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Did you know that the average American makes 35,000 choices per day? When was the last time you or someone you know made a wise choice? What about a foolish choice? As we continue our series, This is the Life, Todd Wagner teaches us about discernment…the power to distinguish what is true, excellent, and appropriate.
Leadership: Part 2
Righteousness: Part 2
Righteousness: Part 1
While we all need discernment in every area of our lives, what is one area in your life you could use more discernment? Share this with your community group and ask them to help you—by counseling you with Proverbs—be more discerning in that area this next week.
Did you know that the average American makes 35,000 choices per day? When was the last time you or someone you know made a wise choice? What about a foolish choice? As we continue our series, This is the Life, Todd Wagner teaches us about discernment…the power to distinguish what is true, excellent, and appropriate.
Good morning, friends! It's great to be together. Let me pray.
Father, I thank you that we can come in a room right now and open your Word and be reminded of things that are true so that we may discern. I pray you would teach us what we need so that we might experience on this earth a redemptive sanctification that would be a blessing to our souls and a glory to you and a good to those who don't know you.
Would you use this series? Would you use today? Would you this moment just to wash over my heart again and the hearts of friends in this room that they may know you and the power of your kindness and resurrection so we can no longer walk among the dead but experience life indeed? Thank you for grace. Thank you that know every single one of us and where we've come from and what you intend for us as good. Help us to know that this morning and honor you with a right and full response. In Jesus' name, amen.
We're in a series called This Is the Life. What we're doing is looking at the book of Proverbs, and we're seeing what God intends for us to experience as we walk with him and know him. The life of wisdom is a life that is skilled. It's a life that is set apart and a life that restores the glory that sin and going in a way that seems right to us leads not to an evolution of man but a devolution or an inclination toward a loss of glory, and God in his kindness as a loving Father is calling us back.
Now, let me just set this up and say something. Today, we're going to talk about something called discernment. A skilled life is a discerning life, but I want to let you know that I'm not talking about, first of all, the spiritual gift of discernment. The spiritual gift of discernment is something, if you're studying 1 Corinthians and specifically chapter 12, you would see pop up.
There are lots of spiritual gifts. Each one of us has received a spiritual gift. Sometimes the gifts are there permanently in your life. Other times they are there for a season. I don't think there's anything God can't do today. None of us do. We believe God is alive and is not restricted by any chronological moment. What God does he always does for his glory, and there is something that can be described as the spiritual gift of discernment.
It's interesting to me. A lot of times I talk to folks, and they say, "Well, I have the gift of discernment." What they really often mean is, "I'm really judgmental." That's what they mean, so I will say this. The spiritual gift of discernment specifically pops up in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, where it comes right after where it says some have been given the gift of prophecy and some of discernment. Some have been given the gift of tongues and some to interpret tongues.
What some people have done is said, "Really, what the gift of discernment was…" You have to understand 1 Corinthians 12 was written when we didn't have a New Testament, so God had started a new work. He had promised that his Spirit would remind his apostles of all things, and because his apostles would be reminded of all things in the Spirit, they would be given a revelation that was infallible, imperfect, and inerrant.
When men would speak and say, "Thus saith the Lord," people with the spiritual gift of discernment were there to protect the church to go, "That doesn't sound like the Spirit of God." Primarily, they were there to correct and admonish false prophets. I believe the spiritual gift of discernment was a little bit beyond that.
Some people, by the way, say that's why the gift is no longer active, because we no longer need the kind of prophecy that was needed in that day because now we have the Bible. We don't need a voice because we have a verse, to quote Jim Elliot, and I would just say the spiritual gift of discernment is something we all want to have.
We should all discern the spirits. We're called in the New Testament to test the spirits, and the way you test the spirits is to make sure the Spirit is saying things consistent with what the Spirit has already said. God is not the author of confusion. One thing you see me do sometimes here is I think I use the spiritual gift of discernment, which any wise teacher should have, when I rightly divide the Word of truth to help you understand certain things.
I'll give you one. Right after it says that some have been given the gift of prophecy and some the gift of discerning spirits, some the gift of tongues and some the ability to interpret tongues. I've taught a lot here specifically about the gift of tongues. It's really one of those things we say, "Oh, my gosh! What is that?"
Well, in the Bible it was always a known language or part of a dialect. The idea that there is a prayer language is completely without merit in Scripture. There is no ecstatic tongue that is necessary for you to have a deeper intimacy with the Father. What Paul was saying was that some people can interpret tongues that they've never understood or dialects they've never learned. They flunked out of Honors French like I did. Yet, God might let them understand French if a French tongue is being spoken.
There was a reason for that in that context. If you want to know more teaching on that on having a spirit of discernment, you can listen to our teaching on all of that kind of stuff. It really matters, because there is a lot at stake right there. I'm not talking about that today. I'm talking about something else.
