February 26

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

Some passages in the Bible cause me to shake my head, to loosen dust balls of worldly intellectualism so I can understand what I am reading. Matthew 10:16 is one of those passages. Jesus deliberately sends his disciples, that is his sheep, out into a pack of wolves with the instruction to be like serpents and doves. Sheep are defenseless; they can only flee for safety. But they are handy for keeping the grass clipped and for their meat, milk, wool, and skins. Wolves are intelligent, loyal, instinctual, and powerful. Jesus sends out all his disciples into the world, clothed with his Spirit, humility, and meekness to take the gospel to the cruel, persecuting world.

Jesus instructs us to be as wise as serpents, which use various strategies for defense and self-preservation. We are to imitate snakes, making use of all appropriate measures so as not to be overtaken by the world’s dangerous evils. I wonder if our Lord meant that we are also to avoid occasions when we might have to strike with poison in self-defense, killing our victim? In any case, serpents have the upper-hand and Christians with the Holy Spirit likewise have God’s superior power. Jesus would not have instructed disciples to be as “innocent as doves” if he intended his followers to be aggressive. Doves are relatively small pigeons, but they are powerful fliers, sometimes reaching speeds up to 55 miles per hour! The Holy Spirit descended on Christ at his baptism in the form of a dove, reinforcing the image of a dove as a harmless, innocent bird.

Having made this short study of the animal kingdom, how shall we apply it? One common thread may be the idea of fleeing from danger. After all, Jesus further instructed his disciples, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next” (Matthew 10:23). The world is full of dangerous snares and temptations for Christians who want to live sanctified lives for the sake of the gospel. However, Jesus has sent us into the world with the gospel, and there is no biblical imperative to become cloistered. As we interact with the world and those conforming to it we are to avoid its entrapments wisely. We should not become overly aggressive or surprised when the gospel is rejected but move on, entrusting those we leave behind to the Lord.

In what way do you need to be wiser like the snake, or more innocent, like a dove? Only when we diligently live by dependence upon Christ will we be able to do both simultaneously.

 

February 25

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath’…’He said to them, ‘have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.'” (Matthew 12:1-8)

Nurses, doctors, hospitality workers, first responders, and missionaries may have to be “on duty” on the Sabbath. Church leaders and volunteer who serve during services are also working. Most pastors are employed every Lord’s Day. I was on duty many Sundays while serving as a missionary at a children’s center where adults and children were coming and going all day. Looking back about three decades, I was a Realtor and worked every Sunday. Then Jesus transformed me into a new creature, and missing worship was unacceptable. My new love for the Redeemer, who rescued me from condemnation and a self-absorbed life would not be quenched on Sunday mornings to work. So, I quit selling real estate, trusting that God would provide a new occupation. The Lord answered my prayer very quickly; in less than two weeks I was working with the local MLS, Monday through Friday. I write this so those of you who feel similarly will be encouraged to ask for the Lord’s help to be available for worship on Sundays.

However, I confess to you that the reason this has come to mind is that I am not going to be in church Sunday, and I will miss it, especially with my friends at my home church in Texas. I will be visiting with family, who are not Christians. Sunday morning is the only opportunity for us to meet, for the first time in about a year. It would be unwise, frankly, if I neglected my family this particular Sunday while I am in their city for less than twenty-four hours.

Fast forward to ten years later when I was a missionary in Africa. Not always being in church on Sunday was a painful sacrifice for me, because God has kept my love for him burning strongly. I was breaking God’s commandments to worship Him and keep the Sabbath, wasn’t I? But I remembered that my Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and asked him to give me the one particular thing that makes Sunday so unique for Christians. It wasn’t the pastor’s sermon or the music, which I could listen to online. It’s not being in a church building, as the Pharisees mistakenly thought. Worshipping isn’t about keeping rules legalistically. I missed worshipping with like-minded believers in a community, with my spiritual family and those we love. Jesus was, after all in the grainfields with his disciples, and not sitting in a room watching a screen or in bed listening to a podcast. He was giving a sermon on the Sabbath with his disciples and the Pharisees in the middle of a field. Jesus owns the Sabbath-it’s his possession. He offers us the opportunity to share it with him, as he shares it with his bride, the body of Christ.

Where will you be on Sunday? If you are not in church, what provision have you made to worship with others at another time? As for me, I was privileged to have a time of worship at my conference Saturday with 384 like-minded sisters in Christ. Have you made it your intention to attend worship with other believers?

