The Wisdom Dialog

Wisdom can be defined as the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement. I would describe wisdom as the ability to apply knowledge through experience. Wisdom is a valuable commodity, a wise person is able to make good, sound decisions and solve problems because of the combination of experience, knowledge and judgement they possess.

The Bible is full of references to wisdom, especially the book of Proverbs. Proverbs chapter 8 tells us wisdom is something to be pursued and personifies wisdom as a literary tool. Verses 32 – 36 contain a statement as though wisdom is addressing us.

“Now therefore, O sons, listen to me,
For blessed are they who keep my ways.
Heed instruction and be wise,
And do not neglect it.
Blessed is the man who listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at my doorposts.
For he who finds me finds life
And obtains favor from the Lord.
But he who sins against me injures himself;
All those who hate me love death.”

Of all the people of the Bible, or even all of history, perhaps no one is more well known for wisdom than Solomon. In 1 Kings 3:9 Solomon is praying to God and makes His request. Solomon says, “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” Another translation uses discerning heart rather than understanding heart. Solomon was a great leader for his nation because he had the ability to make good decisions based on an internal understanding or discernment.

Today we need wisdom more than at any time during my lifetime. As we pray for wisdom what we should be asking for is the same thing Solomon asked for, a discerning heart. For a long time, I viewed praying for wisdom the same as praying that God would grant me the ability to make good decisions. I was essentially asking God to make me more able to make sound judgements within myself. This view of wisdom essentially says, “God, download into me what I need to make good decisions on my own.” Taken further, it is like asking “God enhance my ability to succeed on my own, without You.” Of course when I prayed for wisdom I didn’t think in those terms, but my view of wisdom was flawed.

Wisdom is better seen as something we access than something we possess. Wisdom is not a download, it is a dialog. Asking God to download wisdom into my head or heart is a bit like the prodigal son asking for his inheritance so he could go off away from the father and live. Rather than asking God for a download of wisdom, I’ve started asking God for a dialog of wisdom. Increasingly, I don’t see wisdom as something to get FROM Him but rather something to get WITH Him.

I don’t want to enhance my ability to succeed without Him, I want to enhance my capacity to live with Him. I want wisdom to flow, in real-time, from God’s heart to mine. I want wisdom to be an outflow of my relationship with Him, not merely a compilation of experience and knowledge that I’ve gained on my own. Wisdom is just another attribute of Jesus’ statement in John 15:4, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

Decide today to increase your communication with your Father God, rely on Him, abide in Him and draw your wisdom from Him, not from your own life. Wisdom is a dialog, not a download. It is a continual conversation born of relationship, not a one time impartation.

Don’t Let Your Love Cool

Many people are familiar with the idea that the Bible tells us “the love of many will grow cold”. I have long been aware of the verse and kind of just assumed that Jesus was referring to some future event people could use as a sign before His return and that was about it. Here is Jesus speaking in Matthew 24.

Matthew 24:12 (NKJV Strong’s)
And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

What I had missed with this verse is there is a definite cause and effect relationship being presented by Jesus. He tells us that it is because of lawlessness that love grows cold. I did a little digging into this and found an interesting lesson. The Greek word for “grow cold” is based on the idea of blowing on something hot to cool it off. The picture in my head upon discovering this was a hot bowl of soup which has to be cooled before eating. When eating hot soup, I’ll bring a spoonful up to my mouth and blow on it before tasting.

That is the picture Jesus chose to illustrate the effect lawlessness can have on our love. This is true today and has always been true. This isn’t something new that will happen before Jesus’s return. It will be more prevalent before He returns but the principle always applies. Lawlessness can dampen love. Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t let lawlessness or chaos or wickedness affect your love for God or your love for your fellow man.

It isn’t enough however to simply not let your love grow cold. Another mental image I had upon thinking about cooling my soup is how I light a fire. We have a fireplace in our living room and on the same kind of chilly winter day when I like hot soup, I also might light a fire. When lighting a fire, I get the kindling lit and then blow on the embers to produce a flame.

