Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reading the fine print

It’s a rare day when you find anything worthwhile in the comments section of most websites. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I once found this jewel in the comment section of an article on religious faith in America:

“People treat the Bible like a software license agreement - they just scroll to the end and click ‘I agree.’” 

Anyone who has ever installed a program on their computer has been confronted with the license agreement. Few actually take the time to read it. I know I certainly don’t. I once heard someone say that the most frequent lie told every day is “I have read and accept the terms of the license agreement.” That’s probably not too far off from the truth.

But could it be true that many people treat the Bible in the same way? Unfortunately, studies show that at least some people do. A 2008 Baylor University study revealed that something as awful as racism is actually more prevalent among people who claim to take the Bible literally than those that make no such claim. This is despite the fact that the Bible makes clear that characteristics that once divided people such as race have now been eliminated as causes for division in Jesus Christ (see Gal. 3:28). That’s just one example of people saying they believe the Bible, but failing to do what the Bible teaches. I am sure there are others.

Jesus made clear that it’s not enough to say we agree with the Bible if we don’t actually follow its teaching, saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). To do God’s will, we have to know it, which involves spending time in the scriptures. A good place to start is with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Why don’t you start today?

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. – James 1:22

Thursday, August 23, 2012

As Accident Prone as Possible

Thanks to the good and gracious people at Southland Baptist Church, I have spent the last six weeks on sabbatical. I realize that a sabbatical is a true gift, so let me say it here, thank you to my church for allowing me this time for study, rest, and family time. I spent a portion of my sabbatical in Estes Park, Colorado. This was Alyson’s and my third trip to Estes but the first with the kids. On the way there John Curtis and Sophie asked if we would see animals. I explained how elk are all over the place in Estes Park. I also told them we’d see lots of chipmunks, birds, and maybe even some of these small animals called marmots. The kids asked if there were bears. Yes, I told them, but we would probably never see any. There are only twenty or so bears in all of Rocky Mountain National Park, and in our two previous trips to Estes, we’d never seen one.

You can imagine our disbelief, when one morning John Curtis awoke us with shouts of “It’s a bear! It’s a bear!” He had a habit of getting up earlier than the rest of us (around 6am!), but we had trained him to simply go downstairs and play quietly. Alyson and I tried to wake ourselves up and figure out what he was shouting about. I thought I had heard “bear,” but thought he must have said “deer.” Sophie’s shouts soon let me know, nope, he had seen a bear. Right on the porch! It was a comedy of errors as we tried to find a camera with a memory card in it (our evening routine was to load pictures onto the computer). We found a video camera just in time to catch our hungry friend hoist himself over the porch railing, climb down a tree, and trot away. It’s funny, Alyson and I had complained all week about how early John Curtis was waking up, and yet, it was precisely his frustrating habit that provided us with the most memorable portion of our trip. In some ways, that’s how the entire trip went. Our best discoveries, our most memorable moments, often came when we least expected them. We saw the biggest elk we’ve ever seen on an afternoon in which I took a wrong turn and got lost. We knew it was big when most of the cars that had pulled off the road to look at him had Colorado license plates. Without the wrong turn, we would have missed that moment.

In Colorado, it was easy to stay on the lookout for blessings even in the midst of wrong turns, because even wrong turns took you into another beautiful valley. In everyday life, it’s not so easy. Not every corner of life contains a majestic view, and yet, I think the truth holds. Often the greatest God-moments show up in those instances that if given a choice, we would change – in the midst of boring routines, frustrations, wrong turns, and flat out mistakes. The challenge of the spiritual life is to learn to strike a posture that allows you to be on the lookout for God, no matter the circumstances. Philip Yancey tells the story of a rabbi who taught that experiences of God can never be planned or achieved. "They are spontaneous moments of grace, almost accidental," he would say. His student asked, "Rabbi, if God-realization is just accidental, why do we work so hard doing all these spiritual practices?" The rabbi replied, "To be as accident-prone as possible." Amen.

You are resplendent with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game – Psalm 76:4