Monday, January 30, 2006

Fanning the Flames of Freedom

I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still to hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at the start of a long journey, whose conclusion is uncertain.
- "Shawshank Redemption"

According to the movie “Shawshank Redemption,” men in prison grow adapted to prison life and lose their desire to live “on the outside.” The emotion expressed by Morgan Freeman’s character in the above quotation is one of renewed freedom, but more importantly renewed hope.

For some reason, I have always been hopeful regarding the future. I tend to enjoy change rather than fear it. I would like to think there are deeply spiritual reasons for this, but in part it’s my personality and upbringing. Nevertheless, hopeful expectation concerning what's to come is the proper response to the promises of God.

A Christian, whether 20 years old or 100 years old (and I’ve met both) can experience this. Certainly, life takes its toll. Things do not go as planned or as desired, and responsibilities weigh us down. Our spiritual vigor comes and goes like the ocean tide, and with it our comprehension of God’s promises. Nevertheless, if we believe a gracious and inexhaustible God is with us, the embers of hope should be kept alive – and sometimes fanned into flames.

For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. Psalm 112:6-7

As it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Life in Context

How often do you place your life in context? Has it ever been placed in context for you? Here are some creative words to this effect:

Last night I dreamed of horses
Coming for my soul
Taking me to places
I wasn't ready yet to go

Last night I dreamed of silence
The silence that I keep
All the things I could've said
Well, they stole away my sleep

I need to remember
The horses will come
I need to remember
How quickly they run...

- From "Horses" by Margaret Becker


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Friday, January 27, 2006

Friend for Life

Recently, a French gentleman visited the United States and checked out our culture – including our megachurches. He found it curious that we held to a “new” religion that believes “God is your best buddy.”

Is he?

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Proverbs 27:5-6

These verses on true friendship assume several things:
1) You have a friend you can trust,
2) You know the difference between a true friend and one who manipulates or flatters you, and
3) You are willing to listen to your friend’s words of rebuke or correction.

So, is God our buddy? I’m not sure a “buddy” fits this description of true friendship. A buddy might be someone we hang out with, but does a buddy tell us the hard truth when we need to hear it?

But God is our friend. After all, our father of faith Abraham was called the “friend of God.” Jesus also told his disciples that he would call them friends, not merely servants (John 15). God is indeed our friend if we trust him, if we come to him through Jesus Christ, and if we allow his words to do their correcting work.

This is sometimes painful – a friend’s rebuke is not compared to “wounds” without reason! But again, he’s not our buddy… he’s our friend.

(Note: The title of this post was grabbed from a song by Margaret Becker I happened to hear as I wrote this post. Not a bad song.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Escape from Teen Planet

“Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” (Proverbs 23:22)

These words from Proverbs have no doubt been an aching reality in many parents’ souls. After all, the infamous “rebellious teenager” is known for disregarding his father’s or mother’s hard fought wisdom.

Yet who is the real “rebellious teenager” in our world today? After all, God is the one who has given the entire world life – yet he is disregarded or despised by many. The idea that he is indeed our authority is at best a debated point, and more generally rejected outright as unfit for public discussion. The Bible is indeed in the basement. What hope is present for teens today if adults cannot muster up a little respect for the God and Father of us all?

The book of Proverbs is a handbook for wisdom and ethics, and on every page the message presents itself: listen to the wisdom of those around you, resist the wickedness offered by others. Wisdom and wickedness are both personal – rather than impersonal – matters. They involve how we treat others, and they are developed through how we interact with others. But it begins with how we relate to God – his wisdom, instruction, and especially his gospel.

The stakes are high on Teen Planet. If we act like rebellious teenagers in the presence of God, so will the next generation. But if we will listen attentively to God through his word – without rolling our eyes - there is hope.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Teen Planet

"Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old." (Proverbs 23:22)

"The father of the righteous will rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him." (Proverbs 23:24)

"My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. For a prostitute is a deep pit; an adulteress is a narrow well..." (Proverbs 23:26-27)

At some point over this past century or two, teens were cast into their own world. Although God’s word, and their own deepest longings, warn against this, many teens continue to live lives separated from their parents and the adult world in general.

