Wisdom Versus Obedience

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 4.6-8
6 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.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Reflection: Wisdom Versus Obedience
By Erin Newton

Israel stood at the edge of the Promised Land with these final instructions. It was a reminder of who they were—reflections of the past and a vision of their future. With the exhortation to enjoy the blessings of an obedient life, God also provided them with guidance for their inevitable failure. God was and is eager to restore the broken and the lost.

In our contemporary culture, many religions are known by their rules. You can distinguish someone by the way they dress or if they cut their hair. Other religions can be distinguished by what they eat or what they refuse to drink. Religious obedience is not a new concept nor is it unique among Christians. All religions have rules. Obeying those rules is expected, for the most part.

Exodus through Deuteronomy contains all the instructions for the Israelites about how to live. The laws and decrees function as the skeletal system of faith. How those work together in the movement of life is wisdom.

Observing laws and decrees is the basis for applying wisdom. Like rails on the side of a bridge, commandments keep you from plunging over the edge. Wisdom determines if you are driving carefully or swerving left and right at some fiendish pace. But it is not easily obtained. Wisdom is mined from a deep relationship with God. It is refined in the crucible of life.

To fear God is the beginning of wisdom and wisdom is more than obeying commands. Wisdom understands the heart behind the laws. It knows that anger is just as bad as murder and lust just as bad as adultery.  Jesus was able to summarize all the laws with two: love God and love your neighbor. That is wisdom.

What would it mean to be known, to be set apart, because of our wisdom? Would it look different than religious obedience? How can being wise extol the greatness of God in a better way than legalism?

We ought to be known by our wisdom, not our legalism. To obey God is right and good but there is an important distinction between the two ideas. Wisdom captures the complexity of life; it weighs truth against a myriad of options. Obedience is responding to a command of “do” or “do not.” Wisdom reveals the freedom to navigate life under the truth of who God is and who we are called to be.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Gracious and upright is the Lord; therefore he teaches sinners in his way. — Psalm 25.7

  – From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 4 (Listen 7:22)
1 Corinthians 14 (Listen 5:40)

Read more about RSVP to Wisdom or Folly
Each day and each moment, Lady Wisdom calls out to us and Lady Folly’s voice tries to drown out her call.

Read more about Law of Freedom
The Law was more than a civil code. “The Law” implied the wisdom of God expressed through scripture.

Love Great or Terrible

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 13.1-3
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing

“Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws.” — Tim Keller

Reflection: Love Great or Terrible
By John Tillman

People get poetic talking about love. In “love songs,” love is either great or terrible.

All you need is love.
What’s love got to do with it?
Love makes the world go ‘round.
Love me tender.
You’re gonna love me.
Sometimes love don’t feel like it should.
At last, my love has come along.
Can anybody find me somebody to love?
I just want to use your love tonight.
I don’t know where to put my love.
I want to know what love is.
Love hurts.
Love bites.
Love stinks.

Paul’s poem on love comes after discussing the gifts of the Spirit. The Corinthians used gifts in powerful, chaotic, and competitive ways that harmed the church. Paul determined to show them a better way—the way of love. (1 Corinthians 12.31)

Jesus named love (of God and neighbor) as the greatest commandment. Paul names love the greatest gift of the Spirit.

A saying around the church I attend is that we follow the words of Jesus and the way of Jesus. It’s one way of saying we speak truth in love. (Ephesians 4.15) The Corinthian church had the “gifts” of Jesus but they weren’t following the “way” of Jesus.

Truth, without love, does harm.
Love, without truth, does harm.

It doesn’t matter how true your words are if they wound people. Some have been wounded so badly by “truth-tellers,” they can’t distinguish the truth from the wound. If you use truth to put people in this condition, what use is your “truth?”

It doesn’t matter how much you love if you never speak truth. Some people mistake unconditional love for unconditional endorsement. Without the truth, people will continue in lies that destroy their bodies, minds, and souls. If you allow this to happen, what use is your “love?”

