My Monkeysphere

“I want Jesus to be in my monkeysphere.”

Okay, weird conversation piece, maybe. First, what’s a monkeysphere (if you don’t know), and second, did I go off the sacrilegious deep end or what?

1. The “monkeysphere” is a term for the number of interpersonal relationships a brain can generally maintain and care about. The term comes from monkey research where the scientists discovered that the monkeys’ brains would only allow them to form societies up to a certain number of other monkeys. A bigger brain permitted a larger society. They then tried using a human brain and ended up boosting the monkey’s “sphere” of relationships from 50 to 150.

Basically, the monkeysphere is the collection of people you actually care about and think about as real people… not just friends on Facebook, or nameless humans that intersect your daily life. A good example is the trash man, whose job dramatically affects your quality of life, but whose name you probably do not know or care to discover.

The wiki article about it seems to make it pretty clear.

Clear on that one? Good.

2. No, I’m not losing my faith or mocking Christ. My wife and I were talking about how we relate to God, and she made the comment that she really wants to remember the personhood and humanity of Christ. A Man, someone she cares deeply for, willingly suffered beating and shame. He chose to endure anguish and agony, and He accepted His own execution.

Jesus is the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save the other soldiers in the trench (except multiplied by 20 billion or so).

If a person does that for you in real life, it’s kind of hard to forget it.

The fact that I can say it that way, and you probably understood and agreed – that says something about how we view Him.

I find I happily recognize and recount the transaction, the theology, the spiritual “chemical” reaction that took place at the Cross. My sins were washed away by His blood, my inky stain of death was turned scarlet, and my scarlet sins were washed clean. I can quote the scriptures to say what took place: He died for all, that those who live should live for themselves no longer, but for Him who died and rose again… if through one man, death reigned in all men, how much more shall life reign through the one Man Christ Jesus… for there is no other mediator between God and men… and so on.

It’s a historical fact. On such-and-such day, the battle of Gettysburg was won by the Union. Abraham Lincoln wrote a powerful speech about it. And on such-and-such day way back in 33 AD or 29 AD or whatever, the battle over sin and death and hell was won by the Messiah. And Paul the Apostle wrote some really powerful speeches about it. I like to quote them, just like I enjoy hearing “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”

Hopefully my point is becoming clear.

I find it easy to recognize Jesus’ unique place in history and theology.

I find it all too easy to stop there.

I don’t want a historical figure. I don’t want a relationship with a spiritual principle, nor an affection for a moving quote.

I want a personal relationship, a constant interaction, a recognition that there was a Man… and not just any Man, but my best Friend… and when the enemy opened fire, He jumped in front of me, arms wide, to protect me from every deadly shot.

You don’t forget that sort of love. And neither do you recall it with cold distance. It changes your life.

Oh, and don’t forget, dear self… all those other monkeys outside my sphere? He did the same for them.

Maybe I should care. Because He does.

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Strong Language

Continuing the A to Z blog challenge, we come to ‘T’ for which I have chosen theology.

As worshipers seeking God, we must have an understanding of Who He is and what He says. We need words for how He interacts with us and the qualities He displays. Theology provides us with that language, and gives us a much-needed standard (as near to a standard as one can get with matters of faith) which keeps us going straight.

We are to be people of truth – another strong contender for the T blog – since Jesus declared that those who worship the Father must worship in spirit and in truth.

Theology is the active study of that truth, the search and observation of God’s interactions with humanity, the organization and classification of thoughts and concepts about God. It’s the ‘science’ of religion, supplying clear vocabulary, enabling in-depth discussion and further study.

Research by people like George Barna and David Kinneman show a Western Christianity that is dreadful in its lack of theological foundation. There are far too many of our brothers and sisters running around proclaiming maturity after years in church pews, but with little to no grasp of core biblical truths. People would claim to follow Christ and yet hold to teachings that directly contradict Scripture.

It’s like kindergarteners playing house, trying to imitate the grown-ups around them.

I’m talking about myself in so many ways here. If I think I’m above all that, and I have such better understanding, all I’m doing is making myself the spiritual emo kid standing off to the side watching everyone else with contempt while remaining completely uninvolved in anything productive or beneficial to the kingdom. So I’m no better, nor am I claiming to be.

