Right, Wrong, and Wise

Right or Wrong?  Wouldn’t life be easier if everything were a simple “yes or no”?  Life’s choices would be easier if we right and wrong was always crystal clear.  That, however, is not how life works.

James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Even this verse, which gives a high standard for sin, opens up a discussion that can people can intelligently disagree about.  What does the phrase “knows the right thing” mean?  What are we liable for in our actions and what are we not?

This verse is not actually intended to be the Scriptures total definition of sin (right or wrong).  This passage intended to be a guide.  In other words, when you know the right thing – whether by clear instruction, wisdom given, or leading of the Spirit – and you do not do it, you sin.

Right and wrong are easier to define on certain issues.  Other issues require some thought, discussion, study, and consideration.  The main goal of this blog is to encourage you to seek that wisdom.  This Sunday I am preaching on the topic “who is wise?”  My key text will be Proverbs 14:8, 15.  The idea in this passage is that a wise person “consider his ways.”  The wise person does not just do, they consider.  They consider further than the fork in the road they stand at or the crossroads they find themselves considering.  They consider not just the decision at hand, but where it leads.  They consider their “way.”

The book of Proverbs is a must for a believer.  You need to read and re-read it.  You need to study it and memorize it.  Here is why.

Honoring the Lord requires more than simple right and wrong decisions, it requires wise decisions.

Wisdom is the ability to see beyond simple right and wrong and see better and best.  It is the ability to apply knowledge to a situation.  It is the capacity for a person to consider who they are and who someone else is and make a decision about a situation not based on a universally known right or wrong, but the ability to apply knowledge to a particular situation.

The Proverbs help us learn how to do this.  I hope to share some insight in how to use wisdom.

  1. You must want wisdom to have it. You need to love it and desire to learn it.  (Prov. 19:8)
  2. You must want what is beneficial not just what is permissible. (1 Cor. 10:23) Some applicable examples of this from Probers are the teachings on gluttony, laziness, or alcohol.  Wisdom calls you to consider more than what is wrong to consider what is wise. How does one apply the truth “beer is a brawler and wine a mocker” into your life?  Well you consider the benefit of the drink.  Do I really want to pour some liquid brawler or mocker in me right before I spend time with my spouse that I am already aggravated with?  NO.  Consider the way not just the wrong.  (Prov. 20:1)  Or how does one consider the idea that gluttony and being lazy go together in Scripture?  (Prov. 26:15)  If I have a lot of work to do this afternoon, should I go to the all you can eat Chinese buffet for lunch?  NO – not because of simple wrong, but because of wisdom. 
  3. You must want to honor others above have for yourself.  (Prov. 31:4-5) This is especially true for anyone who leads.  The King should not drink because he has too much responsibility and power to end up foolish.  It is not the right or wrong of the drink but the wisdom to not allow drink to have influence over great power or authority that must be considered.  Consider wisdom not just right and wrong.

I challenge you to become a student of wisdom in Scripture.  So many of life’s decisions are addressed in the wisdom writings.  You must, however, not read them for simple yes/no commands.  God is teaching you wise ways to decide right and wrong along your way.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.  Proverbs 4:7

Keeping Up Appearances

Mask

“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil”…Proverbs 3:7 (ESV)

It’s been a summer of wisdom at Fellowship Church as we’ve spent the months of June and July exploring the Old Testament’s “wisdom books,” namely Psalms and Proverbs.  As we’ve made the turn to Proverbs this week, we’re zeroing in on the stark contrast at the core of this collection of pithy, memorable sayings- that between (godly) wisdom and (worldly) foolishness.

I think most of us, myself included, really like the idea of wisdom.  Certainly, if given the choice, most of us would rather be described as wise than foolish.  The problem is, though, that God’s brand of wisdom- in reality, the only true wisdom- often seems quite upside down in our world ruined and wrecked by the deception of sin.  Walking in godly wisdom can be costly in the short term- and indeed, all too ironically, may actually earn us to label “fool” from those bought in and caught up in sin’s web of lies.  Given that as the case, here’s the challenging question I want us to consider as we pursue godly wisdom this month and beyond…

Would you rather look foolish for a while, or live foolish forever?

