I love the Old Testament book of Proverbs and have reread it every January for several years now. There is no way I could choose one favorite verse, but one I return to again and again is Proverbs 9:9. The New International Version renders this verse “Instruct the wise, and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.” Here are four things I take from this verse.

I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. You may think that is obvious, but the truth is I sometimes come across as though I know a lot more than I do. I am finally learning that it is good to keep in mind that I don’t know everything; I don’t even know as much as I sometimes think I do.

Not only do I not know everything, I COULD BE WRONG. I don’t like to be wrong, but there have been plenty of times when I have been wrong. I’ve been wrong on some little things, and I have been wrong on some big things. It hasn’t always been easy for me to admit that I could be or was wrong.

If I could be wrong, then it follows that THE PERSON WHO DISAGREES WITH ME COULD BE RIGHT. If it is hard to admit you could be or were wrong, it’s probably even harder to admit that the person who disagreed with you was right.  I know people who have disagreed with me have been right at times.

In light of these first three revelations (that I’m sure surprise no one), I NEED TO KEEP LEARNING AND GROWING IN WISDOM. I don’t need to know everything, I don’t need to always be right, and it’s ok that someone who disagrees with me is right. What I need to do is to keep on learning and growing. And these four affirmations indicate at least some progress.

Going back to Proverbs 9:9, A CERTAIN LEVEL OF WISDOM IS ASSUMED if a person who is instructed will become even wiser. And A CERTAIN LEVEL OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS ASSUMED if a person who is taught will learn more. I don’t think we can be too optimistic for those who think they know everything, who don’t think they are ever wrong and someone else could be right, or don’t realize they need to continue to learn and grow.

Proverbs 1:7 gives the theme of the book: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” By “fear of the LORD” the Bible does not mean that we shrink back in terror from God, but rather that we acknowledge Him as Creator, worship Him as God, and submit to Him as Lord. That is a good beginning point, isn’t it? From there we can continue to welcome wisdom and instruction into our lives.

Share this post with others if you think it will encourage them and I welcome comments below.

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You may not get to read as much as you would like, but I’m sure you do your share of reading. Because of the nature of my work as a pastor I have always needed to read and had the time to do so. Since I stepped down from my last church just over a year ago I have had the opportunity to read even more than I did before. I want to highlight five books that may interest you and that you may want to get and read.

The title of one book got my attention: The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus (2015, HarperOne). It was put together by Dallas Willard’s daughter (following his death) from his notes and lectures. The title not only got my attention, when I read it I was convicted. Willard challenges us as Christians not to “engage in debates and arguments with an antagonizing, arrogant spirit” (p. 2), but to “be characterized by gentleness” and humility.

A second book I am still reading is an older book (1998). I wanted to read it for a few years and finally ordered a used copy. It is entitled Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Riverhead Books) and is written by Kathleen Norris. (Yes, a woman!) It consists of some 80 brief chapters that deal with a variety of important words and phrases in Christianity often from a personal perspective. I am taking my time and savoring her selections.

For those interested in the Bible I am quite impressed with Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan). First published in 1981, I have the 2014 Fourth Edition. This book is required for one of the classes I teach at Hope International University and has informative chapters on every part of the Bible. It’s an excellent companion for Bible reading.

Last month I got Jesus: A Historical Portrait by Daniel Harrington (2007, St. Anthony Messenger Press). Harrington is a Roman Catholic priest and a professor of New Testament, but this short book is not complicated or too deep for you. “This book aims to state concisely and clearly for a general audience what many specialists in biblical research have learned and written about Jesus of Nazareth in recent years” (p.1). Just over 100 pages, this is an interesting overview of what the Gospels tell us about the life of Jesus.

Finally, if you have not read it, there is my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters. You can read about it here

Which of these books sounds the most interesting to you and might you get and read? What have you read recently you would suggest? Let me and other readers know in the comments below. And share this post if you think others would enjoy it.

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I assume your answer to the question “Do you understand suffering?” is the same as mine. And that answer is “no.” But not knowing the answer doesn’t keep us from asking the question, does it?

Teaching my Old Testament survey class this week I had another opportunity to focus on the book of Job. The authors of one of our textbooks reminded me, “The book of Job is one of the greatest literary treasures in the world.” The authors of our other textbook note the book of Job does not offer an explanation of suffering but “a biblical perspective on suffering.”

The book of Job is about God responding to a challenge from the Accuser (Satan) that the only reason Job is righteous is because he is blessed. So God permits the accuser to bring great suffering on Job in terms of his family and his health.

In the midst of his suffering three of Job’s friends visit to comfort him and suggest he needs to confess and repent of whatever sin he has committed that has brought the suffering upon him. Job, however, insists he has not done anything to deserve his suffering and continually calls for an audience with God Himself.