In the book of Proverbs, when he talks about discernment, he's teaching you not about the spirit of discernment but about having a spirit that discerns or having a heart that knows right from wrong. It's the entire purpose of the book of Proverbs. Proverbs, chapter 1: "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel," This is what it says. Look at the next verse."To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding…"
That you might know specifically how to receive instruction in wise behavior. Then, it goes on to say, "That you might have a life, because you are wise, which is defined by righteousness and justice and equity." The book of Proverbs is written, the Scripture says, to those who are naïve and to those who need knowledge and instruction.
Do I ever need knowledge and instruction! This is a tough world, and it's filled with lots of opportunities to make choices. There was a group of folks who studied human behavior at Cornell University, and they said in America we make 270 different choices a day just about food alone. They said the average American has to make 35,000 cognitive decisions a day. Now, I don't know how they came up with that number, but 35,000 times a day you have to discern, "What is the best thing for me to do?"
If there is a book that God has given us that would help us to know what is right and true, I want it. I could have used one this Tuesday night. My friends at Promise Keepers asked me to fly down to Tampa and do a little interview with Coach Dungy and just talk about manhood and things of that sort, so I jumped on a plane late on Tuesday and flew down to Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay has a Marriott right there at the airport, so I got in late. I actually went in and checked into my room. I went down and met a couple of friends who came to see me in Tampa who I was getting together with. We had a late meal together. About 1:30 at night, I go back up to my room. If you're like me and Mama is not around and you have the chance to set the thermostat yourself and not pay the bill, I'm like, "How low can this baby go here?" Right? "Let's hang meat in this thing."
I put it pretty low. Now, in most hotels the AC doesn't work really well, but this one did. I got back up there after 1:00, and I walked in, and I was like, "That is crazy! It is way too cold, and Mama ain't here to cuddle with," so I go to the closet. There is no particular blanket in there to lay on top of my very thin comforter.
I go over and look, and this is what I saw. Right there beneath the TV is the chest of drawers. I go, "If the extra blanket was not up there in the closet, it must be in the chest of drawers." Let's zoom in specifically on the right. I was walking in from the door. There is that chest of drawers. There is a drawer on the right. That's what I saw, so I leaned over.
You have to understand this. I leaned over and thought, "Okay. They're not going to put the blanket on top. That's where I'm going to put my stuff if I'm there for an extended time," so I go to open the bottom drawer, and I reach down, and I try to pull it out. It didn't come. It was kind of stuck on the rails, so I go to pull it. As guys do, if it doesn't work, just work harder.
Well, it wasn't a chest of drawers. Here's a side angle of what happened. It just so happens that point right there was the same height as that head right there. When I jerked it, it was like… Boom! I'm back on the bed. I mean hard. All of a sudden, I felt warmth, and it wasn't the AC. I was going like this. My head was bleeding. You know how your face bleeds more than other parts of your body. I'm like, "Oh, no! It's 1:30 at night at the Tampa Airport Marriott. Who's going to sew me up?"
I go look in the bathroom. I have blood gushing out, so I wet a rag as quickly as I can, and I put it on my head, and I go lay down. Literally, for two hours I just kept as much pressure on it as I could. I'm thinking, "I'm filming a video tomorrow morning with Coach Dungy. I'm going to look like I was shaving my forehead and cut myself." It was a problem. I wish I would have known that was a pull and not a slide. I could have discerned.
If you look closely, in fact, like who looks closely at 1:30 in the morning, you see little hinges there on the right, which is a tell, but because there was frost on my eyelids, I couldn't see clearly, and I bled out. Now, that's kind of a silly, stupid mistake, but I'm not kidding you. I was lying on that bed with my head throbbing and just praying and saying sweet things about how stupid I was and how frustrated I was.
A couple of things came to mind. I was thinking about this weekend. It says in Proverbs, chapter 19, verse 2, "Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, and he who hurries his footsteps errs." I was in a hurry to get warm. It says next, "The foolishness of man[subverts]his way, and his heart rages against the LORD."**
Have you ever done that? Have you ever just hurried to make a decision and discern what was right in your own mind, and it just didn't work out well for you? You're like, "God, how could you let this happen?" God is there, and he's just saying, "I wish it hadn't happened." Three different times in probably the last six or seven days, one of my kids and I have had some conversations where I kept admonishing them and said, "If you want my take, this is what I would do," and every time, he was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…"
It just so happened that all three of these decisions kind of came to roost in a very short period of time, and every time Dad's counsel would have been really helpful and helped him miss out on what I would call natural appropriate life consequences. I loved him and didn't want him to experience, but because he was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah… I got this, if you don't mind," I let him go.
It's not like I have a 3-year-old who said, "Dad, I'm going to go play with a doll in the street." As a parent, you don't let somebody do that when their decision puts their life at risk, but certainly in some of these, I'm like, "Okay. We're going to start to let you live and be a big boy," and each time, I just sat there and kind of looked at him and said, "You know…"
What's so great about being a dad is so many times when I look at my kids and give them good advice because I love them, I get the, "You know…" The Father is always right behind me and gently puts his hand on my shoulder and just goes, "You know, you and I have some of these conversations a lot still to this day."
