More fools – the troublemaker, the sluggard, and the complacent

posted in: Bible, Tony Thompson | 0

In my previous blog I introduced the concept from “The Way of Wisdom: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs ” by Timothy Keller, that if you want to grow in wisdom you have to stop being a fool! I introduced three types of “fool” Keller describes from Proverbs. Here are three more fools.

THE TROUBLEMAKER.

Another kind of fool is the troublemaker. The mark of this person is constant conflict (6:14). This is the opposite of the peacemaker (Matthew 5:9), the bridge builder whose careful, gracious answers (15:1) disarm and defuse tensions. The troublemaker instead stirs them up. This is not the person who disturbs the false peace with an insistence on honesty. Rather, this is someone who always feels the need to protest and complain rather than overlooking a slight or wrong (19:11). When troublemakers do contend, they do not present the other side fairly. Their corrupt mouths produce deceptive omissions, half-truths, and innuendo. Their body language (winking, signalling) creates a hostile situation rather than one that leads to resolution.

Troublemakers tell themselves and others that they just like to “speak truth to power.” But disaster will overtake the troublemakers (6:15). As time goes on, it becomes clearer that the troublemakers themselves are a reason that conflict always follows in their wake. They can be permanently discredited by events that expose them for what they are. But the ultimate reason for their downfall is that “the Lord hates … a person who stirs up conflict in the community” (6:16,19).

If you have been involved in a series of conflicts, is it because you have the traits of a troublemaker? Do you know any troublemakers you should confront?

THE SLUGGARD.

Another kind of fool in Proverbs is the sluggard. The wise are self-starters, needing only internal motivation, not threats, to do their work (6:7). They also are not impulsive, instead practicing delayed gratification (verse 8). In contrast, the sluggard makes constant excuses for apparently small lapses (a little … a little … a little) but then is surprised when he is assaulted by poverty (verses 10–11). “He … deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders. So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.”

In Hillbilly Elegy the author tells of Bob, who worked with him at a tile warehouse with his girlfriend. Bob missed work once a week, was chronically late, and took many breaks each day, lasting over half an hour each. His girlfriend missed work every third day and never gave advance notice. When they were fired, after many warnings, Bob was furious. The author concludes, convincingly, that too many today are “immune … to hard work,” and that what used to be thought of as good, reasonable jobs are now seen as demanding unreasonable standards. The result is social decay, as Proverbs warned. Contrast this with Jesus, who said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17).

Is there any area of your life that is “slipping away” because you are not getting to work on it?

THE COMPLACENT.

As we have seen, the mark of the fool is to be wise in his own eyes. This leads to the deadly spiritual condition of smug complacency. There is nothing more foolish than to think you have life under control when it is not controllable. The classic example is Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:19–20). No matter what type of designer life you think you have put together for yourself, bereavement, illness, betrayal, and financial disaster happen to everyone. No amount of wealth, success, power, or planning can make you impervious to them.

Fools live in a dream of metaphysical self-sufficiency. They think they have everything sorted, and the complacency leads to disaster. But the opposite of complacency—anxiety—is no solution. We can lose our overconfidence and still be at ease, without fear if we remember that we have the omnipotent, sovereign Lord of the universe as our father. Christians also remind their hearts that if God did not spare us his own Son, how will he not give us whatever we need (Romans 8:32)?

If things are going pretty well for you, are you getting complacent? If things are not going well, are you getting anxious? How can you avoid both?

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Types of fool – the mocker, the simple and the obstinate

posted in: Book Reviews, Tony Thompson | 0

I have just started reading a book of devotions based on Proverbs, The way of wisdom by Tim Keller. I have always loved reading proverbs but found there is so much depth to the book I feel I am only scratching the surface. This book is therefore extremely helpful. Sometimes too helpful. Shining its light in dark places. As Keller says, “If the Bible were a medicine cabinet, Psalms would be the ointment put on inflamed skin to calm and heal it. Proverbs would be more like smelling salts to startle you into alertness.”

