If God is Your Co-Pilot…

…You’re Sitting in the Wrong Chair!

Please read Proverbs 3:5-6 in your Bible.

God's Guidance_v04(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

CONTEXT:  This third chapter of Proverbs is an example of the content of the book.  It presents reasons and means to live an intelligent life based on the faith conviction that God is real and He rewards those who earnestly seek him.  Chapter three is a father admonishing his son to make the pursuit of wisdom a lifelong practice.  He lists many benefits to wise living to encourage this practice.  In the middle of the chapter we find two verses that put in focus how divine will and human will are to work together.

The way the world works is a combination of providence and prudence.

  1. Providence is God’s will deciding what happens.

In circumstances from mundane to miraculous, the Bible teaches that God sets a path before us.  He is not distant, but is intimately involved in our lives, knowing our hearts (Psalm 44:21), the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7), and our future (John 3:20).

God is also at work in the great movements of human history, directing the affairs of nations.  In Proverbs 21:1, God directs the heart of the king like men direct the channel of a river.

Deism is the mistaken notion that God created everything then left it to run on its own.  It is another example of vain philosophies that attempt to take God out of the picture.  Let’s be clear: any teaching that limits the power of God or gives any being equality with God is a false teaching.

  1. Prudence is our own will deciding what happens.

“Prudence” is defined as self-discipline achieved by the use of reason.  It can be emblematic of a notion central to our culture that a person is only limited by their imagination and determination; any of us can become anything we want.

The Bible does command self-control (Titus 2:12) and includes it as one of the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Superficially, self-control and self-determination look similar but self-control is something achieved with God’s grace.  Self-determination is just a subtle way of excluding God from the details of everyday life.

Self-determination is one extreme.  The opposite end of the spectrum might be called “determinism.”  The Bible’s commands would not be necessary nor could we be held responsible for our choice if all our choices were being made for us.  Divine determinism may sound religiously correct, but it is not a biblical doctrine.

  1. The Bible’s witness is more complicated: it holds both providence and prudence in tension.

Herein is the difficulty: our human nature wants to simplify and to eliminate tension.  To be faithful to the Scriptures, we must hold onto both providence and prudence.  Let’s use Proverbs 3:5-6 as an example.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tell us prudence is a virtue when it is God-centered, not reliant on reason or any human power.  There are three expressions that develop this teaching.

First, TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART.  In the Bible, the HEART is the center of a person’s inner life, both intellect and emotions.

Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING.  By faith we appreciate that God offers unlimited resources; success is more likely as we trust in Him.

Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE (recognize) HIM.  Give God the glory; draw attention to Him, not yourself.

Providence is in evidence here in form of the promised reward: HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT or “will direct your paths.”  In life and in Proverbs, the straight path is the best.  In Proverbs, the “crooked path” is a word picture of a life of folly and sin.  It ends in death (Proverbs 9:18).

Theologically, we understand that human free will is a delegation of the authority of God.  Rather than choose everything for us, God allows us to make our own choices and to experience the consequences of those choices.  God helps believers to make the right choices by supplying His word, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.  He exerts His will bring us to circumstances and gives us experiences that also shape our decisions.  After we decide, God exerts His will to bring about positive or negative consequences to teach us and to bring about His will.

Our life with God is not a matter of divine will OR human will but the interplay of both.  All of this is to direct our attention to God, to rely on Him more fully and love Him more dearly.

In both the details and in the big picture, God is so powerful He does not rely on our meager powers, but out of love He chooses to make us His partners in bringing about His will.  In our daily living, we exercise prudence but put our trust in providence.  We live wisely and righteously, seeking God’s will and choosing to walk in His way.



Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Proverbs, Tremper Longman III

Samson Didn’t Know How to Pick ‘Em

(Please read Judges 16:1-22 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

Samson did not have success choosing the women in his life; he did NOT know how to pick ‘em.  Remember the Philistine bride he left at the altar in ch. 14?

Speaking of picking them, I read recently of similar relationship issues: a daughter texted her dad the following: “Daddy: I am coming home to get married soon, so get out your check book.  I am in love with a man who is lives far away, in Scotland.  We met on a dating website, became friends on Facebook, and had long chats on Whatsapp.  He proposed to me on Skype, and now we’ve had two wonderful months of relationship on Viber.

