by Chris Ritter
As we continue our study of wisdom and foolishness on the weekend before Veteran’s Day, I thought I would share some Military Wisdom:
- If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him.
- If the enemy is in range, so are you.
- “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” (This reminds me of Mike Tyson’s comment: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”)
- General James Mattis: “Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”
- Norman Schwarzkopf: “Leadership is a potent combination of character and strategy. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.”
- Dwight Eisenhauer: “In preparation for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
- William Penn: “No man in fit to command another who cannot first command himself.”
- Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton: “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
- Calvin Coolidge: “A nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”
We thank those who have served and are serving our nation.
Recognizing wisdom helps us cherish it. If we understand what foolishness is, maybe we can avoid it. The Scriptures have ample resources to help us. There is a whole section of the Biblical Library dedicated to Wisdom. The heart of that section is the Book of Proverbs. I hope you are reading through that book with me, a chapter a day for 31 days.
Just to recap, we said in Week #1 that “Everybody Plays the Fool Sometimes.” None of us are immune to foolishness. It is easy to spot in others, isn’t it? We can point out someone else’s mistakes all day long. But it is harder to see our own. Sometimes we see our foolishness only when it is too late, in the rearview mirror. But true wisdom consists in recognizing foolishness before we step into it.
So, in Week #2 we examined “What a Fool Believes.” We said a fool believes in self-assurance over self-improvement. A fool believes in reacting instead of responding. A fool acts out of instinct instead of purpose. A fool believes in sacrificing the ultimate for the immediate. A wise person will lose in the short run in order to win in the long run. A fool does just the opposite.
Foolishness causes no end of trouble. But I have some good news for you. Foolishness is not genetic. It is 100% environmental. It is passed from one person to another. In fact, it is quite contagious. Whenever you find one fool, there are usually others around enabling him. There may even be, as Aretha Franklin reminds us, a whole “Chain of Fools.”
It has been fun taking a trip down memory lane with some of these songs from the 60’s and 70’s. Songs can contain some great wisdom. But it is also true that some of the worst life advice can be found in popular songs.
- Steven Stills: “Well there’s a rose in the fisted glove, and eagle flies with the dove. And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” (That is terrible relationship advice if I ever heard it.)
- Luther Ingram: “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” (In other words, cheating feels so good, let’s not think about how many people we are hurting or how many lives we are destroying in the process. Not wise!)
- The Police: “Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take I’ll be watching you.” (If someone breaks up with you… stalk them? Not a good idea! You would do better to take Elsa’s advice: “Let it go!”)
Like the rest of Scripture, Proverbs is all about relationships. If you have been reading through this book, you have probably noticed that much of it is written in the voice of a father talking to his son. The last chapter includes some words of a mother speaking to her son. King Lemuel remembers his mother warning him not to spend his strength chasing women and not to crave wine and beer. As a young man with power, wealth, and influence he would have access to many things that would not lead to him to his best self. She told him stand up for the needy and the poor. She wanted him to be a good, wise king.
The fatherly voice in Proverbs warns the son against the seductions of sex, wealth, and power. He tells his son what we tell our own children: Be careful who you hang around. Don’t just take the path of least resistance. Don’t jump on something just because it makes you feel good.
It is easy to be a fool. It is hard to be wise. And relationships are the key.
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”Proverbs 13:20 (NIV)
As stated earlier, foolishness is not genetic. You can be born a very simple person and still live with wisdom. That is sort of the point of the movie Forrest Gump. “Stupid is as stupid does.” You can be wise in all the ways that really matter just by conducting yourself aright.
We become what we hang around. I have a natural southern accent because I grew up in Dixie. Many people don’t know this, but the Southern Tip of Illinois is part of the South. My mom has a big magnolia tree in her front yard. There is a big cypress swamp just a few miles from there. Pecan trees are all around. The part of the world where I grew up is nestled between Western Kentucky and the Bootheel of Missouri. We put sugar in our tea and drink soda instead of pop.
But when I lived in Georgia, my southern accent got deeper. I wasn’t trying, it just happened. My tea got sweeter. My kids became bilingual. They would talk like us at home and like Georgians at school.
Proverbs’ best advice for becoming wise is walk with the wise. This means you are not living life on your own or in isolation. Pastor Steve Blandino says walking with the wise implies a decision. It means being intentional about fostering relationships with people who love God, love others, have a learning attitude, a humble heart, a moral life, an ability to listen, and a strong work ethic.
Walking also means a frequent connection. If you walk with someone, you make them a part of your life. You need wise people that you can check in with frequently. You need them to know your situation enough to give you wise counsel and encouragement. A life group is a great format for this because you are in an ongoing relationship with a group of people that are likely to share your goals and values.
Walking with the wise also means you are going someplace. You are in relationship with people whose life has a positive trajectory… a similar destination you are trying to reach. I like to hang out with pastors that have done things I have never done. I can be there to ask them good questions. I want to know what they are thinking about. If you want to grow your business, get around people who have grown a similar business. If you want to learn to pray, befriend a prayer warrior.
