Category: Christian Living

Listening is the way to wisdom

Listening is the way to wisdom.

You don’t have to be old to be wise.
You don’t have to be a genius to be wise.

You have to listen.

We can listen in so many ways. Listening in its most direct sense is a use of our ears to hear. But I’m using “listening” in the broader sense of paying attention, taking in information and experience and processing it.

The processing is important. Just as we can hear without listening, we can take in information and have experiences without paying attention and thinking through what we have encountered.

Why do we all need wisdom? Because it helps us live a better life, and life is extremely important — a gift from God, a one time for each one person, a passing thing, a joyous experience, a challenging experience.

But we also need wisdom because this life journey is not just about each of us; it is about the people we encounter. Wise people are more likely to be a blessing to those they encounter. They are less likely to say stupid things that cause pain and hurt.

Reading has been a primary means to wisdom for centuries. But do not despair if reading is not your thing. Before reading, humanity shared its wisdom vocally — telling stories and sharing insights. There is so much knowledge and understanding available today in audio podcasts and in video form. Of course, there is also a bunch of trash, just as there are trash books that do not grow wisdom but rather promote shallowness.

We choose what kind of person we want to be when we choose what we read, listen to, and watch. Take in thoughtful content, process it, and you will become a more thoughtful person.

Those of you who are talkers — like pastors, teachers, public speakers, and just conversationalists — have to be especially careful if you want to grow wise. Every moment you spend talking is time not spent learning.

Those who don’t like to talk so much, have a different challenge. This promotes good thinking and wisdom, but it does not promote community and relationships, and they are important to our whole health, as well.

Healthy living, both for each person and for those they encounter, is along a middle path of thinking and sharing. This is one of the reasons why when I teach I love it when the quiet ones speak. The talkers keep things going and make class interesting, but the thinkers often are the ones who can bring wisdom into a group, if they will but speak.

Solomon prayed for wisdom not just so he could be smart but so he could serve well — the inside and the outside of his life.

1 Kings 3:7-9:
“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (NRSV).

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Grace-faith leads to love-hope

The road to a better life begins by acknowledging where one stands.

The truth is that for those of us who seek to follow Christ, there is a certain disappointment in how well we are living with Christ. We don’t measure up to what we hoped when we started the faith journey.

Hannah Whitall Smith said this about the Christian life:

“Your victories have been few and brief, your defeats many and disastrous. You have not lived as you feel children of God ought to live. You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power. You have rejoiced in your knowledge of the things revealed in the Scriptures, but have not had a living realization of the things themselves, consciously felt in the soul.”

If she was writing this today, maybe she would have begun with, “Let’s get real.” I think anyone who really desires to follow Christ will feel, at least at times, the truth of Smith’s words. (Those who just wanted a ticket out of Hell may not understand it, but that is another issue.)

I especially like Smith’s sentence, “You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power.”

We act as if the correctness of our doctrine is what saves us. We don’t say that, but it’s kind of lingering in the background. Of course, that doctrine differs widely when you get into the weeds, even among committed Christians. We, with our varied theologies, cannot all be right.

Which gets us to what the New Testament says is the key to life with God in Christ — grace and faith and love and hope. We keep it simple or we get it wrong.

As I have written multiple times, we are not saved by correct theology, we are saved by God’s grace through our faith.

The grace-faith life leads to love-hope.

Back to Smith:

“Christ is believed in, talked about, and served. However, He is not known as the very life of the soul, abiding there forever, and revealing Himself there continually in His beauty.”

Today’s is my birthday. My birthday wish for us all is that we would all grow in the “life of the soul.” That grace-faith will lead us to love-hope.

My family and friends, I love you because God first loved me. Thanks for enriching my life.

Andrewes: ‘Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have. . . .’

I’m thinking this morning on a nasty word. It is an old one we don’t speak of much. The generator of my thoughts is a man long dead and little known today — Lancelot Andrewes.

The word, the almost lost word — sin — with a simple truth.

“Sin it is will destroy us all.” — Andrewes

If we forget sin, we forget our destroyer. All we need do is look around us to see the truth. But sin does not merely destroy life in the now; it has consequences that reverberate through both history and eternity.

Andrewes, sounding somewhat like Yoda: “Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have, and it is our better by far. . . .”

I read these words from Andrewes’ exposition on Luke 2:10-11, which tells of the birth of a savior who is Christ, the Lord.

Andrewses speaks of the joy that a savior of any kind brings. People may talk all they want, but there is “no joy so great, no news so welcome” as when “when ready to perish” hears of “one that will save him.”

To a person in danger of dying to sickness there is no greater joy than to hear of one will make the person well again.

