NOT EVERYTHING IS A PROMISE

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. [Proverbs 1:2-4 (NLT)]

gulf fritillaryWhen claiming God’s promises, we must be cautious of thinking the words of Proverbs come with the same guarantee as do God’s promises. Rather than promises or fool-proof formulas, Proverbs are general life principles telling us how to live honorably, constructively, and successfully in the world. While they prove true far more often than not, they do not ensure success. For example, in spite of directing our children on a godly path and teaching them to seek God’s wisdom [Proverbs 22:6], they still may walk away from the faith and righteous living. Nevertheless, there’s a far better chance for that child to walk the right path, or return to it after straying, if his parents taught him God’s ways.

Proverbs 1:1 credits the wise King Solomon with its words but we know he wasn’t the only author. Although chapters 1 through 24 probably were written around 950 BC. during his reign, Proverbs 22:17 introduces a nameless sage whose thirty wisdom sayings continue though Proverbs 24:22 where we find “further sayings of the wise” similar in style to the previous section. The thirty proverbs in those chapters are markedly similar to sayings found in The Instructions of Amenemope, a book of Egyptian wisdom believed to have been written prior to Solomon’s time. Since Solomon made a successful alliance with Egypt and married one of Pharaoh’s daughters, it is likely that he was familiar with Egyptian wisdom. The king who wrote, “Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge,” [18:15] may well have read Amenemope’s words and modified the Egyptian advice by adding references to the God of the Israelites. On the other hand, the Egyptian texts could be misdated or two wise men penned remarkably similar texts independently; we don’t know.

Proverbs 25 credits King Hezekiah (716-687 BC) with compiling the next collection of Solomon’s proverbs. This was a time of spiritual renewal and, with over 3,000 of Solomon’s pithy sayings from which to choose, Hezekiah’s scribes may have gathered, edited, and added these to the previous collection. The dates of the last two chapters of Proverbs are unknown and they are attributed to men not mentioned elsewhere. Chapter 30 is credited to Agur, son of Jakeh and Chapter 31 to King Lemuel. While Agur clearly knew that God’s wisdom was greater than his own, Lemuel ascribes his wise instruction to his mother’s sage advice. Although Jewish tradition often attributes this last chapter to Solomon, several Aramaic spellings indicate non-Israelite schooling. Regardless of who laid pen to parchment, the voice of God is heard in all of Proverbs’ words. God’s wisdom has no boundaries and He may have inspired different people with His words.

The wisdom that starts with fear of the Lord is found in Proverbs. Noting that Jesus’ prayer said, “On earth as it is in heaven,” Eugene Peterson calls wisdom “the biblical term for this on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven everyday living.” Like a handbook for righteous living, Proverbs’ wisdom gives us a guide for our daily lives. When taken to heart, its words can shape our thinking, attitude, and moral character so that we are better able to live according to God’s ideal. They may not be promises, but they are wise advice!

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. [Proverbs 9:10 (NLT)]

Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles. Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. [Proverbs 1:-7 (NLT)]

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PROMISES MADE AND PROMISES KEPT

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? [Numbers 23:19 (NLT)]

New England asterWith just 31,164 verses in the entire Bible, a Canadian schoolteacher named Everett R. Storms questioned claims that it held around 30,000 promises. During his 27th reading of the Bible in 1956, the inquisitive Mr. Storms compiled a list of all Scripture’s promises. Given that the books of prophecy are filled with promises (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel have over 1,000 each) and the psalms are steeped in promises, no wonder it took 18 months to complete this massive task! When finished, Storms had recorded 8,810 promises: 7,487 of which were made by God to man and 290 by man to God. Other promises were made by one man to another, by God the Father to God the Son, by angels to people, by man to an angel, by an evil spirit, and by Satan (all nine of which were lies).

While we’d like to lay claim to all 7,487 promises made by God to man, we must be cautious. Many of those promises were made to a specific person or in a specific situation. Although God’s promise to Noah that floodwaters would never again kill all life and destroy the earth is a promise for all of mankind, His promises to Abraham of fame, land, a son, and countless descendants were specific to him. God has not failed us if, unlike Abraham, we are without fame, property or children.

