Do you want wisdom? Get the church.

“The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.  Prize her highly and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her” (Proverbs 4:7-8).  It’s a funny piece of advice, isn’t it?  The beginning of wisdom is to get it.  In the Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman: alluring, satisfying, exalting, serving and rewarding.

Wisdom sounds very lovely in the proverbs.  It makes sense that we would be exhorted to find her and keep her. There’s a difference between wisdom and knowledge.  It isn’t that they are totally different; more like siblings.  Knowledge is easy and it is everywhere.  In fact, it has been a hailed and steadfast commitment of our culture to educate for decades.  Our culture finds a lack of education as the root of all evil.  I’m not so sure.

It isn’t too far off to suggest we are a culture steeped in education but we are also rich in confusion, chaos and sin.  With so much access to so much knowledge, shouldn’t we be better off?  Perhaps no one is making the connection but our problem seems more to be that we lack wisdom than we lack knowledge.  Once again, they are siblings so to have one you get the other—eventually.

Getting wisdom is different than getting knowledge, at least in this way: wisdom is like a time-release capsule whose impact is received slowly.  This makes it less a “prize” in our eyes than the immediacy of knowledge.  The young are smart but not terribly wise.  The old are wise and may or may not be smart.  Knowledge leads to seeing but wisdom leads to understanding.  Wouldn’t you rather understand than simply see?

Wisdom cannot be obtained without relationships.  Knowledge can come over YouTube but not wisdom.  Personifying wisdom as a woman to be sought hints at this aspect.  Beloved, we could say with Scripture, the beginning of wisdom is this: get the church.  The church is the Bride of Christ and she is an essential companion if we are to be wise.  In her midst are saints who have traveled roads you and I will one day pass.  Saints whose scars tell us stories that we must hear.  Saints whose vision and understanding makes our knowledge seem stale.  Yes, beloved, if you want wisdom, get the church.

Heaven soon,

Pastor Gabe

“Where should we go?”

Now that we are officially creeping out of 2020, people are thinking about going back to church. 2020 was a blitzkrieg on the local church: decimating its ranks, demolishing its influence, demoralizing its leaders. (Yeah, it really was that bad.) But now we have more talk about (and actual participation in) vaccines and so there seems to be some “light” up ahead in that area. That’s got people thinking again about assembling with others on Sunday mornings. Or, at least it should. Let’s assume you or someone you know is starting to warm up to actually associating with others on Sunday, where should you go?

I suppose the first stop should be the place you’ve stayed away from: your own local church. It might be hard but try not to have a bad attitude about that place. Maybe the leaders decided not meeting was best or recorded sermons were best or some kind of hybrid meeting+non-meeting (i.e., ZOOM) was best. There was no script for how this was supposed to work out. Sure, the principles are clear: church should be our Sunday morning destination: period. “Trust the Lord.” “Do not forsake the assembly.” And so on. But, if it was really so clear, then why were churches and their decisions all over the map in 2020 and still? Give your leaders the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were right; maybe they weren’t.

So what if your place isn’t meeting and yet you are ready to get back to worship? Find another place. Look, you might think your soul is not in any real danger or that, all things considered, you weathered things in 2020 pretty well, “So, I don’t really need to meet; I can wait until my place opens.” Are you correct? Is it true that your soul escaped the Battle of Wuhan? That you really can make it: just you and Jesus?

Let me tell you a story. There was once a people whose named rhymes with “News.” They lived in a place given to them by God: a place flowing with milk and honey. God didn’t just give them the place, He gave them Himself as well. He made a covenant with them, to be God to them and to keep them as His people. He had already made that promise to Father Abraham and, in the nation of Israel, He was bringing fulfillment much closer. In Exodus 19-24, on three occasions the people said to the Lord, “All the LORD commands us, we will do; we will be obedient” (Ex. 24:7). God was faithful on His end: He drove out the nations, raised up godly leaders, installed Himself centrally in the Temple in Jerusalem and regularly made it rain.

Concerning Israel’s vows to obey? As it turns out, these were rash, childish commitments; they were the vows of a Bride unprepared for faithfulness (Jer. 31:32). Over the course of several hundred years, the people showed time and again they were more interested in chasing other gods than following the One true God. Eventually, they “destroyed” the covenant God made with them (Jer. 31:32). At that moment, with the bulk of the nation in exile, God pledged a “new” covenant. What is relevant for my point is this new covenant’s power isn’t in a person’s individual relationship with the Savior, but in the gathering of the whole community. At the beginning (Jer. 3:18), middle (Jer. 31:31) and end (Jer. 50:8), God promises to regather the people together as one as the context for this “new” covenant. The anchor point of the gift of God in the new covenant, its rebar, is the corporate church. A “oneness” the apostle Paul picks up on in Ephesians 4:

There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through and in all.

Here’s the terribly abbreviated point: God didn’t save you from your sins so you could make it a go on your own. Just “Me and Jesus” isn’t enough; it was never the design. In fact, a disdain for being one nation under God was part and parcel of Israel’s downfall. The refrain, “Every man was doing right in his own eyes” applied to Israel all the way to their exile. God didn’t give the children of Abraham’s faith a new covenant so we could be “OK” with so-called worship at home. That was the situation that led to the downfall of God’s people and it will lead to the downfall of the modern church.

So, do your part, get to church on Sunday. Hey, we’re open.

Who likes to be weird?

The answer is “no one.” It is certainly a coup for our enemy that the church has been historically afraid to be different than the culture around us. On one level it makes sense: we want to be liked. On the other, it’s a miserable capitulation to our fears: we are already “liked” by the Lord who purchased us. Is there more that’s really necessary?

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).  

The “charge” the apostle Paul speaks of is their instruction, their teaching.  Timothy was serving the church in Ephesus.  That town was full: idols, issues and interests.  It was probably true that you could seek and find just about whatever you wanted there.  Paul sends the young pastor into such a place with a teaching whose aim is love.

Love is acting for the good or the glory of another.  What determines what is good is God Himself.  Still, Paul spends more time in this verse on the motives that drove love: “pure heart” and a “good conscience” and a “sincere faith.”  It is difficult to parse these out as if they were different aspects of the human soul.  The Bible uses “heart” and “conscience” in ways that are often interchangeable.  There are differences to be sure, but perhaps the best we can do is say our love of others should be driven by motives at home in God’s throne room.  

Motives are tricky things.  No one is able to act with the purity, goodness or sincerity of the Lord fully: there will always be a little of me in my love for you.  That is to say we always have a little bit of an angle in our service for each other.  There is always some “how can I benefit from this….” driving what we do. That might explain Paul’s emphasis.

Paul’s charge to Timothy was to penetrate a culture wildly committed to the glory of the self with a message of selflessness.  There really is nothing more odd in our culture than to exemplify its opposite, right? In our culture, the institutions that have bound us are crumbling or our commitment to what they represent has waned.  Now, too many of us are too easily driven by what “I think is right,” what “I want to see happen,” what “will benefit me”…all no matter the cost.

Beloved, if we revive the motives of God to pursue God’s ends, that will be very weird to our culture.  So, weird, in fact, that, by God’s grace and power, we will be able to build a kingdom that will bring down all the rest.  Our culture has no shortage of sycophants. It needs critics but not just critics, examples of what human flourishing really looks like: those striving to be conformed to Christ, courageous in their lives and compelled to serve.

That’s the kind of weird that gets noticed.