Are You Passing This Class?

Acts 2:42

Commit yourself to good teaching.

A recent administration of the CLA+ (College Learning Assessment Plus) test, which attempts to determine how much college students developed their critical thinking skills over four years, provided, as usual, fairly discouraging results. Without sharing actual numbers, let’s just say that there are not very many schools who will be putting their results in any alumni brag magazines or recruitment materials.

I would expect that someone in those critical years, 18 to 22, working at Starbucks would make some significant gains in their ability to think and solve problems. How can college fail to accomplish that?

Before you start feeling all superior, here’s a parallel thought. How much spiritually “smarter” are you than four years ago? If you’ve been sitting under solid teaching for four years, shouldn’t you be developing your Christian IQ?

Unfortunately, many believers attend most every Sunday, but they do not actually commit themselves to solid Bible teaching. They don’t really pay attention to sermons and lessons, instead thinking about where to go out to lunch when the final space is filled in on the outline. And once they hit the parking lot, the materials have fled from their mind.

I know this to be true, because I’ve been that person. But I’ve also dedicated myself to Bible reading and study. The difference in results is amazing. When we commit ourselves to God’s Word, God uses that Word to make positive changes in our lives.

  • What grade would you give yourself on your commitment to good teaching?
  • What was the last Bible truth that you discovered and applied to your life?
  • Ask God to help you remain constant in your dedication to solid teaching from whatever source.

A 4th of July Blow Up

This is for my grandson, Ira, who asked, with something of a sneer in his voice, “What is Fourth of July supposed to be for?”

There’s a strain of thought in our society that cynically dismisses the United States as the source all the evils in the world. These people, some of whom I’m sure Ira has heard talk, point rightfully to a host of things that this nation has gotten wrong in the past 241 years.

As a nation, we’ve been pretty awful in several respects: slavery, the displacement of Native Americans, a successful war of conquest in Mexico and an unsuccessful invasion (or two) of Canada. Then there are more recent things that aren’t exactly the stuff to put into the scrapbook.

But here’s the deal. When the fifty-six delegates signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they weren’t claiming to be perfect. Read through the document and you won’t find anywhere where it says that we wouldn’t mess up. What Jefferson and company did claim was the right to determine their own destinies.  In soaring language, they said that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.

Sure, we’ve been figuring out over those years exactly what all people being equal means, but let’s recognize that even the very limited idea–all white men (not women) were equal–was revolutionary in the nations of their day. Sure, the wags of the Enlightenment talked in those terms, but nobody actually tried to act on it.

Our forebears acted on it. We did it imperfectly, but we did it. On July 4, 1776, a teetering little nation reared its head against the greatest power on earth and said, “Enough! We’re in charge of our own destiny!”

July 4 commemorates a revolution that stuck. We didn’t, like France a few years later, start guillotining everyone in sight. We didn’t, like Russia in 1917 and beyond, begin murdering  hundreds before moving on to thousands and then millions. We move through parties and philosophies and presidents and problems, usually without resorting to bloodshed. And when 620,000 lives were extinguished in an effort to maintain the union and end slavery, when at the very moment of triumph the president was murdered, our level of retribution was exceptionally measured. Former Confederate President Jefferson Davis died of natural causes, a free man in New Orleans.

So those who hate the country that gives them a constitutionally guaranteed right to put on Guy Fawkes masks and chant whatever they’re chanting today can have their say. I say they’re ignorant and childish, but I’ll stand to defend their right to be ignorant and childish. I’d ask them to return the favor.

The Fourth of July? It’s not about the United States of America being a perfect place. It’s about it being a place where people are allowed to make their best efforts to succeed or fail. It’s about us continuing to listen to and learn from one another. It’s about a place on earth where people can worship or not worship how they please. It’s about a nation that seems capable of surviving its own worst sins, coming out breathing on the other side.

That, Ira, is what Fourth of July is all about. Isn’t it appropriate that we celebrate it by blowing things up?

The Coffee Clutch

Acts 2:42

Commit yourself to fellowship.