A recent highly recommended book, “Hurt” by Chap Clark, tells the story of how teens became stranded on teen planet. “Abandoned” is the word Chapman uses to describe parents’ sins against their children – sometimes outright abandonment, but also more subtle forms of role model abdication. Chapman also details the chilling effects of this abandonment.

Yet these effects are also chronicled daily on talk radio and television. Over the past week, I have heard several stories of these stranded teens that wandered into the dark territories of Internet or cell phone (!) pornography, prostitution, or varied forms of abuse. Meanwhile, well-meaning parents who want their children to enjoy increasing freedoms find it hard to release them into such hostile territory.

But wait a minute! Who is shipping all this contraband into the teenagers’ world? Maybe they’re stranded, but clearly they’re not alone...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Who Needs You?

“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)

An older couple once told me of their prayers for their wayward son. Every day, before the husband left work, they stood in a specific place, held hands, and prayed for him. They did this for years, until one day he returned to faith in Jesus Christ. He eventually became a pastor and discipled me.

It can be easy to give up in prayer, even though Jesus urged us on more than one occasion to keep asking. Let’s face it, we may never know this side of heaven why God doesn’t choose to answer right away. But it’s right there in his word that he likes to set his own time schedule. Maybe, as a friend of mine once said, God just likes to hear us pray! Or maybe it’s for our sake – perhaps we need the transformation of heart and priorities that long term prayer brings about.

If there is someone in your life that you are concerned for spiritually, whether they have abandoned the faith or never truly embraced it, I encourage you to follow the example above. Pray for them daily. Form a habit by praying at a certain time of day, as this couple did, or create some other reminder. In any case, pray regularly and earnestly for them.

They need it. And apparently we do too.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Original Martin Luther

I began this week by looking at Martin Luther King, Jr. I close it by looking at the original Martin Luther.

What is impressive to me about Martin Luther, flawed saint and hero of the Protestant Reformation, is the utter fear he had of a holy God. Prior to his conversion, he wrote, he nearly killed himself with vigils, prayers, and self-abuse, all in an effort to atone for his sins. He was not content, as his superiors insisted, to "relax" about his relationship to God. How could he relax before a holy, just, all seeing God?

It was only when Luther discovered the gospel, that our sins could be forgiven through Jesus' sacrifice (not ours!), that he found rest. It was this discovery that led to the Reformation. It also explains why Luther had such boldness in the face of his enemies -- he feared God so much, he had flushed the fear of others out of his system. His confidence revealed that he knew God's opinion was really all that mattered.

Certainly Luther had his flaws. But we live in a different age, with its own flaws, and can certainly learn from some of his strengths.

Most urgently: Where do we find rest? Are we "relaxed" before God because we figure he's a nice Grandpa in the sky -- or because we have found sure footing for our forgiveness in Jesus Christ?

"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" ... And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" (From Isaiah 6)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jesus, from Matthew 11)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Christ the Lord?

Anne Rice, whose previous books include Interview with a Vampire and Queen of the Damned, recently converted to Christianity. I believe she is Roman Catholic now. Her recent novel is entitled Christ the Lord. In an afterward, she tells the fascinating story of her research into the truth about Jesus. She compared the scholarship of those who did, and those who did not, accept the historical reliability of the biblical gospels.

After all, “Jesus scholars” come in many varieties. Those who appear on television speaking about the “historical Jesus” often hold views hostile the historic Christian faith of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. (It is a radical branch of this type of “scholarship” that undergirds the radically popular Da Vinci Code novel.)

Here is how Ann Rice describes the surprise she felt when she found that many who were known as "Jesus scholars" were actually hostile to him:

"Many of these scholars, scholars who apparently devoted their life to New Testament scholarship, disliked Jesus Christ. Some pitied him as a hopeless failure. Others sneered at him, and some felt an outright contempt. This came between the lines of the books. …

"I’d never come across this kind of emotion in any other field of research, at least not to this extent. It was puzzling.