Do you like that? Do you wish you had the ability to discern? The people at Cornell said we make a lot of decisions through impulsiveness, and as I already showed you, impulsiveness is not a great idea, according to Proverbs 19:2, and according to Ecclesiastes, chapter 5. It says that he who makes haste with his feet errs. It's not good for a man to be without knowledge, the proverb says.
Don't be hasty in deed, is what Ecclesiastes says, so impulsiveness is sometimes how we make decisions or out of compliance when we just stop and look and go, "What does everybody else want? What's going to be the least resistance I'll experience if I make certain choices? Compliance is how we sometimes make decisions.
Delegating is when we let somebody else make decisions for us. That's the closest, by the way, to the biblical idea, but delegating really is just saying, "I'm frozen. I don't want to make a decision. I'm going to let you make a decision for me." If the you is a sovereign, benevolent, kind, all-wise God, that might be a good idea, but a lot of times we delegate to others, and those others don't always have our best interest in mind or have the knowledge the sovereign, benevolent, all-knowing God does.
Avoidance and deflection… We do that sometimes. You just kick the can down the road and don't really want to make a decision. Then, there are other more appropriate ways. The one I'm going to talk about today is the one that Scriptures implore us toward. It's yielding. It's not leaning on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledging him.
This is a world full of decisions. I love Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, verses 1 through 8, because it talks about how there is an appointed time for everything. There is a time for all kinds of stuff. There is a time for everything under heaven to happen. Sometimes it's time to give birth, and sometimes it's a time to die. You don't have a lot to do with either one of those, but those things are there.
There is a time to plant and a time to uproot. Now, you'd better know when you're supposed to plant and when you're supposed to uproot. There is a time to kill, and there is a time to heal. There is a time to prosecute, and there is a time to forgive that person who killed your brother. How do you know what time it is? A discerning person would know.
There is a time to tear down and a time to build up. There is a time to weep, the Scripture says, and a time to laugh. There is a time to mourn, and there is a time to dance, a time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones. Those are two very different things. There is a time to embrace, and there is a time to shun embracing.
What's really interesting is that the Proverbs spend a lot of time early on talking about when it's time to embrace and when it's time to not embrace. In Proverbs, chapter 2 and chapter 5 and 6 and 7 and 9… Five times, at least, in the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs it talks a lot about when to shun embracing, because the sexual urge in all of us and the relational need in all of us are so strong.
Sex is not a problem, but sex used inappropriately is a problem, and God is, therefore, trying to tell you, "I'll tell you. You have to watch how you use this thing, because it can be really damaging in your life, and you have to be able to discern." In our society today, things that used to be unthinkable are now unquestionable. In other words, you can't even question whether or not somebody should do certain things or you're seen as an intolerant, hateful bigot.
I'm going to beg of you to listen to what God says so you can discern what choices you should make despite how strong your feelings are so that you can discern whether you should speak in knowing what a loving, benevolent, all-wise, and kind God has shown you. This is a big deal. This is a big deal.
The word discern in English is actually a compound of two Latin words that mean to basically sift apart (dis, which means apart, and cernere, which means to sift). You're breaking something down. You're seeing how all of the pieces fit together. That's what the word discern means. It's the ability to recognize or define and identify and separate what is going to lead to good and what is going to lead to evil. It's insight. It's understanding.
When somebody possesses discernment it means they have the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure. Isn't that great? Merriam-Webster says it's a power to see what is not evident to the average mind. What if I told you today that God wanted you to not have an average mind, which is to say a natural mind, but to have a mind that is above average or a supranatural mind that would help you get through life so you could know when to slide and when to pull?
This world is hard, isn't it? There's a lot going on out there. I was thinking this week, as I had lots of time in my bed Tuesday night with my head throbbing, about different things. I thought about the GEICO ad. It's one of my favorite ads on TV. GEICO is doing a pretty good job, are they not? They have some funny ads.
The ad that came to my mind was the one where the kids are out there. It's around a little horror show. A horror movie is the thing that's going on. They're all sitting there. It starts with a haunted house there. One person looks at the other person and says, "Let's hide in the attic." The other person goes, "No! In the basement!" Then, the blonde goes, "Why can't we just get in the running car?" Then, the guy goes, "Are you crazy? Let's go hide behind the chainsaws."
When they get there behind the chainsaw, of course, there is a guy who has the mask on. He looks at them defeated like, "Come on, man!" Then, the narrator comes on over this whole thing and says, "When you're in a horror movie, you make horrible decisions." Don't you? Have you ever noticed that in horror movie? "Don't go in the closet! Why are you going in the basement?"
Anyway, they scream and run out, and the last thing you hear in the commercial is, "Let's head to the cemetery!" It's just hilarious. Right? When you're in a horror show, you make horrible decisions. Let me set you up again. This is a bit of a horror show. If you've not noticed, this world is a bit of a horror show.
Sometimes, you can be sitting in your bedroom in your underwear eating a bowl of ice cream watching Sunday Night Football. That's not funny. Sometimes, you can be walking down the street and get gunned down. Sometimes, you can be born into a family with a dad who molests you. Sometimes, you can live in a country where there is a despot who is just oppressive to you. Sometimes, you can make a covenant with somebody and they break it.
