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Like a Sponge

 

A sermon by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx.

Proverbs 1-2

(focal passage 2:1-11)

June 23, 2013

In his book, The Good Life, there is a story told by Peter Gomes that reflects well how we have lost touch as parents regarding our roles in the life of our children.  A few years ago, Gomes was teaching a religion class at Harvard University, where he serves as Dean of Chapel.  In this particular class was a young woman whose parents were Harvard graduates.  They came back for alumni weekend and the daughter convinced them to attend Gomes’ Friday class with her because what she had been hearing from Gomes stirred her heart.  This young lady had no religious background or spiritual formation.  There was something working in her.  She told her parents, “On Sunday, you have to go to chapel with me.”

When Peter Gomes looked out across the chapel crowd on Sunday morning, there they were.  Early Monday, he received a phone call from one of the parents saying, “We have to see you right away.”

He made arrangements and the family came to see him.  They told how they had left chapel and went for a Sunday lunch.  The daughter became incensed with her parents.  She began to cry and then began berating them because of what they had not done for her spiritually.  You see, as she sat in chapel, everything was a mystery to her.  Yet, as she watched her parents, who in their sophistication had not been to church in decades, there was still enough familiarity and recall from the past that they could find the passage of scripture when it was called.  They knew whether it was Old or New Testament.  When they sang the hymns, they needed the hymnal but they remembered enough tune that they could sing the hymns.  When it came time for the Lord’s Prayer, they could say the prayer but the daughter had no earthly idea what was going on.  She didn’t know the first words or the last words.

The daughter was berating her parents for neglecting this part of her life.  The parents tried to explain to her, “Look, we wanted you to have the freedom to make that kind of decision for yourself.”  The daughter said, “Freedom?  I didn’t even know enough to make a decision.  I didn’t know enough to rebel against if I had wanted to.  You just left it out of my life.”

So now these parents were in Peter Gomes’ office seeking counsel.  “What do we do?  Is she all right?  Is she having a problem?”  They didn’t even recognize in their own daughter that there was this spiritual hunger that they had neglected all her life.

There is in the life of our children a hunger for guidance and direction.  Oh, they may act uninterested or as if our guidance is an affront to their personal freedom.  But if we do not fulfill our parental role honorably, at some point our children are going to cry out, “Why didn’t you give me boundaries?  Rules?  Why didn’t you teach me how to work?  Why didn’t you teach me the value of a dollar?  Why didn’t you teach me the world wouldn’t revolve around me?  Why didn’t you teach me the story of faith?

Parenting is the process by which we teach our children how to do life.  I have three children, and the goal, of course, is for each child to be able to live on her own.  We all are raising our children in a very difficult environment – with trouble on the left hand and calamity on the right.  And we know, deep down we know – one bad choice and disaster.  Life will unravel.  Their lives will fall apart.  Their reputations will be ruined.  So, from one generation to the next, raising a child is teaching a child how to do life.

And I don’t just mean facts and figures for today.  I mean how to make moral choices, wise choices, that will shape them for tomorrow.

Think about all the things you try to teach your kids.  There is no end, is there? 

•Don’t touch the hot stove.

•Beware of stray dogs.

•No, not that bug – it’s a bumblebee.  It will sting.

Endless.

But even when they are 20 – how to buy a house, how to buy a car, how much life insurance to carry, eating, exercise, and on and on and on – trying to, hoping to make them independent.

I’ve thought about it before.  I’ve never done it – it’s always been word of mouth – but what if I codified, what if I wrote down everything I wanted my children to know about life, the things I wanted to teach them so they could pass them on to (hopefully one day) my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Why start over with a blank book every time?  Why not just jot down the treasures of wisdom that my grandfather taught my father and my father taught me?  Why not pen them down, pass them on, push them forward?

Don’t be lazy.  Always be willing to work.  That’s something my father learned from his father; my mother, from her father.  It’s called a work ethic.  I want my children to have a work ethic.  I don’t mind them having fun, but true fun can only come after a hard day’s work.  Whether it is toiling in the field of old, or working in the laboratory of tomorrow, earning your own bread is a good way to do life.  Stepping up, carrying your fair share.

Write that down.  Always be willing to work enough to carry your fair share – whether it’s church, work, or the community.  Do your part.  That’s something I want my kids to know.  Don’t be moochers.  Don’t be leeches.  Don’t be a parasite.  Work your way.

