talk

More Than Promises

Photo credit: unsplash_SWijers Commitment. Is it a forgotten value? Many express commitments, but how many follow through? Companies, politicians, the media, people making New Year's resolutions, all talk commitment, but are they only empty promises?

Promises, promises. Talk is cheap. Words are many, actions are few. However you express it, rhetoric and rants fill the air, but not resolve.

Resolve is the root word for resolution, "I resolve to...." Resolve, resolution, commitment, whichever term is used, is a promise requiring action. But what's the basis for making such promises? This is important.

The "C" word

The "C" word, that's what I called it. At the beginning of each new year, I'd craft a message on commitment. Each message was framed within the current need of the church in view.

Throughout most of the 80's, I challenged those I pastored towards some commitment. It became something we joked about, "oh no, the 'C' word again!"

It was joked about, but understood. Each of us in the church, including me, knew we needed to be challenged, reminded of our commitment to follow Jesus.

When I moved overseas, my challenge was directed towards pastors and leaders to study, preach, and teach the truth of God's Word. Later, I challenged my staff and students in the Bible college. I also challenged myself.

Over the years, many of these messages and challenges focused on the importance of God's Word, the Bible.

[bctt tweet="Resolutions are promises that require a commitment to action"]

A spiritual famine

When I returned from the mission field in 2005, I saw a great need in the church. I didn't have the same opportunities to address this need, as I had while pastoring and as a missionary. So I addressed it within a much smaller circle of influence.

Still, the need grew. It continues to grow. We are moving ever closer to what the prophet Amos spoke hundreds of years ago—

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it." (Amos 8:11-12)

How would this be possible with so many biblical resources available today? We (Americans) are awash in study Bibles, devotionals, study guides, conferences and workshops, small groups, and mega and home churches.

[bctt tweet="We are rich in resources and Bible knowledge, but poor in commitment"]

We are rich in resources and Bible knowledge, but poor in commitment. We lack commitment to walk in the truth of God's Word. Let's face it, we're more talk than follow through.

Take responsibility

We don't need to be more articulate and erudite in Bible knowledge. We need to live the truth of the Scriptures out in daily life.

  • Live out the truth whether people notice it or not.
  • Live it out so it transforms our life from the inside out.
  • Live it out even when it doesn't meet the expectations of others.
  • Live it out even when it costs us something to do so.

[bctt tweet="We don't need more articulate and erudite Bible knowledge, but to live it out"]

How? Each believer needs to take personal responsibility for their own life.

Don't blame the church, the culture, pastors, anyone, or anything else. Each of us need to commit to seek the Lord, understanding His Word, and living out our faith each day.

Back to basics

What do you think is needed to make this kind of commitment? What does real commitment need to be based on?

In sports, when a team is making careless mistakes or playing without focus or passion, it's said that the players need to get back to the basics. Practice of simple, but essential fundamentals.

I believe this is true for Christian believers, pastors, leaders, and the church as a whole. But what are our basics? What are the essentials we need to put into practice?

[bctt tweet="What are the essentials Christian believers need to put into practice?"]


Over the next few weeks, I hope to explore some of these essential basics. I gave a hint above for the essential I'll focus on first. But what do you think?

What do you see as essential to live out the Christian faith?

2 Ways, 2 Destinies

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Things don't just happen. Sometimes the process is hidden to the natural eye, but there's a progression from what may be hidden at the start to what becomes visible.

A tree begins as a seed, develops roots, then pushes up through the surface of the soil. Life and nourishment push through the inside of the outer skin of the stem, which becomes bark covering both the trunk and branches.

When a tree buds with new leaves, flowers, then produces its fruit or nuts (seeds), we see the end product of the tree's growth. But the growth is a continuing progression. It didn't just happen.

Life is also a progression based on the choices we make along the way. It doesn't just happen, it grows and develops.

Scripture

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. [vs 1]

But they delight in the law of the lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. [vss 2-3]

But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. [vss 4-5]

For the lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. [vs 6]

(Psalm 1:1-6 NLT) [Context– Psalm 1]

Key phrase— They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season

[bctt tweet="They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are 3 ways a person is blessed with joy by what they don't do?

