Proverbs, how to get wisdom, instruction, good judgement, wise action, live well, wellbeing, embodied wisdom, learning, personal development, generative wisdom

Proverbs: How to get Wisdom, Instruction, and Good Judgement

For the past couple of years, I’ve chosen a Word of the Year – one value which I wish to embody in my life. It’s always been one of my values, but there’s always one that stands out more than others. For 2022, that word is Mastery:

  • the mastery of self (self-awareness and the resulting self-control) as well as
  • knowing more (knowledge and understanding) and
  • putting that new learning into practice.

Because to know anything is to do things differently from before.

Life management is about being well adjusted. … being able to stand against the wind of disappointment.
Time is not really the important element. It is what time represents that matters.
Time management is not about a list of things in order of priority that must be completed… Time management is about life management.

Given that life is mostly about intangible things, does it not make sense to learn to control them – things such as thoughts, desires, anger, curiosity, ambition, motivation, sadness, hurt and sorrow?
Althought we live in a tangible world, life itself occurs within our mind, spirit and soul.

Jonar C. Nader, How to Lose Friends & Infuriate People, a controversial book for thinkers.

For me, this is the essence of what I am reminded of when I read Proverbs – self-awareness and then the option for self-control.

The wisdom of Proverbs

One of the many things that I’ve had on my “I wish I had time to do” list is to deep dive back into Proverbs. Of all the books of the Bible, this is one of the two that most resonates with me. The other one is the book of James.

Proverbs has a special place in my heart because I remember my dad reading it to me every night before bed. Occasionally, we would talk about what a verse meant. But more often than not, it was just a reading of a chapter or a portion of a chapter.

I was left with many more questions than answers.

proverb, definition, dictionary.com, commonplace truth, adage, a wise saying, precept, a profound saying, maxim, oracular utterance, meaning of proverb
from dictionary.com

Of course, many times, we try to read Proverbs literally, and not all of it can be understood with a literal meaning.

My experience with Proverbs is that different ones “jump out at me” at different moments in life. Moreover, I’ve interpreted them differently, depending on what I’ve been learning at the time.

As with any proverbs, many of them take time to digest and understand.

The usefulness of Proverbs

In the very first chapter of Proverbs, there is a small introduction, although there is debate as to how much of the book of Proverbs this introduction applies to.

usefulness of proverbs, proverbs 1, amplified Bible, Solomon, wisdom, instruction, words of understanding, insight, wise behaviour, discipline, wise thoughtfulness, righteousness, justice, integrity, prudence, good judgement, asuste common sense, knowledge, discretion, intelligence discernment, learning, wise counsel, truth, understand a proverb, interpretation, the words of the wise,
Proverbs 1: 1-6, Amplified Bible

I find it irrelevant who the author of Proverbs was: I don’t read the book of Proverbs because of who wrote it.

Throughout my life, I’ve turned to Proverbs when I’m in turmoil. And these last three years have had their fair share of inner (and outer) turmoil.

Consider how other translations present the introduction to Proverbs:

proverbs 1, the message, wise sayings, Solomon, live well, understand, learning, right, just, fair, wise men
Proverbs 1: 1-6, The Message
proverbs 1, wisdom, instructions, words of understanding, justice, judgment, equity, knowledge, discretion, a wise man, learning, a man of understanding, wise counsel, understand a proverb, words of the wise, kjv
Proverbs 1: 1-6, King James Version

These are the wise sayings of Solomon,
    David’s son, Israel’s king—
Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right,
    to understand what life means and where it’s going;
A manual for living,
    for learning what’s right and just and fair;
To teach the inexperienced the ropes
    and give our young people a grasp on reality.
There’s something here also for seasoned men and women,
    still a thing or two for the experienced to learn—
Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate,
    the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women.

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;

To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

The place of Proverbs

Proverbs is one of the five books of Wisdom of the Bible, together with Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.

I find it interesting that two of these books are poetry and psalms, rather than writings of wisdom, per se. And yet, all five of the books offer unique perspectives on life and the experiences of life.

But, as you will have noticed from the introduction to Proverbs, it has lofty goals:

  • wisdom
    • wise behaviour
    • the discipline of wise thoughtfulness
    • good judgement
    • astute common sense
    • intelligent discernment
  • instruction
    • a manual for living
  • knowledge
  • understanding
    • to understand what life means
  • insight
  • righteousness
  • justice
  • integrity
  • lead others to the truth

The road to wisdom

So, over the coming weeks and months, I intend to take a new journey through Proverbs and re-examine how it impacts my life. What new wisdom can I glean from these pages?

Where do you go for wisdom?

wisdom, creative compassion, courage to act, fear of the Lord, wise action, taking action, generative wisdom, being wise, transformed, renewing of your mind, heart of stone, heart of flesh, vulnerable, open to change, Divine Purpose, finding your divine purpose, courage to act, wisdom must be embodied, pragmatic action, faith, works and deeds, love your neighbour, awe, Divine Love, divine presence, prayer, meditation, quiet reflection, changing our responses, forgiveness, learning to love and accept myself, a peace that passes understanding, source of abundance, health, wellbeing, diet, exercise, lifestyle choices, responsible

Ten years searching for Wisdom: creative compassion and courage to act

In one of the very first posts I ever wrote for this blog, I mentioned the 10-year challenge of “gaining wisdom”. And this year, as I finished re-reading for the third time “mBraining: using your multiple brains to do cool stuff“, I was reminded that wisdom is both material (on the earthly plane) as well as having a spiritual element to it.

Wisdom comes when we apply creative compassion to creative action. In fact:

Generative wisdom is far more than just having wise insights from your life experiences.

Soosalu & Oka, “mBraining”

It is not an end state of being wise, but rather an ongoing process, one that continually transforms who you are.

I cannot stress this enough: wisdom must be embodied in pragmatic action. The same way that we show our faith by our works and deeds, we embody our wisdom in action and the decisions that we make each and every day.

All knowing is doing, inspired action, take action, compassionate courage, smart courage, deep thought, thought leads to action
All knowing is doing. Dr. Humberto Maturana

Most of us that were brought up in churches can easily recite that to love God is to love our neighbour and to love our brother, no matter who they might be. We are likewise challenged to bless those who curse us.

It is not enough to be able to recite the Bible verse that says this, but rather to actually do it – in the midst of the emotional chaos and turmoil of conflict and upheaval.

It’s easy to be at peace and in harmony with God and others when you are sitting quietly, meditating and in prayer. But true wisdom is being able to hold that same inner peace in the midst of the unrest of every day triggers and people who would typically anger us or make us feel fearful.

