2377) The Book of Proverbs (c)

Wise Guys - the Beginning of Wisdom Proverbs 1:1-7 - Jesup's Website

The book of Proverbs is exactly what the name implies, a collection of short sayings gathered from different places and produced over long periods of time.  In general, these sayings represent wisdom derived from practical experience.  Although they contain no profound contributions to theological ideas, they constitute wholesome advice about the way a person should live in order to attain a simple and peaceful life, obedient to God.  Today’s meditation contains a few sample proverbs from the Old Testament book of Proverbs.

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Proverbs 1:1-3  —  (These are) the proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:  for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair

Proverbs 1:7  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 3:5-7  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.

Proverbs 4:14, 23  —  Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers…  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 5:21-23  —  Your ways are in full view of the Lordand he examines all your paths.  The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast.  For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly.

Proverbs 6:6-11a  —  Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.  How long will you lie there, you sluggard?  When will you get up from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief.

Proverbs 11:2  —  When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 11:7  —  Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.

Proverbs 11:17  —  Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.

Proverbs 11:29  —  Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise.

Proverbs 12:1  —  Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.

Proverbs 12:11  —  Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.

Proverbs 12:16  —  Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.

Proverbs 13:3  —  Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.

Proverbs 14:12  —  There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

Proverbs 14:13  —  Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief.

Proverbs 14:29  —  Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.

Proverbs 14:30  —  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Proverbs 15:1  —  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:3  —  The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.

Proverbs 15:16-17  —  Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.  Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.

Proverbs 16:2  —  All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Proverbs 16:18  —  Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16:28  —  A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.

Proverbs 17:1  —  Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

Proverbs 17:13-14  —  Evil will never leave the house of one who pays back evil for good.  Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.

Proverbs 17:17  —  A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 17:22  —  A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:27  —  The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.

Proverbs 17:28  —  Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.

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Two things I ask of you, Lorddo not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

 –Proverbs 30:7-9

2376) The Book of Proverbs (b)

How is the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom?” 1/14/2018 ...

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     (…continued)   The prophet’s job was to proclaim God’s Word, and they would thunder their judgments saying, “Thus saith the Lord.”  But the book of Proverbs never speaks like that.  These wise men dealt more in human wisdom gained from observing how life was best lived in God’s world.  God had ordered life in his world in a certain way, and gave commands as to how life could best be lived.  The wise men, already well versed in God’s Law, offered further explanation and application to daily life.

     The fact that these wise men based their wisdom on their faith in God can be seen in the seventh verse of chapter one which sums up the theme of the book:  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  This reliance of God’s Word is again emphasized in Proverbs 3:5-6.  These are perhaps the most familiar verses in the entire book:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.”  The book of Proverbs begins with the fear of God and the command to trust in him alone.  From that starting point the old sages went into almost every area of life, describing with simplicity and wit how one might “acknowledge the Lord in all his ways.”

     A major theme of the Proverbs is how to get along with each other.  Then, as now, wisdom is needed to avoid conflict and live in peace and harmony.  The Proverbs encourage us to be kind, patient, truthful, fair; and silent, unless we have something good to say.  Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  There is advice against revenge, saying, “Do not say ‘I will pay you back for this wrong,’ but wait for the Lord who will deliver you.”  Other Proverbs encourage patience: “A patient man is better than a warrior; the man who controls his temper is better than the one who takes a city.”  Simple kindness is more important, says the Proverbs, than power and fame and glory.

     The Proverbs often remind us of the danger of putting material things ahead of our spiritual concerns.  Hard work and discipline are encouraged, but it is clear that the goal must never be simply to get rich, as in 23:4-5: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich…  Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone.”  Then, in chapter 30 is this profound prayer: “Two things I ask of you, O Lord, do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me, and give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say ‘who is the Lord?’, or I may become poor and steal and dishonor the name of God.”

     The Proverbs have much to say about planning for our future, and again the emphasis is on seeking God’s guidance and will. Chapter 16 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, for blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.”  You can plan all you want and figure every angle, but if you ignore the Lord, it will not end well (14:12): “There is a way that seems right to person, but in the end it leads to death.”  And be careful of pride, for “Pride goes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit leads to a fall.”

     There are many more themes in Proverbs, but this overview would be incomplete if we only looked at the advice.  The advice certainly makes up most of the book, but there are also promises.  Most of the promises deal with the here and now:  how godly living results in a good life, and how wicked living leads to pain and sadness.  

     But the wise men knew that it did not always work that way.  Then, as now, it often seemed like the wicked did rather well, and good people often suffered; and then death ended all good fortune and all suffering for everyone.  But even in death there was hope for the godly, as the Old Testament sometimes anticipates the New Testament promise of life beyond death.

