Thursday, February 18, 2016

Information . . . or Transformation?

We’ve all benefited from the so-called “Information Age.” Thanks to the digital revolution, our knowledge-based society provides facts about practically everything literally at our fingertips, via desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, even a smart-watch. Nearly everything we want to know, now accessible with a few taps of our fingers thanks to the wonders of cyberspace.

We have unlimited information
from nearly unlimited sources.
In many respects it’s been a good thing. Whether a recipe, home remodeling advice, the latest on our favorite sports team, financial trends, or information about a nagging medical problem, it’s all there. And why wait for tomorrow’s newspaper when we can read online reports of breaking news almost as it happens?

Years ago I cherished rare bits of information I could find about Ohio State sports. Now many websites can tell me the latest. Friends in Columbus say I know more about what’s going on with the Buckeyes than they do. Whatever we need to know is within arms reach. I even did research for this post in the comforts of my home office, gleaning information from my computer monitor. I haven’t visited a real library in years.

But this information, it’s not all good. We’ve stumbled simultaneously upon the “misinformation age.” Postings disguised as fact on biased websites, or disseminated via social media or email, might be anything but true. When I grew up Spam was canned meat – now spam is a means for hoodwinking people from their money or leaving them vulnerable to devious schemes. Have you heard from that rich African prince who wants to share his wealth with you, if only you send him a hefty deposit?

One other danger lurks within this cornucopia of information. Knowledge available to us seems limitless, but knowledge doesn’t equate to wisdom. Because wisdom involves understanding how to properly use the information at our disposal.

International evangelist Luis Palau was asked to compare Third World Christians he had met with Christians in America. He offered the view that many believers in America are “afflicted with the lust of the mind.” Unlike Third World disciples of Jesus, having no other choice but to live out their faith every day, Americans seem more zealous for gathering information about God and the Bible than putting into action what they’ve learned.

I heard about a man who for years was known for his devotion to reading Christian books, attending workshops, seminars and conferences, listening to spiritual messages, attending prayer meetings, and taking various classes on the Bible. Yet he’d never shared his faith with anyone. When asked why, he replied, “Oh, I just don’t know enough yet.”

Sadly, these days we’re more interested in information than in transformation. Some people are like those described by the Bible as always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Reading the Scriptures, memorizing and meditating on various verses, attending worship services and hearing stirring sermons are good. But God’s desire for us is that we “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

In His well-known parable of the sower found in Matthew 13, Jesus spoke about various kinds of “seed” (the Word of God). Some fell on paths where birds consumed them, on shallow soil where plants soon withered, or among thorns where growth was quickly choked off. Only the seeds that fell on good soil bore lasting fruit. Jesus was cautioning us to make sure that when we receive the truth it falls into fertile soil. That consists of receptive hearts eager to put that information into practice. In other words, willingness to become transformed, not just serve as seed holders.

After the apostle Paul declared, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” he explained what it’s useful for: “so the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When Paul told his readers about the Good News of Jesus Christ, he wasn’t offering just facts and information. He was teaching about its transforming capacity. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). The result, he wrote, is “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). In the process, we become “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

When we read the Scriptures or a book by our favorite Christian author, attend a worship service or conference, or listen to Bible-based radio message, if all we’re looking for is information, we’re shortchanging ourselves. Because with God, it’s not about information – it’s about transformation.

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