Friday, April 22, 2011

A Proverb a Day

Proverbs 22:17-21

"Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise... that your trust may be in the Lord, I have made them known to you..."

It's easy to think of the book of Proverbs as merely a loose collection of pithy sayings designed to give us practical wisdom for living. I think a lot of people don't quite know what to do with the book. Many Christians have a vague sense of guilt about both Psalms and Proverbs; they believe and accept that both are God's inerrant, and inspired word, but find "getting" the books difficult and therefore boring.

This is unfortunate, because in reality both books are so useful and helpful (of course! 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Understanding the purpose of the books--the authors' mindsets and intentions in what they wrote, and therefore God's intent on inspiring them--helps in drawing one into God's purposes in the wisdom literature of the Bible.

Proverbs tell us that its bottom-line purpose is to instruct its students in the fear of the Lord. The warnings of Proverbs, whether about strange women, too much wine, the temptations of wealth, or hanging out with the wrong crowd, are the admonitions of a loving father warning us away from the edges of the cliffs and toward the healthy fear of the Lord, keeping us on safe paths that lead to life as we traverse the pilgrim way. The warnings are intensely practical because this is where we live. Young men do fall prey to sexual temptation and snares; alcohol does entrap people; immoral and profane people do corrupt the simpleton who keeps company with them for leisurely pursuits.

The Proverbs are like the Law, in that they reveal two ways to live. Fear the Lord, believe the words of this book, and live. Ignore these words, indulge yourself in these ways warned against, and die--perhaps an early, physical death--and risk the loss of your soul.

I've had the habit for several years now of reading the corresponding chapter of Proverbs to the day of the month (thus a quote from chapter 22 today). I can't know, in this life, how life-altering it has been to do so. Nowhere except in Proverbs will one find a warning like, "The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down" (Proverbs 14:1). Those words have brought me up short many a time in my own folly. It's not pretty sometimes; I wish I were a much more gracious doer of God's word and sailed through life with always pure motivations; but honestly, sometimes I just need a brutal warning to bring me skulking back from the edge of disaster. I ain't so great. But the words of the wise, they are.

Read the Proverbs. The one chapter a day habit is a good one and over time, will start to do its work in your thoughts and affections. God designed it to work like that.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Must Christians Always Experience Joy? Part Two

One way to help in thinking about the Bible's commands to rejoice are the differences between the seasons of rejoicing and weeping we experience as individuals, and the Church's rejoicing.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Philippians 3:1 and Philippians 4:4, Paul exhorts the church to rejoice. The command is plural; it is the duty of the whole body of Christ to always rejoice in the Lord. The basis for this corporate rejoicing of course, just as for individuals in the church, is the grace and hope brought to us through the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Church, as the body of Christ, is meant to keep these truths always central and prominent to guide her pilgrim journey on the earth.

But as individual members of Christ's body and of one another ( Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:27), the Bible recognizes we will not always be rejoicing (Romans 12:15). Sometimes as individual members we'll bear a heavy load (Galatians 6:2). Sometimes as individual members we'll suffer and feel no cheer (James 5:13).

Notice that the response to those who weep and have no cheer is not a pep talk, necessarily, but to be with them in their distress. Those who suffer remain joined to the Church's continued rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2), yet the Bible tells those who are able to to turn and weep right along with those who weep, even as with the whole body they continue on, rejoicing in hope.

It's an antimony, to be sure, how a real acknowledgment of the suffering and cheerlessness of individuals goes right along with rejoicing in hope. We don't always see the Church acting in her assigned role of rejoicing in hope even as she's turning to weep with those who weep. Our wrong understanding of what biblical rejoicing is based on keeps us from being able to do this well, perhaps. The point of my post from yesterday (that I maybe didn't make so well) is that the Scriptures make room for individual members of Christ's body to have seasons of difficulty in which they may not experience feelings of joy; and that the biblical response of the always-rejoicing-in-hope Church is to weep right along with them.

If the body of Christ, filled with the Spirit and with the words of Christ (Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16), continues faithfully in rejoicing in hope and in weeping with those who weep, then sufferers will be helped and encouraged to rejoice in hope as well.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Must Christians Always Experience Joy?

I came across a great book, "Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don't Have To Do" (love the title) by Phillip Cary. I ordered the book after reading this review, in hopes it would prove useful in counseling and in helping women to think soberly about such things as "how to know God's will." I'm sure it will prove useful in those ways, but thankfully, it's already proven very helpful to me, particularly the chapter entitled "Why You Don't Always Have to Experience Joy."

