Friday, September 20, 2013

Guilt And Shame

I’ve been reading a lot recently about guilt and shame. Most of what I’ve been reading relates to societies in general and how one society might be “guilt based” and another “shame based.” Many of these articles sought to use these terms to describe the difference between Western societies (generally, “guilt based”), and Eastern societies (especially Islamic, which are more “shame based).
Here’s a quote taken from the TorahBytes blog:
Guilt is the result of breaking a clearly defined law or rule. Guilt is usually accompanied by a fear of punishment at the hands of an authority of some kind. Taking a cookie when your mom or dad told you not to may result in guilt. A judge determines guilt based on whether or not you have broken the law. A person is either guilty or not. If found guilty, then a sentence of some kind would be given.
Shame is not so straightforward. Shame often comes from a deep internal sense of having done something unacceptable due to a sense of failure to measure up to certain standards or expectations. Guilt may be included, especially if a rule or law is broken, but not all rules carry the same level of shame and a rule doesn't need to be broken to experience shame. Shame is present when there is a perception that our behavior is such that we don't deserve to be accepted by those with whom we have relationship. That relationship could be family, friends, community group, work place, school, and so on. Shame often leads to a desire to hide from others. Embarrassment often comes from a sense of shame. (
What I’m about to describe is woefully general in nature, but I think it will give you some sense of what guilt and shame do to us, and how they are handled.
Guilt is essentially a law-based problem. One breaks a law and is judged to be guilty. Punishment of some kind follows guilt, and is also determined by law. When a person is guilty, the problem is resolved, as far as society is concerned, by the exercise of punishment. Thus in the United States, for example, under our legal system one is considered innocent until proven guilty. Once guilt is determined, punishment is determined. It might require serving time in jail, or payment of a fine, both, or even serving house arrest or performing a certain number of hours doing community service. Once the punishment has been met, the guilty person can pretty much move on (this is not completely true, but it is generally true).
Shame is something altogether different. A guilty person may or may not feel any sense of shame, and a shamed person, though also guilty, may take a much longer time to recover and move on, even though legally the guilt has been dealt with by punishment. Shame is more related to the relationship we have with others. It is almost always experienced more intensely, more emotionally than is guilt.
In guilt-based societies, once the punishment has been satisfied, people tend to move on and recover. When they don’t, it’s usually because there’s also an element of shame involved. But in shame-based societies, there is really only one way to recover, and that is to have one’s “honor” restored. Shame destroys one’s personal honor. Shame simply kicks a person down, and causes others to look down on them, think less of them, trust them less, and consider them “unworthy.”
Interestingly, these concepts show up when trying to reach people with the gospel of Jesus, or to teach them biblical truths. Western societies are almost totally consumed with guilt. So to us, we want a Jesus who “pardons” our sins, removes our “guilt”, and “redeems us” in the sense of freeing us from the guilt and consequence of our sins.  Eastern societies are often puzzled by this because they operate on a “shame-based” concept. They need to hear that Jesus takes away their shame, restores their honor, and elevates them once again to a respected, honorable state of life. If you’re a Westerner, that last part won’t resonate with you as much as what I said about guilt.
Here’s a great exercise, especially for those who use a computerized Bible study program. Run a quick concordance search for the words, “shame” and “ashamed”. Go spend the several minutes it will take to read all the verses. You’ll likely be quite surprised at how much the Bible says about shame, and it’s connection to sin and our standing with God.
Do the same thing with the words, “guilt” and “guilty”. Spend the minutes it takes to read those passages too. The result is quite interesting. Westerners weren’t altogether wrong after all. “Guilt” and “guilty” are words frequently associated with sinners and people whose relationship with God is amiss.
I suggest that there is something here we must learn. It’s not a one or the other thing. It’s not the case that we should choose guilt over shame, or shame over guilt. The Bible teaches that sinners who disobey God are both guilty and shamed.
Here’s the good news. Jesus takes care of both problems. Sinners are guilty of violating God’s law. Jesus redeemed us by paying the price of forgiveness. But sinners are also shamed by their sin, but Jesus restores us to honor by removing the very cause of our shame and making something out of us we could never be on our own.
We need to deal with these issues of guilt and shame because in real life, they are often found together. Guilty people are shamed by their sins. It is here that preachers often fail people the most. If we preach a message that emphasizes the removal of guilt, we leave people knowing that Jesus died for their sins, but they may live out their lives burdened by shame. Or they may have only a vague sense that God forgives in some legal sense, but they never leave their life of sin because shame isn’t significant to them. Either way, we leave them with only part of the good news. The whole good news is that Jesus removes our guilt, and covers our shame. We need to explore this more!
I think Ezra had it right:
and I said, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. — Ezra 9:6 (NASB95)
So did Paul have it right:
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.  — Titus 2:11–14 (NASB95)

Jesus will remove both your guilt and your shame. Now that’s some good news.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Here's Your Verse!

Ephesians 5:22 (NASB95) — 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Ephesians 5:25 (NASB95) — 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 
John 13:34 (NASB95) —34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

Maybe it’s the heat of summer. I know that several years ago, summer heat was seemingly blamed for a lot of heated protests. Maybe that’s what’s happening today. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m hearing lots of protest. Not that some of it isn’t legitimate and deserved, mind you. Who in their right mind wants to pretend that there aren’t some real problems that should be addressed? And for those real, legitimate protests, I say go right ahead.

But a lot of the hot air expelled lately is just that. It’s hot air. Real facts are ignored and emotions run high. That’s a recipe for trouble any day. Years ago somebody told me that if you want to guarantee that you’ll get run over, just stand in the middle of the road on any hotly debated topic. And that’s exactly what’s happened to me. Why? Because my personal opinion is that George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin are the wrong guys to use as a basis for a racism debate. There are just too many conflicting facts.

If you favor Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman is a cold-blooded murderer. Never mind that he was acquitted by a jury of his peers. Never mind that the people involved in the trial said it wasn’t about race. Never mind that George Zimmerman isn’t white. At most he’s Hispanic, and I’ve read that his ancestry includes a black great-grandfather. And you have to discount a physical altercation that likely was precipitated by Trayvon Martin.

