At Gateway Church in Austin, we are continuing our series, Smarter, Faster, Stronger, Wiser.
Everyone wants to get smarter, faster, and stronger when a new year rolls around, but those goals can come and go. What if we actually set as a new year’s resolution to become wiser? God’s wisdom found in the Proverbs affects every area of our lives and doesn’t just make us a little better in the short run. Are you looking to God to help you get wiser and to right-order your life this year?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
HERE IS THE AUDIO FROM THE MESSAGE I SHARED:
HERE ARE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY JOHN BURKE:
Today we’re wrapping up this series Smarter, Faster, Stronger—wiser! We’ve been talking about not just trying harder this year to learn more, or do more, or get healthier—but do these things in wise ways that truly make us better people. And I want to end with where we started—but dig deeper with the question: What is Wisdom? It’s pretty easy to spot what it’s not.
We’re not born wise. We have to learn wisdom. My friends and I did some very unwise things growing up. For instance, not listening to our parents and experimenting with fire in the woods by my house and starting a 3 alarm fire. Fortunately we didn’t destroy any houses, but we could have. Did I say kids are not born wise? And we didn’t learn. Later we experimented making homemade chlorine bombs and one went off in my face—blinding me for 3 months. Doctors didn’t know if I would see again. I still have pits in my cornea. Did I say Middle School kids are definitely not born wise? If you’re a kid learn from a fool, don’t do that. Seek Wisdom.
Jesus’ half-brother James writes in the New Testament about wisdom. If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom…jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. James 3:13-17 NLT
James contrasts the wisdom of the world based on jealous comparison and selfish ambition with God’s wisdom. America is arguably one of the most learned, wealthy, “advanced” societies in history, and yet we still don’t possess wisdom about how life works: One of our top goals as Americans is to one day have a family that stays together (1/2 blow up), none of us set out to become enslaved to addictions (30% or more are), we never set out to lose control of our temper, or sexual desires (yet 25% of children get sexually or physically abused before 18). We all seek contentment (yet 98% of Americans say they still don’t have enough—though we have more than 95% of humanity). We desperately want peace (anti-anxiety medication is still the best selling)…We need wisdom on how to live. But how? First, realize you’ve learned how to live from someone. The first question is—Who?
Dallas Willard USC philosophy professor notes, “One thing is sure: You’re somebody’s disciple. You learned how to live from somebody else. There are no exceptions to this rule, for human beings are just the kind of creatures that have to learn and keep learning from others how to live.” But whose disciple are you—that’s the real question. A disciple is an apprentice in living. Part of Wisdom is learning to reflect on who or what shaped us most—whose wisdom for living are we apprenticing under? The answer will be found in the fruit your life is producing—what’s it saying? Where did you learn this wisdom for living?
Maybe you learned it on the internet. I did an Internet search on Wisdom, it returned 73 million websites—that’s overwhelming. How do you even pick what to read? Some of it is entertaining, but questionably helpful. Here’s a sampling: “When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.” “The sooner you fall behind, the more time you’ll have to catch up.” “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” “If you lend someone $20 and never see him again; it was probably worth it.” Or “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.”
We’ve been diving into Proverbs—God’s wisdom written down by Solomon. But you can’t even look to Solomon, not as a person, because He didn’t always abide by God’s wisdom he wrote down. In the early years, like for most of us, love was in the air. Solomon the wise was getting married. And he wrote Song of Solomon in the Old Testament, where you get all of the passion and fire of a cheap romance novel (not quite, but just as interesting to little Jewish boys back then). The Song of Solomon paints a very vivid picture of the beauty of marital, sexual love. God’s design in creating the pleasure of marital love. It’s Hebrew love Poetry. Including wise compliments Solomon gave to his wife, like “Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead.” “Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon.” Take those on your next date. So some wisdom needs to be contextualized. I think it’s the wisdom of God to remind us that Sexual Love is God’s gift, but like all of God’s gifts—we can wrongly use and abuse it and hurt each other. Song of Solomon is a reminder to seek wisdom from God in our sexuality.
Then in his Middle years Wise King Solomon ruled over the Golden Age of Israel—God’s promises to bless them as they loved and followed him happened. The Bible says silver was as common in Jerusalem as stones. Trade flourished between Israel and other nations. A fleet of ships searched the orient to create the finest zoo ever built for Solomon’s magnificent Palace. Artistic talent flourished, Solomon composed a 1000 songs and 3000 proverbs. Solomon’s Temple was the crowning achievement in Jerusalem (it is the Wailing Wall in modern Jerusalem). This is when the Proverbs were written.
