Tag Archives: Wisdom

Words Destroy or Hallow

“Let’s put him on blast!” I hadn’t heard the phrase before, but I instantly knew what it meant: whatever the business’s misstep had been, the call was sent out to grab it by its social media handles and tear it down. A bit of photographic evidence, a globally-audible, locally-tangible siren, and the business was tagged: the company was now “it”—a toxic bit of business that infected whatever and whoever it touched. So, tear it down and stay away.  This doesn’t just happen with businesses. People get blasted, too. People scrub their Instagram and Twitter pasts to wipe away any bit of (perceived) filth before their Facebook posts are pressure washed with the words of others.

Anthropologist Mary Douglas noted the power and danger of dirt. We fear the filthy; dirt threatens disintegration. The best way to handle such dirty danger, whether located in the business misstep or social media slip up or political pariah, is to “blast” it: to use words to show the other’s filth, to distance oneself from the defiled, and to wash up the mess—all with one sweet Tweet.

But public humiliation is not new. In the fifth century, Augustine warned of the risks of wicked words (Confessions I:29):

  • Watch out for hatred! We do more harm to ourselves by hating another than the other can do to us.
  • Watch out for hostility! Harbored hostility toward another harms the self, even if it isn’t acted upon.
  • Watch out for hubris! To pursue fame is to place oneself under a human judge and to perceive others as competitors.

Hatred, hostility, hubris: A deadly combination in a fifth century social spat where one was careful to pronounce every word correctly without care for the actual human being who happened to be the victim of their verbal evisceration. Canceling another with words isn’t just a 21st century phenomenon: the form of the public put-down has changed, but the feat remains en vogue. Neither have the effects changed. Words aimed to take down a livelihood or life do not simply impact their target. They also impact the speaker-typer-texter-poster. Like shrapnel flung back upon the grenade lobber, words of hostility, hatred, and hubris score the soul who would blast another from the silent side of a screen.

C.S. Lewis also warned of the effect of destructive words, the most powerful of which in his series The Chronicles of Narnia was called “the Deplorable Word.” The Word, uttered by the Empress Jadis to arrest the forces and very face of her sister as Jadis’ defeat loomed large, stopped all living things, including her own forces and subjects. Jadis had spoken the deplorable word to destroy everything but herself, preserving her own life until the time was right and she could be awakened. And while Jadis, the White Witch, isn’t quite human, her verbal blast poses a warning for every Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve. Jadis’ own world (and its flagship city of Charn) is over, but she has been let loose in the new world of Narnia, and Polly and Digory’s own world is not immune to the temptation that took her down:

“When you were last here,” said Aslan, “that hollow was a pool, and when you jumped into it you came to the world where a dying sun shone over the ruins of Charn. There is no pool now. That world is ended, as if it had never been. Let the race of Adam and Eve take warning.”

“Yes, Aslan,” said both the children. But Polly added, “But we’re not quite as bad as that world, are we, Aslan?”

“Not yet, Daughter of Eve,” he said. “Not yet. But you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things. And soon, very soon, before you are an old man and an old woman, great nations in your world will be ruled by tyrants who care no more for joy and justice and mercy than the Empress Jadis. Let your world beware. That is the warning.” (Lewis, 1955/1980c, p. 164)

The Queen presents a warning for using our own deplorable words. Contrasted with the singing of Aslan that brings Narnia into being, Jadis’ deplorable word only arrests death; it does not bring new life. This is not a passing theme. Jadis’ words reduce things to dust. In Charn, Jadis reduces “high and heavy doors” to “a heap of dust” (p. 57). In London, she attempts to turn Digory’s Aunt Letty to “dust” just as she had the gates in Charn (p. 76), but when she realizes this power of “turning people into dust” has left her (p. 77), she settles for hurling Letty across the room. Finally, in London, Digory believes that Jadis has reduced several policemen to “little heaps of dust” (p. 79). Her words and actions are powerful, no doubt, but they are not creative. Her words result in death and destruction. Her words, at best, only arrest her own death.

