The Art of Seeking Wisdom

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Artwork by Josh Benton

What exactly is wisdom? I once heard that wisdom is age plus experience. That sounds good but then I look back and I’ve known some pretty wise young people and some pretty dense foolish 80 year-olds. So, that doesn’t always hold water. I’ve also heard that wisdom is the act of making the right choices. The right choices can only be made from learning from making the wrong choices. That makes more sense. Of course that goes back to age plus experience in some ways. But wisdom, I think, might be a bit more than that. Wisdom must be sought as much as it is given.

What exactly is wisdom then? There’s wisdom and then there’s Biblical wisdom. These are a bit different I think. Wisdom is the usual age plus experience making the wrong and right choices. Biblical wisdom is beginning with the fear of God. Fear being not a scared of God but in deep awe and respect of God.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7

Wisdom comes not just from experience (don’t get me wrong, experience is important) but it comes straight from God himself.

For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6

James says it well:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives it generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

And that begins what I like to call the art of seeking wisdom. Seeking wisdom begins by asking for it from God. It begins with a deep respect and awe of God who speaks forth wisdom. In fact, wisdom was present when God made the heavens and the earth:

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place” Proverbs 3:19

Wisdom is part of creation. Human beings were made to have this wisdom. At the same time, we need to seek out true biblical wisdom, the wisdom of God. And this can be hard and easy all at the same time.

It begins by asking. Simple enough. Ask for wisdom. In 2 Chronicles (a book of the Bible hardly anyone ever reads like Leviticus) God offers King Solomon anything he desires. Solomon asks for wisdom instead of riches or power. God grants Solomon great wisdom. Now here’s the kicker. Solomon used his wisdom for good and for God. For a while. And then it all went down hill because he didn’t continue to seek out wisdom from God. He sat on his laurels with the wisdom he had and didn’t continue to seek it. And in the end, he became a jerk who had a majority of the kingdom torn away from his son after Solomon died. Not cool.

That’s the part about seeking wisdom. You have to constantly seek it. You have to constantly look towards God for it. That is part of the art of seeking wisdom. Wisdom never ends. It is always continuing. There is always something more to learn. There is always growth needed. And someone who is seeking wisdom understands this. And so they continue to seek God, asking Him for His wisdom.

In seeking wisdom, we need to seek God first. We can seek God through Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. It is through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit that wisdom and knowledge can come to us. And when God gives it, He gives it abundantly but we have to truly seek it with all our heart.

James says something interesting in 1:6-8 right after writing about seeking wisdom:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:6-8

Dude.

So when you seek wisdom, truly seek it from God. Don’t allow yourself to chase after other things and be tossed in the waves of doubt. Don’t be double-minded but single-mindedly laser focused on seeking wisdom from God. And when we do, He will give it to you. But seek it. Constantly seek it from God through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Where are you seeking wisdom right now? How can you seek it from God at this moment?

 

 

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Star Gazing

jupiter star pic

screen shot by Josh Benton

Last night Jupiter was said to be so close and so bright you could see it’s major moons through binoculars. Around sunset, I took my kids to the the middle school near by and went out into their opened field. We laid (lay, lied?) down in the grass and looked up into the night sky. As the sun slowly set, we started to see the stars become brighter and brighter in the night sky. Out in the distance, towards the east, we saw the bright red dot in the sky that was Jupiter. We stood up, took out our binoculars and all we saw was a blurry blob. Luckily I have an app on my phone that lets us view the night sky with all the constellations and planets and stars named. So I took a screen shot.

After seeing Jupiter, we laid (lay?) once more on the cool grass and looked up once again at the night sky. My daughter pointed out the Big Dipper, my son used the app on my phone to find the Pegasus. As we gazed at the stars becoming brighter and brighter in the night sky, my son said gently “This is amazing.” My response was simple: “Isn’t it great how God made all this.” My daughter wanted to know how many stars were out there. “Billions” I told her. Her mind was blown.

As I gazed at the stars, my mind went to Psalm 8 (hey, this is Spiritual Musclehead and I am a pastor, so my mind does go that way sometimes).

LORD, our LORD, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.” Psalm 8:1

I was amazed at the wonderness that was above me. I thought more about Psalm 8.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:3-5

In this world that we live in, with the billions and billions and billions of stars in the sky, in the universe, we are but specks, we are puny, we are small, yet God has crowned us with glory and honor and made us a little lower than the angels.

