Watching Daily At Wisdom's Gates

A Yorkshireman's take on life, death, and eternity

Month: Sep, 2020

Neck

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“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 
Acts 7:51 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/act.7.51.ESV

Bear in mind that Stephen who speaks this verse was on trial for his life. But instead of defending himself, he gave a history lesson. His point was this: “you’re no better than your ancestors!”

Stephen’s “defence” was more of an attack, not to be malicious, but in an attempt to spiritually convict those who were attempting to convict him of wrongdoing. “The wounds of a friend are faithful”.

Naturally, we don’t take well to criticism. Stephen was giving deconstructive criticism, in an attempt to remove misconceptions so that his hearers could think right about the Lord. They were stiff necked, which implies it would be difficult for them to repent, to turn from their sins.

To devout Jews, to be accused of being uncircumcised in heart and ears was offensive. They prided themselves on being circumcised in the flesh unlike Gentile dogs. But Stephen was telling them they needed to be spiritually circumcised.

“Almighty Lord, may we have soft necks and circumcised hearts and ears. Please forgive us for times we might not. In the name of Jesus, amen”

Trellis

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And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 
Acts 6:2 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/act.6.2.ESV

At first glance, this seems like an insensitive statement by the Apostles. Greek widows were complaining that they were missing out to Jewish widows in the food banks of the day. But the Apostles had their priorities right: the preaching of the word of God is more important than serving physical food.

Having said that, the Apostles were still proactive to solve the problem. Instead of getting sidetracked from their calling to pray and preach, they invented the deaconate to delegate charitable works. This isn’t to say that they weren’t to be charitable to though!

Great leaders don’t just keep piling more onto their plates until they can’t cope any more. Great leaders are masters at the art of delegation. As a friend at uni who didn’t like to wash up would say, “I’m empowering you to serve!”

A book has been written about the deaconate called The Trellis and the Vine. Jesus and His church are the vine. The deaconate is to support that, like a trellis supports a vine. Deaconal duties should not primarily about buildings or finance, but about the welfare of the needy in our midst.

“Lord our Father, thank You for Your concern for the needy, which we all are spiritually at the very least. Please help us to have Your heart for the lost, in Jesus’ name, amen”

Persistence

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And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. 
Acts 5:42 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/act.5.42.ESV

This verse is convicting to me, and I suspect to most professing Christians in the West. The Apostles had just been imprisoned, beaten up, and charged not to speak the name of Jesus, who Himself had only recently been crucified. And yet they happily and compulsively engaged in acts of civil disobedience.

The Apostles didn’t form a mob to demand the defunding of the temple guards. Instead, they simply got on with the business of proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ: the Messiah of the Jews and the Saviour of the world. I’m convicted that if I wholeheartedly believed that, I’d be doing a lot more to make Jesus Christ known.

The Apostles took the opportunities that were there. The temple was a great hub where many people would gather. But they wouldn’t just proclaim Christ in the public square, instead they also went house to house, invading people’s personal spaces to tell them the best news.

Okay, so for many of us, our cities are relatively deserted thanks to covid restrictions. And I doubt there’s much door to door outreach going on, even though it could be socially distanced. But we need to be thinking about how to share the good news of salvation. At the moment, the internet’s one of our best options.

“God Almighty, please convict us of just how essential and wonderful the good news really is. May that conviction compel us to go and make You known to the world. For Your honour and praise, amen”

Boldness

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And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 
Acts 4:24 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/act.4.24.ESV

We can learn a lot from the powerful early church prayer that starts in this verse. Persecution was starting to hot up in this chapter. Arrests and false accusations were beginning.

If we started suffering like that, we might be tempted to simply pray “help!”. But prayer isn’t primarily about us, about trying to get God to do what we want. Proper prayer is seeking to align ourselves with the Sovereign Lord of the universe.

These prayer warriors didn’t start with themselves, but with God, and with reminding Him of who He is and what He’s done. Of course, God doesn’t need reminding. But when we do mention His deeds in times past, we are by implication saying “please do it again!” or “be true to Your nature!”

