27. Blindness – Introduction

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 27. Guilt of Blindness – Introduction

Eph 1:17-19  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Continuing: We are considering areas of life where we can get it wrong, areas of our thinking and doing that perhaps of which we’re not even aware and yet which leave us in an unresolved guilty state. I say unresolved, because they continue on and, probably without us realizing it, they blight or limit our relationship with the Lord. We have recently been considering guilt by sight, with the way we respond to what we see, but as I have meditated on this, I realize there is the other side to the coin, guilt from not seeing, guilt that essentially comes from blindness, and that is expressed in the way we think.

Childhood Blindness: The more I have pondered this, the more I realize there are numerous areas where the children of God are blind. It is a blindness to do with awareness. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but when you were a child, of how much were you aware of your parents problems and difficulties? Somethings are blatantly obvious such as when two adults row. But there may have been numerous trials and difficulties of which you were not aware, financial, to do with work, to do with relationships or health. My mother, when I was very small, suffered from a rare form of TB in her eyes which resulted in her having to have operations by the top eye surgeon in the country. I knew virtually nothing of this at the time.

Why was that? Well, one reason is that parents shield such things from their children but the bigger issue, I believe, is that as a child you are totally taken up with your own little world and just don’t think about things about which you just have never learnt yet. Are children guilty of blindness, therefore? No, they are just immature. We don’t expect them to have such knowledge or understanding, in fact we try to protect them from it. But they have to grow up and in the growing process they come to realize things about the world that they hadn’t known or realized before and it sometimes comes as a bit of a shock. If we think back, we can probably all think of stages of growth of knowledge and understanding that changed us.

The Growing Christian: The same thing is true of the spiritual life.  When we first came to Christ our knowledge was strictly limited. Hopefully we embarked on a life of learning and within that new school of learning came new knowledge and understanding and the way we started looking at life was radically changed.  The writer to the Hebrews declared to his readers of that day, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (Heb 5:12) Step into the average church on a Sunday morning and what do you usually find? So often it is teaching the elementary truths all over again … and again …. and again. It seems so often that both leaders and congregations are happy with a little homily, a little study, a little comforting and building up, but I wonder how often the children of God leave the building feeling better equipped to face the intellectual and moral challenges that face every one of us today in the Western world?  Are we actually aware of those intellectual and moral challenges? Do we understand them and have answers to them? If we cannot say a categorical ‘Yes!’, then we are confessing our blindness to things of which we need to be aware as the children of God.

A Spiritual Goal: Consider again our starter verses: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19) Perhaps a paraphrase version will help it come alive if we’ve become too familiar with it. Paul prays that God will: “give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realize how great is the hope to which he is calling you—the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to Christians—and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.” (JBP version)

And Us? Do you see something here, the words, “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” or as the paraphrase has it, “that inner illumination of the spirit”? The word ‘see’ isn’t here but isn’t this what Paul is saying, “I want you to see with spiritual understanding so that you see the wonder of it all? Let’s ask another ‘church question’. OK, let’s put aside for the moment thoughts of deeper and wider understanding that equips you for the world, let’s just accept the basic or simple truths of the Gospel, how often do you leave church almost dancing with the wonder of what you have just come to see? How often when you have your ‘quiet time’ do you put down your Bible with a heart leaping with praise and worship at the wonder of what you have just seen?  OK, be realistic, it may not happen every day, but does it happen quite often? If not we should be praying, Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,” (Psa 119:18) and if you’re a bad sleeper, perhaps you might want to join that same psalmist who went on to say, “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” (Psa 119:148) Let’s not be content with a daily routine that leaves us unmoved, let’s pray that our eyes may be opened in a new way to see the Lord, see His salvation, see the Gospel, see the world He’s given us, see the life He’s given us, see the future He’s promised us with such ‘wisdom and revelation’ that our hearts are lifted and we want to dance with joy, shout with praise and bow down in worship. May it be so.

