Proverbs 2:1-5 – Have Common Sense

My child, you must follow
and treasure my teachings
    and my instructions.
Keep in tune with wisdom
and think what it means
    to have common sense.
Beg as loud as you can
    for good common sense.
Search for wisdom
as you would search for silver
    or hidden treasure.
Then you will understand
what it means to respect
    and to know the Lord God. (Contemporary English Version)

“Common sense is not so common.”

Voltaire

Sometimes it seems as if common-sense has taken a vacation or gone into quarantine.

We may even be in some sort of common-sense crisis or pandemic.

Perhaps we are emoting when we should be thinking. Maybe we’re thinking when we ought to be feeling. It could be we’re doing both or neither. Whatever the heck is going on, it’s a bunch of gobbledygook that isn’t getting us anywhere.

Much to my sadness, many Christians brazenly splash their ignorance across large swaths of social media. It’s not surprising that more and more people want nothing to do with the Church nor Christianity. 

Common sense does not necessarily imply any great quality of mind or intelligence; it’s common, not extraordinary.

We need some sound practical discernment for common everyday matters.

What shall we do?

I propose we liberally inhale the biblical proverbs – because suspicion, gullibility, extreme vitriol, and downright stupidity now characterize vast sections of our world, especially in the so-called intellectual West. In the wise sayings of the Proverbs, we shall find that:

Humility and reverence are the beginning of wisdom.

A teachable spirit is of more value than any amount of money or physical resources.

Developing the life of the mind is of critical importance.

Every good thing in life comes through blood, sweat, and tears – and doesn’t just fall into your lap.

Prayer matters.

Ultimate control belongs to God.

There is peace in being comfortable with mystery.

Knowing God helps us pursue the right questions, rather than always trying to have the right answers.

Becoming more self-aware creates greater awareness of God and others.

Smart choices come from both mental learning and practical action.

The mind can be clouded and untrustworthy, and the heart can be desperately wicked; the gut, however, is always right.

Mentally overthinking and researching things to death can disconnect us from a good old fashioned sage response.

Our own personal view is just that; it isn’t necessarily the best or right perspective.

Feedback, advice, consultation, and collaboration are necessary, not optional.

Perfection isn’t the goal.

Proverbs aren’t ironclad promises; they’re short pithy statements of experiential truth.

Observation and listening are valued by God as the primary means of gaining understanding.

Most things in life are both/and, not either/or.

We all have two ears and one mouth. There needs to be twice as much listening as talking.

We must go hard after wisdom.

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having experience makes all the difference.

Action and reflection go hand-in-hand.

It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not okay to let fear stop us from action.

Simplicity and complexity are not necessarily antithetical.

Complete control is the glory of God. Self-control is the glory of humans.

“Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done.”

C. E. Stowe

If we are going to raise our voices about something, then let us shout loudly in prayer for some basic wisdom and common sense from God. Any common fool can be won over by a podcast rant or get sucked into some blogger who vehemently damns everyone opposing his views. 

The wise believer, however, will humbly cry out to God for the wisdom to live well and make good decisions with both mind and mouth.

May it be so to the glory of God.

All-wise and everlasting God:

You know the number our of hairs and determine our days.

You hang the stars and feed the sparrows.

You open doors no one can shut and shut doors no one can open.

Surely, we can trust you when the time comes for making big decisions, or for that matter, any decision. We need your sagacity and discernment for all things. We will trust you for generous wisdom, straight paths, and peaceful hearts.

Blessed God:

We plan, seeking you to order our steps.

We pray, asking you to bend our prayers toward your benevolent purposes.

We seek counsel, counting on you to direct our words and actions more than trying to please someone else.

We search the Scriptures, looking to know Christ better.

It’s not our decisions, but yours that make all the difference. 

Gracious God:

Free us from the paralysis of analysis. We confess we are often more concerned with the perfect decision that impresses everybody, rather than being a righteous person.

Free us from idolatry. We confess we are often more concerned for our reputation than saying and doing what is right, just, and fair.

