OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[March 17]--“Don’t Be Like This Guy!” Part Three: The Fool

Prov. 1:7; 29:11; 17:10; 26:11; 19:3; 28:26

The last couple of days we’ve looked at a couple of men who are supposed to be “warning shots” to us (“He gets shot and that’s a warning to the next guy”). We studied the mocker and the simple man, and today we’re going to examine the type of man who’s mentioned most frequently in the book of Proverbs, the fool. A cursory word search tells us that the book of Proverbs mentions him around 72 times. Actually I could have picked several more verses for today, but I pared them down to six. He’ll crop up some more as we delve into more specific topics.

So what do we mean by the term “fool”? Like the term “simple” from yesterday, we have to go beyond the common definition. We mentioned this back in January, but it bears repeating: Notice the footnote at the end of 1:7. The term in Hebrew is not talking about someone who’s intellectually deficient, but someone who’s morally deficient. He’s made a conscious decision not to do things God’s way. He might not be as openly rebellious and defiant as the mocker, but as we’ll see he’s going to end up in a place that’s not pretty.

So what do we learn about him from these verses? In 1:7 he’s contrasted with someone who fears the Lord, and he despises wisdom and. . . .discipline. So here’s one characteristic: he’s undisciplined. He doesn’t like to be “tied down” to a schedule or responsibilities.

Second, and this is linked to the lack of self-discipline, he has no self-control. He “gives full vent to [his] rage.” If he’s mad about something, then he makes sure the whole world knows about it. We’ll talk about appropriate anger at another time, but for now we need to understand that his anger is obviously not under God’s control, or anyone else’s.

Third, from 17:10 and 26:11 we discover that he doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Wise people listen to a good rebuke, but it takes a lot more to get the attention of a fool. And he keeps making the same mistakes over and over. I love my dogs dearly, but they have some pretty disgusting habits. However, they’re just going off instinct, and the fool has no excuse.

And speaking of excuses, he makes plenty of them for himself. Doesn’t 19:3 really describe a lot of people? Someone smokes like a chimney or drinks like a fish and gets angry at God when their body’s health starts to break down. They sleep around and are surprised when they get an STD. They make poor financial decisions and wonder why they’re always struggling to pay their bills.

But there’s hope. If you read the description of this man, he might seem more familiar than you might find comfortable. All of us find ourselves walking in his footsteps more often than we care to admit. So what’s the cure? The last verse hints at something we’ve been saying all along. Quit trusting in yourself. You don’t have the resources to really change from the inside-out. Don’t be like the dog that keeps on going back to. . . the same old habits again. Cast yourself on the Lord’s mercy and grace, first to forgive you and then to change you. He’s waiting.

Lord Jesus, I'm so foolish at times. Please forgive and make me like you. I want to walk in wisdom, and to get to know you better.

[March 16]--“Don’t Be Like This Guy!” Part Two: The Simple

Prov. 14:15; 22:3; 8:5; 1:32

Yesterday we looked at the mocker, so today is Mr. Simple’s turn. Unlike the first man, this one has some hope. He hasn’t completely turned away from God’s ways, but he has some major problems, as we’ll see.

So what do we mean by this term? In English the word's not always pejorative; we sometimes say that someone has “simple” tastes (as opposed to refined or ostentatious ones). Politicians will often try to present themselves as having a “simple man” background, by which they usually mean lower to middle class. But the term here has absolutely nothing to do with one’s place on the economic or social scale.

Here it's used for someone who doesn’t think clearly about the issues and dangers of life. Another word might be “naïve.” They aren’t evil, and they don’t consciously set out to rebel against God. But because of the world in which we live, and the sinful tendencies we’ve inherited, they’re going to eventually drift onto a self-destructive path unless there’s some direct intervention. Let’s look at some characteristics of this guy, and then we’ll briefly discuss the prevention/cure for his ailments.

The first word that comes to mind when Solomon holds him up for study is “gullible.” He believes whatever he hears, and fails to put the latest rumors to the “smell” test: Does this make sense? Another proverb tells us that “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines,” which obviously applies in nonlegal settings as well in the courtroom; in other words, critically examine what you hear, and hold it up for skeptical scrutiny. This is especially serious when it comes to spiritual matters. How many immature Christians have fallen for heretical nonsense because they heard it from a man who has “Reverend” or “Pastor” in his title?! In journalism school they have a famous slogan: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” That goes double for anything that any preacher or pastor says from the pulpit.

The second word that should be stamped on this man’s head is “unprepared.” We need to follow the example of the Boy Scouts and “always be prepared” for what lies ahead of us. Take for example a man who has a severe drinking problem. He wants to be sober and turn his life around. So would it be wise for him to be hanging around bars and “friends” who are pressing drinks into his hand? If you know that you have a problem with a certain form of temptation, then you’re following in this guy’s footsteps if you fail to take precautions against what you know is coming.

On a personal note, the verse above has a special significance for me. When I and my future wife were courting, 22:3 was our "slogan" verse when it came to our dealings with each other. We both knew what type of temptations we faced in the sexual arena, and we made an agreement with each other that we were going to do things God's way instead of what our feelings or hormones told us to do. We didn't go into my house together unless someone else was there, we mostly met in public places, and made a conscious choice not to give any opportunity to the temptation to indulge in something we'd regret later. And it worked: By his grace, we were both complete virgins on our wedding night.

So what’s the cure/prevention for this man’s problem? Well, the third verse advises him to “gain prudence.” And where do we get that? Well duh, from wisdom! Prudence is one of the characteristics of wisdom which are listed in the first chapter, remember? And how do we get wise? Well, we said it before: We have to develop a deep and abiding relationship with the Source of all wisdom. But a big part of that is reading his word which he’s given to us. That’s the best resource for seeing beyond appearances and into what’s really going on in the world

Folks, this isn't a game. This is not an option. The final verse for today warns us that the “waywardness of the simple will kill them.” Remember, left to ourselves--just drifting along in life--we'll inevitably end up on a path that’ll wreck--and finally end--the life that God’s given us. The only way for us to avoid it is to consciously decide--by his empowering grace--that we’re going to do things his way, no matter what.

Yes, Lord, I will. I don’t trust myself, I trust you. Thank you for your grace which not only forgives but keeps me from falling in the first place.

[March 15]--“Don’t Be Like This Guy!” Part One: The Mocker

Prov. 21:24; 15:12; 29:8; 22:10; 3:34

The book of Proverbs is a study in contrasts: Solomon and the other authors present to us a decision to make. Either we’re going to do things God’s way, which is the wise thing to do, or we’re going to do things our own way, which will end in disaster.

Last month I pointed out the value of a negative example. Everyone has a purpose in life, and God will use everyone in his plan. But some people’s place is to be held up on display so you can look at him and say “I sure don’t want to end up like this guy!” It’s like the old joke about the man who was concerned about people breaking into his house in a bad neighborhood. He let it be known that he was all about firing “warning shots.” If anyone broke in, he'd shoot the intruder, and that would be the warning to the next guy. Or as I heard in another (horrible) joke, two men walk into a bar, and the third man ducked.

The book of Proverbs has three distinct men whose value is that of bad examples to avoid. They’re the mocker, the simple man, and the fool. Today we’re going to look at the mocker and see what lessons we can learn from him.

So what is a mocker? It’s a person who's so far away from God’s path that he's rejected it utterly. He makes fun of those on the path as naïve simpletons. Warnings from the Bible are nothing but a joke to him.

What are some characteristics about him that we find from these verses? Well, first and foremost he's consumed by pride. No one's going to tell him what to do! He might even, in his heart of hearts, know that he’s destroying himself, but he doesn’t care. He'll rebel against authority just for the sake of rebellion.

Second, he won’t accept any correction from anyone. If someone tries to warn him about the path he’s on, he’ll laugh it off. He hates to hear from anyone that he’s wrong, and resents it.

Third, he tends to incite others. Unfortunately, his rebellion against the Lord doesn’t just affect him. It’ll quickly spread to others, since this rebellious spirit appeals to all of us with a sinful nature. We’d like to think that we’re in charge.

Fourth, he loves a good quarrel or a good fight. He’s not happy unless there’s strife in a room, and he'll purposefully stir things up in order to see it.

So what does the Lord think about him? Well, how do you think he’ll respond to someone like this? This foolish man might think he’s in charge of his own destiny, but once the Lord starts removing the breath of life from him, he’ll see differently. Not that God delights in the destruction of a soul. Of course not--he “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” But the Judge of all mankind will hand out cosmic justice, and this man who made a habit of laughing at such notions will find out--in the end--that the joke is on him.

So how do we apply all this? Well, if the Lord is pointing out someone like this, then it’s our job to look at what he’s doing and do the exact opposite. This means we desperately need to A) take God’s warnings seriously, B) Be willing to listen to correction from God and his representatives, C) Direct others towards God’s ways, not away from them, and D) Be a peacemaker, someone who loves to see unity among God's people.

