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Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Ultimate Destination

Acts 27

This week we continue our journey with Paul. Last week we followed him to Jerusalem, to which he continued going even knowing of his imprisonment and persecution. Many people heard from the Holy Spirit that Paul would be ill-treated, but he chose to continue on his journey to Jerusalem. He had heard from the Holy Spirit in Acts 19:21 that he was to go to Jerusalem. He did not allow the pleadings of other believers, evangelists, and prophets to keep him from this appointed journey. This week we jump into the middle of Paul’s last journey.
In Acts 25 and 26, Paul defended himself against the Pharisees charges. They became violent and began to beat and stone him. Twice the Roman cohort (guard) intervened and carried him out of the fray to the safety of the barracks. Because Paul was insistent, the second Roman governor of the region, Festus, agreed to send him to Rome to meet with the emperor. This is where we arrive in the story in Acts 27.

Chapter 27 begins, “it was decided that we would sail for Italy.” The garrison captain at Caesarea gave charge of Paul and other prisoners to a centurion named Julius. The left on an Adramyttian ship. This Adramyttian region is encompassed by the city of Mysia. Mysia was a province of Asia Minor on the shore of the Aegean Sea, between Lydia and Popontis. It included the cities of Pergamos, Troas, and Assos. The prisoners, Paul, and Julius joined this ship and sailed to Sidon, a Phoenician city on the east coast of the Mediterranean near Tyre and above Caesarea. The commandant gave Paul freedom to visit friends and receive care with them. They next sailed between Cyprus and Asia to keep northeaster winds from buffeting them. Northeaster winds are strongest during winter. The ship continued to sail along the coast of Asia and landed at Myra. Julius found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, upon which they next traveled. They sailed along Asia but experienced difficulty with the winds and decided to sail south of Crete letting the island be a wind barrier for them.

At this point, the journey became treacherous and Paul “admonished them” (vs. 9). He spoke as one who had many years lived and traveled in the vicinity. He said, “Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also of our lives.” After the pilot and ship’s captain persuaded the Roman centurion, they continued their journey. At this point we must stop and consider a couple of things. The captain and pilot of the ship left Lycia and passed Cnidus knowing that the weather at this time of year was deadly. Their possible greed for one last trip to markets surpassed their common sense and experience. They chose money over the value of lives, cargo, and ship. Julius the centurion followed bad advice and judged incorrectly between Paul and the captain. Both these men had ulterior reasons for continuing on the journey. Paul wanted to get to Rome. Going to Rome had been his dream for years. Yet he chose more than that to follow the leadings of God and God told him the current journey would end in lost cargo and lives. However, the journey had to go forward because of the captain of the ship. Bad choices and bad judgments can lead us astray but not out of God’s hands.

The captain decided to continue and they left the Fair Havens harbor. (Aptly named don’t you think?) The ship headed for a more stable harbor at Phoenix to shelter from the winter winds. In verse 13, the crew and captain felt they had a sign from a god to go ahead with the journey and left the Fair Havens harbor. Before they arrived at Phoenix, a violent wind caught the ship and drove it hard. The boat ran under the shelter of Clauda and the crew barely got it under control. They girded the ship’s hull with ropes to strengthen it, lowered the sea anchor, and allowed the wind to drive them along the sea. The next day they were so violently storm-tossed that they jettisoned the cargo and later threw the ship’s tackle overboard. For fourteen days they did not see sun, moon, or stars nor had they eaten during this time. The outlook was bleak. Once again Paul spoke. He stood up in their midst and said,

Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night and angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.” Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But, we must run aground on a certain island. (Acts 27:21-26 [NASB])

Even though men, in their bad decisions and judgment, appear to thwart God’s plan, God remains in control.

 After this, the men listened to Paul and what the Lord said to him. They continued to be driven around the Adriatic Sea and noticed they were approaching land. The crew feared they would run aground and, under the premise of cutting the anchor, they lowered the ship’s boat. Paul noticed and told the centurion, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved” (vs. 31). The soldiers were listening to Paul now. They realized Paul spoke up before the journey and was right. The captain of the ship led them astray and into harm’s way and death’s door, they realized. The men may have thought, “What do we have to lose by listening to Paul now.” Alternatively, they may have thought they should have listened to Paul from the beginning. Either way, they chose to heed Paul and cut the ship’s boat away so no one could leave the ship. After this, Paul encouraged them and told them to eat, for it had been fourteen days since they had last eaten. He said, “Therefore, I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation, for not a hair from the head of any of you will perish” (vs. 34). He took the bread and thanked God in front of them. Encouraged, they ate, and then threw the remaining wheat overboard. God continues to care for His creation, people, and wants them to survive, thrive, and be encouraged as they go through live. Paul became the ambassador of God for the crew, soldiers, and prisoners.

