Sunday, June 18, 2017

Marshmallows and Making Good Choices

Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day; for surely there is an end; and your expectation will not be cut off.”
Proverbs 23:17-18

What is your capacity for delayed gratification

An interesting study was done on children in the early 1970's that has been called the “Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.” The test offered children an immediate treat (like a marshmallow) with the option to eat it now, or of waiting a short time (like 15 minutes) to get a larger treat.  The children were followed up on in years to come and it was found that those who could wait for the larger reward were generally more successful academically and in other ways.



The point is clear enough. Delayed gratification, though hard, is better in the end. And what makes it so hard is that all around us everyone seems to be eating their marshmallows now. 

Let’s be honest. Most of us are doing the same. Zig Ziglar once put it this way “Be careful not to compromise what you want most for what you want now.”

But it’s hard. It is hard to watch people eating their "marshmallows" while you wait. It goes against the grain of our nature. Socrates was asked what the most troublesome thing was to good men. He replied “the prosperity of the wicked.” I think Socrates knew the doubts and fears that assault the soul that says “no” to the instant pleasure in exchange for a lasting one.

Almost every day we are presented with choices which give us the option for immediate pleasure, or a more distant, long-term benefit. We have the choice between spending and saving. We choose be eating the cheese fries or the salad. We play the video game or we work out. We hit the snooze button or we wake up and go to church.

The Bible presents the Christian life as a daily commitment to delayed gratification. That is what this Proverb is talking about. Don’t envy those who are eating their marshmallows now. Rather, choose “the fear of the Lord all the day.”

There are many aspects to the Christian life that do not bring the immediate pleasure which is offered by sin. Reading your Bible may not provide the immediate thrill of a video game. Prayer doesn’t satisfy our craving for amusement like Facebook does. Honoring the Lord’s Day doesn’t instantly satisfy like a day at the beach or amusement park. Note, these alternative enjoyments are not sinful in themselves. But when they are substituted for things that would benefit our souls, they are dangerous.

I don’t think Solomon had any one particular “sin” in mind when he advised against the envy of sinners. The Proverb does go on to talk about “drunkenness.” But this, it seems, is simply an illustration of a larger principle. The unbeliever simply doesn’t think in terms of “sin” or “holiness.” As long as no one else is hurt, anything (for the most part), goes. But the Christian is concerned with offending God. That is what the “fear of the Lord” is all about.

Sometimes concern for the fear of the Lord brings about tangible persecution, ridicule or pain. It was said of Moses that he chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin [Hebrews 11:25].” In this case it was not merely delayed gratification, but the embracing of present suffering that Moses was called to endure.

How do we make better spiritual choices? Solomon suggests thinking about future: “for surely there is an end; and your expectation will not be cut off.” The Hebrew seems to be saying something like “Be patient. This life is a marathon, not a short sprint. The real winners can only be determined at the finish line. Don’t try to pick who has made the best choice by their present circumstances. Godliness pays off in the end.”

He says "do not LET your heart" do this. In other words, we have the personal responsibility to master our thoughts. You can decide what you want to dwell on. You can either think about what you are "missing out on" or you can think about the end reward. Your thoughts don't wander anywhere that you don't let them. You can choose what to consider and what to ignore. 

This is a big theme in the Bible. 

For example, the whole of Psalm 37 seems devoted to this theme: pleasure now, or pleasure later. You choose. But the Psalmist advises to “not be envious of the workers of iniquity” because, even though now they seem to be having fun, “they shall soon be cut down like the grass [Psalm 37:1-2].” The Psalmist tells the believer to “rest in the Lord” and to “wait” and not get discouraged because others are prospering right now (vs. 7).  Though it doesn’t look that way, he says, remember that “the meek will inherit the earth (vs. 11).”

Christ modeled this. He chose obedience over pleasure. Every day. He chose affliction rather than comfort. “Who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross (Heb 12:2).” Not for present pleasure, but future joy. “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil 2:8).”

So which are you choosing today? Is it immediate pleasure, gratification, happiness, satisfaction and pride? Or will you do something for your long-term good? One hundred years from now the only thing that will matter is how you cared for your soul. Paul warns that “in the last days” men “will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Tim 3:4).”


