Contentment and So Much More

Proverbs 30

Proverbs 30 8 9 NIV

The author of this proverb, Agur, begins by belittling his understanding. The irony is that his words hold great wisdom. He is not bragging about his knowledge and understanding. He is declaring the LORD our God as unfathomably great. He asks six questions, five of which identify the power of God. The sixth is prophetic of the yet unborn son of God, Jesus. Additionally, his understanding of the perfection of God’s word and the refuge it provides us is astounding. This is a man of great wisdom who humbly recognizes his insignificance before God which in itself makes him all the more wise.

He then focuses on two requests of God; honesty and contentment. He asks that falsehoods and lies be kept far from him. He provides a variety of ways in which lies and deception can bring curses down upon our heads. They destroy our relationships and cause us to spiral ever further from the God who loves us. Entwined in these illustrations are lessons of being satisfied with what we have. Appreciating that our needs are met and being content with that is not easy when there is often so much more that we want. God provides for our needs, the author acknowledged this. Everything beyond our needs comes from our desires which are, more often than not, borne of our sinful natures.

Agur then contrasts contentment with greed. First pointing to leeches which will gorge themselves beyond their needs. Then he personifies four things which are never satisfied. Two of these are actually life-giving; the womb and land. These are bookended by destructive examples; the grave and fire.

Verse seventeen seems oddly out of place and more than a little disturbing. It actually goes with the theme of honesty. The person suffering such a creepy fate has been dishonest in action and words with their family, and likely with everyone else in their life. Ultimately they will be alone and everything they had will be scattered among the people around them.

How do the eagle, snake, ship and couple fit together? Is this what Agur did not understand? I doubt it. Each of these examples can be seen as somewhat mysterious in what path they will take. The eagle is not limited in the great expanse of the sky just as there are few obstacles that the snake could not overcome. Without a rudder and someone to steer, the ship would be tossed at the whim of the sea just as the whims of men and women often make courtship, that is dating for all those not familiar with the term, tumultuous. So how does this fit in with what Agur is trying to convey? It goes back to his self-proclaimed ignorance of, well, everything but specifically of God’s ways and will.

And then we get back to a verse that makes us scratch our head. The mention of the adulteress is actually an example of someone who is neither content with their relationship or dealing honestly with others. Additionally, she is completely without remorse as she sees nothing wrong with her actions. My prayer is that none of us would get caught up in this specific type of behavior but even more so that we would be remorseful of any actions that we take or words that we use which hurt others.

Up until verse 21, Agur has been consistent with themes of God’s power and majesty, honesty, and contentment. Somewhat enigmatic but consistent nonetheless. Beginning with verse 21 though he expands his words of wisdom. First to include the injustices of the world or what he refers to as four things by which the earth cannot bear. Of the four examples the first and last are of one who is raised to a higher position, likely without the benefit of knowledge or understanding of their responsibilities. This type of unfair promotion can lead to disaster in most cases. It is not uncommon though to see someone with little knowledge of how to manage situations or how to lead people placed in a high position. Additionally it is a warning to us not to seek after something we are not prepared or equipped to handle. I guess that goes back to one of the main ideas as well, contentment.

Agur then reminds us that wisdom and understanding are not reserved for anyone. Young and old, big and small may seek after these great treasures. His specific examples are of course of the small creatures and the wisdom found in how they act. The contrast however is of larger creatures and their “stately bearing.” The imagery used is of pride and arrogance. Perhaps a reminder of humility in our own positions, whatever they may be. Given how this proverb concludes that would certainly seem to be the final lesson.

So what have we learned from Agur, other than that he has a pretty cool name? Humility is greatly valued, especially in light of our amazing God’s power. He was in awe of the gift of God’s word that has been given to all men. He esteemed honesty and contentment as the greatest gifts to request from God. And he reminds us that it is not our age or size that matters but our willingness to seek after wisdom that counts.

