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Showing posts with label Matthew 10:16-20. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Matthew 10:16-20. Show all posts

Monday, March 26, 2018

As Sheep Among Wolves, part 4 - Listening vs. Scoffing

            On Sunday, we had a confirmation ceremony at my church.  Three young "confirmands" completed a six-week course on the basics of Christianity and then chose to publicly confirm their faith in Jesus Christ in front of our congregation on Palm Sunday.  I was so proud of these three young people between the ages of 11 and 12.  They were very attentive throughout the course--listening and learning. 
            Jesus said we should emulate the faith of a child (like my confirmands who were so attentive to learn and accept Jesus by faith).  Their attitudes are quite a contrast to the religious leaders when Jesus rode into Jerusalem the week before Passover.  You can read the full Palm Sunday story here in John 12:12-19.  Although crowds of children and ordinary people were amazed by Jesus' teachings and the miracles (even raising Lazarus from the dead after he'd been in a tomb for four days), the religious leaders scoffed.  They couldn't or wouldn't believe in Jesus.  Even though they espoused to worship and serve God, they dismissed God's Son as a fraud.
            Jesus knew there would be many who scoff at our faith. It doesn't matter to them that we have experienced the life changing power of God or that our faith in Jesus has changed our lives forever for the better.  They will still scoff and dismiss us and our beliefs.  Many will even labor to destroy us because they feel threatened by how we live and what we teach.  Always remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:16-20; we are sheep living among wolves.

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.

The Amazing Rise of Christianity and the Scoffers Who Dismiss It
            Though the religious leaders of Jesus day tried to get rid of Jesus and then his followers, Christianity grew exponentially.  The persecutions, arrests, and murder of early Christians only caused believers to move to new cities where they persisted in teaching people about Jesus Christ and more and more people became followers.  The Christian faith would have died with it's leader Jesus if it was only of human origins.  Since, however, it was God's plan for His people, the Christian faith endured and today more people follow Jesus than any other religious leader.
            There always have been and always will be those who feel threatened by true Christian faith and just want to explain it away.  Even today, when a passionate church or Christian movement grows rapidly, there are scoffers who try to blow it off saying, "There's nothing to it.  It's just a fad and it will fade away."  When John Wesley led a revival of the Church of England in the 1700s, people dismissed the early Methodist movement as a bunch of religious fanatics.  However, people's lives were truly changed.  Drunks put away their liquor, thieves became honest men, Christians gave to the poor, visited the sick and dying and those who were in prison.  The whole fabric of society in England and America was changed for the better as Christians took their faith in Jesus seriously and loved God and their neighbor with their whole hearts.  Yet even then, there were people who scoffed; and there are people who scoff at vital Christianity today too.  "There's nothing to it," they say.  "They're just a bunch of religious fanatics and hypocrites."
            Proverbs, the book of God's wisdom, teaches again and again that scoffing is the enemy of true wisdom.  We must guard ourselves and maintain a childlike faith and not become scoffers like the religious leaders of Jesus day.  So in this blog, I want to examine the difference between scoffing and listening.

Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 13:1 – A wise child accepts a parent’s discipline; a scoffer doesn’t even hear it.

Scoffing - Lus לוּץ or Liys - לִיץ
            No, I'm not talking about scoffing down your food!  The Hebrew word for scoffing (Lus or Liys) literally means “to make mouths at.”  Scoffing is to speak with a sarcastic tone, to deride, mock, or scorn.  Scoffing is like the stereotypical teenager rolling their eyes when their parents give a lecture because, you know, "my parents are dumb and know absolutely nothing."  When we scoff, we don't listen.  We've decided a person is not even worth listening to.  And so, we can't learn from them because we've already decided they have nothing worthwhile to offer.

Listening - Šâma' - שָׁמַע
            The opposite of scoffing in Hebrew is Sama.  It means to hear.  However, it's more than just detecting sound.  Sama means to hear intelligently, carefully consider, and to listen and obey.  The only way to learn is to listen, deeply contemplate what you've heard, and put it into practice.
            If we are to be truly wise in this wolf infested world, we've got to stop scoffing and start listening.  So I want to give you some practical advise on how to avoid being a scoffer.  Listen to these principles.  Remember and put them into practice in your life.

