Friday, January 27, 2012

Controlled.


I read about a study this morning about Religion and self-control. The participants were asked to do crossword puzzles in which the words were either religiously oriented or random. After doing the crossword puzzles, the participants went on to complete other tasks that required them to exercise willpower or self-control. The article suggested that the participants who saw the religious words performed better on the self-control tasks than the participants who saw the random words.
This finding is not too surprising to me, because people often associate religion with trying to control yourself and not sinning. Some people suggest that this may be the whole purpose of religion, helping us control our hedonistic urges. 
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul seems to be endorsing self-control. He says that Christians should live a holy life, abstaining from merely following our basic desires. However, Paul did not say that this is the primary ends to which the life of a Christian is aimed. He said in verse 5 that this ability to be self-controlled is a trait which may overflow from knowing God.
I think the overall idea is that knowing God may help one to have a different purpose in life, rather than doing what makes you happy at the moment. If we are going about the aims of God in the world (loving our neighbors, seeking justice, showing mercy), controlling ones’ self becomes merely a means to a much bigger end of seeking his kingdom on earth.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Admirer


I once received an awkward love letter from a secret admirer. I found it in my college mailbox, covered in red hearts, written in red ink. Although I must admit that my inner 12 year-old received an ego boost, while my 19 year-old logical cortices were introducing some skepticism. I had received a prank love letter some years before and I was wondering which current friend of mine was riddled enough with cruelty to take the time to orchestrate such a prank.
The content of the letter seemed pretty standard for an anonymous love letter. It suggested that the author was really impressed with me. She gushed about my personality and how she found me attractive. She said she thought we would be a good match for each other, but she was afraid to divulge her identity. Even though I was in disbelief regarding the author’s authenticity, I still blushed. 
In reading the second and third chapters of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, I could not help but notice how it also sounds like a gushy love letter. Paul said that the Thessalonians were his “glory and joy,” he also described an “intense longing” to see them again. He also mentions overflowing love for them.
It seems to me that this type of outpouring is a largely unrecognized benefit of spiritual mentorship. Because Paul had taken the time to teach the Thessalonians and modeled a Christ-focused life, he had invested effort in their success. He had watched them slowly progress and cheered them on. This sounds like a lot of work, but as the letter suggests, the result was overflowing love for them.
What would happen to the Church if we looked beyond our own navels and opened ourselves to this kind of love? What if you gave your heart to spiritually mentoring someone else? To whom would you write a Thessalonians-type love letter? Could you be an admirer like Paul?
P.S. The love letter I received was not a prank, the author did reveal herself to me. It was so awkward that I just kind of laughed and we never spoke about it again.

Monday, January 16, 2012

King-dom.


Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed that his people would no longer be treated as second-class when compared to others. His inspirational life was focused on speaking for those who could not speak for themselves, calling all people to recognize our kinship as brothers and sisters.
Many years before, a similar message was written and spoken by the Paul, who seems to have been fighting a similar battle in different circumstances. He wrote in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica concerning the injustice the new Christians were facing from the Jewish people. In the book of Acts, we see Paul had many disputes with Jewish Christians concerning their belief that only Jews could be saved, making non-Jewish believers second-class in their eyes. Despite Jesus’ assertion that the kingdom was for all (Matthew 28), it still took a literal vision from God to convince Peter that the kingdom of God was for Jews AND everyone else. 
It seems like these types of struggles have been present for all of recorded history, when different groups of people do not accept each other and attempt to subvert the humanity of one another. Humans are by our nature relational beings who tend to form groups with many different purposes. Not surprisingly, we tend to prefer individuals who are in our groups over those who are not. It seems that conflict often arises when groups perceive some type of scarcity of resources between groups. For example, sports teams may have conflict because only one team may win.
In my opinion, many of the struggles with prejudice throughout the years are rooted in our misperception of scarcity and similarity. We somehow think that another group’s success may result in our failure, or another group’s power will require our submission. We also see certain groups as fundamentally different from ours, when it is likely that we are actually very similar.
On this day when the United States stops briefly to recognize the message of a great man, I think we need to search our hearts. We can ask ourselves; are we really in a power struggle between each other? Are we really so different? Jesus, Paul, and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a love that transcends our group boundaries, making us into one group, all brothers and sisters. Let your kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Changing?


It is amazing to me whenever I see genuine change occur in the life of a human. To me, it seems to be nothing short of a miracle. One side effect that we seem to have suffered from being given self-aware and analytical minds is an uncanny ability to justify ourselves and selectively attend to that which suits our current paradigms. When we cannot ignore, we will even take fantastically epic measures to slice and dice contradictory evidence which threatens that which we believe to be true. As a scientist, I have worked very hard at developing this ability.
For change to occur, it seems that something has to either circumvent or demolish our powers of explanatory mental gymnastics. As improbable as it is, it happens. There are those times in which reality bursts through our maze of consciousness with an elegant brilliance. Unfortunately, these moments of change are notoriously difficult to affect, predict, or understand.
In Thessalonica, Paul started a change in many people. Acts 17 says that he started in the synagogue, reasoning with the people. Soon after, Paul was run out of town by an angry mob. Despite the short duration of his trip, Paul wrote in First Thessalonians about how his words caught the fire of the Holy Spirit. The people of the town rioted upon his first visit, yet in his first letter he cannot stop talking about their love and generosity.
True change always requires God. Paul seems to have understood this truth. Of course humans may get the privilege to be involved, but God is the only one with sufficient power to orchestrate all of the factors that have an effect on whether change will occur. When I try to change without God, I always find myself trying again.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In Step - New Series for 2012

It has been a while since I have studied and blogged about a book of scripture in order, which is what I have previously enjoyed doing. This morning I have a new idea. I am going to read the Pauline Epistles in step with the order in which Paul is said (by Wikipedia) to have written them. I think this might result in some interesting insights, as reading scripture usually does. Here is the order:
Would you like to join and contribute to the discussion? I think it would be awesome to get multiple perspectives on the same text. 
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