18. Getting on a Learning Curve

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

18. Getting on a Learning Curve

Mt 11:29   Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Heb 5:12-14  though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Students:  When we speak about a learning curve we refer to a person’s progress in gaining knowledge and experience. When we speak of a ‘steep learning curve’ we mean there has been a lot of learning in a short period of time. If it is a shallow learning curve it means we have learnt very slowly over a longer period of time. On a graph of learning (the vertical axis) and time (the horizontal axis), a straight horizontal line denotes no additional learning taking place. Now I wonder what your learning curve looks like?  Not long ago, after I had retired from leading my own church, we went to a large local church (large for the UK that is) and both my wife and I were dismayed at the ignorance that was obvious in this church.

Learning what? “Hold on,” I hear some saying, “what are you suggesting you wanted to see there? What do you want for us?”  Well, let’s talk about what first of all, and then why.  I heard someone the other day say out loud, “My knowledge of the Bible is rubbish,” and yet I know that person has been a Christian for many years. What have they been doing, what has their church been doing all those years? When I became a Christian over fifty years ago, within two years I was leading seven different bible studies a week. I was hungry for God’s word and found others who were similarly hungry. And then I go into the church prayer meeting and I hear people just throwing out requests to God like He was a market stall holder giving out goodies. Where is the sense of the God of strategy and purpose who is found when we wait upon Him and seek Him in prayer? Why haven’t these people been taught what prayer is all about so they see it as the lifeblood of the church’s experience? So I look around and hear people confessing how difficult their lives are and I wonder about the absence of teaching about overcoming, about spiritual warfare in prayer, and personal prayer ministry? Where are these things? And that’s just a start!

But why? Stop and think what has happened when a person becomes a believer. Listen to how the Message version puts Paul’s description of what our old lives used to be like: “It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us.” (Eph 2:1-3) Look at that – you let the world tell you how to live, a life of unbelief and disobedience, and self-centred in every way. To the Romans he said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2)

The ’what’ again: So we turned away from our old life which was going nowhere except downhill. We were convicted by the Holy Spirit of the mess we were in and we turned to God and received His salvation through Christ. Right! Now before us we have a whole new life, one that is not self-centred but Christ centred, one that is not godless but God-focused (godly). We have so much to learn! Now I would suggest that there are the following areas of learning we need to look at:

  • learning who God is and what He is like (correcting all the old false ideas we had previously),
  • learning what a relationship with Him means,
  • learning the character He wants to form in us that is Christ-like,
  • learning how to relate to others in a Christ-like way,
  • learning how to manage my life righteously (e.g. handling money at work etc.),
  • learning to recognize my gifts and talents that he has given me,
  • learning how to become like Jesus and do his works as he leads me (part of his ‘body’ that we will consider in detail in a later Part).

The call of a disciple: Those who Jesus followed in the Gospels were called disciples. A disciple is first and foremost a follower who learns to be like their ‘master’ (or teacher or mentor) and the important word is ‘learns’. When Jesus commissioned the church he told them, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). It was a call to create a church who learnt to be like Jesus, not only in character but also in action. Sadly in the modern church we focus on the character part, but we limit the ‘doing’ to what some have called the ‘spiritual disciplines’ – prayer, Bible reading, worship, witnessing – and have stopped there.

A Step Further: But is that all that Jesus expects of us? He taught a lot on prayer, but virtually nothing about preaching or bible reading, although there is this strong indication that the church should be teaching the truths we have been talking about. Worship, yes, a natural expression of love for God when we come together. Witnessing, a natural sharing when we rub shoulders with our neighbors and they ask us why we are so good, loving, gracious, caring, compassionate etc. etc. as we are. But consider what Jesus said he was doing: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) and then his teaching, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12)

A New Mandate for your Life? Now it is clear from the Gospels that Jesus meant each of those things literally and physically, so somewhere along the line, I suggest, we need to learn to do those things, or at least get the whole body to do those things, because (and we’ll see it in a later Part) there are some described as those with the gift of healing (1 Cor 12:9,28,30) which implies not everyone – so relax, it may be you or not.

