ON BEING DIFFERENT

When people say someone is different we only know what they mean by it if we know the context in which they say it. To be different can be a good thing, a bad thing, or neither. There are times when most of us don’t want to be different and other times when we do want to be different.

I recently watched a short video of John R.W. Stott talking about an important biblical teaching that he said we “tend to neglect.” If you don’t know who Stott is, he was a great evangelical leader and Bible teacher who was also the Rector of All Souls Church in London. He was also a prolific writer whose books are well worth having and reading. What he said we tend to neglect is the Bible’s call that the people of God be different.

He noted that in the book of Leviticus God told his people not to do as the Egyptians did or as the people in the land they were entering did. A favorite verse is Leviticus 11:45 where God says, “I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.”

Without citing any specifics, he noted the frequent challenges of the prophets that the Israelites be different from their neighbors. The problem too often was, however, that God’s people were not different.

In moving to the New Testament Stott cited Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:5 cautioning his followers “not to be like the hypocrites.” In the preceding verses Jesus warns about the practice of the hypocrites who do good things “in front of others to be seen by them” and to “to be honored by others.”

The same basic call to be different is repeated and emphasized in the New Testament letters to those who are Christians. The best known instruction is from the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2a, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Stott didn’t mention the verse, but I also thought of I Peter 2:9 and what I’ve always considered a less than ideal rendering in the King James Version, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I guess technically Christians are to be peculiar, but I much prefer the word different.

How is this call to be different to be carried out by Christians today? If we are honest I think we must admit that on occasion Christians have done more harm than good in terms of their witness by being different. I don’t like the KJV word peculiar, but neither do I like the words odd or strange.

I’m not sure I fully understand what he was saying, but I go back to Jesus’ instructions to his followers in Matthew 10:16 when he told them, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes but as innocent as doves” (NIV). I also like the rendering in the New Living Translation, “So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves,” as well as the Message, “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.”

What I am suggesting is that as Christians we are to be different, but there is a way to be different that is not harmful to our witness, but is hopefully helpful. What do you think?

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AN OLD CLICHÉ?

I was surprised to read a news story this morning in which a well-known Bible verse was called an “old cliché.” Neither the story nor the person who said it are important, but the designation got my attention.

The reference was to Proverbs 16:19, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall,” and was shortened to “pride comes before the fall.” The point of the verse was not changed, but already being a little irritated it was called an old cliché, I was even more irritated it was abbreviated.

I had an idea what a cliché is, but went ahead and looked up the definition to find it is “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.” Reading that description confirmed my irritation. I’m uneasy calling any verse in the Bible an opinion, overused, or lacking original thought.

To be fair, I’m not sure the person who cited the verse knew he was quoting the Bible. Whether he knew it was from the Bible or not, although the verse is not overused, it is obviously often used. That’s why he cited it and called it a cliché!

I certainly don’t believe what the Bible says is opinion, but there is much opinion about what it means. That’s why we study it, talk about it, and think about it. The fact that not all Christians agree on the meaning of what the Bible says does not mean that it is opinion. The Christian’s position on the Bible is that it is the Word of God and the challenge is to understand it and put it into practice.

Nor do I believe the Bible is overused. Some passages are cited more often than others, but that does not mean they are overused. If anything, for many of us the Bible is underused in our lives.

But does the Bible betray a lack of original thought? Yes and no. Because it is old and enduring, in one sense it does lack original thought. But to most people reading the Bible today it does not lack original thought. It is rather in many ways revolutionary with regard to our thinking and living. And the more we read, understand, and apply it to our lives the more revolutionary it is.

The Bible is often drawn upon without noting it as one’s source, and I’m always pleased to hear or read that it is being cited in public discussion. However, I wish the person quoting even a truncated version of Proverbs 16:19 would have acknowledged it was from the Bible rather than an old cliché.

We could all benefit from more citations of the Bible in our discussions, and especially from the wisdom of the book of Proverbs.

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AT RISK?

