I listened to an interview with astrophysicist, cosmologist and planetary scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson yesterday. The interviewer asked Tyson, "What did you learn from your father?" This was in no way a light-weight question as Cyril deGrasse Tyson, Neil's dad, is an astrophysicist, cosmologist, author and science communicator. With no hesitation the answer came; "He taught me how to think." Then Neil went on to describe how in words and actions, his father taught him how to not simply accept what he was told to be true, but to test it, examine it and spend time with it before accepting it as truth. He also noted that a skeptic is a person who, while looking critically at a problem, statement or situation is not afraid to change their view based on what they find.
The ability to think critically. This is indeed a fantastic gift. It was my extreme good fortune while in college to have one very young professor who taught his class to think. Not parrot back to him what he had said, as so many other professors wanted, but to wrestle with a concept, challenge our beliefs on that concept and arrive at our own conclusions. Not what we had been told, or had read or had been conditioned to think, but what WE thought; then defend that position based on research and facts.
Embodying what Tyson says about being a true skeptic, this professor was not afraid to challenge his thoughts and beliefs daily and change them when new evidence suggested or demanded it. It was as much of an education for me to watch his thoughts and positions evolve over four years as he daily wrestled with the positions he believed. He was not afraid to modify or change his position when research showed he needed to change.
Much like the gift that Neil's dad gave him, this young professor understood that to truly think through an issue, he needed to gain access other views that people held on the same issue. Tyson talks about research bias, where people will only read articles or conduct experiments that will reinforce what they already believe. This is what people do when they only listen to or watch programs that agree with what they think, They close themselves off to the opportunity to learn, to understand and to grow. In short, they close themselves off to thinking and simply parrot what others program them to say.
Don't waste the gift of thinking. Challenge your fears, challenge your thoughts and learn to be a true skeptic and thinker.
After several weeks of keeping the church closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have opened our doors once again for public worship. Sunday School for all ages is from 10:00-10:45 and church service starts at 11:00am.
While our doors are open, there are guidelines that we must follow to do our part, individually and corporately to ensure we are not contributing to the spread of COVID-19.
1. We may have 50 people maximum in our worship services.
2. Masks must be worn by all who enter the church. Disposable masks will be available at the entrances.
3. Hand sanitizer is available throughout the church.
4. Offering will not be collected, please drop your offering in the basket at the front of the sanctuary as you enter or leave.
5. Hymnals / Song books will not be used. Songs will be projected on the screen.
I know some folks think it is silly to follow these rules and guidelines put forth by the government. The bottom line is that as followers of Christ we are to be an example of doing right and in this case, doing right means following the guidelines put forth by the CDC and the Governor of NJ.
Our doors are open, all are welcome and the above guidelines will be followed to keep each person who enters our doors safe.
I recently saw an interview with David Goggins. Intrigued by the subject matter, "Mental Discipline", I watched, listened and learned.
David Goggins is a retired Navy SEAL and the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to complete Navy SEAL training, U.S. Army Ranger School, graduating as Enlisted Honor Man and Air Force tactical air controller training. On top of that, David has competed in and won numerous ultra-marathons and ultra-triathlons, with most races he competes in being over 100 miles that are run all at once, not in stages with rest periods. David also held the Guiness Book World Record for Pull Ups, performing 4,030 in 17 hours.
Reading this abridged list of David's accomplishments it is tempting to think he must be an incredibly gifted individual blessed with superior genetics. Actually, the exact opposite is true. According to David he has no special skills, is of average intelligence, was a horrible student in school, was picked on, bullied, physically, mentally and emotionally abused by his father and people in the small mid-west town where he grew up. He was one of only a handful of African American people living in a town that was a stones throw from the Ku Klux Klan headquarters. David was living down to everyone's expectations of him; spraying for cockroaches on the night shift while ballooning up to 297 pounds. One morning after getting home from work, David turned on the TV and saw a program about SEAL training and made up his mind to join the Navy and become a SEAL.
