Bread – Appearances

May 4, 2016


Psalm 18

“With the merciful You show Yourself merciful; with the blameless man You show Yourself blameless; with the purified You show Yourself pure; with the crooked You make Yourself seem tortuous.”  Ps. 18:25-26

How does God seem or appear to you?  Loving?  Mean?  Nice?  Powerful?  Caring?  Remote?

The Psalmist here seems to be suggesting that the way God appears to us has a lot to do with who we are.  In other words, God appears to us through the glasses we wear.  We see God through rose-colored glasses of our making.

If we are merciful, God appears to us to be merciful.  If we are hateful, God appears to us angry.  If we are crooked, then God appears to us to be complicated.  If we are loving, then God appears to be a loving God.

So we impose on God ourselves.  If we have a loathing self-image, then God appears to us as someone who does not like us very much.    If we have an exalted image of ourselves, then God appears to us as someone who loves us very much.

So, if we want to change how God appears to us, the answer would be for us to change ourselves?

If we think this way, then God is merely a mirror, reflecting back to us who we are.  With this approach, when we see God we see ourselves, which then makes us God.

There is a another way of reading the same passage.  That way would reverse the order – God appears to us as merciful; therefore we are merciful.  God appears to us to be loving; therefore we are loving.

In this way, we conform to the image of God we have rather than God conforming to the image we have of ourselves.

And we know this is true of life in general.  When we are in the mountains and we look out over a peaceful meadow with butterflies, if we are at peace the scene becomes more peaceful to us, but the reverse is even more true.  By gazing over a peaceful scene, we become more at peace ourselves.

So if our image of God affects who and how we are, how are we to gain an accurate image of God?

Quite frankly, this is where the rubber meets the road and where we so often fall down.  Where do you get your image of God?  From the movies, from friends, from books about God, from famous authors, from your grandmother, from the thoughts which flood your mind on a daily basis, from an amalgam of pagan, Christian, New Age, animalist, orthodox, far east and near east, or western philosophies or writings?  Do you get your image of God from what the world tells you about Him?

Or do you get your image of God from Him through His revelation to you – from God revealed in Scripture and revealed in the flesh, in Jesus Christ?

If you want to see anyone’s true appearance, you have to look at him and not at what people say about him.

As we gaze upon the appearance of God in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, as He really is and not as He is reported to be, something will happen to us.  As we see Him as the loving God who sacrificed Himself for us, we in turn become more able to sacrifice for others.  As we see Him as the merciful God who has given us the gift of life although we deserved nothing, we in turn become merciful to those who have hurt us.

All this comes to a head with the last phrase of today’s quote – “to the crooked You make Yourself seem tortuous.”  Are they crooked because they see God as crooked?  Perhaps … but if so, then they have an inaccurate perception of God.  And where did they get that from?  Not from Scripture, not from Christ, and therefore not from God.  They see God improperly because they are crooked and they are crooked because they see God improperly.

So what is the solution for the crooked?  To see God clearly, from His Word and not from Satan’s world, from Christ the King and not the prince of darkness.

But how can the blind see?  With man it is not possible, but with God…well.

God is not who He appears to be.  God is who He is.

Our job is to find out who He is by meeting Him in the place where He is to be found … in His Word written and His Word in the flesh in Jesus Christ.

And then appearances will match reality.

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© 2016 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

Bread – Appearances

September 26, 2014


Readings for Friday, September 26, 2014, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Esther 8:1-8,15-17; Acts 19:21-41; Luke 4:31-37; Psalms 88,91,92

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“Appearances can be deceiving.” Who has not heard that truism and in fact probably uttered it on more than one occasion?

In today’s readings we have three examples of different types of appearances. Two appear to be one thing when they are of another (deceiving appearances) and the the third is real. The real question is how to tell them apart.

