March 29, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 15:10 in the audio file.
Or, Solomon’s Tips for Establishing Your House in a Crisis
My wife reminded me of a scene from her all-time favorite movie (UHF) where Raul of Raul’s Wild Kingdom shows the audience his ant farm with the intricate little tunnels that took weeks and weeks for the ants to create. Then he picks up the whole farm and says, “They hate it when you do this,” shaking it like an stubborn Etch-a-Sketch.
God is really shaking things up around us. Maybe some of the things you’ve been building for weeks, or years, are wrecked. It doesn’t take as long for things to be broken. God is rattling the walls, and He’s opened up new windows, or at least made holes by knocking off the siding in some places. In a lot of ways life has been disrupted, and it’s not done yet. I’ve likened it to being dealt a hand of cards, and before you get your turn, the dealer takes your cards back and gives you a new hand. You make your plan, and before your next turn, the dealer decides to choose a different game. No matter how flexible you are, it’s wild. It’s tiring.
I’ve been thinking that “virus time” is sort of like dog years; the age rate is exponential at the beginning. When Peter wrote that with the Lord, a thousand years is as one day (2 Peter 3:8), is this what it feels like? And it leads to the eternal question: which came first, the lockdowns or the meltdowns?
This is why the author of Hebrews wrote, “Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reference and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). He gives and He takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). Behold, today is the day for worship. And tomorrow will be a day requiring wisdom.
We are being tested, whatever else God is doing, which I pointed out from 1 Peter 1:6 last Lord’s Day. God is refining our faith, and, what I want to encourage you with today, is that God is establishing our houses. He has sent a whirlwind, and those with wisdom will be better for it.
It’s stated simply in Proverbs 10:25.
When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever.
The “tempest” (ESV) could be translated as “whirlwind.” It’s a word used a few times in Solomon’s collection of proverbs. And this verse gives a few impressions. First, whirlwinds are for all, including both ends of the character spectrum, the wicked and the righteous. Whirlwinds are no respecters of persons. And second, the verse gives the impression that there are whirlwinds, plural. The proverb is axiomatic, it’s a universal truth. This verse isn’t describing the “Great Tempest” at the end of the age, it acknowledges that whirlwinds can keep coming. And the third impression is that whirlwinds pass. They come, they may come in waves, but then they go. Borrowing an idea from C.S. Lewis, it is not “always virus, never vacation.” So what do they leave behind?
The righteous are “established forever.” To be established is to have roots, to have the stability and strength of a deep foundation, so deep you need an elevator to get down to the bottom. The wicked are not so.
The coronavirus is a kind of whirlwind. It is a vortex of sickness and fear. In this whirlwind it is hard to breath, and hard to do business. You can’t really tell where the next piece of mayhem is going to come from. Clearly there is a storm in many respiratory systems, and there is a tornado in our economic systems.
I am not an epidemiologist, but from what I understand, God must have selected this particular virus out of His irony warehouse. Listen to this description, “the corona connects to a specific receptor on its victims membranes…[and] the cell, ignorant of what’s happening, executes the new instructions which are pretty simple: Copy and Reassemble. It fills up with more and more copies of the original virus until it reaches a critical point and receives one final order: Self-destruct.” (video) It can get so bad that even some who recover may have life-long disabilities.
This is a perfect medical metaphor for a cultural whirlwind. Not just in lungs, but in legislators, ignorant self-destruction is happening. This virus is a whirlwind, and wisdom is a kind of ventilator that keeps us breathing and gives oxygen to the brain. As Christians, we see the virus affecting lungs, we see it affecting our political leaders, but we must not let it infect our hope.
3000 years ago Solomon wrote to those who wouldn’t listen to wisdom: “your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you” (Proverbs 1:27). The wicked will be overthrown, “but the house of the righteous will stand forever” (Proverbs 12:7). Which brings us back to Proverbs 10:25. Wisdom is a foundation. The whirlwind leaves a foundation. We are not looking to be comfortable, but to have roots like the mountains.
The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous. (Proverbs 3:33)
May the Lord establish the righteous, and bless their houses, that we will profit as we wait out this whirlwind, and by wisdom be established in this crisis. The Lord has mixed this crisis cocktail for us, and wisdom is immunity.
I’m about to give six tips from Solomon for wisdom in the whirlwind. I say “tips” tongue-in-cheek because I generally mock the idea of “tips.” These are not just bullet-pointed lifehacks. These are ways to be lifewise.
I am not saying that you aren’t already doing this. I don’t know if you are. In fact, I haven’t personally talked to anyone who is bored. Most of the people I’ve talked to are more busy, at least in some ways. But if you are working, let this be an encouragement to excel still more. And if you aren’t, what are you waiting for?
There is never a wise time to be a sluggard (see Proverbs 6:6-11). The meme’s about saving the world by sitting on your couch watching TV all day are funny, but not if you mean it. I’m thankful for streaming content, and the Internet, actually and for real: wow. But binging Netflix is not a seed the grows the fruit of house building.
Turn a profit on this panic-pandemic. I’m not talking about exploiting the weak, but how about attacking your own weaknesses? What are you learning? What are you teaching your kids to do in a crisis? Don’t just talk; talk leads to poverty, but “in all toil there is profit” (Proverbs 14:23).