"The people who go into Elizabethan studies don’t set out to prove that Queen Elizabeth I was a fool. They don’t personally dislike her. They don’t make snickering remarks about her, or spend their careers trying to pick apart her historical reputation. … Occasionally a scholar studies a villain, yes. But even then, the author generally ends up arguing for the good points of a villain or for his or her place in history, or for some mitigating circumstance, that redeems the study itself. … [I]n general, scholars don’t spend their lives in the company of historical figures they openly despise." (Christ the Lord, p.314)

It is important for believers and unbelievers alike to recognize that scholarship – at least “Jesus scholarship” – is not free from bias. Is it even possible to be unbiased concerning a historical figure who demanded an answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Proverbs 18

Proverbs 18 has long been a favorite of mine. As a “people person” I am drawn to the many proverbs here concerning healthy (and not so healthy) human interaction. Most of these listed below concern how (and when) we speak; a few concern friendship and marriage.

Proverbs aren’t meant to be scanned quickly, but pondered and applied. So if you are struck by a particular verse, I invite you to mull it over today; and, most important, put its wisdom to good use.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (18:2)

A fool's lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. (18:6)

The words of a whisperer [i.e. gossip] are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. (18:8)

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (18:3)

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (18:17)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (18:21)

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD. (18:22)

The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly. (18:23)

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (18:24)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Misadventures on the Road to Social Justice

While writing yesterday's post concerning Amos 5:24, I kept thinking about the connection between these two verses:

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (Jesus in John 7:38)

It seems there are at least three kinds of mistakes we can make when attempting to serve those in need.

1. It is a mistake to try to serve the needy apart from Christ as our motivation and source of strength. It is faith in him that should produce "rivers of living water." The needy might receive some help even if we possess an ungodly attitude, but we lose out...and burn out.

2. It is also a mistake to try to serve others with unbiblical methods, or an unbiblical message. If faith in Jesus produces rivers of living water from us, he will be our message -- whether explicitly or implicitly.

3. But another mistake is to do nothing. That's the lesson of the Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Jesus said that the man on the side of the road was avoided by a priest and a Levite, apparently for religious, ethical, and/or nationalistic reasons. Jesus clearly wasn't so pleased with this outcome, as we know.

As weak human beings, we will feel that we do not live up to #1 and #2. But to fall into the inaction of #3 is certainly not God's will. Therefore, let us take courage, knowing that if our faith is in Jesus we ARE equipped to serve others. Our misadventures will be forgiven -- so let's venture forth!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin, Amos, and Us

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. - Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have A Dream”

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” - God, Amos 5:21-24

On the holiday commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., I have chosen to quote his famous speech – along with another famous speech which he references, the speech of the prophet Amos.

God is saying through Amos that he has come to hate and despise the way he is worshiped. Very strong language – language we would not want to hear! It is important to remember that God himself instituted the very feasts and sacrifices he now abhorred. Why could he could no longer bear them? Because they were done as a mere ritual, and not from the heart.

But the sign that our religion issues from the heart, according to this passage and others, is not simply that we feel emotional about our worship. I’m sure those of Amos’ day could feel pretty emotional about their worship – with all the food, smoke, blood, and songs, it would seem hard not to. Religion from the heart is marked, instead, by whether “justice” and “righteousness” flow from our lives like “an ever-flowing stream.” Based on Amos, this involves our treatment of others in many ethical areas, including economics, sexuality, and treatment of the underprivileged.

This thought is expressed succinctly by the Apostle John:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

Amos is an important reminder that love is more than a feeling. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech remains an important reminder that there are plenty of people who need our love, if we are willing to open our eyes to their needs.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Is the Right Way Right?