If you favor George Zimmerman, you must ignore the fact that he exceeded the responsibilities of a neighborhood watch captain. You have to ignore the fact that he spent way too much time following Martin, and ignored the 911 operator who told him they didn’t need him to follow Martin.

Here’s another truth. Either of them could have simply left the scene and avoided an altercation. That’s a fact. Either of them. I think what you really have is a terrible tragedy, but it’s not the basis for a racism discussion. But this may be exactly why it’s being used this way. There’s just enough confusion, just enough argument for each side, just enough so that manipulated by people with an agenda on either side of the divide, they can make a case. That feeds dissention, and that feeds all the rhetoric, and that feeds hatred, animosity and hostility.

What real truth does all the rhetoric ignore? It ignores the truth about violence in the U.S. You can go look this up. The United States government actually keeps statistics on these kinds of things. By far violent deaths against blacks is caused by other blacks. Just about the same statistical fact is true for whites. The vast majority is caused by other whites. The inconvenient truth for those who want to stoke the race fires is that a young black man in the United States today is in far greater danger from others of his own race, and the same is true for young white men. Want to address the real problem faced by our young people. Start here.

Now I’ve seen signs with references to Bible passages. “Love your neighbor,” was one. OK. I agree. We should love our neighbor. But let me suggest, it’s the wrong person, using the passage in the wrong way. Let me explain.

Years ago, I ran a counseling center. We provided Christian counseling to the southern part of metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia. We did a lot of marriage counseling, and a lot of those we counseled were Christians. Here is an amazing thing, witnessed over and over, when Christian couples came for counseling. The husband would come in and say, “You know, if you could just help my wife be submissive, like the Bible teaches, we wouldn’t have any problems.” And the wife would say, “You know, if you would help my husband love me like the Bible teaches, we wouldn’t have any problems.” Now there is a lot of truth in both statements. I have no doubt but that husbands needed to love their wives and that wives needed to submit to their husbands. We would get around to addressing those issues in counseling. So where’s the problem?

The problem is that people were using the wrong passage. You want to know which verse was written to husbands? It was Ephesians 5:25. Husband, love your wife. Until a husband refocused on the passage that was his, his marriage seldom improved. Want to know which verse was written to wives? It was Ephesians 5:22. Wives, be subject to your own husbands. Until a wife refocused on the passage that was hers, her marriage seldom improved.

That brings me to the broader point I’m writing about. “Love one another.” And that is reflected in a variety of ways. “Love your neighbor.” “Love your enemies.” But it does little good to write those slogans on signs and wave them around demanding that some other, nameless person should get it together and start doing what the Bible teaches. I doubt anybody has ever seen such a sign and experienced a sudden epiphany. “Oh! I didn’t know that. Why, I must start that right this moment.” No. That’s not how it happens.

Instead, it’s people willing to do the hard work and make the personal application. “Love your neighbor.” Yep. That’s what the Bible says, I believe the Bible is God’s word, I’m trying to learn and become what God wants, so this is something I need to do.”

We need less sign waving and more people who will simply go out and love their neighbors. “Yes, but they need to go first!” Really? Exactly where in your Bible does it tell you that you don’t have to implement God’s teachings until the other guy goes first? That’s playground talk. It’s immature kid-stuff. None of us should wait for the other guy. Just start.

I think that people can actually have serious and different opinions about a lot of things, including George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. But you don’t get to then make false accusations about people with a different view. You don’t get to feed your suspicions of people, and decide what’s in their heart. Isn’t that exactly the kind of problems that produced the Zimmerman/Martin case to begin with? If you don’t like the way it went down, repeating the same stereotyped thinking will neither undo it, nor prevent from happening again. And folks on both sides are claiming they don’t want it to happen again. Really? Exactly how does feeding animosity, hatred and prejudice produce something different than what animosity, hatred and prejudice has always produced?

So, if you want to hold up a protest sign that reads, "Love your neighbor," I'm all for you. I just hope you're proclaiming your love for your neighbor, not demanding something that you're not willing to do.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let's Ban All Religions

According to the singer-songwriter [Elton John], 59, his solution would be to "ban religion completely, even though there are some wonderful things about it". 
He added: "I love the idea of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the beautiful stories about it, which I loved in Sunday school and I collected all the little stickers and put them in my book. 
"But the reality is that organised religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate." -- Sir Elton: Ban organised religion,

My first reaction when reading comments like these is to argue. "You're wrong! You don't understand! You're not being fair!" And I might be right. But who cares? One must still deal with the point being made, and that is religion "turns people into hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate." Ouch!

Christians haven't always been good at taking criticism. We get all huffy about it, and often resort to proving how we're right and everybody else is wrong. Of course, from the other guy's point of view that just proves the point! Hateful lemmings that we are, void of any compassion for others, we feel justified in spouting condemnation and consigning all the critics to hell.

I wonder if it might benefit us to dare to listen for a moment. Is it possible that people like Elton John are offering a legitimate criticism? After all, it's well-known that religions love to war against one another. Even within a religion (let's use Christianity for example), we love to divide up, choose sides, and take pot-shots at one another. Not friendly pot-shots either. We shoot to kill - if not physically then spiritually (and we've been known to literally kill a few folks). If we were honest, we might willingly admit that the criticism, though distasteful, undesirable, aggravating, and sad, is true.

Of course we have disagreements. We see things differently from one another. What's important to one person isn't so significant to another. We have differing values. Our politics are different. Our social customs and traditions vary. We've got different, and sometimes conflicting histories. We're white, no we're black, no we're brown, no we're red! You know it makes a difference which you are! Even if we're Christians, all these other things matter because they still divide us. Our religion, instead of helping us minimize these differences, overcome our problems, and love our neighbors who are different from ourselves, ends up giving us new ammunition. We now have theological ammo with which to shoot our own, alongn with those who are not our own.

I wonder if we know what we look like and sound like to those who are not us. The Bible tells us that Jesus was a compassionate man. We're supposed to be his followers, and as followers we're supposed to be like him. Yet Elton John specifically observes that we (along with people of other religions) are not compassionate. Sure, he has his own social, philosophical, even religious point to make, but he's saying something about us that we need to hear. We're not compassionate. Nope. No sir! We've no heart in our chests. We're just cold, ruthless, hateful lemmings.

