Flights of Faith

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools [a] despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)

Warning Against Rejecting Wisdom
20 Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; 21 at the head of the noisy streets [a] she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech:
22 "How long will you simple ones [b] love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you.
24 But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,
25 since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you-
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
28 "Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.
29 Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD,
30 since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; (Proverbs 1:20-32)

17 Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach,
18 for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips.
19 So that your trust may be in the LORD, I teach you today, even you. (Proverbs 22:17-19)

"It is becoming clearer every day that the most urgent problem besetting our Church is this: How can we live the Christian life in the modern world?" - Dietrich Bonhoffer

Blind spots. Those places where we can't see. They exist as we drive, but they also exist in how we live our lives.

Are we simply blind to something God is trying to show us? Or are we knowingly unable to decipher something we're trying to visualize? I wanted to prepare for the first question and try to receive some sight for the second, so I decided to read Proverbs. The Book of James says, "wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17) This sounds like pretty amazing stuff and I knew Proverbs had a lot of good sayings that promote wisdom, something I think the Holy Spirit provides us with if we learn how to discipline our ears and our eyes. ("Let those who have eyes see and those who have ears hear")

Part of this desire was one of wanting to listen to others and to find instruction through that process. In one of my classes this semester, a professor had a reputation for listening to others. He is not usually a professor, so he approached the course with a great deal of humility and generally seemed like he wanted to hear us. Now, I don't know if or how our voices changed his behavior. And I don't know how much his Christian faith shapes his world, yet there was a lot of favor curried in our class from his ability (and his reputation) to listen. It came to be something I pondered over. With our commands from God and our role as Salt and Light to a broken world, what is our role as true listeners? Is there a place for it in a world that so desperately needs to see wisdom on the street and listen to her? Is this simply a discernment issue? We listen to our sad friend who needs advice instead of simply telling him or her the underlying cause of that sadness and we speak truth to the oppressor without listening before our proclamation. Listen or speak. Is that always our choice? And could we gain favor (that will create soft and open hearts) from listening to others even when we believe we know what they need to hear or is that simply wasted time and a human strategy that will never be as convicting as a bold declaration of the Truth?

I guess part of my eventual "working answer" came from the first question of what do we do when we're simply blind as opposed to trying to decipher something in front of us. What I mean by this is when we encounter situations that reveal our blindness: "I always wanted to talk to you about Christ, so it's a shame you're waiting to the last day of this program." "You always hurt me when you said this phrase. I just thought you'd eventually realize it because of my silence." Etc. I think being aware of these unspoken feelings requires a peculiar sort of listening. We must listen to others as children of God, able to communicate words or messages that come from Him and listen to God's voice as we are speaking with people. It doesn't mean that we're only using what someone literally says; instead, we're listening to silences, bits of stories that are never fully expressed, body language, and, most importantly, the Holy Spirit in us. And offering all of that up to God in order to get some sort of response and confirmation. I think this peculiar listening enables us to either continue listening or to decide that it is time to start speaking. It also cautions us against assumptions though they are sometimes necessary. In addition, this peculiar listening to others instructs and encourages us through their words because God is behind it all.

Most of all, I think both James and Proverbs tell us not to be selective with our listening. We cannot only listen to rulers or favored friends and not physical laborers or our enemies. Rich discoveries are to be found in them all. I think God has messages for us in those "beatitude" folk because they are blessed by God. I think the sick and the elderly enjoy and are encouraged by our visits. They are provided with spiritual sustenance and an opportunity for hope. However, I think we grasp so much wisdom from them that is pouring out of their life experience. There is so much to see and to hear in those spaces.

The Bonhoffer quote (I'm reading 'The Cost of Discipleship' this break), to me, represents the gravity of our need for wisdom that comes from Christ. I think there's a lot of human wisdom being trafficked right now as worldviews and philosophies that direct the lives of others given the fragility of this world. I think most questions about faith come from these paradigms of human wisdom. We need to live the life Christ is calling each of us to do in the 21st century so the Church is still relevant in all of our lives. Is there a question we're struggling w/ ourselves? Are there other questions we hope others won't ask us? We need to speak those questions out to the Body in faith and trust that God will give us some sort of answer or response. Then, individually and collectively, let the Holy Spirit pour out its wisdom onto us. Anything less and we're deciding to be blind willingly when we know we worship someone who restores sight. It's just not worth it.

There's a confidence we can have in this peculiar listening since we're listening to our God who desires to speak with us and to call us into a greater awareness of Him, His love, and the ways that love will require obedience. And I honestly think those around us will notice. "She doesn't just decide herself, she's listening to Someone higher." "He is slow to speak and frequently e-mails insightful thoughts for after we talk". "She sees me in a world that passes me by." I think we can become Godly listeners without abandoning our role as truthtellers, and I have a hunch that that type of humility and quiet confidence (of Christ at work, always) will be a refreshing Church presence in a world that's used to us abandoning our connection to Christ only to "lower ourselves" and battle human wisdom with human wisdom (even if our side sounds more religious). It is time for Christ to break that cycle that attempts to destroy the Church's witness ,and it's time for us to ask Him how to do that in our lives and in our communities. Let's meet Wisdom in the street, take her hand, and offer her a home in our hearts.

