June 2012

Overcoming Stereotyping and Prejudice

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.” Luke 10:33 NLT

You can certainly pick up the prejudicial tension in Jesus’ telling of this well known story we have come to refer to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Prejudice, a preconceived, irrational and judgmental attitude or action toward an individual or group was obviously as serious problem in Jesus’ day as it is in ours.

Jews and Samaritans did not get along because they were ethnically, culturally and religiously different from one another. Their prejudices, just like ours, were rooted in stereotypes that had been inherited or learned and sadly gave them a distorted perception of reality. It is likely, if the Jewish guy who was beaten, robbed and left laying half dead alongside the road had been conscious, he would not have wanted to have anything to do with the Samaritan who stopped to help him.

So what could possibly have motivated the Samaritan to set aside his own prejudice in order to get involved in such a messy and potentially racially charged situation? Why did he choose to cross the road while two religious Jews refused and “passed by on the other side”?

Jesus told this parable in order to redefine the meaning of the words love and neighbor, as used in the context of the second great commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We learn that love is proactive and a neighbor is anyone with whom we come in contact – even those who are not like us, against whom we may hold prejudicial attitudes and may in fact be our enemies.

In the verse quoted above from this parable Jesus explains why the Samaritan was able to set aside his negative preconceptions and turn aside from his journey to cross the road.

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The Greatest Commencement Address Ever Given

As the school year comes to an end, another annual round of commencement addresses is being given. Sadly, most of them are forgettable. Curiously, I do not even remember my own high school or college commencement addresses. Having raised five children, I have sat through my share. Of all the graduation speeches that I have heard I remember only one. It was a message given at the college graduation of my eldest daughter. The speaker was the late John Osteen, founder of Houston’s Lakewood Church and father of Joel Osteen. Rev Osteen exhorted the graduates to make it their goal to always depend upon and be filled with the Holy Spirit. That message for some reason stuck with me.

The purpose of a graduation speech hopefully is that it will strike a chord of truth deep within the soul that will continue to resonate at critical junctures throughout a person’s life.

When Winston Churchill, speaking at the Harrow graduation in 1941, said “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never …” he struck a chord that reverberated way beyond the ear shot of those in attendance. It galvanized a nation caught in the grip of the Second World War and throughout the decades since has continued to inspire embattled souls whenever it is read or recalled.

This year, a high school English teacher named David McCollough Jr gave one of those rare memorable commencement addresses. When he told the graduates at Wellesley High School (Massachusetts) the following it went viral. “None of you are special. You are not special. You are not exceptional.” In an age when children have grown up being “pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped . . . feted and fawned over” it needed to be said. The ultimate point that he was making is that exulting in being special is a self-indulgent deceit. “The great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.” That is a message which may discomfit the soul but can motivate those who hear it to noble action.

Graduation ceremonies as a rite of passage are fraught with both emotion and expectation. There is the celebration of accomplishment with all the accompanying memories, bitter and sweet, sacrificial and gratuitous that will be left behind. And there is the anticipation of the future burgeoning with hopes and dreams yet waiting, albeit with trepidation, to be fulfilled.

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When to Choose to Lose

The benefit of choosing to lose is not just limited to weight loss. Although in most arenas of life losing carries negative connotations, especially if it is a choice; there are times when choosing to lose is the wisest, most beneficial thing we can do. In fact the Bible spells out some specific circumstances in which we are actually encouraged to choose to lose.

Choosing to lose is not something most people find easy to do. We do not want to lose. However, choosing to lose in a Biblical sense is rooted in a confident trust in God. It is only possible when we yield our expectations and preferred results to Him.

A case in point is when we find ourselves in an interpersonal conflict. Disagreements of opinion have a way of escalating as all the parties involved seek to prove the rightness of their point of view. We naturally associate proving we are right with winning the conflict. But the Bible, in its wisdom, indicates that in some circumstances, the best course of action is to choose to lose.

Some conflicts are ultimately won through choosing to lose rather than choosing to win.

The book of Proverbs gives a number of illustrations of this lose to win strategy in relational conflict. “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” (26:20) “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (15:1) “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” (19:11) Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man. But any fool will quarrel.” (20:3)

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2 Principles of Guidance by Signs

The digital clock read 3:33 – my first conscious thought upon waking in the middle of the night. Could it be a sign from God of His comforting presence and the promise of His faithfulness in the face of anxiety I had been battling? The three white luminescent “3’s” offered me a glimmer of hope in the darkened room reminding me of the Trinity.

God speaks in multifarious ways. Would it not seem plausible to think that in response to heartfelt prayers, especially in times of desperation, He would use even this simplest of signs to underscore that He hears and cares. That is how I chose to interpret my waking at exactly 3:33.

The preceding day, the first of a three day conference for which I was supplying the audience response system technology had been a stressful one. To complicate matters, during the opening meeting that evening my computer, for which the operation of the system depends, began to malfunction. We were able to salvage the session but afterward to my consternation were unable to identify the cause of the computer glitch. When I turned in later that night my heart was deeply troubled. With the prospect of two intense days before me with an unreliable computer and the responsibility of supplying the voting needs of over 400 delegates I was in a frenzy. Faith, like my sleep, was hard to come by as I tossed and turned and tried to pray for wisdom and a measure of peace.

Seeing the 3:33 as a sign from God settled two critical issues for me. First I felt like God was saying “let not your heart be troubled, I have everything under control.” Peace began to permeate my soul with that thought and like a harbinger of faith began to brighten my perspective. Secondly, and this thought came with a sudden clarity, I realized the best course of action was to cease fussing over and with the ornery computer and use instead an old back-up computer I had with me. Embracing those two realizations prompted by the 3:33 sign, enabled me to approach the rest of the conference in faith, trusting that God would be faithful to His promises – and He was!

The phrase “signs and wonders” have jokingly been referred to as signs that make you wonder. Ironically that is not as far from the truth as one would think. Signs, whether of the end-time variety, that will one day emblazen the skies, or of the garden variety that could be easily missed, are things that do make us wonder about God’s intentions.

Gideon asked for a sign to confirm God’s call upon his life to lead Israel to battle against the Midianites. Although motivated by doubt and fear, Gideon was obliged by God on two successive occasions with miraculous signs that encouraged him to take bold actions that eventually led to an amazing victory with an army of just 300 men. (Judges 6:36-40) Although this story is the quintessential illustration of guidance by “putting out a fleece” some view modern day uses of Gideon-like fleece signs as a form of guidance that is too contrived if not less than.

It is my conviction that any form of guidance including fleeces, when prompted by the Holy Spirit, is a viable means for God to speak to us and direct us in His ways. We dare not put God in a box lest we limit Him nor keep God out of our box lest we limit ourselves. Signs are often more by God’s initiative than ours.

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