Quick Thoughts: The Discipline of God

​The discipline of both God and parents must include more than instruction. Teaching provides knowledge but knowledge by itself is nothing without application. As in school, it is insufficient for the chemistry teacher to only lecture. He must also include a lab so that the objective truth of what he taught can be subjectively observed and verified. It is the lab that tests and proves the student’s understanding of and ability to apply the truth he has learned. Without such personal interaction with the truth, the teacher’s words fail to transform the seed of knowledge into a thriving, fruit-bearing tree. 

Most students view knowledge as malleable, subject to change, and constantly evolving; therefore, the knowledge they hear is often dismissed as either irrelevant, incomplete, or inapplicable and effects little to no change in their life. But the student who has wrestled with the teacher’s words, tested them in the lab of life, and has seen them proven true knows that these lessons are not mere words. They are more than that. For now they have been internalized. No longer are they part of an ever-changing body of knowledge. Now, they resonate within the student as transforming, eternal truths.

Therefore, “Count it all joy, my brethren, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3) Mere words cannot produce such a response. Nor can “a good talking to.” The only discipline that produces the proper response is the one that provides a test. 

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The Day After Christmas

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20 NIV)

 

Ok. So here we are. The tree is bare. The used wrapping paper has been thrown away. And the holiday sugar crash has come and gone. Now, we are just trying to figure out how soon we want to step back on the treadmill. Some of us had a day off from work since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, but we are already beginning to look at our compressed schedules for the week and wondering, “Can I get everything done?” And the kids, who were so excited at 7 a.m. yesterday morning, are beginning to say, “I’m bored.” (Except for the one who got a Samsung Gear VR. He’s happily spinning in a chair, detached from his family, entertaining himself in another world)

Some of us had a day off from work since Christmas was on a Sunday this year, but we are already beginning to look at our compressed schedules for the week and wondering, “Can I get everything done?” And the kids, who were so excited at 7 a.m. yesterday morning, are beginning to say, “I’m bored.” (Except for the one who got a Samsung Gear VR. He’s happily spinning in a chair, detached from his family, entertaining himself in another world)

We’ve looked at the decorations once, but we don’t want to deal with that now. And the leftovers. Who’s going to eat all of that food? Our mind’s eye pictures the treadmill again. Maybe if I set it at just a slightly higher incline…

But it’s no use. We feel exhausted just thinking about summoning the energy needed for everything that lies ahead.

Is this what God intended for Christmas to be like?

Sometimes I wonder.

Our tradition of gift giving comes from the “three” (there could have been more) wise men. But they did not arrive to give their gifts until Jesus was around 2 years old. On the night of His birth, however, there was only one gift given to the Christ child.

No. Not “the gift of life.” That’s too obvious. And for a God who was preexistent, unnecessary.

No, what Christ received the night of His birth was both simple and profound. Summoned by a great company of angels, a throng of smelly shepherds searched every place in Jerusalem that had a manger until they discovered the sight of the nativity. There, surrounded by a small contingent of animals, a man and a woman bent over the small wooden trough and marveled at their newborn son. It must have been awkward for the parents to have this band of men peek their heads in and ask to view the baby. But they allowed it. And when the shepherds saw the angels’ message was true, it was then and only then that they gave their gift to the Christ.

What was the shepherds’ gift?

They gave the gift of praise.

Appropriate. Don’t you think?

In the true spirit of Christmas, “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.” Yes, the one Christmas gift that Christ received on his birthday is the same gift we seem to fail to give him every year.

We are so focused on giving to each other (and, let’s be honest, on receiving as well) that we forget to give the one gift that persists and remains relevant even 2000 years later.

Praise.

So, let’s take a moment. If this day after Christmas is leaving you feeling blah-hungover, maybe it’s time to put the focus back on the person it is intended to celebrate. Maybe today can be the beginning of exhilarated rejoicing of a promise fulfilled to all humanity. Maybe today we can begin to see Christmas for what it really is. God. In the flesh. As a baby. Given to mankind to take away the sins of the world.

If that’s not something to celebrate, you may have your priorities wrong.

 

(Quote from Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”)

Neuroscience and Jesus


This is my dog, Hobbes. And he barks.

A lot.

A car goes by. My dog barks. A neighbor walks past our house. My dog barks. The mailman drives past. My dog (cliché that he is) barks. And heaven help the little Girl Scout who rings the doorbell. The only threat she poses is to my wallet, and I am convinced that if dogs could understand the joy of chocolate, Hobbes would stand on his hind legs, put on a pair of reading glasses, and write her a check himself for a truckload of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties.

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Quick Thoughts: Delight Yourself in the Lord

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Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.[b]
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3-4)

 

If you have been in church or around the Bible for any season, this verse has probably popped out at you at some point. On the surface, it sounds like a man-centered verse. It almost has the nasal ring of a carnival ringmaster crying out to the crowd, “Step right up! Step right up! Get the desires of your heart today! Do you want money? A promotion? A better marriage? You can have anything your heart desires! Just delight yourself in the Lord and you can have it all!”

Of course, this interpretation of the verse is all poppycock. It is not about me getting a new car or having my team win the World Series or, on  a more serious note, having an addiction suddenly removed from me.

Rather, the focus of the verse is about getting the desires of your heart correct. To begin with, the Bible tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) And it continually instructs us to cleanse our hearts, to lay aside selfishness, worry, and “the sin that so easily entangles.” Pursuing the desires of a sick heart is not the goal of a holy God. He wants to correct the desires first and then fulfill the desires of the new heart.

But how do we do that?

