An Eternal Perspective

Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 23:17-18

Here, the writer encourages his reader to take the long, eternal perspective. The natural tendency is to desire that which we can see. And in this case, the implication is to chase whatever it is that sinners have or are doing. Maybe it’s wealth. Prestige, perhaps. Whatever it is, the writer says, Don’t long for that! It’s here today, gone tomorrow. It’s temporal (see Ecclesiastes 1:3-4, Hebrews 11:24-25).

In contrast, we are encouraged to continue trusting, by faith, in the Lord.

The New Testament shares this same theme:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Hebrews 11 continues, “By faith …

  • we understand that the universe was created by the word of God
  • Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Can
  • Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death
  • Noah built an ark
  • Sarah received power to conceive
  • Abraham offered Isaac on the altar
  • Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau
  • Jacob, while dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph
  • Moses left Egypt
  • the people crossed the Red Sea
  • the walls of Jericho fell …”

What is to be gained for those who fear the Lord rather than envy the sinner? A hope and future that will not be cut off (Proverbs 23:18).

Questions:

What do you envy about sinners, in general, or a specific sinner?

Why is that, whatever it is, more inviting than a future that will not be cut off?

There’s a reason …

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2 ESV)

My elementary school report cards were often littered with X’s on the Excessive Talking line, so it was not infrequent that I was reminded, “There’s a reason God gave you only one mouth and two ears.” In other words, “you should listen at least twice as much as you talk.” In the south, perhaps other places as well, this phrase is used as a logical argument for why a kid (or an obnoxious adult) should demonstrate self-control and talk less, particularly in a group setting.

In Proverbs 18:2, the writer is pressing deeper than simply the matter of self-control. Here, he is suggesting that for the fool what can appear to be a self-control issue is actually a window into the heart. The reason his mouth works overtime is pride.

Beware strong silent types, the fool doesn’t have to be a Chatty Kathy. A quiet reserved person can also struggle with pride, engaging with others only when his/her thoughts or opinion can be shared.

Proverbs fleshes out this idea in other places by describing the wise person. For example, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (13:1 ESV). Or, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (9:9 ESV).

Whether we are loud or quiet, an important question to ask ourselves is, What do my conversations reveal about my heart? Am I a fool who is only interested in sharing my own opinion or knowledge? Or, do I demonstrate wisdom by being open to instruction and/or correction? Am I willing to learn from others?

When I am my own fool

One doesn’t need to get very far into the book of Proverbs to see the writer’s emphasis on the contrast between wisdom and foolishness. Transparency alert: When reading through Proverbs, the temptation for a Bible College/Seminary professor (at least this one!) is to see this student or that student playing the part of the fool … you know, a contemporary example of the proverb under consideration.

A better approach to Bible study is to let the text correct oneself long before it is read to correct others. When reading Proverbs, I should be asking questions like: In the situation described here, am I wise or foolish? How does the text describe my own actions or thoughts?

Today, the text reminded me of my own error of seeing others in the text before seeing myself.

Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 16:5 ESV)

Reading the text and immediately seeing how others are the fool before considering my own heart and actions demonstrates a foolish arrogance that doesn’t please the Lord.

Sometimes, I’m my own fool.

The Show Must Go On! “Where My Backup Singers?”

“The show must go on!” may have never been better illustrated than by Patti LaBelle at the 1996 Christmas Tree Lighting in Washington, DC as seen in the video below.

Watch the video, then continue reading.

Throughout the song she brought attention to the problems by mentioning them, rolling her eyes and making faces, humming rather than signing, and complaining. But, … She. Kept. Going.

Question: Was it better for Ms. LaBelle to continue on even though she didn’t have her backup singers, didn’t know the song, and had the wrong cue cards? Or, should she have taken a moment to get organized?

A couple questions should guide us to an answer.

1. What did she intend to accomplish?
2. Did she, in fact, accomplish her goal by continuing on with the show?

Although I don’t know Ms. LaBelle’s goal for that performance, I can’t imagine that the product was anywhere near what she had hoped. Thus, it seams reasonable to conclude that she might have benefited by taking a moment to reorganize. Of course for public presenters – whether in song or spoken word – it is embarrassing to stop when things don’t go as planned. That’s understandable. But, could stopping for a moment to better organize be more embarrassing than the outcome of Ms. LaBelle’s performance? There is a reason it’s on YouTube.