I’ll show you my faith by my works is not simply about doing good deeds: but rather it is living that life of faith and Divine Wisdom in all moments of challenge.

The process of acquiring true wisdom is not one of studying and memorisation (although that is no doubt where it begins): it is in changing our responses and choosing a new way of acting and reacting in the world.

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.
The measure of intelligence is the ability to change. Albert Einstein

The beginning of wisdom

This journey for me, into transformation and change, began with the search to understand “the fear of the Lord”. As a child, I had it hammered into me that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Unfortunately, my understanding of “fear of the Lord” was heavily tainted by my understanding of the word “fear”. And my understanding of “the Lord” was much influenced by the descriptions of a terrible God sitting on a throne “in heaven” surrounded by “a host of angels” that were ready to send anyone and everyone to hell.

It was much more of a Machiavellian description of “tis better to be feared than loved”, than an understanding of awe, presence and communion. I certainly viewed God as being dangerous and painful. While I was perfectly capable of saying “God loves you”, it had quite the “domestic violence kind of love” written all over it. Unfortunately, I experienced a traumatic view of authority, which clouded and overwrote my views on God.

It has been hard for me to change and learn a new definition of Divine Love. One of the many reasons that you will find me referring more to “Divine” and “Source” rather than “God” and “the Lord” in this blog is that I am aware that I am not the only one that still has wounds to heal. I am perfectly clear in my mind that these are man-made wounds, by men (and women) who purported to be godly and “loving”. And horridly, wretchedly human.

I came close to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

It is so much easier to say “God did this” than to take the time to separate the humanity of (mostly) well-intentioned, badly misguided men and women, and simply turn your back on the Divine.

Finding my way back to accepting Divine Love and living in that Presence has been a challenge: one in which I have had to be open and vulnerable to healing and change over these past ten years.

Forgiveness and learning to love and accept myself have been difficult lessons to live by.

A peace that passes understanding

And yet, in 2020, I had a year in which to come to grips with “how far I’ve come”. You might notice that there has been a hiatus in posting (for months on end).

Part of this was overwhelm with all that was happening in the world. Another part was being drawn into the shadows of “This is where you need to shine more light in your life and allow healing to take place. This is what you are holding onto and it’s time to let go of.”

The beauty of 2020, for me, was that I discovered that somehow, over the last decade, I had discovered “a peace that passes all understanding”. Accidentally tripped over it in the midst of chaos.

While I contemplated questions like:

  • What is truly important?
  • How does the way I am living my life reflect my values?
  • What do I trust in and where is my faith place?

I discovered that I had come to a deeper understanding of the simplicity of Source versus channel.

The Source of abundance, health and well-being is the Divine. The channels through which I may receive abundance can be a job, independent contracting or even gifts.

When I found my channels placed in jeopardy by the chaos of 2020, I suddenly discovered the my faith and trust had moved. I was no longer trusting in myself and my ability to create income: I had an inner peace I had never experienced before of “my Source” will provide a new channel.

Likewise, I’ve had to face thoughts and challenges regarding my attitudes towards health and wellness. I live from a place of responsibility: I am 100% responsible for my health and wellness and taking care of myself.

Ideas without action are worthless, inspired action, take action, wisdom is doing, compassionate wisdom, courageous action, courageous compassion, compassionate creativity
Ideas without action are worthless! Harvey Mackay

Nonetheless, the question arose: but where am I putting my faith?

Is my faith limited to what I can control and what I am able to do for myself? Or is it in something bigger than me? Can I trust in my Creator that I am wonderfully made and that all my cells and organs respond and vibrate to a Divine vibration of health and wellness?

Letting go: moving with inspiration

For most of us, 2020 gave us the challenge and opportunity to let go of life as we knew it (and planned it), and to turn our trust into Divine purpose and process.

Most of can quote many a verse that reminds us that everything that is happening is for us. But what does wisdom really look and feel like in the face of uncertainty?

There are moments when troubles enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. But they are there for a reason. Only when we have overcome them will we understand why they were there.
There are moments when troubles enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. But they are there for a reason. Only when we have overcome them will we understand why they were there. Paolo Coelho

In part, we have to be willing to let go of what was in order to step into what could be. This requires changes at so many levels:

  • from the heart: starting with love and compassion for ourselves and for others around us;
  • in our heads: minding our thoughts, especially the doubts, awfulisations and catastrofising that we do;
  • and in our guts: being willing to gently release the tight grip we have on our identity “this is who I am” and grow into a new creation.

On a spiritual level, it requires that we be reminded that we are souls having a human experience. Our spirits are searching for Oneness with the Divine – living constantly in that Divine Presence, rather than separated from. And yet the human experience teaches us that we are individual and separate from each other and from God. We are constantly trying to get back to God.

Creative compassion

Divine Love, especially in moments like these, invites us to get in touch with God’s plan and purpose in our lives. Each one of us has been given unique talents and gifts that are not shared by others.

Likewise, most of us have passed through levels of preparation. What life lessons have you learned that have moulded you into the person you are today?

Creative compassion invites us to have a look at everything we have to offer, as well as our heart’s desires, and ask:

What is truly on my heart?

This might include questions or thoughts of the following nature:

  • What might it be like to live in alignment with Divine Will?
  • How can I use all the gifts, talents and experiences I have been given to serve others?
  • Who am I drawn to serving?

Many of us, don’t have immediate clarity. Some, of course, get called similar to what we’ve read in the Bible:

  • Jonah – told exactly who to go to and what to say to them;
  • Jeremiah – given visions and messages
  • Peter – called by Jesus to leave his nets

Some of us might end up with an experience like Esther, put in a position where we only discover it’s purpose when there is a crisis “I was put here for such a time as this”. Others might experience hardship like Joseph, only to be called “when it’s time”.

Most of us, on the other hand, have nothing quite so concise. Life is much more mundane and subtle.

Are we listening for those callings?

Perhaps, like the Good Samaritan, we are simply called to go about our business and just help others anonymously when they are put in our path.

The only questions we have to ask ourselves is: am I living this life from a place of compassion for myself & others? Do I allow Divine Love to flow through me as a conduit and channel for others?

Sometimes the calling is simply to follow a new line of study or preparation, without knowing the end purpose. Can you trust the Divine to take that step without being able to see the full path ahead?

A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do. Nothing else. Gandhi
A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do. Nothing else. Gandhi

It takes courage to act when called:

Without action there is no true wisdom.