And take a last look at 3:34. If we turn away from the mocker’s ways, then we have a wonderful promise. He will give us "favor," or "grace" as it's otherwise translated. It all starts with dropping the pride and follow the example of Alcoholics Anonymous. We all have to admit we have a problem, see that we can’t solve it ourselves, and throw ourselves on his mercy. He’s waiting.

Lord Jesus, I find the picture that your word paints of the mocker is uncomfortably familiar sometimes. Please forgive me for not taking your word seriously, for not listening to correction, and wanting to win arguments more than souls. By your grace, I can change.

[March 14]--Parallel Parking

Prov. 9:10; 12:2; 25:12; 15:3

Starting tomorrow we’re going to begin some more in-depth topical studies on the book of Proverbs, but before we do that, we need a quick primer on Hebrew poetry.

When you hear about O. T. poetry, you probably think of Psalms, and that’s certainly true. However, the book of Proverbs is all poetry as well. And Hebrew poetry has some very different rules from the English variety. Our poetry is based upon rhythm and rhyme (at least traditionally). Hebrew poetry, by contrast, is based upon ideas and concepts. If you’ve ever heard it in the original language, there usually isn’t that much more “flow” than in prose. It’s the ideas contained within each line, not the way they flow off the tongue, which guide a reader or speaker.

The main structural feature is parallelism. This means that the lines are parallel and are linked to each other. The second line builds upon the first, and if there’s a third line then it builds upon the first two. How the lines relate to each other determines what type of parallelism is used.

The first is called synonymous parallelism. The concepts in the first line are parallel to similar concepts in the second line. For an example we have one of the most pivotal verses in Proverbs, namely the first verse listed in today’s passage. This doesn’t mean that the fear of the Lord is exactly  synonymous with knowledge of the Holy One, and it doesn’t mean that wisdom is exactly equivalent to understanding. But it does mean that they are similar, and that they’re linked together in this verse. They build on each other.

The second is antithetical parallelism. This is probably the most common form; it’s when the second line is the opposite of, or in contrast to, the first. You see this in 12:2, but I could have picked many more examples.

The third type is emblematic, where one line illustrates or clarifies the other with a word picture. They’re pretty easy to spot, since they’re usually translated as a simile (using “like” or “as”) or just a straight comparison (a metaphor). An example of this is found in 25:12.

Finally we see synthetic parallelism. This is where the second line continues the thought of the first. We see this in 15:3.

Why did I bring this up? Did I set out to bore you today? No, these are important to understand, because they help us interpret a proverb. Take for example 12:2, our second verse. What’s Solomon mean when he talks about a "good" person? He could have been referring to any number of characteristics. But in the context of this verse, "good people" are contrasted with “those who devise wicked schemes.” So the way I would apply this verse is pretty simple: According to this verse, what’s one characteristic of a good man? Among other things, he needs to be the opposite of someone who devises "wicked schemes”; in other words, he needs to be above-board in his dealings and scrupulously honest.

Or take 25:12. I would start by asking myself, “What is it about an earring of gold or a golden ornament that makes it like a wise person's rebuke?” An ornament of gold would be valuable and treated with care. It’s rare. If a friend gave me one, I'd be honored and grateful.

Do you see how these could be valuable in interpreting the book of Proverbs?

Father, your word is shallow enough that a child can wade in it, and deep enough that an elephant can drown in it. Please help me to correctly interpret your word, since it’s the lamp for my feet and the light for my path. May it be as precious to me as it should be.

[March 13]--Man’s Response To God: Trust

Prov. 3:5-6; 28:25; 29:25

Yesterday we discussed one aspect of how the book of Proverbs wants us to respond to God: fear. Now we’re going to look at the other main response the author wants us to display, namely trust.

The first passage for today’s reading is one of the most familiar ones on this subject; in fact, I remember as a child singing these verses set to music. We shouldn’t let its familiarity, however, distract us from the profound meaning here. I think that this passage is one of the pivotal in the book of Proverbs, actually in all of Scripture. Let’s take a look at it.

There are three commands here, with a conditional promise attached to it. First we’re to trust in the Lord with all our heart. That means we do what he says, just like a child trusts his parents enough to follow their instructions even when he doesn’t fully understand them. It also means to rest on him and not worry about what we can’t control.

The second command is not to lean on your own understanding. As someone once pointed out to me years ago, it doesn’t forbid you from using your own understanding; we just aren’t to lean upon it. When God doesn’t give clear direction, then we go with what we know. But we’re always supposed to be flexible when he changes our direction or gives instructions which are counterintuitive.

The third command is to acknowledge him in all our ways. In everything we do, we’re supposed to acknowledge his goodness, his grace, his providence, and his ownership of us. This actually sanctifies, or sets apart, “normal” activities such as eating, sleeping, going to the movies, going to work, etc. When we do this, there is no such thing as the mundane. And if you can’t acknowledge him during a certain activity, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

And finally we have his promise at the end of vs. 6. The Hebrew could be translated either way (see the NIV footnote), but the meaning is still the same. We’re on this path of life, and he’ll remove the obstacles in front of us—if that’s the way we’re supposed to go. We don’t know what’s ahead of us, but we do know that he’s already ahead of us, so we have nothing to fear, including going in the wrong direction.

The other verses today deal with trust as well. In 28:25, greed is presented as the opposite of trusting in the Lord, which is a sobering thought. I think one of the main reasons why people give in to greed is because of a desire for security: They think (either consciously or unconsciously) that if they have enough money in the bank, then they’ll be secure against poverty. Au contraire! The route to true prosperity is through trusting in him, not by leaning on your own resources.

And finally we see in the last verse a stark contrast between the “fear of man” and trusting in the Lord. You can’t do both. If you’re overly concerned about what people think and are saying about you, then it’s a snare. How great a burden this is for a lot of people! As B. J. Hoff once put it, however,

It matters not if the world has heard,
        or approves or understands;
the only applause we’re meant to seek
        is that of nail-scarred hands.

Just to be repeat and clarify: Fear of the Lord and trust in him are not opposites or even in tension. They’re so similar in concept as to be almost synonyms, just with a different emphasis. As you fear him, you’ll trust him more. As you see more and more of his workings in your life that encourage trust, you’ll fear him more (in the Biblical sense). What an incredible God we serve!

Lord Jesus, I do trust you. I need to do better at it, though. You are completely worthy of trust, how could I do any different?

[March 12]--Man’s Response to God: Fear

Prov. 9:10; 10:27; 14:26; 19:23

In looking at what the book of Proverbs says about God, you might have noticed a pattern. First we examined what it says about his nature and how we can apply that knowledge. Second we took a couple of days to see how he takes the initiative to reach out to humanity. Today and tomorrow we’re going to take a look at how we’re supposed to respond to him. There are two words which summarize what we’re expected to do: fear and trust. Today’s fear, tomorrow’s trust.

I’ve touched upon this concept of the fear of the Lord before, so I’m not going to delve into it too deeply. Just keep in mind that it’s the furthest thing in the world from being afraid of God. Being afraid of him would drive you away from him, just like being afraid of reptiles means my wife will never approach one. The fear of the Lord, however, means that we're in awe of his majesty, his grace, his power, his sovereignty, etc. It means that we approach his throne of grace with confidence, not arrogance.

We’re going to discuss the concept of parallelism in more depth at another time, but for now let me give you a one-sentence primer. It’s a method that Solomon and other authors use to link two phrases together in a verse. For example, in 9:10 he links “the fear of the Lord” with “knowledge of the Holy One.” So in this verse they’re associated with each other, which helps us gain insight into what fear of God means: It includes developing a personal relationship with him. And according to this verse, it’s the starting point of wisdom, and there’s no wisdom without it.

There are three benefits to this path that are listed in the remaining verses. First, there’s long life. We talked about this on the 5th, but just a reminder: This is not a blanket promise that God will make sure that you live to be 120 if you follow him. Believers all of the world are having their lives cut short by persecution. But in general you'll tend to live longer and better if you stick to God’s plan.

Second you’ll have a secure fortress, and there’s something even better. If you have children, don’t you want to leave them a good inheritance? Even better than money or property, however, is the invaluable heritage of a godly home, where children learn early on that God’s way is the best way of doing things. Again, this isn’t a blanket promise, since each person has to make his own choices, but it certainly helps.

Third, there’s peace. No matter what happens, no matter how crazy it gets, we can rest content, untouched by trouble. It doesn’t mean you won’t have any trouble, but it does mean that you won’t really be touched by it. I believe that this applied to Job, by the way. When he lost all his possessions, his children, and his health, this was his attitude: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Trouble can only touch you if you’re holding onto something too tightly that you shouldn’t.

