Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Spiritual Metacognition

“Metacognition” is a fairly new term used to describe thinking about the process of thinking. The best students are those who use metacognition. They not only study well, but they try to view themselves in the process of studying so that they can evaluate and improve their approach to study. They don’t just study algebra or zoology; they think about how they study algebra or zoology.

Surely this concept has application to worship and Christian service?

The most faithful Christians not only worship and serve, they also think about how they worship and serve. They strive to do so better. The concept seems to be similar to Paul’s statement in Philippians 3.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus
. (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV)

A dandelion from the hand of a three-year-old delights a parent or grandparent. The same gift from an adult is not so delightful.

Are we growing in our Christian service? Do our lives honor the Lord more now than when we began? Do we honor him more than we did five years ago? If we are not growing, if there is no sign of improvement, if our service has remained the same, then in reality we are regressing. To still be bringing him the gifts of our spiritual childhood when we ought to be spiritually maturing is really to dishonor the Lord.

Let us apply some metacognition to our spiritual lives. Let us not only worship and serve, let us seek to improve our worship and service.

Friday, October 6, 2017

July 1999

I was standing atop the high-wall (an artificial cliff created by strip-mining). I was staring off in the distance, trying to prepare myself. The Hospice nurse said that Dad would be gone soon, and that Mom was not far behind. I was due back in Africa in ten days.

A cousin, driving by in his pickup, stopped to talk. He expressed sorrow for the coming loss. I managed to express to him that, despite outward appearances, my parents were in better shape than he.

I doubt that it registered. Although his parents were both Christians, and had attended worship pretty regularly, he had never learned the gospel. His conception of Christianity was somewhere between vague and radically mistaken – likely closer to radically mistaken. I am not sorry that I spoke, but I doubt it did any good.

Children absorb that to which they are constantly exposed. An hour per week of worship does not make a lasting impression on them. Even three hours per week does not make much of an impression. The world speaks to them constantly. The voice they hear most often is the voice they learn to heed.

Bring your children to class as well as to worship. Speak of Christ at home as well. Focus your own life on the gospel if you intend for it to make an eternal difference for your children.

My words meant nothing to that cousin. He did not have the background to understand. I fear that this is the case with many children today, even children of Christian parents.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, ESV)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fake News Regarding Faith

I have heard it said that Christians are just as likely to be divorced as non-Christians. Often the statement is made by preachers, usually in the midst of an exhortation to be more diligent in the practice of our faith. But it seems that this so-called statistic is not even close to accurate.

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains that of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend worship 60% have been divorced. But of those who attend church regularly only 38% have been divorced. Admittedly, 38% is still not good. But the gap is significant. [Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites ...and Other Lies You've Been Told, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2010), p. 133.]

Those who attend worship regularly are much less likely to be divorced than those who consider themselves Christians but do not attend regularly. I wonder what the figure would be if we checked those who both attend worship regularly and who worship at home? What of those who attend worship regularly, worship at home and who are involved in some form of Christian service?

Don’t be fooled by fake news. A mere verbal faith does not make a difference in divorce statistics, but a living and active faith makes a significant difference.

Let’s try that last statement with a slight change.

Don’t be fooled by fake news. A mere verbal faith does not make a difference in one’s salvation, but a living and active faith makes a significant difference.

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, ESV).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Extremism and the Gospel

I do not like extremism. I am not one of those fans who insists on watching every game. Nor do I paint my face or wear funny clothes to show my loyalty. I have my preferred brands, but I acknowledge that other manufacturers have good products. I like pork better than chicken, but I have no objection if you prefer chicken to pork.

But, on the other hand, I cannot understand a half-hearted approach to serious matters.

Justice is not served when criminals are sentenced to less than they took. A theft of $100 is not justly punished with a fine of $99. The entire amount should be repaid, and a sum adequate to cover all costs should be added. That is not extreme; it is simple logic.

If we really believe that God the Son surrendered the glories of heaven for a life of poverty and a painful death, it will make a very notable difference in our lives. If there is not a notable difference in our lives, evidently we do not really believe.

To insist that everyone should have our same brand preferences or that everyone make our same food choices is extreme. To recognize that everyone ought to know, and love, and serve Christ is not extreme. Either the gospel is true, in which case everyone needs to hear it and respond to it, or it is false. On this issue, there is no middle ground. We need to agree with the Apostle Paul when he said to Agrippa, “I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am” (Acts 26:29, ESV).

