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Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

Series: Faith in God

Last time we talked about how, to have real faith, you need a word from God to stand on.  And when you don’t have a word to stand on, it’s called presumption, because you are presuming upon God to do something that he never said he would do. This leads us to have unwarranted confidence, which can lead to wrong actions, which leads to a mess.

As we saw, one of the things we need to do to avoid all this is to know what God’s promises are – their context, the scope of what they cover, and the conditions that are attached. We need to know what they mean. We need to know God’s will so that we can have faith in this and receive from God.

So today, I want to give you 10 promises that you can stand on; that apply to you. And I hope as we go through this, God will speak to you about where you need more of him and his blessings and that you will latch on to this by faith.  

1. God will forgive your sins

 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” – Matthew 6:14

The condition certainly stands out right at the beginning. We have to give grace to receive grace. But if we do this, God tells us here, he will forgive our sins. As Psalm 103:12 says, God will remove our sins “as far as the east is from the west.” As 1 John 1:9 says, God will “forgive us our sins and . . . cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Others may not forgive us, we may struggle to forgive ourselves, but in faith we can stand on this promise that we are indeed forgiven by God.

2. God will give you the Holy Spirit

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” – Luke 11:13

In Luke 11 Jesus talks about asking with persistence in our prayers. And then he ends this teaching with this verse. So he is saying, ‘If we persistently ask for the Spirit, God will answer.’

It is the Spirit who gives us life. It is the Spirit who makes God’s presence known to us. It is the Spirit who gives us God’s guidance and comfort. It is the Spirit who empowers us to do God’s will and to minister in his name. So, this is a promise we all need. We need to be continually filled with the Spirit as followers of Jesus.

3. God will give you eternal life

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

This is a familiar and popular promise and rightfully so. Because of God’s love for us and  what Jesus has done for us, if we believe in Jesus, we will not be judged, but we will have eternal life. That is to say, right now. No waiting. God’s life comes into us and this will continue on forever.

4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” – John 8:36

Just before this, Jesus talks about how “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” But the promise is that Jesus is both able and willing to set us free; to break the chains of our bondage so that we can serve God and live a new life.

This doesn’t mean that it will always be easy, and that there won’t be hard choices and difficult times ahead. But Jesus will give us what we need to remain free.

If this is where you are, I encourage you to claim this promise by faith. Ask Jesus to come and set you free.

5. God will provide for your material needs

“But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33

Notice the condition: seek the kingdom and his righteousness. Give this more thought and time than worrying about how you will gather up what you need for this life. And then, Jesus tells us, God will provide.

Now this is no promise of great wealth. In this scripture here (Matthew 6) the promise is for food and clothing. Like in the Lord’s prayer, we ask for daily bread. The promise is that God will give us what we need, not what we want. But yet, God’s provision is all we truly need.

6. God will providentially watch over you

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

Jesus spoke this to the disciples while teaching them about persecution and the danger of death. Jesus promises that God watches over us as his disciples and knows what goes on in our lives, down to the details.

If we find ourselves in danger, and we are walking with God – we don’t need to fear. God knows what’s going on. Whether it goes badly for us, or we are rescued, we know that we are in God’s loving hands.

7. God will give you wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5

We need to ask, and we need to ask in faith as James goes on to say. But if we do this, God will give us guidance and good judgment in how to make decisions and how to live our lives. And who doesn’t need wisdom, really, every day of our lives? What a great promise!“It will be given.”

8. God will give you peace

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

We don’t need to be stressed out. Rather, we can lift up our burdens to the Lord, give them to him, and ask for his help. And the promise is that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds to keep the stress away. Like a soldier keeping patrol.

Unless, of course we let our worries back in. We have to let go of them all, and give them to God knowing that he will take care of us.

9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you

“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20

 Jesus had commissioned and empowered the disciples to cast out demons as a part of their work. But they had a case they couldn’t handle. Why? Because they thought it was way too hard!