What are 2 things a person can do that brings blessing in their life and makes them like a fruitful tree?

What are the wicked likened to and what will they face? What will sinners not do?

What encouraging promise is given to those who follow a godly path? What is the destiny of those who go in an opposite direction?

Reflection...

This first of 150 individual, collected psalms expresses a simple truth, but also illustrates the basic elements found throughout the Book of Psalms.

The Psalms are poetic hymns and prayers, some short and some much longer. The words paint pictures to help us see what the psalmist expresses and feels.

These poems rhyme with thoughts rather than similar sounding words. This is called parallelism—parallel or similar expressions of the same idea or thought. The Psalms express strong emotions, deep worship, penitent prayers, cries for help, and with lots of repetition, which makes them memorable.

Although we can study them, they are intended to be more devotional than doctrinal in their purpose. They are expressions of the soul that stir our heart and provoke thought and reverence (worship) of God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Do you see the progression in what a godly person does not do? Do you see the increasing involvement away from the truth in the law of God?

What do you spend more time on—listening to what others say or post on social media, or listening to and reading God's Word?

Do you see the contrast between the person who delights and meditates on the truth of God, and the one who goes their own way?

Where is the path of your life leading you at this time? Do you realize the choices you make along the way determine your destiny?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Do What We Say, Not as We Do

Photo credit: lightstock.com What about you? You say you are a Jew. You trust in the law and proudly claim to be close to God. You know what God wants you to do. And you know what is important, because you have learned the law.

You think you are a guide for people who don’t know the right way, a light for those who are in the dark. You think you can show foolish people what is right. And you think you are a teacher for those who are just beginning to learn.

You have the law, and so you think you know everything and have all truth. You teach others, so why don’t you teach yourself? You tell them not to steal, but you yourself steal. You say they must not commit adultery, but you yourself are guilty of that sin. You hate idols, but you steal them from their temples.

You are so proud that you have God’s law, but you bring shame to God by breaking his law. As the Scriptures say, “People in other nations insult God because of you.” (‭Romans‬ ‭2:‭17-24‬ ERV)


Self-righteousness infects all of us. No one is free from it. We look for ways to make ourselves look good, or at least better than someone else. So, we use a sliding scale of "goodness" that makes us appear to be better than others.

This text in Romans was first written with a Jewish person in mind. They knew God, the living God. God Almighty chose them as His own people. Their identity was wrapped up in that belief, and in the (Mosaic) Law given to them so they would be examples to other people who worshipped idols and many gods.

Today, it fits those of us who claim to be Christian believers. We say we know the right way, the only way, and often think its our role to get everyone else following our moral code, because our way is the right way. We can quote Scriptures to back this up.

Only one problem, and it's a big problem. We often don't live up to our own expectations for others. People take note of this—that our example doesn't always match our self-righteous talk.

Christian believers are called to be living examples of the one, true, Living God. As the expression goes, we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

So, the issue is not knowing the right way, it's living it. Our daily life needs to reflect the gracious and humble nature of Jesus our Lord. ©Word-Strong_2015

Spiritual Talk

Photo credit: deathtothestockphoto.com When you hear people say things like, “The Lord told me...", do you wonder how this happens or if they really hear from God? Do they have some mystical connection with God or are they just hearing voices? I’m skeptical of anyone who says to me, “The Lord told me to tell you....” And yet, throughout the Bible we read about God speaking to people.

Years ago, when I took courses to be certified as a substance abuse counselor, I was required to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). Several questions dealt with hearing God speak or other voices. The clinical bias of the test was that if you heard God speak, or heard any other voices, your mental stability was in question. Since I understood this, I carefully picked my way through the test. And in case you’re wondering—yes, I passed the test and my courses.

So, how is it possible to hear God’s voice and be in your right mind?(Read more)


This is a guest post for Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog called Spiritual Talk

Next week I'll return to the study Reflections from Ecclesiastes

A Dilemma

  ©word-strong.com

 

A growing number of people in North America and Europe have no background or understanding of Christianity.

