As Song

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I wouldn’t have done it that way. It looked like a disaster. Facts and figures and previous experience all added up to a negative number.

Then I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking in the night. “This one is like a Chinese finger puzzle. The more you fight and try to free yourself from circumstances, the tighter they will get.

I trusted him. He took me through a tough, tough time and answered in a miraculous way mere logic could never duplicate.

Resting in God when everything around me says, “you need to do something!!” brings back memories of growing up in a house with parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles who seldom agreed and who all gave me different instructions. No matter what I did someone would be mad. Which voice did I choose to listen to?

Now here I am again. So many angry voices. So many urgent opinions. So much distracting pain. So many dire consequences marching across the screen of unsanctified imagination.

Oh God, what should I do? What should I do?

Remember the source of your strength. Remember my promise to never leave you. Be thankful. Rest.

The Eternal is the source of my strength and the shield that guards me.
When I learn to rest and truly trust Him,
He sends His help. This is why my heart is singing!
I open my mouth to praise Him, and thankfulness rises as song.

(Psalm 28:7 The Voice)

 

 

Better Than Gems

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For a few hours, before the snow cover blanketed them, ice crystals adorned the periwinkle along the edge of the garden path. They caught my eye. I stopped to admire the sparkling jewels, all the more precious for their temporary existence. I needed to get on with my day so I walked on as the snow fell. By the time I passed that way again they had vanished.

I read a scripture verse today about gems. As precious and beautiful as real gems are, King Solomon wrote about something of even greater value, and that is wisdom.

I used to read a chapter of the book of Proverbs every day. 31 chapters made it convenient to find my place. It’s been a while and since I have been praying for wisdom a lot lately (because I really need some) I thought I should go back and review. Yesterday I read the eighth chapter for the eighth day of the month – the chapter about Wisdom calling out, begging to be noticed. I was reminded that Wisdom existed before time. Wisdom is part of the very creation of the earth. Wisdom is foundational and unlike my ice diamonds, not a temporary, relative thing. It’s been there all the time.

The more I experience of the grace and goodness of God the more I begin to hate evil both in myself and in the world around me. Evil is anything that is out of line with God’s perfect nature and design.

I write a lot about grace and the freedom it brings, but grace does not over-ride wisdom nor, as some people fear, give license to sin. Wisdom is woven into grace and, like love and mercy and kindness, is part of the character of God. Sin is ultimately disrespect for God. Disrespect for the Creator is the opposite of the goal of grace.

Grace does not ignore evil or dismiss the consequences of evil as being no big deal. Quite the opposite. Grace points to the sinless nature of the One who loves us perfectly and empowers us to come into alignment with his heart and avoid the consequences of idiotic choices that can start a chain of events that roll out like a Rube Goldberg device. God’s heart makes evil look unbearably sick in comparison.

God has provided a way for us to be forgiven, to be drawn back into a right relationship with him, to know how much he loves us. Wisdom rejoices in the nobility of this truth and shows us that knowing God means hating anything that puts up road blocks for others or keeps us from being aware of his desire for a closer relationship. Whether it is arrogant pride that doesn’t value others highly enough, evil conduct that soothes our pain with false comfort, or perverse speech that spouts lies about who God is and who he created us to be, the closer we get to him the uglier sin is revealed to be in comparison.

Wisdom allows us to see the gap between the way things work in a fallen world and the way things work in a restored world where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  Wisdom doesn’t make us choose between truth and real love, or justice and mercy. Wisdom comes from God’s perspective. Wisdom shows us how to listen and how to walk in his ways.

Isn’t Lady Wisdom calling?
    Listen; don’t you hear the voice of understanding crying out?
 She’s taken her stand at the highest place in the city,
    at the crossroads where everyone can see her.
 There, and at the gates, at the entrance to the city,
    right in front of the city doors she cries out:

 

Lady Wisdom: O people! I am calling to you;
        I have a message for all humanity.
     You gullible people, acquire insight.
        You naive ones, cultivate a heart that truly understands.
    Listen, for I am about to tell you of unparalleled excellence and beauty;
        what I am about to say will set things right.
     I will only speak the truth;
        I despise evil, so it will not pass through my lips.
     Everything I say promotes justice;
        not one word is crooked, and nothing is distorted.
    Each and every word is straight talk to perceptive people,
        upright and honest to knowledge-seekers.
     Accept my correction as being more valuable than your prized possession,
        authentic knowledge more valuable than pure gold.

 You see, no gem is more precious than Lady Wisdom—
    your most extravagant desire doesn’t come close to her.