Is it possible that such observations are right? "Possible," I'm asking. If they are, then we should do something about them. Surely we don't want to be so unlike the Jesus we claim to follow. Every day, in countless situations, we demonstrate whether we're compassionate people or just hateful lemmings. Whether that criticism hurts or not isn't the point. What counts is whether it's true or not. All our claims to be "Christians" won't change the truth about us.

Recently, due to a major event that has gripped our nation, and has resulted in very strong opinions, many expressed in vile, angry, and contentious language, I asked a question. "I'm wondering if anybody thinks they've been more or less like Jesus the last few days?" If you can only see Jesus on your "side" of things, then I suspect you're less like him than you think. If your words burn and tear their way through others, even the ones you think are wrong, you should be very careful. If your words sound angry, hostile, and hurtful then you are probably giving folks like Elton John all the proof they need to just ban all religions, including yours. We Christians are going to have to sound and look different than we do.

You can justify all this "hateful lemmings" stuff if you want. Many will. I'd just say that one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus (if not THE MOST difficult) is that we should love one another as he has loved us. You want to convince Elton John that you're a follower of Jesus and that the Christian faith should never be banned? Love people. Jesus said that the world (folks like Elton John) would know we're his disciples if we have love for one another. People who really love one another don't get accused of being "hateful lemmings" void of "compassion."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Does Jesus Lead? Do You Follow?

25 “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! — Matthew 10:25 (NASB95)
Then we began to talk about the gospel. We talked about it long into the night, and before we left I said to him, "Look, you're serious about our conversation, I know. It would not be faithful of me not to ask you if right now you'd like to put your trust and confidence in Jesus Christ." He said to me, "You don't know what you're asking me. Do you know what would happen if I did that? If I announced it to anybody, my wife would leave me. My family would disown me. My boss would fire me. I may want to leave to go back to the United States, and the government would not give me an exit visa. I'd give up everything. You go back home tomorrow. I would not expect you would support me, and I would starve to death in my own culture." – Haddon Robinson, from the sermon "Love Keeps Going"
That conversation was one that Haddon Robinson shared with a Muslim man from Turkey. To become a Christian meant far more in practical terms than it does to us here in the U.S. We don’t face anything like what that man would if he were to become a Christian.

If you faced those dangers would you be a Christian? If it meant that you would lose your family, your job, your whole life, would you follow Jesus? It puts the meager problems we face in perspective, doesn’t it. We stress over all sorts of meaningless things, and so much that means so little gets in our way of following Jesus.

We’re a little tired, so it’s too much trouble to get up on Sundays to assemble with our church family. Our friends might laugh a little if we get too serious about our faith so that they think we’re becoming a fanatic. Stand up for truth, morality, goodness, and all things of God, and you might get a bit of flak. We might have to miss our favorite ball game. Oh, what a tragedy that would be!

History is peppered with martyrs who died for their faith. Today, too many people would die if they had to live their faith. The Bible speaks of the souls of the martyrs around the throne of God in heaven. That indicates how highly God thinks of those willing to suffer and die for their faith. Wonder what God thinks when we shun anything but easy living and a no-bother faith?

Following Jesus demands your life. There is only one way for Jesus to be Master and you be his servant. It certainly isn’t telling Jesus what to do. Does he lead? Do you follow?

Called To Be Disciples

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit — Matthew 28:19 (NASB95)
The way to Christian growth is often to allow oneself to be puzzled and startled by new apparent complexity … Is it, after all, Jesus we want to discover and follow, or would we prefer an idol of our own making? – N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (InterVarsity Press, 1999)
The question posed by N.T. Wright is important. We Christians are supposed to be followers of Jesus. We all know it. We claim it, teach it, preach it, and expect it from the people we know who also claim to be Christians. But the real question is, “Do I follow Jesus?”

Our first reaction might be something like surprise. “Why, sure I do!” we exclaim. But when we examine that claim, it sometimes falls short. Jesus said in Matthew 10:25 (NASB95) “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. . . .” Therefore, the real test of discipleship is how much we’re like Jesus. The more we’re like him, the better a disciple we are; the less we’re like him, the greater the failure at being his disciple. Seems like a pretty easy test doesn’t it?

Of course, that means we need to know a lot about Jesus. We need to know the man, know his thoughts, his attitudes, his habits, behaviors, beliefs, and more. I believe the word “apprentice” may be one of the best words in our modern language to help us understand the idea behind the word “disciple.” An apprentice has the goal of becoming like his master. He learns the master’s skills and seeks to duplicate in his own life what he’s observed in his master’s. An apprenticeship usually takes years. There is no shortcut. It is demanding work, and must deal with multiple failures, producing things not quite up to the master’s standard.

Unfortunately, too many Christians aren’t much like the one they claim to follow. They know little about him, and if you were to look to see how much like Jesus they are in their lives, you might see very little. Perhaps the biggest reason is that so many seem to want to invent their own Jesus to be like. The original is of little interest to them. Maybt they think it’s too hard, too time consuming, too demanding.

Make no mistake, real disciples are people who are becoming like Jesus. It’s not that they have to already be successful, with no more growth required. It’s that they’re well on their way. You see them, you see Jesus. This should be our goal much more than other identifiers. We love to call ourselves “members of the church,” and that’s surely accurate, but it’s not our best identifier. You’ve been called to be like Jesus, not to membership.

The Practical Purpose Of The Church

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. — Ephesians 3:20–21 (NASB95)
The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center, where flawed people place their trust in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others he has designed. The church is messy and inefficient, but it is God’s wonderful mess – the place where he radically transforms hearts and lives. – Paul David Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, p. 116.
There are at least two ways in which the church demonstrates that it has fallen into the trap identified in the quote above from Paul David Tripp. The first is the fault of preachers and teachers. The problem is the idea that we need to preach and teach in a way that makes academic theologians out of the folks in the pews. Don’t misunderstand. We surely need to educate people with good theology. But folks in the pews need something better.

