The Price of Wisdom

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The Beginning of Knowledge

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

        To know wisdom and instruction,

to understand words of insight,

        to receive instruction in wise dealing,

in righteousness, justice, and equity;

        to give prudence to the simple,

knowledge and discretion to the youth—

        Let the wise hear and increase in learning,

and the one who understands obtain guidance,

        to understand a proverb and a saying,

the words of the wise and their riddles.

        The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

 

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn. My God do you learn.” – C.S. Lewis

 

 

There is something in me that, from time to time, yells and screams, stamps its feet, jumps up and down, and creates a general ruckus until it gets its own way. Usually, the way that it, and I desire, is not a good way, or at least, not the best way. It, and I do not care though. It may not be the best way, but it is my way – and we want it. The Bible calls that thing in me sin, and when I identify with it – moving from it, to we, to I… I become a sinner. A sinner need not be a horrible person. A sinner is just someone who advocates for the interests of sin.

 

God does not want us to sin – in part because sin is offensive to God, and also because God loves us and wants the best for us. Sin, on the other hand, has no care for us and knows that the consequence of the road it walks is death and destruction. There is no love in sin.

 

This is the backdrop, the thing going on behind the scenes when we talk about wisdom. You see, the Bible tells us that the beginning of wisdom and knowledge is “the fear of the LORD”. However you choose to translate “fear” in that statement, it means you take what God says seriously and it has a strong bearing on your actions. However, how many times have you heard people around you (maybe me), or perhaps even yourself saying, “I’m the type of person that just seems to have to learn things the hard way.”? Or perhaps you told someone else, “Some things you just have to learn through experience.” I remember hearing a comedian talk about wisdom once and comment that there were some things he really did not need to learn through experience. For example: how it feels being run over by a steamroller. I think I’ll pass and take someone else’s word for it that it hurts. A lot.

 

Sure, we can laugh at that, but what about all those other things that we have been told absolutely everyone should experience at least once? In retrospect, how many of those things were told to us by people who had bad experiences themselves and perhaps just wanted to share the misery, so they would not feel like the only foolish people for doing it. Certainly, Lewis is right in that we seem to learn so much more concretely from our mistakes than from lessons we learn from the teachings of others… however, the Bible clearly tells us that it is the way of the fool to learn everything that way and the way of the wise to learn from instruction, and in particular, to learn from the instruction of God. How do we learn from God? Consider the writing of James:

 

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 tells us that if we want wisdom from God, all we have to do is ask. We have to ask seriously, not jokingly, or with no real intent on actually listening to God… but if we ask earnestly, James says, God will give us wisdom generously and without reproach (meaning He will not make fun of us either for asking). Apparently God does not believe there are any stupid questions… just stupid actions, usually resulting from not listening to Him.

 

Consider then, the Price of Wisdom. The street value for it is pain, and often irrevocable and devastating consequences. That’s what it costs to get wisdom out on your own. But today, just for you, you can receive it at no cost to yourself or your friends and family, because the Price of Wisdom for you has been paid for by the Prince of Heaven. The sacrifice of Jesus gives you access to God Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and you better believe it, the Wisest, Smartest, and most Generous being in the entire universe… the one source that will never, ever lead you wrong. All you have to do to gain this wisdom is say no to sin and yes to God.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Life in Koinonia: Taking Koinonia to the World

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 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)

 

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.  With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;  but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.  Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.  As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. – 1Peter 4:1-11 (ESV)

 

One of the things I love about the Scriptures and the Gospels in particular is that people are usually portrayed as just that: people. There are miracles and wonders that occur throughout many books and many of these have become some of our most beloved stories. But the people to whom, and through whom these miracles are accomplished are usually shown as having good days as well as bad days, just like you and I. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, which spends the majority of its chapters portraying Jesus as the Teacher and True Interpreter of the Law of Moses – ending with His resurrection and commanding His disciples to pass on that teaching to the rest of the world… this same Gospel writer also states that “when they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted.” Even those who had been with Jesus in the flesh for several years did not have it all together.

 

There are many models of ministry out there today – particularly of what it means to be the Church, and a church in the world. Some have viewed the church as a pulpit and altar, where the Word of God is to be proclaimed and commitments offered up to Him for salvation. These traditions emphasize the “go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…” aspect of the last command of Jesus. Coming from another direction, others have viewed the Church as a schoolhouse, where we are to be trained in holiness and the way to live as Christians. These churches emphasize the “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” aspect of the Great Commission. Still others view the Church as a hospital where those who seek healing from the brokenness in their lives can come and be made whole. In our study with Koinonia, we have come to look at the Church primarily from the model of a Family – God’s own adopted family in this world. It’s important to remember that all of these images: altar, school, hospital, family… are just that – images. They are our way of using things we know to describe things bigger than all of us. Therefore, instead of getting into arguments about which is the best model, we need to look at the deeper question they all seek to address. Is the Church a place for sinners or saints? In other words, is the Church a place you go when you are not quite right and want to change, want to turn back to God? Or is it a place where you come to spend time with God in praise and thanksgiving, learning to be more holy – more like Him? According to Scripture, the answer is: Yes!