     Though Proverbs doesn’t say much about eternal life, the writers were ready to trust God for something good after death.  Proverbs 14:32 is one of these expressions of hope, saying, “When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death the righteous have a refuge in God.”

     The coming of Christ and his promise of eternal life in the future went far beyond the wildest imaginations of these long ago people.  But already, they felt that longing for something more than is offered in this brief life, and had that trust that even in death God would be their refuge.

     The coming of Christ was the fulfillment of those longings, and his death and resurrection guaranteed their hoped for life after death. Until then, these old words can help us live the good life of contentment, peace of mind, and good will.

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PSALM 25:1…4-5:

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust…

Show me your ways, Lordteach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.

2375) The Book of Proverbs (a)

Proverbs | Tri-Cities Baptist Church

     The Bible is a huge book and it speaks about many different things in many different ways.  It tells stories and it teaches theology.  It tells us how to live and how to prepare for death.  The Bible tells us about many interesting people and the good and bad choices they make, and it does so in the context of their relationship with God.  The Bible is primarily about God, and is indeed, God’s own Word, written by men as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

     The Bible is God’s eternal Word.  God, who is above and beyond all time, sends his eternal Word into this temporary world, where time keeps running out on everyone.  To humans on their way to the grave, God makes an eternal invitation.  Believe in me, God says, and you can live forever.

     The Bible’s primary message is that the eternal and Almighty God came to earth in person as Jesus Christ, in order to forgive our sins and to show us the way to life eternal.  That is what God wants for us.

     But that isn’t all God wants for us.  God is concerned not only about our eternal life, but God is also concerned about how we live our lives right now.  With that in mind we will look at the book of Proverbs, a book focused on the here and now, filled with practical wisdom for the living of our day to day lives.

     Many people complain that the Bible is too difficult to read and understand for the average person.  That is true of much of the Bible.  There are large parts of Scripture that you aren’t going to fully comprehend the first time through.

     But you can’t make that complaint about Proverbs.  It is one of the most readable books of the Bible.  It is easy to understand and can speak right into your heart.  The problems described and the advice given by these ancient wise men twenty-five centuries ago can be readily applied today.

    Take for example the first proverb of chapter 15:  “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs anger.”  Or Proverbs 11:17 which says, “A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings himself harm.”  Or verse one of the same chapter, “It is better to have just a dry crust of bread with peace and quiet, than a house full of feasting with strife.”  Or in the nineteenth chapter: “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one can rest content.”

     Anyone can understand these simple words and benefit from such wisdom.  What we read in the Proverbs is usually nothing more than plain old common sense.  But as is often said, ‘Common sense isn’t so common.”  Then again, living a moral life isn’t so much a matter of education, as it is in being reminded.  We have known most of the basics of how to behave ourselves ever since kindergarten.   We just need to be reminded of what is right and reminded of our accountability to God.  The book of Proverbs contains many such reminders.

     Even though the wisdom contained in Proverbs is common and simple, it is very often not applied.  That is why the Deuteronomy six tells us to write the words of the law on our doorposts and carry them on bracelets on our wrists and headbands on our foreheads.  We may not want to do that in just that way, but we’d be obeying the intent of the command if we just read the Proverbs regularly and committed a few of the best verses to memory.  Then, when someone irritates us, we may not snap back right away, but may instead remember verse Proverbs 12:16 which says, “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a wise person overlooks an insult.”  Or perhaps when tempted to stick your nose into an argument that you should stay out of, you might remember Proverbs 26:17 which says: “The person who meddles in a quarrel that is not his own, is like one who seizes a big dog by the ears.”  These are things we know, but have a way of forgetting at all the right times.  The power of the word of God is that it can come to you at the right time– if you know it.

     The beginning of the book of Proverbs says, “The proverbs of Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel.”  That seems to apply to just that section and not the whole book, because others are given credit in other parts of the book.  The book of Proverbs is an anthology of wise sayings from throughout Israel’s history.  In ancient Israel there was a class of wise men, just as there were priests and prophets.  Their job was to instruct the young, or whoever else came to them for advice or teaching.  Solomon was the king and the most famous of these sages, but there were many others.  They did their teaching publicly at the gate of the city, but they were also available for personal counsel and instruction.

