Tuesday, October 2, 2018

True wisdom

James 3:13-4:8

Several years ago I bought a t-shirt for my brother that says “beware of stupid people in large numbers”.  I thought it fit his sense of humor and that he would get a kick out of it… although now that I think about it… I never saw him wear it…
Anyway- the problem with thoughts like this is we always assume we’re the smart ones and the stupid people are someone else.  I haven’t met very many people who didn’t think they were smart, that they had the right answers. 
This isn’t about formal education or even street smarts.  Most people, given the opportunity to say so, think they have the answers.   Get a group of friends around a dinner table and before you know it you will be solving the world’s problems.   
Whether it is unemployment, health care, drug addiction, how to run the government, how to withdraw troops from the middle east, trade wars and farm subsidies to more personal things like how your spouse should treat you or how to raise your kids, how to do your job better or the best recipe for chili. 
We know it is complicated…. but what you need to do is…. And if they would just do what we tell them, life would be so much better. 
This is the way we think because this is how the world teaches us to think.  Fake it till you make it.  If you say it with enough confidence, they will believe you.  If you don’t’ know guess.
And if someone dares to challenge you, get angry and they will leave you alone!  When you fail, find someone else to blame. And, if you succeed make sure to take all the credit. 
After all this is what our heroes do. 
A quick search of the internet told me that the most admired people in the world are Barak Obama, Donald Trump, Bill gates, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey, Xi Jinping the President of China and Vladimir Putin.
All people who have power, influence, money, beauty, popularity and often are seen by the people who agree with them to do little wrong. 
But power, influence, money, beauty, popularity, strength, and knowledge are not the same as wisdom.  All these things can be gained by less than honorable means.  Al Capone and Charles Manson both had many of these qualities.
So how do we know who is wise and who is just fooling us and leading us astray by the image the world sees and values? 
James tells us we know by the fruit of their lives.  What do they leave in their wake?  Are their works gentle, peaceful, willing to yield, are they willing to listen to the thoughts and needs of others? 
Are they merciful and impartial towards any one person, group or issue and do not sow hypocrisy?  Do they seek harmony and peace? 
Or do they seem to just want what they want, getting angry, bitter and envious when things don’t go their way? 
Do their gifts seem born out of ambition or a desire for earthly possessions?  Are they boastful about their accomplishments or do they give credit to others?  Do their lives promote order or disorder, chaos or harmony? 
True Wisdom is not something we get from a university or through wealth.  It is a gift from God.  It is simply the awareness of and desire for God living in our lives. 
The Old testament often personified wisdom as part of the triune God, calling us to right, peaceable, careful living.  Here James describes it as a gift from God that comes through prayer. (HCSB NRSV)
The true comparison is when we look at some of the most admired faith leaders of our time.
Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Tich Nach Han, Pope Francis, and Billy Graham.  How do their lives, attitude, actions and fruit compare to the list of world leaders? 
Which group do we want to follow, imitate and be like?  Maybe that seems like a silly question. How does who we admire affect how we live?  Who we admire, who we strive to be like, who we look up to, who we want to represent us and make decisions for us matters.  Because it reflects and affects what we value. 
Do we strive for Godly things or worldly things? 
I have met way too many people whose family has been destroyed over arguments about inheritance.  One person got more than another or got the one thing they wanted, and family relationships were killed.
We send our children to fight wars which are primarily over property disputes, pride, power and wealth. 
Black Friday is only 2 months away.  We have all seen the fights over cheap items, people pushing and shoving just to be first in line. 
We argue over power, money, having the right things, who is smarter, prettier, or more athletic.  We fight over possessions we cannot take with us and the opinions of others that don’t matter.  We argue over who gets to make decisions and who gets credit or blame depending on how it turns out. 
Where there is conflict; whether it is in the family, the church, the nation or the world, we know there is earthly, devilish and selfish desires. 
Just admitting we have a problem is the first step.  We are selfish from birth to death; it is a constant source of pain and something we must continually fight against. 
We must constantly question our motives and our desires because the worldly ones are so much easier to access and look so much more attractive and shinier than Godly ones. 
And Godly desires seem counter intuitive to the barrage of marketing and messaging about worldly success which surrounds us. 
Our emotions are a huge clue to our motivations.  Why are we hurt or angry?  Why do we want the things we want?  Are we willing to damage relationships and experience conflict to get it?  Is it for some higher good or just because we want to feel important?  How often are we saying—I deserve… more money, more attention, more respect….?
Do we jump to conclusions and make assumptions or are we yielding, listening, showing mercy, and seeking compassionate justice?  How often are we putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, trying to see life and the decisions we make from someone else’s perspective? 
This is a constant work in progress.  We as humans are so influenced by our moods, our whims, our attitudes and the attitudes of others that we are constantly moving back and forth away from God then close to God.  Away from worldly desires then closer to them. 
The more we envy, are selfish, ambitious, irrational, impulsive, and participate in chaotic and disordered life, the further we are from God.  The more we seek to live in peace, calmness, selflessness, seeking God’s approval instead of others, the closer we are to God. 
The Bible tells us to ask and we shall receive.  With what attitude are we asking?  What is the underlying desire behind our prayers?  How often is our prayer- Lord let me have what you want me to have?  Or, Lord let my wants be your wants. 
God is always there, offering true wisdom to us.  We just have to want it.  God is always there, no matter how far away we go chasing our dreams and desires that aren’t God’s.  God is always there wanting to give us the peace of Christ, the comfort of the Holy Spirit. 
When we compare the two- the effects of earthly wisdom and the effects of Godly wisdom, isn’t it clear which is better, which makes life better, more peaceful and abundant?  Why would we want what the world has to offer when we can have the better part?  The part that looks, lives and thrives in this life and the life to come. 
God gives us the grace, the role models, the ability to seek the better way if we only look for them.  God provides all we need to live a beautiful and abundant life and to offer that love and life to others. 
When we look for heroes, people to admire and aspire to be like.  Let us look to Jesus who even in the face of torture kept silent, choosing submission and peace over violence and war.  Who, shelved his power so that we might know love, surrendered his life so that we might have eternal life. 

Do you need a hero?  Let us look for those who look more like Jesus and less like the world.  

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