Imbedded Wisdom – Proverbs 6

The Memory verse for this week is Proverbs 9:10:

 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

The book of Proverbs is a genre of literature known as wisdom literature.  Along with Job and Ecclesiastes, Proverbs looks at the world in a slightly different way than the historical books of the Bible or the prophetic books.  In the wisdom books, the sages find information about God throughout the world of nature.  Where God reveals himself directly to Moses and Israel in Exodus and he reveals himself in visions to the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, to the sages who write in Proverbs God often reveals himself in the created world and by observation of human behavior.

Ant Image

In Proverbs 6:6 he writes: “go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!”  An ant is a comparatively small and very weak creature when set alongside a human being, and yet, ants are industrious and hard working.  They plan and prepare for the winter by working hard and gathering up their provisions in the summer time.  There is wisdom in hard work and preparation.  The wisdom writer uses this as a way to admonish the person who is lazy and refuses to do the hard work of preparing for winter.  So the wisdom lesson here is “don’t be lazy, work hard to prepare in advance and you will be much less likely to suffer adversity.”

We could then apply this to other areas of life.  For students this means, don’t wait until the night before your test to begin “cramming” for the test.  Work hard at your studies each day in your preparation.  Read your assignments, do your research.  Then, when the harvest comes (the test) you will be successful because you worked hard and prepared.  That’s wisdom applied to life and that’s the value of Proverbs.

Later in Proverbs 6 wisdom is applied to relationships and to marital faithfulness.  He gives a stern warning against the sin of adultery.  He compares adultery to scooping a fire into your lap and expecting not to get burned or trying to walk across hot coals without burning your feet.  As Forrest Gump would say “sometimes things just don’t make no sense.”  Thinking that you can play around with fire and not get burned is foolish… and thinking that you can cheat on your spouse or with someone else’s spouse and not get burned is just plain foolish.  “A man who commits adultery has no sense.”  Instead of the ant, the author uses the jealous husband as the example from nature “he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.”

One doesn’t have to look far to find wisdom.  God has imbedded it in all of his creation and we just need to pay attention- whether it’s the wisdom of the ant in working hard to prepare for Winter, or the wisdom of not fooling around with someone else’s wife or husband, we need to pay attention to God’s wisdom that’s revealed all around us.

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~ Jeff Fletcher

The Importance of “the”

John 14-15

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Wednesday, May 31

We live in a world where diversity, multiculturalism and relativism rule the day. In some respects this is not bad. Having a variety of opinions in the “market place of ideas” means that the best are used, recycled, reused, adapted, interpreted, and used again. In short, the best ideas, the best inventions, the best of the best succeed. Diversity should be a part of our society we embrace; indeed the Kingdom is made up of people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) God delights in the diversity of tribes, where people look and think and act differently from one another. He glories in the diverse languages we use to bless Him and our fellow humans. He loves all peoples, all nations. We praise God for the diversity of humanity we see in creation. But is this true in every situation? Is diversity always acceptable? Because of some of the claims of Jesus, I am inclined to say that no, not all types of diversity are acceptable. What could I possibly be talking about? If you haven’t read John 14:1-6 yet, please do. As you read it, what strikes you about this teaching of Jesus?
Notice that there are a few words Jesus repeats a couple times. Jesus has said a few times that he is going away and his disciples know the way he is going. But Thomas, the doubter a few chapters later, asks a REALLY good question “How can we know the way if you’ve been speaking in riddles?!”(14:5) Jesus up until this point, it seems has been withholding what would happen to him other than expressing it as being “glorified” or literally, “lifted up” (John 3:14, 7:39, 11:4, 12:23-34, and on). But Jesus is talking about his death. He is going away to the Father, to glory, by way of death. Jesus is say “You know the way to the Father, to eternal life.” Thomas, expressing his wonder, exclaims how can we get to the Father, how can we have eternal life?
And then Jesus says that “Well, all paths lead to life. As long as you sincerely believe whatever you believe and you don’t harm or judge anyone else, you’ll get eternal life.” Right?! That’s what we would expect if all the diversity and relativism in our society was correct. But Jesus says some stuff that really ruffles some feathers if we understand it. If you actually read the verses, or if you have memorized this verse (good on you if you have!) John 14:6 reads “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus used something grammarians (people who study grammar and language, like dorks like me) like to call “the definite article.” Normal people call it the word “the”. Each word in this list of three gets a definite article: the way, the truth, the life. I want you to get the importance of what this means. Jesus is not saying that his life is just “a life.” The life he has been promising, this eternal life, is the only life. There is only one life, and he is THE life. No others, no others compare. Jesus and his teachings are not “a truth” in a market place of truths, where you can pick which ones work for you and which ones don’t. Jesus claims he is THE truth. Buddha, the Gurus, Muhammad and other religious leaders or movements are not competing with Jesus in the matters of truth. Jesus is TRUTH, and the source of all truth. As far as they align with Jesus they are correct and when they differ with Jesus, they are in error. Jesus is the standard for truth, no one and nothing else. Jesus is not claiming to be “a way” to God. The analogy that Jesus is “one path up the mountain to God” could not be farther from the words of Jesus himself. Jesus said that he is the ONLY way to his Father, who is the only true God. (John 17:3) When you walk on the path of Islam, the path of secular humanism, the path of Buddhism, your path does not lead to the Father, according to Jesus.
And that is the shocking thing about this. I am not making these claims on behalf of Jesus. I don’t have to try and defend these claims on my own authority or reason or anything. Jesus himself made these claims, and the most shocking claim that anyone who comes to the Father comes only through him. Anyone who will be saved in the final days do not do it because they are really great Muslims, devoted Buddhists or EVEN great Christians. The only reason anyone will ever be given eternal life, the only reason anyone will live in the Kingdom, the only reason is Jesus Christ himself. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Belief in Christ, trust in him, love in him is the only way to life.
If this offends your modern sensibilities, trust me, it offended me, too! Jesus is claiming that he is better than all other religions and leaders and rulers and law-givers! How? But remember, we are not talking about one more leader or ruler or religious man or law giver. John testifies that Jesus is the Word, the Logos of God, made flesh among us. All the wisdom, power, planning, and thoughts of God take on flesh in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect representation of the very nature of God, he is the image of God in skin and bones walking around. Instead of taking offense at Jesus and his hard teachings, as so many do, this teaching should cause us to fall down and worship and be grateful that God showed us any way to eternal life, and that Jesus is not restrictive in who can come to him. All who are weary and heavy laden, he will give rest. He will give life to as many as call on him, as many as trust that he is exactly who he claimed to be. Let us praise God that he has revealed to us Jesus as a gracious and merciful Lord, the one who is “the way and the truth and the life.” Let each and every one of us come to God through the name of Jesus Christ!
-Jake Ballard

