Memorial Day

It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

— quote from Charles Michael Province, U.S. Army

There Remains A Sabbath

There Remains A Sabbath | marissabaker.wordpress.comI’ve mentioned before that I keep Saturday as a Sabbath rest, but I don’t think I’ve talked about why. Not every Christian is convicted of this, but I’m seeing more and more acknowledging the value of “sabbathing.” It’s just a small step from realizing that God’s command to rest is good, to resting on the day He set aside from the beginning of creation.

Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Gen. 2:1-3)

This verse tells us God chose a certain day, the seventh, as a day of rest. He gave this day a special blessing, and set it apart for sacred use. “Sanctified” in the Hebrew carries the sense of separating something from “the common or profane” and placing it in “the sphere of the sacred” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p.1989). That’s what God did with the Sabbath day from the beginning of the world.

Foundational Truth

The only institution that pre-dates Sabbath-keeping is marriage (Gen. 1:28; 2:24). Along with obedience to His commands (Gen. 2:16-17), they are what God used as the basis of society. It is fitting, then, that the Sabbath is one of the first things God taught the Israelites about when He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.

Even before giving the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, God began teaching the Israelites about His Sabbath by how He provided their food. Manna was supplied for six days, and there was a double portion available on the 6th day. They were instructed to gather enough on Friday to last through Saturday, because there would be no manna provided on the Sabbath. This was also the only time manna could be kept overnight without spoiling (Ex. 16:1-36). It was an unmistakable, weekly reminder that God expected them to take the Sabbath seriously, a fact reinforced when He spent more time on this than on any other of the 10 Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.(Ex. 20:8-11)

This emphasis continues throughout the Old Testament. Isaiah 56:1-8 speaks of Sabbath keeping as a requirement for being blessed in our walk with God. God sends Jeremiah to stand in the city gates and warn the people that they will be punished if they don’t start keeping his Sabbath again (Jer. 17:19-27). In Ezekiel 20:10-13, God calls His Sabbaths a sign of the covenant, and describes His fury at Israel’s “pollution” of His holy days. There’s more in Nehemiah 13:16-22, Isaiah 66:21-23, Ezekiel 23:38-39, 44:23-24, and 46:1-3.

Statutes Forever

There Remains A Sabbath | marissabaker.wordpress.comClearly, the Sabbath was a big deal to God in the Old Testament. Since it’s impossible for God to lie about the importance of His Sabbaths (Heb. 6:17-18), and His character is unchanging (Heb 13:8), thus it follows that the Sabbath is also important today.

Throughout His ministry, the pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. We just talked about one of these accusations when we were studying John 9. Jesus did not break the Sabbath — for that would have been a sin — but He did clarify what God wants from the Sabbath day (as opposed to the additional restrictions Jewish leaders invented). He told us mercy delights Him more than legalism, and that He is Lord of the Sabbath day (Matt. 12:7-8; Luke 6:5). He told us, with His authority as Lord, that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12; Luke 13:14-17). He said “the Sabbath was made for man” as a gift, not a burden (Mark 2:27). He showed by His example that gathering with other believers and teaching from God’s word on the Sabbath is good (Luke 4:16).

In Leviticus 23, God outlined “the feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts” (Lev. 23:2). We often call these feast days — and the Sabbath is included — “Jewish festivals,” but God says they belong to Him.

Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (Rom. 3:29-31)

In the words of the “Thought For The Week” printed on the hand-out a couple Sabbaths ago at my Messianic congregation, “To say that Gentile believers are not expected to keep God’s appointed times is the same thing as saying that Gentile believers are not supposed to have any holy days or days of worship.” If we turn away from the Sabbath, Passover, Pentecost, Atonement and all the other days God calls holy, then we are neglecting the only days God commands His people to observe.

 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (Col. 2:16-17, KJV)

As members of Christ’s body, we are not ashamed to keep the Sabbaths that He is Lord of, which point us toward good things to come. The word used here for “sabbath,” sabbaton (G4521), is the root of a word used in the verse I took as the title of this post. I’m going to close by quotting that verse with Zodhiates’ translation of sabatismos (G4520).