When day broke, they saw land but did not recognize it. Next they resolved to drive the ship onto the island. They cut the anchors away, hoisted the foresail, and headed for the beach. Before they arrived at the beach, the prow (forward hull) stuck hard in the reef. The stern splintered by the force of the waves outside the reef. The soldiers fretted over prisoners getting away and not meeting their judgment in Rome. They wanted to kill the prisoners. Julius wanted to fulfill his duty and take Paul to the emperor. He kept the soldiers from killing the prisoners and arrived at a plan to get everyone to the island. Those who could swim would and those who could not would hold onto ship planks and other floating debris to get to the island. The 276 people arrived on the beach alive.

What I saw in this story is not just a storm-tossed and broken ship with survivors, but God’s hand. Men - the captain, pilot, and Julius - made bad decisions or judgments about the journey. Their greed or drive to do their duty surpassed their good sense about nature and the time of the year. They chose not to listen to Paul, God’s anointed servant, because he was just a man who was a prisoner. As we journey with them on this tumultuous ride, we find that God’s hand does not leave Paul or the boat. In the end, the crew, captain, and Julius decide to listen to Paul. Possibly they decided it could not get any worse without them dying, so why not. Maybe they decided they should give it a try since their knowledge was not getting them out of their mess alive. Either way, the crew gave control of their lives and their ship to God.

God’s plans are never thwarted. In the end, His will prevails. We know from the book of Revelations that God is the victor over Satan and his demons. Jesus Christ won the battle when He rose from the grave on the third day. He proved His power over death and Satan. God has a plan for each of us. His ultimate plan is that we turn to Him, accept His gift of salvation, and have a personal relationship with Him throughout eternity. Sometimes, though, we make bad decisions and judgments and our paths skew away from God. If we are Christians, we will ultimately be with God in heaven for eternity. We can never be removed from God’s hand. We can walk our own ways, fall into pits, and make bad decisions, but God is always God and will bring us through because of His love over our lives. On the other hand, if a person is not a Christian, until they have given their lives to God through Jesus Christ, when they make bad decisions, their ultimate end is not assured to be in God’s hand. The only assurance that person has is that they will face judgment and to determine if they are one of God’s sheep or one who is to be put into hell forever. That is our choice. We each get to choose who we want to be lord of our lives – God or ourselves. That is the ultimate decision we make and it determines our ultimate end in this life and forever.

Paul was God’s servant. He knew God told him he would go to Rome. He had confidence in this and knew He would survive to get there, because God had a plan for him there. No matter what decisions or judgments the crew or Julius made, God’s plan was not be thwarted. Yes, they made bad decisions and went through very hair-raising times on the ship, but God continued to speak to Paul and encourage him. God encouraged the other 275 people onboard the ship through Paul.

Our lives often mirror that ship’s journey. When we choose to follow God’s path, be it smooth or stormy, we know we will, in the end, be in God’s hand and arrive at His purposed destination for us. The purpose of our lives, remember, is to be in relationship with God and to tell others about Him. (Read Genesis to understand that.) Choosing to follow that path means we give our lives into His care. When we choose not to follow God’s path, it will be stormy or smooth at times, but we do not have God’s hand steadying us and encouraging us on our journey. We may even perish from this life and eternal life because of our refusal to follow His Son, Jesus Christ. This may seem like a grand plan to scare everyone into following God, but it is not. God chooses each of us because He loves us. He provided salvation from our sinful earthly selves through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. This love is not a grand plan to punish people or coerce them into having to follow Him. No, God gives us free will. What we choose is up to each individual person. God offers salvation and eternal life. The alternative is your choice. By not choosing God, you choose eternal punishment, for that is what sin deserves, punishment. Any loving parent disciplines their child. God made a way for the discipline to come to an end, through the sacrifice of His Son as the atoning sacrifice for all sins. It is up to us to choose to accept this free gift of His sacrifice.