To a person sentenced by law to die there is no greater joy than to be pardoned.

“Tell any of these, assure them but of a Saviour, it is the best news he ever heard in his life. There is joy in the name of a Saviour,” Andrewes said.

But most of us are not on the verge of death, in sickness, or living on death row. The thing Jesus came for is the “saving we need all; and none but He can help us to it. We have therefore all cause to be glad for the Birth of this Saviour.”

“. . . there is another life not to be forgotten, and greater the dangers, and the destruction more to be feared than of this here, and it would be well sometimes we were remembered of it.”

Our spiritual joy arises out of our true selves — our flawed selves, our sinful selves. It arises because we see ourselves and those around us, and thus we see the need of a savior. In seeing our sin it becomes possible to find our joy, it is in a savior from that sin — a savior to love and lift up, to heal and pardon, to walk and reside with us.

[The Andrewes quotes are from T.S. Eliot’s essay on Lancelot Andrewes.]

Holding hands is for more than romance

I remember the excitement of holding the hands of girlfriends in youth.

I remember the connection when holding the hand of the woman I came to love. Not like the others, she remained from day to day.

I remember the tenderness of holding the hands of our babies; small and soft, they grasped your finger.

I thought of hand-holding this morning when listening to a song by David Kauffman — “A Hand to Hold.”

It reminded me of another hand-holding song first heard when I was 8 in 1963 — “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by The Beatles. The excitement of that song thrilled and laid the foundation for the excitement that would come a few years later when I held the hands of girlfriends.

But, excitement is only part of life. Kauffman’s “A Hand to Hold” points to something deeper.

“Someone asked me what I want, the question sent me spinning off in circles. I could not see. Seems like so much of my time is spent chasing what my mind invents, that my heart lost its way.

“It took stripping away every plan in me to understand the simple things I need, a hand to hold, a heart that knows, a soul that welcomes and makes a whole, a smile that warms what’s grown cold ’til I’ve become a hand to hold.”

To hold a hand is one of the great joys of life. Yes, it can be exciting, but more joyously it can become a true connection with genuine tenderness, and it’s not just about romance. To rephrase Kauffman’s words:

We all need hands to hold.

We all need hearts that know us.

We all need souls that welcome and make us whole.

We all need smiles that warm us when we’ve grown cold.

We need real love, the Jesus kind of love. The love that touches our hearts, warms our souls, makes us whole, and smiles upon our lives.

We can receive these spiritually, directly from our Creator and Sustainer, but we also need to receive these from the people God brings into our life path.

God may touch our spirits, but God knows that flesh is important and needs to be touched, as well. Jesus became flesh so he could actually touch people. What might it have been like to walk a path in Palestine holding the hand of the one who loved perfectly and would one day give that hand to be assaulted in crucifixion?

And, as Kauffman’s song says, when we have been touched and changed, we will “become a hand to hold.” We need others to hold our hands, and others need us — the power of touch.

(David Kauffman has been one of my favorite Christian songwriters for years. “A Hand to Hold” is on his album by that same name.)

 

Time to resist the ‘cult of self and self-fulfillment’

Here are some words from James Montgomery Boice on this Sunday morning:

“What lies at the heart of family breakdown is the sad philosophy that lies at the heart of the breakdown of American society generally, namely, the cult of self and self-fulfillment to be achieved at the cost of nearly everything else. In other words, the problem is unbridled individualism, which is individualism in the most radical sense (‘me alone; no one else matters’), utterly untempered, constrained by not a single moral absolute.”

Christians today have even fallen victim to this disease. This has happened to the point that “Christian” is coming unattached from what the Bible says about being a follower of Jesus, a follower of the Jesus Way.

Politics reveals this. Many Christians have sold their moral souls for political ideas on both the left (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) and the right (protecting the wealthy not the poor, environmental degradation, immigration).

We need to actually read Scripture more, especially the New Testament, instead of listening primarily to what others say and write about Scripture. That’s what I’m going to do right now.

The quote is from Boice’s Foundations for God’s City, p. 23.

Leave the cave; stay in the fray

Elijah “was afraid; he got up and fled for his life. . .” (1 Kings 19:3a, NRSV).

People who are trying to be faithful to God can empathize with Elijah — there can be a temptation to run away from it all. They confront evil and injustice as best they can, but still they sometimes want to slink away and hide. It is no fun being attacked and criticized even when you are right.

Faithfulness can be especially hard for those who seek to confront phony religion. Take Elijah. Take Jesus. Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day pulled it off.

The story of Elijah’s run is in 1 Kings 19:1-18.

