Making the Proverbs sticky

When trying to understand Proverbs, the journey is just as valuable as the destination. Proverbs are meant to be wrestled with and mulled over. They’re meant to be traversed again and again. They don’t yield their treasures to the surface scanners; the deep-down-in-the-earth miners are the ones who uncover the precious jewels. And it’s the process– the vigorous, difficult, patience-requiring, long-term process– that makes a person wise. The journey is as valuable as the destination. It’s great when we reach the peak– but it’s the rivers we crossed, the rocks we climbed, and the obstacles we faced that make us seasoned climbers.

I try to always be reading through the Proverbs. A few years ago I categorized every single proverb, and made a resource for myself that enabled me to look up references related to specific circumstances. I still use the finished product, but it was the creation of that thing that gave it value. The simple process of reading the proverbs slowly and asking what they’re about was hugely beneficial.

Now I’m trying a different approach. I’m on my second time through the Proverbs using this approach, and it’s turning out to be a great way to know and apply the wisdom there. Here’s what I’m doing:

1. Read slowly, mark the verses that stick out to you. Underline, bracket, or whatever. Make note of the passages that seem to be specially applicable to your life situation.

2. Take one verse paraphrase it. Try to understand the proverb and say it in your own words. This will force you to get the point of the saying and put it in the vernacular. I don’t think we really understand something until we can articulate it in our own words.

3. Make it sticky. Try to make it punchy and memorable. Maybe make it rhyme. Or try to make it something you’d say to your kids when they need to hear it. Sticky. This is what proverbs are meant to be: short, wise, pithy and practical sayings that find their usage in everyday life.

4. After that, write it down on a 3×5 and keep it as bookmark in Proverbs. This little card will eventually become a list of sticky sayings. The more you look at them, the more you’ll remember them, so it makes sense to put it in the place you’ll constantly be coming back to. After you’ve filled front and back, get a new 3×5.

For example, I marked Proverbs 14:23: “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”

My paraphrase would go something like this: “Hard work is profitable and valuable, but all talk and no action is empty and destructive.”

And then, to make it sticky, I did this: “Faithful toil will never spoil.” I could see myself using this to instruct my kids– plus it’s faithful to the principle of the proverb. As a side benefit,  it’s a fun challenge for people who like words!

Here are some others I’ve come up with (some are better than others)

Proverbs 13:11 “Haste makes waste” (this has been around for a while, so it’s not original to me, but I’m gonna use it!)

Proverbs 14:21 “It’s a blessing to bless.”

Proverbs 23:4 “Don’t work for money.”

Proverbs 12:27 “Diligence pays.”

Proverbs 13:27 “Disaster pursues sinners”

Proverbs 17:2 “Wisdom trumps rank.”

Proverbs 17:12 “A fool is more dangerous than a grizzly.”

Proverbs 18:9 “Laziness is destructive.”

Proverbs 20:13 “Love not sleep!”

Proverbs 22:3 “It’s sometimes wise to run and hide.”

Proverbs 23:17 “Sinners aren’t winners– don’t envy them.”

As I continue doing this, I hope the wisdom of the Proverbs will be kneaded into my heart and mind. That my speech would be seasoned with the wisdom of God, and my marriage, my family, and my relationships would benefit.

John Newton: “Precious Bible”


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Precious Bible! what a treasure

Does the Word of God afford?

All I want for life or pleasure,

Food and med’cine, shield and sword:

Let the world account me poor,

Having this I need no more.

 

Food to which the world’s a stranger,

Here my hungry soul enjoys;

Of excess there is no danger,

Though it fills, it never cloys:

On a dying Christ I feed,

He is meat and drink indeed.

 

When my faith is faint and sickly,

Or when Satan wounds my mind,

Cordials, to revive me quickly,

Healing med’cines here I find:

To the promises I flee,

Each affords a remedy.

 

In the hour of dark temptation

Satan cannot make me yield;

For the Word of consolation

Is to me a mighty shield

While the scripture truths are sure,

From his malice I’m secure.

 

Vain his threats to overcome me,

When I take the Spirits’ sword;

Then with ease I drive him from me.

Satan trembles at the word:

‘Tis a sword for conquest made,

Keen the edge, and strong the blade.