Practical Application
            First, always try to think the best of others and be respectful.  When you mock someone, you dehumanize them.  When you look at someone on the other end of the political spectrum and say (or think in your heart), "They're just a bleeding heart 'libtard' who doesn't know anything!", you are no longer thinking of them as a person.  They aren't a child of God to you anymore; they're just a label, an enemy on the wrong side of a war.  You do the same if you say (or think), "They're just a backwards thinking conservative clinging to their guns and religion."  You are scoffing at someone's deeply held beliefs and writing them off as unworthy of your mental attention and respect.  And if we go down that road too far, it doesn't take long before we arrive at genocide and holocaust. Once you stop seeing people as worthy of love and respect, it's a lot easier to just see them as problems to be eliminated.
            And here's the thing, mocking people will affect all your relationships negatively—even unintended ones.  When you mock your boss, your employees, your co-workers, or anyone you dislike or disagree with, it bleeds over into your relationships with people you really care about.  Soon you'll find you're being sarcastically disrespectful with your spouse, your children, and your friends.  You just can't seem to help it and you don't know why.  When a scornful spirit takes residence in your heart, it poisons everything that comes out even when you don't want it to.
            So be humble and empathetic.  Try to understand how others feel and why they think the way they do.  You don't have to agree with them or condone their actions, but you do have to care about them and love them.  You have to respect others if you want others to respect you and take you seriously.  People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

            Second, keep an open mind.  You can learn from anyone—even those you disagree with and those who are just plain wrong.  You don't have to agree with a person or point of view to learn it and understand it better.  And if you have learned an idea you disagree with, you have still learned something.  I have often found listening to someone I disagree with helps me better understand why I believe what I do.  Usually, I learn more from those I disagree with than those I do.
            There is a way you can be right and still be wrong.  Does that seem like a contradiction?  It's true, you can be right and still be wrong.  How?  Well, how you disagree is as important as why you disagree.  If you disagree and do so by belittling, disrespecting, or scoffing, you actions are wrong even if your ideas are right.  God doesn't want us to be scoffers--even if we believe the right things.
            One example of the right way to disagree is a time Rev. Billy Graham (a Christian evangelist) met with Woody Allen (a self-professed agnostic).  They had a delightful conversation about their opposing views on television several decades ago.  Graham disagreed quite frankly with Allen and clearly articulates his position and yet also does it with grace and love.  Graham makes it very clear that he loves and respects Woody Allen even though they disagree.  Allen obviously appreciates and respects Graham for his attitude.  You can watch the exchange on video here.
            Third, listen more and talk less.  Remember God gave you two ears and only one mouth, so you ought to listen twice as much as you talk.  Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 13:10 says, "People too proud to listen always get into drama, but those who listen to counsel wisely avoid it."  And Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 18:13 says, "Speaking about something before fully listening is just stupid and brings humiliation."
            You already know your point of view, but you only “think” you know someone else’s.  It’s not going to hurt you to set your own point of view aside for a few moments so you can really listen and understand someone else’s.  Just listening and truly understanding another's opinion (even if you deeply disagree) is an act of respect and grace that ought always to be part of the character of godly people.  And if it is, people are more likely to respect and listen to you.
            Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 15:5 says, "A fool rolls their eyes when their parent tries to teach them, but a smart person is careful to listen and learn."  Sometimes, when our heart is not right--when a sarcastic, mocking spirit is deeply imbedded in us (because of the topic or the relationship or our stage of life (teenager!!!  parents!!!))--it’s best for us to just keep silent.  If our heart's not right, no matter what we say, it’s gonna come out wrong.  Our tone will be wrong.  Our body language will betray a mocking spirit even if we aren’t aware of it.  So, just keep silent. Pray about it.  Ask God to help you give the Holy Spirit time to change your heart so your words (when you finally do speak) will flow from a pure heart and not a scoffing spirit.
Let's Change Our World by Letting God Change Our Hearts
            Our world is full of mockers, scoffers, and sarcastic, scornful attitudes.  The last thing we need is for Christians to be the same way.  Perhaps, Jesus is calling you to repent of your scoffing, so you can listen and learn and become more Christ-like than you are today.  I know He's calling me.