David asks these questions thousands of years ago. And we ask them today as well. Who are we in comparison to the world around us? Who are we in the eyes of God Himself who created all of this? We are made just a little lower than the angels themselves yet the angels aren’t crowned with glory and honor.

We are.

There’s something awe inspiring when you look up into the night sky and see something bigger than yourself. There’s something even more awes inspiring to look up and know that He who made all of this is the one who sits on the throne of the universe and calls you by name. His Holy Spirit fills those who call on the name of Jesus, and calls us by name. He who set the moon and stars in the night sky calls us by name.

We didn’t get to see the moons of Jupiter. We hardly saw Jupiter at all. Yet we saw the grand creation that was laid bare before us. The  lights around us burned bright so that we couldn’t see as many stars as we wanted to. But we knew they were there. The night sky was still filled with the stars that reminded us that were were fearfully and wonderfully made by the same one who placed these stars in the heavens.

Keep star gazing and look to what God has made. For He made you even greater than the stars in the night sky.

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Worms of Discernment

robin eating a worm

From telegraph.co.uk

It’s been raining on and off the last day or so. Yesterday, Sunday, I was looking out our back window when I saw some robins hopping around our backyard. It was wet and the robins were doing their bird thing. I stood still and watched a robin hope, tilt its little head towards the green wet grass, and then hop some more, stop, tilt its head towards the grass, and then, wham, its head went down and pulled out a worm. It hopped over to another robin who was waiting, mouth agape, for the worm. I watched this over and over again. The one robin would hop around, tilt its head, grab a worm, hop back to the other robin and feed it the worm.

As I watched these two robins, I noticed more robins in our back yard doing the exact same thing. Watching and observing their behavior, I began to wonder how they were doing what they were doing. The one robin hopping around was listening for worms below the ground. It could do so because its hearing was tuned specifically for hearing this type of thing. And then it fed the other robin (its mate I guess) each worm it caught. It was listening and acting for service for another besides itself.

And then I began to wonder. I wondered how often do we as human beings take time to listen, act, and serve others? More than that, as a follower of Jesus Christ, how do I listen to the Holy Spirit, act, and serve someone else in Jesus’ name. These hopping robins were serving another selflessly. How can I do the same in Jesus’ name?

It takes discernment.

Discernment is the act of grasping something that is obscure or not fully realized. Discerning something is the act of seeing or understanding the difference in something.

holy spirit

From more-cliparts.net

But we can’t do discernment alone. To truly discern, we need the Holy Spirit’s leading. We need to truly listen to the Holy Spirit moving and guiding us to then act on the Spirit’s leading and direction. Discernment is the act of listening to the Holy Spirit’s movements and then acting on them.

This takes practice. Unlike the robins in my backyard, our ears aren’t always attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit. The robins in my backyard have hearing specifically attuned to listening to something that we can’t hear ourselves–movement that is unseen. As a follower of Jesus, we need to tune our ears to the frequency of the Holy Spirit. And that takes practice. That takes time. That takes effort. It doesn’t come naturally.

But when it does happen, we are able to truly discern where the worms are in life an act (you can only take an analogy so far I guess). There are things that are unseen. The Holy Spirit moves like the wind, Jesus says in John 3. Right now the rain has stopped but the wind is blowing. I can’t see the wind but I do see the branches in the trees sway. So it is with the Holy Spirit, we can’t see Him but we can see the movement He leaves as He moves.

Much of life is about discernment. We must grasp that which is obscure and difficult to understand and make something out of it. We can truly do so with the prompting and power of the Holy Spirit. But even that takes time. That takes effort.

So try to tune your ear to listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit. What is He saying? What is He guiding  you towards? What is tugging on your heart strings? What is making your heart break? What is tugging at your very soul? These are the promptings and movements of the Holy Spirit at work. Listen to Him. Be guided by Him. And then do something with it in service in the name of Jesus, blessing others selflessly.

Listen, act, serve.

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Retreating

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Photo by Josh Benton

This last weekend I went on a men’s retreat to a monastery about an hour or so south of us. It was a time of contemplation, focusing on discipleship, and men’s needs. I led it. It wiped me out. I was tired afterwards. But it was worth it. There’s something about taking a retreat away from the busyness of life to find rest. There’s something about finding that rest and being recharged to go forward. Even though I was tired afterwards (I slept for about 12 hours afterward) I found it good to retreat into a different space, a different place, a different way of doing life.