As James said, it is not simply about hearing “the Word” or memorising it. It’s no good to spout it out to others or recite it.

The true change happens when we allow it to change our heart: to give up our heart of stone and allow it to be replace with a heart of flesh. A hear that is vulnerable, open, soft and gentle.

When this happens, we learn to think in new ways. And as we begin to think in new ways, we learn to talk differently. We see through new eyes, with compassion and empathy.

It takes courage to allow Divine Love to change and transform our lives. In many cases, this means letting go of any hatred or fear that we have been harbouring. To start to let go of fear, we have to acknowledge and accept that we are afraid.

When I’m honest with myself: fear is usually about situations beyond my control. Like most of the things that happened in 2020. Letting go of that fear requires that I learn “fear of the Lord” in a new way: trust in the invisible.

And only now am I discovering that level of courage to have faith. I haven’t figured out my “calling”, but for now, I’m willing just to take the one next step that is clear on the path ahead and trust that the rest will be revealed when I’m ready.


Inspirations:

The fear of I AM THAT I AM is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Divine One is understanding. For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.

Proverbs 9:10-11
The fear of I AM THAT I AM is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Divine One is understanding. For through wisdom your days will be many and years will be added to your life.
The fear of I AM THAT I AM is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Divine One is understanding. For through wisdom your days will be many and years will be added to your life. Proverbs 9:10-11

Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.

Proverbs 19:2
smart compassion, smart courage, taking inspired action, Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.
Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. Proverbs 19:2

Trust in I AM THAT I AM with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take.

Proverbs 3: 5-6
Trust in I AM THAT I AM with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek Divine will in all you do, and the Divine will show you which path to take.
Trust in I AM THAT I AM with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek Divine will in all you do, and the Divine will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

So get rid of your feelings of hatred. Don’t just pretend to be good! Be done with dishonesty and jealousy and talking about others behind their backs.

1 Peter 2:1
feelings, hatred, pretend, be good, dishonesty, jealousy, talking about others behind their backs
So get rid of your feelings of hatred. Don’t just pretend to be good! Be done with dishonesty and jealousy and talking about others behind their backs. 1 Peter 2:1

All knowing is doing
All knowing is doing. Dr. Humberto Maturana
wisdom, change, intelligence, divine love, The measure of intelligence is the ability to change. Albert Einstein
The measure of intelligence is the ability to change. Albert Einstein
ideas without action are worthless
Ideas without action are worthless! Harvey Mackay

There are moments when troubles enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. But they are there for a reason. Only when we have overcome them will we understand why they were there.
There are moments when troubles enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. But they are there for a reason. Only when we have overcome them will we understand why they were there. Paolo Coelho
A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do. Nothing else.
Gandhi
We must be willing to let go of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Joseph Campbell

We keep brainstorming options and plans, but Divine Purpose prevails.
We keep brainstorming options and plans, but Divine Purpose prevails. Proverbs 19:21

Meditation: Romans 6: 6-7, 14

We need to remember that each day we are “born anew”, we die to sin and rise to Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Because we are shown grace and mercy, we have the possibility of dying to whatever holds us back, and rising again renewed and full of life and light.

Matthew 5: 13-15

13 You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its savor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 You are the light of theworld. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house

But until we actually recognize that living in the Presence of our Creator actually means shining forth every day as light in this world, we are only surviving, instead of thriving.

Sermon: Pentecost Sunday

READINGS:

  • Acts 2: 1-21
  • 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Welcome to Pentecost Sunday – a day when we remember Jesus’ promise to the disciples to send “the Comforter”, so that they would never be alone.  If you recall, in John 7, verse 38, Jesus says:

Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

And the disciples and followers of Jesus were waiting expectantly in Jerusalem for this.  I want to take a moment and look at the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit, as it is given to us in the Bible, before Acts 2:

One of my favorite verses is in Jeremiah, chapter 31, verses 33-34:

But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

And I am sure you all know Ezekiel 11: 19:

And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,”

And Joel 2, verses 28 & 29:

It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Maybe you remember John the baptist, who promised in Matthew 3, verse 11:

As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

And then Jesus promises, in John 15, verse 26:

When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,”

And a final verse: Luke 24, verse 49:

And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

I would guess that there was a LOT of expectation among the disciples and followers as they lived together in Jerusalem, waiting for this outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them, so that they could then go forth as commanded and testify.   As you will have noticed, the promise of the Holy Spirit was not simply a promise from Jesus, but rather a promise that was given time and again throughout the prophets, as being God’s promise.  We know, from Genesis 1 that the Holy Spirit is the creative power in the Creation story, the same way that Jesus is seen as being the Word and power of Creation.

Job 33, verse 4 reminds us:

The spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

David says, in Psalm 104: 30

“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth

We also know from Proverbs that the Spirit is Wisdom: Proverbs 4, verses 5 to 9:

Get wisdom; get insight;
    do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
    love her, and she will guard you.

Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
    she will honor you if you embrace her.
.”

And so we find, on the day of Pentecost, the disciples all gathered together, waiting.  As we have read in Acts chapter 1, they were sharing everything, they ate together, and they spent their time in prayer.  Yesterday, in preparation for Pentecost, a small group of us got together to pray and prepare for today.  Our prayers centered on:

  1. Asking for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in this church:  “Pour out your Spirit upon us, for without You I am nothing. Clothe us with power from on high. You promised your Spirit would teach us; we need that teaching. You promised your Spirit would guide us; we need that guidance.”
  2. Submission – special prayers reminding ourselves that “Thy Will be Done”, as opposed to “My Will”
  3. Forgiveness & Reconciliation – the Holy Spirit came to a group where there was no quarreling or envy. They were no longer asking the question they used to ask, “Who is the greatest?” They were no longer seeking to sit on the left or the right of Jesus.  We all recognise that it’s hard to forgive if we’ve been hurt deeply, or something terrible has happened to us, perpetrated by another. But Jesus asks us over and over again:  forgive one another, love one another. We bring love, forgiveness and reconciliation into our world: if we don’t do this, who will?  What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus if we cannot forgive? And so, yesterday, we prayed for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, starting with our relationship with God, moving on to forgiving ourselves and finally with forgiveness and reconciliation with others.
  4. We prayed for unity and oneness of mind and purpose in Balboa Union Church:  The disciples were of one mind, one will, one feeling, one plan, one purpose, and one prayer.
  5. Gratitude – we practiced thankfulness and gratitude for the work that the Spirit does in each one of us, from the inside out.

