Proverbs 27:21: Will Praise Destroy You?

A challenging task for one’s character is receiving praise. Some will deflect it because they have such low self-esteem and discount what is said. On the other extreme, some let it inflate their pride. Do we chase it? How do we handle it?

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise.” Proverbs 27:21 (ESV)

“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, And a man is valued by what others say of him.” Proverbs 27:21 (NKJV)

The two translations of this passage provide insight about the virtue and danger of praise. Other proverbs encourage humility and discourage boasting about oneself. As promoters, we are biased when marketing ourselves even cushioning acknowledgement of our flaws with reasons, excuses, and reminders of our virtue. The wisdom of the collection of proverbs on humility, pride, and praise encourage us to not seek praise and, if it is to be voiced, let it come from another.

The introductory couplet compares man’s praise to the refining process for silver and gold. This is  a common theme used for faith in 1 Peter 1, the word of God in Psalm 12, and numerous other places. The intensity of heat melts gold and sliver releasing impurities to be removed. Likewise, through the heat of moral and physical challenges, a person’s character is either strengthened or weaknesses exposed. A “trial by fire” purifies the one who allows for improvement and sheds what is weak and wicked.

Praise for enduring tests

As the NKJV observes,  a man who receives genuine praise, not flattery, from others is one who has distinguished himself by his character, character developed through trial. Most men and women who are considered praiseworthy have overcome obstacles, endured trials, demonstrated self-discipline, and have distinguished themselves through achievement and excellence. One does not have to accomplish something great, as the world counts greatness. A person may be praised as a good parent, coach, or friend for what they have accomplished despite the challenges of life.

The test of enduring praise

The ESV and NIV provide another view of this passage. How a person reacts to receiving praise is also a test. A common quote in the business world is

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”*

An equally challenging task for one’s character is receiving praise. Some will deflect it because they have such low self-esteem and discount what is said. On the other extreme, some let it inflate their pride. It is best to accept praise graciously, thanking the person for their kind words, and move on with life.

A person can become so addicted to praise that they start to make decisions and act in a way that encourages praise. They need it like air and food. They wrestle with self-doubt and insecurity when they do not receive it and can’t enjoy when they do receive it because its pleasure is fleeting. The futility of chasing followers, likes, and views on social media arises from this warped sense of one’s worth by the clicks of strangers and friends. Some will neglect those who do care and are with them physically by staring into their phone, skipping across social media sites, feeding the need to feel significant. I encourage you to read my article, Could You Live Without Internet Celebrity for more insight into this danger we face.

One of my internal reminders is that I’m not as bad as my critics say nor am I as good as my fans say (I don’t know where I borrowed this from, perhaps Abraham Lincoln or Einstein). I enjoy praise as much as anyone but I do not let that define me nor is it the way I evaluate myself. As a Christian, my value lies in the relationship with God, not how men judge me. I must be careful, as I have written in this article, not to do my Christian service for the praise and honor of others. Some compromise their principles so they will not receive criticism. Others let praise for their godliness rest on them instead of directing the glory to God. Let us have the attitude of Paul in Philippians 3:8, who said “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” (ESV).

Can you handle the praise?

*Note: Most sources attribute this quote to Abraham Lincoln. I have not had a chance to verify this and am skeptical of attributing it since it appears most of the Internet quotes are attributed to Einstein or Abraham Lincoln.

Blocking God’s Light

Reflecting God’s Light

Jesus called His followers to be “lights in the world,” Matthew 5:14, but we do not generate light; we reflect it. Jesus is the light of the world who gives light to all men, John 1:1-9. God’s word enlightens us, Ephesians 1:17-19 and gives us light, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6. The Bible describes our conversion as enlightenment, Hebrews 10:32.

Christians are being transformed into the glory of Jesus, 2 Corinthians 3:12-18. We shine as lights because we reflect the glory of Jesus as we are transformed and His life is manifested in ours, 2 Corinthians 4:11. We see this in the life of the apostles who were bold because they had been with Jesus and reflect His character, Acts 4:13.

 

We reflect the light of Jesus both from being illuminated within and being in God’s presence. The closer we get to the light, the more brightly we will reflect the light. The farther we get from Jesus, the less we reflect His glory. Our light shines to illuminate others (Matthew 5:16; 1 John 1:5-7; 1 Peter 2:11-12) Christians must walk as children of light, Ephesians 5:6-20. Christians must love as children of light, 1 John 2:8-11. Even our enemies should be hushed by lives reflecting God’s glory, Titus 2:7-8.

