Wasted Wisdom


Why do really smart people do really dumb things? With regularity, we’re shocked to hear of great men and women who have thrown away their lives with foolish actions or words. Sure, younger people can do some pretty stupid things like I did when I was in my teens. But,  how is it that some who are older and, supposedly, wiser end up following the wrong people and worshiping the wrong things?

The greatest example of wasted wisdom is King Solomon of Israel. “God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding beyond measure” (1 Kings 4:29). Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs (Proverbs 1:1-7), wrote over a thousand songs (including Psalms and Song of Solomon), dissected biology, mediated personal conflicts, arbitrated injustice, and discerned between good and evil. During his lifetime, people came from everywhere on earth, sent by kings and queens, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom and stand in awe of his wealth (1 Kings 4:34). There was no one like him (2 Chronicles 9:22-23). Everyone wanted to be like him and be with him.

Tragically, “when Solomon was old, his wives seduced him to follow other gods…Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and he did not completely follow the LORD….the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD God of Israel.” (1 Kings 11:4,6,9). As a result, his family fell apart and the kingdom of Israel was torn apart.

How could the wisest person who ever lived waste his life in the end? If it could happen to Solomon, then couldn’t it certainly happen to me.

How can I make sure that as I get older that I follow the Lord completely and whole heartedly? Here are some thoughts I’ve had after grieving Solomon’s demise and reflecting on his downfall.

Stay in the scriptures and in prayer to develop an ongoing relationship with God (Proverbs 1:1-7, 9:10, 14:26, 15:33, 22:4). Wisdom must be applied to life in dependence upon the Lord (Psalm 127:1, Proverbs 16:3). For all his wisdom, Solomon was seduced to follow other gods rather than stay true to the God who appeared to him — twice. Reading the Bible and talking with God is not just a matter of discipline or spirituality — it’s about a relationship with my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer who loves me unconditionally, but cannot use me unconditionally. In order to finish well, I must actively and intentionally follow Jesus and obey Him.

Stay close to godly friends who will tell me the truth about myself. Who were the people in King Solomon’s life to remind him of God’s commands — especially about foreign women. Where were they when he needed them to counsel and correct him (Proverbs 11:14)? We all need friends who will speak the truth in love (Proverbs 27:6). We all need friends who will encourage us to keep going in pursuit of Jesus (Proverbs 17:17, Ecclesiastes 4:12). We all need friends who will keep a confidence (Proverbs 17:9). We need friends who will keep us grounded in Christlike humility. In order to have those kind of friends, I must first be that kind of friend. And the most important friendship for me as a married man is my wife (singular).

An accountability question that I try to regularly ask of my friends, co-workers, and other leaders is, “What do I need to know that I don’t know that you think or fear I don’t want to know?” In order to finish well, I must listen to godly friends who point me to Jesus and remind me of my humanity and my need for my Savior.

Stay away from foolish temptations that will lead me away from a life of integrity (Proverbs 2:10-19, 10:19). King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines who turned his heart away from the Lord. Solomon “loved” too many women. 999 too many. His heart was not completely with the LORD his God. It was his downfall. Satan’s time-proven tactic for trapping many really smart men and keeping them from finishing well is sexual immorality (Proverbs 5:3-6; 7:2-22). For men, careless eyes often leads to trouble. For women, is it careless words (Proverbs 14:1)? In order to finish well, you and I must avoid the situations and people who will seduce me to walk away from the Lord Jesus.

The heartbreaking part of Solomon’s story is that he knew what to do. He just didn’t do it. Near the end of his life, he wrote, “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)

In life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish. In relationships, it’s not how you much you know, it’s how you use what you know. Biblical wisdom is applied knowledge. The wise put into practice skills for understanding and living a successful life with Jesus (John 15:4-5, 1 Corinthians 1:22-25). 