     Job was one of these wise men.  Job 29 describes Job’s position as an elder at the city gate:  “When I went out to the gate of the city and took my seat in the square, all were silent. When they heard me, they called me blessed. They all listened to me and waited and kept silent for my counsel.  After I spoke, they did not speak.  I sat as their chief.”  Other Old Testament verses also speak of these upright and respected men who sat at the gate to teach, settle disputes, and give counsel.  (continued…)

2374) Two Kings (part two of two)

     (…continued)  In Luke 16 Jesus told a parable about a similar reversal of fortunes.  The story opens with a rich man who has everything, living in luxury every day.  At this rich man’s gate is a poor man, covered with sores and hungry.  Lazarus is so poor that he longs to eat what falls from the rich man’s table.  He longs for it, the parable says, but he receives nothing.  Jesus doesn’t say anything about the rich man giving the poor man even so much as a crumb.

     In time, both men die, and then the tables are reversed.  The rich man is in agony in hell, but the poor man is with the angels.  Jesus is encouraging his listeners to think beyond just today.  He wants us to see ourselves in this story, and to think about our eternal destiny.  The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his brothers about the terrors of the life to come in that terrible place.  But Abraham says no, that will not be done.  Abraham tells the rich man they have Moses and the prophets (the Scriptures).  If they won’t listen to God’s Word, Abraham says, they won’t be convinced even if someone comes back from the dead to speak to them.

      A little phrase that is repeated many times in the Bible is, “And it came to pass.”  Someone once had a ring made and had inscribed on it some words based on that little phrase.  As a constant reminder to keep this larger perspective on life, the inscription read:  This too shall pass.  Explaining the inscription, the person said:  “This too shall pass; when one is happy, this makes one sad; but when one is sad, this makes one happy.”  Things do keep changing.  When you are in troubled times, just hang on, things will get better.  But this also works the other way.  When all is well and you are happy, just wait, that too will change.  There is trouble ahead for everyone.

     But the Bible adds to this endless back and forth the eternal promises of God.  We do get jerked around in this life, back and forth between bad times and good, between happiness and sadness.  And if this life is all there is, then the last act is a sad one, and it does end up badly for all of us.  Good King Azariah suffered from poor health for his entire life, and wicked King Jeroboam II enjoyed success, prosperity, and luxury; but they both ended up dead and in the grave.

     However, the Bible is always telling us that death is not the last act.  Death does not have to be the end of the play for us, but for those who believe in God’s promises, death is nothing more than the end of the beginning.  The rich man and Lazarus both die, but that’s not the end of the parable.  Life goes on for both of them, and the parable ends not with the grave, but with Jesus’ command to hear and believe God’s Word now while you still have the chance.

     The Bible’s message is a word of hope like nothing else this world has to offer.  This world is filled with countless opportunities for fulfillment and enjoyment, but it will not last.  So the Bible calls us to a much larger world and a much bigger life.  Death, for those who believe in Jesus, is not the end of anything, but merely an interruption before we are ushered into the vastness of God’s greater kingdom.

     “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” Jesus said.  That’s what it means to be saved– not guaranteed prosperity here, not necessarily being healed whenever we ask for it here, not rewards and punishments handed out precisely according to our good and bad deeds here; but SAVED for all eternity in God’s home, far beyond the ups and downs, mysteries and injustices, problems and confusions of this brief life.

     If you enter Colorado from the east on Interstate 70 you will not, at first, impressed with the beauty of the state.  It will look like just more of the same empty, rolling plains that you have been coming across for a few hundred miles already.  But it would be a mistake to then conclude that Colorado is not a beautiful state.  You have not yet seen anything of the mountain lakes and streams, snow-capped peaks, towering forests, and the endless kinds of wildlife.  There is much to see and experience in Colorado, and a 15 minute drive in from the eastern border of the state does not even begin to hint at all there is to come.

     In the same way, the few years of life we get in our little home on this little earth tell us only a little of all the beauty and blessings that are ahead of us in the infinite magnificence of God’s eternal kingdom.  The apostle Paul once had a vision of heaven and wrote that it is far beyond even our wildest imagination.  It would be foolish to conclude from our limited experience here that God is not good or fair.  In this life God gives us only a glimpse of what there is to come.  Amos and Paul and Luke and all the other Biblical writers are always trying to open our eyes and broaden our perspective.  There is indeed another day coming, and even our best days here give just a hint of what that will be like.

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John 11:25  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

II Corinthians 4:18  —  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

II Corinthians 5:7  —  For we live by faith, not by sight.

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Thy Kingdom come.

–Matthew 6:10

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

–Revelation 22:20b

2373) Two Kings (part one of two)

Reflections on the Prophets: Amos 7 - United Methodist Insight

Amos the Prophet, 8th century B. C.  (woodcut by Gustave Dore, 1832-1883)

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    Amos was a farmer, called on by God to be a preacher to Israel during the time of King Jeroboam  II.  This was a very good time for Israel in many ways.  The economy was good, the military was strong, its borders were safe, and the nation was at peace.  In the Old Testament book that bears his name, Amos describes these good times.  He described the people as being secure and complacent.  They ate the finest food, lounged around on fancy furniture, listened to good music, and drank wine by the bowlful.