God’s Light in a Dark World

As the light of God’s word shines brightly into the world, it should be reflected brightly in the Christians as they are scattered in the dark world. The light of God’s word is ever shining in the world but the light of a Christian’s life must be shining as well. Some may not initially read God’s word but may listen to it being spoken by one who is living it.

We live in a world filled with lost souls who need the gospel message. We have God’s word that can illuminate their hearts and kindle a flame within just as it did with us. We have many tools that can be used to communicate the word – numerous evangelism books and suggested approaches that can help us communicate the message. The best evangelism program is a Christian who has a passion for leading lost souls to Jesus.

Blocking God’s Light to the World

The light of the physical world demonstrates how we reflect the light of God onto the world: God is the sun, the source of light. We are the moon, reflecting God’s light onto the world. Our light is not a bright, and is reflected, but it is effective for its purpose.

In a solar eclipse the moon, though infinitesimally small compared to the sun, is positioned directly between the earth and the sun blocking the sun’s rays so that midday is darkened. The sun still shines bright but its light is blocked while the moon is in the way.

Solar & Lunar Eclipses. Vector.Christians can bring attention to themselves instead of directing the glory to God. Remember in Matthew 5 Jesus said the world should see our good works and glorify God. Some want attention for worldly things: look at me because I am beautiful, rich, funny, talented, muscular, successful, etc. They want people to focus on them for what they have or their physical appearance (sensual pictures and self-promotion on social media encourage this). They want people to focus on them, not Christ in them.

Even though we are small, we can come between the world and God,and block the glory of God from being seen in those whom we could illuminate with His truth. Instead of reflecting God’s glory onto the world, we are in the way and bringing darkness instead.

In a lunar eclipse the earth blocks the sun’s rays from reaching the moon. Although the Earth is smaller than the sun it can completely darken the moon when it moves between the moon and the sun.

When we let the world get between us and God, our light diminishes and can go out. We can be so obsessed with things of this world: money, entertainment, sports, pleasure, work, etc. that we have little time to be enlightened by God’s word or shine that light for others. Jesus warned, in the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:19) that the cares of the world, deceitfulness of riches, and other things choke out the word. Great heroes of faith. like Moses, forsook the earthly pleasures and treasures for eternal rewards, Hebrews 11:24-26. Sometimes we will not give up habits, attitudes, or thoughts that are ungodly and diminish the light that does shine from our lives. Pure lives reflect the most light.

As I noted before, we reflect the light of Jesus both from being illuminated within and being in God’s presence. The closer we get to the light, the more brightly we will reflect the light. The farther we get from Jesus, the less we reflect His glory.

  • Are you continually feeding the light within by studying God’s word and letting it transform you?
  • Are you removing things in your life, habits, attitudes, and thoughts that inhibit the light from shining?
  • Are you embarrassed about your faith? Hiding your faith under a bushel instead of giving light to others?

Let’s remove anything from our lives that inhibits the full glory of God from being reflected onto the dark world and let God illuminate us on the inside and before others. If you are not a Christian, why not let God illuminate your life and transform it into glory through Jesus?

7 Things Christians Tell God When They Avoid Daily Prayer

The Power of Daily Prayer

Prayer is a wonderful opportunity for Christians to spend time with God praising Him, thanking Him for all that He has done, and bringing our anxieties, needs, and concerns before His throne. Prayer is not a burden to God; He seeks worshipers, John 4:23. Jesus urges us to pray and taught His disciples how to pray, Matthew 6:5-13. Paul promised peace to the believer who cast all anxiety into the care of God in Philippians 4:6-7:

“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Through the scriptures and history, great men and women of faith devoted themselves to prayer and trusted its power.  It’s no wonder Paul urges Christians to “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.Pray

Obstacles to Daily Prayer

It is perplexing that some Christians confess to not praying daily or forgetting to pray when its blessings are obvious. Some obstacles I have observed:

  1. Start the day focused on tasks and problems instead of praying before facing the demands of life
  2. Little trust that God will answer our prayers because they doubt that prayer is effective despite what the Bible teaches
  3. Can’t figure out how God will answer their prayers or are disappointed when God doesn’t answer the way they want or expect

We must remember that God will hear His children and He answers prayers through wisdom giving us what we need. Sometimes what we want is opposite of what is best for us. Sometimes we are asking for things opposed to His will, as Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before the crucifixion. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12,  prayed repeatedly for one outcome but rejoiced the outcome God chose for him as it made him stronger spiritually. God is not a genie to grant our every wish; He is our Father who wants what is best for us and acts out of love for our greater good even when we can’t see or appreciate it at the moment.

