Specific Application vs. Overall Principles
Let me tell you a story that I heard a few years ago. I don’t remember all the gory details but the gist is still important.
A few years ago US AID which is a US agency to aid in the development of 3rd world countries focused their attention on a small and beautiful island off the coast of Africa. One of the areas they focused their attention on was the local farmers. There were no cattle indigenous to the area which means natural to the area and so the US AID people decided that it would be very conducive to import large amounts of cattle to aid the local farmers in plowing their fields. Naturally tractors would be easier, but that cost too much and there really wasn’t the infrastructure to start the local Capitol Toyota Tractor Dealership. What with all the parts and service, not to mention that nobody on the island could drive, much less afford the Twin cam, dual overhead, fuel injector Tractors with airbags. So they imported cows.
Now the cows were very popular and started being used right away as transportation on the roads and in the fields, in bullock carts and the lot. Now there was unfortunately a side effect to all this. As a result of all the cows there turned out to be a lot of cow dung all over the place. Now the local bugs would take weeks to process the cow dung and it would just sit around in a very unsightly mess getting under foot, if you know what I mean. So the USAID team said you know what we need is dung beetles. Because you see the island had no dung beetles, these are the beetles that break down the dung so it can be used for other purposes. Well the USAID team brought in entire colonies of dung beetles to deal with this problem. And the problem seemed to start being solved.
Now the local frog population thought they’d died and gone to heaven. It turned out that dung beetles a la carte tasted just terrific to the frogs so what they’d do is find themselves a nice cow patty and wait around. The dung beetle would poke it’s head out to survey his handiwork and whammo the frog would have lunch. Well after a while the frog population started to blossom and the cow patty problem hadn’t been solved. So a genius at HQ said, hey what we need is African Dung Beetles. Now African Dung Beetles are the hughest most scariest things around. They have razor sharp pincers and are built like tanks. They’ll be able to defend themselves against the frogs.
So they went and shipped a few zillion of these African dung beetles. Now when the frogs swallowed up the African dung beetles, the beetles would simple cut themselves right out of the frog’s bellies with their pincers.
So after a while the problems seemed to be solved because the dung seemed to be being broken down very effectively by the beetles.
But then they started noticing another problem. Apparently the lizard population started getting out of control. I mean there were lizards all over the place. In the homes, in the shops, in the restaurants. All over the place. And they couldn’t figure it out. Then someone hit upon the cause. The frogs hadn’t figured out that eating this African Dung beetles was a bad thing, so the frog population started to die out. Immediately all the bugs that were normally eaten by the frogs started to multiply because one of their main predators weren’t around anymore. The increase in the bugs delighted the lizards who now had twice as much to eat and this of course resulted in the lizard population multiplying uncontrollably.
The last thing that I read is that they were parachuting cats onto the island to eat the lizards.
A lot of the time we come to Church wanting a specific application or a specific solution to our everyday problems. But the problem here is if we were to try and address each of these specific needs, obviously when we were addressing one person’s needs, another person may say, well, I don’t need to know that. Or I already know that, or I will never be in that situation and not care about it. Or sometimes they may say “I tried that and it didn’t work.” Thus while addressing specifics when it comes to witnessing or dealing with theology or Christian beliefs are important and useful, addressing specifics when it comes to dealing with the general everyday problems may or may not necessarily be applicable to everyone.
The second problem with addressing quote unquote the “right way to handle any situation” or the “right way to go through life” is that I can’t say that I or Phil are really qualified to present to you the “How to of Life”. First we may have less than 1 or two years more if any of experience in dealing with people than you do, and secondly I can’t say that either Phil or I are uniquely gifted in the “be all things to all people” make everybody love us category, nor have we both managed to solve all of life’s problems. Thus while we may at times feel qualified to talk about a specific situation it is not always going to be the right thing to do.
The third aspect of this is the fact that we in society tend to want quick answers to solve quick problems and we never stop to think about the scope of the entire problem. Just like on the island, each of the solutions only addressed a specific symptom. No one had stopped to understand the scope of the entire problem. No one had stopped to comprehend what the entire solution was. No one had stopped to fix the system at the top, if it needed fixing at all that is.
It is the entire solution that we attempt to deal with here. Not only specifics but long term solutions.
It is not enough for us to only teach you how to respond to specific cults, because tomorrow a new cult will emerge. It is essential then that we also teach you the truth and how the truth affects ALL things. It is not enough for us to teach you specifics in isolation, we must attempt to teach the big picture.
