Posts tagged ‘Wisdom’

Perceiving and Understanding

dinner, jesus, emmaus, eucharist, bread and wine, blessing, gospel, sacred, apparition, miracle

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells His disciples about a farmer who goes out one day to scatter seed. Some seed falls on a path, where it is eaten by birds. Other seed falls on some rocks, where it springs up, but then quickly dies. Other seed falls among the thorns, which proves also not to be fertile ground. Finally, some seed falls on good soil, where it springs up and yields a crop. In Jesus’ telling, the seed is His word and our hearts are different kinds of soil. We are to hear His word and let it take deep root in our hearts, like the good soil.

After He finishes His parable, Jesus’ disciples ask Him:

“Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10)

Jesus’ answer is insightful and unsettling all at the same time:

The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:11, 13)

Jesus’ final line is an allusion to Isaiah 6:9. The disciples, Jesus says, unlike the crowds who listen to His parables, see Him and perceive who He actually is. They hear Him and understand what He is actually saying.

But not all the time.

In Luke 24, after Jesus has risen, He appears to two of His disciples while they are walking along a road, but they do not recognize Him. They see Jesus, but they do not perceive who He is. Jesus then asks them what they are talking about. Ironically, they are talking about Him – His death and reports of His resurrection. Jesus responds by explaining to them how the Scriptures forecast, foretell, and point toward Him. But they still don’t get it. They hear Jesus, but they do not understand what He is saying. They are those of whom Isaiah once spoke. The disciples in Luke 24 are behaving like the crowds in Matthew 13.

One of the struggles of the Christian faith is that no matter how much we study, learn, experience, or walk with Jesus, we still have blind spots. There are things we see, but don’t perceive – hear, but don’t understand. Even if we are disciples, we still have a bit of crowd in us.

Walking in faith, then, means “walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). It means admitting that for all we may assume we see and know, there’s still plenty of room to grow. But this limitation also leaves blessedly endless room for maturation. This is one of the reasons Christians have been studying the Bible and meditating on the life of Jesus for millennia and are still learning. The treasures of God are inexhaustible.

After Jesus explains how the Scriptures point to Him, the disciples invite Him over for supper, still clueless to who He is. But then:

When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. (Luke 24:30-31)

The disciples perceived and understood anew. This is an experience that can happen for us, too. So, keep seeking to perceive and understand. Jesus will open your eyes as you break bread with Him and He breaks bread for you.

September 6, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Little Lesson In Leadership: “Working In” Versus “Working On”

write-593333_1280It’s easy to get trapped in the trenches. This is certainly true for me. With a myriad of emails to answer and phone calls to make and projects to complete, I find that if I’m not behind on at least a few things, then something is wrong! Perhaps you feel the same way.

Having too much to do and not enough time to do is nothing new. Back in 1967, Peter Drucker reminded us that people in positions of leadership always have more to do than time will allow. An effective executive, then, to borrow the title of his famous 1967 book, doesn’t just focus on getting everything done, but on “getting the right things done.”[1] He or she asks “What needs to be done?” rather than “What do I want to do?” Again, to borrow an illustration from Drucker, when Harry Truman came to the presidency, he was convinced that:

The country could and should focus again on domestic problems. He was passionately committed to reviving the New Deal. What made him an effective president was his accepting within a few weeks that international affairs, especially the containment of Stalin’s world-wide aggression, had to be given priority whether he liked it or not (and he didn’t). [2]

“What do I need to do?” is a question I am always asking myself.

I have found that what I need to do can be broadly divided into two categories. The first is what I need to “work in.” And there are many areas I “work in.” I work in the area of adult education at my church. I work in the area of pastoral care and counseling. I work in the area of blogging weekly! And make no mistake about it: I love what I work in! I love sharing God’s Word with God’s people. I love caring for people and am honored that people let me into their lives. I love blogging. I love the areas I work in.

But there is more to my job than just what I “work in.” There is also what I need to “work on.” At my congregation, we are currently working on teaching people how to have what we call “spiritual conversations” so they can share their faith with unbelievers and grow in their faith with believers. Personally, I am working on how I schedule my days so I can be more efficient in what I do.

“Working in” is necessary to get things done. “Working on,” however, is necessary so you can get things done well and, over time and with reflection, get things done better.

As a leader, what are you working in? What are you working on? Though these questions are not particularly theological in nature, they are important to ask. Sometimes, the things you need to work in become so overwhelming that you forget about what you need to work on. The problem is, the areas you need to work in will continue to pile up and you will be unable to manage everything – at least with any semblance of sanity – if you do not take the time to work on the systems and strategies that can help you get things done. So strike a balance. Don’t just work in, work on. Don’t just get things done. Figure out how to get things done well and empower others to get things done as well. Your calendar, your to-do list, and, most importantly, your weary heart will thank you.