 

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

Disunity – Defeated Already

1 Corinthians 6

1 Corinthians 6 7

Today we will be taking a look at 1 Corinthians 6

 

In chapter 5 Paul taught that it is not right for those in the Church to judge those who are not in the Church because they are not held to the same standards that we have ascribed to.  Similarly in chapter 6 Paul says that it is not right for those outside of the Church to be making judgements on arguments between those in the Church. If we have Christ’s love in us and if we are living according to his wisdom as Paul teaches we should, then we should be able to have reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ without having to go to court. It is understandable that we will have disagreements in the Church, and feelings will get hurt, but Christ forgave the men who crucified him while he was still hanging on the cross.  If he can do that then we can forgive the people in our Church. It is a shame on the Church when we cannot be reconciled to each other. When that happens Paul says in verse seven that “you have been completely defeated already”. We know from Ephesians 6:12 that this fight that we are in is against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” and for that reason we need to put on the full armor of God. But if we cannot unite as the Body of Christ then there is no point, we have already lost the battle.

 

One of Paul’s main goals in his letter to the Corinthians was to bring unity.  Many of the situations in Corinth Paul was asking one of the sides to give in graciously, even though they were not wrong, in order to bring peace.  Later in chapter 6 verse 7 it says “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” We should seek unity in the Body over being right, or having justice.  Jesus’ death was the greatest injustice in the world, and we are called to take up our crosses and follow him, we should not be surprised if we have to endure some injustice along the way.

 

Yours in peace

Chris Mattison

A Vibrant Conversation with the Living God

Jeremiah 29-13

Closing (Saturday)

 

It’s been another fun week of digging through scripture to hear the word that God is speaking to us today. When we dive into the Word and start investigating the trail of inspiration and hope that it has left throughout the years, we are engaging in a vibrant conversation with the living God. We are engaging the One who is alive and active still. This week, our look at Mark 9-16 has brought out a number of themes that I’d like to just tie together quickly for us.

First, the gospels are texts that were written to be heard and to be engaged with as a whole – much like a novel. Like any good author, Mark is weaving together numerous strands of thought and repeating patterns for us to pick up on as we engage with the story of Jesus’s life. Knowing this, we can bring together the various things that Mark is trying to teach us.

In Mark 9, we are encouraged to acknowledge and embrace the places where we question and have doubt. It’s a part of the life of faith. We are pushed to not just accept our unbelief, but to express it and call out for a grace that will see us through it. In Mark 10, the request for help is answered. With the end of the messianic secret, Jesus restores sight and illuminates the darkness (the darkness of unbelief). In Mark 11 & 12, Jesus starts turning over tables. He challenges injustice and urges us to do the same. We are called to use our new sight to break the cycles of brokenness in the world and give all that we have to aid those who are in need. In Mark 13 & 14, we are urged to be on the alert. To remain vigilant in our new sight and be prepared for the suffering that will come our way. In Mark 16, Mark urges us to new life beyond suffering and tells us to go out into the world to find where Jesus has already gone and is currently waiting.

Mark’s gospel lays out a call to life that is tangible, realistic, and filled with hope for believers. My hope for you is that your life is filled with as much grace and love as this gospel commands.

-Graysen Pack

A Den of Robbers

Mark 11 & 12 (Wednesday)

Mark 11 17

Once Jesus enters Jerusalem, the timeline for Mark slows down significantly.  While the first half of the book takes place over almost a year, the second half occurs in about a week.  Mark is letting us know that this is what his gospel and Jesus have been preparing for.  Mark 11 and 12 takes a closer look at the first 3 days Jesus is in Jerusalem.

While there’s a lot that we could cover here, I’d like to focus on Jesus’s experience in the Temple and how we can better understand a well known story that we may misinterpret.

On Jesus’s first day in Jerusalem, after the triumphal entry, he enters the Temple and “looks around at everything.” (11:11).  He leaves for Bethany outside of Jerusalem – using it as a kind of safe spot – instead of staying the nights in the city.  On the second day, he goes back to the city with his disciples and enters the Temple again.  However, instead of just observing, he begins to cause a scene.  Mark tells us that he starts “to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and over-turned tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves; and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.”

