Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Proverbs 1:8-9; 2:1-12a NASB

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching; indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck… My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern 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 sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of His godly ones. Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course.  For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will guard you, understanding will watch over you, to deliver you from the way of evil…

We are all sons and daughters, and some of us have children of our own. So, one way and/or the other, we understand the unique role and high responsibility of a parent.  They not only have the personal responsibility of training their child in the way they should go, but they are also charged with the tremendous responsibility of guiding and guarding the interaction their child will have with any other person in that child’s life.  Though it doesn’t predetermine final outcomes, statistics reveal that the first 12 years of a child’s life have much to do with the character formation that takes place in a person’s life. The writers of the Proverbs bear this adult/child connection in mind throughout the book. Godly parents are keenly aware of this heavy responsibility.  They are not only God oriented, but goal oriented, and, to this parent, The Proverbs are a gold mine of goal wealth.  Anyone involved in child formation should read these proverbs thoughtfully and teach them consistently and creatively.  They have the power to guide a child sensibly and safely throughout their life.  And it’s the instruction and teaching of those early years that become the force for wisdom and right action in later years, brought to bear anytime—not as warnings finally given, but as knowledge and instruction faithfully given— “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (1:8). This is the appeal of a parent who was faithful in the early years, which gave him voice in the later years.  I had a professor in seminary tell us, on our first day of his class, “I aim to bias you.”  That’s what wise ways, taught and caught early in life, have the ability to do—to bias (positively) a child to right choices with the different currents of life.  But even a good “current” choice will face the rough rapids of life that seek to throw us into a different and dangerous way. And so, the writer admonishes, “Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding… The LORD gives wisdom… He stores up wisdom for the upright… Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course… Discretion will guard you, understanding will watch over you, to deliver you from the way of evil…”  What promise!  What character!  What appeal!  This is more than skin deep.  Wisdom must become the very DNA of the soul, adorning the Christian life with the right use of good instruction and teaching—“Indeed they are a graceful wreath to your head and ornaments about your neck” (1:9b).  Wear it well son's and daughters!

Proverbs 1:20-23 NASB

Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings: 22 “How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge? 23 “Turn to my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. 24 “Because I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention; 25 And you neglected all my counsel and did not want my reproof; 26 I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, 27 when your dread comes like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28 “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me, 29 because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord. 30 “They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof. 31 “So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way and be satiated with their own devices. 32 “For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them. 33 “But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil.”

Though the Proverbs are a compilation of sayings that have to do with wise living, in contrast to senseless and/or godless living, written down by various people and, perhaps, at various times in that period, the introduction to the book affixes King Solomon's name to the main body; perhaps for no other reason than to acknowledge, because of his renown in matters of wisdom, his influence, inspiration and input on this great theme.  Whether he compiled most or not is, finally, not the issue.  In that day, King Solomon's name bears the authority and acclaim in this area.  But could it be that his name is also ascribed to Proverbs because his name bore, as no other, the contrast we see in this book between wisdom and foolishness.  As we know, King Solomon himself experienced both in a very real way. He went from sense to stupid over a period of bad choices, forfeiting the fruit of wisdom and plunging into the fires of foolishness.  Choices have powerful results, able to change, establish and reinforce good or bad character, depending on the direction we choose.  And choose we will, one way or another, for, from the beginning, as with Adam and Eve, the world is a world of choices. Kevin Brown (Associate Professor-Howard Dayton School of Business, Asbury University)  commenting on the North American world, said, “Amazingly, we see on average anywhere between 3500 to 6000 mini-advertisements or ‘impressions’ for a given day.  These…aren’t innocent…they clamor to tell us what to do, buy, believe, choose…” (written in an email from Dr. Brown to me, 1/17). The cry of The Proverbs is “Choose well!  Don’t go stupid!  Listen to wisdom!”  A key verse, and the reason given for bad moral choices, is verse 29:  they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord”.  Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  When we bond knowledge with the fear of the LORD (a theme that runs through the Proverbs), we enter the current of wisdom which, as Steve DeNeff (Senior Pastor of College Wesleyan Church, Marion, Indiana) says, “Will determine a desirable destination” (as preached in a series called “Currents”).  "That desirable destination," says DeNeff, "is not attained by hoping so, but by choosing the right current way before the hoped for destination."  That is the wisdom of choosing Wisdom.  It is Wisdom who  says, “…he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil” (1:33).  Listen to her my friend!  Listen to her.