As a husband and father, I’m concerned that I could throw away my relationships and influence. As a pastor and preacher, I’m terrified that I could encourage others in their race only to be disqualified in the end (1 Corinthians 10:12). Failure is not inevitable, but self-confidence could lead to a spiritual fall, as it did for Solomon, did so often in Israel’s history, and continues today. The temptations Solomon faced were not unique to him nor are they unique to us in this modern age. The Lord promises to give us grace to handle any temptation we might face as we keep our minds and hearts focused on Him (1 Corinthians 10:13). Solomon serves as a warning to us (Ecclesiastes 4:13): even really smart people can do really dumb things.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

A Mad World

When did the world get so angry? How did it happen so quickly? As we look ahead to a new year in 2018, we have some serious issues to deal with in the world of relationships - especially relationships in regard to race, religion, and politics. How did we get so full of frustration that the slightest disagreement or difference of opinion overflows to unkind words, unloving hate, and even outright violence?

Read the comment sections on any public news site or dare to scroll down the comments of someone’s controversial FaceBook post or Twitter feed­ and you’ll probably be sorry you did. It’s become painfully clear that racial, religious, and political conflicts are part of a long-simmering, decades-in-the-making anger. In a world that promotes strict tolerance, people seem to be anything but that.

We’re tired of what’s going on in our world and many, including followers of Jesus, are angry about it. What is a believer in Jesus to think in times like these? To feel when life is out of control? To do when we’re angry?

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the prophet Micah, on behalf of his people, asked the LORD a similar question (Micah 6:6-7). In times of social and political turmoil, Micah prophesied about the coming destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) by the Assyrians and the later defeat of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) by the Babylonians. Micah then told the people of God how He wanted them to act, love, and live:

“Mankind, He has told each of you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

This verse contains one of the most succinct and powerful expressions of the LORD’s essential requirements for godly living in a mad world. At first glance, we bristle at the thought of requirements. As people, we don’t like to be told what to do.

Micah explains the essence of spiritual reality that is not just a set of rules; he encourages much more than mere ritual worship. God wants us to obey Him because we want to (for our good), not because we have to.

In Micah 6:8, the Lord wanted each of His people (“Mankind”) to live with Him. There is a progression in these requirements from what is external to what is internal and from human relationships to our relationship with God Himself.  The verse explains, “He has told each of you.” He had already told the Israelites what would be good (beneficial) for them:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:12,18)

“Above all, fear the LORD and worship Him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things He has done for you.” (1 Samuel 12:24)

It’s related to Jesus’ “Great Commandment” in the New Testament: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:38-40):

A right relationship with God that results in great relationships with others requires three things: to act justly, love faithfully, and walk humbly with God.
1. God wants us to act the right way:  seek godly justice for the fair treatment of others.

Specifically, the Lord wanted them to practice justice rather than continuing to plot and practice unfairness and injustice toward one another (cf. v. 11; 2:1–2; 3:1–3). I realize that in our contemporary society, “social justice” has become a convoluted term meaning different things to different people. So let’s use the term “godly justice” that provides a biblical frame of reference that guides how we act.

The active infinitive (act justly) indicates something “to do” - to carry out or perform an action or course of action. In order for there to be justice, judgement is required in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards or punishments. In the OT, this Hebrew word for justice (מִשְׁפָּט mišpāṭ) describes it as a rightness which is rooted in God’s character, compassion, and action. In contrast to the anger of injustice in our day (both personal and systemic), the Psalmist said, “How happy are those who uphold justice, who practice righteousness at all times” (Psalm 106:3). In other words, JUSTICE leads to JOY!

The Bible explains that wise people think of justice (Proverbs 12:5), speak of it (Psalm 37:30), seek it (Isaiah 1:17), provide it (James 1:27), and enjoy it (Proverbs 21:15), because God requires it along with a heart of love and a spirit of humility (Micah 6:8). Justice, however, isn’t self-righteous or prideful. Justice is humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly defending or depending on our “rightness.”

Justice shows no favoritism nor is persuaded by politics, power, position, or economics. Justice requires empathy as we consider how we would feel in another’s shoes, It doesn’t give preference to the either the poor or to the wealthy (Deuteronomy 1:17). Justice doesn’t favor the citizen or to the resident alien (Leviticus 24:22). Social justice is godly justice.

