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Wisdom is the saw we use to cut our way through life. Without sharp saws, life is like cutting through a piece of oak with a butter knife.  So how do we sharpen our saws? Answer: By spending ongoing time reading and meditating on Proverbs. 

All of us make decisions that have great implications for the future. What we decide to do impacts our families and other people to whom we are connected.

It can be scary to consider how much impact our decisions have on the future, especially when we consider that eternity is at stake. What you do today, might influence where your children spend eternity. 

And it is by no means a given that we make good decisions. People with good intentions make disastrous decisions every day.

So a central question becomes, “How do we avoid walking into the airplane propeller of bad decisions?”

The answer is “wisdom.” Wisdom is skill for living rightly. Wisdom is how we navigate life. 

But like any skill, wisdom is not automatic. It must be learned over time (Phil 1:9-11, Romans 12:2). The skill of wisdom is learned by spending time in God’s Word, especially Proverbs. The book of Proverbs was given for the express purpose that we might develop discernment. 

2  To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3  to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4  to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—Prov 1:2-4

  A handy aspect of Proverbs is that there are 31 chapters: one for every day of the month. If the date is the 21st, then read Proverbs 21. When you do, take time to identify and reflect on at least one verse. For example, Proverbs 21:1 reads:

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord. Proverbs 21:31

This Proverb reminds us that no matter how much we prepare for important events in our life, if God is not on our side, then all our labor is in vain. Proverbs 21:31 is a call to prayer. 

Two questions follow. The first is, “How long do I have to study Proverbs in order to grow in wisdom?” The answer is, “The rest of our lives.” I believe that all of us – – especially those with leadership responsibilities —  need to read a chapter of Proverbs daily until we die or Jesus comes back. Wisdom is that important.

If you’re a bit of a contrarian (like me), you might counter – – “So you read Proverbs every single day?” The answer is “no.” I miss lots of days. But I have a general habit of reading Proverbs. Sharpening my wisdom saw in Proverbs is a “go to” spiritual discipline that I have practiced over the years.

I would think that if — on average — you read the day’s chapter of Proverbs 3 out of 7 days every week (42.86% of the time) you would be on a good pace. The important thing is to observe the habit of reading Proverbs the rest of your life.

If you are looking for resources on Proverbs, I would make two recommendations:

  1. Dan Phillips’ book, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs is excellent. (For more see here). 
  2. Derek Kidner’s pithy, Proverbs (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) is also gold. 

 Some of the below posts may jumpstart your thinking on how to read Proverbs.

See also:

Dig for Wisdom Like Its 1849 (Prov 2:4-5)

What Questions Did You Ask Yourself Today Based on Proverbs 12?

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom (Prov 9:10)

Why Grooms Should Make the Wedding Dresses (Prov 24:3)

Be Thankful for Your Wife on the 31st  (Prov 31)

Derek Kidner on Understanding the Genre of Proverbs

We Know You Don’t See Your Blind Spot. Duh. It’s a Blind Spot. (Prov 17:10)

Even in Laughter the Heart May Ache (Prov 14:13)

A Chapter of Proverbs Today the 29th (Fear of Man Will Prove to Be a Snare) (Prov 29:25)

On Not Grabbing the Dog’s Ears (Prov 26:17)

The Sluggard is No Freak

If Your Boss is Atilla the Hun (Prov 27:18) 

The Meaning of Proverbs 17:6 – On the Beauty of Grandchildren

Two Classic Pillars of True Old Testament Religion (per Derek Kidner) (Prov 2:5)

Feeling Overwhelmed and Undermotivated? (Prov 6:6-10)

Where There is No Fear the People Perish: One of the Most Misapplied Verses in the Bible (Prov 29:18)

Who Are You? Don’t Be Too Sure You Know! (Prov 16:2)

Tim Keller on Proverbs

Before You Make this Loan, “Ask How God is God’s Credit?”  (Proverbs 19:17)

Dream Big and Be Excited to See God Direct Your Paths in Unexpected Ways (Prov 3:5-6)

A Guide to Proverbs Within Proverbs (Prov 3:3-12)

Why the Circle Doesn’t Always Remain Unbroken (Prov 16:28)

Leaders Know How to Pick Up a Crumb and Carry It Into the Next Room (Proverbs 30:25) 

Don’t Let Failure Give Way to Failure (Prov 24:16)

Sharpen Your Wisdom Saw Today (Read Proverbs 18)

Frame On Why We are Sometimes Contentiously Foolish (Prov 20:3)

There are Two Ways to Deal With a Lion

The Fear of Man Lays a Snare (Prov 29:25) 

A Time to Use the SW Word (Prov 10:19)

Ever Fall on Your Face Like Kurt Warner? (Prov 16:18)

Mark Twain: A Lie Can’t Get Half Way Round the World Before the Truth Even Gets Its Boots On (Prov 26:20)

Gossip Affects Your Spiritual Waistline (Prov 18:8)

Facing Some Orcs in An Adventure You Didn’t Ask For? Persevere (Prov 24:16)

If All Your Friends are Named Beevis, Guess What Your Name Is (Prov 13:20)

Set the Bar for Spiritual Disciplines Low 

Teaching Our Children to Work 

 

Plugging Into God’s Power

Chris —  February 17, 2017 — 1 Comment

In Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines David Mathis helps Christians understand how they can grow by God’s grace rather than wearing out in their own strength.

