Think of it like e-sports
Think of it like e-sports

Brian Jones • March 25, 2020

We need to be careful.


And I am not just talking about the coronavirus.


Although we should be careful about that too.


I am talking about the way we view church, in light of all that we have to do in this time of social distancing.


Yes, we are blessed to be able to have online meetings and Bible studies.


Yes, we have technologies and capabilities unimagined by previous generations of Christians.


Yes, we should do as many of them as we can in this difficult time.


But, can we do church?


Can we call it church?


Think of it like this.


If you gathered with your buddies (or in my case my brothers) over the internet to play video games, would I say that we were together?


If you synced up with people and played an e-sports game online, would we say it is the same as being together to play a sport?


And I am not just talking about the physical nature of the sport.


There is something distinctive that happens when we are assembled.


Before the game.


In the dugout.


In front of the fans.


After the game.


Certain elements just cannot be replicated digitally.


And I am concerned that people are viewing the streaming of services as a replacement for church.


This is not to say that we shouldn’t stream biblical content from our church during this time.


We should.


My church is.


But I have been very careful not to call it church.


Too many people would already claim an online gathering in another city as their church.


Or any number of preachers on television.


And some of them are wonderful.


Some not so much.


But is watching a service online or on tv the same as going to church?


I don’t think it is.


I don’t think that works.


In the Bible, the church is the body gathered together.


For fellowship.


For discipleship.


For discipline.


For iron to sharpen iron.


For the pastor/elders to have accountability for the souls of their flock.


For encouragement to faith and good works.


This cannot happen, not really happen, unless we gather.


So, celebrate the technology.


Meet on Facebook and YouTube and wherever streaming is going on.


Participate in online studies.


But don’t think of it as a permanent replacement for church.


This is temporary.


It must be.


We will gather as churches again.


And we should long for the day we can.

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Think of it like a Shamrock?
Think of it like a Shamrock?

Brian Jones • March 17, 2020

They don’t always work.


Analogies, that is.


We have to be careful when crafting analogies because they aren’t always accurate.


Famously, there have been several attempts through the years to explain the nature of the Trinity.


And all of them fall short.


All.


Of.


Them.


There is no analogy that can fully explain the nature of the 3 in 1 that is the Godhead.


Let’s consider some of the most famous.


Think of it like this. (or rather, don’t)


We can start with a three-leaf clover. (I would say with apologies to St. Patrick, but he probably didn’t really use this analogy.)


Should we consider each Person of the Trinity as a leaf from the clover?


No.


We shouldn’t.


And we shouldn’t because no part of the clover is the entire leaf.


In the Godhead, each member is fully and completely God. Not 1/3 of God. But fully God.


I cannot explain how that all works.


I cannot explain three fully distinct persons all equally and truly the one God.


I cannot explain it, but I know it is the picture from the Bible.


What about an egg?


I have heard people try to explain it like the shell, the yolk, and the white stuff.


But we run into the same problem.


No part of the egg is the entire egg.


How about steam, water and ice?


Three different manifestations of the same substance.


This is even more dangerous and leads to a heresy called Modalism.


God wasn’t God the Father in the Old Testament, Jesus in the gospels and the Holy Spirit in the rest of the book of Acts.


He has eternally existed as all three at all times.


The analogy of a man who is a son, a husband and a father all at the same time runs into the same issue.


I know, I know…the Borg on Star Trek.


Individuals and yet one.


Maybe closer, but they aren’t truly one. And I’m really not going there.


There is no perfect analogy.


We have no earthly picture to explain the nature of God.


And that is okay.


I actually take comfort in that.


If I could understand everything about God, then He could be the invention of a human mind.


But if there are aspects of Him that are beyond comprehension, then that makes sense to me.


Not all analogies work.


They can be helpful when they convey an accurate point.


Unhelpful and even dangerous when they don’t.


So be careful with them.


And on this St. Patrick’s Day (3/17/20) when you see the shamrock, remember that God is infinitely more glorious, and more complicated, than any clover.

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Think of it like Road Stripes
Think of it like Road Stripes

Brian Jones • March 11, 2020

Is perception reality?


Of course, the phrase just refers to the fact that the way we perceive something is the way that we act in response to that.


And therefore, for each individual, perception is reality.


And that much is true.


But, is perception really reality?


