How to live

Seneca, the ancient Stoic philosopher, once said, “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.”

Seneca the Younger, as he was known, was a contemporary of the Apostle Paul. He was Nero’s tutor and his brother makes an appearance in Acts 18. People charged Paul with turning others from the true worship of God. Seneca’s brother, Gallio, was to be Paul’s judge.

For many years, tradition held that Paul and Seneca exchanged cordial letters. Most people now consider the letters to be inauthentic. But they do offer a chance to reflect. Seneca was one of the most highly regarded men of his time. His moral teachings often paralleled those of Jesus. Apparently, many Christians were quick to include him as one of “our own.”

History has often judged Seneca as someone who could talk the talk but not walk the walk. While he talked a good game about living a moral and virtuous life, he didn’t live up to it. I don’t know enough about him to make that distinction. I have, however, heard others say he was a work in progress. That if you pay attention to his later years, you can tell he wised up and started following his own stoic advice.

Again, I can’t speak to the historical validity of that. But I can certainly see it play out.

We all have to learn what it means to be fully alive, fully human. It takes some of us a while to even know what that means. So, how do we do that?

This week I pulled a book from my Half Price Books stack. No, these aren’t books I’m taking to sell. It’s a stack I’ve bought that I haven’t gotten around to yet. The book is about meditation and it took all but a few paragraphs to get me thinking. Here is the line that connects meditation to learning to be fully human: One of the steps in meditation is learning how not to take our thoughts for granted.

In a way, I see that playing out in Proverbs 30.

You may recall I wrote about this chapter yesterday. It’s written by someone who has determined his life hasn’t been all he wanted it to be. Now, he has turned to God’s wisdom. The rest of the chapter, what we read today, are all observations he has made in life.

In a few short paragraphs, the writer calls to mind what he has seen in life regarding slaves, kings, fools, unloved women, maids, ants, badgers, locusts, lizards and a variety of other animals. Oh, and milk.

What do those all have in common?

Nothing really, except these experiences become a part of the writer’s thoughts. He noticed that he noticed more of God’s world. He understood there were lessons to learn by observing life. That’s a great reminder for our busy world. We know what it means to stop and smell the roses. Maybe learning how to live also means to slow down and watch the ants.

Stay blessed…john

Ready when you are

I like to remind myself that I have the same amount of time in my days that Jesus had. Sure, his sense of time was different. But the sun rose and set for him the same way it does for me. There may be a lot that is different about the choices we have to make compared to those Jesus made. When it comes to our time on earth, though, the choice is essentially the same.

What will we do with our time? How do we decide? What happens when we get to a point when we are no longer satisfied with what we’ve done?

Those kinds of questions seem to gird the flow of Proverbs 30. Whoever wrote this portion of the wisdom collection had come to a stark point in his life. The Message Bible translates his words as, “I’m more animal than human.” The NRSV says, “Surely I am too stupid to be human.” Ever have one of those days? That sounds like a culmination of choices that have brought someone to despair. Nothing has worked out for them. Maybe they’ve worked their whole life and have found the result wanting.

There’s a sense that the writer is crying out to God, “I’ve worked so hard, but it’s all been for nothing!”

As unwise as he had been up to that point, he did the wise thing. He turned to God. Whatever filled his days before, he was ready to replace with a focus on God’s wisdom. There is so much to know of God. Human arrogance assumes we can understand the fullness of God. We figure there isn’t much to figure out. So, we live our lives on our terms, fascinated by our own proclivities.

Let me confess something to you.

I once thought my pastoral ministry would be better used in younger congregations. There were several reasons I thought that. A few that haven’t gone away. But how I thank God that didn’t materialize. I’ve been around quite a few seasoned saints. So many of them have imparted wisdom to me throughout my entire ministry. They’ve shared their struggles and how long it took them to turn to God. “Don’t wait, John. Keep your eyes on God.”

Thank you, saints.

That’s part of the goodness of God. When you’re ready to turn to God, you’ll learn God was always ready for you. That means the person who has just heard the good news for the first time can start a walk with God. Someone who has gone through the motions at church for decades can finally be free to love God with all their heart.

When you feel too stupid to be human, like you’ve wasted so many of your days, there’s a God that welcomes you. Take stock of where your life is. Does the glory of God fill your life? If not, it certainly could.

Stay blessed…john

Us rich people

Be careful how you speak about poor people. Be careful what you think of them and how you regard them.

For one thing, God pays attention to how others treat them. Now, that is usually a trigger for us rich people. Does that imply God plays favorites? No, it’s not that the rich are less important to the Lord. The poor, though, are the ones who tend to get forgotten, abused and taken advantage of.

For sure, American poor means something different than in other parts of the world. Pan out over more of history and American poor doesn’t look all that bad, actually. So, it can be hard for us to come to terms with scripture’s attention to people we consider poor.

So hard, in fact, we will rationalize every reason we have for thinking of them the way we do. The poor, then, are lazy. They just want people to give them stuff. Why don’t they work more? What they need to do is pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

By the way, that may have been an idiom first used to signify trying to “do something completely absurd” or impossible.

This is about the time in the conversation where someone informs me that people abuse the system, so to speak. They take advantage of others’ generosity. Of course, I agree. There are people like that. What percentage of the poor do you think that describes? And why do we tend to criticize poor people who do that, but accept rich people doing it as just “the way it is”?

I’ve had the fortune of serving two consecutive churches that have hosted a food pantry. One is monthly. The other was weekly. I have in mind one time I saw a family take from what we gave them to give to another family that, for whatever reason, didn’t get as much food that time. It comes to mind because it was the first time I witnessed it. I’ve seen that play out numerous times since.

The poor are not what some people make them out to be.

All that to say, be careful how you treat the poor. Proverbs 29:14 says, “If a king judges the poor with equity, his throne will be established forever.” The problem is, of course, the poor among us are easy to dismiss. We can get away with wronging them. What are they going to do about it?

That explains part of God’s heart for the poor.

Those who have known God’s grace cannot stand to see the poor mistreated or maligned. We acknowledge the systems actively working to keep some people poor. That becomes part of our prophetic witness as God’s church. Some may think that is a recent advancement of certain church traditions. 

It is not. In fact, the way the American church tends to ignore social ills and the plight of the poor is quite bizarre to the rest of Christianity, both modern and ancient.

Read the Corinthians letters, for example. The rich were excluding the poor in worship and ministry. Paul recognized how antithetical that was to the gospel of Jesus. That mirrored society’s hierarchal standards. There’s no room in the church for that.

Do you want to live a righteous life? Consider this proverb that highlights an important way to do that. It’s something we often discount: The righteous know the rights of the poor (Proverbs 29:7). What are we rich people going to do with that knowledge?

Stay blessed…john