Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Put Your Thinking Cap On

14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. – 1 Corinthians 2:14–15 (NASB95)
Daniel Kahneman, in a Time magazine interview about the quality of our rational thinking: We are normally blind about our own blindness. We're generally overconfident in our opinions and our impressions and judgments. We exaggerate how knowable the world is ….What psychology and behavioral economics have shown is that people don't think very carefully. They're influenced by all sorts of superficial things in their decision-making, and they procrastinate and don't read the small print.  – Belinda Luscombe, "10 Questions," Time (11-28-11), p. 104
Thinking as fallen on hard times. Well, maybe not thinking, but good, solid, reasonable, productive thinking is certainly hard to come by. Even among those with a good education, thinking often falls far short of what it should be.

It’s easy to get caught up in minutia. That happens when people read or study the Bible. Instead of thinking about what they read so as to understand what the writer is saying, they get caught up in rabbit trails, chasing bits and pieces of this or that, but never actually getting the point.

I’m convinced that a lot of the “talking head” experts you see on television use that to throw people off track. Instead of reasonable thinking about problems, issues, and events, they throw a lot of quips, jargon, and fluff our way. It’s like the chaff an airplane pilot might eject to fool a missile about to shoot him down. We get off track because we don’t know how to think our way through.

If you want to be a good Bible student, you have to learn how to think. Good reading skills helps, as does talking with others who have already developed those skills. Read good books on communication. With some effort just about anyone can up their thinking game considerably. Put your thinking cap on. There will be a test.

A Baby Was Born

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” -- Luke 2:10–12 (NASB95)
A lady who served on many civic committees, asked to select carols suitable for a community Christmas-tree lighting, sought the help of her pastor. When she scanned the list he had selected, she exclaimed in dismay, "But they're all so theological." -- Unknown
Ever thought about how very theological is the birth announcement of Jesus? Right there in three verses, you’ve got some pretty serious stuff. Consider: angelology, evangelism, anthropology, soteriology, christology, lordship theology, signs, and incarnation. All of them have some pretty heavy-weight theological considerations behind them.

But we don’t talk in such language for the most part. We leave that to the folks locked inside ivory towers down at the university. Thankfully, we use smaller words. It still means the same.

Angels are messengers from God, and on this occasion, they bring some really good news for everybody. On this day, they announced that in Bethlehem a savior was born. He was the Messiah, the anointed, chosen one. Here’s a sign! Look for a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.

That’s God with us, Immanuel. That’s the divine clothed with human flesh. That’s the promises of God fulfilled in a Son. That’s the perfect life, without sin, given as the sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. There is the grace and mercy of God displayed in the most graphic fashion imaginable. There is God’s love! Forgiveness abounds in a manger. Your whole Bible is focused on that baby and later the man. Your hope for eternity is wrapped in a mother’s arms. Shepherds came with amazed faces. Wise men traveled far to bow and give gifts to the baby born King of the Jews.

We spend so much time fretting over whether or not we’ve got the date right that we miss the birth. Jesus was born. Jesus died and rose again. Jesus is your Savior and Lord. It all came to fruition in a stable, on a night, when angels sang, and a baby was born.

A Christmas Gift

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! – Matthew 7:11 (NASB95)
My three-year-old son helped me with the community toy drive. First he cleaned out his toy box, then helped fix defective items, and collected donations for "kids that don't have anything to play with." When Christmas Day came, Timmy received his much wanted Sesame Street Play House. After playing with it all day, I found him trying to rewrap it. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, "I want to give this to one of the kids that doesn't have anything to play with 'cause if I didn't have any toys, this is what I would want." – Cathie Gebhart, Canton, S.D. Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."
Christmas is all about giving gifts. Sometimes we complain about the commercialization of the holiday, and it’s certainly true that one can get caught up in materialism. Still, there’s a reason we give gifts.

Wise men brought gifts to the new born Christ child. The history of Christmas is all about giving gifts, and they remind us of gifts given to us. Don’t you love what the little boy said. “. . . If I didn’t have any toys, this is what I would want.” And he was giving it away!

So what is it you really want this Christmas? Would you give it away because you liked it so much you figured somebody else would like it too? That’s a real test. Most of us hang on to the things we want and give away things we don’t care all that about. It takes a really generous heart to give away what you love.

It reminds me that this is precisely what God did for us. When he sent his son into the world to become our sin sacrifice, he gave us what he really loved. Scripture testifies to this. Jesus declared it to be true. The Father deeply loved the Son. Then he wrapped him in swaddling cloths and gave him away.

Very likely you give and get some gifts this year. Keep all this in mind as you give to others. And every time you give a gift, think of the one God gave to you. It’s the very best gift he could give.

Grace Gets Exciting!

