April 7, 2016

Living in Babel

I’m just old enough to remember the Indian Chief on the television screen in the mornings. My grandparents had a black and white television that was turned on about the time morning programming was to begin. If the show hadn’t started yet, a drawing of an Indian chief’s head in profile popped up on the screen while the audio speaker spit white noise. The screen was the television company’s test pattern. Along with the Indian chief, other geometrical patterns were used by a technician far away who tuned the signal and sent it on to antennas rising above roofs in rural America. 

The test pattern has long been retired. The entertainment and news cycle goes on twenty-four hours daily here in the 21st century. The Internet has roared into life and set down his stakes. The voices of the world vie for attention. They both draw us in and make us feel isolated. We are connected and disconnected. It is confusing at times. We are living in Babel.

In Genesis 11, the Bible records the story of mankind being spread throughout the earth. The people populating the world huddled together on the plain at Shinar and started to build brick by brick a name for themselves. They determined to set the course of their destiny when God in the Trinity set them on a new course, confusing their language and taking authority over the “impossible.”
    And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.   (Genesis 11:6-8 ESV) 
    According to the New York Times, “over half of humanity now live in cities, and even more, will soon.” Interestingly, the shift of population from being more rural rather than urban began in 1950, about the time the Indian signal came flying through the air into the homes of people in the developed world. One hundred years later, it is projected that two-thirds of humankind will live in cities. 

    I’m not exactly sure of the connection between being connected to a television beaming the outside world into everyone’s lives and the growth of urbanization, but I do know that the world is smaller because we are connected in ways unimagined just a few years ago. 

    No matter where I’ve been over the past few years, I’ve seen the world sitting on each other’s stoop. Whether in Moldova or Haiti where life is hard or in the beautiful cities of Paris and London, the world is looking into a screen. Google projected by the year 2023 the whole world would be on the InternetSome scoff at the prediction, but the Google executive said that 5 billion people will join the 3 billion already connected by the year 2020.

What is the Internet saying? There are so many voices speaking to one another and over one another. Most of the voices of people on this vast network of people, I don’t know personally. The longer I’m connected to all the chatter, I wonder if I really know the people that I do know.

Confusing, yes?


It shouldn’t be a surprise we often can feel confused and disoriented in the “brave new world” we are living in. As much as we tie our world together with technology or travel or huddling together in masses, the truth is that we will continue to speak different languages. A spirit of confusion lies over the world. As much as we have the tendency to want to control our destiny, God will make it impossible for us. If we refuse to “spread out” and continue to huddle in our cities, then he’ll have us walk down the sidewalk passing hundreds and thousands of other "connected" people without speaking a word. We will be together, but we won’t know each other. Is there a greater feeling of being alone than when loneliness comes in the presence of others?

This may sound depressing. I feel the weight of it, but I also have hope because we are still humans who bear the image of God. We are not solitary people. We still need each other, and more importantly, we need to understand our worth as we feel our smallness in this hyper-connected world.

When we are confused, we long for peace. Peace has its source in the person of Jesus. When we realize our longing is to be connected to our Creator, to God, then we don’t have to speak all the languages of the world. We only have to know the language of love. We bow to him and know that He alone is in charge of our destiny.

The world is changing. It has since time began and there seems no end to the trend. The Bible and all of history reveal that God doesn't change. With Him, there is no variation or shifting shadow.

This is the great comfort as we chatter way while living in Babel.

April 1, 2016

Shutting the Door on the Darkness

In John Ortberg’s book on "Soul Keeping," he talks about his friend and mentor Dallas Willard’s advice to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” I don’t really live hurried, at least not in the sense of rushing from one place to the next. My life has become less cluttered with activity—somewhat by choice and somewhat because of life stage. But the margin doesn’t mean I have eliminated hurry. The truth is I often have a hurried spirit.

It’s tough for me to admit that I feel hurried in my uncluttered life because my hurried spirit manifests itself as an anxious spirit. And it is evidence that getting the outside “right” doesn’t necessarily mean the inside follows.

There was an overriding sense of peace that permeated John's friend’s life. It was a pace that challenged John because Dallas’ pace dictated their time together. Dallas lived unhurried from the inside out. John had to slow to join him, to be present with him.

Peace comes when we rest in the grace and goodness of God. Peace comes when we rest in the fact that God is over all. He holds all things together. It’s not up to me to keep the world spinning on its axis. Thank God! (I mean that, literally!)

Since God is not a liar, we can know what He says is true. 

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. (1 John 3:4-5)

Sin creates disorder, chaos. Sin set the world, and the people created to enjoy it, at odds with Peace. Sin made the world a dark and lawless place. No one has to tell us this truth. Because we can perceive this, we need to think about our proper response it. 

Peace is a person. His name is Jesus and he takes away the sin that had set its sight on our destruction. He took it away “having nailed it to the cross.” (Col. 2:14) We are rescued from darkness to light when we trust in the saving power of Jesus. Once we were blind but now we see.

The darkness is a fearful place. Once my sister and I took our kids to a rustic cabin. The only electricity was a car battery which went dead within a day of being there. The cabin sat in a hollow. It took a long while to see the sun in the morning even as we saw the light coming into the sky above. In the afternoon, the sun slipped behind the mountain way before day was done. One night we sat indoors in the light of a lantern or two. (No electricity gives one such an appreciation for batteries.) My niece opened the door to retrieve something from the porch. She slammed it immediately. We thought something was out there. We wanted to know what she had seen. She exclaimed, “I was shutting the door on the darkness.”

Of course, we were curious and had to see for ourselves. When we opened the door, it was if a black sheet had been hung up in the door frame. You could see nothing in the darkness outside the door. Nothing. Not a star. It was an intimidating dark. No doubt that night, if we were going out on the porch, we needed to take the light with us.

That is a great metaphor for living in this dark world. We have the Light living in us in the person of Jesus Christ. We are the lamps. When walking in this dark world, we bring his light to it and with it peace. It’s so awe-inspiring to think that God would entrust us with such a mission.

So we go. We don’t rush about with our lights. We move into darkness, not fearful, but diligent. We are aware that sin is crouching at the door, moving to and fro, seeking to leave destruction in his wake. Racing around with our lights doesn’t read peace to the world. We want to be a light that says come join me, I have found The Way. If we follow Jesus, we won’t be hurried because that is not his way.

We have a choice. We can’t live in fear of the darkness or we can be lights in it. As Christians, we can’t opt out of the choice. We make the choice every day. We can be intentional or we can live in our emotions. If we let fear rule, we’ll slam the door out of fear when we have a lantern we can take with us. It doesn’t take much light to overcome the darkness. It’s true. We know this, but we need the courage to shine forth the beauty of Christ. Sometimes this means slowing, living unhurried and present with others. When we live this way, we lead them to the Light.

Be bold, be courageous, be a light!