The Fear of the Lord

Easily one of the most famous Proverbs, verse 1:7 (CSB) reads like this:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and discipline.

This is one that you’ve probably already heard a lot about, so I’m not going to spend a ton of time on it. I do want to talk about the second line a bit though. “The fool” is a stereotypical character that we’re going to be seeing a lot of as we go through the rest of this book, normally in contrast to “the wise man.” Our first image of him here is someone who refuses to listen. It doesn’t matter how sound the advice, how accurate the statement, or anything else. Whatever qualifier you put on the information, if it doesn’t fit with what the fool already believes, he isn’t going to listen. Along the same lines, any attempt at discipline or correction won’t help him either, but will instead just make him more stubbornly opposed to whatever you’re trying to teach him.

It’s unfortunate to see a fool in any circumstance, but a Christian fool is, in my opinion, the worst kind. We’re supposed to be working out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” not pride and stubbornness (just so you know, I really wanted to put “prejudice” there, but it didn’t quite fit for the point I was making, but now you get to hear the joke anyway, so it’s a win-win). We need to be growing in our faith as much as possible. None of us are perfect, and none of us are going to be on this side of heaven. To write off the wisdom of others without giving it a second thought is a great way to create an echo chamber of bad ideas. We all know there are “Christians” out there who’ve got it all wrong (**cough cough** Westboro Baptist **cough cough**). How did they get so far off track? They cherry-picked a few verses that they liked and rewrote the rest of the Bible according to how they thought it should be based off of what they already believed.

Most of us aren’t going to go to the effort of creating our own Bible translation to satisfy our beliefs, we’re too lazy for that. Instead we choose which Bible passages to study and which ones to ignore, which preachers to listen to and which ones to write off as unbiblical. I’m not saying that everyone who claims to be preaching the Bible is right and you should believe what everyone says, I’m saying you shouldn’t dismiss them without thought. Ideas are the most important and powerful tools we have, and ignoring any number of them simply on the basis that they don’t line up with what you already believe is putting a lot of potential power to waste, and worse, makes you vulnerable to people with better ideas, potentially undermining your entire faith some day.

Challenge yourself and your own ideas. Don’t just listen to people who say what you want to hear. Actually listen to people who oppose you and either figure out why you’re right or concede the point. It’s ok to be wrong. It absolutely sucks in the moment, and you’re pretty much never going to desire being wrong, but if you can learn to accept it and learn from it, you get to be wrong less often in the future. And that’s something I think we should all be striving for.

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Proverbs: An Introduction

Like I said in my previous post, we’ll be taking the next few months to get an in-depth look at Proverbs. Before we really get started though, it’s important to know some background information. This is actually stuff that I hadn’t realized before, so hopefully you’ll be able to learn something too. The information we’re discussing here today is probably available in a lot of places, but I’m getting it from the CSB Apologetics Study Bible. I’ve only had it for a couple of weeks, but I’m really liking what I’m seeing out of it so far. But enough with the sale’s pitch, let’s get down to business. Maybe we’ll even defeat a few Huns on the way. Probably not, but who knows?

As most people know, much of Proverbs was written by King Solomon, the son of David. However, it appears that Solomon not only wrote his own observations, he also gathered wisdom from other cultures. At first glance, that might seem counter-intuitive. Why would a man who had prayed for – and received – wisdom straight from God also receive wisdom from pagan peoples? Egypt in particular seems to be one of Solomon’s sources for some of his wisdom. So how does wisdom from a culture that enslaved the Israelites for generations make its way into their holy book?

In order to understand that, you need to first understand how the Israelites looked at wisdom. When you look at the book of Proverbs, you’ll notice that very little of it is actually theological in concept, it’s mostly stating observations about life and how to live a good one. Regardless of the source of the observation, the Israelites understood that God created a universe of order, not chaos. Therefore, it had rules that could be seen and understood by anyone who was paying close enough attention, which is why they didn’t have a problem taking in the wisdom of other cultures.

Although they were open to receiving wisdom from others, there were two main qualifications that needed to be met by each incoming piece of wisdom. First, it could not be derived directly from their religion, as that would go directly against the God who created the order that any wisdom is attempting to understand. Second, as the Author of all knowledge, the Israelites pursued wisdom in reverence to God. They saw wisdom through the lens of their understanding of God, not the other way around. Any piece of wisdom that attempted to usurp that order wasn’t seen as valid.

