Wisdom


Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

2 Timothy 2: 7

 

By this point in his time of service to God, Paul had every right to expect that people would listen to what he had to say. He knew that he had been called and commissioned by God to speak and to write about the relationship that the Lord wanted to have with all people. Also, Paul was aware of the special training and the extraordinary knowledge that Christ had entrusted in him, and he had committed his life to bringing that knowledge to others. Still, Paul knew that his words were never going to be enough, and he was fully aware that the deepest thinking, the clearest writing, and the most persuasive speaking were not going to work on their own or even together to win souls out of darkness.

 

The totality of what people do is nothing more than futility if God is not behind it. In fact, when people use their minds and seek to develop a new truth about God that is not founded in complete, humble submission to the Lord’s will and surrounded by worship of Him, they tend to start deviating from the truth. They create false religions that only serve the purposes of evil. However, the thoughts and the words of people who are seeking after God’s truth are good and worthy. Even then, they gain their deepest meaning and their true application through the special revelation that the Spirit of Christ gives to His people. The Lord validates and He vitalizes the words that He has inspired in others.

 

So, Paul calls upon us to consider the words that he wrote. I think that he wanted us to do more than just read them. Paul knew that on their own even his most profound thoughts were nothing more than shadows of the truths that God wants us to enjoy. The Lord wants us to take His word into our minds through our eyes and our ears; then, He wants us to grant His Word the opportunity to stay there, for most of us need to slow down, to breathe deeply, and to give the Spirit time to make the deep truths a part of our essential being. We also need to take the Word with us into the day so that it can shape the way that we respond to everything that comes our way. Then, we will have a greater ability to see others as Christ sees them, and they will be granted the blessing of the living presence of the author of that Word in their day.

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Blessed are they who observe justice,

who do righteousness at all times.

Psalm 106: 3

 

What is justice? It might be the thing that all of the law-breakers in our world deserve, and that is absolutely true, for granting punishment and reward based upon a person’s actions is a part of the definition of the term. It is a system whereby our society is compelled into conformity with a set of rules that we call law so that reasonable order has a better chance of prevailing over our natural bent toward chaos and self-serving actions. Yet, as lofty and valuable as these concepts of justice might be, it is elevated to a higher plane when it is combined with righteousness as its outward or active expression.

 

It seems to me that God’s form of what constitutes justice is actually grounded at a very basic and fundamental level. It involves the care and the nurture of those who are defenseless or without real resources and power. It sets aside personal gain or benefit and even sacrifices these aspects of life in order to value all people and the entirety of creation as what they are, which is God’s carefully crafted handiwork. Justice surrenders excess and even gives well beyond the point of comfort in order to elevate the lives of all people, and it does these things with a special emphasis on those who are foreign or different from us. This thing called justice flows out of the heart of God, and it is fully formed upon Christ’s cross of sacrifice; thus, it is truly expressed when we enter into the freedom that only comes as grace and mercy overtake our lives so that we start feeling, thinking, and acting as Christ in all aspects of life.

 

This is the point where righteousness takes over the concept and the ideal that is justice and turns it into the approach that we take to actually express Christ in and to our world through the actions of our days. This takes place as we surrender to Christ our fears, concerns, self-centered desires, and other aspects of being the old person that we were before Christ so that we can allow the Spirit to work within us in ways that effect real and even miraculous transformation upon our hearts and minds. It is righteousness that puts an arm around the impoverished traveler and offers up a warm place of shelter and a place to eat at one’s own table. It is Christ who takes us away from the comfort and the safety of our normal path and offers up a listening ear, an understanding spirit, and the possibility of redemption to the outcast soul. So, as we respond to our world’s needs and its needy people with love, care, mercy, love, and grace we are entering into the Lord’s blessing upon our lives and covering the places that we touch with His righteous justice.

Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.

1 Timothy 6: 6

When considering the state of my personal fortune, it seems important for me to check the right ledger for my true account balances. During my life, I have put a lot of energy into growing my income, building up my worth, and caring greatly about the things that I own. Unfortunately, most of this has had little lasting positive effect, and there have been a number of negative ones. Earning a living, even earning a good living is fine in God’s eyes. After all, He designed us with a drive to do so, and He is the provider of all of the aspects of our ability to work, our drive to succeed, and the need for gainful employment. It’s my attitude toward all of this that matters.

From the Lord’s perspective, the ledgers and the accounts that matter are covered with attitudes, spiritual growth, and healing. As Christ invested totally in people and in their relationships with God, so we are called to do the same. Gain in our world is an interestingly elusive thing. One day we can be substantially ahead of where we were; then, suddenly, it can all disappear. When our investments are in people, a really similar thing can happen, for some people just stop responding or they turn to follow a different voice. So, this is why contentment is vital in this form of investment. The contentment that God wants us to enjoy doesn’t come from what we accomplish or from how good we are at the task; rather, it comes from the growth in our personal relationships with God that comes through these efforts.