All of this comes from fearing God the way we’re supposed to. Isn’t that what you want?

Yes, Father, that’s exactly what I want. Having a close relationship with you is rewarding enough, but all these other blessings as well? You really love to bless your children, don’t you?

[March 11]--God’s Relationship With Mankind, Part Two

Prov. 30:5-6

Continuing our study on how God relates to us, today we’re going to briefly look at the main way he speaks to us, namely his word.

I think it’s a given that we don’t take God’s word to us as seriously as he does. Heaven and earth will one day pass away, but not his words. But I think that today’s passage offers some insight into the subject that we haven’t considered.

First, all of his words are “flawless.” If you check out the other translations on the website I use for Scripture references, you might also see it as “tested,” or “proved true,” or “pure.” The reason for this is that word was used for the process of refining metals. Once something was purified by fire, it was considered “flawless” or “tested.” The Psalmist declared that his word is “like silver refined in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.” In other words, his word has been tested. Over the thousands of years of recorded history, not one of his words has failed to come to pass. Skeptics mock it, dictators burn it, and most American Christians ignore most of it, but it’s been proven time and time again to be “flawless.”

But again, Solomon is a practical man, so when he tells us something about anything, there’s a reason. After telling us that God’s word is flawless, he tells us that our Lord is a “shield to those who take refuge in him.” Why would he say this in the second half of the verse? Because here God “shields” us and we “take refuge in him” in the context of trusting and obeying his word. As we do that, we can rest assured that we’re safe from all real harm.

But the second verse today is a warning to all of us, especially those who teach from his Book. We need to be extra extra extra careful about distinguishing between what God has actually said from our own opinions and thoughts. As someone once told me, our clarity on an issue needs to be in direct proportion to how clear the Bible is on it. Where it’s less than clear, then we need to be charitable to those who disagree.

And if I disobey vs. 6, if I add to his words, then he’ll prove me a liar. I think this is a public rebuke. It’s not totally clear on how he’ll prove me a liar, but I for one don’t want to find out.

So what’s an application here? I think we need to be very careful about using the phrase “God told me. . .” Unless you’re willing to produce a 23rd chapter of Revelation, I'd avoid that wording. If you want to say that “I believe that God is leading me to. . .” I don’t think that’s so much a problem. But he’s got some pretty dire warnings about adding to his word or taking away from it or distorting the meaning of it.

None of us like to be misquoted, and the Lord likes it even less. And keep in mind that the stakes couldn’t be higher. . .

Father, I want to be a clear channel for your truth. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing other than what you’ve said. Nothing else matters.

[March 10]--God’s Relationship With Mankind

Prov. 16:2; 21:2; 17:3; 20:27

We’ve spent that last few days studying God’s nature from Proverbs, so now we’re going to look at how he relates to humanity. Like I mentioned before, we’ll have to skip around a bit because of the nature of the book.

Today’s verses deal with a subject that modern humanity would like to ignore: God’s searching judgment of the human heart. If you ask most secular people what’s the main reason why they don’t become Christians, any honest anser would probably have to rank this at or near the top. Most Americans have no trouble with “spirituality,” but this concept of being accountable to Someone is completely unacceptable to them.

The interesting thing is that, deep down, most of them really don’t have a problem with the concept in and of itself. This can be proved by asking them a simple question: Do you think that Hitler is enjoying heaven right now? How’s about child molesters or serial murderers? The vast majority of people take no issue with the idea of eternal punishment, as long as it’s not them or someone “nice” or someone they care about. As long as it’s “bad” people that God judges, then it’s OK.

But the same Bible that tells that there’s a heaven also tells us that there’s a hell, and the standards for enjoying God’s presence for eternity are a little more stringent than “nice.” As I’ve mentioned before, it would be convenient if the Judge's standards were “better than Hitler,” but that’s not the case. His standard is perfection. His standard is his Son, who always pleased his Father and who never sinned. In a sense, the coming of Christ could've even made it worse for us, since he certainly “blew the curve” (as if God ever had one).

But I think that--when you examine it a bit further--this is one of the reasons why Pantheism, Neo-Paganism and similar religions are becoming more popular. C. S. Lewis talked about this: He said that if you want “spirituality” and don’t want to believe that everything is just a random dance of atoms, then you can buy into this and receive all the comfort that this notion provides. But if you’re participating in something rather shady that you wouldn’t want made known to the world, then this “god” won’t judge you. It’s always the appeal of idol worship: You can pull him out of your pocket when it’s convenient, and put it back when it’s not.

But the God of the Bible is not like that. We’re all capable of massive self-deception, and “all [our] ways seem right to [us],” but he weighs our motives. Just like silver and gold are checked for purity by exposing them to fire, the Judge of all mankind tests our hearts. The “lamp” of his Holy Spirit searches out our inmost being.

But the Good News is that this God also offers forgiveness. Not someone who overlooks our “mistakes,” but who really forgives sin no matter what we’ve done. If you’re reading this and have never placed your faith in Christ for salvation, then the only day you can do that is today. Tomorrow may never come. If you haven't done so already, please read this.

If you’re a believer, then this is good reminder for all of us as well. As followers of Christ, we’re capable of self-deception as well. That’s why it’s a good idea to ask him to search out our hearts and redirect us when we’ve strayed from his way. For all of us, Prov. 28:13 still applies: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

Lord Jesus, I am so blind sometimes to my own faults. Only you can forgive, only you can cleanse, only you can restore. Please.

[March 9]--What’s God Like, And What Does It Matter, Part Three

Prov 16:4, 9, 33; 21:1, 30

Over the last couple of days we’ve examined what the book of Proverbs says about who God is, and hopefully the study is helpful in making us practical theologians. As one of my pastors once told me, the Holy Spirit is incapable of “small talk.” When we’re conversing with someone, we might try to “shoot the breeze” about trivial matters and gently ease into deeper subjects. Not so the Spirit. If he tells us something about the Divine Nature, there’s a purpose behind it.

Today’s subject, unfortunately, has caused more heat than light among believers, and it doesn’t have to. The subject is God’s sovereignty, the fact that he’s in charge of everything. There are verses in the Bible which make it sound like he’s ultimately “behind” everything, which brings up the thorny issue of how humanity can be held responsible for its decisions. Then there are other verses which make it sound like mankind is responsible for its own decisions, and can actually affect things both here on earth and in eternity.

It really saddens me when believers disagree about this sort of thing, especially when they do so disagreeably. I honestly think that both sides want God’s name to be honored, and both sides care about the lost and about faithful Biblical interpretation. But there’s another reason why it bothers me. When the Bible emphasizes God’s sovereignty (however that works in conjunction with human decisions), it’s always meant to be a source of comfort to believers, not a source of contention or about figuring out all the details.

What do I mean? How can this be a source of comfort to us? Well, look at the world around us and all the problems we’re facing. Bad leaders are in charge of a large portion of the earth, and human rights are routinely violated. Gut-wrenching poverty is the norm for a large percentage of humanity. As I write this, economic uncertainty is causing a lot of financial hardship for millions of people in America.

But God’s in charge of everything we see and everything we don’t. Even though we don’t always know what he’s doing in the world, even though leaders make bad decisions (or even evil ones), he’s using those bad choices to work out his plan. And he can--in some mysterious way which we don’t understand--even change the hearts of kings like a watercourse. No matter what anyone, even Satan, plots out, there’s nothing which can overrule what the Almighty wants to do.

This is true in the “macro” level (like the plans of kings and nations), but it’s also true in the “micro” level as well. According to God’s word, there are no “chance” occurrences. “Lots” were the equivalent of dice that people threw, sometimes to determine how to choose something. To the human eye, it’s mere chance that they roll a certain way, but God is even in charge over that. There are no accidents.

Let me add onto that comfort if I can. The One who’s in charge of all--this is our Father we're talking about. The One who sent his Son to die a horrible death in order to redeem us, cleanse us, and adopt us as his own. It’s not “Karma” or “Fate” that’s in charge of our lives. It’s our loving Father who has our best interests at heart. So let’s trust him, shall we?

Father, you’re in charge, and I’m verrrrry glad of that. Like the hymn, “oh for faith, to trust [you] more.”

[March 8]--What’s God Like, And What Does It Matter, Part Two

Prov. 5:21; 15:3; 15:11; 21:12

If there’s one thing I want all of us to take away from Proverbs, it’s this central thesis: Wisdom is not learning a set of facts so much as it’s developing a relationship with the Source of all wisdom. The very first words of the Bible—“In the beginning, God. . .” tells us who’s the central star of this story. So I submit that it would help us to examine what the book of Proverbs tells us about our Creator, the one who makes both rich and poor alike (as we saw yesterday). I promise you, Solomon doesn’t waste words. If he wants to highlight something about God, there’s a practical reason.

