Friday, April 21, 2017

Humility: Objective Distance Easily Attained

I am working through an excellent book on humility: Humilitas by one John Dickson. As you would expect, his first discussion deals with how one can even talk about humility. If you're really humble you won't pretend to know anything about humility and so you certainly won't write a book about it! Or so it seems at a glance.

John is known for being, in his words, "dominance-leaning, achievement-focused, driven". So when he told his long-time friend he was writing a book on "the origins of humility in western ethical thought" his friend quipped:

"Well, at least you have the objective distance from the subject."

Zing! And so might be said of us all. Of course, John makes the reasonable case for trying to learn about this classic virtue. And right off he reminds us that one of the more remarkable sociological studies of recent years, the book Good to Great, identifies humility as one of two key ingredients in the extraordinary success he documented.

I'll hope to finish the book soon, and may share a bit as I go along.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Thinking on the Decalogue: Especially #4.

Alas, in our fallenness we see God giving and think He is taking: taking our leisure, our enjoyment, our freedom.

The Jews, astounded to be free, receive the lavish gift of one day every week to be free from labor, celebrate their freedom, and thereby validate, strengthen, and expand their freedom. For to have one-seventh of life given to celebrate life's highest goods: that gift, received and cherished, enriches the soul beyond knowing.

I am currently reading Thomas Cahill's, The Gifts of the Jews, a fascinating look at Ancient Near East through lens I have scarcely used. Indeed, the lens often seem wrong to me but they do give sight and perspective that help me better understand Biblical history and reality.

His discussion of the Ten Commandments is especially helpful. He observes that nothing in all the world's literature compares to “the Ten”, as he refers to these words of God. I am especially taken with his comments on the gift of the Sabbath, or “ceasing”. “No ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest. The God who made the universe and rested bids us do the same, calling us to a weekly restoration of prayer, study, and recreation (or re-creation).”

He continues: “The connections to both freedom and creativity lie just beneath the surface of this commandment: leisure is appropriate to a free people, and this people so recently free find themselves quickly establishing this quiet weekly celebration of their freedom.”

As I reflected on his comments, I saw again how erroneous has been my outlook. The sabbath is a stupendous gift. But in our fallenness we see God giving and think He is taking: taking our leisure, our enjoyment, our freedom. To be sure, some of our attitudes toward church attendance portend such a view. And a long history of well-intended Sabbath rules can give the wrong idea.

And so we fight with God and it boils down to self-will. And through it all God is offering: the Ten simple words of life, among which is one whole day every week in which we are free from labor. What could possibly be bad about that?!

For some reason I still feel reluctant about the Sabbath, no matter how much I try to view it as a gift. Perhaps this is because I have observed it reasonably well across the years and so I take it for granted. I want to see it anew so that I embrace it with glad joy; revel in the freedom it brings and celebrates; and, in the inimitable words of the writer of Hebrews, therein discover all that is meant when we say Jesus is our Sabbath rest. The Gift, the Cessation from our own works, the One to whom all of Creation – especially the Sabbath – points with one voice.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ministry Remnants: Apostle Paul tells us what to see

What do you look at? Do you regularly look at what is invisible? How would you? Or do you spend your time looking at what can be seen, the things for which eyes are obviously made?

In II Corinthians 4:18 Paul speaks in paradox, easily missed by those too familiar with the passage. "Look at what you can not see," he says. Huh? How do you see what cannot be seen? And further he says "Do NOT look at what CAN be seen."

I love the apostle Paul and believe he speaks the Word of God and so I listen and learn. Of course we know he speaks of the life of faith, the only life which leads to the eternal, the only path by which we can know God. As we see in a later Epistle, when we come to God we must "believe that He is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him." And in that same letter we read that faith is itself the evidence of what we cannot see.

What am I looking at? Paul says quit looking at the stuff you can see because it is passing away! Ever reasonable, Paul does not disappoint. Why would we set our sights on passing things? Because they will not last. We long for that which is forever, even for the eternal - whatever always has been and always will be.

Indeed we do. One of the radio commercials here in Alaska revels in the enduring beauty of Bristol Bay and the Native Corporation that shepherds it. The closing lines of the ad say, "We're not going anywhere. We'll always be, in a place that's always been."
Bristol Bay Landscape

This ads taps the deepest longings of the heart. It also betrays what the heart knows: contrary to those deepest longings, we will someday be dead, unable to embrace the reality for which we painfully long.

Here the Scripture steps in and gives hope. "Set your affections on things above." "Lay up treasures in heaven where they will not decay." "Look at the things which are not seen -- for those things, they last forever."

This is the life of faith, the life that invests in the eternal, the only answer for you and I who desperately long for something real, something that lasts. I think God uses most of life to teach us to set our sights on the unseen, for when we finally do see it -- to borrow Elliott's apt phrase -- we will be home "and know the place for the first time."

 Nothing which is of a perishable nature can be the chief good of a being that was made for eternity. (Quesnel, quoted by Adam Clark)

He has set eternity in our heart. 
(Ecc. 3:11)