Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wisdom is Covenantal

Shrewdness isn’t a character trait that is commonly praised in modern evangelicalism. It is, in our conception of Christianity, difficult for us to separate purity from naivety. I am constantly struck, however, how often the Bible seems to praise shrewdness.

I was struck by it this morning in reading 2 Samuel 20. The background of this passage is that David had been established as God’s anointed king over Israel. Most of Israel were attempting to overthrow king David under the influence of a man named Sheba. Joab, loyal to king David, led a group of men to besiege the city of Abel of Beth-maacah, a city where Sheba resided. A woman, who was described as “wise,” (v.16) and who was residing in the city being besieged, was able to summon Joab from the wall of the city to speak to him. She was able to determine from Joab that the cause of the conflict was Sheba, convince the people of Abel of Beth-macaah to kill Sheba, and, in turn, end the battle. A woman single-handedly ended a war and, perhaps, saved the peace of Israel through her wisdom! It struck me to contemplate how such wisdom is acquired.

There are many things can be said about acquiring biblical wisdom, but one thing struck me particularly this morning: wisdom is covenantal. God’s redemptive purposes can be understood in the framework of covenants, binding agreements between God and man. All genres of the Bible, including wisdom literature, can be understood with God’s covenants in mind (I was particularly helped in seeing this through an article by John Frame). Wisdom is covenant faithfulness applied to daily situations. It is a shrewdness of discernment that comes natural to the person immersed in God’s revelation. We see this is Proverbs 1:7 when it says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge” (see, again, Frame).

This unknown woman’s wisdom seems based on her covenantal faithfulness. Israel was Israel because of God’s redemptive covenants. They existed because of God’s covenant commitment to Abraham (Gen. 12 and 17) and his commitment to them as a people on Sinai (Ex. 19ff). At this point, it is even possible that the people of Israel were aware of God’s covenant with David to be a king with an eternal inheritance (2 Sam. 7).

What this woman perceived instinctually was a threat to the covenant. See her words in v.19: “I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the LORD?” Joab then revealed a piece of unkown information to her that Sheba was the cause of the turmoil. The solution to covenantal peace was that Sheba has to be eradicated. Her zeal for the Lord and his promises led her to pursue this course of action.

Our redemption is also rooted in God’s covenants that began with Abraham (Gal. 3:29). Our desire for wisdom must be grounded by faith, rooted in God’s Word, and driven by a desire to fulfill his commands. Wisdom is the natural outcome of such a pursuit.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in ethe seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like ia tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1 (ESV)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Anger and Idolatry

I was talking with my friend Rich Brown recently about some thoughts on anger that I have been working through. I mentioned that Dallas Willard connects anger to our ego. Rich mentioned in passing that anger is also connected to idolatry. It didn’t hit me at the time how profound that statement was.

In a recent situation, I was battling my own anger when I asked God, “why, in Your providence, are You allowing me to face this situation? What do You want to teach me through my own frustration?” I realized that my anger was rooted in disproportionate values. In other words, my anger was rooted in idolatry.

When our hearts are trusting in God, with our hope rooted in His providence, there is little that can shake us; however, when we desire something more than we desire the glory of God (whether it be comfort, plans, success, reputation, respect, ect.), we grow angry when it is taken away from us.

When we are angry, we should ask God what that anger reveals about our hearts and ask Him what He wants to show us from our anger. We will probably find that uprooting our hearts idolatry is more important and gratifying that what we wanted in the first place.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What Does It Mean to Live in Thanksgiving?

The Bible commands that we live in  an attitude of thanksgiving (Eph. 5:20). But what does it mean to be thankful in all things? Is that a realistic expectation or hyperbole? How can one live in such a way in our present world?

For one, Paul did not ignore the realities of sin and hardships. Certainly, Jesus didn’t either. It cannot mean to ignore bad things or pretend that they are not there (We have all met dogged optimists who do this and they annoy us all). Christian theology certainly doesn’t do that. It means then that, despite the current state of things, Christians, acknowledging all of the problems in the world, have something to be thankful for, so much so that they live their entire life in thanksgiving. 

In this wicked world, what is to be so pervasively worthy of thanksgiving? I think we see it many times in Paul. In Ephesians 1, Paul starts his letter with it. It is our salvation and adoption. In Eph. 1:17-18, he prays that other Christians will have the eyes to see this hope. In Rom. 8:28ff, he sees an unshakeable hope, to which our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared (v.18). In Philippians 4 (v.13), Paul says that in all things (goodness and trials) he can do all things in perspective of the hope of Christ.

This is the content of our thanksgiving. If it is in temporary hope, we will be disappointed. Therefore, when the Bible commands us to live in thanksgiving, this is the perspective we must have. And, as Paul found that prayer was necessary to attain this, we should humbly see that as a step in the right direction.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Glimpses of Eden

Piper, our beagle puppy, peed on the carpet for the second time this morning. As many trials to work things together for our good, it seemed this morning’s puppy accident was perfectly timed. After I scolded her, which is always difficult because of her cute guilty face, and cleaned the mess, I took her outside to show her what she is supposed to do. After she had gone again on the grass (somehow, she had more in her than she unleashed on the carpet), the goodness of the morning gave the impulsive desire to take her on a walk around the circle of our neighborhood.
            Before the incident, I had been having my morning prayer time. It is typically frustrating when that is interrupted by my undisciplined little pet, but this morning, I couldn’t have asked for more. As we rounded the corner of the sidewalk, the sun shone in my direction. It was rising over the trees across the way and shining just over them so that its beams were visible against the mist. There was a very slight coolness that was a perfect companion the warmth of the sun that just hit my face. I took a moment to shield my eyes from it just enough so that I could peer under it and see its illumination of the mist below. Like a moth drawn to a lamp, I found myself lost in the beauty of the moment. Everything that I had previously had on my mind settled for a moment. I walked (more pulled) Piper over as close as we could get to the edge of the steep hill that overlooked the illuminated greenery. It was bliss. I felt, for that moment, that I could have sat there and stared at that scene all day. It wasn’t just the sight of it. The sun was warming my skin. The bugs and birds were playing a pleasant melody. My feet were wet from the dew. Everything around me smelled fresh.
            Piper was pulling in every direction to have her own share of the world around her. Normally that would have annoyed me. Right now, I stood and hardly noticed her pulling. The mist was moving under the beams. I saw a small stream creating a path of mud through the earth. I wanted to splash through it like a child. A spider web was reflecting the light. The leave and grass were speckled with little glowing lights of the reflected sun. It was a glimpse of Eden.
            The world we live in is fallen and tainted, much by our own doing, from God’s original and beautiful intension. Once in a while, though, God blesses us with these glimpses of Eden, these existential moments of contentment remind us that, through the redemption that is found in Christ Jesus, this present state is not all, and that the God who created such a moment, has set aside an eternal bliss much greater than we have encountered before.