There remaineth therefore a keeping of a Sabbath to the people of God (Heb. 4:9)

May you have a blessed Sabbath today, and delight in the Lord’s Feast of Pentecost (Shavout) tomorrow. Shabbat Shalom, my friends.

There Remains A Sabbath | marissabaker.wordpress.com

 

 

Introduction To Cognitive Functions: The Decision-Making Processes

If you’ve been hanging around Myers-Briggs enthusiasts for a while, you’ve probably heard about the Jungian cognitive functions. They are key to understanding Myers-Briggs theory, but they can also be very confusing. Basically, the four letters in a Myers-Briggs type tells you what type of mental processes you use most effectively in making judgements and decisions (Thinking or Feeling) and perceiving the world (Intuition or Sensing). It also tells you whether you are more oriented to the outer world or inner world (Extrovert or Introvert).

Everyone has and uses four functions (out of a possible eight). Your primary function is the one you’re most comfortable with and use most effectively. It’s supported by your secondary function, which acts as a sort of co-pilot. The third and fourth functions are less well developed, and while we have access to them they are not used as effectively. You can look up your type’s cognitive functions on several websites, including PersonalityJunkie.

Last week’s post focused on the four perceiving/learning functions, so this week we’ll cover the judging or decision-making functions. Everyone has an introverted or extroverted form of Thinking or Feeling in their function stack. We use one or the other most effectively when making decisions and thinking about what the world “should” be like. Most Myers-Briggs enthusiasts still refer to these functions by their full names or abbreviations, but I think the Personality Hacker labels are easier to use when first learning about cognitive functions so I’ll include those as well.

Thinking

Thinking types prefer to make decisions using an impersonal, logical approach. They value truth more than tact, prize accuracy, and want to make fair decisions.

Accuracy/Introverted Thinking (Ti)

Accuracy is mostly concerned with whether or not data, ideas, and observations make sense to the individual. Types with this function are less concerned with drawing conclusions from data, and more concerned with creating theories, questions, and insights that line up with their internal fact-checking system. Types who use Accuracy rely more on their own power of observation and thoughts on a given subject than on outside sources when making decisions.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ISTPs, INTPs, ESTPs, and ENTPs. The introverts use it as their primary function, the extroverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant learning function.

Effectiveness/Extroverted Thinking (Te)

As an outward-focused Thinking function, Effectiveness relies on facts and data gathered from outside sources when making decisions. These types want to experiment to find out what works and what doesn’t, and how they can be most efficient. It’s a practical function focused on finding solutions, discovering and classifying facts, and setting goals.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ESTJs, ENTJs, ISTJs, and INTJs. The extroverts use it as their primary functions, the introverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant function.

Feeling

Feeling types prefer to make decisions based on their personal values and how the decisions will affect other people. They want to maintain interpersonal harmony, and may soften truth in an effort to be tactful.

Authenticity/Introverted Feeling (Fi)

As an Introverted Feeling function, Authenticity wants to understand the self. These types make decisions based on what feels right, as influenced by abstract ideals. It is a focused, deep sort of way to experience emotion that many Authenticity types find hard to express to other people.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ISFPs, INFPs, ESFPs, and ENFPs. The introverts use it as their primary function, the extroverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant function.

Harmony/Extroverted Feeling (Fe)

When feeling is turned outward, Harmony focuses on getting everyone else’s needs met when making decisions. These types adapt themselves to given situations trying to fit in, and value the ideals and customs of their community. Harmony seeks true peace and understanding between people, and is adept at sharing feelings to create sympathy.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ESFJs, ENFJs, ISFJs, and INFJs. The extroverts use it as their primary functions, the introverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant function.

Thoughts on John 9

I don’t often spend most of a week studying just one chapter of the Bible, but John 9 captured my attention and didn’t let go. It is the story of Jesus healing a blind man, and unlike many miracles which are recorded in just a few short verses, this story takes up an entire 41-verse chapter.

This chapter is packed full of interesting things to learn. I focused on three main points that I noticed for this post, but I’m sure there’s more. If anyone else feels moved to study John 9, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A Reason For Suffering

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3)

The assumption the disciples made is all too common, even today — that the bad things which happen to us and others are a kind of punishment. Sometimes, however, God allows trials of various sorts to affect us because they fit into His plan for doing good. In this particular case, the man’s blindness was used to introduce him to Jesus and demonstrate to other people that Jesus is the Son of God.

