Folks, I wonder if you've come across this book: The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. It's the kind of book that zany members of your family might have given you as a stocking filler at Christmas – I think that's how I first got hold of it.
My son Jamie and I picked this off the bookshelves earlier on in the week, and loved finding out about how to deal with all sorts of dangerous situations that you could find yourself in – like:
- "How to Escape from a Sinking Car" on page 34.
- "How To Deal With A Charging Bull" on age 64.
- And "How to Wrestle Free From an Alligator" on page 57 – which includes the immortal line, "If its jaws are closed on something you want to remove, (for example, a limb) tap it or punch it on the snout."
That's great, isn't it? It's so deadpan and matter of fact. But at least if you get attacked by an alligator on your way home from church you will now you know what to do!
But folks, there are very few of these situations in here that I have been even close to – and I suspect that's the same for you too. Which I guess is what makes it so entertaining.
By contrast as we dig into the Book of Proverbs we see that it is God's Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. All the way through its first nine chapters God is warning us constantly of great danger!
Proverbs 2.12 is one example:
"Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong…"
Folks, what is your Worst-Case Scenario? What could derail your life this Autumn? Whatever it might be I don't want to deny the seriousness of it – but Proverbs is saying that the Worst-Case Scenario for any of us is that we be a fool and listen to and fall into the hands of these wicked men.
And women too actually. As last week we heard about the dangers of being waylaid by the Seductress in chapters 5 and 7 – chapter 7 ends by telling us that:
"…many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death."
This is the issue – and it so struck me preparing this: if your leg is in a Crocodile's mouth or if the Bull is charging at you – you know it's deadly serious! And you will fight and pray to free yourself like never before.
Proverbs 6 wants us to see that we are in that kind of danger if we fail to spot these predators. It reveals three more of them – Here's the first one…
1. The Hunter – Who Traps The Financially Foolish (v.1-6)
Have a look at verse 1:
"My son, if you have put up security for your neighbour, have given your pledge for a stranger, if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth…"
Do you get a sense of the danger here? Picture the situation… Someone comes to you and they say, 'I need to take out a loan, but the bank tells me that I need a guarantor – I just need someone else's signature on the form so I can get the money. Can you just sign it for me? Go on be a mate.'
It sounds very easy. Very reasonable even…
- Maybe it is a close friend or a family member.
- Maybe they think the bank or the government or someone else is being unfair to them.
- Maybe they're borrowing for an investment – one that will set them back on their feet for life. So you want to help them get a leg up.
But that little signature makes you fully responsible for the loan. Life is so uncertain, isn't it folks? There are all kinds of things that can go wrong in life – and fast! If your friend suddenly can't pay (or worse still won't!) – It's you that's going to get taken to the cleaners! You've been – verse 2 – "snared... caught in the words of your mouth." It may have seemed like a kind, helpful thing to do. You may have thought that you could trust them, and that it wouldn't be a problem. But you've been a fool.
Now I need to say that the Bible is clear in two ways:
i. God is generous – and he wants us to be generous too! In Deuteronomy 15 God told his people to loan money to the poor among them freely and without charging interest – and that every seven years all the debts in the nation were to be – not called in – but cancelled. God has nothing against reasonable, generous loans.
ii. God does not want us to gamble – So if you put your financial future in the hands of someone who the banks already think is a bad risk – you are acting irresponsibly yourself… and you're also encouraging irresponsibility in the other person too. You have given in a way that is not going to help either of you – you are both enslaved. Because you have lost your ability to be generous to others as a result.
So what should you do? Anything you can to free yourself! That's the message of verses 3-5, isn't it?
Verse 3: "Go, hasten and plead urgently…" – In other words, badger these people till they hear your plea. Even if it is humiliating! Email, text, visit, leave a string of messages on the answering machine begging for mercy. Just hoping it will work out is sleepwalking into ruin.