In the Presence of Significance

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

Yesterday, I had the rare opportunity to sit with people of significance, Leon and Lorraine Dillinger. Such opportunities are rare in life, because people of true significance are rare treasures. I’m tempted to use the word “greatness” in reference to the Dillingers, but doing so would 1) embarrass them, and 2) risk taking honor away from the Lord whose work in and through them is what tempts me to use the word “greatness.”

In a nutshell: Equipped with an intense love for Jesus paired with an unsurpassed commitment to do the Lord’s will and some medical and Wycliffe translation training,  Leon and Lorraine went to Papua, Indonesia in 1958, and have, for 56 years and counting, given their lives to the Lord’s service among the Dani people. Leon, arrived 9 months before Lorraine, and in addition to preparing an airstrip for future flights in/out of this remote highlands village, he also prepared their “honeymoon cottage,” which was a grass hut. When Lorraine arrived, they married and lived in that grass hut.

The stories they have lived are too numerous to attempt to retell, but a few important ones must be included here: they reduced the Dani language to writing; taught the Dani to read and write (their own language); translated the Bible into Dani; have been part of the establishment of 130+ Dani churches, led by Dani pastors; and established schools and a Bible institute. They also helped improve the Dani people’s health by introducing certain medications and a variety of new vegetables (the sweet potato made up about 85% of the Dani diet when the Dillingers arrived) and protein sources including soy beans, peanuts and a variety of animals for meat.

A fun contextualization story: When they were translating Isaiah 53, they faced a conundrum.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

The Dani had no knowledge of sheep. The only animal of which they were aware were wild pigs. Lorraine said, “We wondered what to do. The Dani had never seen or heard of sheep. We decided that we could use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep’ because the Dani understood how pigs can run off; they see that all the time. However, that didn’t solve the problem. Pigs don’t go to the slaughter quietly, which meant we couldn’t use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep.'”

What did they do? Realizing only “sheep” or “lamb” could work in that passage, they requested and received from the Dutch government a flock of sheep and began teaching the Dani about the character/personality of sheep so that the passage could make sense to them. (The sheep also served as a source of protein and wool, which was helpful in the cold temperatures of the Papua highlands.)

In addition to speaking in chapel, Leon and Lorraine spoke to our student ministries class. I was impressed at how this couple who has spent over 50 years living among a primitive people could so easily communicate with a group of youth-directors-in-training, who are part of a high-tech, modern world. However, the principles of culture that the Dillingers learned in their work among the Dani are the same principles of culture that today’s student ministry leaders must adapt. I hope at least some of our students realized the privilege they had in hearing from these fountains of wisdom and knowledge yesterday.

leon-dillinger-time-coverIn the Dillingers, I met humble unassuming servants of the Lord. They have the work credentials – even making the cover of Time (Dec/1982) – that many in our culture would flash before others in order to get to the front of the line or gain complimentary goodies. But they don’t use their credentials in those ways. I noted in Leon’s chapel presentation that he didn’t communicate “I did” or “we did,” – even though it would have been perfectly normal in our “it’s about me” culture. Instead, always mindful to give the Lord proper priority, he used phrases like, “the Lord worked it out so that . . .”

Lorraine was equally humble (remember, she has worked side by side with Leon reaching the Dani since 1958): In a private conversation about what can be a controversial topic in mission theory, I pressed her for a clarification about their work as it contrasted to something a recognized missiologist said in a seminar I attended recently, and her answer was simply, “What we found was . . .” Even though she obviously disagreed with the other person’s statement and has a lifetime of credentials to support her position, she didn’t throw him under the bus or speak unkindly toward his work. She simply reiterated what she and Leon had experienced among the Dani. I learned much from their demonstration of humility.

Although they no longer live full time among the Dani, their work has not stopped. They continue to visit the Dani regularly, and Leon is working on a set of Bible commentaries in the Dani language. I hope that their complete story (or as much as is possible) can be captured in a book. The historical record of the modern mission movement will have a significant gap if it isn’t.