Today’s verses remind us about another aspect of him that we know but don’t think about too often: his omniscience. He knows everything about everyone, past present and future. He knows how many atoms make up the universe, and he keeps track of each and every one of them.

But again, Solomon’s a practical teacher, so this is supposed to affect how we think and how we act. Notice that he doesn’t just say that God knows everything, which would be true. No, he wants us to think about it in a personal way: Our ways are in full view of him, and he examines all our paths. His eyes are everywhere, keeping watch on each individual person. The teacher argues from the greater to the lesser—the Lord knows and understands all the grand mysteries of existence, like life and death and heaven and hell and all the aspects of the afterlife about which we have no clue. Since he knows all that, don’t you think he understands what’s going on in your heart?

So what does it matter? Well, it means that my sins are no secret from him. He knows every little nasty thought I’ve ever entertained. He knows about what you stole. He knows about what web sites you’ve been visiting. He knows about the shady business deal that wouldn’t stand scrutiny in the harsh light of day. You might have thought that you got away with it, but I assure you, you got away with nothing.

But the fact that he knows your heart can be comforting as well. No one knows your heart like he does, and that includes the heartache as well. Your heart is open to him just as much as “death” and “destruction,” and he knows the pain. You can tell others about it, but they haven’t experienced it with you. He has. And he cares.

And please keep in mind the personal and intimate nature of this 24-7 examination. He doesn’t know about you like a set of facts on a computer screen. He knows you. The real you that no one knows. Beneath all the masks and facades, beneath all the P.R., beneath all the fake smiles and keeping up the right image, he knows. Not even your spouse knows you like he does.

If while you’re reading this, his Spirit brings up a specific sin that needs to be dealt with, then here’s another great verse out of Proverbs: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” I expect we’ll return to that verse multiple times in the next few weeks, because my need for mercy never seems to end. How about you?

Father, you know me inside and out. And you love me anyway. Whatever it is that’s keeping me and you separated, please let’s deal with it.

[March 7]--What’s God Like, And What Does It Matter?

Prov. 22:2

From this point forward in our study of Proverbs, we’re going to skip around quite a bit, simply because that’s what the book does. It’s a lot easier if you tackle it topically instead of verse-by-verse which we’ve normally done up to this point. Since the most important thing to know from the Bible is who God is, I thought that’s the best place to start. So for the next few days we’re going to see what Solomon had to say about him.

Some of this is going to be old hat for you, since Solomon's not going to introduce us to any brand new concepts about the Lord. But the great thing about the author is that he’s always practical. I’ve always liked to think of myself as a practical theologian: If it doesn’t affect how you live from day-to-day, then why spend a lot of time on it? So whatever he says about anything—no matter how esoteric it might appear--there’s a reason for it.

So just to pick one of many verses about the Lord, let’s look at the one today. The first question to ask is: What does it say about him? What can we learn about him? And can we figure out why the author would include this information? It’s pretty straightforward—He’s the Maker of all humanity. He’s the Creator of every man, woman, and child who’s ever existed. But there’s a special emphasis he makes here: he specifically notes that the Lord has created both “rich” and “poor.”

It’s a fact of life that we tend to judge people by their spot on the economic ladder. And it’s not just in one direction: People on the lower end envy those richer than themselves. It’s a shame, but we tend not to associate with people who come from a different background than we do.

The church is supposed to be a cure for that, and I wish that it always was. Unfortunately, sometimes we let the divisions out in the world infiltrate Christ’s body, and this should not be. If it’s true that there’s “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then surely this would apply in the economic sphere as well. James, another really practical writer, had some things to say about this as well.

So how do we apply this in our daily life? Well, it would seem to me that any thoughts in your head that “look down” on someone--because they’re poorer than you--would be completely incompatible with the Spirit of Christ. And if someone is higher than you on the economic scale, then don’t envy them, and don't covet what they have. The Lord made them just like he made you, and the way we treat each other should reflect that.

So does it? Does the way you treat those around you reflect the fact that they’re created in God’s image? What about that person who just found a way to step on your last nerve? What about that homeless person that you’re passing on the street? What about that rich person you know who seems to have it soooo easy? All of them, each and every one, is precious in the sight of our Savior, and should be in ours as well.

Lord Jesus, it’s so easy to forget this. Please change my heart, my eyes, my ears, whatever else needs adjustment. I want to be like you.

[March 6]--Body Check

Prov. 4:20-27

I’ve recently become a fan of Ice Hockey, and after years of being completely ignorant of sports, I’ve had to learn a whole new vocabulary. I kept hearing them use the term “body checking,” and I was really confused. Finally, I had to look it up. “Oh. . . so they’re talking about slamming someone against the wall! It has nothing to do with examining anything.” Anyway, with that poor segue. . .

Today’s passage is the last one we’ll examine about the benefits of wisdom, and Solomon calls for us to keep an eye on our “body.” The first and foremost thing he tells us in this passage is to “guard your heart.” The term is referring to the “seat” of the person: your thought life, including your emotions, your will, and your decisions. As other translations have rendered it, it's the “wellspring of life.” Your thought life affects everything about you, including the aspects noted in the following verses.

Second he wants us to guard our speech. He tells us later in the book that “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Our Lord himself told us that “by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Specifically we’re supposed to avoid “perversity” and “corrupt talk,” something that a lot of us struggle with, especially when we’re around nonbelievers in the workplace. It’s really hard sometimes not to join in the “dirty joke” or office gossip, isn’t it?

Third, he counsels us to “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.” What does that mean? Well, it seems to me that it’s telling us to avoid distractions. These distractions could be sinful temptations, or they could just be things that draw our attention away from what God wants us to be doing. I always visualize a horse with blinders on when I see this verse: All he’s supposed to care about is what’s in front of him, not every little detail that’s happening to the side.

Finally we’re commanded to “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.” Watch where you’re going! If you’re obeying the last verse, this will be a lot easier. Sometimes it might seem like our Lord’s leading us on dangerous pathways and it’d be safer to pick our own way. Don’t be fooled! Someone once told me that “No matter how it looks, the safest place in the universe is in the middle of God’s will.” Just like Bilbo in The Hobbit, our troubles always start when we get off of God’s pathway.

So why are these benefits of wisdom? Because if our hearts (meaning our thought life) is where it needs to be, if our mouths reflect Christ’s purity, if our attention is focused on God’s plan and we don’t get distracted, then what do we need to worry about? We’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary heartache and pain in life, and the rewards--both in this life and the next—will make it more than worth it.

Lord Jesus, I’m trying to follow you, I really am. It’s so easy to get distracted, and not even by sin. It’s the little things that pull my eyes off of you. Help me. Please.

[March 5]--Some Benefits of Wisdom

Prov. 3:1-4, 7-10, 13-18

Our Enemy very rarely comes and dangles a complete lie in front of us. He usually appeals to us using a Biblical truth mixed with his error. That’s nowhere better illustrated than in the “Health and Wealth Gospel.” For those just joining us, it’s the heretical teaching that God wants all believers to be healthy and wealthy, and if you experience sickness or financial deprivation then something is wrong with your faith. Jesus Christ, through his atoning work on the cross, has purchased for us the benefits of health and prosperity, so every Christian has the perfect right to them.

As you might've guessed, the book of Proverbs is one of their favorite parts of Scripture. From today’s verses (and I could've picked many others), you can see why. Before we get to why they’re wrong, let’s take a look at some of the stated advantages of a wise life.

• “prolong your life many years” A long lifespan
• “you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man” A great reputation among people
• “health to your body and nourishment to your bones” Sounds like physical health to me
• “your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” A metaphor for financial prosperity
• “Pleasant ways. . . paths of peace” A peaceful life, an ending of strife

So what’s wrong with the “Name and Claim It” crowd’s theology? Aren’t these ironclad promises of God that we can claim if we’re faithful to him? In a word, no. They aren’t promises that are in effect 100% of the time. What’s the #1 word in studying your Bible, the word that solves most of our quandaries and steers us clear of the most egregious errors? Context. Context. Context.

Proverbs is listed among the “Wisdom Literature,” along with Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and oh yes. . . Job. There are some questions you can ask about how to interpret that book, but one of its main points is to refute the foolish notion that if bad things are happening to a believer, it has to be directly attributed to sin in his life or because of a lack of faith. I said it before, but it bears repeating: If I knew that God was bragging about me to his angels like he bragged about Job, I'd be thrilled. Jesus also was confronted with this theological error by his disciples and specifically refuted it.