Life is turned upside down, or at least tilted. What do you see differently? What ignorance or bad habits can you dislodge? What have you not done for a while? Pick up your Bible reading. Learn some new technologies. Come out of the whirlwind as a force.
This is an economic principle. When there are problems, those who give come out ahead.
The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered himself. (Proverbs 11:25, KJV)
I’ve preached an entire sermon on this verse (titled “How to Get Fat”). It’s how God made the world to work. It’s not just true that you reap what you sow, but you reap as much as you sow. So sow liberally.
This is not necessarily about giving things away for free, though there are gifts to be given, or given temporarily. In his book Knowledge and Power, George Gilder described a lesson he learned about how “aggressive price cuts can trigger a cascade of strategic benefits, not just expanding market share, building asset values, and increasing revenues, but also gaining more knowledge of the strategic environment and provoking overreactions and blunders by rivals” (42). During whirlwind times are times to learn what is essential and how to do those better. Business school is in session.
For example, the video chat app Zoom is killing it. It’s become a joke how many Zoom meetings there are. For educators, they’ve lifted the 40 minutes for free limit during this time of sending school home, and I hope Zoom makes crazy dollars when people don’t need them quite as much. Zoom’s product is excellent, better in a lot of ways than other services, and they appear to be generous rather than grabby.
What do you have that you could share? And if nothing else, be more generous with the good news of eternal salvation than with the doomsday of the economy.
During a whirlwind it is very tempting to want to control something. When the whirlwind has the name of Legion, also known as the name of all your kids in the living room, it is particularly tempting to want to control them. Bossiness feels good, but you’ve got to find a target you think has to take it, which are typically your kids or your students or someone you can’t see online.
If you want your house to be established in this crisis, however, don’t try to control your house. Start with you.
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28)
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32)
This is not saying that parents shouldn’t have standards, it’s saying that parents should apply the standards to themselves first. Show your kids how it’s done. Show your neighbors how it’s done. Show our country how it’s done. I think it could be argued that the root of socialism is a desire to control others. It’s not presented that way in the brochures, duh. But expecting others to do what we want, more than expecting ourselves to do what is right, is a big problem.
Do you not like what is happening? Do you think that people are being too cavalier about the virus, not following “orders” for proper social distancing or essential work? Do you think that people are being too afraid about the virus, not understanding the additional consequences on the health of our economy and education and culture? Do you think that Someone on the internet is wrong?
Of course you do. So what will you do about it, and how will you do it in a way that establishes your house, rather than lights it on fire just to get attention?
With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone. (Proverbs 25:15)
If you want to lob metaphorical grenades into your social media timeline, do it, but don’t expect that to build anything (other than perhaps resentment). If you want to vent, okay, just remember that it is a “fool who takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2) Sounding off in irritation is not the same as presenting a sound case. Solomon knew something about that.
The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Proverbs 16:21)
The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. (Proverbs 16:23)
Don’t be a cynic. Yes, “laugh at the man who won’t make God his refuge” (Psalm 52:7), but not because you think your laughter will change his mind. Know when to be amicable, know when to attack. Be wise with who needs what.
Don’t argue with fools, either, or at least be wise about what you expect.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32 ESV)
I’m breaking the pattern of tips because I like the word fret.
In this cycle of whirlwinds, remember that God made “everything for its purpose” including whirlwinds and the wicked who try to manipulate the whirlwinds (Proverbs 16:4).
And more than being part of how God shakes things up, the wicked and the liars will not go unpunished.
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5)
Proverbs 19:5 and 19:9 are exactly the same as each other, with just a few verses between:
A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.
It doesn’t matter what media credentials a liar has, or who spreads disinformation and fake news.
The evil have no future (Proverbs 24:19-20). And don’t expect to make them happy.
An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked. (Proverbs 29:27)
This is entirely about perspective.
All the days of the afflicted are evil but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:15)
This is not a coincidence. “Miserable things always happen to that miserable man.” No, the man who is miserable can only see the miserable things. Instead of looking through rose-colored glasses, he wipes his glasses with the gloves he was wearing while spreading manure around his roses. It makes nothing clear, and somehow, he’s surprised that everything he does see stinks.
I looked up the Hebrew word translated “cheerful” to see what it “really” means. It means , a “merry heart” (KJV), “gladness of heart” (YLT).
A miserable heart means a miserable life, a cheerful heart fills the day with song. (MSG)
This includes how you act in the barn with all your oxen children trapped inside with you (Proverbs 14:4).
The prudent know when to hide (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12). COVID-19 is a real whirlwind, a deadly virus, and some of the government mandated hiding is wise.
And also, “shelter in place” was made for man, not man for “shelter in place.” Even good things, like the Sabbath, can, and probably will be abused by people wearing power-pants (Mark 2:23-27).
Wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD. It is working together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
When James exhorted those who planned to go to such and such a town and trade and make profit, that their lives were like a vapor (James 4:13-14), he wasn’t saying just to sit still. He was saying, fear the Lord. Trust the Lord. If the Lord wills, we will do this or that (James 4:15). You do not know what tomorrow will bring, but do not be those of little faith. Be those of big faith, seek first the kingdom of God, with wisdom and cheerfulness.
Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. (James 5:8b–11a, ESV)