LIVING BIBLICALLY

From the time I first saw a promotion for the new TV show Living Biblically I was interested in checking it out. From the promo I could tell it would be a comedy, and I was curious whether it would belittle the Bible and religion or perhaps show some respect. My first thought was that it would use humor to demean faith and the Bible, but I held out hope that a sitcom could be both funny and somewhat positive.

I watched the first episode Monday evening and was pleasantly surprised. My expectations may have been too low, but I was not offended nor did I feel the Bible or faith was being belittled or demeaned. And I found most of the humor to be funny and was regularly smiling as I watched.

The premise of the show is that following the death of his best friend, a man named Chip determines to live his life by the rules of the Bible. He goes to a catholic priest for help in carrying out his commitment. Later the priest introduces him to a rabbi and they become his God Squad. His wife is an atheist, and is pregnant, but is not against his plan.

After I watched the show I went online and read three reviews, none of which was as positive about the show as I am. One reviewer wrote the show “wastes a promising premise.” Another suggests it “Plays it Safe.” With clear reserve, Christianity Today correctly notes “the series finds comedy neither by attacking people’s faith nor presenting a holier-than-thou look at the character’s Christianity” (at least in the first episode).

I’m not recommending you watch the show, but I am interested in how it plays out in the weeks ahead and plan to watch it. Based upon what I saw last night, I think it may create interest and discussion concerning the Bible and religion. And I think that is a good thing.

I also think Christians need to keep in mind the show is intended to entertain, is a CBS sitcom, and does not have the goal of spreading Christianity or promoting the Bible. Right now I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, but realize I may be disappointed in the future.

Did you watch it? Do you think you will watch it in the future?

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GIVE ME WISDOM

Last week in our Encore Bible Study we began a new study entitled “Great Prayers of the Bible.” Our goal for this study is that we will learn more about prayer, as well as be challenged and encouraged to pray. This week we’re looking at Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 3.

In coming to the account I think it would be safe to say that Solomon’s prayer is not a normal prayer so to speak. Solomon had recently been established as king following his father David. He went to worship, and while there the LORD appeared to him in a dream and told him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (I Kings 3:5).

Solomon thoughtfully responded to God’s offer. The first thing he did was express gratitude to God for his kindness (verse 6). Whenever and wherever we pray, it is always appropriate to be thankful. Solomon also expressed humility (verse 7). He knew being king was a great responsibility and he was not overly confident of his ability. As a matter of fact, he suggested he was inadequate for the job. Heartfelt humility is always appropriate, and perhaps especially when we go to the LORD in prayer.

After expressing gratitude and humility Solomon made his request: “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (verse 9). I’m impressed by what Solomon did not ask for, but more importantly, so was God (verse 11). As impressed as I am by what he did not ask for, I’m more impressed by what he did ask for. But again, so was God. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this” (verse 11). God was so pleased that he told Solomon he would grant his request by giving him a wise and discerning heart, but he would also give him what he did not ask for (verses 12 and 13).

I’m thinking asking for wisdom is a request you and I should regularly be making in our prayers today. Who doesn’t need wisdom? Or perhaps better yet, who doesn’t need more wisdom? There is an interesting promise in the New Testament in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Wisdom is available to us if we seek it and ask for it.

Here’s my takeaway from this for your consideration: Solomon’s thoughtful request for wisdom tells me he was already somewhat wise. His request shows that, doesn’t it? And the primary wisdom book of the Old Testament tells us in Proverbs 9:9, “Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.”

Most of us have heard the saying “The rich just get richer.” If that’s true, and it often is, I want to add another similar phrase that is also true: “The wise just get wiser.” If we are wise it seems to me we should humbly ask for more wisdom, always remembering that it will be difficult to grow in wisdom if we think we already know everything.

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CAN WE ALL GET ALONG?

Many people are familiar with Rodney King’s question asked in light of riots and unrest in Southern California on May 1, 1992, “Can we all get along?” It seems the answer is obvious, but my sense is that even if we can’t, most of us would agree we could do better with our conversations, discussions, and debates.

In my reading the past two or three weeks I have noted thoughtful observations from a variety of authors, that if put into practice, would greatly improve the quality of our discourse. All the authors I will be citing are writing from a Christian perspective about how Christians should interact, and Christians certainly need to hear what is being said, but the points made speak to all our interactions regardless of with whom we are speaking or whatever the subject.

The initial quote that grabbed my attention was in an article by Mark Galli in Christianity Today concerning disagreements among believers about biblical interpretation. He suggests, “We are not asked to be right but to be faithful to the truth we believe God has revealed to us. And to be charitable toward those who believe God has led them to a different conclusion.” While Galli is writing to people who believe the Bible, his basic point about being charitable to those who think differently than we do covers a lot more than just Bible interpretation.