Teaching someone how to get through a certain hard time in their life, as I’ve said before it requires that the teacher, in this case Phil or me to have experienced that pain or that trauma. But whose to say that if and when we did experience that trauma that we handled it correctly, or that we ever went back and correctly analyzed it and decided how we should handle if it ever happens to us again.
However, if we are able to teach you the very fundamentals of Theology, the very fundamentals of the Nature of the Creator, the very fundamentals of life as taught in the Bible, then if you using your God given skills and talents were to build upon that foundation, you would then be able to not only prepare for the situations that we have experienced but you would also be able to prepare for the situations that no one could ever envision.
Let me explain in detail.
Two weeks ago we talked about Why God created us. That is, what is our purpose for existence. Last year almost to the day we talked about the Sovereignty of God. How God controls everything. And how there is nothing in this world that happens that was not either expressly ordained by Him or allowed by Him. And at the end of the series someone asked. What I want to know is how is this relevant to me? How does God’s Sovereignty or my predestination affect me today? How does this change how I feel when I wake up in the morning crying?
Well, let’s say that you are right now going through the horrible experience of having lost your job. You are looking at your life and saying. Why God why? Why did you let this happen to me? Why me?
Well let me ask you this. If you understand that God is in control, and I don’t mean just giving it lip service. I mean that you really really have a heart wrenching knowledge that is seared in your mind about the Sovereignty of God, that is seared into your soul like the read hot brand of an iron.
How much can you really worry? I mean how much can you really worry. If you know that, you know that you know, that God is in control, can you honestly worry as much?
If you know that your Chief purpose in life is to Glorify God, can you sit back and say, does it matter that I only get a job in my field. Or does it matter that God knows what He is doing and perhaps it’s time for me to learn something. Perhaps God wants me in ministry and this is the way he has chooses to slap some sense into me. Perhaps He wants me to get a job at MacDonalds, while I spend the rest of my time serving Him in the church. Do you see what I am saying?
Once you get a grip on the big picture, can it fail to help you to understand the day to day things. Sure you may still get depressed, sure it may take a while to snap out of it. Sure there is still pain. But do you see how the fact that you now have a purpose in life can change your entire outlook on life.
If you understand the nature of God, can it help you deal better with people at work? Of course it can. When people are mean and unfair to you are you more liable to strike back, or knowing that God is in control are you more likely to look for ways to Glorify Him. Now that is not to say that if you hate your job you should not seek to change it. But it does mean that you should be able to leave some of the worry to the Sovereign Lord. And come to Him with prayers and supplication.
Two weeks ago we started on this series and for the next few weeks we shall be talking about Desiring God. A lot of it is esoteric. But you see we are trying to do far more than help you to get by today. We are trying to help you mold your entire philosophy of life.
During WW2, they tell us that the number of psychiatric treatments went down amazingly. Now that’s not to say that there still weren’t mental patients. But the average number of people who sought out counseling for depression or who were having trouble with life in general went down tremendously. Why? Because for the first time in about 25 years everybody in the country had a goal, a mission, purpose, a philosophy of life. Free the world from Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito. They had a purpose in life. They knew what their philosophy was. The big picture was clear. It helped sort out the little picture. It put things in perspective. It allowed you to sort out and prioritize the little things with regard to the overall goal. It made the priorities clear
If you knew without doubt what your purpose in life was, how much less likely would you be affected by some stupid remark that some stupid uncaring person said accidentally in passing. You wouldn’t care. Why? Because you had a higher calling, a higher purpose, and if the people around here weren’t going to join you in your purpose, you sure weren’t going to let them pull you down with them.
And that is why we are teaching this stuff. That is why it is so important firstly to define why you exist. And not only define, but for us all to believe that, to make that part of our waking up and sleeping, like breathing out and breathing in. Until it becomes one with our very very fiber. Until it defines our existence.
Why do you exist? I exist to bring glory to my Creator. That defines why I move, why I breathe, why I eat. Guess what, things start to come into better perspective when that happens.
Now we all know that this is reality and life is still tough and just because you know why you exist, it doesn’t mean that life becomes easy. No, I never said life becomes easy. I just said that now you are more able to direct your life and withstand that pain or that confusion that you will run into.
You want to know how to apply this tomorrow. Every time you are confused about what to do, ask yourself. How can I ensure that God is glorified in this situation?
Hopefully some of you by now are smiling. You are smiling because I just asked you to change a behaviour. And now that sounds easy enough, but you and I are realists.
Because we know that that is not going to happen. Because that behavior change is very very hard.