2. God wants us to love the right way:  be personally committed to meeting the needs of others.

He also wanted His covenant people to love faithfully and practice loyal love (Hebrew חֶסֶד ḥesed) by carrying through their commitments to help one another, as He had with them. This Hebrew word is used 240 times in the OT to describe God’s grace, mercy, goodness, and devotion in His loving-kindness. His love is unconditional, unending, constant, eternal. God’s love is not just sentimental or emotional. It’s based upon His actions, specifically His strength to fulfill His promises to His people (Micah 7:20).

As followers of Jesus, we are to love our enemies – whoever and wherever they may be – just as He has loved us. Christ-like love gives others what they need the most when (based on attitudes, words, or behavior) they deserve it the least, at the greatest personal cost just as He loves us (Romans 12; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 John 4:10).

3. God wants us to live the right way:  walk humbly before God in our relationships with others.

He wanted His people to live their lives humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly relying on themselves (cf. Micah 2:3). Pride is the enemy of justice and love. Whereas pride divides people; humility cultivates unity. Worldly Pride says, “Look what I’ve done.” Godly humility says, “Look what God’s done.”

In this mad, angry world today, the truth is that sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. Only by God’s Spirit will we see justice and experience it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to do what’s right before God, love others as He has loved us, and remember how His justice was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in our place – my place – for our sin – my sin.

Every New Year’s Day, many people plan their day around watching a couple of fights between grown men. This New Year’s Day is no different. Today at 4:00pm, guys from Oklahoma will travel to the Rose Bowl in California, looking for a fight with some Bulldogs from Georgia. Later tonight, there will be another fight between some guys from Alabama taking on another group from South Carolina in New Orleans. Two football games will take place between two rivals who are enemies on the field with fans representing both in the stands.

But there will also be another group of people on the field. The referees. Their job is to be impartial. Their job is to ensure a fair game. They must be humble to make sure pride doesn’t cloud their vision. Their job is to establish the rules from a rule book given by a higher authority - the NCAA. At times, the referees/officials get yelled at from both teams on the field, both coaches, and from most fans in the stands, but they are to be just in their decisions. If the referee begins to choose sides, it results in chaos. If the referee is influenced by the fans in the stands, there is confusion on the field. But when the group of referees impartially and fairly applies the rules of the game established by NCAA, the game can be played and enjoyed on the field as intended.

In the same way, followers of Jesus are God’s referees here on the Earth as His representatives from Heaven. The LORD has told each of us what is good and what it is He requires of us: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

church fights

Fighting-in-the-Pews

It has been said that “church fights are the worst fights,” perhaps because they break out among people who profess to believe in unity and love. You name it, Christians fight over it. Sometimes the disagreements are over trivial matters, but often they are serious conflicts from different viewpoints. Many Christians have been so hurt by a fellow believer that they walk away from the church and never return.

In a recent blog Dr. Thom Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources & former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor, listed 10 reasons for conflicts that arise in the church. They mainly include unfair expectations and misunderstood intentions but are common issues in many churches. Conflict happens in every church. This conflict is sometimes managed well. Other times, not so much.

We can observe a biblical example of a personal conflict between two good, godly men, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Their conflict is not about even an essential or biblical issue, but personal one regarding a person: John Mark.

Here’s a great story that highlights the realities of relationships. God is moving in the hearts of His people and working through them to take the message of salvation by grace through Christ to the world. Paul and Barnabas decide, let’s go back and encourage the believers in the church. Yea! From Barnabas’ perspective, it made perfectly good sense to take his cousin, John Mark, with them again because he started out with them the first time. “What?!?” Paul thought. We are not taking that guy, that quitter, with us again. Earlier in Perga (Acts 13:13), John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t approve of John Mark’s decision and Luke did not record his reasons or motives in either chapter. Regardless, Paul and Barnabas “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed.”  Unresolved conflict.