It worked, too. This healing caused a huge stir in the Jewish community. This was partly because of the spectacular nature of the miracle, and partly because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. As the Word of God, Jesus was the One who told Israel about the Sabbath in the first place — He knew how to keep it holy. Doing good on the Sabbath wasn’t a sin, but it did anger the Pharisees because it violated some rules they’d added.

 Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. (John 9:16)

Though they publicly condemned Jesus, they weren’t so sure behind the scenes. This miracle made them think, and I wonder if some of them eventually became believers. Nicodemus couldn’t have been the only Pharisee wondering if maybe, just maybe, Jesus really was the Christ (John 3:1-2).

A Simple Testimony

After he was healed, the man who’d been blind doesn’t leap, shout, and tell everyone what happened. He didn’t do anything to call attention to himself, and only talked about the miracle when people started asking him what happened.

He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.” (John 9:11)

After hearing this, the people took him to the Pharisees and he repeated his story again (verse 15). Not believing him, they called in his parents, who were scared of being excommunicated and wouldn’t say anything except to affirm that he had, indeed, been blind (verse 18-23).

So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”

He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:24-25)

I think what the Pharisees were trying to do was convince this guy to say God healed him, and leave Jesus out of it. That never works — for “whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either” (1 John 2:23). When the Pharisees kept pressuring him, this man delivered a very simple testimony that enraged the Pharisees, who prided themselves on their intellect and knowledge of God.

The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” (J0hn 9:30-33)

There’s something to be said for paying attention to “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). The man who went with the simple, obvious explanation — that Jesus is a good man who performed a miracle — was much closer to God than the thoroughly educated church leaders.

A Personal Connection

After testifying to Jesus’ work in his life, the Pharisees excomunicated the formerly blind man (verse 34). This relates back to an earlier verse, which tells us “the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). This doesn’t sound so bad to us today — if we get kicked out of one church there are plenty more right down the street. In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time, though, it meant banishment from religious life.

In his definition of aposunagogos (G656), Zodhiates notes that the highest degree of “casting out” (there were three) is “an exclusion from all the rights and privileges of the Jewish people, both civil and religious. The offender was considered as dead.” Jesus warned His followers about this possibility in John 16:2. Following Jesus was a huge, dangerous step for Jews. It meant risking isolation from other people and, if you believed the Pharisees, from God.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”

Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him. (John 9:35-38)

We don’t often see examples of Jesus making follow-up visits with people He healed, but it is clear from these verses that He was keeping track of what happened with this man. As soon as He heard about the Jews excommunicating the formerly blind man, Jesus tracked him down to encourage him and confirm his faith. This man was cast out by the Jews, but he was welcomed by the Messiah.

I’m touched by the personal attention Jesus gave this individual, and the parallels with our own calling. Jesus healed him, apparently without being asked to, and changed his whole life. In much the same way, God may call us when we’re not even looking for Him and don’t know how desperately we need His life-changing power.

This healing opened the blind man’s spiritual as well as physical eyes. Many of us today can relate the rejection he experienced when he started to share the story of how Jesus touched his life. I hope we can also relate to the comfort of having a personal connection with this great Being, who doesn’t leave people alone to navigate their new-found faith.

Introduction To Cognitive Functions: The Learning Processes

Understanding the Jungian cognitive functions is key to Myers-Briggs typing. Unfortunately, it can also be very confusing. Basically, the four letters in a Myers-Briggs type tells you what kind of mental processes you use most effectively in making judgements and decisions (Thinking or Feeling) and in perceiving the world (Intuition or Sensing). It also tells you whether you are more oriented to the outer world or inner world (Extrovert or Introvert).

Everyone has and uses four functions (out of a possible eight). Your primary function is the one you’re most comfortable with and use most effectively. It’s supported by your secondary function, which acts as a sort of co-pilot. The third and fourth functions are less developed, and while we have access to them they are not often used effectively. You can look up your type’s cognitive functions on a variety of websites, including PersonalityJunkie.