In Esther, Esther has overcome her fears and gone to the king to protect Mordecai and the rest of the Jews. She is successful. Mordecai is given great honor and is permitted by the king to speak for him and to seal his messages with the king’s ring. Mordecai uses this power to send an order throughout the empire that, not only are the Jews not to be touched, but they now have the power to protect themselves and, on one day, to take “take vengeance on their enemies.” Esther 8:13. Our focus is not so much on this, however, as it is the last sentence – “And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.” Esther 8:17b

These people said they were Jews because it was the safe, the easy thing to do. They appeared to be Jews but they were not Jews. How many so-called Christians fall into the same camp today? It is an easy life, to say that “Jesus is my king and savior,” and yet have no meaning behind it. You get to participate in Christian things, show up in the assembly with your trappings of Christian affiliation, dine with people of like mind, and yet still have the appearance without the reality, just like the Assyrians claimed to be Jews when they were not.

In Acts, Paul has brought the gospel to Ephesus. Ephesus was the center of the worship of Artemis, one of the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods, and the people of the city made quite a living off the tourists who came to see the great god of silver. These craftsmen made a good living off of selling little silver Artemis-gods and they complained that Paul was teaching “gods made with hands are not gods.” The context of this statement is that their little gods were made with hands and therefore not gods, but the broader application is that Artemis himself was no god either because man had invented him and crafted his image as their idol. Artemis had the appearance of deity without the reality of deity; he had the appearance of power without the reality of power.

In Luke, Christ preaches with authority in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The people were astonished at His teaching, because it was with great authority. A demon proclaims that He is the “Holy One of God” and Christ commands the demon to leave and he does so. The people are astonished and ask themselves “What is this word? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out!” Luke 4:36. Jesus has both the appearance and reality of being God.

What is the difference between the first two, where the appearance is deceiving, and the third, where the appearance represents reality? I think the answer is actually pretty simple – if the actions of the person are consistent with the person’s appearance, the appearance is likely reflecting reality; whereas, if the actions are inconsistent with the appearance, the appearance is likely deceptive. In Esther, the self-proclaimed Jews likely only made a stab at compliance with God’s Word and His instructions for life; they likely said they believed in God without actually believing in God. In Acts, there were no actions taken by Artemis consistent with his appearance as a god; the actions were all by people on Artemis’ behalf. With Jesus, however, the actions and the appearance were synchronized. He was God and He acted like God would act. He interpreted Scripture with authority because He superintended the writing of Scripture. He commanded the demon to leave because as God He is sovereign.

Today, you may appear to be a Christian … you may attend Bible studies, engage in your daily moment of prayer, attend services at a the church of your choice, and chip in a few bucks toward the cause. But is your appearance deceiving? Are your actions consistent with your appearance? Are you poor in heart and humble in spirit, giving generously from what God has given you, living in gratitude for your blessings, renewing your mind on the anvil of the Word, working on your relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, loving your neighbor as yourself, setting self aside, obeying King Jesus, growing in maturity in Christ?

We like to put on the suit, read the script, live in the right neighborhood, join the right organizations, have the right friends … and make a good appearance.

It is between each of us and God as to whether that appearance matches reality, of whether our works are reflective of our appearance. If we claim to be Christian, this question, this testing must occur … or we deceive no one except ourselves.

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© 2014 GBF

Bread – Appearances

August 26, 2013


Readings for Monday, August 26, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 1 Kings 1:5-31; Acts 26:1-23; Mark 13:14-27; Psalms 1,2,3,4,7

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Appearances, or how a person looks or appears, is a strange concept. We are taught to ignore appearances (“you can’t tell a book by its cover”) and not to ignore them (“you are who you hang out with;” “if you look good, then you feel good”). We spend a great deal of our time with our appearances (think of all of the skin products which are bought today by everyone) because we want to look successful; look too successful, however, and you might be a “con man.” It is important to look successful (drive a nice car), but people who drive nice cars are “probably loaned up to the hilt” (meaning, of course, that their appearance of success is a mirage). There is a British comedy, “Keeping Up Appearances,” where a woman beats up everyone, her husband, family, and neighbors included, over maintaining her image of a “fine life.” But then there is a successful British soap opera (“Downton Abbey”) where maintaining appearances is all they do, as they should, because each of them has a role to play in life.