 

Lady Wisdom: I make my home with prudence;
        I obtain knowledge and sound judgment.
    If you respect the Eternal, you will grow to despise evil.
    I despise wretched, vile talk
        and ways of pride and arrogance.
     Good counsel is mine, and also true wisdom.
        I am understanding, and strength belongs to me.
    It’s because of me that kings wield power
        and authorities decree what is right.
    It’s because of me that leaders and their agents govern
        and all judge according to what is right.
     I love those who love me;
        those who search hard for me will find me.
     Riches and honor are the benefit of following me;
        so are lasting wealth and justice.
    My reward is better than gold, even the purest gold;
        and my profit is greater than the highest quality silver.
     I follow the way of right living.
        Follow me along the path to find justice;
     I’m ready to meet those who love me, bestow true riches upon them,
        and fill up their lives until their treasuries overflow.
    

The Eternal created me; it happened when His work was beginning,
        one of His first acts long ago.
     Before time He established me,
        before the earth saw its first sunrise.
    I was born before the deep existed,
        before any springs poured out their water,
     Before the mountains were placed on their foundations,
        before the hills rolled across the land—
        yes, before all this, I was brought forth.
     When the earth was yet unformed and the fields were not yet nestled beneath the wind—
        even before the first dust of the earth—
     When He created the heavens, I was there.
        When He drew a circle in the deep, dividing the oceans and the sky, I was there.
    I was there when He established the sky.
        I was there when the springs in the deep were fortified;
     I witnessed Him lay down the shore as a boundary
        and put limits on the water
    And determine the foundations of the earth.
    

All this time I was close beside Him, a master craftsman.
        Every day I was His delightful companion,
        celebrating every minute in His presence,
     Elated by the world He was making and all its fine creatures;
    I was especially pleased with humanity.

    

So now listen to me, my children:
        those who live by my ways will find true happiness.
     Pay attention to my guidance, dare to be wise,
        and don’t disregard my teachings.
     The one who listens to me,
        who carefully seeks me in everyday things
        and delays action until my way is apparent, that one will find true happiness.
    For when he recognizes and follows me, he finds a peaceful and satisfying life
        and receives favor from the Eternal.
     But heed my warning: the one who goes against me will only hurt himself,
        for all who despise me are playing with fire and courting death.

(Proverbs 8 The Voice)

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Division and the Search for Wisdom

I looked out the window of a shop built on the edge of the Grand Canyon and thought, “Man, that other side is a long way off. Can you even get there from here? How long would it take to descend down into that great rift and back up the other side? How many miles would it be to walk around? Before telephones did the people living on either side even communicate with each other?”

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Can I admit there is something strangely satisfying about venting long-withheld anger? For a moment. Then there’s the mess to clean up.

My children still talk about the day I was so frustrated with the filthy condition they left the kitchen in that I wound up and with all my might, hurled a brand new bag of Oreo cookies at the wall. They stared incredulously as the split package of crumbs and filling slid to the floor with a thud. Store-bought cookies were a highly-valued rare treat in our home. One simply does not throw Oreos at the wall.

Not the Oreos!! Mom must be really mad.

I made my point. They took me seriously and for a while, scrambled to tidy up after themselves.

But then I noticed the kids start to express their frustration with each other by throwing and smashing things. I had set a precedent. Now I had a bigger mess to clean up than a bag of broken chocolate cookies. My end goal was to raise responsible, considerate children, but I lost track of that bigger picture in my longing for just one evening without dirty dishes filling every inch of the counters (and in this case actually sitting on the floor when they ran out of room to pile them by the sink.) It was a Pyrrhic victory.

I remember reading a verse in the Bible later that said, “The anger of man does not accomplish the purposes of God.” Oops. My action was temporarily effective, but not wise.

Lately the Lord has been bringing the word wisdom to my attention. Googling “spiritual gift of wisdom” led to an interesting, if inconclusive rabbit trail. Is wisdom the ability to study scripture and make practical behavioural applications in a sermon, or is it a sudden divine download on how to secure a better mortgage rate? I’m not satisfied with what I found, frankly. I need more. I find that I am in need of wisdom about understanding God’s definition of wisdom.

Sometimes, as a starting point, we can learn more about what something is by hearing what God has to say about what it is not – like the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”

We read in Proverbs that wisdom is not presumptuous or insolent, nor the product of our personal conclusions; in Psalms that it is not about striving or frantic activity; in James that it is not a hypocritical or bitter or envious or self-seeking  action (the KJV uses the words vainglory and strife).

I looked up the original word for strife in Greek. Eritheia. That’s revealing. It implies a political-style power grab via manipulation.

In 1 Corinthians 3:3 we read: For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

The result of strife – the human fleshly way – is division. Separation. A rift as wide as the Grand Canyon.

