On Alert — A Reprise


I thought I understood what “be on the alert” meant, but I now realize I’ve been nearly clueless. Recently I’ve had a crash course because I’ve had to deal with a little unpleasantness.

For the second year in a row, I’ve been faced with an infestation of earwigs. According to all the sources I’ve checked, they are relatively harmless to humans. They don’t carry disease and, contrary to the myth associated with them, they don’t crawl into people’s ears and burrow into their brains. They do have a pair of forceps pincers on their abdomen, and I can attest to the fact that they know how to use them. But apparently their pinch causes only temporary discomfort.

The worst thing about them, for me, was their sudden appearance. I’d sit down for dinner and an earwig would scurry out from under the placemat. I’d open my napkin, and an earwig would be clinging to the cloth. I’d go to wash my hands or take a shower or do the dishes, and earwigs would zip around the sink or tub. Twice there were earwigs in with the bread, and I just recently found one in the refrigerator. Worst, perhaps, they’ve been in my covers and yes, in a few articles of clothing.

At first all these sudden appearances were frightening, and I’d jump from my seat, heart racing, and in my panic flick away the skittish things. I’d spend the next moments trying to find them again to kill them, and failing to do that, I’d spray insecticide to try and destroy anyway.

This second year enduring them, I’ve learned a thing or two. I no longer unfurl my napkin without a second thought. I don’t pick up the dishcloth without first looking on the underside to see if an earwig is clinging to it. In truth, for the first time in my life, I’m on the alert in my home. I’m watchful, careful, willing to take the time to inspect the bottoms of plates and bowls before depositing them where they should go.

In spite of all my care, they can still surprise me. The one in the refrigerator certainly did–I wasn’t on the alert for one there. Once, after thoroughly cleaning off the kitchen counter top in an effort to track down one that scurried under the microwave, I reached for a sponge to rinse off the household cleaning spray, and, you guessed it, found an earwig hugging the bottom. It was the one place I hadn’t looked.

I’ll be honest. I don’t like having to be on the alert in my own home. I want to relax and not have to worry about bugs popping out at inauspicious times. But I’d rather be on the alert and get those earwigs before they get me.

Imagine if those earwigs were actually as dangerous as they look (I’m convinced they belong in the same family as scorpions). How much more important vigilance would be!

Scripture tells the believer, on several occasions, that we are to be on the alert.

“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert” (Act 20:29-31a).

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1 Cor. 16:13).

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert (Eph. 6:18a).

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8).

I’m beginning to understand, being alert is more than doing a heads up. Being alert means doing your homework and knowing what you’re up against, studying the habits of the enemy, and staying ever watchful. Not letting down your guard, even when you think you ought to be safe (surely, not in the refrigerator! 😮 )

I also notice that the metaphors used to help us grasp what we’re up against aren’t comparing our spiritual enemy to a little bug that causes discomfort.

Rather, our enemy is a roaring lion, aiming to devour. Think Nature Channel or PBS and those shows about wildlife in Africa, with a lion lurking, lurking in the tall grass, ready to spring on the unsuspecting gazelle at the back of the herd.

Or our enemy is a savage wolf, right in among the sheep. Paul didn’t need to tell the Christians in the first century that wolves eat sheep.

In other words, our spiritual lives are at stake. Perhaps its time to start checking in all the dark and damp cracks where earwigs, er, where the enemy of our soul might be prowling.

Happily, this article first appeared here in May 2013 and does not identify a current bug problem! Our apartment building management has invested in an extermination service which makes all the difference. It strikes me just now that perhaps God’s word is our spiritual exterminator.

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Published in: on February 7, 2018 at 5:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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Believing The First Narrative


red flag warningI think most people are trusting. Maybe too trusting. Chances are, unless we have some prior knowledge that would lead us to doubt or discount what someone says, we are apt to believe the first person who tells us about an event or gives us their opinion.

I saw a TV show the other night. A medical professional saw suspicious signs of abuse on a young patient from a juvenile facility. Red flags went up. She questioned the boy and heard his tale of being mistreated—purposefully denied hydration, disciplined by being burned with cigarettes, and more. She informed the authorities who called in the person in charge.

His story was quite different. This was a troubled teen who was lying, hurting himself. But without further evidence, no action could be taken on either side. Yet, the medical professional continued to believe the patient . . . until physical evidence proved he was in fact lying.

Most people, I think, have some level of trust. Someone comes to the door selling candy for a school fund raiser. Chances are, most of us don’t think this is actually a serial killer or some form of con artist.

Conversely, when the news program we watch regularly reports that there are email scams going around and we shouldn’t send money to people contacting us for financial help, we are most likely going to be suspicious of email asking us for money. On one side are the friendly faces of the news reporters we see day in and day out, and on the other, an anonymous person who says he needs help.