 

Shall I envy then the miser

Doting on his golden store?

Sure I am, or should be, wiser,

I am rich, ’tis he is poor:

Jesus gives me in his word,

Food and med’cine, shield and sword.

When God is your partner in ministry…

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1)

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:9)

And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them (Mark 16:20)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ…any participation in the Spirit…complete my joy. (Philippians 2:1-2)

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. (John 12:26)

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Acts 18:9-10

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col. 1:29)

What an encouragement to remember. God works with us as we work for him. This reminds of William Carey’s memorable saying: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

If God be for us, who can be against us?

 

Sequential Exposition

What’s the best way to teach God’s Word? Some teachers always teach God’s Word in topics—meaning they choose a topic, find all the parts of the Bible that have to do with that topic, and then out of those passages form a message on that topic. Topical preaching is good, but it’s not my favorite. Some teachers like to choose themes—like redemption, or salvation, or holiness—and preach about how that theme is developed in the Bible from beginning to end. This is another legitimate way of preaching. Some, however, use the Bible like a trampoline—they land on it every once and a while but most of the time they’re in the air, totally disconnected with it. Some teachers use the Bible like salt and pepper—every once and a while they sprinkle on some verses to make it sound Christian. Some of these ways are worse than others, and none of them are what we are about to do. What we are about to start is sequential exposition.

What is sequential exposition? Let me define the two words: sequential comes from the word sequence, which speaks of an order, a progression, like a chain. First this, then that, then this. That’s sequence—its opposite would be chaos—something without any order or progression. The next word is the word exposition, which is a noun form of the verb expose, which means to put on display, to make clear, to bring to light.

What then, is sequential exposition? Sequential exposition is going through the Bible in the sequence it has been laid out for us, and exposing the meaning of the words, sentences, and paragraphs. It is the orderly progression from chapter one verse one to the final chapter and verse. It’s the most important kind of teaching, and it’s what we’re going to be doing for the next few months in the book of Colossians.

Why is it the most important method of teaching the Bible? First, because the whole Bible (even Leviticus!) is God-breathed and profitable. There are far too many churches are no longer preaching the unadulterated Word of God. This is especially sad because the preacher’s main duty is to preach the whole counsel of God. I don’t have the freedom to pick and choose which books and verses I like and which ones I want to avoid. So when I’m plowing through the Bible verse by verse I simply preach what God has already said, in the way he has said it, in the order and progression he has said it, with the emphasis he has placed on it. In other words, when I do sequential exposition, I am letting God call the shots. What I preach, when I preach it, how much time I give to the subject is all pre-determined by God.

So for example, and I sequentially preach through Colossians, we’re going to encounter various teachings. In chapter one we get a lot of information about Paul, his ministry, and the person and work of Christ. In chapter two, we get Paul contrasting the Christian gospel with the false teachings that were infecting the church. In chapter three we get a great section on how Christians ought to behave. In the last chapter, Paul sends news and greetings. And as I teach through each section, God will set the agenda as to what is taught, not me. God arranged Colossians through the mind of Paul, and I’ll simply follow his lead.

Amazingly, God has spoken to us in a book– words on pages. These words are fixed, unchanging, and external. They are there– we can’t change them, alter them, or adjust them. They are the most important words ever spoken, and they hold explosive relevance for each one of us. And so, if they are indeed God’s words, then we must study them. And the best way to study them is through sequential exposition.

Gear up for the next few months of a sequential exposition through Colossians; I know that God has much to teach us through this marvelous portion of Scripture.

Last words, lasting words

Last night was my final youth group meeting with First Baptist Church Canoga Park. Most of the time we celebrated– which, of course, means we got extra pizza, candy, and a ton of soda. Sandy brought in homemade cupcakes that we gorged ourselves in. I gave my final talk, which was short and periodically interrupted by Emma saying, “Hi daddy!” Then we all prayed together and thanked the Lord for the time he gave us.

