31 Days in Proverbs – Day 8 : Wisdom in Creation

Proverbs 8:22-31

[The personified voice of wisdom is talking:]

The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
    before his deeds of old;
I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
 when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
   Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

 

This passage shows wisdom as God’s creation as well as God’s creative force.

Wisdom is revealed in God’s creation and it is also through wisdom that God made the world.

Wisdom is described as existing before the creation of the world as well as being a witness to God’s acts of creation, at God’s side while he created.

 

What can I learn from this?

  1. True wisdom is something outside of human knowledge. According to these verses, it predates humanity itself.
  2. Wisdom was created by God, in fact, these verses describe wisdom as the “first of his works”.
  3. Wisdom rejoices in the works of God’s hands including the whole world as well as mankind.
  4. Wisdom delights in the presence of God.

What are the implications of this?

  1. Human wisdom is only ever a shadow or a reflection of true wisdom. True wisdom existed before the creation of the world. A materialist worldview that acknowledges only what can be seen, touched, tasted, and empirically tested will fall short of this form of wisdom.
  2. God himself created wisdom. If we experience wisdom its because of the ability that God created inside of us to be wise. But wisdom will fall short if we do not seek to understand what God himself wants of us.
  3. Wisdom acknowledges that everything we see was created by a creator – God. This should lead to praise and delight just as described above.
  4. If wisdom delights in the presence of God, perhaps we should, too?

 

Concluding thoughts

This kind of wisdom is what sets the Christian worldview radically apart from any other. Our whole basis of knowledge and understanding is altered when we put God in his place as the powerful creator of this world, as well as the creator of wisdom.

The Biblical story tells me that while wisdom could rejoice in God’s presence from the creation of the world, I can only approach God because his son Jesus opened the way through his death on the cross.

It reminds me of this verse about true Christian wisdom – a wisdom that seems like foolishness to those who don’t believe.

1 Corinthians 1:18-21

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written:I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. Where is the philosopher?Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. 

Wrestling with God’s Word

I’m not a natural athlete. In fact, when I was in High School, my P.E. teacher and I reaching something of a truce one year when he attended the School Awards Ceremony and realised that I was good at every other subject except P.E. So, when I brought in a note saying I couldn’t participate in Cross Country that year due to “weak ankles” (an excuse that now sounds eerily familiar to Donald Trump’s handy “bone spurs”) he was happy to let me sit out for a whole term while my friends had to run around the school block every week.

When it comes to God’s word, in some ways I’ve been an endurance athlete, making it a part of my life for the 20 plus years I’ve been a follower of Jesus. I’ve tried to remain diligent in my reading and study of it in the ups and downs of life, with varying degrees of success. Sure, there have been setbacks, times of struggle, and weeks, perhaps months where God’s word has not be a central part of my daily routine. But I am always drawn back to God and his messages to me in the pages of the Bible. Time after time.

Yet there are many more times when it comes to reading the Bible when I’m more like the person who steps foot in the gym every so often, and when they get there, everything’s done so half-hardheartedly they might as well be sitting out at the cafe, rather than strolling slowly on the treadmill. Have you had those times? Has opening the Bible been something you’ve done out of guilt, compulsion or because you know it’s “good for you”?

One thing I’d never describe myself as is a wrestler – both in real life and when it comes to God’s word.

When I think about wrestling metaphors and the Bible, there’s no greater passage than Genesis 32 when Jacob spends a whole night literally wrestling with God. So transformed is he by the experience that God changes his name to Israel which, we think, means “he struggles with God”.

I can think of times where I’ve wrestled with God in prayer – begging for an outcome to a situation, pleading for a friend, poring out my heart and my hurts. But I can think of seldom few times that I’ve really done the hard yards of agaonising over a passage, pulling it apart, letting its truth cut me to the core to such an extent that my life is radically reoriented.

Perhaps this is a challenge for me, and for this blog, to let God’s word do what it promises to do in Hebrews 4:12

 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

How about you? Are you a wrestler? A Sunday stroller? An endurance runner? Or something else? What is your experience with God’s word in your life? Let me know!

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 7: Watching to be Wise

Proverbs 7: 1-3
My son, obey my words, and treasure my commands. 
Keep my commands and live;
protect my teachings as the pupil of your eye.
Tie them to your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.
 
Why is it that I can remember lines of dialogue from films I haven’t seen for years, but not remember God’s word?
Why is it that I can sing along perfectly to songs that were popular in the 1990s but not remember God’s word?
Why is it that I can tell you with certainty which season a particular episode of the West Wing took place in (The Supremes – Season 5), but not remember God’s word?
 
