Monday, February 26, 2018

Proverbs 7:1-5 (ESV)
[1] My son, keep my words
and treasure up my commandments with you;
[2] keep my commandments and live;
keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
[3] bind them on your fingers;
 write them on the tablet of your heart.
[4] Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and call insight your intimate friend,
[5] to keep you from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words.

This passage warns against the seduction of a prostitute, but the application goes far beyond sexual immorality. It warns us of how to deal with the many temptations to sin that so often bombard us. How easy it is to get sucked in, not just to immorality, but to all kinds of what Hebrews 12 calls sins and weights. How does one protect against the powerful seduction of wrong behavior? This passage offers two solutions.

First, the passage warns us to “keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov 7:2-3). As believers, we need to be intentionally meditating on God’s Word and thinking about God’s ways. The question that should always be before us is this: Does this glorify God? That simple question lies at the heart of several other questions: What would Jesus do? What reflects the character of Christ? What does God’s Word say? What clear instructions do I have from the Lord? I need to not just know God’s Word, I need to value it. I need to treasure it. I need to love what God loves. I need to keep his directives for life continually before me.

Second, I need to recognize that sin starts in the mind and heart. Sin is not just something I do. Solomon warns, “Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths” (Prov 7:25). The heart turns aside before the feet turn aside. We need to learn to run from temptation. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” 1 Corinthians 10:14 warns us to “flee from idolatry.” Paul warns Timothy, “Flee the evil desires of youth” (2Tim 2:22a). He then goes on to say, “and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the LORD out of a pure heart” (2Tim 2:22b). We need to quickly recognize temptation and run. Victory is not found in resisting temptation, but in fleeing it. We “resist the Devil” (Jas 4:7). We “submit…to God” (Jas 4:7). We flee temptation.

Make it the intentional goal of your heart to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2Tim 2:22). Keep the truths of God’s Word ever before you. Learn to quickly recognize and flee the destructive and seductive temptations that so quickly lead us astray. Let us “fix our eyes” on that which is eternal (2Cor 4:18). Let us fix “our eyes on Jesus” (Heb 12:2).

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Proverbs 6:30-32 (ESV)
[30] People do not despise a thief if he steals
to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry,
[31] but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold;
he will give all the goods of his house.
[32] He who commits adultery lacks sense;
he who does it destroys himself.

Proverbs 6 is about self-indulgence. It is about the dangers of satisfying immediate and momentary passions and desires. Chapter 5 talks about adultery. Chapter 6 begins by taking about debt and ends with adultery. What do debt and adultery have in common? They are both often the result of choosing immediate satisfaction rather than embracing long-term wisdom. Chapter 5 indicates that we need to stop allowing our passions to control us. Chapter 6 challenges the reader to take the long-term view.

Immediate fulfillment of desire results in debt, bondage, and discipline. Concerning debt, Solomon warns his readers to get free of it as soon as possible. Work hard and take the long-term view. Not even ants live just for today despite the counsel of the 70s rock band The Grass Roots who sang, “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey, Live for today.” Ants store up food for later. Debt is bondage that is the result of immediate gratification rather than long-term planning. Concerning adultery, Solomon warns his readers not to go down that road. It leads to discipline from God, and justice and retribution from man. Immediate gratification results in long-term consequences.

The newspaper carries stories every day of people whose lives have been disrupted and destroyed because they gave in to immediate gratification. They failed to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. All that they trained for, planned for, and hoped for went down in flames because they failed to look past the passion of the moment.

Solomon is painfully aware of these dangers. His father, David, succumbed to a momentary passion. It ended with a political cover-up and the death of a trusted friend. Solomon may be both wealthy and wise, but he knows the pain and the consequences of short-term thinking. The brokenness of his own family tells the story.