Proverbs 1:1-7 NASB

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, To receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the naive, to the youth knowledge and discretion, a wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The kind of wisdom The Proverbs speaks to from the beginning of the book is not a human wisdom apart from someone who does not know God or who does not live in what is called “the fear of God”—for “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7a). The book introduces a wisdom completely different from one who is just simply “worldly-wise”.  The introduction makes it clear that the wisdom it speaks to is first a wisdom from above, making it a wisdom that responds and acts like God in matters of behavior, righteousness, justice and equity (1:3), but in human skin.  This person, knowing full well their human limitations, does not treat this divine wisdom with a self-righteous attitude or as a “know-it-all”, but with a spirit of humility as a learner:  “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles” (1:5-6).  This person has chosen the path less traveled and has determined that this wisdom from above would be their constant compass in life, permeating everything they are and do, spilling out in the clear, living colors of God’s character in this dark world.  Only a “fool”, as the Proverbs mostly describe such a person, would resist this kind of character, for “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7b).  This contrast, between the wise and the fool, is a theme contrast throughout the book. What a contrast! They are completely opposite, and diametrically opposed to each other in life and death and, though we may not care for labels, this is the way God has chosen to label us throughout the book of Proverbs.  “FOOL” is not something I would want to carry around both in life or in death.  But I can live (really live) with the word “WISE, and, in fact, I can die with it.  It looks good on a person, both in life and death.  And wouldn’t that look good on a tombstone?  Even in death, it would speak volumes.  But only because “Wisdom” made you look good.  It always will.  That’s a promise!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Song of Solomon NASB

The Song of Solomon is not a book that is discussed much in church settings.  If we were to read it in a group gathering, it has portions that might make one blush.  But isn't it interesting that such a book, with expressions of deep sexual intimacy between a man and a woman, would be found, not only smack-dab in the middle of our Bible, but in the Bible at all?  Why would this be? Might I suggest that, though it certainly can, more than speaking to a type of intimacy we can have with Christ (as some point to), this is speaking quite plainly to an intimacy God planned for man and woman to have in the safe and satisfying experience of a husband and wife relationship. The Song of Solomon is God's song of delightful, pure love, as he intended it to be. Verse one of chapter one speaks of this as "The Song of Songs".  Love beats lust every time. No matter how much one tries to satisfy the flesh, without real love, it’s sick and sad.  It doesn't hold a candle to the joy, delight and thrill of one true, sacred love.  This is just like God, to bring into our lives the greatest delight of life—the pure love of one man for one woman, and one woman for one man.  Consider the language of this love between a bride and groom:  “We will rejoice in you and be glad; we will extol your love more than wine” (1:4b).  “He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love… Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me” (2:4, 6).  In the secret place…let me see your form, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your form is lovely… My beloved is mine, and I am his” (2:14, 16).  “You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes… How beautiful is your love…my bride” (4:9, 10).  “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (6:3).  “How beautiful and how delightful you are, my love, with all your charms!  …I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me” (7:6, 10).  “Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm.  For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.  Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised” (8:6-7). We all know it ought to be this way!  Oh!  That we would know it can be this way!  In a world gone amuck with sexual promiscuity and perversion, the Christian couple is a striking testimony of a better promise!  Christian husband and wife, this kind of language, this kind of song, should arouse in us all of the love firmly expressed in our commitment to one another from the beginning, pouring out into all of the love tenderly expressed in our intimacy with one another in the present.  Renew the delight!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Psalm 119:165 NASB

Those who love your law have great peace and nothing causes them to stumble.

Can anyone deny that peace is the most sought after experience in the world yet the most elusive experience in the world?  One of the strongest drives known to humanity is the desire for peace in the inner being.  What this peace is in each of our minds, and what we consider to bring peace, has been either the making or undoing of peace in our lives. 

     If peace has to do with place, possessions and pleasure, it will set a course with no end because it never adds up to enough.  It is a bottomless pit of, by any means, "more!"  This path leads to further dissatisfaction, bringing harm inwardly and outwardly.  A person not at peace within will be a person never at peace with anyone.  People become objects who are seen as obstacles or as a means to an end.  It leads to no end of abominations, addictions, and abuse.

     Peace, in its purest form, is the knowledge that, no matter anything else, all is well within.  The "within" has to do with who we are creatively, relationally and eternally.  This is meaning in the deepest sense.  It is the knowledge that we are made by God, we are made for God, and we walk with God both now and eternally.  True peace is to be aligned with God--His being and His ways.  This is what the Psalmist recognizes when he says, "Those who love your law have great peace".   With these individuals he says, "nothing causes them to stumble".  Here there is stability, security and safety, which are not the foundation of true peace but the result of true peace.  If this is flipped, and they become foundational, we revert back to wrong seeking again.  We will go right back to place, possessions and pleasure as our pursuits.  But if peace is founded on Person, the Person of God, He becomes not only our pursuit, but our place of refuge, our greatest possession and, joy of joys, "at His right hand there are pleasures forevermore."

