Thankful Christians (Psalm 100 #5) – Andy Brown

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!2     Serve the Lord with gladness!    Come into his presence with singing!3 Know that the Lord, he is God!    It is he who made us, and we are his;    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,    and his…
— Read on andy-brown.org/2021/05/25/thankful-christians-psalm-100-5/

Shouting Christians (Psalm 100 #1) – Andy Brown

Shout for joy to Yahweh, all you lands!2     Serve Yahweh with gladness.    Come before his presence with singing.3 Know that Yahweh, he is God.    It is he who has made us, and we are his.    We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,    and into his courts…
— Read on andy-brown.org/2021/05/19/shouting-christians-psalm-100-1/

The Sinfulness of my Sin – Andy Brown

On a recent blog post, a dear reader commented and use the phrase “sinfulness of sin “.

That reminded me of this post I wrote a few years ago. So I thought I would share it with you today! it considers a verse from Psalm 32, and there is a link to an audio message I gave on that same psalm which you can listen to.

Hope you enjoy, and I welcome your comments as ever! Thank you for reading.

I acknowledged my sin to thee, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.Psalm 32:5 (WEB) The sinfulness of my sin… captivating title right? And I know what you are thinking – two blog posts in two…
— Read on andy-brown.org/2020/03/18/the-sinfulness-of-my-sin/

Glorify the Lord

Bringing glory to God is, in essence, why we are here on this Earth. I suppose there are many ways in which we can glorify the Lord. In fact, I would be keen to hear your thoughts on that, so do comments below. What does it mean to you to “glorify the Lord?” How do you do it day by day?

We are on the earth to glorify God. How do you do that? #Bible #Jesus #Christianity

Looking to the Scripture, I turn to a specific example from Joshua to help us see one way to do this. It may not, as I have found, be immediately intuitive as to how this account fits in with “glorifying the Lord,” but let’s see what we can learn.

The actual words I want to look at appear in Joshua 7, but before I share them, we need to remind ourselves of what happened in Joshua 6. This is the account of how the Israelites, under Joshua’s lead, took the city of Jericho. God instructs the people not to just attack, but instead offers them a rather unorthodox battle plan. For seven days, they are to march around the city walls. Imagine trying to sell that to your generals! On the seventh day, they are to march around not once, but seven times and once complete they are to shout. As they do this, the wall of the city will fall and they can rush in upon the enemy.

Strange as it may sound, this is precisely what happens. They march, they blow trumpets, and then they shout. The walls fall and the enemy is destroyed.

God gave specific instructions through Joshua about the spoils of the attack. They were not to take anything that was devoted to destruction.

On the seventh day, they rose early at the dawning of the day, and marched around the city in the same way seven times. On this day only they marched around the city seven times. 16 At the seventh time, when the priests blew the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for Yahweh has given you the city! 17 The city shall be devoted, even it and all that is in it, to Yahweh. Only Rahab the prostitute shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent. 18 But as for you, only keep yourselves from what is devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted it, you take of the devoted thing; so you would make the camp of Israel accursed and trouble it. 19 But all the silver, gold, and vessels of bronze and iron are holy to Yahweh. They shall come into Yahweh’s treasury.”

Joshua 6:15-19 WEB

This is not unclear. There is no room for misunderstanding or negotiation. Take nothing for yourselves. If you do, you will bring a curse and trouble upon the camp of Israel.

Did they all obey this instruction? You can probably guess, but if not, Joshua 7 begins:

But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the devoted things; for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. Therefore Yahweh’s anger burned against the children of Israel.

Joshua 7:1 WEB

So we see that a man named Achan took some of the spoil for himself, and thus broke God’s command. I recently heard John MacArthur say that you can remember this because Achan was “aching” to take something!

What happens next is that the Israelites go up to spy on the people of Ai, and the spies say (in my own words) “Don’t worry about it, just send up a few thousand men as we won’t need the full army to take the few people of Ai!”

They lose. Around 36 Israelites are slain, and the people of Ai chase the army. The result is tremendous fear among the men of Israel, so much so that the Bible describes their hearts melting and turning like water (see Joshua 7:5). So shocked are they at this loss, that they cry out to God in confusion, unable to fathom how God’s people were defeated. God reveals that there is sin among them and that they must root out the cause.

Joshua assembles the people, and then begins to whittle down the group by tribe, family and household. Achan and his family are brought forwards.

We read:

Joshua said to Achan, “My son, please give glory to Yahweh, the God of Israel, and make confession to him. Tell me now what you have done! Don’t hide it from me!”

Joshua 7:19 WEB

Achan is caught. Notice Joshua’s words here “Glorify the Lord.” What does he mean, and why would Achan confessing his sin bring glory to God?

