Clean Troughs

Proverbs 14:4

Where no oxen are, the trough is clean;
But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.

A long line of tightwads

      I have a disclaimer, everybody:  I come from a long line of tightwads.  When my parents became engaged, a mutual friend quipped that their engagement was an excellent match:  “Jim & Maryanne gettin’ married?  That’s good. They can pinch pennies together.”

In 1982, my parents took me and my two older brothers to visit the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee.  If you visited the Fair in mid-July of that year, you probably remember us.  We were the teenage boys carrying wilted cheese sandwiches in satchels dangling from our belts (in 92 degree heat and 98% humidity) to avoid the high cost of fairground fare for lunch.

That is to say, I “get it honest”.

I was 20 years old before I bought my first car, a 1973 Plymouth Scamp for which I paid $850. It came complete with a shredded and flapping vinyl top and fenders so rusted out from the salt on the winter highways of Southwest Virginia that I dared not drive the car through a car wash for fear of leaving too many parts behind.  When driving in the rain, water would pour in under the dashboard, soaking shoes, socks, and pants legs. I’m not exaggerating!

Early in our marriage, I can remember having discussions with my new wife concerning the threshold of excessive toilet paper usage.  (Just use your imagination.)  As I type these words, I examine my current attire:  a striped, button-down, long-sleeve shirt which came to me second hand from America’s Thrift Store, a worn pair of khaki pants purchased on sale in a discount clothing store three years ago for around $20, and socks and underwear that are, let’s just say, of mature age.  Only my shoes are of a brand name which you might possibly recognize, a brand and style I am medically required to purchase to give support to my very flat feet.

So today’s proverb is really for me and for others of the dying breed of folk who are allergic to the spending of money.

Expensive critters

Let’s face it:  Oxen are expensive critters to keep around.  It has been scientifically proven that they have to be fed a certain amount to survive.  Oxen require a ready supply of drinking water.  Oxen need routine preventative and maintenance veterinary care.  They need strong fences to contain them.  They need barns for shelter in severe weather.

Thus if you have no oxen in the stall, the trough is “clean”, or perhaps a better rendering would be, “the granary is empty”.  You don’t have to fill the barn with hay, or purchase corn for the crib, if you have no oxen to feed.  It’s much cheaper to own no oxen.

Wise capital investment

However, seen as a capital investment, oxen can bring the wise farmer great financial reward.  Of course the proverb harkens from a pre-industrial age, but the point is obvious.  Oxen drag the plow to cut the sod so that crops can be sown.  Oxen pull the carts and wagons when bringing in the harvest from the fields, and then they haul the harvest to market.  Indeed, “much increase comes by the strength of an ox.”

Investment is risky business.  By its very definition, invested money may be totally lost.  Otherwise healthy-looking oxen drop dead of heart attacks on occasion, I suppose.  But wise, intentional investments create the possibility for wonderful profits.  To interpret the biblical proverb with a proverb from our popular culture, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Two gospel passages

In light of Proverbs 14:4, two New Testament texts come to mind.  The first is the Lord’s parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20).  Without recounting the parable’s details, I conclude that the Lord’s primary point is to emphasize the miraculous increase of the seed that fell on good ground (verses 8 & 20).  When it comes to our stewardship of the gospel, invest heavily!  Throw caution to the wind!  Proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom everywhere, and although three-fourths of the time it won’t amount to much, we can count on an astonishing, miraculous, God-given increase when the seed of God’s Word does hit the “pay dirt”.  There are so many Christian congregations which have the clean troughs of playing it safe in the ministry.  Our proverb would say, “Go big for the gospel of Jesus Christ!”

The second text is found in Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents.  Space does not permit me to retell the passage, but the connection with our proverb is clear enough:  Invest for the master!  Don’t be a scrooge and hide heaven’s riches in a hole in the ground.  Take a chance!  Do something big and bold and risky for the Master!