Some people find this hard to believe, but I am not the most social person on this planet. Hanging out with my buds just doesn’t come naturally to me. I like people, but I have to make an effort to be normally social.

About a year ago, a couple of friends invited me to join them every Thursday morning at 6:30 at Benetti’s Coffee Experience in bustling downtown Raytown. Let me review the obstacles to this idea. First, in order to attend, I had to get up at 6:00 a.m. on a summer day when I didn’t really need to roll out of bed before noon. Second, it took me out of my comfort zone as an anti-social sort. Third, I don’t like coffee, and the idea of paying better than $3 for a cup of tea seems silly. Still I went, and today I wouldn’t miss it.

There are currently four of us. Sometimes only three make it. Sometimes someone else joins us. We’ll spend an hour to ninety minutes talking over matters. Some weeks are heavily spiritual, while others are much less so. We do not solve the world’s problems or actually accomplish anything tangible.

But here’s the thing. We know that we’re each trying to live Godly lives in a sinful flesh. As different as we are, we are in the same situation. And I’m convinced that any of these men would try to help me whenever I am in need, just as I would try to help them.

Even for an anti-social guy like me, Christianity is not an individual sport.

  • Are you naturally social or naturally unsocial? Does your inclination help or hinder your spiritual walk?
  • Who are the Christians with whom you spend your life beyond the boundaries of the church building?
  • Pray that God will help you to find or strengthen bonds of fellowship at every stage in your life.

Changing the Unchanging

1 John 5:14-15

Pray in God’s will.

Just between you and me, when I read the scripture for today, there’s a part of me that thinks that God sounds like a bit of a con man. It’s sort of like when you walk onto a car lot that brags that they let you “Name your own price.” That’s right, you can name any price you like, but only if it is a price that they like will it do you any good.

God will give you anything you ask as long as you ask Him for what He wants to give you. Isn’t He trying to have it both ways?

That’s a natural human way of looking at things. God will, I hope, forgive us for letting our minds drift in this direction, but it is not at all the whole story.

Prayer will not–in fact it cannot–change God. If God needed changing, that would be a problem, but God doesn’t need to change. Sometimes we’d like to bring Him around to our way of thinking, but in reality we don’t want that. If I could change God through my prayers, then He wouldn’t be much of a God.

Prayer will, however, change the world within the parameters of God’s will. And perhaps more importantly, prayer will change us. Genuine prayer–prayer in God’s will–brings us more firmly into that will. Regardless of other outcomes, being in God’s will is its own reward.

  • Do you have tendencies to pray for things that are clearly not in God’s will? What are they?
  • Have you experienced a correction to your prayers, making them conform with the will of God?
  • Ask God, as in Romans 12:2, to transform your mind to know His will perfectly.

The Cars on a Thousand Hills

Matthew 7:8-11

Ask of God as of a loving father.

Please don’t share this with my son, but I have been forming a plan for him. You see, Thomas is getting married in October. I’m very pleased. He’s pleased. She’s pleased. It’s all good.

Weddings, as you’re probably aware, can be really expensive; however, as the parents of the groom, we’re not finding it too burdensome, which is good because of a desire I have.

Thomas is driving a cast-off minivan with all manner of problems. One of those problems is that left sliding door is held closed by a strap. My desire is to sell the old clunker (which is still in my name) and buy the new couple a better car. Would I buy them a brand new, fancy-schmanzy car? No, but I’d love to put them behind the wheel of a more reliable, newer vehicle.

The problem is that I’m not sure my bank account can make this happen. The van won’t bring a huge sum, and our savings account has other demands on it. Still, I’d really love to make this happen.

My intentions are not as pure as God’s. There’s a part of me that looks at that money selfishly. My abilities are nowhere near as great as God’s. He can provide anything He wants.

If this sinful, limited father can have such positive intentions toward his son, what generous intentions will our sinless, unlimited Father have toward us. We just need to ask.

  • What results have you experienced when you ask God for worthwhile things?
  • Are there important matters in your life in which you don’t ask for God’s assistance?
  • Think of something important that you should ask of God. Then ask of it all this week. See where that goes.

…and my lungs and limbs and all the rest of me.