One issue that I’ve struggled with before is the fact that there are a number of proverbs that seem to either not be entirely accurate on their own merits or even contradict other proverbs. What I’ve learned, though, is that proverbs aren’t meant to be taken at face value. The purpose of a book of wisdom isn’t simply to instill knowledge, it’s to make you think. The ones that seem inaccurate, or at least not wholly true, such as proverbs that state “long life for the righteous, but premature death for the wicked,” say something that obviously isn’t true in all circumstances. But it isn’t supposed to be a law of nature, it’s a statement of general truth. If you live a life of debauchery, you’re much more likely to find yourself at the end of your life much sooner than if you live a healthy, orderly one (Pro-tip: there are plenty of studies out there that show living a Biblical lifestyle will actually improve your life-span and quality of life overall). Then there are the ones that contradict one another. Proverbs 26:4-5 reads like this: “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness, or you’ll become like him yourself; answer a fool according to his foolishness, or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.” Obviously, you can’t both answer a fool according to his foolishness and not do it at the same time. So what can we learn from verses like these? Well, like we said earlier, these are statements of general truth, not absolute truth. So in some situations, it’s better to leave the conversation or else be dragged down with the fool, and in others it’s better to have the argument/debate/whatever to show the fool correction. Different circumstances will require different approaches, and Solomon (and the other wisdom writers) recognized this. Proverbs are probably some of the easiest verses to take out of context because there’s no narrative for it to be taken out of, but if you only take 26:4 or 26:5 without the other, you’re omitting crucial data. Many of the proverbs are ambiguous, and that’s done purposefully to provoke thought, not just to allow you to bend it to whatever view you tend to hold.

So as we make our foray into Proverbs, let’s make sure to keep these things in mind: not all of the proverbs came directly from Solomon or even the Israelites, but from around the world (but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valid); wisdom needs to be seen through the lens of an understanding of who God is and how He created the world with order; proverbs are statements of general truths, not absolutes; ambiguous statements are meant to provoke thought, not thoughtlessness.

With all that said, let’s jump in. If you want to join with me, I’ll be reading one chapter of Proverbs per week, re-reading the same chapter each day of the week. I’ll be writing about a different aspect of the chapter each day, focusing in on a couple of verses. Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean I’ll be posting every day, but you’ll probably see at least two or three posts a week from me while we do this (don’t worry, they won’t all be this long, I promise). New chapters will start on Mondays, so this first week will be a little short, but then we’ll have a regular schedule.

Thanks as always for reading, and I’m looking forward to getting a little wiser with all of you.

The Start of Something New

So, it’s been a little while. I’ve gone a long time without writing, and I want to change that. One of the main reasons that I haven’t been able to keep to a regular schedule up to this point is because I’ve made it more important for each and every post to be perfect before I post it…except that a lot of the ones I’ve actually posted have only gone up after I’ve decided that it didn’t matter, I just needed to post something. So at least for the near future, that’s what I’ll be doing: posting something. Even if it’s only 100 words. Even if I can’t envision exactly how everyone will interpret it. Even if it isn’t my best work. It’s literally impossible for everything to be my best, so I’m not going to set my sights quite that high anymore. It’s more important to me to write something than to pine after that perfect post that I’m never going to write.

The current plan is to start with a “weekly” post on the book of Proverbs, one chapter per week. I say “weekly” with quotes because what will most likely happen is not one post per week discussing all of the minor points, but rather a few smaller posts throughout the week, each one focusing on just a couple of verses.

I’m sure that as time goes on that I’ll expand my posts into more general topics, anything from modern American Christianity to discussing favorite song lyrics and maybe even a little more politics if I feel brave enough. For now though, this is what I’ve got, and hopefully you’ll continue the journey with me.

Keep looking behind the blurs, and we’ll talk again soon.