6 Things Christians Tell God When They Avoid Daily Prayer

Understanding the blessing and power of daily prayer, when Christians fail to act on that belief they are telling God several things:

  1.  You are not important to me or a priority in my life
  2. I do not have time for you
  3. I do not want to spend time with you
  4. I can handle things without you
  5. I do not believe that you can impact the things I am facing in my life
  6. I have nothing of which to thank or praise you
  7. I can take advantage of our relationship and use you only when I am in trouble or need

The Impossible Repentance of Hebrews 6

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Hebrews 6:4-8(ESV)

In Hebrews 5, the writer was trying to describe the priesthood of Jesus when he interrupted himself saying that he could not explain the priesthood in more detail because they would not understand it. The topic was not so complex that they could not understand it but they had not grown in the knowledge of God and could not grasp it though, by now, they should have been spiritually mature. In chapter 6 he told them to leave the elementary principles, the ABCs, and press towards maturity in the knowledge of God’s word. Within this exhortation to maturity is a warning of remaining immature and not growing in knowledge of God’s word.

Some Christians who fail to mature may leave Christ and be unable to return to Him He says it will be “It is impossible for them to repent.” This is a frightening concept: one who is alive but cannot repent of their wickedness and turn to God. Who is this person who cannot repent?

This is not the unbeliever who never knew God nor cares for Him. This is a Christian who left the faith.

  • He was “once enlightened.” This has the idea of spiritual illumination. In John 1:9, Jesus who came to the world to give light to man. Paul, in Ephesians 1:17-18, describes conversion as the eyes of our understanding being enlightened that we may know our hope and our inheritance. Hebrews 10:32 uses “enlightenment” to described the Christian’s conversion. This person has seen through the darkness of sin by the truth of the gospel and knows the hope and glory of the child of God because he obeyed the gospel and became a child of God.
  • “have tasted the heavenly gift” The word “taste” literally means “experience.” We have a taste of the heavenly gift, our salvation, while on earth. We know peace when our sins are cleansed, love of our brethren, and our love towards God. When we read about the love of the brethren in the New Testament towards one another (sharing, selling possessions to take care of needs, daily exhortation) and the selfless, joyful, and heartfelt worship to God we have a taste of that heavenly gift. We may have been to a singing, worship service, or time with our brethren where we have had a taste of what was to come.
  • “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” We do not understand everything about how the Father, Son, and Spirit dwell within us but must leave that to God. Romans 8:9-11 speaks of the relationship with have with God through the Holy Spirit. We have become partakers of God in that we have put off wickedness and put on holiness.
  • “tasted the word of God” The word “tasted” is the same as used above. Peter tells us to desire the pure milk of the word if we have tasted the Lord’s graciousness, 1 Peter 2:2-3. We have know from God’s words of love and warning what we needed to do to become children of God and submitted to it.
  • “[tasted] the powers of the age to come” A knowledge of the power of God and of His ultimate triumph over Satan and the world of sin and the destruction of the world. This knowledge urges us to be faithful, 2 Peter 3:11.

When this person falls away it is impossible to renew him to repentance. The word “impossible” doesn’t always mean “cannot” but is sometimes used to describe something that is not acceptable or is extremely unlikely. In this case it is impossible for the Christian who forsook Jesus to return to Him because there is nothing that we can tell him or use to appeal to him that he doesn’t already know. He willingly turned his back on all that is good and holy in order to be in this condition. He has crucified the Son of God again and put Him to open shame. We do not physically crucify Jesus, but our rejection of Him is equal to that Jerusalem mob, Hebrews 10:29. His departure from the faith is a cause for people to mock Christ for Jesus must not have meant enough to the person to keep Him.

How can we reach this desperate condition?