But you’re not going to believe what happened to Solomon—or maybe you will, since it’s a common human story (and one I see happen to many Christians). With God’s abundant blessing, you’d think Solomon would gratefully keep following God. We always say, “God, if you’d just bless me, I’ll forever be grateful and true to You.” But human history shows otherwise. By the end of his reign, Solomon had squandered away every advantage. The poet lover who wrote of the God-given beauty of committed marital love broke every record of promiscuity. The wise man who had written all the proverbs broke most of them with an extravagance that would make Hugh Heffner and Hemmingway gawk. The O.T. book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s hedonistic experiment with human “wisdom” in how to get the most of life. The key phrase is “under the sun”—he tried everything under the sun, leaving God out—he had 1000 sex partners, he had PhDs, he built an empire, amassed toys and treasures—and at the end… here’s his conclusion: Meaningless! 33 times he writes: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Everything is meaningless!”… here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. Ecclesiastes 12:8, 13 NIV There’s a wisdom in this world about how to get the most out of life, and you’re free to try it, God gives us that freedom—but he warned us where it ends: Meaningless!
I went to a funeral of a friend this week. I was hit again by how quickly life comes and goes, people quickly move on, and all that remains are 2 things—what God says about you, and what people experienced from you. Love God, Love People Jesus said—all else is commentary. Whose wisdom are you following—it’s a really important question. In the end, it’s not what you say, but how you live that tells you whose disciple you were. So what is your life telling you right now? There’s always feedback available to gain wisdom, if we’ll listen.
In the end, Solomon comes back to where he started: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10 NIV As we said week 1, this isn’t fear of punishment or fear because God’s angry—[Hebrew parallelism is stating the same thing in parallel ways—so fear of the Lord is defined in Scripture as awe, reverence. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. Psalm 33:8 It means following His ways…Blessed are all who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways. Psalm 128:1 It means putting our hope in God’s love But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love. Psalm 33:18 And that love casts out all fear. True wisdom for living starts with putting our Maker above our fear or concern of others’ opinions.
If my car doesn’t seem to be running optimally—the best place to gain wisdom in how it’s supposed to run is the maker of my car. If a computer program isn’t running optimally, the wisest place to go is the company that created it. If we want wisdom in living, the wisest place to go is the Maker, the Creator, who claims to know how he intended it to work. And the amazing news is—God is with us to help us if we will let him. The Creator will move in and do life with us to guide us into wisdom—IF we are willing! That’s why Jesus came—that’s WHO Jesus was—Wisdom. Isaiah forecasted the coming of Messiah Jesus 700 years before Jesus saying:
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord. Isaiah 11:2 The N.T. tells us
God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. 1 Corinthians 1:30
If you want to know wisdom about how to live, follow Jesus, become his disciple—his learner, a student after his life, teachings, and ways. He died on the cross in your place and mine to make you right with God. Death means separation. Spiritual death is the separation from God—from the Source of Life, Love, Joy, Peace, self-control. See, God made us like cars that run off His fuel—being connected constantly to the Source. He made us for loving relationship with himself. So Jesus experienced not only physical death, but spiritual death to pay our debts for going our ways over God’s ways. He did this to re-unite us to the Source of Life, Love, Wisdom. That’s how you learn to live wisely—by first reconnecting to Wisdom Himself—then daily choosing to follow Wisdom’s ways.
Jesus claimed to reveal God. Not all there is to God, but a 3-dimensional human representation. That’s what the eyewitnesses claim he taught, and this tripped people up: Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” Matthew 13:54-56 He taught with a Wisdom and Authority that he claimed came from God—and he demonstrated God’s authority by doing miraculous things. Yet he was fully human—they knew his family; he was a humble, ordinary, poor carpenter until the last 3.5 years of life.
Yet those last 3 years, he did things only God could do. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.” But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?” Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man [Messiah] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” 7 And the man jumped up and went home! 8 Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. Matthew 9:2-8
He did miraculous things that demonstrated his authority. Not only did the eyewitnesses who wrote the 27 books of the New Testament claim this—Josephus, a Roman/Jewish Historian in Jesus’ day writes: “Now there arose about this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcomed strange things. He led away many Jews, and many Gentiles. He was the so-called Messiah. Pilate…condemned him to the cross.” Josephus, Antiquities 18 (A.D. 93) Josephus reported common knowledge of Jesus as a wise teacher, who did miraculous deeds and was crucified on charges of Blasphemy—for claiming to be Messiah, God’s self-revelation—Wisdom in the flesh.
Jesus taught with authority, and common people were attracted to his wisdom, so much so, they’d follow him just to listen and learn. He gets in a boat, goes across Sea of Galilee, it says, “Many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them…so he began teaching them many things. Mark 6:33-34 Just imagine 10,000 -15,000 people running all morning to listen to Jesus’ Wisdom—there must have been something pretty amazing…compelling… they sat there on the hillside, without cushy seats, listening all day, missed lunch and dinner—that’s a miracle, cause you know how grumpy people get when they’re hungry. I can barely get you to stay with me 30 minutes, and I have to let you bring food and coffee in to keep you awake. Clearly, something was going on with Jesus.
