Two years ago this past May, my family and I were at a school function near Kalona, and in the middle of the meal, some kids ran inside and said “there’s a tornado out there!” Of course tornado warnings were in the area, but a warning doesn’t mean anything, right? So we walked outside, and sure enough, to the North, was a funnel cloud moving across the sky, much too close to my house!
Now, most normal people, when they hear the sirens go off or their phone blows up with a weather update, have a certain kind of fear that drives them to the basement, under tables, in closets – all the things the weather service says you should do to stay safe.
But here in Iowa, we’re not most people. When the sirens go off, to us, that means go outside. When the phone blows up with the weather warning, that means your chance of seeing a tornado up close is better than usual. So we stand by the windows or go outside and look around to see if we can spot it.
That said, very few of us are so dumb that we would stay on the porch while it hits the house. We know full well, hey, if it’s over there, great. But at the same time, we respect the fact that tornadoes are unpredictable and can turn at any time – and if I get too close, it’ll kill me. Even though we’re outside looking for it, we still have a healthy fear.
Two weeks ago, we started into this book called Proverbs, which is a book about wisdom, which right out of the gate it says The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Ray Ortland in his commentary on Proverbs, which I will be quoting quite a bit through this series, says the fear of the Lord is to wisdom what 2+2=4 is to doing calculus. You don’t get to calculus without learning simple addition, and you don’t get to wisdom without a fear of the Lord. But even in calculus you never get away from 2+2=4.1. So it is with wisdom. Wise living starts with the fear of the Lord, and never moves away from it.
But that word fear can trip us up, right? Wise living begins with the Lord, sure, sounds great. But the fear of the Lord – what do we mean by fear?
With a massive storm or a tornado, if you want to stay alive there must be an awe of its power; a reverence for the fact that it is much more powerful than us; unstoppable and unpredictable in its ways. Only a fool has no fear of something that can kill you.
Wisdom, Proverbs 1:7 says, starts with bowing in humble reverence to Yahweh, this personal, powerful and gracious, holy and compassionate God of the Bible. The aim of the book of Proverbs is not that we simply get advice on upgrading our lives: the aim of wisdom is that we would know God. So I invite you to open the book of Proverbs with me, and turn to chapter 1.
It’s totally appropriate to be looking at this on Father’s Day since this is a speech from a father to his son.
 Listen, my son, to your father's instruction, and don't reject your mother's teaching,  for they will be a garland of favor on your head and pendants around your neck.
When we think of a garland on your head or pendants around your neck, we think of gold medals, like you’re a winner or wear something as a symbol of accomplishment. But in this context, the garland is more than just winning a game, it means a triumph over evil which is the opposition to right order and justice – the pendant was something they wore in death, meaning I belong to justice and right order.11 The mother and father’s instruction is meant to help you triumph over evil and injustice, and help you belong to what is right.
The first speech the father quotes is from this opposition to right order.
 My son, if sinners entice you, don't be persuaded.  If they say-"Come with us! Let's set an ambush and kill someone. Let's attack some innocent person just for fun!  Let's swallow them alive, like Sheol, whole, like those who go down to the Pit.  We'll find all kinds of valuable property and fill our houses with plunder.  Throw in your lot with us, and we'll all share the loot"
Riiiiiight. I can think of a couple movies right off hand – The Dark Knight (Batman), Italian Job… usually sometime during the getaway someone in the group pulls a gun and suddenly the loot gets split 3 ways instead of 6. So the invitation by these clowns is “Hey, we’re going to attack an unsuspecting person, but we promise it’s not you.” The father speaking with his son pleads with him:
 – my son, don't travel that road with them or set foot on their path,  because their feet run toward evil and they hurry to shed blood.  It is useless to spread a net where any bird can see it,  but they set an ambush to kill themselves; they attack their own lives.  Such are the paths of all who make profit dishonestly; it takes the lives of those who receive it.
“Son,” he says, “The promise of money; the promise of belonging to something... It all has a certain attraction to it. But I’m telling you before it happens – when you go about it this way, it’s a trap. They say they are attacking an unsuspecting person – it’s them! They think they are going to come out on the right side, they are out for blood, and they will be surprised to find it’s their own! Birds are smart enough to see a net – fools aren’t!”