Is, how we see something, the way it truly is?


And not just in a ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ kind of way.


Does our opinion of something, our perception, really define truth?


Think of it like this.


How long are the stripes on the highway?


At least, how long do they seem to be when you are driving?


No very long, right?


They go by so quick that they must be short.


Right?


Would you believe that each stripe on the highway is ten feet long?


Ten feet.


That is the federal guideline.


Now, it may not seem like they are ten feet long.


When I am driving it doesn’t appear that each stripe is taller than I am.


But they are.


Each one.


Now, I can hear you saying, ‘Interesting bit of trivia, but so what?’


I’m glad you asked.


The length of a road stripe really isn’t that important but understanding that our perception of something does not mark truth is important.


Over the years, I have spent as much time ‘unteaching’ people about God as I have teaching them.


People have beliefs about God from things that they have heard.


Or seen in a movie.


Or a television show. (Looking at you Touched by an Angel)


Or something someone once told them.


Or something they read in a book, no matter whether it agreed with Scripture or not. (Giving you the stink eye The Shack.)


But just because we perceive something to be true about God does not mean that it is true.


God gets to define who He is and how He acts.


Not us.


Not what we wish the Bible said about God.


Not what we think it says about God.


Not what we hope it says about God and the way He runs the universe.


And the difference between how we might think He runs the universe and the truth about how He actually does can have eternal consequences.


One quick example.


Does everyone go to heaven?


Or is it true that no one goes to the Father except through Jesus?


Those are different.


Critically, eternally different.


Life-changingly different.


And only one can be true.


So, the next time you are driving, look at the road stripes and remember that how we perceive something doesn’t necessarily make it true.


Your eternity may depend on it.


Especially, if you lay down in the road to check the length.


Yeah, don’t do that.

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Think of it like Toothpaste
Think of it like Toothpaste

Brian Jones • February 11, 2020

I’m not sure we really mean it.


When we say, ‘Well, at least they are going to church somewhere.”


I’m just not sure we really mean that.


I think it comes from good intentions.


We don’t want to seem elitist.


We don’t want to come off as legalistic. That they must come to our church, or it is the wrong church.


We want to be happy that at least they are in a building that is worshipping God.


Or at least claims to worship God. After all, at least they are going to church, right?


Think of it like this.


Years ago, I was getting ready for the day. And the first thing I have to do after getting out of bed is brush my teeth. Morning breath is clearly a result of the fall.


I grabbed my toothbrush and got the bristles wet. Yes, I am one of those.


Opened up the drawer and grabbed the white tube.


Squeezed its minty contents onto my toothbrush and began to clean my teeth.


And then something happened.


Something just not right.


I noticed that the toothpaste didn’t taste very minty.


Not minty at all.


As a matter of fact, it didn’t really taste like any type of toothpaste I had ever had.


When I looked in the mirror, I noticed that the toothpaste wasn’t getting foamy, just in clumps all along my teeth. It seemed far too creamy.


Something was very, very wrong.


I opened that drawer again to see what generic brand of toothpaste this was.


And then I saw it.


A & D.


You know, the butt cream ointment.


For kids.


The baby ointment for butt rash!!


Yep. That is what I was using to brush my teeth.


To answer your questions:


No, it doesn’t taste good.


No, it doesn’t remove easy.


Yes, this really happened.


Yes, we started putting the ointment somewhere else.


On the bright side, I can report that I never got a rash.


What happened?


Well, it looked right.


It was in the right drawer.


Squeezed just like toothpaste.


It all seemed just fine.


Turns out though, what is on the inside, what it is made of, is critically important.


Here is the harsh reality.


Not all churches are equal. I don’t mean more entertaining or better music. I’m not talking about kids’ programs that are more fun. The truth is, not all churches teach about the God of the Bible.


Not all exalt Jesus as the only way to be forgiven and made right with God.


Not all help members grow in their knowledge and love of the Lord.


Which church you attend really does matter.


It is not okay to just be ‘going somewhere’.


They are not all equal on the inside.

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Think of it like a Board Game.
Think of it like a Board Game.

Brian Jones • February 05, 2020

Do we read the directions?

Now, this isn’t for those that don’t claim to be believers.

This is for those who claim the name of Jesus. Those that claim to be Christians.

Do we read the directions?