May the Lord bless your good choices today my friends. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Bernie, Christianity and the Death of Truth

Bernie Sanders appears to have stirred up quite the hubbub over his conversation this past week with Russell Vought. Mr. Sanders questioned Vought's Christian beliefs and specifically suggested they should disqualify him for public service. He didn't like the fact that Vought believed that the adherents of other religions were "condemned." 



Christians across the country have responded with outrage. They didn't like Mr. Sanders'  opinion that Vought's views are incompatible with what this "country is supposed to be about."  Fox News reporter Todd Starnes called it a "viscous attack." Others have quoted the Constitution Article VI about "no religious test" being required for public service in office. 

Frankly, I think all these responses have utterly missed the point.

Please.

Calm down.

Take a breath.

We need to step back for a moment and realize what was really going on in that conversation.

Mr. Sanders was NOT attacking Christians or Christianity. Someone please pick up a copy of Fox's Book of Martyrs. Or visit the Christian Martyr's website. Or read the Gospels and Acts. You will find plenty of examples of attacks upon our faith. This wasn't one of them.

But Mr. Sanders was attacking something

Mr. Sanders was attacking truth.

You see, what Mr. Sanders fails to realize is something which ALL Christians and Muslims BOTH know: we can't both be right

Bernie said “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.” 

But the hilarious irony of Mr. Sanders statements is that Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even Atheists all get something that Bernie does not.  We ALL know that we can't ALL be right. 

This principle isn't fundamental to Christianity.  This principle is fundamental to truth itself.

If Christianity is true, then Muslims are condemned. If Islam is true, then Christians are condemned. If Atheists are right then we are ALL condemned for the foolishness of our faiths. This is a plain and incontrovertible fact which the sacred texts of all religions assert.

And, with all due respect to Russell Vought, he missed an opportunity to explain this.

When Bernie Sanders asked him if he thought all Muslims and Jews were condemned, he should have answered with an enthusiastic, unmistakable, loud and clear "YES! Of course! Just as they think that I'm condemned!"

Vought could have quoted the Quran if he liked:  "But those who disobey Allah and His Messenger and transgress His limits will be admitted to a Fire, to abide therein: And they shall have a humiliating punishment."

Or he could have quoted the Bible "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not PERISH but have everlasting life." 

Religion assumes the existence of truth. 

Thus Christianity, as nearly ALL of the major world religions, is an exclusive religion

This is because truth, all truth, is exclusive.

If anything is true, then something is false. And things cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same relationship. 

So when Mr. Sanders balked at the idea that anyone could hold to a faith that claims exclusivity, he was actually taking his aim at a far more fundamental idea than Christian doctrine. He was questioning the very possibility of truth itself. 

And, my friends, when we reject the idea of truth, we reject hope.  Where there is no truth, there can be no true comfort.

C.S. Lewis said it well "If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

PoC Chpt III - On Marriage - Part 1

From Principles of Conduct by John Murray.  Chapter 3: The Marriage Ordinance. Part 1.

What causes the most pain, disappointment, frustration, sorrow, anger, anxiety and aggravation in the lives of individuals today? I suppose someone might say "illness" and that is certainly a problem of no small nature. Others might suggest finances, and no doubt money problems impact huge numbers. But it would be hard to argue against the idea that "relationships" and in particular "marriage" problems constitute a significant portion of the pain and problems people experience in life.

Think of the circle of people around you. If you were asked to think of some who have either "marriage" or "relationship" issues that are really causing serious problems in their life, do you have any trouble coming up with some names? These problems are all around us. If nothing else, think about how many movies and songs are produced that have relationship issues at the core of them.

My point is simply this: there is enough evidence that our culture is frustrated with our modern approach to marriage and relationships. Something is broken. It's at least worth a look at what the Bible says about marriage to evaluate if maybe...just maybe...we are doing something wrong. I'm not suggesting that following certain "rules" will ensure a perfect marriage. But on the whole, it is at least possible that God's plan for marriage has been twisted and obscured, and that this is behind many of the troubles we experience.