Every day we are faced with opportunities to choose immediate gratification or wise, long-term behavior. Over time, we develop patterns based on the choices we make. What do you generally choose? Sunday my car got caught in a rut and I ended up in the ditch. I needed help to get out. You may need help to get out of your present bondage, but if you do not change the choices you make, you are only headed into deeper bondage. We need to back up and choose a different rut, or perhaps create our own rut based on long-term thinking rather than immediate gratification. It is not easy, but it is worth it. Short-term thinking has long-term consequences.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Proverbs 5:18 (ESV)
[18] Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
[19] a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
[20] Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
[21] For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and he ponders all his paths.

Our culture tells us that “The heart wants what the heart wants.” That is the title of a Pop song from 2014 which reflects the moral and ethical standards of our day. It suggests that we cannot control what our heart wants. We are captive to our emotions over which we have no control. Solomon says that is not true. Jesus says that is not true. The gospel and the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers us so that we no longer have to be enslaved to our passions. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us (Tit 3:3-5). He saved us not only from the penalty of sin, but from it’s power as well.

Our world is continually attempting to entice us. Television and the cinema bombard us with the message that “The heart wants what the heart wants.” Online ads and unsolicited social media invitations tempt the reader to indulge private fantasies. We are told that an unfulfilling marriage should be abandoned for one for which the heart yearns. But Solomon warns his sons that they can choose to find delight and even intoxication in their spouse.

As believers it is time that we stop listening to the invitations and lies of the world. It is time that we stop believing that we have no control over our emotions and that “the heart wants what the heart wants.” It is time that we recognize that the flesh, through which these lies and solicitations come, is dead and buried. We are alive with Christ. We can be so much more. It is time that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, stop allowing our passions to control us. It is time that we begin to believe the power of God in our lives, and yield to the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells and empowers us. It is time that we begin to choose to love and find our sexual and emotional intoxication in the one to whom we are married. The only other option is a snare concerning which Solomon says, “In the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol” (Prov 5:4-5).

Friday, February 16, 2018

Proverbs 4:1-6 (ESV)
[1] Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
[2] for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
[3] When I was a son with my father,
 tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
[4] he taught me and said to me,
 keep my commandments, and live.
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
[6] Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
 love her, and she will guard you.

I never noticed before that Solomon begins this chapter by speaking to his sons (plural), yet from that point on the text speaks to “my son” (singular). For example, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings” (Prov 4:20). The reason for the difference is found in verses 3-4. Solomon says to his sons, “(My father) taught me and said…” I can imagine David pulling Solomon aside and giving him the instructions that follow. Solomon then passes on to his children the truths that David taught him.

What do you want your children to learn from you and pass on to their children? David wanted Solomon to understand the value of wisdom and understanding or insight. “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget” (Prov 4:5). Our children learn what we value. That brings two thoughts to mind.

First, we need to value biblical, godly wisdom. Do our children see us pursuing wisdom? They see us pursuing stuff. They see us pursuing experiences. They see us pursuing careers, or money, or cars and trucks, or hunting, or hobbies, or… Do they see us valuing wisdom?

That brings me to the second thought. Solomon apparently didn’t value what he was told his children to value. He was wise. In his early days he valued wisdom. He was given the option to ask for anything and he asked for wisdom. But throughout his life he appears to have valued wealth, power, and women move than he valued wisdom. That is exactly what his children learned to value. They learned from what they saw more than from what they heard him say. That is how children learn.

 “Let your heart hold fast my words;  keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you” (Prov 4:4-6). What legacy are we leaving for our children and grandchildren? Is it a legacy of self-indulgent pursuit, or sacrifice and wisdom?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Proverbs 3:13-18 (ESV)
[13] Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
[14] for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
[15] She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
[16] Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
[17] Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
[18] She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.

Wisdom brings blessing according to God’s covenant with his people. Wisdom is not, however, intended to be hoarded for selfish gain. It is intended to result in service to others. “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’—when you have it with you” (Prov 3:28). Wisdom is sourced in God. How do we find it? Are there prerequisites to gaining wisdom?