Likewise, the White Witch’s leadership in Narnia was only possible to arrest spring. She does not bring joviality; she can only keep it out. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas says, “She has kept me out for a long time, but I’ve got in at last” (Lewis, 1950/1980a, p. 99). The Witch’s leadership is not fruitful because nothing grows in winter. While Charn had grown to become a great city under her ancestors, one assumes that the Witch’s leadership in Charn was likely similar to Narnia: it stunted growth and stifled life. In The Silver Chair, the owls say she “bound our land” (Lewis, 1953/1970, p. 52). In word and deed, the Witch cannot lead to anything of life; she cannot bring newness or construction. She can only preserve from death or bring to dust. Such is the life and soul of the one who would wield the deplorable word.

What might we glean from Augustine in the fifth century and from Lewis’ fiction? The justice-by-Tweet temptation is real, but yielding to that temptation is not for the one who would follow the Word made Flesh. For in the world of this Word – the only true world – we must foster, not hatred, hostility, and hubris, but instead, holiness. Within a sacramental worldview, every word is a kind of prayer. There is no word that is not overheard. God, the giver of words and the Word, is present. But the Word who allowed himself to be blasted, to be torn open as he was raised up, was deplored so that deplorable word users could become his preachers and prophets; so that words could be bound up in lives that do not simply arrest death in futility and bring pseudo-justice through rhetorical rage, but lead and love not with words of hubris, hostility, hatred, but of humility, peace, and mercy.


Augustine (1997). The Confessions (The Works of Saint Augustine I/1). Trans. Maria Boulding. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press.

Lewis, C. S. (1970). The Silver Chair. New York: Macmillan. (Original work published 1953).

Lewis, C. S. (1980a). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. London: Lions. (Original work published 1950).

Lewis, C. S. (1980b). The Horse and his Boy. London: Lions. (Original work published 1954).

Lewis, C. S. (1980c). The Magician’s Nephew. London: Lions. (Original work published 1955).

Lewis, C. S. (1980d). The Last Battle. London: Lions. (Original work published 1956).

Featured image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

A Prayer for Learners

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid

You read our hearts like an open book: you see our meanings, our intentions, our knowledge, our opinions, our questions, our backstories, our wounds, and our promise. Our hearts are open to you even when wisdom seems closed to us.

You know all our desires: you know when we sit and when we rise, you perceive our thoughts from a long way off. You know what we think we want and what we say we want and what we really want. You know which of our desires are self-destructive, disordered, and disillusioned, and which of our desires bring life, match the beat of your heart, and welcome the hope of truth.

You see what we try to hide: we can keep no secrets from you. Neither can those who prey on your vulnerable people. You sense our desire to dodge your hard questions or to camouflage our shortcomings or to put our best foot forward or to ignore your beckoning and calls. We are afraid we will be devoured by our inabilities.

You grasp that which what we cannot comprehend about our world, ourselves, our hearts.

You do not need to learn us; but we need to learn your ways.

We want to be learners

of your Word

of your words

of your Word Made Flesh.

We want to be learners

of your Way – the Truth of Life.

We want to be learners

of your Wisdom – the calm center that all is in your hands,

of your wisdom that is found in hard places and unwanted roads.

Can you show us, Christ our brother, what it is to be an apprentice? To submit to the slow rhythms of repeated practice? To gain the patient trust of a student in the safe presence of a patient teacher? Work our impatience like a piece of wood on a lathe, Christ who was raised by a carpenter.

Almighty God, you have engraved us on the palms of your hands; before a word is on our tongue, you know it completely.

But today, we are learners.

We need to discover the ways of your hands; we need to hear your words.

What we thought we knew has been swept away like sawdust. What we thought was certain has been uprooted. What we thought we had mastered has sent us back to the beginning, back with the beginner class, back to simple tasks.

Today, we are all learners.

I beseech thee, cleanse the intent of my heart with the unspeakable gift of thy grace.

