January 2, 2020- Numbering our Days, A Heart of Wisdom- Psalm 90:12, John 1:14-18

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So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 (ESV)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:14-18 (ESV)

Every January rolls around and it seems we want to take up New Year’s resolutions.  “This is the year we stick to a budget or to a diet or to an exercise program!”  Until the first of February or so, when we realize that the budget, diet or fitness regimen isn’t happening the way we wanted it to.  Even if we are disciplined enough to do things right most of the time, as we learn in Psalm 90:10- The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Fallible human beings are not the greatest at keeping resolutions.  Life happens.  Discipline and order are good things, but so are forgiveness and flexibility when situations call for those.  We need discernment, the wisdom that can only come from the power of the Holy Spirit, far more than we need one time resolutions that most often fail.

Solomon, the son of David prayed for wisdom- not for riches or conquests or power and land, even though God added those to him. (2 Chronicles 1:7-13)  Yet even a person with the wisdom of Solomon was not able to live according to the Law.  As Solomon got older he got enamored of foreign women and took wives who worshiped idols, and even he was not completely faithful to God.

The apostle John leads us to the answer to the wisdom question: The Word. We do not have wisdom on our own apart from God.  Wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh, bringing the fulfillment of Moses’ law, and providing the grace and truth that we do not have.

Our life on this earth is both joy and sorrow, paved with good decisions and not so good decisions.  We live with one foot in God’s kingdom, but the other foot still mired in this world of “not yet.” We journey through our seventy or eighty years knowing that our time here moves faster than we ever thought it would.

A new year is going to bring us all some blessings, some burdens, some joy, and some heartbreak. But only Jesus Christ brings us the forgiveness of our sins. Only Jesus Christ makes us worthy to be called children of God.  Only Jesus Christ makes the number of our days worthwhile, as well as the innumerable days we will spend with Him in the age to come.

 

 

 

November 14, 2019 Spiritual Discernment and the Mind of Christ- 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

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Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (ESV)

The apostle Paul underscores what he taught in yesterday’s study verses- that wisdom is found in Christ.

The “secret and hidden” wisdom of God is that faith is a gift from God to us.  It comes from Him, not from our own minds or designs.  The power of the Gospel is in hearing it, but without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we can study the Scriptures and make them say anything we want them to say.  A good case in point is when people take individual verses out of context, i.e.

And (Judas) throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. Matthew 27:5 (ESV)

“You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:37b (ESV)

Obviously these two verses were pulled out of their original context!  If we read the surrounding context to these verses (Luke 10:25-37 and Matthew 27:3-10) we see that these verses do not imply that since Judas hanged himself that we should hang ourselves too.

The study of Scripture is not purely an intellectual pursuit, rather, it is primarily a spiritual one.  Our own rational minds and our own interpretations are subject to what God is saying to us through the text.

To have the mind of Christ is to trust that He does speak to us in His revealed Word- the Bible.  We are called to seek a right understanding of what the full counsel of Scripture has to say whether we like it or not, or whether we agree with it or not.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

There are times when it is difficult to explain Scriptural authority.  Do we believe that because Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God that He is a sheep? Do we take Scripture so literally that we impose the Jewish ceremonial laws of Leviticus on today’s Christians (even though the apostle Paul spoke against this sort of teaching in the book of Galatians…)  Should we be afraid that we are wearing fabrics made of cotton-polyester blends?  This would be the error of legalism- thinking that we are justified by following all the rules.  The problem with legalism is that nobody can follow all the rules, and if we are honest with ourselves we break all 10 of the Commandments on a pretty regular basis.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… 1 John 1:8 (ESV)

Do we fall on the other side of the fence and turn the entire narrative into metaphor, even when it is clear that there are historical truths and absolutes communicated in Scripture?  Antinomianism (literally means “against the law”) is alive and well not only in the greater society, but in the church as well.  “If it feels good, do it” is not a healthy approach to life.  Ice cream is fantastic, but a steady diet of it is not healthy.

Doing what we want may be harmful to ourselves and others.  When properly applied, rules serve as boundaries to protect us and others from actions that will cause harm.  There are absolute truths that are absolutely true all the time.  For instance, we cannot break the natural law of gravity without consequences.  We might believe we can fly off a 50 foot tall building, but the landing will not be pleasant.   Some rules were not made to be broken. The wages of sin is death.

