wisdom

The Heart of the Matter (The Path of Life)

Have you ever justified something in a way that you know made no sense – but it was the best you had in the moment? We have this very human tendency to use our mind to justify after the fact what our heart desired in the moment. We do things we feel like doing, then in hindsight we scramble to come up with reasons that at least seem good to us. We listen to our hearts, then tell our heads to justify our actions. “Follow your heart, listen to your heart” are mantras we hear in some form all the time.

 The problem is that it's a bad philosophy of life. And since God is for us, and He cares about us enough to give us some insight into how we work and how life works, it’s no surprise that the Bible has given us some insight into why simply “following your heart” is a bad idea.

The prophet Jeremiah records God’s message to the Israelites at a time when they had walked far from God. After telling them that those who trust in the strength of people are like bushes in a wasteland where there’s no water and the ground is sowed with salt, he makes a sharp contrast:

Blessed is the one who trusts in Me alone;
 the Eternal will be his confidence. He is like a tree planted by water,
 sending out its roots beside the stream.
 It does not fear the heat or even drought.
 Its leaves stay green and its fruit is dependable, no matter what it faces. (Jeremiah 17:7-9)

 The person who trusts in God is grounded, fearless, and bears fruit, which is another way of saying that this kind of person is being everything he or she was made to be. Awesome! Jeremiah continues: 

 The heart is most devious and incurably sick. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:10)

 Well. This seems like an abrupt change of thought. The context is that God is explaining how life in His path will bring life, but a life in rebellion to him will bring some serious trouble. The Septuagint says, "The heart is deep," a bottomless pit full of sin. Perhaps that is why Proverbs 28:26 warns us, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” I am going to give us two principles to help us avoid the trouble lurking in our heart, and two principles to help us embrace the wisdom that comes from God.

First Principle to Help Us Avoid Trouble: Own our problems.

They rarely come from lack of information or insight. They usually come from a lack of commitment to truth. We choose to do things often without thinking and specifically without thinking of the consequences. We follow our heart and just decide we don’t really want to wrestle with why we are doing a particular thing, or what the consequences will be. Then when we get caught (or our head kicks in), something wells up from within this bottomless container of deceit and we justify the desires of our hearts rather than taking the opportunity to challenge the goodness of what we wanted.

In 1 Samuel 15:13-20, God told Saul to come back from a battle with nothing. He was not supposed to collect spoils of war – the Israelites weren’t supposed to be a marauding tribe. But Saul brings back a bunch of livestock. God speaks to the prophet Samuel, Samuel goes to confront him, and the following happens:

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

 “Sure, I disobeyed God…but I did it so I could worship him better!” That’s a gutsy excuse. Saul wants to justify what his heart desires: keeping the spoils of war. He did the wrong thing, but thinks he can make it right if can find a really good justification. Samuel gives the well-known response:

“But Samuel replied, "What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”

 Saul’s problem was not a lack of information or insight. He knew God’s instruction. Saul’s problem was a lack of obedience, of commitment to truth and submission to God.

Second Principle To Help Us Avoid Trouble: Question our reasons.

How many times have you asked your kids, “Why did you do that?” Or, “What were you thinking?” And they get this deer-in-the-headlights look because they weren’t thinking. They were just doing, and usually their justifications or excuses are pretty transparent.  We adults are a little quicker on our feet, and we can come up with some clever excuses. We try to smooth over our bad decisions by coming up with reasons, and we treat all our reasons as if they are legitimate even if they are not. Simply having a reason doesn’t make the reason good or the action right. 

  • The married man who wants to flirt with the cute lady at work justifies what his heart desires: “I just want to make sure she is doing her job well.”
  • The workaholic who is avoiding conflict at home or the emptiness inside justifies: “We really need the money right now.”
  • The employee who cheats on time cards or take small things justifies: “Everybody knows we don't get paid enough.”
  • The person who gossips justifies: “I just want other people to know how to pray.”
  • The person who holds a grudge justifies: “If I let it go I will just enable their bad behavior. I don’t think they will ever change. They earned it!”
  • I knew a lady in Ohio who moved from counselor to counselor. She always claimed that they never understand her, or they don’t listen, or… The reality is they held up a mirror she didn’t want to see. It seemed easier to avoid, and she never got to the heart of the issue that kept her in counseling for years.
  • I knew a man who moved from church to church because “the people are judgmental. “ Or maybe, when people are honest, he didn't want to hear it.