In the songs quoted above, the difference in love being great or terrible is usually the character of the lover. Let us love in a way that shows the character of Jesus. Don’t let the truth you speak be a resounding gong of nothingness that drives people from salvation, rather than calling them to it.

Love and truth, together, lift others. They don’t push them down.
Love and truth, together, enlighten others. They don’t blind them.
Love and truth, together, save others. They don’t terrorize them.
Love and truth, together, show the character of Jesus, the true lover of our souls.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your Name forevermore. — Psalm 86.12

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 3 (Listen 4:33)
1 Corinthians 13 (Listen 2:23)

Read more about Another Love Chapter
If asked about the Bible’s “Love Chapter”, most think 1 Corinthians 13. But there is another love chapter. 1 John 4…

Read more about Freedom For, Not From
Let us think about our freedom in the way Paul did, not as a way to benefit ourselves but as a way to benefit others and spread the gospel.

Freedom For, Not From

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 9.19-23
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Reflection: Freedom For, Not From
By John Tillman

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.…” (Galatians 5.1)

Paul wrote some of the most stirring words about freedom in the scriptures but had a different idea about individual freedom than is common today.

Westerners especially are individualistic by default. Our cultural idea of freedom is personal: My freedom is mine. It is for me. It allows me to choose the best for myself. It allows me to do what I want to do. My freedom serves my pleasure, my needs, and my goals. Your freedom is important too, but only because all must be free so that I can be free. And if you use your freedom to do something I don’t like…well, I might work to restrict that freedom.

Individual freedom is good. Personal responsibility is good. However, this vision of individual freedom can fuel selfishness: I am free to care for myself and so are you. I am responsible to care for myself and so are you. Therefore you are not entitled to help from me and your need places no obligation upon me. This cultural idea, which says “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed.” is condemned in scripture. (James 2.16

Rather than seeing his freedom as setting him free from others, Paul utilized his freedom for others. Paul called himself a “slave” of others. Paul leveraged his freedom for others. He sacrificed his freedom for others. He brought freedom to others.

Paul leveraged his freedom. Paul used the freedoms of his Roman citizenship to travel freely and to avoid persecution. His freedom of movement and legal rights ensured that the gospel continued to spread.

Paul sacrificed his freedom. Before Festus, Paul could have been set free. (Acts 26.32) Yet, he made a  strategic legal appeal that would mean imprisonment and death for him, but life for the church.

Paul brought freedom. Paul used the freedom he had in Christ to bring freedom to others and make the most of every evangelical opportunity. He was a cultural chameleon, yet without losing the distinctiveness of following Jesus. Rather than demanding his own freedom or enforcing his culture, Paul removed every cultural stumbling block except the gospel.

Let us think about our freedom in the way Paul did, not as a way to benefit ourselves but as a way to benefit others and spread the gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Hallelujah! Praise the Name of the Lord; give praise, you servants of the Lord,
You who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God.
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praises to his Name, for it is lovely. — Psalm 136.1-3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 35 (Listen 4:41)
1 Corinthians 9 (Listen 4:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 36 (Listen 2:15), 1 Corinthians 10(Listen 4:04)
Deuteronomy 1 (Listen 6:27), 1 Corinthians 11 (Listen 4:20)

Read more about Complaint to Commission
Paul also shows us how to go beyond complaint to the cure our culture needs—the gospel.

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Normalizing Idols

Scripture Focus: 1 Corinthians 8.9-13
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. 

Reflection: Normalizing Idols
By John Tillman

The ancient world was filled with gods and temples. Sacrifices in these temples were often of food that would be sold in the marketplace or even served at banquets in the temples themselves. Scrupulous Jews went to extreme lengths to avoid even accidentally purchasing and eating meat that may have been sacrificed to an idol. (Acts 15.29)

But if idols are merely fake gods made from wood and stone by men and I serve the God of Heaven who made the wood, the stone, and the man, why should I worry? If their god isn’t real, there’s nothing wrong with the meat. If my God is real, all things are clean that he has called clean. (Acts 10.15) Why shouldn’t I eat?