The other fault lies with the folks in the pews. Too many of them think that all they need is to learn the facts and figure taught by the teachers and preachers. The problem is that there is a great difference between just knowing a lot of Bible, and living a lot of Bible.

Our particular religious heritage, the American Restoration Movement, has a long history of studying the Bible, pleading that we should go back to the Bible, and correctly saying that we need God’s word instead of all the theology books in the world. But we also have a colossal failure on our hands. We can study things to death and leave people right where they were in terms of how they live.

This is no anti-intellectual argument. Quite the opposite. It is a plea use our academics for a higher purpose. What I mean is that excellent scholarship is necessary, but not just so we can know more and more. God has a purpose behind our knowing. What we learn must shape our lives. There is no theology exam to get into heaven. But there are daily tests of faith that give us opportunity to use what we have learned.

The end result of our efforts to preach and teach is to convert the lost, encourage confession of Jesus as God’s son, call sinners to repent and find forgiveness. That’s our practical purpose and it’s so much more useful than a head full of facts.

Things That Help You Call On The Lord

22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. — 2 Timothy 2:22 (NASB95)
     . . . people across the world celebrated the development of their mobile device on its 40th birthday.
     On April 3, 1973, engineer Martin Cooper placed a phone call in New York City on his Motorola prototype, the DynaTAC.
     In a phone call to his development rival at AT&T, Joel Engel, he reportedly said, "I'm ringing you just to see if my call sounds good at your end."
     "We knew even in 1973 that one day everyone would have a cell phone," Cooper told CNN's Erin McPike.  –
Reminiscing can be fun. When I read the article, quoted above, I immediately thought of a few of those long-ago efforts to communicate. When I was a kid, the guy next door and I poked holes in the bottom of two tin cans, strung a kite string to connect the cans, then he and I had our own personal “phone” that ran between our houses. I don’t remember if it worked well. In the early 90s, I had a “bag phone.” Yep. Carried it around in a bag that looked like a large shaving kit. Had an antennae that stuck up over my head when I talked on it. I recall the reception was great for a phone that almost broke the bank and weighed a ton. Of course before all that, before dial phones, we had the telephone operator who asked, “Number please!” when you picked up the phone. My aunt was one of those operators and whenever I got her on the phone, she’d first say, “Well, hello Billy! How’s your momma?”

I love my Android smart phone, even though I don’t use it for all it can do. It keeps up with lots of information, helps me keep in touch with people all over the country, reminds me of appointments and a lot more. Of course I don’t remember anybody’s phone number any more, but I don’t have to. I can just speak your name and up comes your number!

What does any of this have to do with spiritual things? Well nothing really. Everything actually. How’s that for a “forked tongue” answer? Seriously. At the heart of the matter, phones are for calling people. But I’ve got an even better technology for you. Call on the Lord. You can speak out loud, or you can just think it, and God will hear. How’s that for being in touch? Check out the “number of things” that help you call on the Lord.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

What's So Good About The Good News?

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. — 2 Timothy 1:8–11 (NASB95)
The primary reason the majority of kids from Christian homes stray from the faith is that they never really heard it or had it to begin with …. Scratch the surface of the faith of the young people around you and you'll find a disturbing deficiency of understanding of even the most basic tenets of Christianity. – Elyse Fitzpatrick, Give Them Grace (Crossway, 2011), pp. 18-19
Imagine that. Kids grow up in Christian homes, go to church, and all looks well. The problem, however, is that they never get the gospel. They don’t understand their own problem of sin, and they don’t understand how forgiveness and eternal life are grounded in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Years ago, I talked with a lady whose children were at that age where they were beginning to think about being baptized. She asked me what I thought about it. I said, “Do they know why they should be baptized?” She looked at me for a moment then said, “What do you mean?” I replied, “Do they understand that baptism is related to their faith in Jesus to take away their sins by his death and resurrection.” She paused another moment and said, “What do you mean ‘take away their sins?’” I had an idea were were headed for a troubling conversation. I said, “Do they understand that to be saved, first means they’re lost because of their sins?” She absolutely looked stunned. “Oh, I would never tell them anything like that!” she said.

And that’s the problem. It’s often hard for parents to think of their children as lost. Do they misbehave? Do they sometimes act up? Do they always mind? Well, even parents will usually admit that their little darlings aren’t prefect. But sinners? That’s a different matter.

Yes it is. You see Jesus came to save the lost. He came as a physician to the sick, not to those who have no need of a doctor. Salvation is for the sin-sick, lost soul. Only they really understand what’s so good about the good news.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Church Assassins

Roy Williams is an advertising genius. I first met Roy by reading his book, Wizard of Ads. There’s no way for me to describe it, so just go buy it. When you read it, don’t hurry through. Savor his words, think, and gain some wisdom. I’ve been reading Roy’s weekly article called, “MondayMorning Memo,”  for longer than I can remember. He usually addresses business, advertising, or some combination of the two, but quite often, his words have application beyond his intended subject. I don’t know if he’s aware of it or not, but his articles often have direct and significant application to church and spiritual matters. I suspect Roy knows this, because it’s not completely uncommon for him to quote scripture, or at least make reference to some Bible verse. I don’t have a clue what his religious or faith background is, but Roy Williams is one of those people worth reading because he will make you think, and then he will take what you’ve been comfortable in and mess it all up for you. Usually, it’s for the better.

This week’s article, read just this morning, is a winner among winners. I say that because it’s one of those articles with amazing application to Christians.  I’ll try to explain in this post.

A little background first. Many years ago, way back in the 90s, I used to be quite active in what was known as “email lists.” You joined a list, got a list email address to which you sent email messages, and your message was then sent out to everybody else on the list. They could ignore you or respond with comments, questions, arguments, etc. In the beginning, it was quite good. Thoughtful, intelligent people with great ability to write quickly and informatively shared information and dug into topics that challenged and expanded everybody’s knowledge base. I seriously loved the early days of email lists.