Well, think of yourself as an iPhone and God as your iTunes account. You have some of the songs on your iTunes already added to your phone, but not all of them. For what you have, it works…mostly. But it is not a good copy of the master version on your desktop. If you want your phone to have everything that resides on your master version, the only way to get them is to sync your phone up to the computer. So, you plug in your USB to your phone and to the computer, and voila! You now have your songs. This is similar to what God is telling us to do in verses 3 and 4 here. When the psalmist writes, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness,” he is telling us to “sync” our heart with God’s. That the way to get the Master’s version to overwrite our current heart is to:

  1. Trust in the Lord (not in yourself.) Remember, trusting in yourself got you into this mess. Trusting yourself won’t get you out of it.
  2. Do good. – This means to do the right and ethical thing according to God’s law/standards. We like to think that we are a law unto ourselves (“Well, that may be true for you, but not for me.”) But when we live according to God’s standards, a change begins to occur in us that transcends even the rule of self.
  3. Dwell in the land – Don’t just vacation in God’s land. Live there. He has reserved a specific place for our hearts to live and if we will make it our residence, we will find the fruit is sweeter and the victories are sure.
  4. Befriend faithfulness – Another way of translating this, is “feed on faithfulness.” Let faithfulness be your nourishment.  The safe pasture that strengthens your whole being.  Don’t be flaky or wishy-washy. Stand firm. Be strong and courageous. But be faithful to what/whom? Faithfulness to God and His ways. Do  not waver from His principles, but allow it to guide your decisions and the way you interact with others.

Thus, when he says, “Delight yourself in the Lord” in verse 4, he is merely summarizing the four points listed above. In this light, the words “And he will give you the desires of your heart” become not a prescriptive statement, such as “if you do A, you will get B.” Rather, it becomes a descriptive statement, such as “when you do A, you will have B.” The focus, then, is not on the getting but on the becoming. It is about God changing your desires to mirror His own, so that now, together, you and He can pursue the same desires.

Sync your heart up to God’s. Trust in Him. Do good. Dwell in the land. Feed on faithfulness. Then your desires will be like His. And you will have the desires of your heart.

Why I Decided to Stop Reading the Bible Every Year

fasting1When I was a teenager, I began the practice of daily Bible reading. My pattern was to read a chapter in the morning and a chapter in the evening in order to bookend my day with the thoughts of God.  Using this method allowed me to finish the Word approximately every two years. But this changed four years ago after I downloaded a Bible app to my phone. Excited with all of the functionality and options for studying that it allowed me to do, I chose to begin a new Bible reading plan, one that would allow me to read through the entire text in a single year. This meant that I would be reading four or five chapters a day from the Bible.

Admittedly, ego drove this decision more than devotion or fervency for God. I wanted to be able to say, at least to myself, that I had read through the Bible “x” number of times in my life. Something about the number made me feel good about my walk with God. In hindsight, though, this gory self-righteousness led me down a path that was neither spiritual nor helpful for my Christian life. Thus, I have decided it is time to stop reading the Bible every year. Below are my top 10 reasons why:

 

  1. The Bible is to be absorbed, not raced through like a NASCAR race
  2. The Bible is made for man and is best understood in small doses in order to understand its application to life, but reading through it in a year only provides a large 30,000 foot overview.
  3. The Bible is designed to reveal God but, as with all things, speed blurs perception.
  4. If I only have 20-30 minutes each morning to read my Bible, I will get more out of it by examining how this passage connects to others or meditating on a manageable bite size piece, rather than reading 4 chapters and having no time for meditation or study.
  5. The Bible is not only to be meditated upon but also applied. I cannot apply a lesson I have not taken the time to learn. Most likely the only lessons that I am “hearing” when I read through the Bible in a year are the ones I remember the Lord teaching me from the past, not new ones that challenge me.
  6. Reading it through in a year can be more about successfully accomplishing a goal than becoming closer to or more like the LORD.  If my life is to be lived in such a way so that others may see the perfections of God publicly displayed through me, then I must take the time to understand how to exalt the LORD with all of who I am. To learn how, as John the Baptist said, I must become less so that He becomes more.
  7. As Chaucer once said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This year I began to realize that I was reading the Bible much like a movie I have seen a hundred times, anticipating the memorable or favorite scenes, but not enjoying it. Such an exercise feels like a duty, not a relationship with the text or the Creator who wrote it.
  8. It taps into my sinful nature much more easily than I anticipated: perfectionism masquerading as holiness, self-righteousness obscuring shame, self-blame and feelings of failure when I miss days that I should have read, as well as pride in doing the safe and private task of reading instead of the dangerous task of actively serving others with the power that God provides.
  9. The Bible is to be a starting point, not an ending point, for Christian living. It points us towards God and holy living. Making our calling and election sure is more than an intellectual agreement with a specific set of teachings. It is also a daily behavior that confirms that we are Christ’s and that He is ours. That the two have become one. The choice to love God is not one we make only at a singular point in time. Rather, it is one that we continue to make throughout our lives, sometimes even several times a day, so that we may know the joy of continually turning towards each other, even when our beloved makes no sense or hurts us. In other words, it is embracing the vulnerability of love in order to gain the intimacy of relationship.
  10. Aside from the incarnation, the Bible is God’s most vulnerable expression of who He is. It is the place where He bares His heart, communicates His desires, shares the joys and sorrows of His past, explains His frustrations, and voices His profound yearning for a deeper relationship. But if I am trying to get through four or five chapters before I start my day, I will often hear His mouth, but miss the message of His heart.

 

What am I going to do instead? I think I will go backward in order to move forwards. Get out my pen, annotate the text, and really try to see how all the parts connect to each other. A chapter or two each day. As they say in the South, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”