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Monday, August 17, 2009

What is Important?

The story is told of a Native American and a friend who were visiting New York City. During lunch hour they were walking down Broadway, with its cacophony of noise from people talking, the tread of their footsteps as they rapidly walked down the street, the roar of traffic whizzing by and the horns honking. Suddenly the Native American said “Listen. I hear a cricket”. His friend replied, “How can you hear a cricket above all this noise?” Insisting that he had heard a cricket chirping, he crossed the street to a planter, looked inside and found a cricket. His friend queried him again. “How on earth could you have heard a cricket? You couldn’t have heard anything as small and insignificant as that with all this noise!” Whereupon the Native American reached into his pocket, pulled out several coins and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately everyone within twenty feet stopped, turned and looked. Turning to his friend he said, “It all depends on what you consider to be important.”

It all depends on what we consider to be important! As we go through life we are faced with many demands on our time, our priorities, our faith and our money. Many times we often say what we consider to be important. It is easy to say that our church, our faith or our family is of utmost importance to us, yet we may often ignore them. We may say that the Bible is important to us, but never find time to read it. We may say that our family is important to us, while spending all of our time at work and never attending our children’s events. To what extent do we live up to what we say? Many of the passersby in the story above, rushing on their way to important meetings, luncheon engagements, etc. showed what was really important when they heard the coins clinking on the sidewalk. How often do we do the same? Our actions may belie our words. We may say one thing and do another.

When we do so we become hypocrites. We are no better than the Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus’ day. Their actual practices confirmed a much different picture than did their stated beliefs. While declaring their great faith, they sought as many loopholes as possible to avoid actually practicing it. Unfortunately, we can easily find ourselves living our lives much as they did.

But the story of hearing the cricket has another point as well. It is only when we are tuned to hear that we can actually hear. A group of mothers can be talking on a playground while their children play. Suddenly one of the mothers will state “My child is crying”. None of the other mothers heard the crying. But if it was their own child, they would have heard the cry. Their ear was tuned to the voice of their child. The ear of the Native American was tuned to hear the still small voice of the cricket over the noise, while the ear of his friend was not. We live in a world which has as much spiritual cacophony as the physical cacophony experienced on the streets of New York. The roar can be quite deafening. There are constant demands to pull us away from God. The secular culture in which we live is not tuned to hear spiritual things. We will hear the things that are truly important to us. Are our ears tuned to hear the still small voice of God above the din of life? Are you listening to his voice?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Flatland

In his fanciful book Flatland, Edwin Abbott describes a two dimensional world inhabited by triangles, squares and pentagons, etc. For flatlanders, there is no such concept as “up”. They live in and only know two dimensions. The sphere invades their two dimensional world, attempting to convince them of the gospel of the third dimension. Of course, being in their flat plane, all they see is the appearance of a point which expands into ever larger concentric circles until it recedes again to a point and disappears. Unable to convince the pentagon of the third dimension, the sphere finally shows him Lineland which has no width. The inhabitants of Lineland merely travel back and forth on their narrow line. The pentagon futilely attempts to convince the Linelander that there is width, to no avail. He is then shown Pointland, whose inhabitants bask in their pointdom, unable to comprehend either length or width. After finally being convinced of the existence of the third dimension, the pentagon is imprisoned for his heretical views. The sphere visits him in prison to comfort him. The pentagon says to him, “You showed me Pointland and Lineland. Although I knew there was both length and breadth, I couldn’t make them understand. Through this you convinced me of the third dimension. But what about the fourth and fifth dimensions?” To which the sphere replies “Nonsense!”

As humorous as this story is, it has a point. We have great difficulty comprehending things outside of our experience. In the rational world in which we live, we have difficulty understanding that we also live in a world which also has a spiritual dimension. The story of Elisha and his servant at Dothan (II Kings 6:15-17) illustrates the difficulty we face. When his servant fears for his life, Elisha prays for his eyes to be opened. He then sees horses and chariots surrounding Elisha, protecting them. It is easy for us to rationalize this story, saying that things like this occurred in Bible times, but don’t today. But they still do. A priest with whom I am acquainted was telling of an experience which happened to him. He was working among gangs. He was cornered by a gang of young men who were going to force him to take drugs. Suddenly the gang surrounding him melted away. At a later time he caught up with them and asked them why they left so suddenly. One of the gang members told him that there was a big guy up in the air above them, and he definitely was not happy. God had sent an angel to protect him from harm.

Like the pentagon in Flatland, we live in a world that contains more dimensions than we think. As St. Paul says, we are surrounded by heavenly principalities and powers. Just as Flatland was invaded by the sphere, preaching the gospel of the third dimension to the Flatlanders, so also our world was once invaded by one preaching the gospel of the spiritual dimension. Jesus came down to this world to show us who God is and bring us back into relationship with him. Just as the pentagon was persecuted for his views on the third dimension, so also are the followers of Jesus persecuted for their view of spiritual matters. Just as the majority of flatlanders had no concept of up, so most of the inhabitants of our world have little or no concept of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged. Are you content to live in our three dimensional world, or do you see yourself living in the midst of a spiritual world?