Verse 4: "Give your eyes no sleep – your eyelids no slumber." – Don't go to bed until it's sorted. Don't put it off to another day!
Verse 5: "…save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler."
I don't know if you've ever seen an animal caught in a trap – maybe on a nature documentary on TV. What will they do? They will be kicking and flapping and flailing – they will give every last ounce of their energy to get free!
Now I suspect that most of us here have never been asked to be a guarantor for a loan. But some have. So heed the Father's wisdom and do whatever you can to get free! Like a cornered animal fighting for your life.
- If you don't know where to start, our Christians Against Poverty Debt Centre team could tell you how. Richard our Debt Centre Manager is away on Holiday this morning – so do grab him when he's back. Or better still, in the spirit of Proverbs 6 take action now! Speak to myself or my wife Fiona who works with Richard about how CAP may be able to help.
- If you have asked someone else to co-sign such an agreement for you – you need to offer to set them free.
For all of us I need to say something about borrowing in our Wonga culture. We have such a culture of careless debt in this country, don't we? It encourages us to overextend ourselves. We all seem to be addicted to living beyond our means.
Proverbs 6 would say – resist that temptation!
So if you find yourself frantically doing your sums to see if you can get a mortgage for that dream house you've discovered – and you can only just afford it. Let me remind you, it is not the key to your future happiness. That's Jesus! It is just a house. It is a place to eat, sleep, chill out and show hospitality. So don't even risk it becoming a financial trap. And the same could be said about other major items of expenditure – like our cars, and mobile phones and holidays. Don't take unnecessary financial risks to get what you want! And what everyone else seems to have! Borrowing is not for that which we cannot afford or don't need, or that wastes our money, and thereby limits our generosity.
When it comes to money, don't be a fool and get trapped by the Hunter.
Secondly, don't get taken advantage of by the Robber either…
2. The Robber – Who Steals The Life Of The Lazy (v.7-11)
Because that's what happens to the Sluggard in verses 9 to 11, doesn't it?
"How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man."
Now there is nothing wrong with sleep or rest for that matter. But this sluggard gets more than enough of both. But in doing so he is wasting his time and energy – and finds himself impoverished as a result.
Which is why Proverbs 6 tells us to:
"Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in the summer and gathers her food in harvest."
Folks, have you ever seen a stationary ant? No! They scurry all over the paving stones, grabbing crumbs from your sandwich and get down into your unmentionables till you squirm and wriggle like you're going to have a fit.
But the only stationary ant you ever see is a squashed one.
'Cos the ant works. And it works without even having to be told to. So you never see anyone standing over an ant cracking the whip. Unless of course if it's in that Woody Allen film 'Ants' – but those are Hollywood ants, not real ants. Real ants have no "chief, officer, or ruler" – and yet they work.
So let me ask you some questions about your work ethic.
Are you more comparable to the Ant or the Sluggard? Do you do the bare minimum? Or do you do your work wholeheartedly? Do you work only when your boss is watching? Or do you do your work "as to the Lord"? You see the ant may have no overseer – Yet you and I have a King to whom we will give an account. So we need to hear this warning: No one has ever been faithful to Jesus and unwilling to work hard.
How are we doing on this?
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, let me say that I think this is such a common sin for the young, isn't it? Given the chance, many youngsters are lazy in every part of their body – apart from their thumbs, which are profoundly active.
Of course we need to relax and to rest – that is a Biblical command. But the point of rest in the Christian life is not the indulgence of self – but it is to refresh self for further service.
What about those of us who are retired? Or on the cusp of it? It is amazing here at St Joseph's to see so many of retirees using their retirement for the glory of God. Many of you could say that – what with home and family and church – the worst thing about retirement is that you never get a day off!
But for some of us retirement could be seen as an opportunity to indulge the inner sluggard. And we need to redeem the time for the one who will take an account for it. There can be great usefulness in retirement – not least in using the time when you are less busy doing, to get busy praying.