     But all was not well, according to Amos.  Israel was failing miserably as a nation in the most important way.  They were rich in every way, but they were poor in their spiritual life.  They had abandoned their God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt unto the good land that they were enjoying.  Not only had they forgotten the true God, but they had been worshiping all the false gods of the neighboring nations.  They even built altars to the detestable god Moloch, to whom they sacrificed infants by throwing them into fire.  Therefore, Amos’s message to King Jeroboam II and to the entire nation was not a happy or a hopeful one.  “Woe unto you,” he said, “for your lounging around and your feasting will come to an end.”  

     King Jeroboam II was a wicked king.  In II Kings 14:24 we learn that he “did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not turn away from the sins of his father.”  Yet, God blessed the reign of this wicked king.  Verses 26 and 27 say that God saw how the people had been suffering and God saved them through this Jeroboam II.  This wicked king, therefore, was blessed by God with a long and prosperous reign.

     This becomes all the more striking when, in the very next chapter of II Kings, we read about another king.  The nation had been divided by civil war many years before this, and while Jeroboam II was king in the northern kingdom of Israel, a man named Azariah became the king of the southern kingdom.  Unlike King Jeroboam II, King Azariah was a good and godly man.  Chapter 15:3 says, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father had done.”  

     So was this Azariah blessed by God for his faithfulness?  It does not appear that he was.  Verse five:  “The Lord afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died, and he lived in a separate house.”  There is no further explanation given; just that this good king was afflicted by God with this most dreadful disease.  So, Jeroboam II, the wicked king, has one of the most prosperous reigns in Israel’s history, and Azariah, the good king, lived out his days in illness and isolation.

     What’s going on here?

     Well, first of all, we learn from this that the Bible is a realistic book.  If everybody in the Bible who did the right thing had all the best things happen to them, and everyone who was wicked had nothing but trouble, we would have to say, “Well, that’s not how life is; this is not a realistic book at all.”  But the Bible tells it like it is.  We can all think of people like Jeroboam II who are very bad, but get all the breaks; or, like Azariah, are good people, but seem to have nothing but trouble in this world.  What we read in the Bible is indeed true to life.

     But more needs to be said.  The Bible not only describes life as it really is, but it is also, always, telling us that there is more to life than what we see.  The Bible is always broadening our perspective, always reminding us not to think only of ourselves and only of today, but to remember God and to remember eternity.  The Bible tells each of us to remember that there is another day coming.  For some people that will come as good news, and for others, that will be bad news.  

     The nation under Jeroboam II enjoyed good times; but the blessings God had bestowed upon them did not inspire them to return to God with gratitude or faith.  They continued with their wickedness and injustice.  Therefore, God sent Amos to condemn them for enjoying their luxury at the expense of the poor in the land, as they were enslaving some of their own people.  God told Amos to tell them that the good times would not last.  Predicting their defeat by their enemies in battle and their being sent away into a faraway land, Amos said that when the bad times do come, “You will be the first to go into exile, and your feasting and lounging around will end.”  King Jeroboam II was riding high for now, but, said Amos, his wickedness would, in the end, bring the nation down into ruin. 

     Azariah, on the other hand, being the good and faithful king that he was, would certainly have been familiar with the words of another good and faithful king, his ancestor King David.  David was the author of these wonderful words of hope in the 23rd Psalm:  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you, Lord, are with me… Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

     FOREVERWhen one has an eternal promise like that, one need not be discouraged– not even by a lifetime of leprosy.  There was another day coming, and so while Jeroboam II had reason to fear the future, Azariah had every reason to be hopeful.  (continued…)

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II Kings 14:27  —  …The Lord… saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash.

Amos 6:6-7  —  You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.  Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.

II Kings 15:3…5a  —  (Azariah) did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done…  The Lord afflicted the king with leprosy until the day he died, and he lived in a separate house.

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Into your hands I commit my spirit;
    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

–Psalm 31:5

2372) Don’t Get This One Wrong

Who Do You Say I Am Gospel Tract - 100ct (2x3.5)

Matthew 16:13-16  —  Now when Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of man is?” 

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 

“But what about you, he asked, “Who do you say I am?” 

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

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     In Matthew 16:13-16 Jesus asks two very important questions.  The context of the story is very different from our own, but the questions are important for the same reason.  Jesus is well into his three-year ministry at this point, and he is becoming well known over a wide area.  And people are wondering about and discussing who he really is.  It was clear that he was no ordinary man.  So one time Jesus said to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  That was an important question then and it is now.

