How to Become Wise and Make Those Around You Wiser

I’m reading through Proverbs right now (not right now, but you know what I’m saying), in which Solomon writes ad nauseum about wisdom. I guess that makes sense since that was his forte, but still, he repeats himself over and over (which I realize is redundant, but I like redundancy…I also like to say things again and again… … … … …)

Anyway, one of the dead horses Solomon beats is that wise people listen to advice and accept discipline. In fact, Proverbs 19:20 reads, Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” So. There you go.

Likewise, Proverbs 12:15 says, “The wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 13:10 reads, “Wisdom is found in those who take advice.” Proverbs 10:17 says, “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life.” Proverbs 12:1 reads, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.” Proverbs 15:32 says, “The one who heeds correction gains understanding.”

Several thoughts occur to me.

First, if we want to be wise, the verse says we have to listen to advice and accept discipline. Which we cannot do if people aren’t giving us advice and disciplining us.

Now, don’t get scared. I’m not going to say we should walk around spanking adults for misbehavior or placing grown people in time out (although, I think I’d benefit greatly if someone would make me sit on a mat and think about what I’ve done from time to time). Discipline here has less to do with punishment and more to do with instruction and correction. Think disciple. Wise people listen to advice and accept instruction and correction.

Obviously, all advice and instruction are not created equally. Some people give really crappy advice. Others over-correct constantly because they like the sound of their own voices. So we have to be careful about who we consult. But we all need good advice-givers and discipliners/instructors/disciplers in our lives. 

On the other side of the coin, we all need to be good advice givers and discipliners.

I don’t know a lot of people who struggle with not giving advice. Most people like to give advice and find it easy to do so because it is a lot like giving an opinion. We all have a lot of opinions and most of us don’t mind sharing them.

But I don’t know a lot of discipliners and correctors. It takes more guts to correct someone than to give them some advice. Personally, when someone is saying or doing something stupid or wrong in my presence, I’d rather keep my mouth shut and silently wish the moment would pass than confront him on it.

I suspect most people are like me in that regard; we have an aversion to correcting people because we associate conflict and animosity with correcting. We anticipate it won’t go well. How many of us have been taught how to correct/confront others in a gentle, helpful way and feel comfortable doing so?

But what is the result of being a society–a Church–who does not correct people when they are wrong or foolish? We end up with a void of wisdom.

The verse says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” We cannot produce wise people unless we are willing to correct people. This has far reaching implications in every aspect of life. On a a big picture level, those of us who have an aversion to conflict have to get over ourselves if we want a society/government/culture/Church/family that is wise. 

On a small scale, when we withhold valuable instruction and correction from the person sitting across the table from us who is bragging about his latest sin or laying out the worst plan we’ve ever heard in our lives, we contribute to his downfall. We stunt his emotional and spiritual growth. Ultimately, we fail to love him well.

That puts a whole new perspective on things. Next time you feel compelled to not correct someone out of fear of the uncomfortable confrontation that may occur, think to yourself, “Self, if I love him, I will speak up.”

If you don’t love him, well, that’s a whole different problem.

 

Chronic Peace

“You seem really at ease with yourself these days.”

My friend’s comment came after my recounting a sad circumstance in my life right now. It’s a circumstance that has been around a long time and caused way more than its fair share of heartache. But as I described the latest development, instead of pain I felt peace. 

Huh. 

When my friend pointed out my demeanor, I realized that peace has been here for awhile now. I’m not sure when, exactly, it made its debut, but I do know exactly how it got here—inside the heart of a girl who is starting to grasp that she used to be broken, but largely isn’t anymore. 

(Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of cracks and fissures, and part of me is scared to death one of those weak spaces will break the whole dang thing again any instant. But I’m learning to ignore that part because she needs a Xanax and a week at the beach.)

This chronic peace I’ve been experiencing the past several months is a direct result of increased confidence in God to take care. To take care of my heart and my family and my friends and my future and my job and my church and my everything. 

How, pray tell, did I get this surge of confidence? By going through hell and experiencing Him deliver me. 