So how do we interpret these “promises”? Simply put, they're the natural course of events in a godly life. Think about it. Leave out any notion of direct Divine intervention for a moment. If you’re following God’s path, then you’re going to exhibit self-discipline in your spending habits. You won’t have to “keep up with the Joneses,” and will have more money in your bank account than if you were self-indulgent. You’ll stick to his plan regarding sexuality (celibacy until marriage, faithfulness afterward). You’ll avoid things that poison your body like smoking or drunkenness. You will, in general, have a good reputation for honesty, especially in the business world. You will, therefore, tend to be healthier and wealthier than if you don't stick to God’s plan. This all makes sense, right?

But of course things do happen. For one reason or another, our Father might allow the Enemy to buffet us. Believers all over the world are persecuted and lose their possessions, their health, their reputations (due to slander), and even their lives--so much for that long lifespan!!! But in general, these are the common benefits of wisdom, of cultivating a close relationship with our Savior. And that’s not even getting to the really good stuff, the spiritual benefits that are ours in Christ.

Lord Jesus, there are so many wonderful benefits to following you, and nothing really to lose. Nothing worth keeping, anyway. It’s ALL rubbish compared to knowing you.

[March 4] Some Thoughts On Guidance

Prov. 2:1-10

I know, I know. We read this yesterday. Once again, I had another major point to make regarding this passage, and I was running out of room. Since we’re going to be studying a book on wisdom, I thought it might behoove us to take a moment to look at the issue of guidance in our decisions.

We talked a bit about this a year ago, so I’ll briefly summarize the fourfold process. First and foremost is God’s word. I don’t mean a verse or two, but a systematic method of reading the entire Bible through from cover to cover. Second is prayer, specifically asking for wisdom and guidance. James promises us that if we ask, he’ll give us what we need to know. Third is good counsel from godly sources, especially from believers who are more mature and knowledgeable than you. And fourth--although this might sound crazy coming from me—do what you want!

Considering how much I harp on how easy it is to deceive yourself, how can I possibly say this? Based on what I’ve seen from Scripture, God can actually work through our desires. But it’s based on two major conditions which must must must be met! First, you need to consult all the other sources. We’re assuming that it’s completely in line with what his word clearly says, that you’ve honestly sought for his guidance through prayer, and that godly mature believers affirm the direction you’re inclined to go.

The second is mentioned in today’s passage. Verses 6-8 hold a glorious promise for us, but it’s conditional on our behavior. He promises to give us the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that we need. But he promises to guard our course and protect our way, and he'll grant us victory and will be our shield. But what do we need to do? Our part is to be “upright,” “blameless,” “just,” and “faithful.” Just to clarify, this is not talking about sinlessness. If is was, there'd be no point, since none of us would qualify. But what’s the general direction of your life? Are you “keeping short accounts” with God? By this I mean the process of A) Asking him to point out any unconfessed sin, B) Confessing it, and C) Taking steps to deal with it. Also, are there no unresolved issues between you and another human being, specifically some way in which you’ve wronged them and failed to make it right?

If you have done these things on a regular basis, then I'd say that you qualify for being called “blameless,” “upright,” etc. Now, let’s think about it for a minute. If you're following Christ on a consistent basis and keeping short accounts, then what happens if you made a wrong choice? What if you made a completely innocent mistake about God’s will? Then he’ll change your course for you! That’s what happened to David, remember? David was planning on building a temple, and told Nathan the prophet about his plans. The next day Nathan came back to him and said, in effect, “This is what God says: You had a great idea, but I’m changing your plans. You won’t build the temple, but your son will.” And the king happily changed his plans to fit his Lord's.

So to boil it down, just concentrate on doing what you know you ought to be doing, and let him take care of the rest. If you happen to make an honest mistake, he’ll change your course. Now, doesn’t that take the pressure off a bit?

Father, so often it’s not that I don’t know what to do. Most of the time it’s that I don’t want to do it. Please forgive me, and give me the grace I need.

[March 3] How Much Do You Want It?

Prov. 2:1-10

Imagine for a moment that I came to you with a little secret. Suppose I told you that before you bought your home, the previous owners hid a stash of gold pieces in their backyard, and it’s still out there. You don’t know exactly where, but you know that it’s buried somewhere in your yard. We both know that you'd break out the shovel and pick and immediately tear up your yard until you find it, right?

Yesterday we talked about the negative consequences of not seeking wisdom. But there are a lot of benefits to it as well. We’ll talk about some of those in the next few days, but for today I’d like to talk about the image in this passage. I’m reminded of two of Jesus’ parables, found in Matt. 13:44-46. He told about a man who had found a treasure out in a field and emptied out his life savings in order to buy it. The other short story told of a merchant who found a rare and valuable pearl. Once again, the man gave up everything he had in order to obtain his prize.

I know I’m repeating myself here, but it’s important: I believe that we’re saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. So what's the Lord trying to tell us through these images? Not that we’re saved by giving up our possessions, but that no matter what we do give up for the Kingdom, it’ll be more than worth it. God will—in the end—be the debtor of no man.

So what's the Lord offering to us here, and how do we get it? We noted on the 1st that wisdom is not learning a new set of facts as much as it's getting to know a Person, deepening your relationship with him. As we spend more time with him and become more like him, we’ll grow in wisdom, which will include the benefits we talked about a couple of days ago (knowledge, prudence, insight, etc.).

So what is Solomon calling for here? What type of effort is described? Let’s get a quick summary of what’s involved:

• “Store up my commands”—memorize Scripture
• “Turning your ear to wisdom”—Listening to God’s word as it's being taught
• “Call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding”—Pleading with God for it like your life depends on it
• “Look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure”—Studying God’s word in depth, not giving up until you’ve got all he has for you

Do you get the impression that he’s calling for more than five minutes a day in reading a couple of verses? A little more than praying over your meal? Again, if I told you about that sack of gold pieces in your yard, how much effort would you put into it?

Father, your word is so precious to me. . . or is it? May my schedule and everything else about me show just how much I value listening to you first above everything else. 

[March 2] Seeking Wisdom

Prov. 1:20-33

Please forgive me if you’ve heard this one, but it’s old enough that it actually might be new to you. A policeman is walking down a street on patrol at night. He spots a man bent over under a bright streetlight, and the guy’s obviously looking for something. The cop comes over to him and asks if he can be of any help. “No thanks,” the man answers, “I’m just looking for my car keys.” “When did you last see them?” “I pulled them out of my pocket in front of O’Malley’s down the block, and I probably dropped them there.” “So why would you be looking for them on this spot?” “The light’s better here.”

I was thinking of that story while reading today’s passage. If you asked most people if they want wisdom, there’s probably no one who'd tell you “No.” But then the next obvious question is “Are you looking for it in the right place?” It’s no good if you’re searching for it in an “easy” spot if it’s nowhere near where you lost it.

And the sad irony here is that—in a sense—it’s not that difficult to find. God has revealed himself through his word and through his Son, so there’s no excuse for any of us. That’s what vs. 20 is saying when it says that “wisdom” (a personification of God’s invitation) is calling “on top of the wall” (or "on a street corner" depending on your translation), and is raising “her voice in the public square.” She’s not hidden away in some dark corner somewhere. Yes, there are aspects of our faith which are difficult to understand, and which people on the outside can’t grasp. But all of God’s message, everything we need for this life and the next one, is easily accessible. I know you're probably sick of hearing it, but my favorite saying from Alistair Begg: "The main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things."

Another thing I get from this passage is that there are dire consequences to not seeking God’s wisdom while it can be found. If we don’t listen to “her” voice while she’s speaking, it'll come back to bite us later. The passage speaks in general terms like “disaster,” “calamity,” “distress,” and “trouble,” but if you’ve read the Bible, you know how the story ends. This is not a nice option for us to take advantage of. Once the consequences come upon us, we’ll try to find her and will end up crying out for her in vain.

What’s the point here? We need to seek God’s wisdom now. Not tomorrow. Not when we’ll get around to it. Now.

Maybe someone who’s reading this has never received Christ as your Lord and Savior. If so, then this message is particularly crucial for you. The wisest thing for you to do is to place your trust in him alone for salvation and surrender to him. Please read this.

Or maybe you are a believer, and you know that you’ve been making some bad decisions in your life lately. You know better. Before we get to the specifics of the book of Proverbs, you need to surrender that part of your life to him. Why should he give you any special instructions while you’re being openly disobedient to what he's told everyone?

God’s word, personified by lady Wisdom, is calling out for you. Don’t walk past her. Please.

Lord Jesus, I’m listening. Please give me ears to hear, and a soft heart that’s easy to penetrate. Most of the time, it’s not some special revelation that I need. I just need to start doing what you’ve already told me to do. By your grace.

[March 1]--What’s The Point Of This?

Prov. 1:1-7

I know that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. I really believe that. But I don’t think it’s wrong to have a favorite book of the Bible. I’ve really looked forward to this point in the TAWG Blog, because Proverbs is, without a doubt, my favorite book of the O.T. God has a lot to teach us from this little portion of his word. For the next couple of months, we’re going to examine it and the other wisdom books.