     The disciples answers to Jesus question reveal that there already was a wide diversity of opinion. Verse four says, “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist (back from the dead), others say Elijah (it was prophesied, some thought, that he would return in the last times), and still others say Jeremiah, or another from the long line of prophets.” There was much spirited, but at this point still friendly, debate about who this miracle worker was.

     Jesus then asked another question.  This question is the most important question of all.  “But what about you?” Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  What other people think is important, but what YOU think and believe is of greatest importance.  Peter, always the first to speak and oftentimes wrong, gets it right this time: “You are the Christ,” he says, “the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus then praised Peter for that statement of faith, even going on to say that his church would be built on the rock solid foundation of that confession of faith.

     The question of Jesus in Matthew 16:15 is the most important question of life.  Jesus asks each of us, “Who do you say that I am?”  The rest of the New Testament links God’s blessings, both now and forever, to our answer to that question.  Faith in Jesus is what opens the door to our relationship with God and to all he has to offer.  Verse after verse in the Bible makes this abundantly clear.  John 3:16 is one of the most familiar and best loved verses and for very good reason.  It states the Gospel simply and clearly, stating that it all depends on what we say about Jesus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever BELIEVES IN HIM shall have eternal life.”  In Jesus final instructions to his disciples in Mark 16, he commanded them to preach the Gospel to all nations, for HE WHO BELIEVES AND IS BAPTIZED SHALL BE SAVED.”  In Romans 10:9 Paul described bottom line faith with these words: “If you BELIEVE in your heart that Jesus is Lord and confess with your lips that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  In John 11, speaking to Martha who was grieving the loss of her dead brother, Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who BELIEVES IN ME, though he die, yet shall he live.”  In Acts 4:12 Peter proclaimed to the crowd, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  Jesus said of himself in John 14:6; “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.”  These are just a few of many verses that say the same thing.  Our answer to this question of Jesus is the most important thing in life.  One’s life may be long or short, blessed with good health or troubled by ill health, full of fun and good fortune or full or sorrow and woe, for the most part wonderful or for the most part miserable; but no matter what one’s life is like or how it is lived, when life ends, all that matters then is how you answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”

     Answer like Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and you shall be saved.  Don’t get this one wrong.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.  Amen.

–Ancient Jesus prayer

2371) Considering the Cost (b)

     (…continued)  Jesus comes to different people in different ways at different stages in their lives.  In Luke 14:31-33 Jesus told the people there gathered to “consider the cost” before becoming his disciple.  They were perhaps being confronted by Jesus for the first time, so he was telling them to think about whether or not they should make that commitment.  His word to them is similar to Joshua’s word to the Israelites in Joshua chapter 24:15 where he said, “Choose this day who you shall serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

     Many generations later, when believers had children and then those children had children, infants were baptized into the believing community.  Then as they would grow up, they would learn what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.  The word of the Lord to them (to us) is more like Jesus words in John 15:9 and 16 where he said to the people there gathered, “As the Father has loved me, so I love you.  Now, remain in my love… You did not choose me, but I have chosen you.”

     The Bible speaks to different people in different ways, depending on where they are at in their faith and life.  But that doesn’t mean the words of Jesus on considering the cost has nothing to say to us.  That doesn’t mean that there is no cost to being a Christian unless you live in a place like Pakistan.

     Jesus began this section by saying that one’s faith may cause tension within families.  In verse 26 Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters; yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  Jesus taught us to love others, not hate them, so the use of the word ‘hate’ here is a command for ‘preference,’ not outright hatred.  It means simply that Jesus must be loved MORE than parents, siblings, spouses, children, or even your own life; and obeying Jesus must be more important than obeying the desires of anyone else.  This is not an issue for everyone.  In fact, for most people it may never become an issue.  But for many people, difficult choices like this have to be made.  If this is not a problem for you, you can be thankful.

     But there will be tensions and costs to the Christian life for everyone.  In the brief New Testament book of Philemon, we see a man who is caught between what Jesus says is right and what society says is right.  Once when the apostle Paul was in prison, he met a young man named Onesimus.  Onesimus was a runaway slave who had been captured.  He would soon be returned to his master, Philemon.  Philemon was a friend of Paul’s, having become a Christian under Paul’s influence and preaching.  Paul is now writing to Philemon, and he begins by reminding Philemon that he owed Paul a great deal.   As a favor, Paul was asking Philemon to not punish, but to free Onesimus.

