I’ve always loved game shows, and my favorite one of all time has to be “Let’s make a deal…”
The show was the brainchild of Monty Hall who had an uncanny knack for working the crowd and enticing the contestants with deals they could not refuse.
Every episode ended with the ”big deal of the day” which was normally hidden behind one of three doors.
Then Monty Hall would ask the contestant that memorable phrase: “do you want what’s behind door #1, #2, or #3.”
Upon which the contestant would choose a door. Then Monty Hall would open one of the other two remaining doors to show a zonk, or worthless prize, that the contestant luckily did not choose. And then only 2 doors remained, and Monty Hall would turn up the heat by offering a tease.
“Do you want to keep the door you chose, or switch to the remaining closed door?” This typically sent the crowd into a frenzied roar, as they shouted advice to the anxious contestant who was usually dressed up in the most outrageous costume. What would you do? You’ve chosen door #1, and Monty opened door #2 to show a goat.
Now there are only 2 doors, behind one is another goat, behind the other is a brand new car, (which when I was a kid, was something awesome like a 1973 AMC Gremlin X “Levi’s edition”)
So what do you do? Do you stick with the door you originally chose? Or do you switch? How many of you would stick with your original choice? How many would switch?
Would you believe me if I told you that you are more likely to win the car if you switch doors? And not just slightly more likely, but twice as likely to win if you switch.
Now, don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense to you. It didn’t make sense to a lot of really smart people when the question which is now called the “Monty Hall Problem” was first posed. I didn’t believe it either when my brother first told me about it. You see, the question of whether to switch doors seems like just a simple 50/50 proposition, but after a lot of arguments and probability studies, it turns out that switching doors is the recommended choice which will increase your odds of winning from 33% to 66%.
I know that some of you still either don’t understand or don’t believe me, so I encourage you to look it up, there’s even a Wikipedia page and a NY Times article that explain it better than me. Of course, the answer to which door to open would be easy, if we knew what was behind them. The REAL problem in the “Monty Hall problem” is that we don’t know what’s behind the doors. If we knew, the answer would be obvious. The doors hide what is behind, and we have to choose without knowing what we will get.
Doors are curious things. They represent transitions between where we are and where we are going. The transition between the old and the new.
Part of the difficulty in understanding the Monty Hall problem involves the host himself. We miss the influence of the host on the outcome.
If we think of the 3 door problem in simple probability terms we know that our first choice gives us a 1 in 3 chance of winning the prize. After the host opens one of the other two doors, we are offered a choice to switch at which point it would seem that changing doors would not increase the odds of winning. But there is a small but crucial fact in the ” Monty Hal”l problem that changes the odds.
The host knows what’s behind all the doors. If the host opened a random door after we made our original choice, then switching doors would not be an advantage. But Monty Hall knows what’s behind the doors.
He doesn’t open a door at random; he opens a door specifically because of what’s behind it. He’s not going to ever expose the prize, because he wants to tempt you with switching doors. This single fact is the fulcrum on which the probability changes. Since the host knows what’s behind the doors, then switching doors increases your chances of winning the prize.
God is the host of our lives. And in this new year he is offering us a choice.
God knows what is behind the door. God knows the change that is in store for us that we must embrace in 2015.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
(Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)
Psychologist Walter Mischel published a book this past year called the Marshmallow test. It’s based on 50 years of research involving a simple but intriguing proposition. Mischel tested the ability of preschool children to resist immediate gratification with the use of that insidious device of torture known as, the marshmallow.
The preschool children were offered one marshmallow that they could eat right away, or two marshmallows if they waited 20 minutes. So the children sat and stared at a single marshmallow, and the researchers watched to see how long the preschoolers held out.
The original goal of the Marshmallow test was to study how long children delayed gratification and what methods they used to do so. As the study continued over 4 decades, the results of the marshmallow test began to show much more. Surprisingly, it predicted quite a lot about the success and happiness of these preschoolers later in life.
Those who displayed skills in the ability to delay gratification ended up with better grades, higher test scores, longer lasting relationships, and a higher quality of life.
The message of the study is clear, delaying gratification pays off.
But our society isn’t listening.
Our lives are mostly about one thing:
We have created Instant Coffee, Instant tea, instant milk, instant mashed potatoes, instant oatmeal, instant ramen noodles, instant cash, instant messaging, instagram, instant streaming, instant savings, instant rebates, instant replay, instant approval, there’s even a website called instantkittens.com where you can watch short videos of kittens and then click on the screen to see a new group of kittens instantly.
We’ve created a world in which everything is instant, and nobody is happy.
The problem with instant gratification is that it doesn’t gratify, and it doesn’t satisfy. And then we have to seek it again, and again. It’s not gratifying, it’s just distracting. Distracting us from what we should be doing. Distracting us from the real goal, and the only reward that will ever truly gratify. Heaven.