The Accuser, Job’s friends, and Job himself all hold to what is variously called “The Retribution Principle,” “Contract Faith,” or “Traditional Theology.” This teaching basically says that if a person is good, obedient, and faithful he or she will be blessed by God. On the other hand, if a person is unfaithful, disobedient, and bad she or he will not be blessed but will suffer. In Job’s case his friends thought he had done something wrong and therefore he was suffering. But Job knew he had not done anything wrong and therefore did not deserve to suffer. That’s why he wanted an audience with God.

When God finally speaks to Job (chapter 38-41) He does not address Job’s suffering or respond to his complaint. Nor does He discuss the “Traditional Theology” held by the Accuser, Job’s friends, or Job. He doesn’t even tell Job why he is suffering. God emphasizes His great wisdom and power; and Job repents of wrongly accusing God of injustice. (I suggest you read at least chapter 38 and as much of the rest of the book as you can.)

I find it interesting that in the end God more than restored everything that had been taken from Job. Job proved that God was right and the Accuser was wrong. But Job was never told about the contest between his God and the Accuser.

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament suggest there is a link between the blessing of obedience as well as suffering as a result of sin. For example, see Exodus 19:3-6 and Galatians 6:7 and 8. Yet the why of suffering is often a mystery. Retribution theology is a valid principle, but it is not absolute.

It would be a mistake to assume that tough times are always the result of sin or that success is always the result of righteous living. We cannot simply assume that for ourselves or others.

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On September 6 I read something in the devotional writing of Oswald Chambers that grabbed my attention and has stayed with me for over a month. In that day’s reading he observed “God rarely allows a person to see how great a blessing he is to others.” I’m not sure I totally agree with Chambers, but if he is correct, I am one of the rare ones who has had the privilege of seeing how God has used me to bless others.

After I stepped down from local church ministry in October of 2014 I put together a book entitled “A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters.” The book included a variety of letters I received and wrote over the course of 44 years of ministry in four churches. Simply reading the letters gave me numerous snapshots of how God had used me to bless others. But even more than that, response to the book from people who were involved in those churches has given me even a greater sense.

Once the book came out I was contacted on Facebook by several who were in the church I served as Youth Minister from 1970 to 1975. The same thing happened with people who were a part of the church I served as Minister from 1975 to 1984. Many of the exchanges with people in those churches take me back 30 to 40 years!

A few weeks ago I was invited to write a letter of congratulations to a couple in the first church I served as a summer intern for their 65th wedding anniversary. What a privilege to be able to connect with that family after 44 years!

This past Sunday, on the anniversary of my last Sunday where I served as Senior Pastor for 30 years, I was invited back to preach. I was overwhelmed by the response of so many who welcomed Jan and me back, thanked us, told us they missed us, and assured us things were going well. Seeing how God has used someone to bless others is not as rare as Oswald Chambers suggests.

God has used me to bless others, but equally true and significant, He has also used others to bless me. The reality is that many of the ones He blessed through me are the same ones He used to bless me. And that mutual blessing continues.

Delighting in seeing how God has used me to bless others is not about self-promotion. I echo the declaration of Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness.” For me to think I deserved the opportunities I have had, or to fail to thank those who gave them to me, would be an expression of both presumption and delusion.

I hope you have had and will have opportunities to be a blessing to others. And I pray God allows you to see how great a blessing you are.

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At first reading two of Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount appear to contradict one another. In Matthew 5:14 He says to His followers, “You are the light of the world.” Then He adds in verse 16, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Seems clear enough, doesn’t it?

Then in Matthew 6:1 Jesus instructs, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Again, seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?

Which is it? Are we to let our lights shine before others so they may see our good deeds? Or are we not to do good deeds in front of others to be seen by them? It sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t.

Jesus is talking about motive in both of these statements and the motive in each is not the same. The motive in the first instruction is to do good deeds with the idea that people will see our good deeds and glorify God. The motive Jesus forbids in the second instruction is doing good things to be seen by others. We aren’t to do good to draw attention to ourselves so people are impressed with us. As a matter of fact, if that is why we do good things, and we are seen by others, that’s the end of it. But we are to do good deeds and let our lights shine with the goal of pointing people to God.

In living the Christian life and doing good deeds we have to give attention to our motive. Why do we do what we do? Who do we want to get the attention? In a class years ago at Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Bruce Metzger gave us what I still think is sound advice: “When tempted to show, hide. When tempted to hide, show.” What do you think?

I welcome comments below. And if you think others would enjoy this challenge don’t hesitate to share it.

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