I have no problem deleting those emails. Those are the scams the news warned me against. Probably. I’ll never know for sure. I’ve believed the first narrative I heard and acted accordingly.

Others, however, believed the narrative that someone was in great need of help, and in fact, they would be repaid for their kindness. That was the first narrative they heard. They wanted to help and they wanted to make a little money in the process. So they emptied their bank account, and lost everything.

Another group of people have lost to scam artists that present a more respectable front. Take those who lost so much in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal back in 2008. Or how about the Fanny Mae fiasco: “In December 2011, the SEC brought a civil suit charging three former top executives with securities fraud for misleading investors about the extent of the mortgage giant’s holdings of higher-risk mortgage loans during the financial crisis.” (Forbes)

Understandably, investors believed the people they were hiring to handle their gambl speculatio capital venture. But a set of ciminals took advantage of that trust and bilked the investors of millions.

Believing narratives is critical in other areas, too. Take politics, for instance. In 2010 independently wealthy Meg Whitman ran for the governorship of California. Her campaign looked promising, until the first attack ads accused her of trying to buy the election. In contrast, independently wealthy Donald Trump has proudly exclaimed that he is funding his own campaign without the help of financial backing so that he doesn’t owe anyone any favors.

In one case, the opponents wrote the narrative, and in the other, the candidate got ahead of the issue by telling a different story. In each case, the public seems to have believed the first story released.

This tactic is a favorite of Donald Trump’s. For instance, he said in a televised debate that Jeb Bush was weak, and every time the former Florida governor spoke, Mr. Trump made faces or mocked him or repeated the accusation. He gave no facts, produced no evidence, but the charge was picked up by news analysts and stayed with Mr. Bush for weeks afterward, if not until the end of his campaign.

The fact is, however, that people have agendas. The kid trying to sell candy has an upfront agenda which he announces in his first sentence or two. Other people, however, have layered agendas. The investment scammers, for instance, did want people to give them their money to invest, but they also wanted to cheat those people out of that money. They needed to come across as believable and trustworthy when in fact they were the opposite.

So what?

The Bible has clear counsel for the believer. We are to be on the alert. We have wolves in sheep’s clothing who would fool even the elect if they could. We have an enemy prowling around like a roaring line. We have spiritual forces that come against us, that require spiritual armor. Woven throughout other counsel for handling such conflict is the command to be alert.

This idea, according to the Oxford American Dictionary, means we are to be “quick to notice any unusual and potentially dangerous or difficult circumstances; vigilant.” It also has a second connotation: we are to be “able to think clearly; intellectually active.” Being alert, then, requires critical thinking.

A companion word might be discernment. If we are to be alert we must discern what is a true threat and what is simply true. We are to “keep our thinking caps on,” as one of my old teachers would say. Our job is to pay attention and to evaluate so we can spot error.

In truth, if we are to be alert we must be willing to question those first narratives, even when they come from friendly news anchors we watch day in and day out. We can like them. We can laugh at their jokes and ooohh and aahh at the same baby Panda video that they do. But we still need to be alert when they present a narrative for us to believe.

Often times we hear a narrative from an unofficial source first. A neighbor shot a video and gives it to the news. The snippet played on TV suggests an unprovoked attack by one person. Later when the investigation is complete, however, a different story emerges. But some people refuse to believe the official version of what happened. Why? Because they trusted the first narrative. They believed what their friends the news reporters showed them that first night.

Some of those folks might even become conspiracy theorists, thinking that the second narrative has been invented to cover up the “obvious” facts. No amount of proof can move people who have been convinced by the first narrative.

I think Christians should be alert and therefore should learn to question. Not that we should become skeptics, but we should develop a realistic view of the world. The fact is, those who do not believe in Jesus as God’s Son sent to save sinners, will see the world in a vastly different way than do Christians.

In addition, people running for office want our vote and sometimes our donations. People on TV want us to keep watching their program or their network. They may also want us to see the world as they see it. They may assume we have the same values as they do.

If we realize these things, we can simply agree or disagree. We can turn the channel or read a book. We can smile and say no, my values are different. Or we can say, That makes sense; I’d like to learn more.

What we must avoid is mindlessly repeating as truth what we heard from someone else without any investigation on our part. That’s the opposite of being alert. That’s closer to giving ourselves over to brainwashing.

Being Ready


10_virgins_Parable1I’m off next week to speak at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference, and this week have spent a good amount of time getting ready. There were things to buy, things to run off, things to pack, things to arrange, things to plan. Not the least of all these are blog posts to schedule. Next week will be a line up of “pre-posted posts,” sort of like “pre-owned books” (instead of used books) or “pre-owned clothing” (instead of hand-me-downs). Hopefully they haven’t seen their best days and visitors here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction can still get some use out of them.

All this fervent effort to get ready to go has made me mindful of Scriptural admonitions to Christians to be ready for Christ’s return.

Jesus Himself said, Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42).