And so Jesus teaches them, and us, that whatever God calls us to do we will be able to do, if we simply trust in God to act for us in each situation. Even if it seems impossible, like moving a mountain from one place to another.

10. God will give you a blessed future

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven . . .. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

The promise is that Jesus will return. And when he does, all faithful Christians will be resurrected to new life, with a new body.

We have an amazing future ahead! Things might not be going well for us now, but we have blessings waiting for us. And we “will always be with the Lord.” We can keep this in mind when we are going through hard times. In faith, think on these things and be encouraged.

  1. God will forgive your sins.
  2. God will give you the Holy Spirit
  3. God will give you eternal life
  4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin
  5. God will provide for your material needs
  6. God will providentially watch over you
  7. God will give you wisdom
  8. God will give you peace
  9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you
  10. God will give you a blessed future

So these are some of the many “precious and very great promises” that God gives to us, to use the words of 2 Peter 1:4. We will not be presuming upon God if we ask for these things.

But we do have to trust in God to receive all that these verses talk about; to receive the blessings of God. As I have said several times now, without faith, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). We can receive all that God has for us.

And let’s not be satisfied with what we have already received. We need to up our game! For instance, we need more of the Spirit, some of us need more deliverance, we all need more wisdom, peace in difficult times and power to do God’s will. Let’s raise our expectations and trust in God to act for us, standing on his promises.

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This morning we are looking at another story of faithfulness, in this case, the life an ancient believer whose life and faith I believe should be an encouragement to us in our Christian lives. Justin is his name, and he illustrates for us some specific aspects of faithfulness to Jesus which I will highlight at the end.

Some basics on Justin

He was born near Shechem, Samaria around 100 AD (A1-1) so he is a very early Christian. He was born just 30 years after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, and around 70 years after Jesus had his conversation with the Samaritan woman not far from Shechem.

He was not a Samaritan, or a Jew however (D – 28). He was born to a pagan family (A1-1) so he had no Christian influence growing up.

As a young man he gave himself to the study of Philosophy, going through several different schools of thought seeking after a knowledge of God. (D-2)

Justin’s conversion

Around 130 AD he had a conversation that changed his life. He most likely lived in Ephesus at this time. And as was his custom, when he wanted to get away to think, he went to a field by the sea where he could be alone.

But this time he met an old man there who challenged him to rethink his search after God.After pointing out several shortcomings in his thinking he led him to the Hebrew prophets as reliable teachers about God and his Son, the Christ. These were those who didn’t just think about God, but saw and knew God. And the man admonished him to pray that God would open his heart and mind to receive the truth of God. (D-7)

As Justin testified, “a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those people who are friends of Christ, possessed me; and while revolving his word in my mind – I found this philosophy alone to be safe and profitable.” (D-8). He had been prepared for this encounter beforehand by seeing and admiring the courage of Christians as they faced death in times of persecution (A2-12)

Justin’s ministry

Justin MartyrHe continued on in the role of a philosopher, complete with dressing in the traditional cloak (tribon) of a philosopher (D–1); but as a Christian who encouraged the study and practice of the teachings of Jesus (D-8). He was a scholar and a teacher.

And he used this role as an opportunity to share the gospel with others. An example of this comes from his Dialogue with Trypho,who was a Jewish philosopher. He he wrote an account of and it can still be read. As he said to Trypho early on in this conversation, “If then you have any concern for yourself, and if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God . . . you may become acquainted with the Christ of God (through the Scriptures), and, after being initiated live a happy life.” (D-8)

Later he moved to Rome and started a school. While he was in Rome he wrote two defenses of the Christian faith. One was written to Emperor Antonius Pius, the other to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. These can also still be read. In these he stood up for believers who were being persecuted and killed for their faith, often based on rumors and baseless objections to Christianity.

Here’s an example – many thought Christians had no morals. For instance, since Christians celebrated a love feast (the Lord’s supper), called each other brother and sister and met in private for this – they thought they were promiscuous or even incestuous. (A1-29). So Justin repeatedly emphasized the values and morals that Christians believed and practiced. In one passage he says, “we who formerly delighted in sexual immorality – now embrace sexual purity alone . . .”

