It’s A Small World

September 23, 2016

Have you ever met a perfect stranger and after a bit of conversation find out that you have a mutual acquaintance? Or, maybe in the conversation you find out that someone you know knows someone they know.

Social psychologist Stanley Milgram did a study on such coincidental meetings. He selected a group of people at random. He gave each of them a document to be sent to another person chosen at random from across the country. The instructions were that they were to mail the document to someone they knew that had the greatest chance of knowing the target individual. That person was to follow the same instructions until the document reached the randomly selected target individual. How many such mailings do you think it would take to reach the target? It only took from 2 to 10, with 5 being the most common number.

John Allen Paulos in his book, Innumeracy, suggests that there is a 1 in 100 chance when we meet a stranger that we will have a common acquaintance. But there is a 99 in 100 chance that we will be linked to one another by a chain of only two intermediates.

It’s a small world. We are linked to one another more closely that we may realize. We need to remember the teaching of Jesus:

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:46–48, ESV)

May we show kindness to all we meet. May we demonstrate the love of the Father in all aspects of our life.

Who knows what may come of a chance encounter? We may find connections that we never dreamed of. But more importantly, we may be that person’s connection to hearing about Jesus.

Let us not be afraid to share our faith. After all, it’s a small world.

Are You Connected?

September 16, 2016

Psychiatrist, Dr Edward M. Hallowell, in his book Connect, argues that we all need connectedness to live more fulfilling and healthier lives. Connectedness is more than just human contact. It is to feel a part of something larger than yourself. It’s feeling close to another person or group. It’s feeling welcomed and understood.

To connect to other people is not just emotionally desirable—it affects us physically. He cites the Alameda County Study by Dr. Berkman. She and her team surveyed people between the ages of 30 to 69 to determine how they were connected or not connected. The group was followed over a period of nine years. Isolated people were found to be three times more likely to die in that nine-year period than those with stronger social ties. The statistical advantage of living longer was evidenced in every age group. Even those with poor health at the beginning of the study or whose life style posed greater health risks lived longer if they had strong social ties.

Being connected gives meaning in life. It provides emotional resources in times of crisis and the physical benefits noted in the Alameda County Study. Yet modern life often frustrates these important relationships. Hallowell comments: “But many things get in the way of people reaping these benefits, stumbling blocks like too many daily obligations, or shyness, or time, or fear.”

This research shouldn’t surprise the reader of the Bible. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” which resulted in the creation of woman and the family. Through history, God has also desired a people to worship and serve Him—the families of the patriarchs, the assembly of Israel, and now the church of Christ. Hallowell certainly argues that connectedness can be found in many different ways, and he is primarily dealing with emotional and physical health benefits. But it is obvious that the church provides this connectedness with its emotional and physical benefits, plus a spiritual benefit.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19–25, ESV)

The stumbling blocks to connectedness in general can also be stumbling blocks to connectedness in the assembly—“too many daily obligations, or shyness, or time, or fear.” For emotional, physical, and spiritual health, we need one another. Are you connected?

Bruises, Sores, and Raw Wounds

September 2, 2016

As Isaiah looked around at the people of his day, he saw a generation that was trusting in self not God. They were rebellious, abandoning God, and even despising him. While outwardly religious, they continued in an evil lifestyle. The result was a mass of hurting people. He addresses them as “a people laden with iniquity” (Isaiah 1:4).

Why will you still be struck down?
Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
and the whole heart faint.

From the sole of the foot even to the head,
there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
and raw wounds;
they are not pressed out or bound up
or softened with oil. (Isaiah 1:5–6, ESV)

Isaiah experienced the distress of trying to warn people who were going the wrong way. Immorality has a way of leading to pain and brokenness. How often his pleas seemingly fell on deaf ears!

Isaiah described the people of his day as “people who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). That has a very modern ring to it. While people declare that they decide what is right and wrong, violations of God’s moral will continue to result in brokenness.

But Isaiah also had hope. Though we may mess up our lives until we are like a wounded person there is still hope for us with God.