Don’t be too quick to answer now, because while it seems like a softball of a question, our day to day life in this world often betrays the obvious.  Here are a few examples…

  • It looks foolish to many to walk according to God’s high standard of sexual purity, but in the end, the Bible makes clear that destruction awaits those who indulge their every desire for momentary pleasure.
  • It looks foolish to many to be both disciplined and generous with money and material possessions, but in the end, the Bible teaches us that freedom and joy are found not when we hoard, but instead when we give.
  • It looks foolish to many to humbly “consider others better than yourself,” but in the end, that’s how thriving relationships- be it in marriage, in friendship, in the church (or beyond)- are built and sustained.
  • It looks foolish to take risks for the sake of the advance of the Gospel- for example, in places and among people groups that are hostile to it- but in the end, God gets glory and others are set free to follow Jesus through such “dangerous” obedience.

The truth is, we live in a world that regularly runs hard down paths that the Bible calls “foolish”- and in doing so, actually considers themselves to be “wise…enlightened…and progressive.”  I’m more and more convinced that the most significant problem we face isn’t even the specific choices we make, but the deep rooted spirit of pride that underlies them.  C.S. Lewis wrote about this very thing in his classic work, The Screwtape Letters (written from the perspective of an experienced demon seeking to draw humans away from God)…

“The Enemy (in Screwtape’s language, this refers to God) loves platitudes.  Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; Is it righteous?  Is it prudent?  Is it possible?  Now if we can keep men asking, ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time?  Is it progressive or reactionary?  Is this the way that history is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions. 

And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them make.  As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on.  And great work has already been done…For the descriptive adjective “unchanged,” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant.” (138-39)

Is this not a striking depiction of the age in which we live, and the kind of thinking in which we often find ourselves caught up?  Rather than asking the “simple” questions presented by God in the Bible, we expend our energies navel-gazing and analyzing how our choices- be they about sex, money, family, politics, authority, or anything else- will appear to the observing world around us.  We so desperately want to be perceived as “wise…enlightened…and progressive” that we will often forfeit the ability to actually be these things in the eternal reality of God.

I want to examine yourself humbly and honestly this week, and ask God to show you how many of your words and actions in a given day are subject to what pastor and author John Ortberg terms “impression management.”  Take a long, hard look at your conversations, at your social media posts, and at the choices you make as an individual or as a family.  Ask yourself, “Now where did I get the idea to say or do that?”  And if the honest answer is that it came from anywhere other than God or a trusted, godly source, ask yourself if you’re really walking in wisdom there, or if you are simply acting out of the fear of looking foolish in front of others.

I like the way pastor and author Mark Batterson talks about this- “If you aren’t willing (as a Jesus follower) to look foolish, you’re foolish.  Faith requires a willingness to look foolish.”  I don’t know the specifics of your situation, and where and how God may be leading you to “look foolish” in the world’s eyes to follow Him in trust and obedience.  But I do know this- It would be the pinnacle of foolishness to turn aside from His voice and “go with the flow” of competing voices instead.  The question is- Are you willing to trust, and act in accordance with, the conviction that God’s ways really are the best ways…even when that’s difficult to see in the temporary?

So back to the question we began with- Would you rather look foolish for a while, or live foolish forever?  I challenge you today to abandon the exhausting effort of “keeping up appearances,” and simply listen to the voice of the Father, trusting Him to lead you into wisdom and its benefits.  He may take you some places you never thought you’d go, but in the end, it’s a road- indeed, the only road- that leads to real life.

 

Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death!

Breaking chain

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”…Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

“Give me liberty, or give me death!”  What comes to mind when you read or hear this declaration?  Is it not the rallying cry of the American Revolution, expressed famously by Patrick Henry in response to the tyranny of the British crown?  200+ years after the winds of revolution blew through the thirteen colonies to bring about the birth of a nation, there is still something about freedom– not just as a political theory, but as a lived experience- that stirs the spirit, doesn’t it?

As tremendous a thing as it is to celebrate the blessing of American independence today, though, what we find when we read the Bible’s New Testament is that liberty is an idea that far transcends- and long pre-dates- the story of a single nation-state, American or otherwise.  The Apostle Paul’s letters, in particular, contend with stubborn intensity for the primacy of the unique, unmatched freedom that is found only in a right relationship with Jesus Christ.  And nowhere is this argument advanced more forcefully than in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

To provide a bit of backstory, Paul had launched the church at Galatia on one of his missionary journeys across Asia Minor, or what we now know as the Mediterranean rim stretching from the northern Middle East into far eastern Europe.  In the time that lapsed between the church’s birth and the time of Paul’s writing, a group of false teachers known as the “Judaizers” had risen to prominence and began to lead the new Jesus followers astray.

