Everybody’s a Jesus Expert

expertsI love that the Bible is for everyone. It’s not chained to the pulpit. It’s not interpreted by only the elect few. One of great translator William Tyndale’s dreams was that the plow-boy could know more scripture than the priest.

Despite that, we may have forgotten an important premise: equal opportunity does not guarantee equal results. In other words, just because we all can read and study scripture doesn’t mean that we all do.

Here’s how this plays out: whenever there’s a public issue that somehow involves Christianity, everybody has an opinion. The talking heads on TV interview scholars and people off the street and everybody’s opinion gets equal screen time. The opinion of the guy who couldn’t name the four gospels is counted as equal to the Christian who has dedicated herself to studying the scriptures honestly and deeply. That’s insane.

Do you see the problem? Everybody claims to be an expert on Jesus, but not everything said about Jesus is true. Do you know how Jesus said you could tell who someone was that really knew his stuff about him? He said that, “the student who is fully trained will be like the teacher” (Luke 6:40). The angry, arrogant, combative guy who claims to be speaking for Jesus probably doesn’t know as much about Jesus as he claims.

On the flip side, there are others who always want to tell you what Jesus thinks about things. No matter what the question is, they have the same answer: don’t judge and Jesus loves you. Are those two teachings of Jesus legit? Absolutely and undeniably. I can’t imagine the teaching of Jesus without these thoughts. But the range of Jesus’ teaching is far richer and deeper than those two concepts alone.

Can I encourage you to spend some time with Jesus. Read the scriptures and see what made him cry. See what prompted him to anger—and watch how he handled his anger. Notice what brought him joy, and see the subtle nuance of his handling of delicate situations with hurting people.

I can promise you this: the real Jesus is better than the 30-second version you get from the experts on TV.

One Simple Tool to Improve Your Marriage

1simpletoolDr. Tony Campolo says that he can give you one simple tool that will make your marriage better, no matter how you’re doing right now.

Imagine what it would look like if you and your spouse were really, truly in love. Imagine what it would look like if you weren’t fighting and it was like the best times you’ve ever had—or even the best times you never had. Then think about this and answer a question: in your imagined scenario, what were ten things you did (not your spouse, but you!) every day that you’re not doing now?

Dr. Campolo’s advice is simple: whatever those ten things are—do them!

He says, “My prescription for creating love is simple: do ten things each day that you would do if you really were in love. I know that if people do loving things, it will not be long before they experience the feelings that are identified with being in love. Love is not those feelings. Love is what one wills to do to make the other person happy and fulfilled. Often, we don’t realize that what a person does influences what he feels.”

This is good advice. It follows the model of Jesus. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (Matthew 7:12).

Here’s some real good news: this prescription doesn’t work only in marriages. It works in all of our relationships. Trouble with the kids? How would you act if you had a great relationship with them? Do it! Irritating boss? Act like he isn’t. Want one more application? Are you having trouble with your faith? I’m not asking you to be a fraud; I’m asking you to live into the instructions of Jesus, and see if things don’t work out.

What Would You Do?

kent-brantlyOn Thursday, Dr. Kent Brantly made the news by doing the last thing most people expected him to do: walking out of a hospital.

If you haven’t followed the story, Dr. Brantly contracted the Ebola virus while doing humanitarian mission work in Liberia. Ebola is a strange and deadly virus, with an estimated fatality rate of 50-90%. There is no known cure. Dr. Brantly was perhaps the first human to receive an experimental drug. Researchers don’t know what (if any) impact that treatment had on his recovery.

The drama of this story is incredible. A man, moved by his faith, intentionally goes to the sickest people in the world. In the course of his service, he contracts what they had and is handed what amounts to a death sentence, but by the grace of God, the sentence was commuted.

What would you do if your doctor told you that you were going to die in 2-4 weeks?

What would you do if after 4 weeks, you found out he was wrong?

When Brantly was released, he went to spend time with his family. I’m guessing that catching up on paperwork at the office didn’t seem so important, anymore. I don’t think he rushed home to make sure the grass had been cut. I suspect that he wasn’t in a hurry to catch up on his favorite TV shows. I think that he wanted to be with the ones he loved.

Life is temporary. A church down the road had a true sign: “You are one heartbeat from eternity.” So here’s my question: are you where you want to be? Make sure you’re spending the time you have doing what matters.

Book Review: “A ____’s Heart” by Jeff and Dale Jenkins

father'sThis book review is WAY late…but I hope it’s better late than never!

Dale Jenkins has put together several books that are designed to encourage. A Minister’s Heart and A Youth Minister’s Heart would make great gifts for anyone you know in ministry, or even as a “peek behind the curtain” before someone gets into ministry.

If memory serves, the first book (Minister’s Heart) originated in a chapel talk that Dale was putting together for ministry students. It walks through the ups and downs of ministry. You’ll laugh on some pages, get angry on some pages, and want to cry on some pages.

A Father’s Heart and A Mother’s Heart follow this same pattern. They’re short gift books with a thought and an illustration on each page. These books would make mother’s day or father’s day gifts—or maybe even a great joint gift for expectant first-time parents.

