Tag Archives: wisdom

The Power of The Word

This is the text for the sermon I preached on Sunday, December 27th, at North Greenville Christian Fellowship in Greenville, SC.  I would love to hear your feedback on the thoughts presented here.  Happy New Year!

John 1 (Contemporary English Version)

 1In the beginning was the one who is called THE WORD.  THE WORD was with God and was truly God.  2From the very beginning THE WORD was with God.  3And with this Word, God created all things.  Nothing was made without THE WORD.  Everything that was created 4received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone.  5The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out…  9The true light that shines on everyone was coming into the world.  10THE WORD was in the world, but no one knew him, though God had made the world with his WORD.  11He came into his own world, but his own nation did not welcome him.  12Yet some people accepted him and put their faith in him.  So he gave them the right to be the children of God.  13They were not God’s children by nature or because of any human desires.  God himself was the one who made them his children.  14THE WORD became a human being (the Christmas story – the birth of Jesus is when THE WORD became a human being, flesh and blood) and lived here with us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.  From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us. 

We just celebrated Christmas – the birthday of Jesus – the one whom John calls THE WORD.  God Himself came into the world and became a human being.  He did this incredible thing so that we could know Him and recognize how well He knows us. 

One of the main reasons all the world stops to celebrate the miraculous birth of Jesus is because the Creator of the universe left His throne in heaven and came to earth to live with us and show Himself to us clearly.  He wanted us to know Him.  He wanted us to understand Him.  He wanted us to be able to trust Him fully.  And He came to redeem us from the curse of sin and death and give us abundant life.  What a gift!

I’ve been thinking about what it means that Jesus is called THE WORD in John. 

Genesis 1:3 is the first time we read in Scripture about anything related to THE WORD.  “And God SAID, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.’”  The entire first chapter of the first book in the Bible is full of “God said”s – 10 of them actually.  God didn’t create our world through sweat and labor.  He used THE WORD to speak it into existence. 

Throughout the Old Testament we read that God spoke to His servants.  So if THE WORD of God is Jesus, then we were introduced to Jesus in the first chapter of the Bible. 

All of God’s WORDS since the creation of the earth were Jesus.  When Jesus was born to Mary as a newborn baby, He was the physical manifestation of all THE WORDs God had spoken to us.  His physical body, His soul, His mind – they were all a reflection of THE WORD of God. 

Jesus was perfect because He was the law of God, He was the 10 commandments, He was the prophecies, He was the warnings, and He was incapable of contradicting Himself.  What we celebrate at Christmas each year is the beauty of that concept; the amazing, supernatural, mind-boggling joy of the day God became human and allowed two other human beings to take care of Him.  What a concept! 

We give gifts to one another to remind ourselves that gifts were given to Jesus by the wise men.  We give gifts to one another to remind ourselves that Jesus was the ultimate gift of God.  We give gifts to one another to remind ourselves that life is more than just achieving, getting, grasping, and receiving things from others.  One of the most important things we can do in life is give to one another:  to put others first the way that God put our needs above His own.  We give gifts to one another to show our appreciation that they are in our lives.  And we receive gifts as a symbolic act of receiving the gift of God in the form of baby Jesus.  It is a very spiritual, symbolic thing, this giving and receiving of gifts. 

It’s possible that the greatest gift we can give to one another are our own words – expressing the things we are thankful for in one another, showering each other with blessings, and saying prayers for each other for the coming year.  Our words can also be a symbolic, spiritual gift that reflects Christ to others. 

The New Testament is full of the actual words that Jesus spoke when He was on earth.  His words are quoted, His words are explained, His words used as a basis for providing direction and correction to the new churches formed in worship of Him.  The words of Jesus – and the records that we have of those words, are vitally important.  What a gift and a blessing we have to have written words that express who Jesus was, what He said, and what He did!  Because of His word, Scripture, we are capable of knowing Jesus Christ personally and intimately. 

The Bible is more than just words on a page, stories, thoughts, and so forth.  The Bible is full of wisdom and truth that we can interact with and that can speak to us personally on a daily basis in the middle of whatever situation we’re facing.  THE WORD is Jesus Christ and He is alive, so His spirit speaks to us through the words on these pages. 