Life can be like a boat on a stormy sea, but we can have the assurance Paul had. God had a plan for him in his immediate physical life and in his eternal life. Paul rested peacefully in that knowledge. He trusted God’s hand would not leave him or be thwarted by the bad decisions or judgments of men. God saved Paul and 275 other men that night. In the next three weeks, while they waited out winter, God healed and saved many other people through His servant Paul. God’s purpose was not thwarted. Many were saved on that ship and many more were saved on the island of Malta during the ensuing weeks of their stay.

God has a plan for you and for me. We each get to choose what we want to do; that is a gift God gave us when He created us.

You get to choose who will be the lord of your life – yourself or God.

With this decision, you get to choose your ultimate destination – heaven or hell – life and love or death.

The decision is yours.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Going to Jerusalem

Acts 21:1-14

            I have been studying the life of Paul for ten months. I have read and taught a Sunday School lesson on this passage of Scripture. Until this week, I never realized the number of people involved in Paul’s return to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey. Let us walk through this passage together and discover an interesting truth.

            First, a refresher is necessary on what is occurring in Paul’s life at this time. Before, Paul along with Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Timothy, John Mark, and others traveled to many cities in the Roman Empire telling people of the salvation Jesus Christ provided for sinners by His death and resurrection. By the time we intercept Paul in this passage, he finished his third missionary journey, met major resistance from Jews as he traveled, and heard the Holy Spirit tell him to return to Jerusalem. In Acts 19:21, after Paul stayed many days in Ephesus and performed many miracles, Luke recorded for the readers, “Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’” This passage marks the point of Paul’s return to Jerusalem for the final time. What does it mean that Paul “purposed in the Spirit?” The Greek definition of the word used here, tithemi, is putting in place or setting forth. By the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Paul ran toward the next goal God placed before him - return to Jerusalem.

In Acts 20:22-23, Paul explained more of God’s plan for him in Jerusalem when he stated, “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.” Paul confirmed this return to Jerusalem was in obedience to the Spirit of God, not his own idea. He stated he felt “bound by the Spirit.” The word "bound" in Greek means put under obligation. Paul many times told people he was a bondservant of Christ. Paul’s new venture to return to Jerusalem continues his confession of being a bondservant. He obeyed God even to returning to a place where “affliction awaits” him.

With this history in place, let us embark on our study of Acts 21:1-14. Paul went to Jerusalem because of the Holy Spirit’s prompting and his obedience to God’s will. In these fourteen verses, I find it interesting that Luke, the writer or Acts, records so many different people interacting with Paul about his return to Jerusalem. First, in verse 4, we find the disciples in Tyre heard from the Holy Spirit about what Paul would encounter in Jerusalem. Luke said, “Through the Holy Spirit” they heard and told Paul what they heard. They, who loved Paul and did not want him to experience persecution, asked him not to go to Jerusalem. These people were disciples. The word "disciples" in Greek is mathemetes, which means to be a learner or pupil. These people became Christians under Paul or another Christian preacher and did not want to see him hurt. The verse further states, “they all kept telling Paul.” The disciples and the people in their households listened to what God said through His Spirit about what Paul would find when he arrived in Jerusalem.

As we go further in these verses, we see Paul arrived in Tyre, stopped in Ptolemais for a night, and then went to Caesarea. When Paul came to Caesarea (verse 8), he went to the home of Philip, the evangelist. Philip was one of the seven set aside and consecrated by the other apostles to aid the widows and orphans of Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-3). An evangelist is euaggelistes in Greek and means the bringer or good tidings of salvation through Christ to people who are not disciples. Philip’s four daughters were prophetesses. Prophetesses were women who spoke by divine inspiration things only known by divine revelation. Paul encountered disciples, evangelists, and prophetesses in verses 8 and 9. These people came from every level of Christian knowledge and understanding. They listened to the Holy Spirit when He said what awaited Paul’s return to Jerusalem.