The key to growing as a Christians is to understand how to grow through God’s strength rather than by merely “white-knuckling” the Christian life through sheer force of will. 

David Mathis illustrates the idea cooperating or receiving God’s grace. He is careful to show that God supplies the power, but that we need to receive God’s grace. 

I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I don’t make the water flow. There be no light and no liquid refreshment without some else providing it. And so it is with the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the favor of God flow, but he has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open expectantly. There are paths along which he has promised his favor.

Mathis’ book, then, is about how we open the “pipes” and wait expectantly for God’s grace to flow into our lives.

In brief, the way that open the pipes or plug into the power is through God’s appointed means of grace: hearing from God in His Word, praying, and growing together in community. There are vast riches to be discovered on this topic. I highly recommend Mathis’ book.

You hear more in the below video where Justin Taylor interviews David Mathis:

Crossway provided time-stamps of the conversation

00:00 – What do the endorsements for the book tell us about what you were trying to do in Habits of Grace?
02:21 – What are you getting at when you talk about “habits of grace”?
04:39 – In your experience, what are some of the main challenges that Christians face with respect to the “habits of grace”?
07:48 – When it comes to our intake of God’s Word, why is it important to emphasize both breadth and depth?
09:51 – How do we ensure that our understanding and practice of the spiritual disciplines is biblical and not unduly shaped by non-Christian influences?
13:04 – Where and how is the Holy Spirit present in your understanding of living the Christian life?
16:30 – With the multitude of books already in print related to the spiritual disciplines, why did you feel the need to write another one?

For more see:

Is Growing as a Christian a Result of God’s Grace or My Strength?  

The Spiritual Disciplines are for Enjoying Jesus: A Review of Habits of Grace by Joe Harrod 

 

Why?

Chris —  February 13, 2017 — Leave a comment

“Why?” we cry out when we suffer. While we cannot understand all the reasons for pain. There are comforting answers to consider.

Many of you have prayed recently for our niece Michelle who underwent major surgery last week. Michelle (the daughter of one of my wife’s many sisters) is the mother of five daughters and a pastor’s wife.

Michelle is home and recovering. But more surgeries and a long road await.

Yesterday I preached at Johnston Evangelical Free Church in Iowa for Michelle’s husband Jeremy. The title of my sermon was “Why?” I preached on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 and the Apostle Paul’s comments on his own painful afflictions in that passage.

Of course, we cannot understand intellectually or comprehensively why people suffer. We might as well attempt to individually name every grain of sand on the beach as to explain all of God’s sovereign ways. All of God will not fit between our ears.

But, amid pain, God does give us comforting answers to consider  that sustain us and help us find our way forward.

You can listen to the sermon on Johnston Evangelical Free Church’s web site.

 

Our church stresses “meaningful membership” in an ongoing way. Sometimes people counter, “But I don’t find the phrase in the Bible.” Here Trip Lee speaks to this objection.

Why Read Great Literature?

Chris —  January 27, 2017 — Leave a comment

Read this article by Philip Yancey and your motivation for reading great literature — especially Dostoyevsky — will grow.

Many are aware that there is a collection of “great books” and that our minds and hearts benefit from reading them. We’ve heard comments like, “Everyone should read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I haven’t for the record. But few get around to actually reading the great books. It’s just easier to read John Grisham.

Some of the reason we don’t follow through on reading great literature is that we have not understood why it is so important to do so. In short, we should invest time reading the great books because they consider the most important questions we face. The Brothers Karamazov (Signet Classics), for example, is considered by many to be the greatest novel ever written because it faces, head-on, the problem of suffering. And the problem of pain is unquestionably the most difficult question Christians face. (See point #6 here).

I don’t have the time — nor the expertise!! — to explain more in this post. But if you if you are interested in further motivation for reading great works of literature, then I would encourage you to read this article by Philip Yancey that reflects on Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and “The Sermon on the Mount.” You will come away knowing more about Russian literature and more about the gospel.

Both of the below books are excellent resources for those who wish to make better use of their reading time.

Louise Cowan and Os Guinness: Invitation to the Classics (Masterworks)

Tony Reinke’s: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books

As of 12/28/2016, my beautiful wife and I have been married for 10,000 days. While, I could easily list 10,000 ways I am thankful for her. Here I’ll just mention 11.

There is a web site for just about anything including calculating how many days ago something took place.

Last spring, I realized that on December 28, Jamie and I would be married 10,000 days. (I ended up using an Excel spreadsheet to project the day).