     Philemon will not want to do this.  Slavery was an accepted part of the Roman world.  Not only was it a loss of an investment to free a slave, but it would be perceived by others as weakening the whole structure of the system.  Rewarding a runaway slave with freedom would be certain to encourage more runaways.  Paul knew this would be a difficult request, and in the letter he exerted every kind of pressure he could.

     The earliest apostles faced intense opposition in their task of simply proclaiming the Gospel, and taking on the institution of slavery in the Roman Empire would have been impossible.  But here in this one individual request, Paul set the tone for what would later become a movement in the church to resist, challenge, and finally abolish the practice of slavery.  It would be the Christians who led the abolition movements in Great Britain and the United States.  But even the initial successes of that movement were still centuries away, so here, Paul was asking Philemon to make a costly decision.  This decision would have probably been opposed by the rest of his family, and certainly by all of his neighbors.  Rewarding a runaway with freedom would send the wrong message to everyone’s slaves.

     Philemon was beginning to feel the tension of being a Christian.  He was finding out there was going to be a cost.

     We have the good fortune of living in a society that grants freedom of religion, so many of those points of tension that were issues in the past are no longer issues.  But there still is a cost.  American Christians, extremely wealthy by the standards of the rest of the world, cannot hear the words of Jesus on money and possessions without feeling some tension.  Hearing the words of Jesus on forgiving, loving, and serving others are enough to make everyone feel some tension, wondering if we are doing all that is required in that area.  And the words in the Old Testament and New Testament on controlling our tongues and what we say about other people ought to also make us think about the cost of following Jesus.  These are just a few examples.

     Being baptized as an infant before you had the opportunity to ‘consider the cost,’ does not exempt you from now thinking about the cost and choosing he path of obedience.

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Joshua 24:15  —  (Joshua said), ” If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

John 15:16a  —  (Jesus said), “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”

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Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

–St. Ignatius of Loyola

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19 Best count the cost images | Words, Inspirational quotes, Me quotes

Before baptizing someone, a native missionary in Nepal asks them these 7 questions.  They are considering the cost.

2370) Considering the Cost (a)

SUPREME COURT ORDERS FULL HEARING ON BLASPHEMY CASE - Pakistani ...

Ayub Masih

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Luke 14:28-33  —  (Jesus said),  “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower.  Won’t you first sit down and consider the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’  Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king.  Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.  In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

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   Ayub Masih, a 26 year old farmer, was one of only a few Christians in a predominantly Muslim village in Pakistan.  In 1996 Ayub got involved in a land dispute with a Muslim neighbor.  The neighbor thought of a way to get rid of Ayub quickly.  He went to the local authorities and said that the Christian, Ayub, had made derogatory statements against Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, and had said that Christianity was ‘correct.”  Pakistan has strict laws against such blasphemy and the penalties are severe.  Ayub had never said anything against Mohammed, but still he was arrested, quickly convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging.  During the trial, Ayub’s accuser shot and injured Ayub in the courtroom, but was never prosecuted by Pakistani authorities, and continued as the main witness against Ayub. 

     Fair trials are hard to get in many local courts.  In this case, during the trial, Muslim extremists threatened to kill the judge, lawyers, and jury if Ayub was not convicted.  These were not idle threats.  A Pakistani trial court judge had recently been murdered after acquitting two men of blasphemy.  Not only was Ayub sentenced to die, but the local Muslim population was so angered by the alleged blasphemy, that they drove all the Christians out of town.  All this because of a false accusation.  Ayub was completely innocent.  But what did his wicked neighbor receive for his lies?  He received not only the land in dispute, but all of Ayub’s land, as his entire family was driven out.  It is very hard to be a Christian in Pakistan.

     Ayub’s case was appealed, and he waited in prison for five years before the next higher court would hear his case.  Conditions in the prison were most appalling and he was tortured often.  He suffered attacks from other prisoners, denial of medical care for severe skin allergies and hemorrhoids, and solitary confinement in an 8 x 8 x 8-foot cell where the temperature often exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

     Finally, in July of 2001, Ayub’s case was heard again, but his appeal was rejected.  The Supreme Court was his last chance to avoid hanging, and facing international pressure, they did agree to hear his case.  On August 15, 2002 the Supreme Court unanimously decided in Ayub’s favor.  They declared what had been obvious for six years, that the accusation was fabricated by the neighbor for personal gain in order to acquire Ayub’s property.  He was acquitted of all charges and released from death row.

     So was this a happy ending for Ayub?  Did he and his family get to go home and get their farm back?  Of course not.  Ayub had to go into hiding because Muslim extremists were still threatening to find him and kill him.  He would never go home again.

     “Freedom Now” organization worked closely with the U.S. State Department and other groups to arrange Ayub’s quick exit from Pakistan.  He arrived in the United States on September 4, 2002 and successfully claimed political asylum.

