Thoughts


I was listening to an audio version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet while on a run this morning (courtesy of the Louisville Free Public Library), and heard this wonderful thought to ponder, especially here in the age of the internet and seemingly limitless information. I believe there is some wisdom here given the pressure to know everything about everything, and the apparent ability to do so with the click of a button, not to mention the amount of truly useless information in the world – much more useless than a knowledge of the Solar System.

The quote below is written from Dr. Watson’s perspective, as he describes his newfound friend, Sherlock Holmes.

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His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naïvest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

(accessed at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DoyScar.html)

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The brand of pride that most often plagues my heart is one that spills over in the words, “Yeah, I know that.” Like one of the cool kids that wants everyone to know they saw that movie and heard that band long before they went mainstream, there is a sinful tendency in me to want others to be aware that I was already aware of whatever they are trying to make me aware of.

And it’s not just information, as if all I want is for everyone to think I’m smart (though I do). It can also surface when my wife kindly asks me to do something, and the first thing I say is, “Yeah, I was just getting ready to do that.” I want her to know how proactive and helpful I am. I want to get credit for choosing to complete the stated task even before I was asked.

And then this past Sunday evening at church, as I was thinking on these things, one of our elders helped to reveal another area where this pride crops up. Very often while listening to a sermon or participating in a group discussion around God’s word, my heart and mind are less concerned with learning and growing and more consumed with all of things people are saying that I believe I have already figured out. Rather than being teachable, I want people to think that I am learned.

So, what to do? As I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon, I have a few ideas. Maybe you’re in the same boat as me and these will prove helpful. One is to simply bite my tongue. Why do I need to let everyone know what I know? There are times to justify ourselves or reveal knowledge we have, but there are plenty of times when it is completely unnecessary. So I want to discern when it is necessary or helpful and when it is pride. Help me, Holy Spirit!

Another weapon against this species of pride that I’ve been thinking through is to seek out opportunities to say, “I didn’t know that.” How pride-killing it is to point out someone else’s keen insight, to rejoice at some new knowledge you’ve received from a friend, or to simply say, “You just used a vocabulary word that I have never heard of – what does insipid mean?” So when someone in conversation says, “You probably already know this,” and follows those words with something I was previously oblivious to, I want to be quick to say, “I didn’t know that.”

And when you and I think we know it all, it is helpful to consider the All-knowing God. To remember that he knows more about the hairs on my own head than I do. To meditate on the staggering truth that he can say to every piece of information revealed in the world, not to mention those things hidden beyond the scope of human knowledge, “Yeah, I know that.” Nothing kills pride like staring long at the majesty of God.

Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite. (Ps. 147:5)

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:4)

So may we pray with Hannah the words of 1 Samuel 2:2-3:

There is no one holy like the LORD,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the LORD is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed.

We know when it’s time to get dinner on the table – when our kids begin to scrounge. That’s what we call it: “The kids are scrounging.” Of course, it seems like they’re always rummaging around, scavenging for food, hiding under the table with a box of cereal, shoving it into their mouths by handfuls. They eat like Hobbits – breakfast, second-breakfast, elevensies, and on throughout the day. I promise you, we feed them. It feels like we are constantly feeding them.

And so I have in different words spoken the statement that every parent must: “You’re going to spoil your dinner.” Come by our house at 5pm and you will hear, “No you cannot have that chip or this piece of candy or another snack – we are eating in 20 minutes.” We’ve learned – if they scrounge too much, they won’t eat the food we want them to eat.

All of this counsel given to my children came home to me today as I read from A Hunger for God by John Piper. He writes:

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you” (23).

There are days that I scrounge all day. Sometimes I fulfill all my longings and find my joy in food and sweets and good coffee. Or I look for rest and pleasure in my computer or a bit of television. I often feel the deep need to fill my ears with music. I rummage around, nibbling on countless things – mostly good, God-given things. But things that slowly crowd out and squelch my hunger for God. And so I don’t long for him like I should. I’m not hungry for what my soul truly desires and needs to eat. I have often spoiled my appetite for the glory of God by an incessant snacking on the world. And as full as I may be, I am not satisfied.