We maintain the appearance of beauty when we are not beautiful, the appearance of calm when we are full of worry, the appearance of success when we are borrowing money to make ends meet, the appearance of education when the last time we read a real book which did not involve sex or aliens or alien sex was many years ago, the appearance of tolerance while hate spews from our mouths, the appearance of Christ with the reality of self-idolness.

Our readings today are all about appearances. One of King David’s sons, Adonijah, is claiming to be king and has all the trappings of kingship (food, followers, clothes, family relationship) without actually being appointed king (David has already indicated that Solomon should be king). In Acts, Paul’s appearance of learnedness is so profound that, when he begins to report the truth about his experience on the Damascus road in his confrontation with the risen Christ, Felix interrupts him with a “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Acts 26:24. Christ, in Mark, warns us against the false prophets and false christs who “will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” Mk. 13:22. Adonijah was not king although he had the appearance of being king, Paul was not crazy even though he had the appearance to Felix of being crazy, and false prophets and false christs will arise in the last days with the appearance of authority from God, even though they have none.

So what are the lessons about appearances from these passages? The first, I think, is that we should not be like Adonijah and take on the appearance of something we are not. If we are not wealthy, we should not put on the appearance of wealth. If we are not the boss, we should not pretend to be the boss. We should not hide our true state of affairs under the blanket of “I’m fine” when we are not fine.

The second lesson, from Acts, is that we should appear to be who we are, and if people misunderstand that, then let God handle it. Paul did not add to his appearance or change his appearance; he merely showed up and reported what he had seen and heard. Felix misunderstood and thought that Paul appeared crazy. Paul did answer him, but did not take the effort to change his mind – he left that to God. Paul just stayed true to himself. What you saw is what you got and whatever interpretations of that you had were yours to have.

Third, we must be so rock solid in what we know about Christ and ourselves that we are not easily fooled by the appearance of others who would, if they could, lead us astray. The person who appears to be a friend but who leads us into temptation is no friend. The person who appears to be a Christian pastor but teaches a way other than the gospel of Christ is no Christian pastor.

We work so hard at keeping up appearances. Why? Who are we fooling? Who are we afraid of? What are we afraid of?

Come, Holy Spirit, and help us conform our appearance to our reality in Christ, help how we appear to align with who and whose we are. And then redeem the time, money, and energy keeping up appearances for our use to Your Glory as You have commanded. Amen.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Figs

August 19, 2013


Readings for Monday, August 19, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 17:24-18:8; Acts 22:30-23:11; Mark 11:12-26; Psalm 106

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I don’t like figs, so our lesson from Mark today about Jesus being hungry and going to look at a fig tree to see what it had on it is, to me, almost an abstraction. On the other hand, my wife loves figs and we have been known to stop walking just to see if a fig tree had any figs on it. So my natural reaction to Jesus’ looking at a fig tree for food is to ask “why,” and my wife’s natural reaction is to say “of course.”

How often do we treat Scripture like that? If I like it, well I’ll just look at it closely to see if there is anything good to eat on it. If I don’t like it, well I will just pass it by as quickly as possible, thinking that a story about fig trees makes no sense, particularly when Jesus kills it anyway.

But, in writing Bread, I read this passages differently, slowly, with the question constantly being raised up to God – why? What message is there here?

Once I studied this passage, I realized that this is a story about appearances and reality, a story about predictable ends from observable beginnings.

For the first time, I read this – “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf…” Mk. 11:12-13. I have emphasized the “in leaf” because that is the key description and the key fact. It turns out that when a healthy fig tree is “in leaf” it begins to bear fruit – the fruit and the “in leaf” are concurrent events. The fruit may not be ripe and fit for eating, but it is apparent when the tree is “in leaf.” But that is not what Jesus found when He went there. He did not find a healthy tree bearing fruit while “in leaf,” He found a diseased tree which had “nothing but leaves” – the appearance of righteousness without the fact of righteousness, the appearance of beauty without the reality of beauty, the appearance of life but the reality of death. I always thought Jesus killed the tree, but the truth is that the tree was already dead – it just didn’t know it. A fig tree which is “in leaf” but which is bearing no fruit is a dying tree.