 

The Bible in general and Jesus in particular never presents the Church as a place for sinners or saints. It is not an either/or choice. It is both at once. It is a place for people to connect with God from wherever they are as God’s grace falls upon them in accordance with His love for us. Why then, do we continue to struggle in our congregations with how do preach, how to teach, how to welcome people when they visit our church – on the basis of how Christian they seem to be? Does it matter if the people in our congregation have been in church for 50 years or only 5? Does it make a difference if we are teaching people who have degrees in Bible and Theology or others who have only heard God’s name used as a swear word? Yes, in getting down to the nitty gritty details, these issues do matter, but we cannot lose sight of what the real purpose of being a church, of being The Church: Koinonia – the vessel of holy community that brings Christ Himself to the world. It doesn’t matter how deep the theology is that you are teaching, if the Spirit of Jesus is not present it is just empty philosophy… ideas without the transforming power of God. If our preaching gets everyone excited but lacks the Spirit of Jesus, it’s just an emotional ride without support to carry you through the rest of the week. And if we try to do ministry alone, cutting ourselves off from the Body and the Spirit of Christ that flows through it, we will wither and die in our ministry. God may call us to get alone with Him sometimes, but He does call us to serve alone. You see, people do not need sermons to get to heaven or to grow in the Grace of God. They do not need bible studies or to learn certain kinds of teaching. They need Jesus Christ to connect them with God Himself and the Koinonia community to lift them up to Him.

 

 

 

Life in Koinonia: Children in Koinonia

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Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. – Matthew 19:13-15 (ESV)

 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!  And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven – Matthew 18:1-11 (ESV)

 

 

Sometimes it surprises me how often the teachings of Jesus and the early church are compared to socialism, especially in light of the fact that the Jewish law demands that the poor and the foreigner among us be shown at least basic hospitality. In other words, I do not believe Jesus was being especially innovative with the kind of economic lifestyle he asked from most of his followers… (more on this next week). However, one thing Jesus was especially innovative in was his teachings and actions regarding children, something I do not believe I have seen a facebook status or email forward about in many years. What does that say about us? Does that show us as caring more about taxes, about our money, than our children? Does it mean that we find Christian teachings about how we use our money more controversial or harder to accept than the teachings about children? Maybe we think we live in a society that so embodies Jesus’ view on children that we don’t really have to think about it at all.

 

I believe that, although we may feel that we live in a society that places a high value on children, or that at least we ourselves do, we are often mistaken. Before I go any further I should clarify, for those of you who do not know me personally: I have no children of my own and my primary interaction with children is from a teacher or pastor role. While I have not had the experience of actually raising children and caring for them day to day, I have seen the extremes that come out teaching in Junior High classrooms at school or leading youth lock-ins at church. I may not have seen all of it, but I have seen enough to not be entirely naïve or ignorant of the challenge of raising children.

 

It is true – raising children is no walk in the park. They push our boundaries, try our patience, break our hearts… it is most certainly a challenge. But it is a challenge that Jesus specifically calls us to meet as the Church. When mothers brought their infants to Him, to bless, the disciples began to turn them away supposing that this was far beneath Jesus. He was changing the world with His teaching and could have much more impact on a community speaking with the leaders of the people, or at least people who could understand and apply His teaching. These infants could not understand any part of the Sermon on the Mount… they had not learned to talk yet. Jesus thought differently. Jesus had taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, that the Kingdom of God belonged to these children: the Meek, the Poor in Spirit – and he reiterated again to the disciples. The Kingdom of heaven belongs to these little ones.

 

Earlier, when asked who the greatest in the Kingdom was, Jesus had called a young child to Him and put him among the disciples saying, “unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This even stronger statement was followed by the lesson that, not only does the kingdom belong to children, but woe to anyone who should cause one of those children to stumble, for “they always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Not only are children to be valued, they are to be nurtured and protected as well. Nowhere else do we see Jesus take such strong words and severe warnings. The disciples are never given such dire consequences if they don’t pay their tithes or fail to give enough money to the poor. There were no extreme measures taken when they couldn’t seem to stay awake long enough to pray for Jesus on the night He was betrayed, arrested, and eventually crucified. There was no punishment for the way they abandoned Him or denied Him… but don’t you mess with His kids, for He is the Good Shepherd that watches over and protects them.