I needed to read these words, and be reminded of this truth, and see a few things in a new way. The kind of joy we like to tell each other we "ought" to feel has been a sort of rare commodity for me these days. More of "the silly grin" has definitely been wiped off my face. :)← (Yet look, there it is again, trying to make its appearance.) (Oh stop it!) You see what I mean. We often think that the joy the Bible calls us to is a perpetual bubbly (or wisecracking or giddy) fa├žade. Yet this can be a disheartening way to think. The real truth of the matter is much better, and much more satisfying.

Here are a few quotes from this chapter of the book so you can get a taste of it yourself. These words are good news to the suffering, the depressed and the afflicted, because their context is the gospel of Jesus. The good news, our hope, resides in what Christ has done on our behalf, not in what we can manage to drum up on our own. By all means read the review I linked to above, and order a copy here. You won't go wrong with this book.

"The idea that Christians are supposed to have a deep inner joy all the time is a terribly cruel notion. The idea itself is what's cruel: it turns people who wish to comfort the afflicted into tormentors. They want to help their suffering friends get the joy back, but in the process they insist their friends accept the underlying idea that it's not normal for the Christian life to include deep suffering of heart. So in addition to their suffering, their friends are wounded by the suggestion that their affliction is due to some failure in their Christian life--as if there's something wrong with Christians who have a cross to bear" (p. 139).

"The Bible makes time for this dark night, because it teaches that hope is a kind of waiting (see, for example, Psalm 25:3, 5, 21; Psalm 27:14; Psalm 37:7; Psalm 40:1; Psalm 130:6). Often it's a very active kind of waiting, full of labors like rebuilding a city in a land full of enemies (see Nehemiah 4:1-23). But it may also be a passive kind of waiting that includes suffering, a longing that arises in the midst of great affliction, where the only activity available to you is prayer, complaining to God. In the Bible, complaining to the only one who can rescue you is an act of hope. This is why complaint is one of the most important forms or genres of prayer, as in the many Psalms that cry out, "How long, O Lord?"... To pray these psalms of complaint is to realize that waiting in hope does not mean being content with suffering, as if there were something good about being in pain. But neither does it mean there's something wrong with people who suffer" (p. 141).

"Although we cannot understand all the glory that is to come, we do know [our story] is the kind of story where the happy ending makes the whole story good. We can see that already in the day we call Good Friday. We call it good because of what is revealed in the light of Easter Sunday, when the glorious resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ changed everything in human history forever, including the meaning of the events on Good Friday. Not only the past, but also the future is different, as every cross we bear is different because of the cross of Christ. Our own death is different because of his resurrection from the dead. The whole universe is different because this man, who is God in the flesh, sits now at the right hand of God the Father at the center of the angels' unbroken hymns of praise. Everything in the world is already different, hiding a glory that is to be revealed when the kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven" (p.155).

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Relevant Words From 1925

"The absence of doctrinal teaching and preaching is certainly one of the causes for the present lamentable ingnorance in the church. But a still more influential cause is found in the failure of the most important of all Christian education institutions. The most important Christian education institution is not the pulpit or the school, important as these institutions are; but it is the Christian family. And that institution has to a very large extent ceased to do its work. Where did those of us who have reached middle life really get our knowledge of the Bible? I suppose my experience is the same as that of a good many of us. I did not get my knowledge of the Bible from Sunday School or from any other school, but I got it on Sunday afternoons with my mother at home. And I will venture to say that although my mental ability was certainly of no extraordinary kind I had a better knowledge of the Bible at fourteen years of age than is possessed by many students in the theological seminaries of the present day.

"Theological students come for the most part from Christian homes; indeed in very considerable proportion they are children of the manse (i.e., their fathers are pastors). Yet when they have finished college and enter the theological seminary many of them are quite ignorant of the simple contents of the English Bible." ~ J. Gresham Machen, quoted in Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch, p.80

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Scope and Sequence

The Bible is a Book that tells a Story; it's the true narrative account of something God has done, is doing, and will someday bring to a grand fulfillment. Like any great story, reading it in bits and pieces, but never reading and understanding it from beginning to end, will not be satisfying. One won't get it fully. The story will be missing continuity; there will be gaps in one's understanding.