He goes on, “we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring back what we have into a common fund and give to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account  of their different culture would not live with people of a different tribe, now since the coming of Christ live in relationship with them and pray for our enemies . . .” (A1-14)

Christians were also despised as atheists because they did not worship the gods or offer sacrifices to them. Justin explains, “what sober minded person then will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe and declaring . . . that he has no need” of sacrifices. (A1-13).

This brings us to –

Justin’s death

Although it was illegal to be a Christian at this time, the Roman government didn’t usually seek Christians out to persecute them. If, however, they were exposed by others and didn’t recant they would be condemned. So, if you had a neighbor who didn’t like you; or a business competitor that wanted to get rid of you; or an enemy that wanted you dead – all they had to do was accuse you of being a Christian to the government. And once the charge was made persecution and often death followed.

Well he had enemies. One was a philosopher named Crescens. He and Justin had held public debates before about Christianity. As Justin said at one point, “I . . . expect to be plotted against and crucified . . . perhaps by Crescens . . ..” (A2-3). Tatian, a student of Justin, said that Crescens had indeed sought to kill them both at one point (Address to the Greeks). Whether it was Crescens or someone else, eventually he was arrested along with several of his students, including a woman named Charito.

At the trial the Roman Prefect demanded that Justin offer up a sacrifice to the gods. He asked, “Are you not then a Christian?” Justin answered, “Yes, I am a Christian.” The Prefect, contemplating Justin’s death asked, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven to receive some recompense?” Justin said, “I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.”

The Prefect demanded that they all offer sacrifices to the gods. Justin said, “No right minded person falls away from true belief to false.” The others said, “Do what you will, for we are Christians and do not sacrifice to idols.”

The Prefect announced the sentence, they were to be scourged and then beheaded. Justin, and the others, remained faithful and were killed for their faith. Later, a group of Christians secretly obtained their bodies and gave them a proper burial.

This happened in 165 AD, so Justin was around 65 years old. This is also how Justin came by the name that he now bears – Justin “Martyr.” He was a true witness to Jesus, which is what the word martyr actually means, in his case, he was a witness even unto death.

Now let’s look at –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

 1. He was a faithful teacher and wise man. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:34 – “I send you (that is unbelieving Jews) prophets and wise men and scribes . . .” (although he was sent to the Gentiles primarily)

And just as the parable of the talents teaches us in Mathew 25:14-30 we have all been given tasks to do for God as we serve him in our earthly lives. What ministry has God called you to and how is it going? Justin was faithful to his calling in a time when being faithful was dangerous. Are you faithful to your task in our time?

2. He bore witness before the authorities. Jesus said in Luke 21:12-15 – “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to witness. . . . I will give you  a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”

He argued effectively in writing and in person in debates and conversations and when he was on trial before the Roman Prefect. We are called to bear witness before others as well, even if they are less intense situations. But God will also be with us as we speak to give us wisdom. Do you have the courage to speak out and trust God for the right words?

3. Justin confessed Christ under persecution. Jesus said in Matthew 10:32 – “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”

Justin confessed Christ when he life was on the line and died for it. And so we can be sure that he did and will receive a blessing from God, even as he said in faith that he would before the Prefect. Do we identify with Jesus and confess him in front of others? Or are we ashamed of him and hide our faith because it is a socially awkward situation or because it might affect our social standing or reputation? Don’t think that you can be ashamed of Jesus in these “little” ways and that when more serious persecution comes and your life is on the line that you will suddenly confess Jesus. All these lesser situations are practice for the more serious. It is those who are trained to identify with Jesus in everyday life who will confess him with boldness when their lives are on the line.

A1 = First Apology

A2 = Second Apology

D = Dialogue with Trypho

The other numbers refer to the sections of each work.

 

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This was a team sermon from Proverbs by our Elders: Paul Nolt, Tim Mangan, Kevin Baer and myself. The audio is available, but I am just posting my input.

