Monday, June 27, 2011

Thinking Wrongly of God

During yesterday’s service, as we were reading through the public confession, one little phrase really stood out to me. I can’t remember the exact wording but it went something like, “forgive us for thinking of You wrongly when we suffer.” Isn’t that our tendency?
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1)
How did Job respond to the calamity that God allowed to fall on him and his family? “‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:21-22)

In chapter 2, Job rebuked his wife when she told him to “curse God and die,” and said to her, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) In other words, “we have been given grace, but are not therefore exempt from God’s just punishment for our sins.”

Matthew Henry offers some helpful thoughts on this passage:
Job humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, and brought his mind to his condition... Satan still endeavors to draw men from God, as he did our first parents, by suggesting hard thoughts of Him, than which nothing is more false. But Job resisted and overcame the temptation.
Lest anyone think that Job was simply being stoic, Job 2:13 says, “no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

Now, of course, as the rest of the book unfolds, we find Job’s faith wavering at times. He is rebuked by God and shown his proper place (“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” Job 38:4).
The instructions to be learned from the patience of Job, and from his trials, are as useful now, and as much needed as ever. We live under the same Providence, we have the same chastening Father, and there is the same need for correction unto righteousness. The fortitude and patience of Job, though not small, gave way in his severe troubles; but his faith was fixed upon the coming of his Redeemer, and this gave him steadfastness and constancy, though every other dependence, particularly the pride and boast of a self-righteous spirit, was tried and consumed. (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Job)
When we go through trials, our focus must be on what we know to be true about God, not what Satan tempts us to assume about Him. This requires grace, faith, perseverance, and knowledge about who God is. If we don’t study His Word and learn about His character and promises, what comfort can we expect to have in our trials?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Leave Your Simple Ways and Live

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Prov. 22:3)
The contrast between wisdom and foolishness, prudence and simplicity is emphasized over and over in the book of Proverbs. In the very first chapter, Solomon declares his purpose for writing: “To give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.” (Prov. 1:4)

What can we learn from this particular verse in Proverbs 22?

Prudence & Simplicity

A “simple” man is a man who lacks wisdom (Ps. 19:7), sense (Prov. 9:4), is gullible (Prov. 14:15) and displays little foresight (Prov. 22:3). He careless, naive and self-occupied, rendering himself weak against temptation, oblivious to spiritual danger, and prone to all sorts of foolish imaginations. Webster’s 1828 dictionary describes the simple man as “unsuspecting.”

The prudent man, on the other hand, possesses wisdom, understanding, and discretion (Prov. 8:12). He is responsible (Prov. 10:5), restrained (Prov. 10:19), long-suffering (Prov. 12:16), and careful (Prov. 14:15). Seeking to “work out [his] salvation with fear and trembling,” he surrenders his thinking to Christ, that he may recognize evil in all its subtleties, realize its peril, and flee while there is yet time. The Hebrew word that is here translated as “prudent could also be translated “beware,” implying constant awareness and caution.

I think it’s helpful to clarify the difference between “wisdom” and “prudence.” Webster’s 1828 dictionary offers a good definition:
Prudence differs from wisdom in this, that prudence implies more caution and reserve than wisdom, or is exercised more in foreseeing and avoiding evil, than in devising and executing that which is good. It is sometimes mere caution or circumspection.
Some Application

How can we avoid the “danger” mentioned in this verse? The obvious thing to do is to “leave our simple ways” and pursue prudence, but what does that look like?

First of all, we must seek the Lord for wisdom and prudence.
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. (Prov. 2:6-8)
We must love God’s Law.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. (Ps. 19:7)
We must recognize the craftiness of sin, and be vigilant against it.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1)
We must not invite temptation or make ourselves available to the lust of the flesh. There are some places we simply should not go (movies we should not watch, music we should not listen to, etc.).
I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. (Prov. 7:7-9)
We must make no allowances for sin in our personal lives, and must strive to be “spiritually-minded.”
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom. 8:6)
Realizing the danger that lies ahead, we must hide ourselves or flee altogether, in order to preserve our purity.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:22)
Combs and Toothpicks

Remember, we’re not just talking about the difference between the man who sees the freight train coming and responds by jumping on the track, as opposed to the man who keeps his distance because he “sees the danger.” Sin is rarely as obvious as a freight train hurtling down the track at 140mph — but it is far more dangerous.