Why I Refuse to Punch a Nazi

I hate politics. Ok, actually that’s not true. I really just don’t like talking about politics, but if I’m going to do it anywhere, it might as well be here, where the mask comes off. Over the past year or two I’ve immersed myself in a lot more politics than the previous 20 years of my life combined, and I’ve learned how to more clearly define my thoughts on the government and the role it should have in individuals’ lives. I’ve also shaken myself free of a lot of misconceptions and bad ideas that I thought were good. I’ve come to understand that with America being the culturally diverse nation that it is, there is a need for a separation between my personal morals and beliefs and what the law of the land should be. If I had to boil down all of the learning I’ve gotten in my head this past year in the realm of politics, it would be this:

Just because something is immoral doesn’t mean it should be illegal.

If you’ve read my other posts or just know me as a person, you know that I’m a pretty conservative Christian, so that statement may lead you to believe that I’ve converted to liberalism, but you’d be wrong. In fact, despite the fact that “the Christian Right” is a major voting block, Liberals throw around morality arguments just as often as their Republican counterparts, just from a different point of view. I still lean slightly to the right, but for the most part I’ve become a Libertarian, which is basically – in my view – summed up socially by “live and let live,” and economically by “the free market will sort it out.” I believe in a minimalistic government that only intervenes when absolutely necessary, allowing it’s current duties to be carried out by private business wherever possible, and moving whatever power the government has left into the state and local levels where it can. It really shouldn’t have much social control at all. In a nation that is becoming increasingly team-oriented (or even “tribal,” as some have called it), I think the only real solution is to put responsibility back on the individual instead of dictating their responsibilities according to race, gender, socio-economic status, or any other grouping we decide to single out with regulations and subsidies. Whether it’s leftists calling people who want to take a closer look at immigration reform xenophobes or righties calling people who are worried about mental health snowflakes, grouping has become an epidemic that only serves to divide our country along deeper and deeper lines, making it harder as time goes on to fix the issues in front of us and to see each other as fellow human beings.

But what does this have to do with punching Nazis? That is, after all, what this article is all about according to the headline. The truth is, it has everything to do with it. The fact of the matter is that despite the radically different and, in my opinion, disgusting views that these white supremacists have, they have the right to express them, and any physical violence enacted upon them to stop the verbal expression of their ideas is a violation of their rights. The only exception to that is if they make a specific threat. Hate speech is not a crime, but pointing out a specific person and saying, “I’m going to kill you,” is. At this point, the reason for why that person wants to murder doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s racially motivated or financially motivated or if its an act of revenge for a real or perceived wrong. Hate is not a crime, and it shouldn’t be, but threats are.

Before you jump down my throat for being a sympathizer, keep in mind what I said earlier: “just because something is immoral doesn’t mean it should be illegal.” I believe that hate is something we should fight against, but using the law as a gun to shoot down ideas we don’t like sets a dangerous precedent. Sure, we may be using it against neo-Nazis today, but what comes next? With a largely Republican government at the moment, it’s not entirely implausible that they would deem certain socialist factions as communist sympathizers and use their newfound power to silence them as well. Honestly, I think socialism is one of the worst economic frameworks you could ever work under, but I don’t want those voices advocating it to be silenced by the government. When you silence an entire group based on their ideas alone, you’ve tied the noose around democracy. And that logic works just as much for white supremacists as it does for socialists, as much as we may not like it.

So, hate speech is not a crime. It’s terrible, it brings out the worst in some people, and ultimately makes this planet a worse place to live in, but the alternative is the destruction of free speech – and ultimately, freedom – as we know it. But we can still punch Nazis, right? I mean, if anyone deserves to be punched, it’s definitely them, isn’t it? Well, to go back to my previous example, if the white supremacists can be punched, why not the socialists? They want to steal from the producers in society and give it to the consumers, ultimately leading to our self-destruction as fewer and fewer people see the point in even contributing to the economy. That’s not an America I want to live in, so I should be allowed to go punch Bernie Sanders, right? No, that’s stupid. First of all, I’d get arrested for assault and maybe even for infringing on his First Amendment rights if he were speaking at the time. Then, Bernie would just be able to play the victim and gain more support for his cause because of it. And that’s exactly what happens every time someone punches a Nazi. The person who did it gets arrested, maybe getting a few pats on the back from like-minded people, but ultimately furthering the cause of what he’s fighting against.

I whole-heartedly believe that racism is completely idiotic and irrational, and I would never defend the ideas that people like this spout off. But I live in America, which, in case you’ve forgotten, is the land of the free, and I will defend that freedom with every breath I have, even for those who I’d rather never hear from again.

