Thursday, July 30, 2009

It’s Not About Me

A very popular, modern method of “Bible study” is for the participants to sit around in a circle and discuss a verse or short passage, chosen by the group “facilitator.” (Notice the absence of the word “teacher.”) Each member of the group takes his or her turn telling “what I feel this verse means to me.” All opinions are acceptable, as long as the individuals offering the opinions are “sincere.”

Such a method of “study” takes the emphasis off the objective truth of Scripture and places it instead on the subjective feelings and perceptions of the individual. In reality, God does not care what the passage “means to me.” What is most important is what it actually says. After we understand what it says, then we may need to work at determining what it actually means. A little secret here – unless there is figurative language, such as an obvious metaphor (“This is my body.”), there is no reason to look beyond what it says to determine what it means. Of course, we may need to do a little digging to determine the literal meanings of the words, but discovering nuggets of truth in the Word is worth the effort.

There is far too much focus today on “how I feel” and “what I think” and far too little focus on truth. I recently saw an online video in which the topic of discussion was the book, The Shack. (See my review of The Shack here.) You can see part one of this video here, and part two here. The basic thrust of the video was that Christians need to quit worrying so much about doctrinal correctness and realize that if a number of people are encouraged by such a book, it is clearly valuable, and it is wrong to criticize it. This is obvious foolishness, because the objective truth of God’s Word always trumps what any of us think or feel about it.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NASB). “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1, NASB).

For a short video on this topic, go here. For John MacArthur's excellent article on this topic, go here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Proverbs 31 Woman

Shortly after my first wife Sue went to be with the Lord in 2001, I sat down and put a number of thoughts on paper. By the time I was finished, I had a book. It was very helpful to me to do this, and I am hopeful that if the book is ever published, it will be a source of encouragement to other believers who have lost their spouses. The title of my book is Let Her Works Praise Her: A Life That Counted. I wrote the book within six months of her death, and some of it was quite raw, reflecting as it does my emotional state at the time. It would be impossible to write those things in exactly the same manner today.

I am a man most blessed. Six years ago, two years after Sue’s death, the Lord gave me another wonderful wife – my Janet – who is my second Proverbs 31 woman. Janet is now, as Sue once was, the perfect wife for me. No one deserves or has a right to expect such a double blessing, but I can only accept His blessings by His grace from the hand of the One who loves me with an everlasting love.

Chapter 4: The Proverbs 31 Woman

“An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.”

(Proverbs 31:10, NASB)

If a man truly loves and adores his wife, he will believe she is the best of the best. He will praise God for her and be thankful for every moment he has with her. When I say I had the very best, that is in no way meant to be disrespectful to anyone else’s wife. However, I can truthfully say that Sue was the perfect wife; she was certainly the perfect wife for me. The Lord gave us to each other because He made us for each other. We complemented each other’s skills, abilities, and temperaments. We balanced each other. We were a team. We were one.

At my request, Pastor Jeff Clark of Valley Evangelical Free Church of Hemet read Proverbs 31:10-31 from Sue’s own Bible during the memorial service. He commented that just handling and seeing her Bible—how used it was, how worn it was, how marked it was—told him that she was a woman of Scripture. That she definitely was, and she was the very essence of the Proverbs 31 woman.

The Proverbs 31 woman is rare and hard to find.

“An excellent wife, who can find?” (Proverbs 31:10, NASB). That question may mean even more in modern day America than it did when it was first written. It certainly implies that not every woman is a Proverbs 31 woman. However, any woman who knows the Lord most certainly ought to strive to be such a woman, just as every man who knows the Lord ought to strive to be the kind of godly man the Scriptures describe in so many places.

Our culture has done great harm to the entire concept of the Proverbs 31 woman. Young ladies are routinely taught, even in Christian circles, that the virtues of godly womanhood are old fashioned and out-of-date and that a woman’s real worth is only related to her employment outside the home and the amount of money she earns. Advertising generally pictures the working woman as a business executive at or near the top of a large corporation. That is truly preposterous, and the reality is that many women work outside the home in very routine jobs out of necessity to supplement family income. That is frequently unavoidable and does not negate the potential in every Christian woman to be a Proverbs 31 Woman.

