This is our third Sunday of our ‘Season of Intentional Giving’ – a season to focus us on how we are choosing intentionally/deliberately to respond to God’s grace in our lives.
We began on September 8 by looking at our response to the giving nature of God by being givers… Even as God loves by giving us Jesus Christ – whom we understand as the pouring out of all of GodSelf into all of creation – so we get to reflect and return that love by the giving of ourselves in what Bonhoeffer described as ‘costly discipleship! As we follow in the way of Jesus Christ, the more we give of ourselves, and the more we look like God!
Last week (September 15) we looked at parables describing the searching nature of God, whom Jesus compared to the shepherd searching after his lost sheep, the woman searching for her lost coin, and the searching father longing for his son to come home. There is a searching something about our God that LONGS to see us coming home. As we live in ways that look like God’s searching, poured-out-for-others love, so that is us demonstrating our homecoming!
This week (September 22) it’s about us continuing in that flow of intentionality, looking at the ‘to-be-praised-at-all-times’ nature of God. We do so as we explore whom exactly it is that we are allowing to define our lives, set our life-agendas – just whom exactly it is that we are intentionally serving! Remember that Bob Dylan classic: You have to serve somebody…? Whom or what do you intentionally allow to be the controlling agenda-setter of your life?
I was horrified to read a blog by Church Leader and Teacher Carey Nieuwhof[i] who recently highlighted this question, asking whether we have any idea of what’s currently influencing how we think & live? He writes about algorithms, claiming that much of our lives are being run by them. They drive the suggestions we see on the online sites we may visit, from Amazon to Netflix to Spotify or Prime. ‘Because you watched X, you’ll probably like Y.” Or those annoying online advertisements that keep popping up? Carey Nieuwhof warns that these modern computer algorithms threaten our ability to think freely! We may be looking something up on, say, Google, and we may THINK we are getting objective results – BUT WE’RE NOT! The app itself decides what we should see and what we shouldn’t. They give us the ILLUSION of being in charge of our lives when, actually, THEY are!
He describes at least 3 potential challenges associated with our living like that:
- We loop into ever deeper confirmation bias.[ii]
- We become more tribal and extreme. [iii]
- We lose the ability to think freely[iv].
He writes: If you allow someone else to get to know or to define you more than what you know or deliberately choose to define for yourself – game over! Instead, we have to get to know and to embrace and to be defined by the story we deliberately allow to be within us![v]
I believe that THIS may be the very main point of Psalm 113 – probably written around 536 BC, long before computer algorithms, but when people were still being subjected to all sorts of outside forces and influences!
They were returning from exile FULL of externally imposed Babylonian influences, and desperately needing to own again something of just what was most essential to their lives!
Like so many of us! Even if we’re not into computers and the internet, perhaps it’s the TV programs we watch, or other people’s opinions that we listen to probably too much – that we allow to drive and influence us: Our wanting to be popular/people-pleasers perhaps, at work, in the sport’s/social club…
Psalm 113 calls us back to living life-agendas that are not formed or manipulated by anything other than an awareness of God who we believe is at the center of everything!
It calls for an intentional re-orientation/ re-alignment of our priorities. Our lives are NOT to be restricted to the life-sucking serving of just our own prejudices and biases… They are to be blown wide open by the inclusive loving freedom of our God and whatever and wherever God would be leading us! This God whom we are told time and again is about caring for the poor, the marginalized, the needy, the most vulnerable! That’s what ‘praising God as THE LORD is meant to be doing in us, and in others through us! Hear it again as you re-read the psalm.
1 Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord.
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time on and forevermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised.
4 The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2019.
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[ii] Because we only ever tend to see more of what we already like/believe/accept, our choices narrow and our decision-making ability deteriorates! As he says: Those algorithms don’t challenge confirmation bias, they fuel it. We begin to interpret new evidence in a way that supports our pre-existing beliefs. The problem is that as they do that all you ever tend to get is more you. And, as he says I don’t need more me. I have enough holes in my thinking, enough biases and blind spots that what I need is more truth in my life, more perspective, more help from others who see things I don’t see, understand things I don’t understand and can help me align my life more closely with where it should be going.
[iii] You click on one story about whatever and five more appear next time you’re on the platform. Click on a few more, and we go down a wormhole. Similarly, if you follow your more conservative or liberal friends, again, more suggestions of similar ideological/theological/philosophical pop-up. Before you know it, your whole world thinks the same, believes the same and acts the same way you do, and perhaps in more extreme ways.
[iv] Writer and Israeli Scholar/Historian at the University of Jerusalem Yuval Noah Harari[iv] argues that our minds are being hacked! There is now a frantic race on to hack the minds of humanity and you and me in particular! We need to stay ahead of those hackers! We do that by getting to know ourselves and what we have intentionally decided is most essential to who and what we are! We may never allow others’ fear-stories/ anger stories/ prejudice stories/ Greed/ Hatred to take us over.
[v] Carey Nieuwhof goes on to describe 3 things we can do to protect ourselves from this ‘hacking’ of our minds:
- Read and listen widely: Think back to the public library or even Blockbuster when you could walk into a room and choose from hundreds of options, not just the ten someone (or some code) thinks you’d like. Find out what people who don’t share your exact perspective are reading, and read that. Watch someone completely different. Go way outside your normal genre. Cross-disciplinary learning is one of the best forms of learning anyway. Know nothing about astronomy? Go learn something.
- Learn from people you disagree with instead of judging them: It’s so easy to think you’re right to judge people who disagree with you. Don’t. Learn from them. Just because someone doesn’t think the way you think doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Highly intelligent people hold opposing views. Some of them are smarter than you are. Learn from them. Be open. So many narrow-minded people see this as a threat. It’s not. Sometimes my views change, but even when they don’t my understanding broadens. Ridiculing and dismissing others makes you look stupid.
- Embrace first principles thinking: I am a committed Christian with deeply held convictions which have deepened not because I’ve avoided opposing views or open dialogue, but because I’ve engaged them.