Before we try to master this day, make the intent of our heart pure with the unspeakable gift of your grace:

give us the grace to be students again

and again

and again,

leaving by the roadside our desire to master, content to learn the shape of your grace

every day

each day that we’re alive

so that when we see you face to face

our hearts will know it’s you

and everything we thought we knew will be swept away like sawdust

in the presence of your joy and glory.

Michelle Bauer ~ Take Five: Quick Wisdom Under Pressure

Note from the Editor: In a cultural moment of stress, splintered attention, and upheaval, Michelle Bauer offers us a short, clarifying resource. Here are five daily meditations on wisdom, bite-sized and brief enough to fit between Zoom calls. Each contains a timely word of wisdom. Breathe these in during a moment of solitude, with housemates, or as a family.

Take Five to Listen

Scripture of the Day: “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance – for understanding proverbs and parables, the saying and riddles of the wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” – Proverbs 1: 5 – 7

Prayer: Lord, no matter where we are on the wisdom and discernment spectrum, we desire to gain more. Teach us to hold you and your kingdom in great respect as the foundation for wisdom. Amen.

Meditation: How well do you listen? 

Take Five to Tune In

Scripture of the Day: “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” – Proverbs 2: 6 – 8 

Prayer: Lord, in a world with many voices speaking at once, train our ears to hear your voice. Help us to recognize you as the ultimate source of wisdom. Amen.

Meditation: What “voices” do you need to turn the volume down on in order to hear God more clearly?

Take Five to Pursue Peace

Scripture of the Day: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” – Proverbs 3: 13 – 18    

Prayer: Lord, we long for peace. Help us to value wisdom as the path that leads to peace. Orient our hearts to seek you and your way over material gain and success. Amen.

Meditation: How have you attempted to find peace? What were the results?

Take Five to Walk Well

Scripture of the Day: “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” – Proverbs 4: 13 – 15; 18 – 19

Prayer: Lord, lead us into the light of your truth. Help us to see evil from a distance and turn back. Give us strength to submit to the goodness of your instruction in all things. Amen.

Meditation: In what situations are you tempted to let go of God’s instructions?

Take Five to Speak Life

Scripture of the Day: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. Hatred stirs up dissension but love covers over all wrongs.” – Proverbs 10: 11 – 12 

Prayer: Lord, our world needs us to be a source of life-giving words right now. Help us to be guided by love in our thoughts, actions, and social media posts. Amen.

Meditation: When have you received life from the words of another?

Karen Bates ~ Praying Power

Years ago when I joined Facebook, many Christians didn’t know what to make of the new social media platform. One of my mentors swore off Facebook, explaining to me the dangers of connecting with people through the Internet. She was trying to convince me that the platform had no redemptive value.

 “You can be friends with people you don’t even know. That is not safe,” she warned.  

She wasn’t the only one sounding alarms, but I was in graduate school and viewed it as a way to connect to people beyond the classroom.

After the “tsk, tsk, tsk,” my goal was to use social media for something more than looking at status updates and pictures. I started to pray for people on their birthdays, when they showed up randomly on my feed, or when they updated their statuses. I didn’t always tell them, but I prayed.

I love to pray. I do not always understand the mystery of prayer, but I know its power. I know from my own experiences and from what I have read in the Scriptures; talking to God is essential for me. It helps activate my faith, restores my hope when it wanes, and reminds me that God is always with me. 

In some of the darkest days of my life, I prayed for God to bring light to my situation. I can remember writing in my journal this wisdom from James 5:13a: “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray,” and then from Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Some days, I don’t always know the words to pray. When I was distressed in the middle of a difficult transition, I found consolation in what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

It was great comfort to me to know the Spirit was interceding on my behalf on days when I had prayed all the words I knew to pray.

When the photo app on my devices started providing collages of events and Facebook started providing memories, I was annoyed. Some of the pictures were good memories I wanted to relive; some of the memories included people and situations I wanted to forget.

“Really Facebook, a picture from when I played volleyball in seminary 13 years ago? Is there nothing more recent or flattering you have?”

