Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Wisdom, pt. 2: Words for the Simple

I've given my answer for why we need wisdom ("Why Wisdom").  How about Proverbs' answer?  The prologue to proverbs, 1:2-6, gives just that.  Below is my very novice attempt to translate the passage.  Please keep in mind that my Hebrew skills are very rudimentary.   It's important to get a feel, though, for the repetitive use of words.  The amazing scholars who translate this for the TNIV, NRSV, ESV, NLT, NASB,  and so many others 1) understand Hebrew grammar - unlike me, and 2) draw out the intricacies of context and flow.  The result is that you don't see how the original script used the same words or ideas over and over.  Take a look.  This is Proverbs 1:2-6.

To know wisdom and instruction. 
To understand speech and understanding. 
To receive instruction in prudence, righteousness, justice, and evenness. 
To give craftiness to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young.
Let the wise hear and add instruction, Let the understanding buy counsel, 
to understand a proverb and a satire, words of the wise and their riddles.

There it is, the purpose of Proverbs, in the words of Proverbs, in the translation of Mike (borrowing from NRSV when I was stuck):  To know, to understand, to receive, to give.  Proverbs will not claim to present the truth through promises or commands, but rather to make observations on the world that seem to be generally true.  It is designed to give people one of the most important skills of human life: what you do with all the words you hear, read, and say every day.  Words hide things.  Words sway.  Words are at the heart of ideas.  Words draw our emotions along: how many have felt the power of saying something out loud, either to reveal it as false, or remember that it is true?

I love also that everyone is included.  The wise, the understanding, and the simple.  The simple are my favorite, maybe because I identify with them.  They are unformed, their decisions will either lead to wisdom or folly, to righteousness or evil.  The fool, according to proverbs, is there by choice, and the fool can always choose to go back to being simple, in order to then become wise.

I'm testing this thought in my head, and I'd love your insight: one of the core ingredients to wisdom is considering oneself simple, and being teachable from there

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Wisdom is So Important Today

As I said in my last post, sometimes I "self edit" while I'm in the midst of preaching.  Well, last week, I began a preaching journey, with the intention of preaching through the book of Proverbs.  Below is a portion of the sermon that I skipped over for time, but is hugely important... and perhaps God knew what he was doing, because a blog provides more opportunity for interaction with the words.  If you'd like to hear the sermon, click here.  You'll have to click on "sermons" on the right side.  The sermon is called "Why Wisdom?"

So, as you read this, please remember that I wrote it planning to preach it, not to blog it.  The Big Idea of the sermon, based on James 1:2-8, is this: We know we're lacking in wisdom when we're unable to consider trials of every kind as "nothing but joy."  That's how I know I need wisdom... and here are a few more dimensions of that:

The Dark is Going to Get a Lot Darker (this is biblically true: Jesus promises that we will be persecuted because of him, Paul joins the chorus in 2 Tim 3:1-9). 

It’s no secret that things are changing, and many believe things will begin changing even more in the future.  Last week, for example, Gary Hines shared about a set of dreams he’s had in recent months warning of an imminent major economic downturn and worldwide political upheaval.  His dreams only add to the litany of voices in the political, economic, and religious world who all say the same thing.  Whether it is my generation or one of the generations to follow very, very closely in this nation, one of them will face a complete and total renovation of the way things are.  And renovation, just like in a home, starts with demolition.  That’s what all the gloomy, doomy voices are saying.

What specifically are they talking about?  What will it mean?  What will life be like if the scariest predictions are true?  And most importantly, how ought Christians respond? 

First, what they are talking about: Economically speaking, the nature of life in what used to be called the “first world,” referring to rich countries with lots of luxury like ours, is almost entirely unique in the world today and even more unique in world history.  I don’t know exactly how that will change, but thinking of a place like Zimbabwe may give us some indications, since Zimbabwe illustrated for the world in recent years what a corrupt government combined with utter economic disarray results in.  To be honest, it is hard to imagine it getting so bad in the US, since our government is based on a system of checks and balances... but, Zimbabwe at least proved that the worst case scenario (economically speaking) is possible.  People can mess things up that bad.  

