by Tom Smith
I love games, puzzles, contests, etc. of most every kind. Possible exceptions are video gaming, role playing and strategy board games. I like games that feature odd skills (Minute to Win It) or trivia (Jeopardy) or obstacles (American Ninja Warrior) or even physical slapstick (Wipe Out!). Years ago in the early 1980's I was a contestant on a local TV game show filmed in Portland called "On the Spot." Recently, I entered a brief essay contest to Win Any Bike through a bicycling magazine. I never really have won anything but it's a thrill just to enter and to think I might be picked as a prize recipient! Some of the "I might win!" thinking makes for disastrous theology. Here's five reasons why. 1) Jesus already won! 2) He picked me to be a full participant in His share of the winnings. 3) I never even entered the contest. 4) The outcome is fully disclosed, there's no surprise ending. 5) There are no consolation prizes, runners-up, or "better luck next time!"
by Tom Smith
I just got back from a weeklong trip to Indiana to visit my father. Dad, my sister, and I went out to dinner for his 88th birthday. I enjoyed the time I spent with them. Dad and I sat and talked together, watched TV together, and worked together on several smallish projects that needed to be done around his house. This has been a cold winter in Indiana and in much of the nation. Snowfall in the 2013-2014 winter has been one of the top ten snowiest on record. Schools have postponed and/or cancelled many days. Hoosier students are in danger of falling behind unless they add hours to the school day, days to the school week, or weeks to the school year. They're trying to figure out what to do to make up for lost time. Something was missing in Indiana. With plenty of snow in evidence on streets, parking lots, yards, fields—basically everywhere—I didn't see a single snowman in front of anybody's house. Not one. Where had all the snowmen gone? In Oregon, as soon as the flakes fall on the Willamette Valley floor, people start scheming how to liberate their inner snow angel. Instagram fills with cute photos of toddlers in snowsuits. Dogs run and jump to catch flakes or snowballs. Outdoorsy types don snowshoes or cross-country skis. Young families come together building snowmen, snow forts, etc. In Indiana, I saw plenty of snow and yet not one snowman. For a period, the temperature was below-zero cold, but not all the time. The snow was powdery dry, but not everywhere. My conclusion? Too much snow and cold weather killed the desire to play in it. They were sick and tired of snow. Hence, the snowmen went bye-bye. First endangered, then threatened, finally extinct. Living in a land of plenty (of anything) can kill our appreciation, numb our gratitude, and anesthetize our delight. During the month of March, our church is offering you the opportunity to forgo plenty in order to experience simple joys once again. Along with others, we are going to eat rice and beans three meals a day as often as you care to for the entire month. Wait a minute you say, "I didn't get that memo!" (The memo follows this post.) Why are we doing this? What's the point? Read the memo. Another helpful place to learn more is at www.eatriceandbeans.com. Join us on this experience and afterwards, who knows, maybe you'll appreciate the variety and quantity of foods available to you in new ways. For more information on why we are doing this . . . read the memo :-) Memo rice and beans
by Tom Smith
Here's three books to read on Romans. If you are serious about in depth Bible study, you might want to visit the website bestcommentaries.com and search under NT books then Romans. They have technical (T), pastoral (P), and devotional (D) listed beside each reference. You can buy all three of the books discussed below online. The IVP New Testament Commentary series on Romans by Grant Osborne is categorized as a devotional (D) work. That means you do not have to have a working knowledge of the Greek language to follow his commentary. I like that Osbourne discusses various interpretive positions in footnotes at the bottom of each page. At the end, he includes a 25 page bibliography for further study. He is balanced and fair as he writes from a non-Reformed position. The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (2012) is highly recommended. He writes about the gospel for people who have grown up in and around Christianity. This is not a commentary on Romans, but a good book on the good news. I have not read the whole book, but I like what I've read and it is easy to understand. Chandler considers the gospel from both sides: God's revelation and our response. I plan on picking up a copy to read more thoroughly. It is available also in a Kindle edition e-book. I bought my copy of The Plight of Man and the Power of God in Kenya at a Christian bookstore for about one penny a page, 93 pages for under $1.00! This book is based on a series of lectures he delivered in England during WW2. The original historical context and comparison with our day is interesting. Focusing on Romans 1-3 the author deals with sin, God's wrath, the failure of religion (moralism), and the power of God's saving gospel. (NOTE: D. Martyn Lloyd Jones also wrote a 14 volume verse-by-verse exposition of the entire book of Romans.) These and any other books are only intended to supplement your own reading of the biblical text of Romans. Enjoy!
by Tom Smith
The Heath brothers (more at the end of this post) have a newsletter that suggest 4 keys to keeping your New Year's resolutions. [The mini-devotional thoughts and spiritual extensions are something I added.] The Heath brothers' four keys are stated in their words. Here they are: 1) Look for your bright spots--typically our resolve revolves around what we do poorly, ex. "I lack self-control in eating so I resolve to diet." Or, "I seldom open my Bible so I resolve to read it daily." Looking for your bright spots is all about finding what you do well and doing it more often, or consistently, or for longer. To follow a Bible reading program find out when you already read (maybe Sunday, late at night, early mornings, etc.) Then just build on that bright spot. The 1st century Christians didn't have a church building but they spent a lot of time in each others homes. Not surprisingly, that bright spot is where the first churches began (see Romans 16:1-16). 2) Make one change at a time--the Heath brothers point out research that shows our self-control has limits. If you tend to make a lot of changes at one time, you will be spreading your self-control too thin. You can't sustain several changes at once. Better to ask the Lord, "What one change would YOU like to make in my life?" I can come up with a list of twenty things for myself, but I'm not sure that God has the same list. Asking Him what to do and claiming the Holy Spirit's power is key. After all "self-control" is a fruit of the Spirit, not exhausting myself trying to measure up (Galatians 5:22-23). 3) Turn that one change into a habit--staring at a long "to do" list can be like mental quicksand. The longer you stand still doing nothing the deeper you sink! Making a single change into a habit is liberating. Habits are the auto-pilot of life. Good habits free you from exerting effort at self-control because the habit takes over. Daily routines for physical health (waking, hygiene, exercise, sleep) are liberating and allow you to invest energy elsewhere. Spiritual routines can become habits linked to the same time, same place. Many people I know stopped coming to church for the sole reason "I got out of the habit of going" (Hebrews 10:25). Keep going! 4) Set an "action trigger" to start your habit ASAP--linking an existing behavior to a desirable habit is a no brainer. You already routinely do hundreds of mindless tasks through out the day. Pick one routine and ride it piggyback until a new habit is formed. Ex. "After dropping my child off at school, I'm going to exercise." Or, "During my daily coffee/tea break I will review a Scripture memory verse that I'll carry with my on a 3x5 card or in my phone." Researchers have found that people who use action triggers have twice as much success establishing new habits as those who don't. For me, sitting down to eat is an action trigger to say a simple prayer of "Thanks" at least three times a day. Paul said a prayer of thanks every time he thought about certain Christians (Philippians 1:3). Here's wishing you a prosperous New Year in body, soul, and spirit! (more on the Heath brothers books) I am not a business oriented person, but I like reading in the business field. Several years ago I downloaded and read on my Kindle a book called "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard" by Chip and Dan Heath. It was a fascinating account of personal, corporate, and even social change despite daunting obstacles. The entire book is filled with anecdotes and stories that illustrate the right way to make the switch that's needed. You really can change the way you do what you do for the better. Plus, there's solid research behind their method. The Heath brothers followed that book with several others on "Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" and "Decisive: How to Make Better Choices In Life and Work." You can explore more of their stuff at heathbrothers.com