Isn’t it interesting that blowing on soup cools it while blowing on embers ignites it into flame? Since we know now that lawlessness produces a wind that can cool your love, make the decision to use that wind to ignite a fire within you instead. Don’t let it cool your love. Don’t let chaos, violence, or any form of lawlessness push you away from love but rather stoke the embers of God’s love which has been poured out into your heart (see Romans 5:5). There is too much as stake, the world needs you.

The God Receiver

There is a brief section in Luke when the infant Jesus was presented at the temple. Part of this section is where we hear about Simeon.

Luke 2:25 (NASB Strong’s)

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

The Greek Orthodox Church honors Simeon with the title “The God Receiver”. I suspect this is because they speak Greek and see a subtlety in this verse we miss. When we see the word “looking” they see προσδέχομαι which of course means look but also alludes to receiving. Simeon wasn’t just looking, he was actively expecting to receive. (Read here about receiving)

What was he expecting to receive? The consolation of Israel or the comfort of Israel. God being present in the nation in the form of Jesus produced the opportunity for comfort. Today God is still present with us in the form of His Holy Spirit who is called Comforter.

Perhaps when reading about Simeon we could think of the phrase “looking, waiting, and expecting to receive the consolation or comfort of his nation”. Resolve today to follow the pattern of Simeon. Be mindful of of righteousness, hang on and be devout, and look expecting to receive the Comforter who is the Answer for our nation.

Prototype Love

A prototype is defined as a first model of something from which other forms are developed or copied. In manufacturing, the prototype is the original intended to be re-created through mass production. The mass produced versions are intended to be exact copies of the prototype.

On the topic of love, the Apostle John is the most prolific biblical author. The book 1 John is one of the best discourses on God’s kind of love. 1 John 4:19 is clear, “We love because He first loved us.” When John wrote this verse, he used the Greek word protos which is the source for our word “prototype”. God does not merely have love or show love, rather God is love. John assures us of this a few sentences before he tells us that we can love because of God’s original love.

God is love and He loves perfectly. When writing his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that God’s love has been poured out into our hearts.

hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:5

We have God’s perfect love, it has been given us by God who is love. John 3:16 tells us that the outflow of this love is giving for the benefit of the world. It was love that moved the Father to give His Son. This first or prototypical love poured out to us is intended to lead us to give. Just as a prototype is intended to be mass produced, our Father has poured out love into the body of Christ, intending that His love be mass produced for the benefit of the whole world.

His Banner Over Us

I have heard for years that God’s banner over us is love. It is a nice, often repeated sound bite. I had heard it, but until today I didn’t know what it really meant.

When the Old Testament speaks of a “banner” or “standard”, it primarily does so in two books and creates an unlikely link between the two. The Hebrew word for banner, degel, appears only in Numbers and Song of Solomon. It means a flag, banner, or standard. Numbers 1:52 says, “The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies.” Numbers 2:2 goes on to say, “Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house.”

The second chapter of Numbers gives detailed instructions for the placement of the various tribes of Israel as they encamped around the Tabernacle of God’s presence. They knew where to camp by the high and visible placement of their tribe’s banner. The word degel appears again in Numbers chapter 10 as the armies of Israel began to march from Sinai toward the Promised Land. Numbers 10:14 tells us, “The standard of the camp of the children of Judah set our first according to their armies.” Again the banner was held high and directed the people where to march.

Flags and insignias have been associated with military companies for thousands of years. Their purpose is obvious, to identify the group of people who follow behind them. Commanders survey battle fields, using the flags and banners to identify which company is which. Soldiers use their flag as a rallying point. It becomes the thing they head toward during the chaos of battle, the thing that unites a company.

