pursuing, being attentive to, and following the wisdom of Proverbs

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for gaining wisdom and instruction;
    for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
    doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
    and let the discerning get guidance—
for understanding proverbs and parables,
    the sayings and riddles of the wise.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1

I am going through the book of Proverbs right now in my slow ponderings. And I am reminded of a number of things. But I begin with the fact that when we read the Bible, we have to read it first of all in its original context as best we can. That may be limited, though we can get some good helps. But we have to remember it was written at a specific time in a specific cultural context. But if we read it no other way at all, then we have to read it from the context of all of scripture, and especially of Jesus, considering his fulfillment of it all. In Christ we are told are hidden all the treasures of wisdom (Colossians).

But back to the book of Proverbs itself, if we need to err in any way, we need to really seek to take to heart all it has to say. We don’t do everything literally, but the essence or point of every saying, or thought, what it’s getting at, the underlying principle one might say, we do want to understand, and seek to hold on to it for dear life. It is a matter of life and death, but too often we drift away from that, since we either think we know better, or we don’t take it seriously enough.

Proverbs helps us both explicitly and implicitly in giving us direct specific instruction and in helping us have discernment in areas in which it doesn’t directly speak. Proverbs helps inculcate in us a capacity for learning and implementing wisdom for life.

And of course this wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. We don’t trifle with God. God is love, and God is God. That sense of fear has to do with respect which becomes awe for pursuers of God, and dread for those who fail to pursue him. And that is all by grace in and through our Lord Jesus.

Read Proverbs slowly. The best reading is slow reading, I think. We need to let it soak into our bones, into our heart, and out from that, into our very lives day after day. An essential part of our growth in and through our Lord Jesus.

Modernist Enlightenment priorities

At the heart of the American experiment, the United States of America, is the influence of the great Modernist Enlightenment which was sweeping the world just prior to the nation’s founding. It was a break from established authority such as the church into the new world of great human achievement. In a sense, it wasn’t new, having come on the shoulders of the Renaissance and not without some impulse from the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation itself may have had some, at least backing, from this wave. One can’t include the Reformation as part of Modernism or the Enlightenment, though the world can influence the church for ill, as has been seen beginning in the 19th century with Mainline Protestantism.

The goal of this post is not to talk about the Modernist Enlightenment of which my own knowledge is limited, but to mention some of the basic tenants of it, which I think have infiltrated our thinking and priorities even as Bible believing Christians, quite apart from the people and churches in Mainline Protestantism who practically deny the truth of the Bible itself, and thus the truth of the gospel.

Autonomy is at the heart of a value we’ve imbibed from the world. It is rooted in certain human/humanistic ideals, to be sure, often more or less universally accepted like the rule of some kind of law based on an accepted form of morality, not far afield from the obligations to humanity in the Ten Commandments, which through general revelation can be more or less found in other moral codes of the ancient world.

Autonomy here means an emphasis on the individual, and on freedom, on individual liberty. Every person theoretically is taken seriously within the accepted framework, and has certain rights grounded in what is called natural law. The idea of individual rights is so pervasive in our society, that it has impacted our worldview as Christians, and affects even how we understand and fail to understand the faith.

Jesus’s ethic, and thus the ethic for Christ followers and Christians is grounded in the call to love God with one’s entire being and doing: the call to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. No longer is one operating from merely individual freedom and rights. Instead one’s considerations our shaped by the necessity, indeed imperative to love one’s neighbor as themselves. It is a community consideration, rather than a mere individual one. It’s not about what I want, what I like, or what I choose to do. It’s grounded in God’s will, what God wants, God’s calling- all in Jesus.

So we do well to step back, stop and think about what drives our thinking and corresponding actions. Are we conformed to this world, the spirit of the age, or are we being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of God in Jesus? Whatever that difference might look like in civic life is secondary to what it is to be steeped in: the life of the church in making disciples through the gospel. Something we both become and are becoming, as well as being a light in the world to help others into this same life. A life that is about loving God and one’s neighbor, and laying down all of our rights in the way of Jesus.

in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

knowledge: the blessing, and the curse

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.”