Three verses are listed below. The first will be familiar to many, but notice how all three fit together:

There is a way that seems right to man,
but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12)

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge. (14:26)

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
that one may turn away from the snares of death. (14:27)

The safest path to travel isn't the one that first appears to us. And the most important gift to our children is not something that can be bought with money. Praise God for parents who are concerned to teach their children to fear the Lord, more than with so many secondary successes.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Very Grizzly Religion

Last night I watched the documentary Grizzly Man. This film was made using video footage of grizzly bears in Alaska, as filmed by Timothy Treadwell, who was eaten by said bears in 2003.

You may remember the news stories. Treadwell lived among the bears for 13 consecutive summers--loving them, naming them, approaching them, speaking to them, and frequently declaring his willingness to die for them. He indeed died for them, or at least for one of them, as did his girlfriend (who it turns out was not so keen on the idea in the first place).

What was he thinking?

Fortunately, he left the video footage. On film, Timothy spoke much about his beliefs. At one point, he said he believes God would be very pleased with him for living among the bears unarmed, for desiring only their welfare. Another time, he cursed God. After praying for but not receiving rain, he cursed Jesus, Allah, and any other god that will listen (he called the unknown god the "Hindu Floaty Thing"). He let profanity fly upward. Then, when rain came, he rejoiced in the "miracle" and felt his prayer was heard.

It should not surprise us, based on the Bible's description of humanity, that someone would approach God with alternating fits of self righteousness and hostility. The film leads us ponder this reality.

The film is also intriguing because Treadwell clearly wanted to escape from the "civilized" society he despised, in order to forge his own space in the wild. In doing so, however, he brought his bitterness, his blasphemy, and his own inner demons into the bears' domain.

I wonder what they thought about that.

Words of God

The lips of the righteous feed many... (Proverbs 10:21)

One's words have tremendous power to "feed" others, that is, to meet their deepest needs. This does not apply only to preachers or others who make their living from public speaking. Those whose words frequently encourage and guide me include a businessman and a research scientist--even an insurance salesman and a lawyer come to mind!

Yet not everyone's words have this quality. It requires walking with God, having a knowledge of his word, and loving those with whom we speak. Implicit in this, I believe, includes being a good listener.

The verse also tells us that, as those who need to be "fed," our needs go beyond the physical realm. We need to be fed by words spoken by those who walk with God. As another important Scripture tells us,

Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3, cited by Jesus in Matthew 4:4)

We need God's word, and we need someone who speaks these words to us with wisdom and understanding. How many people are in your life that you can turn to in this way? Are you this kind of person to others?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Off Balance

"A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight." (Proverbs 11:1)

We live in a consumer society, and sadly the law itself is often determined by consumerism. The revelations coming out concerning Jack Abramoff's dealings with lawmakers remind us that many laws are not decided on the merits, but on the money associated with them. This is a false balance -- more "weight" is given to the moneyed interests than to the voices of opposition with fewer dollars.

Another false balance in our society is abortion. Yesterday morning, I heard the opening shots fired at judge Sam Alito. The questions concerned abortion and whether Alito, if appointed to the Supreme Court, would keep abortion legal. I wasn't surprised these questions were asked, but I was taken aback by the shameless way abortion was paraded as our seemingly most valuable right. To give such "weight" to the legality of abortion is an atrocity. Far from being our most valuable right, it is a sign of our societal degradation. This too is a false balance, an unjust weight.

Remember the song we learned as kids, "This land is your land, this land is my land"? I think it is helpful to remember that we as Americans share more in common than just land. Even if we seek to value life and avoid greed, our elected representatives still "represent" us far too well. Our selfishness may not be expressed in kickbacks or the termination of an unwanted child, but it surely finds a way to express itself. We need to humbly beg God's forgiveness, for ourselves as well as our nation.

Proverbs 11:1 tells us that God hates false scales and unjust weights. But it is not apples God is most concerned about, but the fruit of our lives. What is our selfishness doing to those around us? How can we replace selfishness with the kind of selflessness which pleases God?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bible in the Basement Update

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Attention, Sports Fans!

There is a morning show on CSPAN in which the host is required to drink coffee, read the morning newspapers, and, with what time is remaining, field some calls on a hot topic of the day. I've often thought I'd be good at this job.