 

Now, thus far, most of us probably are in full agreement with Jesus. Typically, we in the church today rationalize God’s love of children by saying that they are our future (i.e. a means to an end) the continuation of all that we work to maintain. While this may, or may not be true from a practical standpoint, God does not love kids just because He thinks there would be no church 50 years from now without them. He does not value them, or anyone else, for what He can get out of them, and neither should we. He loves them because He made each one of them and they are His.

 

It is the implications of this love that can be troubling for us. Certainly we would claim that we want the best for our children, but does that include bringing them to God, to opportunities for them to learn about, experience, and worship God? Are we so willing to bring them when we are struggling with God ourselves and do not feel like going ourselves? How do we deal with the world that tells us we should let children choose for themselves and Jesus command not to be a stumbling-block to them and their faith? What about when we take them to church where they learn about God and the life He has for us, but we do not demonstrate that life and love at home… are we causing them to stumble then? Oh this becomes a much more troubling teaching and our job so much more challenging. It means we have to actually live as a Christian witness 24/7 365 days a year, not just whenever we are ready to share our faith. This then is the really difficult part. Jesus gave this teaching to his disciples, who were not holding back their own children, but the children of strangers in the villages Jesus had visited. So our responsibility to show children God’s love is not just for parents who have children of their own, but to each and every one of us… to be shown to all children, everywhere. We are not to be stumbling-blocks for the faith of our neighbor’s children, who may not have anything to do with church at all. Each one of us, who holds the Holy Spirit within us, the Spirit of Christ is called to share that with all the children who cross our paths. You see, as important as Sunday School and Children’s Church programs are, God’s love for children extends far outside the walls of our church buildings. We are all called to share God’s love with the children in this world He loves so dearly.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Life in Koinonia: Spiritual Gifts in Koinonia

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For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. – Romans 12:3-8 (ESV)

 

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (ESV)

 

Christian life might be simpler if we stopped at forgiveness. If the end of our purpose in life was to accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as atonement for our sin there would be a lot less to learn about and grow into as a Christian. The Gospel does not end there though. Not only does God forgive our sin and free us from that guilt, He sends His Holy Spirit to dwell within us as we dwell in Him – both to protect us from the further influence of sin, but also to empower us to be a force, His force for good in this world. We come to Jesus as broken vessels, but through the power of His Holy Spirit, He transforms us into fountains of grace to be shared all around us.

 

The first Christians were very excited about this. Consider the 3,000+ people who gave their lives to Christ after seeing the apostles preach in tongues on Pentecost. Remember the 2,000 more that were converted the next day when Peter and John healed a lame man by the gate. All the fears and disappointments that had built up in the lives of these people (many of them Jewish immigrants living in foreign countries) were suddenly flying away in the wind of the Spirit that was moving through Jerusalem and then the Roman Empire. New fears might resurface in time, but for the moment God’s people were amazed by the new life and new power they were experiencing.

 

Paul reminds the Church to “consider the source” of this new power and these new experiences. While it is very appropriate to celebrate the grace of God in our lives, it is quite another to turn the focus upon ourselves, celebrating what we can do. Notice the difference between the instructions given to the churches in Rome versus the churches in Corinth. The Roman church was exhorted that everyone has something to share, as given to them by the Holy Spirit. In a city where Jews were considered vagrant minorities, inferior to the Roman citizens, Paul reminds them that through the work of the Holy Spirit we are “one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” He levels the social hierarchy that the church may have been importing from the culture around them, letting them know that each person, regardless of their social standing, has an important gift to bring to the Body. He reminded them that each person, no matter how important the world deemed them, played a vital role to the life and work of the Body of Christ.

 

Corinth, on the other hand, had more social diversity both in the present, and within its heritage. Being more of a merchant city than a political center, a person could gain as much influence with unique skills or commodities as they may have been able to obtain through political status. The church in Corinth knew they all had gifts. Their problem appears to have stemmed from competition developing between believers regarding whose gift was more publicly impressive. Paul reminds the Corinthians that all of the gifts come from the Holy Spirit, whether it is prophetic knowledge, miracle healing, or even simple faith in the face of adversity. Regardless of how flashy a person’s gift looks, they are all from the Holy Spirit, and they are all given for God’s purposes, not our own ambitions.

 

Paul tells both churches that every individual member is indispensible to the Body of Christ – not because of what they can or cannot do, but because they were created, redeemed, and chosen by God to show and share His grace with the world. He calls us to lift our gaze above ourselves and see that all of these gifts, including our own, belong to the whole Body. All of it belongs to us, because we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God – as Paul wrote to the Corinthians (Chapter 3).

 

What a powerful and important truth for us to live today! In the Church today that so often vacillates between the Romans who may have reserved spiritual gifts for the “spiritual elite” and the Corinthians may have sought to use spiritual gifts for their own popularity and ambitions, let us remember that all of these gifts belong to us all as the Body and that we as individuals are not measured by the gift we have from God, but what we do with it. We are important, not because of what we have, but because God has chosen to “have” us.