Monday, March 19, 2018

As Sheep Among Wolves, part 3 - Vindicated vs. Ungodly

            My family jokes we live at "Mullis Farm".  This is partially due to the fact we live way out in the country around a bunch of other farms and we have had (or still have) a number of farm animals as pets--chickens, goats, pigs, and turkeys.  It's also because we have so many other animals--three dogs, four cats, and some pet fish! It's quite the farm at "Mullis Farm."
            One of the animals at Mullis Farm is a big black dog we call Cookie.  Cookie showed up on our doorstep as a stray puppy needing a home.  We took her in and she grew to 70 pounds!  She has a deep, scary bark, but she's a harmless scaredee-cat most of the time.  That is, most of the time...
            We usually keep our chickens locked up in a pen to keep them safe from the wild predators that roam around Cohutta like coyotes, owls, and hawks.  We have to keep the chickens safe, because they are more like pets to us than farm animals.  However, we do like to let the chickens out to scratch around for bugs on pretty days when we can keep an eye on them. 
            The first summer we had chickens, we made a grizzly discovery one afternoon while the chickens were out grazing.  Cookie grabbed one and carried it off to the bushes!  We found her chewing on it's dead carcass!  We were devastated.  Since our pets are like family, it was as if on of our family members murdered another family member! 
            Over the years, we've learned Cookie cannot control herself when it comes to the chickens.  If she has the opportunity, she will kill.  When she sees a chicken wandering around the yard, she will even look at us with mournful eyes as if to say, "Please help me!  I don't want to kill that chicken, but if you don't do something to stop me, I know I will."  It's not all Cookie's fault if a chicken dies.  As a natural predator, she has an instinct to kill that she can't overcome.  In the wild that instinct would help her survive, but as a house pet it's a real weakness.  So, when the chickens are out roaming the yard, we either put Cookie in the house or hook her to a chain so she can't get the chickens.  And as long as we do, the chickens are safe.

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.

Key Verse – Matthew 10:16 - 16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.
            We haven't had sheep at Mullis Farm (yet!).  However, we’ve had goats.  Baby goats are so cute and innocent.  The first time a held a baby goat, I was struck by the difference between baby goats and puppies or kittens.  Puppies and kittens are cute too--little fur balls who love to play.  If you've ever see one, you know what I mean.  They will chase a ball or wrestle or bat around a wad of paper and it's a joy to behold.  What they are really doing, though, is practicing.  As puppies and kittens chase and pounce, they are honing the hunting and killing skills of a predator.  Puppies and kittens have fangs and claws--tools designed for catching and killing other animals.  That's just a fact of nature.  That's the way they were designed. 
            Now contrast that to a baby goat (and this would be true of a lamb too).  Goats aren't predators; they're omnivores and eat only grass or leaves.  They have no claws, no fangs.  Their simple teeth are designed only for chewing vegetation.  A baby goat or lamb is the most harmless animal.  When it plays, it's full of joy!  It jumps and bounds and runs and prances as playfully as any puppy or kitten.  The difference is it has no predatory instincts at all.  It doesn't grab you or wrestle  or bite.  Those behaviors aren't part of their psychology at all.  They will never grow up to hunt or kill another animal.  That's just the way sheep and goats are designed.
            Now, do you think sheep are good because they never kill?  No.  Sheep are neither good nor bad.  They are merely sheep.  They are just living out the design God gave them.  Do you think wolves are bad because they kill?  No.  Wolves are neither good nor bad.  They are merely wolves.  They're just living out the design God gave them.  You can't really fault these different types of animals for acting on they're natural design.  It's just who they are.
            In Matthew 10:16-20, Jesus uses sheep and wolves as symbols to describe two kinds of people in our world.  The sheep are Christ’s godly followers who go out into the world and face the ungodly people (the wolves) of the world—governors, kings, rulers, and other unbelievers.  The sheep aren't going out to fight the wolves, but to tell them about Jesus.  
            The "sheep" are not necessarily good people; they are godly people because they follow God and have been forgiven and justified by God.  Godly people, saints, are just sinners who’ve been saved by God’s amazing grace and love.  The "wolves" of our world are not necessarily bad people; some of them may be really good people.  They are only ungodly because they don’t yet follow God, but they’re not necessarily bad people.  It’s important to know good people can be ungodly and someone you think is particularly bad might just be one of God’s chosen people.
            Proverbs shares a lot of wisdom about both godly and ungodly people.  As I've been paraphrasing Proverbs, (putting the scriptures in my own words), I came up with the following: Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 4:18-19 - "Those who are vindicated by God walk a path with a beautiful sunrise--full of hope for the future and increasing each moment until it’s fully realized.  Ungodly people walk blindly down a dark, dark path and don’t even know what trips them up."