Paul Nolt: Proverbs 2:1-8 – 1My child, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, 2making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 3yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, 4if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, 5then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 8guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.”

William: 1. Proverbs 10:19 – “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his (or her) lips is prudent.”

The meaning is straightforward – too much talking gets us into trouble. There is a correlation between the amount we speak and our susceptibility to sin with our words. This is because, as James says, the tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison” – 1:8. And also, I think, the more we speak, the more easy it is to become careless with our words. We don’t use our filter. Proverbs  15:28 says, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Are you a ponderer or a pourer when it comes to your words?

This is why we need to be “slow to speak” as James says in 1:19. We need to think before we speak. Our proverb talks about “restraining” our words. We need to pause and consider before we open our mouths. This is the way of wisdom.

When we don’t restrain our words it leads to lots of problems: things like gossip, breaking confidences, angry speech, critical speech, boastful speech, impure speech, and so on.

Now, I’m a fairly quiet person, at least when it’s not a Sunday morning. But this verse still challenges me. Here’s one example – I like to think that I’m funny or at least I try to be funny at times. I especially like to have a clever quip here and there. But this verse teaches me to be very careful with this, because in my desire to be funny, and it requires that I speak quickly, I can and have said things that are hurtful to others or things that are not edifying. So I still need to learn wisdom in this area, and to choose wisdom over trying to be funny more often.

Tim Mangan shared on:

2. Proverbs 12:25 – “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” 

3. Proverbs 16:9 – “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

Kevin Baer shared on:

4. Proverbs 20:25 – “It is a snare to say rashly, ‘It is holy,’ and to reflect only after making vows.” 

5. Proverbs 16:2 – “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.”

William: 6. Proverbs 14:4 – “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”

The phrase “the manger is clean” can also be translated, the manger is “empty,” or there is “no grain” in the manger. I am going with the ESV here because it makes good sense of the Proverb.

I am a perfectionist, at least at some things in life (I’ve been told I have a bit of OCD). By and large I like things in order and nice and tidy.

I wasn’t always like this for sure. I used to be a real slob. When I went to college my freshman year, I had one of the  messiest dorm rooms at my school. But I guess I got it out of my system and have learned to like having things in order.

So this Proverb challenges me because there is very little that is orderly and nice and tidy in pastoring. This is one reason I have this Proverb posted in my office, so that I can see it regularly.

Here’s the meaning: If you want a good crop, you need oxen. But to have oxen means cleaning up some manure. So you have to pick – have things nice and clean, but no harvest. Or have a good harvest, but clean up some messes.

More generally, if you want to get something done in life – or in the work of God – you need people, you need to take risks, and you need to be open to some chaos, and so there’s going to be some “manure.” So I have to choose: have things nice and tidy, but get nothing done. Or get things done, but clean up messes like: conflicts, misunderstandings, failures, making people mad, and dealing with some craziness.

Wisdom calls me to accept this, so that God’s work can be done.

Paul Nolt: Proverbs 3:13-15 – 13Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, 14for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. 15She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.”

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We’re focusing once again on finding God’s unique will for our lives, and we have started looking at eight things we can do to figure this out. But before we jump back into this, let me share with you some general reflections on seeking God’s will.

We usually want to know more than God wants to tell us

We want to know everything with all the details. But often God wants us to wait on him. In fact, I think it is fair to say that more often than not God wants us to walk by faith, that is, move forward without knowing what’s ahead and all the details. So God only tells us what we need to know, when we need to know it.

And you have to factor this in. Maybe you’re not hearing from God because now is not the time for receiving more instructions – you’re just supposed to continue on faithfully with what you already know. On a number of occasions I have sensed this from God – no need for more instructions, just keep doing what you’re doing.