It is because I haven’t treasured God’s commands as much as I’ve treasured watching my favourite movies?
Is it because I haven’t protected God’s teachings as much as I’ve treasured reliving memories from my youth?
It is because I haven’t written God’s teachings on my heart as much as I have the teachings of Aaron Sorkin and the writers of the West Wing?
 
None of this has been deliberate on my part. I’ve just been a passive consumer of culture, someone who loves music, movies and TV. And these things can be great blessings, and enjoyable ways to spend my time.
 
But have I been giving as much of my time and attention to the truths of God’s word? Do I really believe as this verse says that God’s commands will give me life?
 
The good news of Jesus tells me that I’m not right with God by keeping his commands, but by trusting in Jesus death in my place. But there’s another part of the good news that sometimes I overlook. In John 10:10, Jesus says
 
A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.
 
God’s commands are the best way to live. Much better than any message from TV, movies and music. Do I really believe that? Do you?

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 6: Wise Warnings

Proverbs 6: 32-33
But a man who commits adultery has no sense;
whoever does so destroys himself.
There is a lot of teaching in the proverbs about warnings against adultery. This morning, this one in particular struck out to me because it is so different from the messages presented about adultery in popular film and television.
In 2015, I started reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In fact, I can tell you the precise day I started reading it – February 14. I wasn’t reading it because it was Valentine’s Day – I read it to distract myself while I was experiencing early pre-labour contractions with my second child who was born the next morning.
Being of Scottish descent myself, I loved the Scottish Highland setting. I also loved learning about the history – the deposed Stuart Monarchs – with whom I share a family linage (albeit a very very distant one!)
I also love the main character, Claire. I love her passion and her fire. I love that she is not a damsel in distress, but instead when she finds herself magically transported from the year 1946 to the year 1743, she uses every skill she had hones as a battle nurse on the front lines in WWII to survive.
Claire, married to Frank Randall in 1946, begins her journey in the past desperately seeking her return to the man she loves. Yet, through circumstances beyond her control, she soon finds herself with no other choice but to marry another man – rugged, hyper masculine, yet gentle and kind Jamie Fraser – (think every image emblazoned on the cover of a mills and Boone novel rolled into one).
Throughout the novel, both Claire and the reader’s allegiances shift from the “husband of her youth” Frank to her new husband Jamie. When circumstances eventually get too dangerous for Claire to stay in the 1700s, (with the ill-fated Battle of Culloden looming, and Clarie and Jamie finding themselves on the wrong side of history).
Instead of cheering for the safe return of Claire to her husband, little by little, the reader, along with Claire, has fallen for Jamie. Our hearts break when their love is separated again by a seemingly uncrossable span of 300 years. (But – spoiler alert – with another 6 novels to go at that point, we can safely assume Claire won’t remain in the 20th Century forever!).
I went along with the ride, suspending my critical brain and allowing the author to make me feel the same things as Claire. It was only later when I realised that I had been expertly manipulated into cheering for the ruination of one marriage for the sake of another.
When Claire returns to Frank, their relationship is never the same again. Nor should it be. She has given herself to another man – body and soul – and has nothing left to give to her first husband, despite the love she initially felt for him.
Outlander does in some ways depict the pain of emotional betrayal and marital breakdown; the sections that show the 20 years of a fractured, broken marriage between Claire and Frank after her 3 years with Jamie are painful, raw, and heartbreaking. In some ways it does depict the warnings of proverbs. Adultery can will the adulterer to injure themselves as well as the people they purport to love.
Yet the message presented by Outlander, as well as many other popular film and TV shows, can undercut such warnings. Claire finds her true love and soulmate in Jamie, despite the fact she has made a covenant oath to another man.
Outlander isn’t alone in preaching this message. Scandal, Homeland, The Good Wife and even my beloved BBC Sherlock all contain plots were we follow a main character from the arms of their spouse and into the affections, and often the bed of another.
Certainly, these shows do show some the problems that arise from such a coupling, and the complications that ensue. Yet, at the same time they are also designed to build the sexual tension between the two characters so that when they finally succumb to temptation, the audience is cheering, rather than, in the words of the proverbs, seeing the characters as having “no sense” and on a path to “destroy themselves”.
So much of the TV I consume runs in distinct contrast to the warnings in God’s word, like the one I read in Proverbs today.
What about you? Do you tune in to the TV and turn off your critical brain? Do you allow the messages of the story to dilute the true, right and lasting messages of God’s word?
God’s warnings in the Proverbs are to those who want to be wise. These are warnings we won’t be seeing on TV. What are you going to do with your viewing habits? And how will you temper them with the timeless truths of God’s word?

