Saturday, February 10, 2018

Common Sense Religion

“Common sense? …, ma'am, sense is the most uncommon thing in the world.” --Christopher Morley--

Mr. Morley was right. Much of what passes for common sense is nonsense. People believe things that an investigation would disclose as a fraud. But they are following the crowd, not investigating.

People commonly believe historical falsehoods. Many people believe that the United States constitution speaks of “the separation of church and state.” In fact, no such language appears anywhere in the constitution or any of the amendments. Far from forbidding churches to criticize the government, the constitution actually guarantees churches that right, using language even stronger than that used to protect newspapers from government interference.

People commonly believe scientific falsehoods. Almost anyone will tell you that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 Celsius). That is true if you are at sea level, but try it at Denver and you will get a different result (about 202 I believe).

People commonly believe spiritual falsehoods. Satan has filled the world with religious ideas that are false, and many people (including many church-goers) have accepted these common ideas as the truth.

Do not get your faith from the television. Do not get the content of your religion from what everyone believes. Check it out. Go to the source. Get the facts. It is the scriptures that are able to make us “wise unto salvation through faith in Christ” (2 Tim 3:15). Let us make sure that what we believe can really be found there.

“Common sense” religion, believed by most people, will lead to the wide gate at which many will enter. And that is not a good gate to pass through according to Jesus (see Mt 7:13-27).

Rejoice in the Lord Always

The end of Habakkuk is perhaps the most challenging passage in all of scripture. I am not referring to the textual difficulties concerning the passage. I am not referring to translation difficulties; there are none that I know of in the passage. I am not referring to difficulties understanding what he is saying. It is all too clear what he is saying; but we find it difficult to say it with him.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:1-19, ESV)

Are we ready to say that? There were no supermarkets in 600 BC. If the crops failed the people went hungry. Would we serve God under the circumstances described here? Are we so committed that we will rejoice in the Lord no matter the circumstance?
Obviously, for most, the answer is “no.” Those who have little desire to praise him while living in comfort and plenty, would not take joy in him while suffering.

Where did we get the idea that the Christian life is supposed to be easy? Where did we get the idea that the followers of God will always get what they want? Did Abraham, Joseph, Moses, or Jeremiah always get what they wanted? Did Christ? (Mt 26:39)
We serve a crucified savior. How dare we expect that our path should always be easy?

I do not claim to know that I will always rejoice in the LORD and take joy in God. I do not know what I would do in a case such as Habakkuk describes. But I pray for strength to do better than I am doing, to be more of what I should be, to trust in God, even when everything seems to be going wrong.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Three Index Cards

Batsell Barrett Baxter was a busy man. He was a fulltime college professor who also preached two sermons each week at a local church. He also spoke once per week on national television. I once heard him give this advice on how to get more done.

Brother Baxter said that at the beginning of each week he made three lists (on three index cards). The first card listed things he considered his most urgent tasks for that week. The second card contained things that were important, but not urgent (they needed to be done, but not necessarily that week). The third listed things he would like to do, but which were not all that important. He carried these cards with him all week.

Whenever he had a spare moment, he would pull out the first card – the one that listed matters that were both important and urgent. If possible, he worked on one of those items. He reached for the second card only if he had either completed everything on the first card, or if a situation had arisen where he sincerely could not work on the items on the first card. He went to the third card only if the first two had been completed, or had turned out to be impossible at this time.

That sounds like an effective system, and it certainly worked for Brother Baxter. But, in case you do not like it, let me suggest another way of handling your time.

Do not make lists; just do whatever comes into your mind at the moment. If you get bored or lonely, turn on the television. If you have a spare moment that is not long enough for watching television, play a computer game or search the web a little. I am sure that you can stay busy this way, just as busy as Batsell Barrett Baxter. Of course busy is not the same as productive, but let’s not split hairs.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Perspective on the Times

Garrison Keillor used to joke about a radio show called “Lutheran Whispers.” This mythical show was sponsored by Kierkegaard Hardware and hosted by Thorny Thornburg. Mr. Thornburg was always depressed. He questioned why he had been born Scandinavian (“the food is bad, the weather is terrible, the theology is enough to break a man’s heart”).

I thought of “Lutheran Whispers” this morning. Yesterday I had read a headline in the Christian Chronicle that seemed designed to depress, and it had been effective. I started to question why I had to live at this discouraging time in history.