–Written with information from the Freedom Now website at: 

http://www.freedom-now.org

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     It costs something to be a Christian in Pakistan.

     In Luke 14 Jesus said that if you want to be his disciple, you had better consider the cost before you make that decision.  It is just like any building project, he said.  If you are going to build something, you first better decide whether or not you have enough money.  Or, it is like a king going to war.  He had better first decide if he has enough soldiers to win, or else he had better ask ahead of time for the terms of peace.  And not only must you count the cost, Jesus says in some other verses, you must also be ready to make your faith even more important than your family.  In fact, you must value your faith even more than you value your own life.  That is a lot to think about.  Deciding to become a Christian is a big decision, says Jesus, and you better think it over very carefully before you make that commitment.

     So, did you do that?  Did you do what Jesus told you to do, and give very careful thought to what you were doing before you became a Christian?   I know I didn’t.  I became a Christian 66 years ago this summer when I was brought forward by my parents to be baptized at the age of two weeks.   Actually, I don’t recall giving it very much thought at all at the time.  In fact, I don’t think I was even asked.  I was brought forward by people a lot bigger than me and held on to tightly, as water was sprinkled over my head by good old Pastor Herder.  I could not have stopped them all even if I wanted to.  

     But really, it was all done just the way Jesus said it should be done.  No age requirement was listed with the instructions in Matthew 28:19.   All was done as directed, with water, and in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  

     But I did not first count the cost, like Jesus said I should have done.  Perhaps it was the same for you.  So, now what?  (continued…)

2369) What Will You Believe? (part two of two)

    (…continued)  You will be told many other things.  You will be told that pleasure is the most important thing is life.  You will be told that you must seek pleasure at all costs and do all you can to avoid pain.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with enjoying life.  Life is a gift of God and He intended for us to enjoy it.  But he also commands our obedience, and God did not tell us to make pleasure the most important goal of life.  There are other more important concerns, such as other people.  What if your all-out pursuit of pleasure interferes with someone else’s pleasure?  What do you do then?  Seek your own pleasure anyway?  That is what you will be told.  Be yourself, find yourself, you have to be happy, and don’t allow yourself remain trapped in a place where you are not happy.  In my ministry I have seen many homes destroyed and many people made miserable, just because somebody else had to be happy.  When happiness and pleasure are most important, and you are not as happy as you think you should be, something has to be done.  The temptation will be to get out, break your promises, give up, move on, quit trying, or whatever.  But that is a small price to pay, you will be told, because you only go around once in life and you’ve got to grab all you can, as the old beer commercial used to say.

     Commercials like that, no matter how brief or silly, are teaching you about life and how to live it.  Who will you believe?  Jesus promises not endless happiness, but that life will be hard, you will have crosses to bear, and you can be blessed by your afflictions.  Jesus also promises that you don’t just ‘go around once in life,’ but offers you a life to come, a better life, in a place God will live with us and wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or pain or crying anymore, as the Bible says.  

     In the meantime, Jesus promises us a peace that can be found even in the midst of turmoil.  This deeper peace is found not in the selfish avoidance of pain, but in the path of duty and obedience.  Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Who will you believe?

     You will also be told that youth is to be much preferred over old age.  This will be fine with you, now when you are still young.  But as you grow older, this false teaching will begin to bother you, as it bothers many people.  You will want to stay young, which is impossible; so you might be talked into buying some of the many silly products made to keep you at least ‘looking’ young (for whatever good that does).  You will be told that growing old is bad and ugly and something to be ashamed of.  Dr. James Dobson once commented on how foolish this is:  “There are five billion people on this planet and every one of them is growing older, so why should I feel guilty about it?”

     But many people do feel bad about it and try to hide it like it is something to be ashamed of.  Why is that?  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that many people no longer believe in God or salvation or heaven and eternal life.  For them, this life is all they have.  This is the kind of belief that is told us and sold us.  And if there is no life to come, each day then brings one closer to eternal death and annihilation, and the advancing years are indeed to be dreaded.  Time is running out, the wrinkles and grey hairs are a constant reminder, and the advertisers are there with promises to fix it all.

    But we should know better, we who worship a risen Savior and have the promise of eternal life.  But will we believe that and live by that, or will we believe the advertisers and worship youth?  Old age is nothing to be feared or dreaded.  Old age does not bring us closer to our end, but closer to that time when the trumpet will sound and our bodies will be raised and we are brought to live forever with God.  There we will be done with sin and false beliefs, and God will freely and completely give us that perfect happiness and peace that we so desperately crave here.