Free us from living in fear of disapproval. We confess we are often people-pleasers, rather than God-pleasers.

Free us from cheap and easy solutions to complex problems. We confess we often want speedy outcomes to our difficulties, rather than seeking to learn everything we can from the circumstances you give us.

Free us from continually second guessing ourselves and not trusting our gut. We confess that we often ignore the still small voice of wisdom within.

Sovereign God:

No matter the situation or the relationship, we affirm that your will and way for us is supreme.

Give us the desire and means of acquiring your will for all things.

Make us more and more like Jesus, even as we trust you for the opening and closing of doors that are in front of us.

May we live to your glory – Father, Son, and Spirit – the Holy Trinity we serve. Amen.

Numbers 27:12-23 – Humble Leadership

Moses Blesses Joshua by Marc Chagall, 1966

One day the Lord said to Moses, “Climb one of the mountains east of the river and look out over the land I have given the people of Israel. After you have seen it, you will die like your brother, Aaron, for you both rebelled against my instructions in the wilderness of Zin. When the people of Israel rebelled, you failed to demonstrate my holiness to them at the waters.” (These are the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)

Then Moses said to the Lord, “O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

The Lord replied, “Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people. Transfer some of your authority to him so the whole community of Israel will obey him. When direction from the Lord is needed, Joshua will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will use the Urim—one of the sacred lots cast before the Lord—to determine his will. This is how Joshua and the rest of the community of Israel will determine everything they should do.”

So, Moses did as the Lord commanded. He presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to lead the people, just as the Lord had commanded through Moses. (New Living Translation)

Moses was one of the most humble persons who ever lived on this earth (Numbers 12:3). Whereas many people are concerned for their legacy at end of life, Moses, instead, had a deep pastoral concern for his fellow Israelites. He didn’t want them without a capable and godly leader. So, in his humility, Moses was willing to obey God, let go of power, and share his authority so that the people would be well-cared for.

“All streams flow to the ocean because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.”

Lao Tzu (Chinese philosopher, 6th century B.C.E.)

I believe humility is the queen of all virtue, especially that of leadership. Yet, humility is one of the hardest virtues to practice because it requires that we willingly put aside pride, ego, and personal agendas in order to embrace God’s agenda.

Rather than having large statues erected to honor us and our proud accomplishments, or having our names plastered on buildings (and churches!) to recognize our wonderful charity, we really need to orient our energies toward passing the baton to trustworthy people who are capable of faithfully fulfilling the role of servant leader. (2 Timothy 2:2)

Being poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), becoming like a little child (Matthew 18:3), and thinking of others as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3) are the cornerstones to becoming open to what God has for us. To be a humble leader means to steadfastly seek God’s will and way in everything. Then, to have the courage in leading others toward God’s direction, despite resistance and opposition from those who want to follow a different path.

Therefore, a leader’s task is to be consumed with seeking God’s direction rather than living purely according to instinct, pragmatic desire, or personal views. We continually need a radical openness to God. So, we must work to develop an ever-deepening awareness of where God is leading us. 

God, in divine mercy, is always up to something good. The Lord has plans for us and for the people we lead.  It’s humility that allows us to listen well to God’s Spirit and gain the direction needed for leadership.

Yet, being open to God is not quite as easy as it sounds. We must recognize that not everyone is open to God.  There are those, maybe even including us, who may be closed to God. 

If our focus is more on creating safety and security or trying to do enough good deeds to be recognized by God and others, or having our institution be what we want it to be, then we have become closed to what God wants.  This comes out in a couple of different ways….

  1. Maintaining tradition, at all costs. Whenever we do everything the way we have always done it, to make us feel safe and secure, then anything that threatens that security angers us. This is where folks practice either fight or flight – they wage either a holy war or just leave. Living with uncertainty and ambiguity is too much for them. But faith is what it takes if we are going to follow God. Like Abraham in the Old Testament, we are called to move and change without always knowing the destination.
  • Getting rid of traditions, at all costs. Sometimes folks who want new or different, desire to create a place of their own making to serve them and their needs. They aren’t really focused on what God is calling them to do. Rather, like Timothy in the New Testament, we are to hold onto the great deposit of doctrine and heritage given to us and not always be looking for the next new thing to turn things around.