However, I looked at the people in the pictures and wondered where they were and what they were doing. I couldn’t remember all of their names, but I remembered things about them. Some I looked up. Some I still knew because we were Facebook friends.

Then I wondered: what would happen if I began praying for the people who popped up in collages and memories? What would the prayers be — especially for the collages showing people I hadn’t spoken to in years?

I realized I could thank God for the seasons these people were in my life.

I could thank God for what they meant to me at that time and pray for healing in situations where our separations were less than amicable. What if I prayed for them in their current circumstances, or for whatever they are doing now?

I didn’t have to tell them. I could just pray. So I did, and I do.

I am from a lineage of praying people.

Many mornings, I would wake up to the rhythmic sound of my mother praying — crying out to God on behalf of people, places, and situations. She has a prayer room and a prayer wall. She puts up pictures of people she is praying for.

Rev. Arlene Bates prays over her great-great grandson, Dallas White, on the day of his birth.
Photo Credit: Tonyka Thomas

When my mother celebrated a milestone birthday last year, she prayed over each one of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And when her first great-great grandson was born mid-June, one of the first pictures to emerge was of her praying over him. He is the start of our family’s fifth living generation.

Often, my mother would take us to visit my maternal great-grandmother, Lelia Mincy White. My four sisters and I would scatter throughout the living room of the one-bedroom apartment while my mother and her grandmother would study Scriptures and pray. I remember one particular visit when my great-grandmother left the table and came into the living room. She laid her hands on each one of us and prayed over us.

When my great-grandmother died, she was found kneeling at her bedside, most likely praying.

After my maternal grandmother died, notebooks full of prayers she had written were shared. She prayed about many things in writing, but often reminded God about who he is and how much more powerful he is than a president, who at the time of one prayer, was messing up the economy.

I do not claim to know everything I need to know about praying. I don’t understand or know why some prayers are answered and seemingly, some aren’t. I don’t know why some answers come swiftly and some slowly.

But I do know that God hears and answers prayers. God allows people to pray for you even when you don’t know it. I’ve come to understand that even in my moments of doubt and questioning, God is still listening — and still answering prayers — and that God’s timing is perfect.

Justus Hunter ~ Promising the Mystery of Wisdom

Has the promise been fulfilled?

“You will eat in plenty and be satisfied.”

Has the promise been fulfilled?

“My people will never again be put to shame.”

Has the promise been fulfilled?

“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”

God fulfills his promises. We know this. But we often struggle to see how. Because the promises God makes and the promises we would like aren’t always the same. His wisdom is not ours.

My sons want me to build them a playhouse. So I’ve been sketching a few ideas, and we’ve been scavenging useful things around the neighborhood on trash days. I came up with a small 8×6 structure with a hinged wall that lifts into an awning for hot or rainy days. You’ll note a parent’s motivation here – even if it’s hot or wet, they can stay outside! I was proud of my design. But when I showed it to the boys, they looked it over and asked, “Where is the desk? Where do we sleep?”

My plans didn’t suit their purposes. There was a gap, a rupture between my plans and their goals. I had my wisdom, and they had theirs.

In today’s reading from I Corinthians 2, Paul also speaks of two wisdoms. There is the wisdom of this age and its rulers, and there is the wisdom of God. And because there are two wisdoms, when he came to Corinth, Paul refused to speak as if he were wise. “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom.” He decided to proclaim the mystery of God, but not in their words and according to their wisdom. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

This message, the very mystery of God, requires a suitable foundation. The wisdom of this age will not do. Why not? Because the wisdom of this age and its rulers is, in fact, no wisdom at all. As it turns out, the wisdom of this age is foolish, absurd, contradictory. Its conclusion is the crucifixion. “They crucified the Lord of Glory.” As the early church thinkers observed, such things are unthinkable. How can the Lord of Glory himself, the very one who gives all life, who is Life Itself, be crucified, and die?

But this is the very thing the wisdom of our age does: it goes on as if the absurd were true. It lives as if Life Itself could be crucified, and that be the end of it. It is wisdom that attempts to destroy the Son, who is true Wisdom.