Praise

Psalm 145-150

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Friday, January 20

A few years ago my wife and I went on a driving tour of Ireland.  We had the opportunity to see beautiful and wonderful things, many of them being the untouched creation of God.  Each morning we would leave our bed and breakfast early, then ride around and visit as many sites as we could fit in between dusk and dawn, making sure to get to our next bed and breakfast before the sun went down. Why? It was near impossible to navigate the streets and backroads of the smaller towns of Ireland in the evening.

 

It was the fourth or fifth night into our journey, and we were having an exceptionally hard time finding our resting place for the evening.  We were driving (unknowingly) in the wrong direction, as the sun was starting to set.  There was a faint mist in the air and mountains ahead.  I watched as the sky and mountains turned from shades of gray to the most vivid reds, purples, yellows, oranges, and more.  It is not hyperbole to say that it was the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my life.  I was focused on how beautiful the sunset was, and I kept on oohing, awing, and driving in the wrong direction; however, my wife was focused on getting us safely to our destination, pouring through papers and maps.  I begged her to look up and take at look at the wondrous sight, but she wouldn’t have it; she told me to turn around (in the opposite direction of the sunset!) because we had made a wrong turn.  I turned around to avoid a fight (or more of one), but stopped when I saw a decent pull off.  I said, “You have to look at how beautiful the sunset is!”  We both got out of the car.  We oohed and awed together.  We snapped a photo or two that did not do the scene justice, and we drove off with a memory.

 

In that moment, I saw something that I wanted to give praise to.  I was amazed and astounded.  I thanked God, but that did not do it justice.  I had to share it.  I had to tell someone (now several someones) about it.  In fact, it was hard to think or speak of anything else.  C.S. Lewis says in Reflection on the Psalms ,

 

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation….It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with… Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

 

God has called us to enjoy His many wonderful attributes throughout the Psalms.  He is patient, kind, caring, merciful, just, faithful, and unrelenting.  While He is exalted in the highest heavens with knowledge too lofty to attain, He is a personal, close, and specific Father who gives us every opportunity to allow Him to work and act in our lives.  The highest of praise goes to an infinite God who has loved us so much! BUT, praise is far beyond acknowledgement.  Praise is an immersive experience. It may be great to see something praiseworthy, but to fully experience praise, we must share it.  Praise is not only see to see the sunset, it is to let others know and share in the moment.  When we experience His blessing, His healing, His power, His comfort, or His love, we cannot be silent or accept; we cannot let it go under the radar. We must let others know.  In this, we have then offered praise.