I think that there are two main reasons why this confession would bring God glory.

Firstly, God is holy, and we are not. This is a critical lesson we need to review frequently I believe. Confessing sin admits that God is greater than we are, and so brings Him glory. We are sinful, and He is not, and that makes Him superior. More than this though, He is also the One with the power to forgive and cleanse us. Confessing sin not only recognises our inferiority to God, but also glorifies Him by seeking His favour in forgiveness.

#God is #holy and we are not. Confessing our sin brings Him #glory #Bible #Jesus #Christianity

Forgiveness is only available through the cleansing blood of God’s Son – Jesus Christ. To seek forgiveness from God is to acknowledge the sacrifice of His Son. While Achan perhaps had little idea of Jesus’ work at the cross that would one day come, we certainly do. Achan, though, did know that he had fallen far short of obedience before God.

Secondly, God’s reputation is at stake here before all the people. He has brought out the clans, tribes and families and selected Achan. Were Achan to deny it, it would essentially be calling God a liar in front of everyone. “You are quite wrong God! It wasn’t me! I did no such things!” Imagine that! Imagine bearing false witness against the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even disobedient Achan did not go that far, and neither should we.

Do you put God’s reputation above your own? It is better to admit when we are wrong than God’s Name be maligned #Bible #Christianity

So, Achan brings God glory by confessing his sin. He admits to taking the items dedicated to destruction, and Joshua sends men to go and find them. There, beneath his tent, the stolen goods are found and brought to Joshua. What happens next may seen harsh to our ears. Achan and his entire family are taken and stoned, and all the people and goods are burned I the valley. This indicates to us how seriously God hates sin, and that we ought not to trifle with it. It is also clear that Achan could not have done this without his family knowing, as it is rather hard to bury the goods in the middle of the tent without those living I the tent noticing. None of them came forward to tell Joshua what had been done, and neither did they give back the goods. They had hoped, like Achan, to get away with it.

So returning to the question we began with, how do we bring glory to God? Was confessing your sin on your list? It probably would not have been on my top ten! There may be many ways to glorify the Lord, and admitting our faults and rejoicing in His forgiveness is certainly one way to do it.

Will you bring Him glory today? Will you stand before Him and be open about your failures? Thank God that He has made a way for us to be forgiven and set free! Thank God that we need not face the same penalty as Achan, but instead can tell the world how great our God is!

Who’s Really in Charge? (Daniel 6:19-28)

Over the last couple of weeks I have written a series of posts on the events of Daniel 6, which is one of the more famous sections of the Old Testament. In the account, we read of the faithful man Daniel being thrown into a den of lions. We looked at how Daniel’s life of exceptional standards led to the jealousy of others, and how they lured the king into making a law they knew Daniel would break. Indeed, the king ordered that no one could pray to God or man except to the king himself, and if they did, the den of lions beckoned. Daniel was not a man to compromise his faith, and as he always did, he prayed to his God.

The king is devastated when he realises that Daniel is caught. We speculated whether this was genuine concern for Daniel, or concern for the king’s own interests given the impeccable competence of Daniel’s leadership. Having put Daniel into the den, the king spends a sleepless night worrying whether he will lose his most effective official.

Before we read the next section though, let me pose you a question. Who’s really in charge here? At first, we might think it is the king. He is the king after all, and yet seems rather easily manipulated by the officials. Perhaps it is Daniel, the man rising to the top once again. Yet, he ends up in the den of lions. Could it be the jealous officials themselves? They dislike Daniel and succeed in trapping him. As we will find out shortly however, things do not end well for them. As you read the remaining part of Daniel 6, and reflect back over my posts in this chapter, ask yourself who is pulling the strings here?

Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 When he came near to the den to Daniel, he cried with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, “Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God, whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?”

21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God has sent his angel, and has shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not hurt me; because as before him innocence was found in me; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.”

23 Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

24 The king commanded, and they brought those men who had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions mauled them, and broke all their bones in pieces, before they came to the bottom of the den.

Daniel 6:19-24 WEB

As early in the morning as he can, the king rushes to the den to find out what has happened. For the first time in Daniel 6, we hear Daniel speak. He reassures the king that God has indeed rescued him, and has done so by sending an angel to shut the mouths of the lions.

Daniel survived, the king is thrilled, and in retaliation for their actions, the king has the jealous officials thrown in the den instead. Not just the men themselves however, but their families too. The Bible records that they were torn apart and their bones broken, before even hitting the bottom of the den. What a gruesome end!

What do we learn from this account? I have heard some use verse 23 as a summary.

23 Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Daniel 6:23 WEB

The theology goes something like this; Daniel trusted in God and was saved. If we too trust in God, we also shall be saved.

