HOW TO ANSWER A FOOL

As I was getting ready to cover the book of Proverbs in my History and Literature of Ancient Israel class I was reminded of what many think is a clear contradiction in the book. Proverbs 25:4 instructs, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” The very next verse cautions, “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

Sure sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? But it isn’t. This apparent contradiction provides the opportunity to suggest a few things for reading and applying this book of wisdom to our lives.

First, getting a handle on the meaning of wisdom in the book of Proverbs will be helpful. It’s not about intellect, a high IQ, or significant knowledge. According to Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart it is not theoretical and abstract. Wisdom in the book of Proverbs is practical insight for living a godly life. It’s about attitude and behavior in daily life. And Proverbs 1:7 gives the foundation, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” My sense of what it means to fear the LORD is to recognize and honor Him through worship and obedience.

Second, the affirmations in the book of Proverbs are not absolute laws. They describe life in terms of how things generally work; what they say is not always and universally the case. The first principle of interpretation Fee and Stuart list is “Proverbs are not legal guarantees from God.”

Finally, and flowing from the previous paragraph, what a Proverb teaches must be applied at the right time and in the right situation. In the words of Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman III, “Wisdom is knowing the right time and the right circumstance to apply the right principle to the right person.”

This brings us back to Proverbs 25:4 and 25:5. Do we answer or do we not answer a fool according to his folly? It all depends. It depends on the person and the situation. Sometimes to answer a fool would only give credibility to him. At other times not to answer a fool would only result in him thinking he was right.

Would you like to grow in wisdom? For the past several years I have been reading the book of Proverbs every January—one chapter a day, 31 chapters in 31 days. If you are not committed to a Bible reading plan I invite you to join me as we begin the month of April with Proverbs 1:1-7 and then go to chapters 10 through chapter 29. (You can go back and pick up the rest of chapter 1, chapters 2-9, 30, and 31 later because these chapters are not in the same form.) Go at your own pace—don’t rush—slow down and reflect on what you read.

And since we are coming to April 1, I close with, A proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk” (Proverbs 26:9 NLT).

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WHAT ABOUT JESUS’ RESURRECTION?

As we come to Easter Sunday there are two pieces I want to share that I hope will enhance your celebration of Jesus’ resurrection this year.

The first is the words of a worship song. One of the songs at the church we attended last weekend had such an impact on me I thought others would appreciate as well. I invite you to meditate on and savor these lyrics that emphasize the result of Jesus’ resurrection.

The head that once was crowned with thorns

Is crowned with glory now

The Savior knelt to wash our feet

Now at His feet we bow

 

The One who wore our sin and shame

Now robed in majesty

The radiance of perfect love

Now shines for all to see

 

Your name, Your name is victory

All praise will rise to Christ our King

Your name, Your name is victory

All praise will rise to Christ our King

 

The fear that held us now gives way

To Him who is our peace

His final breath upon the cross

Is now alive in me

 

The tomb where Life itself was laid

Was borrowed for three days

His body there would not remain

Our God has robbed the grave

 

Copied from Elevation Church website (http://elevationchurch.org/worship/)

 

The second piece is on a totally different level. It is a quote from an academic book I was reading this week that is worth reading even if we don’t totally agree with the author:

“It is notoriously difficult to deal with the resurrection in a historical presentation. Many historians do not think that consideration of the resurrection belongs to the study of the historical Jesus. After all, a person’s life begins with his birth and ends with his death. In addition, even if the resurrection happened, it lies beyond history and certainly beyond historical research. But what the historian can say with assurance is that the earliest Christians experienced something that they interpreted as seeing the risen Jesus. Not only does all the evidence point in this direction; it is difficult to imagine that the Jesus movement would have survived the horrendous and humiliating execution of its leader and the flight of the disciples unless the disciples had some experience that turned things around for them.”

(emphasis added) From Early Judaism: The Exile to the Time of Jesus by Frederick J. Murphy.

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ARE YOU KING OF THE JEWS?

What I hope will be a meaningful read as we come to Thursday and Friday of Holy Week this year.