The New Testament is full of the words spoken by Jesus when He became a human being and lived on the earth.  But the Old Testament is THE WORD of God as well.  The Old Testament is just as important to us as the New Testament because it reveals the character of God. 

Hebrews 4:12 says,
For THE WORD of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

What that means is that our motives, our thoughts, even when they might not be clear to us ourselves, are known to God.  And His word, Scripture, is living and powerful enough to cut us to the quick when we’re out of line.  THE WORD of God keeps us on the right path and shows us when our motives or thoughts are impure.  It gets right to the point and challenges us to become more like Christ.

I know that may not sound very exciting.  I mean, who wants to be cut to the quick?  Who wants to be pierced by a two-edged sword?  Um, no thank you! 

However, I think there is a time when all of us actually do want that piercing.  A time when we’re actually willing to endure pain in order to achieve the results we desperately need.

Think about it for a minute.  Is there anything in your life now, or in your past, that you wish you could be free from?  It might have been with you for as long as you can remember, like someone who has always battled depression.  It might be something that started off fairly innocently, a fun little thing you decided to try because it seemed pretty harmless, but somehow it took over your life and changed from a minor indiscretion into a monster trying to eat you alive.  Maybe it’s not a monster, but it still controls a part of your life and scares you a little sometimes and you wonder how to get free.  These things can be as simple as debt or credit problems, as frustrating as an addiction to prescription pain pills that you take for legitimate pain, or as potentially life-shattering as an extramarital affair or an addiction to alcohol.

According to Scripture, THE WORD of God is the thing that can set us free.  It works like the scalpel of a surgeon, cutting out the diseased parts and helping us to heal. 

Last year around this time, my church asked me to write some small group curriculum that would be used to prepare the hearts of the people for the day of Pentecost.  I work in a Pentecostal church, so this seemed like a reasonable request.  To my embarrassment, I had to look up Pentecost to see what it was.  I had never really heard the story that I knew so well referred to as “the day of Pentecost.”  Or if I had, it hadn’t registered with me.  The Day of Pentecost is the day that the disciples received the promise of the Holy Spirit that Jesus, right before He ascended into heaven, had told them to go to Jerusalem and wait for.  It’s the day that the tongues like fire appeared on their heads and they began to speak in other languages.  Our church was having a special speaker come and wanted everyone’s hearts to be prepared to hear the special message.

I believe the task of writing that curriculum was a gift from God to me.  As I studied and wrote, I was reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit to heal, to cast out demons, to know things that we humanly have no way of knowing, and more.  I got excited about it.  One of the assignments I gave the participants who went through the study was to ask God for a new or a fresh anointing from the Holy Spirit.  I did the same myself.  Even though I’m a minister, I found myself really struggling to read the Bible on a regular basis.  I prayed a lot but I was only reading the Bible for my own personal devotional time sporadically.  Dad had taught me to read the Bible daily and write in a journal about what I had learned, and I had done that a lot over the years, but much of the time it had seemed like a chore and I felt extremely guilty if I didn’t do it.  During the course of that study, I repeatedly prayed and asked God to give me a love for His Word, a love for reading the Bible and studying Scripture.  Honestly, I really didn’t have much hope that it would happen.  Reading the Bible to me was a little like exercising – I liked the results, but it was what I did because I knew it was good for me rather than because I enjoyed it. 

Then an amazing thing happened.  I heard a friend talking about a reading schedule for the Bible that included a lot of daily reading – and OT reading, a NT reading, a Psalm, and a Gospel reading:  every day.  He loved it and was getting a lot out of it.  I decided to give it a try.  It took me a few weeks to really get into it, but soon I found myself waking up in the morning with the thought that I didn’t want to over sleep and miss my time of reading Scripture.  I began to love it and to feel like reading in the morning wasn’t enough.  I needed to read the Bible before I went to bed at night too.  This was not like me at all.  God had answered my prayer and I became someone who actually enjoys reading the Bible on a daily basis.  I didn’t think it was possible, but God did it. 