John Murray spends about 40 pages in his book, Principles of Conduct, covering many of the Biblical principles related to God's plan for marriage. We might think it strange that a book on "ethics" starts with marriage. What does marriage have to do with ethics? But this approach reminds us that, from a Biblical perspective, marriage was God's idea. Therefore, to approach it in any way that is contrary to His design, is an unethical way to live. When we take an institution of God's and re-design it for our own purposes, then we are in violation of His pattern for life, which is the very definition of unethical.

PART 1


In Murray's review of Scripture about marriage, he starts with a few episodes found very early in the history of the world as recorded in the Bible. Scholars call it the "patriarchal" period. And he shows that we find hints that certain ethical standards for marriage were understood by people from the very beginning.

For example...

Digamy or Polygamy (Genesis 4:19). The Scriptures record that a man named Lamech "took 2 wives." This fact is recorded along side the fact of his boastful murder of another man. Murray concludes, I think rightly, that "the desecration of marriage is complementary to the vice of violence and oppression [p. 46]."

Mixed Marriage (i.e. believers marrying unbelievers) from Genesis 6:1-3. Murray offers insight on a passage which has confused many. It is the text which speaks of "the sons of God saw the daughters of men" and they married them. Some have thought this referred to some sort of strange marriage between angels and mankind. But Murray argues it is simply an expression to indicate marriages between the Godly and the ungodly. He concludes "When the interests of godliness do not govern the people of God in the choice of marital partners, irreparable confusion is the result and the interests, not only of spirituality, but also of morality, are destroyed [p. 46]."

Murray shows that the natural, healthy and God-given desire for sex is to be managed within certain boundaries established by God.

Other episodes from this period in Biblical history also highlight certain well-understood principles of marriage.

Joseph and Marriage Integrity (Genesis 39:9) - Joseph refused to sleep with his master's wife, even though she urged him. He understood that this would be a sin in God's eyes, saying "how can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"

The rape of Dinah (Genesis 34) - The sons of Jacob took vengeance (not that this act was condoned) on those who raped their sister. The point is that it was clear, even then, that such a violent act forced upon another, was inconsistent with sexual purity.

The king of Gerar (Genesis 20:2-18) - The foreign king understood that taking another man's wife was improper. It is an ironical passage. Here Abraham was to blame, for saying that Sarah was his "sister" and not his "wife." But this goes to show that the sanctity of the marriage relationship was not something merely understood by God's people. In fact, in this case, the ungodly actually understood that principle better than Abraham himself.

Parent's concern for the marriages of their children - Murray points to the lengths that Abraham went to help secure a godly wife for Jacob, and he mentions how Rebecca was burdened by the "mixed" marriage of her son Esau to Hittite women. These passages just further illustrate that these parents understood the difference between a "good" marriage and one that was in violation of God's design.

CONCLUSION

Murray's review of the marriage ordinance is far from over. But he lays down some basics here which are important. At the very least I think his teaching is a necessary restraint upon our concept that "all we need is love." The Biblical account suggests that "ethical" behavior requires that we engage our minds, and not just our hearts, when it comes to thinking about relationships and marriage.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

PoC Chpt II - Work is God's Idea


For many people the very concept of "work" conjures up distasteful thoughts. Ugghhh...Monday! Our culture seems to have taught us to live for the weekends, and just muddle through the other 5 days. In addition to that, work, and our attitude towards work, has been subjected to numerous stereotypes. Those who have done financially "well" are assumed to be workaholics who have their priorities misaligned and who only care about profit not people. On the other hand, those living at or near the poverty level are assumed to have a poor work ethic, and if only they worked harder they would be in a different position in life.


Think of how much political debate and social discussion revolves around the issue of work! What should be the minimum wage? How many hours per week should we have to work? We have labor unions and a Department of Labor and calls for labor reform. Work-issues surround us every day.

Is there, however, a Biblical view of work? Is there such a thing as a Biblical work-ethic? Does our very concept of what work is need a sort of modern reformation?

In John Murray's Principles of Conduct (PoC) he introduces the subject of "labor" as a Creation Ordinance.  Work, along with the institutions of Marriage and the Sabbath, were part of God's initial design and plan for mankind. God created humans to be working, laboring beings.

THE INSTITUTION OF LABOR


Murray argues that the institution of labor is inseparable from the Sabbath institution. You can't have a day of "rest" apart from a concept of "labor." If we were meant to rest one day, then we were obviously meant to work the other 6 days. Additionally, Murray reminds us that God gave Adam and Eve a very specific type of labor to be involved in when we are told in Genesis 2:15 that "the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it."

