Matthew 3:8 NASB, "Therefore, bear fruit in keeping with repentance." This is the first verse that the Ritz family will be memorizing in 2014. It is short, so we are likely to retain it quickly and it is weighty and filled with meaning so it is ripe for personal reflection. These words were spoken by John the Baptist to a group of the religious elite of his day, right after he calls them, a "brood of vipers." John was in the wilderness calling people to repent, then baptizing them as an outward sign to the world of their repentance. Apparently, the pharisees and sadducees were coming to be baptized while skipping over the whole repentance part of the equation. Hence the name-calling. The Greek word that is translated as repentance means "to change one's mind," or "to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins." Baptism by water was meant to show a turning toward God and away from a mindset and life of sin. By calling them a brood of vipers, he is identifying the pharisees with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Satan. He is calling them out, saying in effect, "You haven't turned; your mind hasn't changed. You are masquerading as those filled with light and knowledge, but your hearts are dark." By presenting themselves for baptism as a sign of repentance without actually acknowledging their need to repent, they were making a mockery of what John was doing and the message he was declaring, a message given to him by God, a message he was being prepared to deliver to the world since before his birth. They were poisoning the system.
What about us? If we have repented, are we bearing fruit that demonstrates that we've changed our minds about what is most important in life? Almost two months ago, I changed my mind about how important my health is to me. I cut out the vast majority of saturated fat in my diet, increased my intake of fruits, veggies and water, and started exercising regularly. I also joined with a group of other like-minded folks whose health is important to them as well and we have been tracking our progress together and encouraging one another along the way. What if someone joined our group and regularly reported his weight loss numbers, but wasn't actually committed to improving his health? What if he was actually doing some really unhealthy things in an attempt to show similar or even better weight loss, and in doing so was actually damaging his health all in an effort to be competitive, or to keep up with the "Joneses," or to look the part of someone on the fitness bandwagon? It would dishearten those of us who were committed, to be sure, and it wouldn't do him a lick of good in the long run. In fact it could have some pretty serious negative consequences. The spiritual parallels are obvious.
Memorizing these words from John the Baptist is serving as a potent reminder to me that the fruit I bear should be a direct result of a change of heart and mind about what and Who I believe is most important. NOT about a set of rules, a way to fool the system, or how to look better than others with minimal effort. I have a choice: fruit juice or venom. True repentance or toxic faking.
Romans 2:4 "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness, and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" NASB
2 Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." NASB
What in the world goes on inside our brains any way? Could there possibly be anything more complex on the Earth than the human brain? It controls our breathing and bodily systems without us even being aware or focusing on those things. The brain is where we process numbers, letters, language, emotions, theories, philosophies, and ideas. It is where we ponder purpose, meaning, and God. We talk about the "heart" and "matters of the soul and spirit" but all of these are processed in the brain - as far as I know there is nothing in my chest or abdominal cavity that is contemplating love, friendship, hatred, sin, or sacrifice... nope, just oxygen, blood, and the Nutter Butter I just snacked on.
I was recently doing some research on the work of the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex of the brain, specifically looking at scientists' observations of the threat/reward impulse and what some call the "Amygdala Hijack." Fascinating dinner conversation, I can assure you. As scientists observe the brain's activity during different scenarios, they have noticed several consistent patterns:
Here's the deal, the amygdala gets hijacked, and rightfully so, when someone cuts us off in traffic and we are afraid we are going to crash, when we slip near the edge of a cliff and nearly fall, etc. Basically when our lives are at risk. Here's the deeper deal, the limbic system is also subconsciously creating physical reactions in us for social survival too. It reacts strongly when things like: our status, our ability to predict the future, our sense of being in control, our ability to feel relationally close to others, or our sense of fairness are threatened. Before we can ever have a rational thought about these things, our brain has established pathways for classifying something as good or bad in relation to these areas.
This is fascinating to me. Science is great! Observing the world around us and even our own bodies and functioning is worthwhile, however, observation of what has been created alone, cannot bring full understanding - in fact it can lead us astray unless we seek the wisdom of the creator to temper it with.
1. Science observes: Status is important to people's happiness. If the brain perceives that social status is being threatened, it reacts strongly. If the brain perceives an increase in social status, being elevated above others, this is desirable. Brain scientist's answer: Elevate yourself. Seek ways to minimize the threats to your status and maximize the opportunities to get ahead of others.
The Bible says: Status belongs to God alone. We are to reject impulses to elevate ourselves and rather humble ourselves and allow God to exalt us in due time as He sees fit. (James 4:10, Psalm 145:3, Philippians 2:3)
2. Science says: Knowing the future and living in certainty brings feelings of comfort and security (increases in dopamine). Brain scientist's answer: Proactively organize your life to reduce uncertainty, plan, plan, plan.