The book is divided by 31 chapters, but studying it is a little more difficult than for others. The reason for this is because it’s organized very differently. You can easily outline the book of Romans or Genesis. Proverbs, however, has at least a dozen distinct topics, and much of the time there’s no rhyme or reason to them. You might find a proverb about marriage right next to a proverb about lying right next to a proverb about money right next to a proverb about death. That’s why we’re going to tackle it topically.

The first few verses tell us why we're here, and why this is so important. The book is associated heavily with wisdom, and it’s crucial that we understand what that is. It’s not “book smarts” or intelligence. PhD’s might get an “F” in this course.

Let’s a take a quick summary of what else wisdom entails. It involves “insight” into life, meaning you’ll understand life better. You won’t be fooled as much by appearances and what’s on the surface. It involves self-discipline, gaining control of yourself and not giving in to destructive impulses. There’s definitely a moral dimension to it: “What is right and just and fair.” It also includes “prudence,” which is defined by Webster’s as “sagacity or shrewdness in the management of affairs” and “skill and good judgment in the use of resources.” There’s also a willingness and ability to grow, to be able and willing to listen to God as he speaks to us through various means (vs. 5).

And finally in this passage there’s the most important ingredient. Wisdom is found not in learning a series of facts so much as it is in relating to a person. Christ is the Incarnation of God’s wisdom, his wisdom made flesh. As we get to know him better and become more like him, we’ll grow in wisdom.

Is this what you want for yourself? For your children? Do you want a successful marriage? A more fulfilling work experience? To know how to manage your money better? How to keep your foot out of your mouth? Then let’s dive in. But before we do, let's take a moment to bask in a great introductory song to this: "The Way Of Wisdom" by Michael Card. I sure wish I could even approach how well he says this.

Lord Jesus, please fill me with you. I need your wisdom, your guidance so badly. Please make me more like you.

[Feb 28]--Some Thoughts On Worship

Psalm 150

Since this is the last Psalm and the entire Psalter is traditionally considered a book of hymns, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to present some notes on worship from this passage.

First, worship is based upon who God is and what he’s done (vss.1-2). Literally the word comes from an Old English word meaning “worth-ship.” In other words, it’s declaring the “worth” of God, which of course is infinite and immeasurable. We can make a distinction between praise and thanksgiving which is valid, but for believers they are inseparably related. Angels can sing God’s praises regarding his power, his justice, his holiness, his wisdom, etc., but only we--as redeemed blood-bought children of God--can thank him for turning those attributes toward us in our favor. In his love and grace and mercy, he's freely chosen to display his power, his justice, his wisdom and his other attributes by saving us.

Second, the call to worship is a call to dedicate everything over to him. If you’ve already had this pointed out, then I apologize, but it’s pretty interesting to me. Verses 3-5 call us to worship him using trumpets, harps and lyres, tambourines, flutes and cymbals. Basic music 101 tells that there are three categories of musical instruments, and everything falls into one or more of these: strings, wind, and percussion. In those three short verses you see all three represented. In other words, all types of musical instruments are to be used in his service.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Psalmist also mentions “dancing.” The last verse also hints at singing as well. Using musical instruments is fine, but we shouldn’t neglect using the human body in the worship of our God. You might not be able to play a guitar or drums or a flute, but that does not in any way let you off the hook when it comes to involvement. This isn’t a call to letting chaos reign in a church service, but it does summon audience participation. The idea of professional musicians being set aside for full-time worship has precedent in Scripture, but they were always meant to lead worship. The idea that God’s people are supposed to treat worship like a football game, with a majority of laity watching the professionals do it and cheering them on, is not supported by his word.

And that segues right into my final point on worship. The last verse of the Psalter is a call for everyone to add their voice to the chorus. Do you have breath in your body? Well, who do you think put it there? Paul tells us that our Lord is the source of “life and breath and everything else.” If you have breath within you, then that breath needs to be used in praise of our Savior God.

So how about you? Have you been content to “sit on the sidelines” and let the professionals do everything? Or are you an active participant in the praise of our King, declaring to fellow believers and to the assembled angels the “worth-ship” of our Savior?

Father, Son, and Spirit, you are worthy of all praise and honor and thanksgiving and obedience. May every cell of my body, may my every thought and word and action be used in the worship of you and bring a smile to your face. 

[Feb 27]--Some Thoughts on Accountability

Psalm 141

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: Sin is inherently deceitful. It fogs the mind and keeps you from objectively weighing costs and benefits. In a way, it's like the deadliest of addictive drugs: The more you indulge, the less sensitive you are to its deadly effects. As C. S. Lewis said, there's only been one Man in the history of humanity who's ever really understood the full power of sin. Lewis compared it to the Nazi army—You don’t find out how powerful it is by giving in to it, but by resisting it. Therefore, our Lord is the only one who's completely clear-headed when it comes to this subject. That’s why today’s reading is so useful, especially vss. 3-5. Let’s examine it in some more detail, shall we?

The Psalmist (David according to the superscript) starts out with a prayer concerning his mouth. Like James said, “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” Of course, none of us actually can meet that benchmark, so none of us are perfect. But it’s an important standard for which to strive. I think that all of us could stand to repeat this prayer, early and often.

Next he got to the heart of the matter, literally. He knew, just like our Savior, that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Why did he ask God to not let his heart be drawn to evil? Because unless the Lord directs our hearts, that’s the natural direction we’ll go. And it doesn’t just affect our speech—Solomon said that everything we do flows from the heart, so we need to guard it carefully.

I love how he characterizes temptation, by the way: “delicacies.” Sin always looks good, like your favorite type of candy. To our sinful nature, it’s really attractive. I think that a good cure would be the ability to see sin the way our Lord sees it.

And then we come to another mark of the psalmist’s spiritual maturity. It’s never fun to have someone else criticize you, even if it’s completely justified and completely necessary. Notice how he viewed it. He compares it to “striking” him, which would be pretty painful. But to him, it was a kindness, something a friend would do for another friend as a favor. He even compared it to “oil on [his] head,” which could be in the medicinal sense or an honor you bestow on a beloved friend. Either way, he sees "tough love" as a benefit, not something to avoid.

On a final note, we need to remember the context of this passage. When he wrote this, he wasn’t sitting at home alone in luxury, like when he fell into sin with Bathsheba. From the rest of the Psalm, it’s pretty clear that he was in danger from physical enemies, which was the setting for most of his writings. When the pressure was on, and he didn’t know whom to trust, he wanted to make sure that he didn’t end up bringing dishonor upon his Lord by giving into sin. If only he had kept this resolve in his later years, once things had calmed down a bit, he could've saved himself a lot of heartache. We’re usually at our best when there’s a bit of pressure on us, aren’t we?

There’s a lot of good teaching from this Psalm, so I’ll leave it to you how best to apply it. For me, I think turning vss. 3-4 into personal prayers would be a good start.

Lord Jesus, I want to see sin the way you do. To you, it’s not a “delicacy.” It’s what nailed you to the cross. Please cleanse out my heart, and let that cleansing overflow into a mouth that honors and pleases you.

[Feb 26]--Omnipresence—So What?

Psalm 139

Theologians use a lot of jargon which most people outside the field don’t recognize, but most Christians--if they’re familiar with the Bible--are at least familiar with the three big “O’s.” You probably know what I’m referring to: omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. But I’m what you might call a practical theologian, which means if it doesn’t affect my daily walk with Christ or how I’m supposed to act, I don’t spend a lot of time on it.

Psalm 139 has long been regarded as an all-important description of God’s omnipresence (the fact that he’s everywhere at once). But what difference does it make to me?

The reason why I love this passage so much is because it personalizes this aspect of him so well. The God that’s presented here is very different from the image that some people have of him. To a lot of people, God is “out there” somewhere, and he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about what happens to me in my personal life. Or even if he does, he certainly doesn’t care about the “little” things that I do or what happen to me.

But look again at the God pictured in this Psalm. He’s everywhere, yes, but even more important, he’s here with me. He’s not just concerned about the “big” issues, like life and death. He’s watching when I “sit” and when I “rise.” What’s more mundane than that? Every word I’m about to utter, including “I’ll take the Diet Coke, please” at McDonald’s, is already known to him. On a much smaller scale, you can compare it to a parent’s observation of his child before he’s about to talk. As far as a first-time parent’s concerned, there ARE no insignificant words coming out of that infant’s mouth.

And this personalized attention began long before we even knew anything about him. Before we said our first words, before we were laid into a baby bassinet, he was there. In fact, he was there with us in our mother’s womb. I love the image here. The first couple chapters of Genesis tell us that we’re all created by him, but this is so much more. . . intimate. When we look at a crowd of people, it’s easy to think of them as mass-produced. But not according to David. We are, each one of us, “woven together” in our mother’s womb. That’s infinite care, like the type an artist displays when he’s working on his masterpiece.