And so, this morning, we read in Acts 2 of the actual coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and followers of Christ in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost:

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

As we know, some of those in the crowd, who were being addressed in their native languages (they could understand what the disciples were preaching because it was their language),  were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Others simply thought they were drunk – this is all just a big joke.  And so Peter stands and addresses the crowd to say “this is what the prophet Joel promised:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
2:18 … in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

So, apart from having this divine experience of speaking in other languages and prophesy, what does it mean for the Church today to have an outpouring of the Spirit?  If we have a quick look at 1 Corinthians 12, which we read earlier this morning, we can see:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good:

  1. There are many gifts and many services, but they all come from the same Spirit;
  2. There are many activities, but they are all lead by God;
  3. Some get wisdom
  4. Some get knowledge
  5. Some get faith
  6. Others get healing
  7. Working of miracles
  8. Prophecy
  9. Discernment of Spirits
  10. Speaking in tongues
  11. interpretation of tongues

But the most important thing to remember is:

12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

As a Church, each member has different gifts and strengths – but we need to be pulling together and working together towards one vision and one goal.

They say that there was a man called Louie,  and he was shipwrecked on a desert island.  Finally, after many years, he was rescued.  Now, before leaving the island, he gave the rescue party a tour:
“I built myself a house. That’s it there. Here’s the barn, and over here is the church I worshiped in.”
“What’s that building over there?” one of the rescuers asked.
Louie sneered. “That’s the church I used to belong to.”

It seems to be human nature to be divided and pulling different ways, and it takes a lot of effort to leave to one side our pride and our prejudices, the need to be right and the desire to have control, and put everything under the control of the Holy Spirit, so that as a Church we all pull in the same direction towards a common goal: Divine Will, rather than our personal agendas.

This morning, as we invite the Holy Spirit to flood this church once again with presence and power, I invite all of you to take a moment to put aside “ego” and “self” and to ask God for Divine Will and Divine appointment to take place in this Church, that we grow as God would have us grow.

Sermon: He shall not judge…

HE SHALL NOT JUDGE

ISAIAH 11:2-4

2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…

December is upon us in Panama – with its terrible traffic, frustrations as you try to get more done than you have hours in the day, and little patience for all the barriers you may find along the way.

  • There are school functions, plays, ballet performances, and all kinds of events that require your time and attention.
  • Mothers’ Day presents to buy and dinners to plan.
  • Christmas parties for the office, with friends, PTA and end of year celebrations.
  • It’s that time of year when you may well find yourself seated next to that difficult person: the complainer or the proverbial GRINCH of Christmas!
  • If you have children, they may be adding to the stress of the season with their demands for presents and the heightened anxiety of “I want”.

Everything clamouring for your attention and adding extra stress to an already busy schedule. And we are, as Christians, expected to put our right foot forward – with the Christmas Spirit-being the bearers of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, as expressed through our Advent Candles.

Our Gospel reading this morning in Matthew 3 indicates that Jesus’ coming promised a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire – that will sift through the wheat (or good) in our lives and a fire that will burn through the chaff (or that which is not productive or of any value).

And how will God know what is good and valuable in our lives, versus that which is not productive? Well, as we see in the verses of Isaiah 11:2

…the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah goes on to say in verse 3:
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear

And as Christ’s followers, we are all called to follow this example!

Not judge by what our eyes see or decide according to what our ears hear, but rather with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, that Spirit of counsel and might, and that Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN THIS CHRISTMAS SEASON?

If I could sum it up in one word, that one word would be simply this: “empathy”!

Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about!

Kindness is a wonderful way to let another struggling soul know that there is still love in this world.

We are not to judge others simply by the impressions of what our eyes see (or our perceptions or misconceptions) or what our ears hear (whether that be gossip about a person or even what we think we heard them say)… But rather, we are to allow the Spirit, through wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord guide us to what is right.

Our opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge: It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy – it requires that we suspend our egos and for a moment to live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding. (Bill Bullard).

Empathy is:

  1. Seeing with the eyes of another;
  2. Listening with the ears of another; and
  3. Feeling with the heart of another.

So, what would be wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord look like at Christmas time?

The Spirit of Wisdom at Christmas time might be as simple as:

  1. looking after yourself, making sure you’ve given yourself enough time to get where you need to be, without being overly stressed about running late;
  2. having snack food in the car with you or in your purse, so you’re not in a bad mood from low sugar levels;
  3. taking a moment before you get to the mall or a shop to speak with your youngsters about what you will or won’t buy for them, so that they have clear expectations and are prepared for the “no” when you have to give it to them; and
  4. thinking through the obstacles (traffic, queues at the cashier, etc.) before you get started, so that you are already prepared to face them and take them in your stride as they appear.

The Spirit of Understanding at Christmas time manifests itself as simply:

  1. as giving your child 10 extra minutes of cuddle time when they are upset, realising that they need to feel heard, even though they are being completely irrational or unreasonable, because you care (even if the answer is still no);
  2. planning “alone time” or “down time” for the introverts in your household that need to recharge their batteries after being overwhelmed with too many sights, sounds, people and stimulations of the Christmas season;
  3. identifying that person that’s sitting off in a corner by themselves, and sitting down with them to have a one-on-one conversation for 10 minutes, because you realise that they are overwhelmed by crowds, but love to have one-on-ones, without trying to “draw them in” to the crowd, but rather meeting them where they are at; and
  4. giving the extroverts in your family the party and group time that they need to enjoy the festive season, even if you are feeling up to it.

The Spirit of Counsel at Christmas time requires that we take time to listen to God:

  1. It’s sitting in the car for 2 minutes, outside your home, and, before you get out, breathing deeply and allowing yourself to relax and be present:
    a. Identifying how you are feeling and why you are feeling this way;
    b. Breathing your way through leaving the day you have just had and any frustrations you were bringing with you, so that you don’t take those negative feelings home to your loved ones;
    c. Identifying who and what will be waiting for you inside, so that you are present with them when you walk in the door; and
    d. Praying for your loved ones before you walk in.
  2. The Spirit of Counsel is putting before God your concerns and worries, and then listening to God’s response – this means clearing your mind so that God can speak with you.

The Spirit of strength at Christmas time recognises that you are strong enough: Whatever today’s challenge is – you are strong enough – God promised to give you strength for today. If you will focus on today and today’s struggle and stop trying to deal with tomorrow’s struggle and adding tomorrow’s stress into the mix, you are strong enough! They say:

Depression comes from living in the past.
Worry and Anxiety come from living in the future.
The only place of peace is living in the present.