Moreover, many of God’s promises have conditions that test our obedience, require our trust, or act as a warning and those promises can’t be claimed without meeting the conditions. God promises us the desires of our heart in Psalm 37 with the conditions that we delight ourselves in Him and His character, commit everything we do to Him, and trust in Him. [37:4-5] When the Apostle James writes of the blessings and “crown of life” promised by God, the conditions include perseverance through trials by those who love Him. [1:5] In Romans, we find God’s promise of the free gift of eternal life, but it includes a warning that the “wages of sin” are death! [6:23] Unlike a legal document, God’s promises aren’t concealed or hidden in legalese; if there are conditions, they are spelled out clearly and any consequences are well defined.

What of those 290 promises made by man to God? After God promised His blessings to Israel if they obeyed Him and kept His covenant, they responded: “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” [Exodus 19:8] Sadly, their well-intentioned promise was repeatedly broken. As flawed mortals, we continue to be unable to live up to our promises to God. Fortunately, because He is a God of grace and true to His Word, we can live our lives depending upon His promises to us.

I can’t name the 7,487 promises God made to man. Nevertheless, during Lent, I compiled a far shorter list of verses with God’s promises to serve as an anchor of my faith. I know that He promises to give us wisdom if we ask, to provide a way out of temptation, and to finish the good work He began in us. He promises that our belief in Jesus gives us eternal life, that our salvation is secure, and that nothing can separate us from His love. God promises that He can turn every circumstance around for our long-range good, that He’ll never leave or forsake us, and that He will return! Without a doubt, what God promises will come true!

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. [Hebrews 6:18 (NLT)]

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COFFEE WITH GOD

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. [Mark 1:35-36 (NLT)]

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.”… But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. [Mark 6:31,33 (NLT)]

brown pelicanWhen my “Weekly Wisdom” email reminded me that time is the price we must pay for intimacy with God, I thought of Cindy. A recent widow struggling to make sense of her new normal, Cindy wanted a closer relationship with God, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. Rather than reciting the same prayers over and over again, she wanted to sit down and talk to Him, as she would with a good friend.

When a friend mentioned that she’d stocked a cozy corner with devotionals, Bible, encouraging books, and inspirational verses and dedicated it as a special place to read Scripture, reflect and pray, Cindy decided to do the same. In spite of preparing a peaceful spot in her house, however, her life was so chaotic and disorganized that she never found the time to use it!

No matter how well stocked it is with Bibles, devotionals, candles, or framed Bible verses, a dedicated space is pointless if it’s never used! For this to work, Cindy found she had to link her God time with something she did every day; for her, that was her morning cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. Thus began Cindy’s “Coffee with God!”

While continuing the requisite coffee, Cindy replaced the newspaper with devotions, Scripture, and prayers. Within a few days’ time, she and God were on regular speaking terms. She admits those conversations over coffee seemed rather one-sided but added that God’s responses came throughout the day. By approaching Him regularly and humbly, Cindy has become more attuned to His voice and presence in all things all day long. As for the newspaper, she knows that there’s time enough for that after she’s enjoyed her morning coffee with God and His Word.

If I neglected doing something I’d promised to do, my mother would remind me that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Expanding on that, Aldous Huxley said, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. …and furnished too.” As Christians, we are filled with good intentions, but being flawed people, we often fail to act on them. Like Cindy, until I set aside both place and time for Scripture, meditation and prayer, my relationship with God was pretty hit or miss.

Jesus wanted the disciples to understand the importance of a close relationship with the Lord: God first, everything else second. Even so, He had trouble finding quiet time with His Father. Sometimes, Jesus was interrupted and, other times, the crowds followed him. If God’s Son had difficulty finding time to pray, it’s understandable that we do, too. On the other hand, Jesus was busy doing His Father’s business while the busyness that keeps us from God is ours alone!