 

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; This splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart” Psalm 148:13-14.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.” 150:6

-Aaron Winner

(Photo credit: Aaron Winner – most beautiful sunset)

The Earth Cries Out

Psalms 96-102

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Wednesday, January 11

The Appalachians are amazing. I grew up in the foothills of the Smokies and the Blue Ridge. On a clear day at the top of the hill you could see gracefully rolling mountains in the distance. If you live near the Rockies or even parts of Alaska, mountains in your imagination peak and may be white tipped year-round. However, in the imagination of a southern boy of the Carolinas, mountains are tree-covered rolling and majestic mountains. These are old and they feel even grander because of their age. I remember a time when I went hiking with some friends in the eastern mountains of North Carolina. We got to the top of the hike, and we could see the road cutting through the valley. The cars were smaller than toys; buildings, houses or stores were miniatures too small for a child and people were indistinguishable. However, the path they cut through the valley was noticeable. This was humanity’s doing.
The mountains, however, were the work of God. For miles, the green mountains, the golden-red sunset, the crisp, clean air, were the blessings and handiwork of a loving and caring God. And the mountains let you know it. The mountains “shout together for joy.” (98:8) The Psalmist knows well that creation praises it’s creator. When the author says “sing to the LORD, all the earth”(96:1) I have tended to read that one small phrase as a command to all the people. But just as importantly, he is telling ALL of creation to sing praises to God. The trees and the forest (96:12) resound with the praises of God, when they are displaying majesty in fall or even in the depth of winter when they are barren. The sunset over the mountain, or the sunrise over the ocean displaying the play of colors that God desires we all see in creation. (Or, on the more western states, the sunset over the coast.) Sometimes the glory God displays in the created world is not beautiful but terrifying. Darkness, like the inky blackness of night; fire burning up his foes; lightning striking the ground with thunder exploding and roaring all around, all these show the greatness of God.
In other places, it seems that creation because of it’s nature and the fact that it is nature, cannot help but show the glory of the God who created it. Jesus says that if those who were praising him (to the glory of the Father) were kept silent, that “the stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) But your worship isn’t. You must choose who you will worship. The author of these psalms we read show that God alone is worthy of worship and the created world, worshipped by other people in their world, worships YHWH. May we shout with joy along with the forest, the trees, the mountains, the rivers, the heavens, the depths, and all the earth. “Be glad in Yahweh, you righteous ones, and praise His holy name.” (97:12)
– Jake Ballard
(Photo credit: https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Psalms-96-1_Inspirational_Image/)

The Intercession of a Friend

Job 39 – 42

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Friday, December 23

In today’s reading we have the conclusion of God’s rebuttal to Job.  He enumerates the detail of creation, throwing multiple examples at Job about its forethought, workings, and power.  Then, the mic is dropped.


“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;  I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:3b-6

 

God gives Job a sobering reminder of who God is.  Through this God does not simply restore Job, but he also uses him to intercede for his friends.  When our prayer lives are focused on others, especially those who have wronged us, we are drawing closer to God.  We love like Him.  We forgive like Him.  We are faithful like Him.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had to offer their own sacrifice, they had to pray for themselves, they had to change their ways, they had to make their own decision, but the devotion of a faithful friend saved them from their deserved punishment.

 

You too, have a friend who is interceding for you (Rom 8:34).  Jesus Christ is pleading your case before God.  You deserve not only death, but destruction, but God has listened to our Savior’s appeal.  You still have great responsibility, but he is making it easier (Matt 11:30).

My challenge for you is to find your own three friends (like Job) to pray for.  When we pray for our friends (and our enemies), acting like Job and Jesus, how much lighter can it make their burden?  What consequence might we save them from?  What healing or saving opportunity will God present them? (James 5:14-16).  Conversely, if we do not, what are we condemning them to?

-Aaron Winner

(photo credit: https://dailybiblememe.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/job-422/)

Write a Check

Job 35-38

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Thursday, December 22

Growing up and being the youngest of four, I went with my mom a lot of places.  One of the places I most accompanied her was the grocery store.  Candy was a rarity in my family (except for holidays), so when I reached the checkout and saw the limitless amounts awaiting there, I would start asking if I could have some.  On occasion, I would get my wish granted.  On other occasions, my mom would say, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have the money for that.” I would quickly appeal by telling my mother, “You can just write a check, then.” “It doesn’t work like that,” she would respond.

 

My logic: I want candy: Mom has checks: I get candy.


Reality: I want candy; Mom has checks: money in bank account: I get candy

 

For 37 Chapters, Job has been trying to make sense of what is happening.  He has been to hell and back, but has remained faithful.  He sees his situation, and he sees God, and he wants God to “write a check”.

 

His logic: God is love:  He has the power to take this away:  I will not suffer

 

Reality: God is love: He has the power to take this away: Every act of a holy and loving God is to bring me into His kingdom: I will not suffer (Rom 8:28)

 

God’s plan is eternal.  It is wrought in creation and sanctified with the blood of Jesus Christ.  It is fashioned from His desire that all men should be saved, and none should perish (2 Pet 3:9). A glimpse into the depths of God’s plan begins in His rebuttal to Job:

 

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!  Who stretched a measuring line across it?  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone (WOW – Eph 2:20; Psa 118:22) while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” – Job 38:4-7

Suffering, pain, and death are the direct and indirect results of sin, not part of God’s design.  Does God save us from suffering?  Yes, eternally and sometimes temporarily, but we should never forget he offers comfort, peace, hope, love, and joy in the midst of every circumstance. Every action God takes is not to save a fleeting life, but to give an eternal one.  While there is nothing wrong with asking God to “write a check”, keep close to your heart the plan which he has made and paid.

-Aaron Winner