“My beloved and favorite Dad, I need your blessing, good wishes, and a really big wedding.  Lots of love and thanks, Lilly.”

The father replied with a text which read: “My dear Lilly.  Like wow!  Cool!!  I’d suggest you get married on Twitter, have fun on Tango, buy your kids on Amazon, and pay for all of it with Paypal.  Oh, and when you get fed up with this new husband, you can sell him on Ebay.  No need to thank me.  Lots of love, Dad.”

Today we’ll begin the final chapter of Samson’s story.  We’ll add two more sins to add to the tally, including the one that brought Samson to his end.

The story of Samson has had its humorous moments and we’ve had some fun pointing them out along the way.  But Samson’s life is also tragic; a tale of wasted time and potential.  He was gifted beyond most people in history, but taking his gifts for granted, Samson wasted time working for himself and disobeying God.

Let’s face a sobering fact: God is going to do what He has promised He will do.  We have the choice to join God in what He is doing or waste our lives on sin and selfish pursuits.  The choice is – as always – ours.

  1. Samson Sin #6 = Patronizing a Prostitute.

Samson made a bad decision and put himself in danger (1-2). Patronizing prostitutes is condemned in Scripture; it is morally dangerous.  For example, Proverbs 9:13-18 used a prostitute as a symbol of FOLLY and pointed out the foolishness of trusting one.  In 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, Paul singled out uniting with a prostitute as a particularly bad sin.  We have not seen in Samson much wisdom about relationships.  But this choice of partners is a new low in foolishness.

Samson put himself in physical danger by going all the way to Gaza, which was one of the capital cities of the Philistines.  It was surrounded by fortifications that worked to trap enemies INSIDE as well as to keep enemies OUTSIDE.  (That’s why the bit about the CITY GATE is important.)  Gaza was located 45 MILES from Samson’s home.  He really went out of his way to find trouble.

Verse two says THE PEOPLE OF GAZA WERE TOLD that Samson was within their walls.  Who told them?  Presumably, the prostitute or someone connected with her.  Or maybe Samson was so reckless as to make his presence public knowledge.  In either case, Samson’s enemies prepared to trap Samson in their city and kill him.  They surrounded the house and staked out the CITY GATE.

Having made these preparations, they then MADE NO MOVE DURING THE NIGHT, intending to kill him by day.  This seems like poor strategy to me, but they may have been so overconfident they believed they could afford to wait.  Or, more likely, they waited until the entire city was out and about; more people would see and applaud their vengeance against “public enemy #1.”

Samson relied on his strength to get out of danger and mock his enemies (3).  Samson was not surprised to find the enemy gathered outside the brothel.  He waited until the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, when sleep and boredom would distract the soldiers watching the house.

Demonstrating he was as stealthy as he was strong, Samson got out of the house and to the gates of the city.  There he yanked the massive gates out of the wall and carried them off to the top of a hill facing Hebron.

This is obviously a feat of supernatural strength.  Those gates, with all the connected woodwork, have been calculated to weigh between five and ten TONS.  Besides which, Samson carried them 36 miles and up 3,200 feet in elevation!

Why go to all that trouble?  Samson did this to rub the Philistines’ noses in their defeat.  They thought they had Samson dead to rights, but he made escape look easy.  Of course, we know this is another case of God bailing Samson out of trouble he’d created for himself.

  1. Samson Sin #7 = Sleeping with the Enemy.

What does the text tell us about Delilah (4+5)?  She lived in the Valley of Sorek, the same place Samson and his parents lived.  Delilah meant “amorous, temptress, delight, and devotee” in Hebrew.  This clue may suggest she was a temple prostitute.  Functioning as a priestess, Delilah may have used sex as a means of worshiping their false gods.  Just in case you thought Samson’s choice of the Gaza prostitute was the worst ever.

Samson FELL IN LOVE with her.  While this sounds different from vs. 1-3 and his engagement in ch. 14, it is clear that Delilah was still a bad choice for love interest.  Samson had “relationship issues.”

Samson paid no attention to his past (ch. 14) or present, and was thereby duped by Delilah (6-20).