God has not only given us gifts to enjoy; he has given us gifts so that we can joyful abstain from them and allow our hearts to be satisfied with Him alone. So get out from under the table with the box of Cinnamon Life and seek satisfaction in the feast God has laid out for us in Jesus, the Bread of Life.

The Karate Kid was my sick day movie. If I ever wound up staying home from school because of illness, I almost always watched it. The choice was obvious between popping in the Karate Kid VHS or having to watch Little House on the Prairie reruns, which seemed to always be on. As a kid, my favorite scene was, of course, the championship fight at the end. You know, the music building to a crescendo, the crowd cheering. Daniel comes back after it seemed that his Cobra Kai induced knee injury was going to leave him down for the count. “Sweep the leg.” “Get him a body bag.” Daniel goes into crane-kick formation, kicks Johnny in the face, and is carried off the mat by a throng of cheering fans, calling out triumphantly, “We did it Mr. Miyagi!” Miyagi looks on with an approving smile. Fade to black. It’s cinematic genius.

I still love the ending, but I have a new favorite scene. The quick background is that Mr. Miyagi had agreed to teach Daniel karate, but up to this point in the film, all we have seen Mr. Miyagi do is burden Daniel with home improvement tasks: wax the cars, sand the floor, and paint the fence. After having spent his day painting Mr. Miyagi’s house, Daniel is fed up, and angrily demands that Miyagi begin teaching him karate or he’s walking. That’s when Mr. Miyagi connects the dots for young Daniel-san:

Again, cinematic genius. And what a teacher! Daniel, without ever knowing it, had been trained to be a lean, mean, crane-kicking machine… and Miyagi had spruced up his house for free!

I’ve thought about that scene a lot, which is somewhat strange, but I think we have all felt like Daniel and angrily wondered what all of the everyday, mundane, frustrating, and difficult times in life are for. When is the real training going start? When am I going to learn how to fight? I often long for times of great growth – concentrated times of training and learning and growing. And those times certainly come and are certainly helpful. But it would seem that God, in his great wisdom as a master teacher, has chosen to train us through the everyday tasks of life that we often grow to hate – wax the cars, paint the fence, sand the floor, paint the house, go to work, watch the kids, clean the house, visit family, unclog the drain, get the oil changed, make dinner, do the dishes, and so on. If these things are superfluous and simply fodder for frustration, than 95% of life is fruitless activity!

But they are not fruitless. In them God is training us and shaping us and molding us into his image, not just in the times we are blessed to spend with him in his word or even in formal study, but in all the stuff of life that we wish we could be done with. Where else could we walk with him and learn patience, love, mercy, and so many other fruits of the Spirit? And it is as we learn these every moment lessons, as we train our spiritual muscles in the midst of life, that God prepares us for the greatest fights of life. Unless we fully engage in the everyday, mundane, frustrating, and difficult times God gives us, we will never be prepared for the moments of great trial and triumph that God places before us.

And even if we never experience a “crane-kick-for-the-win” moment in our lives, we can take comfort in looking to the glory to come:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

May God grant us grace to not despise the things of life that are so easy to despise, but to embrace them as gifts from the sovereign hand of the Master Teacher, who is always training us and purifying us for the sake of his glory.

I have a love/hate relationship with Christian apologetics.1 On the one hand, I am extremely thankful for the reasonableness of the Christian faith, for it’s rootedness in historical fact, and for the fact that I don’t have to turn off my brain when it comes to thinking about my relationship with Christ. I greatly respect those who have spent hours compiling information that supports the reality of the resurrection or those who have searched archeological evidence and shown it to match beautifully with the words of Scripture. It is a wonderful thing that God has made his truth something that is revealed in the order of the world and the events of time past.

What I dislike about apologetics, then, is not its existence but the way we as Christians often use the truth we learn from it. Maybe an example will help: Imagine I am having a conversation with a non-believing friend – a skeptic. I begin to talk about what I have recently been reading in the book of Exodus, and my friend begins to discount the facts of the deliverance of the children of Israel and their desert wanderings. I’m not sure what to say at that point, so the subject changes, but I determine to find some facts to bring to the table the next time we meet.