The Bible says: The future belongs to God alone. He alone knows what it holds and He alone is the source of lasting comfort and security. We are to trust him and release our claims to knowing the future. (James 4:13-17, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
3. Science observes: Having choices and a sense of control is vital to mental health.
The Bible says: Releasing control and choosing God's will is vital to spiritual health. The most important choice is choosing God and that choice leads to relinquishing control, not grasping on to it. (Joshua 24:15, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 4:1-2, 1 John 2:17)
4. Science observes: Being in relationship with other people and having safety in those relationships frees you to think freely.
The Bible says: Offer your friendship to those who may have nothing to give you in return. Relationships are important and safety in relationships is good, but they aren't all about what's in it for us. (Ephesians 5:21, Romans 12:13-16)
5. Science observes: Do what you can to pursue fairness in your world to reduce your feelings of threat.
The Bible says: Life isn't fair because sin is a part of our world. We need not feel threatened by a lack of fairness because we serve a just God who will right wrongs perfectly in time. We pursue justice, not to make our own path easier or straighter, but to aid those who cannot help themselves. We do not demand fairness for ourselves because we know that if we were treated fairly, ultimately we deserve death. (Deuteronomy 32:4, Romans 12:17-21)
At the end of the day, we are not bound to the inevitable chemical reactions of our brains. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV says, "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgement. 'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ." One of the ways scientists have observed to avoid the long lasting effects of a hijacked amygdala is to reframe your reality and experience. As Christians - God has given us a frame for our worldview with which to talk ourselves off the ledges of life. It is given in His Word. Let's fill our minds with the truth of scripture and in doing so re-train our brains to perceive what true threats and rewards really are. Then we will be ready to take risks, look outside ourselves for fulfillment, sacrifice freely, and basically have a life that counts for something, not just a life that is comfortable.
That's all I have to say about that.
This week I watched a sermon online entitled, The Hard Work of Rest, about the importance of God-given (and commanded) rest. (Thank you, Pastor Craig!)
The sermon covered many portions of scripture on the topic in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. What stood out to me most came from Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (You'll recognize this as coming from the 10 Commandments):
"Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your man servant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." NIV
According to this scripture, we see that the original Sabbath day of rest was instituted to remind the Israelites that they had once had earthly masters who required them to work seven days a week as slaves, but that God, their true Master, had rescued them and that the "work" of resting every seventh day was to be a symbol of how they are set apart and have no other Master but God Himself. Nothing else and no one else was to rule their days but Him. No task was more important, no one's wishes more critical to attend to than the Lord of the Sabbath's.
How are we doing with this concept today? Do the activities of our lives show that we have one and only one Master? Or are our schedules driven relentlessly by the demands of the moment? Do our calendars rule over us, or do we order our days as those who have been bought with a price?
I am challenged to rest with purpose... not just to fall into a heap of exhaustion every Sunday after church or to rest needlessly and lazily when my hands have barely labored. Whether I eat or drink, or rest or work, may it all be done to His glory - that the world may see that He is the one sustaining me and that His provision is perfect.
How do you go about resting, as a way of remembering and honoring the God who is in control?
"So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.'" - John 8:31-32 NASB
There are many ways to approach studying God's Word. Below is one approach to personal Bible study that Priscilla Shirer shared at the Going Beyond simulcast event today in Orlando, FL. (This is just ONE WAY to approach scripture study... not the only way.)
1. POSITION YOURSELF to hear from God. Position yourself both physically and spiritually to get the most out of your time in the Bible. Physically: reduce distractions as much as possible. Spiritually: come with a heart and mind that EXPECT to get something of great value out of your time in the Word, and come with a knowledge and acceptance of your dependency on the Holy Spirit to help you fully grasp and apply what you read.
2. POUR OVER the passage and PARAPHRASE the major points. Read, re-read, focus on, think about, consider context, give as much attention to the text as time and the situation allow. Then write down the major points in your own words. Do not twist what you have read in anyway, just write down the major points simply, in your own words.
3. PULL OUT the spiritual principles. Is there a promise made? Is there a command to follow? Is there a sin to avoid? Is there an attribute of God or man described? Write down what you find.
4. POSE the question(s). Ask yourself questions that are based on what you've read and answer them honestly. Example: Do I need to adjust my thinking or actions based on what I've read? Does my life show that I really believe this scripture? etc.
5. PLAN obedience and PIN DOWN a day and way to obey. The whole point of studying scripture is to know God better and to conform our lives to His will. Don't get up from your time studying the Bible without deciding how and when you will obey what you've felt convicted about. We do not become the people God wants us to be through happenstance, we have to be willing to make strategic decisions regarding obedience to His Word and act on them over and over again.
An aside: Make a decision to never walk away from your time studying the Bible disappointed. Sometimes it will take days of digesting a particular passage before it sinks into our souls. Also, you NEVER know how God will use what you read that day in your life or in the life of someone else. You may get up from your Bible study time feeling a little bit perplexed, like you didn't really have any clear revelation that day, and then later that afternoon you will have a conversation with someone and discover that they need to hear the exact Word from God that He gave you that morning. Our time in scripture should not just benefit us, but benefit those we come in contact with.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!