The most dramatic and consequential questioning of Jesus took place during the hearings and trials He went through prior to His crucifixion. Actors have tried to capture the drama in a multitude of plays and movies ranging from small church youth-led Good Friday services to the big screen of Hollywood.

But the consequences were more important than the drama. For Jesus it meant His death on the cross. Of course He knew the reason He came was to die, but His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane gives us insight into His inner struggle. In addition, the consequence of His death was an opportunity for us to have life, through the forgiveness of our sin and restoration of our status as children of God.

Context and Setting

The accounts of the night of Jesus’ arrest and trials, all the way through His resurrection and ascension, are in many respects the most difficult to harmonize in the Gospels. The trials before His crucifixion and His appearances after His resurrection are most challenging. John’s account of Jesus before Pilate is the most complete of the four with Matthew and Mark being in the most agreement about the entire ordeal. I suggest reading and studying one account at a time and not investing a great deal of time and energy in trying to harmonize everything.

In terms of the questioning of Jesus prior to His crucifixion, the questioning from Pilate was the final stage. Prior to appearing before Pilate Jesus went before Jewish authorities two or three times. It seems clear Jesus was first questioned informally and then later taken before the Sanhedrin (the formal Jewish council). Only John tells us that Jesus was taken first to Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas (18:13). After that He was taken “to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered” (Matthew 26:57).

Early the next morning the night’s questionings came to a climax. This exchange is also the high point of all that had transpired between Jesus and His critics during His final week.

The Jewish leaders were looking for evidence to charge Jesus so they could put Him to death. In the first part of the “hearing” they couldn’t get two witnesses to agree. Finally, two agreed about Jesus saying He was able to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. Yet even with the high priest challenging Him to respond, Jesus remained silent.

Finally, exasperated, the high priest challenged Him: “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah of God” (Matthew 26:63). By the things He had done and said, especially in recent days, Jesus had given enough reason for the high priest to ask the question. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report Jesus’ answer a little differently; Matthew has Him saying, “You have said so” (Matthew 26:64a). As we will see later, this is very similar to the response Jesus would soon give to Pilate.

But the answer that brought everything to a head was what Jesus said next: “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64b). It was a bold statement claiming a special relationship with God no human being could have. The high priest tore his clothes (a sign that blasphemy had been committed) and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” (Matthew 26:65 and 66a). And all agreed Jesus was worthy of death.

The final note of context and setting is Matthew 27:1 and 2: “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.”

Questioning Jesus and Considering His Responses

Since John’s account of Jesus before Pilate gives the most detail, we will use it in this part of our study. Pilate began the proceedings by asking the Jewish leaders what charges they were bringing against Jesus (18:29). These enemies of Jesus knew they didn’t have a charge that would stand up in the Roman court so their response was Jesus was a criminal. In the first of several efforts to remove himself from the situation, Pilate told them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law” (18:31).

The leaders’ response was they did not have the right to execute anyone; this was the very reason they had taken Jesus to Pilate. The Roman government did not permit its subjects to convict and carry out the death penalty. That was in the hands of the local governor. The leaders’ problem was compounded in that blasphemy was a serious infraction for the Jews, but meant nothing to the Romans.

It was at this point that Pilate asked the key question. The question is identical in all four Gospels: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; and John 18:33). The question is identical, but the recorded response of Jesus is not. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have Jesus responding, “You have said so,” the same response Jesus had given earlier to the high priest. R.T. France notes this answer “is a qualified affirmative,” indicating yes to the question, but not in accordance with the meaning the questioner has in mind.20 In other words, Jesus was agreeing He was indeed a king, but not in the way Pilate was using the word.

John’s fuller account of the exchange between Jesus and Pilate bears out France’s interpretation of Jesus’ answer recorded in the other Gospels. John tells us Jesus’ responded with a question: “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” (18:34). It seems pretty clear that Jesus’ accusers had set Him up ahead of time. Pilate responded, “Am I a Jew? Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” (18:35)

The final part of Jesus’ response to Pilate is one of His best-known sayings: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (18:36). He had a kingdom, but it was not like the world’s kingdoms. If it was His disciples would have fought for Him.