God’s unique will for us can be flexible

That is, I don’t think things are rigid and completely fixed. And this means two things:

  • We can fail, but get back on track. In other words, God’s will is not an all or nothing proposition so that if you make a mistake, you are forever unable to do what God made you to do. Yes, sin has consequences. But God can still use us and he is infinitely creative in finding ways for us to fulfill our purpose.
  • Sometimes God lets us choose. In other words, there may not always be just one right choice. There may be several acceptable and good choices. I don’t think that it’s God’s purpose for us to have to be told every little thing. God wants us to grow up and be able to make good and godly decisions because of what he has already taught us. Just like any parent with their children.

The most important question is, “Will you do God’s will?” once you find out what it is

Yes, it’s important to ask, “What is God’s will for me?” But maybe we should focus more on cultivating a heart that is ready to do God’s will.

Let’s be like Jesus. Hebrews 10:7 sees the words of Psalm 40 as Jesus’. He says, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.” This is where our heart needs to be. If God knows that you are ready to do his will, I don’t think that finding out what that is will be too difficult.

Alright now let’s look at the –

Eight things you can do

– to discern and discover God’s unique will for you. And we begin with some review from last week:

1. Get close to God. If you want to know what God wants for you, draw near to God. Clear up any issues of disobedience. And then be in relationship with God. Spend time with God.

2. Study Scripture. Learn what God is like, and what God has done. Fill your mind with God’s truth and values. And then you can test and discern what God’s will is.

3. Listen for God’s voice. God may give us an inner sense of things or even speak to us deep in our heart. But we need to make time to listen.

Now, onto some new teaching . . .

4. Listen to your heart. I’m not saying listen to “the flesh.” That part of us that is self-focused. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” This will get you nowhere.

Rather listen to your new heart. In Jeremiah 31:33 God says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” This is that part of you that is new and from God, that desires to serve God.

Be aware of your inner desires that God has given to you. What is your heart telling you?

Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.”

God opened a door for Paul, but because his “spirit was not at rest” he took a different direction. He really felt that he needed to be with Titus. You see that his heart played a role in his decision. (And we also see that God gave Paul more than one good choice in this situation.)

5. Discern your circumstances. Like we just saw with Paul in 2 Corinthians, we too sometimes talk about an open door or a shut door; you know where an opportunity opens up or doesn’t; where one path is really easy, or another turns out to be real hard.

So it is true that these kinds of circumstances can be a clue to us of God’s will. But not always. Doing God’s will is not always the easiest path that opens up to us. So, let’s not be too dependent on this. We have to see what God is up to in our circumstances and reflect on this.

6. Be open to (but test) extraordinary guidance. In Scripture God uses prophets, visions, and dreams to lead people. (In a somewhat similar vein – a church casting lots to choose a leader between two qualified candidates- Acts 1:26).

Here is one of many examples. After Paul felt forbidden by God to go to other places, Acts 16:9-10 tells us “a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Although as a pastor I don’t want folks going off the deep end, it is true that God does still use these at times.

But here’s the problem, there are false prophets, visions and dreams. Satan, who can appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) can use these to deceive us. Or we can get confused by the voice of our flesh showing up in our minds or our dreams.

So, you have to test these things. 1 John 4:1 tells us “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Whatever prophet you hear, or also dream or vision you have – test it. Does the message line up with the truth of the apostolic witness of the Scriptures? That’s the standard.

And certainly stay away from seeking guidance from those who use the occult, mediums and the like, or even something as simple, but as ungodly as horoscopes.

7. Receive input from wise believers. Seek out the counsel of others; those who have walked with the Lord for many years; those who seem to know and be close to the Lord. And also listen to those God might bring across your path. Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” Colossians 3:16 talks about how we are to be “teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom” as sisters and brothers in the Lord. In our relationships we can share input with one another on what we are going through. And God can certainly speak to us through this.

8. Ask God for wisdom. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” This is an open-ended and generous promise from God. And what a gift it is to be able to sort through all that is before us, and then discern what is right and good for our situation.

Finally, let me share some –

Scripture promises

These can encourage us and build our faith as we wait on the Lord.

Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Psalm 32:8 – “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

Matthew 7:7-8 – “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

William Higgins

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