     The question to the pursuers of peace, who seek it in everything but God, is, "How is that working out for you?"  Not all men are honest, but if they were to be truly honest, they would know their emptiness.  The challenge, then, to these people is "Seek peace!"  When nothing fills the hole, "Seek peace!"  When nothing heals the hurt, "Seek peace!"  When nothing quenches the thirst, "Seek peace!"  Once that becomes the deep, honest, desperate pursuit of the soul, people find God.  As long as one settles for fleeting satisfaction and phony happiness, the odds that they will find God are minimal. God always shows up when one discovers and declares that they are at end of their rope.  To this one, we urge, "when the world feeds you more rope, and they will, don't take it.  It will hang you."

     A dear saint of God, facing the loss of her soldier son, went off alone to her quiet place. When she reappeared to greet all who mourned, she announced to family and friends, "The rope held." Oh friend, intertwine yourself with Him.  This rope will hold in the storms.  This is the place of great peace!  "Nothing causes them to stumble." 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pslam 119:105-106, 112 NASB

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances... I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, even to the end.

Jim Collin spoke of "the genius of the and", and this has intrigued me.  Though he speaks of it in relation to contrasts, I have seen it as connecting vital words and thoughts, without which we won't see the whole.  This has caused me to especially take note of it in relation to its strong use in Scripture.  There are words, statements, thoughts, concepts and truths that are only half full without the "and" that connects it with another word or phrase, without which we would not have the full picture, meaning, strength and color.  For example:  male and female, Alpha and Omega, and faith and works.  What would one be without the other?  I would say, "this is the power of the and".  The Psalmist knew this and said, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  If you've ever walked in the darkness with a flashlight, you are constantly moving the light from your feet to the path ahead and back again to keep from stumbling.  In the same way, God not only sheds light on the present, right where my feet are right now, but also on the path ahead, and back again.  Then the Psalmist says, "I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances.  I learned, over my 38 years of ministry that a trip to the altar, like a diet, takes more than an emotional experience.  It necessitates both commitment and continuation.  But continuation doesn't just happen.  It becomes a part of our lives when we "incline" ourselves toward it.  Here's how the Psalmist put it: "I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, even to the end." Inclination is that set of the soul that chooses to chose for God every time. This is that inclination that keeps us from sin and keeps us to Him.  Jim Carattini, managing editor of a Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, tells of John Wesley once asking his mother for a definition of sin.  John received this response:  "Take this rule.  Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things...that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself." (Letters of Susanna Wesley, June 8, 1725).  This is profound and powerful! So which way are you inclined? You cannot be given to God and sin at the same time.  There is simply not this kind of "and" in this relationship.  Many, like a car out of alignment, need for God to realign the heart so it doesn't pull to the right or to the left.  Could this be what the Psalmist was getting at when he prayed, "Unite my heart to fear Your name" (Psalm 86:11)?  What a wonderful possibility!  I think it's worth praying,

Psalm 119:105-106 NASB

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances." 

As I travel to various places, one thing I try not to forget is a flashlight.  I've gotten caught in situations where there was no power for light and, in some of these places, the utter darkness in a house or on a path, can be overwhelming, smothering and frightening.  It actually doesn't have to be a very big flashlight.  In the darkness, light is alive no matter the size.  Sometimes, as you walk down a dark and lonesome path of life's difficulties, that want to overwhelm, smother and frighten, one little promise from God's word can be the light you need to take another step forward.  As with the comfort of a small flashlight in my pocket, I am thankful for the comfort of the small promises of God's word in my soul.  "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."  These promises aren't to be treated like a good luck charm, such a rabbit's foot in the pocket.  If that's what they become to us, we are no different than the pagan lost in his own superstitions, believing that everything has to do with fortune, and that , if we play our cards right, we have a better chance with life's twists and turns.  God's promises have nothing to do with fortune.  They have everything to do with favor.  The man or woman walking with God with all their heart is like a little child who depends and delights in his parents joyful and present care.  This child responds to his parents in loving obedience, which keeps the child close and covered.  This parent doesn't have to scream at the child to keep him from wandering onto the street.  All the parent has to do is speak to the child, and the child quickly and quietly responds, thus protecting him from the dangers of the street.  It's in this sense that the Psalmist says, "I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances."  This wasn't something forced on him.  This, he knew, was the safety of God's favor toward him and he responds to it.  There is nothing like the favor of God on your life.  This is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path.  Walk in it with all your heart.  It will lead you home safely.