One reason could be the great influx of immigrants from many nations. But an increasing segment of Western society has grown unengaged and uninterested in Christianity, which is the result of a shift in culture.

America’s culture is becoming both post-modern and post-Christian. Europe and Canada have preceded the US in this cultural shift, but America is not far behind.

The church cannot stop this cultural shift, nor can they ignore it. Some will argue this point, but denying or resisting this shift only brings insulation and isolation from people the church wants to reach.[i]

Adjustment needed

Christian believers need to understand this cultural change, and make necessary adjustments to address it. More and more new believers, responding to the gospel and God’s invitation into His Kingdom, come into churches with a limited understanding of Christianity—its beliefs, practices, terminology, and expected lifestyle.

How can Christian believers communicate to people so they hear the truth and respond to Jesus? This is an important question to answer.

Christians need to have a much more global view of the world around them and of God's kingdom. Billions of people in the world—yes, billions![ii]have never heard the gospel or even the name of Jesus once in their lives, or in their own language.

A rapidly growing Muslim population throughout the world appears closed to the gospel, even though the Koran speaks of Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as a prophet.[iii] Again I ask, how can believers convey the gospel so they can hear it?

The problem of Christianese

Many people lack a frame of reference for understanding the words, terms, and biblical references used by Christian believers. Collectively, these words become foreign language to nonbelievers and new believers. It’s called Christianese—a specialized dialect of English.[iv]

Special words and terms are common in most fields of study. They're called field-dependent terms—words and phrases with specific meanings within a certain field, or a subculture.

Various branches of the sciences, academics and education, politics, and even subcultures like street gangs, have their own lingo—a language specific to their field of reference. Christianity, with its field of study called theology, is no different.

A language of its own

Christians often use specific words and terms with meanings understood within the church—or so they think. My experience as a pastor and cross-cultural missionary tells me differently.

Many Christian believers can't explain these specialized words and terms in plain English so a nonbeliever could understand. This helps make the gospel a mystery to people.

Christian clichés and what I call Bible talk,[v] used outside their field of reference (the church), are unfamiliar and difficult to understand.

Subtitle interpretation needed

I've traveled to many places in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. I know the feeling of hearing a foreign language and not understanding what’s being said. It’s similar to being in a movie with subtitles, but you can’t see and read the subtitles because you’re one of the characters in the movie!

In some conversations and settings, I'm expected to respond. Though I want to, I can’t. This is the predicament Christians put nonbelievers in, and even new believers uninitiated to Christianese. To be fair, most believers don’t realize they do this.

Two issues are at work here. One is the lack of understanding on the part of the nonbeliever or new believer, who doesn’t understand this language.

The second issue is with the believer who uses Christianese, yet doesn’t understand the terms themselves. This is revealed when a person attempts to explain what they say in non-Christian words but can’t.

Experience—the great teacher

Over the years I stumbled upon a simple test of someone’s understanding of Christian terms and theology. If a person can put Christian and Biblical words in his or her own words, then they understand them. If not, they don't.

There's a simple way of communicating Christianese to unbelievers and new believers alike. I use the acronym IYOW—In Your Own Words—to describe the process. It seems simple, but it's not as easy as it sounds.

I didn’t discover this through extensive research, but in much humbler ways.

Learning curve

As a pastor, I’m responsible to feed the sheep, that is, teach the Bible—its doctrine and practice—to help God’s people grow spiritually. I founded a church in Southern California’s high desert in 1978, with my wife and three children, ages newborn to five years. Our fourth child came a few years after the church started.

My older children would hear things in Sunday school and church services, which prompted questions. They often asked dad (me) these questions at inopportune times. It seemed much easier to teach adults than children, or so I thought.

With adults I could use all the Christian theological terms without explaining them. But when my children asked me to explain these same things, I found myself unable to explain them in simple, clear words. More than a few times my oldest daughter would ask simple, heartfelt questions on our way to a church service. “Dad, how can God be one and still be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”

As a pastor, my mind was filled with things to do before the service began, as well as on my message. I was not prepared to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to my sweet, elementary-aged daughter in a simple, clear manner.