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14–16 (NASB95)
The litmus test of whether or not you understand the gospel is what you do when you fail. Do you run from God and go try to clean yourself up a bit before you come back into the throne room, or do you approach the throne of grace with confidence? If you don't approach the throne of grace with confidence, you don't understand the gospel. You are most offensive to God when you come to him with all of your efforts, when you're still trying to earn what's freely given. – Matt Chandler, from the sermon "Remembering Your Creator"
Anybody who has heard me preach or teach knows that I love the word, “therefore” (or similar words). It’s a word that is meant to tell us something like, “sit up and pay attention now, a conclusion is coming,” or it brings together a series of thoughts. Sometimes, “therefore” appears in a series (“this” “therefore” “that” “therefore” “more” and so on). It’s a great little word.

It drives home important points. For example, in the passage from Hebrews 4, you’ll see “therefore” at verse 14 and again at verse 16. I’ll let you go read the verses coming before this passage, so you’ll see more of what’s involved in Jesus being our great high priest. But the question might be, “So what?” Well, first, we have a great high priest in heaven, and it’s somebody that can sympathize with our weaknesses. After all, he’s been tempted in all things as we are. Sure, he didn’t sin, but he understands. You really need to get that point.

The next idea is thrilling! When we need mercy and grace, we can approach God’s throne of grace confidently because we’ll get exactly what we need, not what we deserve. Grace gets exciting when you understand it. Some think they need to get things together before they come to God. Grace tells us it’s the other way around. When you need God’s help, go to him. He’s the only one who can clean you up.

Complaining Makes You Dumb!

in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. -- 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB95)
Now here's an interesting take on the need for gratitude (aside from the hundreds of biblical injunctions of course). The magazine Inc. ran an article titled "Listening to Complainers Is Bad for Your Brain." Apparently neuroscientists have learned to measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including a long gripe session. And the news isn't good. The article summarizes the research: "Being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity—including viewing such material on TV—actually peels away neurons in the brain's hippocampus." That's the part of your brain you need for problem solving. So, basically, too much complaining (either listening to it or dishing it out) turns your brain to mush. The article provides three practical steps to avoid that negative, brain-numbing experience of complaining, but that advice can't top the Bible's simple command: "Give thanks in all circumstances". – PreachingToday.com
I have to admit that I got a good laugh out of this. I think I’m going to file it away where I can find it easily because I think it’s going to come in handy. I know some folks who are constant complainers! They just gripe and moan about everything. Now I can tell them they need to cut it out because it’s making them dumb, and I’ve got science to back me up.

Whether this is actually true or not remains to be seen, I suppose, but what I do believe is that complainers often miss the best things. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes a complaint is deserved, and might even result in change that brings better results or better experiences. That’s just true. What we’re talking about are the constant, drip - drip - drip - drip complainers. Those folks can depress everyone around them.

But the more important thing is that complainers are actually disobeying God. You did not misunderstand me. Scripture teaches us to give thanks in everything. There are two very important words in that statement. Thanks. Everything. Three if you want to count the word “give”. Thanks does not good if we just hang on to it. Thanks must be given away, and God says do that in everything. Next time you are tempted to complain about something, give a thought to whether you’re disobeying God.

How To Open People's Ears To The Gospel

30 The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:30–32 (NASB95)
I could not figure Brenda out. She was wealthy and intelligent. She had an exciting social life married to a leading Australian businessman. What was she thinking inviting us for a meal and discussion? At no point was this teacher pushy or preachy. Her style was completely relaxed and incredibly generous. When her VCR went missing one day, she made almost nothing of it, even though she suspected (quite reasonably) it was [someone from] our group. For me, her open, flexible, generous attitude toward us "sinners" was the doorway into a life of faith. As we ate and drank and talked, it was clear this was no missionary ploy on her part. She truly cared for us and treated us like friends or, perhaps more accurately, like sons. As a result, over the course of the next year, she introduced several of us from the class to the ultimate "friend of sinners," Jesus. – John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission (Zondervan, 2010 ), pp. 51-52
If you take a look at how Jesus went about teaching the gospel, he did it by means of friendship, love, and simply being kind to people. I know. We tend to focus on his famous confrontations with Pharisees, and he did have them. But it was mainly because they weren’t interested, and worse, they were enemies out to kill him. He was hardest on those who claimed to be friends of God. They weren’t.

But look closely at the four gospels. Over and over, Jesus dines with sinners, visits with them in conversations, tells stories to illustrate truth, and dispenses grace and mercy everywhere he went. The reason children liked to be around him is that he was easy to be with. It’s the same reason sinners and tax collectors liked to be with him.

The big question is why don’t we learn from Jesus. We keep thinking evangelism depends on some method or formula. We keep holding workshops to teach the latest “secret” techniques. We need to just be more like Jesus. Be a friend to sinners. Be kind to people, love them, act graciously and mercifully. That opens ears like nothing else.

