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Monday, March 12, 2018

As Sheep Among Wolves, part 2 - Gullible vs. Prudent

Introduction
            Do you think most people are honest?  Could you trust them?  I watched a YouTube video this week about a guy who tested people's honesty.  He pretended to be blind, wearing dark sunglasses and carrying a can, and went up to complete strangers on the street and asked them if they could make change for a five dollar bill.  Only, he handed them a $50 instead of $5.  A hidden camera captured how they responded.  A few were honest--telling him he'd made a mistake and handed them the wrong amount.  More surprising, were the ones who took advantage of the "blind" man--trading him five one dollar bill for his fifty dollar bill.  One man apparently didn't have the change, so he simply walked away stealing the man's $50 without even saying anything.  You can see the video here.
            There are a lot of people in this world who would take advantage of you if they could.  The world can be a dangerous place.  We need wisdom to survive.  I need more wisdom.  That's why I've been studying Proverbs since last summer.  Each morning, I read a few verses and really try to understand their meaning.  I even look at the original Hebrew words for deeper insight.  Then, I paraphrase the verses in my own words, trying to capture the meaning the best I can.  (You can read some of my paraphrases here in my past blogs or follow me on Facebook where I usually post a paraphrased verse each morning.) 
            In this series, I am sharing some of the ideas I've picked up.  I hope you will join me each week for my blogs on wisdom. 

Matthew 10:16-20 16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.[a] 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

A Dangerous World
            The key verse is Matthew 10:16 where it says, “...be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves…”  In other words, don’t be gullible, but don’t be cynical either.  There are people in this world who will try to take advantage of you.  These days, we are inundated with telemarketers, spam email, pushy salesmen, and politicians who want our votes.  (I got an email from a Saudi Prince wh died and left me a million dollars!  All I have to do to claim it is email my social security number so they can deposit it in my bank account...)
            I learned and interesting and disturbing fact this week.  Do you know what is the leading cause of fire in churches?  Maybe you would guess faulty wiring in old buildings or grease fires in the kitchen.  If you guessed those, you would be wrong.  According to Church Mutual Insurance, the leading cause of fire in the church is arson!  This checks out from my own experience.  In 2016, someone set fire to our brand new church van and the fires spread to our church building.  It was determined to be arson.  Who would have thought?  You would think people would be more respectful and not lash out at a sacred place of worship.  You would be wrong.  It is a dangerous world.
            Well, if we are sheep (as Jesus said--harmless, gentle, defenseless), how can we survive out there among the wolves?  How can we navigate this crazy world with so many people waiting to prey on us?  We need wisdom.

Pastor Chris' Paraphrase of Proverbs 22:3
A wise person senses trouble before it happens and steers clear; the naïve walk right into it and learn a hard lesson.

Naïve – Pethiy - פֶּתִי             The Hebrew word in Proverbs 22:3 we translate “naive” is pethiy.   Pethiy can mean naïve, simple, silly, or childish.  It basically means someone is so inexperienced they are easily misled.  It's like a little toddler came skipping up to her mommy very excited carrying a cat turd in her fist.  “Mommy! Mommy!  I found a tootsie roll on the floor!”  (The mother was horrified as she dove for the child before it could shove the "tootsie roll" in it's mouth!)  That child was naïve, simple, silly, childish.  It didn't know any better.  Thankfully the mother was watching out for her.
            Jesus warned us so we wouldn’t be naïve.  If you don’t heed his warning then you are not naïve, but gullible. There’s a subtle difference between being naïve and gullible.   Did you know that?  A naïve person is someone who is so inexperienced they are easily fooled.  A gullible person is someone who has experience but doesn’t let it guide them and so they are easily fooled.  Don’t be naïve and don’t be gullible.

Prudent - 'Ârûm - עָרוּם
            Now the opposite of naïve in the Proverb is the Hebrew word arum, which means “prudent”.  Whenever I hear the word prudent, I immediately think back to my childhood when George H. W. Bush was president.  He once said, “I'm not gonna do it.  It wouldn’t be prudent.”  (SNL even started poking fun of Bush for his phrase.)  Prudent describes someone who is cautious and can see trouble coming before it happens. A prudent person is shrewd and hard to fool.  You’re more likely to be fooled by them than you are to fool them.  We need to be prudent.
            Jesus said, "...be as innocent as doves...", but there is a type of innocence that walks around carelessly over-trusting everyone and everything so as to be easily duped.  We can’t afford to be like that because Jesus said there are wolves all around.  That’s why Jesus also said, "...be as wise as snakes."  Snakes have to be careful because nobody likes them and they could get killed just by someone stepping on them.
            On the other hand, we must take care not to become paranoid either.  When you are hurt or fooled, there is the danger you will never trust or open yourself up to anyone ever again.  And that’s not healthy and it’s not what Jesus wants for us either.  It’s better to learn from your mistakes and gain wisdom.  A wise person doesn’t blame the sins of one person on everyone else.  A wise person knows every individual is different and each person is responsible only for their own transgressions.  A wise person doesn’t blame everyone else for the bad things one person did.
            We must be diligent and prudent.  The stakes are too high for us to be lazy.  A gullible person is too lazy to investigate and think carefully about people and situations.  They take the easy road and just trust everyone.  An overprotective skepticism is lazy too.  Proverbs 22:13 (PCP) says, "A lazy person claims, “There’s a lion out there! I’ll get killed if I go out!”"  Someone who won't trust anyone is lazy because they assume everyone is bad and won't put forth the effort to even consider whether someone one might be trustworthy or not.  Don’t let fear be an excuse to be lazy.
            A prudent person learns to discern between people and distinguish between those who are godly and those who are ungodly, those who can be trusted and those who can’t.  Wisdom also knows the difference between a bad person who sometimes does good things and a good person who made a bad mistake.  We need wisdom and prudence.