There’s something about getting rid of the unnecessary need of hurry in our lives. And retreating does just that. Taking time away takes away the hurry. To be honest, we live in so much hurry now. We live off of social media (a bit ironic I say that in a blog which is part of social media) and are constantly connected to our phones, to our e-mails, and to our texts. I don’t know what it was about this monastery, but there was no reception, no data, nothing on the grounds of the abbey. In fact, you had to walk down the street to get 4 G LTE and reception. I didn’t realize how addicted I am to my phone until this weekend when I was constantly wanting to go down the road to check e-mail and Facebook. I couldn’t even “check-in” on Facebook because the GPS wasn’t fully working right.

That’s the purpose of retreating–to disconnect from the outside world and to reconnect with God.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus did a lot of retreating to spend time with the Father. He went out early in the morning to pray and spend time with the Father only to be found by the disciples and told that everyone else was looking for Him. Jesus’ response was that He had other places to go to preach the coming Kingdom of God. And again, in Mark, after Jesus sent out the 12 Disciples to go into villages, they came back ecstatic in what they had done and seen after their mission trip. Jesus took them to a solitary place to recoup and to refresh. He took them out to retreat. They had gone into the villages and towns and had seen many amazing things. And now it was time to retreat in order to refocus and renew themselves with their savior and rabbi and messiah.

Reflecting on things, I don’t do retreating well. Back in 2013, I took a retreat to the Palisades in South Dakota where I was pastoring at. After about three or so hours of quiet and study and hiking, I found out how good the reception was out there. Next thing I knew I was on my phone talking with people. I couldn’t handle the quiet. And then there was the last time I spent at the same monastery. It was a few years ago. I had lost my voice. I couldn’t speak or talk. I had to remain quiet. I thought that the monastery would be a good place to heal up and rest. I was wrong. I almost had a panic attack I was so quiet and couldn’t speak with anyone. I quickly left and headed back to civilization.

This time around, I was with other men. This time around, I was able to reflect upon what God had done, what God is doing, and what God is able to do in my life. It was beautiful to be able to learn from other men. To be able to speak with other men, to hear their struggles, to hear their concerns, and to be called out for not speaking about mine as much.

Retreating is important in order to fully follow God. In order to move forward in faith in following Jesus, we need to take a step back or two in order to reevaluate how things are going. We need to take a step back or two in order to see how God can lead us forward. You don’t need to go to a monastery in order to retreat (God only knows how hard that is for me to do) but find someplace to go and retreat, to focus on God, and see where He is leading you by his Holy Spirit.

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Dieting Sucks

Easy-Dieting-Tips-that-Prioritize-Your-Health

From jetfit.com

Over the years I’ve bounced back and forth between being a healthy weight and not being a healthy weight. Back in the day I used to lift weights on a regular basis and was at a healthy weight and had some nice muscles (my wife liked my biceps for sure). But then in October of 2012 I had surgery to remove a tumor on my thyroid and had to have my full thyroid removed instead. Now, if you aren’t familiar with the thyroid, it can be a tricky organ in the body. The thyroid does many things. It regulates temperature. It helps with energy. It regulates metabolism. It’s a multi functional organ. Problem is, without it, you can’t do much. And so you need to have synthroid. Synthroid is a synthetic thyroid hormone that does what the thyroid is supposed to do.

Now, back in 2012, I was at a good weight. I was healthy. I was active. Then I had my thyroid removed. It went down hill from there.  Over the course of about three years I ballooned up to 400+ pounds. Not good. I finally had to argue to have my thyroid levels checked and see an endocrinologist to get my levels treated properly. One of the problems with having low thyroid levels is that you gain weight and you can’t lose it. No matter how active you are. After a while, I dropped about 40lbs. Great stuff. And then my thyroid levels went all wonky again. I gained weight. Now I’m on a higher dose of medication and slowly losing weight. I’ve lost 33lbs since March 17.

Now this is where things get ugly.