A second article from Christianity Today by Mark Alan Bowald is about the death of longtime professor of historical theology at Yale Divinity School George Lindbeck and what evangelicals can learn from him. Bowald relates Lindbeck’s answer to a question about what holds evangelicals back: “Their unwillingness or inability to be self-critical about the ways in which they undertake and express their commitment.” Again, while Lindbeck was talking about Christians, his point about an unwillingness or inability to be self-critical covers a lot more than just matters of faith. A second lesson Bowald underscores evangelicals might learn from Lindbeck is to be more generous towards those who come from other traditions. I hope it is obvious how this lesson also has a much wider application.

What struck me last week was a couple of comments from John Dickson in his new book A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus. Encouraging readers to take a strong stand in certain matters, he also implores “but do so humbly and graciously.” He concludes the paragraph by cautioning that we should not make our case with smugness on our part or with disdain for those who do not agree.

I realize I am not the first person to raise this matter of how we talk with, to, and about one another. Lots of articles have been written as well as entire books dealing with the subject. As much as I wish we all would get along, I don’t think we all will ever completely agree on much. I think the authors I have quoted give us some real challenges for our discourse and interactions with those with whom we disagree in the Christian community as well as at large.

Part of the reason I am writing about this and citing these observations is that I needed to hear what these writers are saying. How about you?

Do we need to be more charitable to those with whom we disagree? I do.

Do we need to be more self-critical about the way we express ourselves? I do.

Do we need to be more generous towards those who come from a different background? I do.

Even when taking a strong stand, do we need to be more humble and gracious? I do.

Do we need to guard against being smug and/or showing disdain for others? I do.

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(Photo courtesy of the boy’s grandmother, my wife–staged!)

 

THE POWER OF WORDS

It would be difficult to overstate the power of words. Sometimes we forgot that; and it is good to be reminded just how powerful they can be. The Bible’s book of wisdom, Proverbs, gives us a lot of practical help. The book contains over 100 references to the tongue, mouth, lips, and words.

The power of words can be seen in their potential for destruction. Proverbs 18:21a declares “The tongue has the power of life and death” and Proverbs 15:4b reminds us “a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” Most of us probably know and have recited the saying “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” but it simply is not true. Every one of us has been hurt by words.

Words can do damage at either close range or at a distance. We’ve all been hurt by words spoken directly to us. Sometimes what is said to us is worse than a physical blow–things like “I never should have married you” or “I wish you’d never been born.” We’ve also been hurt by words at a distance.

Author Roger Thomas notes eight specifics in the book of Proverbs of how words can be destructive:

Lying – Proverbs 25:18, “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.”

Deceit – Proverbs 4:24, “Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth” (The Message).

Slander – Proverbs 11:2, “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.” (Slander goes beyond the truth, but has a grain of truth.)

Gossip – Proverbs 16:28, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 20:19, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” (Gossip rejoices in the flaws and failures — or rumors of such — of others.)

Thoughtless Words – Proverbs 29:20, “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking” (NLT).

Flattery – Proverbs 28:3, “He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.” Proverbs 29:5, “Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.”  (Flattery is insincere compliments to gain favor.)

Boasting – Proverbs 27:1 and 2, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.”

Too Much Talk – Proverbs 18:2, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Proverbs 10:19, “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow” (NLT).

The power of words can also be seen in their potential for good. Again, Proverbs 18:21a declares “The tongue has the power of life” and Proverbs 15:4a that “The tongue that brings healing is the tree of life.” Proverbs 12:25 reminds us “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” and Proverbs 16:2 “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Through words we express our love and concern for each other — our deepest feelings. Words can cheer us up and provide encouragement. Who does not remember a time when the right word was spoken and everything changed?

With the reminder of the power of words in mind, let’s consider some advice for the use of words from Proverbs (and other selected Bible passages).

Learn to listen. James 1:19 challenges us, “Everyone should be swift to listen and slow to speak.” It’s not wise to assume we know what someone is saying before we hear them out. I like the directness of Proverbs 18:13 in the Message, “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.”

Think before you speak and thereby choose your words carefully. Proverbs 17:28 warns us, “Even a fool is thought to be wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” And Proverbs 29:20 presses the point, “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Be honest. Proverbs 6:17-19 tells us seven things God hates, and two of them are “a lying tongue” and “a false witness.” Paul’s related instruction in Ephesians 4:15, “Speak the truth is love,” has always presented a challenged to me. Even though some speak of being “brutally honest,” I think situations that call for that description would be rare. We are to speak the truth, but to do so in love.

Finally, Use words to build others up. We need to take Ephesians 4:29 seriously: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs , that it may benefit those who listen.” Other verses deal with crude talk, but “unwholesome talk” in this verse is the opposite of “building others up according to their needs”—talk that is caustic and sarcastic, that attacks, and is negative and rude. To take Ephesians 4:29 seriously is to use our words to express appreciation and to be encouraging.

Words are powerful — let’s use them wisely.

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