Whoa.  That’s a pretty radical departure from the Jesus who didn’t want anyone to talk about the miracles he was performing.  It’s as if the shy kid from the back of the class suddenly started burning textbooks in the auditorium screaming “You won’t do any more homework while I’m around! Ha ha ha!”  It’s a little weird.  And, the principals would be rightly concerned about what was going on (like the chief priests and scribes).

So, what is going on?  First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about what the Temple looked like.  We may think that Jesus was clearing out the Temple area because the vendors were causing problems for the act of worship.  That doesn’t really fit with what we know about the Temple.  First, the area where Jesus is clearing house is HUGE.  I mean really big.  It’s approximately the size of 11 soccer fields.  That’s massive (about 704,000 square feet).  There weren’t enough vendors in all of Israel to fill that space.

Another idea is that Jesus was fed up with the temple system completely and was overturning the model that the temple existed on.  This tends to emerge when we think that Jesus is somehow trying to move beyond Judaism and create his own new thing.  Well, Jesus isn’t.  He was and is a Jew.  Mark’s gospel itself undermines this idea in chapter 12.  On the third day, Jesus returns to the Temple (where he wrecked it the day before) and sits across from the treasury.  A widow comes and puts in her 2 pennies.  Notice, Jesus doesn’t say that she is being scammed out of her pennies, that she should do something better with her money, that it isn’t right for her to give to the current system, or that she’s being robbed by the temple.  No – he says that what she’s done is more than everyone else AND it seems to be a great thing!  Even today, this widow is meant to be a role model for us.

So, what is Jesus trying to do?   Let’s look at the text.  After he drives out the merchants, he says that the temple had “become a robber’s den.” (11:17)  Was the temple robbing people?  No – a robber’s den isn’t where robbers actually rob people.  It’s a place where robbers can go and be safe.  It’s a hideout where they don’t have to worry about the law coming after them.  I don’t think that Jesus was calling out the merchants or the temple system, but rather the leadership in the Temple for their willful blindness to injustice and sheltering those who do injustice in their midst.  His criticism of the Temple isn’t for how it works or what it does, but rather for what it isn’t doing.  I think that Jesus is taking up the call of Isaiah, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isa. 1:17)

This is where I think we can find a message for our lives and churches today.  Would Jesus level the same criticism against us today?  Not that we have vendors in the church, but that we allow ourselves to become a den for those who rob others?  Jesus’s problem with the temple wasn’t directed at the merchants or vendors but at those who were complacent in the face of wrong-doing, injustice, and evil.  Standing against injustice – especially when we find it in our own house, community, and ideals can be scary and seem life-threatening.  But, I think, like the widow, we are called to give what we have – “all that [we] have to live on” – to offer hope and justice to those starving for it.

-Graysen Pack

Different Prophet; Same Message

Zephaniah

Zephaniah-3_17

Friday, April 21

The job description of a prophet doesn’t vary much. Speak the words God has given you. Usually these words and utterances are judgement and wrath, Zephaniah follows the same pattern. Something worth mentioning is the name Zephaniah provides in verse one: “Zephaniah son of Cushi”. Cushi in Hebrew has meaning and connotations of African descent. In other words, Zephaniah may have an african heritage and we may have a book written by an African.

Zephaniah is believed to have been proclaimed and written between 630-620 BCE to the residents of Judah concerning Judah’s judgement and her enemies judgement. We have seen a common thread in all the minor prophets we’ve looked at this week: God holds all evil, wickedness, and injustice accountable whether it’s done by his own people or people of foreign nations. God is impartial. Chapter one contains God’s judgement on his own people. Chapter two is judgment pronounced on many of Judah’s enemies and chapter three is a mixture of judgement with the promise of a remnant being left who will love the true God with their heart, mind, soul, and body and God will dwell with them.

The minor prophets, I would say, are the most neglected books in the Bible. Though their historical contexts and their way of life is completely foreign to the modern Christian, the promises and principles communicated by God through prophets are ones that apply to us today. Injustice, oppression, apathy, disobedience, and so on are things we see and deal with in our lives. God speaks to us about these things in the minor prophets.