Ungodly - Râšâ' - רָשָׁע

            The Hebrew word in Proverbs 4:19 that scholars translate as wicked or evil is rasa.  It means morally wrong, criminal, guilty of sin, and condemned.   Ultimately, it means ungodly and ungodly literally means "without God".  According to Christian doctrine, anyone who is without God is guilty and condemned.  Now Hebrews 13:5 tells us God will never leave us or forsake us.  And since God never leaves us, if we are without God, it is because we walked away from God.  This is the condition of humanity.  We have walked away from God.
             The primary thing that makes a wicked person evil isn’t the bad things they’ve done. The primary thing that makes a person evil is living without God.  Remember, a wolf isn’t good or bad because it kills a lamb.  That’s just what wolves do.  And an ungodly person isn’t good or bad because of the bad things they do.  They’re just living out their nature.  An ungodly person is evil because they are without God. 

Vindicated - Saḏiyq - צַדִּיק
             The Hebrew word in Proverbs 4:18 for vindicated is sadiyq.  It means just, lawful, righteous.  You might look at a person who always does the right thing, a “law-abiding citizen”, and say they righteous.  However, sadiyq means a person is righteousness because of what God says.  God has justified or vindicated someone who is sadiyq.  There can be no question of the goodness of their character because God is the one who said they are righteous.  (And who’s gonna argue with God?)
            So, it is God who makes a person righteous.  We see this in Abraham, the father of the Jewish and Christian faiths.  Abraham was considered righteous because he trusted God.  Genesis 15:6, "[Abraham] believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith."  The idea that people's faith makes them righteous is confirmed in the New Testament.  Romans 4:5, "People are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners."  So, even though we have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and the consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23), we are saved for eternal life and made righteous when we believe in Jesus Christ.
            Godly people will do good things, but that's not what makes them righteous.  They do good because God did such great things for them.  God loved us even though we didn't deserve it and saved humanity from sin.  Godly people love God because God first loved them.  And if they love God, they will also love the people God loves; and God loves everyone.  Therefore, godly people love even those who seem the most unlovable because it is a a way to love and honor God.

The Fate of Godly vs. Ungodly People
            Proverbs makes quite a lot of distinctions between godly and ungodly people.  Here are a few examples:
·       Proverbs 10:7 – Godly people are remembered fondly as a blessing, but the ungodly fade into oblivion.
·       Proverbs 10:11 – Godly people say things that give life to everyone, but ungodly people lie to cover up the bad things they’ve done.
·       Proverbs 10:20 – The things a godly person says are worth more than silver.  Even the ideas of the ungodly are worthless.
·       Proverbs 11:7 – An ungodly person’s hope is lost when they finally die; their lives come to nothing.
·       Proverbs 14:19 – Evil people are ashamed in the presence of the good.  The ungodly are locked outside and long for the goodness of those who live right.
·       Proverbs 14:32 – The ungodly are cast out because of their own crimes, but those who live right trust God even in death.