So, what to do? Have the humility to ask the question continually and constantly: “What is God’s will?”  We need leadership that is incredibly open to God, allowing decision-making to come from a position of faith, and not fear. This enables us….

  • To let God, flow in and through us, rather than willfully insisting it should be our way or the highway.
  • To practice hope and love, rather than relying on our own strength and desires.
  • To make prayer and discernment the foundation of what we do, always seeking what God wants and then leading others in that direction by inviting them to the same kind of prayerful process.
  • To read our Bibles as if our lives depended on it and pray like there is no tomorrow.

If we have humility and a deep openness to God; a conviction that we are primarily called to follow Jesus Christ; a willingness to let God’s power flow through us; and, a determined readiness to move people lovingly and graciously in God’s direction, then amazing things can happen. 

Let our prayer together be this: I am yours, God, no matter where you call me to go, what you call me to do, and how you call me to be. I will seek your will and way as I lead others to do the same. Amen.

Romans 12:1-8 – On Being Worshipers and Servants

Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Because of the kindness that God has shown me, I ask you not to think of yourselves more highly than you should. Instead, your thoughts should lead you to use good judgment based on what God has given each of you as believers. Our bodies have many parts, but these parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, even though we are many individuals, Christ makes us one body and individuals who are connected to each other. God in his kindness gave each of us different gifts. If your gift is speaking what God has revealed, make sure what you say agrees with the Christian faith. If your gift is serving, then devote yourself to serving. If it is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If it is encouraging others, devote yourself to giving encouragement. If it is sharing, be generous. If it is leadership, lead enthusiastically. If it is helping people in need, help them cheerfully. (God’s Word)

China and Clay

Every person is important. Everyone is needed. Each individual is to offer their entire lives to God through worship and using their spiritual gifts. Every believer is to be active in building up others. 

When I was growing up, we had a fine China set that my parents kept in a beautiful China cabinet.  The set and the cabinet are old and were a prominent part of our house. However, we almost never used it. I can only remember once or twice that my Mom got the China out to use.

God is not looking for fine China believers who sit unused in a cabinet church. Instead, the Lord is looking for rough-and-tumble clay pots—the kind that can be used every day. God wants ordinary table-wear that can be handled in a crash-and-bang world.

Followers of Jesus Christ are to be like a working kitchen, where well-worn pots are filled again and again to dispense their life-giving contents to a thirsty world; and, where common plates and cups are used again and again to provide a hungry population with the Bread of Life.

Jews and Gentiles

Within the ancient Roman Church were both Jews and Gentiles – two groups vastly different from each other.  They tended to keep to themselves and only operate within their familiar and comfortable circles of friends and relatives.  But the Apostle Paul wanted them united through using their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the entire congregation, and not only within their respective groups.

We are to give ourselves in service to one another because of God’s mercy in Christ. Since God has saved us from our guilt and shame, we are to have a grateful response of worship that is dedicated to serving everyone. 

Worship and Service

The word “worship” in today’s New Testament lesson is where we get the word “liturgy.” That is, Paul’s vision for the church was to have daily liturgical rhythms of spiritual worship, not just on Sunday when we might pull out the fine China and try to impress people.

Paul did not guilt people into serving. Rather, he straightforwardly exhorts all Christians to appropriately respond to God’s grace by offering their lives in sacrificial service as a form of gratitude to God. For this response, our mental faculties must be renewed through saturation in Scripture. It is here we discern our spiritual gifts, know what God wants us to do with those gifts, and use them effectively in the church and the world. 