. . . he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

This guy had just been God’s servant in doing some major religious clean-up work. Miraculous stuff. He goes from big-time faith to no faith in days.

I have known some godly people who can confront evil all day long and be ready for another day of the same — the late James Dunn comes to mind. (Though sometimes I thought he was tilting at windmills.)

Elijah and James Dunn stand out as confronters of bad religion, but a lot of people are trying to do their parts. Still, they may feel inadequate for the tasks. We need Elijah’s angel — a patient angel.

Then he [Elijah] lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Sometimes we want to lie down under a tree — a live oak, possibly. But then it’s like we hear: “Nope. You can’t lie down town. Take nourishment and get ready for another journey.” We hit the snooze button on such angelic encouragement and go back to sleep, but we all know that a snooze button doesn’t turn off an alarm.

Back to Elijah.

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

When we are in the pits we can overstate our situation, and that’s because we misunderstand it and ourselves and our God.

He [God] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

That would get your attention. You would be like a kid in the old days if someone said a parade was coming to town. Gotta see it!

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;

and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;

and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Wind, earthquake, fire — but not God. Attention riveted. No God around. Then, silence. And Scripture says at odd thing — Elijah “hears” the silence.

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Summoned by silence is almost an oxymoron. Silence does not summon — or does it? Has a parent ever suddenly realized his or her children had grown silent and proceeded to investigate.

Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why is a prophet in a cave in the wilderness? Prophets are needed in the cities, in the middle of culture, out in the open where evil can be challenged.

He [Elijah] answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

Elijah is continuing his earlier riff. God speaks.

Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return. . . .”

So many faithful believers feel like Elijah. They have been trying so hard for so long to be faithful, but no one seems to be listening. And this can happen even in the midst of praise and encouragement.

In the silence, however, we can be encouraged. We can gain a renewed sense of God’s presence. We can get new orders. “Go, return” to the fray, because God is up to something.

And we now have distinct advantages over Elijah. We have the example and teachings of Jesus, and the truth of this Man can change an individual and a world of individuals and their communities. And we have the Spirit of the Creator recreating within each of us the life spark that animated Jesus.

Ah, yes! Leave the cave!

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

(All quotations from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

 

God believes in you and me

First song on shuffle this morning — “Believe in You,” by Amanda Marshall. Just what I needed.

I had already read my Bible and driven to Austin in silence. I turn on my computer, crank up iTunes, and it’s like God speaking to me in Amanda’s voice — a continuation of my prayers.

Somewhere there’s a river

Looking for a stream

Somewhere there’s a dreamer

Looking for a dream

Somewhere there’s a drifter

Trying to find his way

All of us can feel lost sometime. We are looking for something. Evangelical Christians like to talk of “lost” as being before someone decides to follow Christ, to put their faith in Christ. And this is true.

But believers, even those like me who have been a Christian for decades, can feel lost. We’re not, God is still there, but it feels that way.

Somewhere someone’s waiting

To hear somebody say

I believe in you

I can’t even count the ways that

I believe in you

And all I want to do is help you to

Believe in you

There are people all around us who need to hear someone say, “I believe in you.” We need this because sometimes we stop believing in ourselves. We see our failures, our shortcomings, our unfulfillable dreams. We start drifting, trying to find our way.

Somewhere someone’s reaching

Trying to grab that ring

Everyone seems to be reaching, trying to grab the ring of success or just attention. Reaching, reaching, always reaching. It seems so many others have grasped the ring, but we cannot reach it. Like a trapeze artist who misses an exchange, we fall and hope there is a net.

We’re paralyzed with fear

And everybody’s listening

‘Cause we all need to hear

I believe in you

I can’t even count the ways that

I believe in you

And all I want to do is help you to

Believe in you

We need someone to believe in us and then to help us believe in ourselves. That seems to be what God is up to. Scripture says God believes us, and in our thoughts and prayers we still seem to hear the Spirit whispering that supporting belief. But sometimes it can be hard for us to hear that Spirit because of the clutter of our own thoughts, and that’s when we need another person to audibly say, “I believe in you.”

I will hold you up

I will help you stand

I will comfort you when you need a friend

I will be the voice that’s calling out

I believe in you

Daniel J. Siegel, a professor of psychiatry, says research has shown it is crucial to “feel we are held within another person’s internal world, in their head and in their heart — relationships that help us thrive and give us resilience.”

Such a beautiful idea — to feel we are held within another person’s internal world. And this reminds me of Jesus’ words.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me (John 15:4, NKJV).

God, in Christ, desires to hold us within His world, within His love. That can be done in purely spiritual fashion, but it also can be done by each of us for one another.

God believes in us. Someone may also need to hear that I believe in him or her.