The RULERS OF THE PHILISTINES have learned a lesson.  In chapter fourteen they threatened Samson’s fiancé.  Here, the made Delilah an attractive offer for her cooperation in capturing Samson. They each offered her 28 POUNDS of silver.  That translates into $7,804.16 in today’s market.  (That’s 28 lbs. X 16 oz. = 448.  448 oz. X $17.42/oz. = $7804.16.)  3:3 said there were 5 leaders of the Philistines, so that’s a grand total of $39,020.80!

Their aim is betrayed in the word SUBDUE.  In the original language that refers to subjecting someone to hard labor.  In my opinion, this is why the Philistines decided to capture Samson, not kill him.  Killing him would make a martyr of him and might cause the Israelites to revolt, but humiliating him might discourage resistance.

Samson’s first game of wits is recorded in verses six through nine.  Samson must’ve really been blinded by love; otherwise you’d think a question like Delilah’s in v. 6 would make a fella pretty suspicious.  Maybe Samson was suspicious, and that’s why he lied to her.

And what a lie.  What’s up with the BOW STRINGS?  Nothing.  My guess is he settled on the first thing he could think of that Delilah wouldn’t have in her closet.  We’ve already seen how clever Samson was with riddles and poems, so we know he can think on his feet.  Of course, the bowstrings weren’t at all effective in restraining Samson.

Later on, Delilah worked while Samson slept, but in this first game he is awake and allows her to bind him.  Why would he allow such a thing?

In the first three verses we saw Samson’s recklessness and arrogance.  It’s no stretch of imagination to see him as amused by Delilah’s actions.  That’s why I call these incidents “games of wits;” he was playing her.

Notice that when the trap is sprung (8-9), the Philistines are HIDDEN IN THE ROOM.  Though he might suspect the Philistines are using Delilah, Samson has no visual evidence.  (You’d think the feet sticking out the bottom of the curtains would be a dead give-away wouldn’t you?)

Samson’s second game of wits (10-12).  Though the text does not tell us any time passed between these events (just between the third and final game of wits – see verse sixteen), I have to believe that we’re looking at a set of events that happened over several days.  After all, what kind of lady has unused bow strings and new rope just lying about?

Just as Samson’s previous love interest had done (14:16), Delilah went into pout and nag mode (11); complaining, “YOU HAVE MADE A FOOL OF ME.”  Samson offered another lame lie.  NEW ROPE had already failed to incapacitate him (15:13-14), but Delilah apparently didn’t know that and fell for this second deceit of Samson’s (12).

Samson’s third game of wits (13-14).  Delilah makes it clear she doesn’t like being made a fool (13) but she makes it so easy for Samson.  He uses the number seven for a second time but gets closer to the truth by mentioning his hair.  This time Delilah waited until Samson slept to fall for the third lie.  When awakened, he jumped up and pulled his hair out and the loom apart.

Samson loses his wits (15-20).  Vs. 15+16 sound like 14:16; why didn’t Samson learn?  “YOU WON”T CONFIDE IN ME” is literally, “Your heart is not with me.”  That was true.  What he would not do for love, Samson finally did for relief from Delilah’s nagging; he told her the truth (17).  My guess is he tired of the game.  He was SICK TO DEATH OF IT.

Somehow Delilah was convinced that at last Samson told her the truth and she arranged her final betrayal (18).  The Philistines came back later (the fact that they’d left may imply they’d lost patience with her), with their bribe in hand and a barber in tow.  Why Samson trusted this woman enough to sleep around her is hard to explain, but he did it twice at least.  The barber came in and sheared Samson as he slept (19).

When she woke him, Samson, in his arrogance, believed that he was still invulnerable and would shake off the latest set of bonds.  Here’s a sad statement: BUT HE DID NOT KNOW THAT THE LORD HAD LEFT HIM (20).

Why did the Lord take His Spirit from Samson?  The better question is, “Why didn’t the Lord take His Spirit sooner?”  Samson’s character doesn’t bespeak someone worthy of all this divine assistance.  But rather than see this as a punishment, we have the benefit of hindsight and can see God had a higher purpose here: to get Samson in the middle of the Philistine leadership where he could do the most damage.  Once again, we’re seeing how God overcame the disobedience of Samson but still used him to fulfill the purpose He’d stated before Samson’s birth (13:5); to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Later in Israel’s history, this same fate would befall King Saul for the same reason: arrogant defiance of God and taking His Spirit for granted (1 Samuel 16:14).  Both ended tragically.