This is an example. Keller points out that Proverbs exalts the wise and encourages us to grow in wisdom. He points out that the opposite of the wise is a fool. He then unpacks different types of fool. It made me realise how foolish I am! Which do you relate to?

“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22)

THE MOCKER.

Three kinds of fools are mentioned in this verse. The mockers prove it is not mental capacity but attitude that determines whether we become wise or foolish.  At the root of mockers’ character is a high pride that hates submitting to anyone (21:24). Their strategy is to debunk everything, acting very smug and knowing in the process. Mockers, though fools, appear to most eyes as worldly-wise and highly sophisticated. Some things, of course, deserve critique and even satire. Even God mocks sometimes. However, to “sit in the company of mockers” (Psalm 1:1) is to make cynicism and sneering a habitual response. Habitual mocking will harden you and poison relationships. “To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” We live in a postmodern age that encourages deconstruction and in an Internet age that makes mocking and scoffing easy and reasoned discourse difficult. So we must resist the enormous cultural pressure to become mockers. Contrast this with Jesus: “He will not quarrel or cry out. … A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory” (Matthew 12:19–20). When have you been tempted to roll your eyes and dismiss someone rather than engaging with them?

THE SIMPLE.

Every sort of fool is out of touch with reality, but each kind in a different way. The next fool in this list is the simple. This kind of foolishness is gullibility. “The simple believe anything” (14:15). They are too easily led and influenced. Like children, they may be over impressed by the spectacular and dramatic, or they may need approval too much and so be taken in by forceful personalities who give it to them. They will support dictatorial leaders who promise them peace and prosperity. They can be intellectually lazy, not wanting to ponder and think out a matter. They are also likely to fall for get rich quick schemes (12:11). The simple can change and learn sense (19:25) but they can also “inherit folly” (14:18)—graduate into being full-blown fools. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to equate credulity and naïveté with a lack of sophistication. We once pastored an entire congregation of somewhat unsophisticated people, but they were by no means simple. You can lack sophistication, as the world assesses it, and still be wise. And you can be sophisticated—well-off, well connected, and educated—but still be simple. Whom have you met who you thought was rather simple but turned out not to be so? What traits did they reveal?

THE OBSTINATE.

The most common word used for fools in Proverbs is the obstinate. The main mark of fools is that they are opinionated, wise in their own eyes, unable to learn knowledge or be corrected. Child psychologist Jerome Kagan discovered that children are born with one of three basic temperaments that determine how they instinctively respond to difficulty. Some respond with anxiety and withdrawal, some with aggression and assertive action, and some with optimism and an effort to win through by being social and cordial. Each default works well in some situations. But Kagan argued that, unless parents intervene, children’s natural temperament will dominate, and they won’t learn how to act wisely in situations in which their habitual response is inappropriate or even deadly. In other words, we are naturally obstinate and unwise. Modern culture insists that we should let children be themselves, but what feels most natural to us might be disastrous (22:15). To become wise, the anxious must learn to be bolder, the bold to be cautious, and the chronically sunny to be more thoughtful. Only in Jesus do we see one who does not habitually assert or withdraw but always responds appropriately to the situation with perfect wisdom (John 11:23–25, 32–35). Where are you most opinionated and least open to new ideas or criticism?

Having read this, like me, do you realise you are more foolish than you thought? I think that is the first step to becoming wiser!

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Redeeming the time

posted in: Book Reviews, Tony Thompson | 0

In a previous blog post I shared a video of Jen Wilkins speaking about the role of women. You can read it here. Being impressed with her as a speaker I bought and read one of her books. It is well worth reading. Click here to buy from Amazon.

Below is a very helpful extract from the book, full of practical wisdom on how we can “redeem the time.”

Living in the Present Trusting God with our time means we make good use of the time we are given. This sounds simple, but it’s not. Ephesians 5: 15–16 tells us, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The King James translates “making the best use of the time” as “redeeming the time.” We are commanded to be time redeemers, those who reclaim our time from useless pursuits and employ it to the glory of God. But how can we do this? I want to suggest three ways.