God has an unbelievable reward for us in Heaven. It is beyond anything we’ve ever known. He is waiting there for us alongside our loved ones who have gone before us. It’s not instant gratification, it’s permanent joy. Life is pretty is hard for everyone, that’s why God has such a great reward at the end.
When you feel pain, see Heaven. When you mourn, see eternal life. When you cry, envision The God of the universe wiping your tears away.
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…” (Matthew 5:12 NIV)
“Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.'” Matthew 5:37 (MSG)
We live in a culture that has gone overboard with qualified, equivocated, mitigated speech.
Sort of, I mean… Like, kind of… Some of us sort of live in kind of a place where maybe some things that a few people say might sort of be qualified with what could be called by some people to be a bit “hedged” or “qualified” speech, I think, maybe…
Just today, take a moment and listen closely to see how often you hear any of the following qualifiers/mitigaters added to the things people say:
Sort of… Like… Maybe… Kind of…
Once you start noticing how prevalent it is, it will drive you batty. Why do we qualify what we say? Are we afraid of the truth? Do we always want to create a “back door” so that when people are upset or offended we can say “we didn’t mean that exactly.”
I understand that some “hedging” is a natural nuance of communication. It’s almost hard to avoid, sort of… But we’ve allowed it to take over our discourse and I don’t think it is helping us communicate better. In fact, I think it is diluting the truth.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Gladwell defines mitigation as “any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said.”
I don’t think that helps us communicate. I’ve encountered people who are so afraid to say anything directly that I never know if they answered a question with yes or no. Every answer is “some sort of maybe…”
It’s portrayed as an attempt to protect people’s feelings, but in reality it’s a tactic that is used to attempt to manipulate by being indirect or passive/aggressive. Mitigated speech is unclear, which breeds confusion.
Jesus said that adding words to what we say gets us into trouble:
Matthew Chapter 5 says:
“don’t say anything you don’t mean….Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” Matthew 5: 33-37 (The Message)
Jesus is saying: Keep it simple. Drop the “qualifiers.”
Just say yes or no, and make it the truth.
Language is a living thing. The words we use are constantly evolving. How and what we say today is quite different than the words used by those who came before us. Try reading Chaucer’s opening to “The Reeve’s Tale” out loud:
At Trumpyngtoun, nat fer fro Cantebrigge,
Ther gooth a brook, and over that a brigge,
Upon the whiche brook ther stant a melle;
And this is verray sooth that I yow telle:
A millere was ther dwellynge many a day.
Here it is in modern English:
At Trumpington, not far from Cambridge,
There goes a brook, and over that a bridge,
Upon the which brook there stands a mill;
And this is absolute truth that I tell you:
A miller was there dwelling many a day.
When words change, meaning changes as well. Sometimes the original spirit of a word is lost in process. The origins of many modern words and phrases can be quite surprising and insightful. The word “mortgage” comes from the Old French “mort” and “gage” which means “death pledge.” Which is about how long it seems it will take to pay one off when you first sign the papers. The jeans we wear are made of a material first made in Serge di Nimes, France–later shortened to di Nimes, which became “denim.” The other city that made denim was Genoa, Italy–called “Gene” by sixteenth-century Europeans–which is where we get the word “jeans.” The word “genuine” originally meant “placed on the knees.” In Ancient Rome, a father legally claimed his newborn child by sitting in front of his family and placing his child on his knee.
The word “worship” has also changed from its original form. It comes from the Anglo-Saxon “weorthscipe.” It means “worth-ship.” The condition of being worthy. I think the modern word is missing an important part of the original. Maybe we should change the word to “worth-ship.” God is worthy of worship. According to the Bible, he’s the only thing that deserves our true worship:
“For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.'(1 Chronicles 16:25 NIV)”
Worth-ship. Change the word and you find the real meaning. How many things in your life have genuine worth. We live in a now-culture filled with almost completely artificial ingredients. The next time you are at the store, check a bottle of “All Natural Snapple Apple” and notice that it contains exactly NO APPLE JUICE. In today’s culture, kids are more likely to know the flavors of strawberry, cherry, apple, banana, lemon, and lime from the soda fountain at the local 7/11. We’ve gotten so accustomed to imitation products that actually tasting the real thing is the exception, not the rule.
Imitation. Fake. Contains no juice. This is the world we know. Is there anything left that is real or has true worth?
A final thought… I went to the local computer store recently to purchase a hard drive reader. I have a couple of old computers and I wanted to take the hard drives out to save the data on them. When I got to the aisle where such gadgets are sold, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of them. I found over a dozen brands ranging in price from $20-$175. How in the world can I decide? My old pattern was to pick up the cheapest item and buy it. I didn’t need all the bells and whistles. Plus, I figured the more expensive ones were probably some type of fancy-packaged rip-offs.