The father continues by referencing a better option; another voice:  Wisdom calls out in the street; she makes her voice heard in the public squares.  She cries out above the commotion; she speaks at the entrance of the city gates:
Look where wisdom is. It’s not in a study filled with books. It’s in the streets, the public squares, the city gates. It’s where business is happening, commerce taking place, work getting done. Wisdom is out in the open. It’s not shifting around, whispering behind people’s backs. Wisdom shouts out above the loud beeps of construction equipment, the ringing of phones, the tapping of keyboards. Wisdom shouts above the noise of traffic, ambulance sirens, the shouting of orders or children on a playground. It’s at the grocery store, the gas pump, the marketplace, the mechanic’s shop.
Godly wisdom doesn’t only happen in the confines of a church: she calls out to you wherever YOU are. And her question is this:  "How long, inexperienced ones, will you love ignorance? How long will you mockers enjoy mocking and you fools hate knowledge?
- How long will you keep trying to run your own life?
- How long will you tell yourself you don’t need to change?
- How long will you tell yourself, “I’m not hurting anyone”?
- How long will you tell yourself, “When I’m not so busy I’ll try to spend time with God”?
What “Inexperienced ones” means – Some of your translations might say “simple” ones – it means “open-minded”. It’s the idea that this person can’t make up their mind. Uncommitted. A simple person in this context is a person who goes with the flow, jumps on the latest ideas, not very rooted in anything, kind of blowing from one thing to the next. So the offer of a get-rich-quick scheme sounds pretty good.
But there is hope for this person! Because they are so open to change, there is hope for them to make the right kind of change! To make up their minds to choose wisdom.
A mocker on the other hand is someone Pastor Sean was talking about last week, when he described a worldly attitude: A mocker makes sin look normal, and the things of God look strange. The mocker makes fun of God and his ways. He or she laughs at and ridicules God. The people described in verses 10-18 are mockers. They come at you aggressively, confident, calculated, and make big promises – but they will slit your throat.6
The fool is a thick headed, stubborn dolt. He doesn’t listen. He always knows better, always has an excuse. Nothing is ever his fault.
To all three of these people, Lady Wisdom, says in verse 23: If you respond to my warning, then I will pour out my spirit on you and teach you my words.
If you RESPOND. Or in the ESV, “If you would turn at my correction”, wisdom says, speaking to the simple, the mocker, and the fool, “I would pour out my spirit on you! I would teach you my words!” The NIV says, “If you repent at my rebuke, I will pour out my thoughts to you, and make known to you my teachings.”
In other words, this isn’t like parade candy, where Lady Wisdom flings wisdom all willynilly to whoever holds out their hand. You have to be in a frame of mind where you are going to make some changes. You have to come at these teachings with an attitude of humility, ready to be corrected. You don’t have it just because you have a pulse. It involves and requires repentance.
That’s another aspect of the fear of the Lord.
“It can be extremely painful to learn the fear of the Lord. It is death to our[self-centered] egos and self-assured opinions… But we do not change for the better by turning inward. We change as we turn outward and upward to the Lord with an awakened sense of his sheer reality, his moral beauty, his eternal grandeur, infinitely above us but relevant to us… that means we must forsake the fool within, named Self, decisively and endlessly.”4
Look at verse 23: “If you turn at my reproof”. Like a parent with their child, the God of the Bible is going to disagree with you. He’s going to warn you. He’s going to correct you. He’s going to discipline you.
A mother who never corrects her children doesn’t prove that she loves them. When the child is walking toward the street, she yells at the top of her lungs for her child to TURN – no one in their right mind would say, “hey, don’t correct the child. If you love them you’ll let them go.”
That’s a lunatic. So if proof of a mother’s love to demand a change, wouldn’t that be infinitely more true of God? If you worship a god that doesn’t ask you to change, you’re not worshiping Yahweh, the God of the Bible.
Wisdom says in verse 23, “IF you turn, if you repent, if you respond, I will pour out my spirit on you.”
But the very people Lady Wisdom was there to save, the inexperienced, the mocker, the fool, rejected her.