In honor of our 10,000 day anniversary, here are 11 ways I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful:

  1. The supreme defining love of Jamie’s life is Christ her Lord and not me.
  2. She extends love and forgiveness to me on the basis of grace and not what I deserve. I would, otherwise, be in deep trouble.
  3. Jamie is beautiful.
  4. Jamie is a wonderful mother to our children in many, many different ways.
  5. Jamie loves family including all of our extended family.
  6. Jamie loves people in general including the people in our church in a special way.
  7. She laughs at my jokes.
  8. Jamie works so hard.
  9. Jamie is generally a content person.
  10. Jamie likes sports and is an intense fan.
  11. Jamie makes Jubilee Jumble Cookies – – a recipe given to her by mom – – they are the greatest cookie in the history of the world.

Local churches given wonderful gifts to their communities. The gratitude of people who receive those gifts reminds us that the sacrifice of persevering in a local church is worth it.

My pretty wife, Jamie, and I found ourselves with an extra hour on this wintry day. So Jamie put some Christmas goodies on a plate and we made a pastoral visit.

The couple we called on is experiencing health problems. They won’t be able to go out this Christmas weekend except for dialysis.

Our senior saints were thrilled Jamie and I stopped by – – happier than we deserve. I talked to this couple about doing chores on the farm. I read from Luke 2:8-14 and Jamie and I prayed for them and their family.

As I said – – they appreciated our visit more than we deserved – – but a simple pastoral visit was a Christmas gift they were thrilled to receive.

On the way home, the thought struck me again. Jamie and I were able to make our visit only because of our local church. So many people work so hard — and pray so hard — and persevere through so many meetings — so that together we can wrap the package of pastoral hospital visits — and counseling sessions — and December 23 visits. And sometimes when we give those presents, the people open their package with the delight of children. 

In his excellent book, Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith, Mike Wittmer summarizes the tragic progression of America’s idolatry and the consequences that have ensued.  

We have witnessed God’s judgment in recent history. Americans entered the twentieth century with trust in Athena, the Greek goddess of knowledge and wisdom. We put our confidence in science, and it seemed to deliver. We discovered vaccines and surgical procedures that prolonged life, and we invented cars, airplanes, and air conditioning that made life more enjoyable than ever. But the same science that made our lives so comfortable also saddled us with nuclear weapons, greenhouse gasses, and test-tube children who have sperm donors for fathers. And just when we thought we have licked most of the garden variety diseases, we learned that our antibiotics are contributing to more virulent strains.

Athena cannot save us. Her breakthroughs solve one problem with one hand and open a new possibility for our destruction with the other. Not long ago men boarded ships and traveled great distances to fight enemies. Now we possess the technology to destroy one another with the push of a button.

This terrified us, so in the 1960s we added Aphrodite, the goddess of pleasure and beauty, to our pantheon of gods. Maybe free love, unleashed from the conventions of our Victorian past, could save us. But many Americans soon discovered that sex and drugs were not the saviors they were looking for. What has the sexual revolution brought us? Venereal disease, AIDS, divorce, pornography, sexting, and shattered lives looking for someone, anyone, who will love them. Aprhodite is a terrific flirt but she’s a worthless god. Those people who worshiped love learned too late that their sexual partners didn’t really care about them.

Perhaps science and sex are not the answers, but you can’t miss with money, can you? So in the 1980s we turned to Artemis, the goddess of wealth, who promised an ever-expanding standard of living if we followed the rules of unfettered, crony capitalism. How is that working out?

Do you see a trend here? We put our trust in science; technology threatens to take us out. We aim for love; no one has felt loved less. We go for gold; we end up broke. And we have done this as a nominally Christian nation. America didn’t stop worshiping Jesus, we just pushed him aside to make room for Athena, Aphrodite, and Artemis. And because Jesus is a jealous God, science, sex and money have become the downfall of our society (pages 99-100).

Often the best strategy for spiritual disciplines is to set very, very modest goals. Hopping over a low bar adds up to a high stack of results.

The new year is fast approaching when people will identify lofty goals for the coming year. People will decide to read through the Bible, memorize 100 verses, lose 50 pounds and pray for every country on the planet.

Those are great goals. There is a place for setting the bar high. But it is instructive to notice that the Bible points to the example of an ant when deciding how to pace ourselves.

The ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer . . . Proverbs 30:25

Ants work one crumb at a time. Yet, they accomplish a great deal.

Rather than waiting until January 1 to set your goals for the year, why not set one really modest goal to accomplish today?

Set the bar so low that you can hop over it this afternoon.

Then go ahead and hop.

Be sure and hop tomorrow as well.

 

2 Corinthians in January

Chris —  December 15, 2016 — Leave a comment

I look forward to starting a new series at the Red Brick Church on 2 Corinthians on January 8, 2016. I always enjoy going through books of the Bible with our church family.

You can a start on 2 Corinthians by watching this overview video from The Bible Project.

For an introduction to The Bible Project, see Andy Naselli’s recent post.