Notice, too, that the fig tree did not have to have ripe fruit in order to be in the process of maturing fruit. In other words, the tree can have fruit which is not ready for prime time, but is there nonetheless.

How many hungry people, people hungry for truth and love, come to us, attracted by our outward appearance, only to discover that we are bearing no fruit, that we have nothing to offer but appearances? How many hungry people, hungry for truth and love, who come to our pretty religious institutions, only to discover that there is no fruit in the process of maturing?

It always struck me that Jesus overreacted by cursing the fig tree. But that is me speaking and judging, not God. God is merciful, but He is also wrathful. What judgment will we receive if we have the appearance of life but not the reality, if we have the appearance of a “good person” but have not received the grace of God in Jesus? We will receive the curse which is justly ours. This is one of the messages God has for us, but there is another message too. God can bring the dead to life and He has. God brings the dead to life every day when He brings them into trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. God enables us unto salvation, to bear the fruit of grateful obedience in response to everlasting grace. He makes us into the fig tree He will not curse.

Later in the reading today, the disciples ask Jesus about the dead fig tree and His response appears to be peculiar, because He answers “Have faith in God” and then gives them a lesson in prayer. Why?

Until today, I always thought of these as just disconnected events, but they are not. The same God who curses the dead unto death is the same God who brings life to the dead, who finds the lost and gathers them into His arms, who has reached out His mighty arm of salvation to rescue us from the reality of sin and death, so that we may enter into the new reality of victory and life in Jesus Christ. What is the proper response to the dead tree? Have faith in God that I am not like that tree. Pray to God that He re-births me unto life. Have faith in God that He will bring forth good fruit from those whom He has brought into life. Have faith in God that the good work He has begun in you will be seen to its completion.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Appearances

February 11, 2013


Readings for Monday, February 11, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 58:1-12; Gal. 6:11-18; Mk 9:30-41; Psalms 77,79,80

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There is something about British television which is such a commentary on the human condition. One such show is “Keeping up Appearances,” where the “lady of the house” is constantly putting on airs which impress no one but herself, where the form reigns supreme over the substance, and where reality is but an episode away, getting ready to strike to reveal the foolishness and vainness of appearances in the face of stark reality. The show is a comedy, but while we laugh at the characters we know that we are laughing at our neighbors and then, while we look in the mirror, at ourselves.

The topic of appearances is what our Scripture lessons are today about. The first lesson concerns the appearances we try to keep up with God. The second lesson concerns the appearances we try to keep up with society. The third lesson concerns the appearances we try to keep up with our friends. There is one message to us throughout all three lessons – don’t go there.

In Isaiah, God through Isaiah is discussing fasting. God asks the people of Israel to ask themselves why, when they fast, God takes no notice. His point is that the people fast only to keep of the appearance of holiness, which pleases only themselves and not God. “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight…Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.” Isa. 58:3b-4. The appearance of fasting is to take something on so that you might be thought holy. The reality of a true fast is releasing the bondage which wealth has over us, so that we can be free to be God’s children unburdened by the world. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness…Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house;…Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’” Isa. 58:6-7,9.

In Galatians, Paul is discussing circumcision and whether it is more important whether we obey the law or whether we are a new creation in Christ. Paul again warns about taking on appearances rather than demonstrating reality. He says “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised…” Gal. 6:12 In other words, the people “who want to make a good showing” are those for whom appearances matter more than reality. It is important to them that you appear obedient rather than actually practice obedience (“[T]hey desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh…” Gal. 6:13b).