Battle flags are also visible to the enemy and can strike terror into the hearts of a foe when they realize who they face. The flag, banner, or standard is all about identity. It is a compass point to which members of a company align, and tells an enemy exactly who they face. We expect to find the use of military banners in Numbers as the book describes the placement and movement of Israel’s armies.

The poetry of Song of Solomon is a less likely place  to find references to military insignias, but it is the other book with multiple references to these banners. Song of Solomon 6:4 gives an interesting analogy, “You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling, as lovely as Jerusalem, as majestic as troops with banners.” Verse ten goes on to say she is “awesome as an army with banners.” Here Solomon, a king who had led armies, draws on the awe and majesty of a company of soldiers with battle flags flying brightly before them in the breeze to describe the majestic beauty of a woman.

Solomon uses the verb form of degel which means to fly the banner in a way that is conspicuous and bold. Not only is a banner intended as an identifier and unifier, it is also intended to be impossible to ignore. There is to be nothing timid or hidden about a banner. It is to fly high and proud for everyone to see.

The Lord Himself has a banner, one that He raises over us, His people. Imagine how grand and glorious a banner it must be. A banner that unites His people, around which the entire body of Christ can rally. A banner that strikes dread into the heart of an enemy who sees it approaching.

He brought me into the banqueting house,

And His banner over me was love.

Song of Solomon 2:4

Love is our compass, our unifier, our identity, our rallying cry and the sign to our adversary of his eminent defeat. Body of Christ, His banner over us is love.

Establish His Covenant

There is one verse that I’ve probably gone to more than any other regarding money, Deuteronomy 8:18. This verse is a perfect example of how God’s word is living and powerful. As I’ve read it over the years my understanding of it has grown.

And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Deut 8:18 NKJV

When I first read this scripture it told me that God does not have a problem with wealth. Of course the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, but the money itself is only a tool with no inherent morality. This verse plainly says that God is the source of the wealth of His people.

Over time, my focus shifted and I saw that God doesn’t give wealth. Rather, He gives the power to get it. In other words, He gives us the capacity to earn a living and gain wealth. He doesn’t just dump wealth into our laps, He expects our involvement and effort in the process of gaining wealth. Even when He feed His people with manna, He expected them to go out and collect it. This understanding of the verse doesn’t contradict my initial understanding, it builds on it.

From there, my focus shifted again and I saw the relationship between wealth and God’s covenant. When I first looked at this aspect of the verse, I started with the mental picture of God’s covenant which He swore to Abraham as the reason why He gave Abraham’s descendants the power to gain wealth. In other words, my initial impression was the covenant was the cause and the wealth was the effect. Fortunately this impression lasted only a few minutes.

As I dug into it, I found out I had things backwards. The truth is found in God’s covenant with Abraham spelled out in Genesis 12:2-3.

I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Keep in mind, Paul tells us in Galatians 3 that those of us who are in Christ are heirs of this promise. The covenant God is establishing with Abraham and us has three pieces. First God promised to make a great nation out of Abraham. Second, God promised to bless him and make his name great. Genesis tells us why God was going to bless Abraham and why He wants to bless us. It is so we can be a blessing. Third, God promised to treat others based on their treatment of His people and through His people, the entire earth could be blessed.

The problem I had when I first looked at wealth and covenant was this, I saw the establishment of the covenant as the cause of the wealth. In other words, God had promised the power to gain wealth to Abraham and now He was fulfilling that promise. After reading the covenant I noticed God had not obligated Himself to give them the power to gain wealth. The covenant isn’t the cause of the wealth. Instead, just as He expects us to take an active role in gaining the wealth, He also expects us to take an active role in establishing His covenant. Wealth isn’t the end game of Deuteronomy 8:18, the establishment of His covenant is. The wealth is intended to be the cause and the blessing of the entire earth is to be the effect.

That mindset completely changes the perspective on wealth. Suddenly gaining wealth seems like a Godly thing to do because with the correct mindset, wealth is only a tool for bringing about His blessing on the earth. Ask yourself, is your wealth establishing your happiness or is it establishing His purpose of blessing others?