When we acknowledge that God is God, and we are His humble servants, we’re on the right track. God doesn’t take kindly to us making “declarations”: He’s the Sovereign Lord who declares, we are to humbly ask, and to trust Him to do what is best- He knows better than us.

“Sovereign Lord, as in this prayer, we pray for boldness in the face of persecution- even if it’s simply in the form of mockery and derision. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray, amen”

Beauty

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“Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?” 
Song of Solomon 6:10 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/sng.6.10.ESV

At face value, the Song of Songs is a beautiful series of love poems, presumably between Solomon and one of his wives (for he had many!). But through history, many have read it as a metaphor for God’s love for Israel, or Jesus’ love for the church. I don’t think it has to be read through one lense: it can be appreciated from different angles.

The poetry is beautiful. To say that someone’s look is like the dawn is a gorgeous image- evoking a scene full of colour, hope and promise. If a picture tells a thousand words, then this imagery is very evocative.

What amazes me is that we can read this as a picture of how God sees us as His people, how Jesus views us the church, who He bought with His blood. After all, if this was simply Solomon’s personal, private love poetry, it wouldn’t have made it into Scripture. So when we look to God in prayer, we can deduce that He loves it like we would love to watch the sunrise.

From the moon and the sun, Solomon moves on to another dazzling image, an army of banners. I picture the Mongol horde thundering over the crest of the hill in the original Mulan film (I haven’t seen the latest). The imagery is designed to inspire awe. It almost feels blasphemous to think that God is so “in love” with us (spiritually) that He delights to consider us!

“Dear Lover of our souls, we’re amazed that You should love us at all, and at the depth of Your love. Please help us to wholeheartedly love You in return, for Your glory, amen”

Generosity

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And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Acts 2:44‭-‬45 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/act.2.44-45.ESV

At first glance, this might look, to some people’s delight and other’s horror, like communism. But note that the members of the early church did have possessions and belongings of their own. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to sell them to distribute the proceeds to the needy. 

Whereas communism is involuntary, these verses describe something that was done out of love rather than by obligation. Yes, there was private property, but not in a greedy, capitalistic sense, but in a hospitable and sociable sense. I seem to remember that elsewhere we’re told that there were no needy people among the early church.

If we’re rich Christians, we should, out of love, make sure that we’re looking out for our needy brethren. It shouldn’t be an obligation for us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and show hospitality to the poor. We should do it out of love.

Christianity isn’t communism: making everyone equal by force. Neither is it capitalism: making a virtue of greed. Christianity is about love, not just of God, but of others, and not just as a feeling but as practical action to meet needs.

“Lord God, we’re so thankful for Your provision of us. Please help us to be generous and loving in our provision of others, in Jesus’ name, amen”

Wisdom is a woman

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Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” 
Proverbs 9:1‭-‬6 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/pro.9.1-6.ESV

Studying for a PostGraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), I’m being immersed in educational theories that underpin teaching practice. It’s really interesting, and has got me thinking about wisdom/knowledge/understanding as a concept.

Forgive my simplistic summary, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that historically there are two main ideas about wisdom, and another one that has gatecrashed really within lifetimes that are about today.

A lot of this is based on my memory of reading one academic journal article, which I cannot remember specifically to reference properly, but I think it addresses very widely debated concepts.

A first view of wisdom is from Plato. He saw wisdom as something abstract and outside of ourselves, which we need to tap into.

Aristotle however was much more about the experiential: our own grappling with wisdom.

And the third more constructivist approach is that we construct our own individualistic understandings.

An example was given of a tree. For Plato, a tree is a tree because it is a tree, and we just need to get on board with that.

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For Aristotle, if I’m correct, it’s much more about a more dynamic engagement with the tree: maybe hugging it, climbing it, or simply sitting in its shade! Or perhaps actively seeking to study it instead of just acknowledging its existence.

The example wasn’t carried over into constructivism because I suspect in this rather wishy washy postmodern view, a tree is whatever you want it to be- maybe chopped down to create something like a boat or a building.

