The True Star of Christmas

Star ornament

Numbers  24:17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob.”

Balaam son of Beor was not a likely preacher of the Gospel. He was a religious mercenary, a prophet for hire, who would speak a message from any god if people paid him to do so. Balak, king of the Moabites, had hired him to put a curse on Israel as they marched toward the Promised Land. He didn’t want the threat of this new nation in his neighborhood. He was determined to drive them away, so he sought Balaam’s services for some extra insurance before he went to war.

Balaam hoped he could manipulate the Lord into letting him speak the curse and collect the fee. He had no true faith in God. He thought that he might control the Lord for his own selfish purposes. But God turned the tables on him. Balaam ended up being the one under control, serving God’s purposes.

This is how Balaam came to receive a glimpse of our Savior’s glory. What he saw was not the present moment, not even the near future. It was over a thousand years away, in a stable in Bethlehem, on a seashore in Galilee, and on a cross outside Jerusalem.

But did the mercenary prophet really see? When he failed to curse Israel for King Balak, he later devised another plan to make God angry with his nation. He suggested using the women of Moab to tempt them into worship of Baal and sexual immorality. After all God had gone through with Balaam, after all that he had seen, he still couldn’t put his vision of Christ together with faith. He never saw him with his heart.

Isn’t that a common problem as Christmas approaches–people see the newborn Savior with their eyes, but not their hearts? Millions will file past manger scenes in shopping malls. They will drive past them in front of churches or homes. But their reaction will be nothing more than “How cute,” or “How sad,” or “How poor.” A thousand entertainers will sing “Silent Night,” or “Away in a Manger,” but how many will see their Savior from sin hidden beneath the sentimental music?

We need to be reminded, too. The baby in the manger is not a Christmas decoration. He is Christmas itself. Our Savior is now. He is near. In the weeks leading to Christmas, let us see him in our worship, our carols, our entire celebration of his birth.

Let’s see him as the Lord showed him to Balaam, “A star will come out of Jacob.”

The illustration seems almost irreverent when we think about the kind of people who carry the title “star” today. But in many ways, the point of the illustration was not so different when Balaam applied it to Jesus. If you are going to look at a star in the sky, you obviously need to look up. It sticks out because it occupies a place above our heads, where it doesn’t get lost in the crowd. Those we call “stars” today have been put on a pedestal. Right or wrong, they occupy a space where people look up to them. Their heads stick out above the crowd.

In his birth, his life, and his death, Jesus seemed like anything but a star. He wasn’t rich, powerful, or privileged. Crowds of fans didn’t pay millions of dollars to see him. They came to get something, a touch of his grace, relief from some burden. When he appeared before kings and rulers, it was not as an honored guest but a criminal on trial.

Faith sees behind the humble exterior. It sees him shine. His glory is not mere popularity or talent. It is the glory of God himself. It came hidden in human flesh only so that he could live among us. His glory is not a life of ease and prestige. It is the glory of love so uncompromising, so devoted, so profound that it sacrificed everything–respect, life, even paradise–just so that we could be his own and share his glory. The poverty of the stable, the humility of his life, and the shame and agony of the cross shine with the glory of love.

And don’t stars stick out because they are a point of light against a dark background? As human as Jesus looked and acted, he was nothing like the world he came to save. His perfect life stands out against the darkness of human sin. The truth of his teaching is a point of light against the darkness of human rebellion against what is good and right, and ignorance about the way back to God. He lights the way to heaven through our dark world, the way for our return to God.

Jesus is still the true star of Christmas. Don’t just see him. Believe him, and follow where he leads.

As Good As His Word

Cedar

Ezekiel 17:22-24 ” ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the field will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. ” ‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”

Earlier in Ezekiel chapter 17 the Lord used a cedar tree to picture the nation of Judah. An eagle plucked off its top and carried away to be planted in another country. There it thrived. The Lord was promising prosperity for the Jews who were living in exile in Babylon. He urged them to accept their lot. Exile and subjection to the Babylonians were the Lord’s will. He was disciplining them for their sin. They should not rebel against it.

At the end of the chapter the Lord goes back to that picture of a cedar tree. This time he takes a sprig off the top of it himself. He plants it and it grows into a great tree that produces fruit and provides shelter. This is a picture of the Messiah, whose birth we are preparing to celebrate this Advent.