 

  1. Let Go of the Past.

Redeeming the time requires letting the past stay in the past. We can cling to the past by indulging in two different emotions: sinful nostalgia or regret. Sinful nostalgia causes us to idolize a time when life was “better “or “simpler,“ resulting in perpetual discontentment with our present circumstance. We may long for a time before bad news of some kind arrived, for a time when our health was better, when our kids were still young, or when a loved one was still alive.

 

Life’s changing seasons can cause a natural longing for the way things used to be, and though it is not necessarily sinful, it can become so. We are allowed to grieve the passing of happy seasons, but we are not allowed to resent their loss. There is a difference between missing the past and coveting the past. The antidote for covetousness is always gratitude: We can combat a sinful love of the past by counting the gifts we have been given in the present. Regret, on the other hand, causes us to dwell in past mistakes or hurts, robbing us of joy in our present circumstance and often dragging us back into old sin patterns. As a child I learned to sing the words of Charles Wesley: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoner free.” How often have I needed those words as a reminder that the power of my past sins (or the past sins of others against me) is broken in Jesus’s name. He replaces my historical liturgy of sin with one of holiness. When I become discouraged about giving in once again to a past sin, the “lifter of my head“ reminds me that though I am not yet who I will be, I am not who I was. He draws me from the past back to the present with an assurance that sanctification is slowly doing its work today. He keeps me from rehearsing my past hurts by reminding me to forgive as I have been forgiven. We can combat the “bad news “of the past by remembering and trusting the good news of the gospel.

 

  1. Let Go of the Future.

Redeeming the time requires letting the future stay in the future. We can cling to the future by indulging in two different emotions: sinful anticipation or anxiety. We indulge sinful anticipation when we constantly covet the next stage of life. The teenager who wants to be a college student. The young mom who can’t wait for her kids to be out of diapers. The woman in her fifties who can’t wait to retire. Looking forward to the future is not wrong in itself. Seeing a future life stage as an escape from the present one is. As with sinful nostalgia, sinful anticipation is quelled by gratitude for the gifts we have been given in the present. We feed anxiety when we live in dread of the future. We fear uncertainty or potentialities: the loss of a job, possible illness, or just the fact that we can have no idea of (or control over) what tomorrow holds. Our prayers become marked with requests to know the future rather than requests to live today as unto the Lord. Jesus reminds us not to be anxious for the future, “for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6: 34). The antidote for anxiety is to remember and confess that we can trust the future to God. This does not mean that we make no preparation for the future, but that we prepare in ways that are wise rather than in ways that are fearful.

 

  1. Live Today Fully

Redeeming the time requires being fully present in the present. We can squander today by feeding two different sins: laziness or busyness. Both the lazy person and the compulsively busy person subtly reject the God-ordained boundary of time. The lazy person believes there will always be more time to get around to her responsibilities. She can spend today as she pleases. She is characterized by procrastination, missed deadlines, and excuses. Like a profligate spender of money, she spends time without considering the cost, secretly believing she has an endless credit of hours. Laziness believes that the time God has given is not precious. We must redeem the present by considering the ant, as Proverbs 6: 6 says, gathering when it is time to gather. The compulsively busy person believes there will never be enough time to manage her responsibilities. She, too, believes she can spend today as she pleases, packing in more than one day’s share of activity, complaining that there are not more hours in the day. She is characterized by exhaustion and overcommitment. Like a penny-pincher, she wrings every ounce of productivity out of every minute of the day, secretly believing that rest is for when we die. Busyness believes that the time God has given is not adequate. We must redeem the present by leaving time to observe the practice of stillness and the precept of Sabbath, taking on the trusting posture of one who sits at the feet of her Lord. When we work to redeem the time, we reflect our Creator. God is the ultimate time-redeemer: He redeems all of time, and he redeems at just the right time. We are charged with redeeming the years he has given to us as a reasonable act of worship.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

Issues Facing Christians Today – Men, Women and God

As part of our series earlier this year, ‘Issues Facing Christians Today’, I preached on this subject, you can listen to the sermon below.