When I visited the local hospital emergency room last week those who cared for me put a “FALL RISK” bracelet on my arm. They did that to alert others to keep an eye on me. And the reason was that I had fallen while walking our dogs and had sustained a head injury. (The good news is that even though I sustained a concussion and a shoulder injury, everything is going to be fine.)

As I thought about it I wondered if I had had the warning bracelet on earlier if I would have been more careful and not fallen. I don’t think so because I probably wouldn’t have taken it seriously and would have tripped anyway.

It also occurred to me as I looked at my bracelet that all of us are at risk of falling. At risk of physically falling while walking, but I have in mind what is called falling by sinning.

Christians speak of the Genesis account of the sin of Adam and Eve as “the fall.” By disobeying God they fell from their state of innocence to being guilty of sin. The Bible teaches that all of us have essentially done the same thing. The Apostle Paul is clear when he writes, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The Bible is filled with warnings and cautions about sin. One of my favorites is in I Corinthians 10:12 where Paul challenges his readers, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” It sounds like overconfidence could be a problem for some of us – both falling with regard to sin as well as physically falling while walking.

I’m not planning on wearing my FALL RISK bracelet when I return to taking my turn walking the dogs, but I do think I will be much more careful. There is no guarantee I won’t fall, but I do think it will be less likely.

Nor do I think any of us should wear a FALL RISK bracelet to remind us and others that we are susceptible to falling by sinning. But in light of our failures – and please remember all have sinned and do sin – it might be helpful for us to remind ourselves that when it comes to sin we are all at risk to fall.

Even though we all have sinned, there is good news (often called the gospel). The Bible is clear that God loves us and has provided for our forgiveness through the sacrificial death of Jesus and our faith in him (see John 3:16). Following the bad news of Romans 3:23 about everyone having sinned, in verses 24 and 25a Paul gives the good news, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” That is good news, isn’t it?

I wish I hadn’t fallen while walking the dogs, but my FALL RISK bracelet provoked some important thinking on my part. Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

LESSON LEARNED – THE HARD WAY

When I teach the book of Proverbs I note the authors suggest there are two ways to learn: one is to listen to others, and the other is to “walk the thorny road of experience.” Obviously, the better way to learn is to listen to others, but that’s difficult for many. I used to think it was especially difficult for young people, but I no longer believe that. I’m 67 and still learning too many things the hard way.

Last week I was driving in an alley and texting a couple of people about getting together on Saturday. There were no other cars around and I wasn’t going very fast, but I did hit a wall with the left front side of my car. I was angry with and disappointed in myself; but worse than that, I was humiliated as I knew I would have to tell my wife and probably some others would find out as well.

I can’t count the number of times I have heard warnings on TV, radio, or others about not texting while driving. And I have read numerous reports about terrible accidents that resulted from texting and driving. Is it that I am a slow learner or do I think I am more highly skilled and a better driver than others are? Did I not hear the warnings or did I not think they applied to me?

I’m fairly confident that I have learned the lesson that I should not text while driving – regardless of where I am or how slowly I am driving. The downside is that I have learned the lesson the hard way, I have walked the thorny road of experience myself. You better believe I wish I had listened and put into practice the warnings I heard from others.

I am thankful that in learning this important lesson my car was not damaged any more than it is and that no other car or cars were involved. More than that, however, I am thankful no one was hurt or killed by my stupid action. Learning the lesson I learned could have been much costlier than it is going to be.

Consider this blog post a public service announcement: “a message in the public interest disseminated without charge, with the objective of raising awareness and changing public attitudes and behavior.” In other words, DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE AT THE SAME TIME! The better way to learn is to listen to others than to walk the thorny road of experience yourself.

Learning not to text while driving is not the only lesson you and I need to learn by listening to others. And learning not to do something is not the only lessons we need to learn from others; we also need to learn the positive things that we should be doing.

How are you doing when it comes to this idea of listening and learning from others? Are you open to hearing from others some warnings about what not to do as well as some encouragement to do some things you should do?

Feel free to leave a comment below but please do not scold or berate me for my stupidity — I already feel badly enough! Also feel free to share this post on Facebook or other social media – after all, it is a public service announcement.