God places great value on the woman who lives up to the standards of Proverbs 31, and that has not changed because we are in the Twenty-first Century. My lovely, loving, wonderful Sue was every bit a Proverbs 31 woman, and I will be eternally grateful to my Heavenly Father and to her for that fact.

The Proverbs 31 woman is worth more than any earthly possessions.

“For her worth is far above jewels” (Proverbs 31:10, NASB). My wife was, to me, worth far more than money or any other earthly thing. She was the essence of wealth. To have known her, loved her, had her for my sweetheart and best friend, and to have been one with her for over thirty-two years was one of the greatest treasures I have received in this life.

When I received the life insurance money, I cried, knowing that no amount of money would ever replace my dear, sweet, loving, precious Sue. Yet I praise her for providing for me in such a way by insisting, just eight years before her death, that we buy a life insurance policy on her. I had provided well for her in the area of life insurance, especially while the children were at home. It was unthinkable to me that she should be left with little or nothing if something should happen to me. However, I never really even thought about the possibility that the Lord might call her home first. Her love and concern for me caused her to prod me into buying the insurance, so she continues to give to me even now. I praise her for that.

The Proverbs 31 woman is worthy of her husband’s trust in every way.

She does not demand more than he can provide. “The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.” (Proverbs 31:11, NASB). I never had any reason to doubt Sue’s love, faithfulness, integrity, or loyalty to me and to our family. I trusted her implicitly in every area of our lives. Never did I concern myself with her wisdom in the use of money. It was never my money and her money. It was always our money, and we agreed about how it was to be used. I did not have to make the big bucks to make her happy. She was content with what we had, and the Lord blessed us greatly. She was diligent and frugal, and I did not have to stretch beyond our means to meet her needs and desires.

The Proverbs 31 woman works with her husband toward common goals and purposes.

“She does him good and not evil All the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:12, NASB) Sue did me so much good every day we were together that I can only scratch the surface in describing it. She loved me and our sons unconditionally. She met my needs and the needs of our sons. She always sensed when something was bothering me or one of the boys, and she did everything she could to soothe the hurts, calm the feelings, and meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. As much as she cared for others, her own family always came first because she knew it was a gift from our Heavenly Father. She never said anything bad about me or our boys to anyone. She was our greatest fan and champion in anything we did. She was always available to us when we needed her. She was always willing to put her own needs and desires on hold when there were family situations that needed her attention. She always did me good—never evil, “all the days of her life.”

The Proverbs 31 woman is diligent and hard-working.

“She…works with her hands in delight…She rises also while it is still night, And gives food to her household…She girds herself with strength, And makes her arms strong…Her lamp does not go out at night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle” (Proverbs 31:13-19, NASB). Sue did all the things a homemaker does. She took care of her children. She took care of her husband. She kept the house clean. She loved to putter around outside keeping up the shrubs and flowers. She saw to it that our needs for clothing and other such things were met. She was a great cook and always had food prepared for her family. She always did these things in such a loving manner.

For many years until she began working part-time, she was thought of by some as “just a housewife.” In the minds of many, a term such as “housewife,” or even the more "politically correct" term “homemaker,” is descriptive of someone who is too lazy to work, has chosen to live a wasted existence, or perhaps is enslaved by her husband. Such a view utterly ignores not only the value of the work of being a wife and mother but the amount of work it entails. To presume a woman does not work because she is a stay-at-home wife and mother is to be ignorant of reality.

By contrast, Sue saw being a wife and mother as nothing less than the high calling of God. She believed, as the Scriptures teach, that meeting the needs of her husband, faithfully raising her children, and keeping the family unit intact were far too important to entrust to outsiders. She worked at it, and she did so diligently because she loved her family so very much.

The Proverbs 31 woman sees beyond her immediate family to the needs of others.

