PRODUCING BETTER THINKERS

The discussion had been disturbing. The young woman I was counseling was in deep-dish trouble. Her relationships were dysfunctional, she was up to her armpits in debt, and most of her decisions were based on a daily reading of her horoscope.

But the most disturbing thing was that she had grown up attending church. She was supposed to know how to manage life, but she didn’t. Her spiritual journey included a lot of lessons to help her feel good, but very few to help her be good.

That isn’t the way Church is supposed to be.

The Apostle Paul said that in the Church we are to “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Eph 4:15). We have the Scriptures for, as he told Timothy, “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

The church is supposed to be God’s university on planet earth, a learning center for Biblical life lessons, a place where each member is constantly growing up into maturity in Christ.

A healthy church is a place where the Christian’s life foundations are laid, where we learn how the Bible applies to everyday life. Healthy churches equip believers to discern between wisdom and the world’s empty values.

Consider some issues believers should be able to think through and come to soundly biblical conclusions: How best to manage our finances? How are we to think about gun violence? What is the best way to help Puerto Rico recover? Should we stay in NAFTA? How about student loan debt? How should we lower the burden on college students? How can we discern between so-called fake news and the real thing?

The list of things we need to know how to think about is endless and simple answers elude us. How should serious-minded believers respond? Can the Bible help?

The Bible doesn’t always teach us what to think. But it can teach us how to think biblically on issues from Abortion to Zoning laws. That’s what it means to develop a biblical worldview. Healthy Christians develop a biblical worldview in God’s university, the local church, becoming in the process better parents, better students, better leaders, better workers, and better citizens.

I’m so grateful for the dedicated Sunday School teachers and small group leaders our church has benefited from over the years! The list is long, but each one has helped us “grow up in all things into Christ,” to think biblically about our world.

And what about you? Do you have the ability to teach? Have you ever tried? Could you take a rotation in Children’s Church, or as a small group Bible study, or Sunday School teacher?

Just like the young woman in my office that day, the church needs good teachers on all levels now more than ever. Ask God if he is calling you to lay the foundation for someone else’s future.

FLABBY-BRAINED BELIEVERS?

The bathroom scales hounded me back to my Nordic Trak last week with the words: “You are a middle-aged blob who eats too much and exercises too little!”

OK, it didn’t actually say that because it can’t talk. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it read either (I am vain that way). Let it suffice that I sweated through my first thirty-minutes in about a month on the twentieth-century torture tool and I’m headed back there today.

I wonder, however, if there was a scale for the Christian mind that could talk, what it would be saying to the people of God? I’m afraid it would report that many of us have flabby brains.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” said Joseph Addison, but far too many of us read nothing at all.

If you’re ready to get your mind back in action here’s a list of recommended reading that will equip you to think Christianly about life.

Suffering

SUFFERING AND THE HEART OF GOD: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, by Diane Langberg, PhD. Langberg, who has worked with Rwandan genocide victims, is a globally recognized expert on trauma, particularly that special evil suffered by sexual abuse victims. She is theologically solid, clinically expert, and personally compassionate. I’ve heard her speak and read her previous book, On the Threshold of Hope. I guarantee that if you do not already know a sexual abuse victim, you will and you will want to know how to help. Her books will help.

Marriage

SAVING YOUR MARRIAGE BEFORE IT STARTS: Seven Questions to Ask Before (and After) You Marry, by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. The Parrotts are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. I’ve been offering per-marital counseling since 1995 and I’ve yet to find a better resource.

RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES: Healing for Troubled Marriages, by marriage and family therapist Dr. Jim Talley. Talley’s work became my go-to for counseling couples in crisis many years ago and remains so today. It is simple, clear, and concise. Read it five years into your first marriage and you probably won’t have a second. Find him at drtalley.com.

Giving Wisely

TOXIC CHARITY: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and how to reverse it), by Robert D. Lupton. Bob, the founder of FCS Urban Ministries, moved his young family into inner-city Atlanta in the late seventies and stayed. He “has developed two mixed-income subdivisions, organized a multiracial congregation, started a number of businesses, created housing for hundreds of families,”[1] and is a friend of our family. He is also an excellent writer and teacher of the ideas he promotes. The book is an easy and useful read.

Biblical Worldview Thinking

HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE, is the late Chuck Colson’s and Nancy Pearcy’s magnum opus on biblical worldview thinking. If you have no exposure to the genre and five hundred pages doesn’t frighten you, begin here. It is compelling and easy to follow.