David spent a lot of time in his own hell on earth, during which he penned some brutally honest psalms. And what I’ve been noticing is his remarkable confidence in God to protect him and see him through and bless him—both during his suffering and after. 

Just one of the many examples we could look at is Psalm 71:20-21, “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.”

‭The NIV Study Bible guys say David wrote this toward the very end of his life. Enemies liked to come knocking when kings were elderly, seeing them and their nations as easy prey. 

Knowing this, how can David write so confidently? Does he really believe God will enable him to lead well and protect Israel against her enemies despite his body probably becoming frail and his mind probably starting to go at a rapid pace? 

I think he does, and I’ll tell you why. 

(I know, you can hardly wait.)

David uses the word “again” twice and again’s twin sister, “once more”, once. In three sentences David implies the foundation of his confidence three times: “God has done all this for me before!”

In fact, God had delivered David from countless seasons of ridiculous suffering and unbelievable trials throughout his life. As a direct result, David knows God will continue to deliver him until he is delivered right on into heaven. 

I’m not super old yet, but I’m starting to catch on to what David learned about God: He can be wholly trusted all the time. And truly believing that brings chronic peace. 

On Darkness

At our Easter service the pastor said something to the effect of, “Darkness cannot eliminate darkness; only light can eliminate darkness.”

Of course, the darkness is our sinfulness and/or pain we experience because we are fallen people in a fallen world, and the light is Jesus, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of the fact that we – in our own strength – often try to eliminate darkness with more darkness.

When we feel depressed or angry or otherwise discontent (that is, when we feel darkness), how often is our knee-jerk response to try to combat those feelings with more darkness?

My go-to’s include, but are not limited to, over-eating, under-eating (I’m a complicated person), distracting myself via hours of reruns or Word Brain (you guys, I’m addicted), manipulating, withdrawing, clinging, sleeping, worrying, over-analyzing, indulging and the list goes on and on.

I sin to make myself feel better because I buy the lie that sin will make me feel better.

And so do you.

Unchecked, we all use dark measures to try to rid ourselves of dark emotions.

And the way our pastor put it made me realize how illogical that is. Darkness cannot eliminate darkness. Sin cannot eliminate emotional pain. (In fact, sin only and always amplifies emotional pain, but that’s where the darkness metaphor breaks down, so let’s save that for another day).

Only light can eliminate darkness.

Jesus is the light, according to the scriptures (John 9:5). He is truth. He is love. And whoever lives in the light – whoever combats their own darkness with the truth of Jesus Christ – has life (John 8:12; Psalm 36:9).

There is only one way out of our pain and our sin – our darkness. And that way is Jesus – the Light. As we press into Him in our moments (our days, our months, our years…) of darkness, He will bring light (truth, hope, love, comfort).

On Doctrine and Why You Don’t Have to Have it All Figured Out

While studying Church history from Christ’s death to Martin Luther (1500s), it is interesting to me that I have yet to agree 100% with any one person’s doctrine. I don’t even fully agree with those who, like I do, hold scripture to be the highest authority and earnestly seek to believe and apply all that it teaches.

I’m a Protestant, and I don’t even agree with the founder of Protestantism on all points (Luther believed infant baptism regenerated their souls and doggedly defended transubstantiation).

This observation tells me two things:

1) It is highly unlikely there exists one person with totally correct doctrine, and

2) That’s okay.

The first point should serve to humble me regularly, as it implies I probably don’t have totally correct doctrine.

And the second point should serve to remind me my salvation nor my value in God’s eyes depends on my having perfect theology. Nowhere does the Bible say we have to have all of our theological ducks in a row to have a relationship with God and eventually enter His Heaven.

The Bible teaches this: if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

See? No mention of having all the right doctrine, just some of the right doctrine.

These thoughts prompt me to give myself grace while studying God. It’s okay if I don’t figure it all out

And, equally important, these thoughts encourage me to show other believers respect, love, and grace if they hold a belief I don’t.