Yesterday, the host mentioned that CSPAN would air the Alito hearings at noon, and then he deadpanned: "We will have a pre-game show at 11:30."

Indeed, politics and sports are very similar in our country. You root for your team, and you boo the other guys.

Yet in sports, you can get really mad at your team. Ask anyone in Philadelphia. But increasingly in political discourse, you can't get mad at your team -- they can do no wrong, the fault is always on the other side of the aisle (or, shall we say, in the opponent's locker room).

The challenge for Christians, as we think about political issues, is to think as Christians - not as Republicans, not as Democrats. In other words, to avoid a partisan spirit even though it is so easily confused with "team spirit."

As I read the Bible, I notice that Jesus rarely approached the issues of the day according to the pre-packaged options. In fact, the Bible speaks about Jesus often escaping from the "trap" of the two options he is given. (Think, for example, about the time he was asked about taxes.)

Are we caught in the trap?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Rendered Restless

"Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." (Proverbs 9:17)

Augustine famously prayed: "O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

Restless hearts tend to want more stuff, and to want it at any cost. And the lie, according to Proverbs 9:17, is to believe that something gained deceitfully is "sweet." However, if we gain something through theft ("stolen" water) or in some other shameful way (bread "eaten in secret"), we cannot enjoy it with our whole heart. Our heart is too weighed down with guilt or shame to enjoy what we have seized.

But who would want to steal water or bread? That's the second part of temptation. "Water and bread" symbolize that which we must have to survive. When we are moved by greed or discontent, we tell ourselves, "I can't live without this." We treat what we do not need as what we absolutely must have. But God has made us capable of surviving on much less than we long as we also have him. If we don't have him, however, enough is never enough.

I write this as one who has been on both sides. My enjoyment of God has helped me gain contentment, yet my human nature has often rendered me restless. I guess that's why my favorite Augustine quote concerns the day when this struggle will be over once and for all. Speaking of the day we will one day see God and be completely satisfied, Augustine wrote: "There we shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what will be, in the end, without end!"

Restless no more.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Persons of the Year

I wrote the following for our church, and would like to share it here as well:

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

- Jesus, Matthew 25:34-36, 40

Each year, Time Magazine awards its journalistic limelight to an influential individual who is named the “Person of the Year.” This year, the limelight was granted to three people: rock megastar Bono and multimillionaires Bill and Melinda Gates. The three were honored as “Persons of the Year” for their partnership in battling global health concerns such as AIDS in Africa.

“The whole world loves a lover,” the saying goes. It is certainly true that the whole world longs for those who love others, those who rise even a little above the selfishness inherent in a consumer’s world.

Jesus did exactly this, exchanging his privileges for poverty. He did not donate dollars, but something more. He gave himself—entering the skin of the poor and displaced, teaching, healing, and sacrificing his own blood. Through this gift, he made the greatest gift, eternal life, possible to all who believe. And Jesus calls his followers—his family—to imitate his “philanthropy.”

This year, let’s combine our faith with our works and be the “persons of the year” God calls us to be. If done in sincerity, we will not be concerned for recognition—only for the joy of serving the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for us.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Recipe for a Revolution

For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. (Proverbs 5:3-4)

Proverbs 5 is a treatise against adultery. Is this quaint? I don’t think so. Imagine the cultural revolution that would take place if young men resisted sexual promiscuity and were devoted to self-control and faithfulness to one woman for the rest of their life.

One other thing about Proverbs 5. Look back at Proverbs 3 and notice how these fit together. Chapter 3 is the positive picture of godliness; chapter 5 describes the life that neglects godliness to its own peril.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hollywood, Proverbs, and Me

One of the characters you will run across in Hollywood films quite frequently is the parent, or grandparent, who is more liberated than her child. The liberation is expressed in a vulgarity that might make the child blush, but not the wiser, more liberated parent (or, as I said, grandparent) has long ago embraced. And somehow in these films, the family gets along just fine.

