Archive | August 2009

How to Be and Stay a Fool (Part 2)

6. Read the Bible, but don’t study it. (5) What would you think of a gold miner who, upon finding a couple flecks of gold in a stream, declared his journey to be profitable and himself to be content? You’d think him crazy! Where there are a few flecks of gold to be had easily there’s bound to be storehouses of gold underground. Only a sluggard or a fool would be content with a few nuggets when he might have pounds of gold should he dig.

The Bible is an absolute gold mine. And like any other gold mine it’s treasures are not to be had by the lazy. It is certainly true that there is wisdom to be had by reading the Bible. But there are stores of wisdom buried, only to be uncovered by those who work for it. The author of Hebrews chastises his audience for being content with milk and not meat in Hebrews 5:11-14 saying, “You should be teachers! But you don’t know the Word because you haven’t studied!” Oh, let that not be us.

It’s easy to look at men like Piper, MacArthur, and our local pastors and think they are something special. But all the men we respect for their biblical knowledge are just that–men. What they have done is diligently applied themselves to the Word. There is nothing stopping you from becoming like your spiritual heroes if you would work for it.

7. Supplement your knowledge of the Bible with other philosophies and ideas. Scripture’s great and all, but it just doesn’t cover everything you’ll ever face. (6) Across the entire Bible, the Lord alone is pictured as the source of wisdom. Everything apart from His Word is foolishness. If true wisdom is found outside the pages of Scripture, it is because that person or book or anything else has been colored by the wisdom found in the Word. Wise people are those saturated by the Word.

8. Let knowledge flock to your head, but not migrate to your heart. (9-10) Solomon uses the word “for” in v10. This means “because.” Why can you discern truth? Because wisdom has sunk into your heart! It is a terrifying reality that it is possible to spend your life in the church hearing sermons, spending time with godly people, and even teaching the truth and yet still be unconverted. According to Jesus this is not an infrequent occurrence. “Many,” he says in Matthew 7: 13-23, “will say to me in that day ‘Lord, Lord’ did we not perform miracles and cast out demons in your name? And I will reply ‘I never knew you. Depart from me you doers of lawlessness.”

This isn’t a fake picture. How many people in our churches and our Christian colleges and youth groups will die entirely convinced they will hear “well done, good and faithful servant” only to be shocked by the words “Depart. I never knew you.” Hell is full of people who professed Christ to be their Lord. Do not trust the heights of the sacrifices you make for the Lord or the depths to which you have sunk in sin, but rather look at the overall course of your life–do you obey?

9. Don’t be too choosy about who you make friends with. After all, everyone’s good deep down. (12-15) This simply is not true. Everyone is crooked deep down unless an intentional change has taken place in their hearts. Solomon specifically warns us to flee from four kinds of people: those who have left the faith, those who find entertainment in sin, those who hinder the truth, and those who live differently than they talk.

10. Romance the unregenerate. (16-19) Almost every single one of you will face this at some point in your life, whether it be at school now, in college, or in the workplace. I ran into it for the first time at age seventeen while working at Taco Bell. Understanding the bent of an unregenerate person’s heart and their eternal destiny (should God not perform a work) is key to deflecting temptation. No one would marry a corpse. Why would you get involved with a spiritual corpse? The person you’re dating will have a substantial impact on you, and the person you marry even more so. Though they cannot make a genuine believer lose their salvation, they certainly can dull your drive to follow your Savior. Don’t think you’re immune.

Charles Bridges wrote, “Never has apostasy from the faith been connected with a prayerful and diligent study of the Word of God.” The Word of God is the perfect transmission of the Mind of God. Everything God wants us to know about Him and how we ought to live is between the cover of this book. If you want to know God, you will study like a desperate man who understands his unspeakable need, yet has been saved by incomprehensible grace.

This is the second post in a series on the book of Proverbs based on a message series entitled “Gracious Wreaths of Godly Wisdom.” Here are the links to previous posts:

How to Be a Fool (Part 1) – Proverbs 2:3-19

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How to Be and Stay a Fool (Part 1)

This Wednesday, the Cornerstone Youth Group began a new series entitled Graceful Wreaths of Godly Wisdom: 11 Words of Wisdom from the Book of Proverbs. I wanted us to study Proverbs for a few reasons:

First, we live in a foolish culture. Solomon’s wisdom runs counter to just about everything American culture promotes. We love youthfulness, Proverbs sees grey hair as a crown of glory. We love self-promotion; Proverbs commands us to wait for others to praise us. To live biblically and live American are increasingly at odds with one another.