     What will you believe?  Will you believe that youth must be hung on to desperately, and attempt to hide the fact that you are getting every day older?  Or will you believe what has been promised you– days without end– and be freed to live every day now, young or old, to the fullest?  

     Let’s live by what we say we believe, and not believe what we are told by those who have no hope.  Jesus said in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”  A little later Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.”  The disciples spent three years of their lives with Jesus, and even they needed the Holy Spirit to remind them of what they had learned.  So certainly for you, this Confirmation Day must not be an end to your learning, but only a beginning.  You, like the disciples, need reminders of what you believe about God and how God wants you to live.  

     The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, so keep in touch with that Word.  Continue to worship, continue to read the Bible and pray, continue to seek to grow in your life in Christ.

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II Timothy 3:14-15  —  …Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

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Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

–From the 1971 musical Godspell; by Stephen Schwartz, based on a prayer by St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

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What Do You Believe?

2368) What Will You Believe? (part one of two)

From a sermon on a Confirmation Sunday.

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John 14:23a…27– Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching…  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

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     Confirmands, we have met together every Wednesday for the past two school years; or, for about 60 hours.  During that time, we have been preparing for this day and the promises you will soon make.  Together, we have looked at what God has done for each of you and what that can mean for your life, now and forever. You have listened well and done your work well.  And now, I think you understand a few things about your faith.  I hope so.  Because when you consider the  many influences in your lives, these few hours that we have had together for this Christian education isn’t anything compared to the education that you have received and continue to receive every day as you watch television, go to movies, read magazines, and observe the world around you.  But what you learn from the Bible and what you learn from the culture you live in are two very different things.

     In confirmation we looked at the big questions of life, which is what you would expect.  What one may not expect is that the media, in all its forms, which you are exposed to practically all day every day, also deals with the big questions of life.  Advertising and entertainment is also is teaching you about priorities, morality, values, life, and death.  What you hear and see there is also describing and offering a way of life.  They aren’t just selling their product or entertaining you. They are teaching you about life.  They tell you what is important in life, how to be happy, what you deserve to get out of life, how life is best lived, and what you need to buy if you really want to live the good life.  They want to teach you about life.  They are answering for you some of the same questions we looked at in confirmation; but they give very different answers and are very persuasive.

     Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”  You will hear many teachings, many different ideas on how to live your life.  Who will you listen to?  Who will you obey?  God created the gift of life and he knows how it is best lived.  When we ignore, forget, or disobey that, we miss out on how life is meant to be lived.

     Who are you going to believe?  Which will you live by?  Will you want to understand the world in terms of your faith and strive to live as a follower of Jesus?  Or will you take life as it comes, follow whatever looks good at the time, and ‘just do it,’ as one advertisement teaches.  You will be told many different things.  What will you believe and live by?  Let’s look at some specific examples.

     First of all, you will be told that whatever you have, it is not enough.  No matter how much you make and no matter how much you own, it is not enough to make you happy.  You will never be told what IS enough, or when you can finally BE satisfied.  No, just that WHATEVER you have, it is not enough.  The advertising industry spends tens of billions of dollars a year to tell you that you need more:  more luxuries, more gadgets, more entertainment, more conveniences, and more toys–  more of everything.  You will be told that you need this, you deserve that, you can’t live without this, and you won’t be happy without that.  If you aren’t careful, you will believe all those lies, get caught up on this merry-go-round, and never be content.  Not even millions of dollars a year is enough, as our sports heroes and movie stars prove to us by the unhappy lives of so many of them.

     This discontent has spread throughout our society.  Several surveys have asked people if they were happy with their present income and lifestyle.  A majority of people always say, “Not quite;” and they are all certain that if they could make just a little more money each year, they would then be happy and content.  People making $35,000 a year say that and people making ten times that amount say that.  They were all ‘just about’ happy.  They all need just a little bit more and they will not be truly happy until they get it.

     All those billions of dollars spent on advertising are spent to convince us that Jesus was wrong about the dangers of too much wealth and abundance and possessions.  But Jesus knew how the ever increasing desire for money can rob us of our peace of mind and contentment.  “My peace I give to you,” he said, “But that is not as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Or in other words, Jesus says, ‘do it my way, or you will be troubled.’  Surveys show that most people don’t believe that, or at least don’t live by that.  Most people believe the ads they see and hear, and are not content with what they have.  Contrast that with the apostle Paul who in Philippians 4:11-13 wrote: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”  

     Who will you believe?  What would you rather have; the inner strength, contentment, and peace of mind that Paul had, or, the desperate, constant dissatisfaction that must always struggle to get a little bit more?  (continued…)

Will Rogers quote: What's considered enough money? Just a little ...