 They all had reasons. But simply having a reason doesn’t make the reason good or the action right. When our reasons follow our decisions, that’s often a bad sign. If we follow our heart and then use our head, we will often either regret what we did or scramble to find a way to justify what we shouldn’t have done.  We need to bring our head and our heart together.

So What Is The Solution?

First Principle To Help Us Embrace Wisdom: Give our hearts and minds to Christ.

God offers to do a work in us that is independent of our ability to live well. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God’s message to Israel was:

 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your sin-hardened heart of stone and give you a tender, Spirit-lead heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.” (Ezekiel 36:24-29)

Paul wrote to the early church in Rome:

  “In light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.” (Romans 12:1-2)

 In addition, God gives us His Word to guide us:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

So we have God’s Spirit within you to transform our hearts and God’s Word in front of us to help us discern the battlefield inside us.

Second Principle To Help Us Embrace Wisdom: Make sure you have good reasons for your decisions. 

First of all, be honest. This may be tough, but think of something you really want to do (or something you are doing) and answer this question: 

  • The real reason I check in on that girl at work is…
  • The real reason I don't’ talk with my spouse is…
  • The real reason I don’t call my kids (or parents) is…
  • The real reason I drink too much…
  • The real reason I don’t go to church regularly…
  • The real reason I don’t pray…
  • The real reason I don’t want to forgive them…
  • The real reason I pad my time card…
  • The real reason I stopped and bought 3 cups of coffee today…
  • The real reason I watch “Glee”…
  • The real reason I want to buy a new house…
  • The real reason I want to change jobs…
  • The real reason I want to date someone new…
  • The real reason I avoid warning signs about my health
  • The real reason I am pulling back from people
  • The real reason I don’t want to commit fully to Christ…

Second, be proactive.

There are at least three questions to ask when facing decisions.

  • If someone in my circumstance came to me for advice, what would I recommend? Would I tell them to do what I am about to do? Would I tell them to buy a car they can’t afford? Would I tell them to withdraw from conflict instead of confront it? Would I tell them to hold a grudge?
  • What do my godly friends think?  Not just any friends, because people with a different set of values will reach conclusions that are not necessarily biblical. It’s not like Christians have the corner on good advice. But specifically when it comes to ethical decisions, be sure you give weight to a godly voice that you have good reason to trust.
  • In light of my past experience and future hopes, what is the wise thing to do?  Has this worked before? If not, why do I think it will work now?  Last time I yelled at my kids, was that productive? I want to be a person whose thought life is pure – is what I’m watching or listening to going to lead me to that place?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t rely on your own understanding. In everything you do, acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

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I am deeply indebted to Andy Stanley's "The Principles of the Path" for the main ideas in this series (and some of specific language, such as "Direction, not intention, determines as our destination"). I highly encourage you to buy and consume this excellent book!

GC:engage - Becoming An Effective Ambassador for Christ

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The Great Commission 

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

Wisdom (an artful method) 

“The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:21) 

“Therefore, we are Christ's representatives, and through us God is calling you.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

If Christ is calling people to himself through us, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness, it’s probably important to think about how to make a compelling presentation about Christ and the Christian worldview. Here is where both character and knowledge play an important role.

Character (Attractive Manner)

 “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV) 

 “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25, NIV)

When you talk with others about your faith, remember that your manner of interaction – no matter the topic – speaks volumes about the God you serve. You want to make a winsome, compelling case for Christ and His Kingdom, so be careful not to be defensive and frustrated or to feel like you have to answer every question that a skeptic has. Listen to understand before you respond.  You’ll get your chance; meanwhile, a lot can be learned from listening first (James 1:19; Proverbs 29:20; Proverbs 18:2)

Think in terms of the next meeting. Keep the door open for another discussion. You probably won’t convince anyone to radically change his or her worldview in one sitting. Anything important takes time. In the long run, it’s probably better to value the relationship than win the argument. You can win an argument and never see a person again. But if you build a relationship even in the midst of disagreements, you can revisit the questions again and again. If either one of you gets upset over anything other than the cross of Christ, you both lose.