“She extends her hand to the poor; And she stretches out her hands to the needy” (Proverbs 31:20, NASB). This is an area which developed in Sue’s life more and more as the years went by. Without ever neglecting her own family, she found ways to show kindness, mercy, and encouragement to many, many people in their times of need. One of the things she continually did was write notes of encouragement to others. No doubt she literally wrote thousands of such notes over the years, always with encouraging words and appropriate Scripture verses. People did not forget this kindness that she performed so consistently in the lives of so many. The Lord has not forgotten it either, and her rewards will be great in Heaven. “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10, NASB). Much will be said about this part of her ministry in later chapters.

While I was aware that she did many good things for others, I really was staggered by how many people she had touched, as evidenced by the approximately 800 people who came to her memorial service on a Thursday at 11:00 A.M. There can be little doubt that, had it been on a Saturday, even more would have been there. She touched many, many lives in many, many ways.

The Proverbs 31 woman is frugal and diligent.

“She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet. She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:21-23, NASB). Sue found ways to stretch every dollar so that we never lacked anything we needed and never felt deprived of anything. She made and mended clothing. She found bargains by searching diligently. She cut my hair. She cut our boys’ hair. She cut her own hair. I’m sure this alone saved thousands of dollars over the years.

Sue so often set aside her own desires for the needs of our family. She had wanted a horse ever since she had one as a teenager, but she willingly gave up that dream for the sake of saving for our sons’ college educations, braces for all three boys, and a multitude of other pressing needs. It gave me such tremendous pleasure to see her joy when we were finally able, after college bills were paid, to buy her a horse by the name of Rebel. She was able to enjoy him for the last two and a half years of her life. That is one of those areas on which I do not have to look back with regret, wishing we had done differently. Her frugal and careful nature would never have allowed her to do something like that before we could afford it, and I praise the Lord that He provided the means for her to have her beloved Rebel before her life on earth ended.

Sue always dressed nicely and looked great. She frequently received compliments on how she looked. Very few people realized that almost all her clothing came from, as we both frequently said, the rag bag. She went to yard sales, thrift stores, and department store sales when there would be 50% or more off the already discounted sale price. It got to the point that it was much cheaper to shop like this than it was to sew, so she saved the sewing time for other things. Many times we would be at church or somewhere and someone would compliment her outfit, and she would quietly nudge me and, with a little laugh, say something like, “Did you know I only have $6.50 in this whole outfit?” She loved that. She certainly took no pride in flaunting some special brand of expensive clothing.

Sue even did her best to make me look good as I went to school day by day, and that was no small task. Left to my own devices, I tend to have what she called “the rumpled look.” Lt. Columbo certainly had nothing on me in that area. Sue used her knack for finding bargains to get quality clothing for me at very reasonable prices. Because of my colorblindness, she would lay out my outfit each day. I praise her for that because I have no clue what goes together. Frequently, people would say something like, “Your wife dressed you nicely today,” and I generally took the opportunity to say something nice about her. I was told that one of my students, a high school girl, upon hearing of Sue’s passing, started crying and said, “Who’s going to dress him now?” This is only one of many illustrations of the fact that much of what I am came from her. We were truly one, and I thank the Lord for that great blessing.

The Proverbs 31 woman is a woman of faith and wisdom.

“Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom” (Proverbs 31:25-26, NASB). Sue was a woman of great strength and dignity because she allowed God’s Word to permeate her life. Because of this, she had confidence about the future. We were looking forward to retiring and traveling together to see so many things we never had a chance to see. God, in His sovereignty, chose to interrupt those plans. I don’t know why He did that, but I do know that He knows best. I am looking forward to the day that I can not only know that fact but also experience it in my heart and in my emotions.

The tendency among humans in a situation of loss is to feel cheated or gypped. In reality, we must be thankful for what we have rather than complain about what we don’t have. Sue kept a little flip chart of Scripture verses and wise sayings in the kitchen, one page for each day of the year, and when I got back from Modesto, I noticed the saying and Scripture verse from July 13, the day she died. It said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not but rejoices for those which he has.” (Epictetus). The related Scripture was, “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:5-6, NASB).

Ironic? Yes. Coincidence? Definitely not. The Lord knew I needed to see that. I pray that I will go beyond believing it to feeling it. I know that God does not love me any less now than He did before He took my wonderful Sue home to be with Him. I need to trust in His unfailing love and realize that He has been good to me.