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[1] Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done (New York: Harper Collins, 2002).

[2] Peter Drucker, “Drucker on Management: Six Rules for Presidents,” The Wall Street Journal (11.18.2009).

October 12, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Decidophobia

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

I have a confession to make:  I suffer from decidophobia.

Now, before you accuse me of making up words, this term is not my own.  Walter Kaufmann, who served as a philosophy professor for over 30 years at Princeton, coined it.  He explains decidophobia like this:

In the fateful decisions that mold our future, freedom becomes tangible; and they are objects of extreme dread.  Every such decision involves norms, standards, goals.  Treating these as given lessens this dread.  The comparison and choice of goals and standards arouses the most intense decidophobia.[1]

Here’s what Kaufmann is saying:  decisions form futures.  Those who suffer from decidophobia worry that their decisions will tank their futures.

Now, to a certain extent, this is true.  Foolish decisions can lead to bad futures.  If one wracks up a lot of debt now, it leads to a lot of bills in the future.  If one is having an affair now, it can lead to a heart-wrenching divorce in the future.

But there are other decisions – decisions that don’t always carry with them the ethical clarity that getting into a bottomless pit of debt or having an affair do.  Decisions like, “What job should I take?”  “What vehicle should I buy?”  “What house should I live in?”  I am trying to make a decision on the last of these three quandaries.  And I have come down with a bad case of decidophobia.

As I have looked at neighborhoods and floor plans and features and storage space, I’ve become worried and concerned.  Will I make the right decision?  But here’s what I’ve come to realize:  decisions like these, though not always easy, are not devastatingly determinative of my future.  If a house does not have all the features I might like, it will still provide me with a roof over my head at the end of the day.  If a job you take does not meet all your dreams and expectations, you will still have a paycheck at the end of your pay period.  If a car you buy isn’t the one you’ve dreamed of since you were a teenager, it will still get you from point A to point B by the end of your trip.

I have long suspected that God gives us some decisions to make not to teach us about decisions themselves, but to teach us about the anxiety that so many of us feel when we are in the throws of a decision-making process.  I read somewhere that we should “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Many of the decisions we make carry with them no biblical mandate.  Any decision we make will be fine.  Being free from worry, however, does carry with it a biblical mandate.  That’s why it’s time to stop incessantly fretting.  Decidophobia is sinful.

So what’s causing you decidophobia?  Before you get your stomach tied in knots, remind yourself of Christ’s words in Matthew 6:34.  These decisions are not worth your worry.  You are in God’s care.

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[1] Walter Kaufmann, Without Guilt and Justice:  From Decidophobia to Autonomy (New York:  Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 1973), 3.

July 14, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Wisdom That’s Not So Wise

Credit:  wired.com

Credit: wired.com

It was G.K. Chesterton who said, “It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.”[1]  There just seems to be something about one’s own age the dupes those living in it into thinking they are living in the best age – they are living at the pinnacle of human achievement, intelligence, and insight, unsurpassed by anything that has come before it, or, for that matter, anything that will come after it.

Case in point:  Albert Schweitzer, in his seminal work The Quest of the Historical Jesus, opens by touting his credentials:

When, at some future day, our period of civilization shall lie, closed and completed, before the eyes of later generations, German theology will stand out as great, a unique phenomenon in the mental and spiritual life of our time.  For nowhere save in the German temperament can there be found in the same perfection the living complex of conditions and factors – of philosophic though, critical acumen, historical insight, and religious feeling – without which no deep philosophy is possible.[2]

At least Schweitzer doesn’t have a confidence problem.

The ironic thing about Schweitzer’s opening paragraph is that on the back of this very book is this review:  “Schweitzer’s … proposals no longer command endorsement.”  In other words, Schweitzer, who thought his age was so wise that the people, and specifically the Germans, in it could in no way be mistaken, were, in fact, mistaken.  Perhaps his German pedigree wasn’t as intellectually impenetrable as he thought it was.

Whether or not we are as unabashedly arrogant as Schweitzer, we all, to one extent or another, use our age as the measuring rod for all ages.  We project the sensibilities of our age back onto the past and even forward into the future.