I started my talk by telling them I had three goals for them. More than anything, I wanted them to love three things. Having heard me speak to them over the last year and a half, I hoped they would be able to identify these things. If they couldn’t, I knew I hadn’t done well in communicating them. But they did not disappoint. Here are the three things:

1. Love Scripture. They got this one right away. My conviction is that you love Jesus to the degree that you love his Word. The two cannot be separated; anyone who professes love for Christ must to desire to hear from Christ. That’s why Jesus said, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:24). Isn’t, then, the opposite true– “whoever does love me will keep my words”? My goal was not to make them legalistic, thinking that reading the Bible every day would guarantee them a spot in heaven, but to remind them of the truths of salvation– that whoever has been converted has been regenerated, and whoever has been regenerated, has new tastes, loves, and affections. And there at the top of the list of new affections is love for Scripture. So I told them, over and over again, love Scripture.

2. Love the Gospel.  After we talked about loving Scripture one last time, I asked again: What’s the second thing I want you to love? It took them a little bit, because they kept saying “Love Jesus” or “Love the Lord” to which I would say, “Yes, but be more specific!” The reason why I wanted more specificity is because it’s popular to love Jesus, and nowadays it’s possible to “love Jesus” without actually being a Christian. When they finally got it, I said, “Yes!”

Once they got this one, I did what I do often: I asked them the ever simple, ever pressing question: what is the gospel? I never assumed they understood it. I’ve explained it countless times to the same students. I do this because you never know when it will hit them with Holy Spirit power. I remember being a senior in high school, sitting in Mr. Nandor’s Bible class, and finally understanding what Jesus’ death had to do with my salvation. I knew Jesus “died for my sins” by I didn’t understand what in the world that meant, and how the transaction occurred, or how it was effective.

So when I speak to these students, I address the great doctrines as much as I can (without using the hard-to-understand theological jargon). I’ll make sure they understand how the active obedience of Christ is imputed to us, how Christ’s death was a penal substitutionary death, and how God’s wrath was poured out on him instead of us, and how the resurrection guarantees our future hope. I’ll mention those terms briefly, so that they become familiar, but it’s the concept I’m most concerned about. And last night they did surprisingly well in explaining the gospel to me. Sin, judgment, Christ’s perfect life, Christ’s sin-bearing death, his resurrection, God’s justice and mercy were all mentioned. I’d say they were pretty thorough.

But I didn’t only want to them know the gospel. I wanted them to love it. So I constantly told them how practical it is. I (hopefully) taught them how to preach to themselves.

3. Love the Church. I don’t want to produce theological eggheads who are too sophisticated for the church. I also don’t want to breed individualistic spiritualists who see no purpose for the church in their walk. I want them to love the church as they love Christ, because the church is Christ’s manifest presence on earth. After speaking on this point for a bit, I read them Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What a sweet way to end our time together– hoping in the risen Christ to build his church!

I hope these last words are lasting words– that they stick for a long, long time. May God use them, and every other word I’ve spoken to the students, as a means of grace. “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed”– and I pray that mine have been driven deeply into their hearts.

I am thankful for each student in the youth group I’ve been able to serve. Many prayers have gone up for them. I trust the Lord has much good for them in the future, and I look forward to continuing our relationships, and seeing how the Lord grows and uses them in the future.

 

The power of God’s Word: A testimony

Every spring semester at The Master’s Seminary seniors are given the opportunity to share 5-7 minutes testimonies about how they got saved, how they ended up at TMS, and what their future plans are. I am always blessed by these times; it’s amazing to hear the stories behind each graduating student. There are students from literally all over the world– last week’s chapel saw two graduates from South Korea, another from Argentina, one from Canada, and another from a land even more strange: Texas. These testimonies are Providence put to words. It’s fascinating.

One graduate’s testimony was particularly amazing. John Chester. I’ve never met him, but if the audio of his testimony shows up on the TMS website (which they sometimes do), I am going to download it and keep it. Anyway, I hope he doesn’t mind that I am going to try to relate his testimony here on my blog. I hope I don’t butcher it. At least he would be happy to know that it has already encouraged me to share the gospel and give out Bibles to the four skater-teens outside my building here. I hope it encourages you as well.

John was raised in a non-believing home. His father left his mom when he was young, and his mother, though unbelieving, thought it would be good to send young John to a Presbyterian church. John, now looking back on the church, said it was dead. He attended out of duty, and never heard the gospel.