Then something happened. The Internet began to catch on. When that happened, email lists got some publicity and lots of new people began to join. That was OK for a while, but slowly, things began to change. Another cyber phenomenon occurred, a little thing called a “flame war!” Basically, that was when somebody took it upon themselves to trash a fellow list member. Condescending, accusatory, inflammable language replaced reasonable discourse, and discussions were often impossible. Mailing lists began to be no fun.

Somewhere in the 90s, I even moderated of one of the most popular mailing lists among “Restoration Movement” people. I came to hate it. Instead of spending my time encouraging people to join and participate, I spent my time refereeing the list, trying to maintain civility, and threatening to put people in “time out!” It’s possible there were even a few people who were banned from the list because they were completely unreasonable.

So, enter Roy Williams and today’s “Monday Morning Memo.” Understand, Roy is writing about social trends and his target is business and how those trends affect the business world. But his words hit home because he describes something that has been going on among Christians, at least as far back as email lists, and now afflicts social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and other modern Internet inventions.

I belong to a “group” on Facebook that is made up of a lot of preachers. It’s not all preachers, you understand, but a sizeable number of the group members are in church ministry of one kind or another. On occasions, I’ve found myself in trouble with the moderator. I’m sure he’s got his explanation of why I was in trouble, and I’ve definitely got mine. You see, in my view, there are some people who get to say unnecessary things, using inflammable language, to demean and cut down others, accuse them of vile intentions and actions, and to stifle any dissenting opinion or comment. I’d bet that’s not what the moderator would say, but I’m willing to let him have his opinion. The trouble happens when I bring up the problem. If I point out what’s happening, and plead for peace and reasonable discussion, I’m the one that gets in trouble, not the people attacking with their words. Understand, this post is not a complaint about getting into trouble on a Facebook group. I’m a big boy and I can deal with these things just fine, thanks.

But I bring that up as a real-life, current illustration of the problem Roy Williams is addressing. One of the reasons it’s such a problem is that I don’t think people realize what they’re doing. I think it’s become fashionable to bash and trash people with whom one disagrees. Civility and respect are infrequent qualities to modern day discussions. We see this daily in politicians and public figures. To make matters worse, whenever anyone points out the problem, that person often gets the “penalty flag” thrown at them.

Here’s a graphic that Roy Williams used in today’s article that illustrates what he says is the “pendulum of society,” and it’s swinging toward the bad side.
In fact, if he’s right, we’re in for another ten years of this hostile atmosphere before it begins to swing the other way. I guess we might as well settle in and get ready. It’s likely not to be pretty. He says we're headed toward the "Witch Hunt!"

The question is: “Does it have to be this way?” The answer is both “yes,” and “no.” It’s “yes” in the sense that we can’t do much about societal shifts and swings. The world has a way of moving on its own and there doesn’t seem to be a way to stop it.

But if you ask if this is how Christians should behave, then the answer is, “No!” Christians are supposed to operate on the “love” principle. 1 Corinthians 13 is a great chapter to read if a person would like to discover principles for relating to others. Matthew 7:12 is still called the “golden rule” because it’s the operating principle that would immediately bring civility and reasonable treatment into any conversation, because it calls on us to treat other people in the way we, ourselves, would like to be treated. You might find a masochist that enjoys being bashed and trashed, but most normal people don’t really enjoy it.

14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
 Catch Paul’s language, please. “. . . if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” I once saw a cartoon of a dog that chased his tail, caught it and ate himself up! The cartoon was funny, but it’s not so funny when it’s people eating others alive.

Christians must set the bar higher. And if you think I’m complaining and leaving myself out, as if I’m some kind of innocent bystander, you’d be wrong. I am a Christian, and I’m also just as prone to get caught up in this hostility as anybody else. So when I say, “Christians,” I’m talking about all of us, including myself. We must not only set the bar higher, we must be the ones who actually reach for it. If there is one group of people in the world who demonstrates love, respect, and honor for others, it must be us. It must be us because Jesus expects it from his disciples, and we are his disciples.

Kindness, gentleness, grace, and mercy are all words that must describe us. Even when taking on issues and even people with whom we vociferously disagree, we must resist the temptation to follow the pendulum of society. If it ever moves back the other way, may it find us waiting right where we ought to be.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Little Contemplation

44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. — Luke 22:44 (NASB95)
Contemplate the drops of blood, the blows in the face, the persistence of the whip, the crown of thorns, the derision and spitting. – Bonaventure, on understanding the crucifixion. "Faith in the Middle Ages," Christian History, no. 49.
It’s a mind-boggling thing to contemplate the suffering of Jesus. It’s something that can consume a person’s life. How much love must it have taken? Did Jesus really know what he was getting himself into? Was there fear behind his prayers in the garden of Gethsemane? What did Jesus expect to happen? Did he know the pain of the crucifixion? Why did he sweat so that it became like drops of blood? Really! What’s that all about?

Did it have something to do with the intensity of his prayers? Was the stress and agony of what he was about to face so great that it manifested itself in this startling way? Was it really the “weight of the world” on his shoulders? Why would a sinless man die for others? This way?

Did he really feel the sins of the world? If he did, how did he ever bear up under that burden to even get to the cross?

All that and more are worthy thoughts, but it’s just part of the kind of full contemplation needed. You see, all that Jesus went through was for me. You, too, of course! But contemplation is a very personal kind of thing. So I have to ask some different questions.

Do I have a clue as to why Jesus would do all this, endure all this, suffer this way for me? How much must he love me? How strong is the need for God’s mercy and grace to flow through him to me? What does this say about his desire for me to overcome Satan and sin? What does he really have in store for me?

Do I fully appreciate what God’s Son did for me? Is that even possible? How should I respond to these things? Would anything I do be enough?

Oh, and so far, I’ve just asked a few surface questions. And I haven’t even gotten to the empty tomb. Wow! I’m not even sure where to start. The more I think, the more fantastic it gets. Maybe the simplest statements are best. Jesus died and rose again. Contemplate that!