But how about spiritualising those things above, which I think is legitimate for this exercise, to take the pressure of those who fear the literal translation. Let’s see if this is any easier for you. Can we expand that verse in Mt 11:5 as follows: “(i) those who have been spiritually blind and have been unable to understand and receive the gospel, have been enabled to see and understand it; (ii) those who are limping through life, lacking strength, lacking purpose, lacking clarity, have been enabled to walk tall with purpose; (iii) those whose lives are blighted by past bad relationships, bad experiences and lies from the enemy, have been ministered to by the love of Jesus, forgiven, cleansed, restored and set running with purpose; (iv) those who had apparently been unable to ‘hear’ what we had been saying to them, suddenly now start showing they are hearing it; (v) those who are clearly spiritually dead heed the Gospel and receive his life and are raised to new lives, and (vi) those who have been made to feel they are nothing have received the good news that in God’s sight they are precious. How about that as a fresh mandate for your life, what has happened to you, for the things you say and do, and for the mandate of the church?

Challenging the Impossible: But, I hear some saying, I’m not sure I can do that. Isn’t it merely a matter of you learning to do it, learning to listen to God, learning to seek Him for His wisdom, His words, His faith? But I’ve got so little faith, I hear another say. Excellent, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20)  Go back to the study on a faith people. Faith coming from hearing. When you hear God and respond to what you hear, THEN stuff will happen, but it is a learning exercise and it starts with that realization. The truth is that Jesus is the Master-Teacher and he knows you are a slow learner (!!!!). Why do I say that? Because he chose twelve close disciples who traveled with him for three years and who saw all the incredible things he was doing and heard all the amazing teaching, but still got it wrong, still argued who was the greatest, still wanted to call fire down on those who didn’t agree with them, still betrayed him, still denied him, still abandoned him – but he kept on with them. Peter is our best example of a failure and yet still appointed to lead the church (read Jn 21). Amazing! Then see him in Acts doing the stuff. Talk about a learning curve!

And Us? Hungry for the truth? I hope so. Become a learner. Got questions? Become a learner. Got doubts? Become a learner. Got a murky past? Become a learner. God failures? Become a learner. Unsure of the future? Become a learner. Unsure of your part in the church, the body of Christ? Become a learner. Learning knowledge? Yes, but more than that, be a doer, a listener to God, one in whom faith grows, one who learns to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s daily leading, grow in it. And when you stumble and fall and get it wrong, get up again and learn from it. Learning includes failures and mistakes and Jesus doesn’t abandon you when you get it wrong; he wants you to learn from it. It’s a life of learning, lifelong learning. Amen? Amen!

10. Is this it?

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 10.  Is this it?

Heb 11:9   By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

This is the second of four ‘faith’ things in respect of Abraham that the writer to the Hebrews covers. It is easy to miss it but the fact that Abraham “made his home in the promised land” is quite amazing; we’ll explain as we go along. To get to his new home he has had to leave his old home. It’s rather obvious but important. Home had been Ur. He had grown up there and it was familiar. The thought of going somewhere else is challenging. Will it be similar to here? Will I like it? What will it be like?

Going and being “a stranger in a foreign country” for the first time raises questions in the mind. It is easier today with the Internet able to show you images of that country and there is always plenty of information about whatever country it is you want to find out about. I remember the first time I flew out to Malaysia to teach, part of a team. I really had no idea what to expect. A friend of mine went on a similar ministry trip to Nepal and suffered with culture shock for the first week; it is a very real thing.

So God has told him to go and he set off, stopped at Haran but eventually carried on and he arrives in Canaan. Is this the place God meant for us or have we got to travel some more?

When we talk about God leading us by faith, what are we expecting Him to lead us into? What do we think we are going to find ‘when we arrive’? Do we have expectations, good or not so good? Some things are very simple and so we simply hear and do and that it is and we move on to the next thing, but suppose it is something bigger. Suppose it is moving on to a new job or a new career or, like Abram, a new place that we feel the Lord is leading us to? What were you expecting?  Suppose you find something different from what you were expecting? Consider what happened to Abram. There were three things that would make him wonder.

First he encountered different people: Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” (v.6) Faith so often has to do with people and the question that arises is how will these people respond to me? These are Canaanites and they have different gods, in fact they have gods and I have the One true God? Faith for us so often means interaction with people and the same sort of questions will arise in us. How will these people respond to me? What are they like? Who or what are their gods? How will they respond to my God?