It’s hard to know how to review these except to say that they were designed to be encouraging, and they accomplish just that. With all of the discouraging junk going on in the world, you’ll be glad that you spent time with these.

The books are available on Amazon, but check with The Jenkins Institute to order in bulk.

The Jesus Way in Ferguson, MO

ferg1If you’ve seen any news reports this week, you’ve heard about what’s going in on Ferguson, MO. We may never know all of the details about what happened when a police officer shot an unarmed man. Some claim he was complying; others say he was trying to take the officer’s weapon to use it against him. Some see racism; others say it was a split-second life-or-death decision made by an officer in the heat of the moment.

The aftermath is awful. It seems like everyone has gone crazy. The community hasn’t acted reasonably—looting, rioting, destroying private property, and threatening the lives of the officer and his family. The police haven’t acted reasonably—firing tear gas at the press who were reporting on the situation. Nobody seems to know who or what is in control. This unreasonable reaction has created a cycle: the crowds get agitated, the police intensify the situation, the crowd gets angrier, so police make threats, the crowd makes threats…and it just kept getting worse. There’s plenty of blame to pass around in this story. It seems like nobody has done right, and everybody has used the actions of the other side as their excuse to do wrong.

Did you notice something? This is the exact way that the world tends to operate. “If you treat me wrong, I’ll treat you wrong-er!” But what did Jesus say? If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other. The world’s way clearly hasn’t worked! I like how Calvin Miller puts it. He said that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is fair and just, but it’s the shortest, most direct route to an eye-less, tooth-less world. Maybe it’s time to try the Jesus way.

When I opened up the news on Friday morning, I saw a headline that said something like “First Peaceful Night in Ferguson.” I clicked on the story and what I saw could preach a sermon. On Thursday night, the Governor installed Captain Johnson, a Highway Patrol officer, to take control of the scene. Rather than showing up in riot gear and a Humvee (which sounds pretty reasonable to me!), he showed up in the standard traffic cop uniform—a dress shirt and badge. Rather than putting a shield between him and the crowd, he walked among the crowd, talked, listened, hugged, and even took selfies with protestors. He spoke with them, saying, “In our anger, we have to make sure that we don’t burn down our own house.” Did I mention that Captain Johnson grew up in the area?

Think about this: what calmed high tensions and brought peace to Ferguson was not weaponry that was so powerful that it could intimidate the crowd into silence. It took someone stepping from their realm of safety into a dangerous, different world. He left comfort and ease to go to the people who hated him and the people like him. He became like those people and loved those people despite the risk.

Captain Ferguson hugging a protestor

Captain Ferguson hugging a protestor

Does that sound like anybody you’ve ever heard of? John 1:14 says, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Message paraphrased it as, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

I don’t know anything about Captain Johnson, but what he did on Thursday night sounds like what Jesus would do if he were in Ferguson, MO. I’m more convinced with each passing day that the Jesus way really works. Will you try it?

Missed Opportunities

mwgcRalph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars came out only once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course! We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. But instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.  When the extraordinary becomes ordinary, we tend to take it for granted.

The stars can’t be the only extraordinary opportunity that has become ordinary.

What about our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper? It is certainly possible that we can forget just what a beautiful and powerful celebration it is.

What about the opportunities we have to meet as a church? As I watch the news and see stories of ISIS and other militant groups attempting to ban Christianity in their realms, I wonder if we would see our opportunities to worship and study as more valuable if they were threatened.

What about all of the opportunities that we have to make a difference in this life and in the next? We have so many chances to help people, sometimes we forget what an incredible privilege it is to walk beside someone in a difficult time and place, and help get them to somewhere better.

What about your friends and your family? It isn’t hard to treat them like they’ll always be here…but we all know that just isn’t true.

The Bible describes life as a mist or a vapor. It’s ephemeral. A temporary blessing. Ephesians tells us to walk while we have light. Let’s take advantage of these opportunities and do the best we can with what God is giving us.

The Double Win

John Dale, who preaches in Murray, Kentucky, describes the difference between winners and losers—and then talks about how we can be “second mile” double winners. He adapted this material from The Double Win by Dr. Denis Waitley and shared it with us at our 1st Monday preachers’ meeting at Granny White.

Losers say, “There is no way I can win.”
Winners say, “I’ll do everything I can to win.”
Double Winners say, “If I help you win, I win too!”

Losers seek attention. Winners seek admiration. Double winners earn respect.

Losers see a problem in every solution.
Winners seek a solution in every problem.
Double winners help others solve their problems.

Losers fix the blame. Winners fix the solution. Double winners fix what caused the problem in the first place!

Losers let life happen to them.
Winners make life happen for them.
Double winners make life a joyous happening for others.

Losers live in the past for the future.
Winners learn from the past, live in the present, and set goals for the future.
Double winners learn from the past and work in the present to accomplish goals that benefit everyone’s future.

Losers make promises they never keep.
Winners make commitments to themselves and keep them.
Double winners make commitments to themselves and others and keep both.

Losers react negatively. Winners respond effectively. Double winners reinforce successfully.

Losers gripe about their failures. Winners cheer their successes. Double winners share the glory and praise the team.