Church Signs

3 “And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? -- Matthew 16:3 (NASB95)
The moment God is figured out with nice, neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. —Rob Bell
I see some funny things on the Internet. I subscribe to some humor resources, and Facebook is good for a laugh on most days. I recently saw a whole blog about church signs. Here are a few good ones:

● Honk if you love Jesus; Text while driving if you want to see him!

● Bring your spiritual marshmallows, our Pastor is on fire!

● Try the bread of life or be toast!

● Sin burn is prevented by Son screen!

● Our congregation is like fudge; sweet with a few nuts!

● Presbyterian Church Parking: Public welcome except during church functions!

My favorite is that last one! I think I know what they meant, but the sign makes them look like the public isn’t welcome at their church.

Obviously, the quote from Jesus above, and these church signs are two very different things. But not completely. I think Jesus implied that people should be able to “read” the signs of the times in which they live. Church signs are often a reflection of our time. “Texting” would have made no sense at all 20 years ago. Today, it makes perfect sense. Every sign demands that we understand how we communicate, and what we’re communicating about.

That leads to my question. What do you think people “read” when they take notice of us? What do they see? What do they hear? Are we like the church with a few nuts? Is your “pastor” on fire? Is the public welcome at our church functions? People will read us. That’s a fact. The only question is what will they read.

Short People Get A's

20 Have I not written to you excellent things Of counsels and knowledge, 21 To make you know the certainty of the words of truth that you may correctly answer him who sent you? – Proverbs 22:20–21 (NASB95)
Roger Wengert, a philosophy professor at the University of Illinois, often begins his introductory ethics classes by asking how many of the students believe that truth is relative. A show of hands usually reveals that two-thirds to three-fourths of the class thinks in this manner. After discussing the syllabus, testing dates, papers and content of the course, Wengert informs the class that they will be graded according to height. When the smart-alecky tall kid loudly agrees with this system, the professor adds, "Short students get A's; tall students flunk."
Inevitably a student's hand is raised: "Your grading system is not fair." "I am the professor," retorts Wengert. "I can grade however I wish." The student insists, "But what you ought to do is grade us according to how well we learn the material. You should look at our papers and exams to see how well we have understood the content of the course and grade us on that." The class nods in affirmation (especially the tall students).
Professor Wengert then replies, "By using words like should and ought, you betray your alleged conviction that truth is relative. If you were a true relativist, you would realize that there is no external standard to which my grading should conform. If my truth and my ethic lead me to an alternate grading system that you deem inappropriate, c'est la vie! I will grade however I wish." – Mark Ashton, Absolute Truth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), pp. 9-10
People today like to think truth is relative. In other words, there are things true for me, and there are things true for you, but they’re not necessarily the same thing. That works pretty well, until my truth bumps up against yours, and then somebody’s truth wins out.

Objective truth means that what’s true for me is also true for you. That doesn’t mean we have to like the same things, or to have the same things. It means that when something is true, it’s true for us both. God is a God of truth, and he doesn’t confuse things by making one thing true for one person and another thing true for the next person. It’s also one reason you can trust the Bible. God’s word is truth. It’s the same story for you and me.

I'm Positive About The Church!

3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. — Romans 6:3–4 (NASB95)
The only omnicompetent Executive chose Simon Peter--a man of great strengths and glaring weaknesses--to lead his fledgling church. – Kenneth B. Quick, Leadership, Vol. 11, no. 3.
I hear lots of people who are down on the church. If you’re looking for somebody who is going to deny that the church deserves lots of criticism, don’t look at me. Frankly, the church has done some bone-headed things. We often talk a much better game than we play, we’re often way too critical of people, there isn’t always much to admire about us, and we fail quite regularly at pretty much everything.

So why would anybody be interested in church? Recently, I told some folks that if I were not already a Christian I doubt that I would be much interested in becoming one. My reason? Most of what I hear about church is sadly negative. Let’s face it, if the very people who make up the church don’t think much of it, then why in the world would I want to be a part of it. It’s like people are saying, “The church is the most pitiful, awful thing in the world. Come on over and join us!” No thanks!

We need a different way of thinking about church. Nobody is suggesting that we deny and ignore our faults, mistakes or failings. But it’s time we focus on why church is a good idea and why it’s worth investing ourselves in it. First, the church is made up of people who have been forgiven of their sins. I didn’t say it was made up of people who don’t sin, I said it’s made up of forgiven people. Even the church gets that one mixed up at times. Second, we’re not only forgiven, we’re the people who are being changed, whose lives are being reformatted and prepared for something eternal. It’s the church that God is working in and through in marvelous ways. People would be worse without the church!

We don’t always get things right. But the great thing about God’s grace is that he won’t give up on us. We should be way more positive about the church. It’s always been populated by failing people. That includes you and me. We need a better focus on what we should be and can be, not what we have been or even what we are today.