In Mark, the disciples are arguing along the road about who is the greatest. In this discussion they are demonstrating their belief that where they sit or the order of precedence is most important, thinking that if they appear more important than they are more important, if they appear more holy than they are more holy. Jesus sits them down and says this – “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mk. 9:35b. In other words, appearances are deceiving. Those who appear to be first are really last, and those who appear to be last are really first. Man looks to appearances, but God looks to the reality.

We know that appearances are important to man, so to the extent we live in this world and try to impress each other, we keep up appearances. But everyone really knows that underneath the appearance is the reality. If the reality is broken, the appearance will soon break. If the reality is strength in relationship between a person and God and in a person and another person, that reality soon causes contrary appearances to fade in the background.

Knowing that God sees us as we are and that people of discernment do too, why do we constantly enter into our own show of “keeping up appearances?” Why indeed? Do we think that God cares? Do we think that anyone who really matters cares?

No, we don’t, but …. And Satan whispers in our ear, “Did God really say …?”

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Countenance

June 11, 2012


Readings for Monday, June 11 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Eccles. 7:1-14; Gal. 4:12-20; Matt. 15:21-28; Psalms 56, 57, 64, 65

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Much is made of appearance. In fact, much of our time in the morning is spent in preparing ourselves for the day – washing ourselves in water, anointing our bodies with oils and lotions, taking on pleasant smells, doctoring our face to increase our attractiveness, selecting clothes which are appropriate for the tasks of the day.

As part of our appearance, we become practiced at what I will call “the smile,” the facial expressions which convey that all is right in the world and in our lives, that we are confident and ready, that we are smart, and that we are happy. “The smile” is something which we can put on at will, but is it truly reflective of our heart? Does “the smile” reflect our true condition, or is merely a type of wallpaper over a damaged wall?

There is a peculiar reading in Ecclesiastes today which caused me to stop and think. It is “…for by sadness of face the heart is made glad…the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Eccles. 7:3b, 4b This is the exact opposite of what we believe. We believe that putting on “the smile” helps us both feel and be better. Ecclesiastes says that the path to gladness in our innermost being, our heart, is “sadness of face.”

Although not in our reading today, what this recalls to me is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where He said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matt. 5:3-4.

It then struck me that what Solomon is saying in Ecclesiastes is simply that the work of man is putting on “The smile” in the hope and expectation that his heart will be happy, whereas the work of God is to cause us to recognize our sin, cause us to recognize that the creation, our relationships with each other, our relationship with God, and even ourselves are broken. When we realize our true state, we put on the countenance (face) of sadness. But in so doing, the work of God is to give us Jesus Christ and in Him, then, gladness of heart.

Once this occurs, once we surrender our attempts to put on “The smile,” once we leave the “house of mirth” and come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, as we abide in Him and grow and mature in our Christian faith, an amazing thing happens. Our gladness of heart, our joy in living and being, our freedom in Christ becomes reflected in our countenance, in our face. We take on, not “The smile,” but instead the wholeness of countenance which glows, which is reflective of our heart.

We know this. We know this immediately when we are talking to the “used car salesman,” who has “The smile” but no gladness. We know this immediately when we see the person with lines of struggle in their face, demonstrating the hardship life has dished out to them, but who have the heart of joy reflected in the countenance of an angel.

We can see through the phony, but we do it anyway. We think that living in the “house of mirth (laughter)” is the solution, while the real solution is recognizing that we are lost, lonely, poor, and sad, letting that reality be reflected in our countenance and in our admission of guilt, and then letting God work His will in our lives, beginning with our acceptance of His gift to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Then we will abandon “The smile” for a face reflecting our joy. Then we can throw out “The smile” forever.

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Bread – Appearances

October 6, 2010


Readings for Wednesday, October 6, designated by the Book of Common Prayer:

Micah 2:1-13; Acts 23:23-35; Luke 7:18-35; Psalms 119:145-176; 128, 129, 130

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We judge according to appearances. Admit it. We do.

When we go by a fine church, we look at it and remark that there must be some good preaching which goes on (or some wealthy parishioners). When we see someone drive a fine car, we see a successful person. We say the same things about someone wearing good clothes. When someone speaks well, they appear well-educated and maybe even wise.