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So how can we preserve unity while personally disagreeing with another? Here are four things to consider in every disagreement over non-essential, personal issues.

1. Expect disagreements as normal because of natural differences. Like fingerprints, each person’s background, temperament, experiences, relationships, and perspectives are unique. Because of differences, people will naturally disagree with one another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a part of being human. Consider some of the differences between Paul and Barnabas: Paul was about the work; Barnabas the worker. Paul was more task oriented; Barnabas who was more people oriented. Paul was missional whereas Barnabas was personal. Paul was a teacher and Barnabas was more of a pastor. They had a different relationship with John Mark since he was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). There were other differences between Paul and Barnabas in regard to their training, home-life, temperament, spiritual gifts, experiences, and passions. In other words, they were different.

2. Even good, godly people will not always agree. This personal, relational conflict between these two godly men helps us see this. The Greek word, paraxusmos, is the word from which we derive our English word paroxysm, which denotes violent action or emotion. This was not a mild disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict! The term, when used negatively, describes anger, irritation, or exasperation in a disagreement. In Hebrews 10:24, it is used positively of stimulating or stirring someone to love and good deeds. Disagreeing is not always a sign of sin or selfishness. Robert Cook has said, “God reserves the right to use people who disagree with me.” By accommodating one another in love, mature believers can disagree without being disagreeable.

3. Every disagreement has an issue and varying viewpoints.  The issue always involves principles. The viewpoints always involve personalities. Differing points of view on the same issue are what usually causes conflict, not two different issues. Sometimes, identifying the issue and the viewpoints can greatly help us understand one another and move us toward a resolution and reconciliation. What is the issue? Is it essential, biblical, or personal?  What are the viewpoints? How could two godly men, both with good intentions see the same issue and come to such different conclusions? Why it so difficult to understand what another person is thinking?

4. Each viewpoint is valid in most disagreements. The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas makes us uncomfortable, but Luke’s realism in recording it helps us to remember that these two godly men, as they themselves said to the people of Lystra, were “human beings with feelings like” any other (Acts 14:15). Notice that Luke does not relate the conflict in such a way as to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong or vise versa. BOTH of them had a valid perspective. In the heat of an argument, we usually see only one side - our own (perspective, personality, communication style, bias, etc.). But if the disagreement issue is not objective (either theologically or biblically), then it’s subjective. It’s personal for each Christian and not universal for every Christian. There’s room for someone else’s view, right?

A phrase used and applied often in our home that addresses disagreements because of various, valid viewpoints is this: “It’s not wrong; it’s just different.”

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The easy thing, the natural, and, unfortunately, normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and/or walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict. Maybe it’s because as I was growing up in my home, conflict was something to be avoided. And what I learned by experience in my family was that usually unresolved conflict resulted in withdrawal (physical, emotional, or both). So out of fear of distance and lost relationship, I naturally want to avoid conflict at all costs. I’m still growing, I’m still learning, I’m still very much “in process”.

What we need when sharp disagreements arise is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships by resolving our conflicts.

How? I’ll address resolving conflict in my next blog post. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Life that is Real

Aslan and Lucy“This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” — Aslan in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” Chapter 16

The Bible explains that the reason humans were created in the image of God is to know Him and live with Him forever (Genesis 1:26-27; 3:8; 17:7; Exodus 6:7; 29:45; Leviticus 26:11–12; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 29:13; 2 Samuel 7:24; Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 34:24; 36:28; 37:23, 27; Zechariah 2:10; 8:8; John 14:1-6; John 17:3; 2 Corinthians 6:16, Revelation 21:3-4). As a Holy God, He alone knows what is good and not good for man, so He established boundaries for mankind’s good (Genesis 2:17), but Adam and Eve disobeyed Him. Their sin, repeated by every one of their descendants, resulted in both physical and spiritual death. Sin separated us from knowing God and living with Him forever (Genesis 3:5; Deuteronomy 30:15, 19–20; Romans 6:23; 1 Timothy 5:6; James 1:15). But since that first bite of forbidden fruit, God took the initiative in seeking out the sinners to restore a relationship with them (Genesis 3:8-9).