Practical Application
            Let me leave you with some practical things you can do to be prudent and not gullible. 

            First, learn from your mistakes. We all make mistakes, but we don’t all learn from our mistakes.  (Some people have to make the same mistakes five or six time just to make sure.  Some never learn!  Don’t let that be you!)  You can learn better from your mistakes if you take some time afterward to analyze what went wrong.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Try to set your disappointment and emotions aside for a moment and just ask some basic questions:
  • What went wrong?
  • How did I get into this predicament?
  • What (if anything) was going on inside me that helped lead me to make the decisions I did that lead me to this trouble?
  • How could I avoid this in the future? 
            Second, if you're gonna be wise and not gullible, pay attention to what’s really going on. The context of any situation can completely change the meaning.  There's a funny State Farm Commercial that's been airing.  It shows to completely different situations: one where a young girl just got a new car and one where a man just had his car stripped in a bad neighborhood.  It's funny, because it shows the people in both situations saying the same exact words, but the in the two different contexts they mean absolutely different things.
            If you're going to be prudent, you have to look beyond what's happening on the surface.  What is the situation? Ask:  Where am I?  What’s the context? What’s motive of those talking to me?  How does this affect the situation and how I respond?  Are you leaving the church after dark and get approached by a stranger?  that's totally different from leaving church in the middle of the day in a crowd of people.  Are you checking your email when a window pops up on your screen and says “You just won a million dollars!  Click here to claim it!”  If it's too good to be true, it probably is. 
            Pay attention to people's body language. It’s not just what people say, it’s how they say it.  I had a guy stop by the church with his young son and he was asking if we could help him pay his power bill.  (Now we get these kinds of request all the time and you never know if people are telling the truth).  As I talked with the man, he made it obvious he'd brought he son along because he wanted me to think he cared about his son and didn't want his poor, little boy to go without.  But as I talked with him and watched his body language and how he interacted with his son, it became quite clear the man was using his son to manipulate me into feeling sympathy for him so I would give him some money.  Now, as I noticed this, it told a very different story than what the man was saying with his words.  Using your son to manipulate others is despicable thing to do.  That's not caring for your son.  That's using your son. 
           
            Third, take your time and don’t rush in. Rushing doesn’t give you time to think things through and leads to poor decisions and bad mistakes.  Don’t let people pressure you.  Manipulators (wolves) know what you want to hear and what will make you feel pressured to act before you think.  They bait you until they snag you with the hook.  Then they reel you in and it gets harder and harder to get away.  So take your time.  Don't jump before you weigh things out properly.
            Pray about it.  Ask God to guide you.  This also allows you more time to think.  And as you prayer, listen for God's answer.  If something doesn’t feel right, it may be God’s warning.  We often want to give people the benefit of the doubt even when our instinct is saying something’s wrong.  Listen for the Holy Spirit's guidance.
            Ask a Christian friend you trust and you know will tell you the truth (even if you don't want to hear it).  Sometimes God speaks to us through His people.  A friend you trust will be see more clearly as a third party who doesn't have a dog in the fight.  Listen to them.  Every trusting, optimistic person needs a wary, pessimistic friend they can ask for advice.  And every wary, pessimistic person needs an optimistic friend they can ask for advice.  These two different personalities can help each other find the truth which usually lies somewhere in the middle.

Do the Prudent Thing
            The most prudent thing you can do in this life is take Christ seriously.  You see, the world is a dangerous place.  We are like sheep among wolves.  But we don't have to be afraid if we trust in Christ, because then God is on our side.  Even if Christians make mistakes or are taken advantage of, mistreated, used, or abused, God will take care of His children.  God will use everything to build His faithful ones up and show us His love.  God will repay those who mistreat His children.  And even if a Christian falls seven times, they will get back up again because God strength lifts them.  So the most prudent thing you can do is put your whole faith in Jesus Christ.
            Ask yourself:  Is Jesus really who he said he was—the Son of God, Lord, Savior of the world?  Will you really do what he said you should do—repent (stop doing wrong and start living as Jesus said), believe, love God, love your neighbor, and tell others about Jesus?  The decision is yours.  I hope and pray you will do the prudent thing, the wise thing and chose to follow Jesus today.