The reality is, it challenged me, and this changed my whole approach to teaching.

On the job training

My experience in the Philippines, as a teacher of pastors, leaders, and Bible School students, confirmed the importance of this, while teaching in an environment where English was a second language, but Christianity was familiar.

The Philippines is often proclaimed as the only Christian nation in Asia, so students used Christian terms frequently. But, I realized many of the students didn’t have a full understanding of these words and phrases. I got a partial clue early on, while settling into Filipino culture.

Slow to learn

We were part of a little barrio church with many small children, where some of the worship songs were sung in English. One Sunday morning, during greeting time, I started speaking to one of the children. My wife said, “They don’t understand what you’re saying.” I replied, “But they’re singing the songs in English, aren’t they?”

Because I was a bit slow on the uptake, my wife explained that they sang in English because that's how they learned the songs. The children didn’t know what the words meant. Similarly, I could speak a little of their dialect, but didn’t understand the language beyond a few familiar words and phrases.

No more coded language

When people use certain words and terms, and quote Scripture texts, it does not mean they have a clear grasp of what they are saying. Although it may seem clear to the speaker, unless the person can explain these same things in simple words, what’s spoken sounds like a secret code language to the uninitiated.

As Christian believers, we need to speak in simple, clear, non-Christianese words.

What's your experience with using or not understanding Christianese?


This post follows an earlier one called— The Search to Know God

It is another excerpt from my book, which is available in paperback and as an e-book (see sidebar).


[i] There are many books and articles written on post-modern, post-Christian trends, here are some ones I’ve read and recommend— The End of the World as We Know It, C Smith Jr. (2001 WaterBrook Press); Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, by DA Carson (2005 Zondervan). Online articles— http://goo.gl/emWyu | http://goo.gl/yVFBo

[ii] With the world population hitting seven (7) billion at the end of 2011, statistics fluctuate for numbering the billions of unreached and least reached peoples in the world. However, there are organizations dedicated to researching this (see the following links). Joshua Project— http://www.joshuaproject.net/index.php| Operation World— http://www.operationworld.org/| US Center for World Mission— http://www.uscwm.org/

[iii] Isa al Masih is the anglicized term for the Arab name/title of Jesus the Messiah or Jesus (the) Christ. The Koran (the anglicized spelling for Quran or Qur’an) is Islam’s book of sacred writings. Muslims are followers of Islam and the prophet, Mohammed.

[iv] Here are some websites devoted to Christianese— http://dictionaryofchristianese.com/ | http://goo.gl/nssqu| http://goo.gl/aKFDV| http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jargon.php| http://goo.gl/2Y1Bp (also see “Christianese_glossary” in the Glossary)

[v] Christianese comes in many forms—common clichés, Bible references or words from familiar Bible texts, and theological terms (more academic). I call these Bible talk because they are based on words and phrases in the Bible, or in reference to texts in the Bible.

 

Ruinous Talk

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Talk, talk, talk! Do you ever get tired of all the talk shows and the talking (sometimes squawking) heads of so-called news shows? I do!

How about the seemingly endless chatter and shared opinions on social media, including blogs? How much of this talk is necessary? Does it have value?

An old saying goes, "Silence is golden." Ah, silence, but where can it be found? Perhaps it needs to start with each one of us.

Scripture

The wise do what they are told, but a talkative fool will be ruined. The honest person will live in safety, but the dishonest will be caught. A wink may get you into trouble, and foolish talk will lead to your ruin. The words of a good person give life, like a fountain of water, but the words of the wicked contain nothing but violence. Hatred stirs up trouble, but love forgives all wrongs. [vss 8-12]

Wise people speak with understanding, but people without wisdom should be punished. The wise don’t tell everything they know, but the foolish talk too much and are ruined. Having lots of money protects the rich, but having no money destroys the poor. Good people are rewarded with life, but evil people are paid with punishment. Whoever accepts correction is on the way to life, but whoever ignores correction will lead others away from life. [vss 13-17]

Whoever hides hate is a liar. Whoever tells lies is a fool. If you talk a lot, you are sure to sin; if you are wise, you will keep quiet. The words of a good person are like pure silver, but an evil person’s thoughts are worth very little. Good people’s words will help many others, but fools will die because they don’t have wisdom. [vss 19-21]

(Proverbs 10:8-21 NCV) [Context– Proverbs 10]

Key phrase

If you talk a lot, you are sure to sin; if you are wise, you will keep quiet.

