Information Overload

One of my memorable Christmas gifts as a child was a thick paperback book called the Information Please Almanac. My grandparents gave it to me. I spent many hours reading about the population of major world cities, rainfall averages, and which method of capital punishment was used by each state. Did you know Utah used to give a condemned prisoner a choice between hanging and shooting?

I’ve always been an information sponge, especially with numbers. In recent years I’ve been fascinated by Euler’s number, eΠi, a formula which equals -1. I won’t even try to explain it here–which I can’t do without a lot of help anyway. Charles Edward White describes it this way:

The idea that these two irrational numbers should combine with an imaginary one to yield so utilitarian a result is breathtaking. It is like deconstructing a chemical necessary for life (salt) and finding that it consists of two deadly poisons (sodium and chlorine). That these three strange numbers with such diverse origins should work together to produce a result so basic to mathematics argues that there is a profound elegance or beauty built into the system.

The discovery of this number gave mathematicians the same sense of delight and wonder that would come from the discovery that three broken pieces of pottery, each made in different countries, could be fitted together to make a perfect sphere. It seemed to argue that there was a plan where no plan should be.

Because of the serendipitous elegance of this formula, a mathematics professor at MIT, an atheist, once wrote this formula on the blackboard, saying, “There is no God, but if there were, this formula would be proof of his existence.” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/march/26.44.html)

The only thing I can say to that is WOW! I’ve been saying “wow” my whole life. I’ve become a collector of information–especially books and articles. My filing cabinets are jammed with papers. Downsizing my library has been very painful as space has become a problem in the last decade or so.

I just passed a milestone birthday and now there’s a new limitation on the horizon–time. Over the years I’ve picked up books and lied to myself, “I’ll read it down the road when I need it.” Some of those books are still unread. Now for the first time I’ve begun to face reality. There isn’t enough time left to meaningfully read all the unread books on my shelves. Usually I have two or three going at the same time, but there are too many books–or too little time.

This week I passed out Christmas gifts to our congregation. Mostly books, of course. Through the year I’d picked up several sales and favorite authors to give away. One of the men alerted me to what was happening when he jokingly said I was giving him a library–and he didn’t even receive the most. I actually gave one man six books for Christmas this year. Really, do I expect him to read them all? It’s a burden.

Here are some lessons I need to learn. Perhaps they will help you, too.

  1. Downsizing is good. It has been really painful to give away large numbers of my books, but I really haven’t missed most of them. Occasionally I’ve longed for one in a time of need, but usually I can google the quote I want and find it online. It has been painful to move into a much smaller house, but it’s turned out for the good. Too much stuff is bad. It makes us materialists.
  2. Prioritizing is good. We are finite creatures with finite space, finite time, and a finite ability to absorb information or develop skills. I’m not going to be able to read all my books I want to read. Instead I’ll pick which ones to read and not read. I’m never going to play the piano again as well as I did 30 years ago. But that’s OK. I can still enjoy music.
  3. Serving is good. Too much reading takes time away from serving others. We can’t both read and serve at the same time. In reality, serving doesn’t require a lot of information, just a servant’s heart. A servant’s heart is much more valuable than information. And you can’t get a servant’s heard from reading a book. Well, maybe one Book.

Christmas Newsletters

We just finished preparing our 2015 Christmas newsletter. We send them to about 200 people, some in email, others in snail-mail. In return we receive perhaps a couple dozen newsletters and many more cards and notes.

It’s a busy time of year, but I still appreciate hearing from old friends. For many of them, it’s the only time we communicate. Every year we hear about the joys experienced in some families and the painful trials experienced in others. Last year we received one newsletter about a tragic accidental death of a granddaughter. I kept that paper in my desk drawer and prayed for the family often throughout the year. I never told them I was doing that. I’m sure 2015 was a hard year for them.

Every year a few letters come back in the mail as undeliverable. Some people have died. Others have moved. We haven’t had one refused yet, but there’s always a first time. If I knew how to post our newsletter here, I would. For those who might be interested, I’ll provide the link to our church website. There must be a way to include this on the menu to the right, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. Here’s the link: http://www.newlifecma.com.

If you’re reading this blog and we haven’t met, I’d enjoy hearing your story, too. Thanks for sharing. Whether your circumstances are hard or easy right now, may the Lord grant you a joyful Christmas and a blessed New Year in 2016.

 

Peace on Earth? Remix

Are we there yet? Is there peace on earth? It seems not. Editorials and the blogosphere are buzzing today with debate about closing the American borders to Muslim immigrants while politicians sort out a reliable vetting process for displaced refugees who desperately need an open door to a place they can call home. The concern, of course, is terrorism. Some would frame this debate as compassion versus fear. Others would frame it as security versus infiltration. Either way, it doesn’t reflect peace on earth this Christmas.

Terrorism may dominate the news these days, but it’s not the only obstacle to peace on earth. If we’re ever going to experience peace on earth, we must succeed in four areas:

  1. World peace, which addresses ideological or random violence targeted against strangers, especially nation versus nation
  2. Local peace, which addresses relational dissonance orchestrated against family or neighbors, especially person versus person
  3. Inner peace, which addresses unsettled brokenness within from remorse, anxiety and fear, primarily self versus problems
  4. Spiritual peace, which addresses the silent emptiness from heaven, the gap between people and God

The fourth area can be a stumbling block to some because it seems to many people that God (if he even exists) is indifference to the world situation. At least, God seems slow to bring about peace on earth.

Breaking that silence comes the angelic proclamation at Christmas: “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, goodwill to men.” (Luke 2:14)

Just before Jesus died, he promised peace to his followers: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14:27)

The world offers peace by striving first for world peace, then working toward local peace and possibly inner peace. Spiritual peace isn’t even in the equation. It’s optional at best and is subjugated by a pluralistic culture.

Jesus offers peace by beginning with spiritual peace. Everything else grows from that. Spiritual peace produces inner peace, which produces local peace. World peace isn’t even in the equation. It won’t be fully established until the coming of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

Jesus’ life was sandwich by peace. His birth was heralded with a proclamation of peace. His death was accompanied with a promise of peace.

It begins with spiritual peace–peace with God. We need that peace more than ever this Christmas.

Peace on Earth?

The news this week reminds us that violence is creeping closer to home and growing. Terrorism is no longer just a Middle East problem or a developing third world prob­lem. It’s an American reality. This past Wednesday a terror attack killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California.  Last weekend a gunman murdered three people at a clinic in Colorado Springs. Acts of violence are so common in our country that we’ve lost count. Churches are not exempt. Back on June 17th a man shot and killed, in cold blood, nine peaceful people gathered for a Bible study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, church.

The news media is overrun with stories about violence. Politicians are pointing fingers at one another. Experts are waxing eloquent as the evil escalates. Meanwhile, it’s Christmas season again whether we’re ready or not. Perhaps we’re not as ready as we’d like to be.

The angels proclaimed “peace on earth” when Jesus was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago (Luke 2:14). Jesus promised to leave peace with his followers just before he died (John 14:27). The Savior’s life is sandwiched with promises of peace at his birth and death. But where is it? Peace is missing and the world can’t seem to find it. We’ll talk about peace on earth this month at New Life Church.