We can become callused to sin. Israel was often condemned for their hard hearts and rebellion against God, Hebrews 3:7-13. The Israelites who forsook God could not enter the Promised Land and the Christian who forsakes God cannot enter His eternal kingdom, Hebrews 10:26-39. To become hardened to sin is to become callused. When our skin calluses, it is no longer tender and easily pricked. Guitar player’s fingers become callused by the strings and lose sensitivity. Hard labor with bare hands can cause them to become callused. When our heart becomes A young man walks into the desolate desertcallused, it is no longer easily pricked. When we continue to sin we can eventually numb our conscience and make it less resistant to the pricking message of the truth.It becomes easier to add other sins when we become hardened.

We can think that judgment is far away. Jesus told a parable of a servant who behaved wickedly but was surprised by a judgment that came quickly, Matthew 24:45-51. Peter wrote of people who would scoff mistaking God’s longsuffering for postponed judgment, 2 Peter 3:1-9. Instead, Peter wrote that the Christian must always be ready for judgment, 2 Peter 3:10-13. How often do we really think that judgment could be imminent?

Listen to false promises and false teaching. Paul warned Timothy of false teachers whose conscience was seared and numb like one whose skin has been seared by a hot iron and can feel nothing, 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

Some believe God would not condemn a person who claimed to be a Christian at one time. They think that once they were saved they would always be saved even if they didn’t follow Jesus later in life. Hebrews 10:26-39 plainly teaches that God has no pleasure in those who draw back from Him to return to sin. Paul warned the Thessalonian Christians, in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10, to remain worthy of the calling and escape God’s wrath. Peter warns, in 2 Peter 2:18-22, that it is  better not to have known Jesus than to turn away from being a follower. If one is “once saved always saved” then this statement would be meaningless.

How Can We Remain Faithful?

  • Growing in the knowledge of God and obedience
    • Hebrews 6:7-8 – Being useful in God’s service and not ensnared with worldly things.
    • Hebrews 6:9-12 – Diligent service, not becoming sluggish.
  • Remaining tenderhearted, not resisting the loving rebuke of our brethren.

Be serious about your walk with God and diligent to grow in the knowledge of God and His word and draw closer to Him. Failing to do this, you could drift so far from God that it would be impossible for others to draw you back.

Five Principles for a Focused Life

Dart boardDanger lurks in the soil of your heart. The Parable of the Sower (or Soils) tells of hearts that will not entertain thoughts of God’s word and good hearts that bear great harvests when His word is implanted (Matthew 13).  Some hearts are shallow and bear faith that will wither when troubles arise. But there is another heart that I must vigilantly prevent being in me: the distracted heart. Jesus described a heart in which the word grew for a time but thorns also grew in the heart and choked out the word. This is the heart that “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22). Distractions are a persistent danger to God’s people and have always threatened us. How can we protect ourselves?

Hear a sermon I preached on Five Principles for a Focused Life

Five Principles for a Focused Life

1. Don’t let prosperity separate you from God

Wealth brings worries and burdens. Solomon wrote of the many hands that rise to claim the wealth of others in Ecclesiastes 5:10-20.  Many rise to get their part of the wealth: accountants, lawyers, government, friends, and family. A bigger house, multiple cars, and many possessions require insurance to protect and people to clean and maintain them. More money doesn’t guarantee relief but often more problems. Lottery winners (Tampa Bay Online) Noreene and James Gordon, a north Tampa homemaker and a retired textile worker, claimed the February 2000 Florida Lotto jackpot of $52.4 million. They chose a one-time lump sum payment of $24 million. Things have changed since then. “It’s a nightmare,” she said recently, with friends and strangers knocking and calling for a chunk of her prize. “They don’t want a piece,” she said. “They want it all.” Her husband died in 2006, and she has suffered three strokes since the windfall. “People come out of the walls to take advantage of you every day of your life,” she said before ending the short telephone interview.

Wealth and comfort can separate you from God. This was a problem with Israel: Deuteronomy 8:5-14, 17-20. God described, in great detail, the great blessing of the Promised Land but concluded with a warning that they would forget Him in the good times. They would become complacent in the daily care of their homes and land and forget to serve Him. Pride can accompany prosperity: we think we have done this on our own and that, down deep, we can do fine without God. This was the danger Jesus identified in the Parable of the Sower: maintaining our prosperity and handling the details of daily life can choke out our faith.

