This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Increasing Knowledge: Foundation

Knowledge has value. Whether regarding automobiles, health, investments, family, or more, people value experts who can provide accurate and helpful answers. A college education is promoted almost as a necessity. Through the educational process, students are expected to progressively increase in knowledge until they are well-rounded in the basics and proficient in something.

Knowledge really does have value, and increasing knowledge really is important. The key lies in the foundation of that knowledge. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). Knowledge is to be cunning and aware rather than ignorant, and the Bible states that its foundation is the fear of the LORD. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). In this case, beginning is the commencement or first occurrence of wisdom. Wisdom, skill for life, can't even start without the fear of the LORD.

Certainly the Bible is important in terms of knowledge and wisdom, which can grow over years of reading and hearing the Bible. The most valuable wisdom, however, doesn’t come from merely reading the Bible. The key is not one's accumulated biblical knowledge, but rather one's attitude toward that knowledge. If the knowledge is matter-of-factly acknowledged or is an end in itself, the profit will be limited to the mental. When one's Bible knowledge illuminates the vast difference between God and man, however, and man places himself in his rightful position, he can then have spiritual profit.

When one realizes his actual position before God, he ought to be filled with a strong desire to please Him. He ought to shudder at the thought of violating God's commandments or misunderstanding His truth. That is the fear of the LORD, which is crucial for growing in true knowledge and wisdom. When someone fears God, therefore desiring to please Him, he is impelled to search the Scripture to find out what is right and wrong. He now has strong motivation behind the gaining of biblical knowledge.

The fear of the LORD creates the difference between mental profit and spiritual profit. Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:12-14. "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine."

A wise person who fears God will hate what God hates (verse 13). This man, with a strong desire not to offend God, hates evil, pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the perverted mouth. He will have to study the Bible to learn what these (and other) offences are, and his fear of God causes him to take these offences seriously.

On the opposite side, a wise person who fears God will love what God loves and will embrace the qualities mentioned in verses 12 & 14. He will long for wisdom, prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, sound wisdom, understanding, and power. Again, he will have to examine Scripture to find fuller understanding of what God desires, and he will dedicate himself to learning and then doing those things.

With this foundation and motivation, man can have great understanding for decision-making and for life. He can now profitably counsel himself and others, because instead of speaking from his own thoughts or experiences, he will be sharing God’s thoughts. Accompanying his solemn desire to do what is pleasing before a great God is a realization that God has the answers that he doesn’t have. He is dependent on God to open his eyes.

Specifically addressing young men regarding harlots, the early chapters of Proverbs illustrate how wisdom helps with life choices (6:23-24, 7:4-5). God-fearing wisdom changes the entire path of life. It affects how one lives, helping him to evaluate and see dangers. Wisdom "walk[s] in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice" (Proverbs 8:20).

Illumination and guidance do not happen to everyone who reads the Word of God, but to those who humbly fear the Lord. With the barriers of pride and self-reliance properly broken down, God can effectively show His truth. "Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant" (Psalm 25:8-9,12,14).

Wisdom can indeed be found. "I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me" (Proverbs 8:17). Wisdom is freely offered to all who seek, regardless of their innate natural ability. "'Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!' To him who lacks understanding, [wisdom] says, 'Come. . . . Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding'" (Proverbs 9:4-6).

The power of wisdom through the fear of the LORD is illustrated dramatically by those who lack both qualities. When "there is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18), man is "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 3:7). "Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22). Men with no fear of God get both basic and major things wrong. They lack knowledge and wisdom about earth's origins and its end, about the role of government and the rearing of children, about natural disasters and global warming, about end-of-life issues and abortion, about morality and entertainment,  about finances and education.

Rather than condemning others, those who have godly knowledge must be careful to follow it. It is dangerous to know the right thing and ignore it, but blessed to know the right thing and do it. "Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. But he who sins against [wisdom] injures himself; all those who hate [wisdom] love death" (Proverbs 8:33 & 36). 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

An Understanding God

It is hard to understand the struggles of others without having experienced those same struggles. In the midst of difficulty, many people believe that no one else understands them, and it may indeed be true that within their circle of acquaintances no one does. Many have also finally found someone who shares their experience and who really does understand; the level of understanding is almost unbelievable.

While people might not actually state the words, they often believe that God doesn't understand either and doesn't know how hard the trial is for them. God's knowledge of all things is unbounded. His omniscience alone guarantees that He knows; some special Scripture passages reinforce how much He also understands.

"Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:13-14).

God understands man's weakness because God created man. He knows exactly how weak human substance is, and He understands exactly how the body, mind, and emotions work, because He designed them.

