This past Christmas I received a gift subscription to The New York Times. I have done my best to read it and keep up with the news. In college a professor said to read the paper every day, even if the stories don't always make sense, because eventually the dots will connect and it will be like an epiphany. I either misunderstood or he was crazy. It is not that easy.
Usually, I am about a week behind, but I push through and read from the paper daily. The old phrase, "that's yesterday's news" has gained new meaning for me. Indeed, it is a little embarrassing to be at Starbucks with a paper under your arm as you purchase your coffee, and the barista asks, "Will that be all? Should I include the paper?" And you respond, "Well, no, this is from my house. I can prove it with the date right here. Hey, did you hear about this Donald Trump guy? I guess he's running for President." Who knew that was not breaking news anymore? Actually everyone knew.
Which begs the question, how does everyone know everything that's going on all the time? I have been diligently reading The Times for 8 months now, and even though I'm a week behind, isn't that better than someone who's not reading any paper at all?
My wife was telling me about this story the other day where a NAACP chapter president had been posing as an African-American for years. I was like, "What? Where did you hear about that? I haven't seen anything about it in the paper. Meanwhile, have you heard about this ISIS thing? Pretty scary stuff."
Then someone told me about an incident with a lion named Cecil. My ignorance on that one is more understandable because I skip the funny papers. Must be a new character or something. Maybe I should just check out this Internet thing. So far I've been neutral concerning the net. I digress.
INTERPRET THE TIME
Dr. Richard Swenson in his book, Margin, claims, "A single edition of The New York Times contains more information than a 17th century Britisher would encounter in a lifetime." Even if an exaggeration, that is incredible. Apparently though, there is a middle ground between a 17th century Britisher (Englishman, I think?) and someone who is gaining a lifetime of knowledge daily. I don't want to be the Britisher, but I don't need to be the super-human. Balance is key.
Reading The New York Times has been a fascinating experience, especially because I consider myself extremely conservative politically and especially theologically. If you didn't know, The Times comes from a liberal perspective. The experience has made me more alert and discerning. It has also made me more compassionate and sympathetic to thoughts and people I disagree with. David Brooks (whose columns are worth the subscription) talks about a rare quality called "opposability", and defines it as the ability to hold two opposing views in your mind at the same time without going mad. I think I have developed this skill more strongly, and hopefully can see it in others as well.
At the end of the day, this experience has given me a sense of urgency to know how to interpret the present time. Jesus said to the crowds in Luke, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, 'A shower is coming.' And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat,' and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"
John Calvin says in his commentary to 1 Peter, "Hence at the very beginning he proclaims in express words the grace of God made known to us in Christ; and at the same time he adds, that it is received by faith and possessed by hope, so that the godly might raise up their minds and hearts above the world." More on 1 Peter later.
Later in Luke, Jesus says, "Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads; because your redemption is drawing near."
My conviction, then, from this experience is to know how to interpret the present time, and to raise up my mind and heart above the world. Why? Because my redemption is drawing near! How? Great question. I see a four-step approach to interpreting the present time.
START WITH SCRIPTURE
This is self-explanatory, yet I struggle with it. In the morning it is easier to check my phone or pick up last week's paper than to open the living Word of the God of the universe. Why do I do that? Don't do that. Scripture is too powerful and too important for us. Physically and spiritually we won't function long without it. We have to start there.
GET YOUR NEWS
Some people would say, in order to simplify your life, you should stop reading news, either on your phone, your computer, or physical newspapers or magazines. I am not convinced this is a good idea. Perhaps as a fast, it makes some sense. But in general I think it is dangerous and unnecessary to just give it up. And I think some people say this but still are gaining the skinny on every event in the world somehow, so the advice is hard to take seriously. When I think about "getting my news", I want to try to do so in categories. It is not possible, for me at least, to know everything about everything. But if I can know something about what is going on in my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country, and the world, I think I'll be in a good position to understand the times and be engaged in the world, so that I can love and minister well to others. Michael Lindsay talks about having "a liberal arts approach to life", which means being knowledgeable about various topics to be relatable and in a position of influence. As I read the news, what is it telling me about:
- The impoverished and afflicted?
- The economy?
- The marketplace?
- Entertainment (including sports)?
- The Church?
That is still a lot. But I think it is important and possible to be informed in all of these areas if we are to understand how to interpret the time.
GO BACK TO SCRIPTURE
This is probably the most important step, and the most difficult. The reason we need to raise our mind and heart above the world is to see our redemption drawing near. To do so, we don't want to ignore what is going on in the world, but instead interpret what is going on through the lens of Scripture, with our heads raised to the joy set before us beyond this world. Nothing will ultimately make any sense outside the lens of Scripture. People who don't go back to Scripture to help them interpret events are the same people who throw their hands up and say, "I just don't know anymore. The world is crazy." God forbid that we should be that way! Instead may we hold up the paper in one hand and the Bible in the other, pointing people to the one who came into and endured the craziness, without sin, died for our sake, and rose from the dead to give us hope.
What should I make of the events I've been reading about for the last 8 months? What does the Bible say about them? What do they have to do with the gospel? What do they tell us about eternity?
- Senseless violence of ISIS and Boko Haram
- Global migration crisis
- Earthquake in Nepal
- Riots in Baltimore
- Shootings in Charleston
- Society-changing Supreme Court decisions
- Political announcements
- Crisis in Greece
- Nuclear deal with Iran
- Climate change
- Minimum wage debates
- Free trade agreements
If I continue reading the paper as I have - the subscription has expired but is still coming so we'll see - I'm sure I would have a similar list of different events. The 17th century "Britisher" may not have gained as much information on a daily basis as we do, but he also knew that the world was a mess. "Tonight, on earth, it is total confusion", says Alistair Begg. This is the state of things. But our God is in full control, all the events in the news have purpose, and the Bible gives wisdom to help us endure and interpret them. In the process, God creates in us a longing for our redemption that is drawing near, and a passion to share this news with others. I have a lot of work to do in this area. Would you join me diving into Scripture to know how to interpret the time, so we can more effectively follow Jesus?
Finally, God has blessed this generation with individuals who can help us with this process. I will name two: Albert Mohler and Janet Parshall. There are others, but through their podcast and radio show alone, not to mention their books, they give great guidance in how to understand the events of the world from a Christian worldview. Mohler's podcast is called The Briefing, and Parshall's radio show is called In the Market, on Moody Radio. Their voices are timely, winsome, and biblical.
In summary, start with Scripture, get your news, go back to Scripture, and seek help. May God help us as we follow Jesus in this world with our heads raised.
Now, I am going to go back and catch up on my papers. I heard something about a video by a woman named Veronica who wants me to be mindful about going into the ocean. Not sure what that's about yet, but I have a trip to Florida coming up so I better be prepared. #WatchTheOceanFromADistance
"The strength of the good solider of Jesus Christ, appears in nothing more, than in steadfastly maintaining the holy calm, meekness, sweetness, and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behavior, and surprising acts and events of this evil and unreasonable world." - Jonathan Edwards
The teaching, words, and ministry of many people (to be referenced and credited periodically) have contributed significantly to the thoughts and efforts of the writings posted on this site, perhaps in some cases verbatim. May God make me invisible and show me as helpless, show the people quoted and referenced as humble and anointed, and most importantly show Jesus Christ as infinitely glorious and irresistibly desirable.