Second, Proverbs is poignantly practical. The rhythm of the verses stick in the head (and hopefully heart) easily. And almost every verse is immediately applicable. It seems to be a good book to start at the beginning of a school year, as pressures of all kinds mount for our students.

I hope to post each week’s message here within a couple days of teaching it on Wednesday night. Some of the messages (like this one) will be split into two parts for the sake of length. For those of you from Cornerstone, I hope you’ll continue to talk about what we’re learning at Youth Group with your children. My prayer is that we all would be doers of the Word as well as just hearers. For those not from Cornerstone, I trust this study on Proverbs will be helpful as well. The truths certainly extend beyond the immediate context of a Youth Group.

How to Be and Stay a Fool, Proverbs 2:3-19

1. Assume you are wise. (v3-5) The Bible is just not generous in its assessment of our ability to figure life out. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov 16:27). Being foolish is a side effect of being born. The Fall has so radically poisoned our hearts against wisdom, that when Christ (who is wisdom incarnate) showed up, we crucified Him. (see 1 Cor. 1:18-21)

2. Do not pray and ask for wisdom. (v3) Since we don’t naturally posses wisdom and are told to pursue it by Solomon, Paul, Jesus, etc. than it follows that wisdom can only be found outside ourselves. (see James 1:5) I’m completely unable to engender wisdom within myself, yet the Scriptures call me to live wisely. I desperately need help to live wisely. The good news is that God has given us a command that we could not possibly follow without His help. Which really is the story of redemption, sanctification, and glorification from beginning to end.

3. If you’re lame enough to have to pray to get by, then at least doubt whether God can or will give you wisdom. (v3) It is a terrifying Scriptural reality that our prayers can be hindered. We can pray and God choose not hear us because of our sin. We need to know what can hinder our prayers, as these are things we can control. Everything that can hinder our prayers as seen is Scripture is active disobedience to the Lord. A husband’s prayers are hindered if he does not show his wife honor and respect (1 Peter 3:7). God calls the prayers of the disobedient an abomination (Prov 28:9). That puts these prayers in the same category as child-sacrifice and homosexuality.

Likewise, James 1:6-8 says that our prayers will go unanswered if we doubt God’s ability to give us the wisdom we ask for. A natural question is “why?” Why does a little bit of doubt poison the well so much that God will not give wisdom to someone who understands his desperate need for wisdom, but doesn’t have the faith to be confident in God? It’s because fundamentally, doubting God’s ability to keep His promises is rank unbelief. This kind of unbelief makes light of the Cross, claiming that the guarantee of the death of God Himself isn’t enough to convince us of God’s love and trustworthiness. (Romans 8:32) The Cross is meant to provide us with confidence that God will keep His promises. “I gave you my Son, the greatest sacrifice a Father could ever give. How is it that you still doubt me?”

I don’t mean to imply that God only hears our prayers if our hearts are purged of all unbelief. I’m so riddled with sin and unbelief that I’ll never have a pure heart to bring before God until glorification. Rather, God expects honesty and dependence upon Him. When there is doubt, the proper response is to say with the doubting father in Mark 9:24, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” That’s a shout of contradictory desperation. “I trust you! Help trust as I do not trust you!” And yet the contradiction is reality, as the war between the grace of God and broken power of sin still rages in our hearts.

4. Book a trip on the USS Leisure. After all, wisdom isn’t too hard to find and understanding comes without effort. (v4) Just glancing at this verse doesn’t communicate ease. “Seek.” “Search.” These aren’t cushy desk-job verbs. They’re back-breaking, sweat-producing activities. Buried treasure is not found next to your Rolaids in the top drawer of your roll-top. It is not an accident that Solomon describes searching for wisdom in these active terms. If you are not actively seeking wisdom, you aren’t gaining wisdom. Plunking yourself down in front of Facebook or YouTube does not teach you how to live a life that is God-glorifying and self-satisfying. If you aren’t making an effort to know Scripture, than you aren’t making an effort to be wise.

5. Search for that buried treasure infrequently and randomly. You’re bound to get lucky eventually. (v4) People who recognize their desperate need for something aren’t identified by their dispassionate indifference. No, desperation is marked by an all consuming obsession with fixing the problem. When the doctor comes back with a grim look on his face and says “Cancer,” the patient’s life is completely reoriented around the primary goal of killing off the life-threatening cells. He wouldn’t dare miss a chemo treatment, hoping that one of the treatments would just get lucky and heal him.