The vengeance of the Philistines is terrible but short-sighted (21-22).  It was terrible to gouge out his eyes, chain him, imprison him, and set him to work grinding grain, which was humiliating because women and donkeys were used to run small and large grain mills (21). They literally added injury to insult by gouging out his eyes.  The Israelites counted blind people among lepers and others who were “walking dead,” not really people any more.

But they were short-sighted in that they didn’t have the barber come back to the prison; Samson’s hair started growing back again (22).  There was nothing magical about the hair.  The hair is not the point.  The point is obedience to the Nazirite vows that Samson had observed since birth.  The growing back of his hair is more like a symbol of Samson’s repentance.  At his lowest moment, Samson finally saw that cooperation with God was a lot easier than defying Him all the time.  It’s too bad he had to suffer blindness, imprisonment and the rest.  His life would’ve been so much better if he’d kept God as his focus instead of himself.

Samson proves God will accomplish His purpose, but life is better when we obey Him.

In a way, Samson is a symbol of what we men typically go through – we lose our hair and our strength at about the same time!

The irony of Samson’s life is that his great physical strength stood in contrast to his great moral weakness. The bottom line: don’t repeat Samson’s mistakes.

Faces Around the Cross – #3 – The Two Thieves

Read LUKE 23:32-43

          An old preacher was dying. He sent a message for his banker and his lawyer, both church members, to come to his home.           When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room, the preacher held out his hands and motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed. The preacher grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled, and stared at the ceiling.

          For a time, no one said anything. Both the banker and lawyer were touched and flattered that the preacher would ask them to be with him during his final moments. They were also puzzled; the preacher had never given them any indication that he particularly liked either of them. They both remembered his many long, uncomfortable sermons on greed, covetousness, and materialism that made them squirm in their seats.          

          Finally, his curiosity got the better of him and the banker said, “Preacher, why did you ask us to come?”

          The old preacher mustered up his strength and then said weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves, and that’s how I want to go.”

<Retrieved from http://www.christian-jokes.net/Jokes/Pastor-and-Priest-Jokes/137-Jesus-died-between-two-thieves.aspx on 3/21/14.>

          Not all of the faces around the cross were those of spectators.  Two of the faces were distorted in the worst pain imaginable.  Those two faces belonged to the men crucified at Jesus’ right and left hands.

Where was Golgotha located?

          The place is variously named, but it is translated as “THE SKULL.”  “Golgotha” is the Aramaic word.  “Calvaria” is the Latin word from which we get our English word, “Calvary.”  This should not be confused with a set of soldiers who ride horses, but it often is. Why was this place thus named?  Perhaps it protruded from the ground in such a way that it looked as if a skull had been set down there.

          There are at least two shrines that vie for attention as the site of the crucifixion, but when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 72 AD, the landscape was so altered that identifying a definitive location is impossible. We do know, however, that the Romans preferred to stage these executions beside a road so that all the travelers would see the warning; “Don’t mess with Rome.”  For this reason, bodies would be left on crosses until they rotted and fell down.

Who were these men?

          Their criminal status fulfills predictions by both the Old Testament prophet Isaiah & Jesus Himself that He would be NUMBERED AMONG THE TRANSGRESSORS.



          You may not be surprised to hear that the Greek word for thief is “klepto.”  However, this word was also used for “rebel,” so these men may have been revolutionaries.  Either way, they broke the laws of Imperial Rome and paid the ultimate price.

What did they do to deserve death?

          The Roman Empire succeeded in conquering most of the ancient world by their cruelty and efficiency.  Crucifixion is one example of this.  Lots of offenses were punishable by death, but only people who were not Roman citizens, who were rebels, slaves, or low-class thieves would be executed by crucifixion.

Why did the thieves have such different reactions to Jesus?

          Both Matthew and Mark attest that both the thieves mocked Jesus at the beginning.  When we harmonize the with Luke, we see that after spending several hours on the cross, one of them had a change of heart.  He turned to Jesus to live.

          Their differing reactions flow from their differing characters. One thief betrayed his lack of character when he joined the Jewish clergy and their crowd by hurling INSULTS at Jesus.  The word INSULTS implies blasphemy as does the other thief’s rebuke; “DON’T YOU FEAR GOD?” Blasphemy is a sin; it is saying untrue and slanderous things about God.  The first thief had clearly decided Jesus has nothing to offer him.