There is great gain to be had from following Christ, and some of it may even be financial. However, God promises us that we will receive a form of riches and wealth that is beyond the levels of our most aggressive investment plans if we do truly follow Him. The Lord asks us to trust Him with all that we have. That is all of our time, money, assets, ego, fears and concerns, inhibitions, lack of training, fear of rejection, and anything else that stops us from investing in making Christ more real in our world. When we commit and enter in fully to God’s investment plan, the Lord of the Universe promises that He will bring us gain beyond our ability to dream, and a form of contentment for our souls that defies all human logic and reason.

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD.

Joshua 9: 14

 

This is one of those strange moments in the story of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. In fact, this is a point where the story seems to take a sort of left turn into the realm of Theater of the Absurd. The story tells us that this one group of people from within the land sent representatives to Joshua in order to act out a drama in which they convinced the Israelites that they were actually from far away. So, the Israelites entered into a covenant with these Gibeonites that they would not harm them. It was only after this that it was learned that the seemingly road weary, worn down and dusty travelers standing before them were actually skillful actors who were dressed in costumes and were using stage props in order to convince Joshua of their sincerity.

 

The true point in all of this is found in this simple statement. Although God had been consistently providing wisdom, guidance, and counsel for Joshua and for the people for a very long time by now, they chose to make this decision on their own. In the overall scheme of things, this was not a very big deal. These were a few people who could do little harm, and they told a very convincing story. Yet, history has demonstrated that small decisions and little events can have extraordinary and ever-lasting consequences. Consider what impact a few deceptive words from a serpent had on us all after Adam and Eve acted upon them. This bit of grand theater that was carried out by the representatives of Gibeon is very similar in tactic to the way that Satan deceived our ancestors in the garden. Also, in both instances, the answer to the problem at hand would have been easy to discern by simply taking a few moments to turn to God and seek out His counsel and wisdom.

 

There is universal truth to this human dilemma and failing. We want to take charge of our lives and to make our own decisions along the way. Yet, we also know that God is in life with us and that He provides us with multiple sources for His ageless and universally applicable wisdom. So, we determine which issues and under what circumstances we will go it on our own or seek out the Lord first. This is what Joshua and the Israelites did here, and for them this self-directed decision would haunt them for generations to come. There was a better way for them to proceed, and there is a better way for us to engage with life also. The Lord provides us with His Word of truth to guide our journeys through this world. His Spirit also speaks wisdom to us, and the body of faith surrounds us with people who are similarly informed. God intends for His people to turn to Him and to trust Him to lead us through all of life. His counsel is ours, and it brings life, peace, and righteousness to our days. So, why would we ever join Joshua in saying, “Never mind, Lord; I’ve got this one handled?”

There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.

Joshua 8: 36

 

This event might not look the same in our times as there is little probability that any large gathering of people, much less that any nation of people would gather together in this manner. Here the sum total of the people of Israel had come together across one great valley and its adjoining mountain sides in order to worship God in celebration of the Lord’s redemptive work in their military victory over the city of Ai. The centerpiece of this celebration was the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, and the priests were the ones who were leading the nation in both substance and in the form of this great victory party. Yet, as they transition from focusing on the tactics and the methods of war and return to the task at hand of settling the land, the people are reminded of the true power that was behind their success and of the basis for all that defines their national and individual character.

 

They are a people who have been given their identity by God, and they have gained their understanding of morality and of justice through God’s Law, His Holy Word. There is nothing that stands before this recitation of God’s will in the law of the land or in the ordering of their society. This was a special time and place in the history of the world, and it has really never been duplicated since. Even under Joshua’s strong and Godly leadership, the people were very quick to depart from the Lord’s way and to set out upon their own course of thought and action. Today the best that we can hope for is an off-handed reference to God or a quote from His Word, but our nations seldom express any real interest in following the Lord or in even hearing and utilizing His truth as counsel or as direction to be followed. It is as if God were now an irrelevant part of ancient history and His Word is granted the status of troublesome and obscure literary fiction.

 

None of these modern attitudes can possibly be pleasing to God. He is not amused by our self-reliance and negation of His wisdom and direction. Although a modern day turning to God on the parts of people, our leaders, and nations might not look exactly like that assembly in a natural amphitheater at Shechem. Yet, the location is not really the point. The idea is that the entire collection of people were giving praise and honor to God as their one true King, and as they did this they engaged in group recitation of God’s Word in its entirety. They left out nothing; so, they made no editorial or cultural changes to the message of that word. In sharing it in this highly public manner, they were also affirming its priority as their singular point of guidance for their moral, cultural, and spiritual lives. Thus, they were affirming that the Lord was the singular and final authority over all aspects of life and over its conduct into the future.