Father God, make us to be wise and bold investors of all which you have entrusted to us, blessings both temporal and spiritual.  Forgive us when we fail, not for our sake, but for the sake of your own dear Son.  Through Christ our Lord: Amen. 

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A Fool and His “Switch”

Proverbs 14:3

“In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.”
“A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back, but the lips of the wise protect them.” – NIV

Pick Your Own

If the typical Child Protective Services agent of today had been around when I was a wee heathen, my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents would have been hauled off to jail. My parents, especially my paternal grandmother, would have wound up on the front page of the newspaper. They would have made the evening news on television. The story would have read something like this…

Click on the picture. I’m sure the company won’t mind me doing a little advertising in return for using their t-shirt pic 😉

APNews. Mary Baker, the half-Cherokee grandmother of sweet little Anthony Baker, was arrested for gross child abuse, today. Mrs. Baker, widow of the late William Baker (saw mill owner; moonshine runner), was found to have left marks on cute little Anthony’s backside and buttocks with a “hickory switch.”

Left-wing, pot-smoking, tree-hugging, liberal, hippie neighbors who somehow snuck into the neighborhood heard little Anthony screaming bloody murder and went to investigate. They reported seeing darling little Anthony bent over his grandmother’s knee as she mercilessly assaulted him with the large tree branch previously growing in the front yard.

According to the angelic little Anthony, his grandmother, upon hearing him backtalk her, told him to exit the house in order to retrieve said “switch.” When he didn’t return with the prescribed tool of abuse, Mrs. Baker sought him out, hewed down her own tree, then preceded to “wear him out.

Yes, when I was a child, you did not talk disrespectfully to your grandmother. If your mouth was bad enough you might even be made to pick your own tool of discipline – and it was wise to pick a big enough switch the first time.

A Fool’s Talk

Whenever I was about to get into serious trouble, my dad used to say, “Son, you’re cruising for a bruising.” Whenever I talked back (disrespectfully) to my parents, I was in danger of seeing stars (without a telescope). Therefore, it did not take long for me to learn how to control my tongue.

According to this proverb, though, a fool is pictured as having a rod (switch, branch, vine) growing out of his mouth. Because of his pride, the fool never learns from the consequences of his words. Every thing he says seems to come back and beat him.

The one who knows how to keep his mouth shut, however, is much more likely to be able to sit down without pain. At least that’s the way it used to be.

A Note for the Shocked

Please don’t misunderstand today’s proverb, nor my attempt at humor. No one here, especially myself, would advocate abusing a child. Corporal punishment should be administered in love, not anger, and only as a last resort.

The problem is that much of our society promotes “the mouth of the foolish.” Remember, “God is not mocked,” so the fool that runs off at the mouth today is still in danger of suffering from his words – one way or another.


Two Roads

Proverbs 14:2

“He who walks in his uprightness fears the Lord, But he who is perverse in his ways despises Him.” (KJV).
“Those who follow the right path fear the LORD; those who take the wrong path despise him.” (NLT).

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost:

  • I shall be telling this with a sigh,
  • Somewhere ages and ages hence:
  • Two roads diverged in a wood and I –
  • I took the one less traveled by
  • And that has made all the difference 

Often, the references to roads in poetry are metaphors to make us think of our lives and how we live them. Even Jesus used this metaphorical sense in talking about roads when He said, “Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14).

Everyone wonders: how do we find the road to the blessed life?  Jesus said that this road is the road less traveled by – that there are few who find it – and that it will make all the difference, for this is the road that leads to life. I believe this is what Solomon was talking about in the above Proverb:

The First Road – The Wrong Path:

The first road that Jesus talks about is the wide road that leads to destruction. He says there are many people who walk on that road. Proverbs 14:2 says that those who are perverse in their ways – those who take the wrong path – show that they despise God by walking on this road. It’s like God put up a big sign that said, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” and yet foolish people still choose that road. The road of sin, rebellion, and ultimately death. But there is another road…

The Second Road – The Right Path:

The second road that Jesus talks about is the narrow and difficult way that leads to life. He says that – sadly – there are few who find this road. Proverbs 14:2 says that those who walk in their uprightness – those who follow the right path – fear the Lord. And here is the key to walking on the right path. It starts with a fear of the Lord.

