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.

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.

An Introverts Survival Guide to Worship Time

For those of you who don’t know, I work at an Assemblies of God church, which is a Pentecostal denomination. If you know nothing about Pentecostals, here’s the basics: we believe that the gifts of the Spirit (the ones given to the disciples on the day of – wait for it – Pentecost) are still active in the modern-day church. That’s the one thing that unifies all Pentecostals, but every church is different. I’ve been to churches that go off the deep end into “charismania,” but I’ve also been to quite a few that you wouldn’t even know were Pentecostal if you went to a regular Sunday morning service. 

I’ve been part of a few different denominations in my 23 years here on earth, and although there is variety among Pentecostals, they are generally a bit more, well, extraverted compared to others, especially when it comes to worship. What I mean by this is simply that in many Pentecostal churches, there are more expressions of worship: there’s more hand-raising, clapping, dancing, occasional flag-waving, stuff like that. So if you want to fit in, you do those things. But if you know me at all, you know that I’m not normally an outwardly expressive guy, so to do those things would make me really uncomfortable under most circumstances, and maybe you feel the same way. 

And you know what? It’s ok to not worship exactly like everyone else. God isn’t worried about who’s singing the best or who’s clapping the loudest or who can dance more elegantly or who’s raising their hands the highest. In fact, if you’re worried about those things, then you’re making your “worship” more about you than about God. Give God your best, but don’t worry about how your best measures up to the best of anyone else. 

In Mark 12, we see Jesus waiting and watching where temple offerings were given. Many rich people walked by and put in large sums of money, but then a widow came up and placed two copper coins into the offering. At this, Jesus spoke to His disciples, informing them that, despite appearances, this widow offered more than anyone else because she gave all she had. And I would argue that this principle holds true for any form of worship, not just monetary giving. Whether you’re just not a very extraverted person or you’re just having an off day, don’t feel like you *need* to engage in specific behaviors during worship, just give what you can authentically give. 

However, I’m not saying that just because you don’t feel comfortable raising your hands during worship that you have a free pass to participate to a lesser degree. There is definitely something serious and intimate about becoming physically involved with worship, so if you’re feeling it, don’t let your insecurities stop you from doing something that will enable you to experience God’s presence in a way that you’re not used to. And even if you don’t do it, that’s not an excuse to not push yourself to be actively engaged in worship. 

I guess that’s what I’m really trying to get at here. Engagement. It doesn’t matter how you appear during worship, but it matters how much you engage with God during it. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” If you engage better with God by jumping and shouting, do it (but please, don’t intentionally cause disruptions, that’s just annoying to everybody); if you engage with God better by quiet reflection on the words you’re singing, do it! But don’t think that just because somebody engages differently than you automatically means they’re being unauthentic, and whatever form your worship takes, that doesn’t guarantee authenticity either. You need to actively pursue God no matter what way you worship. 

So the next time you enter a time of worship, whether that’s later tonight, Wednesday, next Sunday, or any other time, let go of your worry about how other people will perceive you and just be present with the God of the universe. 

The Power of Offense

It seems like everyone is offended these days. It seems that you can’t hold an opinion on almost any topic without offending someone. And that’s utterly ridiculous. When did we become so fragile? When did we become so incapable of hearing an alternate viewpoint? When did we, as a culture, decide that it was more important that we appease our own emotions than that we tell the truth?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the result of them frightens me. Our culture is being strangled in the name of “tolerance.” Many – not all, but many – of the left have tried to transform the meaning of this word. It’s intended to mean the acceptance of the existence of ideas that are contrary to your own, but now it’s being used as a way of saying “we accept those who you don’t accept, but we don’t accept you,” which is not the same thing. They’ve made an instrument of peace into a weapon. And please understand me here, I’m not trying to put down liberals. That would be the height of hypocrisy after just talking about what tolerance is supposed to be. There are people out there of all political beliefs that believe in true tolerance. People who don’t hate you just for looking at the world differently. Sometimes they’re hard to find, but they’re out there, I promise.

Unfortunately, those people don’t seem to be the norm. Instead, we see what appears to be a large (or at least decently-sized) portion of the population that refuses to even pretend to listen to an alternative point of view. And this happens on both sides of the aisle (the only point favoring the right is that they don’t shout “Tolerance!” as their battle cry, so they at least avoid that hypocrisy). Instead of having a healthy discourse between alternative viewpoints, anything contrary to what we believe gets shut out. We’re practically begging for groupthink to become the dominant form of communication here in America. And if that idea doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

We need the voice of dissent. Part of what makes America so great is that we’re made up of so many different parts. Our unity only lasts so long as the one who thinks differently is allowed to speak. As bad as things seem now, if the power of offense is allowed to fester and grow, the United States is going to continue to polarize. We’re going to see an escalation in violence between ideological groups. And I’m not talking about extremists here. We’re going to see friends and family turn against each other over the smallest of things, because we’re idolizing our views, allowing them to become more important than the people we’re fighting for.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stand up for the rights of those who can’t stand up for themselves. On the contrary, I think more people should! But we can’t allow our passion for the causes we take up to cause us to forget that those we argue with are people too. They have their reasons for believing as they do, most likely having to do with experiences they’ve had or the testimonies of people close to them, just like how you came to your beliefs. So to spout wide generalizations or rude names at people simply because of a conviction they have is absolute folly. Not only is it most likely not true of the person – no matter how despicable their views seem to you – but by behaving in a hostile manner, you’ve effectively cut off any chance of actual communication with this person, giving you no chance to let them change their minds on their position.

If all you want out of your arguments is to make some noise and give yourself a pat on the back for putting someone in their place, then go ahead, keep being offended. But if you want to change people, if you want to see the world become a little bit brighter, it needs to start with you. Even when other people are trying to start arguments with you, when they’re intentionally pushing your buttons, take it as a challenge to keep a cool head and respond with wisdom, not anger. “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Allowing offense to control your words will only bring you to your own ruin.

The peaceful road is a hard one to walk. It requires humbling yourself, allowing others to attack without striking back. Forgiveness without seeking retribution. Turning the other cheek when all you want to do is leave that one snide comment to “destroy” their argument. It isn’t easy, but it becomes easier with each person we convince to join us. So join me, and let’s become better people together.