The Power of Positive Thinking

The Wall Street Journal today has an article today by Sharon Begley in the Science Journal column (only online for subscribers, sorry) about our mind’s amazing ability to find good in every situation, no matter how bad it may be.
It describes several experiments where subjects were either tricked or forced into making bad choices. In the first, a Swedish experiment, people were asked to choose the more attractive of two women in photos. After their choice, the experimenter put the chosen photo face down and slid it to the subject, secretly switching the photo for the less attractive one in the process. Interestingly,

Few subjects batted an eye. Looking at unchosen [photo], they smoothly explained why they had chosen her (“She was smiling,” “She looks hot”), even though they hadn’t.

Professor Daniel Gilbert at Harvard is doing similar experiments. Subjects are told they’ll need to partner with someone who’d likable and trustworthy. The then pick one of four folders at random, not knowing that each contains the same bio of an unlikable, untrustworthy person. The subjects still managed to read good into the bad description of this person. Even when compared to bios of others, they continued to see their choice as superior.
Later, the experimenter would tell the subject that they were subliminally sending them signals to chose the best candidate. Since they had already convinced themselves that they had chosen the best candidate, they needed to explain why, so they bought this explanation. He calls that ‘the illusion of external agency’.
The main gist of the article is that this is where religious belief come from. We desire positive explanations of bad situations like the Asian tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake and the Gulf hurricanes. So we say it was God, even if we cannot say what he was doing, we say He knows best.
I find a certain level of truth and irony in this research. I think there’s a powerful truth in it, people do try to explain away their own bad choices or bad situations by saying God did it for some reason. Get too many red lights on the way to work? Maybe God is protecting me from an errant driver up ahead. Have to file for bankruptcy? God wants me to rely on Him, not money. Katrina devastates New Orleans? It’s his judgement on their sinful lifestyle. The common theme is that it’s not my fault nor should I worry about acting as a result of this, God is in control. As a result, the chronically late or the bankrupt person don’t look at their behaviors and make changes, but instead simply get a warm fuzzy feeling about God’s providence and go on. Others look at disasters like Katrina and see people getting what their sins deserve and miss the opportunity to be like Jesus and meet the needs of the hopeless. Our minds and hearts have a powerful tendency to convince us that what we already believe and see is right, and to interpret the things that happen around us in light of our current point of view. God’s way for us, however, is to constantly re-submit our will and viewpoint to his, which is perfect. A couple of scriptures come to mind:

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
   whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
   that sends out its roots by the stream.
   It does not fear when heat comes;
   its leaves are always green.
   It has no worries in a year of drought
   and never fails to bear fruit.”
The heart is deceitful above all things
   and beyond cure.
   Who can understand it?
“I the LORD search the heart
   and examine the mind,
   to reward a man according to his conduct,
   according to what his deeds deserve.”

Jeremiah 17:7-10

Our heart is deceitful, but we will be blessed if we put our confidence in God’s ways. I suppose that one could say that blindly attributing events to God is putting our trust in Him, but I look at this differently. I see it as saying ‘Conform your view and your will to mine, and it will go well with you’ rather than ‘No matter what happens, trust that it is good because I am in control.’

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

I ask myself ‘Why?’ a lot. Why do I want this? Why do I think this way? Why do I believe what I do? I do this because I know my heart is deceitful and I must constantly test it to see if it is conformed to God. God is truth and my faith in Him need not be afraid of questioning, testing and digging. I am confident that nothing I find will contradict Him, His word or His will.
The irony I find in this article is that the researchers are using this evidence to show how religion and the idea of God may be false. Of course it feeds their own preconceived notion about God that this would be true. Are they testing themselves? Are they using this to validate their own notions about God and to avoid asking themselves the hard questions of why they don’t believe in Him? Perhaps their saying to themselves (without knowing it), “See, religion is false and God doesn’t exist. It’s all a convenient illusion. I was right all along.”

Friday Fun

Here’s some Friday goofiness I got from the Thinklings. Like most blog memes, it started somewhere else entirely and has made it through a bunch of blogs on the way here.
The deal is you go to Google and do a search for “[your name] needs”. Make sure you use the quotes, and then post the first 10 items on the list on your blog (trackback or leave a comment if you do), or here in the comments. There are like ley to be more funny stuff after the first 10, so add those in too if you want.
Here’s what “Doug needs”:

Continue reading “Friday Fun”