The moral of this story however is not that. If you read Daniel 6 and say to yourself, I just need to trust in God and He will protect me from all harm and suffering, then you are heading for disappointment.

This account does show us that God is able to save, and is mighty and powerful indeed. It tells us that God can and does intervene in our lives in miraculous ways. For this, we should be truly grateful.

In a general sense, we could infer that to trust God means everything will be ok. To clarify, if we place our trust in Christ, then He will indeed save us and ultimately all things will be made right in heaven. However, we come into error when we think that by trusting God everything in this life will work out just fine.

Look at Stephen, the first martyr, for example. He trusted God. He followed God’s instruction. He served the Lord faithfully. Yet, he was stoned to death. Why didn’t it work for him? And, if it did not work for Stephen, why should we think it will work for us?

We cannot liberally take Bible passages in isolation, and draw out wrong conclusions from them. In this case, Daniel was saved. In Stephen’s case, he was not.

So what is really going on here? I think the answer lies in the closing verses of this chapter. And it relates to the question I asked you earlier – who is really in charge?

25 Then king Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages, who dwell in all the earth:

“Peace be multiplied to you.

26 “I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel;

“for he is the living God,

    and steadfast forever.

His kingdom is that which will not be destroyed.

    His dominion will be even to the end.

27 He delivers and rescues.

    He works signs and wonders in heaven and in earth,

    who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”

28 So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

Daniel 5:25-28 WEB

In response to all of these events, King Darius writes to all the peoples and nations in the world. In his letter, he tells them that they are to fear and worship the God of Daniel. Notice he does not claim Daniel’s God – our God – for himself, and still refers to Him as “Daniel’s God”. We each must claim a relationship with God for ourselves. It is no good to say that we follow the God of our parents, our friends or even our church. We must have our own relationship with Jesus.

Look at what the king writes! It is astonishing to hear such words from the Persian King.

He points out that God is living, and this in stark contrast to the many idols of wood or stone throughout the world at this time. He states that God is steadfast forever, and will not be moved. Darius claims that God’s kingdom will never be destroyed, and that is quite a statement from a king who undoubtedly wants his own kingdom to be perpetuated. Darius tells the world that our God rescues and saves (something we too should be doing), and that He is the God of signs and wonders.

So who is really in charge? God is – our God, Daniel’s God, the very same. The events of Daniel 6 and the trial that Daniel faced at the mouths of hungry lions was all about His glory. Daniel was rescued so that a Persian King might proclaim the goodness of God throughout the earth.

We can and should trust God, and we can and should ask the Lord to keep us safe and to rescue us from our troubles. If He does, then we worship Him. Yet, if He does not, then we praise Him in and through those time of trial. Our goal should not be our own comfort, but to glorify the Living God!

The thought of trouble and trial does not excite me, nor does it you I imagine! I pray for a peaceful life, yet I pray for a life of obedience more so. If a few brief earthly troubles leads to the God Heaven being glorified, then so be it.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on Daniel, and I hope it has challenged you to live differently. May you be excellent in all you do, fully committed to your faith in Christ, and will to endure any trials so that your God might be glorified.

Who is really in charge? The maker of heaven and earth, the King of kings and Lord of lords. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Praise be unto Him in all the earth! Amen!

Daniel in the Den (Daniel 6:16-18)

We have been studying our way through the sixth chapter of Daniel in a short series of posts.

In the first one – An Excellent Man – we thought about how Daniel conducted himself, and what lessons there are for us in our modern world. In part two – No Compromise – we saw another aspect of Daniel’s excellence, in that he absolutely refused to compromise his faith irrespective of the consequences. He was prepared to die in the Lion’s Den rather than deny his God. In our third instalment – No Way Out – we see that King Darius is tied up in his own words, and finds no escape.

Seeing no way out, King Darius is forced to have Daniel arrested.

Then the king gave a command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you constantly serve, rescue you Himself!” 17 A stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing would be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no music or entertainment was brought before him, and he remained unable to sleep.

Daniel 6:16-18 Amp

Verse 16 is somewhat matter of fact. It simply says the king commanded, Daniel is arrest and then thrown into the den. I think it is interesting that we have yet to hear Daniel utter a single word. Even now, as he is taken by force, the Bible does not record him protesting or arguing or begging at all. Now I am not saying Daniel remained silent throughout the whole affair, simply that the Bible does not record him saying anything. Is that relevant? Is there some hidden gem here? Perhaps, or perhaps not. One point I do draw out is that we have not the merest hint of Daniel speaking foolish or idle words, and this is in stark contrast to King Darius who regretted his commands.

The king says to Daniel, “May your God, whom you constantly serve, rescue you Himself!” I emphasise the words “your” and “constantly.”

The king recognises that this God is Daniel’s God. Darius sees that there is a personal relationship between Daniel and his God. This will be important later on when we close out the chapter – so keep it in mind.