Digging Deeper...

  1. What things are said about the wise in contrast to the foolish, in vss 8-12? How do these things relate to hate and love in vs 12?
  2. How are wisdom and foolishness connected to the outcome of a person's life (especially in vss 13-17)?
  3. What do words reveal about a person's character? How are words connected to what a person does in life?
  4. If hate stirs up trouble and love brings forgiveness—How can the hate be reduced and the love promoted?

Make it personal...

When do you find yourself talking too much? What do you talk about the most?

When you don't talk out loud (or in social media) are you able to find quietness in your mind and heart?

What sort of things stir up anger, strife and hatred in you? How do you deal with these feelings?

What are specific ways you pursue and promote quietness, forgiveness, and kindness in your life?

Reflection...

Warnings abound throughout the book of Proverbs about words and wisdom. Basically, more talk produces problems, and those that are wise use fewer words.

An old saying points out, "God created us with two ears and one mouth." In other words, we ought to do more listening than talking.

Fewer words, wisely chosen, tend to result in less strife and more peace. Which will you choose—more... or less?

Grow Up!

WS-devo_PMSWe have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are so slow to understand. By now you should be teachers, but you need someone to teach you again the first lessons of God’s message. You still need the teaching that is like milk. You are not ready for solid food. Anyone who lives on milk is still a baby and knows nothing about right teaching. But solid food is for those who are grown up. They are mature enough to know the difference between good and evil. (Heb 5:11-14 NCV) Are you a mature and living example for others, or struggling to understand God's Word? Maturity comes as we live the truth out in daily life, not just talk about it. If you're ever-learning but not strong in your faith, it's time to grow up! ©Word-Strong_2014

Acronym-ically Speaking

Image credit: blinkblink1 / 123RF Stock Photo Acronyms. Gotta love 'em… lol (laughing out loud)! Whether it's government agencies or texting lingo, they've become an integral part of everyday life, at least for most of us. Like them or hate them, they are part of our information-overload culture.

But acronyms, as a rule, are context dependent. Unless you know the context they're used in you won't understand what they mean.

I know a group of believers and a ministry that goes by CIA—Christians In Action. Of course, when most people see these initials the Central Intelligence Agency comes to mind. BTW (by the way), that reminds me of a great line from the movie, Red October— Capt. Bart Mancuso: "Central Intelligence Agency... Now, there's a contradiction in terms."

Acronyms

Terminology and phrases used over and over often get shortened into acronyms.

When I did some work in the chemical dependency field we wrote reports for intake and assessment interviews. Comments were made about a client's social history (Hx) and recommended treatment (Tx). These abbreviations are common within social services and helping professions.

Acronyms are shorthand abbreviations for terms. It saves time and energy. But if you're not familiar with the context they're used in, it can cause confusion.

Christian lingo

Herein lies one of my pet peeves—the use of Christianese. It is a generic, catch-all phrase for Christian lingo and terms. I also call it Bible-talk. For the uninitiated (non-believers or new Christian believers) it is unintelligible talk. It doesn't make sense because there's no frame of reference to understand these terms and phrases.

As with most things I learn, I stumbled into a way of dealing with the overuse and abuse of Christianese. It wasn't discovered through research and study, but a desperate attempt to help my students understand the Bible and theological terms.

In 1995, I established a Bible school in the Philippines with a curriculum based on the Inductive Bible Study (IBS) approach. Working with students for whom English was a second language (ESL), I needed to find a way to help them learn beyond the typical transfer of knowledge—copying and repeating.