Specifically, they argued that repentance from sin and faith in Jesus weren’t sufficient to make someone right with God, but that instead there must be additional works performed to complete one’s salvation.  These works found their roots in the Old Testament Jewish law, and included ritualistic cleansing laws, strict dietary restrictions, and circumcision (!).  There began to be an “insider/outsider” division in the church between those who submitted to such laws and those who did not.  As you might expect, this led to two major problems- deep seated disunity between supposed Jesus followers along ethnic lines, and doctrinal doubts that threatened to undermine the Galatians’ confidence in the Gospel message itself.

In light of this, Paul goes to great lengths to fight for this church’s freedom in Jesus Christ.  Recognizing that works-based religion is the “default mode” of the human heart (a thought that reformer Martin Luther would revisit over 1500 years later), Paul takes his readers back time and again to the Gospel reality that our standing before God is not- and can never be– based on any work of our own, but solely on the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus.  As Paul explains, this isn’t just an empty theory, but something meant to be a lived experience each and every day.  So what are some of the practical ways that we experience Gospel freedom in the “ins and outs” of life in this world…

  • Gospel freedom means hope in the face of your struggles. Because Jesus has set us free from the power of sin, we no longer have to resign ourselves to a life void of deep level transformation.  Whatever your unique sin struggle, the power of Jesus Christ within you affords you the ability to overcome it and walk in righteousness.
  • Gospel freedom means grace in the face of your failures. Because of the finished work of Jesus, your failures no longer define you; His victory does!  This means that even when you fall short of God’s standard (and don’t we all?), His grace is available and sufficient to restore you into right fellowship with Him to keep you moving forward.  To experience this, of course, requires honesty, humility, and repentance.
  • Gospel freedom means humility in the face of your successes. We often don’t think of this as much, but it is no less powerful- and no less important.  Pride is such a vicious prison; it requires you to constantly “keep up appearances” to manage the image you want to project to the world around you.  Christ-centered humility frees us from such compulsive impression management and enables to serve God and others without obsessing over what they think of us.
  • Gospel freedom means courage in the face of uncertainty, and even danger. There are times when God will call you, as a part of His family, to say and do things that are well outside your proverbial “comfort zone.”  So how can you muster the courage to trust and obey in these moments?  By recognizing that your calling is not based on your qualifications, but on His; that your obedience is not made possible by your ability, but by His; and that your success is not defined by your visible results, but by your faithfulness to His

So what’s the alternative to Gospel freedom?  As Paul puts it, a “yoke of slavery.”  “Slavery” trades in the hope of the Gospel for a “try harder, do better” message that put all the focus not on Jesus, but on self.  The net effect of this is not a growing love for God and delight in righteousness, but a begrudging spirit that never can seem to measure up.  God quickly becomes a cruel taskmaster to appease, rather than a kind, compassionate Father to love.

On this Independence Day, my hope and prayer for you is that you’ll live in the freedom that Jesus has made possible for you through the Gospel- and that the result will be ever increasing joy for you, and ever increasing glory for God in and through your life!

Freedom

Preparations are underway around our country to celebrate Independence Day. Chances are if you’re not on the road to a vacation, you have something in the fridge to grill next week. There is always plenty of excitement around any day you celebrate with fireworks, but did you know that this July Fourth marks the 241st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence? Let us be intentional not to take our freedom for granted.

We live in the land of the free, and the home of the brave. We have freedom to do what we want to do and say what we want to say.  We have so many freedoms in America. People long to come to America because we live in freedom. So, what freedom is it that you most look forward to celebrating this Fourth of July?

Reading Ephesians 6, we should be convicted of the urgency to know God well in the present and be as completely prepared as possible for whatever may come in the future. In Ephesians 6:10-17, followers of Christ are commanded to put on the full armor of God. Here are just a couple of the verses from this portion of the scripture, 11“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Our battle is oftentimes an unseen one. Let us not be unaware that we too are caught up in it. We are in a battle for precious souls. Be prepared; 13 “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm . . . .17 and take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

This fourth of July I will give thanks for all of the sweat and sacrifice that makes, creates, and sustains these United States of America. And I will be celebrating my freedom to worship the One and Only, True Living God. I will be celebrating my freedom to teach my children the ways of the Lord. I will be celebrating the freedom to read, study, meditate, and memorize the Scripture. And be sure that I will be celebrating the freedom to help my children do the same.

Why? I do not want to take today’s freedom for granted because though they are protected, the future is not guaranteed. There could come a day where we no longer live in the freedom that we enjoy today. God willing, the day will never come where we do not have the freedom to worship and study God’s Word. It is vital that we know God’s Word! Treasure it this Independence Day.