The only place you have any strength and power is in today – you cannot change the past and you cannot act in the future. Your spirit of Strength, this Christmas season, is when you are present in each day. When you focus your daily energy on what you need to get done today: therein lies your strength. If you need to have a conversation with someone today: have that conversation. If you need to have a conversation with someone tomorrow, program it today, and then leave it in tomorrow.

Give us this day our daily bread

It doesn’t say: give us this week or this month… just one day. Remember that this Christmas season – you are only given this much. The person standing or sitting in front of you is only given that much. All either of you have is today.

The Spirit of Knowledge at Christmas time –

  1. It’s using Waze to find out how long you are going to spend in traffic to be able to get to Atlapa for the Ballet presentation by 4.00 p.m., and leaving 2 hours beforehand, and having downloaded onto your iPod or phone on December 1st 12 hours of new Audiobooks, podcasts, meditations and other uplifting material so that you don’t feel like being stuck in traffic is a complete and total waste of time;
  2. It’s knowing the quirks of each one of your kids, nephews & nieces or other kids that you will be spending Christmas day with, and preparing yourself how to deal and interact with them to be a blessing to them; and
  3. It’s reading an article or book on a subject very close to the heart of a person that you will be spending time over the Christmas season with, so that you have a topic to talk to them about.

And finally the fear of the Lord is remaining humble… realising that you are no better than anyone else, that you are the product of all your experiences, decisions, and the people that God has put in your path each day of your life, that have made you into who you are today.

The fear of the Lord is what reminds us “there, but for the grace of God, go I”.

  • You are that child that is having a temper tantrum in the shopping mall;
  • you are that mother that doesn’t know what to do with her child who is hungry and tired and over-stimulated by all the sights and sounds;
  • you are that old man who’s in a bad mood and grumpy because he’d rather be somewhere else;
  • you are that young man behind the wheel beeping the horn because he’s in a hurry and frustrated that the traffic is not moving.

Whatever you are faced with over the coming weeks, remember that you are filled with the Spirit of the Lord: and this Spirit does not judge by what your eyes see or decide by what your ears hear.

You are called to be the light of the world – be LOVE this Christmas season.

A virtuous woman

The Virtuous Woman

Lectionary Readings:

  1. Proverbs 31: 10-31

We’ve all heard: “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”, usually used in reference to mothers.  But we all know that this same woman has a powerful, persuasive influence on her life partner, on her sisters and cousins, her neighbours and friends.

You may have also heard:

“Behind every successful man stands a proud, although sometimes quite surprised, woman”.

Today I want to talk to you about that woman who is not surprised by the success of those she loves and supports.  She’s not even surprised by her own success and achievements, because she’s planned, executed, cried, suffered sweat and tears, and when things go right for her, she says a little prayer to thank her Creator God for the helping hand.

A couple of years ago, as a member of a professional women’s club, I was asked “who was my role model?”

My answer then, as it still would be today, is the Proverbs 31 “super-woman”.

This super-woman is one of the reasons that I am a member of Balboa Union Church:  I recall mentioning, many years ago, that I my goal was to become “The Virtuous Woman” of Proverbs 31, to which I received the reply that this reference in the Bible was not to be read literally, but figuratively – it didn’t really refer to women, it referred to the Church as the Bride of Christ.

That comment taught me an important lesson – don’t be quick to jump up and point out to someone else which Scriptures they should read literally or figuratively.  Who am I to decide what others should read literally versus figuratively in the Bible?  Did I get that special Bible where the footnotes clearly state what God intended to be literal and what was supposed to only be read figuratively?  I’m not saying that this shouldn’t be read as a model for the Church – of course it should – but I also think it has many lessons to teach us about how to love and respect the women around us.

I accept that many women today, in and out of Churches, are taught that their only true role and fulfilment will come from being a wife and mother.  While others are taught that their happiness will only come from their career and personal success.  We have so many “issues” when it comes to self-fulfilment.

How come men don’t have these issues?  Have you ever heard a man wondering whether he should focus on his life as husband and father or on his career?  Should he give more time to the Church or his charity or will that interfere with his relationship with his kids?

I wonder, does this go hand-in-hand with the prayer in Old Testament times?

“I thank you God that I am not a slave, a gentile or a woman.”

I’d like to save, for another day, any reference to Paul’s teachings on the role of women, and focus our attention this morning on the beautiful and poetic passage in Proverbs 31.  But I will clarify that when we look at Paul’s letters (all his letters, not just one passage or one verse standing alone), we get a much different picture of the Godly women than that provided in traditional Christian teaching.  But that’s another discussion for another day.

Proverbs 31 introduces us to a woman that is fit to be a queen.  Even if she had the bad fortune, like Kate, to be caught sunbathing topless, in the company of her husband, in a private home in France, with her photos spread over the front of the French press, she would still be able to hold her head high and rise above it.  Her character cannot be called into question.

The introduction to Proverbs 31 tells us that these are the words that King Lemuel’s mother taught him, when she cautions him:

“Give not your strength to women; or your ways to those who destroy kings.”

And yet, in verses 10 to 31 of Proverbs 31, his mother literally gives him the A to Z (of the Hebrew alphabet) of what to look for in his queen.

10. A virtuous woman, who can find? For her price is far above rubies.

The entire book of Proverbs is about wisdom and wise living.  And throughout it, wisdom is referred to as “she”.  In Proverbs 3 we read:

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding; For the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour.

And She was with God from the beginning:

The Lord by Wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by His knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.[1]

I would venture as far as saying that the Proverbs 31 woman is the one that has all of the words of Proverbs chapters 1 to 30 engraved on her heart and lives them out each day.  She can be contrasted with those women mentioned in:

Proverbs 21:9 & 19

Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.

And Proverbs 11:22

As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman without discretion.

Proverbs is full of warnings about those with a loose tongue, who don’t know how to hold their temper and the dangers of speaking more than you listen.

The Proverbs 31 lady is gracious, retaining honour for herself and her family.[2]  She builds her home; her wise words are a tree of life.

So, who is the Proverbs 31 woman?

  • She is an elegant and wise woman;
  • She’s a wife;
  • She’s a mother;
  • She’s a home-maker;
  • She’s a business owner and investor;
  • She’s a volunteer, helping the poor, sick and needy; and
  • She’s a woman of God.

I want us to look at each one of these facets of the Virtuous Woman, starting with:

What does it mean to be “virtuous”, elegant & wise?

The definitions provided go a little like this:

  • Characterised by or possessing virtue or moral excellence;
  • Admirable, exemplary, praise-worthy, honest;
  • a person of strength of character

Apparently, even in the era in which King Lemuel lived, this was rare!