God made man to be social, and He knows it is difficult when interpersonal relations don't go well. God made man with emotions that are impacted by various external and internal stimuli, so He knows the effect on the emotions. God made man with a mind that takes in data from multitudinous sources, so He knows how the mind can struggle when processing that data. God made man with a finite and limited body, so He knows that it can be pushed past its limits.

God knows man's makeup far better than man himself does. God perfectly understands the intricacies of DNA, hormones, brain waves, the nervous system, and every other aspect of man's body. Man is "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), but he is also finite, weak, and frail. No one knows that better than the Creator.

"Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself also partook of the same. . . . Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:14, 17-18).

Not only does the Creator understand man's weakness, but the Savior also understands man's weakness. The Savior, who experientially knew nothing of weakness, took a man's body and experienced every weakness associated with such a body. The passage above explains why He did that. He had to know what it was like to be a man. He had to live in a human context so that He could understand what humans go through and so that He could come to their aid.

Hebrews 2:10 reveals, "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings." Jesus was already as perfect as perfection could be - a holy and powerful God in heaven. No one would have expected anything more from a deity than what Jesus was, yet the Savior was made even better through human suffering.

The incarnation of Jesus added another phenomenal layer to His person - that of fully and experientially understanding what life is like for those who are not divine. Jesus was already one hundred percent of what would ever be expected of God, but His suffering in a weak human body added even more greatness.

Jesus' suffering (and subsequent understanding) was complete. He was "tempted in all things as we are" (Hebrews 4:15). Physically, He suffered beyond what man can comprehend. Socially, He was rejected even by His own people and was betrayed by someone from His closest group. Spiritually, He experienced the direct, targeted attack of Satan himself. Emotionally, He was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Ministry-wise, He sacrificed everything and fully dedicated His life to reaching needy people, but they rejected and killed Him. Practically, He had no home of His own, no comforts or possessions, and no provision for meals and lodging. There is no category of suffering that man can undergo for which Jesus does not have firsthand, and often far superior, experience.

This Creator who knows how weak the human body is and this Savior who knows what suffering is like also knows everything that happens to every person. He knows every movement man takes, every thought he has, every path he walks, and every word he speaks before he even speaks it (Psalm 139:2-4). God knows every tiny detail of a man's life and every danger that threatens him (Matthew 10:29-31). The passages above teach that God absolutely knows and thoroughly understands not just the events of life themselves, but also what it is like for man to go through those events.

The greatest wonder of that divine knowledge is what God does with it. If God knew but didn't care, His knowledge wouldn't be very reassuring. If He knew but didn't act, His knowledge would be empty. Far from those disappointing responses, God's understanding prompts the best responses.

When the Creator sees man stumbling in his weak body, He has compassion on him, just as a father would on his hurting child (Psalm 103:13). When the Savior sees man faltering under temptation, He comes to his aid (Hebrews 2:18). This understanding Savior sympathizes with man and knows that he needs help; He graciously offers that help.

"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses. . . . Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Unavoidable Temptation

All believers face temptation. "But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (James 1:14) There are natural desires built into man, and those desires often clamor to be satisfied in the wrong ways, at the wrong times, in the wrong proportions, and for the wrong reasons. The major areas of temptation are "the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" (I John 1:16).

Paul revealed, "I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not" (Romans 7:15&18). Paul knew what it was like to have a fervent heart desire to please God and yet to fall frustratingly short. The battle between the flesh and the spirit can be intense.

The Bible wisely advises, "Watch over your heart with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23). The heart is where the victory will be won or lost, and believers must very carefully guard their hearts. Because the Christians' enemy, the devil, "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour," the believer must "be of sober spirit, be on the alert" (I Peter 5:8). This is serious business.

Christians should take steps to avoid temptation whenever possible. "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers" (Psalm 1:1). When one is aware of particular areas of struggle, wisdom instructs him not to go to those places, not to watch or listen to those things, not to hang out with those people. While believers' actions or surroundings may be innocent in themselves, if they habitually introduce temptation, they are danger zones to be avoided.

Unfortunately, while believers can minimize sources of temptation, they cannot avoid them completely. This fallen world is a place of constant assault, and it is neither possible nor biblical to withdraw into total isolation. Sometimes even places or people that should be safe introduce instances of temptation. Every believer lives in a broken body in the midst of a broken world, where everyone else, including fellow Christians and even leaders, is also broken. This means that by design, by default, or by carelessness temptations will regularly present themselves.

Temptations can arise unexpectedly from unlikely sources that a believer thought were safe and trustworthy. If a family member, a close friend, a respected leader, a trusted church, or a favorite organization wavers or changes position, such a shift can introduce disappointment and perhaps disillusionment. Not only is there the temptation to follow along and do what one has always believed was wrong, but there can also be a sense of hopelessness and doubt. Whether it be dress, music, leisure activities, morality, associations, or any other number of issues, one can wonder: "I always thought that was important. If this issue doesn't matter, what other things that I hold as important don't matter either?" The discouragement thus adds another level of temptation to the scenario.