February 24

“If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ So let no one boast in men.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-21)

For some reason, when I start a trip, which usually involves flying, I do foolish things and then wonder why. It may be due to staying up late the night before to pack and prepare for traveling. A few days ago I sat in the wrong seat on the plane even after identifying my assigned seat as I waited in line. I didn’t realize my mistake until the man whose seat I was in asked an agent about the “problem.” As I moved, I said, out loud, “I’m the problem.” All my devotions came thundering back to me, in this illustration of the severe limitations of human reasoning, or making the mistake of being overly-confident, because we assume we are fine. Oh, and let us not miss the application that I wasn’t fine, the gentleman wasn’t fine, and the people who were standing in line behind him also weren’t fine. The way we think and behave affects others, all the time.

Paul recommends becoming foolish in worldly “intelligence” to be spiritually wise. We are to put our confidence in God’s heavenly wisdom rather than depend upon simple self-confidence. John Gill offers ways to avoid futile foolishness and become wise based on our passage today from 1 Corinthians. We must know ourselves, and this knowledge should lead us to be convinced of our folly. To become wise, we must embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is foolishness to the world, submit to his ordinances, take up our cross to follow him, bearing the world’s reproach, and deny worldly wisdom. Pastor Gill goes on to say, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God-it is despised and neglected by him; he makes it foolish, destroys it, and brings it to nothing; he lays it aside as useless.” *

I have flown so many times to so many different airports that I was over-confident when doing something so mundane as sitting in my assigned seat. How often do we think ourselves smart, when this keeps us from recognizing our folly and senselessness? Solomon declared, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:10)

What “wisdom” of this world is the foolishness that is getting in your way of being truly wise?  When are you over-confident, assuming that you are just fine? “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” (Proverbs 28:26)

*Gill, John, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, online at: https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/

February 23

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” (Matthew 7:24, 26)

Research indicates that most adults hear between twenty and thirty thousand (20,000-30,000) words every day. This includes TV, radio, and streaming sources, as well as those spoken in conversation and meetings. But studies show that we only retain fifteen to twenty-five percent (15-25%) of what we hear. (1) It’s probably impossible to know how often we put into practice what we have heard, but the percentage is probably low. Of course, there is the possibility that we don’t have to remember what we have heard to consciously act on it, which brings us to the need for wisdom.

We teach our children Jesus’s parable of building on the sand and the rock, and we sing the song about the foolish man and the wise man. But do we take this parable seriously enough for our own spiritual growth? Are we building on the rock, Jesus Christ, or the sand, which is the world? In his commentary on this parable, James Boice wrote, “There are really only two mistakes that a person can make in regard to Christ’s teaching. First: I need no foundation at all; I’ll just drift. Second: to build wrongly upon the foundation.” (2) Both are declared foolish by Jesus, who implied that building is necessary. There is no one in the parable who is not building something. No matter what we think, we are always working out our beliefs and values in our actions, which is either sand (the world’s values) or a rock (God’s Word). Fools are building, acting, deciding, doing, and choosing that which will give way in every storm or trial (James 1:6). Wise believers will continually do that which is by faith in Christ and Scripture and will remain steady, able to bear up to the difficulties and crises of life.

We study God’s Word, but do we build on it? We read and write devotions such as this but do we do anything with the words here? I have journaled for myself for several decades, but I have experienced a new benefit from writing devotions so frequently–I am compelled to live out what I have declared in public on this blog.  I also have an accountability group and my church family, who are committed to helping me with my building.

We all require accountability for putting the Word of God into practice. Who helps you as you build? Will you ask God to give you friends who will encourage and strengthen your wisdom to build on Christ, rather than drift and foolishly hope storms won’t come?

(1) https://www.creditdonkey.com/listening-statistics.html

(2) James Montgomery Boice, “Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 7”, Software Version, Baker Books, 1998

February 22

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)

It’s the Winter Olympics in South Korea; the bobsled competitions were televised today. I watched as each team of two men took a running start and jumped into their sled. I learned that the pilot in the front steers the vehicle, and the brakeman’s only job is to stay small and low and put on the brakes when they cross the finish line. However, the strength of the men together is crucial to push the sled off to a fast start. One other factor must be taken into consideration, although I didn’t see or hear it mentioned in my casual research–the men must be so united that they act like one, keeping the sled balanced after their joint push off the starting line.