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)

The message rings out loud and clear: without God there is brokenness, with him there is healing. When we find ourselves wounded and bruised by our own willfulness — sitting in the mess we have created, let us run to the Father just as the prodigal son did. May we find that in him there is forgiveness and healing.

Handling Accurately the Word of Truth

August 27, 2016

Charles Shultz had a great “Peanuts” cartoon where Charlie Brown is so busy reading his Bible that he forgets to feed Snoopy. Snoopy bangs on the door, enters and fixes his own meal, but before leaving has Charlie Brown read Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee.” Charlie Brown cries out in reply, “Give me two weeks and I’ll find a verse to answer you.”

In his cartoon, Schultz poked fun at an all too common approach to scripture. Many people take the verses of the Bible as if they were a string of unrelated statements which can be pulled out to prove just about anything.

We must guard ourselves against this danger. Even though the Bible is inspired by God, we must use the same kind of common sense approach that we would use in understanding other books. We need to ask what kind of writing is this? For example, is this part of the Bible narrating history? Is it a letter? Is it prophecy? Is it poetry? After determining what style of writing it is, there would be further questions. To whom is it written? (In answering this question, we would want to include in our answer whether it is written to people under the old covenant or the new covenant.) And we need to ask who is speaking. After all, Satan is quoted in the Bible.

We would want to understand the verse within its immediate context (the surrounding verses and chapter), the wider context of the book, and the overall context of the whole Bible. We would want to interpret difficult and obscure passages in the light of clearer passages on the same subject.

There are in fact two distinct steps: (1) what does the passage mean, and (2) how does the passage apply to me. In the first step, we are asking what did the passage mean when first written and read by its first readers. After determining that, we may ask how do we apply this to ourselves.

Let us go back to the example of Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee.” In the psalm this quote is spoken by God. He is rebuking his people for combining wickedness with worship. They continue to offer the sacrifices, but it is not matched by right living. He reminds them that the sacrifices are not made because God is hungry or has needs, “for the world is Mine, and all it contains” (Psalm 50:12b). In application to us, this psalm can remind Christians that we must serve God in all things, both in our worship and in our everyday behavior. God doesn’t need us; we need him. But clearly the verse means something different in the context of scripture, than it did in the context of the conversation between Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Their error is an easy one to commit, but with care an easy error to avoid.

The Bible is not an impossible book to understand as long as we approach the Bible the right way. May we follow Paul’s instruction to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB).

To Have a Second Chance!

August 15, 2016

She felt herself being carried along by the mob, like driftwood bobbing on the waves. The most intimate of human moments—and one that she definitely had hoped would always be a secret—had now become glaringly public. She had barely grabbed her clothes. She felt and looked disheveled.

And where was he? Her friend. Her lover. Her downfall. Why did it suddenly look like he was a co-conspirator in destroying her life? The forbidden fruit that had looked so alluring was beginning to taste bitter. She cried. But tears to a mob are but one more thing to taunt.

She feared for her life. No legal court would have executed her. The Romans had reserved that power for themselves. But would the mob that had burst into her life play by those rules. Anyway she thought, she might as well be dead. Her life was ruined.

She overheard them, “If he sides with Moses, we’ll condemn him to the Romans. And if he sides with the Romans, we’ll condemn him to the people.” They looked so pompous—they had their large, scripture-box phylacteries and long blue tassels on their garments. They, the powerful, had trapped her to be the bait in a bigger trap. So the kangaroo-court of a mob made its way to Jesus.

“Teacher,” the spokesman began, “this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.” You could hear the sneer in his voice and see the look of contempt. He continued, “In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a one. What do you have to say concerning her?”

The air was charged with tension, but Jesus stooping down wrote on the ground. They continued to prod with their question. Jesus stood and said, “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone at her.”

She flinched thinking it was all over. She had wasted her life. She waited for the first stone. A stone that didn’t come as they all left from the oldest to the youngest.

Jesus looking up said, “Women, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

Having acknowledged his question, she could hardly believe his reply, “Neither do I condemn you. Go—from now on—sin no more!”

To have a second chance! Forgiveness! Good news!