In verse 10, a prophet named Agabus came from Judea and entered the scene of Paul’s return to Jerusalem. Prophets are people, moved by the Spirit of God, to declare to humankind what he received from divine inspiration, especially about future events and particularly those things relating to the cause and kingdom of God. Agabus listened to what the Holy Spirit declared awaited Paul and acted it out using Paul’s belt. The people, even the ones who did not hear from the Holy Spirit themselves, experienced for themselves, through God’s prophet, Agabus, Paul’s future persecution (vs. 10-11). After this powerful demonstration, the people begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.

In these eleven verses, people from many levels of Christian development received word from the Holy Spirit of Paul’s immediate future in Jerusalem. This is the main point I learned. The disciples or evangelists were not the only ones who listened to God. The apostles and prophets were not the only ones who heeded what God said. The regular people, ordinary disciples of Christ, listened to and heeded God in their own time with Him either during their day or through the prophets and evangelists. God speaks to anyone who cares to listen to Him. He seeks a relationship with everyone. Paul is the main person in this passage. What I found upon reading this passage this time is that God made each of these different Jesus followers aware of Paul’s immediate future of return to Jerusalem, imprisonment, and persecution. God wants a close relationship with everyone for two reasons: 1) He wants to be acquainted with people and for people to be acquainted with Him in such a way that they receive eternal salvation, and 2) He wants people to understand how to pray for His obedient servants as they walk in obedience to His call. Each person has an active call to be in a relationship with God and be in ministry/walk with Him by doing and by praying.

The second lesson of this passage comes in the final two verses. Verses 13-14 tell us:

Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’ [NASB]

Even though the Holy Spirit revealed to the people what awaited Paul, Paul’s conviction to continue his journey came from the Holy Spirit’s compelling him to go to Jerusalem, which we saw in Acts 19:21. The weeping and pleading by these people, who loved Paul and whom Paul loved, did not dissuade him from being an obedient servant for the purpose of God. Each of these people understood from the Holy Spirit, in one way or another, the truth about the future of Paul in Jerusalem. Each asked him not to go there. Paul probably sweated tears as he remembered Jesus Christ also dealt with this in the garden before His arrest. They both could have turned away from God’s path. If Jesus had turned away, humankind would not have salvation from their sins. If Paul turned away from God’s path, the Roman guards, commanders, governors, and emperor would not have known about God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. The people who looked up to both Jesus and Paul would have lost a role model in the faith. Each of these two men had a purpose to go to Jerusalem for the good of God’s kingdom. Each of them chose to follow God’s calling on their life.

            God’s calling on each of our lives may not be so dramatic. That does not make it less important. Whatever that call is, it becomes our Jerusalem, the point where we decide to be obedient or turn away. God has a purpose for each thing He calls His disciples to do. If God calls one person to be a corporate manager and another as a sewer digger, both have the opportunity to influence people by the testimony of their actions and words. They can influence for good or evil. Each of us must choose if we will follow God’s call for our lives. If we choose not, then it will influence others negatively. If we choose to follow God’s calling and commands, it influences people around for us for the good. Whether we heed God to go or to pray, when we hear from Him, that is the time to take a stand for Him. Pray for His workers as He brings them to mind. You do not know what they are soon to encounter. Work at the task God has placed before you. You do not realize how your work will influence the next person or the person watching. This is your Jerusalem. This is where you decide to follow God’s will or not. Jerusalem can be life-threatening like it was for Jesus and Paul or it can be a place of renewal, growth and guidance.

            God calls each one of us to follow Him. This means having a relationship with Him. It also means praying, studying His Word, and enacting in life what God calls us to do. You have to make the decision. God will not force it. He gave you free will as a gift when He created humankind.

Will you choose to be acquainted intimately with God

and walk according to His purpose even if it means going to your Jerusalem, a place of suffering and persecution?

Or, will you listen to people begging you not to follow God’s call

and walk without Him.

God calls everyone to come to Him and receive His love, redemption, salvation, and

life with Him forever.