But when John was 13, the pastor gave him a Bible– which he brought home and promptly put on the shelf. That Bible sat on his shelf for 16 years, untouched.

John became a writer. One particular night, as a 29 year old, when he was working on a piece for some worldly magazine (he mentioned the name but I don’t remember it), he got writer’s block. To break out of writer’s block, he began to do what he always did– he picked a random book off his shelf and begin to read, just to get the words flowing again. When he looked at his shelf to pick a book, it seemed (and this is his description) that all the books were out of focus– except one. The Bible that pastor had given him many years ago stood out from all the rest. So he picked it up– for the first time.

He didn’t know where to start reading, so, like any other book, he started in the beginning. Genesis 1:1. He became so enraptured that he kept on reading. And reading.

Two days later he arrived at Mark 12:17 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” At that moment the sword of the Spirit pierced his heart. He was overwhelmed with his own sin, the holiness of God, and the grace offered in Jesus Christ. He knew that he himself was one of the “things that are God’s.” He crawled under his desk in shame over his sin, and eventually surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. The Hound of Heaven got another one.

Isn’t that amazing? No one to share the gospel, no one to explain the text, no one to lead him in prayer– just the simple reading of the Word of God. O how often we need to be reminded that the work of God is accomplished by the Word of God! Unleashed, the Word saves, seals, sanctifies, and secures. It is wonderfully powerful, and it does not need the accouterments of man to be effective. Let us, especially we who handle the Scriptures, never forget this.

 

Forever tied together

Do you know what the greatest profit of Scripture is? The Scripture is where you find Jesus Christ. Jesus has been revealed to us on these ink-spilt pages. Not anywhere else. We find our Savior here—and this is the greatest profit of Scripture.

After preaching some hard things many of the disciples—the fickle ones, that is—stopped following Jesus. And Jesus asked them, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter’s response is dead on: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” You see, you can’t separate Jesus’ words from Jesus himself. They are forever tied together. Jesus said that if you’re ashamed of his words he will be ashamed of you. How you value God’s words reveals how much you value him. What’s the measuring rod of your love for Jesus Christ? Your love for Scripture. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, speak with the tongues of men and angels but have not love for Scripture and you have not love for Christ.

 

In defense of street preaching

“For my fellow elder Matt, the [gospel] invitation came from an open-air preacher on his college campus. Many Christians today may cringe at the idea of a street-side, soapbox preacher, and for two years of college, Matt mocked him as well. Then, in a third year, Matt listened, repented, and believed. Today, the Word reverberates through Mat as an elder as well as director of a Christian ministry to other churches.”

Unleash the Word of God– then sit back and watch

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.”

C.S. Lewis

Listen to this amazing story of how the Hound of Heaven tracked down another rebel sinner and brought her to Himself.

You’d be amazed how many times something as unlikely as that has happened, always beginning with the Word being preached. There is an account of a woman on her deathbed. She described how she was saved by reading a crumpled, ragged piece of wrapping paper in a package shipped from Australia. Someone had used the printed text of a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon to wrap a package for shipment. The sermon was preached in England, printed in America, shipped to Australia, then sent back to England as wrapping paper, where the woman read it and encountered Jesus Christ. The Word traveled thousands of miles on the cheapest, most crumpled and smeared newsprint. But the truth shone brilliantly through the simplest of media, and God’s Word did not return void.

David Jeremiah, Living With Confidence in a Chaotic World, pg. 149

But mostly, read the Bible

I wrote a longer post on this subject just a little while ago, but I wanted to sum us this point in a little shorter post so it would be read.

Why we read theology books:

  • A theology book is easier to read.
  • Someone has done the thinking for you.
  • Someone has arranged it all for you.
  • We (falsely) think that we already know the Bible enough, and that now we just need theology books to explain it.

Why we should use the Bible to develop our theology:

  • You’ll have your own convictions.
  • You’ll be able to teach with more authority.
  • You’ll be able to teach better– mostly because you can share your thought process that brought you to the conclusion you arrived at.

Why we should read theology books:

  • A theology book is easier to read.
  • Someone who thinks differently than you has thought through the same issues you’re thinking through.
  • Someone has arranged it for you.
  • They help us articulate our beliefs better.

Read theology books. But mostly, read the Bible.