However, you would be better served listen to this talk by Jen Wilkins that I have just come across. She speaks on the subject more eloquently, more profoundly and in a more challenging way than I can and did! She also asks questions about the practices in many churches, including ours that need to be asked.

 

Advance 2017 General Session #2- Jen Wilkin from Acts 29 US Southeast on Vimeo.

 

 

I found I agreed with the principles that Jen expounds, e.g. if initially we focus on the differences between men and women we end up objectifying either men or women. The Bible doesn’t do this, it starts with how men and women are the same, made in the image of God.

She does talk about the difference between men and women, and that they need each other to thrive. A church will not flourish if either women or men are not flourishing. This follows from the scripture that it was not good for man to be alone.

She then expounds the differences between men and women, the major difference being a matter of biology, men are physically dominant. This gives men a privilege which they need to choose how to use. They can either use the privilege to dominate and control or to honour and exult women. The Christian calling is the second, too often in the world the former happens. It can also happen in the church.

In the last part of the talk she challenges the church to create a community that is truly family, where we are brothers and sisters. There is so much that I agree with, but know we are not yet achieving. Please listen and watch and then join me in seeking to create such a church.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

The Holy Spirit – Gifts

As part of my research into a sermon on spiritual gifts I came across this very helpful blog by Sam Storms which I commend to you! The original, and other blogs are found here –

www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/what-s-my-spiritual-gift

Other, more conventional spiritual gift discovery sites are found here –

www.Giftstest.com

www.Commonground.co.za

One of the more debilitating obstacles to life in the local church is the fact that people are obsessed with discovering their spiritual gift and frustrated that they have not as yet figured it out. So they do nothing. I want to recommend an approach to you today to overcome this. Stop gazing at your navel and step out and serve someone. Let your gift find you.

I’m not opposed to the use of spiritual gifts inventory tests. But I think both Scripture and common sense would have us take a far more practical, almost pragmatic, approach to discovering our spiritual gifts, an approach that is at its heart need-based. Let me explain what I mean.

The next time you’re in church or in a small group or just hanging out with other believers, pause momentarily and ask a few questions, such as: Is anyone physically hurt or suffering from chronic pain? If so, take your hands out of your pockets, lay them on your brother or sister, and pray for God’s healing power.

Is anyone you know distraught or discouraged? Are some finding life too frustrating to bear? If so, take them out for a cup of coffee and listen to their story. You don’t have to theologize about their predicament. They’re not looking for explanations. They just want someone who cares enough to spend a few minutes with them. Just listen to them. Then love them.

Is anyone struggling financially with few prospects to get them out of the hole? Do something courageous. Give them your last $100 and trust God to supply your need.

Is anyone confused about some verse of Scripture they just read in their devotional time? Perhaps you’re just as befuddled as they are. So sit down with your friend and put your heads (and hearts) together, make use of a concordance, a study Bible, perhaps a commentary, and pray for the Spirit to shed light on your thinking.

Is anyone struggling with sin (well, of course they are!)? Offer to pray for them. But before you do, sit quietly together and ask the Lord to guide your thoughts and speak words of wisdom to your soul. If you sense something, or a thought comes to mind, share it with them. It might be the key that opens the door to their heart and brings freedom from bondage.

Does the person you just prayed for report hearing voices in their head? Do they struggle with paralyzing shame, virtually bombarded on a daily basis by accusing thoughts and self-contempt? If so, speak the Word of God over them with authority. In the name of Christ, command any demonic spirits to leave and never to return. Pray for them to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit.

Is anyone overwhelmed by the clutter in their garage and that ever-increasing mountain of dirty laundry? Offer to spend Saturday with them, helping out, picking up, washing, drying, folding, and putting away clothes.

