Thursday, September 24, 2009

Like a drunk uses a lampost

I finished reading a great book this week by the Jewish writer David Wolpe, entitled Why Faith Matters. If you’ve read any of the popular atheists’ criticisms of faith and are looking for a thoughtful response here’s one to pick up and read. It’s well written and will certainly promote critical thinking about the issues. Towards the end of the book, Wolpe is commenting on the proper way to read the Scriptures. He paraphrases the Scottish poet Andrew Lang, writing, “Facts, some people use them as a drunk uses a lamppost, more for support than for illumination.”

To be honest, it took me a second to catch the full implications of the statement (It’s been a long week!). But the more I’ve thought about that quip, the more I like it. We live in a world that seems to be increasingly combative. Now, let me be clear, I have no problem with arguments in themselves, if those arguments include people who are attempting to discover truth, not simply beat each other to a pulp. Discussion may be a better word, but argument is fine. For even heated discussions can be good if they come from a combination of both passion and humility and move the participants towards wisdom.

But our culture, with its sound bites and Facebook statuses, has given up on discussion and embraced shouting matches as the main form of intellectual discourse. Which means there’s not too much intellect involved. People use “facts” not to enlighten their own understanding but as a way to support their own preconceived notions about the way the world is. Christians are certainly not the only practitioners of this information manipulation, but they at least should know better.

The Scriptures invite us to turn our ear towards wisdom and to apply our hearts to understanding (Proverbs 2:2). They warn us not to think that we are wise in our own eyes (Proverbs 3:7) for wisdom often comes from unexpected sources. Seeking not shouting becomes the main metaphor for the acquiring of wisdom. The challenge, of course, is that in order to humbly turn our ears towards wisdom we must shut our own mouths to make room for another voice. The apostle James, who also challenges us to seek wisdom, put it this way, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (2:19).

This posture of humble listener isn’t popular. And it isn’t an easy one to achieve. But the Bible teaches us it is the way towards wisdom. So, let’s start today. Seek out someone who holds a different point of view from you concerning some current topic. Ask them their opinion and then listen to their response. Resist the urge to argue. Ask good questions. Seek to understand. Who knows what you might learn?

Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin - Proverbs 10:14

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Faithfulness requires change

A meeting and funeral had me on the eastern side of the state this week, so I decided to seize the opportunity to go and see my parents for an evening. Driving into Texarkana on I-30, I almost missed the exit to my parent’s house, an exit I’ve taken thousands of times. Why? It wasn’t amnesia. It was more like disorientation. Some federal stimulus money has put a huge road construction project on the fast track. Coming into Texarkana, there is now one of those large highway exchanges with overpasses and ramps heading in all sorts of directions. To make room for this, roads that used to be there aren’t there anymore, the movie theater has been torn down, and none of the countless pine trees that used line the interstate remain. If there hadn’t been a sign labeling the new off ramp, I might have easily ended up in Arkansas before I realized my mistake.

As I commented to my parents about all the changes, I recognized that I was starting to sound like an old person. I was reminded of a story told by the dean of my seminary, Paul Powell, of a time when he had returned to a hometown for a reunion only to find that everything had changed. Places he had enjoyed as a child were no more and new places, places he’d never experienced, had been built. He noted that only one place remained the same. The cemetery. He commented wryly, “I guess dead things don’t change.”

We so often see change as a threat to life. Some changes may indeed be threatening. But no change, well, that’s always bad. For life to continue, change must happen. I can’t stay a kid forever. The only hometowns that never change are called ghost towns. Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer put it this way, “Faithfulness sometimes requires change, not sameness.” In a city, it means that being committed to providing adequate means of transportation requires the changing of roads from time to time. It requires both demolition and construction. In life, it may mean that desiring to be a person of faith requires constantly adapting to new situations, new opportunities, and new people for the sake of remaining faithful to the one, true God. Such faithfulness requires many changes as we continually seek how to make our love for our neighbor as real today as it was yesterday.

So, what changes might your life need in order to remain faithful to those things (and people) that are most important to you?

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven – Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The plot hinges on such details

Think of the most momentous events in your life. I mean those moments that changed everything. Did you know they were momentous at the time? If you're like me, not always. Often the grandest of moments disguise themselves as the most run of the mill events. Philip Yancey hits upon this truth in his book, Reaching for the Invisible God. “In a play or a movie, the most ordinary events - walking out to buy a paper, getting into a car, answering the phone - may have momentous implications. The plot hinges on such details, and the audience watches carefully because it does not know which one may prove significant or hold an essential clue.”

While we usually do a good job of paying attention during a movie (if it’s a good one!) we often have a more difficult time staying alert in our everyday lives. And yet, if we believe that God is real and active, every moment of our lives may be a moment that changes everything. Life with God fills every moment, every event with great possibilities. It’s not that we should be on the lookout for momentous moments. Often we won’t know we’ve encountered one of these golden exchanges even after they’ve happened. Instead, we should look at each moment as an opportunity to do good, to be honest, or to be courageous. Because frankly, we never know if the moment that just passed might be the moment that changes everything for us . . . or for someone else.

Think about it. The kindness you show the teller at the bank. The handful of dollars you share with the person on the corner. The smile you offer the person waiting in line next to you. These things and things like them may seem insignificant to you, but who knows what they may mean to the person who received your kindness or even to a person who witnessed the exchange take place. The plot of another person’s life may hinge on your actions today. So heed the apostles teachings, “be ready to do whatever is good, slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, and show true humility toward all people” (Titus 3:1-2).

And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? – Esther 4:14

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pooh Bear, Eeyore, and Compassion

In Sunday’s text, Matthew reports that when Jesus looked out over the masses of people with all their needs and heartaches he had compassion on them. Now, we often think of having compassion on someone as simply experiencing the emotion of pity or sorrow because of another’s misfortune. We feel badly, for instance, that there are people today who do not have enough to eat. We feel badly that one of our neighbors has no family to visit them and keep them company. We feel badly and call that compassion.

Too, often we are like the loveable, but pathetic Winnie the Pooh wo once was taking a stroll along the river bank. Eeyore, his stuffed donkey friend, suddenly appears floating downstream on his back of all things. The donkey is obviously troubled about the possibility of drowning. Pooh calmly asks if Eeyore had fallen in.

Trying to appear in complete control, the anguished donkey answers, “Silly of me, wasn’t it.” Pooh overlooks his friend’s pleading eyes and remarks that Eeyore really should have been more careful. In greater need than ever, Eeyore politely thanks him for the advice (even though he needs action more than he needs advice).

Almost with a yawn, Pooh Bear notices, “I think you are sinking.” With that as his only hint of hope, drowning Eeyore asks Pooh if he would mind rescuing him. So, Pooh pulls him from the river. Eeyore apologizes for being such a bother, and Pooh, still unconcerned, yet ever so courteous, responds, “Don’t be silly . . . you should have said something sooner.”

True compassion, biblical compassion, isn’t just a feeling. It isn’t pity. It’s concerned action. This doesn’t always mean concerned rescue for there are many situations in which true rescue is beyond our ability to give. But true compassion, which positions us arm in arm with another who suffers (the word literally means to suffer with), puts us on the lookout for salvation alongside them. Think of the story of the Good Samaritan, the Levite and the priest undoubtedly felt badly for the injured man, but only the Samaritan showed the man compassion. Why? Because he moved from feelings to action. Did he solve all the injured man’s problems? No, but he certainly joined the man on the road to healing.

Ask the Lord, today, to fill you with compassion for those whose paths you cross.

Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing – 1 Peter 3:8-9 (The Message)