So I should write that down and hope that my kids will teach my grandkids.

In fact, I went online and found a lot of parents who have done exactly that.  I found a blog entitled, “On Being a Mom:  36 Things I Want My Daughter to Always Remember.”  One of them was “girls can do anything boys can do, and some things they can’t.”  Now, being the father of girls, amen to that one, sister.  I’m all about it.  I don’t want my girls to ever think they are second class to boys.

Another thing she wanted her daughter to know was “you can tell me anything.”  I want my children to feel that way.  And “the golden rule is the easiest standard by which to measure any choice.”  Boy, that mom is wise.  That’s good.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  That does shape your choices, doesn’t it?

“Never compromise your beliefs – not for stature, approval, or anything else.”  That’s a good one.

I found another wise parent who wrote  “25 Things I Want My Sons To Know” – written by a dad for his sons.  Some of his are fun.  “Crank the tunes when you have to clean the house.”  That’s true, isn’t it?  Have you been on a construction site lately?  They all bring their tunes, their radio – blast it out.  Country construction guys bring country music.  Hispanic construction guys let the Latino tunes blast.  It’s all good.

 

Another one he wanted his boys to hear was “don’t be in a rush to get married, divorce really hurts.”  That’s true.  People choose too early, too soon.

“Money and power look good, but they will not fill your being with joy the way your family will.”  That’s good.

I found a third wisdom writer, Sloan Thomas.  “12 Things Parents Should Teach Their Children.”  Lessons in life.  One of those was “happiness is a choice.”  I think that is, for the most part, true.  Only you are in charge of your happiness.  “If you rely on others,” she writes, “you’ll be disappointed for the rest of your life.”

“Choose your battles” is one of the twelve things Sloan wants her children to know.  Before you fight with your siblings or your spouse, be sure it’s worth the waste of energy and time.

I found another blogger whose advise to her children was “keep your mouth shut.”  I’ve never regretted keeping my mouth shut a single time, but I have regretted every single time I’ve ever yelled at someone.”

Another one, she writes, is “everything that stinks in life is going to teach you a lesson.”  That’s true, isn’t it?

I found a story about one mom who dropped a note in her son’s lunch box every day.  Knew he wouldn’t sit down and read a book, but just a note – a word of wisdom, a pearl for each day.  Hers were good.  For example, “invite the new kid to sit with you on the bus or eat with you at lunch.”  Wow, I hope my kids do that. 

Or “be active in your own life; don’t let it pass you by.” 

Or “live without much debt; money problems ruin marriages, friendships, and jobs.”

“No fish handshakes; a firm handshake shows confidence.”

Good stuff.  Just one word a day for the kid, in his lunch box.

Don’t you wish you’d been writing all this down for your kids and grandkids?  I sort of do to, until – until I realized that someone has already done that.  A long, long time ago, the wisest men of all, the sages of wisdom wrote down what our children need to know and collected it all in a book called Proverbs.  There is probably nothing you can teach your kids that isn’t already in the word of God called Proverbs.  This summer we begin a series:  A Word From the Wise.  Today is the first – it’s called “Like a Sponge.”

The first two chapters of Proverbs call for a son to listen to the wisdom of his parents.  Look at chapter 1, verses 8-9:  “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck.”

“Hey, boy!  Come over here and listen up.”  That’s what the proverbial sage is saying. 

And who is doing the teaching?  Look at 1:1 – these are the words of Solomon, David’s own son.

Why (v. 3-4)?  “To receive instruction in wise behavior…To give prudence to the naive.”

You know, if you really are wise, you’ll want to learn.

The book of Proverbs is actually a collection of collections.  The name “proverbs” comes from the root meaning “to be like” or “to be compared with.”  And thus, a proverb may have originally been a comparison of a type found frequently in the Old Testament, like Proverbs 16:24:  “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”  There is a good word of wisdom for our kids.

What is the purpose of Proverbs?

Hebrew wisdom is the art of success.  Stay with me this summer – we’re going to learn how to be successful.  A guidebook for successful living.  By showing positive and negative rules for life, the wise sages are going to tell us what to do and how to do it.  We’re going to know the difference between right and wrong in a whole host of situations.  Just the stuff you want your kids to know.  This book contains eight separate collections that are distinct and that tell the young men in ancient Israel how they ought to live, what they ought to do.