Do you know what happens a lot of times? When we live in a world like that, we make horrible decisions. There are three different kinds of evil in the world. There is what is called natural evil, which, just so you know, God is not surprised that this world has trouble. He tells you there is going to be trouble in the world, so don't be overwhelmed.
"Take heart. Have courage, because I can explain how we got here, and I can explain how to get you out, and I can explain why you're here still in the midst of it, if you want to listen." Natural evil is just some things that are true of the fallen earth we live in. We live in a world that has characteristics both in nature and in the nature of those who inhabit it that you are going to suffer from like hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, violence, and disease.
There is spiritual evil which exists. We know our battle is not against flesh and blood. The reason this world is the way it is is because God in his providence has allowed for a season this earth to be largely under the influence of evil, and there's nothing you can do about that except resist it and take the means God has given you to not be a slave to it, which gets to the third kind of evil.
There is natural, spiritual, and moral. Moral evil is really what the book of Proverbs, when it talks about discernment, is talking about. It's not the New Testament spiritual gift of discernment. The reason Proverbs is there is not so that you can make enough good, discerning, moral decisions so that you won't face judgment, because it's very clear there is a God who says the standard isn't you being so good that you're good enough that he embraces you and accepts you.
We're not teaching what is commonly thought of in certain theological circles today as moral therapeutic deism, which is that we're just going to give you a therapy or a healing because we're going to teach morality, and God is not here, so we just have to make the best we can of it. It's not some enlightened rationalism that's going to CLEP you out of all that's wrong with the world and CLEP you into heaven. That doesn't exist.
The first thing you need to discern is there is a holy and righteous and perfect and beautiful God and this world is the way it is because this holy, righteous, perfect, and beautiful God has revealed to us that this is not his world, because those he gave stewardship of this world rejected him as sovereign over it and said, "We'll make somebody else king."
Then, we see, because we've gone to a different spirit that is not holy but is evil, what is now present is not natural beauty and goodness, and there is a lot of immorality, and it leads to death. What Proverbs is talking about and what I'm teaching on today is basically the idea of discerning how to make choices underneath the kindness of God.
In this world that is racked with the evil that is in this world, how can you experience as much of God's kindness and provision as possible? He wants to help. I had a couple of things I was going to do. I had some obits I was going to read about people whose lives did not end well because they did not discern.
They're weren't like Solomon who, when he became king, and all of us are in a sense sovereign and kings of our own lives, had the chance to make a choice, and he said, "God, if you could give me anything, what I really want, because I don't really know how to go out or come in, I want for you to give your servant the gift of understanding."
The idea of understanding is almost like the verb, to discern, and Solomon said, "I want to discern between good and evil so I can be a good leader and judge of your people." That's exactly what you should say. "God, make me somebody who discerns right and wrong so I can love this wife of my youth, so I can lead these children, or so I can act as an independent single outside of my parents' home in this world and not add to the moral evil that is here that seems right to me, but, boy, it ends in death."
Yesterday, I got an email from a friend. It was the obit of this sweet young woman. She's 42 years old. Her name is Shonda Williams. This is a picture that her family posted. I want to read this to you because I want to make a case for why, again, you need to listen with me. This is Shonda's life. Her family has a writer in it, and they decided to post her obit. I want to just read to you that this is what happens when you live a non-discerning life.
"Shonda never truly had an occupation…" Shonda went to school with this friend of mine. The family wrote, "…(something we didn't realize until it came time to fill out her death certificate). She spent most of her adult life a slave to her addiction and the lifestyle that comes with it, doing whatever she could to get by, living day-to-day with no solid plan for the next."
You're going to recognize yourself in this, and some of you are like, "I discern that I'll kind of figure it out tomorrow," and a loving Father is saying, "That's not a good plan. You need to begin with the end in mind." You need to realize you're going to reap what you sow, and just because you're not experiencing immediate pain for your choices that are not discerning, it doesn't mean you're not sowing seeds that are going to come to roost and bear fruit that is painful in your life. Shonda lived that way.
"Of course, she always had hopes and dreams for her future as well as the ability to fulfil any of them…" It was always there for her. "…but they always took the back seat to what demanded her immediate attention most (her addiction, her lifestyle, and the company she kept). Shonda had a heart of gold." We saw that.
"Anyone from her childhood could confirm, but even the people she encountered throughout the darker years of her life always said the same. She was kind. She was funny. She was charismatic. She was selfless. She was loyal, and she always tried to find the positives in any situation and focus on those.
In turn, doing her best to block out the negatives which is where her addiction came in to play, drugs offered an escape from the pain and/or shame of the mistakes she had made in life. When she was high, nothing mattered. She was numb to reality…" That's one of the problems with the choices we make to distract us in fantasy for just a moment. The problems are still there; we just don't feel them.
