Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Seek wisdom ... it is a matter of life and death!"

Day #183

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 8 - 9 …

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (9:10).  You will never be truly wise, by God’s definition, if you begin with yourself or the thoughts and ideas of other people.  Wisdom is found in one source and one source only:  our Creator, the Holy One, the one true God!  In Proverbs 8 Solomon "personifies" wisdom … he makes wisdom to be a person, speaking to mankind.  It is as though "Wisdom" is calling out wherever people exist, along the heights and at the city gates, crying out, "Listen to ME!"  So in reality, since wisdom has its origin in God Himself, "Wisdom's" voice is God's voice.

God has always been wise, as "wisdom" says, "I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began" (8:23).  Yet, God's wisdom first became displayed in creation:  "The LORD brought me forth as the first of His works" (8:22).  God's glory is His perfection and David writes in Psalm 19, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world" (Psalm 19:1-4).  God’s creation “speaks” and points to God, its Creator.  Those who deny the first five words of the Bible will never be wise because they begin in the wrong place ... with themselves.  Wisdom can only be found in God Himself.

That's why you cannot gain wisdom without acknowledging God as the source of wisdom and as the Creator of all things.  Those who refuse to begin here reject God's wisdom and needlessly plummet into the depths of confusion and despair.  As Paul so aptly puts it in Romans 1:22:  “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools ...”  Nothing makes sense unless there is a perfect Source for all knowledge.  If that is not true then all knowledge, all wisdom, is subjective and no one can know anything for sure.  So the philosophers of today propose that what is "true" for you may not be "true" for me or anyone else.  Each of us thus becomes the "god" of our own little world, deciding what is true or false, good or bad … Is it any wonder that mankind has arrived at the place where we are today?!

"Wisdom" says, "Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right.  My mouth speaks what is true" (8:6).  Here is the fountain of all knowledge and the standard by which right and wrong are judged.  "To fear the LORD is to hate evil" (8:13).  So to hate evil is the beginning of wisdom - the ability to know what is right or wrong, good or evil.  And how can anyone determine that apart from a perfect source of wisdom?  God reveals His wisdom in His Word to those who receive His Spirit.

Many of the laws in our criminal justice system are based on the principles of justice found in God's Word, the Bible.  There is a reason for that.  In the early days of our nation there was little law enforcement in what was called the "wild west."  Because of sin, the law was given to restrain evil.  God grants wisdom to mankind to tell us what is right in HIS eyes.  When God's wisdom and rule are rejected you have a situation such as that at the end of the book of Judges:  "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit" (21:25).

But throughout history God has intervened and has revealed Himself to a chosen few by granting to them His Spirit, giving them a new heart and mind and thus giving them the ability to hear His voice - to LISTEN to Him and to understand what He is saying.  "Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it.  Blessed is the man who listens to me ... for whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD" (8:33-34).  The word "favor" is "grace."  Grace is "undeserved favor."  It is only by grace that we who believe are given "ears to hear."

As Jesus told the Parable of the Sower, He said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Luke 8:8).  Then He said to His disciples, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that 'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand'" (Luke 8:10).  Only those who are born again by the Spirit of God will hear the voice of God and understand the wisdom He is revealing.  Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:30:  "It is because of Him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption."  God ultimately reveals His wisdom in and through Jesus!

God CALLS us to wisdom and tells us that it is found only in HIM!  God speaks through His Word and by His Spirit ... God speaks through His Son Jesus Christ ... and says, "Listen to ME!"  When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain in front of Peter, James and John, God spoke from heaven and said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.  LISTEN to HIM!"  (Matthew 17:5).  Peter preached in Acts 3 and explained that "Moses said, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.  Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people'" (Acts 3:22-23).

Listening to God through His Word as Jesus speaks to you by His Spirit is the ONLY source of wisdom.  Any supposed wisdom that denies God, that places man in control of his own destiny, that does not lead to Jesus, is folly.  "Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge ... " (9:13).  To those who listen to "folly" and who enter her house, God says, "Little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave" (9:18).  That's how important it is to LISTEN to God to obtain wisdom.  It is a matter of life and death!  Don't miss it ... don't ignore it ... don't reject it ... LISTEN to Him!

