Wednesday, July 29, 2015


                I sat across from “Steve” and listened as he unfolded his life story. It was an all too common tale of aspirations, indulgence and failure. As we talked, he revealed that his view of life had changed. He realized that some things he thought were so important were actually not important at all. He was less affected by what others thought of him and more concerned about making the most of the life he has. As our conversation unfolded, a word came to my mind that clearly summarized what Steve was experiencing: perspective.

                All of us go through stages in life related to the way we view our world. Although these stages roughly align with age, they are more closely linked to maturity. We all begin life eager to learn. Everything is new and exciting, and we soak it up like a sponge. At some point we cross over from active learning to “I know it all.” By this we don’t mean that we have mastered the sum total of all information, but that we have gained enough insight to make sense of our world. At this stage, life becomes very black and white, and we become very dogmatic. If we linger in this stage too long, it develops into full-blown arrogance. Some people, unfortunately, never move out of this stage.

                Most of us will face a reality check in our lives that will cause us to enter into the next phase: questioning. In this stage, our sense of mastery is shaken. We begin to question our abilities and our knowledge. Instead of believing that we know everything, we start to question whether we really know anything. If we get stuck in this phase, it can lead to despair.

                The goal is enter into the next phase: understanding. The key to this stage of maturity is perspective. We begin to see our world through seasoned eyes. We accept the fact that there are a number of things that we do not know, understand or comprehend. We come to grips with the natural limits of our lives. At the same time, we embrace the reality that there are a large number of things we do know, understand and comprehend. There are certain things that we have mastered and we are pretty good at them. Perspective allows us to hold these two realities in balance. We gain confidence, without slipping into arrogance. We don’t allow our deficits to hinder our asset, or our assets to mask our deficits.

                Perspective is a component of true maturity. Perspective allows us to look back over our life with relatively clear vision. As we look back, we can evaluate where we have been, glean the lessons from those past experiences, and apply them to our future endeavors. Perspective helps us moderate both the highs and lows of life. Perspective teaches us that our current crisis is not the end of the world. Perspective teaches us that our current success is only temporary.

                There are many things that shape our perspective on life. The most important influence on our perspective is our faith in Christ. If our perspective is completely worldly, with no room for God, it will be distorted. The lessons we learn will be helpful for a time, but may lead us in the wrong direction. Having a godly perspective on life leads us into truly right living.

                Solomon understood the need for a godly perspective. The entire book of Proverbs was written to help people cultivate it. Proverbs 3:5-8 stands out as a guidepost on our journey toward developing a mature, godly perspective in life.

                Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
                Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

                Paul picked up this same theme in Romans 12:3. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

                My encounter with Steve has reminded me of how my perspective on life has changed. As I have grown in my faith, and matured as a person, my perspective has been refined. It is not that I can see everything clearly, but I can see life more clearly. I better understand my strengths and weaknesses, and I am becoming more and more comfortable with them. I am less likely to become arrogant, or slip into despair, because I have a long view of life.

                As I strive to refine my perspective, I find great encouragement in Paul words in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

                One day our eyes will be opened and we will see everything clearly. Until then, let us humbly work at refining our perspective. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


                When I was in school, I did not particularly like history. It seemed boring; a never ending list of names and dates to which I could not relate. A few years ago, I discovered the writing of Jeff Shaara. Jeff writes historical novels. He thoroughly researches the people and events and then puts them together in story form. He has made history come alive for me. If my history books, in school, had been like his writing, it would have been a pleasure to study history. I tell you this to illustrate the power of story. Jeff takes real people and real events and weaves them together in story form, to invite you into their lives.

                Jeff Shaara is a master story teller. There was another master story teller who lived a long time ago, in a distant land from ours. His name was Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus often used story to make the truth he was teaching come alive. He did it in the form of parables. Jesus used parables in a variety of ways to accomplish his ultimate purpose; proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Jesus used parables to raise interest, to make truth understandable, and to test people’s hearts.

                The religious teachers of Jesus’ day were like the history teachers I had in school. They proclaimed truth, but in a way that made it inaccessible to common people. What the teachers said sounded profound and lofty, but it didn’t relate to where people lived. Jesus was very different. When Jesus spoke, people were drawn in.  When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. Matthew 7:28-29

                One of Jesus’ main tools was parables. Parables are stories that relate a specific truth. Each parable is intended to teach one thing. Jesus was a master at using this form of story. The common people were thrilled by Jesus’ stories, because they could relate to them. The Pharisees were often offended by Jesus’ stories, because they understood the message he was giving. The disciples were sometimes confused by Jesus’ stories, but Jesus used them as a teaching tool to develop their faith.

                One day the disciples came to Jesus and asked his about his use of parables.
                The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
                In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: " 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'
                But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. Matthew 13:10-17

                So what does this have to do with us? We have been called, by Jesus, to be story tellers as well. We have a very important message to proclaim, about Jesus’ redeeming grace. We can proclaim it like a set of facts, which usually leaves people cold. Or we can present it through the story of our life encounter with Jesus. Peter encourages us to always be ready to tell our story.

                But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16

                To do this, we need to know our own story. We need to be able to craft our story in a way that makes sense to those who hear it. Jesus’ parables were so effective, because he put them in a context that people could relate to. We need to do the same thing. Paul instructs us to make our story inviting not excluding. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:5-6

                Before we can present our story, we need to listen to other people’s story. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone wants someone to listen to their story. As we listen to other people’s stories, we can craft our story to meet them where they are. That is what Jesus did. He did it with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the rich young ruler. Not everyone will accept our story, but if we can show how our story relates to their story, they are more likely to listen.

                Story is powerful. It has the potential to change people’s lives. When Jesus told us that we would be His witnesses to the world, He was calling us to tell our story.