THE DIGNITY OF MANUAL LABOR


Murray draws an immediate conclusion from the above text which he suggests we have sadly lost sight of today. His conclusion is that there is a fundamental dignity to what we might call "manual labor."  He calls the work of gardening (we might extrapolate and say 'farming') "highly worthy of man's dignity as created after the divine image [p. 35]."  He speaks of the "nobility of manual labor [p. 36]."

Murray suggests that we as a society have suffered by disparaging the dignity of such tasks. He suggests our automatic insistence on and pursuit of "professional" employment may reflect "an unwholesome ambition which is the fruit of impiety [p. 36]." He reminds us that "culture" can be developed in conjunction with tasks which are not professional in nature such as those of the farmer, the tradesman and the laborer. And the fact that we do not assign sufficient nobility and dignity to such types of work, in Murray's view, simply displays how far we have fallen.

THE VARIETY OF WORK


Murray reminds us that mankind's call to work would eventually have involved a variety of tasks since he was commanded to "replenish the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28)." This, he says, "must imply the expenditure of thought and skill and energy in bringing the earth and its resources under such control..." [p. 37]

Murray also points out the way in which the earth itself "is fashioned and equipped to meet and gratify the diverse nature and endowments of man" and that man in pursuing such things would "magnify God's glory" through the "discovery and exhibition of the manifold wisdom and power of God [p. 37-38]." Murray imagines man investigating and discovering the wonders of this planet while ascribing all the glory to our Creator.  He quotes Psalm 104:24 as reflective of this where the Psalmist says "O Lord, how manifold are they works...the earth is full of Thy wisdom!" This puts "work" on a much higher level than we are accustomed to doing. There was no sense of drudgery in God's original design.

WORK AS COMMAND AND DELIGHT


Finally, Murray points out that this work that man was called to do was a command. We are, however, too apt to think of anything "commanded" as being burdensome. We equate "duty" with "displeasure." But Murray suggests that "duty" was intended to go hand-in-hand with "delight." Man, prior to sin entering the world, would have found no disconnect between our calling to work and our enjoyment of it. In the absence of sin, there would be "the perfect complementation of duty and pleasure [p. 39]."


APPLICATION


As with the subject of marriage, Murray is going to devote a whole chapter to the concept of work. It is central to man's ethic. But here in this chapter he just shows that work was part of God's original creation-plan.

I do wonder what our places of employment would look like if we all, each and every one of us, began to look at work as a divine calling, sanctified by God's blessing and endorsed by His very command. We have this twisted view that God Himself only smiles on us on Sundays while we are in church. But what if we imagined God watching us work with the same delight He watches us worship?

What if every job was approached with this sort of heavenly dignity and delight? What if we saw our jobs as part of our fulfillment of the "subduing" the earth mandate? What if I thought of my employer as God Himself? Would the quality of my work and attitude about work improve?





Saturday, March 4, 2017

Principles of Conduct - Creation Ordinances - The Sabbath

Everyone loves a special day. Maybe your favorite special day is Christmas. Or maybe your birthday. Or maybe your anniversary. Or maybe ANY day off from work! So many of our culture's industries and businesses exist solely because of special days; feasts, gifts, cards and gatherings all seem to be typically rooted in the observance of special days. 

In his book on Christian ethics entitled Principles of Conduct, professor John Murray (1898-1975) starts with mankind in Eden, prior to any sin entering the world, and focuses on several "Creation Ordinances" which he explains were a part of God's plan for man from the start. In other words, behaving "ethically" demands that we at least consider what the original plan for man looked like.

GOD CREATED A SPECIAL DAY FOR MAN


And, according to Murray, this plan involved a "special" day every week. He builds his case for this from Genesis 2:2 and 2:3, and he explains that each verse has a slightly different perspective.

Genesis 2:2 "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done."

Genesis 2:3 "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made."

Murray explains that Genesis 2:2 is NOT specifically about man's weekly cycle. Rather, he says this is about God ENDING His work of creation and ALL of which follows is His rest. In other words, God created for six days...then, and ever since then, has rested from that work. He's not "creating" today. That work was done. 