You must choose.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Six Gifts

Judges 6

In this chapter of Judges, the writer of judges, most likely Samuel, introduced his readers and hearers to Gideon, his family, the Israelites, and their plight of Midianite oppression. As we read about Gideon in chapters 6-8, we learn several things. First, we learn he was a faithful son of his father Joash. Gideon thought of a way to fool the Midianites and keep food for his father and the entire family. Second, we learn that Gideon's father called him Jerubbaal, which means “let Baal plead.” Third, we learn Gideon’s name means “hewer” or “cutter down.” The latter we will learn is an apt name for him. Fourth, we learn the Midianite kings killed Gideon’s brothers. Fifth and most important, God used Gideon for His purpose. Before you begin to read this Bible study, I recommend you read Judges 6-8 to recall what occurred. This study covers mostly Judges 6:11-24.
The preliminary verses, Judges 6:1-10, give us background of what occurred during that time. The Israelites chose to worship Baal, the god of the Canaanites. When Yahweh gave the land to the Israelites as the Promised Land, He told them through Joshua not to worship the gods of the land, the gods of their fathers, or the gods of Egypt (Joshua 24:11, 14-15). After Joshua’s speech, the people chose and testified they would serve the LORD (capitalized LORD stands for Yahweh in the Hebrew language). As we return to Judges 6, we read the Midianites ravaged the land of Israel, took their grain harvest, and took their animals. For seven years this occurred. The people despaired and thought God left them to perish. When the people cried out to the LORD, He sent a prophet to them who said in verses 7-10,
Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, that the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you, I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But, you have not obeyed Me.’ [NASB]
This prophet sent by God explained to them why God’s hand of protection left them. An angel of the Lord appeared as a wayfarer, a stranger to the area to speak to them. He came to speak with Gideon, specifically.
            The angel of the Lord gave Gideon six things from the LORD. First, before we learn what the angel said, we need to understand who or what the angel of the LORD is. The Hebrew word used here is mal’ak yehwah. The mal’ak yehwah is a supernatural being bearing a message for God. In the Old Testament, the angel of the Lord was part of the Godhead, while in other passages a distinction occurred between the Lord and the angel. Generally, though, the terms “angel of the LORD,” the “Lord,” and “God” are synonymous (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology). The angel of the Lord brings messages of good and evil (Genesis 16:7-14, Joshua 5:13-15, 2 Kings 19:35, and Zechariah 1:12). A connection exists between the angel of the LORD and the pre-incarnate Messiah (Judges 13:9-22). The New Testament makes no mention of the angel of the LORD because the Messiah is this person. When we look at the Judges 6 passage of our study, we find the angel of the LORD speaks to Gideon in verse 12 and the LORD speaks to him in verses 14, 16, and 23. Gideon recognized the angel of the LORD as Yahweh in verse 22 and feared being in His presence and having looked at Him.
            Let us now consider what the Lord gave to Gideon. First, the LORD gave Gideon courage. In verse 12, the angel of the LORD said, “The LORD is with you, oh valiant man.” It appears Gideon did not do anything about which the LORD would proclaim him valiant. When we look at the life of Gideon in hindsight, we see otherwise. First, Gideon supported his father after the slaying of his brothers. Second, he became the sole son to ensure food and other provisions were available for the entire family. He hewed a wine press out of rock and beat the wheat against the rock to get the grain. By doing it in this way, he hoped to thwart the Midianites taking their grain again. Third, the LORD knew Gideon would be valiant in the future. He helped rout the Midianites, Amelekites, and the armies of the east. Hence, the angel of the LORD gave Gideon courage.
            Next, the angel of the LORD gave Gideon a command. Verse 14 says, “The LORD looked at him and said, ‘Go this in your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?’" Gideon spent the previous seven years with other Israelites who suffered hunger as the Midianites pillaged their towns and villages. He was downhearted about this knowing, as every Jewish child did, that the LORD gave them the Promised Land and promised to be their God. Gideon wondered, as each Israelite did, why God took His protective hands from them. God provided an answer through His prophet and through the angel of the LORD. He chose Gideon, a valiant man, to bring His deliverance to Israel and remove the hands of Midian from them. God answered Gideon and He commanded him.