"Heavenly Father, wisdom comes ONLY from You.  All true knowledge has its origin in You.  All that we know that is true comes from You revealing Yourself and Your wisdom to us by Your Word and Spirit.  O Lord, give me grace to listen, really listen, as You speak through Your Son Jesus Christ in Your Word.  Help me to seek wisdom above all else as it leads me to YOU!  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Your heart belongs to God!"

Day #182

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 7 ...

Spiritual adultery grieves God because it takes the best of what He has created and throws it away on something worthless.  God created mankind to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him ... then came Satan.  He tempted Adam and Eve to take their eyes off of God and their affection away from God and turn them toward ... a piece of fruit!!  Spiritual adultery is always a matter of the heart.  In Proverbs, Solomon masterfully illustrates spiritual adultery through the picture of physical adultery, painting a clear picture of how foolish it is and how disastrous the consequences are.

God says, "Keep my words and store up my commands WITHIN you.  Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye" (7:1-2).  The "apple of your eye" is where you set your affections, your heart, your desire.  God had called His people the apple of HIS eye and now He calls them to regard His teaching with such affection and devotion and faithfulness.  Is that how you regard the teaching of God’s Word and Spirit?  Where should your desire be?  Upon what is your heart set day after day as you live the life God has given to you in this world?  Listen to the Psalmist in Psalm 73:25-26:  "Whom have I in heaven but You?  And earth has nothing I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but GOD is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!"   Can you say that today ... that you desire nothing other than God?

Solomon writes of the "adulteress" who seduces and distracts "a youth who lacked judgment" (7:7).  Our youth today, perhaps more than ever before, are bombarded by the voices of the world calling out to them, "Love me! Love ME!"  Those voices call out to people of all ages, seeking to fill our hearts and minds with the things of the world rather than thoughts of our Creator and affection for our Savior.  Modern technology places the “adulteress” at our fingertips!  It demands our attention and our thoughts.  As John writes to the early Church, he says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world - the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does - comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever" (I John 2:15-17).

God created us to desire Him because He knows that we will find true joy and satisfaction only in a relationship of love with Him.  That's why He sent Jesus to save us from the horrible bondage of sin that lures us away from God.  Paul prays for the believers in Ephesus, "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:17-19).  Being a Christian is all about LOVE for GOD!!!  Yet how few understand this?

The Spirit of God moved the Apostle John to write to the church in Ephesus in his “Revelation”:  “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance ... I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for My Name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.  But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:2-4).  These believers were enduring persecution and were continuing to hold fast to the truth, yet their hearts were not being moved by love for God.  Serving God without loving God is mere “religion.”  God calls us to love Him in Christ because He first loved us!!  As the Body of Christ we are the Bride of Christ, and knowing that He gave His life for us must move us to love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength!

The "woman" in Proverbs 7 is Satan and the world over which he wants to rule.  He entices "with crafty intent" (7:10).  It is significant that the woman says, "I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows."  This quite probably points to the false religions of the world that talk about "god" and offer their false worship, captivating the hearts of millions.  "With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk" (7:21).  Even some of the people teaching on "Christian television" lead people astray through their smooth talking and cause them to set their hearts on a false god who promises them health, wealth and miracles if only they will "sow a seed" (give an offering of money to their ministry).  Many of the books in Christian bookstores play the part of the “adulteress” in declaring that God is not who the Bible says He is, but rather a the “god” you make him to be.  False teaching of any kind leads people to commit spiritual adultery.

So many today are "like an ox going to slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life" (7:22-23).  What a graphic picture of the deception of Satan and his messengers, who catch so many off guard.  As the world calls out to you as the adulteress, God says, "Listen to Me; pay attention to what I say.  Do not let your HEART turn to her ways or stray into her paths.  Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng.  Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death" (7:24-27).  Remember the warning of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (II Corinthians 11:13-14).

Your heart belongs to God, and you will not find your heart's true home until you "set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father" (Colossians 3:1).  Do not listen to the voice of the adulteress (Satan and the world and your own flesh!).  Listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and love Him because He first loved YOU!

"Heavenly Father, I hear YOUR voice calling me to set my heart on You and I do love You because You first loved me in Christ Jesus.  Give me strength to resist the call of the world and my own flesh, putting off the old man and putting on the new, created in Your image, in true righteousness and holiness.  Let me find my greatest satisfaction in You, desiring You above everything else.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"The path to wisdom leads through listening to godly instruction!"