I also note that Daniel did not just serve God, but constantly served Him. It implies that Daniel has no apparent lapses or displays half-hearted worship. Instead, Daniel is steady and unshakeable in his walk with God. Indeed, that very commitment is what has landed him in the den of lions. We noted from verse 10 of this chapter that when Daniel hears that the law forbidding prayer to anyone but King Darius has been signed, he goes straight home and prays – three times a day – just as he always had. Daniel is steadfast in prayer, and everyone knew it. What a lesson for us! Are we so dedicated? Are we so unshakeably steady? Do people look at us in church on a Sunday and wonder if we’ll still be following Christ in a week’s time? I pray not!

So, Daniel is lowered into the pit, and as I said above, no mention is made of him having said a word. Yet this passage is not dissimilar to another situation we find earlier on in the book of Daniel. Earlier on in Daniel 3, we read the account of his three friends and they are commanded to worship an idol in the form of a giant golden statue. They refuse. Like Daniel, they now faced death – not from lions, but from a raging furnace turned up seven times hotter than normal. As they are arrested and thrown in, they tell the king of the day (Nebuchadnezzar) “Our God is able to rescue us, and even if He does not, we will still not bow down and worship this idol.”

Daniel was seemingly not present at the fiery furnace, or at least no mention is made of him. I wonder if he was familiar with the account though, and if he knew the words that his friends had spoken. If so, perhaps he would have been saying to the king, “My God is able to rescue me from the mouths of these hungry lions, but even if he does not, I will not pray to you Darius.”

Whatever you are going through right now, you can take these words as your own. “Jesus is well able to rescue me from this [death, illness, job loss, persecution, insert your own situation here] but even if He does not, I will still follow Him with all my heart.”

A stone is placed over the mouth of the den, and it is sealed with the king’s seal so that no one can interfere. This should remind us of another den/tomb, sealed with another stone, which was also sealed/guarded so that no one could interfere…. And look how that turned out!

So Darius returned to his palace, refuses food and entertainment, and spends the entire night worrying about Daniel. Daniel meanwhile, is in the den, and we know not what is happening to him. As I close this post, I wonder who of the two had the better night’s sleep? The king, by worrying, could not change the outcome. Neither could Daniel. Perhaps as he rested and trusted in his God, Daniel was able to curl up and sleep right next to the lions.

You know doubt know how the story ends, and if not, we will find out next time. The important question for me is why? And what, if anything, is the lesson for us as the church? I will try to draw this out next time, and bring this series to an end. If you have enjoyed it, do share with someone else. And as ever, thanks for reading.

No Way Out (Daniel 6:11-15)

Continuing on with our look at Daniel 6 and his experience in the Lion’s Den, we pick up the passage at verse 11.

11 Then, by agreement, these men came [together] and found Daniel praying and making requests before his God. 12 Then they approached and spoke before the king regarding his injunction, “Have you not signed an injunction that anyone who petitions (prays to) any god or man except you, O king, within the designated thirty days, is to be thrown into the den of lions?” The king answered, “The statement is true, in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be altered or revoked.” 13 Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, does not pay any attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you have signed, but keeps praying [to his God] three times a day.”

14 Then, as soon as the king heard these words, he was deeply distressed [over what he had done] and set his mind on rescuing Daniel; and he struggled until the sun went down [trying to work out a way] to save him. 15 Then, by agreement, these same men came to the king and said, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or statute which the king establishes may be altered or revoked.”

Daniel 6:11-15 (AMP)

As a reminder, the governors and commissioners were jealous of this successful man – Daniel. He is rising to the top because of his faithfulness to God. They cannot find fault with him, so lay a trap for him by asking the King to sign a law that states no one can pray to any god or man except to King Darius himself. Daniel, not willing to compromise, goes home and prays to God just as he always did. The governors catch him in the act.

These wicked men approach the king and ask him, “O King, did you not sign some kind of law about praying to any God or man except you? Didn’t you say anyone caught doing this would be thrown into the lion’s den?” The king replies in the affirmative, and confirms he did indeed sign such a law. The governors are quick to point out that Daniel has broken the law.

I imagine the look on King Darius’ face as realisation dawns. Verse 14 tells us he was deeply distressed. Why? I would like to think he is particularly fond of Daniel, and the thought of losing his friendship was a very sad one. However, I suspect another reason may lie behind the king’s distress. We learned from earlier on in the chapter that the governors and commissioners were there to protect the king’s interests. No one did that better than Daniel. The king knows that to lose Daniel to the lions is to lose a valuable asset, and leaves him with only corrupt officials unlikely to act with integrity toward him.