Only Luke tells us that at this point in the proceedings Pilate learned Jesus was from Galilee and sent Him to Herod (Luke 26:6:12). This was the second attempt by Pilate to opt out of dealing with Jesus. But Herod sent Him back to Pilate.

Pilate made two more attempts to get out of dealing with the charges and requests the Jewish leaders brought to him about Jesus. He brought up the custom of releasing a prisoner at the time of Passover and offered to release “the king of the Jews” (John 18:39). Instead they chose Barabbas. Pilate also repeated his view that Jesus was innocent by declaring, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 19:6b).

In John’s account Pilate also continued questioning Jesus, concluding with, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (19:10). In Jesus’ final words to Pilate He gave another bold and powerful answer: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore, the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (19:11). Jesus told Pilate the only power he had over Him was given to him by God. And even though Caiaphas (probably) was guiltier, Pilate was also guilty.

Wrap Up

Pilate was a conflicted leader who tried hard, but not hard enough. John tells us, “From then on Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (19:12a). But the Jewish leaders would not accept it. The final straw for Pilate was no doubt what these leaders had in mind when they first took Jesus to him. They told Pilate, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (19:12b).

Even though I have known the account since I was child, and have heard it more times than I can count, I think one of the saddest verses in the Bible is John 19:16: “Finally Pilate handed him to them to be crucified.”

This is chapter 13 of my book Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses. To learn more about the book, read endorsements, or order the book go to Amazon’s website:

http://www.amazon.com/Questioning-Jesus-Considering-His-Responses/dp/1517785855/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1455234806&sr=8-3&keywords=Questioning+Jesus

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WHAT ARE YOU ASKING FOR?

As we come to Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter these next two weeks I have been reading Mark’s account of Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem. Even though I have read it many times before, as well as preached from it, I was struck by the account of Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52.

Verse 46 tells us as Jesus, His disciples, and a large crowd were leaving Jericho there was a blind man named Bartimaeus “sitting by the roadside begging.” Like today, it was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for people to be at high traffic areas begging. What was uncommon was what Bartimaeus shouted when he heard that Jesus was coming by: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The title he used for Jesus indicated his high regard for Him.

Verse 47 tells us many in the crowd scolded and quieted him, but that only caused him to shout even louder. Hearing the shouting, Jesus stopped and instructed those with him to “Call him.” Now those who were previously quieting him began telling him to cheer up and get on his feet because Jesus was calling him. And Bartimaeus did not need to be told twice as he threw his cloak aside, jumped up, and went to Jesus.

Jesus’ question in verse 51 is what struck me: “What do you want me to do for you?” In his initial calls to Jesus he asked for mercy, but in response to Jesus’ question he was specific: “Rabbi, I want to see.” Then Jesus granted his request telling him in verse 52, “Go, your faith has healed you.” The account concludes with “Immediately he received his sight and followed along the road.”

The fact that Bartimaeus is one of the very few named that Jesus helped suggests to me this is an important account. I note the boldness, persistence, responsiveness, openness, and faith of Bartimaeus. And once he received his sight, Bartimaeus followed Jesus.

Hopefully you and I know who Jesus was and is even more clearly than Bartimaeus did. We know Him as Jesus; we know what the title Son of David means; and we look to Him as our teacher (Rabbi). We also know Him as our Savior and Lord.

I’ve been looking to Bartimaeus as an example and encouragement for me in prayer. In addition to the elements of praise and thanksgiving, one of my general requests lately has been for mercy. The Bible is clear that God is a God of mercy and I know that I need His mercy even when I am not aware of my need.

I am most intrigued by Jesus’ question: “What do you want me to do for you?” In his book Jesus: A Pilgrimage James Martin makes three statements that challenge me to do some serious thinking. First he suggests “Jesus sees something liberating in identifying and naming our desires.” Two paragraphs later he says “Notice that Jesus does not say, ‘Bartimaeus, just accept the way things are’.” Then the takeaway for me, “when we stand before God in prayer we should feel comfortable expressing our longings.”

In addition to asking the Lord for mercy, I also have a few specifics; in your prayers today what are you asking for?