More prayers, please

I’ve been remiss in not asking for prayers for a couple of friends and family.
First, my cousin’s husband is serving in Iraq and was wounded last week. He has a broken back neck and was flown to Germany and then on to Walter Reed Hospital (I think) in Washington where my cousin was to meet him. The prognosis seems good (no paralysis), but he faces therapy and potential surgery. His name is Dewight.
Second is Pinakidion and his family. There first child, a little boy named Jasper, was born about 2 weeks ago and is still in the hospital. He has something called Goldenhar’s Syndrome, which resulted in one nostril being blocked, deformed ears and strange ear canals. He may have hearing difficulties, but they aren’t sure yet. It sounds like they are well cared for my their church family as well as their physical family, but it’s hard after so much anticipation to still not be able to bring your little boy home.
Please join me in prayer for these folks.
Update 10/27: Dewight has a broken neck, not back. He’s in a brace and will be for 6 months. Surgery may be able to help and shorten the time he spends in a brace. He’s feeling stressed because he feels that he’ll be just like another kid to Angi. They have 3 boys, a 6 year old and twins who are 3 or 4, so she’s got her hands full already. Please pray for hope, healing and perseverance.

Transitions

O my people, hear my teaching;
   listen to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth in parables,
   I will utter hidden things, things from of old-

what we have heard and known,
   what our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children;
   we will tell the next generation
   the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
   his power, and the wonders he has done.

He decreed statutes for Jacob
   and established the law in Israel,
   which he commanded our forefathers
   to teach their children,

so the next generation would know them,
   even the children yet to be born,
   and they in turn would tell their children.

Then they would put their trust in God
   and would not forget his deeds
   but would keep his commands.

Psalm 78:1-7

As leader of the children’s ministry, I’ve shared this scripture a lot. It is my favorite scripture regarding teaching children about God. ” … so the next generation would know … ” They need to know, and they will never know unless we know and in turn teach them.
I shared that scripture as children’s ministry leader on Sunday for the last time. Maria and I have decided that, after 9 years, it was time to move on to something new. We have both felt less than effective in recent months, and for myself I’ve felt a recent pull toward a new ministry. It’s been something I’ve been praying about and talking with Godly men about for months. Through that time it became clear that it was time to move on to something new.
For the longest time I didn’t know what that new ministry would be, and to some degree I still don’t. After our recent Dynamic Marriage class training in Chicago, I know that is part of it. I long to help bring hope back into hopeless marriages, or maybe just rekindle the flames that had been reduced to smoldering. I also feel a strong desire to help the hurting. I’m not sure how that will manifest itself yet.
God has blessed our time in children’s ministry, even though we did not choose it. Shortly after we arrived in Columbus on the mission team we were asked to lead the Children’s Ministry (we suspect that it was why, afer initially being turned down for th team, we were later asked to join it.) We then had 12 kids and the oldest was in kindergarten or first grade. Now we have 50 some kids from newborns through sixth grade, as well as a good middle school and teen ministry.
Many have praised us for what we’ve done here with the kids, but we really don’t feel that we can take much of the credit. All we did is care. Others had the good ideas, the practical suggestions and put in the hard work. It was Greg and Kyra Miller, church leaders here until about 2 years ago, who came up with the idea of rotating coordinators to take the day to day load of of one couple (us) to ‘run the show’ each Sunday. We were ready to give up then and this spreading of the load gave us the strength to continue to serve. We also owe so much to those couples who joined us in running our Sunday classes, Kingdom Kids. Dave and Jawan, Dave and Janet and Bob and Trish have given their hearts to the kids and us. We are also grateful to the support that Randy and Sharon have always shown us. Lastly, we are so, so grateful for the support the church has given us in always being eager to teach and to serve. With out you, all of our best efforts would be in vain.
Bob and Trish will be taking our place as leaders of the children’s ministry. They’ve always had a heart for kids, as evidenced by their life & family, and God has put the children’s ministry on their hearts. There was no searching or wondering who would step in, as they stepped up on their own, before we were 100% sure that we would be moving on. We are grateful to be able to be putting this important ministry in capable hands and hearts.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

John 10:11-13

Based on this scripture in John 10, we gave Bob and Trish the following charges:

  1. Be the Good Shepherds, care for the sheep.
  2. Be an advocate for the kids. These kids have needs, but they don’t know what they are. Even if they did, they couldn’t articulate them. Even if they could, not many would hear. Be their advocate, stand up for what is good or not good for our children.
  3. Be an advocate for the teachers. The kids need teachers and if the teachers aren’t cared for and supported, there won’t be teachers. Speak up on their behalf. Make sure they understnad and feel how special and important they are to this church.

And with that, we move on to new things. Not necessarily bigger or better, just new.