-Jacob Rohrer

(Photo Credit: https://worshipwithscripture.com/tag/zephaniah-317/ by Kelli Wommack)

The Opportunity We’ve All Wanted to Have

Habakkuk

Hab2

Thursday, April 20

There are some things that are guaranteed to happen in life: taxes, death, and suffering and evil. Haven’t you ever wanted to just have the opportunity to talk to God face to face? To have a conversation with him as we do with other humans? Each minor prophet has a characteristic about it that makes it unique from among the others. Habakkuk’s is this: he is the only prophet that dialogues back and forth to God as we do with each other, and the topic they discuss is suffering and evil. Specifically, how can God being just allow evil and suffering to continue?

The problem of evil is something all humans question, especially in light of God. Habakkuk and his context is no different. In the first four verses of chapter one, Habakkuk laments over the injustice that he witnesses, the wicked prospering over the righteous ones and the seemingly indifference that God exhibits in the present situation. Yet behold, God says in verse five, he will lead a foreign nation to punish the wickedness of his people in Judah. A common thread among all the prophets in the Bible: major, minor, Moses, John the Baptist, and others is that God ensures the prophet that justice is coming. Evil and wickedness will not triumph. Injustice and corruption will not be victorious. When we look back in the Old Testament we see again and again God takes action and rectifies the hopeless situation. But it’s important to remember that God does not act on our time, but on his.

Take for example, the enslavement of his people in Egypt. From the time they became slaves to when they were liberated was over four hundred years. How many Israelites cried out to their God during that time longing for liberation and freedom? Many. How many actually saw it come to fruition? Few. Yet God acted, and gave the Egyptians time to repent and let his people go. They refused, and God took his people out of slavery with a mighty hand.

The evil and suffering we witness God is not ignorant of. He is giving people time and opportunity to repent and reconcile with him through Jesus. But trust me, no, trust Exodus 34.6-7, that evil and injustice will not reign forever. He assured Habakkuk of this and he assures you and me today:

“Yahweh, Yahweh God is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth,

who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives

iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet he will by no means

leave the guilty unpunished.”

Exodus 34.6-7

 

-Jacob Rohrer

Grieving the Heart of God

Lamentations 1

lamentations 1

Thursday, March 16

 

The book of Lamentations does not make it onto most people’s “Top Bible Books to Read” list. Its title actually comes from the word “lament”, which means “to mourn (a person’s loss or death)” as a verb, and “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow” as a noun. This book is a compilation of Jeremiah’s laments about the destruction of Jerusalem and all the events leading up to it. He emphasizes that all this calamity is a result of Judah’s disobedience.

 

Jeremiah definitely had a good excuse for some serious lamenting. Sometimes we wallow in self-pity parties about silly little things like how the brand-new Chick-fil-A in our town doesn’t have a play place (true story, and very sad for this momma!), but when is the last time we offered up lamentations to grieve about and lament over an injustice in the world?

 

I live in Ohio, near the crossing of two major highways: Interstate 75, which travels from the Canadian border in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to deep into Florida, and Interstate 70, which spans the great distance from Utah to Maryland. Because of this intersection, the Dayton area is a major hub for drugs and sex trafficking; in fact, Dayton recently made national news for its record-breaking number of fatal opioid overdoses (which included at least one person I knew personally). When I think of how many lives are ruined or stolen by drug addiction and sex trafficking, I feel angry and mournful. It is cause for lament.

 

There are so many other injustices in the world: babies being murdered in utero every day; murder, violence, abuse, racism, discrimination; the growing porn industry; a failing mental health system; families being ripped apart … I’m sure you could add dozens to my list that are worth lamenting!

 

However, it is not enough to just sit on our bums and lament. God wants us to be active in His work in this world. What happenings today do you think grieve the heart of God? Pray with me that God would instill a sense of unrest in our hearts that drives us to fight against the injustices in the world, and to give us opportunities to help lead people toward freedom and hope in Jesus! While Jeremiah had much reason to lament, he was also a man of action (as we will see again in a few chapters), and we need to be people of action too!

-Rachel Cain

 

(Photo Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8GDFPdaQZQ – this link will take you to the Bible Project – with a video of hand drawings and explanations for every book of the Bible – pretty interesting stuff!)