So, over our next cup of coffee, I begin to share some new-found information: records from the annals of Egyptian history that hint at Moses, artifacts found in the Sinai dessert, quotations from respectable historians who affirm the events of the Exodus. I lay them all out, complete with photographs and a little reading for my friend to do at home.

At this point, I have appealed solely to the facts of history and the evidence I have found that supports them. I have presented these facts to my friend, who is a reasonable person, and I expect him to admit that my research has convinced him of the reliability of the Exodus account. But what if he doesn’t? What if looks at all of my pictures and quotations and says, “I still don’t believe it’s true”? At that point, having made a case for the truth of Exodus based on history and artifacts, my conclusion may simply be that my friend is closed minded, irrational, or even dumb.

Herein lies my issue: while there are certainly intellectual roadblocks to a person accepting the truth of Christianity that apologetics helps to break down, the real issue is one of faith. And if all I do is appeal to a person’s intellect through means of apologetics, I am winning them more to cognitive agreement than to faith in God through Christ. Understanding the truth of the gospel is certainly a part of true faith – if a person denies the resurrection but claims to be a Christian, they do not have true, saving faith. But if I emphasize apologetics so much so that I miss the necessity of repentance or the fact that faith involves the heart and the will as well as the head, then I am winning someone to something other than true conversion.

So maybe I’ve overstated my case – hate is such a strong word, and it is probably beginning to sound like I am throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But I have often viewed the presentation of the gospel as an argument to be won rather than a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, whereby God opens the eyes of the blind to see the truth of the gospel. I can polish my presentation and get my facts straight, having an answer to every objection known to man, all of which are right and good. But I cannot argue someone into the faith. I think of Acts 2 and Acts 5:27-33, where in both passages Peter preaches a clear gospel message and calls his hearers to repent and believe, and in both passages it says that they were “pierced in their hearts” or “cut to the quick”. But in Acts 2:37-42 they respond in faith, while in Acts 5:33 they want to kill Peter and the apostles. Same message. Same facts. Same appeal. Completely opposite responses.

Tim Keller in The Reason for God has been helpful to me here. I appreciated the tone of his book and his consistent appeal to the fact that Christianity as revealed in the pages of the Bible is the most reasonable way to understand the world as we all see it. But that was never said to be enough. The ultimate response to the truth of Christianity cannot simply be, “Yeah, Christianity makes sense and all the facts I’ve read seem to show it to be true.” There must always be repentance of our sins, alongside an understanding of the truth of the gospel, a love for the Savior who died for our sins, and a willful submission to his rule in our lives. Apologetics can pave the way to such a life-change, but may we never forget in the midst of all of our reasoned responses to skeptical inquiry that, to borrow from Edwards, only “a divine and supernatural light immediately imparted to the soul” can change a heart of stone to a heart of flesh and cause an enemy of God to humbly bow in repentance and faith.

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1 Apologetics refers simply to the defense of the Christian faith, and here I am thinking specifically of the use of reason, history, etc. in making that defense

I have a friend who is a folk singer, Ed Holstein, and he said to me, he said, “Our parents just wanted jobs; we all want to be artists.” And I think there’s a lot of truth to that. You know, my dad was a Depression kid, he was in World War II; he just wanted a job. He wanted to come back and have a job. And then, you know, as you get money and the middle-class, you’re a middle-class kid, you want to be an artist and stuff like that.

Jack Clarke, cab driver and author, from NPR’s Fresh Air, August 23rd, 2010

I wanted to be an artist when I was a kid. I had sketchpads and would get painting kits for Christmas. I took extra art classes in junior high, and I thoroughly enjoyed art history. Pragmatism latter prevailed, and I changed my dream of being an artist to being an architect, which seemed like a mathematical artist who could make a living. Even now, as someone trained in nothing but pastoral ministry, that desire to be an artist – a musician, a writer, a painter, a poet – still whispers in my heart.

But, as Clarke points out, there was a generation that simply wanted to survive. They worked hard at jobs they didn’t necessarily “like” because they needed to provide for themselves and their family, and they were grateful to have the jobs they did. As Kevin Arnold’s dad would say when asked, “How was work?” in virtually every episode of the Wonder Years: “Work’s work.” A job pays the bills and nothing more.

