The Great Tests

Proverbs 3:5-6, 3:9-14, 10:16, 24:10-12

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; (Proverbs 3:5)

in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6)

Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; (Proverbs 3:9)

then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (Proverbs 3:10)

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, (Proverbs 3:11)

because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:12)

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, (Proverbs 3:13)

for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. (Proverbs 3:14)

The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death. (Proverbs 10:16)

If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! (Proverbs 24:10)

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. (Proverbs 24:11)

If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Proverbs 24:12)


New Years Resolutions

So let’s talk about New Years resolutions.

In a lot of ways I’m not a big believer in New Years resolutions.

Some people are big on them, some aren’t. - I think they can serve as a motivational tool, but at the end of the day, the motivation wears off, and you're left with just your sale on self-discipline or lack thereof.

Top 10

According to a 2015 study, here’s the top 10 new years resolutions.

  1. Lose Weight
  2. Get Organized
  3. Spend Less, Save More
  4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest
  5. Stay Fit and Healthy
  6. Learn Something Exciting
  7. Quit Smoking
  8. Help Others in Their Dreams
  9. Fall in Love
  10. Spend More Time with Family
  • Percentage of americans who ‘absolutely never’ make new years resolutions: 38%
  • Percentage of americans who consider themselves successful in their resolution: 8%

92% : resolutions fail

Me and Goldman at the gym.

Things bring with me & leave behind

So even though I don't do a lot of the 'new years resolution' thing, there's almost always things that I want to bring with me into the new year and things I want to leave behind.


Wisdom.

But I do think there’s something that no matter who you are, you could use more of, I know I can, and that’s wisdom.

  • Wisdom is so much more than just being good, and moral, and ethical.
  • Wisdom is more than just being smart.

No, wisdom is understanding God, and understanding other people, and understanding yourself.

So that you’re able to see the thing underneath the thing. You’re not surprised all the time, because you understand the human heart.

‘Murder on the Orient express’

My wife and I recently saw ‘Murder on the Orient express’. Did anyone else see that? I thought it was cool.

Well ultimately it’s about a group of people on a train, and someone is murdered, and it’s up to the great detective ‘Hercule Poirot’ air-kyul pwah-roh’ (Belgian) who’s on the train to solve the mystery.

Well pawh-roh is actually a recurring character in Agatha Christie books. He’s been in 33 of them.

He’s an unassuming man with an incredible mustache, who sits and listens, and notices.

In Murder on the orient express he says this: “I know human nature, my friend, and I tell you that, suddenly confronted with the possibility of being tried for murder, the most innocent person will lose his head and do the most absurd things.”

He has wisdom. He understands people, and because of that, he understands himself.


So how do you get wisdom?

  • Do you just need to read a lot and get a great education?
  • Do we need to travel and become sophisticated?
  • Do we need to find a guru?

Not according to the book of proverbs.

According to the book of proverbs, there’s the great tests, and there’s 2 of them.

That if you pass them, you’ll become wiser, but fail them and you become stupider.


What are the 2 tests?

Look again at Proverbs 3

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; (Proverbs 3:5)

in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6)

So that’s wisdom in a nutshell.

B/C life is ultimately a series of forks in the road.

  • Should I date this person or that person?
  • Should I take this job or that job?
  • Should I go to school or should I take the job?

Solomon here, says that we all have these forks in the road and it’s wisdom that leads you down the right path.


Shows us 2 situations.

And then he shows us two situations.

1. Prosperity / 2. Pain - The two great tests.

Solomon has lived enough life to know that no matter who you are, even if you are as close to God as you can possibly be, you will experience prosperity and pain, success and suffering, everything going your way, and nothing going your way.

A lot of our life in spent somewhere in the middle, where it’s kind balanced. But there will be times in your life where you experience a great deal of success and there will be other times where you experience a great deal of pain.

I think both of these come front and center during the holidays.