But it wasn't that simple. David had to lose 106 pounds in 3 months to be accepted into the Navy. He had multiple stress fractures and broken bones in his legs and feet causing him to have to repeat SEAL training three times on 18 months. In addition to physical challenges there were mental and emotional challenges as well. To qualify for his first Badwater 135 race through Death Valley in the summer, David had to run 100 miles in 24 hours or less. Being completely unprepared and ill equipped for running 100 mile straight, David sat down at mile 70 and his body collapsed. He was physically unable to get up and use the restroom as he lost control of his bodily functions, his blood pressure sky-rocketed and he lost all color. He still had 30 miles to go and could not get out of the chair. David quieted his mind, went inside himself and focused on what he needed to do. After getting some nourishment and water, David got up and started walking around the track on broken feet. He realized that he would never finish in the allotted time if he kept this slow pace. Through sheer will he began to run. When he did, David says his mind realized that he was not going to quit. Once his mind got the message it joined his body and propelled him around the track to finish 101 miles in 17 hours and 56 minutes.
Though most of us will never face what David has in his life, we are no different than him. We all have a mind that we either control or allow to control us. Either we deliberately give our mind the messages we want it to focus on, or we blindly allow others to do it for us. Others such as television, radio, facebook, twitter or any other method of mass media.
The bible tells us to set our mind in order to control what we focus on. Though you may not think so, we are no different than David Goggins. He is an example to us on what can be accomplished when we set our mind on what we desire and not let others set it for us.
A popular exercise at the beginning of each new year is the making of New Year's Resolutions. There is something about a new beginning that gives us the feeling of a fresh start to reinvent ourselves with new mindsets, new habits or new relationships. A new beginning is exactly what believers get when they accept Jesus as their Messiah.
"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come." - 2 Corinthians 5:17
"Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the one who created him" - Colossians 3:9-10
Resolutions that we make require our own effort to succeed. We cannot wish that things will be different and then sit back and wait for it to happen. In order to produce positive change in our lives, we have to not only initiate it but also put forth the daily effort to make sure it happens. The Colossians passage talks about the same thing. Who put off the old self and put on the new self? Believers. This requires action on the part of the believer. Each and every day, every believer must set their mind. This means to make deliberate, conscious decisions on what you will think about. What you will allow into your mind. what you will allow to influence you. If you do not start your day deliberately setting your mind on what to focus on, you will be like a ship without a rudder, wandering aimlessly on the ocean.
Just because a believer accepts Jesus does not mean that they do not have to do anything after that. Everyday we must work to become who we and Jesus want us to be. We have to consider the consequences of our decisions. We have to avoid anything that does not take us closer to who we want to be. We must set an image in our mind every morning of who we want to be. It has to be clear and it has to be real enough to get us to make the right decisions to reach it. Every day starts with a resolution or a goal. Everyday starts with us renewing our minds to become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and compassionate.
Not just on January 1st, but everyday of the year, start your day with a resolution to be more like Jesus, then work like crazy to make it happen.
Santa will be stopping by First Baptist Church on Saturday December 14th from Noon to 2. Brings the kids out to see the jolly ole elf himself. Bring your list, tell Santa what you want and enjoy Hot Chocolate, coffee and cookies. We look forward to see you on the 14th.
Jim Hughes will be blessing First Baptist church with his talents of singing and drama on Sunday November 24th at 11am. All are invited to join us for this very special service featuring the multi-talented Jim Hughes.
A few years ago I read a book called "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind", Informal talks on Zen meditation and practice by Shunryu Suzuki. Now some people may wonder why the pastor of a Baptist church would read books on Zen meditation. I read them for the same reason I listen to Penn Gillette, Christopher Hitchens, Jesse Ventura and C.T. Fletcher; they challenge my thinking and force me to expand my limited knowledge base.
In his prologue, Suzuki states, "In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means "beginner's mind". The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner's mind...in the beginner's mind there is no thought, "I have attained something." All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.
This same thought is key to being a follower of Jesus as we see examples of the beginner's mind in the gospels. In Matthew Chapter 8 we read a story of a Roman army officer who asks Jesus to heal his servant. When Jesus said that he would come and heal him, the officer said, that he was not worthy to have Jesus come to his house. He further told Jesus, just say the word and my servant will be healed. No laying on of hands, no praying, no lighting a candle; just say the word and my servant will be healed. Jesus replied that he had never seen such faith then said Go, it will be done just as you believed it would. And his servant was healed at that very hour.