          The other thief’s character is revealed in two further statements.  “WE ARE PUNISHED JUSTLY… BUT THIS MAN HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG.” Demonstrates a sense of justice and responsibility.

          “JESUS, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM.” Remember, the sign above Jesus’ head listed the charge against him (v. 38).  Pilate recorded the charge as Jesus being “King of the Jews.” This man had faith enough to accept that as the truth; he connected Jesus to the charge and had faith enough to accept it as the truth.

How was Jesus’ promise fulfilled?

          PARADISE refers to the true home of the righteous.  PARADISE is a Persian term for a walled garden.  Those who found approval in the king’s eye were invited to walk with him in his walled garden.

          In the Old Testament, this word refers to the garden of Eden.  See Isaiah 51:3 and Ezekiel 28:13: 31:8 as examples.)

          In the New Testament, this word refers to heaven.  In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul wrote about his experience of being caught up to PARADISE, which he also identified as THE THIRD HEAVEN.  In Revelation 2:7 John’s vision located the TREE OF LIFE as being is in the PARADISE OF GOD.

          Jesus is promising a lot more than a place in an earthly kingdom – and sooner than he expected!  Jesus underscored the seriousness of His reply when He began, “I TELL YOU THE TRUTH.”  Jesus emphasized the immediacy of His promise when He continued, “TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.”

          Darrell L. Bock wrote, “This man has gone from guilty to gifted by his coming to Jesus.” (BOCK, p. 598)

When are you going to join Jesus in paradise?

          The repentant thief is an example to us of the truth of the proverb, “Where there is life, there is hope.”  He shows us that it is not too late to have faith in Jesus.

          What’s certain is that we will all stand before Jesus at the moment of His Second Coming.  Those who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior will, like the second thief, be raised to eternal life in paradise.


            There was a man whose name was Edwin Thomas, a master of the stage during the latter half of the 1800’s. This small man with a huge voice had few rivals. Debuting in Richard lll at the age of fifteen, he found success with his ability to act out the great dramas of Shakespeare. In New York City, for one hundred consecutive nights he performed Hamlet and even in London where the tough British critics lived, he found favor.

          Edwin Thomas was not alone for he had two brothers, John and Junius. They too, were actors, although they were not nearly as gifted as was Edwin. In 1863, the three brothers performed together in Julius Caesar (PP-4). The fact that Edwin’s brother took the role of Brutus was almost an eerie foreboding of what was to occur in just two years.

          One little decision would not only affect the brothers but an entire nation. Brother John who played the assassin in Julius Caesar played the role of assassin again in Ford’s Theatre. On a dark April night in 1865 John walked into the theater and fired a bullet at the head of Abraham Lincoln. The last name of the three brothers was Booth—Edwin Thomas, Junius, and John Wilkes Booth.

          That night would mark Edwin forever. The shame from his brother’s crime drove him into early retirement. He might have never returned to the stage had it not been for a twist of fate at a New Jersey train station.

          Edwin was awaiting his coach when a well-dressed young man, pressed by the crowd, lost his footing and fell between the platform and the moving train. Without hesitation, Edwin locked a leg around the railing, grabbed the man, and pulled him to safety.

          After this sudden adventure, the young man recognized the famous Edwin Booth. Edwin, however, did not recognize the young man whom he had rescued. That knowledge would come to him a few weeks later in a letter, a letter that he would carry in his pocket to his grave.

          The letter came from General Adams Budeau, chief secretary to General Ulysess S. Grant. Budeau wrote to thank Edwin Booth for saving the life of the child of an American hero, Abraham Lincoln. The young man was none other than Robert Todd Lincoln.

          How ironic that while one brother killed the president, the other brother saved the president’s son. (Adapted from Paul Aurandt, Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story and Max Lucado, He Chose the Nails) (This story is true:

http://www.disarranging.com/review/archives/001252.php) <Retrieved from

http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/two-brothers-two-crosses-and-two-choices-philip-harrelson-sermon-on-cross-83651.asp?Page=1 on 3/24/14.>

          The testimony of the faces of the men on the cross is this; choices bear consequences.  One man chose hatred.  He blasphemed Jesus and simply died that day.  The other man chose faith.  He believed on Jesus and was rewarded with a place in paradise.

          What will you choose?


          The NIV Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock, Zondervan, 1996.