Now, wisdom is projected as a person – really, most often as a woman.  Look at 1:20.  “Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings.  ‘How long, O naive ones, will you love simplicity?  And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge?  Turn to my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.  Because I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention; and you neglected all my counsel and did not want my reproof; I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes….’”

Don’t hate knowledge (v. 29).  You need to fear the Lord – that’s the beginning of wisdom, isn’t it?

Look back at verse 7.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  If you are naive, don’t be teachable.  “But the one who listens to me,” says Wisdom, “shall live securely” (v. 33), “and will be at ease from the dread of evil.”

Ever met a know-it-all kid?  Can’t teach him a thing.  He already knows more than the wise ones.  How silly.  How arrogant.

It happened on the streets of East Hampton, New York.  An adolescent daughter was begging her father not to sing.  She pleaded, “Daddy, Daddy, please don’t sing!”  So as to not be an embarrassment to his daughter, Billy Joel quit singing.  Even though people pay big money to hear the “Piano Man” sing, it somehow embarrassed his daughter.  The next time your kids find your behavior weird, dated, or unacceptable, just think of Billy Joel.  (Reader’s Digest, April 2001)

We are raising a know-it-all generation where children think they know more than their moms and their dads.  Such a child will go to the folly and the foolishness of destruction says the writer of Proverbs.  We need to listen up, we need to soak it up like a sponge when someone wiser than we ourselves is in our midst.

Do you think that I could teach Warren Buffet anything about investing?  No, if Buffet wants to show up and talk about the stock market, I’d better sit in silence and soak it up.

Anyone here think that Emeril wants to stop by my house for some cooking lessons?  I think not.

The beginning of wisdom is a teachable spirit, fearing the Lord enough (v. 7) to listen up to His words.

In chapter 2, he begins, “My son, if you will receive my sayings, if you will treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your ear to understanding…. Then (v. 5) you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.”

Yahweh is the source of every beginning, and He is certainly the source of the beginning of wisdom.

 

An Egyptian instruction has been found which says, “There is no one born wise.”  It’s true.   Wisdom is not so much a goal to be attained as a posture of humility, a willingness to receive instruction.  I’d rather hire someone who is teachable with less knowledge than someone who already has greater knowledge but an unteachable spirit.

I want us to look at the If-Then of Proverbs 2.

In verse 1-4, three times he says “if you.” 

2:1 – “If you receive my sayings…”

2:3 – “If you cry for discernment…”

2:4 – “If you seek her…”

Then.

Those are the ifs.  Now, what are the thens.  What good will wisdom do us?

I.  First of all, then you will understand the fear of the Lord (vs. 5-8).  The fear of the Lord in Proverbs is associated with knowing your human limits.  Look at verse 6 – the picture is of God as a teacher.  “From God’s mouth come knowledge and understanding.”  The mouth of the Lord speaks, and we must have ears to hear.

II.  There is another “then.”  Not only, “then you will understand the fear of the Lord,” the next “then” comes in verse 9:  “Then you will understand righteousness and justice.”  It’s a picture of someone walking down a path.  Notice in verse 7, “He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of the godly ones.”  Follow the good path of life.

If you can discern righteousness, you know how to live.  If you understand justice, you’ll make good choices.

III.  There is third “then,” so to speak, in verses 12-15.  “Then you will be saved from evil men, from the man who speaks perverse things.”  The danger does not lie in what the evil man will do to the young man.  The danger lies in that the evil man will invite the young man to join him in his evil way.  Notice verse 13.  The evil men want our young men to walk the way of darkness.  They walk down crooked paths (v. 15).

IV.  And there is a fourth.  “Then you will be safe from evil women” (v. 16).  We will be saved from evil men who invite us to follow their crooked path, but also – speaking as the wise one to the sons – he says avoid evil women, namely the sexually promiscuous (vs. 16-19).  “To deliver you from the strange woman, from the one who flatters with her words.”  She talks a good talk, but she walks down the crooked path and, at the end of the day, her seductive words are deadly. Just as violent men will meet a violent end, the path of the sexually promiscuous woman leads to the path of death.

V.  One final then.  “In order to walk” (vs. 20-22).  Don’t go down the crooked path, don’t go down the path that leads to death.  But walk in the way of good men.  Keep the paths of the righteous.

So, pull up a chair this summer.  Take a seat at the table.  Listen to the words of the wise.  And soak them up like a sponge.