Listen!

She was in trouble and she knew it. She turned her face away from me. “Joy, I need you to listen to Nana so you can get out of time out.” But she refused and stayed in her chair for another minute. I can’t count the times I’ve said: “Listen to me!” How often do you think God says that to us?

Believe it or not, listening to God is not difficult. Everything He wants to say to you and me is written in His Word. So often when we read God’s Word or hear it being read it comes across like the grown-ups in a Charlie Brown special. “Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa.” Solomon knew what it meant to listen to God. Grab your Bible and read Proverbs 2:1-5 – I’ll wait for you.

Solomon offered several keys to listening. (Yes, this passage is about wisdom, but the principle applies.) Accept the Bible as the true, authoritative Word of God. That means that the Bible calls the shots. If the world or your flesh says “do this,” but the Bible says “don’t” the Bible wins. Store up Scripture –That memorization. You don’t have to have it word-for-word, but have enough that you can use it when you need it – cause you’re gonna need it. Ask God for insight and understanding. I was not a Bible geek until my 40’s. I got a tiny taste of the depths of the Word and I wanted more. So I asked God to make me hungry. Twenty years later and I’m still ravenous. But I had to decide it was worth it. I had to regard it as a hidden treasure to be mined. I had to invest time and effort in it. I had to get up early and turn off the T.V. I had to put down the phone and pick up The Book.

There’s one other key to listening that comes from Paul who said, “the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). You and I have to shut down every other voice but the voice of truth.

Eve listened to the serpent. Adam listened to Eve. Neither of them listened to God. Beloved, who are you listening to?

Wisdom

Humans have desired wisdom since the beginning of creation.  Eve was tempted by the serpent with the lure of wisdom (Genesis 3:5-6). She succumbed to the “wisdom” that James warned about:  “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:14-15)”  The wisdom that the devil and the world offer to us is a selfish, self-seeking, prideful, deceptive wisdom that will always lead us away from God and into the darkness of worldliness and sin.

Listen to the contrast James offers: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:13, 17).  The wisdom from God is life-giving wisdom.  It fills us with the character of Christ and is the opposite of the false wisdom of the world.  Look at all that this godly wisdom offers to us.  James says we will have understanding – the kind of understanding that will enable us to stand firm in what is right.  Wisdom will be proven by the good life we lead, which means turning ourselves away from sin and wickedness and turning towards what is right, beautiful, and excellent.  Humility is always the hallmark of godly wisdom – this humility is shown through the gentleness, kindness, and consideration we show to others in Jesus’ name.  Godly wisdom is peace-loving which, in the original Greek, is a personal sense of harmony, tranquility, safety, and a lack of strife; it is having freedom from emotional worry and frustration.

When godly wisdom is the rule in our lives, we are more apt to make decisions that ensure freedom from worry and frustration.  A gentle, kind, considerate nature and a submissive and compliant attitude will also mark us as people who have been blessed with the wisdom of heaven.  James encourages us to seek wisdom, “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). This was the wisdom that Eve could have enjoyed if she had trusted and obeyed God rather than taking the wisdom the serpent offered.  Beloved, do you need wisdom – real, godly wisdom? All you have to do is ask.

Hebrews – The Deep Things of God

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I remember it like it was last week, even though it was some twenty years ago. I stood in the doorway of my pastor/boss’ office and said, “I’m content to know the basics about the Bible. I don’t need all that deep stuff. ‘Thus sayeth the Lord’ is good enough for me.”  I thought at the time that Pastor Mike was the one chuckling, but all these years later I realize it was the Lord. He – the Lord, that is – was laughing because He was going to unleash a fire in me to study and know His Word beyond anything I ever imagined. He was going to take me deep – so deep that I would need a spiritual oxygen tank to survive. The passion to dig and study and mine for “buried treasure” hits me every time I open my Bible. It has propelled me through eight years of seminary. It has compelled me to be a Bible teacher. I will never be satisfied with anything less.