What happened in Zimbabwe?  This is a cursory report... I'm not an economist, and I did not go to many sources.  Here's what I learned, though: Inflation occurred in such measure that normal, every day needs required ridiculous amounts of money.  According to Wikipedia, When Zimbabwe first introduced their dollar in 1983, it was worth $1.47, so it was more valuable than a USD.  By 2008, one US Dollar (which itself had devalued) was worth 758.5 Billion (with a B) Zimbabwean dollars.  It took hundreds of billions of Zimbabwean dollars to purchase an egg, or a piece of bread. 

In a situation like that, everything falls into disarray.  Zimbabwean gasoline was far too expensive and rarely available.  Grocery stores were rooms full of empty shelves.  Looting and theft became the normal way of life.  When the money goes, order and safety are soon gone too.  That was true, and to some extent still is, in Zimbabwe.  Pray for them. 

Now, whether it will be like that or not, at some point the “American Dream” will come to an end.  The only Kingdom that will stand forever is the Kingdom of God.  By war or natural disaster or our own undoing, the US will disappear eventually, just like every major empire of history that thought “we will never fall.”  And many people believe that it will happen far sooner than we'd like to think.  

Yes, it could happen soon.  Yes, the Biblical promise is that the world will hate Christians.  Like many times before, it is likely, and not too incomprehensible, to imagine that if things go wrong, Christians will be blamed. 

How do we be ready for those times? 
You know what I say to all that?  In faith, even though I honestly don't feel this way, I say bring it on.  I want to see Jesus exalted.  I want to see the power of God.  I want to see people live by faith and share what they have and get untangled from the ridiculous temptations that are provided by luxury.  Predictions and prophetic words, like Gary’s dream which he shared last week at LCC, strike fear into our hearts because we trust in the “better life” that we feel we have here.  They scare us because we think we’ve gotten so good at “saving ourselves.” BUT, Have we really made life so much better? In Ralph Winter’s words,

“America today is a ‘save yourself’ society if there ever was one.  But does it really work? The underdeveloped societies suffer from one set of diseases: tuberculosis, malnutrition, pneumonia, parasites, typhoid, cholera, typhus, etc.  Affluent America has virtually invented a whole new set of diseases: obesity, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, srokes, lung cancer, venereal disease, cirrhosis of the liver, drug addiction, alcoholism, divorce, battered children, suicide, murder.  Take your choice. Labor-saving machines have turned out to be body-killing devices.  Our affluence has allowed both mobility and isolation of the nuclear family, and as a result, our divorce courts, our prisons, and our mental institutions are flooded.  In saving ourselves we have nearly lost ourselves.”  (Ralph Winter, “Reconsecration to a Wartime, Not a Peacetime, Lifestyle” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, p. 706.)

Here’s the point:
Before this happens, whether it is in the next 6 months, several years, or an another several generations, it is utterly essential that Christians develop the sort of mentality and lifestyle that allows us to be undaunted by winds of doctrine OR winds of economic and political change.  It is time for us to cease filling our brains, bellies, and bank accounts with stuff that has no eternal value.  It is time for us to stop lying to ourselves about what is important in this life, and begin telling the truth.  It is time for us to learn to face trials as if they were "all joy," so that even the worst trials serve to strengthen our faith and cause us to fix our eyes even MORE on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith.  To him be the Glory forever, amen. 

Jesus Promised Times Like Those, and Much Worse, Would Come
Jesus talked about times filled with struggle, persecution, and turmoil beyond the scope of Gary's dreams a lot. When He warned of such times, Jesus said to “keep alert” and “keep awake” over and over again.  Jesus’ warning of such times, by the way, was not a conditional prophecy, like Jonah’s.  Jonah thought (or, hoped) his prophecy of the doom of Ninevah was unconditional, but the repentance of the Ninevites turned the wrath of God away.  That principle can be true, and will impact the manner in which these things come.  But Jesus was not saying “God will do this unless you repent” he was saying “God will do this.  It will happen all around you.  Here’s how you be ready.”  That message, “how you be ready,” is a way of understanding all of Jesus’ more radical teaching and lifestyle.  It really helps us understand Jesus' very weird commands.  For example, if only the rich man knew Jesus was offering him the greatest gift of all when he invited him to sell everything he owned.