I met this character—again—this Christmas season. This time, she was played by Diane Keaton in the movie The Family Stone. We met these parents last year in Meet the Fockers. And I’m sure we’ll “meet the parents” again, and again, and again. It’s Hollywood’s way of exercising free speech—bringing its entertained followers into its own bondage.

Now, I must confess my embarrassment as having even seen these films to begin with. In each case, the holiday spirit rushed me into a theater with too much trust and too little research. (Otherwise, I make it my habit to find out exactly what’s in a film before exposing myself to its contents.)

Having said that, I want to comment at how assaulted I feel after seeing such films. And it’s no wonder – Proverbs 4 tells me I have been assaulted!

For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. (Proverbs 4:16-17)

But now the good news.

The other day I was treated to an excellent film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Although I don’t think a film is only worth seeing if its message is so explicitly Christian, this is such a movie. The part that charmed me most was seeing the four children, each unworthy in their own way, receive crowns. They were made kings and queens of Narnia in spite of themselves, and because of a victory obtained by someone else, namely, Aslan the Lion.

This film reminds me of the next verse in Proverbs 4:

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (Proverbs 4:18)

Reading on in Proverbs 4, we see however that the greatest war we will fight is not with Hollywood (or any other outside agitator) but with ourselves:

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil. (Proverbs 4:26-27)

This is possible only through the Lion. We will not going to be so vigilant, left to ourselves. May we humbly petition the Lord that we will be faithful, and that when we are not, he will rescue us!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Do The Opposite

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

It would be easy to view this verse in a merely sentimental fashion. After all, it is one of the most famous verses in Scripture. However, what does it really mean to trust the Lord?

We are told here that it means we are not trust our “own understanding.” We are to be distrustful of ourselves! This doesn’t come easy; we are taught by our schools, and by the disappointments of life, to trust only ourselves. Our paths are not naturally straight—they are naturally crooked. But they are our paths, and so they don’t seem crooked to us.

When I read this verse I think about a famous episode of “Seinfeld.” In the episode, George decides that all his decisions have led him nowhere. So he decides to do the opposite of what he would naturally do. So when he asks a woman out for a date, he admits to her his many flaws (including the fact that he still lives with his parents); when he applies for a job with the New York Yankees, he insults George Steinbrenner to his face. But it works: he gets the girl, he gets the job. All by doing the opposite.

Proverbs 3 offers some examples of what it means for us to do “the opposite,” to trust God's word rather than our natural tendencies. The first is to delay gratification rather than trying to speed it up through disobedience to God’s commands:

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.

The next is to give away money rather than hoarding it:

Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

The third is to accept hardship, to view it as the work of a loving heavenly Father rather than a malicious and angry God:

My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline or be weary of his reproof,
for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

In 2006, do the opposite. Our gut reactions and bright ideas are much improved upon by God’s word.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The City That Never Sleeps

“Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks." Proverbs 1:20-21

Frank Sinatra famously sang about New York City, "If I can make it here I'll make it anywhere!"

The city requires survival skills. The competition is tough, the living conditions cramped, and the work hours long. Now that I live near Manhattan, and in its busy commuter community, I realize how many distractions press down daily upon those who are fighting to survive. Some are distracted by trying to afford the cost of living, those more fortunate are distracted by the many pleasures their money can afford.

The verses above remind us that wisdom is readily available for those who listen. Yet many do not listen because they are distracted. Wisdom wants attention, but competes with noisy streets and marketplaces. You do not have to live in New York City, or in any big city, to recognize such distractions. If nothing else, distractions are delivered to our televisions 24/7. The city never sleeps, indeed!

But look again at these verses and notice something. Even though the streets are noisy, wisdom “cries aloud.” Wisdom goes to the marketplace. Wisdom positions herself at the city’s entrance so she is seen bright and early. What prevents us from paying heed? Perhaps these “distractions” are really choices.

Listening to wisdom is shorthand for listening to God, and taking God’s words to heart: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Why would we distract ourselves from such a privilege?