Grace and Gifts

Grace is given to every believer in Jesus, not just a select few. We all have different gifts and are graced with abilities for the benefit of other, without exception. When everyone collectively exercises their spiritual gifts, then there is clarity in knowing the will of God.

All Christians must share and work together by utilizing God’s grace, instead of getting burned-out because others are not serving. Grumbling about what others are not doing begs the question of whether we are over-functioning, or not.

It could be that we have succumbed to the danger the Apostle Paul warned us about: thinking so highly of ourselves that we believe our gifts are superior to others, so we need to maintain our control and hegemony in the group. This is a terribly misguided notion. 

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:10-11, NIV

We belong to one another. Therefore, one major way of giving to God is through offering ourselves to each other with equity and without favoritism. We must not separate Christ from his church. To say that we need God, but do not need the church is to really say that we do not need God because the two are inseparable. Nowhere in Holy Scripture do we find individual Christians doing their own thing, isolated from a committed group of people, the church.

When Jesus called people to follow him in service to God and a world in need, some gave him excuses that they were busy and had other pressing matters to attend to before they could follow him. Jesus simply left them and told them they were not fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:57-62)

When people were pre-occupied with building wealth, or gaining power, or jockeying for influence, Jesus told them to stop it, exercise some faith, and seek first the kingdom of God.  Build your treasure in heaven, Jesus said, because it will be permanent; and, not on earth where it is temporary. (Matthew 6:19-34)

Spiritual Gifts and Abilities

We are graced by God with abilities which God fully expects us to use. “Cheap grace” is merely embracing Christ as a personal Savior but not welcoming him as the Lord in whom we must sacrificially give our lives to service in the church and the world. Spiritual health and vitality cannot exist apart from every person using God’s given grace to contribute to the functioning of the Body of Christ. 

The list of spiritual gifts Paul provided is not exhaustive but represents a combination of speaking and serving gifts necessary to bless humanity. Paul exhorted the church not to restrain people’s service but let them go at using their spiritual gifts, full bore:

  • Speak what God has revealed. Prophets do not foretell the future. Rather, they have “inspired speech” from God that addresses what God’s people are to do in consideration of Scripture. 
  • Serving. Servants give themselves to all types of hands-on service. 
  • Teaching. Teachers instruct the faithful in all the revealed will of God. 
  • Encouraging others. Encouragers both speak and serve, coming alongside others and helping them to do something with both verbal coaching and tangible help. 
  • Sharing. Givers live a simple life so they can give generously and contribute to the needs of others. 
  • Leadership. Leaders get out in front and show the way in obtaining the will of God. 
  • Helping people in need. Helpers show mercy by seeing down-and-out hurting people and being a conduit of God’s grace to them.

There is no one person who possesses all these gifts. That’s why everyone must work together to have a spiritually healthy community. A spiritually toxic community is the inevitable result of only a few people using their giftedness.

To avoid relational toxicity, and embrace communal harmony, our minds need transformation through renewing practices of godly sacrifice, regular worship, pursuing unity, and becoming aware of our spiritual gifts.

Here’s three ways we can discover our gifts:

  1. Pay attention.  Every spiritual gift reflects God’s grace and character, and so, you will find joy and satisfaction in expressing it. Your spiritual gift will be a place of deep spiritual formation and growth in your life, as God uses it both to powerfully connect you spiritually and to expose areas of your soul that need forgiveness and redemption. 
  2. Try. Give it a whirl. Volunteer. Connect with a service or ministry or try doing what you feel might be something God wants you to do. Gifts are primarily discovered from others observing and affirming your gift and not so much by going through a research process. The encouragers among us will be happy to affirm the gifts of others.
  3. Develop. All spiritual gifts need growth, cultivation, and development. Paul told his young protégé, Timothy, to fan into flame the gift of God. (2 Timothy 1:6)

We will find our greatest delight in life through engaging in worship of God and service to others. That leads to a spiritually healthy Christian community that loves God, loves one another, and loves the world.