Of course, I am talking about the Bible. Do we read it to see how we should live our lives?

How we should run our churches?

Or do we just take the parts we like and ignore the rest?

And if we do that, what are we saying?

Think of it like this.

Have you ever played Monopoly?

I’m not asking if you have ever finished a game of Monopoly, but if you have ever played it.

Did you put money in the middle?

You know, where you pick it up if you land on Free Parking?

We always did.

But, and this may surprise some of you, we aren’t supposed to do that.

The official rules have nothing about collecting money when landing on Free Parking.

It is just a place to ‘park’ your token without having to pay anything.

Lizzie Maggie [the woman who originally created the game] might be frustrated that we aren’t playing by her rules. At least, if she hadn’t passed away in 1948 she might be.

But what are we saying when we don’t play by the rules a game maker created?

Aren’t we saying that our plan is better?

That we like our rules more?

That their game is okay, but it is missing something?

Obviously, when playing games, we are allowed to do that.

Often even encouraged to do so.

They even have their own name, house rules.

But what about when it comes to the Bible?

Should we follow only the rules we like and ignore the others?

If God created the universe, if God created humanity, then He knows how it all works best.

And whether or not we agree with His rules doesn’t really matter.

They are the best. Period.

Yet we often do that with our money, with our families, with our churches and with our lives.

We ignore the rules that God has instructed and decide that we have a better plan.

That we like our rules more.

That God’s plan is okay, but it is missing something and thank goodness we came along to develop the house rules that the Bible always needed.

I don’t think we mean to say that.

At least I hope we don’t.

However, when we decide to ignore what He has told us about our lives, our faith and the church that is what we are saying.

Whether we mean to or not, that is what we are saying.

Let’s get back to the instruction book and do it according the Designer.

According to His rules.

That is how all of life works best.

Of course, I’ll still put money at Free Parking. That game really did need that.

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Think of it like Traffic Court
Think of it like Traffic Court

Brian Jones • January 13, 2020

Do you have to choose?


If forgiveness is a declaration of God, does a person have to choose it?


Last week’s TTOW (Theological Term of the Week) was about justification and it seems like a good idea to continue that discussion on Chasing Squirrels.


So, if justification is a legal declaration by the Judge of the universe that you are innocent, then how much choice do we really have in the matter?


After all, the judge makes pronouncements based on his authority.


The judge has all the legal authority he needs, right?


Yes. But…


Think of it like this.


Several years ago, I was in traffic court. (Yes, traffic court.)


And I will never forget how the scene played out for the person in front of me.


When he stood before the judge, the judge asked him if he was going to do it again.


The person began to explain the situation and what had happened.


The judge cut him off and asked if he was going to do it again.


The guilty party, again, began to explain the scenario around his ticket.


This time, when the judge cut him off, he told him, “The correct answer is no. Are you going to do it again?”


Finally, the man in front of me answered no.


The judge declared, “Case dismissed. Low over.”


The judge was waiting to show mercy and forgiveness to that driver. But he still had a choice to make. He had to stop defending himself. He needed to agree with the judge and accept his wrong behavior.


He had to choose.


And then the judge would dismiss the case.


The same is true for us.


God stands ready to grant you forgiveness. But you still must choose.


He has made all the necessary arrangements.


Jesus went to the cross to bear the punishment for all humanity.


Jesus made a way for us to be forgiven.


But we still have to accept it.


We still have to choose.


We still have our part to play in the eternal and divine legal proceeding.


We have been given all the instructions we need to obtain mercy.

(see Romans 10:9)


He has told us what we must do.


We must agree with the Judge and accept our wrong behavior.


And, just in case you were wondering…


No. The judge didn’t give me the same option.


I still had to go to traffic school.

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Think of it like a late night host
Think of it like a late night host

TMBC Family • January 06, 2020

What should a pastor wear to preach?


I know, for some people this just about constitutes fighting words.


But this squirrel isn’t really about what pastors should wear. Not really. I have my own thoughts and I know what I wear every Sunday. However, one of my favorite pastors, David Platt, usually wears a polo shirt. And some pastors who wear suits don’t belong anywhere near a pulpit.


So this isn’t about what pastors should wear.


It is about the justification that some give for what they wear. At least, one reason that I hear all the time.


We can’t reach younger people if we wear suits.


And ties.