Higher Ground

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” — Revelation 1:8 (NASB95)
08-06-2008 11:51:59 PMI just purchased MEdia Net Unlimited for 15.00,is it really unlimited???Re: Is unlimited really unlimited?
‎08-07-2008 12:33:38 AMYes its pretty much unlimited as long as its used on an allowed handset (can't be used with smartphones, PDAs, laptops, iPhones etc as they have their own plan requirements) and as long as you stay withint the Terms and Conditions here paying close attiontion to the Prohibited and Permissible uses section:– Copied from AT&T Community Forums
That exchange reminds me of my Internet provider years ago who offered an “unlimited” service. Many of us who took advantage of were shocked to receive a notice from the provider that some were “abusing” the unlimited service by staying connected for too long. Back then, we won that argument and the provider had to either back down, or change “unlimited” to mean what they really intended to sell us.

Unfortunately, you must now pay attention to the highly defined terms in the small print, because “unlimited” might not mean what you think. Now this plays right into a discussion about God. Lots of people reject the idea of an “unlimited” God. They will argue that God can’t make square circles, for example. Don’t fall for that. God is also a God that operates by truth and reason. There’s no such thing as a square circle, and the fact that God can’t make one doesn’t detract from God’s unlimited power.

But God doesn’t always do what we expect him to do. We ask things of him and he doesn’t deliver, so we figure either he doesn’t care or can’t respond. Either way, we’re questioning his unlimited abilities. Be careful with that. If God is truly unlimited in knowledge, power, etc., then he just might know something you don’t.

The real question when it comes to God is not so much his unlimited nature as it is our faith. What do you believe about God? Can you accept the evidence in scripture, and God’s own claim to unlimited knowledge and power? It’s a big step. Big steps are easy to stumble on. But big steps often lead to higher ground.


26 It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD. — Lamentations 3:26 (NASB95)
A church in England has recorded "the sound of silence" on to a CD which has become a surprise hit with its congregation. Members of St Peter's Church in Sussex, England recorded "a little bit of the silence" of the building's atmosphere. The recording features the ambient sound of footsteps, voices, background traffic noise—but mostly just silence.
Robin Yarnton, a church technician at St Peter's, said: "It does what it says on the tin. Silence is all you get. Mostly people have said it's nice and they like it, and that it's quiet and peaceful."
The full CD features a 30-minute track, with a spoken introduction, closing words, and 28 minutes of silence. An article in a Taiwanese newspaper called the CD a "half-hour of absolutely nothing." But it's more accurate to say that it's a recording of something valuable that we've lost in our frantic lives—silence. According to the church, customers from across the world have been snatching up the recording. – Chris Parsons, "St. Peter's Church Records CD of 'the Sound of Silence,'" Yahoo News (10-18-12)
This article caught my attention simply because of something that happened today. I ordered an upgrade to a computer program I use. The DVD came today, so I popped it into the DVD drive expecting to discover some new features on a program I use almost daily. Instead, I got nothing! I opened Windows Explorer to see if I could manually start the install program. There was nothing there! The DVD was blank! They sent me a program disk with nothing on it. I called tech support and discovered the problem. They sent me the Apple version instead of the Windows version. The disk was full of information, but since it was the wrong format, it might as well have been empty.

I don’t think I’d spring for half-hour of nothing for money! Then again, I think I understand what these folks are trying for. Have you noticed how much noise there is? Even in the middle of the night, it’s not totally quiet. Traffic, sirens, booming stereos, airplanes, loud people, even the wind! It’s a noisy world. Wouldn’t a little peace and quiet be nice?

This is the problem that keeps a lot of people from knowing God and following Jesus. Their world is so noisy, they can’t hear a thing God is trying to say. Jesus gets drowned out by the booming racket that plagues our world. Even Christians can get so distracted by the noise they can’t hear their Lord. Try for a little quiet this week. You might like what you hear!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Have You Heard The One About . . . . ?

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones. — Proverbs 17:22 (NASB95)
Robert Provine of the University of Maryland has found that people are thirty times more likely to laugh when they are with other people than when they are alone. When people are in bonding situations, laughter flows. Surprisingly, people who are speaking are 46 percent more likely to laugh during conversations than people who are listening. And they're not exactly laughing at hilarious punch lines. Only 15 percent of the sentences that trigger laughter are funny in any way that is discernible. Instead, laughter seems to bubble up spontaneously amidst conversations when people feel themselves responding in parallel ways to the same emotionally positive circumstances.
Even the seemingly mundane parts of humanity, like laughter, show how we've been hardwired by God to love and enjoy relationships. – David Brooks, The Social Animal (Random House, 2011), page 42

I love humor! I’m a sucker for a new joke or funny story. I often share the ones I hear or read with my preacher friends because I know the value of a good joke or story as a sermon illustration.

A fellow preacher once told me that he moved to a new church to be the minister and his first Sunday there one of his elders took him aside and said, “There will be no jokes in the pulpit.” Now you just need to think about this one a minute and you’ll see why my friend had a hard time not cracking up!

Yes, some humor can hurt people, some is raucous and dirty, and some is just plain wacky. But there is also a lot of good, healthy humor in the world. Someone once said that the ability to laugh at oneself is, perhaps, the greatest promoter of sanity in the world. Maybe so!

Not everybody wakes up ever day looking for a laugh. Many are wrestling with problems and situations that frighten them and make them want to hide. Stress, disappointment, and traumas add up to a weight many of us can’t imagine. Laughter may be the last thing those people find interesting. We need to be sensitive to people in pain.

A joke might not even be appropriate for some people, given what they’re trying to deal with. That said, let me urge you to look for the humor in life. On the average day, most of us would do well to experience a belly laugh or two. Look for the humor around you. There’s more than you might expect. And if you hear a good one, tell it to me!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Sentence

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. — Genesis 1:26–27 (NASB95)
Harvard psychologist and researcher Daniel Gilbert opens his best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness with what he calls "The Sentence." "The Sentence" begins with these eight words: "The human is the only animal that …." Gilbert argues that every professor needs to finish that sentence. – Adapted from Frank Partnoy, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay (PublicAffairs, 2012), pp. 120-123
What a fantastic idea proposed by Daniel Gilbert. Wouldn’t if be fascinating to hear how every professor would finish that sentence? And if professors should answer it, how much more so should preachers answer it?