However, we also know our judgment based upon appearance can be false. We can be deceived by appearance.

One of the ways that appearances can deceive us is by playing upon our biases and our prejudices. This is an incredibly subtle form of deception, because it is so hard to see our own bias – after all we are looking through our biased glasses to see our bias, and when prejudice looks at itself it often appears to be, well, “normal.” Therefore, if we are biased in our thinking to believe that we are successful and we see other people through ours lens of success, they will also appear successful when they look like us (or look like our perfect model of where we think we are going).

In today’s reading from Luke, we see an interesting discussion of appearances and our response to them. Jesus speaks to appearances when He talks about John the Baptist and then Himself. First, He asks why everyone is going out to see John – to see “a man dressed in fine clothes?” Luke 7:25. He then answers His question by saying, “no,” because “those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces.” This is a statement of appearance – people who appear wealthy are found in places which appear wealthy, so why would you look for a wealthy person in a lowly place?

Jesus then discusses with the crowd what John appears to be to them. He says about John that he “…came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say ‘He has a demon…’,” (Luke 7:33), when in fact “…among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” Luke 7:28. In other words, to many in the crowd (I think here He is focused on the Pharisees and the ‘experts in the law’) John appears demonic (after all, he is dressed funny, he eats weird stuff, and he talks about repentance), even though he is the greatest person ‘born of women.’

Finally, Jesus discusses how He appears to people (particularly, again, I think He is addressing the Pharisees and ‘experts in the law,’ even though His comments are to the crowd around Him). The crowd sees Jesus “eating and drinking” and He therefore appears to these people to be a drunkard, a glutton, and a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’ Luke 7:34.

Both John and Jesus appear bad to the crowd (and to particular people in the crowd) because they were already wearing biased glasses – they were prepared to see anyone who did not agree with them as sinful, ugly, stupid, crazy, demon-possessed, law-breakers, etc. Therefore, they saw what they were prepared to see, what they wanted to see, what they were predisposed to see.

Since we see with our eyes and hear with our ears, what can be done to make sure that we are seeing and hearing accurately, that things appear to us as they are as opposed to what we believe them to be, want them to be, hope that they are, or expect them to be?

Jesus ends His teaching today with these words “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Luke 7:35. What an odd sentence ending a lesson on appearances. Its oddity is increased when I realized that the phrase “proved right” in the NIV is translated differently in the NASB (“vindicated”), and the NKJ and ESV (“justified”). The underlying Greek word takes over a full page of explanation. My summary of this explanation is that the sentence can be rephrased as “Wisdom’s children [“her children”] bring out or demonstrate [“proved right,” “vindicated,” “justified”] wisdom.” This is the wisdom spoken of in Proverbs 8:1-36 and is the wisdom of God.

So how do we see clearly, looking past appearances, created by our biased perspectives applied to distorted or incomplete facts, to truth? We see clearly when we see through the eyes and ears of God’s wisdom, recognizing that what we bring to the table is too warped by sin to be much good.

Through wisdom’s glasses, people could see that John the Baptist was the messenger predicted by Malachi. Through wisdom’s glasses, people could see that the miracles which Jesus performed fulfilled the prophecies concerning the Messiah and labeled Him as such. Without wisdom’s glasses, John just appeared to be demon-possessed; Jesus just appeared to be drunk. To the world, both appeared crazy; to the person with wisdom, both appeared as fulfillment of the promise of God.

Many people struggle to see God in Jesus Christ, using worldly reasoning, seeing through biased lenses, without even realizing what they are doing. How does one obtain God’s wisdom so that truth can be clearly seen, so that reality can be fairly assessed, so that power in Christ can be appropriately exercised? The answer can be found in God’s wisdom – His Holy Scripture, His revelation of Himself to us – James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,…”

As we walk through today, let’s try something – instead of judging on appearances, let’s judge using God’s wisdom instead of ours. Let’s just ask God.

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