This, friends, is the wisdom of our age. We hear it all around us. And sometimes we live it. We live it each time we imagine we can carve off some corner of our life, set it aside, keep it secret from our Lord of Glory. We crucify him from our plans, our hopes, our times, our loves. We absurdly imagine that he could remain in the tomb, apart from the promises of our own making.

But no eye has seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for our plans and hopes, our times and loves. No heart can conceive the promises of God. None, that is, except God himself. None except the very Spirit of God.

And so Joel prophecies, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh.” “You will eat and be satisfied.”

The promise is fulfilled. The wisdom of God, the Son himself, has come to us. He has come, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven. What else do you expect when the Lord of Glory is crucified?

The promise is fulfilled. The ascended Son pours out the Spirit. The Spirit has come. The Spirit that, “searches everything, even the depths of God” is shed abroad in our hearts. Thanks be to God, we have received the Spirit. And so, “we will eat and be satisfied.”

I’m redesigning the boys’ playhouse. I’m adding a multi-purpose bench; desk by day, bunk by night. And maybe, if I’m lucky, they can take a nap out there as well. But I’m leaving the hinged wall and awning. You see, I know the boys will enjoy it. Their eyes have not seen what I have planned for them. My wisdom is greater than theirs.

God has poured out the Spirit on all flesh. The Spirit is present. It is here. Just as Christ walked by the Spirit, so might we. And so might we have the mind of Christ, that mind which crucifies the wisdom of this age.

Make no mistake – something must die. There are two wisdoms. And no matter how well our wisdom imitates the Spirit’s – no matter how noble or well-intentioned our promises might be – no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.

And that very Spirit is offered us now, ready and eager to make bread and wine be for us the body and blood of Christ, poured out for us. Take and eat, friends. Receive the promises of God. Let them crucify your wisdom, the wisdom the Lord of Glory was crucified to take away, the wisdom the Spirit was poured out to overcome. Take. Eat. Be satisfied.

Otis T. McMillan ~ Deciding, Timing, and Leading

“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” – Proverbs 11:14

Seek godly counsel; it will provide safety. The wisdom of others can keep you from falling.

Decisions made today have the potential to impact many tomorrows. Wisdom instructs us to seek the godly counsel of others. Their insight can provide the direction that results in safety. Moving quickly without the aid of others can lead to a fall.

Have you ever regretted making a quick decision, finding yourself suffering the consequences? Before taking action, demonstrate patience and wisdom, and seek the counsel of others. Their words will leave you in a place of safety, avoiding an unnecessary fall. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” – Proverbs 3:6

We live in a world set in time and space and we are often limited in our discernment and perspective. We perceive a need and want it handled right away. The Lord’s timing is often not our own. Jesus sees and knows our needs. He knows far more than we do about how best to care for the world he created. He asks us to keep our eyes on him, bringing him our needs, and asking him to fulfill his purpose—in and for us, others, and the world—as we wait for him.

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” —Colossians 1:16-17

Jesus, we trust you to care for us and the things that concern us. Accomplish your purpose as we wait on you and pray in your name, amen.

Leading like Jesus isn’t meant to be a catchy slogan or an abstract philosophy. The focus of leading like Jesus is Jesus—the Servant of the Lord, the Son of God, our teacher and master. Like the first disciples, we have a living teacher, role model, and mentor. As we live in relationship with Jesus, he transforms us to be more like him. Where do you need to focus on Jesus so that you can be more like him in all you do?

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”—John 13:13-15

Jesus, keep our eyes on you—alive and well, working in and through us—as we move into this day. Make us more like you, in your name, amen.

JR Forasteros ~ Monday Messiah

This weekend’s sermon comes from Rev. JR Forasteros, Pastor of Catalyst Rowlett, a Nazarene congregation in Rowlett, Texas. This sermon plumbs John 1 and engages with the concept of the Trinity, in particular as the Second Person of the Trinity exists within the nature of God.

