Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Best Ways to Learn and Remember

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:9, ESV)….

It has often been said that the teacher learns more than the student. Put another way, the best way to learn something, or remember something, is to teach it to others. Deuteronomy 4:9 seems to support that theory. The people of Israel are to make known the deeds of the Lord to their children. In the act of teaching these things to their children, they themselves will be constantly reminded. The one who teaches others is far less likely to forget than the one who keeps his knowledge to himself.

The other reliable way for remembering is to put our knowledge to use. The person who uses his mechanical, mathematical, or biblical knowledge on a daily basis is unlikely to forget that knowledge. The person who merely tucks knowledge away in a corner of the brain is, on the other hand, likely to find that knowledge difficult to locate. Again, this is confirmed in scripture.

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9, ESV). There is no promise of God’s presence to those who merely hear and see, but to those who also “practice.”

If you are one of those people who feels that not much of what has been heard has been retained, maybe it is time to try a more active approach. Instead of merely listening, put what you hear into practice. Instead of merely learning, teach someone.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Cross-Generational Communication

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 6:6-12, ESV)

Two-hundred years ago families did everything together. All the generations worked together on the farm, ate their meals together, spent their evenings together, worshipped together. Having no television, radio, Internet, or cell-phones, they talked to each other all day long.

One-hundred years ago, change had begun. Many of the fathers had taken jobs in factories, so there was not as much opportunity to work together. But families still had their meals together and spent the evening talking over the day. They still worshipped together as a family.

Today, it is not uncommon for the generations to go days, even weeks, without doing anything together. Many aspects of life are easier today than in the past; but it may be more difficult to obey the biblical injunctions regarding parenting. Farm life gave us unlimited opportunities to communicate across the generations. Modern life seems designed to destroy all such communication. But please notice this.

God did not say, “Teach my ways to your children if it is convenient for you to do so.” Convenient or not, it is our duty. We are to be “diligent” in teaching the children.

The church tries to help with this. We offer Bible classes for all ages. We have children’s Bible hour activities during the sermon that develop an idea related to the sermon on a level the toddlers can understand. But unless the parents bring the children to class consistently (and prepared), and discuss what was learned, the classes do not accomplish much. Unless the parents discuss the craft from the children’s Bible hour with the children, the point of the craft may often be missed.

Talk with your kids (and grand-kids). Set an example of interest in God’s word. It is your duty. If you do it faithfully you will also find it to be your joy.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Original or Innovation?

“I do not like National League Baseball,” my friend said. “Who do they think they are changing the rules of the game and making the pitchers bat?”

I thought he was joking; but he was serious. Born near an American League city, shortly after the American League had changed the rules of baseball and stopped requiring the pitchers to bat, he grew up thinking that an innovation was the original and that the original must be an innovation.

The same is true in regard to the church. A church that sticks to what the Bible says will be viewed, by most people, as an odd bunch who have really changed things. Having grown up with religious doctrines and practices that cannot be found in scripture, they think of these innovations as the original. When they meet Christians not practicing what they have always known, they think of these people as innovators. They treat the innovation as the original and the original as an innovation.

Baseball is a human invention, and if humans choose to change the rules they may do so. I prefer the original rules, but the new rules are not sinful. Christianity is from God, and, according to Jesus, any human changing its teachings will be rejected.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, ESV). “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9, ESV).

Is what you believe and practice the true, original Christianity, or a human innovation? You need to find out. It will make an eternal difference.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Facebook, Twitter & Other Stuff (that I do not use)

I have never had a Facebook or a Twitter account. I do not have a phone capable of sending a text message. I have observed others doing these things and decided that they are not for me. But the fact that I do not use them does not mean that I condemn you for using them. I hope that you will use good judgment in making use of these technologies. I trust that you will use them “in the name of the Lord” as a Christian should do everything (Col 3:17).

What does it mean to use Facebook, Twitter, and similar apps in the name of the Lord and to his glory?

First, it means not posting anything by means of such media that you would not present in person. Foul language and immodest attire should be no more acceptable for a Christian online than they are in real life. Repeating gossip is no more acceptable online than it is in person. If you do not know it to be fact, do not repeat it. If a fact will hurt rather than help, do not send it on to hurt others.

Second, use your electronic accounts to point people to the Lord. Post things on Facebook, Tweet things, send a text that will encourage spiritual examination and might even prompt someone to join with the Lord’s people in worship.

Some weeks ago a member posted some very uplifting comments about our Sunday morning worship on Facebook. Frankly, I think that should be happening most weeks. If a song touched your heart, if the sermon spoke to your needs (or to your temptations), why not Tweet it or text it to someone who should have been here? Why not mention it on Facebook?

If we are going to use these media, we ought to use them to the Lord’s glory (Col 3:17). Do your posts, tweets, and texts glorify him?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Humble Yourself

“The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk.”
--Cicero
I found that in an article on management by Oleg Vishnepolsky. The article was titled, “Humble yourself, or life will do it for you.” There were several such gems in the article. He cited a Brown University study as showing that the “Number 1 reason why smart managers fail is arrogance.” He said that a Duke University study found that humble managers get superior results. And he quoted Peter Drucker as saying, "Never promote people into leadership positions who believe they can do no wrong."

I trust that we already knew all of this. After all, the book we read and strive to obey contains many similar statements.

“You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down” (2 Samuel 22:28). “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). “For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down” (Psalm 18:27). “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:9. “The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground (Psalm 147:6). “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Proverbs 3:34). “… this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6). “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10, all from the ESV).

I have no idea how to pronounce “Oleg Vishnepolsky,” so I think we should learn humility because the Bible says so. It is easier to pronounce, as well as being a greater authority on the subject.

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Committed Legalist

I grew up a committed legalist. Many who would make the same confession would then go on to blame their parents or the church of their childhood; but I do not see it that way.

Perhaps some of the early teaching I received contributed to the problem, but the problem was (and is) mostly internal. Legalism in one form or another is not second nature to fallen humans; it is first nature. It is deeply rooted in the way we think.

We want to justify ourselves. We want to save ourselves. As soon as we hear Paul saying, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” we want to start qualifying and watering down his statement. We fail to see that, in attempting to justify ourselves, we are robbing God of his rightful glory (see Romans 9:3-10:4), and saying that Christ died for no reason (Gal 2:21).

Do you ever wonder, “Am I a legalist?” If you do ask yourself that question, there is a chance that you are not a legalist. But, if you are real sure that you are not a legalist, then I would say it is nearly dead certain that you are. The litmus test for legalism, like so many things in Christianity, is counter-intuitive. The way up is down. The first is last; the last is first. A dying Savior gives us life. Those who think they see are blind; while those who know their own blindness have begun to see (Jn 9:40f). The person who recognizes his own tendency to self-justification has begun the cure. The person who does not recognize it in himself has not even begun to be cured.

Do not ask a drunk to explain drunkenness. He can’t. You have to be sober to understand drunkenness, wide awake to understand sleep, saved by grace to see the danger of legalism.

I hope that we are awake to our own legalism so that we can see its danger, flee from it, and cling to Christ.

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.