Day #181

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 5 - 6 …

Have you ever heard the old saying, "Some people never learn!"?  That is usually said after someone repeats a mistake or sin that they have committed before, perhaps more than once.  We expect that when teaching young children we will need to repeat ourselves and that wrong choices or "innocent mistakes" will be repeated, but as we grow older and supposedly wiser, this pattern should change.  Wisdom should replace youthful folly and should lead to appropriate behavior.  Sadly, however, wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age!  In fact, it seems that people are being encouraged NOT to “grow up,” but rather, to continue living in youthful ignorance and arrogance, thinking they “know-it-all” and need no further instruction.  Such, however, is not the case!

Wisdom is gained through LISTENING to godly instruction.  "My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight" (5:1).  We have already seen that the wisdom of the world is foolishness because it leaves people in their sinful rebellion against God and leads only to destruction, sooner or later.  People without godly wisdom (that received from God through His Word) are caught in an endless cycle of self-destructive choices and actions that leave them stranded on a sea of “relativism,” making it up as they go.  In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).  Young children and teenagers don't always want instruction, but they always NEED instruction, and love requires giving them wisdom from God's Word.  How frustrating to grow up without godly instruction.

Parents often say, "You have to learn some things the hard way!"  That's a lie.  You don't HAVE to learn anything the hard way … you CHOOSE to learn the hard way when you refuse to listen to godly instruction.  The same is true for people of all ages.  True wisdom comes from godly instruction from God’s Word from those who know the one true God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  In these the very Spirit of God is at work to TEACH them all they need to know for life and godliness through their knowledge of the God who created them (II Peter 1:3-4).  Solomon writes in these chapters about being tempted by the voice of the adulteress.  Of course, we think immediately of sexual immorality and seduction and temptation, and Solomon does warn against that.  But there is also something deeper here.

Those who claim to believe in God are called to be devoted to Him, to be committed to following His ways.  When they turn aside to other things and listen to other voices, they "commit adultery."  God spoke about the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah when He said, "'The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,' declares the Lord"  (Jeremiah 31:31-32).  Spiritual adultery is even worse than physical adultery in terms of the consequences!  Spiritual adultery leads to separation from GOD!!

There is, however, a way to avoid the consequences of adultery:  DON'T DO IT!!  Devote yourself to the Lord by listening to HIS instruction and being willing to learn, to be disciplined and to be corrected.  We saw in Chapter 3, verses 11-12:  "Do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those He loves, as a father the son He delights in."  And the writer of Hebrews quotes those words (Hebrews 12:5-6) and adds, "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).  God knows what He’s doing!

God gives us all we need to grow and mature in our love for Him and our devotion to Him through faith in Christ and the work of His Spirit through His Word.  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man (and woman) of  God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17).  Solomon rightly says, "The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.  He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly" (5:22-23).

He goes on in Chapter 6 to warn further against folly and adultery.  He warns against being "trapped" by your own words when you make promises too quickly.  "Free yourself" quickly, he advises.  Admit your error, humble yourself and plea for forgiveness.  Honesty goes a long way toward wisdom. Then he warns against laziness and points to the ant as an example of hard labor:  "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! …  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest - and poverty will come on you like a bandit" (6:6,10-11).  It seems that many people today work harder at getting out of work than they do simply doing the job at hand.

God hates pride, lies, taking advantage of the helpless, devising wicked schemes, all kinds of evil, bearing false witness and stirring up arguments (6:16-19).  In other words, living for yourself is foolishness.  Read Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 5-7 and you will find wisdom. Remember Jesus' words to "do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12).  Putting yourself first is adultery; it is rejecting God's instruction and going your own way and Jesus says it leads to destruction - always!

But there is a better way, which all who know Christ as their Savior and Lord will follow:  "Keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching.  Bind them upon your heart forever ...  For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life" (6:20-21, 23).  When the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart God's Word is your guide, your light.  Jesus came to save us and through His Spirit and Word God conforms us to the image of Christ!

Don't learn things the hard way, by facing the consequences.  Trust in Jesus for forgiveness and life and listen to the voice of His Spirit speaking through His Word.  He will never lead you astray!

"Father in heaven, I thank You for Your warnings and praise You for Your grace.  Continue to give me ears to hear and finish the work You have begun in me, that my life may reflect Your holiness and be an instrument to lead others to place their hope in You.  Help me always to listen to instruction, to accept discipline and to rejoice in Your love to me in Christ.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Monday, June 27, 2016

"Guard your heart and look straight ahead!"