I read this book at the start of the year: Busy For Self, Lazy For God. It was kind of ironic because I was laid up in bed being waited on by others hand and foot. But the title says it all I think.
And so maybe for some of us, we might be workaholics when it comes to our jobs, workaholics when it comes to how we present ourselves physically, workaholics when it comes to our health, hobbies or family. BUT when it comes to spiritual things we are sluggardly. The effort goes in everywhere, apart from our godliness and our wisdom. Again Proverbs says – go to the ant – and work.
Then finally, the third predator Proverbs warns us of is...
3. The Stirrer – Who Sows Disunity In Community (v.12-19)
As we go from someone who isn't busy enough to someone who is a busybody. When the Bible says in verse 12 that he's "A worthless person, a wicked man…" – it doesn't mean his life isn't valued by God. It means that he is without benefit or use to other people.
Well it's because verse 14 – he's "continually sowing discord." And then again in verse 19 – he is "one who sows discord among brothers." The Bible really stresses how important this is for us! When the Bible uses a literary device like it does in verse 16 (and elsewhere): "There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him…"
It's not just saying that there are six or seven things that God doesn't like – It is putting the emphasis on the last one. There are six things – but the seventh ties them all together. So that's where our attention should go. The bottom line (if you like) is the bottom line.
So this person is worthless because he causes discord, dissension and disunity everywhere he (or she) goes. Folks we all sin stupidly – but some people sin aggressively, deliberately and we need to be very wary of them. Because they break people apart and cause arguments.
How do they do this? Well in little ways, but with massive impact.
I remember being in a Christian meeting and all the way through it there was a guy in the row behind me who kept whispering to his neighbours and making them laugh. I turned around at one point when the leader of the group was upfront speaking and I saw him leaning back in his seat looking slyly at another man rolling his eyes in disdain and smirking as if to say, 'Can you believe what this moron is saying?'
Folks – that's this guy here in Proverbs 6. That's the stirrer. He uses – do you see…
Verse 12: "crooked speech". Verse 13 – he: "winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger."
It might be very exciting to be in conversation with this person – you might find out juicy things that you don't know. And people might find him very humorous and indulge him.
'But don't!' says the Lord. God hates it.
He can't stomach – verse 17 – their "haughty eyes" which arrogantly judge others. Their "lying tongue" which gossips and slanders – spreading lies behind other's backs. They think their character assassination doesn't harm anyone, but they "shed innocent blood."
Ultimately their cynicism destroys not the unity of the fellowship but themselves too. They are such a danger!
Now, as I'm talking about this I suspect that you're all thinking of someone who this stirrer could be. So let me urge you to stop doing that – And think about yourself for a moment.
Because the frightening thing about these verses is how mundane they are, how normal they are, how 'me' they are!
So where might we be tempted to be a stirrer? Maybe in the office? Or at home? Or perhaps that might be true of you at church even? Folks, as I've prepared this I've been so aware of how many churches have been crippled and torn apart by people talking about the leadership and not to them. I am not aware of any big issues or offences we have here – I'm certainly not hoping to create any!
But I still need to say that if you have a problem with how the church is being run – by me or anyone else – you need to get in touch. Because neither sitting and stewing; or speculating and slandering is the godly thing to do.
I am well aware that I have made many mistakes in leading this church – as well as in life. We all have! So I would hope that we would treat one another not like the Hunter or the Robber or the Stirrer, but like Jesus Christ does.
Jesus knows you inside and out. He has all the gossip on you! He knows all the secrets that you would hate to come out. But what did he do with that information? Did he use it against you? No! He died to take away our sin and foolishness. Jesus did the opposite of entrapping us in our debts – he paid for them. He did the opposite of taking advantage of our sluggardliness – he worked, he labored to set us free from sin. He did the opposite of stirring dissension – He died to bring reconciliation between you and God – and you and others. Jesus is wonderful news for fools like us.