Disciplined efforts to learn more about God – not just through personal experience but through systematic study of the established truths of Scripture – this is part of what I believe it means to worship in truth.

We don’t just rely on haphazard encounters with God. We also benefit from intentionally engaging God’s Word with the perspective of teachers in the Body and the works of spiritual giants in the past. That way, we’re not learning every so often as we go about playing church, we’re building our understanding in the same way that 2nd grade material builds on 1st, and 3rd grade lessons require a grasp of the 2nd grade teachings.

The writer of Hebrews speaks to his audience about their need for basic teachings, and indicates that a discipline of practice will help believers mature properly:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary 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 not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14 NASB)

In the same way, Paul talks about taking full advantage of the gifts provided to the church:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (Ephesians 4:14, 15 NASB)

Strong theology gives us powerful words that fuel our worship. As we realize more and more who God is and what He has done for us, we find more reasons to draw nearer, more cause to praise Him, more passion to help us chase after Him.

And when we find Him, overwhelmed by the reality of His love, we worship in response to the truth.

Beliefs: Worship Vocabulary

I’m currently enrolled in a Chinese Mandarin language refresher course. About six hours a day, five coworkers and I sit in a classroom, practicing reading, writing, speaking, and hearing Chinese. We get homework and additional material to review, much of which is vocabulary lists of unfamiliar words.

The vocab review is absolutely essential to success.

I can know how all the grammar works, how all the sentences get put together, and so on. I can speak perfectly, with no accent and accurate tones. I could write beautiful Chinese characters that look like calligraphy you might buy at a store. But If I don’t know the words, I won’t understand much, and nothing I do will make sense.

Give it a shot. What does this mean to you?

耶稣基督爱你。

If you don’t know the vocab or haven’t learned the language, you won’t get the message, let alone be able to communicate it yourself.

For the worshiper, that’s where beliefs come in. Our doctrine and our beliefs are the skeletons, the framework that holds up what we do and why we do it. If I accurately understand something of who God is and what God has done, then that is fuel for my worship of God. If I know what Scripture teaches about who I am in relation to God, then that makes His grace amazing.

Songs can’t communicate to us something we don’t already grasp. We won’t appreciate the value if we don’t have the vocab. David Crowder can sing “He is our portion and we are His prize” (John Macmillan, How He Loves).

But if I’ve never seen that in Scripture and never digested the thought that – for whatever reason – God has set a very high value on you and me–

Then that will just be a nice turn of phrase in the song, something to get us to the next rhyme.

But if I look at Matthew 13:44 and see a Savior who sold everything to take hold of a treasure… If I consider 1st Peter 2:9-11 that claims we are a special possession cherished by God… And I see how that passage points back to the Old Testament and God’s covenant with Israel… And then I recall verses like Isaiah 43:3-4 where God promises He would sell the whole world to get His people back… Oh, how sweet Philippians 2:5-11 becomes, where I read about all that Christ gave up, all that He laid aside for the sake of God’s plan of redemption.

When I am familiar with the depths of love revealed in Scripture, and the costs God endured to lay hold of the treasure on His heart – namely you and me – well, that gives me some vocabulary words to use to express my gratitude!

Then when my church sings “Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness” and “Humbly You came to the earth You created, all for love’s sake, became poor…” (Tim Hughes, here I Am to Worship)

Now I get it. Now I can take that song and make it mine, pour my heart and my emotions and all my love and thanks into it, and truly respond in worship to what God has done, not just sing in the musical portion of the service to try and sound good.

Picking “Bible” for the A to Z challenge would have been too easy, but it’s still accurate. The Bible informs our beliefs, instructs us in doctrine. Why? So that we are prepared for evey good work God has called us to accomplish. 2 Tim 3:16-17

Time and again, surveys show a woeful lack of understanding of basic Christian doctrine in the West, especially in this “Christian nation” called the United States. As worshipers, as those seeking to encounter God’s powerful presence, it behooves us to get well-acquainted with some key words and concepts about God and our relationship to Him.

How strong is your vocabulary? I know I’ve got some reviewing to do.