Counterfeit Lion

Are you disturbed by events unfolding in the world around you? I have good news. What is troubling you might be a counterfeit.

What is a counterfeit? Webster’s defines counterfeit as “made in imitation of something else with intent to deceive.” I was doing some reading today in the book of Revelation and noticed something interesting. In Revelation chapter 5, John is describing a vision he had of God holding a scroll that had been sealed with seven seals. There was no one who could open it. John was distressed that the words inside the scroll were inaccessible but was comforted by an elder in the throne room who pointed out the One who had conquered, gaining the right to open the seals. The elder referred to Jesus the Conqueror as “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David.” That is Jesus’ true identity and is descriptive of His power.

When John describes the scene however, the Lion of Judah appears as a “Lamb as though it had been slain.”  The elders (one of whom had just identified Jesus as the Lion) began to sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain”. It seems that Jesus in all His majestic power takes the appearance of, or goes about as, a Lamb.

In contrast to this passage is 1 Peter 5:8 where Peter warns of a deception by our adversary. We are told to be on the look out and stay vigilant because the devil “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour”.  Jesus the Lion of Judah, in whom all authority has been placed, goes about humbly like a Lamb. At the same time our defeated foe goes about deceptively as a lion. He is not a lion, he only impersonates one.

Their is a lot of turmoil in our world today and it could be easy to fall prey to what sounds like a roaring lion. Take heart, the adversary’s roar is only a counterfeit and is easily distinguished from the Lion of Judah who has been doing some roaring of his own lately. If you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe you will certainly recognize, “the Lion is on the move”. We are witnessing a clash of kingdoms before our eyes and the real Lion wins! All the ruckus is an attempt to counter the advance of the Lamb of God as He invades.

Be encouraged by Revelation 5:13.

And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Occupy Till He Comes

In Luke 19 we find a parable of Jesus called the Parable of Minas. In it, the Master (Jesus) entrusts His servants (us) with minas (each mina is equivalent to around 100 days wages). Along with the minas comes the exhortation, “Occupy till I come.” I was curious what exactly Jesus was instructing when He said this, so I dug a little deeper.

And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, ‘Occupy till I come.’

Luke 19:13 KJV

I tend to consider myself a rather practical person. At its core, practicality is the trait of doing. One who is practical doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing the merits of an action or the philosophy behind an action. One who is practical merely does the action. Another word commonly used to describe this type of matter-of-fact, down-to-earth person is pragmatic. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines pragmatic this way.

relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters :  practical as opposed to idealistic

Pragmatism is about doing. We get our English word “pragmatic” from the Greek word πραγματεύομαι (pragmateuomai). Which is defined as “to busy oneself.” It was the term used of ancient merchants when they would trade or exchange goods for profit. In Jesus’ day the term was used for an occupation, exchanging goods and services to see an increase.

When Jesus gave us gifts and told us to “occupy”, He was telling us to remain occupied or to busy ourselves. He expects us to be about His work, taking the gifts He’s given and leveraging them for His profit. He wants to see an increase for His kingdom. Occupy sound like a motionless, static word. We are not called to merely fill a space, we are called to do something productive for His kingdom every where we go, with every person we encounter. We are to be busy, not for business sake, but fruitful.

Are you occupied?

Let Hope Rise

Happy New Year!

I’ve been a (mostly) faithful exerciser for many years. I typically go to the gym over my lunch hour for some cardio or weight training before taking a quick shower and returning to work. There is a small group of guys who are on a similar schedule and we see each other there day after day, year after year. Every January we notice the newcomers who hit the gym, full of good intentions. By the middle of February, the ones who are left are likely to stick with it and the rest have disappeared. There is something about New Year’s Day that spurs optimism and hope.