Robbing God

Before diving into Ed’s book on Repentance, the church went through the minor prophets. At our men’s devo two Wednesdays ago we talked about that infamous passage in Malachi 3:6-12, used to get people to give to their church:

“I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

The question was asked, what could that mean to rob God? After all, everything we have is a gift from God, how could we rob Him? In thinking about it, this story came to mind.
When my wife and I were first married, we lived for year one in a tiny 800 square foot house in Dearborn MI. As we approached our first Halloween, we (mostly Maria) were looking forward to passing out candy for the first time We had both lived in apartment complexes prior to that which didn’t really have trick or treating, so this was going to be fun.
As the kids came, we opened the door, presented the bowl of candy and told the kids to take what they wanted. Most kids were polite and took a couple, or maybe four or five. Then Those Kids came to the door. When I said take what you want, the opened their bag and plunged it into the bowl, trying to scoop out all the candy. The force knocked the bowl out of my hands and onto the porch and they ran away with most of our candy. I was ticked off and paced round the house spouting off about it for a bit, making threats I had absolutely no intention of carrying out.
What does this have to do with Malachi? Well, I got to thinking, it’s kind of like that with God. He’s laid out before all of us a certain sum. For some it’s modest, maybe $20,000 per year (or even less), for others it’s substantial, well into six figures. “I’ve made this available for you.” God says, “Take what you need or want.” Am I so greedy to snatch the bowl out of God’s hands? Will I spend all that God has provided? How much will I leave behind, to give to do the work of God? Will I rob God of an opportunity to work?

Ed Anton on Repentance

Our church entered in a Sunday series based on Ed Anton’s new book, Repentance: A Cosmic Shift of Mind and Heart. The church began the series while we were slacking off (!) in Chicago, so I just started the book tonight. I have to admit, I’m never fond of these kind of church wide reading projects, and wasn’t looking forward to this one. However, I’ve read through the first two chapters and I am really impressed with this so far, and eager to keep reading. Let me share some tidbits:
Chapter 1 lays bare how our consumer culture has invaded our churches and how we view churches. People now ‘church shop’ much like they ‘car shop’ or shop for anything else. Now churches, in the honorable desire to get more folks in the pews, market themselves much like you’d market anything else. Of course, the traditional understanding of repentance (“Your wrong, so change.”) doesn’t sell well. This market driven approach (Ed spent 10 years in marketing at P&G and Coca-Cola) leads to pushing the message of Biblical repentance further into the background. We emphasize the ‘attractive’ parts of Jesus’ message, the parts that appeal to the emotions. Just like the marketers:

The distillation of our lifetime exposure to ad copy leaves us with this common sentiment: “You are so terribly misunderstood. We understand this better than anyone else. We have listened to you, and we know what you need. You need our product; everything’s going to be alright. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.”

pg. 19

Sounds like a lot of churches, no? And, frankly, it’s not a ‘bad’ message, except that once you begin there, it’s hard to bring in repentance later. And, Ed points out, both John the Baptist and Jesus began their message with “Repent!”
In chapter 2 he delves into a history of the translation of the Greek word metanoia which is known in English as ‘repentance’ and how that has colored our view of it for the worse. He lays out the story of hundreds of years of mis-translaton both accidental and quite deliberate, that turns the idea of metanoia, akin to ‘transformation’ or ‘metamorphosis’, into ‘penance’ or ‘sorrow’. Jesus did not come calling men to ‘Be sorry’ or ‘do penance for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ Jesus called us to transform our mind, not by looking back in regret but looking forward with hope:

metanoia does not rue the past so much as it pursues the future. Lamenting fault does not foment change. At the same time, metanoia does not ignore past transgressions; in fact we abhor sin – and sinfulness – through metanoia. … Metanoia results in a rejection of sinfulness, because its fierce pursuit of a righteous future abandons sin to an obsolete past.

pg. 32

Our understanding of repentance is a victim of the necessary evil of translation. He says

As the Jewish poet Haim Nachum Bialik put it, “Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your bride through a veil.” … but through translation, we should always strive to render the veil so sheer that we may sense the softness and sweetness of our bride’s lips.

He claims that our familiar English word ‘repentance’ is simply a thinner veil, still obscuring true metanoia behind our own preconceived notions of sorrow, regret and penance.
Chapter 3 promises illustrations to further illuminate metanoia. I already feel as though a certain thickness of the veil has been removed, if the remaining chapters are as enlightening this book will be well worth the $15. I don’t plan on blogging each reading of the book, I suggest you go to DPI and order a copy of your own and discover what Jesus really meant when he said “Repent!”. ICOCinfo has a couple of links today to study resources to use with the book as well.