To fear the Lord doesn’t mean that we are afraid of Him. However, it does mean that we respect Him, and when He says, “This is the way, walk in it,” we obey. Because we trust Him. And we know that the commands that He gives to us are for our own good.

Today, you are standing at a crossroads. Two roads diverge in a wood. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for those who choose the easy way. But the road to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few find it. Take the narrow road – the road less traveled by. It will make all the difference in your life!


Building a Home

Proverbs 14:1

Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.

Housebuilding

Six months before we got married my wife and I purchased our first home. Mortgages were not easy to come by in 1978 and we had to find a deposit of £1,000 for a house that cost £14,995. Prudently we saved far more than the deposit before applying for a mortgage. Why? Because a house without furniture would not have been a home. Some of our furniture was purchased second-hand, some of it was new. Some of it was given to us by relatives who wanted to pass on their hand-me-downs. It didn’t really matter where it came from, what mattered was that we were building a home.

Lived In

When I look back at our first house it wasn’t perfect. The wallpaper and carpets were chosen by the previous owner and could best be described as ‘loud.’ The electric heating was inefficient and expensive. The front door caught the force of the wind and the rain in winter and used to jam. But whatever else that house was it was our home. It was where we lived and raised our family for fourteen years. If you had visited you might not have found a tidy home, but you would have found a home that was lived in. A home that was built and cherished by a wise woman. My wife.

Tenant or Owner

Just as our homes should be filled with evidence of our lives, Scripture teaches that our lives should be filled with evidence of God’s Holy Spirit. If we have surrendered our lives to God this is equivalent to opening the front door of our home and inviting Him in as the new owner, not just a tenant. If we do this then He will help us to change the decoration, fit new carpets, install new heating, and anything else He sees necessary for Him to feel comfortable living in us. It all boils down to ownership. Have you made God the owner of your house or do you treat Him like a tenant?


Turkish Delights

Proverbs 13:25

The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want.”

One of the greatest stories, children’s or otherwise, to come out of the Twentieth Century was C.S. Lewis‘s The Chronicles of Narnia.

In the first of the book written, but second in the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the third child and second boy of the family, Edmund Pevensie, is approached by the White Witch. She gives young Edmund some of one of his favorite sweets: Turkish Delights.

The thing about these Turkish Delights, and any food the White Witch gave to potential informants/slaves, is that the one consuming them never had enough. Edmund began craving these Turkish Delights beyond anything else, to the point that he was willing to give up his brother and sisters.

All Kinds of Addictions

If you think about it, there are many things in our world like Turkish Delight, depending on the person: alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, caffiene, pornography, sex, food, shopping, entertainment (of various sorts), and the list goes on and on.

Ask anyone in an addiction (and as one who has overcome an addiction to pornography, I, too, can attest to this), the more you get into your vice the more you want. I can not tell you how many hours (and even days) I have lost to my addiction. With some addictions, the end result is loss of everything and even death.

With Edmund, even he almost died for his sins.

Hearts Content

Those who are free of addiction find a great benefit: they are content.

Paul tells us in Philippians 4 that the true secret to contentment is loving God. He can face any trial, be in need or have plenty, and he is content.

Likewise, whatever we face in this life, whatever draws us away from God and people, turning to God and making Him our addiction is what shows us true contentment.

In fact, we were told that our peace only comes through Christ:

27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
John 14:27

We may be able to kick addictions, but only Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit can give us true peace and contentment.

God of Peace, free us from our addictions and anything that draws us away from you. In the power of the Name of the Son, give us true peace in this life. Increase Your love in us before we perish. Increase Your love in us that we may know You and bring others to Your saving grace.


Buddy or Parent?