Prosperity. For my family and some of my friends, this Christmas was a time of great prosperity. It was Graces first Christmas, it was my nephew Eli’s first Christmas. It was Ivy’s first Christmas at the McDermott house. It was Beckhams first Christmas at the Goldman house, it was Cadence’s first Christmas at the Cuellar house.

Pain. And then I can think of 3 congregation members that lost a loved one within about a week of Christmas.

There’s nothing more spiritually dangerous than prosperity and pain.

They’re forks in the road.

And they reveal what’s in your heart.

C.S. Lewis's - basement.

It’s like C.S. Lewis's illustration of seeing what’s in your basement.

If you want to know whether there are rats in your basement, don’t do this. Don’t walk to your basement door, clear your throat, and say, “Oh, I think I’ll go down to see if there are rats in my basement,” and jiggle the knob a little bit and open the door and in a very leisurely way turn on the light. You clear your throat, and you walk down the steps loudly and slowly.

When you get to the bottom, you look around, and you’ll say, “I have no rats in my basement.” If you want to know whether you have rats in your basement, you sneak up to the door, you very silently open the door, and then you flick on the switch. You jump to the bottom of the steps, and you look around. There they’ll all be scurrying away, and then you’ll know.

Prosperity and pain. Success and suffering. They show you what’s deep in your heart. Things you never thought were there.

And with it comes an opportunity to become wise and to become foolish.

And those are the 2 choices. Pain and prosperity what they WON’T do is leave you the same.


Why do the 2 tests work?

Let’s look again at chapter 10

The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death. (Proverbs 10:16)

That’s really a pretty intense verse. Wages, earning, Here comes the money!

Essentially he’s saying that if you’re wise prosperity will make you more wise and bring your life. But if you’re wicked, if you’re just selfish, then prosperity will just make your more wicked and bring you death.

One of the worst things that can happen to a selfish person is to become really wealthy.

B/C they don’t know how to process it.

It ends up ruining their life.

Did you know that when wealth increases, so does divorce? So does depression, so does suicide.

It’s not that wealth is bad, but wealth plus greed ruins people’s lives.

When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever. (Proverbs 10:25)

So here you can see a contrast - when the storm comes, the wicked, the fool is destroyed, but the righteous stand firm.

Storms show you who you really are.

If you’re already moving in the direction of foolishness, pain comes and it just makes it 1,000 times worse.


Why do - tests of pain & prosperity work?

1. The reveal what’s deep in your heart.

And when those things that are deep in your heart come to the surface, you can either deal with them and become wiser, or ignore them and become stupider.

Intense Example: There was an article in the Atlantic Monthly called ‘Seeing Around Corners’ that talks about how violent mobs start.

In Rwanda, Indonesia, here in the US.

Over the last 50 years we’ve had examples where large groups of people, 100’s and sometimes 1000’s of people, who are just normal mentally stable, law abiding people form into a group and become violent.

Looting, and destroying property, and assaulting and sometimes killing people.

How do normal, mentally stable people turn into a violent mob?

They didn’t all simultaneously lose their minds.

Well the research says that what happens is this:

When you’ve grown up your whole life thinking that certain things weren’t allowed. Robbing, violence, killing. When people suddenly find themselves surrounded by hundreds or thousands of people who are doing the thing that you’ve never been able to do, many people find themselves wanting to do it.

Here’s how rampaging and pillaging starts: There are 10 percent of people you can call bad eggs who start it, and there are 10 percent of people you could call good eggs who just won’t do it even when the crowd is doing it, but the vast majority of people find when there is no consequence to doing bad behavior, stuff they always thought they would never be capable of doing, they do it anyway, and they’re shocked.

Movie: the purge I think the move the purge is based on this idea. I’ve never seen it but I think the idea if that there’s 1 day where people can do whatever they want without consequence, they find themselves wanting to do some really horrible stuff.

Now bear with me here, I think that’s what prosperity does. Let me explain.

Example: Let’s say you’re a regular person, and you invent some new screwdriver or something and now all of a sudden, you’re a billionaire.