Day #180

Scripture Reading:  Proverbs 4 …

When we think of wisdom we usually think of our minds and how much we know.  Wisdom does have to do with what we know and perhaps how much we know, but wisdom affects every part of our lives, including our emotions and our resulting behavior.  Wisdom is like a spiritual compass that keeps our focus in the right direction and guides our hearts toward that which is pleasing to God.  True wisdom, in fact, always has its origin in God and what He has revealed:  His truth, His commands, His instruction.

Solomon writes of "wisdom" as though "she" is a person.  "Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her and she will watch over you" (4:6).  "Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you" (4:8).  Solomon rightly understood that you are foolish if you don't pursue true wisdom.  But how do you get wisdom?

The simple answer is:  Instruction!  Wisdom comes from learning, by being taught.  "Hold onto instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" (4:12).  The problem for many today is that they are not "teachable."  We are told that we have more knowledge at the tips of our fingers today through the Internet than any other generation, and that is quite obviously true.  But "knowledge" does not necessarily translate into "wisdom!"

Wisdom is the ability to understand knowledge, to process knowledge - discerning whether it is true or false, and then to apply that knowledge to life for good and ultimately for the glory of God.  Any application of knowledge that does not point to God as the source of it and bring praise to Him is not wisdom - by GOD's definition!!  Jesus told the disciples that His Spirit would be their Teacher:  "He will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said" (John 14:26).  The Apostle Paul tells believers that "we have the mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:16).  Those without the Spirit of God cannot and will not discover true wisdom.

Paul quotes Isaiah in I Corinthians 1:19, when he writes God's declaration:  "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."  Paul then goes on in verses 20-21:  "Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe."  And in verse 25, he compares the wisdom of God to the wisdom of the world by saying, "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."

The supposed "wisdom" of this world leads to … where?  To oblivion!!  People WANT to believe in a life after death but they have absolutely no basis for doing so.  So-called "science" tries to prove that this world is millions of years old and that human beings are the result of chance events, and at the same time wants to declare that there is some meaning in living a few decades in this world.  Such foolishness crosses the line of absurdity.  In one sense, the wicked at least have a goal that makes sense:  if this is all there is, it's all about ME!

But Solomon writes, "The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.  But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble" (4:18-19).  As Paul writes it in Romans 1:22-23:  "Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."  How sad is the state of those who do not know God or accept instruction from Him.

God tells us here in Proverbs that wisdom listens to instruction and keeps God's words in the depths of our hearts.  "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. … Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you … Do not swerve to the right or the left" (4:23,25,27). The Bible is so rich and so full of God's wisdom and truth!  The pursuit of true wisdom must lead you and me to God's Word, for in it is revealed all we need to know for life and godliness.  Too many who take the name of Christ upon them today know precious little of what God actually SAYS in His Word.  People are too busy reading the things of the world and listening to the advice of those who SAY they know God or that they speak for God … all the while ignoring God's word.

Solomon declares, "Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom!  Though it cost all you have, get understanding" (4:7).  And the only place to find wisdom and understanding is in God's Word.  Do not be deceived today by those who offer wisdom from some other source, be it a "word of knowledge" or a "word of faith" that today is defined as some supernatural revelation that adds to what God has said, or a "word" from someone who is a self-proclaimed "prophet" from God.  ALL that you and I need to know is in God's Word.  Preachers and teachers in the Church are called to "preach the WORD."  And God's people are called to "check it out!!!"

Wisdom that does not lead to humility, to faith in God, to trusting in Jesus Christ and living to glorify God is NOT wisdom from God!  It is worldly wisdom that will perish with those who declare it.  Be wise in the Lord Jesus Christ, reading, studying, learning from His Word and listening only to those who can help you understand it.  And even then, pray that the Holy Spirit would be your teacher and examine all you hear in the light of God's Word to see if it is true or false.  "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).

"Father in heaven, as You call me to seek wisdom, I come to You, for You alone are truly wise and in Your Son Jesus Christ, in Your Word and the guidance of Your Spirit, I find all I need.  Keep my heart close to Yours, and teach me all I need to know to love You and to serve You.  Help me to set my mind on things above, where Jesus is seated at Your right hand, and my eyes on following where Jesus leads me by His Word and His Spirit.  Make me truly wise, that I may teach others Your truth and lead them in the path that leads to life in Your presence.  In Jesus' name, Amen"