Gilbert implies that there are a multitude of ways to answer “the question.” If not, I think he would have suggested that the philosophy professor answer it, or the psychologist, or maybe the sociologist, or another. I’m not sure how professors in the various fields might finish the sentence. Perhaps different professors in the same field of study would answer differently.

The same might be true of preachers. I can think of at least a few ways to complete the sentence that would be both true and interesting to consider. But one stands out, and even it might be expressed in different ways.

Here’s how Daniel Gilbert finished the sentence:
The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future ….
[Human beings] think about the future in a way that no other animal can, does, or ever has, and this simple … ordinary act is the defining feature of our humanity.

How would a preacher finish “the question?” Well, here’s one of my suggestions: “The human being is the only animal that was made in the image of God.” I think everything else one could say about human beings flows from that truth.

It’s the reason that sin matters (for example), and that redemption matters, too. God’s eternal purpose and plan for human beings is contained in that germ of truth. Everything that can be said of mankind is about men and women made in the image of God.

Friday, February 22, 2013

What's A Church To Do?

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, — Matthew 28:19 (NASB95)
The population is growing faster than the church is. Because of that, younger generations are more confused about the church and Christianity than ever. The good news is that many churches are focused on doing whatever it takes to help a new generation know and follow Jesus. – Dan Kimball, Outreach Magazine
There’s great concern today throughout the United States, and among churches of all kinds. It seems that people are leaving churches, and fewer young people are showing any interest for investing themselves in the church. Those are sad, but sober facts. We can say we don’t like that news, and that’s fine, but we can’t hide our heads in the sand and deny reality.

There are lots of reasons for this decline. Churches bear a lot of the fault. We come across as too judgmental, not compassionate or caring, overly political, and interested in the wrong things. Those perceptions and more are real. We might want to argue, but we really need to listen, then we need to reassess ourselves and the way we communicate with others.

I'm certainly not suggesting that we change the gospel, or any of the biblical record. That’s not only not necessary, but it would be wrong. But the way we communicate needs to change, and the way we relate to people outside the church must improve. The alternative is that disinterest will grow, more people will either leave the church or fail to participate, and if that happens long enough, individual churches will die. Maybe a lot of them. I don’t think we really want that to happen.

A great many people who are talking about this sound as if they are ready to throw up their hands and surrender. Church leaders are frightened. A lot of preachers are busy pointing fingers of blame. We’re inundated with “experts” who tell us to try this magic formula or that one. What’s a church to do?

I have a couple of suggestions. First, we need to get positive. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most positive thing in the world. It saves the lost, redeems sinners, changes lives, and gives hope both for life and eternity. Now is the time to refocus on the best of all things.

Second, we need to get to work. We do that by trying new things, new ways of reaching out to people, new ways of communicating. In all of that we’ll probably find that human needs are the same as ever, but we need new ways of reaching those needy people. What’s a church to do? A lot! And so we learn new ways to reach new people.

Doing Good For All People

10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. — Galatians 6:10 (NASB95)
Ancient Hebrew wisdom describes four levels of charity. The highest level is to provide a job for one in need without his knowledge that you provided it. The next, lower level is to provide work that the needy one knows you provided. The third level is to give an anonymous gift to meet an immediate need. The lowest level of charity, to be avoided if at all possible, is to give a poor person a gift with his full knowledge that you are the donor. – Robert D. Lupton, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life (Regal, 2007), p. 26
Ancient Hebrew wisdom was truly wise. Their highest level of charity not only provided the help needed, but enabled a person to hold on to their self-respect at the same time. That’s more important than you might think.

Anybody who has tried to help the poor knows it’s not easy. There are those who, because of life’s circumstances, find it necessary to ask for help. There’s a great deal of shame involved, even though there’s nothing really to be ashamed about. Those people are also some of the most appreciative to those who lend a hand.

But those are not the only ones who need help. There are a great many in today’s world who were born into a society that seems to have locked them into a life of poverty. They don’t know anything but how to work the “system” to survive. You can say what you want about a benevolent government, but sometimes, all the well-meaning handouts in the world won’t give a person a sense of self-respect, nor will it teach them how to rise above the bottom.

There are others who, for whatever reason, just choose to live with nothing. Give them something and they’re likely to sell it for drink or drugs.

All of this is greatly over-simplified here. Space is insufficient to accurately, fully, and sensitively address the issues of the poor. And yet, we’re called upon to be gracious in the way we treat people, to help the poor, as best we can, to do more than just survive. It’s a hard job. You can’t help some people. Try as you might, it will drain you and leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth. But you can help some.

Here’s what makes all this harder still - you can’t know which person you can help and which you can’t until you try. It would surely be easier if there was some telltale sign, but there isn’t. Maybe the helping spirit is more about us than the person we help. If we remember that, we’ll always do the right thing, for all people.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Few Thoughts Watching The Inauguration

I've been watching the inauguration of President Barack Obama, so I thought I'd write a few lines as I reflect on this historic event.

I'll state for the record that I did not vote for Mr. Obama. I chose to vote for another candidate for the simple reason that I don't believe that Mr. Obama's or the Democrats in general, offer our country the best political policies. In fact, I think most of what they stand for, promote, and enact legislatively, are dangerous and destructive for the country. But that's another discussion for another time.  I state that to give some perspective on the rest of what I have to say.

As I write this, I'm watching the President make his way back to the White House in a parade. The inauguration is over, the speeches are done, the lunch with his political friends and foes is finished, and only the parties lay ahead. It's been quite a day. Crowds filled the mall, and it was quite touching to see the President, upon leaving the swearing-in ceremony, pause, turn around for one more view of the people, and say something like, "I want one more look. I won't see this again." Even Presidents recognize that power and rule are limited.

Mr. Obama just got out of his limo and is walking with his wife, Michelle, both waving at the crowd and obviously enjoying the moment. So are the people cheering him on.

But, these rah-rah moments don't last long. Tomorrow everyone gets back to work, partisan divide will once again reign, arguments and recriminations will abound, divisiveness will irritate people on both sides, and the hard work of governing a nation will once again put more gray hair on Mr. Obama's head.