What Matters or What We SAY Matters

If you ask people what should be on the news, they’ll give you great answers. They’ll tell you that they want to hear about what’s going on in our country. They want updates on the economy and politics and foreign policy. They want to hear about the latest developments in healthcare and education. By a margin of two-to-one, they’ll say that international news is more pressing than celebrity gossip!

Did you know that the major news outlets all have systems that can track what news stories actually get read? They can tell how long you read them, how often you shared them, facebooked them, or printed them?

So let me tell you what just a few of the top twenty “news” stories were in the past 6 months:

  • How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk
  • 30 Signs You’re Almost Thirty
  • Why Is Netflix Secretly Cropping Movies
  • 22 Things Miley Cyrus Looked Like at the 2013 VMAs

What we said we cared about does not appear to be what we actually cared about. Here’s the quote from the Atlantic: “Ask audiences what they want, and they’ll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they’ll mostly eat candy.”

Does this surprise you? It probably shouldn’t. It does cause me to think. We say we want the good stuff. We like the idea of hard-hitting biblical lessons at church, but what happens when somebody steps on my toes? We say that we want close, meaningful relationships, but what happens when that requires me to sacrifice?

Let’s tell the truth and admit that we like our “candy” – but let’s do better about the vegetables too!

What the TV Weather Forecast Says About Human Nature

We all like to gripe about how often the TV weather-guy is wrong. Most of us know that once you get past about a 3-day forecast, the predictions are about as accurate as throwing a dart at the weather map, blindfolded.

I came across an interesting little story. Blogger Randy Olson reviews Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise. It’s a study of how good (and bad) predictions are, and why the task of prediction is far harder than most of us give it credit.

weatHere’s what caught my eye: Silver was able to compare the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, and Local TV predictions—and then compare these three plots to what actually happened. In a perfect world, when the forecast says 50% chance of rain, 50% of the forecast area would get wet. That’s the definition of a perfect forecast.

Silver found that all of the forecasting services were fairly close; the National Weather Service and the Weather Channel were within just a few percentage points of perfect. You’d think that the local TV guys would be right in line with them, seeing as they base most of their forecasts on the NWS data. You’d think that—but you’d be wrong.

The local TV news consistently predicted more rain than happened. All they would have to do is parrot the NWS data, and they would have been within 5-10% of perfect. Despite that, they were frequently way off. When the TV predicted 100% rainfall, do you know how what the actual precipitation percentage was? Somewhere around 68%!

Again, all they had to do to be at 98% was copy and paste the NWS report. Why were they so far off?

Because you and I—through the pressure of ratings—make them.

Silver explained this phenomenon as the “wet bias.” TV reporters will always forecast rain more often than it happens. It’s a simple incentive: if they tell us that it’s going to rain and it doesn’t, we feel lucky and forget about it. If they tell us it isn’t going to rain, and it rains on our parade, we’re furious and we don’t forget! We as viewers tend to only remember the bad news (selection bias). So the incentive for the weatherman is—over-predict rain. It won’t hurt him, and it could help him.

So what’s the lesson about human nature?

We evaluate the performance of others based on their effect on us.

Here’s what we don’t tend to evaluate others based on: accuracy, effort, intention, feelings, or pretty much anything else.

When someone cuts me off in traffic, he’s an inconsiderate maniac who is a menace to society who should be taken off the road. When I do it, I evaluate myself differently. It was an accident. I’m only human!

When they get my order wrong at the McDonald’s drive-thru, I don’t think about me being unclear, the sound equipment making their job difficult, poor job training and equipment, or the possibility that they’re near the end of a double-shift. I just assume they don’t care and want to ruin my lunch.

I’m not always the most charitable observer, am I? Sometimes that causes other people to change their behavior…and not generally for the better.

The weatherman knows that, and so he covers his bases by fudging the numbers, but most people in life don’t have that simple recourse.

This week, when you get angry at somebody, stop and think: am I judging them like I judge the weatherman? Maybe I could cut the people around me a little more slack than I usually do.

What do you think?

In the meantime, I’ll be over at weather.gov…and thinking about what Jesus said. “Judge not…”

An Accurate Self-Image?

There is no one who talks to you more than you do. Your voice is the voice you hear the most. It follows, then, that it is important to monitor what you think about yourself.

When I was studying for Vacation Bible School and the life of Moses, I came across a quote by Dwight Moody. He described Moses’ life this way: He spent his first forty years (in Pharaoh’s house) thinking he was somebody. He spend his next forty years (in the wilderness as a fugitive) learning that he was a nobody. At the end of 80 years, when he stood before the burning bush, he began to learn in his last 40 years just what God can do with a nobody!

“I just want to be a nobody willing to tell everybody that there is a somebody who can save anybody!”

I like it!

Here’s what we need to remember. We are nothing. Paul told the Romans “not to thihnk of himself more highly than he ought to think.” (Romans 12:3). “But by the grace of God, I am what I am!” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

When we think we’re somebody, we might not realize our need for God. When we think we’re nobody, we might not remember that God is the source of all power. But when we come to know that God works with any nobody who is willing to trust him, it changes everything!