Whatever the questions they ultimately boil down to the same fundamental question – am I in the right place, but somewhere along the line the Lord will bring reassurance: “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. “ (v.7) Ah, that’s not quite what I expected – my offspring? Well yes, the Lord works on a long-term plan and our part is only a part, there is more to follow always. This step of faith may seem big for us but I have to tell you it is only A step and there are more to follow, but you’re in The Plan and God is with you!

So he’s apparently in the right place and has built an altar to worship the Lord, a sign of permanence, but am I to stay here or move on? Is there more to take in this experience: “From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.” (v.8,9) i.e. he kept going. The second thing about faith here is that we don’t settle! This may have been an amazing experience and I am truly blessed having come through it, but this is not a placer to settle. Faith can grow, our experiences can multiply, our lives can mature, we move on!

So far so good, but, “Now there was a famine in the land.” (v.10)  What? It has suddenly gone pear-shaped. This placed that seemed so good initially suddenly seems to be putting pressure on us. We have a problem. What do we do with it? How do we cope with it? Yes, that is precisely the problem and it is a learning situation we have been presented with. The third thing about faith is that so often the Lord leads us into a learning situation and that may be in the very act of faith or in the circumstances resulting from your act of faith.  The sensible thing at this point would be to ask God for wisdom but Abram is only in the very earliest stages of his relationship with the Lord. He has yet to learn that, and its absence is going to get him into trouble which you’ll see if you read on in Genesis.

For Abram this is only the first part of the fulfilment of God’s words to him. He’s stepped out and followed the leading and left his home land and journeyed to the new land. In the new land he has been exploring what is there but in the course of that he finds himself in trying circumstances. The good news is that although he doesn’t do very well in those trying circumstances the Lord doesn’t give up on him and He doesn’t give up on us as we sometimes stumble around in the waters of faith.

9. Maths of the Kingdom

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  9. Maths of the Kingdom

Matt 13:10-12   The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

There were times when Jesus appeared to speak in riddles, we might say today, and in our verses above is one of those: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Now this is one of those times when context is very important (it usually is!).  Jesus has just referred to “the secrets of the kingdom”. In other words he is speaking about how the way His Father’s kingdom works.

If we were talking about material possession it would sound quite unfair: whoever has a lot will be given more and whoever is poor will have the little he has taken away. Yes, in material terms that sounds quite unjust. And surely the Bible shows that God is concerned for the poor!  But if this is about the principles of how God works then it is more likely to be about spiritual principles than about material ones.

So what is the ‘has’ and ‘more’ and ‘abundance’ that is being referred to? Look at the text: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more.”   It is the knowledge of how things work in the kingdom. As you come to God, and His Holy Spirit starts teaching you about the new way to live as a Christian, you first of all start learning basics: you can now pray,  worship, read your Bible; those are what are sometimes called spiritual disciplines. But then we learn that this new life means no to bad attitudes, words and behaviour and yes to good, Jesus-like behaviour. Christians are good and loving people as they are being remade in the image of Jesus.

Then we start finding that God has equipped us by the presence of His Holy Spirit and has given us gifts and abilities to be used to bless us and bless His world. Some we may call natural talents and so a person may be a good dancer, or artist, or homemaker, or a hundred and one other things that help them enjoy living in this world and making it a better place. But then we find out about spiritual gifts and we realise that as God leads us we can do the things Jesus did, bringing revelation and power into His world as he enables us.

But in a sense, this is merely the start. As we grow in Christ, we grow in our understanding of how God works. Moses asked, “Teach me your ways,” (Ex 33:13) meaning teach me the ways you work so I can know and understand you more fully, obey you and please you.  What he actually said was, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” He wanted to know God and please Him. That was Moses heart and it is the heart of the seeker.

And that brings us back to our starting verses. Again and again in Scripture there is this clarification that it is seekers who will find and know God.  Moses’ call to Israel was to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4) That was a basic. But before that he had warned about Israel going astray and the path back was quite clear: “if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) Note in each case it is a whole-hearted seeking after God. The person who is wishy-washy in their intent towards God is not going to find.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount taught about right priorities: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) The “these things” in this verse are material things and so Jesus is saying make spiritual issues priorities and God will sort out your material issues for you. Jesus also taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” (Mt 7:7) but the tense in each case there means, for the present context, “seek and go on seeking and you will find.”