I recently read comments made by Michelle Obama in light of the recent presidential election. During an interview with Oprah Winfrey the First Lady, obviously no fan of Donald Trump, said this, “We feel the difference now. See, now, we are feeling what not having hope feels like.” My  response to this is that the First Lady has put her in hope in the wrong place. I’m not trying to be critical of Mrs. Obama, you would have to have your head buried in the sand to not see people demonstrating the effects of hopelessness all around us. Putting hope in a president, a government, or a philosophy is a recipe for disaster. I pray these people find the One in whom they can place their hope. Our job is to demonstrate God’s kingdom and to show Him worthy of faith, hope and trust.

The book of Lamentations was written during a very tough time for citizens of Judah. Jeremiah (assuming he was the author) speaks to those who are in a tough time in Lamentations 3:20-26.

My soul still remembers
And sinks within me.
This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.

In the Lord, we don’t have to wait for January 1st for a fresh start or a new beginning, His mercies are new every morning. He is faithful and He alone can bear the weight of our hope. The Lord is the true source of hope and no politician can deliver it in His place. The Apostle Peter brings this truth into the New Testament in 1 Peter 1:3.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

In 1834 Edward Mote wrote the following as the first verse in his classic hymn My Hope is Built on Nothing Less. By demonstrating Christ, you can help people who have lost hope by showing them the way to move to the solid Rock from the sinking sand.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Maybe you have been telling yourself, “Don’t get your hopes up.” Maybe someone has been saying it to you. Either way, the encouragement of Jeremiah and Peter (and me) this New Years Day is this. Go ahead, let hope arise, just make sure you are placing it in the Solid Rock.

Weather the Storm

Bring this truth with you into 2017. When we are in Christ, we wage war from a position of power and a posture of peace. We have the high ground. Let me explain.

Living in northwest Iowa, you never really know what you are going to get for weather on Christmas. We’ve played football in the yard and we’ve braved waist-high snow drifts on foot because roads were impassable. We’ve had idyllic sleigh rides and white-out blizzards. This year the temperatures were fine, but the day brought an unpleasant rain and high winds. Overnight the winds rose to a roar, reaching the point where I was awakened by the noise. My yard has a whopping 68 trees, so a wind storm typically results in some work to clean up downed branches. On Christmas night the wind was so strong I began to worry about damage beyond the typical.

The sound of the gale kept me up for a long time and the constant howling wind began to make me feel almost claustrophobic in my own house, as if I were in a bubble under attack from the outside. I was reminded of a stormy night at sea I’ve read about in Mark 4. While Jesus and His disciples were crossing the sea in a small boat, a fierce wind blew causing the disciples to fear for their lives. Jesus was completely as peace, sleeping in the stern. Upon being awakened, He applied that peace to the circumstances around them and the disciples were amazed. Jesus was able to deliver peace because He was already in a posture of peace.

We all face storms that threaten to steal our peace, sometimes they are actual weather related storms, but usually they are other storms of life. The secret to bringing peace to your storm is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 6 he reveals the source of conflict and turmoil. Ephesians 6:11-12 says this:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Notice where Paul tells us these adversaries come from, “heavenly places.” The Christmas night wind storm is a good analogy for the effect of these spiritual hosts of wickedness, a tempest originating in the air. Of course Jesus was physically in the same boat as his panicked disciples, but spiritually He was on a completely different plane. Let’s back up a few chapters in Ephesians to see how this can help us. Ephesians 2:4-6 says this:

 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus

Jesus was able to bring peace to the storm because He exists on a level higher than the storm. He also exists on a level in the heavenly places higher than those spiritual hosts of wickedness. Take a look at what else Paul tells us, God has made us sit in heavenly places together with Him. That means that we also have the high ground in our conflict with the storms of life. I was physically located down here, in a house buffeted by the Christmas night wind storm, but I was able to remember that I am also seated up higher, in heavenly places where I can be at peace and bring peace amidst the storm.

Wage war from a position of power and a posture of peace, you have the high ground!