Of course, Proverbs 20, verse 6 reminds us:

Most men will proclaim to others their own kindness: but a faithful man, who can find?

So, for every virtuous woman that is hard to find, it’s equally hard to find a man that is faithful, honourable, loyal and true.  That man that is described throughout Proverbs is just as rare a gem as she is.

Proverbs 31: 22 tells us that she is dressed in fine linen and purple.  Linen in those times came from Egypt and the most valuable of all, purple garments, were brought from Tyre and Sidon – today she would be wearing Alexander McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Prada, Christian Dior, Givenchy.

But, perhaps more importantly, she is clothed in strength and dignity; with preparation and providence, so that she can laugh at the days to come.[3]  She is not concerned with what the future holds, as she knows that she has prepared for this.

This is the woman that you can count on as a friend for advice: she not only has the experience and discretion to not gossip, but more than anything she is judicious and knowledgeable.

She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.[4]

Even when she is giving instructions, she is kind.

The virtuous woman: as a wife

Verse 11 tells us that her husband’s heart trusts in her, and she greatly enriches his life.  She intentionally goes out of her way to do him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

  • Not just the days that she feels like it.
  • Not just those days when he’s sweet and attentive.
  • Not just the days when she had a good day in the office and the kids are behaving themselves.

Every day she makes an effort to make his life better.

Because of her, rather than in spite of her, her husband is respected as an elder of the city, a man who plays an important role in the planning and decision making in the community in which they live.  This man has been able to entrust to her the management of the home.  He is confident that she has his back.

She has given her husband reason to praise her, saying:

Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.

This woman is not surprised by her husband’s success – when things go well for him, she knows that he deserves it and that she has stood there with him all the way.

The virtuous woman: as a mother

Her family has the choicest goods that they can afford, because she is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.  Many woman think that it’s impossible to live up to the standard set by Proverbs 31, without even realising – they are already doing it.

How often, ladies, do you find yourself going to more than one shop, just to pick up that special bottle or brand of food that you can’t get where you ordinarily shop?  Yes, I can buy 90% of what I need at Riba Smith, but there are things in Organica or Deli Gourmet that are part of the stock of my pantry – those special items that my husband loves to find for a mid-night snack. The corvina from the fish market to make ceviche, even if it means a special trip just for that.  As mother’s, you are all making those extra sacrifices to get the best things for your children or grandchildren.

The virtuous woman: as a home-maker

This woman is disciplined and organised: when she has to, she gets up while it’s still dark to make sure she has enough time to plan the day, providing food for her family and organising the chores.  She is energetic when it comes to things that need to be done:  she sets about it vigorously, with strength for the task at hand.  We are also told that she watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

You may say – I don’t have maids and a “household” to watch over – but I am sure that all women (and possibly most men) can relate to the saying: “A man may work from dawn to dusk, but a woman’s work is never done”.  There is a huge difference between resting or taking a break and being idle.  Idleness refers to avoiding work, being lazy, moving without purpose.

Proverbs 18: 9 says that Idleness is akin to extravagance and wastefulness:

He that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.

and Proverbs 19:15 warns that slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.  And so, the virtuous woman is always making sure that her house is always getting proper maintenance, so that she is not wasting resources, having to throw something away for lack of proper care.

In fact, if they fall on hard times, she’s not concerned, because she has planned for this.  Proverbs 31: 21 tells us:

When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

They are not just clothed for the weather, but they are richly clothed.

The virtuous woman: career woman, business owner, investor and financial wizard

How many of us can really say that we work joyfully?  Proverbs 31: 13 tells us that she works with “eager hands”, having selected the finest wool and flax to work with.

This woman leads by example – whether it be weaving, working at a check-out counter, being a teacher, or working in an office at a computer –this woman brings all of her energy to her work and even if she’s not a leader in a managerial sense, she is a leader by the example she sets to other in her work ethic and the effort she makes to fulfil the tasks at hand.

This woman is industrious: she makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.  When we look at the economy that they lived in, the merchants referred to the exporters – she was supplying Colon Free Trade Zone with merchandise for export.  We can only imagine the quality of the workmanship to be acceptable for export.

Proverbs 31 also tells us that this wonder-woman is enterprising and prudent with money: she considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.  Perhaps you’re thinking she should have asked her husband before she spent the money – but let me refer you back to verse 11:

Her husband’s heart trusts in her and he lacks nothing of value.

As women of virtue, we need to know how to save and set money aside for special projects: whether that be the fund for family Christmas presents each year, the money set aside for that special surprise for a child’s graduation, or that special get-away as a couple.  It’s not frivolous spending on the credit-card, or any cause for concern by her spouse or children – the virtuous woman has learned to do wonders with the purse-strings, making sure that she even has enough for those special projects and future plans.

This woman is a good steward, she makes sure that her trading and activity is profitable, even if it means that her lamp doesn’t go out at night.  This verse 18 reminds me of two people:

1-     My mum – who I would often find up at 3.00 a.m., working on a patchwork quilt or some other project that she had underway, because even if she didn’t have enough money to go out and buy gifts, she could always make them;  and

2-    A lawyer friend – who often is awake at 2.00 a.m., answering emails to clients, because she, like me, has her own firm and it’s up to her to make sure that things get done.

There are many women in this modern world that are doing “their stuff” at 2.00 a.m., so that during the day they have time to dedicate to their children or their family’s needs.  These are the modern-day superwomen of Proverbs 31!

The virtuous woman: helping the needy

Somehow, she still finds the time, in the midst of all of this, to open her arms to the poor and extend her hands to the needy.  The surplus, the planning, and profit, while they may go first to her make sure her family and household was well looked after, there was enough to share with those in need.  And she is welcoming and gracious to the needy.  Not seeing this as a burden.

The virtuous woman: woman of God

Proverbs 31 ends by reminding us:

Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

It would not be possible to do and be all these things, unless this woman of strength had inner peace and Spirit to guide her.  How else do you find the strength to face the challenges of each day and to speak words of wisdom with kindness?

Of course, we all realise, by the time we get to the end of Proverbs 31 that her children have already grown up and had children of their own:  they’re back to the stage where “Mum knows everything”.  Obviously, if they call her “blessed” they are no longer teenagers or in their early twenties! Yes, this is the woman that we aspire to be, but we are all diamonds in the rough – and the years are the polishers that God uses to cut away the rough edges to make us shine brilliantly.

