Thursday, February 23, 2017

It’s There, Just Bubbling Below the Surface

This official image from "The Beverly Hillbillies" TV
comedy shows them after finding "bubblin' crude" oil.
Remember the theme song of the classic TV comedy, “The Beverly Hillbillies”? It told how Jed Clampett and his family struck it rich on their homestead: And up through the ground come a bubblin’ crude. Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.” Wouldn’t it be fun to make a similar discovery in our own back yards?

But the “Hillbillies” ditty didn’t tell the whole story. Finding crude oil is just the beginning of a complex process. Typically, it’s not “bubblin’” out of the ground. There’s a lot involved in discovering where raw petroleum can be located, then extracted from the ground, refined for a wide array of uses, including gasoline and motor oil, and only then taken to market.

My friend, Clarence, and I were talking about this as he shared the idea for a book he’s hoping to write. (I won’t elaborate on that – I’ll wait until it’s published.) But as we talked, it occurred to us that this process – exploration and discovery, extraction, refining, and implementation – applies to many areas of life.

For instance, recently I’ve learned two friends have daughters with great artistic promise. Their talents seem almost prodigious. But knowing they have innate abilities in the arts isn’t enough. They’ll need to draw it out, pursue ways to develop it, and then learn how to utilize it not only for personal enjoyment but also as a potential livelihood.

The same can be said of people with natural leadership abilities, people skilled in various crafts, schoolteachers, accountants, scientists, chefs and so on. What do they have a knack for – and a passion? How can they start “extracting” those abilities that lie within, refining them, and putting them to use for the benefit of many?

The psalmist wrote of God, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16).

I believe this passage speaks of much more than prenatal development. It also refers to how God has uniquely designed each of us, providing unique personalities, talents and traits for use in life. Our challenge is to discover them (the “crude oil” the Lord has instilled in us), draw them out (with the help of others), nurture them for usefulness, and then put them to use.

There’s one other important application for this process of exploration, extraction, refining and implementation. It involves the Bible, the Word of God.

As a teen I read through the Scriptures, cover to cover, as a personal project. Just so I could say, “I’ve read the Bible.” But during that endeavor, I didn’t discover anything. I didn’t extract anything. I certainly didn’t refine, or implement anything I read. I simply read the 66 books to say that I had.

Only years later, desiring to know God better and understand what being a follower of Jesus Christ means, did I begin the digging and learning, understanding and applying.

The Navigators' "Hand Illustration"
The Scriptures clearly address these crucial steps: To believers in the city of Colossae, the apostle Paul wrote of discovery: “…the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory(Colossians 1:26-27).

What are we to do with God’s truth after it’s been discovered? We’re to extract and dig into it deeply: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-1-2).

Next comes the “refining” of wisdom and understanding of what God has entrusted to us. Paul wrote to his protégé, Timothy: Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth(2 Timothy 2:15).

Finally, the Scriptures instruct us, don’t just hold onto God’s truth and ponder it. Use it, as Paul admonished followers of Christ in the ancient city of Philippi: Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice(Philippians 4:9).

Years ago, The Navigators, a ministry of evangelism and discipleship, developed “the Hand Illustration.” It depicts five steps in mastering and utilizing biblical truth: Hear, read, study, memorize, meditate. This visual is helpful because if we’re faithful in implementing each, we can’t help but do what the apostle told the Philippians. To offer a paraphrase, he was saying, “Okay, you know it. Now do what it says!” The Bible’s not intended to remain just “bubblin’ crude.”

Monday, February 20, 2017

Social Media, or ANTI-Social Media?

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, families gathered around campfires, wood stoves, or in gas-lighted parlors to talk, share stories, or recapture family memories. Or they congregated at a dinner table, not only to eat but also to converse. They’d ask mundane questions like, “How was your day?” – and actually wanted to hear the answer.

Then devices called radios were invented, becoming centers of attention as mother, father and children – and even extended family – would join in a living room or kitchen to listen to the news, comedies, dramas, and suspense shows. Sound effects incorporated into programming flung imaginations into many directions.

Next came the television, at first having a grand total of three stations for most users. Because program selections were limited each evening, parents and offspring again convened to laugh together, share shivers during mysteries and thrillers, and sing along to musical variety shows.

Are we in danger of becoming, as
Gary Turk suggests, "a generation
of idiots, smartphones and
dumb people"?
With the advent of cable TV, programming choices exploded in number, and in most homes TVs multiplied so each family member could view the show of their own choice. No need any longer to huddle together, to laugh or cry together. Uniting around entertainment became so old-fashioned, and now, so-20th century.

Today we don’t even need individual TVs. We have tablets and smartphones with live-streaming, along with a vast menu of movies, online-only programs, apps, and videos – myriad alternatives for grabbing and holding onto our attention. Even email has become outdated for some, replaced by texting and social media. Who needs to talk to one another, to gaze intently into someone else’s eyes – and listen? If we do feel the need to look, there’s always Skype or FaceTime.