What should we do when someone’s convictions about moral choices are more restrictive than our own? What should we do when our rights interfere with someone else? When we are enlightened and they are repressed, when we are right and they are wrong, why should we defer to them?

When speaking into such controversy, Paul began by saying, “…knowledge puffs up while love builds up.”

Knowledge is freedom. Knowledge is power. Freedom is often abused and can be deceptively destructive. Power is often abused and corrupts those who wield it. It should not surprise us then that knowledge can be abused.

The Corinthian’s knowledge was leading them toward pride and boasting. Paul pointed out the dark path their so-called enlightenment was leading towards. Their boldness and boasting would normalize something that could destroy others’ faith.

It might seem that we don’t have temples on every corner, sacrificing animals to false gods and selling meat. But the false gods in our culture don’t go by names like “Aphrodite,” whose temple was in Corinth, or “Artemis,” whose temple was in Ephesus. The temples of our false gods aren’t selling meat but that doesn’t mean there aren’t sacrifices. Are we buying what they are selling? Should we be?

What idols of this age are we normalizing? Even if we, in our knowledge, “haven’t done anything wrong,” are we harming others by participating? Are we “puffed up” with knowledge or “building up” in love?

Love is a greater ethic than knowledge or freedom. When knowledge leads us toward pride, let love lead us toward humility. When freedom leads us toward boasting, let love lead us toward sacrifice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; he is more to be feared than all gods. — Psalm 96.2-4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 34 (Listen 2:59)
1 Corinthians 8 (Listen 1:54)

Read more about Ready to Exit the Desert
May we leave sin and doubt in the desert, crossing the Jordan toward God’s calling to be his city on a hill.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
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Stages of Life

Scripture Focus: Numbers 33:1-2
1 Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey

Reflection: Stages of Life
By Erin Newton

Every life is marked by its stages. Stages of growing up. Stages of learning hard lessons. Stages of joy. Stages of grief. Stages of community and relationships. Stages of loneliness and isolation. Each stage has importance of its own.

The author of Numbers details the mile markers for each place the Hebrews went. Most landmarks are simple place names. They started here and went there. A handful of verses include more details, indicating more than a routine pitstop.

From the few verses that elaborate, we mark specific stages: the flight from Egypt after Passover, passing through the Red Sea, a water crisis at Rephidim, the death of Aaron at Mount Hor, and the plains of Moab where they were called to take possession of the land.

These events were important. Each event presented a new crisis whereby God would reveal his power and sovereignty. Other events, however, are not mentioned. This is a partial list, a reminder of a handful of important moments.

Throughout our lives, we look back and take stock of our life stages. Many of us talk about our childhoods and how each experience shaped us. Some talk about their lives by the stages of their child’s development. Some describe their life by their education, career, or achievements. Each stage anchors the ups and downs of life.

Why would God ask Moses to record these stages? Some of the events were already recorded in other books. Why should he remind the people again? Because something big, something hard, something terrifying was about to happen. The next step in their journey was a difficult path and remembering earlier stages gave them hope and assurance that God was with them.

It is good practice to take time and look back on your life. Mark the moments that feel life-altering. Rejoice in the stages you knew God was working. Be free to mourn the stages when God felt silent.

Many of God’s beloved saints went home last week and we mourn their loss. We feel the void in their ministry. Each of our lives are made up of a unique set of stages. We risk comparison but that is not God’s call. One faithful pastor reflected, “We only have to be faithful to the gifts and energy we have—to walk in the good works God has prepared for us to walk in. No one else’s.” (Chris Hutchinson) 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him, all you peoples.
For his loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Hallelujah! — Psalm 117

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 33 (Listen 4:53)
1 Corinthians 7 (Listen 6:09)

Read more about The Sojourn of Sanctification
The desert sojourn is a transforming experience for Israel and this process of sanctification can be mirrored in the lives of modern believers.

Read more about Sojourn of Grace
Asaph’s Psalm 78 is a poetic filter through which to view Moses’ detailed record of the Israelites’ travels in the wilderness.