I invite you all to look around and congratulate the virtuous women of this congregation: the little ones, with all their lives ahead of them; the teenagers – with their struggles of fitting in; the single ones and married ones; the mothers and mothers-in-waiting; and, most importantly, the grand-mothers.  Every one of the women here today fulfils at least one of the verses that I have spoken of, even if she finds the group of them together, the balance to be given between the different hats that she wears every day, sometimes overwhelming.  Each of these women is working, one day at a time, towards that goal of being the noblest of them all.


[1] Proverbs 3 19-20.

[2] Proverbs 11:16

[3] Proverbs 31: 25

[4] Proverbs 31:26

choose life, thy will be done, have it your way, doubting God, painful trial, you are suffering, rejoice, overjoyed, god, goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, energy, joy, wisdom, love, boundless power, mere human beings, God has been making it grow, earthly life, all religions are true, a better Christian, child of God, relationship with God, personal transformation, eternal life, gift of forgiveness, omnipotent, onmiscient, ever-present God, no other gods, loving God, walking in His ways

Choose life

C.S. Lewis said:

“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way”. ”

For those of us who have a hard time saying “Thy will be done” C.S. Lewis identifies:

We may be thinking about those verses in 1 Peter chapters 4 & 5 that say:  “Beloved, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering… but rejoice that you participate in the sufferings… so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.”  “… those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”   “and the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Chris, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself make you perfect, strong, firm and steadfast.”

C.S. Lewis goes on to say:

“If we let Him–…we can prevent Him, if we choose–He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.”

cslewisOur 4 lectionary readings have a common theme: they demonstrate to us how simple and yet profound the choice presented in the Bible is.

1st Corinthians 3, verses 3 to 7:

You are still worldly.  For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly?  Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says “I follow Paul” and another “I follow Apollos” are you not mere human beings?  What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? … I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

We are not to get caught up this earthly life, or on whose teachings we follow, who is right or wrong.

Gandhi said:

“all religions are true … So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be (that) a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.”

Spiritual maturity is being able to admit “God makes me grow” – not what I do. I am not “trying” to become a “child of God”: I already am a child of God. We have all been redeemed and bought with a price.  Our objective is not to win salvation; our objective is to become more Christ-like.  As my relationship with God evolves, I realise that salvation, sanctification and justification is about personal transformation.  I am not looking forward to eternal life when I die: eternal life began the day that I accepted God’s free gift of forgiveness.

But, am I allowing God to work in me or holding Him back?  Do I love myself and God enough to become a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as I cannot now imagine? Or am I caught up in this world?

In my adventure of getting to know the omnipotent, omniscient, ever-present God, Deuteronomy 30: verses 15 to 20 sheds light on my relationship with God.  Deuteronomy means “the second giving of the law.” In this Book, Moses repeats the law of God for those who will cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.

If you recall, before going up Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, Moses challenged the Children of Israel with the basic rules. Exodus 23:25 “Worship the Lord your God and His blessing will be on your food and water.  I will take away sickness from among you, and none will miscarry or be barren in your land.  I will give a full life span.”  And so, in Exodus 24: 3: “they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do.

A couple of days later, while Moses is up on Mount Sinai getting the 10 Commandments, these same people ask Aaron to make them the golden calf.  Who here can honestly say they’ve never done this? “Everything the Lord has said, we will do” except for the “no other gods”, or whatever your favourite exception is.  We promise God one thing, and days later have completely failed.

So, here we have Moses, in Deuteronomy 30, repeating the law of God to the new generation; he offers them a choice:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commands, decrees and laws… This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to Him.  For the Lord is your life…

This passage is about my relationship with God, not about material prosperity. No magic formula for worldly success.  Nor was this was some “altar call”.  This was a call to surrender, each new morning, to Him.  “Choose life” refers to loving God, hearing Him, walking in His ways, keeping His torah, holding fast to Him and not going astray (each morning, each moment of each day).  It’s a radical difference – a life-style choice.

Psalms 119, verses 1 to 8 remind us.

1-     Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.

2-    Blessed are they who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart.

3-    They do nothing wrong; they walk in His ways.

4-   You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.

5-    Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!

6-    Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.

7-    I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.

8-    I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

Even David, a man after God’s own heart, admits that he is NOT perfect in obeying God’s decrees.  He feels put to shame when he considers God’s commands.  “I’d love to say I am obeying fully, but I’m messing up”.  If we are truly honest with ourselves, obeying God’s Word is challenging.  It’s a very high standard!  The Bible is the mirror in which we see our own inadequacies.

David admits he’s still learning God’s law, and finishes with “I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.”  Don’t give up on me God; I’m going to keep on trying.  We know David had some serious slip-ups in keeping God’s commandments.

He coveted his neighbour’s wife.

He committed murder.

So, how is it that he’s the man after God’s own heart? Well, firstly, although he obviously went through a period of rebellion (more than just a couple of months… maybe more than a year). He was far, far from God.  Yet, when Nathan confronts him, he repents.  There is true remorse, grief and shame.  There is a certain tenderness that comes with this repentance.  Surrender.

We see it again in Peter, who rejecting Christ 3 times, realises his rejection and rebellion, and goes out weeping bitterly.  Somehow, having reached the bottom, Peter was able to put aside his pride, accept Jesus’ forgiveness: was able to bow down and surrender.

Sai Baba said:

“Give up all bad qualities in you, banish the ego and develop the spirit of surrender.”

As a child of God, in our walk to become more Christ-like, we have to understand the importance of the spirit of surrender to God:  “Choosing life.”

Jesus makes it clear, in the sermon on the mount, that it’s not about legalistic fulfilment of the law.

It’s not enough just to know the law.  Last week we read: “let your righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees”.  Pharisees followed the letter of the law; even added a few for good measure. What have we humans done with God’s law?

Let’s see:

The Law of Moses established that we should fulfil our oaths:  Human interpretation says: “if I don’t make an oath, I don’t exactly have to tell the truth”.

Likewise, with respect to divorce:  what was “objectionable” enough about a woman to warrant divorce?  There were different views between various rabbinic schools:

One said:  A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.

Another said: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written: Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.

And yet another: Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written (and this translation is a little more liberal than “because he had found in her indecency in anything), And it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes.”

And so Jesus explains that the true meaning of the law is to honour God, not just with your actions, but also with your thoughts, your motives and your attitudes.  What does it mean to “Choose Life”? Even Gandhi taught:

Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts, but by his intentions.  For God alone reads our hearts.

These rules from the Sermon on the Mount are deeper and more personal than the laws of any country.  It delves deep into the innermost part of man, where only God sees.

