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.


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."