It’s a little bit like the meaning behind James’ teaching: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) If you ask for wisdom believe that God WILL give it to you. The faint hearted half-believer won’t get it because they won’t believe it when it comes!

So returning to our original verses,  “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance,” it is the whole hearted seeker who will have insights and understanding of the ways God works and what God wants, and the more he has the more he will see and want to see more. Seeing and understanding is satisfying and makes you want more. Thus the seeker isn’t a seeker just for a moment but for a lifetime.

But then we have the other person: “Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  This is the half-hearted person who is really little concerned for the kingdom, little concerned for what God wants and, although at the beginning of their spiritual life the Holy Spirit does a work in them, their response is still half-hearted and, failing to have a whole-hearted seeking approach, they shrivel spiritually or stay in a state of suspended spiritual animation, losing any real signs of life.

Jesus taught this in the parable of the Sower that precedes this teaching and is explained after this teaching: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” (Mt 13:3-7) and then, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Mt 13:20-22)

The message is clear: different heart conditions produce different results. The final one is “the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Mt 13:23) Good ground is a good heart. A good heart is a seeking heart. A seeking heart gets more and more from God. What a gem of truth!

13. Wisdom & Folly

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 13 :  Wisdom is better than Folly

Eccles 2:12-14 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. ….. I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness;

Now there are some things that you might think are obvious, but perhaps there are things we take for granted or just don’t think about, and it takes Solomon’s pondering to make us aware of this. For instance, how often in modern life have you come across the word ‘wisdom’?  We talk a lot about learning and studying, but ‘wisdom’ we rarely hear mentioned. But if we rarely hear about wisdom, we never hear about ‘folly’. I could almost guarantee that you have never heard the word folly through the modern media. And the word ‘madness’ isn’t much better!  No, these are words that don’t crop up in modern vocabulary and therefore we have to conclude they are words which hold little meaning or value for us today?

Now that is a strange thing because wisdom crops up a lot in the Bible (218 times in the NIV!). We’re told to get it in the Old Testament (Prov 4:5) and to ask God for it in the New Testament (Jas 1:5).  In the most common sense it is simply ‘knowing how to’ which may apply to a multitude of everyday things, but in a wider sense it is ‘how to live life properly’. The start of wisdom we’re told is the fear of the Lord (Psa 111:10), having a right attitude towards God. It was fully worked out in Solomon’s life as both a natural attribute that he obviously had, but also as a gift from God (see 1 Kings).

So having been given wisdom, Solomon turned his mind to thinking about wisdom. What was it, why was it, how did it work out? Possibly these might have been the sort of things he considered. Perhaps that was why he wrote the Proverbs. The first ten chapters are full of talk about wisdom and getting it, and later chapters are full of examples of it in practical living. He came to see that it was a vital ingredient for successful living and implored his sons to get it. In those days wisdom had been a key and vital ingredient of his life and he wanted others to have it. Why is it that we hear of it so little today? Perhaps because wisdom starts with God – for it’s all about knowing how to live properly according to the way God has designed us – and in a day when God is largely rejected by our society, it’s not going to be a popular subject. Our loss!

Yet Solomon didn’t stop there. As we’ve noted before, he went on to consider insanity or madness. Where, he must have thought, are the boundaries between sanity and insanity? What is it that makes us declare that someone is insane? Where is the dividing line between the two? Is there any value in insanity or is it something to be avoided if at all possible? All right, draw back from the dividing line over which you step into insanity, but is everything this side of sanity, good?  This, perhaps, was when he started thinking about ‘folly’. Is there good behaviour and silly behaviour? If there is wise behaviour, is there stupid behaviour?  When Abigail met David and tried to protect her husband who had spoken harshly to David’s servants, she said, May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name–his name is Fool, and folly goes with him.” (1 Sam 25:25) Nabal’s thoughts, words and deeds were folly, stupid. In his case they were stupid because a) he had received David’s protection and it would have been good to acknowledge that with thanks, and b) David’s army were so powerful that he ought to have realised that harsh words would bring retribution. Folly here was the inability to appreciate dynamics of the situation, and act in a way that would result in harm.