Verse 14 may seem a little odd to our ears. If he is the king, why not just change the laws or pardon Daniel to save him from the lions? You will notice the phrase, repeated more than once in this chapter, “in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be altered or revoked.” Once a law was made in Persia, that was it. No take-backs, no changes. Not even the king could undo a law that he had signed.

We see this at work in the book of Esther. King Artaxerxes, under the influence of the wicked Haman, signs a law that will mean the Jewish people will be killed on a certain day. The actions of Queen Esther exposes the plot, but the king cannot revoke the law. Instead, he puts in place a second law that means the Jewish people can gather together, arm and protect themselves from harm.

King Darius spends the entire day trying to figure out a way out of the predicament. He finds none. There are a number of lessons for us here, but I want to point out the importance of our words. We must not make a commitment we cannot fulfil. We see the impact of hasty words in Judges 11 when Jephthah makes a vow that he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house. Sadly, it was his daughter who came to greet him. Jesus, likewise, urges us to count the cost before we begin (see Luke 14). King Darius here has been flattered by the governors and they have taken full advantage. He no doubt regrets his words, and can find no way out.

We ought to be very careful about what we commit to. When we talked about Daniel being an excellent man, I am certain that part of his excellence lie in the fact that he meant what he said. Too few of us are bound by our words. If we say we are going to be there at a certain time, then we should make sure we are. If we are not sure, then neither should we commit.

Too few of us are bound by our #words – #Bible #Jesus

There is no recourse for the king. He finds no way out. Daniel is surely doomed! We will find out what happens when we look at the rest of this chapter another time.

Catch up on previous posts in this series:

Thanks for reading!

Turn Your Ear & Fix Your Eyes (Proverbs 4:20-27)

My son, attend to my words.

    Turn your ear to my sayings.

21 Let them not depart from your eyes.

    Keep them in the center of your heart.

22 For they are life to those who find them,

    and health to their whole body.

23 Keep your heart with all diligence,

    for out of it is the wellspring of life.

24 Put away from yourself a perverse mouth.

    Put corrupt lips far from you.

25 Let your eyes look straight ahead.

    Fix your gaze directly before you.

26 Make the path of your feet level.

    Let all of your ways be established.

27 Don’t turn to the right hand nor to the left.

    Remove your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:20-27 (WEB)

The other day my wife was talking to me, and like a dutiful husband, I was nodding and saying “Uh-huh…” in all the right places. My mind however, was somewhere else! I had to hold my hands up and admit that although I was hearing the words, I wasn’t really listening.

Verse 20 of Proverbs 4 is a rather eloquent way of saying “Listen up!” Attending to someone’s words is not simply to hear them, but rather to engage with them. Likewise, turning one’s head in the right direction (so that the ear is pointed at the speaker) is not nearly enough to ensure the instruction hits home.

Solomon is again entreating us to listen, to take on board and to respond to the wisdom of his teaching.

In a similar way, verse 21 encourages us to keep Wisdom’s teachings before our eyes and thus planted in our hearts. This idea of God’s Word and wisdom not departing from our eyes is an exhortation to be both regular and consistently reading and studying the Scripture.

A 30-minute sermon on a Sunday is not enough. A 5-minute devotional each morning may be encouraging, but it may be insufficient to receive the full counsel of God’s Word.

For me at least, little and often may be the key. I have followed “Bible in a year” plans before, and while useful in some cases, it can become a burden or even chore as we wade through six or more chapters each morning.

Better to read and meditate on a few Bible verses regularly, than read a dozen pages without taking it in.

Better to read and #meditate on a few #Bible verses regularly, than read a dozen pages without taking it in.

That is not to take Scripture out of context, I hasten to add. There is just as much danger in reading your favourite few verses all the time, and not engaging with the wider text or understand its place in the big picture.

Verse 22 says:

For they are life to those who find them,

    and health to their whole body.

Proverbs 4:22 (WEB)

Verse 22 has always been a verse which fascinates me. It says that God’s word, or the instruction of wisdom, provides life to those who find them and even health to our physical bodies. We touched on this in previous posts on the book of Proverbs, and clearly living wisely will lengthen your life. Smoking, drinking or eating to excess, or not looking after oneself is not wise, and as a consequence will of course reduce one’s lifespan.

The word translated as “health” here is the Hebrew word marpe’ and is most often translated as “health” (as above) or “healing.” It can also be rendered as “cure” or “remedy” also.

Could it be that the very studying of God’s Word can bring health to us, and I mean in some supernatural way rather than as a natural consequence of living right? While some would give a definite yes to that question, others would dispute it. I would encourage you to study its meaning for yourself.

The WEB translation of verse 23 is a little confusing, to me at least! Here it is from the NLT:

Guard your heart above all else,

    for it determines the course of your life.

Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Despite talking of the health of the body in the last verse, this one is not referring to our blood pump, but rather our inner self. Guarding our heart is very much in line with what this passage has been talking about. Too few of us take seriously what we allow into our hearts and minds. Instead of keeping the Word of God before us constantly, we fill ourselves with ungodly entertainment or gossip. We are foolish if we think our hearts can go unscathed by such continual battering.

Your heart, that is, your inner self, will determine how your life goes. It is like a child who is constantly criticised or put down, they will struggle in life to overcome such negativity. Our hearts, in a similar way, cannot be soaked in negativity and produce positive results.

Verse 24 deals not with what we put into ourselves, but rather what comes out of us. It strongly advises us to be careful about how we speak, and I cannot emphasise enough the power of our words.

Paul also instructs us to:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

What a challenging verse this is! I say a lot of things in a day, but can hardly confess to all of it being helpful for building others up. I try to add value with my words, always having in the back of my mind that one day I will give account for them to the Lord. Yet too frequently I find my words are not wholesome, but instead are negative, critical or just wasteful. How about you?

Verse 25 to 27 all echo the same sentiment. Keep your eyes fixed ahead, and your feet on level ground. This is clearly not to advise us against turning our heads nor to ascend inclined ground in our hometowns! Instead, the Proverbs are warning us to keep fixed on what is right, and not to turn aside to evil.

If we do not do this, if we just wander along aimlessly, then we will find ourselves in trouble. Our focus and our determined purpose must be to seek after what is right and good. Our sinful nature has been programmed into us since birth, and despite the new life Christ brings, we do tend towards selfishness and evil unless we are set against it.

What are your eyes fixed on? Are locked ahead, gazing upon God’s Word, or do they wander and lead you astray? How about those feet? Are they shod with the Gospel, and following after Jesus, or do they stumble or meander away?

Make a decision right here and now that you will seek after wisdom all day long. Fix those eyes and discipline those feet, and you will life in God’s Word.

Psalm 32 – Sermon

A few years ago I gave a sermon on Psalm 32, and was reviewing my notes from it this morning.

It is one of the penitential Psalms, or Psalms of repentance. It is a wonderful set of verses, and I share below the audio message I gave at the time.

Do have a read of the whole Psalm before listening, as it is not included in the recording.

Get Wisdom (Proverbs 4:1-9)

Returning to the pages of Proverbs today, we pick up where we left off at chapter 4.

Listen, sons, to a father’s instruction.

    Pay attention and know understanding;

2 for I give you sound learning.

    Don’t forsake my law.

3 For I was a son to my father,

    tender and an only child in the sight of my mother.

4 He taught me, and said to me:

    “Let your heart retain my words.

    Keep my commandments, and live.

5 Get wisdom.

    Get understanding.

    Don’t forget, and don’t deviate from the words of my mouth.

6 Don’t forsake her, and she will preserve you.

    Love her, and she will keep you.

7 Wisdom is supreme.

    Get wisdom.

    Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding.

8 Esteem her, and she will exalt you.

    She will bring you to honor when you embrace her.

9 She will give to your head a garland of grace.

    She will deliver a crown of splendor to you.”

Proverbs 4:1-9 (WEB)

This chapter opens with Solomon addressing his sons. It will read rather familiar to you, if you remember much of what we have covered previously.

Proverbs, and especially these early chapters, can feel a little repetitive. Repetition is required because, quite simply, it takes us a long time to learn things. Take your exams from school, how much of what you learned do you remember now? Chances are, not a great deal! Why? Did you not learn it at the time? You might have stored the information in your memory banks for a while, but without constant and regular review, the information will fade over time.

We do not read the book of Proverbs once, and then “get it!” It will take review and revision time and time again.

We do not read the book of #Proverbs once, and then “get it!” It will take review and revision time and time again.  #Bible #Jesus #Christianity #Wisdom

The danger of repetition is that we assume we already know it. Do not skim over the words above and think, “Heard this before…” Instead, engage with the text and see what is different or what you missed last time.

At verse 4, Solomon begins to tell us what his father – King David – taught him. For me, this is a fascinating insight. What would this great king teach his son, who would one day become another great king?

He tells Solomon to retain his words. This reminds us that our memories are powerful, and should be used to store up the commands of God. And yet, he says retain the words “in your heart.” Your heart is not where your memory is, so how do we retain anything in it?

Clearly he is referring to our inner self, as opposed to our “blood pump.” So how do we retain anything on the inside? I refer back to my points about repetition above. Our hearts do not change from a single reading of Scripture. Instead, we must soak in it, reviewing it over and over and allowing it to alter us little by little. With the Spirit’s help, God’s Word is slowly engraved in our hearts.