            It’s pretty clear from Proverbs that godly people have a much better fate than the ungodly.  Jesus is even more explicit in the Gospels.  He warned that when he comes to judge the world, everyone who ever lived will be brought before him and he will separate the godly from the ungodly.  Then he will say to the godly:  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.”  And he will say to the ungodly:  “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.”  (Matthew 25:31-46)

How Can I Be Godly?
            A wise person would take these warnings to heart.  You need to be sure you are in the godly category as opposed to ungodly.  So, how do you ensure you are counted among the godly and not the ungodly?  Here's how. 

First, repent of your sin and turn to God. 
            You have to recognize you have sinned and ask for forgiveness.  Even if you’ve never done anything that might be considered “really bad”, you have still sinned.  Surely you can see you have not always trusted Jesus completely, not lived your life completely for God, done some things you shouldn’t have done, and not done some things you should have done.  Have you ever told lie (even a small one)? Have you ever stolen something (maybe taken a pen home from work)? Have you ever lusted in your heart? Have you ever wanted what someone else had (that's called coveting and it's one of the attitudes prohibited by the ten commandments)?  If you've broken any rule or made any mistake, you have sinned and need to ask God for forgiveness.  The good news is, God will forgive you for every sin--even if it's too terrible to mention--because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
            John 3:16 tells us, "God loved the world so much that he sent his son, Jesus, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."  Christ came to earth and lived as one of us.  He lived a perfect and holy life.  He was innocent, but he was arrested and put to death to pay for price for our sins.  He was willing to make this sacrifice because he loves us so much.  And if you trust what Jesus did for you, God will forgive you and vindicate you and call you righteous.  You will be numbered among the godly.  So ask for forgiveness and choose to follow Jesus from this day forward. 

Second, live a godly life.
            If you have real faith in Jesus, you will trust him and do the things he asks you to do.  Faith is not a light thing.  It is serious and it changes everything about your life.  Once there was a man hiking on a beautiful but isolated mountain trail.  As he was admiring a breathtaking overlook, he slipped and fell from the precipice.  However as he fell, he managed to grasp a small branch growing from the side of the cliff.  There he clung for dear life as he desperately called for help.  No one answered and he was unable to pull himself to safety.  The man began to pray, "Lord!  Save me!  I don't want to die!"  To his surprise, God answered--not from above but from below.  And the Lord said, "I am here, even though you can't see me.  Just let go of the branch and I will catch you."  And the man said... "Is there anyone else who can help me?"
            Jesus wants you to let go of the things you were clinging to before for meaning, happiness, and value.  He wants you to cling to him instead.  He is your only hope, but do you really trust him?  When you trust Jesus, you will let go of the past (even if it’s frightening) and trust him to lead you into a better future.  When you really trust Jesus, you will obey his teachings in the Bible, you will let him guide you day by day, and allow his Holy Spirit to gradually change the attitudes and behaviors in you that do not properly reflect the love of Christ.  So truly trust Christ and you will begin to actually live a godly life. 

Last, persevere to the end.             The Christian life is a marathon not a sprint.  Although none of us know how much time we have to live this life, most people will become a Christian and then live another forty to eighty years.  The time after you first become a Christian can be exciting and energetic.  It's like falling in love, but what do you do when the "newness" wears off and the "honeymoon" is over.  Will you continue to be faithful and follow Jesus?  There will be times of excitement and renewed passion, but there will also be times of trials and difficulties.  Sometimes the journey of a disciple is easy and other times it feels like it's all uphill.  Don't give up!  Persevere.  God uses the journey to shape you and build your faith.  Never go back to the ungodly person you were before.  You've chosen to be godly so stay on the path Jesus set before you.
            It has been said that every person has two wolves living inside them--one is evil and one is good.  The bad and good wolf are locked in a vicious battle--biting and clawing, wrestling and rolling in a bloody fight to the death. The wolf that wins the fight for your soul will be the one you feed the most.

Monday, March 12, 2018

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

            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, “ 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, " 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, " 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.