We may think that our “thought life” is our own, hidden from others.  We indulge in “my thoughts” –save a little space, some room, for us to live in our little indulgences.  This hypocrisy of a secret thought life! – One way on the inside and another on the outside – This deep corruption and confusion is not “choosing life”.

We see another example of this when Jesus rebukes us for holding onto our anger, rather than choosing the higher way.   What do I choose to do with my anger?  Do I deal with it?  Buddhist teachings warn:

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; while holding it, you’re getting burned.”

Jesus says there is no real point in priding myself on the fact that I have never actually killed someone. Why? Well, because unresolved anger leads us to sin: saying “Raca” (empty head) or “you fool” (moron) – My angry, thoughtless words KILL my relationships, chipping away at the trust and love.

Jesus values our earthly relationships – important enough that he says we should leave worshipping God and go and make things right with our neighbour or brother.  We are to actively seek reconciliation.

True happiness and fulfilment comes from putting our relationship with God right and then our relationships with all of those around us.

Sai Baba says:  “Once we surrender our mind to GOD completely, HE will take care of us in every way.”

How do I really put into practice, in all aspects of my life, the grace that I have received, living a life of righteousness and holiness before God?  How do I “do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God”?  I “know” (head knowledge) it means to desire Him above all else: He demands first place in my life.  No half-hearted or part-time love: “just Sunday mornings.”

Much like Christ says in the gospels to the young rich ruler:  No one is good except one–God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not give false testimony,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and mother.’”  The young ruler said to him, “Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth.”
Jesus looking at him loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen “choices” in the Bible.  Genesis: starts with the exercise of free will.  We can choose to eat the forbidden fruit or not – our eyes will be opened: but… will we like what we see?

Augustine said:

“When people choose to withdraw far from a fire, the fire continues to give warmth, but they grow cold.  When people choose to withdraw far from light, the light continues to be bright in itself but they are in darkness.  This is also the case when people withdraw from God.”

God doesn’t want me to pick and choose when I will love him, or under what conditions.  I am to Love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength.

I’m happy to be a Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet lapping up all the teachings.  I enthralled by His teachings.  But that’s not enough: how do I let go of earthly things, daily struggles, and become a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as I cannot now imagine?

If I loved God, really, truly, loved HIM, I wouldn’t have any problem keeping His commandments; I would have complete faith in Him and His Word, put absolute trust in Him.  I’d allow Him to guide me, not snatch the reigns back when things get tough.  I would surrender all and trust Him, be filled with His light, and let it shine through me into the lives of others around me.

We know (head knowledge) that “things” cannot give us life – they don’t satisfy the inner longing of our soul.  No harm in trying, right? And so, like the rich young ruler, we distance ourselves from God, putting our trust in our “security”.

True righteousness is more than just legal or external obedience.  It’s not about seeing how much I can “get away with” and still be considered “righteous”.  Wrong-doing arises because of the mind.  But if my mind is transformed, wrong-doing has no place to live.  God’s righteousness is concerned with His “shalom” – well-being, peace and harmony.  This is His righteousness: a peaceful, life-giving relationship with God.  I want, this day, to choose life.

And so, as C.S. Lewis said:

“He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly … His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.”

And so, I repeat:

So, as you walk out of here today, which of the 2 types of people do you choose to be?

Those that say to God: “I choose to surrender and banish my ego. I trust you to do the best for me and to give me the strength I need for whatever You have in store, however painful the growth process may be. I want to become more Christ-like. Thy will be done.

Or those to whom our Father in heaven, with great sadness in His heart says, like as to the rich young ruler, “All right then, have it your way”.

Remember: When we lose God, it’s not God who gets lost.

spiritual growth, reading, studying, prayer, holy spirit, the fear of the Lord, the power of prayer, women, the role of women, point of power, divine presence, presence of the divine, practising the presence of the Divine, the power of the tongue, the words of your mouth

Spiritual growth for a decade

There’s nothing like having high expectations of yourself and raising the bar.  And one of the areas in my life that I have started to refocus on is spiritual growth.

Admittedly, it all started in 2008 when Dr. Taylor challenged me to become a “Virtuous Woman”, according to Proverbs 31.  Now THAT is a woman I am very happy to imitate.  Following on from that, she challenged me to become “wise”, so I started reading a chapter of Proverbs each day, to increase in wisdom.  I was reading a lot of John Maxwell, on leadership, and each of the other books I read seemed to take me back to the Bible.  (Why is it that the good authors on leadership are all from churches?).

Eventually, that lead me to reading other books of the Bible and then to start reading Bible study books.  I got hooked, somewhere along the line, on Elizabeth George and her book “A Woman after God’s own heart”, referring to David being a man after God’s own heart.

In her book, which I finished some time last year, she challenges each woman to choose 5 topics and over the next decade become “an expert” in those 5 areas.

So, I’ve chosen 5 topics that caught my attention, principally because of Proverbs and also in part because they are areas that I simply feel I don’t understand.

  1. The fear of the Lord (which is the beginning of wisdom, according to Proverbs).  Who is God?  What does it mean (in this day & age) to fear him?  What is “fear”?
  2. An intimate relationship with God: which is really 2 topics – Prayer and speaking to God; and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
  3. The tongue – blessings and curses, the control of the tongue, the power of the tongue for good and for bad.  What we build up and what we tear down.
  4. Women – how do I reconcile the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31 with what Paul says about women in 1 Timothy 1: 11-12.  Throughout most of what is written by Paul, he makes mention over and over to the fact that women “caused” the fall of man and were lead astray, and lead man astray.  (Unfortunately, Eve wasn’t the only woman to do this – Sara did so with Abraham, giving him Hagar to have a child, as well as other examples in the Bible).  But, how do I reconcile this model to follow in Proverbs with other parts of the Bible.  What about Deborah?

Anyway, by 2020 I want to be an expert in these 5 areas of the Bible. So, when reading my Chronological Bible I am paying special attention to everything about these topics, and I am accumulating a library of books that study these topics.  And trying to get a little further ahead each week in reading and studying about them and how they fit into daily life.

One of the other things I’ve learned about is tithing, and since for me “time is money”, I am tithing not only my money, but also my time to study.  So, setting aside about 2 1/2 hours each day for prayer (practicing prayer) and study.  And all sorts of different study aids and guides to keep me motivated and moving.

Believe in your infinite potential. Your only limitations are those you set upon yourself.
Believe in your infinite potential. Your only limitations are those you set upon yourself.