As I watch all this, I can't help but reflect on a few things.  First, anybody who doesn't think the United States of America is one unique nation among all the nations of the world, you're not paying attention. Voters get to vote, and we get to elect our leaders. Lots of nations do that, but this is special. Even when we elect leaders from a party other than the one that's been in power, we have order and peace, and the transition is a marvel. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Tea-Party folks - you name it, may not like the person who was elected, but we all celebrate this event. It's more than news. It's history. It's our history. That's something to recognize.

Even though I did not vote for Mr. Obama, I wish him well. I pray for his health and safety, I pray that he will be wise and knowledgeable, I pray that he will have the nation's best interest in his heart and mind, not just an agenda. I pray for his ability to lead in healthy, productive ways. I hope he will focus on things that affect the daily lives of our people, that he gets the unemployed back to work, and that the economy in general will improve. I pray that his professed faith in Jesus Christ becomes a greater part of his life, his thinking, and his politics. Unlike some of his political opponents, I do not hope he fails. I hope he's successful, not in any particular political policy or legislative act, but as the leader of our country. If he fails, I think we all fail.

Whether people like it or not, Mr. Obama is an historic figure. He has some opportunities and responsibilities that no President has ever had. His impact on this country will likely be greater than we know for ages to come. That's powerful! May he capitalize on those things in the most positive, productive ways.

I hope that the rancor and ill-will that seems to permeate politics and that seeps into our society will abate. I recently watched the newly released movies on Lincoln, and if the politics shown in that movie are accurate, it may be that all this is nothing new. Still, it needs to change. Politicians and political operatives thrive on discord, stirring people up, and creating disagreement and hatred. If I could hope that any President would change something, it's all this hate-filled rhetoric. Rhetoric too often leads to hate-filled actions. So, Mr. President, be that uniter that you portrayed yourself to be.

To my friends who are mired down in the doldrums because your candidate lost the election, let me say to all, you need to get up, dust yourself off, quit your fatalistic attitudes, and let's move on. The election is over. If you're not happy, fine, go to work and do your best to get your guy elected next time. You're free to do that. But you're not free to be a stick-in-the-mud impediment. Yes, you can argue for what you think is right, and oppose things that you think will hurt, but at the same time, you need to pray for our President, our Vice President, all those in congress of all parties. You need to remember that it is unity that will make us strong, and division that will weaken us. By the way, those of you who feel like you "won" should think about these same things.

Mr. President, I salute you. I pray for you and your family. I respect the office you have been elected to. I celebrate with you the place in history you hold. You are my President. Be humble and seek God's will as you lead our country. Help us as a people be a good, kind, peaceful, generous nation. God bless you.

Four years from now, unless something drastic changes, I will likely vote for a candidate from a different party. I doubt if you'll convince me that the Democrats have my, or my country's best interest at heart. But right now, you're my guy. Let's go!

Sing Praises To The Lord

17 I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. — Psalm 7:17 (NASB95)
. . . the hymns or choruses we sing—which combine Scriptural truths with moving melodies—teach us things that won't easily be forgotten. That should probably give us pause—pause to reflect on the value of what we have in the hymnals tucked away in our pews; pause to revisit what is being projected on the screens that line the front of our worship auditoriums; pause to remember that God has given us a powerful tool in music and its potent relationship to human memory. – Natalie Angier, "In One Ear and Out the Other," (3-17-09)
Let’s think about singing for a minute, but not like it happens so often nowadays. Too often the only discussion about singing is the old argument about “a cappella” versus mechanical instruments. This is different.

It appears that even science understands the value of singing. The quote above is from an article about memory. One of the points is that we remember things longer depending on how strongly the memory is engraved in the brain. Turns out, singing is a great way to engrave those memories.

Remember learning the alphabet as a child? You probably learned to sing the song. Remember learning the books of the New Testament? Learned those books singing that little song. Singing songs imprints things on the mind.

When you sing praises to the Lord, you are honoring Him, acknowledging Him, worshiping Him, thinking Him, asking things of Him, and thanking Him for things He’s already done. It might appear that it’s all for the Lord’s benefit. Not so. Of course He loves to hear us sing His praises. Surely, God is pleased that we would do that for Him. But there’s more going on.

When you sing, something is happening in your brain. There are things being engraved on your mind. When you sing songs that speak of and to the God we worship, you’re literally training your mind. You’ll remember biblical truths better when they’re sung. You’ll remember God’s blessings when you sing about them.

Next time you take a breath, getting ready to sing, be aware that something marvelous is about to happen in your brain. Just might last a long time, too!


3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. — Romans 12:3–5 (NASB95)
According to new research, over the past 50 years Americans have increasingly emphasized "me" over "we"—or individualism over community. That's based on a heavy-duty analysis of words and phrases that have appeared in American books published in the past 50 years. Researchers used Google Books to scan 750,000 books, comparing the frequency of "me" words and phrases (such as "all about me," "I am the greatest," "I love me," "my needs," etc.) with "we" words (such as "community goals," "we are one," "work as a team," "common good," etc.). Researchers concluded that the results showed an increasing focus on the solitary self. Psychologist Jean Twenge added, "These trends reflect a sea change in American culture toward more individualism." –
We’ve suspected it was true for a long time, and now research validates the suspicion. People are getting more and more self-focused. The idea of community, team, and other group oriented terms mean less and are therefore practiced less. We’re a nation of self-possessed, self-concerned people.

If you don’t think that impacts the church, you’re not paying attention. “What can I get out of church?” is one of the top questions that shapes a person’s involvement. “What’s in it for me?” “Is this something I like?” “Does this meet my needs?” A thousand such questions must be answered. Otherwise, people just don’t want to go through the bother of participation.

Of course we hear rumors that loneliness and feelings of detachment, even abandonment are also on the rise, and that’s not surprising. After all, if nobody wants to go out of their way to connect with others, somebody is probably going to feel left out.

It’s sad that we must continually address this issue. It’s actually not very new. The apostle Paul understood the problem. That’s why he said we shouldn’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Church is a community. It can’t operate if it’s made up of loners. Commit now to rejecting selfishness and self-centeredness. Connect with others. Find your place in the community called “church.” Serve others, and you’ll be served.