Third, the LORD gave a covenant to Gideon. God promised in verse 16, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man." This promise is the second one He gave Gideon. The first promise we find in verse 12, “The LORD is with you.” This second covenant is a more emphatic statement. Yahweh Himself spoke this time. He promised His presence with Gideon as he defeated the Midianites and their allies. God is always faithful to His covenants/promises. This covenant shows the Midianites that God’s hand remains on His people.
The fourth thing the angel of the LORD gave Gideon was comprehension. God caught Gideon’s attention. Gideon felt the wayfarer was more than a mere man. He felt he might be hearing from the LORD Himself. Gideon asked to prepare a meal for the messenger and begged the man to stay until he returned from his preparations (vs. 18). When Gideon returned with the meat, broth, and bread, the LORD told him to place it on a rock and pour the broth over it (vs. 20). The LORD then placed His staff on the meat and bread and fire sprang from the rock and consumed them. Gideon knew for sure at that point he was in the presence of the LORD. If the messenger were a man, he would have eaten the food. The LORD has no need for food. The food Gideon brought to the LORD was an offering to Him, not sustenance. The LORD consumed the food with fire as a fragrant offering, which is what Gideon learned from his past teachers. This messenger was not a mere man, but the LORD. Gideon understood/comprehended. He feared for his life because he saw the LORD’s face.
Fifth, the LORD gave calm and peace to Gideon. He said, “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die” (vs. 23). Gideon needed God’s peace for two reasons. He needed His peace to face the Midianites and their allies. Most importantly, at that moment, Gideon needed peace that God would not strike him dead instantly because he saw the face of God. Remember Moses covered his face when he came before the LORD at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). Elijah covered his face when he went to the mountain and heard God’s voice in the quiet after the strong wind, earthquake, and fire (1 Kings 19:13). The LORD taught Moses that humankind cannot see His face and live (Exodus 33:18-20). Moses and his descendents taught the Israelites this lesson. Gideon feared for his life after seeing the LORD’s face, but the LORD gave him calmness and peace within himself.
The final gift the LORD gave to Gideon was consecrated commission. Being consecrated means being set apart for God’s purpose. The LORD commissioned Gideon to destroy the altars to Baal and Asherah. He commanded Gideon to build an altar to Him from the wood of the Asherah. Gideon reminded the people who Yahweh is when he shattered the altars. He showed the people Yahweh was real and Baal and Asherah were not when the gods the people worshipped did not retaliate. Gideon showed Yahweh’s supremacy and built an altar to Him as He required in verse 26. Yahweh said, “And build and altar to the Lord your God on top of this stronghold in an orderly manner and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of Asherah, which you shall cut down.” Gideon became God’s anointed leader for Israel for that time.
God saw a valiant man. Gideon played a role in God’s eternal purpose, received a covenant from God, comprehended God talking to him, and received calmness of spirit from God. God’s work did not end after Jesus’ apostles died. He continues to call out and set apart people today for His purpose. God continues to give courage, covenant, and calm to His people. God is ever-present, non-ending. Time does not contain Him; thus, He continues to work in our lives and world today.
If you are a follower of Jesus, are you reading the Bible and praying every day? Would you be able to hear God’s voice if He spoke to you? He has a purpose for everyone. God calls His children to “go and make disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the farthest parts of the earth” (Matthew 28:19-20). He consecrates and commissions every Christian to tell others about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God not only calls us to go out and tell, but He gives us courage, His covenant, and calm. We have to decide if we will listen to Him. We must seek Him in Bible reading, in prayer, and in listening to sermons and teachings from the Bible.
God gives each of us the choice to turn to Him or go our own way. He will not force His will upon us. We must choose. God gave Gideon courage,
                                                                     a command,
a covenant,
                  and a consecrated commission.