Find the sermon beginning at minute marker 20:50.


Note from the Editor: the featured image for this sermon is by Gustave Dore entitled “Jesus.”

Andy Stoddard ~ How to Get A Good Name

I really do love the book of Proverbs.  There’s just some really good stuff within this great book: wisdom that can help us live our lives in ways that are just so powerful and so good.

Ways that are just so true.  Listen to what we are told today in Proverbs 21: 1-2:

1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
2 The rich and the poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.

In this passage, we see what is truly priceless in the world.  Not power or wealth or status, but this.  A good name.  It is better than anything else you can have in all the world.

A good name is not for sale.  A good name doesn’t come from ill-gotten gain.  A good name speaks to who we are as people.  A good name is one of the few things that really does matter.

But how do we get a good name?  Verse two tells us.

We see in verse two where our worth comes from.  It comes from this fact: God is our maker.  He is the maker of the rich.  He is the maker of the poor.  He is the maker of us all.

Everyone matters.  Everyone is important.  Everyone is made in God’s image.  And Jesus died for everyone.

You have never met an unimportant person.  You have never met what C.S. Lewis calls a “mere mortal.”

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

God is the maker of us all.  Everyone matters.  Treat everyone like they are that sacred.  Because they are.  Treat everyone with the worth that they have. That’s how you get a priceless treasure.  That’s how you get a good name.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Aging & Keeping Covenant

“When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not!”
-Yoda, “The Empire Strikes Back”

For followers of Jesus Christ, aging comes as a season of compelling and vital new purpose.

Just what if there is extraordinary promise hidden in the age of doctors’ appointments, retirement, loss of loved ones and colleagues as well as physical challenges? What if aging doesn’t make you disposable, but rather indispensible? What if you ask Father, Son and Holy Spirit to sweep away the voices that call into question your relevance, your purpose and your gifts? What if you asked for grace to believe that God has a purpose for you, here, now?

There is great power in aging. The body may feel feeble; the soul may feel sapped of strength; but the accumulation of years is an extraordinary gift that can produce unimaginable impact – if wielded well. People often miss the power of their own age.

Sometimes we do not prepare ourselves for aging; we are uncomfortable, perhaps, thinking about the unknown, or fearing it. We fear a picture of aging that we paint for ourselves in which we look unrecognizable in the mirror, face an obsolete existence and are marginalized from the “real action” of living. But that great inspirer of John Wesley, Bishop Jeremy Taylor, counsels us: “let us prepare our minds against changes, always expecting them, that we be not surprised when they come.” Curiously, this excellent advice comes in the middle of his discussion on contentedness.

Let’s look at some lives that found profound purpose when they had reached profound age. These simple people found keeping covenant as an indispensable aspect of aging with purpose, on purpose. What priceless value there is in keeping covenant!

If you have a moment, read Genesis 17. Have you ever noticed that other than a general sketch of his extended family, where they settled, and whom he married, we do not get any stories of Abraham’s childhood or young adult years? Of all the great stories and colorful experiences that the book of Genesis tells us about Abraham, all that action picks up when he moves away in response to God’s promise at the age of 75.

God invites Abram into covenant by promising descendents – descendents that would outnumber the stars. This nation would inherit land; they would be blessed, and be a blessing, if they, too, chose to keep covenant with God; and from this nation would sprout the Messiah.

But for now, Abram is old, and he and Sarai have no children or grandchildren.

God establishes a covenant, full to the brim with promises, marks it by giving Abram and Sarai new names to reflect the coming reality of these promises, and commands Abraham to keep the covenant. Keeping the covenant, of course, doesn’t mean to avoid losing it, as you keep a receipt in your wallet. Keeping covenant is illustrated by the newly-reformed Ebenezer Scrooge’s promise to “keep Christmas” – to preserve, to maintain, to fulfill, to be faithful to.