Lucy and Aslan IIIn order to reconcile sinful humanity to Himself as a Holy God, the Father sent His eternal Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh and live among us so that we would know God (John 1:14, 14:7-11). In fact, Jesus said clearly that knowing God is what eternity is all about: This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent —Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Not only did Jesus live among us; He died for us as our death substitute so that we could live with Him and for Him forever (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21).

One day, the apostle John tells us, the relationship between God and humankind that He has always wanted people to enjoy will be a reality in Heaven for those who believe in His Son: “Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).

We long to see God. We want to experience His presence. At times, we wonder where He is. We question what He’s doing. Or why He doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all…

One of my favorite descriptions of life with God is tucked away in one of Paul’s letters to his younger friends, Timothy:

Aslan and Lucy III“Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of the life that is real.” — 1 Timothy 6:17-19

I love that description of eternity: the life that is real. Life that is really living. The very reason we live on earth is that by knowing God here for a little while on earth, we will know Him better in eternity. Seek Him now so that one day you may see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:2).

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.


Aslan“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” Chapter 16

“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy. “Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon.”

“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”

“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.

“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

Seeking Wisdom

Over the last twelve weeks, I’ve been walking through the Bible’s wisdom of Proverbs with some godly men who are also great friends. I’ve been encouraged and challenged to live life the “right way” with the Lord God and with others.

forest pathIn Proverbs we’re discussing God’s perspective on money, on love, on relationships, on business, on morality, on government (even politics)—on just about every aspect of life. In Proverbs we’re learning what God wants, what God thinks, who God is, how God responds, and what God expects. The proverbs contain truth about God and, more importantly, how we are to respond to Him in practical ways. In Proverbs we’re discovering the incomparable value of seeking wisdom.
 
To the ancient Jew, wisdom was much more than simply good advice or successful planning. Wisdom meant being skillful and successful in one’s relationships and responsibilities by observing and following our Creator’s principles of order in the moral universe. Biblical wisdom has little if any relationship to a person’s IQ or education, because it’s a matter of moral and spiritual understanding. Wisdom has to do with character and values. Wisdom means looking at the world through the grid of God’s truth as opposed to the fool whose way is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15).
 
mountain pathWisdom isn’t something theoretical, it’s something very practical that affects every area of life. It gives order and purpose to life; it gives discernment in making decisions; and it provides a sense of fulfillment in life to the glory of God.
 
There are at least eighteen references to “the fear of the Lord” in Proverbs (1:7, 29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:2, 26–27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 24:21; 31:30). So it’s apparent that the fear of the Lord is a significant part of wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 may be the key verse:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning [main part] of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
This statement is amplified in Proverbs 9:10
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy [Holy One] is understanding.”
The six verses that precede Proverbs 1:7 explain why the book was written: to give us wisdom, instruction, understanding, prudence, knowledge, discretion, learning, and counsel. Everything depends on wisdom; the other seven words are practically synonymous with it. And wisdom begins and ends with knowing God personally by faith.
 
desert pathDuring this lifetime wisdom is reflected by how we live: either the right way of following the Lord or the foolish way of following the crowd. The Hebrew words in Proverbs that are translated “righteous,” “righteousness,” “upright,” and “uprightness” describe ethical conduct that conforms to God’s standards and moral character that comes from a right relationship with Him and to His Word. Righteousness is not living perfectly in Proverbs, but living the right way in dependence on the Lord.
 
The pages of history are filled with the names of brilliant and gifted people who were smart enough to become rich and famous but not wise enough to make a successful and satisfying life. It’s one thing to make a living, but something else to make a life.
“There is life in the path of righteousness, but another path leads to death.” – Proverbs 12:28
You don’t necessarily need godly character these days to be a success in the world; countless Hollywood celebrities, gifted athletes, dishonest businessmen, and deceptive politicians have proved that. But if you’re concerned with making a good life the right way before God, you must major on building godly character.
 