No, God isn’t on Your Side (At Least not Unequivocally)

There are mostly two kinds of people in this world: the kind that think God is always for them and the kind that think God is always against them. I’ve met very few inbetweeners.

But the thing is it’s only the inbetweeners – those who don’t think God is for them or against them – who are holding a biblical belief.

Early on in Joshua’s tenure as Israel’s head honcho, the Lord/an angel/the pre-incarnate Christ appears to Joshua in the form of a man to give him instructions on how to conquer Jericho.

At first Joshua doesn’t seem to recognize this man is no ordinary man. Joshua approaches him and asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13). Joshua realizes this man is not an Israelite. But some foreigners supported Israel, living among them and fighting with them in all their battles. So Joshua wants to know: is this guy on Israel’s side or Jericho’s side?

The man replied, “Neither…but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come,” (Joshua 5:14).

This revelation clues Joshua into the fact that this man is supernatural, sent by God to speak to him. Immediately, “Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?'” (Joshua 5:15).

That word “neither” was most unexpected to me. How can God not be for Israel and against her enemies always? Israel is His chosen nation! He’s giving her leaders step by step directions on how to violently conquer and destroy every single breathing human being in every single nation in her path. What does He mean “neither”?!

There are two possibilities I can think of.

One is perhaps all God is trying to communicate here is that the man before Joshua is not human, like he had assumed. He’s not an Israelite or a sympathetic foreigner, and he’s not from Jericho. He’s neither. End of story.

The other possibility is God is communicating that and more, the “more” being that God doesn’t choose sides, at least not unequivocally. 

I know, I don’t like it anymore than you do. I want to believe God is cheering me on in every single thing I do, turning to the angels from time to time to say, “Do you see her?! That’s my daughter! Isn’t she wonderful?!”

Perhaps He does do that on occasion. But I guarantee you He doesn’t do that all the time.

In fact, there are times He must surely say to Himself what I often say to my daughters, “Oh, no, ma’am! That is not acceptable behavior.” And then He doles out some discipline to let His hard-headed daughter know He is not at all for her when she insists on sinning.

This is the case with Israel.

Yes, the Israelites are God’s chosen nation. Yes, He empowers them to win quite a few battles and to take possession of a choice expanse of land.

But when the Israelites choose to do wrong, God is quick to drop His support. He disciplines them and allows them to suffer all kinds of terrible consequences as a result of their disobedience, sometimes even causing the tragic results.

A couple of examples:

  • He is lightning quick to thoroughly punish the Israelites when they get impatient with how long Moses and God’s powwow takes on Mount Sinai. They decide 40 days is a ridiculous amount of time to wait, so they make a golden calf and worship a hunk of shiny metal instead. And God is anything but for them, instructing Moses to kill the idol worshippers, some 3,000 Israelites, and sending a plague on the rest of nation (Exodus 32).
  • God doesn’t hesitate to punish the Israelites with a 40 year death sentence in the wilderness because they don’t trust Him enough to enter the Promised Land when He tells them to. Because of their lack of faith, God tells them to go somewhere else instead. Upon hearing this consequence, the Israelites try to renege on their choice to disobey and agree to go to the Promised Land the next day. Moses tries to talk them out of it, but they erroneously believe disobeying God’s command to go somewhere else in an effort to obey His initial command to go to the Promised Land will be acceptable. On the contrary, He lets them know it isn’t by allowing the Amalekites to destroy many of them and sending a plague on many more (Numbers 14).

I could go on. In fact, most of the Old Testament attests to the fact that God doesn’t unequivocally endorse anyone, not even those who are supposedly especially tight with Him. God doesn’t jump on our team or another team. He does not proclaim unconditional loyalty to humans.

Why not? Especially this side of the cross, shouldn’t He always be in our corner if we are Christians?

Not only is that logically impossible (think of how many times you and another Christ-follower were on different sides of an issue – how could God be “for” both of you at the same time?), but God knows how fickle people are, even believers. He knows how we can worship Him with all our hearts one minute and be nose-deep in sin the next. Is it any wonder He won’t support us or anyone else unequivocally?