Yet, in our day, the search for a job usually begins with questions like, “Will I enjoy doing this?” “Will this job maximize my gifts and talents?” Surely these and questions like them are not bad, but they are questions this generation and, at that, only a small segment of the world can ask – as Clarke says, they are the result of being a middle-class kid. Beyond self-fulfillment, it would seem that the desire to be “an artist” or to have a radically rewarding job could have little to do with a love for the arts and be more closely tied to a desire to invest in things that bring people life and joy, a desire to do something of greater significance than simply making enough money to live for a week. To be an artist is to create beauty, and who wouldn’t want to do that for a living?

Yet, from a Christian perspective, it would seem that is exactly what we are called to do, whether we dig ditches or write poetry; whether we are a stay-at-home mom or a sculptor. The mission of every child of God is not to have a job and simply survive, nor is it to find supreme satisfaction in my job and/or make enough money to give my children a better life than I have. Rather our mission in life is to proclaim and display the beauty of the gospel and the glory of God in the way we work, in how we love our spouse, in our care for our children, in extending mercy and grace to those in need, and in countless other realms of daily living. We are to bring true life and everlasting joy to people by painting a picture of who Christ is and what He has done to bring sinners like you and me into a right relationship with himself. As those who have been redeemed by Jesus, we are all artists, singing and writing and painting the good news of salvation with our lives so that the world will step back to behold the breathtaking beauty of the gospel and bow their knee before the King of kings.

Our eldest daughter tries to bribe us. I’m not sure where she got the idea from, given that in our parenting we try hard to not make a reward the motivation for obedience. Still, she has told us a few times that she will give us a penny if we acquiesce to her request. Then the other day she told Andrea she would “give her a special treat” if she was allowed to watch a movie. Nice. When I heard that story, it struck me that she really has nothing to give us. While she has received gifts, has some change in her piggy banks, and “owns” clothes, Andrea and I truly control anything that might be considered hers. So when she offers to give us something in return for kindness towards her, she has no leverage. It’s all already ours. As Cliff Huxtable in the Cosby show says to his kids, “Your mother and I are rich; you have nothing.”

My mind quickly moved from my relationship with my daughter to my relationship with God, my heavenly Father. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 4:7 came to mind, where he addresses the pride of the Corinthians, rhetorically asking, “What do you have that you did not receive?” His point: every gift we possess finds its source in Christ. James tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights, which is why God can say in Job 41:11, “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven in Mine.” Psalm 50 testifies to God’s owning of all things as well, specifically verses 10-12:

“For every beast of the forest is Mine,
         The cattle on a thousand hills.

I know every bird of the mountains,
         And everything that moves in the field is Mine.

If I were hungry I would not tell you,
         For the world is Mine, and all it contains.”

 

The popular notion at this point might be to say that all I have to give God is my life. Or to be more poetic and to quote a Christmas song, “What I have I give you – I give you my heart.” I understand the sentiment behind saying that we give Jesus our lives, but that can slowly begin to look like some kind of leverage, manifesting itself in prayers like, “God, I have given you everything – I’ve given you my entire life. Can’t you just do this one thing for me?” While we might say that it is a small thing to give God our lives in response to the depth of love God has shown us in the cross, our lives are a pretty big deal to us. And if we think we own them and voluntarily choose to give them to God, we suddenly get a little antsy when God starts doing things with our lives that we don’t particularly care for.

1 Timothy 6:13 and elsewhere say that God gives life to everything. The fact that I am sitting here breathing and thinking and typing and drinking coffee is owing to nothing of my own volition, but all to the sovereign grace of God. So to say that I give God my life is a misnomer. Every life is God’s, whether redeemed by the blood of Christ or not. To “give my life to Christ” is to simply acknowledge that my life really has never been my own to begin with. Coming to God in Christ is to release the illusion that I have any claim to my life. It is to be awakened to and to lovingly embrace the beautiful truth that, as a chosen child of God, I am no longer my own – I am bought with a price (1 Corinthains 6:19-20).

Abraham Kuyper has famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” And I am included in that.

Nothing in my hands I bring,

Simply to thy cross I cling.

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