Proverbs 13:24

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Since 2005, I have not only served at my church as Worship Pastor but I have also held the position of Children’s Pastor. Because of the structure of our children’s program, I have volunteers that are mostly dealing with the children on a week to week basis. I have found that I am begin to work more and more with the parents of these children.

I had a mom come to me a few years ago and she told me that her and her husband were having problems with their daughter not wanting to obey them. They said that they had tried just about everything and nothing seemed to work. I asked them how they disciplined their daughter when she disobeyed them and I was astonished by the response.

Her response was this: I don’t want to punish her because I want her to like me and if I punish her then she will not like me!

HUH? What kind of sense that does that make? I told them that their daughter does not need a “buddy” but a “parent”!

This Is Going To Hurt Me More Than You

As I was growing up, you could say that I had my fair share of spankings. Well, to be perfectly honest, I had a whole lot more than my fair share. My father always joked with me that each morning he was going to just go ahead and spank me because he was sure that I would earn it at some point during the day.

Before either my father or my mother would spank me, they would always say, “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you.” I would always have the same thought go through my head – your not the one getting a spanking. How in the world is this going to hurt you more? It was not until I had a little girl of my own that I was able to have this question answered.

The Reason

After every spanking, my parents would take out their Bible and show me from God’s Word why they were disciplining me. They would turn to Proverbs 13:24 and read to me the words of Solomon. The reason that it hurt them more and the reason they disciplined me is that they loved me! They were not disciplining me because they wanted to be some kind of ruling tyrant, no, they were doing it because they loved me. The NIV says our verse this way, “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.”

If we are children of God, why does HE discipline us? Because HE loves us! Revelation 3:19 says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”

I praise the Lord for parents who disciplined me. Who took the time to tell me right from wrong; the good from the bad. Oh how I wish parents today would discipline their children the way my parents did me.

Lord, I pray that you would help me to love my child more and more each day. I pray that you would cause that love to discipline her when it is needed.  Help me to be the father that I need to be for my daughter so that I can train her according to Your Word.


Little Is Much

Proverbs 13:23

“Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment.”
“A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.” NIV

We Complain 

Many times we complain about what we don’t have rather than thank God for what we do have. Have you ever complained about how small your house is, how old your car is, or how out of style your clothes are?  Sure you have. And you know, of course, that there are plenty of people out there who don’t even have a roof to sleep under, much less a new car or stylish clothes.

It might be a shock to you, but even pastors (ministers, preachers, bishops) have times when they complain about the “field” they are called to plow. I have done it. I even did it today, right before I read Proverbs 13:23.

We Whine

Today [at the time of this writing] we had a death in our church. The loss of this key member has been a blow to all of our congregation. And being that our numbers are small, the loss of any member is painful, especially when growth has been extremely slow.

At one point I began to feel anxious. I asked God, “How can we grow a church if our younger adults start dying?” I thought to myself, “If we lose many more, we won’t be able to pay our utility bills, not to mention the little I get to feed my family.” For a moment I considered this field too small for even a minimal harvest.

No Excuses

Then I read this proverb. Then I read what the wise Matthew Henry had to say. Then I felt ashamed.

See…[how] a small estate may be improved by industry, so that a man, by making the best of every thing, may live comfortably upon it: Much food is in the tillage of the poor, the poor farmers, that have but a little, but take pains with that little and husband it well. Many make it an excuse for their idleness that they have but a little to work on, a very little to be doing with; but the less compass the field is of the more let the skill and labour of the owner be employed about it, and it will turn to a very good account. Let him dig, and he needs not beg.[1]

Sounds like I need to just get back out in the field and turn the soil, doesn’t it? A small field can be full of produce if worked well and wisely. It is those who complain that let a harvest waste away.

Like the old song says, “Little is much when God is in it...”

Dear Heavenly Father, strengthen our hands and energize our hearts for the work. The fields are truly white unto harvest, so who are we kidding? We just need to work a little harder to bring it in.

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), Pr 13:23.