After realizing that I had too many options and not enough information, I asked the store clerk for help. He recommended that I buy one that cost about $80. I quickly challenged him because I saw that some of them were only $20. He replied, “yeah. those don’t work.” Don’t work? Uhh… Of course I followed with “then why do you sell them?” He said, “because we make more margin of profit on them than anything else.” Now I am a musician and I know nothing about pricing and sales, so I was confused. “So let me get this straight. You make more money off the cheap ones than the expensive ones?” “Yes.” After protesting that this made no sense to me, he calmly pointed out: ” The $20 product is actually worth about 4 bucks. We sell it for 5 times it’s cost. The $80 one costs us just a little less than we sell it for. Also, the cheap one doesn’t really work at all, so in reality, you’re not saving any money because for $20 you are getting something worthless.” I bought the more expensive product, and I’m happy to say it’s worked great ever since.
Buying cheap things doesn’t save money. You may spend a smaller amount, but you only get something worthless. When you stop to think about it, what is worthy? What has true lasting value? What do you own that moths and rust and thieves will not destroy?
Take a moment to honestly evaluate what you are worshiping in your life. In eternal terms, does it have any lasting value? Is it the “real thing?” Or is it worthless.
From the Alpha to the Omega, there has only been one worthy thing in all the world: God. The Bible says God is worthy. He is worthy of our praise. Nothing else is.
From now on, whenever you think about the word “Worship,” change it. Change it to “Worth-ship” and then act accordingly.
“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.‘(Psalm 29:2 NIV)”
“In the beginning God…'(Genesis 1:1)”
This past week, a team of astronomers led by John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced that they had detected ripples from gravitational waves created in an event commonly referred to as the “Big Bang.” Now, the concept of the “Big Bang” is not new, but evidence for how it happened has eluded scientists for decades. The groundbreaking study released this week offers the first direct evidence of “cosmic inflation,” the theorized dramatic expansion of the universe that put the “bang” in the Big Bang. The “Smoking Gun” of the Big Bang is the discovery of gravitational waves that Albert Einstein predicted almost 100 years ago in his general theory of relativity. This groundbreaking new study has re-opened the debate about how the universe began and whether this helps to prove that there is a God.
Of course the debate between science and religion is not new. In fact, I would say it’s about as old as the universe itself if the two sides could agree on exactly how old that is. Many have touted this week’s discovery as brand new proof that God does in fact exist, or at least he was around long enough to flip the switch on the Big Bang. The discovery of “inflation” of the universe is a surprise to most scientists, which brings up an interesting observation. It seems like the most likely person to debunk the scientific view of the beginning of time is not someone from the religion side of the debate, but another scientist. They are constantly disproving the last “proven” fact about how it all started. Have you ever noticed that every time a breakthrough discovery takes place, most scientists are surprised? As far as I know, the beginning of the Bible has had the same beginning from the beginning, and that beginning is God.
Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God…” I don’t think the Bible got it wrong. In the beginning, God! That’s what I believe about how the universe began, and the more we know about how it all started, the more it points to a beginning. I guess scientists should get used to being surprised.
Beginnings are beautiful things! I happen to love them. This week, I began serving in a new position leading Worship here at Downtown Baptist Church. It’s been a great week. The love, encouragement, and support from the pastor, people, and staff have been humbling and I am grateful for this new opportunity.
As I begin this endeavor, I begin with God. The first verse of the Bible isn’t just how the universe began. It’s a model for how to begin anything in life. When you find yourself at a beginning, start with God. Begin with God first. In the beginning of the day… God. In the beginning of a new job… God. In the beginning of a relationship… God. In the beginning of hard times… God. In the beginning of rebuilding your life… God. In the beginning of bad news… God. In the beginning of all things, God.
A final thought… I remember being scolded by an art teacher once for not putting my name at the top of a paper. The assignment included painting with water colors on a piece of white paper; anything we wanted to paint. This was elementary school so these paintings would be displayed on the wall outside the classrooms before being sent home to Mom’s refrigerator door. I finished the painting, but I had forgotten to write my name on the paper. My teacher saw this and admonished me. “Always put your name at the top of your paper!” she instructed. I wasn’t good with these kinds of details. I wasn’t good at painting either, so maybe I left my name off on purpose so that no one would know who painted the orangish-brown blob shaped nothing. Of course I started out painting a race car, or maybe it was a rocket ship. Anyway, I used too much water like I always did and the colors began to run together. As with most watercolors, it just all coalesced into a something that looks like a mixture of all the sodas at the convenience store. The more I tried to fix it, the worse it got. Looking back I wonder why we expect kids to be able to use watercolors. Sure they’re safe, but boy are they hard to paint with.
Life is hard too. Most of us are busy trying to paint what we wish to see. Invariably the colors begin to run, and the painting doesn’t look like we dreamed. Then we go about the process of trying to fix it, and despite our best attempts, we just make it worse.
Today is a new beginning. A new opportunity to begin with God on a fresh canvas. Before you begin, write a name at the top of your canvas; the name of God. Then hand the brush to him, and let him create the tapestry of your life.
“In the beginning God…'(Genesis 1:1)”