Then the Lord makes this application: “All the trees of the field will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.” The God we worship takes those who think they are above the rest–the rich, the powerful, the intellectual–and he humbles them. He did it to the corrupt leaders of his own people. Soon he would do it to the Babylonians who had conquered them. Every world power that followed met the same fate–especially when they got in the way of his saving plans.

This way of working is not limited to ancient history. The last hundred years have seen the rise of godless Nazis in Germany, and the atheistic communists in Russia. But the Lord brings down the tall tree and dries up the green tree. Those powers have fallen. The gospel of Christ is still being read and preached in both places.

The other side of God’s promise also proves true. He takes those who have nothing going for them– the weak, the poor, the simple–and he lifts them up. He takes an unknown, unmarried teenage girl, living in the backwoods of an insignificant little country, and makes her the mother of the world’s Savior. He takes uneducated fishermen and turns them into leaders of the world’s greatest religion, the only true faith. He took you and me. He adopted us as his own sons and daughters by faith so that we could be called the children of God.

God is as good as his Word. Do his people still trust his promises thousands of years later? Because so much time has passed, maybe there is doubt. Somewhere in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books the author describes what happens to people’s memories about important things after long passages of time. “History became legend. Legend became myth. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.” Peter says something similar about those who scoff at Christ’s return: “They will say, ‘When is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget…”

It’s not just the scoffers. On a hundred smaller daily promises God has made, we suffer doubts when we don’t see the evidence right away: “You give them their food at the proper time;” “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you are able to bear;” “The Lord will keep you from all harm.” Our doubts erode our faith and accuse God of lying when he says, “I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.”

But these words are intended for our confidence. Maybe we have experienced hunger, struggled with temptation, or suffered harm. These, too, have been promised in God’s word. “In this world you will have much trouble.” “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” If nothing ever brings us low, then how can we be the low tree that the Lord makes tall? The Apostle Peter promises, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” If it doesn’t happen sooner, it will happen on the day he lifts our souls all the way out of this world to himself in heaven.

How can we be sure? The Lord spoke all these promises about a Savior’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. And then he did it, just like he said. He is as good as his word.

With Me Always

Starry Sky

Psalm 139:7-10 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Not that we would want to, but even if we tried, David makes it clear we cannot get away from the Lord. Go up as far as you can—travel to the farthest star. Go down as far as you can—dive to the ocean’s deepest trenches or dig to our planet’s core. He will still be there. Travel east to where the sun rises, travel west to where it sets (the far side of the Mediterranean Sea in the Holy Land), you still haven’t escaped him. Like it or not, he’s along for the journey, wherever your life ahead may take you.

But what’s not to like? “Even there your hand will guide me.” Life is filled with decisions. Where will I go to school? What career path will I pursue? Am I ready for marriage? For children? Should I buy or rent? Should I stay or leave? When have I put in enough time and can call it quits? There are decisions for the distant future we can’t even anticipate today. You haven’t, and you don’t, face this alone. Your Lord is with you, guiding you with his hand, even when it may not be clear where he is leading.

And he’s not critical if you need a little hand-holding right now. “Your right hand will hold me fast.” Isn’t that a dear picture? Like a little child, we slip our hands into his, and he gives us a reassuring squeeze to know that he isn’t going to let us slip away from him. We can’t get away from him, and he certainly has no desire to get away from us. We could not have been less appealing company when he gave up everything to live in our world, be rejected by it, and end up dead on a cross. But he did so to end the separation caused by our sins, to possess us and live with us forever.

Now he keeps holding on. Remember what Jesus said about his sheep in John 10? “No one can snatch them out of my hands” (vs. 28). Our Lord wants you to know the security and the peace that are yours because he promises to be with you whenever you need. He promises you will be with him when the very idea of “need” is nothing but a distant memory. He is with us always, because he is everywhere.

He Knows Me

Mind - Clouds

Psalm 139:1-4  “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”

Almost all religions would agree that “God is great.” “Great is the Lord” is splashed across the pages of the Bible. Much of our worship intends to teach and celebrate the fact. If God is not great, we might wonder why anyone would believe in him.