Those who follow the wisdom taught in God’s Word will become more skillful in handling the affairs of life. But we can’t think that this wisdom is a set of rules or a collection of “success formulas” that anyone can occasionally apply as he or she pleases. Following God’s wisdom is a full-time, eyes-open, hands-on pursuit. His Word must first work within our hearts and transform our character before we can become the kind of people God can guide and bless.
 
beach pathThe first step in gaining wisdom is to recognize at the beginning that we do not possess it ourselves. Ha!
 
If we are going to get wisdom, we will have to humble ourselves before God and ask Him for it. To that end, Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.” Being wise in one’s own eyes is consistently condemned in Scripture (Judges 21:25; Proverbs 12:15; 26:12; Isaiah 5:21; Romans 12:16). It makes little sense to be full of your own “wisdom” while asking God for His. We must come to God confessing our emptiness and relying upon Him to give us wisdom for the needs we have. Saying “I don’t know” is not a condition of ignorance but a confession of dependence. It is to agree with Jeremiah who says man should not glory in his wisdom, power, nor riches, but in the knowledge of God (Jeremiah 9:23–24).
 
In this age of information where everything can be Googled, this day of social media where everyone can openly express their opinion, and this world of political correctness where the morality of the majority rules, what we need more than ever before is wisdom. Where can we find it? It’s not a mystery. Wisdom comes from God who offers it freely if we look for it in His Word and listen for it by His Spirit:
 

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding; furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding, if you seek it like mining for silver and search for it like hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up success for the upright; He is a shield for those who live with integrity so that He may guard the paths of justice and protect the way of His loyal followers. Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and integrity—every good path. For wisdom will enter your mind, and knowledge will delight your heart. Proverbs 2:1-10

vineyard pathIn Proverbs, the words “path” and “way” (and their plurals) are found nearly 100 times. Wisdom is a path to walk with the emphasis on the blessings God’s people enjoy when they walk on wisdom’s path. The repeated counsel is that the path of wisdom leads to life, but the way of either active wickedness or passive foolishness leads to death.

Our path of life may not be an easy one, filled with both trouble and sorrow, but it will always be a fulfilling one as we walk in the will of the God by knowing His Word, trusting His providence, and guarding our hearts and minds. The counsel of an older father to his inexperienced son in Proverbs is this: whatever it takes and whatever it costs, find wisdom. Happy is the man who finds her and gains understanding.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

I’m thankful for the godly men the Lord Jesus has brought into my life to encourage me, counsel me, and point me to the path that leads to life with Him.
 
Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Trials

Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem ICould there have been anything more tedious, anything more ill-timed for Mary and Joseph than following political orders to travel for a census when she was 9 months pregnant?  I imagine the tiresome commute to Bethlehem and their disappointing search for lodging was not immediately recognized by Mary and Joseph as something “good” from the Lord.

The journey south from Nazareth was not an easy one through the rugged, Judean hill country, especially for a an expectant, first-time mom. Nor was the occasion a happy one since the census decreed by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) was undoubtedly a prelude to a burdensome financial tax liability for their growing family. Furthermore, Mary and her husband would be far removed from the comforts and conveniences of home. And when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room for them there (Luke 2:7). No one had reserved a Bed & Breakfast. No one was looking out for them. No one seemed to care. They were alone.

Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem IIThe tedious trials of life are often tools in the hand of God which only time or eternity will make clear to us. For Mary and Joseph, the decree of Caesar Augustus was divinely intended to cause Jesus’ parents to make a long difficult journey from their home town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea because Joseph was in the royal bloodline of King David (Isaiah 9:6-7). The political orders of a pagan ruler were used to fulfill God’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in rural Bethlehem rather than royal Jerusalem (Micah 5:2-5). The humble manger would be the perfect place for humble shepherds to find the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-15) so that they might worship Him.

Mary and Joseph in BethlehemThe birth account of Jesus in Luke 2:7 ends with almost a note of human tragedy: “there was no room for them…” Think about that for a moment — the Son of God, covered with rags and placed in a cattle feeding trough! How could that be? How tragic! And yet, for Jesus, a feeding trough became His first throne on earth (Philippians 2:9-11).