 

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 5: The Wise Judge

Proverbs 5:21

For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
and he examines all your paths.

If the Christian story is true – which I believe it is – and if there is an all-knowing God, he would have full knowledge of me. He would know my hidden thoughts and my secret motives. He would know my darkest shames and the impulses I hide even from myself. He’d know the good things I did for the wrong motives, and the wrong things I did with deliberate malice aforethought.

If that same God was not only good and just, but the very source of our concepts of Goodness and Justice, he wouldn’t remain good if he tolerated the way I treat others, the way I treat his creation, and the way I treat him.

Let me explain this with an everyday analogy:

We’ve all been in line at the shops and seen the interaction between a naughty kid and a too-tolerant mum. Before I became a mum myself, and realised just how hard a job it is, I’d be quick to judge that mum, thinking in my head of all the things I’d say in response to my child if he’d be so rude, so disobedient, so disrespectful.

Now, I quash those feelings pretty quickly – I’ve been there, just letting my 3 year old hit me in the face over and over while we wait in line at the checkout, knowing that the pain he’s causing me will be worse for others if I stop him and start him screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of the supermarket. I don’t know what kind of day that mum has had, and I know I could be “that mum” in the supermarket tomorrow.

But the instinct is still there to judge the parent who doesn’t give their child the proper consequences for their behaviour.

If we expect parent to provide children with consequences when they go astray, why would we expect any less from God? Psalm 130:3 says

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?

I certainly couldn’t.

There’s a verse in 2 Corinthians that gives me great hope. It aknowledges my sin, my rebelling, every deep dark thought and action of my heart, but also shows me God’s plan for my forgiveness. Talking about Jesus, it says

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

Some Bible scholars call this verse the “great exchange”. Jesus, the one without sin, takes on our sin in his body on the cross. If we trust in him, the God who sees all our ways and our paths, all our selfish disobedience, will also see that Jesus died to take the punishment we deserve.

This is the great good news of the Christian message, one that I have been trusting in for over 20 years. I hope you can trust in it, too.

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 4: Deceitful Hearts

Proverbs 4: 23-27

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
Today I was struck by the poetry of this section, the way the different parts of the body are involved in the life of the wise person, and the roles each part has to play.
It starts with the heart, which is to be guarded above all else. The heart, the centre of our being, is where our truest desires come from. There is a place in my heart for the things I truly value, and those things say a lot about who I am. Of course my husband is always there, and my children, but my hopes and dreams for our family aren’t set in concrete. They shift over time. And these hopes set the path of my life – whether I’m conscious of it or not.
But while my heart is where my desires for my family lives, my heart also has a huge section in it labelled in bright bold letters – “ME!”. This is the selfish, childish, part that screams only for my own comfort.
This part is often at war with my desires for my family. Where my hope would be for my children to become well-rounded individuals, my selfish heart screams “just one more episode of Paw Patrol so I can have some peace!”. Where I worry about their attention spans and the development of their brains at this young age, my selfish heart says “just a few more minutes of computer games can’t hurt them!”
Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”. It’s no wonder then that the first steps in true wisdom is to guard it. If left unguarded, that part inside that screams for my desires, my comfort, my ease would always win. And everyone else I love would lose.
But, if the heart is beyond cure as Jeremiah says, then what hope do we have? Paul provides the answer in Philippians 4:6-7 –
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Only God can keep my deceitful heart from going astray. Only a miracle can stop my loud, selfish desires from crowding out the oft-too-quiet voice telling me the good I hope to do. Only Jesus can take my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, eager to live in obedience to him.
Only then will I be able to marshal the other parts of my body in line with the rest of the proverb. Only Jesus can help keep my lips free from unhelpful speech, my eyes fixed firmly on the right goals, and my feet fixed firmly on the right path, not wandering left and right into whatever temptations come my way.
If left alone to guard my heart, I’d have no chance. What great news that I’m not alone in this, that God promises to help me. All I need to do is ask.

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 3: Wise Discipline

Proverbs 3:11-12

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,  and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves,  as a father the son he delights in.