That’s the other thing grabbing my attention lately – division. It’s as if people are pressured to join one side or another and are actually repelling each other in their zeal to win the argument. Topics may vary from vaccination to modes of education to climate and pollution to the evils of processed cheese. Mob mentality on social media means middle ground is sinking into the earth and fewer people are willing to listen to each other. More people seem willing to compromise civil behaviour and resort to dismissive name-calling to win their case. Instead of solving problems I see my culture splitting and  becoming more entrenched in extremes.

I’m not the only one noticing it. The political rift is becoming dangerously polarized to the point where teenagers in my neighbourhood in a little valley in Canada talk to me about classroom discussions of fears of civil war breaking out in the country to the south. The kids see it and they are afraid of the effects it could have around the world.

How does it help to portray people who disagree with us as enemies? How did people who love the same country become adversaries? Where is wisdom in all of this?

One beloved children’s TV show host talked about taking his mother’s advice to look for the helpers after a disaster. Right now I am in a search for the wise before a disaster.

How will we recognize the wise in a world of angry frightened people hurling words at each other, rejoicing in Pyrrhic victories, and talking in terms of winners and losers?

I found this clue of what to look for and warnings of what to avoid in a search for those who demonstrate wisdom:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others.

If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state.

The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule.

Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.
(James 3:13-18 The Voice)

 

Oh Lord, we need Your wisdom. We need people You have gifted with wisdom. We need humble people willing to set down their own opinions and learn from You. We need those who see from Your perspective to arise in the body of Christ to speak purely, peacefully, gently, mercifully with deference and full of Your love and grace. Give us discernment to know when we have heard Your truth spoken in love. Help us to pay attention. Change our hearts, Oh Lord. Make us more like You.

Wisdom in an Upside-down Kingdom

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“But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.”

– Edmund Burke

Wisdom is an overlooked but very necessary gift from God.

Wisdom is often the missing element when trying to communicate liberty and love. Wisdom includes knowledge, but knowledge does not necessarily include wisdom. How often do we hear the phrase, “I’m sure he meant well?” whilst cleaning up a human relations fiasco.

There is a difference between wisdom that comes from above and wisdom gained from years of study and experience. Like words of knowledge mentioned in Romans 12, words of wisdom go beyond the natural ability of a person to perceive without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The wisdom that comes from God “is first utterly pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of tolerant thoughts and kindly actions, with no breath of favouritism or hint of hypocrisy.” (James 3:17 Phillips)

The gift of wisdom is a spiritual gift, and is closely connected with hearing and understanding God’s perspective. Sometimes Godly wisdom is counter-intuitive because it has a different goal in mind than what we perceive to be in our, or anothers, best interest. While reading about Godly wisdom I was surprised to learn that the greatest hindrance to using this gift is rivalry, jealousy and envy.

“Are there some wise and understanding men among you? Then your lives will be an example of the humility that is born of true wisdom.” (James 3:13)

It reminds me of the time a man with a sword stood before Joshua as he was about to lead his men into battle. Joshua asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

The real question is not whether or not God is on our side. The question is about whether or not we are on His.

Someone told me once that presumptive sin is the unquestioned idea that God is a kind of Santa Claus who exists to serve our desires. Our desires can look quite noble. We want a family we can be proud of. We want our country to be free, peaceful, and prosperous. We want our own church gathering -the one that meets under a particular steeple or gymnasium roof – to be a beacon of light in the community. We want our mission to bear fruit.

Secretly, however, we want our congregation to shine more brightly than others. We want to be able to say we have the greatest growth, the widest influence, the finest music, the biggest outreach, the most political influence, the finest sermons, the most popular programs, the most prosperous, healthy, well-taught, well-behaved attendees and the best thought-out forms of governance with leaders well-schooled in the art of business administration. We want our mission to be blessed in stead of blessing God’s mission. We want our team to win.

Wisdom is understanding how to apply all the other gifts in a way that will be to the benefit of others and will honour God.

The Bible says wisdom is connected to humility, not ambition – and definitely not pride. The fastest way to shut down the operation of wisdom in our midst is to fail to recognize the gifts and callings in others or to encourage them or promote them as being more important than ourselves.

Spiritual growth that screens knowledge through wisdom and love is often counter-intuitive in an upside down Kingdom where the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

James goes on to write in chapter four of the book named after him that the greatest cause  – no, the cause – of division and disgruntlements in the church is competitiveness and jealousy.

“But about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting passions within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don’t possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn’t give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit—you only want to satisfy your own desires.”

Since we were just told in chapter three that rivalry and jealousy shut down the ability to receive wisdom, perhaps what we ought to be praying for is not the things we can spend on our own pleasure, or for things that improve our own reputation or attract admiration. Perhaps the gift we need to be asking for is wisdom and grace we can lavish on others to God’s glory.

God promised He will give wisdom liberally -all we have to do is remain humble and ask with the right motives.

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Times and Seasons

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Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
(Daniel 2:20 -22)