The first twelve verses of Proverbs 3 lay out five key principles. First, wisdom is not just about intellectual knowledge. Wisdom is to be embraced from the heart. “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments” (Prov 3:1). Second, wisdom cannot be separated from faith. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5). Third, humility is foundational to gaining wisdom. “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Prov 3:7). Fourth, wisdom cannot be separated from stewardship. How we use what God has blessed us with is important. “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce” (Prov 3:9). Fifth, do not ignore or rebel against God’s discipline. “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof” (Prov 3:11).

These first twelve verses lay out five essential principles concerning wisdom. Could it be that there appears to be so little wisdom in our world because we have neglected these five principles? Rather than understanding wisdom as an aspect of the heart, we have chased after intellectual information. Instead of understanding that faith is an integral part of wisdom, we have rejected faith as the opposite of wisdom. Instead of humbling seeking the wisdom of God, we have pursued fame, or at least personal affirmation for our accomplishments. Instead of understanding that wisdom is available to us for the purpose of serving others, we have made it about the accumulation of stuff in the pursuit of personal peace and affluence. Finally, instead of valuing God’s discipline, we have chosen to view it as an indication that God is cruel and mean. We have failed to understand the very foundations of real wisdom.

Today, as we listen to God’s Word, may we reevaluate our own personal priorities. May we learn to walk humbly before our God from the heart. May we learn to trust him deeply, and appreciate his love demonstrated in discipline. May we understand that all we have is a gift from God intended to be used for his glory and the service of others. It is never for the purpose of hoarding it for ourselves. May we begin to get a glimpse of true wisdom. Lord, teach us.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Proverbs 2:6-8 (ESV)
[6] For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
[7] he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
[8] guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.

Wisdom and intelligence are two different things. Wisdom and business savvy may be related, but they too are very different. Wisdom guards one’s choices and actions. Wisdom keeps you from falling for the devious lies, distortions, and distractions of the Enemy. Wisdom protects against the influence of perverse, immoral, unethical, and dishonest companions. Wisdom produces integrity, justice, and holiness.

There are two truths we need to understand about wisdom. First, it is sourced in God. He gives it. He speaks it. He leads us into it. He stores it up for the upright (Prov 2:7). It is not hidden. It is not something that is hard to find. The problem is, we are too often looking for wisdom in the wrong place. We are talking to our friends, trying to figure out life. We are reading books, trying to understand the world. We are listening to motivational speakers, trying to find the key to success. But wisdom is not found there. It is found in God.

Second, wisdom is a matter of the heart, not the head. Wisdom is not about memorizing the 10 keys to happiness, or the 5 secrets of success. Wisdom is first, and foremost a heart issue. “For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul” (Prov 2:10). It causes you to “understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path” (Prov 2:9). The exercise of wisdom leads to both safety and success, but that is not it’s primary goal. The point of wisdom is that it reproduces the heart of God in those who are willing to listen.

Maybe that is where wisdom begins. Proverbs 1:7 says that, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Wisdom starts with the humility to recognize that life is not about me. It starts with a high view of God, not a high view of self. The power of sin is in the promise of self-fulfillment. The Serpent said to the woman, “You will be like God” (Gen 3:5). That is the lie he has been selling ever since. “You can be somebody. You can be significant. You can be happy.” But his path leads to destruction and misery.

Our goal is not to seek personal peace and affluence. In that pursuit is the misery of brokenness and sin. Our goal is to glory in and glorify God. In that is wisdom, and in wisdom we find all that we were so desperately seeking in our self-centered pursuits. Wisdom is ultimately a matter of the heart, not the head. What is the passion of your heart today? May the wisdom of God guard your hearts and minds. “Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth” (Prov 4:5).