Regardless of the source of the unavoidable temptation, there are things that a Christian can do to pursue victory, both in the temptation itself and in any resulting discouragement.

1. Seek the path to victory. A Christian does not have to fall. A faithful God will "with the temptation . . . provide the way of escape also" (I Corinthians 10:13). Often prayer is the key, asking God for help. God has enough grace for every situation, and the Spirit can minister self-control.

2. Support spiritual strength. A strong body supports a strong mind, so physical health is important. Proper sleep is especially key, because an exhausted mind cannot think well and has the tendency to exaggerate problems disproportionately.

3. Keep peace. The Bible repeatedly calls for love, unity, and peace among believers. If the temptation introduced by another is uncharacteristic or unintentional, the situation must not be allowed to grow into conflict or division. Romans 14 teaches compassionate understanding of the differing brother; the one does not intentionally place obstacles in the other's way, while the other does not judge the one whose position is different. Depending on the nature of the relationship, a Christian who believes his position is biblical can humbly attempt to influence the situation by sharing his concerns with the right person.

4. Recover from temptation. When falling even partially to temptation, a believer must wash his mind and heart. Depending on the severity of the situation, a Christian may need much time in the Bible, in prayer, listening to godly music or sermons, and perhaps in counsel. He needs God's truth to renew and refresh him.

5. Keep eyes on God. Job faced intense temptation over things that were completely out of his control. After he poured out his heart of frustration and despair, God finally came to Job with an answer: look at me. God revealed His power and wisdom to Job, intending to stabilize Job in the struggle.

6. Focus on personal faithfulness. Each believer is responsible before God for himself. If he can influence others for good, he should, but if he cannot, he must remain personally committed to truth and faithfulness. He must stand in God's strength so that he can please God, regardless of what others do.

The only ultimate escape is heaven. "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2). Until God delivers Christians from their "body of death," they must faithfully continue to walk and work in the path God has ordained.

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).

Saturday, October 7, 2017

God Alone

Even in ordinary life, Christians desire the help and support of other Christians. This is increasingly true during times of particular struggle. The vast range of troubling challenges could involve family, marriage, relationships, employment, ministry, health, mistreatment, disappointment, addictions, temptations, spiritual growth, and more. In the midst of overwhelming situations, believers can find themselves limited in their ability to think and evaluate clearly; therefore, they value the supportive counsel of friends or leaders.

While God's plan is for the church to provide this type of support to each other, unfortunately it sometimes happens that no human counselor answers the cry for help. For some reason the hurting person could be isolated from others, or potential helpers might be unavailable, unaware, unwilling, or unqualified to help. It is hard for those who have not experienced a particular trial to fully grasp the intensity of others' struggles, causing them to underestimate the level of difficulty and, consequently, the need for support.

Regardless of the response of people, God is always available, always aware, always willing, and always qualified to help. When God is the only counselor, He is enough, and He is able to guide believers through every challenge. One who finds himself alone in time of need should consider the following truths.

God is aware of every struggle. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

God knows how hard the struggle is. "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). "For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14).

God cares about the struggle. "Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (I Peter 5:7). "Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:13).

God wants His children to have victory. "But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail" (Luke 22:32). "So that the proof of your faith, being much more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7).

God is actively helping His children to grow. "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18). "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

God always provides a way to successfully meet the challenge. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way to escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" (I Corinthians 10:13).

God responds to His children's cries for help. "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry" (Psalm 34:15). "Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us" (Psalm 62:8).

God has help for every situation. "Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (II Peter 1:3). "Moreover, by them [God's words] Your servant is warned" (Psalm 19:11).

God can open His children's eyes to understand truth. "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). "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13).

God can do more than man thinks possible. "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20).

Practically, what do these truths mean for the struggling believer? First, he should welcome God as a viable source of help. God is not the last resort; He is the best resort. Second, the believer must be in the Word. While he may not know exactly where to turn for specific answers, God can lead and speak to a heart that is open. Third, the believer must cry out to God. God responds to a heart that humbly seeks Him, and He gives wisdom to those who ask. That seeking may need to be intense and may need to persevere over a lengthy time, but when someone earnestly, consistently, and dependently seeks God, God will answer.

Christians should not attempt to "go it alone" nor refrain from seeking out godly help when needed, but they must realize that when human sources are deficient, God is enough. It is unfortunate that those who should help sometimes don't, but no believer should feel abandoned or hopeless in the absence of human support. God wants the spiritual success of His children, and He can support them with specific direction and focused guidance in any situation. In fact, it is quite precious when one realizes that a loving, caring God has provided the exact help needed without the involvement of any external person or source.

"My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken" (Psalm 62:1-2).