Knowledge (an accurately informed mind)

“Be careful not to let anyone rob you [of this faith] through a shallow and misleading philosophy. Such a person follows human traditions and the world's way of doing things rather than following Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, God’s Word) 

“The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans. Rather, they are powerful weapons from God. With them we destroy people’s defenses, that is, their arguments and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, God’s Word)

The first bit of information you need is why someone struggles with the idea of God. 

  • Some have experienced emotional pain, and find it hard to believe in God. Perhaps they have been abused, their health has failed them, or they have lost someone they love.  In the midst of these situations, they have felt serious disillusionment because they expected God to intervene. If this is the case, they don’t need a syllogism; they need empathy. Sometimes the best way to be an ambassador is to weep with those who weep.
  • Some have had experiential disappointment. Christians have failed or hurt them; churches have ignored their questions or been judgmental and legalistic. In this case, they may find it undesirable to believe. Why would they want to be a part of a group of people like that? If this is the case, acknowledge the hurt and frustration. Yes, Christians can be hypocrites. Yes, churches can wound people. The best thing you can do is to model true Christianity. They need to see faith in action more than they need a Bible verse. 
  • Some have intellectual frustration.  For them, there’s no perceived reason to believe. Because science and reason provide sufficient explanation of life as far as they can tell, they have no need for a God hypothesis. In this case, you may need to provide evidence (science, philosophy, history, archaeology, etc.).

The second bit of information you need is a clarification of terms. Ask what Greg Koukl* calls Columbo Questions: What do you mean by that? How did you come to that conclusion? Have you ever considered another idea? You will not only build a friendship, you will better understand the nature of someone’s skepticism. It’s frustrating to provide answers to questions nobody has. Take the time to find out what questions need to be answered.

The third bit of information you need is the truth that will address their circumstance. This is where you will need to give a reasoned argument, not simply make an assertion. An assertion is essentially a statement of opinion. It may be right or it may be wrong, but it’s nothing more than a statement of belief. “There is no God” is an assertion; so is, “There is a God.”  You will need to challenge bald assertions while building a positive case for your position.  You don’t need to be an expert, but it would be good to know something about the particular issue at hand.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Tactics, Greg Koukl (I am indebted to Mr. Koukl for the knowledge/wisdom/character template. You can learn more about Mr. Koukl and his ministry, Stand To Reason, at str.org).

Stand to Reason’s Ambassador’s Creed

Love Your God With All Your Mind, JP Moreland

 

A Christian's Achilles Heel

In February of 2006 I  ruptured my Achilles’ Tendon at a men’s retreat.  In one sudden burst of pain I found that I had a great difficulty walking – and you really don’t want to do that if you have a choice. 
I remember vividly sitting in the doctor's office a day or two before the surgery, getting the low-down on what I would be facing both during the surgery and in the weeks of recovery  that followed: Six weeks in a cast followed by six weeks in a boot.
After going over a lot of details, Dr. Licht looked squarely at me and said,  “I’m good at what I do.  I can repair this tendon perfectly one time!  If you follow my instructions things will go well!  If you don’t follow my instructions to the letter, and you rupture this tendon again, I won’t be as successful, and you’ll likely walk with a limp for the rest of your life!  I want your leg elevated every waking moment unless you are in the bathroom or brushing you teeth.  Do you understand?"

 For  twelve weeks I did exactly what he said.  Today, my Achilles tendon is perfect and I have no limp and no limitations.  What made the difference?  I chose to trust someone who knew far more than I. 
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Here’s a painful truth: we are headed down a road of destruction because we have trivialized the Word of God.  We bend and manipulate the Word, trying to make it to say whatever we choose; whatever suits our weak behaviors.  We don’t regard it as what it truly is: the unalterable Word of God. 

We view this book as an accumulation of interesting stories, and we assign those stories whatever value we deem appropriate.  We don’t view this as being a book of Words that were divinely inspired, coming from God, revealed by His Holy Spirit to man, and intended to be received and accepted as authoritative.  