In the Proverbs Solomon personified folly: The woman Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge.” (Prov 9:13). Later he wrote, the folly of fools is deception. Fools mock at making amends for sin,” (Prov 14:8,9).  Fools think they can get away with sin and they are deceived.  To be deceived is to be made a fool of.  Solomon also wrote, Folly delights a man who lacks judgment.” (Prov 15:21). A person who can’t judge between right and wrong, who has no concern for such distinctions, is foolish, he says. He also wrote, “He who answers before listening–that is his folly and his shame.” (Prov 18:13) If you ignore what other are saying and just push your views, that too is folly, he says. But why? Because foolishness brings retribution: folly brings punishment to fools.” (Prov 16:22), and “A man’s own folly ruins his life.” (Prov 19:3). By its very nature, folly means things go wrong, and people react in such ways that harm comes back on you.

Surely this is why Solomon went on to say in today’s verses, I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. In the light you can see where you are going. In the dark you can’t. The same is true of wisdom and folly, so the conclusion should be obvious. But if it is obvious, then surely we should think about these things and seek for wisdom and seek to ensure that we do not think, speak or act like a fool. There is a clear distinction and we would do well to heed it.

6. Study-Learning

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 6 :  Study & Learning

Eccles 1:13,14   I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Subsequent governments in the UK have followed a policy of trying to get more and more young people to university in the belief that a highly educated work force will be better than the work force in the rest of the world. Colleges have been encouraged to increase the number of students to prolong education for as many as possible. Going back to college has been something an increasing number of adults have done to better themselves. Courses are a regular part of life in big companies. Lifetime learning is an established doctrine for many. Living in an ever more complex world means a requirement to be more and more informed with more and more rules to conform to. Education over the past twenty years or so has been a growth market.

Solomon had almost unlimited resources and so devoted himself to study – to learn, find out, investigate. The Queen of England is thought, with all her years of experience as Queen over a Commonwealth of nations, to be one of the best informed people in the country. Having met so many people from so many nations over so long a period of time, and having been prepared so many times to visit so many countries, she is the equivalent of a modern Solomon, in terms of knowledge at least. For Solomon, I suspect, at the beginning there was a real excitement. He was obviously a bright guy and made and took opportunities to learn. He decided to investigate all that is done under heaven. In other words nothing would be outside the remit of his course of learning. That had been his objective and as he reached old age he was able to say I have seen all the things that are done under the sun. Again, in other words, he had done it! He had looked, he had seen, he had asked, he had watched, he had enquired. This man had the equivalent of three degrees at least!

Now after all of that you might have expected Solomon to feel thankful for the experience, thankful for all he had learned, but what do we find instead?  We find this: What a heavy burden God has laid on men! Now that perhaps has at least two sides to it. The first thing may be it is like he is saying, if you want to learn then you’ve got a hard slog ahead of you. The second thing, associated with that, is that if you want to learn you’ve got a hard slog ahead of you because there is so much to learn!

When I first went to college and did three years study, I thought how much there was to know. Five years later I wondered how I had qualified as a professional person with so little knowledge! Years later when I became a college lecturer, I could encapsulate a year’s course in note form on one wallboard. I could reel off detailed information about my chosen specialist subjects at the drop of a hat. The more I knew the more I realised I didn’t know! Today I have probably increased the knowledge of those days possibly tenfold, yet I still consider I know so little. The wise person is under no illusions: collecting knowledge and understanding is like trying to collect cup by cup the water from the nearest sea; there is always so much more.

Today in science and technology, people become amazing specialists in their areas of study or research and come to find out and know and understand things in their specialist areas that few other people know. The big danger is that collecting knowledge, especially specialist knowledge, can puff us up and pride makes us think we are someone special, a superior being. So what does learning do for us? Does it make us better people? It is certainly good to learn but learning information as to how the world works, of itself, doesn’t make you a better person. In his earlier years Solomon wrote, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov 1:7).  In other words, he was saying, unless you start with a right respect for God, you’re wasting your time. Knowledge starts with God. Everything comes from Him and therefore you need to see everything in the light of Him.  He made this world, He made every other world. Every universe is part of His handiwork, so when you look outwards from yourself, realise first of all that you are looking at God’s handiwork. In fact there is nothing that you will see that is not His!