Proverbs 4

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

Ecclesiastes 1

Knowledge is the watchword nowadays. At our fingertips is the answer to nearly any question people might ask, often without much effort. That’s good in a lot of ways, and can save people some grief, if they use it wisely. On the other hand, by itself, it simply is a part of “life under the sun,” which the book of Ecclesiastes (see link above) is largely about. That book, when considering knowledge is looking at it as if that is all that exists. What is not factored in, at least not sufficiently in Ecclesiastes (and that book is hard to interpret, biblical scholars differing from one another), is the reality of God and that all of life under the sun does matter to God, made clear at the end of the book. One of my favorite biblical books, by the way, because it shows the emptiness of what people are often full of in this life.

Proverbs, in the tradition of the wisdom of Solomon, puts knowledge and wisdom, nearly synonymous in that book, at the forefront of what one should desire in life. And that knowledge has nothing directly to do with the plethora of the knowledge of “life under the sun,” in which people ordinarily live and breathe. Although of course, it’s meant to help us navigate such knowledge with the wisdom from God, to put a proper evaluation on itself, what is called discernment. And that combination certainly not only has value, but is actually crucial for us living in the world as people of faith.

A key, which is fulfilled in Jesus, who is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians; Colossians) is that the knowledge we need begins, and in a sense actually ends with God. Apart from God in Christ, the knowledge we have is incomplete. In it, we find not only the meaning of life, but life itself, since Jesus himself is the Truth, bringing us into the reality of the life of the Triune God, the eternal life. That is why when we have something of a strong sense of that, other things not only pale in comparison, but are exposed. And yet we necessarily live in the seemingly mundane, endless routine of everyday life. And Psalm 131 is so important for us to not only remember, but take to heart. It is good to try to think God’s thoughts after him. But in so doing, we will quickly learn just how dependent we are on God and interdependent on each other.

We need to ever and always keep this foundational truth in mind:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1

And by God’s mercy and grace through Jesus, not live foolishly, but grow in wisdom in the knowledge of God, and learn to see everything more and more in that light. Through turning the pages of scripture, together as the church. And ultimately in the light of the revelation of God in Christ.

the church in a post-trust era

I think post-truth, or post-factual is not off the mark when it comes to our society nowadays, at least politically. But some say it’s more like post-trust that marks the United States as a nation. And sad to say pastors or clergeypeople and churches are not on the high end of institutions in which people trust.

I think the church, and all of us who are part of it would do well to repent of our presumption that we know what is best. There is a church somewhere named, “Jesus Knows Best Church,” and indeed Jesus does. But we don’t. Not to say we shouldn’t lend a discerning heart and mind to society, because indeed we should. And that may be especially critical right now. But we also need to make sure we’re above the fray of the normal partisan politics which mark the political landscape. For the ways we’ve been taken into the fray into whatever side that’s on, we need to repent of defending or promoting this or that American political scheme. It’s one thing to speak out on issues. It’s another to be known as a Democrat or Republican, when we ought to be known as followers of Jesus. In all of this, we should be marked with both humility and love.

Christian, including evangelical should never connote, much less denote any particular kind of politics of this world. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own political positions, of course we do. It means that we take pains to make it clear that we serve one King and kingdom, and are of one politic only: God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus. That is the one Good News/Gospel we live and if need be die for. Not to diminish the service of Christians in the government of the nation, including the military.

I have American political leangings, but I believe they’re very issue driven, so that for me, it’s a case of considering separate issues, and making judgments from there. One might not agree with everything in the book (I don’t think I do), but Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz is an excellent example of trying to do this responsibily across basic issues, and in-depth. I am a registered Independent who might in the eyes of the world be considered a moderate leaning left (though I’m not sure about that, myself), yet I preferred one particular Republican presidential candidate in the 2016 election. I think we would do better not to be seen as either left, right, Democratic or Republican, or whatever else. A big reason being the sharp partisan divide in our nation. Perhaps it would be better for us to remain silent, and in some cases I think that should very much be so. How can we win people to Christ through the gospel if we’re so marked by the politics of this world, that we alienate many?

That said, we shouldn’t despair since after all the gospel is no less than the power of God for salvation to all who believe. It is quite alright to have our own positions, and maybe even argue for them some (like with reference to abortion, or human trafficking), and perhaps take some controverisal stands which might be seen as political partisanship, even if we don’t believe for a second that they are. But one thing is to mark us out for sure: Our allegiance to, and practice from the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Our witness of that.