For this first post, we’ll focus on the perceiving or learning processes (there will be a part two next week for the decision-making processes). Everyone has an introverted or extroverted form of Sensing and Intuition in their function stack. We use one or the other most effectively when learning new things and interacting with new ideas. Most Myers-Briggs enthusiasts still refer to these functions by their full names or abbreviations, but I think the Personality Hacker labels are easier to use when first learning about cognitive functions so I’ll include those as well.

Sensing

Sensing types are primarily concerned with what exists in concrete, observable reality. They focus on either the past or the present, and would rather work with something tangible than something theoretical. They can enjoy life in the moment and appreciate sense-impressions like good food and attractive surroundings.

Memory/Introverted Sensing (Si)

Personality Hacker says “that people use this process to learn new information based on their memories.” Isabel Meyer said a person using Introverted Sensing “sees things highly colored by the subjective factor,” and develops an inner self that may appear eccentric because of their unique way to seeing the world. However you phrase it, the Memory process is concerned with collecting sensory information and taking the time to check it for reliability and see how it fits in with their other ideas.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ISFJs, ISTJs, ESFJs, and ESTJs. The introverts use it as their primary function; the extroverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant decision-making function.

Sensation/Extroverted Sensing (Se)

The difference between the introverted Memory process and the extroverted Sensation process is that Se types process their sensory impressions externally. They want to experience and interact with something when they encounter it, rather than after-the-fact. People who use Sensation as their primary or secondary process have a reputation as adrenaline junkies.

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ESTPs, ESFPs, ISTPs, and ISFPs. The extroverts use it as their primary functions; the introverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant decision-making function.

Intuition

Intuitive types are primarily concerned with what could be. They focus on patterns and future possibilities, and would rather deal with theory and potential than something that’s already here. They are imaginative, original, and value achievement and inspiration.

Perspectives/Introverted Intuition (Ni)

When focused inward as the Perspectives process, an intuitive type is concerned with deep insights and understanding patterns that form inside their mind. Perspectives types are extremely creative, and analyze external data as well as internal thoughts and feelings to come to an understanding about how their minds work. We then use our self-insight to interpret life and promote understanding (as Isabel Myers puts it).

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by INFJs, INTJs, ENFJs, and ENTJs. The introverts use it as their primary functions; the extroverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant decision-making function.

Exploration/Extroverted Intuition (Ne)

Extroverted Intuition is also concerned with ideas, possibilities and a desire to understand, but it’s focus outward. Often, these types will perform experiments just to see what will happen. Personality Hacker calls this process Exploration because “the best pattern recognition system for the outer world is to mess with everything that can be messed with, and to explore, explore, explore.”

This is the perceiving process used most effectively by ENTPs, ENFPs, INTPs, and INFPs. The extroverts use it as their primary functions; the introverts use it as a co-pilot to support their dominant decision-making function.

 

 

 

Ready To Be Faithful

How do you know when you’re ready for baptism?

For those in churches that teach baptism is the sign of our covenant with God, this is a weighty question. If you’re just coming into the church, how do you know when you’re ready to go through with this ceremony? If you grew up in the church, how do you know God is really calling you into covenant with Him? What should you look for, and what do you need, before you get baptized?

The answer is both simpler and more complicated than you might think. It has very little to do with how long you council with a minister or how many baptism booklets you read, and everything to do with the state of your heart. Before we get into the body of this post, though, (just so we’re starting out on the same page) here’s a bit of background. I believe baptism by full immersion in water is an outward sign of an adult Christian’s covenant with God. I grew up in a Christian community that taught this, and I was baptized shortly after my 19th birthday.

Repent

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When John the baptist began his ministry, he preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2).  Those who came to be baptized confessed their sins as part of the baptism (Matt. 3:6). To further emphasize the need for repentance, he told the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” if they wanted to be saved (Matt. 3:8).

In the Bible, repentance is “regret accompanied by a true change of heart toward God” (G3340, Zodhitates). To enter covenant with God, the first requirement is that we realize we are sinners, genuinely regret the wrongs we’ve committed, and recognize our need for Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

In general the steps are: 1) repentance, 2) baptism, 3) receive the Holy Spirit (there are exceptions to this order, as in Acts 10). Often, we feel like we need reach perfection, or at least be “good enough” before baptism. Really, though, we need to realize we are not perfect so we can commit and submit to God. Then, after we realize how desperately we need Him and ask Him to be part of our life, He gives us the tools we need to grow toward perfection.