I like Plato’s no nonsense approach, I appreciate Aristotle’s intellectual curiosity, and I recognise constructivism’s creativity.

I love how Solomon seems to synthesise Plato and Aristotle, and how Jesus seems to even acknowledge a role for constructivism. 

For Solomon, wisdom is a woman. Hardly surprising for a man who had a thousand of them! But it’s interesting that he personifies her as an individual rather than to picture her as a massive harem. 

So if we come back to Plato and Aristotle, wisdom is not just an abstract concept, but a person to know and be known by. 

For Solomon, folly is a woman too, and we have to be wise as to whose house we go to. 

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I picture these houses not just as canteens, but as architectural colleges, which links in with Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders. If we’ve been to Wisdom’s school, we’ll be wise builders who build the houses of our lives upon the Rock of Christ. If we go to Folly’s college, we’ll foolishly build our lives on the shifting sands of public opinion, of societal norms. 

Judgement

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For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:14 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/ecc.12.14.ESV

We tend to think of judgement as a negative thing that we would want to avoid. But with God there are no miscarriages of justice. We might think that trusting in Jesus means we won’t face judgement.

The truth is we will either be judged as we deserve, or judged according to Jesus’ perfection and work in our lives. We either get punished as we deserve or rewarded as we don’t deserve. So this verse isn’t necessarily negative, it depends upon our response.

Every deed will be judged- everything we’ve done- and every idle word. Not only so but even secret things will be called to account, even the thoughts of our hearts. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

If we do good, we can be thankful that God’s at work in us and that we will be rewarded for what He’s ultimately doing in us. If we unrepentantly do evil, we can only expect to get what we deserve: condemnation. Even that outcome is the right one from a divine perspective, because justice is served.

“Heavenly Father, we’re grateful that in Jesus Your wrath and Your mercy meet. Thank You that though we deserve condemnation, we can be justified through faith in Him, in His name, amen”

Joy

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And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 8:15 ESV

https://bible.com/bible/59/ecc.8.15.ESV

I’ve rediscovered as a trainee teacher the bad attitude of many students to their “toilsome” studies. I’ve already tried to instil a Solomonic attitude in them- to make the best of the situation they’re in. Ecclesiastes might have a reputation as a pessimistic book, but realistic is a more realistic description of it.

Instead of moaning about life, it’s best to make the best of whatever life throws at us. Even if and when life is toilsome and hard, it’s best to have a positive attitude. Half of how life goes might be circumstantial, but half could be described as attitude: what we make of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

When Solomon talks about life “under the sun”, he’s referring to life without reference to God. So whether someone’s an atheist or not, he’s still giving universal principles. Whatever our religious affiliation or otherwise, it makes life better for us to have a positive outlook.

Some people think that life is simply a matter of eating, drinking and working. Those are all important, but ultimately they are all gifts of God. These aren’t to be idolised but to inspire thankfulness to Him.

“God Almighty, thank You for the gifts of food, drink and work. Please help us to be joyful for all Your goodness. In Jesus’ name, amen”

Words

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Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 
Ecclesiastes 5:2 ESV 
https://bible.com/bible/59/ecc.5.2.ESV

I think this verse is pertinent not simply to the spoken word, but also to the written word. I need to be careful, much as I love writing, to not simply “write for writing’s sake”. As it says elsewhere, “where words are many, sin is not absent. 

When things are going well, we may be tempted to boast, as if divine providence is our doing. And when things aren’t going well, we might be tempted to moan at God. Both attitudes are wrong.

We would do well to remember that God is Sovereign and Almighty. We on the other hand are mere mortals. He’s enthroned in heaven; we’re made of dust, and to dust we’ll return.

Reflecting on God’s divinity and our fragility should be enough to quiet us before His Majesty. That consciousness should help us not to be too wordy. We should think before we speak, for all our words will come into judgement.

“Sovereign Lord Almighty, thank You that even when You judge our words to be too many, through faith in Christ, He is judged in our place. We’re sorry for our sinfulness, in His name, amen”