None of this sounds especially spectacular (well, maybe some of it does). So what am I getting at with these questions? Simply this. If we spent less time obsessed with some introspective search to identify our spiritual gift(s) and more time actually praying and giving and helping and teaching and serving and exhorting those around us, the likelihood greatly increases that we will walk headlong into our gifting without ever knowing what happened. God will more likely meet us with his gifts in the midst of trying to help his children than he ever would while we’re taking a spiritual gifts analysis test.

So, look for a need and meet it. Find a hurt and heal it. Be alert to the cry for help and answer it. Listen for the voice of God and speak it. Identify someone’s weakness and overcome it. Look for what’s missing and supply it. What you’ll find when you do is the power of God, the energizing, enabling, charismatic activity of the Holy Spirit that will equip you, perhaps only once, but possibly forever, to minister hope and encouragement to those in need. So, if you’re still wondering what your gift(s) might be, act first and ask later.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

The Holy Spirit Unites

This blog post links to a sermon preached on Sunday 14th October 2018 – Listen below

 

Have you noticed how our society craves unity? Jeremy Corbyn turns up at Glastonbury and promises to unite the country. Football clubs bear the name ‘United’. Universities by their very name promise unity in diversity. People search for it in sex, music festivals, sporting events or religion. Why? Because we are made in the image of a triune God who is the essence of unity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

And yet rather than unity, we often experience division. In our own bodies and minds. In our relationships, both with people and the God who made us. In fact, you can argue that the dominant theme in the Bible is the search for unity. Of a God who responds to disunity by sending Jesus…’and through him to reconcile to himself (re-unite) ALL THINGS – making peace by his blood on the cross’ (Colossians 3:19). In the new heavens and new earth, we will be perfectly united with God.

 

In the meantime, God has a chosen model of showing unity to a unity-hungry world. A model the world should look at and find irresistible. What is that model? The local church! And it is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that such a disparate, sinful group of people could ever show unity. Because our unity isn’t around preference – we’re not called to uniformity. We are not called to be a black church, a white church, a working-class church, a ‘modern songs only’ church. The earliest example of this came after the Holy Spirit came on the believers at Pentecost. Straight away we see the church coming together, sharing their things, eating together, breaking bread together and so on (Acts 2:42-47). The result? ‘The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved’.

 

Have you given up hope that this kind of life might happen to you? Well please don’t – because by the power of the Spirit we can know this unity, this love, this generosity! In fact, it’s in our vision statement – ‘to be a growing community of people – from different backgrounds, stages of life and experiences, including the vulnerable – who are one family in Christ Jesus’.

 

Ephesians 4:1-13 gives us some pointers as to how this unity comes about. We are united as a family, and the fruits of the Spirit contribute to our being a loving family (e.g. in verse 2 –  humility, patience and bearing with each other). We do this through the ’bond of peace’; being at peace with each other is like the mortar between bricks – it holds us together in love.

Secondly, we are united in our calling to become more like Jesus ‘until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (v13-14). In fact, the gifts of the Spirit are given for this purpose – that we might present each other perfect in Christ.

Finally, we are united in our calling to be on mission – our unity shows God to the world. We’re saying – heaven will look a bit like this! When we are united…’then the world will know that you sent me (Jesus) and have loved them even as you have loved me’ (John 17:23).

 

So, in summary, the Holy Spirit unites us in our calling as the family of God on mission. But we only get the power to live like this when we look at Jesus. The role of the Holy Spirit is to point us to Jesus and it’s as we look to him that we are given power to love one another and show him to the world. He didn’t come to die for us as individuals. He came to die for his church. We can only have unity of the Spirit because of Jesus – he was broken so we might be whole; torn in two so that we might be united as one. That’s why we celebrate communion, eating broken bread. That’s why we drink wine which represents his blood – his lifeblood in us gives us power to live in a way which doesn’t always come naturally!

 

So, are you in? Are you present in your local church? Do you go out of your way to be with others who aren’t like you, even when it isn’t comfortable? Are you living at peace with others? Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to show us Jesus more and more, that we might together receive power to live as a united family sharing Christ with a broken world.

 

Written by John Greenall

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