The battle against sin is never easy (nor did God promise that it would be). You may need to pull out your microscope and do some serious thinking and praying, but remember, you are not alone.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Should We Sneer At Cow-Creamers? - The Bible on Bargaining

“Bad, bad,” says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts. (Proverbs 20:14)
At first glance this verse appears to be simply a statement of fact: this is the way bargaining works. But is there more to it than that? Proverbs is filled with factual statements, but in every instance the fact is accompanied by a moral - something that sheds new light on the things we regularly encounter in life.

Those of us who pinch pennies and enjoy purchasing things for the best possible price can probably identify with the tactics used by the buyer in this verse. As Dave Ramsey advises, don’t let your emotional attachment to the item become obvious to the seller; once they know you’ve “bought,” they have the upper hand, so your best bet is to maintain your distance (emotionally) and in no way communicate that you really, really want what they’re selling. You might even go so far as to “sneer at the cow-creamer,” to quote Wodehouse.

Another scenario: Susie has no idea what her piano is really worth. She put it up for sale with the motivation of finding a good home for the instrument and making a few bucks off the sale to help with her move. Are you obligated to tell her that the piano is really worth x and that her price is absurdly low? Or can you simply pay what she’s asking and leave in a good mood?

Matthew Henry made this comment about Proverbs 20:14:
Men use arts to get a good bargain, and to buy cheap; whereas a man ought to be ashamed of a fraud and a lie.

The Bible commends frugality many times over, but it also cautions us against some common pitfalls for those who pursue frugality with the wrong motivations.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have... (Hebrews 13:5a)
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. (1 Timothy 6:10a)
As we saw in the example of Ananias and Sapphira, “the love of money” doesn’t always manifest itself in coveting what we don’t have, but also in selfishly hoarding what we do have. Be careful that you aren’t pursuing frugality out of an unbiblical love of money.

What We Can Learn From the World

On the other hand, there are some things which we can learn from the world about how to manage money and be shrewd with our resources. In Luke 16, Jesus relates the story of the dishonest manager. For the sake of brevity, I won’t include it here, but read it over and see if it doesn’t strike you as odd how “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:8a)

Christ clarifies the meaning of the parable to his disciples by noting that, “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8b) Again, Matthew Henry offers some helpful commentary on this passage:
The lord referred to in this parable commended not the fraud, but the policy of the steward. In that respect alone is it so noticed. Worldly men, in the choice of their object, are foolish; but in their activity, and perseverance, they are often wiser than believers. The unjust steward is not set before us as an example in cheating his master, or to justify any dishonesty, but to point out the careful ways of worldly men. It would be well if the children of light would learn wisdom from the men of the world, and would as earnestly pursue their better object.

The true riches signify spiritual blessings; and if a man spends upon himself, or hoards up what God has trusted to him, as to outward things, what evidence can he have, that he is an heir of God through Christ?
In Conclusion

I’m convinced that the key to a Scriptural understanding of bargaining is the principle of “faithfulness.”
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. (Luke 16:10)
One who is faithful will:
  • Make good use of the resources he is given by God, no matter how little or how much (Matthew 25:14-30)
  • Will keep himself free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Will not be afraid of money; it is the gift of God (2 Chronicles 1:11)
  • Will be afraid of the effects money can have (Luke 18:24)
  • Will not lie or defraud others in an attempt to keep more of his wealth
So, returning to the original verse from Proverbs, “‘Bad, bad,’ says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.”, what can we conclude?
  1. Be shrewd, but don’t lie.
  2. By all means, shop for deals!
  3. Make sure your motivations are in line with Scripture.
  4. Don’t be naive. Make sure the seller is asking a fair price (remember the sons of this world are often more shrewd than we are).
  5. Surrender your resources to Christ, and don’t hoard wealth.
  6. Seek spiritual riches first.