But wait, here’s another reality check. It’s not only hard to do, but it can be impossible to do. And what’s worse even if you were amazingly conscientious such that anytime you got into a tough situation you were actually cognizant to ask yourself that question every time. But here’s the problem. Would you know the answer? Every time?
No of course not, how could you know the answer. How could you know what God would have you do? Unless….unless you knew the nature of God.
It is not sufficient to say, I’ll do the best thing for everyone concerned. Because that may not be the right answer. The best thing for every one concerned may well be to take your spear and peg the violator of the law to the ground like Phinehas son of Eleazar did in Numbers 25:7. Now I seriously doubt that God would ask you to do such a thing today. But how do you discern the right thing to do. How do you discern the right thing to do and think, when you, as some of the people here in this room have done, go through the agonizing trauma of divorce and of a broken family.
Num. 25:7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them –through the Israelite and into the woman’s body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
How do you respond to the heresy of the Rabbi Kushner’s who say that God is helpless in his heavens wishing that He could have stopped it, wringing his hands as Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people and mediocre things happen to short people. How do you say: No that’s garbage. God has absolute power. He decides what will happen, he controls where the Sparrow lands, he controls the fate of his creation. He is Sovereign. Praise God in this pain, praise God in this agony, praise God in this trauma and then be able to say. What O God would you have me learn? Who O God would you have me become? Where O God would you have me go?
The only way you can do that is if you know the will of God, if you know the heart of God, if you know the very nature and desires of The Lord God Almighty.
We aren’t here to teach you quick fixes, we aren’t here to try and tell you that you need to parachute cats in to reduce the lizard population. We are here to give you the very building blocks of the entire philosophy of your life. After we speak here, don’t go home and only say, how does this affect me at work tomorrow. Don’t think so small. Go home today and say, how does this change my entire life. How is my entire concept of life affected by this? How does change my being?
Give me a fish and I eat for a day, teach me to fish and I eat for the rest of my life. Let me add to that, teach me about the very nature of fish and I will take what you say, take those building blocks and adapt it to my life, to my circumstances, to my talents and I will start a fish farm and feed not only me, not only my family, but my entire village, forever.
Today I learn the nature of God, tomorrow I change my life, the day after that … I change the world.
In conclusion on this issue of what and why we teach.
Remember I said. You want to know how to apply this tomorrow. Well every time you are confused about what to do, ask yourself. How can I ensure that God is glorified in this situation?
Then I said, Hopefully some of you by now are smiling. You are smiling because I just asked you to change a behaviour. And now that sounds easy enough, but you and I are realists.
Because we know that that is not going to happen. Because behavior change is very very hard.
It is, let’s be realistic. It is not possible to effect change in you or me in one talk. Remember the talks I gave on encouragement. Remember the urging I gave you. I said, go be encouragers. Now let’s be truthful. How many of you changed your entire life and went from nay-sayers to yeah sayers in one day? How many of us here changed our philosophy of life? Sure, some of us went out and for the rest of the day we were encouragers. Some of us managed to be encouragers for 5 whole days. But let’s be realistic. I’m not idealistic. You shouldn’t be either. How many of us who weren’t previously encouragers became ones. If even one of us did, that would be great.
Does that mean that it was all to waste? It may well have been. But what if I, did what Jerry Boutry who used to teach the college class in bygone years did ? What if I were to every week, pound the same fact into you. What if I kept hitting it day in and day out, if I were able to do so without alienating or boring every one of you. If I kept coming back to it. If I kept encouraging you about being encouragers.
How many more of us would find ourselves being much more of encouragers than discouragers? And in fact would not even I become more of an encourager myself. Because in the 10-18 hours it takes me to prepare a talk, I’d get inundated by the Word and the concepts and the knowledge that I would be so much more conscientious of it. And God would use it in my life and make it so much more a part of me and who I was.
We need to emphasize and re-emphasize key issues. Until it is a part of your fiber. The problem is how do we do it and not chase you away. How do we do it and not bore you? That then is the real challenge.
Now all this is not to say that we won’t teach specifics, that is not to say that we won’t address individual issues. But when we do do that, we can only do that within the sphere of our experience, within the sphere of our knowledge, within the sphere of our ability. We will occasionally address specifics. And in fact if there are some specific issues that you are concerned about, come talk to me.
But as to our major goal: It is not to only change your behavior, it is to change your philosophy of life, it is to change your very reason for existence. From man centered to God centered. And that in effect is to go from a quick fix to a practical logical longterm solution.