 Since I called out and you refused, extended my hand and no one paid attention,  since you neglected all my counsel and did not accept my correction,  I, in turn, will laugh at your calamity. I will mock when terror strikes you,  when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when trouble and stress overcome you.  Then they will call me, but I won't answer; they will search for me, but won't find me.  Because they hated knowledge, didn't choose to fear the LORD,  were not interested in my counsel, and rejected all my correction,  they will eat the fruit of their way and be glutted with their own schemes.  For the apostasy of the inexperienced will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.
Pastor Sean who was here last week told me a story of a woman he knew, who was mixed up in some sin and was getting some counseling. The counselor showed her a scripture that included a command of God – something she needed to do. She read the words, looked up at her counselor and said, “yeah, no. I’m not going to do that.”
It was as if in the words she was reading, the tornado sirens were going off, the phone blowing up, the radar saying the storm is coming for you, and instead of listening to wisdom and getting to safety, she ran straight out into the middle of a field as the funnel cloud approached. She refused the call of wisdom, didn’t pay attention, neglected the Lord’s counsel, did not accept his correction – and underneath all of that is that she didn’t choose to fear the Lord. And it’s not a happy ending for that kind of person.
Jesus illustrates this by telling a story in Matthew 7 about two men. There was a storm brewing, and they had the chance to prepare for it. One man, aware of the power and danger of the storm, moved inland and built his house on a rock. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears my words and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” He didn’t refuse the call of wisdom, he didn’t ignore God’s correction and warning, he took action. And when the storm came pounding the house with wind and rain and flooding, it didn’t collapse because it’s foundation was solid, and he was safe inside.
But, if you hear my words, my warnings, my corrections, Jesus continued, and you don’t act on them, you are like the fool who when the sirens went off and the evacuation notice was announced, actually moved to the beach! You know, the houses on the beach are worth more! You know, once the storm is past, there could be a beautiful sunset on the water, and you’d hate to miss that. Well, the storm came and to no one’s surprise, the house didn’t make it and neither did the man who was inside when it collapsed.
This choice of whether or not you’re going to choose wisdom for right living are not just two options for living your life, like do you want the GMC Denali or the Chevy Impala? One is a lot nicer, but they both get you to the same place. It’s not the option of, do you want Joanna Gaines to fix up your house or do you want Rodney to decorate your place? The option offered by wisdom here is “do you want to live, or do you want to die”? It’s a matter of life and death.
Some people these days build their house on the ever-changing sand of what is culturally acceptable because you want to be on “the right side of history”. Some build their house on the sands of their own ability to be good: “I’m not that bad of a person”; the sand of “Maybe when I’m a little older or when I have more time, I’ll start paying more attention to God.” Some people go so far as to build their lives on the sand of “I will call myself a Christian, I’ll go to church when it’s convenient, I’ll say my faith is important to me – but I am not doing anything that makes me stand out, or look dumb, I don’t care if it is in the Bible.”
You might succeed in building yourself a beautiful little sand kingdom with yourself at the center calling the shots, looking great to those who also think the things of God are strange, but when that house collapses, and it will, there is no second chance. You will not find the concept of purgatory in the Bible. The foolish man on the beach didn’t get a second chance to build a better house.
The father speaking to his son here in Proverbs 1, takes his son’s face in his hands and says LISTEN: Unless you turn at God’s correction, He will let the storm of his judgment for your stubbornness, and refusal to listen to him hit you full force and, because you had ample warning, he won’t apologize for it. It won’t change the glories or the joys of heaven one bit to not have you there.9
We have one life to live, and when it’s done, it’s done, and the choices you make today count for eternity. But there are no second chances. That bothers people. We don’t like that. We don’t like that the choices we make for today count for eternity. We don’t like that there is that much weight or finality to what we do. We’d prefer to sort of cruise through life, do what we want, and then at the very last minute, with the family gathered around our hospital bed, commit our souls to Jesus and slide into home, safe and sound. That might be how your story ends, but to bank on that is to reject the offer of wisdom that God is right now holding out to you. To bank on a hospital bed conversion is to build your house on the sand, hoping to see a good sunset to your life. but there are no second chances if that is not the way it ends.
