5 Moments

In his book, Peaceful living in a Stressful World, Ron Hutchcraft describes five moments scattered throughout our day. Some are exciting. Some are restful. Some are stressful while others are rather dull. But all of them present us with a choice. Who will rule that moment?

Five moments:

1waking

Psalm 119:18 — “When I awake, I am still with you.”

2running

Proverbs 3:6 — “In all you ways acknowledge him.”

3surprising

Ecclesiastes 9:12 — “Men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.”

4Nothing

Matthew 14:23 — “He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”

5fadingPsalm 63:6 — “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.”

And right now … I am “fading” — Goodnight.

Travel is the Enemy of Prejudice

suitcaseLet us never forget that diversity is God’s idea.  This was brought home to me as I read an email this past week from my close friend and brother Tommy Drinnen, who is completing his PhD in Spiritual Formation in California. Tommy wrote:

My class this semester is made up of a Cuban, a Ethiopian, someone from China, Korea, and Indonesia, and then, me – a Tennessean transplanted from Ghana. Our professor is a Korean man.  Last week I ate at the home of a couple from our program who are Korean and Chinese.  I also had a meal with a Kenyan and a man from Rwanda.  I live in a rural community in Ghana, and I tell you that meeting all these people and hearing and seeing their stories of faith has an impact on one’s worldview and one’s Kingdom view. It is a blessing to be able to meet so many people from around the world.

And so, I find myself agreeing with Mark Twain who wrote, “Travel is the enemy of prejudice.” Move around enough, see and visit enough people who are very different from yourself, and over time, rigid, inflexible, prejudicial views will be diluted by the creative diversity that exists in this massive, wonderful world.

Diversity, tapestry, variety — God’s idea.

Avoiding a Success that Fails

From a poster on a student’s door:

God has given me so much to do,success-from-failure
And I’m so far behind,
I’ll never die.

I remember Landon Saunders asking the question, “What are you doing that will survive your death?”  It made a tremendous impact on my life, and I think Jesus is asking the same question in a story he told about a “rich fool” (Luke 12).  It’s a story about a man who was so successful that he had to upgrade, update, and expand his entire physical plant. He had collected and accumulated a massive amount of materials. But he had not made the kind of investment that would survive his death. I guess that’s why he’s called a “rich fool.”

At one point in the story the question is raised, “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” You see, everything that I ask to give my life purpose, to be my reason for living, must also be able to tell me what it will do for me then.

Then is the real test of a life purpose.

What is a life purpose today? What does it mean to have a life goal? For some it means to win a medal, or chair a department, or author a best seller, or rank high in their field of work. For others it simply means to make it, to put food on the table, to get out of debt, to survive. But what ever I’m going after, what happens when my life purpose has taken me as far as it can, and it’s not far enough? Just how far can the very best of temporary goals take a person?

I guess I’m asking if it’s really fair to ask something temporary to do something it’s not designed to do. You know what I mean — to ask my position to give me integrity, to ask my schedule to give me self-worth, to ask my checkbook to take away my worry, to ask my heritage to give me character, to ask my accomplishments to erase my failures — to ask something temporary to give me something permanent.

And so, how do I avoid a success that fails? I know it might sound crazy to even talk about successes that fail.  But they do, all the time.  Success fails when it takes me away from my children, when it makes my spouse a stranger, or when it teaches me to be selfish and arrogant.  Business may be a booming success, but what about life and relationships?

And so, what does Jesus’ story teach us about avoiding a success that fails?

Talk To The Right Person (vs. 17-18) “What shall I do? This is what I’ll do.” There are fourteen personal pronouns in this man’s speech to himself — my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods. Who is he talking to? Himself. And what does the story say is the real source of his success? It’s easy to miss.  Verse 16 says, “the ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.” You see, when we break success down into it’s parts, we are left with a series of important questions. Who gives us the raw materials, who brings to us the opportunities, who builds into us our skill and talent, and who grants us the time to put it all together? Answer — The one who made the ground. Talk to the right person, and it’s not you.

Follow The Right Plan (vs.17) “I have no place to store my crops.” Here’s my question — What plan is this man following? You can see it in the word “store.” That’s it. This is his life plan — to produce and store. All of his time and energy is given to keeping, accumulating, stockpiling, hoarding. And for whom? Well, no one else is mentioned in the story. This man is given great gifts, which he plans to share with no one. He’s not following the right plan.