It’s Not an Accident

Gospel living doesn’t just happen. That’s what I’ve been learning over the last three weeks. One of the joys of my new job is that I get to spend numerous hours each week pouring over the Word of God, preparing to teach it to students. But I know the truth—I’m learning more than they do as I’m forced to deal with difficult concepts and hard truths for hours on end.

I’m coming to realize that obedience to the Word of God doesn’t just happen. You don’t fall into righteousness. No man dies and is surprised to find himself being told “Well done good and faithful servant.” Righteous living is the product of a conscious decision to abandon the tantalizing offer of sin for the better offer of eternal, fulfilling joy. And that doesn’t come without effort. Jesus commands “strive to enter through the narrow gate.” It is hard to be saved. The offer is so free and so gracious, and yet so hard to accept. Because being redeemed means the total destruction of an entire world-view in a moment for the sake of knowing God.

But it doesn’t stop there. Proverbs 2 is a father begging his cherished son to search for wisdom as one searches for buried treasure. Buried treasure is not found by plunging a shovel randomly into a sand dune. Rather it is found by a careful, meticulous search over miles and miles of empty desert to gain priceless nuggets of gold. The search is hard and takes effort. It is not comfortable. But it’s worth it.

In the same way, no one gains wisdom accidentally and without effort. You don’t flop on the couch and flip on the TV to become wise. Wisdom comes from hours spent studying the Word of God, eternal truth revealed to finite man that he might live a righteous life. And the amazing thing is that there is a promise attached:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

Eternal Destinies and Surprise

No one in Heaven is surprised that they wound up there after death. Almost everyone in Hell is very surprised at their eternal destiny, having expected the requirements for entrance into Heaven to be very different. (Matt 7:21-23)

What I Appreciate about Alcorn’s Fiction

In the last couple of months, I’ve been able to read three of Randy Alcorn’s fiction books–Deception, Edge of Eternity, and Safely Home. While Alcorn is probably better known for his Christian Living books such as Heaven and Money, Possessions, and Eternity, his fiction works are some of the best fiction I’ve ever read. And I don’t mean that as an overstatement. Here’s what I appreciate about his fiction books:

1) Depth. I’ve read other Christian fiction and, frankly, it’s mostly really sappy. The characters seem out of touch with reality, and the God presented is a quick-fix robbed of all power and authority. Alcorn’s books are thorough, well written, and deep. They are not content to skim along the surface of emotion and thought, but wrestle with deep questions. He’s not content to build up straw men and then quickly hammer them down with a quick Jesus-laced one-liner from the Christian good-guy. Rather Alcorn writes like he is not afraid of the hard and difficult questions brought up by the seeming contradictions between God’s Word and the world we live in.

2) Skill. It’s easy to tell the difference between good writing and bad writing. A good writer knows how to develop characters, how to draw out their emotions and thoughts without getting letting the story get bogged down. A good writer employs metaphors and similes intentionally, yet not often enough to let the story turn into ‘Rambo-meets-the-thesaurus’ type literature. Simply put, a good author can transport you into the story without being manipulative. Safely Home is an emotional book about persecution in China. Yet it is the honesty of the characters which stirs the heart, not melodramatic writing. Anyone can cause someone to feel for a character. It’s much harder to cause that feeling for a fictional character to turn into real-life transformation.

3) Truth. This walks a fine line. The Gospel by nature is offensive. It is a message that seems foolish to those who are fools, but is known to be wisdom by the wise. Some people will pick up Alcorn’s books and be turned off by the truth contained in them. Each of the three books I’ve read have been Gospel centered and saturated. The Gospel is not the story. But without the Gospel the story wouldn’t exist.

4) Imagination. Every book has scenes from heaven in it. This is imagination beyond what the Bible tells us about heaven. However, Alcorn’s vision of heaven is always consistent with what we do know about our eternal home. The blanks he fills in certainly are not inspired. However, reading his books has given me a greater longing for heaven. I’ve come to understand how heaven is indeed a place God has built for human beings. We are not out of place in heaven. Rather heaven was designed perfectly for us, and us for it.

If you get a chance and have the time, pick up some of Alcorn’s novels. God gave us imaginations to use for his glory. Dominion is a mystery thriller that literally had me guessing until the last few chapters. Safely Home is a story about persecution in China and God’s work in redemption. Edge of Eternity is a supernatural thriller bearing some resemblance to Pilgrim’s Progress.

As a final recommendation, let me just say that I want to live how Alcorn writes. Gospel-saturated, Christ-exalting, truth-proclaiming, and meticulous for the sake of the glory of God. Thank you, Randy, for using your gifts for good.