THE GOOD LIFE, also by Colson with Harold Fickett, is much shorter and more about answers to the questions we all have, like: Why am I here; how can I find significance? But all of Colson’s works are infused with the worldview rubric and this one will challenge you to choose carefully.

Culture War

CULTURE MAKING: Recovering Our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch. Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, makes an excellent case that it is not enough to condemn culture, nor to stand aloof and critique it or naively copy it, still less to unconsciously consume it. If Christians want to return to the cultural influence that helped build Western Civilization, we have to create better culture. CULTURE MAKING is the best book yet on how to do that.

ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, by Russell Moore. Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a man who, like Albert Mohler, is an energetic, entertaining, and articulate defender of the faith. ONWARD is a quick, compelling read that roots our cultural engagement squarely in the Gospel and never strays from it.

Perhaps you are thinking, “I don’t have time to read serious books.” If so remember World Magazine and World Radio, both of which will keep you up-to-date with the latest biblical worldview thinking in a highly portable format. Go to getworldnow.com for a free three month trial. The daily worldview update, Breakpoint, with John Stonestreet and Eric Metaxas is also excellent.

Brains, like bodies, get flabby without exercise. What would our imaginary mental scales say about yours? Time to get to work!

[1] From the book cover.

SUCCESS UNDER STRESS 3: Courage

Moral courage is often harder than physical courage. We will invest ourselves deeply in worry about the 92% of things over which we have no control in order to avoid the pain of dealing with the 8% that we can control.

Alan Loy McGinnis was a psychologist and author who wrote a few good books. In one he tells about a business man who was stressed to the max, worried about all kinds of things, until the day he analyzed his anxieties and realized that:
 40% were things that would likely never happen.
 30% were past decisions that were unchangeable.
 12% were unimportant criticism from others.
 10% were health related, but his health was generally OK.
 8% were legitimate worries that he could actually do something about.

I imagine most of us can identify with that. The problem is that lingering 8% usually requires some kind of moral courage.

For many of us, moral courage is harder than physical courage. We will invest ourselves deeply in worry about the 92% of things over which we have no control in order to avoid the pain of dealing with the 8% that we can control. Like the business woman who will waste hours and hours trying to fix a computer problem she knows nothing about when she really needs to pay somebody to fix the computer and fire the secretary that is alienating her clients. She’d rather cuss the computer than confront the secretary. It takes less courage.

The Apostle Paul’s protégé, Timothy, was in a situation like that. The church he led had serious problems. Heresy was brewing in the pews, some of the elders were caught in sin, there was disharmony and competition in the membership, and disruption in the worship service.

The Apostle’s instruction for dealing with these problems was no doubt difficult for Timothy to hear: “Tim, you are the pastor. You have the authority to deal with these difficulties. Use it.”

The Apostle wrote: “Command certain men not to teach strange doctrines … Command and teach these things … Command the rich not to be arrogant.” (1 Tim. 1:3; 4:11; 6:17-18 emphasis added).

Tim the timid needed to become Tim the courageous. Pastor Timid needed to be Pastor Fearless.

But it isn’t just Pastor Tim, is it? Moral courage is a prerequisite for anyone in leadership, especially anyone who decides to be a Christ-follower in this world.

Courage is the strength to take a risk, to persevere, to face danger, fear or difficulty. Moral courage is one of the keys to success in high stress. It’s what Timothy needed to ‘take command’ of a difficult situation. And it’s what we need to take command of ours.

SUCCESS UNDER STRESS 2

I hope you’ve had the experience of working in a high challenge, high nurture environment. That’s what Tim had with Paul. He spent the first decade or so of his ministry with the indomitable apostle. He hiked mountains, sailed the seas, argued on the Areopagus, preached in parts unknown, and learned the heights and depths of God’s love at the feet of the author of Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. Tim did all of that – but always in a supporting role – never on the point. His mentor and friend, Paul, was always there to encourage, and comfort, and most of all lead. The benefits of that kind of coaching can’t be counted, but it’s hard to leave it behind.

All of a sudden you’re out there solo. All the decisions are yours to make, yours to fly or die with. That’s where Timothy was and he was finding it hard, so hard it seems he wanted to bail out.