Per usual, C.S. Lewis put it best:

We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.

And we can’t get away from this attention, even if we wanted to! That’s where his omnipresence really kicks in—No matter where we go, from the highest heights to the lowest depths, he’s there. His eye is always on us, even when we’re completely unaware of it (which is actually most of the time).

So to sum up, what does this mean to me? Because of what I’ve learned here, there are no

• Insignificant moments
• Insignificant thoughts
• Insignificant words
• Insignificant people (me, or anyone else)

This could be infinitely comforting or infinitely scary. Which one depends on. . . my choices.

And now for your pleasure, here's "You Are There" by Ashely Cleveland, which expresses these thoughts so well.

Father, you are with me, everywhere I go. Please help me to remember that. For good or ill, you’re always watching. I’m never alone.

[Feb 25]--Forgiveness And Fear

Psalm 130

Throughout its 2,000 year-long history, the church has struggled to find the balance between extremes. Martin Luther, the great Reformer, compared us to a drunkard who tries to mount a horse: He falls off one side, determines not to do it again, then falls off the other side. The extremes I’m talking about today concern the issue of sin and forgiveness. On one side you have legalism (epitomized by the Pharisees), which basically tries to earn God’s approval by what you do. It majors on externals and forgets how dependant we are on his grace. The opposite error is antinomianism. It’s a long term, but it’s well worth learning, since I believe it’s infected much of American Christianity. It comes from the Greek word nomos, meaning “law.” So literally it’s “anti-law.” This is the heretical belief that once you’ve placed your faith in Christ, you don’t have to be concerned about living a holy life or pleasing him. It’s summed up by the statement “I’ve been forgiven, so now I can live however I please.”

Today’s passage, particularly vss. 3-4 provides a corrective to both errors. Verse 3 provides a great declaration of the universality of sin. Of course, we need to take it context. The rest of Scripture makes clear that he is keeping a record of sins. I think that what the Psalmist is referring to is the possibility of God acting on those records. Psalm 103 says that he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. If he did, if he announced that starting at midnight tonight everyone would get exactly what they deserve, who would still be standing at one minute past?

Then we get to the kicker. In fact, we might've found another one of my beloved “tension” verses. Remember what we said about the “fear of the Lord” around this time last year? When we talk about the “fear” of something, we usually mean it in the sense of being afraid of something, trying to avoid it. But the Bible, especially the O.T., means something very different by the term. It’s a reverence mixed with awe mixed with a desire to know him and please him. To quote Ruby Shelly again from last year, it’s “not dread but astonishment. Not terror but reverence. Not shaking-in-your-boots panic, but enraptured-with-love fascination.”

Do you see the paradox, why I love this verse so much? Even with this enlightened understanding of the concept, what do you think would inspire us to fear him? His power, his majesty, his omnipotence, his omniscience, his holiness? The fact that one day all of creation will stand before him to be judged? Absolutely. But there’s something more. It’s his forgiveness, his grace, his mercy, his kindness to us which leads to fear of him. When we see how much we’ve sinned and how much he’s forgiven forever, never to be brought up again, then we experience the fear of him. It’s when we contemplate what it took for him to be able to do this, that’s when we fear him.

Father God, words utterly fail me right now. I just want to bow down in worship of you. With you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared.

[Feb 24]--Ankle-Biters!!!

Psalm 127-128

Yes, I know that we read Psalm 127 yesterday, but there’s another major subject raised by this passage that I thought needed to be addressed today.

There are a few moral issues on which American culture and the Bible heartily disagree, and I would nominate the top two as sex and kids. Try to find anyone--outside of Bible-believing circles--that agrees that all sex outside marriage is wrong, and you have a long search ahead. And once you get past the blather from politicians about how “Children are our future,” you’ll find that 1) how most secular people view children, and 2) how the Bible views children, are very different.

Some of this is actually a sign of how the extremes of the environmental movement have influenced our thinking. Remember what we said about it a week ago? Due to missing out on the truth of Gen. 1-3, they don’t understand that every single human being is created in God’s image. If you don’t get that, and you believe that this world is all we have (thus denying the afterlife), then it’s easy to fall into misanthropy and see people in general as a parasite on the ecosystem. From there many people make the not-so-great leap that this world would do a lot better off with a lot less people.

Another reason why secular people (and by that I mean people who get their worldview from the prevailing culture, not the Bible) have such an antipathy towards children is, quite frankly, selfishness. They're enjoying a self-indulgent lifestyle, and children would provide a real hindrance to that. They don’t want to be around kids at all, much less be parents. Just a clue: If they refer to children as “ankle-biters,” I think that’s a hint as to their attitude.

Can I be perfectly honest here? I completely, wholeheartedly disagree with the environmental extremism, but there’s a small part of me, purely emotion-based, which sympathizes with the second group. I enjoy intellectual pursuits, and I like consuming TV shows and movies which are geared towards adults. I’ve been exposed to “Barney” and other like-minded shows, and when I do I feel my brain leaking out my ears. I realize that once my wife and I have children, then sacrifices will have to be made, and there’s a selfish part of me that rebels against it.

But how does God's word view them? I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover several times, and I can tell you that children are always seen as a blessing, never as a curse. The only exceptions I can think of are from the book of Proverbs, such as the verses which warn about a child rebelling and/or going astray, such as this one. But that's the result of a rebellious child, not an indication of the intrinsic worth of the child himself. In and of himself, a child is an incredible blessing from the Lord, as today’s passage indicates. Maybe we don’t say out loud that children are a curse, but sometimes they feel like a burden we have to carry.

So when the Bible’s view of something and my emotional reaction to that same thing are different, that what do you think needs to change? I heard my pastor once point out that, humanly speaking, Christianity is always one generation away from extinction. For those who read this as parents, the Lord has honored you with the most awe-inspiring responsibility: the chance to have a part in shaping the future of the world and the church. And for those of us who don’t have children (like myself, for now), we still have responsibilities. Every child we have contact with on a regular basis is watching us. If they know that we’re Christians, then they’re learning about the Father from us. If we see them as interruption of whatever we’re doing, then they get a sense of how valuable they are to us. And we worship a Savior who, when the disciples thought he was too busy for children and were turning them away, got angry with his disciples. Does our treatment of children reflect his heart?

Lord Jesus, you value every child. The child that’s about to step on my last nerve, the child who’s about to drive me to the loony bin, you regard as more precious than your life’s blood. May I see them the way you see them, please.

[Feb 23]--Buildings and Guards

Psalm 127

A few days ago I mentioned how I like “tension” verses—verses in which two opposite Biblical truths are held in tension in order to provide the perfect balance for us. I would submit that 127:1 is one of the great ones, and it holds a great depth of meaning for us.

When it comes to getting things done in God’s kingdom, there are two extremes into which we can fall. On one side you might find people in the “faith” column. When confronted with a problem, they want to pray about it and trust God to work everything out. Their favorite passage might be Eph 2:8-9—“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” or Psalm 46:10—“Be still and know that I am God.” On the other side you might see people in the “do” column. When told we’re going to call for a prayer meeting, their initial response is “Enough praying, let’s just DO what God wants!” They love passages like James 2:14-26—“faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Do you see why God’s word provides such a perfect balance for us? To the first group it tells them “Yes, the Lord builds the house, but you do too. He’s not going to build it for you. Yes, he guards over the city, but the verse is assuming that you have human guards as well.” To the second group the verse says “Unless the Lord is behind what you’re doing, you’re wasting your time at best. At worst you’ll actually be working against his purposes, and only a fool wants that.” One of the best examples I’ve seen of this balance is Nehemiah. When he returned to Jerusalem to start rebuilding the city wall, he encountered violent opposition from Israel’s enemy neighbors. So what did they do? They “prayed to [their] God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

This principle of “prayer and work” can be applied to so many areas of life, it’s almost uncanny. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I totally believe Eph. 2:8-9. We're saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing. But he expects fruit to come out of our salvation. And this principle especially applies in the area of sanctification, the process of growing to be like Christ in your daily life. He gives us the resources to grow closer to him: his word, prayer, church fellowship, church leadership, and particularly the work of his Spirit within us. But we have to use them, otherwise they’ll do no good.

It’s also found in the area of church growth. As I write this, our church is on the cusp of a large evangelistic outreach campaign. Unless the Lord “builds” the house, we’ll accomplish nothing and I want no part of it. We desperately need to pray for wisdom, strength, the work of the Spirit on unsaved hearts, etc. But he’s not going to do it without us.

