Publication: Pastoral Letter, August 2007
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray this letter finds you well. This month, I want to talk about two different words that are very relevant to where society is today. One is priceless, the other can be extremely costly.
Wisdom is propriety: It is knowing how to apply one’s knowledge or vocabulary to a situation; it is sound judgment, discernment, or knowing when to keep quiet. Wisdom is not considered an “exciting hot topic” these days, but if wisdom is not a serious pursuit where does that leave us?
I would define “Wizdumb” as being a statement or action intended to be clever, but turns out to be foolish. (I may have coined a new word, but we all have done what I’m talking about here.) Wisdom can be a source of pride or increased respect. Wizdumb leaves us embarrassed and laughed at-at the least.
Stupid statements and stupid actions are a great source of humor. But as someone said, “Humor is what happens to the other guy.” Someone else said, “No matter how big a fool is, there is always a bigger one to admire him.” It is one thing to laugh at foolishness, quite another to admire a foolish person. This happens too often in our celebrity-dominated culture.
The Lord warned us not to call anyone a fool (Matthew 5:22). But the Bible devotes significant time showing us how to recognize foolishness, and how to avoid it.
You may have heard these sad examples: In Brazil, a man tried to protect himself from bee stings while removing a beehive by putting a plastic bag over his head; he suffocated. An intoxicated college student attempted to shake down a Coke machine in order to release a can; the machine fell on him and killed him. Another man chased a half-full beer can into a Houston freeway; he was hit by a truck. You get the picture; wizdumb can be deadly.
The single greatest example of wizdumb is found in Psalm 14:1, “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.” This statement is repeated in Psalm 53:1. Romans 1:22 makes the same assessment of those who think that they are intelligent, but deny God’s existence in the face of “creation” evidence.
Proverbs 24: Perhaps the most beneficial exercise for me has been to read one chapter of Proverbs each day. I have recently spent some time in chapter 24. I recommend it as a source of discerning between wizdumb and wisdom. The following are some evidences of foolishness.
Evil Scheming (see verse 8): It is plain dumb to plan to do harm to someone. It is a misuse of time, effort, and resources. Not only will another person be hurt, but it will bring the one who plots under judgment. The thousands of people in prisons could testify that planning evil is foolish. We ought to allow them to do “commercials” against planning to do harm. Evil is a boomerang.
Scoffing (see verse 9): Mocking and cynicism are foolish. Such statements directed at others create a negative atmosphere, discouragement, and motivates retaliation. Scoffing is the opposite of encouragement (see 2 Peter 3:3). Scoffers tend to ignore reality when it is presented to them, rather than considering it. They do so to their own hurt.
Talking too much (see verse 7): Those who talk too much, talk beyond their knowledge and often in the presence of wiser people. Their words become disrespected and annoying. This is a problem that I have fought and sometimes lost. Those of us with the “gift of speech” must be aware.
Once in a conversation, I intended to say, “I am a patriarchist,” meaning that I believe fathers should lead. Instead I said, “I am a patrician,” meaning, I am an aristocrat. The listener only laughed, realizing that I was no aristocrat. But I felt dumb. On another occasion in a conversation with some other leaders, I said, “Let’s look at this from Gods perspective.” They also laughed.
Our culture is highly verbose: Talk radio, talk T.V., blogging, rap, and so forth. In former days, people were more understated. Calvin Coolidge was a man of few words. Returning from church, his wife asked, “What did the preacher preach on?” “Sin,” he replied. “What did he say about it?” she pressed. “He was against it.” Coolidge answered. ‘Nuff said!
Fainting(see verse 10)Foolishness cannot endure testing. It may “blow hard”, but it withers under examination. In fact, foolishness invites scrutiny. I live near the Gulf of Mexico. Once, when I had several guests, I bragged about our beaches, “They are the most beautiful in the world” a slight overstatement. One of my guests took me literally. “O, let’s go see the beach!” I had to take him and it was not the best day to see the beach” overcast, rainy, and in winter. He was disappointed, and I was embarrassed. The statement invited scrutiny but lacked credibility. (We do have very nice beaches!)
Lazy (see verse 30)The lazy person is foolish. The writer of Proverbs observed a field that was overgrown with weeds and the stone wall was broken down. It had potential but was unproductive. The writer observed that the owner was “devoid of understanding.”