James Update

Maria spoke to Kym today and learned that James should be heading home soon. He does have some paralysis on one side, but that should go away with therapy. He’s evidently in good spirits. The doctors are now calling what happened an ‘episode’, I don’t know if that means it wasn’t a stroke or not. They are also, unfortunately, 90% sure that he has Multiple Sclerosis.
I understand that all week folks from Columbus have been driving the 3.5 hours to Louisville to visit and just be with them. One brother drove down this evening, arriving around 6:30 PM, and had to return again later tonight. To see the disciples going out of their way like this just to be with them encourages me greatly. Driving down there to be by their side does nothing for them practically, but it communicates powerfully how much they are worth to us as a church and I’m sure just have familiar faces by their side is a tremendous comfort.
I understand that they’ve made their way here to salguod.net and were encouraged as well. If I accomplish nothing more here than stuff like that, this crazy blogging endeavor will be worth it.
Please, if you’re so moved, keep them in your prayers.

Disconnect

Let’s pretend a minute, OK?
Pretend that you are the leader of a moderate sized church.
Pretend that you are well known in your fellowship of churches. In fact you were once the leader of said fellowship and are largely credited with being its founder.
Pretend that after many “urgent” conversations in recent weeks, sixty five well known leaders of of your fellowship from at least 11 countries and every continent, including many personal friends, publicize a 12 page rebuke (HTML version), listing your sins, documenting a lack of repentance and calling for change.
How would you respond? Indignation? Eager to see justice done? Alarm? In other words, godly sorrow? Perhaps there would be hurt, tears, fasting, prayer and much advice from Godly men as well. I think if it had gotten that serious that they had to go public, perhaps I should consider a career change.
Or maybe you’d fight back, defending your actions, avoiding addressing the specific charges, attacking your accusers, quoting misleading statistics (see today’s post at ICOCinfo) and generally obfuscate the issue.
This past week, that’s exactly what happened. Sixty Five men publicly addressed the sins of Kip McKean, calling for repentance. To put it bluntly, he refused, justifying his sins as God’s work. I’m not sure what happens next, but Kip seems determined to take the International Church of Christ name for himself and those with him, attacking churches for removing ‘International’ from their name. The irony here is that very few ICOC churches ever had ‘International’ in their name. Prior to Portland the only one I had ever heard of was the Indianapolis International Church of Christ. True to form, he is creating controversies rather than doing the hard work of loving people, respecting differences, honoring Godly diversity, binding the wounded and pointing people away from worldly diversions to their amazing God.
As far as I’m concerned, he can have the name and title, since it seems to be important to him. For many the ICOC will always be connected to the flawed doctrines of Kip McKean, which he refuses to let go of, and I want no part of it. What we call ourselves here in Columbus matters not at all. We can be “The Church of What’s Happening Now Baby!” for all I care as long as we’re doing the work of God.
(NOTE: What I’m not saying:
I’m leaving the ICOC. Maybe intellectually, but not physically. I think I left the ICOC intellectually a while ago, frankly.
My church is leaving the ICOC. Not my call, and not likely, as I see it now. That just fine with me because I don’t see any interest in following Kip’s lead either.
Just thought I should clarify.)

Please Pray

Well, we’re back and exhausted (we rolled in around 4:00 AM). It was an amazing weekend and we’re looking forward to our first opportunity to lead a class. More on that later.
You may recall back in June my story of a farewell to a family that had given so much to our church. They were off to Louisville for a new job and to be closer to family.
On our way home from Chicago we learned that James, at only 35 years old, had collapsed in church Sunday morning from a stroke. We knew only that he was in the hospital and stable, that a specialist would examine him in the morning and that several from our church in Columbus got in their cars right after church to go to Louisville to be by their side. Today I received the following update via email:

The neurologist confirmed that James had a stroke. I guess he had a blood clot from years ago in the back of his brain and the Dr. wants to obtain his old records to review them. This clot is in the frontal lobe. They have him on blood thinners and will treat him that way right now…he will be in the hospital for at least a week and then will need therapy when he is discharged. The Dr. said possibly he may have a leak in the heart causing the clots…they are going to do further testing to determine the source. Of course, this has hit the [family] very hard…keep praying for his recovery and for strength and comfort for the family, as well.

This is a family that has been through so much, I don’t know how they’re still standing let alone still giving the way they do, and now this. It humbles me to think of how blessed my family is and I wonder how one family experiences so much tragedy and another so little. I don’t have that answer, and won’t this side of eternity, all I can do now is trust and pray.
Some of you know James and Kym, most of you do not. Either way, will you please pray for healing for James and for strength for the family to endure? It breaks my heart to hear of their suffering, but I know that suffering makes us stronger.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 5:3-5

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Romans 8:18-27

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