Postscript: I’ve used my imagination to picture the scene — to think about what it might have been like. But let me encourage you to read John 8:3-11. What does it feel like to have a second chance?

Reflections on an Old Bible

August 5, 2016

When I was at my Mom’s house, I found the Bible I had as a teenager. It was a King James Bible that my grandparents had given me as I entered my teen years. Later, I purchased a NASB right before I headed to college. The complete NASB (Old Testament and New Testament) was first published in 1971, which coincides with my high school graduation and first year of college. So somewhere along the way this old Bible was left on a bookshelf at my Mom’s house.

It was fun to look through my old Bible after so many years. It’s a bit dilapidated. I may have been rougher on it than I should have been, however, Bibles are meant to be worn out. Our frequent use of them should take a toll on them. I once read that Bible publishers suggest that the life expectancy of a bonded leather Bible is about 10 years, 5 years for a hardback, and 1 year for a paperback.

I was interested in the notes that I had placed in it. Bible knowledge is not gained in a day. It takes a life time of study. The notes that I had made as a teenager were very basic. It contained scripture references that today I probably wouldn’t need any help finding. I had written down concepts that back then I probably understood very imperfectly. For example, I misspelled the word “Pentateuch” — a word that means 5 scrolls which is normally applied to the first five books of the Old Testament, and I don’t believe that 1 Timothy has 15 chapters the last time I checked. I was told not to write in a book as a child, which meant do not write in the school owned textbook, because someone else is going to use it. We should ignore that order when it comes to books we own. One important was of learning the content of a book is underling or highlighting passages and making marginal notes.

All these notes represent an effort on my part to learn. Learning always involves effort. We cannot be passive listeners and expect to gain much from the lessons we hear. I am afraid that a verse that is true of many is 2 Timothy 3:7 — “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (ESV). Listening to sermons and Bible class lessons is not like watching television. It should not be a passive experience. Our Bibles need to be open, notes need to be taken when appropriate, and our minds need to be engaged in active listening. Active listening searches for the main points, the evidence for the points advanced, and an evaluation of the truthfulness of what is presented. A biblical example of just this sort of thing is found in the case of the Bereans in Acts 17:11: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (NASB).

Finally, in looking at my old Bible I remember that I had some teachers who really cared. They worked hard at teaching. I still have taped in that Bible a handout from one of my teachers. Teaching is more than filling a 45-minute period. We are doing something that may help shape the spiritual lives of our students. It is a great responsibility. We must be students of the Word ourselves in order to be good teachers. Likely, we will have to go beyond the printed prepared materials in order to give our students everything they need. Teaching requires the commitment of time and study, but it gives great rewards.

“You have heard the things that I have taught. Many other people heard those things too. You should teach those same things. Give those teachings to some people you trust. Then they will be able to teach those things to other people” (2 Timothy 2:2, Easy-to- Read Version).

The Difference Is Faith

July 23, 2016

Complaining can become a lifestyle — always finding something wrong, always craving for the next desire, and never finding contentment. Daily needs met and blessings received aren’t considered. Such were some of the Israelites. They complained, “Who will give us meat to eat?”

They had been slaves and now were free. They had faced an army with chariots but were miraculous delivered through the sea. They had been thirsty and water was given to quench their thirst. They had been hungry, and God gave manna. They complained instead of asking God who gives good gifts. They treated God’s present blessings with contempt, “we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:6, NIV)

Burdened by a complaining people, Moses prayed. He too complained, but to God who answers prayers. “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? …Where can I get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:11, 13 NIV) And the God who answers prayers gave the seventy elders to aid Moses in his burden.

God also promised meat for the people for an entire month. Moses states the situation, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” (Numbers 11:21-22, NIV)

Moses’ implied question to God is, “ How?” God’s reply is not about how but who. “Is the LORD’s arm too short?” (Numbers 11:23) “So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said.” (Number 11:24, NIV)

Moses who didn’t know how God was going to do it trusted God enough to tell a complaining people that they would have meat for a month in the middle of a wilderness. What’s the difference between the complaining people and the praying Moses? The difference is faith.