Laziness is foolishness, because valuable time-our most valuable commodity, is wasted. The time will come when the resources will be needed but there will be no payday. It is a replay of the ant and the grasshopper story (see Proverbs 6:6).
Failure”Wizdumb” adds up to one thing – failure. It fails to fulfill its promise, fails to build, establish, obtain, strengthen, listen, or bless anyone. It will eventually bring judgment. John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.”
Wisdom does what wizdumb cannot. Here are some things, from Proverbs 24, that wisdom does:
Builds (see verse 3): Wisdom has the innate desire to build and build up. Solomon the Wise built the glorious temple and other structures. He built a glorious kingdom which left the Queen of Sheba breathless.
Jesus, the wisdom of God made flesh, is building a glorious Church.The apostles built on the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. We marvel at great structures and respect those who build them. Building reflects wisdom. We are known by what we build.
Establishes (see verse 3): Good builders build with lasting values and methods; they build for future generations. The great structures endure for centuries, even millennia. Their work endures the ravages of time and lasts beyond the winds and fads of a particular generation. Durability is a true mark of wisdom.
Obtains(see verse 4): Wise people acquire the knowledge to obtain and manage resources. We admire and sometimes envy those who obtain wealth” if honestly gotten. Jacob’s son Joseph and Solomon are prime examples of wisdom’s power to obtain.
Most people desire to obtain, but lack the wisdom to do so. One should seek wisdom before resources. And the source of wisdom is God and His Word (see James 1:5).
Strengthens: Wisdom is better than muscle power. It arms itself with good counsel and sound strategy. Conflict is inevitable but wisdom assures success. The Bible gives us numerous examples of conflict both won and lost. Power without wisdom is a recipe for failure. The USA and the former USSR both provide examples of power used without wisdom. Power is no guarantee.
Wisdom not only strengthens those who possess it, but causes them to strengthen others. Their words “edify” (build up) others and draw admiration. The power of life is in their tongue.
Silence(see verse 7): Wisdom knows when to be quiet. Foolishness does not. An important time to be quiet is in the presence of elders or those “who sit in the gate.” In the presence of superior knowledge and experience, a wise person will speak only when spoken to. They will draw from the deeper well.
There was a time when it was said, “Children are seen and not heard.” That day is past. Now children are the center of attention. They are encouraged to show off and be cute. The tragedy is that they miss the opportunity to learn wisdom. Too many of us have the “gift of speech” but need the “gift of silence” (see Isaiah 3).
Get It!(See Proverbs 8)
I have mentioned just five attributes of wisdom. There are many more. Wisdom is the principle and priceless issue of life. It is knowing that no matter how much we know, we don’t know all there is to know about anything (see 1 Corinthians 8:1).
Wisdom was in the beginning with God and reflected the macro and micro of His intricate creation. And, the awe of God is where wisdom begins with us. It is better than gold, silver, knowledge, or power. It is incomparable. “Wizdumb” is costly; wisdom is free and priceless. It cries out to us at every intersection and decision. It pleads for us to listen.
If I could guarantee a way to wealth, I could charge large sums and become wealthy myself. But I can offer something better, and it is free wisdom. Here’s how you can find wisdom: Ask God, read His Word, and associate with wise people, accept correction, learn from mistakes, observe successful people, honor parents and leaders, and don’t quit.
Of course, we must forgive foolishness, or we will not be forgiven. However, forgiving others or ourselves is not enough – we must learn wisdom. We live in a very unforgiving world. Wisdom saves lives, reputations, money, and redeems those who fail. Better yet, it prevents the problems that consume so much of our time and resources.
Personal and Ministry Update
It is our desire to bless you and help you to bless others. You have blessed us for many years. This is a testing time for us. My brother, Riley, recently went to be with his Lord. He was a successful attorney, District Attorney, College Board president, judge, and county CEO. He was also a good husband, father, and deacon in his church. We miss him.
My wife, Carolyn, continues her own courageous battle with cancer. She is a model of faith, courage, and dignity. We need your continued prayers and support. While our faith is in Jesus Christ, He uses willing people to declare and support the proclamation of His Word. The Lord bless and keep you.
P.S. Please see the enclosed form “Take 5 to Bless 5”-its an opportunity to provide free Bible teaching resources for your friends and receive a free CD for yourself. Keep us in your prayers and in your giving this August as we continued forward in mission and ministry.
Scripture Reference: Matthew, Psalms, Romans, 2 Peter, Isaiah, 1 Corinthians