I found that reading that much Scripture every day changed a lot for me.  Instead of focusing on my problems, my short-comings and fears, I was focused on God and had hope that He would take care of my problems.  I had a new hope that if I asked Him, He would help me handle my short-comings and fears.  I realized it would take major effort to be worried about how my life would turn out when I was reading 2-4 psalms every day.  David could get down on his enemies, but he was completely sure that God would rescue him from his problems and writes that often.  To read the psalms daily is to infuse your life with praise of God and hope that He will work everything out in His timing and it will be for the best. 

I have found a new sense of hope for my future.  I’ve found a new trust in God to take care of me.  I’ve been set free from problems I thought would never go away.  God hasn’t snapped His fingers and made all my dreams come true, but He’s helping me as I do some hard work to set things right that I let get way out of hand.  Reading God’s word daily has forced me to repent and confess sins I did not want to talk to anyone about.  Reading God’s word daily has given me strength and hope.  It has changed me in ways that I can’t even explain, but I hope will eventually become obvious to all who know me. 

All this has happened in my life because I asked God to help me love HIS WORD.  Basically, I asked Him to help me love Jesus more.  I’d been a Christian all my life, I was working as a minister in a church, but I didn’t understand how much deeper my relationship with God could be.  I just didn’t understand it, even though others had told me.  I thought my relationship with God was fine, even good.  But now I know what good is and I’m so thankful.

At Christmas we celebrate Christ’s birth.  We celebrate the fact that God loved us so much that He was willing to limit Himself and become a human being.  He became a human being so we could know Him. 

I hope that you’ll consider taking this opportunity to know Christ, to really know God and understand who He is and love Him for it.  God is more than a heavenly being who wants to be sure we don’t break the 10 commandments and expects us to live a good life.  He wants to talk to us, to share Himself with us.  He wants to be our friend, to be the one who sets us free.  Yes, He is God and God is our Savior, our Judge, our Creator, and all of those big things that tend to cause us to observe Him from a distance.  But if you can imagine the best friend possible, the one person who can totally and completely accept you and love you, that person, that friend, can be God. 

He came to earth to show us that friendship, that relationship.  He was a friend to each of the 12 disciples.  He was a brother, a son, an employee, a public speaker, a teacher. He can be those things to us. 

It’s my prayer this morning that you will consider allowing the Christ who came to this earth as a baby and who grew up here, lived, laughed, and made friends before He died, to become your friend.  If you have not asked Him to forgive you for your sins and take over your life, I hope that you’ll do that today.  If you’re already a Christian but you don’t feel like God is your friend, then I hope you’ll consider starting off 2010 with this prayer or one like it. 

Lord, help me to love Your word.  Help me to get to know You through it and to understand who You are and how to be more like You.  Set me free from the things that are weighing me down, the things that I feel stuck in.  I want to know You more.  Please show me how to be Your friend.  Give me the strength to do the things I need to do.  Help me, God.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Ignorance is Bliss?

In a conversation I had with a woman in her late 50s who was describing the abusive childhood of a loved one, she repeated a commonly used excuse for the irresponsible behavior of the parents.  How often have we heard this phrase: “They did the best they could with the knowledge they had”?  That phrase is usually followed or preceded by a horror story of child abuse or some other atrocity.  I decided a long time ago that I despise that phrase, that excuse. 

I do realize that we often do things out of ignorance and on some level that will always happen and cannot be helped.  No one can know everything or understand any situation fully but God.  Perhaps that’s why God is infallible?  He knows everything and sees each situation from all sides.  But I don’t mean to get into a theological discussion of God’s perfection, so moving on…  As I was saying, I do understand that each person will make mistakes out of ignorance and this is to be expected.  The reason I so despise the phrase mentioned is because it’s often is used to excuse behavior that is reprehensible.  When a small child is beaten with a board full of nails for saying a curse word he’s heard his father use a million times before, then forced to “confess” by repeating that curse word and is so frightened he can’t remember it, is then forced to guess what curse word he said then beaten for each incorrect curse word he guessed until he’s nearly dead – that is inexcusable.  Don’t tell me the father didn’t know any better.  No one is that stupid.