Well if you’re like a lot of billionaires, the first thing to go is any semblance of humility.

At first, someone comes up to you and says “You’re brilliant.” And you say “No, no, no.” But really you're thinkig "Yeah." And after hearing that for months you slowly start thinking “Darn right I’m brilliant!”

And now because you made a billion dollars on a screwdriver, now you think you know more about therapy than your therapist. You know more about theology than the pastor. You know more than everybody.

And then before you know it, you don’t need anyone else’s opinion on anything. You’re brilliant. B/C of a screwdriver.

They trust their own opinion so much, that they become a fool.

Anyone who is wise in their own eyes according to proverbs is a fool.

And it’s this gradual decent. Before you know it, you’re mean to the waitress. And you’re mean to the tech support guy who doesn’t speak very good English.

You become arrogant. You become cruel.

Also true : Pain

Example: Raymond Van Lou-in - bible scholar.

Another example: Raymond Van Leeuwen who is a bible scholar who wrote a commentary on proverbs. He’s dutch and has dutch immigrant parents.

Some of his relatives lived through the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. He says that during the Nazi occupation, Dutch families had Jewish neighbors. And the jewish neighbors started being taken away by the Nazi’s.

And and they knew they were being taken away to be killed, but the problem was that if they spoke up, or tried to help the jewish people, you might be killed.

So the dutch people chickened out by the thousands.

And then when the war was over, the dutch people said “We had no idea they were being taken away to be killed!” Which Raymond says was a total lie.

You could say it like this: When there are no consequences to being bad, all kinds of people will be bad. When there are really bad consequences to be good, all kinds of people will not be good.


I know those are extreme examples. But I wonder if you can’t see this in your own life.

You find yourself stressed, or anxious, or afraid, or angry. And all of sudden you pick a fight with your spouse, or you yell at your kid. B/C stress has a way of revealing what’s in your heart.

Or maybe you’re playing a sport you’re really good at, and you’re successful and all of a sudden your ego is out of control.

Or you take pride in being super intelligent, and someone makes you feel dumb, and BAM, you lose your cool.


Why do - tests of pain & prosperity work?

2. They reveal the idols in your heart.

Practical example that a lot of people can relate to. Let’s say you’re dating someone who you really love and they break up with you.

What’s gonna happen?

1. Sad / dissapointed / wounded

Well some people are gonna be sad, and disappointed, and wounded, and it’ll take you week or months to get past it, but you get past it. And you learn from it. You learn to draw strength from your family and friends. You learn to depend more on God. You say to yourself “What could I have done better in the relationship?”

And in the end, you’ll be wiser. You’ll be better for it.

Going through that pain will make you stronger.

2. Whole life falls apart.

Other people get broken up with and their whole life falls apart. They lose their will to live. They eat ben and jerry’s by the truck load and buy nothing but stretchy pants.

Why? B/C that person was an idol.

That person had become more important than Jesus, your family, or anything else. It was all them.

And when that happens, that’s the test. You can say ‘Wow, there’s an idol here’ and you can turn from it. OR you can just blame them, blame God, blame ALL MEN, or whatever.

Pain reveals idols, so does success.

It’s not just pain that reveals idols, so does success.

Cynthia Heimel - author who writes for Cosmopolitan and The Village Voice and all kinds of stuff. - Well she knows lots of celebrities and she worked with a lot of struggling artists, so she knows lots of celebrities before and after they became famous.

She has this awesome quote about celebrities that I love:

I pity celebrities, no I really do—Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Barbra Streisand, were once perfectly pleasant human beings. But now their wrath is awful. I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you he grants you your deepest wish and then laughs merrily when you realize you want to kill yourself.

You see Sylvester, Bruce, and Barbra wanted fame. They worked, they pushed, and the morning after each of them became famous they wanted to take an overdose.

Because that giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and happiness had happened and they were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.”

