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FAITH: How to Be Wise

Article contributed by the family of the late Rev. Bill H. Lassiter (pictured)

Not many of us will ever be as wise as a Plato or a Socrates, or a Solomon. Very few of us will ever understand the philosophies that give us a Watergate or a ghetto, or an electric chair. We do not have the wisdom to understand the economics of spending vast sums to explore outer space when people are starving to death on earth. We do not understand the wisdom of spending so much money to wage war and so little to insure peace. All this is worldly wisdom. It is under the control of greedy, selfish, sinful man.

But most of us CAN make the pilgrimage of the wise men to discover the greatest mystery of all—God in Christ, reconciling all things to Himself. The spiritual wisdom gained in this pilgrimage will make a difference in our worldly wisdom. It will transform our worldly wisdom and put It under the judgment and power of God.

I want to explore some of the ways by which we can become wise and make that pilgrimage for ourselves.

First, if we could be wise, we must look for signs. The Wise Men had a professional occupation. They were assigned the duty of watching the skies for signs of special significance. This was their calling. This was their vocation. So, when they discovered the special star in the sky, they were looking for signs of the future. They thought that by studying the stars, they could determine what the future held in store for them.

Most of us have done at least a little bit of traveling on the Interstate highways. If we are in strange territory, we constantly are on the alert for road signs. We watch for the posted speed limit—we look for names of towns—we keep a lookout for the exit signs so we can get off the freeway at the right place—There are signs which tell us where to buy gasoline, food and beverage—there are signs which tell us about motels. And when we reach our destination, there will be a sign telling us we are there.  We would hesitate about going anywhere were it not for these signs to guide us. Being wise, we travelers along the interstate constantly watch for signs.

What signs do we look for then in our spiritual excursions? How do we know when we have become spiritually wise? How do we know when we have become spiritually wise? How do we know when we have reached our destination?

The wise know they have arrived when they get that special feeling for their neighbors which is akin to that experienced by the Samaritan traveler. It is a feeling of compassion and love. The wise man looks for the special sign of struggle in a young struggle in a young man’s life in his attempts to find himself. The wise man recognizes in the midst of pain or grief that he Spirit is present when someone offers a strong shoulder to lean on. The wise man knows he has reached his destination when in the early hours of the morning; he experiences the feeling of being alone with Christ. Watch for these signs in your life. They are indicators you are following the path of the wise man. These are not the only signs of course. Each of us has his own signs which hold special significance. And each of us knows what it means to be following those signs of spiritual progress and pilgrimage.

Secondly, it seems to me, the wise recognize the signs.

The Wise Men had spent years studying the skies. They knew the way the sky was supposed to look. When something new and different appeared, they spotted it at once. They knew it held special significance. It was their training professionally to know that when such an occurrence happened, someone great was born.

On two occasions in the church I have seen special signs which were for me an indication of the presence of the Most Holy. One of them was the year when Christmas fell on Sunday. In the church I served at that time, some of the people would not come to church that day because decided to have our worship service downstairs. It was not a dress up occasion. It was a ‘come as you are’ service. And we did.

The temperature outside was near zero. At 5 that morning I got enough water out of the pipes to fill the coffeemaker. We had hot coffee and doughnuts. Then, there wasn’t enough water to take a bath or shave. But we came anyway.

The youth sang. We all sang. Some of us were seated in chairs. Others were standing. I don’t remember seeing but a tie or two. We were all comfortable. We enjoyed being together. We really celebrated Christmas that year. That, to me was a sign of the very real presence of something Holy.

That year, on the Sunday before Christmas, we had our Christmas Communion service. We had candles in the windows. It was cheery. It was warm. We had reasonably good attendance. So I served the elements of Holy Communion to my congregation. We don’t even try to put into words some of the emotions, some of the feelings, some of the thoughts that occur during Communion. But I believe we all recognized that God was with us in that service. And I believe we left there that night filled with Thanksgiving.

It is important, in our passionate struggle to be wise, that we learn to recognize in our own lives the special signs of the Presence of the Spirit. It may be a sudden flash of light, similar to that which occurred to the Apostle Paul. There may be a slowly dawning awareness that God is close to you. No two experiences are exactly the same. The sigh may be a sudden, dramatic warming of the heart, like that experienced by John Wesley at Alders gate. But, whatever sign God chooses to let you know He is with you, recognize that sign—claim it for your very own and make it a part of your Christian pilgrimage.

Finally, I think the wise know they will have a struggle with evil forces. This is the challenge facing us in this century and it has always been the challenge of those wise folks who are trying to do the will of God in whatever age they happen to have been living in.

King Herod represents this struggle with those Wise Men long ago. This man considered himself to be the king of the Jews. There could be no other. There was not room for two kings. Herod had been appointed king by the Roman senate and he wasn’t about to let any two-bit baby born in Bethlehem take away his own crowning glory. He was a war hero. But he was a cruel man. He had already killed most of his own sons. Soon he would order all infants killed in his jurisdiction in an attempt to get rid of this baby king who had been born.

The Wise Men did not immediately recognize Herod as an evil man. He asked them questions about their journey. He indicated his interest in worshipping the Christ-child himself.  Come back when you find him,” he said, “and let me know his location so I can go and worship him, too.” He played the role of an interested party. But he was treacherous. He just wanted to find Jesus and have him killed. He was jealous. People were to pay homage only to king Herod, the king of the Jews.

There are still those who would destroy King Jesus. There are still those who will not recognize his Lordship. There are still those representatives of evil forces with whom the spiritually wise have to deal.

Surely we will not fall into the traps of temptation. Surely we will be wise enough to avoid them. But, there is no way to ignore them. Even Jesus had to experience the struggle with evil. When he made his ultimate commitment to God, he immediately had to do battle with Satan who was struggling to gain control of him.

We, too have this same struggle between evil and good going on in our lives. We, like Paul, know what to do, but sometimes we can’t do it. But as wise men, we recognize the struggle for what it is, and we are able, through the grace of God to overcome it.

I ask you to conclude then that it is not always easy to be wise. But the wise, through the grace of God, are permitted to experience Christ for themselves. Persistence and patience is finally rewarded. The spiritually wise will be searching for peaceful uses for atomic energy. The spiritually wise will be able to see the presence of the Holy Spirit in the problems of the ghetto. The spiritually wise will work for political and social reform to prevent future Watergates. The spiritually wise will help Christ feed the physically and spiritually hungry.

Wise persons, of every generation, examines the significant signs of the presence of the resurrected Lord and the breath of the Holy Spirit in the world. These signs are an aid in following the light given to each of us until we find ourselves, in spite of all difficulties, in constant communion with the Living Lord.