The reality is God doesn’t pick sides; we do. 

God has a team; Satan has a team. Humans decide which team to be on, sometimes jumping back and forth at a nauseating pace.

The Story is about God and His Kingdom, not us and ours. God is not for humans; God is for God. Are we?

How to Not Sin When You Don’t Like God’s Plan

I’m thinking of starting a series called, “Stuff Jesus Did that We Label Sin but Shouldn’t Because Jesus Did that Stuff”.

(It’s a working title.)

As I read through the gospels, I see a lot of things that fall into this category. I am often scratching my head (not literally though; my dandruff is under control. But if yours isn’t, no judgment here. Scratch away).

Many of the things Jesus says seem harsh and unloving at times. I wrestle with how to reconcile those statements with His sinlessness when if I said the same words today, everyone would think I’m a big fat impatient jerk.

This morning I was reading in Mark about Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and, again, I found myself wondering, “Is He sinning?”

Now, of course, He isn’t sinning anywhere ever in the Bible (or out of the Bible, for that matter), but you get my point: as I read I had to open up my mind a little bit and try to figure out why what appeared to be sin wasn’t actually sin and what that means for us.

At this point, details would be helpful.

Jesus is in the Garden, full of sorrow, presumably regarding His impending arrest, mauling, and crucifixion. So Jesus did the best thing He could think of when He was “full of sorrow to the point of death”: He got alone and prayed (Mark 14:34-36).

(That’s a whole different post, but it’s a pretty short one, so let me sum it up: when we feel that way, we should do what Jesus did too.)

On we go.

This post wants to focus on the content of the prayer (I asked it; it told me).

“[Jesus] fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “AbbaFather,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

What is Jesus really saying here?

Jesus is telling/asking God to change the plan.

To me, that communicates Jesus doesn’t trust or agree with the plan. And not trusting God seems like a sin. Disagreeing with God is unwise, at best. It smells of rebellion.

Maybe I am reading my own life into this situation: when I ask God to change the plan, I know it comes from a place of not trusting Him.

But that can’t be so with Jesus because He is sinless. He is not distrusting or disagreeable with the Father or unwise or rebellious in any cell of His body.

So what’s the difference? How can Jesus tell God to change the plan and not sin, but when I tell God to change the plan, it’s usually rooted in sin? 

I think the answer is two-fold.

First, Jesus had the correct understanding of what asking God to do things differently is: not a sin. Asking God to change the plan is simply not a sin in and of itself. We may have been brought up to think it is, but, apparently, it’s not because of the sheer fact that Jesus did it. It is perfectly acceptable to God for us to suggest alternate ways of doing things when His ways scare the crap out of us. But I think most of us wrongly assume it is always a sin to “help” God brainstorm options that are more palatable to us.

(For more on this, go read all the times Moses petitioned God to change His mind/plan. It happened a lot, and God didn’t ever call it sin or dole out a punishment to Moses for objecting to God’s plan. This, logically, does not guarantee God didn’t consider Moses’ objecting sinful, but it makes a pretty good case.)

The second difference is how Jesus couched His request that God do things differently.

Before He told God to change it up, Jesus said, “Everything is possible for you.” Jesus acknowledged God’s omnipotence. Jesus was saying, “I know, Father, that You have the ability to change the way this thing is going to go down. I wouldn’t bother to ask if I didn’t believe that with My whole heart.”

In my estimation, Jesus’ prefacing His request with this admission is an expression of trust. It’s also an acknowledgement that Jesus can’t change things Himself; He is under the Father’s sovereignty and is letting God know He accepts that.

After Jesus told God to take His cup, He ended His prayer with, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “I realize the fact that whatever You decide to do – go ahead with Your original plan or adapt things at my request – it will be the best choice.”

Again, Jesus is showing complete trust in God and deferral to the Father’s ultimate authority. Jesus is expressing that while His mind might believe a different plan would be better, His heart’s true desire is to do what the Father wants done.