Pursue The Right Goal (vs. 19 “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Of course, there is nothing wrong with enjoyment, but there is a huge difference between making a living and making a life. This man was really concerned with storage, but you can’t store your life in a barn. Just imagine what this farmer could have done with his success. He could have called his family together for a time of worship, thanking God for his rich harvest. He could have invested his wealth in his community, making it a better place for everyone. He could have shared his wealth with the poor, the widow, the orphan, the destitute. He could have pursued a hundred different goals that would impact the lives of people.  And all of his goals would survive his death.

You see, relationship is the only success that doesn’t fail. Only people will last forever. Investing in people is the only work that will survive my death.

As a missionary to Ecuador, Jim Elliot was killed at age 29 by the very tribe he was trying to teach. He once said:

“He is no fool
who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose.”

I Was Just Joking

“People who shrug off deliberate deceptions
saying, ‘I didn’t mean it, I was only joking,’
are worse than careless campers
who walk away from smoldering campfires”
Proverbs 26:18-19 (The Message)

sarcasmbrainSarcasm is a popular form of humor. As a noun it is defined as “a mocking remark,” but it’s a far more complicated word encompassing several levels. There are a number of helpful studies available, but perhaps the clearest story is told with a simple thesaurus.

One level of sarcasm exists among friends and includes such synonyms as banter, wordplay, comeback, irony, rejoinder, retort, satire and wit. All in the name of humor.

On a sharper level, sarcasm becomes much more pointed and less playful. The synonyms change to include criticism, cut, cynicism, dig, lampooning, wisecrack, rebuff, put-down, swipe, affront, sneer, taunt, scoffing and spite.

Further down the literary ladder, a more extreme form of sarcasm turns into verbal abuse. Once again, the synonyms tell the story — berating, castigation, denunciation, tongue-lashing, humiliation, causticness, derision, disparagement, mockery, ridicule, belligerence, harshness, malevolence, malice, rudeness, tartness, unkindness and insult.

And of course, there will be some disagreement as to where the lines are actually drawn. But there are several conclusions that we can all agree upon. One is how sarcasm feels — painful, especially if you’re a child. Children begin their life accepting our words at face value. In their fresh minds, they think we mean exactly what we are saying. They must learn, painfully, that we do not.

In addition, we can all probably agree upon the antonyms of sarcasm. The ones usually listed include, courtesy, diplomacy, flattery, compliment, commendation, civility, kindness, politeness, sweetness and praise. To see their power, just imagine the impact of any of these words upon a child.

In their book, What All Children Want Their Parents to Know, Diana Loomans and Julia Godoy differentiate between humor that heals and humor that hurts (48-49).

Humor that heals …

  • takes delight in another
  • affirms and builds up others up
  • puts no one down.
  • exercises creativity
  • brings joy and happiness to others
  • takes a lighthearted view
  • evokes smiles, laughter, confidence, and well-being

Humor that hurts …

  • makes fun of another
  • tears someone or something down
  • uses put-downs, either indirect or direct
  • uses cynicism and sarcasm
  • brings negativity or discouragement to others
  • takes a biting or bitter view

This reminds me that the origin of the Greek term for “sarcasm” meant “to strip off the flesh.” This can be done humorously or viciously. But, however it’s done, we become more proficient with our verbal swordplay as we slice people into pieces.

I realize, as I said at the beginning, that there are levels of sarcasm, ranging from the verbal play of friends to the verbal abuse of enemies. But the lines are not always clear, and without great care, it’s easy to slide from “banter” to “ridicule.”

In his book, Talk is cheap: Sarcasm, Alienation and the Evolution of Language, linguistics professor John Haiman writes (106):

There is an extremely close connection between sarcasm and irony, and literary theorists in particular often treat sarcasm as simply the crudest and least interesting form of irony. … [There are] important distinctions between the two. First, situations may be ironic, but only people can be sarcastic. Second, people may be unintentionally ironic, but sarcasm requires intention.”

And so, what are my verbal intentions? Do my friends walk away from a conversation with me thinking, “What a clever comeback” “What a sharp wit?” Or do they leave thinking “What an understanding friend?”

“The tongue has the power of life and death?”
Proverbs 18:21