Proverbs 5:18 says to “rejoice in the wife of your youth.” That was certainly something to which I was looking forward, and we both looked with eager anticipation to that day when we could retire, travel, and enjoy each other. For whatever reason, known only to the Lord, that is not going to happen now. Nevertheless, Sue’s future is extremely bright now that she is in the presence of her Savior and is seeing all the beauty of Heaven, beauty which causes all earthly beauty to pale by comparison. She loved the beauty that is here, even though it is the beauty of a sin-cursed earth. I cannot even begin to imagine the beauty she is seeing now.

Sue’s simple trust in the Lord and in His Word made her a woman of great wisdom. She never did consider herself particularly smart or intelligent, although I disagreed with her on that. However, that is really of little importance. Too many today value intelligence, or even cleverness, as valuable assets. The best Biblical synonym for the word “clever” that I can find is “guile.” As believers, we are to be without guile.

God’s Word instructs us to be wise, but nowhere does it say to be clever or even smart. Although Sue and I have both been conservative and very careful not to make hasty decisions over the years, there have been many times that I have listened to my wife’s Godly wisdom, and I thank the Lord I did. The biggest regret I have in ministry is related to a time, when because of male stubbornness, I did not heed her wisdom, and we both paid a heavy price for my decision. I truly had a wife of great wisdom, and I thank the Lord that I had enough wisdom to include her in decisions.

The Proverbs 31 woman is kind.

“And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26, NASB). Later chapters will describe the many acts of kindness that continually came from this woman named Sue Livesay. Suffice it to say here that her kindness was genuine and never waited for an invitation. She simply did for others what she perceived was needed. Any time she knew about anyone who was hurting in any way or had a special need, she was on the scene doing what she could to soothe the hurt and meet the need. Never did she look for glory or public acknowledgement that she had done anything. She was content to know that the Lord knew and that someone’s life had been made a little brighter by her words and deeds. Nothing really came out on this earth about all the many acts of kindness she did until her memorial service, and since she was already in Heaven, she lost none of her rewards because of it.

The Proverbs 31 woman takes care of her family.

“She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: ‘Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all’” (Proverbs 31:27-29, NASB). I have already touched on some of the many ways Sue took such good care of our home and family. Our sons all know what they owe their mom. Not only did they inherit their artistic and musical talents from her, but she nurtured those talents. She was, in large part, responsible for what they all have become today. They all love their mom dearly, and I praise her, giving no second thought to saying, “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all” (Proverbs 31:29, NASB). I could not have loved and adored her more. She was God’s precious gift to me.

The Proverbs 31 woman is a woman of inner beauty.

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised…and let her works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:30-31, NASB).

Sue was a beautiful woman, inside and outside. That very thing was said to me by one of the nurses in ICU, and it is so very true. However, outward beauty does eventually fade, but the real beauty of a godly woman is the inward beauty that shines through no matter how long she may live and how old she may become. “Your adornment must not be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (I Peter 3:3-4, NASB). My wife, beautiful on the outside, even more beautiful on the inside, has been, and continues to be, praised by the works that were so evident in her life. To have had the privilege of living my life with such a woman by my side was a blessing beyond compare.

Sue was truly a Proverbs 31 Woman. As a result, I believe her rewards in Heaven are great. As the song says, “Little things that you had done, sacrifices made, unnoticed on the earth, in Heaven, now proclaimed.” (Thank You, by Ray Boltz, Copyright 1988 Gaither Music/ASCAP, All rights reserved.)

Her treasures are surely stored up in Heaven. “But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21, NASB).

Saturday, July 4, 2009


We have seen that God is supreme over all things and this includes the world of sin and evil. It is a great mystery why a good and all-powerful God would allow sin and evil to have a place in His world. Since He is God and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9), it stands to reason that there will be many things about God that we cannot understand. As created beings, we simply need to accept the fact that God in His sovereign power has allowed sin and evil to be present in the world.