Happily, we can skim ahead and see that Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Abraham did not get to skim ahead. Abraham kept covenant by acting on faith in a reality that was not yet: painfully so! He circumcised all the men of his household; he himself was circumcised before Sarah ever felt the fluttering of a baby in her womb; before he held his newborn son in his arms. He believed God’s promise that there was yet purpose in his age, and he acted on faith in God before he ever witnessed the screaming infant-proof.

This covenant between God and Abraham was vital, not just for Abraham’s self-interest in his desire to have a child, to have grandkids; this covenant was for the redemption of the world. And every generation had to decide for itself whether it would keep covenant with God, and we read those stories over and over again in the Old Testament.

How are you like Abraham? How are you like Sarah?

Keeping covenant may sometimes look a lot like Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline: fulfilling and maintaining the practices of our faith in life together. But keeping covenant has a richer dimension when it’s in the context of seasoned age, in the same way that marriage has a richer dimension at a 50th wedding anniversary. By the time you are “aged,” your faith has weathered many years; and because of the accumulated experiences of a lifetime, or the challenging experiences associated with aging itself, you may find your faith tired, or tested, or perhaps a bit brittle and cynical.

That is why, above and beyond the practice of personal faith, keeping covenant matters so much as you age: because there is the temptation not to. And your faithful keeping of the covenant, even through years of struggle, or deep loss, or physical pain, does not go unnoticed.

And now let’s look at a lesser-known pair of aged covenant-keepers: Lois and Eunice, found in 2 Timothy 1:3-7.

Paul’s words at the beginning of his letter to the young pastor Timothy are fascinating: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” While the writer of Hebrews reminds us that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,” Paul reminds Timothy of the covenant keepers in his own immediate family tree – Grandma Lois and Mama Eunice. Keeping faith – the kind that was “accounted” to Abraham for righteousness; the kind that inspired the hall of faith in Hebrews 11; keeping this covenant with God by faith made a difference in Timothy’s life. Because of those women Paul called out by name, Timothy witnessed the faith of covenant-keepers. And when Timothy decided also to keep faith, he ministered to bodies of believers in the early church. And to encourage him in ministry, Paul wrote to him, and we have these letters to inspire, guide and encourage our own faith today. That’s right: Grandma Lois’ faithfulness in keeping covenant got a shout-out in the Bible.

Your children, your children’s children, or your nieces and nephews – they witness the ways you keep covenant with God and with the church.

There is a kind woman named Eleanor who lives in the Midwest. She quietly keeps covenant – living a life infused with prayer and a gentle love of Scripture. And when she was in her 70’s, she decided to become a youth group sponsor. That’s right! She stayed up with the youth at all-night lock-ins. She went spelunking in caves with them on their camping trip. Instead of being with the adults during Wednesday night services, she sat and met with the youth group, occasionally offering comment or reflection. Her life uncovered one of the secrets of aging with purpose: keeping covenant. And in a time in which technology moves at lightning pace, the church is called to practice counter-cultural values of celebrating the value of ordinary, everyday covenant keepers, especially those seasoned with age.

So how can you renew your vision of yourself as a valued, valuable covenant-keeper?

Let’s consider engaging in what may seem a rather surprising suggestion. In order to refresh and renew your sense of purpose in aging; in order to reflect on your own role as a covenant keeper, and the value of simply not giving up; in order to embrace God’s covenant with you; in order to remind yourself regularly of God’s promises – what if you celebrated Holy Communion weekly?

It is in the ritual of the Lord’s Supper, after all, that God’s offer of covenant through Jesus Christ is acted out, regularly receiving the promise of the new covenant: “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20). As Bishop Jeremy Taylor described long ago: “it is sufficient to thee that Christ shall be present to thy soul as an instrument of grace, as a pledge of the resurrection, as the earnest [guarantee] of glory and immortality, and a means of many blessings, even all such as are necessary for thee, and are in order to thy salvation.”

And remember this wisdom that Taylor wrote and Wesley read: “for that life is not best which is longest: and when they are descended into the grave it shall not be inquired how long they have lived, but how well.”

May you keep the covenant well.

