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After the Storm

June 10th, 2019

When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever. (Proverbs 10:25)

The way of the Lord is refuge for the righteous, but it is the ruin of those who do evil. The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land. (Proverbs 10:29-30)

In the day of evil we will be tempted to respond to our challenges in a worldly spirit, trusting in our wits, or trying to do what is expedient, or seeking the “safety of numbers.” But when the storm rages that is especially when we must stand in the grace of God, retaining our faith in Him.

In the midst of the storms of life, the safest place is always in the center of God’s will – both the will of God that has to do with our choices in life and the will of God that has to do with the meditations of our hearts. Both of these are realities in our daily life, as the psalmist said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14).

Being Righteous

The idea of being righteous has two expressions – in relation to how God sees us and in relation to how we see everything else. In the gospel itself we are taught that through faith we receive the righteousness of Christ as a covering for our sin: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). We are saved not through being righteous people in our own personal efforts, but by trusting in Christ, trusting in His sacrificial and substitutionary death for our salvation. God covers us with the righteousness of Christ and because of that, “There is no therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

But the righteousness spoken of in some places of scripture, such as the “Breastplate of Righteousness,” refers to the effect on our own hearts and minds of our faith in Christ. When we trust in Christ for salvation, God puts His Spirit in our hearts and minds, and He begins this work of transformation. We will begin to grow in personal righteousness, in knowing and in doing the will of God.

Elsewhere this is simply called integrity, living daily in the grace and character of God. This is what is spoke of in the verses above from Proverbs 10: to know the “way of the Lord” in our hearts, to walk daily in His will.

The Safest Place on Earth

The safest place on earth is always in the center of God’s will, in our thoughts and in our actions, whatever that will may be. Even if it means facing persecution, hardship, or even martyrdom, to be who God calls us to be in our thoughts and our actions is the safest place to stand.

The heart comes first, and until our hearts are surrendered to Him, we will misinterpret the blessings that He gives us. We will think of blessings only in terms of worldly success, popularity, health, wealth, happiness, etc. But if we think like the world, we will build our houses (or our lives) on sand. To build them on the Rock we need to value in our hearts, or worship in our hearts, the grace and character of Christ.

Only then can we see clearly to do His will. Knowing and doing His will is not a means to a selfish end — it is an end in itself. The true servant, the true righteous person, is content in simply doing the will of God, honoring Him in our hearts and in our choices.

I knew of an American pastor who God called to go into world missions. At first he and his wife agreed to do so, but then they changed their minds, feeling that it was all too dangerous. They decided that they would not take their children into these dangerous living conditions overseas. Yet a few weeks following this decision, the entire family was killed in an automobile accident in the United States. As tragic as that story is, and really the only ones who know the real truth as to what God was saying to them are the pastor and his wife, it illustrates the reality that dangers lie down every road of life.

The only security any of us really have is to know in our hearts we are where God wants us to be — thinking and doing His will. We do not know, nor can we every know, exactly what would have happened if we had taken another path. But God promises us that the most blessed life, the most peaceful heart, and the most fulfilling and satisfying existence on earth is to live daily in Him, in the integrity of our hearts and in the rightness of our choices.

Proverbs

Get Understanding

June 4th, 2019

If it costs all you have to acquire, gain understanding. (Proverbs 4:7b)

Complexity of descriptive words for a single idea reveals practical knowledge of the subject. Professional baseball players, for example, have more than twenty different kinds of pitches. And designers have a whole array of different colors. Where most of us just describes things in terms of red, blue, or yellow, they can break these down into countless shades.

So in Proverbs, the inspired author described wisdom with a variety of words, showing the many facets and nuances: enlightenment, instruction, discipline, insight, prudence, counsel, teaching, commandments, wisdom, understanding, knowledge, words, sayings, the paths of justice, the ways of good men, and even such ideas as correction, rebuke, and reproof. 

In the West at least, we tend to make divisions today in our thinking where the culture of the Bible did not. For example, we tend to separate wisdom, that is understanding a circumstance, from knowledge, or being able to act wisely. We also separate heart, emphasizing our subjective emotions, from mind, emphasizing our objective thoughts. But the cultures of the Bible did not do so. To understand included the knowledge of how to act, and the heart and mind were inseparably connected. One idea was connected to another. 

The fool hates knowledge. The wise loves knowledge. The fool cuts off God from his heart and mind. The wise takes God into his heart, into his affections and his thoughts, and submits to His authority. It is the love for God and the submission to His authority that directs everything else in our lives. The wise begin with the assumption that understanding is gained through submission to God. 

The Abuse of Knowledge

Someone will inevitably object that we must be careful in our submission to any person, for many will abuse us and twist the truth. If we blindly submit to anyone, soon they will bring us under their influence, “under their spell,” and lead us down the wrong path. 

But this was common in the Bible’s world as well. The Canaanite nations, for example, were notorious for their harsh enslavement of their own people, even to the point of sacrificing children on fiery altars to their gods. But the inspired knowledge of God’s wisdom stood out strongly against this backdrop of paganism.

And in the Mediterranean New Testament world, with its many different schools of philosophy, the love of God in Christ and the transformation of the believers mind and heart by the Spirit was a sharp contrast from the culture. And grace in the gospel stood just as strongly against the twisted legalism of the Pharisaical teaching of the Jewish people. 

The Purity of the Biblical Stream of Wisdom 

 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). The Bible begins with the understand that confusion begins in the human heart itself. We are not “blank slates” that are written upon, but sin passes to each generation and we each need a special work of God in our hearts to begin with. The “fear of God” means the inner thought of the heart, the thought we think that only we and God know of, that respects and submits to God. That simple faith that makes us look up and respect God, and to even fear Him for we know that we must give an account to Him, is life changing.

It is our pride and our lusts, our own selfish agendas, as well as our fears, that prohibit true knowledge from taking root. Stubbornness must be uprooted and a submissive spirit to God must be present if true soul learning will will take place. This is what the Bible calls “conversion” or a change of heart, and it comes about through repentance and faith.

But when we repent and believe, God wipes away the tears and sets our feet upon a rock. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until midday” (Prov. 4:18). He becomes our heavenly Father who loves and leads us. We live in hope because we live in God. He is always teaching and leading and enlightening us. 

A Personal Testimony

I have to confess that when I was in my thirties I thought that by the time I turned fifty years old I would enter into a stage of utter wisdom and knowledge. I can say that I was wiser at fifty than I was at thirty – that would be true – but now at almost 70 years of age I am a bit disappointed that I am still not further along in knowledge and wisdom. 

But I believe that is the reality of true wisdom and of godly insight, that we are always growing and each day and each year have more insight into how much more we need to learn. Feeling or thinking that one has arrived, that we are perfect and have no need for further instruction, this would be the height of blind arrogance and pride, a sign of utter foolishness. So we are always growing and maturing as long as we are on earth. 

So all life long we must seek after knowledge with our whole heart, even if it costs all we have. The Christian life is, after all, a life lived in God’s power for God’s purpose of redemption.  

 

Proverbs