How could I get them to understand well-known Bible verses beyond a surface familiarity? How could I help them understand what it means to be born again or what redemption is?

IYOW

I developed the expression IYOW, for In Your Own Words. I asked the students to define words and express Bible verses in their own words. It proved to be a challenging yet fruitful process.

Several years ago we had a group of Americans come over on a short-term mission (STM). They went out with our first-year students for an outreach mission in another area. As part of our curriculum, the students had a class on personal evangelism along with the outreach (OR). This class required them to redefine common Christian terms related to personal evangelism.

I was glad to see how well the students did, but confounded by how the Americans struggled with the assignment. They had a hard time transferring what they knew into words of their own. They seemed to be bound by unspoken rules, as if it wasn't proper to decode these terms into simple words.

A useful tool

I realized I had stumbled upon a useful tool for teaching the truth. Not only for my students, but those who think they know the truth.

You try it. Take a common biblical term (i.e.: salvation, communion, etc.), Christian expression (i.e.: altar call, accept Christ, etc.), or well-known Bible verse (like John 3:16) and put it into your own words (IYOW). You may find it more challenging than you expect.

Next week I'll begin a new category of posts called, IYOW. From time to time I'll try to decode certain terms used in Christian circles (ie: church). I hope it will be helpful and insightful, and maybe a little fun along the way.

What are some Christian expressions or biblical terms you'd like to understand better?

Let me know. Just put them in the comment section. Maybe I'll use one of the suggestions in another post.


For a fun look at Christianese check out this video (still one of my favorites)— Christianese

For a more in-depth view of Christianese, here's a resource in development that might help, and give you a chuckle or two— http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/

What gives Words their Meaning?

Nehemiah 8:8 Learning English is difficult. It has a strong emphasis on grammatical structure.

I remember weeks in grade school and middle school diagramming sentences. I don't think that's done anymore. Pity.

It shows in the way people speak and write. And pity because, I think every student should endure the same torture (just kidding).

English!

English words can have different meanings and pronunciations, but the same spelling. Did you read the book? She read the book. The book was red. Imagine how difficult this is for someone learning English as a second language (ESL)!

How about two words that sound the same, spelled differently, mean different things, and used in the same sentence! He read the red book.

Context is important

This week I talked to two different people who used the acronym PT. One spoke of physical therapy, the other referred to physical training. How could I know the difference? The first person described what he meant as he explained what he was studying. The other one is in the military—known for their use of acronyms—who talked about his physical conditioning.

It's the context a word is used in that gives it meaning.

The one speaking (or writing) has something in mind when using a certain word, phrase or acronym. However, those listening or reading may not be familiar with how the person using the word intends for it to be understood. How many times public figures (mostly politicians) say their words were "taken out of context" when what they say stirs controversy. Christian believers, are you getting where I'm going with this?

Disconnect

This past week, someone asked me what my occupation is. My answer was that I'm a writer and teacher. The inevitable next question is, "Of what?" Right now I'm involved with three part-time jobs to pay the bills, but for the majority of my life I've been a teacher and leader. The transition from teacher-leader to writer-occasional teacher, and as an online teacher-writer, has been a steep learning curve.

When asked what I wrote, I told of my recently published book and my current writing project. I explained my concern of many Christian believers not understanding the speech they use, called Christianese, nor did non-believers understand these words.

As we talked about this, I could see it struck a chord in her heart. Although her church background is different from mine, we both saw a major disconnect of young people from church, or Christianity in general.

Why? There are plenty of stats and opinions, but I believe one thing that goes unnoticed is this issue of Christianese. Christian believers need to speak in plain language, not an obscure form of it. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make the meaning of it clear.

What is your experience with hearing Christian terms and Bible-talk?

Have you ever considered the language you use when talking about Christianity?

____________________________________________________________

For a funny look at Christianese check out this video by B.A.D.D.– Christianese

Here are some Scripture references that might help to make the point even clearer— Nehemiah 8:8, 12; Proverbs 1:2; 25:11; Luke 24:27