She’s right. Not about God, but about how sometimes the thing we think we want is the thing that ends up killing us.

Very few of us reach elite status, but those of us who do, are horrified.

You look at the elite in any culture and they’re usually very unhappy people.

You can give someone a billion dollars and paparazzi everywhere you turn, and it just makes people miserable.

Amy Winehouse Documentary

I recently watched the documentary on Amy Winehouse. Who was this incredible vocal talent who was at the absolute top of the charts. But was just deeply unhappy and end up dying of alcohol poisoning at age 27.

And you watch this documentary and this footage of her as a younger girl who just sang but wasn’t famous yet and you just think ‘Oh my gosh, she was 1000 times happier being a regular person.' Her demons didn’t show up until she got what she most wanted. And that’s not an uncommon story.

For me : Weary - Christianity - "Getting Stuff"

That's why for me, I've become vary weary of Christianity where the main thrust is getting stuff. I don't have a problem with that because I think God doesn't love us, or want us to have nice stuff. I have a problem with it b/c I know that stuff isn't ultimately what makes you happy. And so we're lying to people if we tell that the main thing in Christianity is stuff.

The Christian knows the reason: The hole inside the human heart is God shaped.


How can we pass the great tests?

Two ways:

  • Prosperous people pass the tests with humility.
  • Suffering people pass the tests by remembering God’s love.

They both happen with the gospel.

The gospel says you’re undeserving yet completely accepted.

  • Successful people pass the test by remembering that they’re undeserving.
  • Suffering people pass the test by remembering that they’re completely loved.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. (James 1:9)

But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:10)

When Successful

So, when you start to become successful. Be aware. And know that you’re heading into a territory that ruins a lot of people’s lives. And protect against it with humility. Don’t take credit. All good things come from God.

I don’t have time to get into the whole ‘self-made-man’ myth, but there’s no such thing. Especially not if you were born in the 20th century in the US. You have been given a lot! And stay grateful and stay humble.

The gospel is pretty strong medicine. It says “I don’t care how much the world sucks up to you. I don’t care about your accomplishments, I don’t care how rich you are, you don’t deserve to be here. And what you have, most of all when it comes to you and God is a free gift. When it comes to you and God, you’re not different than the homeless man on central. It’s a gift.”

And that will stop your success from making you stupid.

In the old days, before there was antibiotics and all that, when you’ get a wound, you’d rub salt in it. Which doesn’t sound pleasant. But that’s what you’d do to keep it from getting infected.

So you rub humility into your success to stop it from getting rotten.

When in pain or suffering.

And in the same way, when you’re in pain. When you’re suffering. The gospel says the same thing: “You’re undeserving, but completely accepted. And it doesn’t matter how much the world thinks you’re a piece of trash, you’re completely accepted at the Lord’s table.”

And so again, just like salt, you rub the love of God into your pain to stop it from getting rotten.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (Luke 1:52)

So the gospel humbles those at the top, and exalts those at the bottom to bring us all to the same playing field. The world won’t say we’re the same, but the gospel will.


Closing

If you’re thinking this all sounds really complicated, maybe an example would help.

Take Jesus. He was the most successful person ever, but he didn’t let it get to his head. And he suffered horribly, but he trusted God through it all.

Closing Statement: The great tests of the Christian faith are pain and prosperity. Both reveal what’s deep in your heart and both reveal your hidden idols. The solution is found in the gospel. The gospel says “You’re undeserving yet completely accepted.” And that message simultaneously humbles the proud and exalts the lowly.

In what ways have you become overly reliant on yourself? On your own goodness, on your own abilities, on your own success?

Or in what ways have you become overly identified with your pain? With your failures, with your weakness?

In all cases, the solution is the same: The gospel which says “You’re undeserving yet completely accepted.”

Close your eyes :

  • Thinking - own life - this year.
  • Where are you - all of this?
  • Really high / successful - Rediscover humility?
  • Pain/thinks low yourself - Remember God’s love?
  • Let God speak into that.