God’s purposes are often achieved through difficulties, even when they are not immediately apparent to us (James 1:2-4). Whether it’s simply too much rain or heart-wrenching, unbearable pain, the trials of life are often tools in the hand of God. Wait on Him. Believe His Word. Trust Him.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Defining Value

beautiful peopleWe live in a world that greatly values power and performance while richly rewarding physical athleticism and external beauty.

As our nation prepares for the 2016 presidential election, candidates are raising millions of dollars and a few are spending their self-amassed fortunes to become one of the most powerful leaders of the world. CEO’s of fortune 500 companies are financially rewarded with cash, stock, and other options (or replaced) based on their job performance.

Power of LeBronProfessional athletes demand million dollar contracts for throwing a ball, dunking a ball, dribbling a ball, catching a ball, hitting a ball, putting a ball, and kicking a ball. The best of our athletes make more money in product endorsements off the field because people want to buy the products they push. We want to be like Mike. Or LeBron. And for some, Tom.

Meanwhile actors, models, and musicians not only get rich, but they also wield tremendous societal and political influence. They influence what we wear. They shape how we talk. They impact how we think. They determine what we desire.

Still other people are defining their worth, or others lack thereof, based on race. “Black Lives Matter.” While that’s a true statement and addressed real hurts and genuine fears when the movement began, the movement seems to have created an even greater divide in our country. All lives should matter — unless, that is, you’re powerless inside a woman’s womb.

Sheriff Ron Hickman of Harris County, Texas, addressed this issue about whose lives matter after one of the officers under his command, Darren Goforth, was shot and killed at a gas station last week, “We’ve heard ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘All Lives Matter.’ Well, ‘Cops’ Lives Matter,’ too, so why don’t we just drop the qualifiers and just say, ‘Lives Matter.'”

There are still others who determine their worth based on sexual orientation or identity. We’re pressured (by the powerful, by politicians, by athletes, by musicians, or by actors) to think that individuals should pursue and do whatever they think will make them happy and feel good about themselves.

defining valueThroughout our culture we have been conditioned to believe that appearance, race, sex, money, talent, and defining achievements determine how we evaluate people.

And ourselves.

Where do you usually go to find self-worth? Whose opinion influences how you view yourself?

The Bible tells us that God greatly values us, but not in the way that we might think. He doesn’t take pleasure in the symbols of strength and beauty or the temporary things that amuse people. The LORD sees and delights in what demonstrates real strength and eternal worth: knowing and trusting Him.

The Psalmist explains,

The LORD is not impressed by the strength of a horse;
He does not value the power of a man.
He values those who fear Him,
those who put their hope in His faithful love.
— Psalm 147:10-11

In the NT, Paul gives further insight into our self-worth:

5 Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, 7 and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. 8 But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices. Colossians 3:5–9

Those are the things that the world values. That’s the old self.

But in Christ,

10 [You] have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. 11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all. Colossians 3:10–11 (HCSB)

The new person in Christ has a new perspective of life where all material, physical, racial, national, religious, cultural, sexual, and social distinctions are determined to be worthless. Instead, Christ is now all that matters for all those who believe in who He is as God’s Son and what He has done through His death, burial, and resurrection.

lightstock_4161_xsmall_larry_murrayChrist is everything in salvation - no more performing on our own for a relationship with God.
Christ is everything in sanctification - no more achieving to determine our value.
Christ is everything necessary for satisfaction - no more searching for happiness on our own.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

In Christ, our personal value before God in Heaven is based upon the (sinless) performance of Jesus. In Christ, our eternal relationship with God is because of Christ’s power on the cross and through His resurrection. In Christ, our old way of thinking about ourselves and others has died. In Christ, our perspectives, prejudices, misconceptions, enslavements have all changed.  Jesus Christ is our all in all. He defines our value and He alone gives us eternal worth. Our identity is in Him. He makes life worth living. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.