God of grace, stir up the spiritual gifts of your people. May the gifts your Holy Spirit has decided to give us be activated and used for your glory and the edification of others. May you grant peace and joy in churches everywhere so that no one will be jealous or covetous about anyone else’s gifts. May these gifts grow and develop in love so that the fruit of the Spirit will be truly manifested. May you receive all praise honor and glory through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Jeremiah 3:1-5 – Spiritual Adultery

“If a man divorces a woman
    and she goes and marries someone else,
he will not take her back again,
    for that would surely corrupt the land.
But you have prostituted yourself with many lovers,
    so why are you trying to come back to me?”
    says the Lord.
“Look at the shrines on every hilltop.
    Is there any place you have not been defiled
    by your adultery with other gods?
You sit like a prostitute beside the road waiting for a customer.
    You sit alone like a nomad in the desert.
You have polluted the land with your prostitution
    and your wickedness.
That’s why even the spring rains have failed.
    For you are a brazen prostitute and completely shameless.
Yet you say to me,
    ‘Father, you have been my guide since my youth.
Surely you won’t be angry forever!
    Surely you can forget about it!’
So you talk,
    but you keep on doing all the evil you can.” (New Living Translation)

We all have needs. 

As humans, each one of us has a deep hunger for love, intimacy, attention, affirmation, and encouragement. When these needs are met within gracious and loving relationships, especially in the marital bond, then there is genuine happiness and flourishing. 

But when our deep wants go unmet over a stretch of time, smiles are replaced with furrowed brows and confident strides give way to slumped shoulders.

We feel deeply and are moved at a visceral level because we are made in the image and likeness of G-d – a G-d who feels and has great emotion. 

Perhaps we too often think of G-d as some disembodied ethereal brain without any feelings. I hope today’s Old Testament lesson puts a collar on such notions. G-d entered into a loving covenant relationship with Israel. Yet, over time, the people looked for their relational, emotional, and spiritual needs to be met in other gods rather than the One true G-d. 

And it pained G-d’s heart.

G-d felt deeply about the people turning away to pursue other gods. The Lord responded to the people like a jilted lover, agonized by their acting like a prostitute – looking for their intimate needs to be satisfied elsewhere. 

It seems to me G-d was so profoundly hurt because the Lord knows that our deepest and greatest needs can only really be met through the divine covenant relationship. People need G-d.

To put it in the stark terms of Jeremiah’s prophecy: 

  • Are we playing the part of a harlot, running after all kinds of other relationships and things that we wrongheadedly believe will meet the needs of our lives? 
  • Do we sell ourselves to others in the misguided belief that we will find true happiness? 
  • Have we sought other lovers and forsaken our first love of the Divine? 

Everyone has a legitimate need for attention, love, and relational connection. The problem arises whenever we seek to meet those needs in illegitimate ways. That’s what we call “sin.”

The most important thing in life is not our job position, our social status, or even whether we are married with family. What matters most is the kind of person you are – it’s all about who you become. Because that’s what you will take into eternity. You and I are unceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in G-d’s great universe.

Spiritual prostitution – and faith communities acting like spiritual brothels – are far beneath who we are and how we were designed by our Creator.

The pathos of G-d calls us to better than hanging out in a dark emotional shame lounge of sordid characters drinking cheap dandelion wine and smoking nasty cut-rate cigars in smelly old leisure suits.

We belong to G-d.

Our place is in the wide-open sunlit rooms of G-d’s kingdom. We have been adopted into G-d’s family and there is no longer any need for walking the streets and going into dive bars, looking for a quick fix of some damning elixir which promises life.

It behooves us all to become aware and connect with our longings and needs, and thereby allowing the G-d who delights to meet those needs into the core of our being.

Know who you really are. Because in that knowing, there is eternal life.

Jealous God, you are zealous for your presence to be known in the lives of all your creatures. Help me to be aware of the deepest needs of my life. May I find in you the desire of my heart and let you fill me with your infinite grace, love, mercy, and attention so that I will know true peace and joy. Amen.