That's why leprosy is the most insidious of all diseases. Leprosy is not really in itself a flesh-eating bacteria. The bacillus of leprosy, which is a picture of sin in your life in Scripture, is really a disease that just kills the nerve endings. What happens with a leper is they no longer feel the pain that you and I feel.
For instance, if we're sweeping a room, we're making thousands of little micro adjustments constantly with that broom so that it doesn't just stay in one spot, but lepers don't have any sense of pain in that affected area, so they never adjust. They never adjust the broom. They look down and go, "Look at that blister."
Because the blister doesn't hurt, they don't tend to it the way you and I tend to it when there is pain, so they continue until all of a sudden that wound gets infected. The next thing you know, because it doesn't really bother them, they just give superficial treatment to it, and it starts to slowly eat and wither away at their flesh. It becomes flesh-eating (that necrotic, dead tissue).
It's why so many folks who have addictions never really grow up, because what most of us do when we face problems is learn and discern that it's not a good problem, or we start to make adjustments and handle it with the resources we have in this world, but people who just start to medicate at a young age never grow up, because they numb themselves from their pain. They are sometimes a 15-year-old in a 46-year-old's body because for the last 30 years they've just been medicating.
"She was numb to reality and able to avoid any accountability for her actions. Her intent was never to leave her children behind with family to raise them," but that's what she did. "She just got lost in that lifestyle of chasing the next high. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned to months, and months turned to years. Before she knew it, her girls were grown. Thanks to a few high points along her journey, a lengthy jail stay, and countless rehab efforts throughout their lives, they did have the opportunity to know their mother sober…"
This is one of the things Scripture says. "Be sober in your thinking. I want you to think clearly to be able to discern (sift apart) what is real and what is wrong, what is an illusion and what looks life-giving but you see where it ends." Wouldn't it be amazing if you had a father who had lived through your high school and could put his hand on you and go, "I might suggest…"? What if he could live with you in your 20s and your 30s and your 40s and your 50s, and he wants it to go well with you, not so you'd be saved but to save you from the moral evil which wages war against your soul? Who wouldn't want that kind of God? Well, you have him.
It goes on to say, "…she chose of her own free will to experiment socially with drugs and in turn, became addicted, but in the beginning, years ago, this young, naïve woman had no idea what addiction even was or the kind of hold that drugs take on you. The people she knew doing it hadn't hit rock bottom yet." You see, she saw them, and she didn't learn from them because it was just the party lifestyle. Watch this.
"She had not witnessed friends or family losing everything or seen them lying in a casket. It was still just a form of partying." What's wrong with that? "Shonda's drug use evolved from Oxycontin…" You were thinking something else, weren't you? "…to Xanax (or anything else that would numb the pain of reality or being dope-sick) to the drug that eventually took her life… To say that Shonda is 'gone too soon' is most definitely accurate, but to say 'she passed unexpectedly' is definitely not the case!"
Some of you are marching toward death, and we're just not surprised when your marriage breaks down. You're marching toward an unwanted pregnancy. You're marching toward a future abortion. You're marching toward thinking there is no healing for your past abortion, so you're going to be dysfunctional in your relationships and believe God can't heal you and believe you can't have your life put together, and we're not surprised when you have dysfunctional relationship after dysfunctional relationship when like a dog you go back to your vomit.
"She knew she had technically died multiple times and been brought back to life by EMTs, but that did not scare her more than going without the drugs. When family urged her to go to detox or rehab in the days prior to her death, she pushed back insisting she didn't need it." I'm going to tell you what.
Every week I spend my week just begging people to understand there is a way to detox from your flesh, to discern good and evil, and I'm begging you to come in. She thought she had it under control just like so many of us do before we finally reach that breaking point and clothe ourselves in humility.
"…or maybe she knew she had no more control and was ready to give up the fight." Some of you guys are there. "Either way, her family feels the need to speak the truth surrounding the loss of their loved one. Silence would mean Shonda's death was in vain, but if one person's life is saved by her story, we would tell it a million times."
Wow! They say that speaking the truth no matter how horrific, and they go on to talk about, is necessary. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago it's why we (those of us who by the grace of God have discerned that there is a God, he is there, and he has saved us and brought us back into relationship with him) have to speak, and I think I quoted an English philosopher who lived a couple of centuries ago whose name is Herbert Spencer, who said, "The ultimate result of shielding man from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools."
You have a loving God who just doesn't want the world to be filled with fools, especially those who say they're part of his family, so he begs you to listen. I'm going to ask you just to listen to this, because you're going to see this. This is true all throughout Scripture. There is a movie called The Heart of Man that kind of came and went. It wasn't in the theaters. It's a bit of a documentary.
What they did on the side of this documentary where they were letting men who were seduced by what is destroying so many of us, men and women alike… Pornography, which is more addictive… Anybody who has looked at it and anybody who has looked at the statistics around it and the science around it will say it's even more addictive than heroin in what it does to the human experience.
It's a testimony about a lot of guys who have just been wrapped up in this specific expression of immorally giving yourself away to this fantasy, this numbing yourself from the reality that you don't have normal relationships and aren't embracing in all of the ways God said when you're embracing something else that is filled with actors who themselves are addicted to drugs and alcohol and self-loathing so that you for a moment can escape your own self-loathing.