While yesterday’s message linked praying for peace with brushing our teeth, it’s pretty hard to build a relationship with God like that. As Christians, we won’t mature without deliberately spending time in God’s presence—reading Scripture, meditating on His word and talking with Him in prayer. Our quiet time with God needs to be a non-negotiable item on our calendars rather than an afterthought. As with any relationship, you’ve got to put in the time if you want it to grow! Tomorrow morning, why not enjoy your morning coffee with God!

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me! My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” [Psalm 27:7-8 (NLT)]

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WITH AUTHORITY

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. [Matthew 7:28-29 (NABRE)]

water liliesWhen Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds were astounded at his teaching because, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, He taught with “authority.” When the people wondered at Jesus’ authority, they weren’t referring to His ability to speak confidently and persuasively. The Greek word translated as “authority” was exousia which meant power or right; the people wondered at Jesus’ authorization to say the things He said. Rather than teach on their own authority, most rabbis taught on the authority of earlier sages. The Moody Bible Commentary depicts them as virtual “walking footnotes” who merely cited famous teachers and repeated what had been said before by others.

While it’s usually translated as “Verily” or “Truly, I say to you,” Jesus often began His teaching with the words, “Amen, I say to you.” Meaning “truly” or “certainly,” the word “amen” was used at the end of a prayer to confirm its words. It also was said when affirming a pledge; saying “amen” at the end of an oath made the vow valid and binding. By saying, “amen” before He spoke, Jesus was guaranteeing the truth of His words: His distinctive power and right. In effect, Jesus was announcing, “I say this to you indisputably, unequivocally, and with the fullest authority.”

A perfect example of Jesus’ claim of authority is found in His lesson about building on a solid foundation (written about yesterday). His simile echoed one used by many Jewish rabbis but with one very important difference. In the rabbis’ version, the solid foundation was to be the Torah; in Jesus’ version, the unshakable foundation was His word! His audience must have been shocked by those words; it’s no wonder they marveled at the authority He claimed.

When we look at the authority with which Jesus taught and acted, we can see why the priests, teachers and elders felt their position threatened. When they demanded to know by whose authority Jesus acted and spoke, they weren’t interested in an answer; they just wanted to trick Him into saying something that would label Him as an eccentric fanatic or a blasphemer. Like a true rabbi, Jesus answered their question with one of His own and asked where John the Baptist got his authority. Instead of backing Jesus into a corner, He’d backed them into one. If they said John had no authority, the people would be angry and, if they said John’s authority was from God, they’d have to answer for not believing and supporting the Baptizer. When they refused to answer, so did Jesus.

It had been a long dry spell for the people of Palestine; before John, the last time God spoke was through the prophet Malachi more than 400 years earlier. When Jesus spoke, the people were again hearing the Word of God! The difference was that John and the other prophets knew they were mere messengers; the words they spoke were not their own. When Jesus spoke, he wasn’t God’s messenger; He was God’s Son. Jesus didn’t just have authority; He was the incarnate Authority of God!

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life. [John 5:24 (NABRE)]

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SINKING

Everyone who hears my teaching and applies it to his life can be compared to a wise man who built his house on an unshakable foundation. When the rains fell and the flood came, with fierce winds beating upon his house, it stood firm because of its strong foundation. [Matthew 7:24-15 (TPT)]

Mt. Hayden - Grand CanyonWhile summer is hurricane season here in Florida, early spring is “sinkhole season.” For most property owners, a sinkhole is little more than a headache but, for some, it means the loss of their homes and possibly their lives. Seven weeks ago, two families north of here lost their homes and belongings as the earth collapsed beneath them, leaving a chasm at least 40-feet wide and 60-feet long. Back in 2013, a man went to sleep and literally disappeared as he, his bed and then his entire bedroom vanished into the earth; his body was never recovered.

Here in the “Sunshine State,” our homes are built on limestone that dissolves easily in rainwater; as a result, the underground becomes honeycombed with cavities. Sometimes, a cavity becomes too big to support its ceiling and collapses, leaving a gaping hole at the surface. Too much or too little water can trigger these sinkholes. Although cavities filled with rainwater can support their ceiling, when drought causes them to empty out, they can’t. On the other hand, in a heavy rain, the sudden flood of groundwater rushing into a cavity combined with the weight of pooled water on the surface also can lead to the ground’s collapse.