“The companion of fools suffers harm.” This means you are not going to soar with the eagles by hanging around turkeys. But… didn’t Jesus eat and drink with sinners? Yes, he did. But notice that he did life with disciples… disciplined ones. When Jesus went to a worldly party, it was to invite the people into a new life… not to join theirs.
Another environmental factor that lead to foolishness is proximity to temptation. Consider the warning in Proverbs 5:
15 Drink water from your own cistern,Proverbs 5:15-23
flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
and he ponders all his paths.
22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
23 He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.
This father’s advice is to rejoice with the wife of your youth. Discover the beauty in her. Treat her like the lovely creature that she is. And watch where you go.
In Proverbs 7, we are told the story of a young man who wandered past the wrong house and was lured in. There is always a competition for our souls. Proverbs 8 says that wisdom, personified as a woman, cries aloud to us… but so does temptation. We have to put ourselves out of temptation’s reach. We need to build firewalls of accountability in our lives.
What do we watch on TV? What kind of media do you consume? Does it tend toward godliness or does it lead you into temptation? There is such a thing as self-sabotage. What we feed grows and what we starve dies. Don’t be afraid to edit things out of your life that are not helping you on your journey with Jesus. Jesus said it is better to go into eternal life without an eye or an arm than have your whole body thrown into hell.
The need to edit our lives is why one of Proverbs’ main admonitions is to love and honor discipline. Foolishness grows where discipline is lacking. Discipline is sometimes an unpleasant thing, but it yields pleasant results.
“Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.”Proverbs 19:18 (NIV)
There are two ways to read this. One is: “I know you want to kill your son right now, but discipline him instead and things will turn around.” Someone told me years ago that grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing our teenagers. The other way to read this proverb is that failure to provide discipline to our kids is as good as killing them. It degrades their opportunity to be their best selves.
You limit your child’s future when you fail to discipline them. You are sending someone out into the world who will be a detriment to themselves and others. Parents are to remember that we are not raising children, we are raising adults.
Proverbs is off-putting to some people because it talks so much about the rod of discipline. It sort of sounds like we are to go around always beating our kids.
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”Proverbs 13:24
Proverbs does seem to advocate corporal punishment. But we can take the rod of correction as a metaphor for discipline. Not all spanking is discipline. We have all seen that person in Wal-Mart or the grocery store just taking out their anger on their children. That is a parent who themselves needs more discipline. Not all discipline is spanking. True discipline includes encouragement, conversations, hugs, demonstrating how to make work fun, grace, forgiveness, and high expectations.
To discipline well you have to love discipline in your own life. Proverbs teaches us to value the discipline that the Lord gives to us:
11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s disciplineProverbs 3:11, 12
or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.
Choose Your Pain
Life has its share of pain. And discipline can be painful. But it’s the good kind of pain. It leaves us better people.
Jim Rohn, the late, great business philosopher said: “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
Discipline costs us time, effort, and energy. We have to say no to certain things in order to say “yes” to the person we want to become. The alterative is the pain of regret.
I ran across a list of common regrets people express near the end of their lives. These, I am told, were recorded by nurses. Here they are in ten categories:
- I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not what others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. (Nobody wishes they spent one more day at the office.)
- I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
- I wish I spent more time with the ones I cared about and less time on social media.
- I wish I cared more about those who cared about me.
- I wish I was more present with my kids when they needed me the most. (God, Family, Business… that order.)
- I wish I had listened to my gut more.
- I wish I had followed my passion.
The pain of discipline is real, but it leads to a better life. The pain of regret is much deeper and heavier.
Les Brown said: “If you do what is easy, your life will be hard. If you do what is hard, your life will be easy.”
John Maxwell talks about discipline, and he says if we just go around trying to be disciplined, we will fail. Because discipline needs a vision, needs a purpose, a goal. You have to discipline yourself toward something you want deeply.
This is where a relationship with Jesus Christ is so valuable. Jesus provides us with the why of discipline. He called his followers disciples… disciplined ones. There is so much in the New Testament associating Jesus with true wisdom. Consider the opening chapter of First Corinthians:
30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.1 Corinthians 1:20 (NIV)
Or consider Paul’s words to the Colossians:
2 My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.Colossians 2:2,3 (NIV)
Some people think they need Jesus because they need forgiveness. That is part of it, but it is only part of it. You need Jesus because only he can unlock the purpose for which you were born. Salvation from sin is just the first step on that exciting journey.
Jesus says in Revelation 2:17:
“To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”Revelation 2:17
You don’t even know who you are apart from Jesus. He holds that in his hands, and he unfolds that as you overcome with him. Following his wisdom will cost you. You will need to walk the narrow way. You will need to learn to love your enemies. You will forgive people you never intended to forgive. But in the process you will find your true self, the person God created you to be.
We all come from a long chain of fools, starting with Adam. Jesus is the chain breaker. Walking with Him and becoming his disciple is the best decision you could ever make.