More than Chemistry

October 19, 2018

Two people fall in love. They find they have “chemistry.” Italian researchers have found that this “chemistry” is more than a metaphor. They studied 58 people who had recently fallen madly in love. These scientists from the University of Pavia found that the powerful emotions of new love are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF). Compared to a control group of singles and people in long term relationships, the newly in love had far higher levels of NGF.

But after one year, the couples who have stayed together find their levels of NGF dropping down to the same level as singles and couples in a long-term relationship. This chemistry may be important to bonding two people together, but this emotional high does not last. Although researchers can now point to a particular molecule, the wise have always known this truth from human experience.

Since the Bible teaches us to make a “till-death-do-us-part” commitment in marriage, we realize that such a commitment means going beyond the emotional high of new love. Marriage takes work. Couples must learn how to communicate. They must also learn how to resolve conflict. They must meet one another’s needs. Emotional ups and downs should be expected. The birth of children and living with teenagers often impacts marital satisfaction. Bills, illnesses, repairs, and crises are the stuff of life with which all of us must cope. The promise of “for better or for worse” should never be entered into lightly. Yet the vows speak of the reality of life.

The person who contemplates going beyond the boundaries of his or her marriage also needs to hear this warning. The emotional high will be short lived, but the consequences will last a life time and maybe even an eternity. God’s ways are truly what is best for us and our children.

Emotions can and do change. Researchers have found that couples who have a drop of feeling in love can change the direction of their relationship. If they begin to do again some of the things of courtship—they communicate, solve problems, and meet needs, then the feelings of love can return. It takes time. In fact, doing the right things must come first. The emotions will lag behind. The difference is caused by an initial lack of trust. Will this person disappoint me again? But as the couple works at the relationship, trust is rebuilt, and the relationship restored. Actually, it won’t be quite the way it was. Researchers have found that it can actually be better.

“Till death do us part” is God’s plan for marriage. The powerful emotions of falling in love are a part of the way God has made us. Yet, we all need to be reminded that marriage takes work. It must be more than chemistry.


Does God Exist?

October 12, 2018

To be human means to be aware of one’s existence and to have questions about existence. One of the basic questions involves God. Does God exist? Nine out of ten adults in our country believe in the existence of some kind of God. Two out of three adults would describe God as the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe. The remaining one-third is divided among those who say there is no God (1 in 10), those who believe that God has a different nature, and those who believe divinity is within them.

We each approach the task of answering that question in our own way. Some of us grow up believing in God. Yet child-like faith often goes in search for solid answers as an adult. Some are raised with skepticism, yet spiritual hunger leads to reexamination. What brings belief in God into focus may vary. Baxter told the story of a Russian scientist who reflected on a child’s ear as the child sat in his lap. That was the catalyst for concluding the universe needed a designer, and therefore, God exists. Whatever the catalyst may be for our thinking, we have two basic areas of evidence to examine: the world around us including human nature and the claims of religious texts. Has God revealed something about Himself in nature? Has God given a special revelation of Himself in words?

As we ponder our world, what is a sufficient cause for the universe? Either there is an eternal God or eternal matter. In a universe that is running down, it seems to take greater faith to believe in eternal matter with oscillating universes or multiverses than to believe in God, the Creator.

One hundred plus years after Charles Darwin, a new crop of scientists is questioning the sufficiency of chance and natural selection to explain life. Life is more complex than Darwin could imagine. Books like Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box open again the debate about a designer. Is it easier to believe in God, the Designer, or blind chance?

Human nature also argues for the existence of God. My sense of ought, of what is right, fair, and just, cries out for a standard by which such things can be measured. If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes. Yet, from a toddler’s cry, “It’s not fair!” to an adult’s struggle with ethical decisions, human nature seems to argue for a Moral Being, a first cause of morality.

The explanation for the Bible that seems to best fit the evidence is that God exists and that He has inspired it. The unity of the Bible seems beyond human achievement. The Bible anticipates findings of modern science. It contains predictive prophecy.

We must wrestle with the evidence from our world and from the Bible. It’s a very basic question about life. Do you believe God exists?


The Parable of $100,000

October 5, 2018

The Bible reader must be careful. The message must be properly understood and not distorted. Sometimes passages do need further enlightenment that will change our perspective. This may come from considering all that scripture says on a subject, allowing scripture to interpret scripture. It may arise from new insights gained from history, customs, geography, understanding literary forms, or the biblical languages.