It seems to me that this might not be such a bad idea in our world. There is an aimlessness to the way that our nations and our leaders are going that might find focus and valid purpose in God’s Word. The degree to which the people of this earth have become self-reliant and absorbed in actions and enterprises that we think will benefit ourselves primarily and that often work against the well-being of others must be troubling to the God of justice and peace. God’s design for this world works, and our redirection of it has not. Although I am not so naïve as to think that the leaders of nations or the people of those countries would actually do what the people of Israel did on that day, I do wonder what effect such a turning to God would have on us all. So, how might our world be different if each of us began to do the sort of things that Joshua led them into as they centered their day upon worship of God, devoted themselves to reading and to sharing His Word, and gathered openly in a universal fellowship of faith? What might that world look like?

Get up! Consecrate the people and say, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the LORD, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.””

Joshua 7: 13

 

The story has taken a very difficult turn. Defeat has come to the Israelite warriors, and this was not just a loss in battle. This was a turn and run, flee for your life after being overwhelmed sort of loss. Soldiers had been killed, and the victorious Amorites were beating their chests and taunting God’s people with all manner of derogatory words. To say the least, this was a very bad day, and there was nothing about tomorrow that looked any brighter. It seemed that maybe the long years of hard journey that had followed upon generations of hard life were just going to continue on without let up from this generation through to the future ones. Joshua was discouraged, and the people that he was leading were down hearted and defeated as well. This was that moment when God seemed far off and they felt quite alone in their struggles with life.

 

Yet, that was not true. God was more near than any of them realized. They were so caught up in the pain of defeat and in their fear for what sort of disaster was to come upon them soon that they forgot to stay worshipful and focused upon God’s faithful promise keeping history with them. The reason that God’s favor had left them was that they had turned from trusting Him. They had gone off on their own and done things as they pleased without the Lord’s guidance. They had also deviated from God’s word of truth and life so that their sinfulness had become a barrier between them and their Lord. This combination of entering into thoughts and behaviors that run contrary to God’s righteousness, this sinfulness, and turning away from a relationship in which we trust God fully is a common process in human endeavor.

 

We reject God’s truth because we would rather do things our own way. Then we take action upon our own desires and wishes so that our lives turn away from God’s path of righteous engagement with our world. Finally, we stop trusting God and placing our faith in Him as that form of closeness has become uncomfortable and our troubled hearts can’t handle that level of intimacy with God. However, God does not go far from us. He may allow the situations and the circumstances of life to become big and powerful. He may, as He did with the Israelites, allow us to experience defeat and very real loss. Yet, the Lord is there with us. He will step in to pick us up and set us back on His course through this world. God will point to our sinfulness, He will work within us to bring about repentance and restoration, and His Spirit will continue to guide us back into the joy of life that comes when we are fully devoted to the Lord and our lives are lived in close relationship with Him.

And Nehemiah, who was governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God, do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.

Nehemiah 8:9

 

The concept of separation of our religious practice from our system and processes of governance is an invention of recent times in history. This was certainly not the way that God designed for it to be. In the establishment of His nation of Israel and among God’s chosen people, the Lord set it up so that there was a direct and inseparable connection between the people who were the governmental leaders such as kings, princes, and governors and the church as represented by priests and teachers of God’s Law. Even in these ancient times this was not the way that most of the world operated. Most countries were governed by rulers who used the services of their religious practitioners when it was convenient to consult them and listened only to those ideas and direction that suited their desires and pre-set wishes.

 

This is a picture of the world where Jesus lived, and by His days, even the leadership of Israel had changed so much that Nehemiah and Ezra would not have recognized the secularly oriented institution that was the temple, their church. These changes were not the result of positive evolution as they were caused by humanity’s on-going drive to separate itself from God and to establish our own concepts, ordinances, and practices as supreme on earth. Much of our modern concept of separation of church from state is the result of a contra movement away from the dominance of the secular over the religious in which the church and its leaders were simply substituted for kings and governors while continuing to operate the nation as an unholy and sub-righteous entity wherein the end goal was still personal power and gain. Therefore, people who were being oppressed by these ungodly religious leaders established laws and rules of governance that built up barriers between the influence of church and of state upon each other.

 

My proposition is that none of this is right. The Lord is still sovereign over the entire world, over our nations, and in our practice of faith and of governance. His Word is the final authority for all of the decisions that people need to make in order to operate our nations and to live as citizens of this world. To me this means that any and all national allegiances are subordinate to our loyalty to God and that the primary identity of a follower of Christ is that of disciple of the Living God rather than the one that is framed in by national citizenship. With this in mind, there is a very real and important place for the voices of God’s people in the halls of governance of our nations. The truth of God’s Word and the illuminating presence of His Spirit are essential in these places as decisions that impact the lives of people for good and for evil are made there on a daily basis. As people who know Christ and who follow Him through life, we are to be open and outspoken to our governmental leaders, we are also to be present in our halls of governance through prayer, views and opinions expressed, our votes, and by seeking out election to office. As the gathering on that day in ancient Israel suggests, governance is at its best when followers of Christ and secular leaders are gathered as one in order to lead the people along God’s path of righteousness and faith.

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