Greg Miller of Wired Science recently published a pithy little post, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today.”[3]  Ed Fries, the former vice president of game publishing at Microsoft, shared with Miller a fascinating cache of vintage European postcards that offer a glimpse of how the people of yesteryear thought we would be living in our years.  For instance, there is one postcard featuring a prop plane with a spotlight and luggage attached to the top of the cabin ushering a group of tourists to the moon for “just another weekend trip.”  The year, according to the postcard, is 2012.  Are any rockets needed?  No.  And the people on the aircraft seem to be blissfully unconcerned with the fact that their cabin is not pressurized.  Another postcard features a videophone, projecting its picture onto a wall, just like the movies of the early 1900’s did.  Apparently, those at the turn of the 20th century simply could not envision the hand-held screens we enjoy today.  Perhaps most comically, the people in all of these postcards are decked out in their early 1900’s wears.  As Miller wryly notes, though everything else underwent radical evolutions, “fashion stayed frozen in time.”

For all the fanciful things these postcards envision, they are embarrassingly transparent products of their time.  No one would mistake these as accurate or modern depictions of our age.  The people of the early 1900’s, it seems, were stuck in the early 1900’s.

We would do well to remember that just like the people of the early 1900’s were stuck in the early 1900’s, the people of the early 2000’s are, well, stuck in the early 2000’s.  We too are products of our time.  Not that this is all bad.  Our age has much too offer.  But our age cannot lead us to disparage other ages – especially past ages.  For the wisdom of the past that we discount as foolishness in the present may just be the wisdom of our present that will be discounted as foolishness in the future.  In other words, we should take the wisdom of our age with a grain of salt.

One of the wonderful things about Scripture is that it self-consciously bucks the human tendency to jump on the bandwagon of whatever zeitgeist happens to be popular at any given moment.  Indeed, it sees past learning as key to present wisdom.    As the apostle Paul says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  This is why, according to one count, the Old Testament is cited in the New Testament some 263 times.[4]  Wisdom, according to Scripture, cannot be confined to just one age.  It needs many ages.

When you look at your present, then, don’t assume that your day is the greatest day and your generation the greatest generation.  Or, to use the words of Moses, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past” (Deuteronomy 32:7).  Wisdom is not just when you are.  It was before you.  And it will continue after you.  Wise, therefore, is the person whose memory and vision is long.

______________________

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908).

[2] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola:  Dover Publications, Inc., 1911), 1.

[3] Greg Miller, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today,” wired.com (5.28.2014).

[4]New Testament Citations of the Old Testament,” crossway.org (3.17.2006).

June 2, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Wising Up with Christ

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off our summer message series called “Wise Up!  Lessons from Proverbs.”  The purpose of Proverbs is explicitly laid out for us in its prologue:  “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight” (Proverbs 1:2).  The book of Proverbs was written so that we may read them, apply them, and so be wise.  Of course, we do not always apply the Proverbs as we should.  Even Solomon, the author of the bulk of this book, did not always follow his own advice.  Solomon sings:  “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:18-19).  Later in his kingship, however, we read about how “King Solomon loved many foreign women…from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love” (1 Kings 11:1-2).  Solomon did not remain satisfied with the wife of his youth.  And the result was apostasy:  “When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:4).  Thus, Proverbs ought to call Solomon – and all of us – to repentance.  For none of us completely heeds its call to wise living.

Interestingly, at the same time Proverbs reveals to us our shortcomings, it also introduces us to one who is perfectly wise.  Indeed, this person seems to be the very personification of wisdom.   This person says:

I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion…The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old.  Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth…When He established the heavens, I was there; when He drew a circle on the face of the deep, when He made the firm skies above, when He established the fountains of the deep, when He assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him, like a master workman. (Proverbs 8:12, 22-23, 27-30)

This person named Wisdom is as ancient as God Himself.  He was with God even as He laid the foundations of the earth.  Who is this perfect personification of wisdom?  The evangelist John gives us a clue:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-2).  This incarnation of wisdom is none other than Jesus.  He is wisdom personified and exemplified.  The apostle Paul explains it this way:  “Christ Jesus became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

A famous theologian of the Lutheran Church, Horace Hummel, offers one of my favorite definitions of wisdom.  He describes wisdom as “the ability to cope.”  I like this definition a lot, partly because there is a whole genre of biblical literature known as “wisdom literature.”  This genre includes Proverbs, of course, but also books like Job and many of the Psalms.  Especially in the case of Job, Hummel’s definition of wisdom proves to be spot on.  For Job had to cope with tragedies and terrors on every side as his life fell apart around him.  And yet, through it all, he coped and hoped in God.  And at the end, He got to see God.  I finally appreciate this definition of wisdom because Jesus is its supreme embodiment.  For when we act in unwise ways – when we sin – Jesus, as wisdom personified – “copes” with our sin through His cross.  He takes us foolish sinners and saves us.  By His Spirit, He then gives us the capability to cope with the trials and tests we face with wisdom that comes from God and with wisdom that finally is God.  For we cope with this broken world with Christ by our side.  I thank God He is kind enough to share the wisdom who is His Son with a fool like me.

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July 4, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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