Thankfully Jesus paid our sin-wages by going to the cross and suffering the penalty of death in our place.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:9-10 (ESV)

The good news is that in Christ He gives us the Holy Spirit and the discernment to “stay on the path.”  When we sin and fall short He calls us to confess our sins to Him and ask for forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is always there for us to help keep us from going off into the ditch on either side of the road.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 (ESV)

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Dearest Jesus, we thank You that by your grace and through the Holy Spirit you give us the gifts of discernment and wisdom.  We pray that the Holy Spirit would illuminate our study of Scripture so that we will understand  your will for us and not go into the ditch on the right or the left. We pray that You would keep us balanced and on the road with You.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 18, 2018 – Be Wise About What is Good- Romans 16:17-20

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Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,

 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.

 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:9-14 (ESV)

 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16:17-20 (ESV)

Unfortunately human history is a timeline filled with fallen, fallible people getting it wrong. Dogs bark because that’s what dogs do. Cats meow because that’s what cats do. People sin because people are sinners. It’s what we do.

No sooner than Moses had turned his back and returned to Mount Sinai to hear from God after he came to the people of Israel with the tablets of the Law, the people turned away from God and bowed down to a golden calf they had made. (Exodus 32)

We have been given all kinds of warnings against breaking God’s Law, but we still do it. We can’t help ourselves.

Even David, who wrote Psalm 34, wasn’t able to do as he instructed, and David was a man after God’s own heart.

Christians are no exception to the sinner rule. While we are also saints because of the offense of the Cross- that Jesus died for our sins and took the punishment we deserve- our sinful nature is evident in everything we do and that we don’t do.

The apostle Paul warns the people in Rome about believing bad teaching and wrong ideas just as he warns the Galatians and the Corinthians. There are people who teach doctrines that are contrary to what we learn in the Bible, and often these are teachings that lead people either to serving their own interests (prosperity “gospel”) or to lining the pockets of their “teachers.”  Sometimes bad teaching can be made to sound logical or good, but it does not point us to Jesus. We are warned because there are many things in the world that can lead us away from the truth.

There is no such thing as a perfect church. We are at best a collection of fallible and imperfect sinners.  If we rely on any one particular person or doctrine, we are going to encounter errors.  There will be disagreements and conflicts. We are not going to “do it right.”

God has given us holy Scripture so that we can hear and read His Word and know the truth. The more that we read, study, know and talk about the Bible the better equipped we are to see what is the real deal and what isn’t.

We are called to discernment- to test the spirits-  and to hold on to the good news of Jesus, as the apostle John teaches us:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”- 1 John 4:1 (ESV)

We are called to ask questions and to find answers.  We can do this knowing that even though we are never going to get it right in this world, we have the written Scripture God has given us. We have each other, and we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We are invited to confess our sins, to be forgiven, and to live in the sweet assurance that in our baptism we have been named, we have been claimed and we belong to God because Jesus died for us.

July 28, 2017 – The Gift of Wisdom, (Ask, Search and Knock) – 1 Kings 3:5-12, Luke 11:9-10

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At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”  And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.  And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted.  Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this, your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 1 Kings 3:5-12 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10 (NRSV)

King Solomon was considered to be the wisest human being who ever lived. Yet his greatest act of wisdom was in his request to God when he became king of Israel.  He asked for understanding and discernment. He did not ask for the things that human nature normally craves.

If God told us He would give us anything we asked for, most of us would automatically think of a few things. Wealth, the heads of our enemies, prestige, an attractive appearance, power, longevity, etc. come to mind almost as knee jerk reactions. The more altruistic and gentle of us might ask for family harmony or world peace, or even for knowledge, but how many of us would go straight to asking for understanding and discernment?

Knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. Knowledge is a component of wisdom, but knowledge without understanding and discernment is simply a set of memorized facts.

God hears and answers our prayers- especially those that underscore His will for us. When we admit our inadequacy and ignorance (as Solomon did) and ask for God to supply us with understanding and discernment, He gives those things to us, generously.

The most difficult petition in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Thy will be done.”  It is human nature to think that what we believe and know is best, but many times we do not have the wisdom to step back and consider every side of a situation.  It is more difficult, albeit much more wise, to put our pride and illusions of superiority aside and ask, search and knock on God’s door.  He will answer our questions and supply our needs far more abundantly and completely than we can dream of doing on our own.

 

March 16, 2017 – The Master’s Voice- Matthew 7:28-29

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“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one with authority, and not as their teachers of the Law.” Matthew 7:28-29 (NRSV)

A day in modern life is a cacophony of voices. Voices that cry out, ”Buy this,” ”Try this,” “Do this but not that.” “This will kill you,” “This will make you thin!” “This will make you live longer,” and so on.   Sometimes the whole business of living seems boiled down to a montage of early morning infomercials.  Everyone is touting the latest and greatest “Product You Have to Have,” when in reality we can do quite well without any of those infomercial wares. Except maybe that bacon bowl thing.  Now that involves bacon, so it might be useful…not so much.  Do we really need mac and cheese served in a bacon bowl?