And I think Jesus’ framing His request this way is what determines He is not sinning for desiring a different course of action.

Where the rest of us get tripped up is we either don’t believe God can truly change things or our hearts don’t truly want what He wants. Or, worse, both are true of us. 

After a brief consultation with His disciples, Jesus prayed one more time. He determined His job was to get on with things, and if God wanted to answer His prayer and change the plan along the way, that was up to the Father.

So that’s just what Jesus did. “Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:42). He embraced the path God had set before Him head on and trusted God to make it lead exactly where the Father wanted it to.

All this to say desiring things to go differently than how God appears to be making them go is not the sin. Doing things differently than how you know God wants them to be done is the sin. It’s in the doing things our own way that we express disregard for His omnipotence and sovereignty. It’s in the doing things against His orders that we show Him we really don’t care about His will at all; we want our will to be done no matter what.

As usual, it’s about the heart. If our hearts are right, like Jesus’ heart was – yielded to God’s wisdom, love, and ultimate authority – we can ask Him to change anything without sinning in the process.

 

How to Reduce Fear and Increase Faith

In Mark 4 Jesus asks His disciples two questions I think He asks you and me pretty regularly, too.

His inquiries are made to the disciples at the end of the story of how He speaks to the wind and the waves in a “furious squall” and they immediately die down.

After calming the storm with just three words, “Quiet! Be still!” Jesus says to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:39-40).

It struck me that what Jesus is implying is that if they had faith, they wouldn’t have fear. Faith and fear, then, are opposites.

If we find ourselves fearful about something, the best prayer we can pray, it seems, is, “Lord, increase my faith!”

How does God increase our faith?

First John 4:18 reads, “…perfect love drives out fear…” And this description of what love does comes right after John’s defining what love is: God. “God is love,” (1 John 4:16).

So, God is love – perfect love, of course – and perfect love drives out fear. Logic tells me, then, that God drives out fear. But it’s a particular aspect of who He is that removes fear from our hearts: Love.

If you’re still with me, I believe God increases our faith in Him by driving out the fear in our hearts via His making us more and more aware of His perfect love. 

The better we understand His love for us, the calmer we are and the more easily we trust Him, whatever may come.

I think it’s worth noting Jesus’ second question is, “Do you still have no faith?” He didn’t expect the disciples to have perfect faith, just some faith. But, apparently, they didn’t have any at all.

It would make sense to me that fear and faith are inversely proportional: the more we have of one, the less we have of the other.

I was tempted at first to write they cannot coexist, that when we feel or have one, we cannot feel or have the other. But I don’t think that’s true.

We are fallen and will never have perfect or complete faith in God about anything. Our flesh and Satan whisper doubt to us all the time, scaring us. But the more we focus on God’s love, the louder our faith will be and the quieter our fear will get.

The last part of these questions that caught my eye is the word still. “Do you still have no faith?” I can sense Jesus’ exasperation that after all the disciples had seen Him do, all they’d heard Him say, all they’d experienced with Him, they still didn’t believe Jesus knew what He was doing when He told them to set sail that night? They still didn’t believe Jesus would protect them no matter how terrible the storm got or how soundly He slept?

Why didn’t they have faith in their teacher who was obviously divinely anointed?

Because in the moment they forgot everything they knew about Him. They forgot the miracles they’d witnessed Him perform, the healings they’d seen Him do, the wise teachings they’d heard from His mouth, and the hints He’d been dropping that He was the Messiah.

Instead of recalling the truths about Jesus – the things that would have given them faith – the disciples focused on the wind and the waves threatening their lives. They focused on the fear.

We have to train our minds to remember all the ways Jesus has been faithful to us throughout our lives. We have to think about all we’ve been through with Him, how He has blessed us and protected us in the past. Especially in the middle of a fear-inducing storm, we have to focus our thoughts on His impeccable character and unfailing love for us.

To reduce fear and increase faith in our lives, we need to study His perfect love and remember all He has brought us through.