When purchasing our house of poured concrete, I knew it was hurricane resistant but I never gave any thought to the strength of the ground beneath it. Many of us build our lives in much the same way. Attention is given to looking good on the surface but our lives are not built on God’s bedrock. Instead of a drought or torrential rains jeopardizing our stability, it’s things like job loss, illness, miscarriage, divorce, addiction, mental illness, teenage rebellion, betrayal, depression, boredom, and loss that threaten our weak foundation.

As a carpenter, Jesus knew all about the building of houses when He spoke about foundations at the end of His Sermon on the Mount. Two houses experience the same challenges but only the house built on rock can endure life’s storms. In case his listeners didn’t understand His point, Jesus clearly explained it: a life built upon His teaching was built on a foundation of bedrock and wouldn’t fail.

Since most sinkholes occur in the central part of our state and only a few small ones have occurred near us, I’m not worried about them. Nevertheless, we do look for signs of trouble such as leaks or structural cracks in our floors or walls. Sinkholes can be prevented if geotechnical experts are called in time and the necessary repairs or remediation are done. Those houses I mentioned didn’t have to disappear into an abyss and neither do our lives. Lives built on shaky foundations can be saved. The salvage expert to be consulted is Jesus who will shore up our lives with His living word. Moreover, unlike that man who disappeared into the ground, nobody can fall so far into the abyss that Jesus can’t lift them out. Let us all build our lives on the bedrock of Jesus Christ!

But everyone who hears my teaching and does not apply it to his life can be compared to a foolish man who built his house on sand. When it rained and rained and the flood came, with wind and waves beating upon his house, it collapsed and was swept away. [Matthew 7:26-27 (TPT)]

Could there be any other god like you? You are the only God to be worshiped, for there is not a more secure foundation to build my life upon than you. [Psalm 18:31 (TPT)]

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FORTY DAYS

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. [Matthew 4:1-2 (NLT)]

Moses Fountain - Bern SwitzerlandIn Scripture, the number forty often appeared in the context of preparation, judgment, or testing. The rain poured down upon Noah for forty days and nights. After spending forty years in Egypt and another forty as a shepherd, Moses twice spent forty days with the Lord on Mt. Sinai. The Israelite scouts spent forty days exploring the land of Canaan and, because the people lost heart and rebelled at their report, they spent an extra forty years wandering the wilderness (one year for each day the men explored). Jonah warned Nineveh their destruction would take place in forty days, Ezekiel lay on his right side for forty days because of Judah’s sins and, before being slain by David, Goliath taunted Saul’s army for forty days.

The number forty has significance in the life of Jesus, as well. After His baptism by John, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of testing and, after His resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for forty days. Just because the number forty frequently appears in the context of trials, however, does not mean that forty is merely symbolic. Remembering that God is the One who chose the time, forty days probably means forty days.

Although people like David, John the Baptist, and Moses spent a time of testing in the wilderness, we wonder why Jesus, the son of God, would have to undergo a period of testing before beginning His ministry. Moreover, we wonder how Jesus, being God in flesh, could be tempted. Although both wholly God and wholly man, it was Jesus the man who grew, walked, talked, and was crucified for our sins, and it was Jesus the man who demonstrated His humanity by undergoing temptation. Obedience really isn’t obedience if disobedience is impossible and it’s impossible for our good God to sin. As God, Jesus couldn’t be tempted to sin but, as a man, He could. The sinless Lamb of God had to remain sinless, not as God, but as man and out of obedience to God the Father.

It’s how Jesus resisted temptation that is most telling. As God, he easily could have rebuked Satan and sent him scampering with a wave of His hand. As a man, however, Jesus relied on Scripture to defeat the evil one. God has provided us with His word as a way to withstand temptation. Of course, we have to know His word before we can use it against the enemy! I suppose we could spend the next forty days doing just that!

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. [Romans 5:18-19 (NLT)]

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. [1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)]

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