In the Bible the epic, true tale of God's plan of the ages is told in many different ways, using many different genres that include straight historical accounts, poetry, apocalyptic writing with scenes full of imagery and figures of speech, and riddles and parables. There are many stories within the story, like in Genesis 1-3 where we're given the whole reason for all that's to follow. All the different authors, different genres of writing, and stories within the story progress with seamless God-centeredness toward the final, amazing conclusion (with a tantalizing preview of the good that will be the next Story!).

"Scope and sequence" is an educational term that refers to the breadth and depth of a specific curriculum. The scope is how much will be taught of a subject over the course of a semester or year; the sequence is the order in which the lessons will be studied. The Bible, no differently than any "course," has a scope and sequence that takes precedence over any other study we will ever undertake. The scope is breathtaking, of eternal urgency, and of supernatural power and claim. The sequence, like any other true account, starts at the beginning and ends at the finish.

If you are a Christian, making a commitment to read God's story from cover to cover only makes sense. There are plenty of good reading plans available to help you; some good ones can be found here or if you want to simply keep a record of your reading, print out a handy record-keeping sheet here. Keep reading until you know you begin to understand. Keep reading until you begin to know the fear of the Lord. Keep reading until you begin to be ready for every secret thing to be brought into the light. And then keep reading.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Raised From the Dead

A microcosmic analogy (one of many in the Bible) of God's electing call:

"And He went up on the mountain, and called to Him those whom He desired, and they came to Him" (Mark 3:13).

No one can resist that call. God is mighty to save.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Bible's Rx For Unity in the Church: Truth and Love™ (Ephesians 4:9-16)

Active Ingredients                        Purpose
Sound doctrine, love                     Sin reducer

Other Ingredients Faith in the sufficiency of Scripture, the willingness to speak


Permanently relieves immaturity in the Church which comes from being carried about by:

  • Every Wind of Doctrine
  • Human Cunning
  • Craftiness in Deceitful Schemes
  • Falsehood
Promotes healthy upward growth of each member together into the Head of the Church

Pour Truth and Love™ liberally into large-sized container with spout, such as the human heart. Carefully tip spout in direction(s) needed, including, periodically, toward self. Refill container as needed, daily (at minimum) and hourly (if necessary). Be sure active ingredients remain pure. Do not use if out-of-date (prescription will be readily refilled upon request) .
More information including refills, warnings, motivations and encouragements for use may be accessed at Speaking the Truth in Love, Ephesians 4:9-16.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Vision of Jesus

Remembering Stephen's dying glimpse of the glory of God and of Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:54-60) encouraged me this morning. In a very real way, as we live out lives of martyrdom for the sake of his renown, we've been given the same view:

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).

"But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:9).

But wait a minute, you might say--living out a "life of martyrdom"? Really? Yes. It's the calling of every disciple of his: "And he said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me'" (Luke 9:23).

"Why are we in danger every hour? I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day," said Paul, who had once stood by approvingly, guarding the coats of the men who were stoning Stephen (Acts 7:54-60).

As we pilgrim through this barren land, denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, we need a sure view of the glory of God and of the risen, glorious Christ. With the eyes of our understanding we must comprehend, as surely as Stephen saw with his physical eyes, Jesus rising to stand, preparing to welcome with the crown of life (James 1:12) every cross-bearer for his sake into his heavenly kingdom.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Grieving the Holy Spirit: Watch Out!

"And He said to the man with the withered hand, 'Come here.' And He said to them, 'Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?' But they were silent. And He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was restored" (Mark 3:3-5).

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:30-32).

I think the idea of "grieving the Holy Spirit" may be a bit misunderstood in the American church. Don't we tend to have an image of Him sitting by sorrowfully, perhaps with dejected, downcast demeanor, wishing we would pay attention to Him and "let Him" do what He wants to do in our lives? Maybe our ideas area little better than that, but still, do we have the understanding that by grieving Him, the Bible means that we...gulp...make Him angry?

In the passage from Mark, Jesus' anger stemmed from His being "grieved at their hardness of heart." The passage from Ephesians shows that we grieve the Holy Spirit by our bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice toward one another in the Church. In both cases we see two things: it is the arrogant and unloving treatment of one another that brings on this "grief," and this grief is His righteous anger toward our hard and ignorant hearts!

I see that I should not take Ephesians 4:30 as a verse taking up for, or trying to protect, some sort of defenseless, easily wounded or shy Holy Spirit. Instead I should see it for what it is, a warning! "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God," for His anger is kindled by our hard, unloving hearts! Because He loves us, God's discipline will be sure to follow.