I can’t remember getting into too much trouble as a kid. I’m not saying I was an angel, more that the memory of my childhood has faded over the intervening decades. I do have a distinct memory of me and my two brothers, crowded into the back of out small late-70s model Mazda. We were on our way to visit my Grandfather or our cousins in the Eastern Suburbs.

The car didn’t have air conditioning and in summer your legs stuck painfully to the vinyl seats. There weren’t iPods or iPads then. We didn’t even have a cassette player – just the radio (talk about dark ages!). Instead, we’d have to entertain ourselves on the 30 minute drive, which as kids stuck in a hot and uncomfortable car, would soon get out of hand.

I can still see us, laughing the kind of jokes that as a kid you think are hilarious, or jostling each other about. Looking at my own youngest child’s latest antics, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d reach out and pinch my brother, or poke him in the face just for fun. I was that kind of kid.

Dad’s stern voice would come from the front seat, issuing a warning that quietens us down for a moment. But not for long. Either one brother would annoy the other, or one of them upset me (never the other way around of course!), and at the next traffic lights – slap! One of us (almost certainly one of the boys) would get a slap on the leg. That’s when we knew it was really time to stop.

I remember being young and being disciplined by God, too. I was 16, and had been a regular church member and follower of Jesus since I was 12. In my early teens, my experience of following Jesus was more external than internal. I was a Christian because I did “Christian things” – like go to church, teach at Sunday School, and attend Youth Group. My Bible Study leaders also encouraged me to read the Bible and I did because I respected them and wanted to be like them.

(As an aside – youth leaders- never underestimate the power your life and example have to influence young people. The kids under your care will pick up your habits without you even noticing it – the good and the bad ones!)

As a young teen, my experience following Jesus was more of a series of habits than a relationship. Obedience to God meant ticking those boxes every week. Perhaps I’m being harsh on my young self, I probably did have the notion of a personal relationship with God, I just hadn’t had to make any hard choices yet. I didn’t have to risk losing friends because of my faith – most of my friends were Christians, too. And those who weren’t were either happy to come to Youth Group with us, or didn’t care that we went. At 16, I hadn’t yet been tempted by parties with alcohol and drugs, none of my friends were into that.

The first hard choice I had to make as a follower of Jesus was precisely were my weakest temptation was – it was about a boy.

We’d met at my part time job filling shelves at a toystore. He was a few years older than me, finished school and working full-time. I thought he was nice. I liked talking to him. He didn’t drive and lived in the same suburb as me so my dad drove us both home from work a few times. We got chatting one night on ICQ – an online chat program that was a forerunner to what Facebook would become. Then, one night as we were chatting online, he asked me out! Me! Awkward, ugly, overweight, still with braces on my bottom teeth. It seemed too good to be true.

(I still to this day don’t know why he wanted to date me. I definitely wasn’t his type, as his later dating preferences would attest to.)

It was the beginning of a new year. I had just been away on a Church camp where we studied Hebrews 11 – which from that time has become one of my favourite passages of the Bible. I’ll write a post about it sometime in the future. Yet, within weeks I’d ignored everything I’d learned about what true faith, true trust in Jesus looks like, and decided that instead, I’d throw it away for a boyfriend.

Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last long. Nor did it end well. It took a whole year for me to truly recover.

After not reading God’s word for a few months, I decided to take back up where I’d left off at the end of the church camp – Hebrews 12. The verses from proverbs above are quoted, then the writer to the Hebrews goes on –

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!

 

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

 

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

 

-Hebrews 12: 7-13

I can still see myself – 16, heartbroken, sitting on the bed my small bedroom with pink walls covered by posters of The X-Files, reading these verses. I remember the awe I felt when I realised that God’s word was describing exactly what I was going through at that moment.

Up until that point, I had only expected good things from God – easy life, good friends, success at school. And when a difficult choice arose, I was thoroughly unprepared for it.

We think of discipline as punishment or correction – and sometimes it is. But there is another facet of discipline – training, growing, failing and trying again. And God promises to guide us through it. Just like our parents discipline us because they love us and want the best for us, just like I try to discipline my kids because I want the best for them, God wants us strong in our faith and our relationship with him. And he knows better what we need than even a parent does with their child.

That moment when I was 16 was when God laid the groundwork for a real relationship with him. It wasn’t the first time I’d face difficulty and had to work out my faith. There’d be lots more between 16 and 35, and I suspect lots more to come between 35 and whenever it is that my Lord calls me home. And no matter how painful the discipline, I will be thankful for it, just as I am thankful for that day, almost 20 years ago.