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ON TURNING 65

Today I turn 65; and in all honesty I don’t find it unsettling at all. Since I have known it was coming it doesn’t take me by surprise. I went on Medicare March 1 (although I haven’t used it yet) and began taking social security last year. Here are some of my thoughts as I come to this milestone.

I DON’T FEEL OR ACT OLD

Of course I realize I am not 40, 50, or even 60; but I don’t really feel that old. My health is pretty good and I remain active regularly playing golf and going to the Fitness Center two or three times a week. It can be embarrassing to my family, but I don’t act old either. If you could see me playing with my grandsons (ages 6 and 2) or be in one of the classes I teach at Hope International University you would agree I don’t act old. My wife and daughter sometimes chastise me, and I do periodically have to remind myself I am a professor, but I want to have fun and be fun.

I’m 65 and on Medicare, but I don’t feel or act old.

I’M NOT FINISHED GROWING

In terms of continuing to learn and spiritually mature I am still making progress. I still read a lot of books, magazines, and online newsletters. Teaching History and Literature of Ancient Israel at Hope has been a real plus. Most of my graduate work was in New Testament and teaching this course has made the Old Testament more interesting and important to me.

Since I am no longer regularly preparing to preach, my Bible reading has become more meaningful and rewarding. In connection with my Bible reading I still often consult commentaries to see what others have to say, but I’m applying what I read to my own life more than ever before. And the devotional books I read not only challenge my thinking, but also the way I live as a follower of Jesus.

I’m 65 and sort of retired, but I’m not finished growing.

I’M NOT THROUGH BEING USED

I was a youth minister or pastor for 44 years before I stepped down after 30 years at my last church in October of 2014. But that does not mean God is no longer using me in His service. Being an adjunct professor of biblical studies gives me a great opportunity to impact and influence first year college students. I also get to “guest” preach some Sundays. And I continue to write as well. As you may or may not know, I have published two books in the last year. (A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters and Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses are both available on amazon.com.) And I view this blog as a ministry to those who read it.

I’m 65 and no longer serving a local church, but God has not stopped using me.

I’M MORE IN LOVE THAN I’VE EVER BEEN

Two of the greatest blessings and joys in my life are my two grandsons. Only readers who are grandparents can identify with my love for them. In many respects I think I love my two grown children, Audrey and Rob, more than I ever had. And I know I love my wife Jan of almost 42 years more this year than I did last year.

The reality is I’m in several long term committed relationships. In addition to my marriage, I am also in a long term committed relationship with the Bible, the Church, and the Lord. I love the Bible, the Church, and the Lord more than ever. The only real downside of having stepped down from my church several months ago is that we haven’t yet plugged in where we love and are loved by a church family. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the church at large as well as the local church.

I’m 65, but am more in love now that I’ve ever been.

I’M THANKFUL FOR THE PAST AND LOOK FORWARD TO THE FUTURE

I guess 65 is one of those special birthdays like 13, 18, 21, 40, and 50. With the first four most people look forward and with 50 and beyond I guess many people look back. As I turn 65 I am looking both back and forward. As I look back I am filled with gratitude. And as I look forward I have a sense of anticipation.

I’m 65 and don’t know what the future holds, but I am thankful and excited.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to make comments below and share this post on social media.

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DO YOU HAVE THIS QUALITY?

An observation I read last week by Lance Witt really got my attention: “One of the most underrated and underestimated qualities of a spiritual leader is the quality of gentleness.” I certainly agree that gentleness is underrated and underestimated when it comes to spiritual leaders, but more than that, gentleness is a quality that is neglected by many Christians whether they are leaders or not.

The New Testament includes several calls for all followers of Jesus to cultivate and practice gentleness.

Colossians 3:12, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Note the company gentleness keeps in this exhortation to Christians.

Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Note the reminder that follows the instruction perhaps telling us both why we should and how we can be gentle.

Ephesians 4:2, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Note the specific example for being humble, gentle, and patient: making allowance for other’s faults. That same emphasis is made in Galatians 6:1, “. . . if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the
spirit should restore that person gently.”

