Archive for May, 2010

Getting Smart with God

The Three Virtues

The Bible speaks a great deal about wisdom. Understanding and knowledge. I wonder if the reason may have something to do, not only with living well, but preventing trouble.

The Three Virtues (covered in the wisdom books of the Bible)

  • Wisdom: A skillful knack. The ability to take what you know and what you understand and make things in life work for you.
  • Knowledge: The facts. All the meaningful information.
  • Understanding: The ability to put all the facts (knowledge) into context so that they are useful and relevant.

Consider the polar opposites

  • Ignorance, misconception (also expressed as being gullible or naïve).
  • Foolishness: opposite of wisdom (stupidity)
  • Confusion: opposite of understanding (often expressed as error).

In proverbs, much of the teaching about wisdom understanding and knowledge, is compared with their opposites: Ignorance, foolishness and confusion. It occurs to me that the antithesis of these three virtues are the engines of oppression. The absence of these three virtues is a vacuum which allows a lot of suffering.

In Proverbs 8 wisdom is portrayed as a lady calling out to all humanity (Children of men) in verse 4. The real telling portion of this is down around the end of the chapter. Wisdom is characterized as a fundamental force of the universe and the very reason it is established and why it works. It is the attribute that made all the good that we know possible. But, as I said before, it’s absence bears horrible consequences. The absence of these three virtues is not merely unfortunate or even tolerable. It is toxic and dangerous.

Wisdom concludes her speech with this thought:

and now, oh sons, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wide, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me favor death.

Without wisdom things tend to fall apart. If you live this way your affairs tend to self destruct. This is not a moral statement. This is a simple observation of the way things work in life.

Does this seem unreasonable? It is not a moral statement but a statement about the way things work. Think about it: what does ignorance, foolishness and confusion generally lead to? Living like this does not lead to a rousing good time and laughs for everyone. It leads to misery and self destruction. The lack of wisdom, understanding and knowledge is destructive and dangerous. It’s a risk that nobody needs to take. But wait, it gets worse.

In the corporate community sense, the lack of the three virtues opens the door for exploitation, abuse and perpetual misery. Oppressors love ignorance. It makes it easy for them to hide themselves and their intentions. It even allows them to make supporters out of their victims! Without these three virtues it’s easy to be trapped by any number of scams.

Recent history of ignorant group-think really illustrates this fact. The recent financial collapse was made possible by ignorance and confusion. Investment bankers created bad investments which were designed to fail and then conspired to profit from their failure, they made hundreds of millions, leaving the rest of us with nothing but losses, destroyed banks and expensive bailouts. Why? Because they took advantage of people who did not have wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the markets and investments.

A Christ follower does not need to live like this. Part of your transformation involves your mind. We get to grow smarter in all affairs of life as we grow in Christ. In Romans 12, Paul talks about being “transformed, by the renewing of your mind.” Just as there is not longer any reason to wallow in sin, there is no reason to wallow in ignorance, confusion and foolishness.

Wisdom, knowledge and understanding are not only notable virtues, they are a means of self defense in a spoiled and dysfunctional world. Without them, you are an easy mark in a fallen culture. Fortunately for us, scripture provides a promise and a truckload of easy-to-study wisdom literature.

The Promise:

Jas 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

The Truckload:

  • Proverbs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Portions of the Psalms

There are hundreds of one-verse-wonders covering matters ranging from finance, to relationships, even to office politics. All practical advice stated plainly.

Stay tuned. We’re going to unpack this truckload in the next post.

Discipleship, and the “American Dream.”

Ancient idol to Baal with some 21st century upgrades

All my life I have heard this verbal icon “The American Dream.” I hear it more often now than ever. You can’t go through an account of the recent fraud and corruption which brought the down our economy without hearing someone invoking that well worn phrase “The American Dream.” But what is “The American Dream” to a disciple of Jesus?
There is no “official” definition, but the phrase invokes the idea of home ownership, comfort and security, and an increasing ability to acquire money and possessions.
Dr. Francis Schaeffer describes this as “Impoverished values” of our culture. He calls these values “personal peace and affluence.”

Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city–to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means and overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity –a life made up of things, things, and more things–a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance. (Francis Schaeffer: How Should We Then Live , Ch 11).

What does all this have to do with following Jesus as His disciple? Absolutely nothing. Where does that put “The American Dream” for a disciple? Off the map and out of the question. We don’t need to live for ourselves in such a way. Unfortunately, however, our entire culture is driven by this principle. Nowadays, we call it Consumerism and we are all up to our eyeballs in it.

We must step away from these practices and live differently. This is one of the most radical steps a Christ follower has to make in order to practice discipleship. She or He will have to learn new ways to live and new practices to align God’s ways and get off the consumer treadmill. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get together with fellow Christ followers as often as you can. Support each other in practicing discipleship. Read and discuss scripture together (avoid pre-published pre-recorded studies). Work with knowledgeable people that you know who want to help you get stronger.
  • Get out of debt. Buy only what you need. Repair what can be repaired. Borrow things or rent. Check Craigslist, Ebay and other resources  before you go making big purchases. Never shop when you are bored or depressed or tired.
  • Do an inventory and see how many things you bought that you are not using. Is it wise to buy a $300 chainsaw on credit only to store it after using it on one or two trees?
  • Wisdom, understanding and knowledge…get some…get lots of it. Consumerism thrives on your ignorance. It promotes quick fix solutions that you buy without thinking. Know what you are doing and why. Take the time to make good decisions. You can’t buy success.
  • Cut down on your entertainment. You will live longer and better sitting in front of friends than in front of a screen.
  • Use the Internet to learn and grow. Search and research. Use social networks to promote real friendships and genuine connections. Use Skype more.
  • Practice generosity. Shop for somebody else. Shop for needs. Lend or give to those who need. Do this as a group if you can.
  • Practice community. Consumerism isolates us into individuals buying only for ourselves and tending to our own needs. Community is a far more effective way of dealing with the rough spots in life and it is exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

These are Just a few ideas to get us started. The main thing is this: If we are going to “walk in Christ,” then we have to step away from some of the values of our culture. Living free of consumerism is the best way to deal with it. Practice is better than protest.

Please reply and give us some more ideas on the matter.