Let’s bring this ancient wisdom into this room: Sons of any age: there are people in this world actively plotting against you. They are inviting you into plans they have made telling you, hey, no one will know. You’re not hurting anyone. Join the crowd. Look this way. Act this way. Treat others this way. Daughters of any age: the videos you watch, the pictures you browse – they seem harmless but they are selling you a way to look, a way to dress, a way to act, a way to be. They are selling you on what success looks like, on what kind of people are in and what kind are out. But they are out for blood. It’s a trap. There is an enemy of your souls who wants nothing more than to see you lying in a puddle of your own blood in a life that has collapsed on you.
Maybe you’re here today or you’re watching online, and you feel like your life has collapsed on you, that you have messed up so badly that not even God would want to take you in. But Ephesians 2 says that it was exactly then, when we were dead in our trespasses and our sin, that God made us alive together with Christ! Jesus isn’t afraid of death – he defeated it! The fact that you are sitting here today drawing air in and out of your lungs means that this same God is right at this moment holding out his hand to you and saying, “make up your mind about me!” He patiently waits for you. He doesn’t rush you. He doesn’t push you. He won’t force you. He might even send a few small storms along the way to wake us up.
This Jesus was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with the grief of seeing what the foolishness of rejecting him does to creation here in his good world, and to the people he made in his image. He grieves over what our foolishness has made of relationships. He grieves when young girls are taught that body image is more important than being made in God’s image. He grieves when young men are taught that their value comes from the work you can produce, or what you can accomplish.
He grieves over how his church so quickly lets the love of country overwhelm our love for God’s word. He grieves that in our rebellion we’ve let the tiniest little thing divide churches, where people who once sang songs together now will avoid each other in the aisles at the grocery store.
And yet, this grieving Jesus willingly walked this earth, living his life perfectly obedient to his Father, listening and acting on the word and the wisdom of God, and when the fullness of time had come and he had accomplished everything he came to do, he willingly put himself in the path of the oncoming storm of God’s judgment and let it crush him on the cross, so that any fool, any mocker, any simpleton, who believes in him, repents, and listens to his words would not perish but have eternal life –  and live securely and be undisturbed by the dread of danger."
Your heavenly Father is not actively plotting against you. The whole reason he warns you at all is because he is FOR YOU. He is not out to get you and steal your fun…he wants a better life for you than you could dream up for yourself. He wants a better life for you than anything social media tries to sell you. He wants deeper relationships for you than you want for yourself. He has a better identity for you than the in-crowd can offer.
Jesus lived and died for anyone who would listen. He rose again so that you would have life in his name! Believe it. Receive it. Repent of your sin. Read the word of God. Let it change you. Learn from the mistakes of others. Teenagers, young people: Find someone in this room who is older than you and ask if they will help you process a decision you have coming up. I promise you they will be so happy to talk with you, they will buy you lunch! Two things older people have that you don’t – wisdom and cash.
But for all of us, here’s how we’re going to end today, as the band comes up to lead us out. Two things:
- Take Action/Practical: There are 31 chapters in Proverbs. There are 31 days in July. So I’m asking us as a church to read Proverbs together this July, one chapter a day. And to pitch this idea to you, I invented my own proverb: “A proverb a day keeps the stupid away.” We all have some fool in us. We all need wisdom. So let’s go for it together. Let’s lean in, young and old, and learn together. There will be cards on the back table. But before that, here’s the second thing.
- I want to give you a moment to turn to God and say “I’m listening.” I’m going to put Psalm 139:23,24 on the screen. Today I’m not going to guide your prayer like I often do. I’m just going to leave these verses on the screen for a few minutes for you to pray silently, out loud, however the Spirit of God leads you. Pray it once, pray it 50 times, I don’t care. But pray it until you mean it. Then stop talking and listen.
- Raymond C Ortland Jr, Proverbs (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 32
- John Piper, Providence (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 21
- Ibid, 161
- Ortland, 32
- https://www.michaelstewartwilliams.com/spreading-a-net-where-every-bird-can-see-it/ , October 15, 2018, (accessed June 16, 2021)
- Ortland, 45
- Ibid, 45
- Ibid, 46
- Ibid, 46
- Ibid, 47
- Bruce Waltke in a lecture on Proverbs called “Parents To their Child”, at www.biblicaltraining.org, accessed June 18, 2021