Sometimes we get so lost in the quest for the latest and greatest novelty or panacea that we forget that the best way to a full and meaningful life is to love God, love others, and live simply. Instead of listening to the barrage from the TV or the computer it is far better to simply listen to the still, calm voice of the Spirit Who speaks to our hearts when we take the time to just let Him in.

The people in Jesus’ day had their cacophonies of voices just like we do. They had teachers who taught that salvation could be had by completing pilgrimages, or by doing a series of rituals, or by lining certain people’s pockets.  They had teachers who proclaimed doom and gloom and that the sky was falling.  They had teachers who condemned certain groups based upon their belief systems or customs or ethnic heritage.  Different millennium, but we get the same junk messages.  The French have a saying, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The difference between all the noisome voices of false teachings, static broadcasts, braggarts and blowhards, and the voice of Jesus is that His voice is the Master’s voice.

(Jesus said): “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:3-4 (NRSV)

Discernment-especially in the sense of being able to tell what is real from what is false, is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Do we hear the distracting voices all around us, or do we listen to the Holy Spirit and discern the voice of Jesus?

Jesus is the real deal. He is not out to line His pockets, or to bask in the attention of the crowds, or to enjoy the power trip.  Even the religious teachers of Jesus’ day were so mired in adhering to the letter of the Law that they lost the heart of the Law.  It’s easy to get so concerned with jots and tittles that the love behind the Law gets lost.

The Master’s voice is different from all the noise we hear coming from the world. His voice overrides all the static coming from man-made experts and charlatans who are everywhere on the airwaves.

May we all listen for, and take refuge in the Word. May we all know and love the Master’s voice.

 

March 13, 2017 – Discernment and the Fruits of the Spirit – Matthew 7:15-20

 

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(Jesus said): “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?   In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will know them by their fruits.”  Matthew 7:15-20 (NRSV)

 

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines discernment as:

1.:  the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure :  skill in discerning.

2    : an act of perceiving or discerning something

Jesus speaks so much to us here about discernment.  We are not only supposed to be discerning regarding our own hearts and motives, but we should be discerning of the people we associate with and align ourselves with also.

We should strive to be good “fruit inspectors,” beginning with our own fruits.  Do our lives bear the fruits of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul speaks of in Galatians 5:22-25-?

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.   If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 (NRSV)

This “good fruits” test applies first to ourselves and our own conduct, but it also applies to those who we choose to look to as our spiritual leaders and those who comprise our faith community. While no church or faith community is perfect, and any church is just a rag tag collection of sinners, Jesus is telling us to also discern the fruits coming forth from our leaders and our communities.  That discernment is not for the purpose of judging others, or for making excuses against being involved in the church, but to be sure that we are listening to and participating in a community that is following Jesus and is not being deceived by false teaching.

Many people are lured into the false cults of prosperity theology (“believe and you will receive”) or of exclusionary theology (only certain special people can be saved,) or of brownie points theology (you can earn your way to heaven by doing good deeds.)

All of these false teachings are contradictory to Jesus’ teachings. Being a Jesus follower means that we will have to pick up and carry our own crosses, not that we are entitled to Porsches and champagne and the good life. While God is our Provision, and He always makes a way to fulfill our needs, earthly wealth and security are not guaranteed to us.

Anyone who God calls to Him can be a Jesus follower- there are no special prerequisites. No one is excluded on the basis of their race, gender or the habitual sin they tend to prefer.  When Jesus was here on earth He sought out the very people that the world despised- prostitutes, tax collectors, dirty fishermen and so forth.  No one is too bad- or too good- to be a Jesus follower.

No one can earn or deserve God’s grace, as it is intended to be a gift to be received, priceless, yet given to us without cost. The gifts that we return to God are not given to earn brownie points or make ourselves look good, but are in response to the immeasurable gifts He gives to us every day.

Martin Luther taught that the Bible is “like the manger holding Jesus.” The Bible, discerned and taught correctly – and Christian communities- should have Jesus inside. Those good fruits- the Jesus inside- coming forth from a healthy Christian community should be evident everywhere the people of that community leave a footprint.

Good fruits are all those things that show Jesus being lived out in our lives- grace, forgiveness, compassion, serving others, and most of all, love.

Are we exclaiming to the world, “We are Jesus followers!” by bearing these good fruits, not just as individuals, but also as a community?