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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Made or Become?

I came across a quote the other day that looked like a misquote. Oswald Chambers quoted 1 Corinthians 9:22 from the King James Version, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” That did not sound right to me, but it is. It is not stated that way in other translations, not even in the New King James. Other translations say “I have become,” rather than “I was made.”

I looked the verse up in Greek, and read the thoughts of a number of scholars, and did not learn much from the process. Is the verb active (what Paul “became” of his own doing), or is it passive (what he was “made” to be by a power outside himself)?

Grammatically the matter cannot be settled, but I think in practical terms we know the answer.

We become what God wants us to be only by his power, but only as we submit ourselves to him. He does not work with the proud, but only with those who submit to him (James 4:6ff). We become capable of submitting to others and leading them to salvation only as we allow ourselves to be his instruments. We do not have that ability within ourselves, but we do have that ability made available to us by his grace. We “become” what we need to be only as he “makes” us what we need to be.

Until we recognize that we cannot “become all things to all” except by his power remaking us, we will not become capable instruments for saving others. Trying to remake ourselves is a pointless undertaking. Expecting God to remake us without our willing submission and active participation is equally foolish.

The Propinquity Effect

Research has shown that the more we interact with people, the more likely we are to become friends with them, be influenced by them, and become like them. It is not so much that “birds of a feather flock together” as “birds who just happen to be near each other grow similar feathers.” This is called the propinquity effect.

“Why might this research be important to us?” Well, aside from the fact that it confirms what we should already know from the Bible (1 Cor 15:33; Prov 13:20), it also tells us something about what will happen if we allow our children to grow up spending most of their time with non-Christians.

The propinquity effect is especially strong in youth. Since we no longer have arranged marriages, there is a very strong possibility that young men and young women will be attracted to one another simply because they find themselves thrown together often. I have known a number of young couples who did not have shared values or interests and yet decided to get married. Marriage is still expected of people at a certain age range. If, when they reach that age, there is no one around who shares their values and interests, they will often convince themselves that they are “in love” with someone who happens to be at hand – no matter the unsuitability of the mismatch. A few marriages like this work out, but most are disastrous.

Of course, we cannot guarantee that Christian camps or Christian schools, or Christian singles get-togethers will solve these problems. Perhaps it would be wise to talk with our youth about the propinquity effect. That will not solve the problem either, but at least it will give our youth a better chance.

Then again, maybe we should consider the possibility that we have all come under the propinquity effect. Is the church drifting from its moral and spiritual standards simply because we “flock together” so much with the world?

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).