I would commend to you the movie The Heart of Man. You can get it on Amazon or in iTunes. Just get it and watch it. Interlaced in there is a parable that's really, really well done. What I want to do is show you some slides and images from that parable while I read to you from the same father who is in that parable.
The parable goes like this. There is a father and a son. They make beautiful music together. They live in a paradisiacal setting. They're on a tropical island. There is great fellowship, and they make great music, and they love each other, and every need is met. What is implied is that father is going to keep meeting that son's need, which would include someday somebody to embrace, but before it is time there was something that was alluring and beautiful to the son that called him to another island.
Was he going to trust the beauty and the love he had with the father, or was he going to leave the father and go find what looked more life-giving somewhere else? When I watched that movie, I immediately went back to the proverb you're going to read tomorrow (Proverbs 7). I'm going to read it to you today with some of those images behind it.
"My son, keep my words and treasure my commandments within you. Keep my commandments and live, and my teaching as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister,' and call understanding your intimate friend; that they may keep you from an adulteress, from the foreigner who flatters with her words.
For at the window of my house I looked out through my lattice, and I saw among the naive, and discerned among the youths a young man lacking sense, passing through the street near her corner; and he takes the way to her house, in the twilight, in the evening, in the middle of the night and in the darkness.
And behold, a woman comes to meet him, dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart. She is boisterous and rebellious, her feet do not remain at home; she is now in the streets, now in the squares, and lurks by every corner. So she seizes him and kisses him and with a brazen face she says to him:
'I was due to offer peace offerings; today I have paid my vows. Therefore I have come out to meet you, to seek your presence earnestly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings, with colored linens of Egypt. I have sprinkled my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.'"
When I was a young man and I was reading through Proverbs every day, I had to skip Proverbs 7, because it was so seductive to me. I had been exposed extensively to pornography, and the images, as I read Proverbs 7… I was like, "Oh, that's attractive." I knew exactly the seduction of this young man. Watch what she says.
"Let us delight ourselves with caresses. For my husband is not at home, he has gone on a long journey." That sounds like trash I had read. "' He has taken a bag of money with him, at the full moon he will come home.' With her many persuasions she entices him; with her flattering lips she seduces him."
I know you're looking at these images. I want you to watch what happens in this parable as I read this. We're in Proverbs, chapter 7, verse 22. Immediately after that seductive image where he kisses her, this happens. "Suddenly he follows her as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, until an arrow pierces through his liver; as a bird hastens to the snare, so he does not know that it will cost him his life." It shows him vomiting right after he kissed this woman who he thought was going to be life-giving.
"Now therefore, my sons, listen to me, and pay attention to the words of my mouth. Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths. For many are the victims she has cast down, and numerous are all her slain. Her house is the way to Sheol [hell] , descending to the chambers of death."
Do you see why the Father doesn't want you to follow that? Listen, gals. Just track with me. You're like, "Thanks, Todd. We're the seductress. We pull everybody away." No, because right after Proverbs 7, it goes to Proverbs 8, and Wisdom is personified as another woman, and she's beautiful, and God wants you to wed yourself to her, but the woman of folly is boisterous.
It's not females. It is females who have a charm that is deceitful and a beauty that is vain. It is males who have a charm that is deceitful and strength that is in vain, but there is another beauty, and it is God's, and he wants you to discern it. He wants you to go toward it. The adulteress is the iconic representation of it, but don't all of us give our hearts to something less than God, to evil and not good?
That's what Proverbs is begging you to avoid, not so that you can be saved, but having been saved out of this wrong thinking that there is a way that is better than following your loving, benevolent, omniscient, kind Father back to understanding all of his beauty and walking with him.
Let me just say the reason I read Proverbs 7 and the reason I read Shonda's story is because this is one of the characteristics of a skilled life. I'm going to quote Cato the Elder. Who is Cato the Elder? He lived 200 years before Christ. Cato the Elder said, "Wise men profit more from fools than fools from wise men, because while wise men shun the foolishness or the mistakes of fools, fools do no imitate the successes of the wise."
I wrote down myself this week, as I was bleeding in bed, "Discernment is more than experience. It is the ability to live with the wisdom experience gives you without the scars that experience leaves." I just thought to myself, "I wish somebody…" If you go to the Tampa Marriot, call me, and I have a scar that will help you.
What God is saying is, "Todd, I'll show you what to pull, and I'll show you what to slide." You can mock and you can learn. This is what the Scripture says in Proverbs, chapter 17, verse 10. "A rebuke…" Which is an admonishment or a teaching."…goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool."A fool is going to continue to go back to that beating.
Proverbs 24:30-34 I'm not going to read. I don't have time, but if I could sum it up, it just says that the wise men pass by the field of the sluggard and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense. I'm not reading it because I'm quoting it. Then, it just goes on and says, " And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles…and its stone wall was broken down." It describes a field that had not been tended to for a long time, and it says," When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction."