People can be cruel to you while your dieting. I’m using Weight Watchers right now and it’s awesome. I love it. It’s a bit hard and it is a bit restrictive at times, but if I manage my points just right, I can end the day with a bowl of Moose Tracks ice cream. The problem is, is that now that people know I’m dieting, I get two extremes. Either I get advice on how I should diet (sometimes extreme things which go against what my doctor says) or I get the other extreme. They other extreme is where people think you can skip a day or two on your diet and it’s fine.

Take in point going out to eat. To be honest, one of the draw backs of doing Weight Watchers is going out to eat. I have to work hard at finding something that works. And if the restaurant I’m going to isn’t on the Weight Watchers database I have to do my best to guess how many points it is. Here’s the rub. When I’m asked to go out to eat with someone, I suggest coffee instead because I want to watch my points. I am told repeatedly that it should be fine. That I just need to relax. One meal won’t ruin things.

Now, I understand that people don’t always get what exactly a diet is. Sometimes people have had no issues with food or gaining weight or even have the vaguest idea of what it means to struggle with weight or food. But still. It hurts. More than just that, I wonder how they might act around an alcoholic who is struggling with being sober? Once, when asked to go out to lunch for a lunch meeting, I stated I was watching what I ate. I was outright told that I shouldn’t worry so much. I then retorted back (a bit flippantly and snarkily due to my frustration) would they ask a recovering alcoholic to go to a bar with them? They didn’t like that retort.

To be honest, dieting sucks. It takes effort. It is a life style change if you want to lose weight and keep it off. There is no easy way to do it. You just have to do it. And it can totally suck. What I like about Weight Watchers is the accountability that I have with my app on my phone. For some reason, I don’t want to disappoint it. And so I push through. I get teased at times about it. I push through. I struggle with what exactly I can eat sometimes but I push through. It can totally suck, but it is totally worth it.

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I’m a Bear-liever

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I found this picture on my phone as a screen shot from December 3, 2017. To be honest, I’m not sure why I took the screen shot. Something about it struck me. As I was going through my photos on my phone to see what to delete and what not to (I’ve gotten kicked outta the cloud because I have too many photos on my phone) I came across it. But it struck me about believing in something bigger than yourself.

You see, if you are a fan of a Chicago sports team, you get used to being broken hearted. Yes, the teams win sometimes. And sometimes they’re just down right great. (And other times they hit the pylon five times and once when you needed the three points to win the playoff game…but I digress). Sometimes the Chicago sports team of your heart wins (like the Cubs did with their first World Series win since 1918) and most of the time they lose. Like big time lose (ah-hem… Jay Cutler era).

Regardless, Chicago sports fans are die hard fans. They go to games in the freezing cold at Soldier Field, which is an outside stadium. They dress up in regalia that shows their support. They yell and scream for their team. They are die hard and will fight you if you say the Cubs are awful or that the Sox are better than the Cubs (This is from personal experience y’all). There’s something about being at the new Comiskey Park (actually US Cellular Field, but they have a statue of Charles Comiskey there).

Bears logo

From Wikipedia

When you go to a game for a Chicago sports team, there’s a fervor there. All people wearing the same team logos are your friends for life for those next few hours. Everyone gets along who are of the same persuasion of their team of choice. It’s beautiful how people get dressed up, get excited, get into the groove and are filled with joy and awe as their favorite players hit the field or  court. And they comfort one another when their team eventually loses. (Again, the “doink” of the ball on the pylon…we comforted each other then).

There’s something religious going on here. Something amazing happening. It’s almost what church is supposed to be all about. Yeah, I said it, almost what church is supposed to be all about.

Don’t tell me these people aren’t having a religious experience out there.

This goes beyond just Chicago sports fans. This hits hard when you watch any sporting event. When something goes well and great, people who don’t know each other are high-fiving one another, hugging each other, patting each other on the back. And when things go badly (and they do), they console one another. They talk to one another. They express themselves to one another–“Did you see that when they did…” “I can’t believe that just happened…” It’s church all around. Just not with a steeple. Just not with pews. Just not with Jesus. Ouch. Jesus Juke I think.

The church needs to get past itself. It needs to learn something from these sporting events. It isn’t about the music. No one goes to a sporting event to hear the music. It isn’t about the announcers at the stadium or the color commentary on the TV. You can turn off the sound at home and still be enthralled in the game. You can go to the game and still be into it despite what’s going on. No. It’s about the connections to the team. It’s about the connections to the fellow fans. It’s about being one together cheering on Da Bears or whomever you choose to cheer (though I do feel bad for Lion’s fans).