And pocket squares.


But that isn’t even remotely true.


And I can prove it to you.


Think of it like this.


Turn on any late-night talk show host. You know, the ones that connect with younger people every night. Guess what they all wear.


Suits and ties.


Or turn on SportsCenter. Or any of the NFL shows. Guess what the commentators and hosts wear.


Suits and ties.


And pocket squares.


And they connect with younger people for a living. Often connecting with men. So why can they wear suits and connect with people, but pastors supposedly cannot?


Maybe it has more to do with content than attire?


Maybe people still see suits as professional and aren’t turned off by them if the person wearing the suit has something meaningful to say? Maybe we should be more concerned with explaining the gospel to younger people in ways that makes sense to them than we are concerned with dressing like them.


Truthfully, I think pastors should wear what is most comfortable for them. And by comfortable I mean what is most natural for them – within reason. I wear a suit and tie every Sunday and feel very natural in that. And if a polo shirt with khakis is what you feel most natural in, go for it. But if you are telling yourself the only way to be relevant is to dress a certain way…I just don’t think that argument holds water.

The way to be relevant is to have something relevant to say.


Meaningful.


Life changing.


Eternity changing.


Now, it is true that people may feel uncomfortable visiting a church if everyone were in suits and fancy dresses. But, in all honesty, I don’t think we have to worry about that scenario.


Do you?


There may very well come a day when wearing a suit is as antiquated as wearing a hat with a buckle on it. (Looking at you puritans.)


But I don’t think that day is today.

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Think of it like your favorite TV show
Think of it like your favorite TV show

Brian Jones • December 30, 2019

Do you ever struggle to share your faith?


For most of us, the answer would have to be a resounding yes.


And for many of us, one of our New Year’s resolutions just might be to share our faith with someone.


Maybe someone in particular.


Maybe just anyone.


But we struggle because we are afraid it could be awkward.


Or that they might ask us a question for which we don’t have the answer.


Or one of a host of other reasons.


There is a way to approach evangelism that may help it feel more natural.


Think of it like this.


Think about the new Disney+ show The Mandalorian.


Of course, you may not have seen that show yet. And maybe television isn’t an important element in your life.


Maybe you need to think about that great Chinese restaurant you just found.


Or that book.


Or that band.


Or that new pair of shoes.


Something that you are excited about. Something you can’t wait to tell your friends and family about. (You see where this is going.) Something you will tell them about, even if they didn’t ask.


Even if you don’t know if they like Star Wars.


Or Chinese food.


Or reading.


Or music.


Or shoes.


Even if they might ask you questions you aren’t ready for. Even if they didn’t ask for your opinion.


When we are excited about something, we just naturally talk about it.


My guess is, you have never had to take an instructional class about how to tell people about your favorite movie. [This isn’t to say that evangelism training is bad. It’s not. And it certainly fills a need for many believers.] My guess is that you just told them.


Because you were excited.


You liked it, and you want them to like it too.


You think that thing you just found is fantastic and you want them to experience it too. The way that you did. You want them to be enriched the way you were. You just know that if they watch, eat, read, listen to or wear it, they will find it as wonderful as you do.


And often what we talk about is what we love about it. How our lives are better because of it. (One of my favorite testimonies in the bible is in John 9; see especially verse 25.) So, while we may not need a PhD in theology, we do need to know what Jesus has done for us. What it is we love about Him.


So, is it possible that we don’t need another program?


That it’s not that we need more training so that we will tell people about Jesus?


Is it possible that it is simpler than that?


We just need to get excited?


Let’s fall in love with Jesus all over again in 2020.


Let’s get excited.

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Think of it like a candy cane.
Think of it like a candy cane.

Brian Jones • December 23, 2019

Did Mary ride a donkey into Bethlehem?


But did she, really?


You may want to double-check your bible before you answer that question.


Or, what did the innkeeper say to Mary and Joseph?


Are you sure?


The answers to these questions are all traditional pictures of the Christmas story, but are they accurate?


The truth is, the bible never mentions a donkey at all.


Or an innkeeper.


Sometimes we know the story around the narrative better than we know the narrative itself.


Think of it like this.


Do you know the legend of the candy cane?


Did you know that most of it is probably legend?


It was almost assuredly not invited by a candy maker in Indiana. But we love to tell that story.