This is a threat for all of us. This is not addressed to the “super rich” or the vilified 1% in America—it is the average American. The average American income, and even poverty level income, is much higher than the rest of the world. The poorest of us are very wealthy compared to the world. We have garages that are bigger than the whole living space of many people. We have garages and attics full of unused possessions, clothes filling our closets, and refrigerators, freezers, and pantries full of food. Our children have luxury items and people still do not seem to be satisfied or content. There are people in the US and other wealthy countries who complain about luxuries they have when others are living in abject poverty with absolutely nothing. It is the everyday American living comfortably who has to make sure that he does not forget God.

2. Don’t let adversity separate you from God

Job 14:1 describes man’s days as few and full of troubles. Trials and adversity should produce good fruits in the Christian’s life. James encourages us to “count it joy when you fall into various trials” because of the fruits produced, James 1:2-8, 12. Joy in not our first natural reaction and we should pray for wisdom to understand how to learn and grow from our trials. It is through trials that we receive patience, trust, dependence on God, and appreciation of His care. Trials help us sever our relationship with this troublesome world and grow homesick for heaven where all will be made new and no suffering abides.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus described a heart that withered during persecution and trial, symbolized by the sun. Yet the sun, shining over the good soil, nurtured a great crop. Trials that withered the shallow heart helped the good heart to grow and bear fruit!  Trials and adversity are a part of life, it is how we handle them that determines whether they will crush us or strengthen us.

Jim happened to meet the minister on the street one day, and during the conversation told him of all the troubles he had had during the past year. He wound up with: “I tell you right now, preacher, it’s enough to make a man lose his religion.” “Seems to me, Jim,” the minister told him quietly, “it’s enough to make a man use his religion.” Tan, P. L. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations.

Trials reveal the genuineness of our faith, 1 Peter 1:7. We must remember that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.

3. Trust God with the unknown things

We must realize that God’s greatness and wisdom exceeds ours and there are so many things in His domain of operation that we can’t grasp or know but trust that He has it in control. Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us “the secret things belong to God.”

People spend much fruitless energy trying to identify with certainty the things that operate in God’s realm. Unless God explicitly reveals His actions, it is presumptuous of me to say “God did THIS.” Give glory to God that whether by chance or His purpose, the action took place but in humility remember that “His ways are past finding out.”

I don’t have to know how God will answer my prayers, I have to trust in Him to give all things to Him. God’s word promises peace to those who give everything into His care, Philippians 4:6-7. We often do not have peace because we do not really trust God to take care of our concerns or we insist on taking the burden back from Him. Peter tells us to cast all of our anxiety on God; an act of faith in His love, care, and ability to do something about that which is causing us anxiety, 1 Peter 5:6-7. This approach allows us to embrace the next principle.

4. Trust God to make all things work out for good

God promises that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” Romans 8:28. This is a promise of God and I trust that He can do this even when I don’t know how He will do it and when I don’t see how He could make it happen. He is the master designer of a grand work of art and I am one of many artisans toiling on my very small part of the whole. If I do what I’m supposed to do God will make it part of something much larger and more beautiful.

Funny how we label things “bad” and “good” (sleep, day, events) when, in time, our labels may reverse. Some people lose a job but it opens doors to a great career. Some people get a terrible disease “bad” but attribute it to giving them a better appreciation for their loved ones and the little things in life and bringing them closer to God. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was an atheistic Russian writer who was imprisoned in a Russian forced labor camp (Gulag) but emerged with a belief in God and wrote, “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

Don’t try to look for God’s fingerprints in your life, just trust that He is there and He works all things in your life for the good.

5. Remember heaven is worth every sacrifice

The word pictures in places like Revelation 2:1-5; 12-15; 21:1-4 remind us that God has prepared a place of rest that exceeds our imagination and dreams and is worth any sacrifice needed to get there. Like other great men and women of faith, when we focus on living with God eternally, we lose our grip on the things of this world as we grasp heavenly treasures, Hebrews 10:32-39. Considering the glory of living with God forever, Paul says nothing should separate us from it, Romans 8:18, 31-39.

Live a life not trusting in riches but trusting God, standing strong in trial, and casting anxieties on Him looking forward to eternally living with Him.