Paul, in wrapping up his first letter to the church in Corinth, gave them some specifics connected with this charge: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:13-14).

To the Ephesians, Paul follows his great passage about putting on the armor of God to face the spiritual forces coming against us, with a similar reminder to be alert—spiritually watchful and ready: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (6:18)

So prayer is a critical part of being ready, it would seem.

Jesus illustrated the need to be ready by telling a couple stories. One was about ten maiden (virgin) attendants at a wedding.

Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.

Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’

But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’

And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.

Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’

But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’

Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Matt. 25:1-13

As a child, I struggled with this story. I’d been taught the value of sharing and really thought the five ready virgins were being selfish. I didn’t understand that parables focus on only one teaching point, and here, Jesus wanted to illustrate the importance—the necessity—of being ready for His return.

But here’s what I’ve learned about getting ready. As my trip has drawn closer, my focus on the things I need to do has become more acute, to the point that today I spent the whole day doing one thing or the other as part of my preparation. Tomorrow will be the same, and I may even stay up later to get the last minute things taken care of.

I’ve also made lists so I don’t forget things.

But I have to ask, am I as diligent in preparing for Christ’s return? Or, because I don’t have a target date, do I let things slide, consider them not of first importance? Jesus seemed to be saying, Get ready before you do anything else. After all, the whole point and purpose of our existence is to be there for the Bridegroom. So why get distracted and neglect the thing for which we have been called?

On Alert


earwigI thought I understood what “be on the alert” meant, but I now realize I’ve been nearly clueless. Recently I’ve had a crash course because I’ve had to deal with a little unpleasantness.

For the second year in a row, I’ve been faced with an infestation of earwigs. According to all the sources I’ve checked, they are relatively harmless to humans. They don’t carry disease and, contrary to the myth associated with them, they don’t crawl into people’s ears and burrow into their brains. They do have a pair of forceps pincers on their abdomen, and I can attest to the fact that they know how to use them. But apparently their pinch causes only temporary discomfort.

The worst thing about them, for me, was their sudden appearance. I’d sit down for dinner and an earwig would scurry out from under the placemat. I’d open my napkin, and an earwig would be clinging to the cloth. I’d go to wash my hands or take a shower or do the dishes, and earwigs would zip around the sink or tub. Twice there were earwigs in with the bread, and I just recently found one in the refrigerator. Worst, perhaps, they’ve been in my covers and yes, in a few articles of clothing.

At first all these sudden appearances were frightening, and I’d jump from my seat, heart racing, and in my panic flick away the skittish things. I’d spend the next moments trying to find them again to kill them, and failing to do that, I’d spray insecticide to try and destroy anyway.

This second year enduring them, I’ve learned a thing or two. I no longer unfurl my napkin without a second thought. I don’t pick up the dishcloth without first looking on the underside to see if an earwig is clinging to it. In truth, for the first time in my life, I’m on the alert in my home. I’m watchful, careful, willing to take the time to inspect the bottoms of plates and bowls before depositing them where they should go.

In spite of all my care, they can still surprise me. The one in the refrigerator certainly did–I wasn’t on the alert for one there. Once, after thoroughly cleaning off the kitchen counter top in an effort to track down one that scurried under the microwave, I reached for a sponge to rinse off the household cleaning spray, and, you guessed it, found an earwig hugging the bottom. It was the one place I hadn’t looked.

I’ll be honest. I don’t like having to be on the alert in my own home. I want to relax and not have to worry about bugs popping out at inauspicious times. But I’d rather be on the alert and get those earwigs before they get me.

Imagine if those earwigs were actually as dangerous as they look (I’m convinced they belong in the same family as scorpions). How much more important vigilance would be!

Scripture tells the believer, on several occasions, that we are to be on the alert.

“I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert” (Act 20:29-31a).

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1 Cor. 16:13).

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert (Eph. 6:18a).

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8).

I’m beginning to understand, being alert is more than doing a heads up. Being alert means doing your homework and knowing what you’re up against, studying the habits of the enemy, and staying ever watchful. Not letting down your guard, even when you think you ought to be safe (surely, not in the refrigerator! :-O )

I also notice that the metaphors used to help us grasp what we’re up against aren’t comparing our spiritual enemy to a little bug that causes discomfort.

Rather, our enemy is a roaring lion, aiming to devour. Think Nature Channel or PBS and those shows about wildlife in Africa, with a lion lurking, lurking in the tall grass, ready to spring on the unsuspecting gazelle at the back of the herd.

Or our enemy is a savage wolf, right in among the sheep. Paul didn’t need to tell the Christians in the first century that wolves eat sheep.

In other words, our spiritual lives are at stake. Perhaps its time to start checking in all the dark and damp cracks where earwigs, er, where the enemy of our soul might be prowling.

Published in: on May 15, 2013 at 5:31 pm  Comments (1)  
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