 

Obviously, this is going to be a bit of a touchy subject, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, because, like I said, I believe in free speech and the exchange of ideas. So let’s talk. Do you believe you should be allowed to punch Nazis? Do you think the government should be allowed to ban their gatherings? Am I totally missing some major point that makes all of this make sense? Let me know what you think.

Winter Jam

I went to Winter Jam for the first time this past Friday, and I have to say, it was quite the experience. For those of you who don’t know, Winter Jam is a nationwide Christian concert series that happens every year. At each location, ten major Christian artists take the stage throughout the night as well as a couple of speakers. When all is said and done, the event lasts between 5 and 6 hours (or at least ours did), and so it’s well worth the $10 entrance fee even if you don’t like all of the bands that are playing. Anyways, the reason I’m writing about this isn’t to be an ad for Winter Jam (although you should totally go if you get the chance), but because before the concert got underway, there was a time for youth pastors and leaders to go to a separate room for…well, something. It was kind of ambiguous when it was announced, but I figured it was worth a look, so I made my way to the designated room. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to actually be given some encouragement and advice from a handful of the headliners from the concert. As cool as the concert itself was, it’s hard to top being 30 feet away from some of Christianity’s biggest current names in a room of about 150 people and have them encouraging you on the path you’re on. They left me  with a few interesting thoughts, so that’s what I want to discuss in today’s post.

The first one to come out and speak was Mike Donehey, the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North. When I first started listening to Christian music around 8th or 9th grade, these guys were one of my favorites. I don’t think I’d call them my favorite band of all time, but they’re the only ones from that I listened to back then that I still consistently listen to today, and they’ve always been in my top 10. So basically, I’ve got a ton of respect for these guys. Their newest album is titled “Followers,” and Mike pretty much used that as his mini-message to us. The whole idea behind the album is that even though we’re leaders, our highest calling is to follow. We can’t get so caught up in leading that we forget that the true leader is Christ. It’s so easy to fall into pride when you’re in charge of something, especially if it’s something that’s working. But when you keep in mind that your youth are only following you as you follow Christ, you’ll not only avoid sin, but you’ll become a much more effective leader.

The next to speak was Sadie Robertson. To be honest, I don’t really follow her at all and I’ve never really been into Duck Dynasty, but she spoke well here, so that was cool. As a younger person (she’s currently 19), she obviously spoke more from a youth’s perspective than a pastor’s or leader’s, but it was just as important. She spoke about the importance of youth group being like a second family. Many youth today don’t get a lot of support at home, and even the ones that do are always looking for more. Sadie talked about how when Duck Dynasty first started getting really popular, she was worried about what the spotlight would do to her friendships and relationships, but her youth pastor made sure to let her know that no matter where this journey would take her, she would always have a home and a family there. Obviously, not everybody gets a positive spotlight thrust upon them, but even if it’s negative things that are coming to light, the same principle applies. Regardless of their situations, these kids are all still human, and more than that, they’re all still kids. They need reassurances even more than us adults do, so make sure to give it to them, whether you’re a parent or a leader or just a church-goer with any amount of influence (which is all of you).

The last two kind of went together. First, David Crowder came out, but before too long he brought Louie Giglio up with him. David shared a story of how if it wasn’t for Louie, none of us would probably have ever heard of him. David had been the worship leader at his church and had written a few of his own songs, but he never dreamed that they would ever be heard outside of his own church. Then, one day Louie Giglio heard some of his music and suggested that he go to a recording studio and try to get his music out there. David protested, saying there was no way that he and his band could afford to go get a professional recording done, so Louie offered to pay for it. And the rest is history. David’s main point from his story was that just because you have a gift that you’re using in your church doesn’t mean that it’s meant only for your church. God isn’t bound by the four walls of your church, and neither are the gifts that he’s given you. We talk so much about not putting God in a box, but then we put ourselves in one.