I particularly love the straightforwardness of verse 5! Get wisdom! Get understanding! And he repeats the demand in verse 7 also. Get wisdom! Go after it with all you can. It will save your life!

Verse 6 asks us to “love” her – wisdom. This, I think, is the first reference to this. It makes sense, having studied all the benefits that wisdom provides, that we should indeed love her. We throw the word “love” around fairly freely at times; we love coffee, we love ice cream, we love meeting up with our friends… and none of that is necessarily wrong. Let us not be casual about our love for either God, or the wisdom He offers us. Let the love we have for both be deep and strong.

Verse 7 adds a new dimension also, pointing out to us the cost of seeking wisdom. It tells us that even though obtaining it may cost us all our possessions, we should still go after it. Why would wisdom have a cost? Anything of value surely does! To obtain wisdom, it may require us to do certain things, such as study, pray, meditate and read. All these things require time, and time we might have wanted to give to other things. Likewise, it may take money to buy resources or cause us to give up certain possessions which distract. Wisdom is offered freely, but may cost us something. We cannot have all that the world offers, and fully seek after God and His wisdom also.

Jesus taught:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

While the Proverbs speak of wisdom versus possessions, and Jesus of “God rather than money”, the two are closely connected. I think it hard to separate God from His wisdom, and so we cannot chase money and expect to be able to serve God and receive wisdom. We must choose where our life is focussed.

The thing is, if you seek after wisdom, and if you seek after God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33), you will find all these other things as well.

So… get wisdom!

Don’t Be Wise (Proverbs 3:7-10)

There is sufficient wisdom in Proverbs 3:7 alone to keep us going for a lifetime! As you probably do not want to spend the rest of your life reading my blog, I will try to be concise!

7 Don’t be wise in your own eyes.

Fear Yahweh, and depart from evil.

8 It will be health to your body,

and nourishment to your bones.

9 Honor Yahweh with your substance,

with the first fruits of all your increase:

10 so your barns will be filled with plenty,

and your vats will overflow with new wine.

Proverbs 3:7-10 WEB)

Taken out of context, the phrase “Don’t be wise…” does not appear too often in Proverbs! This is heavily qualified though by adding “in your own eyes.”

Our own eyes, when used to look on ourselves, are rarely a good judge. Few people would admit to being unwise, and only by looking at ourselves soberly can we obtain a truer estimate.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says this:

For I say through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith.

Romans 12:3 (WEB)

Too often we give ourselves miles of leeway, while giving others none whatsoever. We judge our own intentions, while we criticise others’ performance (irrespective of their intent).

Too often we give ourselves miles of leeway, while giving others none whatsoever. #Bible #Wisdom #Christianity

When we think we are wise, we can be overinflated and that makes us careless and prone to mistakes. Rather, we should know that wisdom comes from dependence on God and on His ways. Each and every moment we must surrender to Him, seeking His guidance and obeying His commands.

Verse 7 ends by telling us to fear God and depart from evil. That is something we must live our lives by!

Verse 8 links the fear of the Lord to our physical health. We have touched on this point before, earlier on in Proverbs 3, and will do so again later on. Being a Christian does not guarantee good health, neither does avoiding evil prevent all and every sickness. The principle here is that if we make wisdom our guide, following Jesus and steering well clear of evil, then we reduce our likelihood of ill-health. As we noted before, this is a natural consequence. It is wise to eat healthily, exercise regularly and avoid excessive stress. I do not think anyone would argue that such things will indeed bring health to our bodies.

Verse 9 and 10 instruct us to honour God with our money and possessions. This is quite right to do, and is essentially an act of our worship. We may pray, sing songs, study the Bible and attend church; all of which are acts of praise. Giving of our money and possessions is every bit as important though.

How so? Because we humans are rather attached to our money and “things.” By offering them freely to the Lord, we are rightly putting Him above all such material items. We invest much of our life trying to earn money, and so, by giving it to God, we are reminding ourselves of His rightful place in our life.

God has given us so very much! And by offering back to Him a portion of our income, we are honouring Him. Notice it uses the phrase “first fruits” indicating that we do not give God whatever we have left at the end of the month, rather we give Him the first part of our income because He is first in our lives.

Verse 10 begins with the word “So” indicating that what it says is the result of our giving in verse 9. Because we have given God first place in our lives, even with our income (verse 9), we will have barns filled with plenty and vats overflowing with wine (verse 10).

I want to tread carefully here, as many who buy into the prosperity gospel might teach this rather simply as “Give to God, and He’ll give back to you.” God is not an ATM or better still, fruit machine. We do not simply throw in a coin, crank the handle and out comes a jackpot. God is not a machine, nor a set of rules for us to decipher and “crack the code.” He is a Person, and a Father, and He is keen for us to learn a healthy relationship to money.