But what is so great about God? A Christian book exists that asks just this question in its title. Popular atheist Christopher Hitchens asked the same question in his lectures. We can list God’s attributes, his characteristics, and see that he has an impressive resume of talents: all knowing, almighty, eternal, and present everywhere. But maybe that seems like abstract theology. We believe it is true, but we don’t see that it makes much difference in our lives.

The psalmist David believed these things about God, too. But for him, it wasn’t just abstract theology. It had to do with the most intimate details of his life. He picks up the topic of God’s knowledge in the first verses of Psalm 139. What interested David, and should interest us, isn’t the abstract idea that God knows everything. It is the intimate truth that if God knows all, then God knows me.

Your Lord is deeply interested in you. He has searched you. He has become intimately acquainted with everything about you. This is not a casual or incidental knowledge. He has delved deep, as we shall see. Nor is this a dispassionate, unfeeling knowledge like the scientist researching rats in the laboratory. His heartfelt, concerned interest in you runs far deeper than that of your closest friend, or spouse, or parent, or any other person who has ever cared about you. His searching and knowing of you is a characteristic of his unparalleled love.

Your Lord knows you, right down to the thoughts running through your head at this moment. “You perceive my thoughts from afar.” He knows if you are feeling anger, or guilt, or doubt, or even a deep sense of emptiness and loss. He knows if you don’t know what to think or feel.

Some of our thoughts are not good. It’s a good thing no one else can see into our mind to know them. But now the Lord comes along and says he does. He knew, long before we did, that we are sinners. And he knows that is why we don’t always feel so comfortable with him knowing us so well.

But that is not the reason he reveals he knows you so well. Our Lord uses his intimate, thorough knowledge of you and me only to help us. He knew that the only solution for our sins was to send his Son Jesus to live and die to take them away. He knew that this was a burden that he had to carry entirely for us. He knows that this is still the best and only solution for our anger, our guilt, our doubt, our lust, our envy and every other ungodly thought that strays through our minds. Give them to Jesus. Let him take it away. God knew that we would need him.

Then be sure that he knows our weaknesses, not to take advantage of them, but to help us overcome them. He knows our troubles, not to exploit them, but to help us with them. You see, God also knows you as his own. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me,” Jesus says. God’s knowledge of you is an invitation to seek him in prayer, and seek him in his word, and expect that he will take care of the needs of the dear people he knows to be his very own.

This Love Wins

Jesus Loves

Romans 8:35-37 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble, or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Sometimes God’s love feels a little theological, a little theoretical, like a set of abstract principles in mathematics. It works on paper, but is it real? Oh yes it is! Look at how God’s love intersects with our lives.

In order to open our eyes and help us see God’s love more clearly, Paul gives us a list we might call “Love’s skeptics” or “Love’s deniers.” So often experience seems to contradict the idea that God loves us. Ancient life was not so different than our own. Behind words like “trouble” and “hardship” in Paul’s Greek are experiences we know all too well. “Trouble” literally has the sense of “pressure.” We feel the “squeeze.” We feel pressure to compromise our morals or our integrity from the people we work for, or from our peers at school. “Hardship” puts us in narrow place, a tight spot. The walls are closing in. The options are running out. Finally, we are cornered and trapped.

Why, if he loves us, does God let us be persecuted? How come I can’t just fit in and be accepted? Why should they others make jokes behind my back when I try to live my faith? Why should my job, my reputation, my safety be threatened because of what I believe?

If I am God’s child and he loves me, then why should I suffer famine or nakedness? Or to put it in more 21st Century American terms, why should I be living on the edge of poverty? Why should I be struggling to make ends meet? Doesn’t God promise our daily bread? What gives?

What about danger or sword? My house has to be a little fortress–dead bolts and alarms and tornado shelters–to keep me safe. And even these offer no real guarantees. Has God stopped loving us?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In support, Paul brings a second list. Here are the leading candidates for getting between us and God’s love for us. Every one of them is destined to fail.

“I am convinced that neither death nor life…” Death can’t do it. Although death was at one time the penalty for sin that cut us off from God, now it is the gateway to life. It is our last step on the way home. It brings us into the direct presence of God and his love. It never moves us farther away.