Yet, there is also the danger that we will fail to understand and apply simply because we don’t like what it says—our own willfulness gets in the way. Maybe scripture challenges our beliefs and attitudes, and we shrink away. Søren Kierkegaard told a challenging little parable of $100,000:

Suppose that it was said in the New Testament—we can surely suppose it—that it is God’s will that every man should have 100,000 dollars: Do you think there would be any question of a commentary? Or would not everyone rather say, “It’s easy enough to understand, there’s no need of a commentary, let us for heaven’s sake keep clear of commentaries—they could perhaps make it doubtful whether it is really as it is written. (And with their help we even run the risk that it may become doubtful.) But we prefer it to be as it stands written there, so away will all commentaries!”

But what is found in the New Testament (about the narrow way, dying to the world, and so on) is not at all more difficult to understand than this matter of the 100,000 dollars. The difficulty lies elsewhere, in that it does not please us—and so we must have commentaries and professors and commentaries: for it is not a case of “risking” that it may become doubtful to us, for we really wish it to be doubtful, and we have a tiny hope that the commentaries may make it so.

Let us be careful readers and students of the Bible searching for the truth (see Acts 17:11). Yet, let us not protect our hearts from scripture’s rigorous demands, but allow it to challenge and change us. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NASB).


How Do You Spell Success?

September 29, 2018

When it comes to ministry, how do you spell success? In many occupations, the marks of success are clearer: promotions, position on the corporate ladder, or size of your bank account. When it comes to full-time labors for a church, what are the marks of success? Kent and Barbara Hughes in their book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, tell their own struggles. Kent reached a point of depression. Ministry was filled with frustrations and few visible rewards. How do you go on year after year? In their search for answers, one of the passages that struck home was 1 Corinthians 4:1-2.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. (ESV)

How do you spell success? F–A–I–T–H–F–U–L. After their study of the Scriptures, the Hughes decided that it was not success as the world views it, but faithfulness that was the “success” ingredient for ministry. From this liberating discovery they began to strive for:

  1. To be faithful (obedient to God’s Word and hardworking)
  2. To serve God and others
  3. To love God
  4. To believe he is (to believe what we believe)
  5. To pray
  6. To pursue holiness
  7. To develop a positive attitude

Their emphasis on faithfulness helped them pursue ministry without frustration and disappointment. This emphasis on faithfulness in ministry is a help to full-time ministry, but I think it is also applicable to those very active in the ministry of the church. Ministry is often done quietly and without notice. The emphasis on faithfulness puts matters in perspective. But we can also be assured that God will not forget our ministry even if others never notice it.

So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (1 Timothy 5:25, ESV)

Freeing ourselves from the success syndrome is not always easy. Some who try to serve become broken tools in the Master’s hand because they have desired the limelight. Others are tempered by the trials: the lesson of faithfulness is learned, and lives are blessed. Success for servants is spelled F-A-I-T-H-F-U-L.


Reflecting on Time

August 17, 2018

When I was a child summers seemed like they were an eternity long, but now that I’m older I perceive time moving at a much faster pace. Of course, children may find the long car trip to be an eternity, and as parents we hear the annoying, “Are we there yet?” I suspect some of our perception of time has to do with this: for an eight-year-old one year is 1/8 of his or her lifetime, and for a sixty-five-year-old, one year is 1/65 of his or her lifetime. As we accumulate years, they become a smaller percentage of the total. You hear older people talking about and event, and they’ll say, “Has it really been ten years, it seems like only yesterday.”

We must all deal with the flow of time. Yesterday is past; tomorrow is uncertain. I have what the author of Hebrews calls “Today” reflecting on Psalm 95. Matt Perman gives four helpful adjectives to time.*

Time is inelastic. We’ve all experienced it. A deadline looms, and we have too much to do. We wish we had more time than anybody else on the planet. If somehow, we could have our own personal, extra day. I’ve mused about that with sermons and Sunday coming. The Jews had a lunar calendar so periodically they had to insert intercalary months or days to match the solar year. If I could just have that intercalary day between Friday and Saturday, sermon preparation would be easier. But time doesn’t stretch. It is inelastic.