Just as we have to work on keeping our imagination as we grow older, we must also work at keeping our beginner's mind as we follow the way of Jesus. A beginner's mind has faith so great that nothing is impossible. God's power is limitless and no matter what we are up against, he will see us through. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few. Fight to keep the beginner's mind.
This week I am enjoying the opportunity to watch a soccer camp that one of our children is attending. The camp has a variety of ages and skill levels. It does not take long to realize that going to this camp will not make the beginning kids better, nor will it make marginal kids reach the next level. The camp is designed to drill basic skills, improve physical endurance by a lot of running and simulating game situations with scrimmages. In the three days the kids are at camp, they are not going to make big leaps in their games or skill levels, they simply cannot in that short of a time period.
As I was sitting observing the highly skilled kids perform and the mid to lower level kids struggle against them, it struck me that what is taught at this camp means nothing without hours of practice at home. Hours of constant repetition of kicking, dribbling, knowing where the ball is without ever looking down, abrupt starts and stops and changing direction. All of these skills are touched on at camp, but they are perfected after hundreds, thousands or millions of repetitions, usually done alone, out of sight of others.
Sounds an awful lot like walking the way of Jesus. People go to church and have varying levels of spiritual maturity based on their experiences. Some are brand new, some have a moderate level of maturity and some are those rock solid believers that most church goers claim they want to be like. But the believer's "skills" are not acquired during the hour or two spent at "camp" on Sunday mornings. That is just where the skills are explained, maybe you get a quick once through, but then comes the real work. Done at home, at work, at the store, in traffic or anywhere else we can practice living like Jesus. The best players at the camp did not just show up that way. I have no idea how many hours and years they have practiced to achieve the level of skill they display.
Likewise, when we see a person who has achieved a consistent level of peace, joy and contentment that we wish we had, just think of the hours, years, decades of practice that it took to reach that level. Greatness in any endeavor only comes through practice. We must practice being gentle, loving, compassionate, forgiving, accepting and faithful. It takes practice. Constant, continual, never-ending practice. If doctors never stop practicing medicine, we should never stop practicing the example that Jesus gave us in the gospels. Greatness only comes from practice.
"The unexamined life is not worth living." These words are said to have been spoken by the Greek philosopher, Socrates, at his trial for corrupting the morals of the youth of Athens for which he was sentenced to death. Socrates is said to have made this statement after he chose death rather than exile. Socrates believed that philosophy, literally the love of wisdom (philo = love, sophias = wisdom) was the most important activity in which a person could engage.
Socrates lived his belief by questioning and logical argument; by examining and thinking. His examination of life influenced countless others to heed his words and to look at why they believed what they believed which caused them to live like they lived. I know at times that people will try to divorce their beliefs from their actions, but in actuality this is not possible. We do what we do and live like we live because we believe what we believe.
I once saw a comedy bit by George Carlin which he talked about the phrases we use. His point was if we ever stopped to think about, or examine, the words we were saying, we would realize how utterly ridiculous some of them are. Phrases like, "He really takes the cake." Where? "This country is going down the tubes." What tubes? Where are theses tubes people keep talking about? What George was illustrating was that we often say and do things without ever thinking about them. Without ever examining them. Without ever giving any real thought to what we believe and more importantly, why we believe it.
Socrates lived almost 2500 years ago and what he taught is still relevant today. I believe more relevant because of all of the self-imposed distractions we place in our lives. Radios, televisions, cell phones, tablets, Facebook, Twitter, Snap-Chat and all of the forms of social media that I am not even aware of. If we wanted to, we could distract ourselves to the point that we would never have to be alone in quiet to think about what we think and what we believe. The problem with that? If we don't take time, every once in a while, in quiet reflection and examination, we are in danger of just parroting whatever our conscious and sub-conscious minds take in. As George Carlin warned, "Garbage in, garbage out."
So rather than just repeating what others say, try to take a little time today to reflect / examine, in quiet, what is most important to you. Then go a bit deeper and look at why it is most important. You will be glad your did
To Ponder: "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth." - Marcus Aurelius