And that can be a problem.


As Christians, we should not relate the myths and legends that grow up around the faith as if they are biblical truth.


And that means that we had better know what the true stories really are.


This is not to say that we cannot enjoy some of those legends.


We enjoy reading Clopper the Christmas Donkey.


I don’t have a problem with innkeepers in every church Christmas play.


But we must know the difference between what is in the bible and what isn’t.


How many wise men were there?


Three, right?


The bible doesn’t actually say. That number is based on three gifts and historical legend.


But the bible doesn’t even say that there were only three gifts. It just specifically mentions three gifts. There may have been more. And there were probably more than three wise men; and that doesn’t count how many people they brought with them. A long journey across arid lands would necessitate a larger entourage. The size entourage that would make an impression that would reach all the way to the king. (see Matthew 2:3)


And, despite what all of our manger scenes have, the wise men weren’t there. Not on the night of Jesus’ birth.  Which makes sense with the star being a herald of Jesus’ birth. And that is what they followed.


It would take a while for the wise men to show up. They arrived later. The language in the bible (Matthew 2:11) says that they entered the house and saw the child (not the infant: and yes, that is significant).


This doesn’t mean that you can’t put wise men in the manger.


We do in my house.


We do at my church.


It just means that we must know the fact verses the fiction.


The truth from the traditions.


We lose the right to be heard when we don’t know which is which. We must be people who read, study and know the Scriptures.


So, think of the legend of the candy cane when you see them around this Christmas.


Share the legend of the candy cane this Christmas.


Enjoy the traditions that you have.


Just know the difference.

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Think of it like a mechanic.
Think of it like a mechanic.

Brian Jones • December 16, 2019

Does the church use insider language?


Yes.


Is that a problem?


Maybe. Maybe not.


It is absolutely true that the church uses words and phrases that would not be used anywhere else; at least not in the same way.


Justification.


Sanctification.


Glorification.


Washed in the blood of the lamb: apart from a Christian understanding, that is just a weird saying.


Hypostatic union: a phrase that is critical to Christian faith but probably not often used.


Even some of the classic hymns of the faith use idioms and words that aren’t used any longer or that have an obscure reference.


The hymn, ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ uses the word ‘fetter’ and the phrase ‘here I raise my Ebenezer’.


Strange words and strange phrases. And these are just a few examples of insider language in the church. But is insider language a problem? I’m not sure that it is.


Here’s why?


Think of it like this.


Do mechanics have insider language? Yes.


I have no idea what calipers are or what they do. But my car has them.


Do physicians have insider language? Of course.


Sphygmomanometer. I love that word. And yes, I know what that one is.


How about football teams?


In football, a nickleback has nothing to do with music.


Let’s be honest. Every group has language that is specific to them. Terms and phrases. Acronyms and figures of speech. Having them is not the problem. The question is what we do about them.


Several years ago, the church went through a movement known as Seeker Sensitive. Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that some groups were trying to figure out how to make church more attractional to people who don’t usually attend.


Not the worst desire.


And what some of them noticed was that insider language can keep people from feeling a part of the group. It keeps them from understanding. It keeps them on the outside.


So, the solution was to stop using insider language.


But, no other group does that. And no one would expect any other group to do that.


If you were interested in football, you would just look up what a nickelback is. (By the way, it is the fifth defensive back).


I wouldn’t be surprised if you already google searched a sphygmomanometer. (Yep, blood pressure meter.)


And hypostatic union? It is the phrase that describes how Jesus was, and is, both truly God and truly man. An absolutely critical doctrine of the Christian faith.


So, what should we do about insider language?


One, let’s be honest. If something is important to you, you will learn the language.


My kids know all kinds of computer game terminology. They learned it because they wanted to.


So, let’s not pretend that specialized words and phrases keep people out of church.


Two, how about we spend some time in Sunday School (yes, another insider term) discussing these expressions. Or even within worship itself. At my church, if it applies to the text I am preaching, we will have a TTOD: theological term of the day.


This is not to say that we shouldn’t explain our insider language and help those who didn’t grow up in church [and some that did] to know our jargon. We should do that.


It is to say that dropping the terms won’t ultimately be helpful. The church has a rich history of language that should be preserved.


We learn the language that we find important.


Just don’t ask me what calipers are.


I still have no idea.

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