In other words, I don't need to see by not tending my own field if it's going to work out well. That guy walked by the field of the sluggard. He knew his family was hungry and malnourished. He knew he couldn't care and provide for himself. He knew the rest of the community had come alongside him. He knew that was the sluggard's field, and when you live like a sluggard lives… It ends in verse 34. It says, "Then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man."**
What he was saying is, "I'm not going to live like a sluggard to know that a sluggard's way is not good. I am going to learn from others' experiences without the scars." Experience is a great teacher, guys. It's just a very expensive one, and you have a loving Father who is just saying, "Can I help? Can I teach you, so you don't make horrible decisions in the horror show that is this world?"
J.I. Packer who wrote the book Knowing God… There's a quote I read that I remember from there that is just so excellent. He says, "We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it." That's just cruel to do it that way.
That's why it says in Proverbs 10:13, "On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding." What do you want? A rod to your back or discernment? Proverbs 13:13:" The one who despises the word…" and won't listen to a loving Father who says, "Son, I think I would…" It says that you "…will be in debt to it, but the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded."
Proverbs 13:15: " Good understanding…" Which is the application of discernment."…produces favor, but the way of the treacherous is hard." Life is hard. It is just harder if you're stupid. That's Lieutenant Colonel Kirby from the movie The Green Berets played by John Wayne who said that, but Proverbs 12:1 says a similar thing. It says," Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid."
Proverbs helps me, and I know my loving Father wants to help me. I know he wants it to go well with me. One of the things I am reminded of all of the time is just that we shouldn't talk to snakes. Right? I learned that watching The Jungle Book. Then, I learned it watching Genesis 3 played out in my life.
Can I just tell you something? If something is seducing you because it looks good, it says it will feel good, and it promises to make you more celebrated in the eyes of the world, you'd better take another look and deconstruct it, because that's exactly the very first lie that was tossed to Eve. Eve just needed to go, "I don't talk to snakes. I talk to sovereign, loving, benevolent Fathers."
We don't need voices. We have a verse. I remember as a kid I grew up loving Coach John Wooden at UCLA. He used to say, "There's a choice you make in everything you do." It's one of the things that spilled out of my dad's mouth a lot. My dad didn't know the Bible, but he knew John Wooden, who knew the Bible, and John Wooden said, "There's a choice you make in everything you do, but just remember this. In the end, the choice you make makes you."
John Wooden knew there was just a better way to live, and it wasn't by living according to wise, old coaches. It was by listening to a sovereign Ancient of Days who has your best interest in mind and who wants it to go well with you. It won't go well with you if you don't know your King.
Do you want to be the kind of person who in the midst of this world can go, "The world is going this way, but as for me I'm not"? The world should look at you and go, "How do you always know?" What do we see in our society? We see such trouble because we see the breakdown in the home. We don't see a present, loving father, so young men who like what feels good, like what looks good, and like what is going to make them good or famous in the world's eyes continue to go directions without a loving father to say, "No, son. That's the way of death."
In Psalm 73, Asaph started by reminding himself in verse 1, "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart! But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.""But as for me, I stayed with God, because I had a father who said, 'Let me show you where it ends. Let me show you where this goes.'"
This is just something that I think all of us need to be reminded of. You have to begin with the end in mind. It is how you move to highly effective living. Experiences, guys, are not evidences of truth; they are opportunities for discerning what is true. Let me just go all the way back to the spirit of discernment.
One of the things that happens… This is a different gift, but one thing I hear all of the time is when people go, "I know there's a prayer language because they talked about their experience," and I just want to say to you, "I don't want to argue with your experience, but I will have a discussion with you about what you make of it based on the truth that a loving Father has given me."
I just want to insert this right here, because it's just such a big deal. If I was the Enemy and I could make you think when you're talking in nonsensical gibberish and babble that would be the key for you having an intimate relationship with God when you empty your mind and just let the Spirit flow and that brings you close to God, I would sell that hard to you. It's just not there.
Sometimes you have your friends going, "Come on, dude! This is the life! Jump in! The water is fine." Read Proverbs 1. That's exactly what Proverbs 1 is all about. They're trying to sell what they do, but there is no life there. It doesn't lead to life. It is true that past performance is the best predictor of future results. You hear it on the radio all of the time, do you not, but can I just tell you current results are not always the best predictor of ultimate outcomes?
People who know God live with ultimate outcomes in mind courageously. The world says, "This is working," but as for me, I know what works. Sometimes the party is loud, and it is going hard, and you're like, "Dude, it looks like I'm missing out," and you have to go, but what do I know is true? You want to be an Asaph kind of guy who just says, "As for me…"
Discerning people are disciples, and disciples are always discerning people. That's what God wants. Let me just take you very quickly to Luke, chapter 11. In Luke, chapter 11, where Jesus is going to explain something to you, in fact, the disciples looked at Jesus and went, "We discerned that there is something different about you and that your life is beautiful."