Cole Bodkin ~ Scars of Wisdom

“What kind of advice can I offer you? I’m younger than you.”

My friend’s reflection resonates with many younger folks in ministry. In essence it asks, “Can young people offer wisdom to those who are (much) older than themselves?” That question haunts many young pastors and ministers as they wrestle with their vocation. Whether or not Timothy was in his mid-twenties or early thirties (some think he was in his forties), this age demographic clings onto 1 Timothy 4:12 with their dear life. I find myself in this lot, too. In addition to Timothy’s exhortation, we might also encourage one another that (s)he is seminary trained, and therefore has acquired a particular knowledge in biblical interpretation or other skill sets which have helped equip us for the challenge and task that lies before us.

But what about wisdom?

In college, I remember one of my professors inviting our class to brainstorm and define wisdom. We differentiated between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge was reduced to acquired information, facts, or skills, whereas wisdom appeared to be a type of knowledge that was acquired mostly through experience. We collegians might have knowledge, but the people with white or gray hair were usually the ones who had acquired wisdom.

But can one with little or no white hair impart wisdom to the one whose head is full of it?

As I inch towards 30, I am not as terrified about aging as many of my contemporaries. I know that though my body may be wasting away, inwardly I’m being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16). I no longer possess the 18-year old physique. If I play an hour of basketball, I’m sore for three days.

Nevertheless, I’m getting to know the Lord more day by day. I’m learning that as I progress down this path of life, my journey of experiences is helping shape me into one who possesses more wisdom. Moreover, I’m discovering that wisdom can often be found near scars.

Growing up, I played competitive basketball throughout the year. I was prone to injuring my face. After a few trips to the hospital (broken nose, two busted eyes, busted cheek, and chin), my dad told me, “Cole, I think you are putting your face in the wrong places.” He put into words what I was becoming all too aware of through my experiences.

One of the injuries that I acquired was in the 7th grade county championship game. I was going after a ball full steam and a guy fouled me resulting in my chin slamming against the hardwood. I experienced a little pain, then placed my hand under my chin to find my hand covered in blood. This required a few stitches, and a scar formed underneath my chin. Surprisingly, as I progressed in age, no hair would grow out of the scar. Sporting a beard for the past several years, there have been more than a few occasions in which someone points out the “bald” spot. I, then, rehash the story. But over the past year, I’ve noticed something else taking place: as white hairs are starting to be sprinkled into my auburn hair, a patch of white has begun to form near the scar.

This white patch in the midst of a scar has led me to reflect on wisdom. As we live life and run full speed, we are going to be fouled by this lost and broken world. It might result in pain or hurt, but if you take yourself to the Doctor there will be healing. Scars will form. If true healing sets in, you will forgive, but you won’t forget.

When I first learned about how deaf persons sign Jesus Christ, I cried. They put their pointer finger into the middle of the palms of each hand going back and forth from one hand to the other. The symbolic gesture is hugely important, because it highlights that the risen, glorified Savior decided to reveal himself to his disciples by showing them his hands and his side, i.e., his scars (see John 20). The resurrected Lord is the crucified Lord, the one who went to the cross in order that we might have life. His scars do not disappear despite being in a glorified state.

But there’s more. Jesus, Wisdom incarnate, commissions his followers with this threefold mandate in John 20:19-23:

1) As the Father sends me, so I send you;

2) Receive the Holy Spirit;

3) Forgive sins and they will be forgiven; retain them and they will be retained.

The Lord is commissioning us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to go out into the lost and broken world whereby we will surely incur hurtful wounds and subsequent scars. In those places, we will be able to share the sufferings (Phil 3:10-11) and forgiveness of the Crucified One, and with Paul say, “ I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Through time and faithfulness to the Lord, you may also be able to share Paul’s words, potentially to those who look down their noses at your age, and say “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the scars of Jesus” (Gal 6:17; cf. 2 Cor 6:4–6; 11:23–30).

Brother and sisters, may we bear the marks of Christ and share the loving forgiveness of the Crucified One, and in doing so grow in wisdom and stature.