When I think about it, this can really be applied in just about every human endeavor. Do I need to find a job? Pray and trust God, and pound the pavement. Do we need to improve our marriage? Pray for God’s blessing on it, and take practical steps to seal up the cracks and strengthen the foundation.

So why don’t you and I take a moment to see what areas we’re not following this balance in our lives?

Lord Jesus, I tend to be lazy and wait for you to do something when you’ve already done everything you’re going to do. Please give me the strength to do what you want me to do.

[Feb 22]--Sowing and Reaping

Psalm 126

Unlike what you might think on Monday morning, work itself is not a result of the Curse on our first parents. Before the Fall, God gave them an assignment to tend his Garden. But it’s a sad fact that one result of sin is futile work. Work was never supposed to be back-breaking, or with a low rate of return, or a waste of time. But because of one foolish decision, our sowing and reaping sometimes produces thorns.

And unfortunately, that futility overshadows most human endeavors. Men build a home, a city, an empire, only to have it eventually collapse into dust and ashes. I think one of the great conceits of modern Americans is the foolish notion that this nation will last forever. When you compare this country’s history to a timeline of human existence, it’s barely a “blip.” On Wall Street, companies and corporations which were at the top of their game a few generations ago are now fading into the background or completely gone.

It can be especially tragic in the “micro” level. Starting around the latter part of 2008, we began to see some major problems in the housing/banking industry. These fault-lines were eventually revealed to run throughout our entire economic structure. It’s one thing to laugh at big “fat cat” bankers who lost their shirts, but we quickly learned that in this modern economy we’re all connected, and it’s impossible for one section to fall apart without all of us getting hurt. And since a majority of Americans have some type of investment in the Stock Market for their retirement, thousands of people who'd meticulously planned for their sunset years found all their savings were gone. All their financial hopes and dreams—gone.

But there’s good news. It doesn’t have to be that way. And that’s what today’s reading, particularly the last two verses, reminds us. The setting for this Psalm apparently was a return from Exile, but we’re not exactly sure of the date. The Lord, because of their rebellion and sin, had given them over to their enemies who had carried them away from their homeland.

Now they were allowed to return, and they were so awe-struck that it was like a “dream” to them. Their mouths were filled with laughter and songs of joy, and even the pagan nations around them were noticing how good the Lord was to them. It’s a Psalm of Ascension, so this would be very poignant—this is a song to be sung as you approach Jerusalem for worship.

Now here comes the punchline. They had surely thought that they would be experiencing nothing but tears for the remainder of their lives. They had gone out to the “fields” of life and sown their seeds while weeping, anticipating that nothing would come of it. And. . . surprise!!! The gracious and compassionate God had turned their sounds of weeping into joyful songs of worship. They'd come back in from the fields carrying sheaves of a fruitful harvest.

Maybe someone who’s reading this feels like those workers. You’ve sowed seeds, and sowed seeds, and then sowed some more seeds, and it looks like you’ve wasted your time. You haven’t, if you’ve been doing it for him. Hold onto Hebrews 6:10 and don’t let go: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” Or maybe you need to reread 1 Cor. 15:58—“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” In due time, in his timing, you’ll bring those sheaves in, and this’ll be your testimony too: “The Lord has done great things for [me], and [I’m] filled with joy!”

Father, it’s so hard sometimes. Please give me the strength to keep working in the fields until you’re ready to give me the harvest. And patience too, please?

[Feb 21]--Protection

Psalm 121

If you’re as familiar with Christian music as I am, then you’ve probably heard at least one version of this Psalm set to music. I myself have heard at least three. It’s a beautiful passage, reminding us of God’s protection. Let’s examine it for a bit, shall we?

You’ll notice that according to the superscription it’s a “Song of Ascents.” What does that mean? The ancient Hebrews were commanded by God, no matter where they lived, to make their way to Jerusalem at least three times a year for a nation-wide festival/holiday: Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths. Jerusalem is set on top of a mountain (Mount Zion, of course), so as they ascended it and saw the city of David, these Psalms with this superscription were the traditional songs to sing with your caravan.

That’s what makes the 1st verse so poignant. As the singer climbed these hills, he saw a lot of awe-inspiring creation. But he knew that his help came from no other source but his Creator. Considering that the first singers of this Psalm were climbing a mountain, it’s quite possible that the author was being quite literal when he was talking about protection against someone’s foot slipping.

But of course we can apply this passage in the spiritual realm as well. He’s watching us as we make our pilgrimage to our Final Home. He’ll make sure that our foot doesn’t slip, no matter what the Enemy puts in our path.

Whenever I read vs. 4, I always have to chuckle a bit, since it reminds me of Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Remember how he taunted them about the impotence of Baal? “Shout louder. . . Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” In stark contrast to Baal, who has to be woken up by the shouts of his followers, our God never sleeps. He's always watching over us. While you’re sleeping, he’s not. He hears the whispered prayers of the humblest of his children. In fact, you don’t have to speak out loud at all. And as verse 6 indicates, it’s round-the-clock protection.

And it’s not just physical. The word for “life” in vs. 7 is literally “soul,” so a lot of commentators interpret this to mean the entire person, including the spiritual. Naturally this makes sense: Why would he protect us from physical harm but not defend us in the other realm?

There are a lot of ways to apply the last verse, and none of them have to contradict the others. The first meaning was that in all the travelers of these pilgrims, both as they entered Jerusalem and as they left, he would watch over them. He also watches us in the “comings and goings” of daily life. And as you “come” into this life until you “go” into the next one, he’s watching as well. And if you’re his child, he’ll welcome you home.

Now for your enjoyment, here's Eden's Bridge's version of Psalm 121.

Father, I thank you for watching me. I have NO idea how many times, just today, you protected me from harm. You’re my loving Father, and I’m looking forward to making that last stage of the journey so I can see your face.

[Feb 20]--Hooray!!!

Psalm 119:65-80

Aren’t you glad that I didn’t ask you to read the entire 119th Psalm today? It’s got 176 verses, so most people don’t prefer to read it in one sitting. I understand their feelings, but it really is a great Psalm to read, even if you do it in portions. Due to the acrostic nature of the Psalm (read the footnotes if you’re not familiar with this), it’s obvious that the author put a lot of time and effort into it. The longest chapter in the Bible, it’s basically a love poem written to God’s word. It uses eight different words for it, and most of the time the author uses each of these terms within an eight-verse segment. You can see how these Hebrew words for his revelation are translated in several different ways: “Law,” “Commands,” “Decrees,” “Precepts,” etc. But no matter how you translate it, the meaning is still much the same. He’s eternally grateful for God’s written revelation to us.

But I'd like to point out three verses within the reading today, since they have a good reminder for us. The author loves God’s word and wants very strongly to obey his instructions. In fact, this overwhelming desire drips off nearly every verse. But he’s definitely not sinless. This fact shows up even in the last verse, but it’s really on display in the selected passage. Notice vss. 67, 71, and 75. See the pattern? In each verse the Psalmist observes that he'd been going astray, and the Lord used affliction to bring him back on course. Now he was obeying God’s word as never before. Now he was learning his decrees. In vs. 75 he even goes so far as to thank the Lord for afflicting him in “faithfulness.”

This goes against every natural instinct we have, doesn’t it? Our entire economy is based upon the desire to avoid inconvenience, much less real suffering. If we have to wait for 20 minutes for our food to be prepared, we impatiently complain. If we have to undergo any physical discomfort, we do everything in our power to alleviate it. Notice that I said “we,” not “you.” I certainly include myself in this description.

And is that wrong? Since we see the spiritual benefits of suffering, then should we go out of our way to deprive ourselves? Should we become ascetic monks, forgoing any physical pleasure? Are painkillers sinful or a sign of a lack of trust in God? When we go through this type of experience, should we shout “Hooray for affliction!”? I don’t think so. The desire to avoid pain is natural, and not everything that’s natural is sinful.

But I think the question is, “How do we view affliction/suffering?” Is it something that we avoid at all costs? Is it something that we should rail against God about? I think that we need, above all, to submit to the Father’s plan. If he decides that I need to be deprived of some things, then that’s up to him. If he allows me to get a better lifestyle, then there’s nothing wrong with that.

And when we do suffer, we need to first and foremost ask God if he’s trying to get our attention about something. Incorporate Psalm 139:23-24 in your prayer life on a regular basis, but especially if things are going really badly for you. If he doesn’t point out any particular sin, then ask him to use this time to draw you closer to him. If nothing else, use this time to learn to depend on him instead of your own resources.

I promise you, he’s not doing this because of any lack of love on his part. Everything that happens to you is filtered through his perfect loving plan. He loves you, and he'll bring you through this, one way or another. If you let him.

Lord Jesus, I thank you for carrying me every step of the way, even when I have to go through some really painful experiences. Thank you for giving me what I need, whatever that is.