Believe

Looking at another baptism recorded in Acts, we find one more requirement for baptism. Here, Philip is teaching an Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus.

 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. (Acts 8:36-38)

In the New Testament, “believe” is translated from the same words as “faith” — pisteuo (G4100), a mental persuasion, faith, or belief, and pistis (G4102), ” a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths” (Zodniates).

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6)

Your faith doesn’t have to be perfect before you get baptized, but you should believe that God exists, that Jesus is the Messiah, and that They have a plan for your future. Maybe our faith is young or small, and we’re at a place where we’re saying, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That’s okay. God knows we’ll still have work to do after baptism. In fact, He expects us to keep growing after we commit to Him.

Commit

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When you’re counseling for baptism, ministers typically have you read the “count the cost” scriptures in Luke 14:25-33. We learn we can’t cling to anyone or anything other than Christ. We’re told we must be prepared to give up everything we have. Before taking this step in our relationship with God, we must seriously evaluate our commitment level. Christianity isn’t something you can do part-time or half-way. We have to be all-in.

I’m willing to venture a guess that those of us who’ve been baptized didn’t really understand exactly what we were getting into. Our knowledge and understanding deepen so much as we grow, and the commitment I made at baptism means more to me now than it did back in 2008. We don’t need have perfect knowledge before we get baptized — we just need to know we’re willing to follow God no matter what. I’ve heard it compared to marriage. You don’t have to be perfect to get married, or even understand everything about marriage, but you do have to make a commitment that you’ll be faithful.

I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord. (Hos. 2:19-20)

If our commitment to God is a marriage (2 Cor. 11:2), then baptism is when we say our vows. We promise to stay faithful to Him in sickness and in health, to follow His authority, and to work through our problems with Him instead of running away. Baptism is a promise of faithfulness to our faithful Creator. If we’re ready to be faithful, then we’re ready to be baptized.

5 Tips for Academic Excellence

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It’s finals week (or close to it) for many of the universities, so it seems a fitting time to talk about academics. Unless you’re just in school for the parties, most students want to succeed academically, and we can always use more tips for doing just that.

Different study and learning techniques will work for different people with different personalities and learning styles, but there are a few ideas that work across the board. These are my top five tips for achieving academic excellence, which I used all the time when I was studying at The Ohio State University. Share what works (or worked) for you in the comments!

1) Study Concepts

I think some of the best advice I received was to study with the goal of understanding the ideas behind a subject instead of just memorizing specifics. Knowing facts and formulas can get you through a test, but if you understand why the fact is true then you’re more likely to get high scores.

“B students” can answer questions; “A students” know why the answer is right (that’s not the only difference, but it’s an important one). With this method, you’re not cramming your head full of facts right before a test hoping you’ll pass — you’re studying the subject consistently, trying to really understand and learn it.

2) Take notes by hand.

There’s something about the act of writing things down that helps it stick in your mind. When I was in school, I’d take notes in lectures, while reading textbooks, and as a study aid when preparing for tests – especially for the subjects I struggled with.

This is partly because my primary learning style is “Read/Write,” but psychology studies indicate that it’s true for most, if not all, students. Students who take longhand notes do better on exams and have more accurate long-term recall of facts and concepts than students who take notes on their laptops.

3) Take breaks.

If you’re studying something you love, this isn’t so much of an issue, but for something you’re not passionate about your mind will start to wander. I had to discipline myself to sit down and study for a certain amount of time, then take a walk or work on something else for a few minutes before going back.

4) Sleep

You might think it makes sense to stay up late cramming for an exam or get a few extra hours of study in, but it may actually do more harm than good.

Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of sleep hurts these cognitive processes in many ways. First, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. This makes it more difficult to learn efficiently.

Second, during the night, various sleep cycles play a role in “consolidating” memories in the mind. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to remember what you learned and experienced during the day (WebMD).