I heard that phrase many times while I was growing up in the form of, “I’m sorry I hurt you.  I did the best I could with what I knew to do.”  And I decided I hated it.  I was not the one beaten with boards, thank God!  But in a pastor’s house, you hear horror stories every day.  People bring their problems to their pastor and I paid attention.  Ignorance was sometimes an excuse, but it struck me as totally unreasonable.

I made a decision somewhere around the age of fourteen that I would not let that be an excuse for bad behavior in my life.  If I didn’t know something, I would find out.  And I have built my life on that concept.  I’m a researcher.  It may appear that I make quick decisions and don’t take the time to think them through.  I am a decisive person.  But what many don’t realize is the number of hours I’ve spent searching for answers to questions I don’t have to answer yet, so that when the day comes that I do have to make a choice, I can choose wisely.  I rarely decide anything without much research and forethought.  When I do, I usually regret it. 

Ever since the day my brother was born when I was nearly eleven years old, I have known that I want to be a mother.  I began to research parenting and did all I could to apply the principles I learned to the children around me.  When I was in my early twenties, I finally put down the parenting books because I realized I was driving myself crazy with all this theory and no one to practice on.  I haven’t picked up another parenting book since then, but I’m a really good babysitter and aunt! 

The point is, I didn’t want to make parenting mistakes out of ignorance when the time came.  I haven’t picked up any more books since then, but I’ve been a diligent student of my friends with children.  I’ve watched how they do things, asked questions, and made mental notes for myself. 

In my mid-twenties, a friend challenged me with a unique understanding of Scripture as it relates to the end times and Christ’s return.  She walked me through the Scriptures to prove her point of view.  As she did this, I realized I disagreed strongly with her, but I couldn’t articulate why.  I KNEW she was wrong, but I couldn’t walk her through Scriptures myself to show her why.  I became furious and had to walk away from the conversation before I lost my temper.  I wasn’t angry with her, but with myself for not knowing more so I could discuss it with her.  I’d been a Christian all my life, was a pastor’s daughter, the product of several Christian schools, and had even spent a year in Christian college.  Yet I was mute before her argument.  That realization drove me nuts.

A few years later I enrolled in seminary.  The major paper I did for my last systematic theology class was on this very subject.  I was determined to understand it and refute it.  When I finished that paper, I felt such a sense of accomplishment!  I went back and talked to her about it and was finally able to explain why I disagreed with her.  I didn’t change her mind (darn it!), but I was no longer ignorant either.

Proverbs 13:15 says, “Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard.”

What good would it have done for me to have yelled and shown my anger toward my friend that day when I didn’t know what to say to her, just knew I disagreed with her?  I kept my mouth shut until I had good understanding.  She had no idea I had been so worked up by what she said.  When I went back to her years later, we had an intelligent conversation about it and she was touched that I cared so much about her ideas that I went and studied the matter out to be able to answer her.  We are still great friends to this day and every once in a while have to acknowledge our different opinions on the end times.  This is done with no animosity, but respect.

Proverbs chapter four is full of admonitions to get wisdom and to make sure we understand things. 

Proverbs 4:5 Get wisdom! Get understanding!
      Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
       6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
      Love her, and she will keep you.
       7 Wisdom is the principal thing;
      Therefore get wisdom.
      And in all your getting, get understanding.
       8 Exalt her, and she will promote you;
      She will bring you honor, when you embrace her.
       9 She will place on your head an ornament of grace;
      A crown of glory she will deliver to you.”

We often do shameful things out of ignorance; things that embarrass us later.  We can’t explain why we did them except, “I didn’t know any better.”  But Proverbs urges us to seek wisdom and understanding.  Instead of shame, it promises that we’ll have an ornament of grace, a crown of glory on our heads. 

I try to live my life by the words of Proverbs 4:13, which states, “Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.” 

What would the world look like if we all sought after wisdom and understanding?  If we all tried to understand the best way to do something before we did it?  What would the church look like if just the Christians did that?

There’s no way I’ll ever know all the things I’m interested in, curious about, or need to know.  I wish I could, but when would I sleep?  I realize how little I know, which drives me to learn more and apply myself to getting instruction.  Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power.