Like any good Father does, God wants us to use money wisely; He was us to have possessions, but does not want them to have us! By putting Him first in our finances, and indeed in every area, we are ensuring that God is number one and that nothing is competing for His place.

So do not be wise in your own eyes. Do not think you can get away with evil, ignore God and live a healthy and abundant life. God wants us to be healthy, and I believe He wants us to have good things too, but more than either of those, He wants us to be devoted to Him and His glory. We do not seek after money, nor do we consider ourselves to be God’s gift to humanity.

Rather, we should be sober minded, honest about our own wisdom, and utterly dependant on God for our physical and financial needs.

Thanks for reading!

If Wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-4)

As we begin chapter two of Proverbs, we note that once again the author is addressing their child. Chapter one ended with words from Wisdom herself, challenging us to heed her call. Chapter two begins to point out some more of the benefits of finding wisdom, and we would do well to build this foundation in our hearts prior to tackling the more familiar short and punchy proverbs.

If…

My son, if you accept my words

    and store up my commands within you,

2 turning your ear to wisdom

    and applying your heart to understanding—

3 indeed, if you call out for insight

    and cry aloud for understanding,

4 and if you look for it as for silver

    and search for it as for hidden treasure,

Proverbs 2:1-4 (NIV)

Count how many times “if” appears in those four verses… go on, go ahead…

Three times. And three times does it suggest that we have a choice about whether we take on wisdom or not.

I mentioned in my post on Saturday – Is it worth it? – that in my day job I am a statistician. Part of my work involves computer programming, and anyone familiar with that will be aware of the “If statement.” This is a way of telling a computer that if this happens, then do that. It is a basic building block of many programs.

In a similar way, these verses tell us that if we do certain things, we will get particular results.

We are to accept the words of the teacher of wisdom, and that extends to all the Word of God in my view. We must accept what we are taught from Scripture, taking it on board and making definite decisions to put it into practice in our lives.

Having accepted the words of wisdom, we must then store them up in our hearts. This is more than just remembering, although that is certainly part of it. To store God’s Word in our hearts is to be so saturated in it, that it becomes our true nature.

For example, when Christ was nailed to the cross, He did not say a great deal. Most of what HE said though, cries of anguish and pain, were largely direct quotes from the Scripture. When we find ourselves in times of testing or pain, our true self is revealed. If you hit your thumb with a hammer, what erupts from your mouth is likely what you have stored in your heart. When Jesus was put under the greatest pressure there was, His true self was revealed, and that was the Word of God.

Verse two tells us to turn our ear to wisdom, which is to give it our full attention. Sometimes, when reading my Bible, I guiltily admit that I do not give it my full attention. I read the words, but they do not penetrate my heart. I have not given them my ear, and allowed them into my inner man. Unless I do this, I have little hope of “applying my heart to understanding” as the remainder of the verse says. We first turn our ear to it, then apply our heart by meditating on it.

The next “if” we encounter, in verse three, urges us to call out for wisdom and understanding. In chapter one, we recall wisdom herself shouting out in the streets for us to come to her. Now, we cry in return for her insight. Wisdom is freely given if we diligently seek it.

#Wisdom is freely given if we diligently seek it #Bible #Proverbs #Christianity

What does it mean to cry out or call for wisdom? This is not a literal command of course, but endeavours to urge us to action. We recall James’ letter telling us to ask God for wisdom, and so we do. Let us not ask passively though, just expecting God to do all the work, let us each engage with Him and His teaching to fully obtain understanding.

Hidden Treasure

Closing out this post with verse four, we see the third and final “if.” This is a challenging one too.

We should not seek wisdom half-heartedly, but seek it as if we were looking for “hidden treasure.”

You hear stories of people spending their entire lives searching for some long-lost treasure, giving up their time, money and more to try to find it. They seek the glory of being the one to solve the puzzle, and the wealth that comes from the gems, gold or the rest.

That kind of passion and energy is what we ought to use to seek after wisdom.

I used to say “I want to play the violin…” but I later realised that is not true. I do want to be able to play it, but I do not want to put in the many hours it takes to learn it. The same is true for learning a language; I always said I wanted to learn a language, and yet have never set aside the time or resources to actually fulfil that “want.” If someone would wave a wand over me and it would happen, then great, but I am not actually willing to invest in it to make it so.

We say we want wisdom, and to live in a discerning manner – but do we? Do we mean, like my violin example, I would take wisdom if someone just put it in my heart, or do we instead mean I will put in the time, the prayer, the study and the effort to make it so.

Lastly, when we write an if statement on the computer, we must say what we want the computer to do when it encounters that situation. If we do this, then what will happen? If we seek after wisdom in this wholehearted way, then what will be the result? Find out next time…

Thanks, as ever, for reading!