Friday, June 10, 2011

When They Speak Against You

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)
Notice how Peter singles out the Gentiles in this verse? He emphasizes the importance of keeping our conduct among them honorable, but this raises the question, “should not our conduct be honorable among all, regardless of whether they be Gentiles or not?” Yes, of course. But why does Peter specifically reference the Gentiles - or unbelievers - here?

He knows that they will condemn us and our actions - “when they speak against you as evildoers” - and therefore encourages believers to act honorably among them, giving no grounds to their accusations.

We may, however, also fall under the condemnation of fellow Christians. The difference in that scenario is that we both acknowledge the same standard, and can therefore argue from that standard - God’s Word. Sadly, that doesn’t come naturally. We are far more likely to argue for our respective opinions, temporarily setting aside the authority of Scripture in favor of what we like - what we’re passionate about (or what we’re passionately opposed to).
Take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Regardless or who speaks against us, and for what cause, we must act honorably and with humility - honorably because we are representatives of Christ, and with humility because we may very well be the one in the wrong.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Whom He Foreknew"

To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father... (1 Peter 1:1-2)
I read A.W. Pink’s thoughts on the foreknowledge of God a few days ago, so I was immediately struck by Peter’s use of the word “foreknowledge.” The following thoughts are largely drawn from Pink’s book, The Attributes of God.
You see friends, the choice is yours. Winning or losing, life or death. No one can make that decision for you. Choose life! Choose winning! Choose Jesus today! (1st Free Insurance Quotes website)
Ah, but is the choice really ours? Or does something happen previous to our conversion which is, in fact, the cause of our conversion?

I’m not intending to address the issue of free will right now. Rather, I want to examine what the word “foreknowledge” implies in the broader context of Scripture; does God foresee what will happen and react, or does He sovereignly decree what will happen?

The Scriptural Definition of “Foreknowledge”
When God’s eternal choice of certain ones to be conformed to the image of His Son is set forth, the Enemy sends along some man to argue that election is based upon the foreknowledge of God, and this “foreknowledge” is interpreted to mean that God foresaw certain ones would be more pliable than others, that they would respond more readily to the strivings of the Spirit, and that because God knew they would believe, He, accordingly, predestined them unto salvation. But such a statement...repudiates the truth of total depravity [and] takes away the independency of God, for it makes His decrees rest upon what He discovers in the creature. (Pink, The Attributes of God, ch. 4)
What does Scripture mean by “foreknowledge”? To find out, we must go beyond our simplistic personal definitions, or even Webster’s dictionary; how does Scripture itself use the term?

When Scripture uses the word “foreknowledge,” it is always in reference to persons, not events or actions, thus, “It is persons God is said to ‘foreknow,’ not the actions of those persons.”
...This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers... (Rom 8:29)
God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. (Rom. 11:2)
To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father... (1 Peter 1:1-2)

God’s Decree is Causative

We must expand upon and clarify our understanding of God’s foreknowledge by taking a brief look at what lies behind it. It is clear from the first two passages above - Acts 2:23, and Rom. 8:29 - that God’s foreknowledge is not causative; it is preceded by His sovereign decree. In Rom. 8:29, the word “for” indicates that we must look back to what immediately precedes that verse. “All things work together for good to them...who are the called according to His purpose.”
God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be. (Pink, The Attributes of God, ch. 4)

What of Free Will, Then?
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Eph. 2:8)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Siouxon Creek Trail Hike

Today a group from church hiked about 9 miles on Siouxon Creek Trail near Amboy, WA. It was AMAZING weather and we had a great time. I may post some more details later, but for now here's one of my waterfall shots that turned out surprisingly well (surprising, because I wasn't shooting with a tripod and still managed a 1.5" exposure). I hope you all enjoyed your weekend!