James begins his letter with a strong indicative about the way God uses trials to bring us to maturity, complete, perfect, and lacking nothing. He follows this truth with an imperative: ask for wisdom when you need it, through faithful prayer. Just like the bobsled team that must act as one, our hearts and minds must be united in the truth that God wants to gift us generously, without hesitation or judgment, making his wisdom available to us. In his commentary on James 1:1-11 Matthew Henry wrote, “A mind that has single and prevailing regard to its spiritual and eternal interest, and that keeps steady in its purposes for God, will grow wise by afflictions, will continue fervent in devotion, and rise above trials and oppositions. When our faith and spirits rise and fall with second causes, there will be unsteadiness in our words and actions.”

It is foolish to think that God does not consider our hearts’ desires or our motivations when we pray. He who is omniscient is also jealous for our undivided love (Ezekiel 39:25; Matthew 23:37). Those who doubt Christ’s grace, mercy, love, promises, or faithfulness will not receive anything, because of their inability or unwillingness to live by faith and not by sight. Faith is being certain of God’s promises though invisible (Hebrews 11:1). God is dishonored and discredited by those believers who doubt him, who have been given the light of the gospel.

Where are you on the scale of faithful stability? Are you like a bobsled rocking and shaking because of doubts? Or, are you steadily racing toward the goal, confident in the Christ, the one who is moving your sled?

February 21

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Psalm 51:3-6)

Have you heard the idiom, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client”? It’s one of my favorites idioms about fools because it speaks to our ridiculousness as arrogant creatures. A similar one that I heard recently in a sermon is, “If you find a good church, don’t join it because you will ruin it.” Then there is this one: “There’s no fool like an old fool.” Surely, after having lived a certain number of years one would have at least a little wisdom, not so? But the one who doesn’t is even more foolish than a young person who can at least plead naivety. These old expressions aren’t heard much among millennials or any other younger folks. That’s too bad since there is a great deal of truth in them.

However, those old sayings barely scratch the surface of what it means to be foolish according to the Bible. If you would like to make a personal study of foolishness, I recommend Romans Chapter 1-3. God is relentless against sin and fools who think they are safe when they are not and refuse to acknowledge their sin and repent. “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5).

But, you say to yourself, I am in Christ and therefore safe! It is better to say to yourself, read Psalm 51, you fool! David understood the demands of a holy God who expects his people to be wise. He knew that as long as he had unconfessed sin, for which he had not repented, his relationship with God would suffer. As soon as David confessed, he sincerely repented. And as soon as he repented, he was forgiven. As a forgiven sinner, David knew that God took great pleasure when he hid the Lord’s truth in his heart. Then, and only then, could he honestly request more wisdom in the secret place from which his thoughts originated.

How is your heart today, foolish or contritely wise?

February 20

“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 26:12)

Have you seen the movie “Akeelah and the Bee?” It’s about a smart high-school girl from a low-income family who enters her school spelling bee and wins.  Dr. Larabee, a former professor, and speller himself challenges Akeelah to continue competing. However, he is dealing with some personal issues by being tough on Akeelah and dismisses her from his coaching for her insolence. At this point, she calls him dictatorial, truculent, and supercilious. Akeelah is accusing Dr. Larabee of being tyrannical, inflexible, hostile, argumentative, arrogant, and condescending. Her apology for being “so insolent” is meant to be ironic, not disrespectful. * It turns out though, they have both been wise in their own eyes, and disrespectful toward each other. According to the Bible, there is more hope for fools than for these two self-righteous characters.

We may not all be dictatorial, but we are frequently self-righteous, certain that our opinions are the only correct ones in politics, social issues, relational challenges, and biblical insights. Our views are often not based on being educated and well-informed or having applicable experience. Instead, they are founded on reactionary thinking and convenient philosophies. There is more hope for a fool than for us when our self-convincing stances trap us.

A fool, according to Proverbs, is one who does fear God or trust in him. This is the worst possible status, according to the Bible, since without God there is no hope for any significance in this life or life continuing after death. And yet our verse above states that there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is self-righteous. A fool can be saved. On the other hand, a professing Christian who isn’t regenerated but believes she has been justified in Christ may never be willing to hear the gospel with the humility for salvation.

Proverbs 12:15 states, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Do you accept this wisdom? Will you request and then listen with humility to the advice of godly teachers, mentors, elders, friends, and family members?

* You can view this scene at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdDUhHl-BzM