These go hand in hand when a person chooses to follow God. 
Each person can answer God’s calling and purpose for his or her life and receive these, too.

 You must choose

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Wisdom is...

Job 28

As I continued reading my Bible this week, I came across a passage I have not studied since high school thirty-two years ago. Many people know the basic story of Job. Job was the man who had everything and lost it because God gave Satan permission to test him. Satan believed that Job revered and followed God solely because God blessed him. Satan wanted to prove his theory and asked God to give him permission to do that.

My reading this week focused Job 28. This chapter is in the middle of the third discourse of the book. Job spoke about wealth versus wisdom. In the previous chapter, Job compared a man of integrity, himself, with a wicked man. A key feature of a man of integrity, according to Job, is his righteousness. God brought before Job’s eyes in chapters 38-42 that he was not righteous or wise. He rebuked and challenged Job in chapters 40 and 41 about his brazenness in contending with Him and his rebuking of Him. God also challenged Job about his justifying himself while condemning God, the One who created everything including the behemoth and the One who can stand against Leviathan. Before Job gets to this point with God, we must read and study a very astute point he makes to his four friends.

Job told about his righteousness and what becomes of the wicked in chapter 27. In chapter 28, the chapter of our study, Job began by speaking of earth’s treasures - gold, silver, and jewels -  and the trouble man goes through to acquire them. He spent eleven verses explaining the effort humankind expends getting the earth to release these “treasures.” Job contrasted this with acquiring wisdom. He began this contrast in verse 12, “Where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?”

Humankind does not understand the value of wisdom, nor is it found in the land of the living. Job began to explain how rare and priceless wisdom is. No part of creation holds wisdom. Its value is incomparable with regard to minerals or jewels. Acquiring wisdom is of greater importance than all things earth gives. With this foundation laid, Job asked again in verse 20, “Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding?” God hides wisdom from the living and from the birds that see everything as they are flying. Abaddon and death (destruction and death) heard of wisdom. Since wisdom is a greater wealth than minerals and jewels, we must search for wisdom.

What, then, is wisdom? Where do we find it and how do we acquire it? Understanding about wisdom was my study this week. The four books within the wisdom literature of the Bible say the same thing, “The fear of the LORD (Yahweh) is the beginning of wisdom” (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 15:33; and Ecclesiastes 12:13). This “fear” the Bible writers speak of is awe, respect, and reverence of God and His majesty, greatness, and power. Job 28:21 says, "Thus it (wisdom) is hidden from the eyes of all living." Verse 23 says, "God understands its way and knows its (wisdom's) place." As we recall, created things do not hold wisdom nor dispense it. Proverbs 8 gives detail about wisdom. It says in verses 22 and 23, with examples in verses 24-29, the LORD possessed wisdom before the beginning of creation. The LORD is the possessor of wisdom. Neither earth, jewels, nor minerals possess wisdom. Since God is the originator and establisher of wisdom (Job 28:27) and His works come from wisdom (Psalm 104:24), He is the giver of wisdom. God knows where wisdom resides (Job 28:23).

Before we go any further, we want to understand what wisdom is and why we want to find it. Most dictionaries define wisdom as good decisions, justice, and judgment, based upon knowledge, insight, understanding, and commonsense.,,,,, and each define wisdom this way. A biblical dictionary adds other elements to this definition. says wisdom comes from moral thinking leading to moral conduct and deals with moral problems. It also defines wisdom as being socially sensitive. adds that wisdom is prudent in matters of war, administration, religious affairs, and active everyday life. states wisdom is shrewd, active, and careful. From these we realize wisdom is more than just knowledge or understanding. Wisdom is action based on knowledge. This makes us able to understand why Job spoke of wisdom and understanding separately in verses 12 and 20. Action is the difference between wisdom and understanding. A wise person has these characteristics according to the wisdom literature of the Bible (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and parts of the Psalms):

  • Knowledgeable (Proverbs 8:12),
  • Moral (Proverbs 8:5-7),
  • Just (Psalm 37:30 and Proverbs 8:15 and 20),
  • Understanding (Proverbs 4:7, 8:12 & 14, 14:33, and 17:24),
  • Skillful in every part of life (Proverbs 8:5-7 & 12),
  • Seeks wisdom (Job 28:18, Proverbs 8:1, 8-9 & 19),
  • Recognizes God as the only God and turns to Him (Job 28:28 and

 Proverbs 15:33),

  • Reveres God (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7 & 9:10),
  • Keeps God’s commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13),
  • Asks God for wisdom (Proverbs 2:6),
  • Blessed by God through wisdom (Proverbs 3:13 & 8:35),
  • Learns from all situations (Proverbs 8:2-3),
  • Understands wisdom and receives it benefits of being, existence,

 substance, and wealth (Proverbs 4:7, 8:18-19 & 21),

  • Righteous (Psalm 37:30, Proverbs 8:5-7 & 20, 10:31),
  • Humble (Proverbs 11:2 & 15:33),
  • Hopeful (Proverbs 24:14),
  • Heart is given to God (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17),
  • Works for God (Psalm 104:24),
  • Noble (Proverbs 8:5-7 & 12),
  • Can be powerful (Proverbs 8:14),
  • Can be rich and honored (Proverbs 8:18),
  • Rejoices at God, His work and majesty (Proverbs 8:30),
  • Respects and listens to wisdom (Proverbs 8:31), and
  • Is favored by God (Proverb 3:13 & 8:35).