My morning reading today was the book of Lamentations -- five chapters of lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. It is amazing how a little reflection on biblical history can change our perspective. The year 2018 may not be the greatest year to be alive, but it sure beats 586 BC in Judah!

We may feel like saying, “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath” (Lam 3:1). And that is all right, provided that we go on to remember, ‘The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (Lam 3:22-26, ESV)

It is a difficult time in history. Perhaps it is our duty, and privilege, to make a small but positive difference at this time. Perhaps, like most of the prophets, we will find that our efforts will seem to have failed. But, if we are faithful, at least God’s word will have been proclaimed, even if people fail to respond (Ezek 2:5).

The tide comes in, the tide goes out. The tide is constantly changing. Whichever way the tide of popular public opinion turns, let us be faithful (2 Tim 4:2; 1 Cor 4:2).

Saturday, January 6, 2018

An Aid Worth Owning

The production of Bible study aids is big business. Millions are spent each year on commentaries, class books, study Bibles and computer programs designed to help us understand the Bible. Some of these can be of help, but they can also be dangerous.

Recently one form of Bible study aid has made its appearance that, I hope, no one will find objectionable. It is, pure and simple, the Bible itself – without note, comment or even chapter and verse markings.

Most of us are aware of the fact that the practice of dividing the Bible into chapters and verses did not arise until more than one-thousand years after the apostolic age. But what we may not realize is how much those chapter and verse divisions could be detracting from our Bible reading.

As originally written the thought in a given book of the Bible flowed continuously from beginning to end. As printed in most of our Bibles today, that thought is broken up into small pieces. The way most Bibles are printed unconsciously discourages us from reading large sections. Instead, the appearance of the text on the printed page tends to atomize the thought into disjointed pieces.

Several publishers now offer Bibles (generally called “reader’s Bibles”) that do away with the atomizing verse markings. These Bibles may not be handy for use in a class, but they might do something interesting to your personal Bible reading. You might find yourself reading more scripture, and enjoying it more, with one of these Bibles.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thankful for the Family

The world today has no respect for family. Even many Christians have strayed from God’s plan. Why must we all get a degree? Why must we all earn a wage? Why is it that even Christians put more stock in where people went to school and what employment they have had, than in the job they have done raising a family?

That is not God’s way. His plan, for both men (1 Tim 3:1-5), and women (1 Tim 5:14), emphasizes family.
The world today has no respect for God’s family. The church and the family, the bedrock institutions in days gone by, are openly mocked today.

But God’s household, his family, the church, is important. The truth has been entrusted to it (1 Tim 3:15). The church is the fullness of Christ (Eph 1:22-23). It is through the church that the wisdom of God is made known (Eph 3:10). It is through the church that God is glorified and will be glorified eternally (Eph 3:20-21).

When we are in need, it is to our families that we should turn. We should turn first to our immediate family and then to our spiritual family (1 Tim 5). I have travelled to many parts of the world, and in every place I have gone I have found brothers and sisters. I have enjoyed sharing in worship and work with these brothers and sisters. From the frigid prairies of Western Canada to the mountains and deserts of southern Africa I have found family, people who honor my father, people who embrace me because they too are his children.

I am glad to be a part of God’s family. I am glad to serve with God’s family. I am thankful for God’s family!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Invictus Revised

William Ernest Henley authored the short poem “Invictus.” The last four lines are the only ones known these days.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

I first heard the lines on the old television show “Room 222.” I only watched the show a few times, and limited exposure perhaps has helped me remember what I did watch of it. During the episode that contained the poem, Mr. Kaufman, the school principal, hears complaints about the English teacher, Miss Brown, so he goes by the classroom to investigate.

She is an older teacher, one he had studied under when he was in school. When she sees him enter the room late, her mind goes back twenty years. She thinks that he is still her student. She berates him for being late again, and orders him to stand and recite Invictus.

It was an episode about the tragedy of dementia. It was also an episode about the error of Invictus. Miss Brown was not the master of her fate. She was not the captain of her soul. None of us is (Gal 2:16; Rom 14:7ff).

So I offer you my own revised version of the closing of the poem.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
Christ is the Master of my fate,
The Captain of my soul.