On WebMD’s list of 10 effects from lack of sleep, it lists forgetfulness, impaired judgement, and lower cognitive abilities — none of which is good for academic excellence. Know how many hours of sleep you need on a regular basis, and make sure you get it.

5) Talk With Teachers.

When I was in college, it helped me to get to know the professor a little. Some are happiest if you answer questions in a precise way, others will encourage more creativity in assignments. Knowing what they expect of you, and planning your responses accordingly, helps ensure higher grades. And it’s not just about improving grades — some of my most valued connections during my time at university were with faculty members.

Making time to talk with your teachers and ask a question or two lets them know you’re interested in their classes. They’ve spent many years studying the subjects they teach, and love it when students actually take their classes seriously. Be genuine — if you love the class, then it’ll be easy to talk about, but even if you don’t like a class, you can still ask honest questions like “Do you have any study tips? I really want to do well in your class.”

What Do I Still Lack?

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If you could ask God one question, what would it be?

Several years ago, I heard a speaker say that he thought most of us would ask, “When is Christ returning? How much longer do we have to wait?” That’s not what I’d ask, though. Does it really matter to you whether it’s 10 months, or 10 years, or 10,000 years? We could quite literally die today (though we don’t like to think about it), so we should be working on being ready to meet God at any moment. We should be watchful, yes, but the focus is on growing to be like Him and knowing Him more fully.

With that in mind, I think my question would be more like that of the rich young man in Matthew 19 and Mark 10.

The First Question

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

He said to Him, “Which ones?”

Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (Matt. 19:16-19)

I get the impression that this is the bare minimum required to get into God’s kingdom. We know from Hebrews that the law by itself isn’t enough to save us, so we’ll assume this list implies that we also repent and accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. There’s also a relational aspect implied.

 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10)

So, to get into God’s kingdom we need to repent and be cleansed of our sins, keep the commandments, and walk in relationship with God. But what if we feel like we’re doing all this, and still there’s something missing?

The Second Question

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matt. 19:20-22)

That’s the question I would ask — “What’s missing from my Christian walk? What do I still lack?” Honestly, though, the thought of getting an answer is kinda scary. I think Jesus would look into my heart and find the biggest thing that is pulling me toward this life instead of Him, and tell me to give it up. Would I be like the disciples, who could say, “we have left all and followed You” (Matt. 19:27), or would I be like this young man who wasn’t ready to go that far for Jesus?

Paul had a proper perspective on this sort of situation. He didn’t even ask the question, but Jesus answered it anyway. Once Paul realized that faith in Jesus as the Messiah was what his walk with God needed, he gave up his prestige as a pharisee to become a persecuted, itinerant preacher.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ …. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. (Phil. 3:7-8, 12)

Both here and in Matthew 19, the word “perfect” is translated from teleios (G5046), which we talked about last week. It is connected with growth as a Christian; becoming more mature as we become more like Christ.

We might be able to get by doing the bare minimum, but that’s not how we reach perfection. We become perfect by learning to think like God (Matt. 5:43-48) and giving up anything that keeps us from fully committing to Christ. Let’s not allow fear to hold us back from taking a good, hard look at ourselves and asking God, “What do I still lack?”

Far From the Madding Crowd

This is one of those rare books where the last line sums-up my feelings about the rest of the story.

But since ’tis as ’tis, why, it might have been worse, and I feel my thanks accordingly.

In my own words, “Well, the book ended the way it did, and it might have been worse, so I’m glad it’s over.” Though those were my thoughts, this Classics Club selection actually wasn’t a “bad” book. As a fan of British literature, I enjoyed it — the writing style and way Hardy uses description and dialogue is intriguing, as are his depictions of three very different courtships. As someone who reads for pleasure, though, I don’t really like it — none of the characters really captured my sympathy and the plot didn’t hold my attention except in a few parts.

The story follows Bathsheba Everdene, who first catches the eye of farmer Gabriel Oak as a young woman living with her aunt. He proposes marriage, and she turns him down. They meet again with their fortunes reversed — she has inherited a prosperous farm and he is seeking work as a shepherd. As the novel progresses, she is courted by the next-door farmer, confirmed bachelor William Boldwood, and also handsome womanizer Sergeant Frank Troy. The remainder of the novel can basically be summed up as fairly average people making bad decisions and having to live (or in some cases, die) with the consequences. It does have a happy, if somewhat predictable, ending.