Intentionally or not, we’re increasingly dispensing with the bother of real, physical human contact. Even in shopping malls, restaurants, or meeting rooms, noses are buried in technological gadgets that spare us the annoyance of having to take part in direct, personal, face-to-face interaction.

This point is well-presented in “Look Up,” a clever video produced by Gary Turk, a viral filmmaker and speaker from London, England, and posted on Viral Thread. In a slow-paced rhyme, he starts by declaring, “I have 422 friends, and yet I am lonely.” Then he adds, “this media we call social is anything but…. We’re at our most happy with an experience we share, but is it the same if no one is there?”

It seems, if anything, our “social media” has turned into anti-social media, encouraging isolation and diminishing our capacities to engage and reason with and care for one another. We’ve all seen car bumper stickers that read, “Co-Exist,” but how can we do that alone, in solitary settings?

This is why one of the underlying precepts of the Bible is the idea of genuine relationships – God’s desire to have a relationship with each of us, individually and collectively, and the value of our relationships with one another.

It’s been like that from the start. After creating the first human, God declared, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The Lord then fashioned “a helper suitable for him,” woman. Nothing suggests God’s reasoning was, “Well, Adam needs someone he can text.”

After first sending out His 12 disciples, Jesus then “appointed 72 others and sent them out two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go” (Luke 10:1). He instructed them not to take even a purse or bag or sandals, and definitely didn’t command them to bring smartphones.

Writing to his young protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul said, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Addressing believers in the city of Philippi, Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9). In both cases, truth, principles and practices were taught in the context of close, highly interactive relationships.

The writer of the book of Hebrews also underscored the importance of “hanging out” together, communicating in meaningful ways. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I’m not advocating a boycott of social media, or refusing to utilize the advantages of email and texting. But when they transform into anti-social media, inhibiting us from appreciating and enjoying real time with real people – preferring tweets, icons and emojis over eye contact and real smiles – then maybe it’s time for social mediation.

Let’s not become, as Turk warns, “a generation of idiots, smartphones and dumb people.” After all, as he notes, “when you’re too busy looking down, you don’t see the chances you miss.”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Someone’s Always Got Their Eye on You!

"Roz" from "Monsters, Inc." reminds
us that someone's always watching.
One of the fun characters in the Pixar animated film, “Monsters, Inc.,” is Roz, the slug-like, gravelly voiced administrator who warns her fellow monsters, “I’m watching you. All-ways watching.” In the TV series “Person of Interest,” which ran for five seasons, each episode opened with the haunting words, “You are being watched.” Many other TV shows feature characters undergoing close scrutiny.

Increasingly, it’s the same in everyday life. Security cameras are stationed everywhere, from gas station pumps to quick-stop shop aisles to department stores. Surveillance equipment has become standard in airports, railway stations, office buildings, hotels, city streets, sports arenas and stadiums, sometimes even churches. Like the petulant Roz, it seems someone’s watching us at all times.

Allen Funt’s TV show of years past, “Candid Camera,” has arrived at a town near you. “Big Brother” of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, who monitored everyone’s every move, has apparently become reality!

However, long before the invention of the camera and its peering eye, humankind was being watched. From the very beginning, God has kept a close eye on His creation. Sometimes we wish He wouldn’t.

We see an example as early as the third chapter of the book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate fruit from the one tree they were forbidden to touch. When they heard God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8), they hid from Him, fully aware they had messed up. Then in the fourth chapter, after Cain had murdered his brother Abel in a fit of jealous anger, God – already knowing the answer – asked the perpetrator, “Where is your brother Abel?” to which Cain replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).

Quickly the first people discovered they wouldn’t be able to slip their wrongdoing past God’s watchful eyes. But the fact He’s always watching isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We see this after Sarai (later renamed Sarah), frustrated at being unable to have a child, persuaded her husband Abram (later renamed Abraham) to sleep with her maidservant Hagar to produce offspring via another means.

After Hagar became pregnant, however, serious conflict developed between her and Sarai, ultimately resulting in her flight from Abram’s household. The ever-watchful God was fully aware of this situation. He addressed Hagar, instructing her to return to her mistress and giving her the promise, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count” (Genesis 16:1-13).

In response, she called God “El Roi,” which in Hebrew means “the God who sees me,” and obediently returned, giving birth to a son named Ishmael. Even though the Lord had promised Abraham he would become “the father of many nations” through another son, Isaac, He graciously looked out for Hagar and her son.

Repeatedly the Scriptures speak of God watching over us, not to catch us doing something wrong, but rather, eager to find us doing right. “God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God” (Psalm 53:2).

Psalm 34:15 assures us, The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.” Similarly, Proverbs 15:3 declares, “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” And 2 Chronicles 16:9 states, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

Jesus also spoke of the benefits of serving and worshiping an ever-watchful God, even as we pray: And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

God isn’t peering down from the heavenly realm, celestial sledgehammer poised to slam anyone who strays. Rather, He acts like a loving, watchful parent, as the apostle Paul described: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Much of the watching that’s taking place around us is intended to observe and apprehend evildoers. Unlike security and surveillance devices, or ominous “Roz,” God is also watching – but for our good.