This is actually a splendid opportunity for us to speak a word of truth concerning the Truth himself, Jesus, into a society increasingly skeptical of truth. And the faith that comes from that good news in Jesus, which addresses the deficit of trust. Something, and specifically Someone in whom people can completely commit themselves to, in faith. So as to learn to trust the one God who not only won’t let us down, but helps us live for something so much bigger not only than ourselves, but anything else in this world, including the provisional things such as government and politics, which indeed are important in their place. We need to be known as those who have one faith and loyalty through the gift of the Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit. In the one who is full of grace and truth: Jesus himself.

signs and wonders (and even prophesying) not enough

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

2 Thessalonians 2

Paranormal activity is well documented, and the biblical narrative certainly takes it seriously. Of course there are God’s miracles, literally signs and wonders, which point to God himself, and God’s word, to the gospel. They are unusual in scripture, but found in pockets, it seems. And the church according to 1 Corinthians 12 can have that element within the body in the form of giftings from God on some of God’s people (perhaps individuals here and there) through which extraordinary things happen. Certainly miracles accompanied Jesus in his ministry, especially in the healings, and exorcism of demons.

The point of this post is simply to say that miracles in themselves prove nothing as to their source. We can define miracle, by the way, as that which is out of the ordinary, perhaps seemingly breaking the laws of nature, therefore called supernatural. According to scripture, God holds everything together, so that God can do what he pleases at any time with what exists. But there’s also an usurper, a pretender, who does have a measure of power, the angelic kind, though in this sense perverted, which can bring about miracles, as in the scripture above, “signs and wonders that serve the lie.”

And in Deuteronomy 13, there’s a warning not to be taken in by prophesyings and miracles which on the surface seem to be authentic, and perhaps in some ways are, but actually pull people away from God and the truth, and essentially substantiate and support what they want to hear.

There is the danger of attributing to Satan what is actually the work of the Holy Spirit. But we are told to test all things, including prophesyings, with the benchmark that we’re to hold on to what is good, but reject whatever is not (1 Thessalonians 5). We need a discernment coming from both the Spirit and the word. Deception can occur not only in the world, but in the church. The safety we have from that is found in the gospel: the power of God through the weakness of the cross, the wisdom of God through the foolishness of the message of a crucified Lord (1 Corinthians 1).

We need discernment, and all the more when people are vulnerable for understandable reasons to deception. We all need the bread of God’s word, and the living Bread who came down out of heaven, and now gives life to the world. Jesus is the one we turn to in the midst of our confusion and darkness. Even while along with the church we continue to turn the pages of scripture, and ask God for the discernment we need, in and through Jesus.

 

 

the basic importance of words

Does not the ear test words
    as the tongue tastes food?

Job 12:11

These words from Job himself, later echoed by Elihu, help underscore the importance of what we say, or more precisely the importance of words, and the signficance we give to them. We do weigh what is being said, or what we’re reading, whether we’re aware of that, or consciously trying to do so, or not.

Words are obviously important for us humans. They say that the most signficant factor for a child’s success in education is their ability to read. Words are crucial for us performing our work day after day. And important in helping us think through all kinds of matters.

Words are symbols corresponding to reality. They don’t determine reality, though they are important in helping us understand it. What is true and good, as well as real goes beyond words. And so words are pointers beyond themselves.

God gave us scripture as his word written, and meant to point us to his final Word, Jesus, who brings us into the life of the Trinity, and into the life of God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And so we have verfication from God of the importance of words. Such is not only an accomodation to humans, but indeed something which corresponds to God himself. We read from scripture that God spoke the world into being, and that God’s word continues to speak into what he has created.

And so with that in mind, I want to be all the more in the word, in scripture. So that everything else I come across can be tested by that measure. Scripture is far from just a bunch of rules or even principles for life. It is all about life, and not only about it, but participating in it. In other words, scripture gets into the nitty gritty, down into the dirt in which we live, not to leave us there, but to lift us up by God’s grace into God’s good will in Jesus.

We can take heart. We in Jesus are part of the royal priesthood of believers, who each have responsibility to weigh everything according to God’s word of scrripture and God’s Word in Jesus. We do that individually, but never apart from the rest of Christ’s body, the church. We contribute to the whole, as we are helped by others, all from God, from the one Lord by the same Spirit.

Words are the starting point, but not the end all. God is revealed and we participate in God’s very life and will through both word and sacrament. Through the bread and the cup of Holy Communion. God’s word directing us to that reality. And helping us live and rest in the truth, not just to know, but actually to experience, to “taste” in and through Jesus.