But Jesus’s teaching was not loved by all. The people Jesus clashed with most, were the pride-filled religious leaders who were threatened by Jesus’ denouncement of their self-centered, money-hungry, power-hungry ways that had no love, mercy, or compassion for people. He told them—you burden people with religious rules, you pride yourselves in being good, but your hearts are far from God. They weren’t seeking God’s wisdom—they used God for selfish motives. So even seeing Jesus miraculous works, they said, “He’s a magician—he’s demon possessed, that’s how he heals people.” Jesus said, “I have no demon in me. For I honor my Father—and you dishonor me…I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!” John 8:49-51 He wasn’t talking about physical death, but the Wisdom of God that leads to an eternal quality of life—starting now and forever more. During Christmas Time, I showed you how the official writings of these Religious Leaders, the Talmud, records they killed Jesus on Passover for sorcery and leading Israel astray. They couldn’t deny his miracles, so they called it demonic and got rid of him. When God’s ways threaten our ways—do we try to get rid of him? Even as professing Christians?—or do we trust him and submit ourselves to his wisdom about how life works best?
If you’re seeking Wisdom, why wouldn’t you start with Jesus? Ponder that. Are you His disciple—learning to live from him? Does your life show evidence of it? If not, why not? I think the reason people (even professed Christians) do not truly follow Jesus, is Jesus says things contrary to the world’s wisdom: “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find it. What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Matthew 16:24-26
It’s the great paradox of life, when we focus on ourselves and getting what will bring us happiness (which is the world’s wisdom), we actually lose the very thing we are trying to find—meaningless, as Solomon concluded. Yet, when we hear Jesus say, “take up your cross daily” that doesn’t mean putting on some in-vogue cross jewelry. Or simply identifying with Christ or “bearing a difficult burden.” “Well this is the cross I have to bear…my Boss.” Every day, Jesus’s disciples/followers walked outside the gates of Jerusalem and were forced by their Roman oppressors to look at the horrible sight of death on a cross. What Jesus meant was brutally shocking. If you want to follow me into the full, meaningful life God intended, you must die daily. How does that sound? Absurd? Shocking! Jesus wants to shock you into facing a spiritual law as real as Gravity. If you center life on yourself, you’ll lose it. But if you’ll learn to die daily to “self-at-the-center” in order to live for something bigger than yourself, to live for “God-at-the-center” and then others—you’ll find the Life you’re longing for.
There’s an old story of a Navy warship heading through the fog one night, when a distant light appeared coming right at them. As they held course, the light got brighter and closer, heading on a collision course. Just then a voice came over the radio, “attention. Calling the vessel traveling 18 kn at 220°, adjust course 30° immediately.” The captain got on the radio and responded, “this is the vessel heading 220°, you adjust course 30°.” “Negative Captain, You adjust quickly,” came the reply. “I’m an admiral in the United States Navy, whom am I speaking to?” “I am an Ensign in the US Coast Guard,” the radio voice replied. The captain, now irritated declared, “I outrank you and we are a U.S. Navy Warship, I command you to adjust course immediately.” “Sorry sir, we can’t do that,” the ensign replied, “We are a Lighthouse.”
Some things are bigger than we are! They transcend us. God transcends us. And like the lighthouse, if we adjust ourselves to fit into His reality, it will go well for us. If we don’t, eventually we run aground, some sink. Psychologist and Author Henry Cloud says, “I would have to say that one question hovers above all others in importance of a person’s functioning in life. It is the question, Are you God, or not?” On the surface, the question seems silly. Of course, I’m not God. But Cloud notes if you follow people around, often they spend most of the time acting like God. They live as if they are the center of the universe and everything and everyone exists to serve their purposes. They put all their efforts into building their own little kingdom, their household, company, bank account, or their relationships or interests.The problem is this self-centered wisdom leads us into a meaningless life.
To let go of self at the center, that feels like dying inside, but that’s Wisdom. It’s what every marriage partner faces, every parent, every team member eventually faces – the battle for self-at-the-center that destroys our relationships, or the choice to die to self, so we can live for God and others? Paradoxically, as we die to self daily and live for God daily, He is then able to shape us into people who can love with His transcendent love that gives us the fulfilling life we long for. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 Jesus says that some things will take life away from you, but his purpose is to give you the fullest life imaginable–good things that will satisfy your soul. That’s always been God’s desire, to give you good things. God takes great pleasure in your fulfillment. God’s Spirit teaches us to die daily to those ordinary, self-centered thoughts and actions that expect life to revolve around me.
So how do we live this God-centered life of Wisdom and Fulfillment? It’s starts with a simple prayer of faith, of willingness, letting God be God. The Good News Jesus brought is that you don’t have to be perfect at wise living to know you are right with God. In fact, the only requirement to be right with God is to give up pretending you’re perfect or in control or good enough—that’s you playing God. Jesus died to pay for all our acts of Treason—big and small ways we play God. God in His great love for us, paid the cosmic price of forgiveness, to re-established loving relationship with all who want it. Do you want that? Just tell God “I want what Jesus did to count for me—come be God, I can’t.”