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Wisdom isn’t Free

A while back, I heard a father talk about how he prayed for his children to have wealth and financial security.  This amazing father is setting up his children to be financially successful.  My first thought was: Brilliant!  What a great gift to his children!  My second thought was: I wish my parents had prayed that for me.

 

As I sulked about it for a few days, I began making notes to pray for my own children’s financial future.  I dreamed about all the things I could pray for my yet unborn children – financial security, health, godly mates, long life, and so forth.  In the meantime, I was feeling resentful toward my parents for not praying for me to have financial stability and wealth.  As it goes with most of these things, God soon opened my eyes to a greater concept and showed me the wisdom of my own parents. 

 

Mom and Dad were always very intentional about teaching me – Scripture, leadership principles, stage presence, respect, thankfulness, concern for the under-dog, and even how to do things that seemed like too big for a little girl.  They especially taught me about wisdom, reading Proverbs to me and teaching me about Solomon.  I’m not sure how many times they talked to me about Solomon, or how old I was when I heard the story for the first time, but it is a story that has remained with me all my life. 

 

As I considered the Solomon story, I remembered that God offered Solomon anything he wanted and Solomon asked for wisdom.  I’ve always been struck by the fact that all this happened in a dream.  If Solomon were awake and had friends around him to consult with when God made this offer to him, it might have taken him a while to decide what he wanted.  He might have asked for more power, to be healthy in every way, to be the most influential man who ever lived, or to have his children be wealthy and secure.  All of these are wonderful requests, but in his most vulnerable and open state, he asked for wisdom to rule the people well.  God was so pleased with Solomon’s request he was also granted wealth, honor, and a long life (I Kings 3). 

 

Mom and Dad taught me if I prayed for wisdom, God would be pleased with me too.  Not only would He give me wisdom (which God promises in James 1:5), but all the other things I need in life would be given as well.  Suddenly I understood why my parents hadn’t spent a lot of time praying for me to be financially secure or wealthy.  They knew if we prayed for wisdom, those things would come as well.  A wise person cannot help but have honor and be financially successful! 

 

The one thing Dad did not share with me during those lessons is that wisdom isn’t free.  Wisdom comes with experience, which is why we typically associate the elderly with wisdom.  Our hair gets gray because the life experience we have sucks something out of us.  Our fashion standards today tell us to hide our gray hair because it means we’re O-L-D, when in fact it represents life experience and wisdom.  It’s embarrassing to be 33 years old and have half of the hair surrounding your face already gray – or is it? 

 

I’ve discovered over the years, as I have prayed for wisdom nearly every day of my life and in many situations, it is a costly request.  Wisdom comes with experience.  We have a choice of how to handle each challenge that comes – will we learn from it or will we resent the hard things and waste our time asking God “why?” 

 

The thing is, knowing the cost of wisdom, I’ve continued to pray for it.  When I was in my early 20’s, I saw marriages all around me either ending in divorce or failing to thrive.  I saw people hurting one another out of ignorance or fear and it made me so sad.  I prayed that God would teach my future husband and me everything we needed to know to have a joyful marriage – before we married each other. 

 

I thought that prayer meant I would learn a lot of things quickly.  I had no idea that more than ten years later, I’d still be in the learning process.  I spent several years regretting that prayer and repenting from it.  But recently God spoke to me during a time of prayer and seeking.  He told me to stop regretting that prayer because He had heard my heart.  He understood what I meant:  I wanted to enter a marriage relationship with tools in place to help me deal with the problems that inevitably come in any intimate relationship.  He heard my heart’s cry and is honoring that request.

 

My parents did not pray specifically for me to be financially secure or even wealthy, but they did teach me to pray for wisdom, which encompasses all those things.  They also taught me through their daily lives how to be a financially secure person.  They taught me to tithe, to save, and to be frugal.  I did not value those lessons at the time, but they gave me a firm foundation to fall back on when I finally came to my senses about financial matters.  Sometimes I am a slow learner, but my goal is always to be learning and growing.  I’m thankful for those gifts they gave me. 

 

The father who prays for his children to have a secure financial future is a very wise man.  He is doing well for his children.  I’m thankful for parents who also prayed for me to have a secure future by teaching me the value of wisdom and praying for God to bless me with that wonderful gift. 

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