it)
Wisdom is not education (though it does not exclude it)
Wisdom is skilled living…to live a “skilled life” from the perspective of the gospel is summed up in the great commandment of Jesus.
Mark 12:28-31 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
The word of God and the ways of God are expressions of the wisdom of God.
Jesus said…two things sum up the word and ways of God…the wisdom of God.
That is…Love God, Love people.
Jesus…calls out to us to choose him…to walk in intimate relationship with him.
We can only walk one direction at a time…we can only have one “first place” in our hearts and lives at time.
Luke 16:13“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.
Money was the particular form of idolatry here…money is a common idol still…but often it is just a means to an idol-end…the real heart-idol behind love of money is…love of pleasure, power, security, control, prestige, self-protection…the things that we think money can bring.
Idols are things that take first-place in our heart.
Israel often fell into idol worship…not because they were enamored with a “golden calf” or a wooden pole representing human sexuality…but because these idols were seen to be conduits to what they really treasured.
Pleasure, prosperity, self-protection, control of their own futures and the lives of others…none of this has changed…the conduits have…but the real heart-idols are the same.
So let’s talk about walking with Jesus…using my favorite word for walking the good path…faithfulness.
Eugene Peterson brilliantly called the Christian life… “A long obedience in the same direction”
That, I think, poetically describes a life of faithfulness.
Let’s talk about faithfulness…and its implications for growing in wisdom.
I was talking with a friend recently and we both recognized that sometimes the principle of “faithfulness” which we both agreed is sound…can morph into something negative.
For instance, “faithfulness…a long obedience in a single direction” can become an excuse for…
-Resistance to change
-Lack of faith (growing refusal to take risks)
-Fear of discomfort
“I’m not selfish, lazy, fearful, or apathetic…I’m just being faithful…now leave me alone.”
But faithfulness, by definition, precludes any of these things…so let’s use the Lord’s definition of faithfulness and measure our walk against it.
- “Love God…with all…heart, soul, mind, strength.”
-The point here is not to dissect ourselves into component parts
-The point is that faithfulness on the wise path means a life of total love for God…with ALL of who you are.
-This is about heart and life direction…not heart and life perfection.
All…heart, soul, mind, strength…means “seek him first”…we can only have 1 first.
-I ask my grandkids who their best friend is and they give me three names,
-What their favorite color is and they say “green and blue and yellow”…they don’t quite get the concept of best.
But we need to really understand “first”…there is only one “best” way.
And whenever we take that fork into folly, away from the best way…attitude, word, action…repent and return to the good path.
The Bad news:
-All along the good path are forks onto the bad path
-So we cannot stop seeking Jesus who is the wisdom of God, in community, step by step.
The Good news:
-All along the bad path are forks back onto the good path.
So if we confess our sins…he is faithful to forgive us.
This doesn’t mean that all the consequences of taking forks into folly will evaporate(thus the warning of Proverbs…bad stuff can happen on the bad path)…but it does mean…that it is never too late to return to the good path…to relationship with Jesus.
Wisdom/Jesus…calls out all along the path of life: Put me first and live life as I intended it to be lived…put me first and you will experience life at its best.
Folly/Idolatry…calls out all along the path: Put me first and find life on your own apart from God…he cannot give all that you really need.
If you have paid attention…these statements are self-authenticating…you know this is true from personal experience.
- Second part of the great commandment: Love others as yourself
What does that even mean…what if I don’t love myself?
Well the point is…we all do…we take care of ourselves.
It means we are to love others in practical, actionable ways…we “love” ourselves by feeding, protecting, caring for ourselves…we think about ourselves a lot.
Even if we are thinking “poor me” or “bad me”…we are thinking mostly “me” most of the time.
So we invest in ourselves…a lot…and thus…we all have a heart for ourselves…a kind of self-love.
We are to love others like this…not mere emotions…but actions to care for others…to consider their needs, not just our own.
Our heart (affection) follows our investment…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
We are to invest in the lives of others…time, prayer, encouragement, resources, thought, effort…we share our very lives with others.
God’s plan is loving community…the church…where we know him and make him known.
The wise path…the path of faithfulness…is love God, love people.
*So Proverbs outlines all kinds of practical ways…to walk this path.
Angela Duckwork in her book “Grit: The power of power of passion and perverence” writes…
-“Interest is one source for passion. The intention to contribute to the well-being of others—is another. The mature passions of gritty people depend on both.”