Have a happy and safe New Year's everybody,

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Have Faith, Christmas Is Near!

Rudolph, Frosty, Jack Frost, The Grinch, Elves, and Santa Claus.

Angels. Shepherds. The Three Wise men. Mary. Joseph. Baby Jesus.

These are the traditional players in this season of Christmas. I’ve always found one lineup more appealing than the others. I was never a fan of Santa.

But even liking the Christmas story did not make me understand it more. I think the thought most of my life was since we all celebrate our own birthdays then of course we are going to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. And it deserves to be a big party. When looking for meaning in the celebration though, I got a bit lost. We seemed to be thankful for Jesus…but because of what happened later during his ministry and the Easter story.

So, I pondered Christmas for a little bit. What does it mean?

For awhile, I found the meaning in others’ celebration of it. It became the time where everyone was more like us, when the weekly Christians met the holiday Christians and visions of one God and one Body danced through our heads.

It was a time when charity and love of neighbor was the norm, and the hearts of Christians and non-Christians alike burned when seeing their fellow man or woman out of luck. As long as the Christmas lights were on, we were game for these Christmas mini-miracles.

Suddenly, December started to seem like too much of a good thing. It started to seem like a window of opportunity instead of a springboard for an amazing flight into the new year. It was characterized by some sort of desperation or a seasonal sigh that “finally, music celebrating Christ will be on the radio. Finally, we might have compassion for fellow humans. And finally, I might feel some rest for my weary soul on this Earth of ours.” Christmas became a seasonal retreat instead of a yearly advance.

This started my Christmas blues. For me, I saw a Christian responsibility to the Cross. The birth of Christ, of course, remained a precious story to me. However, I felt a bit uncomfortable with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothing being called cute when He should be called powerful and almighty. Were we avoiding something when looking at the Nativity?

I think I found my way back to the manger from the Cross. When I read Jesus’ words at the Garden of Gethsemane I actually understood more about Christmas.

34"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," [Jesus] said to them. "Stay here and keep watch." 35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36"Abba,[a] Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:34-36)

This private moment of Jesus displays his human vulnerability, yet also testifies to His divine strength and humble submission to have faith in His Father even in the hardest of times. It came down to faith, trust in God’s victory and faithfulness to His amazing promises.

Then, I saw something beautiful. And perhaps, this is the real Christmas miracle: Jesus is called a Savior from birth because God had faith in Jesus’ ability to save us. He had faith that Jesus would take the cup offered to Him and that His death would be a pathway for our life. Prophecy wasn’t meant to simply be a way to advance the Biblical plot. It became a way that people came to know that being mighty to save is part of God’s character. That’s why the people we usually see huddled around the manger were eager to hear and willing to follow.

The Magi had been pursuing the good news of the Savior. Looking at prophecy and looking at the star of Bethlehem just to see this new thing God is doing.
The shepherds are eager to hear good news from angels and are excited to go see what God has told them.

Joseph obeyed an Angel telling him about Mary. And continued to obey the word of the Lord when the calm of the nativity scene swelled into a thrilling escape to Egypt to avoid the megalomania of King Herod.

Mary sings a joyful song to Elizabeth rejoicing over how God has glorified her and how He glorifies those faithful to Him, especially those the world usually writes off.
And Jesus comes to this world. And has the faith to save us all.

The Christmas story is all about faith.

So where do we fit in?

We have to ask ourselves about the new things God is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us. Are we taking the time to celebrate them with friends and family as Elizabeth and Mary did? Are we obeying these new messages like Joseph did? Are we chasing God-given inspiration and visions down in the face of opposing rulers and long journeys like the Magi? And are we being encouraged no matter where we’re receiving this good news like the Shepherds who praised God in fields of sheep?

And, to think, this was just about the seed God was planting in the baby Jesus.
We have the whole story at our fingertips. The beginning, the middle, and the end. And all we need is faith in Christ to bring us salvation and to put us on the road we were always meant to be on, to glorify God and to advance Christ’s kingdom on this Earth.

The work of Christmas is the work of faith.

Faith to follow the one who taught us how to live humbly with God and how to boldly love our neighbors.

This lasts much past December, but it is still rooted in the Christmas moment. God’s decision to send down His son and to surround him early on with humans who had faith in God and believed in the possibility of His son’s ministry on this Earth to change the world. It offers all of us a chance for redemption and flourishing through the way of Jesus.

This good news is not seasonal and it will never grow old. We look outside our frosty windows today and we see a world in need. A world that has been crying out for answers and for action. A world that seems to be falling apart. A world that for many is simply in freefall.

Thankfully, the Christmas miracle is real.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
And the Christmas miracle calls us to have Faith and to believe in that power.
I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)

I’ll close with a poem by Howard Thurman, a 20th century theologian reflecting on the work of Christmas.

"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepards are back with their flocks,
Then the work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, to heal the broken,
To feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, and
To make music in the heart."