If you’re looking for an alternative to seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron this weekend (and you can find a theater playing it), there’s a new film version of Far From The Madding Crowd released May 1st. It stars Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak, Michael Sheen as William Boldwood, and Tom Sturridge as Frank Troy. My Avengers weekend has been panned for 6 months, but this looks like a good adaptation — I’ll probably see it when it comes out on DVD.

Growing To Perfection

Growing To Perfection | marissabaker.wordpress.comHave you ever wondered why God commands us to become perfect when it seems so impossible? In English, the word means to lack nothing essential, to be without defect, and “completely suited for a particular purpose” (The American Heritage Desk Dictionary). We know this is only possible with God’s help, but it is still discouraging to look at ourselves and realize how far we are from perfection.

The task of becoming perfect seems even more daunting when we read, “you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt .5:48). How could we ever become as perfect as God is? If we don’t give up altogether, it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of trying to be perfect, failing, and then falling into depression. What’s the solution?

What is “Perfect”?

First, let’s remember that Jesus told us things which are impossible for men are possible for God (Matt. 19:26). He can save and work with even the people who seem most hopeless. Second, let’s look at what the Bible actually means by “perfect.” It’s not quite what it seems in English.

In the Old Testament, God described Job as “a perfect and an upright man” twice at the beginning of Job’s story (Job 1:8; 2:3, KJV). We know that Job learned and grew as a result of the trials he went through, and yet God could describe him as “perfect” with complete honesty before this growth happened.

The word in Hebrew is tam (H8535), which refers to completeness and entirety. It doesn’t necessarily mean finished, though — rather someone moving “naturally toward that which is ethically sound” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). Thus in the Bible, we can be described as “perfect” while being on the path toward perfection.

As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the Lord? and who is a rock, except our God? God is my strength and power, and He makes my way perfect. (2 Sam. 22:31-33)

God is perfect in an absolute sense, and He takes on Himself the task of moving us toward that perfection. As long as we are growing toward being like Him, He can describe us as “perfect.” This idea of growth fits in perfectly with the way perfection is spoken of in the New Testament. There are two main words translated “perfect” from the Greek, and one is teleios (G5046). It means something that is finished or complete, as in completely blameless, or a person who is full-grown in mind and understanding (Zodhiates). It is what Jesus Christ prayed His followers would experience.

And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:22-23)

Perfection as a Christian has everything to do with growth. If we think we’re already perfect, then we’re not. But if we’re pursuing perfection by trying to be like God and deepening our relationship with Him, then He calls us perfect.

On To Perfection

We’re not left in the dark about how we can pursue perfection The key is not so much trying to be perfect versions of ourselves, but rather trying to be like our Father and Jesus Christ.

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)

Growing To Perfection | marissabaker.wordpress.comHere, we have the other Greek word frequently translated “perfect.” Katartizo (G2675) means “to put a thing in its appropriate condition.” It can mean repairing something that was broken, setting a person right with God, and preparing or equipping someone for a purpose (Zodhiates). Here in Luke, Jesus is telling us that in order to become whole, complete and right with God, we have to become like Him (Eph. 4:10-14). The closer we get to being like Christ, the more mature we become as Christians. If we stagnate instead of growing, then we’re in trouble.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 5:12-6:3)

“Why aren’t you growing?” Paul asks. “You know what the elementary principles are, so build on them.” We have a foundation — Jesus Christ whose sacrifice perfects us (1 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 10:14) — and now is the time to start building on that foundation. Even though God refers to us as  perfect before we actually reach that goal, we can’t become complacent.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. (Phil. 3:12-15)

Even the Apostle Paul didn’t think he was doing well enough as a Christian to stop pursuing perfection, and he wrote over 30% of the New Testament text! But he didn’t let the fact that he wasn’t perfect yet discourage him, and he made sure he was encouraging his fellow Christians toward maturity in Christ. Like Paul, I hope we can accept the fact that we’re not yet perfect while continuing to move towards being like Christ. We don’t have to beat ourselves up over not being “good enough,” but we do have to keep moving forward.