The Rest of the New Testament Echoes Jesus, Especially Revelation
As it warned of the Beast and the Dragon, Revelation 13 issues a call to all readers: “This calls for wisdom.” (Rev. 13:18).  We need wisdom in these times.  To walk around prophesying disaster with nothing else to say is useless, or worse, dangerous. If such times, or any version of them, should strike and the people of God are unprepared and undisciplined and easily tossed around by the waves of fear, then we are to be utterly pitied.  Why?  Because in our very hands, we have a guide for life that is not dependant on the economy of the United States or the European Union.  We have a way of thinking about the people and the stuff that is around us that can see it all as a gift from God, whether we have much or little, if only we learn how to live in dependance on him.  

------------------------ (that's the end of the stuff I left out on Sunday)--------------------
I read a number of blogs and don't leave comments... but I'll tell you, as a periodic blogger, we LOVE getting comments! Please share your thoughts. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Cycle keeps Cycling

Blog consistently for a few months... forget I have a blog for over a year... start reading thought provoking or inspiring blogs from people I love... express thoughts like "I'd love to have a blog" out loud... remember that I do have a blog... and here we are. Of course if this is a true cycle, I'll need to blog consistently for the next few months.

As usual, coming back to this blog makes me think the following thoughts:

1) maybe I should just start a new blog, in hopes that I could provide a resource for the people of Littleton Christian Church and the millions (okay maybe more like 3-7) of people outside of LCC who periodically pay attention to my ramblings.

2) Or, maybe I should skip the whole "blog" thing all together, since one of my life goals is to write bookS (the S is big because I don't just want to write A book and be done with it). The reasoning there is "if I'm writing a blog each day (this is my land of intentions, where I do in fact write each day), then when will I ever work on my bookS?" Of course, I've watched one beloved friend do just what I envision: he focused all his efforts on writing a book, but when he attempted to publish it, publishers looked for his BLOG and wondered who would read him? He's had to work to get the blog thing going for quite a while ever since.

3) Add to #2 the nervous hesitation of revelation. The nature of blogging, much like this whole new culture of social networking, is that what is private (the present reference is to the things floating around in my head) becomes irreversibly public. There are people in my life who I'm a bit nervous to reveal my thoughts to for a whole list of probably-ridiculous reasons.

4) Finally, there are millions of people (I should probably say billions, but I'm still awfully prideful) with better things to say than me. It feels a little cocky, putting up a blog (or writing a book, for that matter) and expecting that people will read it.

But, at present, I have a number of reasons to write that I usually would not have.

1) On December 28, 2010, I made a one year commitment to abstain from the absolute waste-of-time activities that had become addictions in my life. For much of 2010, I'm embarrassed to admit that my daily routine was wake up, make breakfast and a hot pot of coffee with the intention of having a time of devoting my mind and heart to God through prayer, scripture, journaling or devotional writing. Instead, I would open my computer, watch the highlights from yesterday's NBA news on ESPN, and then visit Hulu and watch one or two episodes of my favorite shows. The hypocrisy here is fabulous. Erin and I (oh... I got married in between my last post and this one... pretty much the best thing ever) don't have a functional TV in our house (we have an old TV in the basement which we watch movies on from time to time). Thanks to the internet, I closed the door on that temptation and discovered about a dozen windows. To make it "bite size," my committed Abstention is for 1 year. However, I hope to have it so out of my system by December 28th that I never go back. What's the point of all this? That in the time I used to literally waste, I've already rediscovered the joy of reading, writing, and praying... and it may be that I'll actually have some more to say (although, see #4 in the first list).