We used to hear it asked, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Surely anyone who really believes the gospel will be leaving enough evidence for a speedy verdict. The world will surely call such a person an extremist, a madman (Acts 26:24). So it was for the early disciples, and so it should be for us.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Obeying the Gospel

I remember when it was popular to say, “The gospel is the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:3-4). Good news is just believed; it cannot be obeyed. We should not speak of obeying the gospel.”

The rather obvious problem with such thinking is that the Bible itself speaks of obeying the gospel (1 Thess 1:8).

We obey the good news when we reenact the death, burial, and resurrection in baptism (Rom 6:3-4). But surely that is not all. We must not stop at a ceremonial reenactment. The last phrase of that passage indicates that we are to rise to “walk in newness of life”.

What will be characteristic of a gospel shaped life?

The gospel did not begin at Calvary, at Jerusalem, at Nazareth, or even at Bethlehem. The gospel began in eternity, in the decision of God to become man. Jesus, in giving up what was rightfully his, chose to bless others. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). To live a gospel shaped life, we also must find ways to serve others. Out of our confession of the gospel will flow gifts to others (2 Cor 9:13-14).

What is flowing from our lives? Are we obeying the gospel?

Obeying the gospel is not seen primarily in the “bad” things we avoid (although there are plenty of bad things we should avoid). Obeying the gospel is patterning our lives after the example of Jesus; it is a matter of actively seeking a life of service to others (especially of spiritual service that will make a difference for eternity).

Let us all ask ourselves, “Am I obeying the gospel?”

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Spiritual Fog

“Spiritually, we are all good at producing fogs.” – Oswald Chambers

Whatever one may think of Oswald Chambers, he certainly had a picturesque way of describing spiritual realities. Chambers lived much of his life in England, in an era when nearly everything was coal powered and the natural fogginess of the British climate was supplemented by human produced smog. Chambers’ writings are nearly all aimed at those who claimed to be Christians, but who often clouded the spiritual realities rather than clarifying them.

Undoubtedly, there are mysteries involved in the faith; there are scriptures that are difficult to understand. The Bible admits this (2 Peter 3:15-16). But much of it is quite clear. The fundamentals of the faith are simple enough for us to understand. His word is not too high for us (Dt 30:11-12; Rom 10:6-8). Much of the spiritual fog that exists for us exists because we have created it.

We do not want to obey, so we pretend that we do not understand. Sometimes we pretend so well and for so long that we start to believe our own pretending. Honesty in confessing our sins and facing our responsibilities is what it takes to clear this fog.

Sometimes we simply do not think about the things that matter often enough. No subject can be mastered in an hour or two per week. Yet this is all most people devote to understanding God. A regular habit of Bible study is needed to clear this kind of fog.

The Lord is not unclear, he is light (Jn 8:12). The fog that we perceive is fog we have created because deep down we fear to know him as he wishes to be known. Let’s be honest. Let’s be diligent. Let’s stop producing fog.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Neglected Means of Protection

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you
(Psalm 5:11, ESV).

In Hebrew poetry, the second line of a verse normally restates or expands on what was said in the first line. In the verse cited above, to “rejoice” and to “sing for joy” are different ways of expressing the same idea. This thought is expanded on when the writer adds a third line, “and spread your protection over them.” He then restates it yet again in the fourth line.

Let us focus for a moment on that third line. How do we spread the protection of God over ourselves? There are a number of sound biblical answers to this question. We might seek to spread his protection over us in prayer (Mt 6:13). We might seek his protection by means of memorizing his word (Ps 119:11). We certainly should seek his protection by means of close association with his people (Eccl 4:9-12). This psalm seems to suggest that we do so by means of rejoicing, singing, exulting.

The person who rejoices in what God has done thereby continues to protect himself in the Lord. In acknowledging the Lord’s past deeds, we admit our neediness. In admitting our neediness, we avoid the temptation to trust in ourselves. Not trusting in ourselves, we cling more closely to him, and in this we are protected from future danger.

Sing! Sing in the shower. Sing in the car. Sing at home with your family. Sing mentally even when you cannot sing aloud. Let us sing for joy at what the Lord has done for us, and thus spread his protection over us for the days ahead.