Life can’t do it, either. More than death, people fear the things life throws at us. We don’t want to suffer. But the worst that life has to offer is just temporary, and God promises to love us through it all.

“Neither angels nor demons…” Spiritual powers, whether good or evil, cannot do it. We should respect them because their powers greatly exceed our own. But they are no match for God and his love. Even if the good angels were to turn against us (which they would never do) God’s love remains the same. It always protects us. It always says to them, “You may go this far and no farther.” These most powerful spiritual beings (other than God himself) cannot separate us from his love.

“Neither the present nor the future nor any powers…” Nothing in time can do it. We may not like the times we live in now. They feel like evil times. Christianity and Christians seem to be in retreat. We may fear the future with all its unknowns even more. But present or future, from now until the day Jesus returns, we will be the objects of God’s love, every minute, every moment, until the clock ticks its final second and time is over.

“Neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Build a space probe and travel to the farthest edges of the universe. Dig a hole and keep digging until you come out in China. God’s love for you is bigger and more powerful than anything else that exists. You will never find anything anywhere that can separate us from God’s love.

How do we know? In his Son, on a cross, and at an empty tomb God has loved us and loves us still.

Give Thanks to the Lord, for…

Thank you Card

Psalm 136:1 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.”

Giving thanks from the Biblical point of view is more than letting God know we appreciate what he has done. It’s more like what I learned to do in grade school English class with a thank-you card. The thank-you card was supposed to have more than the word “thanks.” You were to mention the gift by name. Then you were to write something about what the gift meant to you: how you were going to use it, why you needed it, how it would make a difference for your life. The thank-you card became a little historical review of and commentary on the kindness that someone had shown to you.

That same idea is behind the Hebrew words the psalmist uses when he writes, “Give thanks to the Lord.” This is an invitation to give our own little historical review of the kindness the Lord has shown to us. It gives our thanksgiving something of a testimonial flavor. If you read the rest of Psalm 136 you will see that this is exactly what the author of the psalm does. He thanks God for his work of creating us, and delivering his people from Egypt, and taking care of them in the wilderness.

But our personal thanksgivings don’t have to be about such grand events. I once read a missionary story about a woman in Africa who was eager to have her entire congregation join her in thanking God. The occasion for her gratitude: she had received a simple pair of shoes. She couldn’t get over how good God had been to her. In our land of plenty you and I may not be filled with such a sense of appreciation over a pair of shoes. I can’t think of a time when I specifically thanked God after purchasing a pair. I know I have never requested my entire congregation to join in giving thanks for such an event. That’s not because our shoes are any less an undeserved gift from him, or because we owe him any less appreciation for them. For us, too, “clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, spouse and children, land, cattle, and all I own,” are examples of God’s goodness and mercy and reason to give him thanks.

God’s goodness, then, can take many forms. Good can mean “beneficial.” This is “good” as in, “Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you.” Or “Lady bugs eat aphids. They are good for the garden.” And no one or nothing has done more good for us than our Lord. Psalm 103 summarizes them nicely when it says, “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget  not  all   his   benefits — who forgives  all  your sins  and heals  all  your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit  and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things  so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Forgiveness of sins and physical health are just a few illustrations of the fact that the Lord is good– a God whose goodness benefits us in every way.

Good can also mean “attractive” or “pleasant.” We enjoy reading a “good” book. When the sun is shining, the air is dry, and the temperatures are warm, we consider it “good” weather. When we like the way something looks or how it makes us feel, it is a “good” one.

Haven’t we all experienced the goodness of God in this way, too? “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” Psalm 34 urges us. If you have ever felt the relief of your sins forgiven and your guilt lifted, if you have ever known the comfort that God was holding you up in troubled times, if you have ever experienced the joy of God answering your prayers or blessing your efforts with success, if you have ever been filled with the hope for the future and the longing for heaven God’s promises inspire, then you, too, have tasted and you have seen that the Lord is good.

Behind such goodness of God is the other thing the psalmist celebrates in this simple prayer: “His love endures forever.”