2) The reality is that I actually do write a lot every week, but all my writing and thinking results in a very unique genre: the sermon. Every sermon I write ends up being about 7 pages on a Word document (12 point font, single spaced). For whatever reason, that is what "feels" like a complete sermon for me, though practically every Sunday I end up self-editing (the Spirit is usually involved, but sometimes it's fear or confusion) and skipping things I've written. Not only that, but I've discovered that a 7 page sermon is too long. Now, I agree with all those people who say "preach as long as the Spirit leads" and "don't put limits on the Spirit," but I have seen far too many people misuse that and simply ramble for 20-60 minutes longer than they should have. The developing philosophy here could be a whole blog in and of itself... Anyway, the whole point of this point #2 is this: I may have an opportunity to use this blog to disperse some of the information or thoughts that I've chosen to edit out of sermons. Then again, making that public (see #3 above) may deal a deathblow to my readership. Who wants to hear the stuff an already long-winded preacher decided to trim out of his sermons? Maybe a better way to say it is the next point.

3) Yesterday, I started a new preaching series. It is officially my fourth preaching series of my short and wonderful (though not always easy) time as a preacher. The first was two weeks long and was about intentional community - it was with the goal of sparking a small group ministry at the church, which it did. Those lasted for about a year... now we really need small groups again (Wow, I really do digress sometimes). The second was a 19 month series on Paul's Letter to the Romans. And the third, which I completed in November, was a 10-month series on the Book of Revelation. Thanks to those series, those are two of the most important books in the Canon for me. Well, yesterday I announced that we would start a series on the book of Proverbs. But there is one major difference between Proverbs and Romans or Revelation. Proverbs, while a complete and intentionally organized piece of literature, was not necessarily written as one big presentation... in fact, other than the speeches of chapters 1-9 and chapter 31, it seems to be mostly a pretty assorted collection of sayings gathered from all over the ancient Near East (though they have been carefully chosen and tweaked to fit the mindset of a believer in YHWH, the God of Israel). My point is this: I'm not going to preach every verse of Proverbs. Which means there will be a lot of Proverbial sayings that I skip, but would love to delve into more deeply. Maybe, for the next couple months, this blog could be a good place to do just that? Here's the reality: some Proverbs don't make sense to me. Some seem too obvious. Some seem like they make sense, but then when I compare them to the sayings of Jesus, it seems they are in contradiction. I'd love a place to really investigate that in community. Thank you, blogosphere!

4) In argument against my #2 above, I've found that my brain works more like a snowball and less like a reservoir. The more I write, think, pray, read, and write (yes, I know it's there twice... that's the process), the more I have to say. Like a snowball, my thoughts grow as they go (and sometimes crash into things... sorry in advance). The mentality of #2 above is that I only have a limited number of things to say, so if I waste them here, in a place where I'm not even sure whether they remain "my property" (does anyone actually read the legal agreements on the internet when you join different social networking sites? They're as long as a Mike Wright blog! Who would read that?), I won't have anything else to say! But... that's not true. And, as I said, I don't know the legal loopholes, but my assumption is that there would be no problem with reproducing my ramblings from this blog in the more polished (and possibly dying) medium of a BOOK.

5) My amazing wife, Erin, and I have found ourselves completely swept up in the blogs of some family members of a family in our church. Wow that was a bad sentence. Hey, it's a blog! Anyway, we love this family in our church. Their sister suffered a major stroke last week, and praying for her and for all the people involved with her (her husband, daughters, and family) has become a major part of our days. You can find out more, and join in helping, by going here. As we've followed along, we've been struck by the fact that their willingness to be honest and public with their lives before this happened has impacted and encouraged thousands of people. I would rather send you there than say you'll get that sort of inspiration here, but the point is this: there is a power in being honest and authentic in a wise way. Thank you, Joanne and Toben, for encouraging us in that and about 100 other ways in the last week.

I can't promise I'll break the cycle. Sorry if I promised that in the past. But, here's to at least a few months worth of publicizing my ramblings.