Yes, it’s useful to gain, knowledge, wisdom and insight, but if your learning is godless, it is also meaningless. We need to learn to see our acquisition of knowledge etc. in the light of God. Science is simply finding out how God has made things. Technology is simply putting that knowledge to work for us as He has designed it to work for us. When you next go into a classroom, watch an educational programme on TV, or pick up a book, talk to Him about His world; thank Him for it, ask for understanding to help you cope better, but above all else, ask that whatever learning you have will enhance your knowledge of Him.

33. Humility

Meditations in James: 33 : Humility with Wisdom

Jas 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

We have in this day, in the West, many TV games shows that test knowledge. We may watch and wonder sometimes at the shear breadth or depth of knowledge that a particular contestant shows.  We move on to programmes about specialist subjects and we watch and listen to men or women who are ‘experts’ in their field, regaling us with the wonders that they know about. We think how great these people must be. We wonder at their learning, their scholarship, and their experience of life. And then the media tells us something about their personal life, and we hear they have just parted from their third partner, and a little nagging doubt rises in our mind. Then there are politicians or some of the world’s shakers and movers. We watch on TV as their latest achievements are being lauded and we think about what incredible people they must be. We slightly wonder about some of the people who are their friends, because they are those who live in the shadows, and we wonder. We don’t ‘know’ but we wonder. But God knows.

God is and never has been impressed by outward signs. We’ve seen that before with Samuel (1 Sam 16:7). The disciples were impressed by big buildings (Matt 24:1) but Jesus had bigger issues on his mind. No, we can be swayed by rhetoric or apparent knowledge, but God has different criteria for assessment of people. You can be very knowledgeable but godless. You can bring great changes in the world, but be unrighteous. Have you spotted the link yet with what James has been saying about the tongue? The tongue has the power to deceive us. We just mentioned ‘great people’ on TV who astound us with their words. There are politicians and world movers and shakers who speak and the world holds its breath. Oh yes, words are the currency of these people, but the trouble is, that so often they are godless and unrighteous people, and in God’s eyes they mean nothing. Their words do not impress Him.

So James seems to spin us on our axis and we point away from thoughts of the tongue and move to a wider sphere of thinking. Ah yes, thinking comes in here: Who is wise and understanding among you? Wisdom and understanding; these are things of the mind. They are the fruits of what has gone on inside us. Wisdom is the knowledge of ‘how to’. Moses was able to say to his people: See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut 4:5,6) God had spoken to Israel and given them His Law, which were simply rules on how to live wisely in accordance with the way He had designed people to live. If you follow them, said Moses, the nations round about will see your wisdom and comment upon it. It will be clearly visible. Wisdom is something that is practically worked out in life.

Understanding is knowing why things are. Understanding goes beyond simply knowing ‘how to’; it knows why is it right to do it. It knows the reasoning behind it. Of course as God’s people we know that it is right to follow God’s ways because He is all-wise and He is the Designer-Creator of this world and so He knows best.  The psalmist wrote, “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” (Psa 119:104). As He studied all that God had given Israel he came to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of life. The more we consider God’s word as we seek His face, the more He gives us understanding of His ways.

James then challenges us. He basically says, if you understand life, then you will live God’s ways and if you live God’s ways, those ways will involve goodness, and people will see good deeds coming out of that knowledge and understanding. Just like Israel, as we saw just now, those round about us will see and wonder. But don’t we wonder about the life of the great and the glorious? Yes, until we start hearing about their personal lives which reveal the sort of people they are. This is where James differentiates between these people and the people of God. The people of God, he is saying, live out their lives in humility. Yes, here is an unusual characteristic in today’s age! Humility is about having a realistic assessment of yourself. When you really know yourself there is no room for pride (the opposite of humility). When we really know ourselves we know that without God we are lost. Without God we know our lives are pretence, a sham. We know that although we may look good on the outside, inside we’re something quite different. This realistic self awareness is humility. This humility comes from wisdom. Solomon said,The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10). An awesome respect for Almighty God brings wisdom and that wisdom brings humility as we realize our smallness and His greatness. As we live out our lives in the light of this, it will be seen, goodness!  May it be so!