God’s gifts fill our need. We could not live without them. But the Lord doesn’t give them merely because they are useful. His gifts are still tokens of his affection for us. Those gifts, whether spiritual or physical, express the love in his heart that never changes. Such giving is not a cold, unfeeling function he performs. He does not supply us with food, family, and friends like some cosmic paymaster, some other-worldly company bookkeeper, disinterestedly, dispassionately processing the payroll for the millions and billions of employees here on earth. These are God’s personal expressions of love and mercy.

That love and mercy extends back through the centuries. It gave Noah reason to build an altar. It gave David and Solomon reason to build a temple. It gave Jesus’ disciples reason to spread a message. It still gives us reason to set aside some time as we sit at the table, or when we recognize God’s blessings, and offer the Lord a prayer of thanksgiving. This love and mercy, which have always been there for us in the past, and are present with us now, will endure forever. Thankfully.

Don’t Show Favoritism

Poor Man

James 2:1 “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”

We are believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Consider what we know about the way that he has treated us. Doesn’t Paul tell us in Romans 5, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Were we likely candidates for God’s favor when we were powerless, unrighteous, and still sinners? Did we have anything to offer to God? And yet, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes become poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.”

But this grace and forgiveness that our glorious Lord Jesus Christ freely offers for all sin, including our discrimination, and the eternal treasures of heaven he has given us as a result are not just for some select group that we have formed. James continues, “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith…” God has a way of choosing people for the faith, and building them up to serve him in that faith, that bursts all our stereotypes. Biblical examples abound: David started out as just a simple shepherd boy. Moses was the son of slaves, and God had to make him poor again after he wound up in the Egyptian royal family before he could use him. Most of Jesus’ 12 disciples were working class men. Paul described the first congregation in the city of Corinth this way: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are.”

Are our own congregations that different? Some of us may have grown up in homes of privilege, and perhaps most of us weren’t born into abject poverty. But by and large we were very ordinary people from very ordinary backgrounds. And yet, God has taken some very ordinary men and women and made them rich in faith and raised them up as leaders in his Church. The children of farmers and ranchers and factory workers, who come from single parent homes, or broken homes, or had to be raised by other relatives, whose parents or grandparents had no more than a grade school education–God has raised up people like these among us, and filled them with faith, and turned them into church presidents, and council men, and teachers of the faith, and even inspired some to prepare for full time ministry in his kingdom.

Is that not ample encouragement to throw out our stereotypes when God leads someone whose dress, or color, or mannerisms don’t quite match our own to walk through our doors on Sunday morning? When I look at not only the faith he has given to me, but the faith he has given to others around me, then I begin to share the urgency of James’ command, “Don’t show favoritism.”

It Is Time

Prayer Girl Pilgrim

Genesis 32:9 “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.”

It is time. It’s time to stop obsessing about all our economic woes. It’s time to stop worrying about our financial futures. It’s time to stop paying attention to all the negativity we hear about from our nation’s political divide. It’s time to stop pitying ourselves for the monetary mess we are in. I am not saying all these problems have been solved, or that they are merely mythological. I am not saying that good people and responsible leaders in government and industry should stop trying to fix what’s broken. But at Thanksgiving, at least, it is time to see that there is another side to all of this. Especially God’s people know God’s promises to supply everything we truly need. Nearly half the Pilgrims, the founders of our day of Thanksgiving, starved to death before they could celebrate the first one. But those who lived still set aside time to thank God for the food that they did have, and for those who had survived, and for giving them another year to live and work in this new land they had found.

It is time. Like Jacob it is time to acknowledge God’s kindness and faithfulness.

You can’t argue with Jacob’s view of his situation. You know how he had behaved. He tried to turn everything in his life to serve himself. If ever there was a man who had lived his life under the theme, “It’s all about me,” and “I did it my way,” that man was Jacob. He had dealt dishonestly with his own brother and father to cheat his brother out of the rights of the firstborn. He ruptured his own family just to get what he wanted. When he started a family of his own, he adopted the heathen practice of polygamy. He created a family more dysfunctional than the family from which he had come. As much as his father-in-law Laban labored to take advantage of Jacob, Jacob was constantly scheming to take advantage of Laban. No matter whom he hurt, Jacob looked out for number one.