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Proverbs 1:1-7 (ESV)
[1] The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
[2] To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
[3] to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
[4] to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
[5] Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
[6] to understand a proverb and a saying,
 the words of the wise and their riddles.
[7] The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

I pray often for wisdom and discernment. I think that is an appropriate prayer, yet there is a sense in which God has already provided wisdom. It is not something to we seek after and pray for. It is something we reach out and take. Wisdom is found in the Scriptures, particularly the Proverbs. This collection of sayings was compiled, “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight” (Prov 1:2). Wisdom is found in the Scriptures. Wisdom is found in fearing God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7). Wisdom is found in the world around us. “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:” (Prov 1:20-21) Apparently, we lack wisdom primarily because we fail to actually look for it or receive it.

There are at least two consequences to not receiving God’s wisdom. First, there is loss and destruction. The foolish person pursues their own personal peace and affluence at the expense of others. In Proverbs 1:17-18 Solomon warns,

[17] For in vain is a net spread
in the sight of any bird,
[18] but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
they set an ambush for their own lives.
[19] Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
 it takes away the life of its possessors.

The irony of these verses is thick. Like a hunter, they set traps for their prey. What they fail to realize is that they are their own prey. The pursuit of personal peace and affluence at the expense of others leads to one’s own eventual demise.

That brings us to the second consequence. Solomon warns that there is a point where God says, “Enough is enough!” He warns, in Proverbs 1:28-31,

[28] Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
[29] Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
[30] would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
[31] therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.

Because we refuse to listen to God when his wisdom is offered, there comes a time when God lets us go down the road we’ve chosen to follow. “They will call upon me, but I will not answer” (Prov 1:28). Presuming upon the gracious nature of God is dangerous business. God is not only gracious, he is also just. Refusing his wisdom today may means that it may not available to us later.

Given the consequences of rejecting God’s wisdom, the warning at the end of Proverbs 1 is particularly appropriate. “For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster” (Prov 1:32-33). I can listen to the wisdom of God, or I can pursue my own personal pleasure. Today is a good day to start listening.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Jude 1:17-25 (ESV)
[17] But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. [18] They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” [19] It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. [20] But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, [21] keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. [22] And have mercy on those who doubt; [23] save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
[24] Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, [25] to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

At least three times Jude refers to keeping or being kept. This short letter ends by saying that we are to “keep (ourselves) in the love of God” (vs 21), and that God “is able to keep (us) from stumbling” (vs 24). It starts by assuring us that we “are called, beloved…and kept” (vs 1). We are to keep ourselves in the love of God, yet God keeps us for Jesus Christ, and he keeps us from stumbling.

I love the contrast. Our tendency is to focus on one side of the equation. Either we focus on God’s keeping power, thereby reducing an emphasis on our part, or we focus on the truth that we are to keep ourselves, ignoring the fact that we are kept by God. How do you put these two contrasting truths together?

There is comfort and assurance in understanding that we are kept by God. If I am hanging over a cliff and someone has my hand, my assurance comes, not in how strong I am to hang on, but in how strong my rescuer is to hold on to me. There are times when I am weary. There are times when I have no strength left to resist. There are times when I am ready to walk away from my faith, but I am assured that God is bigger than my fear, weakness, and weariness. I have no faith in my ability to believe, but I have faith in God’s power to keep.

The assurance that I am kept by God, however, is no excuse to let down my guard and do what comes easiest or is most convenient. We often want to blame others for our failures. It is not my fault that I lust. It is the fault of women who dress provocatively. Yet biblically, I must take responsibility for my own thoughts. It is not my fault that I gave in to sin, I couldn’t help myself. I was too weak. Yet biblically, I am in Christ; his Spirit dwells in me; I am a new creation in Christ; I am empowered with his very power. There is no excuse for sin.

There is great comfort in understanding that I am kept in Christ. There is great challenge in understanding that I am responsible for my actions. We must hold both truths equally. Thus Paul writes in Romans 6:1-4,

[1] What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? [2] By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? [3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

I am kept by God’s grace. I walk by God’s grace. I rest in God’s grace. I live by God’s grace. I am kept in Jesus Christ, therefore I keep myself in his love. We cannot separate those two truths.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...