Remember, I told you in the series this is what you're going to see what the characteristic is. This is the alternative to it, and Jesus is the full expression of it. Not only that, he is the provision for us so that when we don't live that way we can be reconciled to that God who loves us, but discerning people are disciples, and true disciples are discerning people.
Jesus is discerned by his disciples to have a life that is different. They go, "What's the secret? We think it's your talking to the Father," because when Jesus was here he didn't ever stop being God. He just didn't regard his equality with God as something to be grasped so he could identify with you.
He never stopped being deity, but he added to his deity in the hypostatic union, you theology nuts, the identity of human kind. He took on the form of man, so he did not appeal to his own divinity to make his way through life. He did what men should do, which is to constantly pursue the will of the Father, and the disciples said, "Tell us how you do that." They found him.
He taught them to pray. He gave them a model prayer. We taught it to you this summer. In Luke 11, when he gets done with that model prayer, he just says this. Let me just tell you, guys. You don't have to try to figure it out. God wants you to know how to live, and part of the way he wants you to know how to live is, "I am here. I am the exact representation of his nature, and if you've seen me, you've seen the Father, so live like me."
He's going to tell you in just a moment that the Father is going to give you the ability to discern things even better. He goes on after that model prayer to say, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves…' and from inside he answers and says, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.'"
Verse 8: "I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." By the way, your Father is not like that unconcerned friend. He is more desperate for you to have the Bread of Life and the food of life than you'll ever be to seek it.
He goes on to say, "Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was there. He just did not indwell people the way he does now, because people were separate from God.
The Spirit of power came on people at different moments, but he didn't dwell with people. The only way the Spirit of God dwells with people is when the people have made holy because the Spirit of God cannot fellowship with that which is unfellowshipable. How does that happen?
The answer is God places on us the righteousness of his Son when we acknowledge and discern that we are not holy and righteous as he is, and we ask for mercy, and God gives it to us. Then, God's Spirit is here. The primary way God's Spirit is manifested in our lives is that there is no longer the spirit in us which says, "I don't need God. If it feels good, I'm going to do it. I think I'm smarter than him and I can live on my own."
We have to say, "No. I'm a sinner, and the wages of my sin is death exponentially. I am lead to moral evil continually. I wish I wasn't a slave to this. God, set me from the judgment that is to come and from having to just make judgments on my own," and we're reconciled to him. Watch. This is kind of the most complicated thing I say, and I end with this. This is kind of a long summary statement for New Testament people who want to live in wisdom.
People with the gift of discernment (not the one I talked about in 1 Corinthians 12 but those who are discerning) know that discernment is a gift, so they continually seek the gift-giver ("Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…") and they yield to the gift who has been given to all who believe and who illuminates his Word so that we can be discerning.
Now, you look at that and go, "What does all of that mean?" Here's what it means. It means God has not left us here as orphans. Wouldn't it be amazing if Jesus were our friend? The answer is that he is our friend, but wouldn't it be amazing if Jesus was the pastor of our church? I'm going to say to you, "No."
Wouldn't it be amazing if Jesus was in your Community Group? I'm going to say to you, "No," because if he's in your Community Group, it means he's not in mine. If he's having dinner with you tonight at Carrabba's, it means he's not having dinner with me at Carrabba's. I'm going to always be going, "I wish I were in community with Todd and with the elders or with that person who is normal and not this bunch of pansies!"
When Jesus says, "It's better for you that I go, because if I go, I'm going to go to a place where I can pay for your sin, and because I've paid for your sin and if you'll acknowledge your sin, I'll reconcile you to God, and if I reconcile you to God, the thing which made me such an amazing friend is what is going to make you such amazing friends to one another."
Let me read it to you in his words. John 14, verse 16: "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth…" It's also called the Holy Spirit."…whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
"I, God, in the person of the Holy Spirit," like, "I, God, in the person of the Son." A little bit later in verse 23, he says, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.""Do you want to know how I think this way?"
"These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things…" The Holy Spirit gave Solomon the ability to teach you how to avoid moral evil. The Holy Spirit who comes will teach you the solution to your moral evil and will allow you, if you make your decisions by leaning not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledging him and not listening to a bunch of snakes, you can start to experience a little bit of Eden in the midst of the horror show.
Your marriage is going to be different, and your cities can be different, and you still are going to have natural evil, and you still are going to have spiritual forces that attack you, but you won't add to your own pain, and your obit will be different. They prayed faithfully. They lived courageously. They never surrendered. They were wise.
Father, may that be our story! May we never surrender to the liar who wants us to be undiscerning and who leads our lives to the pit! I thank you that tomorrow we're going to wake up and be reminded that there are all kinds of seductive voices calling us to leave you, and we can run to the ache and remember there is another voice that begs us to hear.
I thank you that we got to hear that voice today. I pray we'd be discerning and we'd live skilled lives, not so the world can be impressed with us but so the world can see who you are as we live as your people. Lord, if there are people here who are addicted to self and all that goes with it, would today be the day they run to you and experience the healing of the numbness of sin? Thank you for reminding us who you are. In Jesus' name, amen.