She has found…by years of practical study (secular) of the lives of many people…what the Bible clearly indicates…purpose is found in living for things larger than ourselves.
God knows what he is doing…he knows how he has made us:
-We were designed to love him first
-We were designed to love him by loving others in committed community.
This is the path of wisdom…this results in skillful living…this results in a thriving life…again, if you pay attention…this is self-evident.
Wisdom is not merely cognitive aptitude:
-We Read, memorize, study Proverbs and other theological ideas
-That’s knowledge…Paul said that knowledge (by itself apart from love) “puffs up”…makes us arrogant.
-Love “builds up”…love is centered on God and others…it makes us wise.
We need knowledge…but in order to bless, not to impress…we want to know in order to love God and others.
If the knowledge doesn’t take us there…well, it is empty.
Wisdom is skillful living…walking the good path…seeing forks and traps off the path for what they are.
Now…with this two-path vision in front of us…how do we know the right path to take?
What if the fork isn’t clearly marked? What if I don’t want to take a wrong fork?
Proverbs is addressed to the “simple”…the unformed…the young.
We are all in a sense…this person…we have not arrived.
We can all take wrong turns…but God has given us his resources to walk the wise path, avoid the foolish path, return to the good path when we need to….these are described in Proverbs
- God’s Spirit
- God’s people (experience…best from others)
- God’s word
These resources are to be lived in community…the Church…God’s plan for living in his wisdom.
None of these resources involves trusting ourselves completely…they all require humility to live open to others…others…including God and people.
Faithfulness is not passive trudging on a long, boring path.
It requires full engagement with God and others: love…heart, soul, mind, strength.
It means we must Keep getting passion for taking small steps
By passion I don’t mean excitement or feelings per se…though they will be a part of it at times…other times they may not.
By passion I mean…energy, effort, will, resolve, affection, desire, satisfaction…all that is involved in heart, soul, mind, strength living
If a long obedience in a single-direction has become dull, plodding along a passionless path…don’t change paths(unless you are a bad path)…change your attitude…cry out for wisdom that will bring perspective.
What folly says is:
“This path is not working…are you happy? Is this meaningful? Is this all there is?”
“You look bored…Kellogg red light…driving that same job…this is the good path?”
“Pouring milk in cereal again, kids complaining…that is the good path…really”
“Check this out…that other person over there…yeah, your heart is beating faster isn’t it…see that is the path of life.”
“Buy this…see heart beats faster…do this…yeah, feel that?”
“That path that is supposed to be so wise…it’s on an incline and its not even paved…look take this fork…its downhill, and paved…not near as much work as the one you are on.”
Folly will tell you a chemical in your blood like an adrenaline bump (when you consider some foolish thing) is the same as passion for real life as God intended…folly says “stolen water is sweet”
-No…its just that considering sin can cause a chemical rush…don’t be fooled by that.
Folly will tell you the good path must feel good all the time.
Wisdom says…walk this way…when you lose vision for faithfulness…don’t walk a different way…regain your vision.
Roy Schmidt is a 58 year-old garbage collecter…his job is hard and unglamorous and yet to him…it is a calling, full of meaning.
Joe Leader is a sr vp at NYC transit, 1.7 billion trips are taken annually on the city’s subways….he didn’t start there…he started installing rails and ties…he saw it as calling then, not just when he became VP…that bolt or rivet…would help people get where they need to be for decades to come.
Research demonstrates that any job can become a dull drag or a calling to a person…the key factor is not the job…it is the perspective of the one working the job.
Wisdom says “Walk this way…the path of faithfulness…when you get bored…want excitement…cry out to God…find your life in him.”
This doesn’t mean you can never change jobs…if that is what you are hearing…you are not understanding the point… set your heart on faithfulness…love God, love people…and many things will satisfy…
Fail to pursue faithfulness as love God, love people…nothing will satisfy.
Walking this path is not going to be possible without consistent time with God and God’s people and God’s word…over a long period time.
Proverbs offers truth in advertising…it doesn’t say…hey, easy path to wisdom over here…come take a stroll.
Listen to what it says…
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
That is faithfulness…that is passion and pace.
It’s never one or the other…not really…want a life of passion, endure. Want to endure, keep passion alive.
-passion not as “feeling good” but the good pursuit of Jesus, the wisdom and power of God.