Genesis 2:3 however is relevant to man's weekly cycle. This is based, he teaches, on Exodus 20:11 in which the 4th commandment ("honor the Sabbath day") makes reference to this specific verse in Genesis.  Why should man have this 1 special day in 7? Exodus 20:11 answers: "For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it."

In other words, God's creation-pattern was meant to be a type of pattern for man also. God's template for our weekly cycle included a special day, a different day, every week.

THE PRINCIPLES OF THIS SPECIAL DAY


Murray then draws some important principles to consider from the fact that the Lord created man with a weekly rest-day in mind.

1. Mankind, even before we sinned and ruined everything, needed this cycle of 1 different day every week. In other words, the "Sabbath" wasn't added to help restrain sin or correct our defects. Adam, had he never sinned, would still have observed this weekly cycle and it would have, according to Murray, "continued to condition and regulate his life and activity (p. 32)." Murray further points to the fact that Genesis 1:14 refers to God's creation of light and darkness to regulate "seasons..and days and years." In other words, all of creation was made to provide cycles for man, which included this weekly cycle of a special day.

2. This "special" day, or day of rest, was not a "do nothing" day. It wasn't so for God. The word "rested" might imply, in our minds, "inactivity." But Murray shows the text of Scripture is more about a shift from one kind of activity to another. The Lord's "resting" was just a "rest" from "creation" but not a stopping of His activity altogether.  In like manner the weekly "rest" day for man has another type of activity in mind. Specifically, it would highlight the "God-centered character of the ethic which would have governed Adam's behavior" (p. 33)."

Really? How?  How does this weekly cycle of a special day of rest facilitate this "God-centered" life?

First, it would be a regular reminder to man that his days have a Divine pattern. God's creation pattern of 6 days followed by 1 day of rest would follow man through all his days.  Murray seems to be saying that even now, as we think about what day it is, we should reflect that our days are patterned on God's work of creation and rest. Every day it is like we are (and these are my words not his) putting on a garment which was woven for us when the universe was made.

Second, and more specifically, Murray shows that this "special" day of rest was intended to be a special day for worship. He makes a strong statement worth pondering:  "Even in innocence [i.e. before sin] man would have required time for specific worship. We are too ready to entertain the notion that religion in a state of sinless or confirmed integrity would have required no institutions as the medium of expression.  Our conception of the piety of paradise becomes one of abstract, etherealized mysticism. This conception is not the conception which the data will bear out (p. 34)."

I love that phrase "the piety of paradise." Murray is of course referring to man's behavior in Eden, prior to the Fall. And while we cannot "live in the past" there is something to be said for striving to live according to the model originally set for us at the start. 

CONCLUDING REMARKS


Murray winds up this section by pointing out a common mistake about the observance of a "Sabbath" day, or day of rest. Many assume it had its beginning with Moses as it is referred to in the 4th commandment (Exodus 20). As such, it is often dismissed as irrelevant to modern man, a part of the "ceremonial" character of the Israelite nation which has now been done away in Christ.

But linking this institution to Creation and it's institution in Eden throws the whole idea in a new light. Though it might have been quickly forgotten, as was God's pattern for marriage [see previous post], it nevertheless was always intended as a "binding obligation (p. 35)."


APPLICATION


Several years ago an emergency room physician wrote a book entitled "24/6" in which he argued that we would be healthier, both physically and mentally, if we took a 6-day approach to work, committing to intentionally rest for a full day every week. 

In an interview with CNN Dr. Sleeth elaborated:

"For almost 2,000 years, Western culture stopped -- primarily on Sunday -- for about 24 hours. Even when I was a child, you couldn't buy gasoline, you couldn't buy milk. The drugstores weren't open. The only thing that was open was a hospital. Even in dairy farming country, we would milk cows, but we wouldn't bring in hay.  And so society just had a day where they put it in park. (That) was Sunday... until the last 30 years or so.  We go 24/7 now, and I think it's having health consequences. I think more and more, there's a consensus that it leads to depression and anxiety."

It is interesting to hear a physician say this. I have often thought this was the case as well. I'm guessing the Lord knew what He was up to when He designed this pattern for man.  Maybe we should listen?