The author of Hebrews understood that surface knowledge of the things of God will not sustain us for long. He said, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (5:11). I touched on this verse when I launched this study, but I think it bears repeating. The phrase “slow to learn” is not referring to a learning disability, but a learning disinterest. “Slow” means “lazy and undisciplined, no longer trying to understand.” The writer said there’s more they could know but they didn’t care to learn it. They were content to know just enough to get into heaven. I suppose that’s okay if your goal is eternal fire insurance.  But why would you deny yourself the deeper things of the faith? Why would you not want to know all you can about God? What could the world possibly teach you that is more important, more thrilling, more breath-taking than knowing the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)?

You don’t have to go to seminary to learn the deeper things of the faith. But you do have to invest time and attention in God’s Word.  I love being a Bible teacher. But honestly, my goal is to teach myself out of a job. I want you to have that hunger for yourself. Beloved, there is no greater quest than to know God. Won’t you let Him captivate your heart?

Do You Trust God?

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God doesn’t always do what I want Him to do. He doesn’t always answer my prayers according to my wishes or follow my well-laid-out plans. There are things I’ve prayed about for years that remain unresolved. Hard situations that didn’t magically get better. People I’ve laid at His feet over and over who get up and wander back into sin and self-destruction. What are we to do when – let’s call it what it really is – we’re disappointed with God?  I know. It seems almost sacrilegious to say it, but if we’re not honest with God we will always be stuck with this gnawing sense that He can’t be trusted. And while we’re being honest – that is the root behind our prayerlessness and our half-hearted study of His Word.

So what do we do when the doubts creep in? To borrow from my sister-in-love, we “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). I’ve told you before that I’m a word-nerd, and the Holy Spirit asked me – “What do those words mean?” Two key things stood out to me. First: “trust” – it means to “have confidence in.” Do you have confidence in God? Do you have confidence in His goodness and His love?

Then – and this was huge to me – three words: “heart,” “understanding,” and “acknowledge.” The “heart” is the seat of our thoughts, emotions, and understanding. “Acknowledge” means to know, recognize, understand. Did you see the word“understand” in both of those definitions? “Understand” at its root – this is key – means “to consider with full attention.” There it is. When we lean on our own understanding – we are giving our emotions our full attention. But when we“trust in the Lord with all our heart” we give Him our full attention.

I don’t know about you, but my emotions will take me all over the place. But God is the one who sets my path straight. Where are you focusing your attention today? Your Father is your solid rock. He will never betray your confidence in Him. Beloved, you really can “Trust in the Lord.”

Take Control of Your Heart

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Several years ago, I had an “SVT Episode,” supraventricular tachycardia – or extremely rapid heartbeat.  In the Emergency Department, I was hooked up to an EKG machine to monitor my heart rate, which was soon brought back to a normal rhythm.  During a follow-up echocardiogram, the technician turned the monitor toward me so I could see my heart in action.  It was fascinating.   We all know how vital the heart is to human existence.  The heart, spiritually speaking, is also the core of our Christian life..

Often when we think of the heart, we think of emotions.  However, that is a 21st-century understanding of a 1st-century word. The Greek rendering for the word “heart” is kardia – which you should easily recognize as the medical term for all things concerning the physical heart.  In Greek, it points to our conscience self – our thinking and understanding. That should give us a great deal of insight into the role of the heart in the Christian.  The heart is where we find motivation based on reason and conscious thought and it is the root of our emotional nature. In simpler terms, the heart is the place where we talk to ourselves because that is what thinking really is. And our thinking controls our feelings. No wonder Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” How? We mentioned “conscious thought” – that’s what you think about intentionally, like when you’re focusing on the steps to a project. We also have to pay attention to our “unconscious” thoughts – the ones we don’t initiate. These come from our subconscious and reveal the raw condition of our hearts. We have to bring those thoughts into submission to Christ, casting out anything unChristlike and intentionally choosing Philippians 4:8 thoughts. (Go look that up if you need to.) It may seem silly, but I will often do a lasso motion with my arm to take my errant thoughts captive. Let me tell you, paying careful attention to your thoughts all day is exhausting. But over time you and I can retrain our hearts to think rightly and truthfully.