Church is supposed to transcend music and preachers and buildings and preferences. It’s about being the people of God, the body of Jesus Christ, in the world together. It’s about supporting one another during the good and the bad. It’s about developing bonds with one another through the power of the Holy Spirit. It goes beyond the event of Sunday morning and continues into the week.

I will admit, I have my Bears Jersey, my Bears sweatshirt, my Bears T-shirt. I have my regalia to dress up in support of my team even in the off season, even when they aren’t playing in the play offs or have a bi-week. How often do we as members of the body of Christ do this during the week? How often do we go past Sunday with when we wear Christ on our sleeves but not so during the week?

A sporting event can be compared to a religious experience. So should church. But more so, church should move forward in being better than a sporting event and a religious experience. How can we as the church, the body of Christ, do better in being the church so that we can become as enthusiastic about daily worship and devotion as those at these sporting events?

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Worry and Walking into Spiderwebs

Back in April of 2014, I wrote a blog post which has become the most highly read blog post on Spiritual Musclehead. It was a silly post. A post that I didn’t think would gain much traction. It was based on the No Doubt song Walking into Spiderwebs. And the post itself became popular because people keep searching for “the spiritual meaning of walking into spiderwebs” or “spiritual significance of walking into spiderwebs” or “I just walked into a spiderweb, what the heck does that mean for cryingoutloud.” (You can read full the post itself here). Some have been grateful for my blog post, others have said that not everything has to do with Jesus (I did remind them that this blog is called Spiritual Musclehead after all). Either way you look at it, it’s one of my highest read blog posts. Kinda cool.

But what’s up with people walking into spiderwebs? No doubt it’s a bit creepy when it happens. You start looking around for the spider, you think it crawled down the back of your shirt (or worse, inside your shirt) and you start freaking out. Or what about those who searched for the significance of always feeling like you’re walking through spiderwebs?

That I can’t answer for you.

What I can do is think about what it means to people to always be waiting for the next shoe to drop, the next spider web to walk through, the next phone call to screen. There always feels like there’s something else about to happen. And when you walk through a spider web, you start looking for other spiderwebs you might start walking through. And that’s just a creepy and gross feeling to have.

But we all have it at one time or another.

It’s called worry.

Worry is where we focus on what can happen. Worry is where we create a reality that doesn’t exist and take up residency there. Worry is where we colonize calamity and claim it as our own.

This isn’t a new feeling. It’s something that’s been around for a long time. A very long time. It’s an issue that Jesus himself addressed to people almost 2,000 years ago. During what is called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this:

I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Matthew 6:25

That’s a little easier said than done if you ask me. But Jesus is driving a point home here. People worry. We all worry. This thing about worrying comes on the heels of Jesus saying that you can’t serve God and money at the same time, you can’t be a servant of two masters. And it’s said right before he talks about judging others. In looking at the Sermon on the Mount, you can see that worrying is a part of the whole of how we live life, and Jesus is saying that we shouldn’t worry.

He asks:

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:27

Jesus says to look at the birds in the air, they don’t go out shopping at the grocery store, they don’t fret about paying bills and God takes care of them anyway. Now, God doesn’t drop food into their beaks, but he does provide for them. And Jesus says look at the flowers in the field, those wildflowers. They are beau-tiful. And they will whither and die, but look at how pretty they are–No Kardashian looked prettier than the flowers in the fields do. He says that our Father in heaven knows what we need, so don’t chase after these things. He hits the point home by saying this:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:33-34

Wow. I sometimes wish he had stopped one sentence before he did. Tomorrow can worry about itself. That’s some good thinking. That dog will hunt. But to then say that each day has enough trouble of its own. Dude. Ouch. That brings it all a little to close to home.

And that’s why people keep searching about walking into spiderwebs. They know that something’s wrong. And they worry. Each day is going to have issues. Each day is going to have its problems. Each day WILL have a spiderweb.

The thing is, is how will you react to it. Will you worry, fret, despair and all around get cranky about what’s going to happen next, or just realize that each day will have issues of its own. When we worry, we miss out on the things in this life that are happening now. Right now. When we worry, we freak out and miss out on what God is doing now.

So focus on now, not on the spiderwebs that may come, but on what is going on now and what God is doing now for you, in you, and through you.

 

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