Oh, sure, we still check out God’s thoughts on a range of topics - and we blend His thoughts with ours.  It’s not just that it’s wrong thinking, and as such an offence to God.  This kind of worldview tears apart the very safeguards that God established to protect us.  The church at Thessalonica received and accepted what Paul said AS THE WORD OF GOD,"...which also performs its work in you who believe." (Philippians 2:13)


Is it any wonder that the world around us is falling apart?  We have substituted our thoughts for His thoughts, and our ways for His ways! Even worse, some of us in the church of Jesus Christ are falling apart because we’re toying with the Word of God.
Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714), an English Bible commentator and Presbyterian minister, said this about the Bible: We should receive the word of God with affections suitable to its holiness, wisdom, truth, and goodness. The words of men are frail and perishing, like themselves, and sometimes false, foolish, and fickle; but God's word is holy, wise, just, and faithful. Let us receive and regard it accordingly.
When we receive and accept and believethe Word of God, it changes us.  We begin to be transformed into the image of the very One who saves us: Jesus Christ Himself.  Believing is the key to becoming like Christ!  And this happens when His awesome power empowers my humble consent.

Philippians 2:13 also suggests that those who do not believe will not see the transformative power of Christ and His word in their lives! "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

What is “belief” in God really about?  It is when I humble my arrogant self to His glorious Lordship of my life; when I give my humble consent to Him bringing a new governmental structure in my life and my world. When I was a child, our church used to sing this hymn:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus,but to trust and obey.

The foundational premise for “trusting and obeying" lies in having a profound realization of the one in whom I have place my trust and obedience!  Is this God or not?  

It is no surprise that unbelievers ignore God.  They have not experienced the amazing miracle of forgiveness, and they do not possess the Holy Spirit living inside of them.

But when we say we love and follow God, ignore or twist or compromise His word, all while expecting that we’ll still reap His blessings because we’re in the Club, we're in trouble !


If I’ve truly come to trust Him over my years of following Him, then why on earth would I question his Words – His wisdom – His instruction?

- Ted Smith, at Church of the Living God, on Sunday, April 22, 2012

Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you."
John 16:13-15

KNOWLEDGE is the basis for understanding and wisdom.  Knowledge is the accumulation and familiarization with information and facts…and facts are statements of truth.  For us “Christ-followers” --- the Bible is our reference manual. Here are some examples of facts:

  • There is one God 
  • Jesus is the perfect and sinless Son of God
  • Jesus came to earth and suffered and died on a cross for our sins
  • Jesus rose again from the dead and gives new life to all who trust in Him.

Bible facts include people, places, things, concepts, laws, and on and on.  Knowledge of these facts is extremely important! The Old Testament prophet, Hosea, speaking to the Israelite nations says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (and then he goes on to rebuke the priests for not giving the people knowledge). Knowledge is the stuff upon which our understanding and wisdom are founded.  When God’s people are destroyed and waste away, it isn’t because God has lost either His love or strength.  It’s because His people lack knowledge. Without understanding God and His word, God’s people are destined for destruction.

The world says, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you!”  The Bible makes it clear that what we don’t know will make us miserable, and eventually destroy us.

UNDERSTANDING is the process of working with the information or facts (reading, rereading, meditating, discussing, etc.).  As we do this we begin to see meaning and principles emerge.

  • One writer’s work elaborates on another’s. 
  •  Prophecy bears itself out in stories. 
  •  Stories undergird teachings.  
  • Parables make difficult sayings clear.  

The more we read and consider ideas and instructions found in the bible, the more practical understanding we gain.  Lights begin to come on.  Statements of fact that previously seemed disjointed begin to make sense.

WISDOM is the goal of knowledge and understanding.  Wisdom tells us what to do next, how to apply what we have learned.  Wisdom shows up in the action phase of our growth curve as believers. Wisdom is a gift that remakes us so that we may succeed in life.

Wisdom draws its basis from knowledge of God, coupled with a growing understanding of what He is intends and expects for us and from us.  Those with wisdom know which principle to apply in each situation. Those with wisdom know what to do next; they know which way to go. They do the right thing.  In contrast, there are many who have great knowledge and even understanding, but consistently do the wrong thing.

Wisdom is God’s ability flowing into and replacing our inability.  It is His strength overcoming my weakness.  It is His heart and focus displacing my self-absorption.  It is Him in me!....and it is orchestrated by His Holy Spirit.

 Knowledge and understanding only have eternal value as they result in wisdom – wisdom that shapes our decisions and actions in conformity with God’s plan