Time is perishable. You can store money in your savings account. You can store canned goods and staples in your pantry and frozen foods in your freezer to eat later. But you can’t store up time to spend later when you need it. Seven days in a week, 24 hours in a day, and 365 days in a year, but no extra time to insert as needed. We only have today.

Time is irreplaceable. Great cooks know about substituting missing ingredients. You are missing 1 teaspoon of baking powder, so you use ⅓ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar. Some ingredients in life can be substituted, but not time.

Time is necessary. You can find activities that don’t require money. You may find some things to do that can be done alone and do not acquire other people. But everything we do requires time. Time is necessary.

Given our relationship with time, I want to live fully for God. I want to be wise. I ponder the following. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalms 90:12, ESV). “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15–16, ESV). I give thanks for today.

*Matt Perman, How to Get Unstuck, pp. 165-166.


But It’s Not Perfect

August 10, 2018

The local church is not heaven. Heaven will be a place of perfection. No sin. No problems. No conflicts. Although the church is made up of forgiven people, it is not made of perfect people. Regrettably, problems can arise, and these can even disturb the faith of some. We need to remind ourselves, that even in the New Testament we can read about people in the church attempting to resolve problems.

In Acts 6:1-7, the Hellenistic Jewish widows were being neglected. It involved the church’s ministry and matters had reached a crisis. The apostles commanded that seven men to be chosen, so they could be appointed over this need. Fairness was restored. Afterwards, the church grew even more.

In Acts 15:36-41, Paul and Barnabas had a serious disagreement as to whether John Mark should be taken on the next missionary journey. It involved matters of judgment, but I bet it was a bit tense in the Antioch church until that matter was resolved, but good came out of it.

In Galatians 2:11-21, the apostle Paul opposed the apostle Peter because he was not eating with Gentiles for fear of the circumcision party. This was a matter of doctrine, and my guess is that it was difficult for the friends of Peter and Paul to see such a disagreement arise. Yet an important doctrinal point was made; Peter was prevented from going the wrong direction. Later in life, Peter was able to write commendably of Paul (see 2 Peter 3:14-16).

I have to admit there are probably times when all of us would like to quit. Working with people can seem so hard. Why can’t I just go out in the middle of a field and worship alone! The reason is simple. God has called me to be a part of an assembly of people—the church (Hebrews 10:23-25). God in His infinite wisdom knows I need others for the maturing process that goes on in Christian living. The process is sometimes painful, but I must trust the Potter as He molds me, His clay.

What do we do while we wait for the perfection of heaven? “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV).


More than a Melody

August 3, 2018

It may be significant that Eutychus didn’t fall asleep during the singing (Acts 20:9). The song service for most of us is the easiest part in which to stay awake and involved. Occasionally, one will hear of singings until midnight, but when the preaching is continued until midnight (Acts 20:7), many of us would be like Eutychus.

This observation is not made to suggest that we do away with preaching, but rather to note that most of us enjoy singing. Music is powerful and brings us much joy. It has great appeal, but in worship we need to remind ourselves that it should be more than a melody.

In Your Hearts to God. Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 reminds us that the singing is not just for enjoyment but is directed to God. It is possible for an atheist to come in and sing our songs, and quite possibly enjoy the aesthetic of the experience, but that would not be acceptable worship. Singing is worship directed to God.

With the Understanding. Paul has repeatedly made this point in 1 Corinthians 14 (see verse 15 for the one on singing), because apparently the Corinthians coming out of their pagan past thought they could worship acceptably with minds disengaged. Understanding is an essential ingredient for Christian worship. Do you understand what you sing (“beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,” “here I raise my Ebenezer”*)?

In Truth. Jesus’ words “worship in spirit and in truth” apply to songs as well. Is the song true and contain what is pleasing to God? Erik Routley in Hymns Today and Tomorrow states:

A congregation’s disposition toward right belief or away from it is subtly influenced by the habitual use of hymns. No single influence in public worship can surely condition a congregation to self-deception, to fugitive follies, to religious perversities, as thoughtlessly chosen hymns. The singing congregation is uncritical, but it matters very much what it sings, for it comes to believe its hymns. Wrong doctrine in preaching would be noticed; in hymns, it may come to be believed.

Thank God we have this powerful and joyful means of worship — our singing. May it always be to the Lord with understanding and in truth.

*Fain=gladly, Ebenezer = stone of help and is an allusion to 1 Samuel 7:12.