by Chris Ritter
November 1, All Saints Day, always hits me a little different because it was also my father’s birthday. Dad died when he was just 52 years old, so this is a particular day of remembrance for me. A very practical man, dad had a special love for the Book of Proverbs. Reading this wisdom book, we find counsel on giving and receiving correction, initiative, time management, and so many other topics. I challenged you last week to read it through with me. If you have not yet started that, there is certainly still time to begin.
Speaking of family, my mom was a high school business teacher before her retirement and she was famous for her “thought of the day” that she would write on the top of the chalk board. She made a habit of collecting little pearls of wisdom. Often when traveling, she would spot a little pithy saying on a sign or plaque and pull a scraps of paper from her purse to write it down. These collected thousands of these and turned them into two published books, The Spice of Life and Ginger Snaps. Here are some examples:
- No matter what may be your lot in life, build something on it.
- Idleness is leisure gone to seed.
- Poise is the art of raising the eyebrow instead of the roof.
- Character is much easier kept than recovered.
- A man’s character and his garden both reflect the amount of weeding that was done during the growing season.
- He who thinks he has no faults has another.
- A fine is a tax for doing wrong and a tax is a fine for doing all right.
- The dog has many friends because the wag was put in his tail instead of his tongue.
Mom, like Solomon, was a collector of Proverbs.
Today’s message is named after a song that Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins penned in the 1970’s which took the Doobie Brothers to the top of the chart: “What a Fool Believes.” It tells the story of a man trying to re-kindle a romance that never was. Fools, Proverbs says, are hard to convince of the error of their ways. As with the fool in the song, “What seems to be is always better” than what reality has to offer.
As we continue our study of foolishness, we must admit that Proverbs does not provide us with a single definition of a fool. What it does offer is a composite sketch that can be gleaned from lots of different descriptions throughout the book. What does a fool believe?
A Fool Believes in Self-Assurance over Self-Improvement
Like cement, the mind of a fool is all mixed up and permanently set. A wise person remains open to new input and the perspective of others. A fool cannot be bothered with the facts.
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”Proverbs 18:2 (NIV)
I take sympathy with the man who said, “When I was young, I had all the answers. Now, I am only reasonably sure I know some of the questions.” The more you learn, the more to learn how much you have to learn! True education should bring humility.
Solomon warns against spending too much time trying to teach a fool. They are immune to wisdom.
“Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.”Proverbs 23:9 (NIV)
Have you noticed that no one knows more than the person who has accomplished nothing? The guy who never swung a bat seems to know exactly how to run a major league baseball team. The one who never ran a business can tell you how to make a million dollars. A fool is very willing to share is opinion with the world. What he cannot seem to do is listen. He is often wrong, but never uncertain.
Jesus echoes Solomon’s warnings when he tells his disciples not to cast their pearls before swine. Some will not be in a place to receive the Good News they have to share. Just move on.
God gave us two ears and one mouth. Do you think he is trying to tell us something? Maybe we are to listen twice as much as we speak. A wise person realizes they can learn something from anyone… even if it is what not to do. The best teachers are life-time learners.
There has never been more knowledge in our world than today. We all carry with us something approximating the sum of human knowledge in our pockets on our smart phones. But Paul warned Timothy that he would preach to a generation “always learning, but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim. 3:7). Paul reminds the Corinthians that knowledge puffs us up, but love builds us up. Walking with wisdom means learning how to live in love. This side of heaven, that journey is never quite complete.
A Fool Believes in Reacting Instead of Responding
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”Proverbs 29:11
I remember the story of an Iowa farmer who got lonely out on the prairie and started correspondence with a woman on the East Coast who was looking to come to the frontier… a mail-order bride. On the set day, the farmer hitched up his mule and went into town to bring his new bride back to the farm. She chattered away, but he was a man of very few words.
On the way out of town, the old mule pulled the wagon over to a horse trough. The farmer jerked him back and said quietly, “That’s one.”
A little futher down the road, the mule started to kick and fuss. The farmer urged him on and mumbled, “That’s two.”
Near home, the mule tried to pull the wagon into the pasture instead of heading to the barn like he was supposed to. The farmer said,”That’s three.” He them proceeded to grab his shot gun and shoot the mule! The bride could not believe her eyes. She said, “That has to be one of the stupidest things I have ever seen.”
The farmer turned to her and said, “That’s one.”
The moral of the story, I guess, is to get to know someone before you get married. But telling it is just an excuse to say that some people don’t even count to three. They just react, in a knee-jerk fashion, to whatever happens to them.
Between stimulus and response there is a gap. In that gap is where decisions are made. The Holy Spirit can direct us in that little time between what happens to us and how we respond to it.
“The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.”Proverbs 12:16
Fools just vent. They explode. Wise people consider their actions.
I am trying to learn to take a deep breath before addressing a critic. I am trying to learn to stop and think before sending that email. Most text messages can wait a few more seconds so we can whisper a prayer for guidance.
When someone insults you, they are providing you with an education on who they are and who they think you are. That is not a time to take offense. That is a time to learn. Words have wings. Let’s make sure what we send out is what we want coming back home to roost.
Some people say, “Well, I blow up. But then it is all over. I don’t hold a grudge.” That is what bombs do, too. But look at the damage they leave in their wake. We need to find healthy ways to deal with our anger, resentment, and frustrations. I have never regretted pausing to breathe/think/pray, but I have very often regretted failing to do so.
A Fool Believes in Sacrificing the Ultimate for the Immediate
As you study the composite sketch Proverbs offers of a fool, we see that fools are very short-sighted. They live for the now at the expense of the future. They sacrifice the ultimate for the immediate.
“Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.”Proverbs 21:20
Fools don’t seem to get the concept of delayed gratification. They want it now. Many things in our culture market to this foolish instinct. Why save up and wait when you can charge it and have it now? Companies get rich in high interest payments from those of us who cannot wait.
We have all heard the phrase carpe diem… seize the day. It is good to live life to the fullest. But that is not the same thing as living for the moment at the expense of the bigger picture. A wise person will often sacrifice today so that they can have more tomorow.
The short-sightedness of a fool carries over into the spiritual realm:
“Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance.”Proverbs 14:9
A guilt offering is prescribed in the Law of Moses whenever someone has broken God’s law. The offender realizes the error of their ways, repents, and brings a blood sacrifice to the temple. A fool, Proverbs says, mocks this process. Why the waste? You could take that lamb, butcher it, and throw a party instead! The fool sees no value in the deeper things.
Stephen Covey, in his Eight Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about “sharpening the saw.” Instead of hacking away with the same dull axe, some people take time to sharpen their blade. Spiritual practices like worship, scripture study, and prayer may seem like a waste to some. Others of us see these things as essential to a well-lived life.
Wise people live for the ultimate. Fools live only for the immediate.
Karl Marx called religion, “The opiate of the masses.” His critique of faith was that it keeps us looking off at some pie-in-the-sky reward some day and causes us to miss the injustices of the present. C.S. Lewis answered this critique with the simple fact that the people who make the most difference in this life happen to also be the same people who believe in the next life. In fact, keeping an eye on the ultimate is one of the best ways to make use of the present days. If we lose the bigger picture, we lose our way.
Yesterday, I officiated a funeral and reminded everyone gathered of Jesus’ words in John 14: “I go and prepare a place for you. In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Those that heard these words did not live with their heads in the clouds awaiting their far-off reward. They marched forward in mission and turning the world right-side-up.
How about you? Do you live for something bigger than the present moment? All Saints Day calls us to take that wider view. What we do now can have positive reverberations throughout all of eternity. That doesn’t cheapen the present moment… it gives it incalculable value.