Louie Giglio’s message kind of piggy-backed off of David’s. He started off by talking about how Tychicus was one of Paul’s friends who kept him company while he was in jail. He actually ended up being the one to take Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, which we now know as the book of Ephesians in the Bible. Louie focused in on the fact that even though Tychicus knew that his mission was important, he had no idea that this little letter he carried in his bag would have an impact on the entire world for thousands of years to come. So he asked us: “What’s in your bag?” What do you have that you know could have an impact, but could also do something way beyond what you would ever expect? It could be a personal gift or talent, a student that you’re raising up, an event that you’re taking part in, or any number of other things. You never know what impact you’re going to have, so always work as if working for God Himself, because honestly, you are.

The Start of Something

In case you didn’t already know, I’m interning at my church right now, preparing to be a youth pastor. So I get the opportunity to do a lot of cool things with our youth group, sometimes even coming up with those ideas myself. So, I came up with an idea: a Bible study. Sure, it may not sound that exciting, but it’ll be my first time leading the youth in anything other than the occasional sermon. And I’m really excited about this one because it isn’t just any Bible study, it’s the 90 Day Bible Study. If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, that name probably sounds familiar. I participated in this same study last year while I was at Missio Dei, and it was one of the hardest and one of the most satisfying things I did in my whole two years there. The name pretty much says it all: you take 90 days and read the Bible from cover to cover. I don’t know how that sounds to you, but it takes a solid 45 minutes of reading every single day (longer if you have distractions), so it gets pretty intense.

I’m not sure what to expect this time through, but I know it’s going to be good. And I’m going to try to post a little more often on here with some thoughts that I have, and maybe some of the ones my students have too. I’m not going to promise any sort of regular schedule while I’m doing this, but posts should be coming more often than they normally do for these next few months.

Pushing Through

I’m trying really hard to actually write a post on here every week, but this is only the third week of that and I’m already hitting an impasse. I started writing a post earlier in the week, but I just couldn’t find the words to finish it. And you know what? Sometimes, that’s just how life is. You’ve got all of these ideas about how you want things to be, and they even seem like realistically attainable things to go after…but they never fall into place.

This basically describes me. I have all of these ideas on what my life should look like, whether it’s about my fitness or my creativity or heck, even my sleep patterns! So I come up with a plan of action to tackle the issue, and then I’ll commit to it. Or at least I try to. My plans normally aren’t total failures, I just lack the resolve to see them through to the end. I could go through my old notebooks and my files on my computer and find you at least five or six novels that I’ve started, but never finished. A couple of them never made it past the outline phase, but for most of them I even wrote a few chapters and started getting into the story, but I lost my motivation.

Maybe you’ve faced something similar. I don’t know what your aspirations are, but I know you have them. Everybody has dreams, but most of us just let them stay dreams instead of actually trying to make them a reality. Sure, we make a token effort, but we never really go after it. We’re afraid to chase after our dreams because we’re either afraid that it won’t live up to our expectations or that we aren’t good enough to make it happen, so why even bother? But that’s just fear talking, it isn’t truth. Are you capable of making your dreams come true? I don’t know, and neither do you. You can’t know until you try. And not just try, but give it your all. We are capable of so much more than we think we are, but we continue to limit ourselves because we’re afraid of failure. But failing at something isn’t the end of the world. In fact, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes more often than not.

So what are your dreams? Where do you see yourself down the road? For me, I want to be a youth pastor and an author. I’m already moving forward on the path to become a youth pastor, and I should be credentialed within the next few months. But writing? Like I said before, I’ve started so many different projects, but I’ve never made it very far with any of them. I actually am working on one right now, and I’m hopeful for it. I’m doing something a little different, trying to transform a short story that I wrote a few years ago into a full length interactive fiction piece. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but I’m going to keep trying.

If you know what your dream is, great! Pursue it, don’t let anything stand in your way. I mean, be smart about it, don’t kill yourself trying to make it happen, but also understand that you will definitely need to sacrifice things you’re used to doing in order to chase something new. If you don’t know what your dream is, don’t freak out. There’s nothing wrong with being content where you’re at.

Two last little things, and then I’ll be done: one, talk to people about it. Whatever your dream is, tell people about it. Speaking it out loud will make it more realistic to you than any amount of hours spent fantasizing about it. And two, don’t let fear make your decisions for you. You won’t ever accomplish anything significant in life without taking a few risks along the way. As a Christian, you’ve got the God of the universe backing you up, so there’s literally nothing that you can’t handle. God created you with the desires you have, so don’t just write them off as hopeless. Never give up.