Thus Paul’s exhortation: Stay there. Be content where you are Tim. Fight the good fight (1 Timothy 1:18). Hold on to faith and a good conscience.

What does it mean to stay there? I suggest it means two things: being content with what we have–our possessions, and trusting God with where we are–our position.

Timothy’s position had changed. He was no longer in the high-nurture environment he once shared with Paul. He was enduring scrutiny he’d never known, making supervisory decisions without back-up (he couldn’t email Paul for help), while simultaneously trying to train the next generation of leaders. That’s a tough position for a young man.

Timothy’s “possessions,” his gifting, and temperament, and stamina were also different from Paul’s. The Apostle to the Gentiles was old – old enough to call Timothy “my son” – tough, and ambitious. Timothy wasn’t wired that way. He comes across in the text as a bit timid, eager to please, and physically handicapped by “frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23).

It would be easy for Tim, and for us, to think that with all those limits, God couldn’t use him; to bail out because of inadequacies, wimp out because of weakness, lay low because of limits. But Paul wouldn’t let him off the hook. Instead, he exhorted Tim to:

“Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.” (1 Timothy 4:11-14 The Message).

Paul is telling his young friend: Tim you have powerful gifts! You don’t have to have mine to be effective! Use what you have! Use them and watch God work!

Staying there means giving yourself permission to be happy with where you are: your position, and working with what you have: your possessions.

Staying there means doing what you can, with what you have, right where you are for the glory of God.

It’s Joseph, content to interpret the dreams of fellow prisoners until it was God’s time to interpret Pharaoh’s.

It’s Moses, content to tend sheep for forty years in the desert until God called him to lead a nation out of bondage.

It’s David, content to use a sling to slay a Giant until God made him a King and gave him an army.

And it’s you and it’s me doing what we can, with what we have, right where we are for the glory of God.

SUCCESS UNDER STRESS

Are you feeling stressed? Pressured? Overloaded?

Many of you are returning to school soon, some to totally new environments, some to increasing responsibility as you near the end of your educational career and the beginning of your working career. That’s stressful.

Some of you are under tremendous pressure at work. One guy described his day as “walking into a buzz saw.” Here’s a little research on the subject:

The average office worker gets 220 messages a day—in e-mails, memos, phone calls, interruptions, and ads.

A survey of 1,313 managers on four continents found that “one-third of managers suffer from ill health as a direct consequence of stress associated with information overload. This figure increases to 43 percent among senior managers.”

The sheer volume of information you have to screen, absorb and respond to can make you sick.

Then there are those other “little” stressors that anybody with a lot of responsibility and little authority can relate to:

 Dealing with spin – information comes to us like a Clayton Kershaw curve ball. It looks like the straight stuff until it gets to the plate. The truth gets lost in the rumor mill or shady ethics.
 Office Politics – strained relationships between others in your organization make your job more difficult.
 Political Correctness – rears its head conscience requires you to say things no one wants to hear.
 Administrative Hassles – you want to hire the best qualified person, you know who it is, but you have to jump through a bunch of hoops first to keep the watchdogs happy.
 Communication Breakdown – they say the package would arrive Monday, but you heard them promise it would be there Friday.

If you can connect with any of that you can connect with Pastor Tim of the first Church of Ephesus. He was dealing with the same issues dressed in church clothes.

 Spin – Legalism, Gnosticism and superstitious mysticism were confusing the church.
 Politics – Strained relationships between church members put him in the middle.
 Political Correctness – The role of women be in the church had to be addressed.
 Administrative Issues – Who could serve as elder? Deacon? How would they be qualified?
 Communication – Tim had to set the example of clear communication and following through on commitments.

Let me go back to my original question. Are you feeling overloaded? Pressured? Stressed to the max? If so you might be feeling like Pastor Tim: RUN BABY RUN!

It’s apparent from Paul’s very first instruction to Tim that he was ready to bug out. “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus …” (1 Timothy 1:3a emphasis added).

That was not what Tim was hoping to hear. But it’s one of the keys to success in high stress. “Stay there,” he said. “Fight the good fight, hold on to your faith, keep your conscience clear, and stay there.”

If God has placed you in a tough situation, stay in it. Don’t bail out just because your palms are getting sweaty. If you’re sure God is in it, you stay in it. Problems are just opportunities dressed in scary costumes. God has something to teach you and something to accomplish through you in that difficult spot. If you bail out now you may never learn what you can be and you may never see what God can do.