Living a life that tries to turn the whole world into a device to serve ourselves, using other people for our own advantage, is not a lifestyle that began or ended with Jacob. On some scale, from the time we get up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night, we are involved in the game of trying to bend everything in life to serve me. We import it into our families and friendships. People who should work together like partners end up acting like competitors. We aren’t so interested in serving and protecting the people closest to us. We want what’s “fair” for me. And what’s “fair” for me isn’t based on some objective formula. It is what involves the least work and the most gain. It turns out that even my love for family or friends is sometimes based on “what’s in it for me.” We deserve no better than Jacob, neither in this life nor the one to come. Like him we can pray, “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.”

And how has God responded in light of our unworthiness? With kindness and faithfulness, as Jacob says. We are still here, aren’t we? How does the author of Psalm 103 say it? “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” The God of our fathers, who has given us this country, and has made us prosper, showed us the ultimate kindness by giving up his only-begotten Son and making him a sacrifice for our sins. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us according to our iniquities, because in Jesus Christ he does not see those sins anymore. He has completely erased them from our records. Of all the kindnesses he has ever shown, none is greater than this: that he has removed our transgressions and declared us innocent of all our sins. In doing so he has made sure that there is a far better country waiting for us than any we or Jacob ever knew. In doing so he has been faithful to the promises he has been making to his people for thousands of years.

Sometimes, when life is painful or difficult, we are inclined to ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” The implication is that we think we deserve better, and we want God to treat us as we deserve. But that would be a foolish request. God doesn’t treat us as we deserve. He treats us immeasurably better. He gives us salvation. He lets us live another day. In light of our unworthiness, it is time to acknowledge God’s kindness and faithfulness.

Never Too Wise to Learn

Old Student

Proverbs 9:8-9 “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.”

There are many different ways a person can improve himself intellectually today, and many different reasons for doing so. Some go back to school to pick up that college degree they never completed, or they take classes to earn their master’s degree. Extra years of schooling, additional alphabet soup behind your name, can be an advantage in some fields. It may make it easier to find jobs or get promotions.

But does additional schooling make us wiser? Wisdom, in the Biblical sense, means more than just packing our heads full of information. Just because a person would excel on the game-show Jeopardy doesn’t mean they are wise. Wisdom is the ability to take what we know, especially those things that have to do with our faith, and apply them to our lives. It’s a gift our Lord holds out to more than a few chosen geniuses. He makes it available to his children by faith.

The Lord’s kind of wise man knows that he doesn’t know it all. That why you can rebuke him and “he will love you.” We man not feel like giving a hug and a kiss to the person who just pointed out what a nasty, mean-spirited thing we have done.  But when others rebuke us, what do we have to lose? We aren’t losing face. All we really lose is the spiritually deadening poison of our sin. We are released from the stupidity and the danger of our own immorality. The wise man loves rebuke because it gives him the opportunity to repent, and to receive forgiveness. That sets him free. He is free from his guilt. He is free to avoid that sin with all its nasty side effects. His wisdom grows, his faith strengthens, and he is better equipped to live his life. None of this would be possible if he were the know-it-all who refused to admit his mistakes. The wise man knows this.

And the wise man is always ready to learn even more. “Instruct a wise man, and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.” Wise people appreciate the value of opportunities to be taught by others. They know class time is never wasted time. Even the very old can become “wiser still.” Even if the teacher is covering old ground, the wise recognize that there is value in being refreshed in what we have already learned. We will not always see immediate use for what we learn of God and his word. But none of us can predict what we will face in the future. It is better to be prepared ahead of time. What we learn today may well help answer tomorrow’s question, or solve tomorrow’s problem. So wise men and women attend Bible class. They pay attention to sermons. They are not too proud to admit that they don’t know it all.

And what we do know is always worth hearing again. Isn’t everything God says to us in his grace worth repeating? Is hearing about love, or forgiveness, or a Savior’s sacrifice, or a future life of glory one time ever enough? We watch favorite movies over and over again. Millions of people will tune in to watch the same holiday classics on TV this year. We tell our husbands or wives, our children or parents, our friends and family, “I love you,” many, many times. No one complains. Perhaps some gem, some nugget of spiritual gold, is waiting to be discovered in God’s gracious promises by the people who are wise enough to listen again. Let’s be the wise ones who aren’t too smart to find out.