Besides wanting these characteristics, why would we want wisdom and how do we acquire it? Our logic stream arrives at these questions after considering what wisdom is. First, Proverbs 24:14 states wisdom is for your soul and gives you a future and a hope. How can this be? The answer to that lies in Ecclesiastes 8:16-17, I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task God has done on the earth (my paraphrase). Acquiring wisdom requires your heart. It requires your seeking after God because God is the author and establisher of wisdom. The Bible tells us to seek wisdom and we will find it (Proverbs 8:1). Proverbs 2:6 states, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Fear of the LORD, that is reverence, awe, and worship of the One God, is the beginning of acquiring wisdom and continues to be the source of wisdom (Job 28:28; Proverbs 15:33). Wisdom is hidden from the eyes of the living (Job 28:21), but can be found when a person seeks God (Job 28:23). God says many times in His Word, the Bible, that when we seek Him with all our heart, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13, Deuteronomy 4:29, Matthew 7:7). God said in Jeremiah 24:7 that he would give us a heart to know Him because He is the LORD. A person’s desire is naturally to seek God. He created humankind this way.

In Job 28:18, Job stated that getting wisdom is greater than getting riches. Solomon, the man to whom God gave great wisdom, said the same thing in Proverbs 8:8-9 & 18. Solomon said that a man is blessed when he finds wisdom (Proverbs 3:13). In Proverbs 8, Solomon personified God’s wisdom. Solomon taught, “For he who finds me (wisdom) finds life and obtains favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 8:35). A wise person can glean wisdom in good and bad situations (Proverbs 8:2-3).

At the end of the book of Job, God chastised Job. Job repeatedly asserted to his friends that he did not deserve what befell him as punishment from God for sins. He stated forthright that he was a man of integrity and upright in all things before God. In chapters 38-42:6, God rebuked Job and posed questions to him leading him to see that He was not as righteous as he thought. This reminds us we, too, are not so righteous as to be above discipline, but that God loves us. God reminds us in Jeremiah 29:11-13 and Proverbs 24:14 that if we seek Him with our heart, we will find Him and find a hope and future with Him. Job’s response to God’s chastisement teaches wisdom. He acknowledged the power of God whose purposes he did not and we may or may not understand. Job admitted he spoke of things he did not know or understand. He acknowledged that he saw God then. From what Job saw and heard, he realized his errors and repented (Job 42:1-6).

It takes a humble person to seek for and recognize God. God is faithful and wants be found by each person. He waits for each of us to seek Him. When we seek God and find Him, our honest response to Him is reverence and awe, fear as the Bible says. When we find God, we begin our learning, which includes wisdom, God’s version not humankind’s version. God bases His wisdom His righteousness, truth, and goodness. The wisdom He gives teaches a person to cast aside personal gain and seek truth and good for each situation.

We each have a set number of days in our life. We do not know them, nor does anyone else. God, as the creator of everything, knows how many days each person has to live on this earth. He has not left us without Himself though. God put a desire into each human to seek Him and His absolute truth, rightness, and goodness. He put a desire within us to go beyond ourselves and better the world around us and at large. This requires wisdom and selflessness. God’s Word tells us how to find wisdom, by seeking and fearing Him. When we seek God in selfless pursuit, we will find Him, He says. When we find Him, we will grow in Him and acquire wisdom.

The second most important thing we must understand is that to receive wisdom, we each must give our heart. The most important thing is that God waits to be found and be in a relationship with each one of us. We get to make that decision for ourselves. God does not force it on anyone. From the first persons, Adam and Eve, God sought relationship with humankind, but did not force humankind to choose. We each have the choice to do whatever we want, that is a gift to us from Him. We can choose to seek God with all our heart and be in a daily relationship with Him. Otherwise, we can choose to walk away from God and do what we want. Choice is a gift we are given. Salvation and life are a gift from God to those who choose to have a relationship with Him. Wisdom from God is a blessing from God that comes out of a relationship with Him. Job summed it up in 28:28, “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” God said in Proverbs 8:35, through Solomon, “Blessed is the man who listens to Me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts.” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and it designates the process by which wisdom matures the individual. A wise person watches and waits for God daily.

We each have a choice to make.

Do we seek God or

Do we turn away from Him and seek just for ourselves?