PRIVILEGED, LUCKY, OR BLESSED?

Prompted by some recent news stories, I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of privilege and how it relates to me. When I looked up the definition of the word I realized I have been misusing it.

According to the first definition that came up in my search, privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” Most of my adult life I have been calling a variety of opportunities, relationships, and good things that I have experience privileges.

I have considered things like being married to my wife, being the father of a daughter and a son, being the grandpa of two grandsons, serving as a pastor in multiple ways for over 46 years, having the friends I have had and have, and much more as privileges. Most recently I officiated my son’s wedding and called that a privilege.

However, given the meaning of privilege in the definition above, none of the things I have been considering privileges have been such. I do not question or dispute that there are persons who indeed have benefitted from privilege in its primary definition and others have not.

If the good things in my life I have been calling privileges are not really that, what are they?

I’m uncomfortable to think or say that all these good things are nothing more than luck. The first internet definition for luck is “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.” I wouldn’t disagree that some of the things that happen to us can be thought of in terms of good luck or bad luck, but it is more than that. Instead of luck many Christians use the word providence that is defined as the “protective care of God.” I believe in God’s providence in terms of the good things in life, but don’t have a satisfying answer for those who may ask about “bad luck.”

If I have to give up the idea of privilege, and don’t want to call it luck, I think the best choice is to say “I am blessed.” My favorite definition of a blessing received is “a favor or gift bestowed by God.” In all honesty I think Christians sometimes overuse the idea of blessed and blessing, but that’s really what I’m talking about in terms of many of the good things in my life.

I’m writing this reflection late on Saturday evening following the wedding of my son. I guess it was a privilege to officiate as a pastor in terms of the dictionary definition, but it was much more than that. Some may consider me lucky to have done this, and maybe I am; but the bottom line for me is that it was a wonderful blessing to do so and I was blessed by doing it.

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PLAYING THE FOOL

Since I take seriously Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount not to call anyone a fool, I don’t call people fools. But that doesn’t mean I don’t at least on occasion think of someone as playing the part of a fool. And there are times when that someone I think has played the part of a fool is me.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have been reading the book of Proverbs during the month of January. When I read chapter 18 this week three verses describing the talk of fools struck and challenged me.

Here is the first of the three (verse 2) from the New Living Translation:

“Fools have no interest in understanding;
they only want to air their own opinions.”

When I read that I thought to myself “ouch!” The truth is that there have been and still are times when I have played and do play the part of a fool in some discussions. Convicted by what I read, I am hoping in the future to do better with both parts of the verse.

Here is the second of the three (verse 6) from the New Living Translation:

“Fools’ words get them into constant quarrels;
they are asking for a beating.”

The writer of Proverbs doesn’t connect verses 2 and 6, but I certainly do. Having no interest in understanding, but only in giving your own opinion, can and often does lead to arguments. I’ve never been physically beaten due to a quarrel, but I have regretted getting so heated in the back and forth when it did absolutely no good at all.

Here is the third of the three (verse 7) from the New Living Translation:

“The mouths of fools are their ruin;
they trap themselves with their lips.”

I’m not sure I fully understand this verse and wasn’t helped by other translations I checked out. My sense is that verse 7 builds on what the writer said in verses 2 and 6 taken to the extreme. Like many, I have played the part of the fool with my mouth and lips many times. Thankfully, however, my words have not led to my ruin.

As I said above, these three verses from Proverbs 18 struck and challenged me. Other chapters in the book also provide direction and warnings for the usage of our tongue, mouth, lips, and words. If you’re interested in reading more go to biblegateway.com and search these keywords out in the wisdom of Proverbs.

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ARE YOU OPEN OR CLOSED?

As I have done the last several years, I am reading the book of Proverbs again this year during the month of January. Each day I read the corresponding chapter in Proverbs to the day in January. Since today is January 9th I came to Proverbs 9 this morning.

Focusing on verses 7-17, I had to ask myself if I was open or closed when it comes to continuing to learn and grow in wisdom. Here are the verses (I copied and pasted from BibleGateway.com):

Proverbs 9:7-12 New Living Translation (NLT)

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return.
Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.
So don’t bother correcting mockers;
they will only hate you.
But correct the wise,
and they will love you.
Instruct the wise,
and they will be even wiser.
Teach the righteous,
and they will learn even more.

10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.
Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.

11 Wisdom will multiply your days
and add years to your life.
12 If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit.
If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.

Verses 7 and 8a warn us that mockers and the wicked are not open to be rebuked or corrected. Their response shows they are not just closed to such efforts, but are hostile to them.

Verses 8b and 9 tell us the wise and the righteous are open to being corrected, instructed, and taught. They are not just open, they will love you for correcting them and will be wiser as they learn more.

Verse 10 reminds us that “the fear of the LORD” is the foundation of wisdom, and that good judgment is an outcome of knowing him. When I teach the book of Proverbs I use an acrostic I came up with (ARWOL) to give a sense of what it means to fear the LORD. It is not to cower before him but rather to acknowledge, respect, worship, obey, and love him.

Finally, verses 11 and 12 encourage us that gaining wisdom is beneficial and that rejecting it is damaging.

For me the first part of verse 9 is the most striking observation in this passage: “Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser.” My take on it is that wise people — because they are already somewhat wise — are open to learning, growing, and becoming even wiser.

My intention is not to be closed to continue learning and becoming wiser but to be open. It’s not always easy, but it is my intention. Are you open or closed?

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SAYING SOMETHING STUPID

A few weeks ago on my way to a seat at church I spoke to a group of men and then as I sat down asked myself, “Why did you say that? That was stupid.” In the interest of full disclosure, that’s not the first time I’ve asked myself that question.

As I sat in church I thought about the phrase “saying something stupid” and remembered it was from a popular song when I was in junior high (too long ago for me to give a date). It’s a romantic song in which the singer is telling about a relationship in which he or she reports, “And then I go and spoil it all, by saying something stupid like ‘I love you’.” (I don’t think of saying “I love you” as something stupid, but I can imagine there could be times when it would be.)

I’ve already admitted that many times I have blurted out things that were stupid. Are you ever guilty of saying something stupid? My guess is that all of us at times say stupid things – some of us more often than others. Sometimes when I do it I realize it immediately, sometimes I realize it later, and occasionally someone who heard it tells me it was stupid.

Why do people say stupid things? I’ve heard observers of those who tend to be guilty of saying stupid things suggest they have no filter. I’m not sure what they mean by that, nor am I convinced that is an acceptable excuse.

My answer to why I say stupid things is that usually I’m trying to be funny. The problem is that what I say isn’t always funny or is not funny to everyone who hears it.

In the aftermath of saying something stupid we may be asked or ask ourselves, “What were you thinking?” The honest answer to that question most of the time is probably, “I wasn’t thinking.” If we were thinking, or were more aware of our context and those around us, we wouldn’t have said what we did.

I’ve come to conclusion that the reason I say stupid things is because of a lack of discipline. Whether I am just greeting someone, having a serious conversation, or anything in between, I need more discipline when it comes to what I say. Of course I need to think — but that’s part of discipline. I don’t think I have to quit trying to be fun or funny, but I do need to exercise discipline.

As I turn the page from 2018 to 2019 my one resolution is to be more disciplined when it comes to opening my mouth to say something.

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