Almost forty-seven years ago, I was standing in a student lounge at a Bible Institute I attended and heard a question asked by a basketball teammate of mine. I really don’t remember the subject of the conversation but Bruce asked, “How’s your altitude?” That’s right, ALTITUDE not attitude.
Over the years I’m beginning to see the connection between the two. I used to get irritated when someone would say believers (me) sometimes are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Ever hear that one? I understand that when someone uses what I’ve called God Talk as a means to control others, or stiff arm people because they’re not in the Christian subculture of which they live. And yes, I think sometimes that happens and we might not even know it. But Bruce’s question has stuck with me for almost a half century!!
Somehow I see that I can’t separate the one from the other. In other words if my attitude is poor, my altitude or relationship with Jesus is poor. This is not about having a poor attitude because I have the flu, am troubled physically or getting older.
In James 2, the author talks about altitude/attitude issues as it relates to showing a forbidden favoritism. That’s a moment when people are separated out by a person as being better than others, or having something they want from them. So they cater to these people for meaning and an identity that satisfies them. Another term describing this attitude with no altitude is being users of people.
The Modus Operandi for mature believers is about not showing favoritism or discriminating with believers or anyone, for that matter, as if some are different and better than others.
Years ago I was an associate pastor in a Sheboygan, WI church. One Sunday, a man in a wheel chair came up behind me and beeped his wheel chair horn. I got out of his way and he parked that baby right up front like that’s where he belonged with the non wheel chair folks. Can you see Jesus in that moment? Jesus loved you and me. The whole world! He wants everyone to know they are important to him, which is why we look at the cross he died upon and say, “He was no respecter of persons.” How glorious! How’s your altitude today? Bruce’s question is a good one.
While in Phoenix a few weeks ago, Judy and I saw the premier of Lincoln. Great movie!
You may have noticed that on some pictures of Abraham Lincoln there is a wart on his cheek and on other pictures, it’s not there. As one artist prepared to paint his portrait, he had Lincoln move around. He said, “President Lincoln, will you sit here?” Then the man moved his easel and had Lincoln shift around again.
President Lincoln began to smile because he saw what the artist was doing. He was trying to get Lincoln in a position where the wart wouldn’t show. Finally the artist asked, “President Lincoln, how do you want me to paint you?” Lincoln replied, “Paint me just as I am—wart and all.”
God’s Word, like a mirror, tells us all about ourselves. Frankly, God isn’t shifting around like Lincoln’s artist trying to ignore the soul warts we have. He wants us to see Jesus as our best light even when we’re at our worst. The modus operandi for believers is no pretense
James cautions believers about looking into the mirror of God’s Word, seeing the flaw and doing nothing about it but he gave this encouraging thought too.
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:25
May I say this is not about promoting a health and wealth ideology we often hear about in today’s world? That’s a theology which turns God and His word into a lottery ticket – where we can get the right numbers to become wealthy and healthy this side of heaven. Please hear me: There’s nothing wrong about having the desire for health and wealth. But, simply put, turning the Bible into a formula that we think is going to obligate God to do this is IMMATURE.
I don’t want God to soften my portrait just so I can feel better. I want him to paint me as I am and then, marvel at his love for me in spite of my soul warts. That love spurs me to honor him by obeying his word.
More and more, I’m thankful how God’s love is freeing me from living pretentiously. How important do you think His love is?
On February 18, 2003, I remember hearing the disturbing news that Robert Hanssen, a 25-year veteran of the FBI and expert in counterintelligence, had been arrested on espionage charges. He was accused of passing top-secret information to the Soviet Union, starting in 1985. Federal agents apprehended him at a Virginia park just minutes after he left a package under a wooden footbridge, which investigators say was a drop site for delivering secret documents to his Russian handlers.
As the information on Hanssen poured out, we learned he was a faithful church member who attended services every week. In addition, he was a member of Opus Dei, a conservative religious order that was strongly anti-communist and stresses moral righteousness. Sunday after Sunday, I have to wonder if Robert Hanssen really heard what was being said at his church. Do you?
In Matthew 13:14, 15 Jesus talks about people who are like Hanssen. He says some crowds that gathered around Him will be ever hearing but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving. There will always be people who won’t get what Jesus is saying which is why he said what he did in verse 15.
“For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” NIV
In my lifetime, it seems there’s been a moral disconnect between faith and action in much of the Christian culture in this country. People hardly hear with their ears, because they have closed their eyes. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Jesus talked about the heart or soul of a person becoming calloused by only being a hearer of the word.
I think minding the gap between hearing and understanding or seeing but not perceiving is being compromised by the sin against having common sense. James wants every believer to have common sense and there’s nothing like the Bible and walking with Jesus for developing that.
But mankind has a bent to live in a destructive self-delusion. How sad if believers do that too. Isn’t this a lack of common sense in the believer who lives like that?
Sometimes examples of communication can be ridiculously funny.
The Massachusetts Bar Association Journal printed the following questions that were actually asked of witnesses during a trial. Were you alone or by yourself? Was it you or your younger brother who was killed in the war? You were there until the time you left, is that true? Hmmmm.
How we communicate can make all the difference in the world with listening being one of the keys to success in a world full of trouble.
Someone came up with this listening formula for building successful relationships – something I could put into more practice myself.
1. Listen to the other person’s story. 2. Listen to the other person’s full story. 3. Listen to the other person’s full story first.
James also addresses the listening baggage believers bring into their relationships with other believers.
19 “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 1:19-21 NIV
He discovered they were using inappropriate expressions of anger, which didn’t bring about the righteous life God desires. In fact, he called that communication style a “moral filth or evil” to be rid of. Being quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry is James’ approach to a healthy Modus Operandi.
Erik Wiehenmayer reached the summit of Mt. Everest on May 25, 2001. 90% of the climbers who attempt this feat fail. What makes Erik’s climb amazing? He’s been blind since he was 13! The reason he succeeded is because he listened well. He listened for a bell tied to the back of the climber in front of him. He listened for instructions of teammates who would shout directions to him. He listened for the sound of his pick jabbing the ice to know whether it was safe to cross. He made the summit because he listened well.
Clearly, James wants us to listen to the proverbial bell of God’s Word which can keep us from deep internal resentments and inappropriate expressions that break down a relationship. To have the listening skills of an Erik Wiehenmayer is a good thing, right?