We do know that God is not the source of evil (James 1:13). It is also clear that God is supreme in the world and that Satan and his evil plans are limited to what God allows him to do (I John 4:4; Job 1:12). It is incorrect to think of the world as a gigantic struggle between two powers of good and evil. God is supreme and cannot be thwarted by evil powers. If this were not so, Satan would destroy all of God’s people, but he cannot because of God’s protecting hand. From a purely natural or humanistic point of view, evil has an advantage over good. The person who lies and cheats can take advantage of the person who is honest and truthful. We try to deny this by making up little sayings like “Honesty is the best policy” or “Crime does not pay.” It does not take much research to find that many criminals are making crime pay very handsomely. If we teach these human sayings, our children soon discover that the only time crime does not pay is when the criminal gets caught. The other saying also gets twisted around to mean that we should be honest when it is obviously the best policy, but otherwise it may be best to cheat just a little.

The truth is that we should be honest because God has told us to be honest (II Corinthians 8:21). God is honest and, as His images, we are to be like Him. God takes care of His own and so we do not need to lie and cheat in order to get along in this world. It is very important that we understand and teach our children that God is supreme over sin and evil and that we need to put our trust in God rather than in our own ability to maneuver people. The book of Esther is a good example of this principle in practice. Haman had all the advantages of government and human powers, and yet God providentially protected His people and destroyed their enemies. He is doing the same thing today and this is the only reason the Church and Christianity survive.

God has not seen fit to explain to us why He allowed sin to enter the world but men have suggested two reasons. One is that after sin has run its course and been completely judged by God, our eternal state can be completely free from sin and evil with no possibility that it can re-enter the scene. An eternal knowledge that we have been saved from sin and the terrible ravages of sin can only make our eternal state more ecstatic (Rev. 21:4).

The other reason sometimes given is that God wants to reveal His true nature to men. There are some attributes of God that we could not know or appreciate unless we see them with a backdrop of sin and evil. These are His attributes of grace, mercy, and longsuffering as well as His attributes of judgment and justice. More space is given over in Scripture to extolling the grace of God than any other attribute. The fact that God is “gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great loving kindness” is repeated over and over in the Bible (Ex. 34:6; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8, 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).

God in His sovereign power is even able to take the evil acts of men and Satan and reveal His power and glory through them. We read, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10). We see this truth illustrated in the story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. Later, when they found him in Egypt, a ruler directly under the Pharaoh, he explained their evil actions to them as follows:

“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me here; for God did send me before you to preserve life... So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God...” (Gen. 45:5,8).

Later he said, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good” (Gen. 50:20).

In the teachings of Christ, there are repeated references to things that men would see as evil or harmful but that, instead, God used to His glory. When the man who was born blind was brought to the attention of the disciples, some asked the Lord whose sin had brought about the blindness. This idea that disease, sickness, and other evils are brought about by our sin is very common in the thinking of men. This was the belief of Job’s friends and they were very irritated with Job when he would not confess to sin. This view tends to creep into our thinking today and when something bad happens to us we begin to search our soul for what we have done wrong. The Lord immediately corrected the disciples by telling them, “Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). The Lord then proceeded to heal the blind man and this miracle, indeed, showed everyone the “works of God.”

When Lazarus became sick and died it seemed like a terrible thing to his sisters and friends. In discussing the matter with the disciples, the Lord said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby" (John 11:4). When Jesus arrived at the graveside, He prayed to the Father and called Lazarus forth from the grave, thus manifesting the “glory of God.” As a result of this miracle, we read: “Many of the Jews who came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on Him” (John 11:45).

The Lord turned many apparently evil things, as a storm at sea, a hungry multitude with no food, a demon-possessed man who deliberately hurt himself and others, and many other things into opportunities to show the glory of God. We need to learn, and to teach our children, that the Lord is still doing this, and that bad times should simply draw us closer to Him.

God in His sovereign wisdom has allowed sin and evil to come into the world, but He is supreme over it. We Christians need not fear the evil of the world, or the devices of Satan, or the lusts of our own human hearts, for God is supreme over all.

Excerpted from Chapter 4 of An Introduction to the Christian School by James M. Bramblet, Copyright © 1985 by James M. Bramblet.