Diet and exercise can help our physical hearts. Our spiritual hearts need a workout as well to become healthy and strong. Beloved,  take control of your thoughts because your thoughts control you.

A Word of Wisdom

“Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”  1 Kings 3:9

Solomon was known as the wisest ruler in history.   He was the second son of King David and Bathsheba, and though we do not know his chronological age when he took the throne, he described himself to God as “only a little child. (1 Kings 3:7)” Surely after following in the huge footsteps of his father David, Solomon must have been overwhelmed by the responsibility before him.  So when the Lord came to him and said “Ask for whatever you want me to give you,” Solomon made a plea for wisdom.  God granted Solomon’s request in a huge way, “God gave Solomon very great insight and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. (1 Kings 4:29)” Solomon knew that without great wisdom, he could not be the leader that Israel needed.  He also knew there is only one source for true wisdom – the Lord God Almighty.

Humans have desired wisdom since the beginning of creation.  In the account of the first sin, Eve was tempted with the lure of wisdom (Genesis 3:5-6), but it was not the wisdom that God offered to Solomon.  Eve succumbed to the “wisdom” that the Apostle James warned about:  “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:14-15)” You see, when God told Adam that they were not to eat from the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil, (Genesis 2:17)” it was not to keep them from having any intelligent thought; it was to protect them – and us – from the influence of evil.  For God knew that once man was exposed to the concept of evil, we would be consumed by its continual drawing.  The wisdom that the devil and the world offers to us is a selfish, self-seeking, prideful and deceptive wisdom that will always lead us away from God and into the darkness of worldliness and sin.

The wisdom that King Solomon received is also described by James: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:13, 17)” The wisdom from God is a life-giving wisdom.  It fills us with the character of Christ and is the opposite of the false wisdom of the world.  Look at all that this godly wisdom offers to us.  James says we will have understanding – the kind of understanding that will enable us to stand firm in what is right.  Wisdom will be proven by the good life we lead, which means turning ourselves away from sin and wickedness and turning towards what is right, beautiful and excellent.  Humility is always the hallmark of godly wisdom – this humility is shown through the gentleness, kindness and consideration we show to others in Jesus name.  Our hearts and our hands will be pure; and Psalms 119:9 tells us that purity comes from living according to God’s Word (which is one way that He imparts His wisdom to us).

When we read that godly wisdom is peace-loving, we generally think that this is a person who goes to great lengths to establish peace in their relationships, but the original Greek is expressing a personal sense of harmony, tranquility, safety and a lack of strife; it is having freedom from emotional worry and frustration. When godly wisdom is the rule in our lives, we are more apt to make decisions that ensure freedom form worry and frustration.  In essence, we could say this is a person who loves the peaceful life they live.

A gentle, considerate nature and a submissive and compliant attitude will also mark us as people who have been blessed with the wisdom of heaven.  Can you image how your work, home and other relationships will be transformed by these traits?  As we consider the characteristics of mercy and impartiality, we can look again at James words: “Mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:13)  Mercy, love and compassion will always have the upper hand over judgment and partiality in the thoughts, words and actions of the godly wise.  James also says that a truly wise person will be sincere.  There is no place for hypocrisy in the life of a Christian; for our Savior Jesus Christ is the Truth of God.  A wise and sincere person does nothing for a prideful show, but rather always turns any honor and glory to Christ.

Do you, like me, desire to be a person filled with godly wisdom?  Then we must go to the same source as King Solomon – we must go to God.  James encourages us to seek wisdom with these words: “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) Our wise King Solomon proclaimed the same truth in Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Surely this was the wisdom that Eve could have enjoyed, if she had trusted and obeyed God rather than seeking wisdom on her own.  This wisdom is available to you and me if we will ask God, trust Him to give us what He has promised and obediently walk in the wisdom and ways of the Lord.  Let’s commit to be wise men and women of God.

Holy Father, I come to you with my hands and heart open wide to receive the wisdom that only You can give. Fill me Lord, that the world my see Your perfect wisdom in me.  Amen.