In tune with Witt’s observation, in a list of qualifications for church leaders in I Timothy 3:3 the Apostle Paul says a leader “is to be not violent but gentle.” Towards the end of the letter in 6:11 he calls Timothy a man of God and tells him to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith love, endurance and gentleness. And again in II Timothy 2:25, “Opponents must be gently instructed.”

I think part of the reason we don’t stress more the Bible’s call to be gentle is a misperception of the quality. Some wrongly think of gentleness as weakness and unbecoming. It might be helpful for us to be reminded that the Bible tells us Jesus was gentle.  In Matthew 11:29 Jesus Himself declares: “I am gentle and humble in heart.” And in II Corinthians 10:1 the Apostle Paul refers to “the humility and gentleness of Christ.”

In classical Greek gentleness is associated with being friendly and mild. When used of animals it means they are tame and with people it suggests they are considerate and benevolent.  Being gentle is the opposite of being harsh or overly stern or expressing unbridled anger. Gentleness is in contrast to demanding one’s rights or insisting upon one’s way. But it is more than just not being harsh, quick tempered, and rude. Positively gentleness is about being patient, magnanimous, and kind.

I don’t know about you, but I’m convicted. Too often I’m grumpy and irritable–not as gentle as I want and need to be. I want to more gracious; I want to be more like Jesus. How do I do that? Galatians 5:22 and 23 includes gentleness as a part of the fruit of the Spirit. I guess I need to open myself more, submit more, and cooperate more with Him.

What do you think?

Reply with comments below and share these thoughts with others on social media. (Also feel free to email me.)

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ARE YOU GRATEFUL?

Last week I was reminded of both the beauty of gratitude as well as the ugliness of ingratitude.

On Monday a full professor at the university where I am an adjunct happened to learn about something I had done for my students that was over and above what would be expected. And the next day he took the time and made the effort to send me an email thanking me. He certainly did not have to do that, nor did he gain anything by it (except my appreciation for him). But I was honored by his note.

At the end of last week someone for whom I have done a lot turned on me and spoke disrespectfully to me in front of others. In all honesty, all I could think was “has this person forgotten all I have done for him?” While I do not expect to be regularly thanked by this person, my spirit was wounded by his attitude and words.

One of the reasons I think saying thanks is so important is because I have been thanked regularly and often during my years as a pastor and teacher. And I know what it means to me to be on the receiving end of someone’s expression of gratitude. As a matter of fact, during my 44 years of ministry I served four churches: a summer intern youth ministry in Columbus, a five year youth ministry in Cincinnati, a 10 year ministry in the Philadelphia area, and a 30 year ministry in Southern California. I still regularly hear from people in all four of those churches telling me thanks. And during the last few years of my teaching at Hope International University many students have expressed appreciation.

Since saying thank you is so important, why do you suppose so many do not more regularly express gratitude? I know it is the job of our server to wait on us when we eat out, but I’m fairly confident servers are encouraged and appreciate it when we thank them. My sense is that some people don’t say thanks because they are arrogant. They think they deserve what they have been given, or the way they have been treated; they feel they are entitled to it.

It may just be me, but I think ingratitude is a serious sin that shrinks a person’s soul and hardens their heart. In my experience grateful people seem to be positive and happy people. Ungrateful people seem to be negative and discontented. And it’s really about one’s attitude, isn’t it?

Let me make a couple of suggestions.

One is let’s be more intentional and specific about expressing gratitude. First, I think to God; but also to those who are closest to us (especially in our homes and with our close friends) as well as those we come into contact with only casually. Don’t thank people to manipulate them, but take note of what a difference it makes when you say thank you to them.

Finally, learn to be a gracious receiver of the gratitude of others. Work hard not to rebuff someone’s effort to thank you by devaluing what they are thanking you for. Acknowledge their gratitude and tell them you appreciate it.

When it comes to expressing gratitude, what grade would you give yourself? When it comes to receiving gratitude, what grade would you give yourself?

Reply below and share this post on social media if you think others would benefit.

And thanks for reading and considering these thoughts.

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