The God Who Fixes… Or Doesn’t Fix… Your Problem

God is able. He’s definitely able.

And it’s really irrelevant what kind of problem you are bringing to the table right now. It can be big, or it can be small. It can be global, or it can be local. It can be an issue of health, finance, spiritual condition, or church. No matter what the question is, God is able. This is what we find the psalmist reminding us when he reflected on the nature of God in Psalm 8:

Yahweh, our Lord,
how magnificent is Your name throughout the earth!
You have covered the heavens with Your majesty.
Because of Your adversaries,
You have established a stronghold
from the mouths of children and nursing infants
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I observe Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You set in place,
what is man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him?

What is this issue I bring to the throne of heaven? How small it is in comparison to the One who sits on that throne?

And yet there is another side to the majesty of God. God is truly able, and yet God is also truly wise. So though I come to the throne of heaven asking for intervention, I must also recognize that the God who can fix my problem in a moment is the same God who, in His wisdom, might choose to exercise His power differently.

I can’t take the power without the wisdom. He is the God who fixes… or doesn’t fix… our problems. But either way, how magnificent is His name throughout the earth.

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All Roads Do Lead to God… Eventually

Kevin DeYoung writes:

All paths lead to God, but only one path will present you before God without fault and with great joy.

Pick a path, any path–it will take you to God. Trust me: you will stand before Him one day. You will meet your Maker. You will see the face of Christ.

There are many ways up the mountain, but only one will result in life instead of destruction.

“Christianity is narrow,” you say. “Why must we talk of insiders and outsiders?”

“Christianity is hard. I don’t like what it says. I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. This kind of life, this kind of faith, this kind of commitment–they will make me unpopular.”

“Christianity is strange. It’s on the wrong side of history. No one really accepts it—the miracles, the strange teachings, the ethical demands. They don’t work anymore.”

Yes, Christianity can seem narrow, strange, and hard. Jesus was often thought narrow, strange, and hard too. But sometimes the narrow way is the only way, the strange path is the true path, and the hard life is the one that leads to eternal life (John 14:6).

There are many roads to God, but only one will make you holy and only one will bring you home.

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Be Careful When You Pull Jesus Aside

Sometimes Jesus spoke mysteriously. Through stories that seemed like riddles, Jesus talked about the past, predicted the future, and shed cutting light into the present. Very few people, even those who thought they knew Him best, understood most, or even half, of what He was saying at a given moment. But then there were moments when the fog lifted. When Jesus was absolutely positively clear. When He left no interpretation to what He was saying.

Mark 8 is one of those times:

“Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. He was openly talking about this. So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (Mark 8:31-32).

No riddles here. No illustrations. No stories about virgins and temples and other such things. Here was just the plain truth of what was coming down the pike very, very soon – Jesus, the One in whom these men had placed all their hope for the future – would be mercilessly slaughtered at the very hands of those whom His disciples were expecting Him to conquer. And the clarity was too much for Peter in the moment.

“Jesus? Could I have a word with you?”

Yep – that’s Peter. Pulling Jesus aside. And what makes it even more astounding is what this same Peter had done moments before:

“You are the Messiah!” (Mark 8:29). That was Peter confessing Jesus as the Son of the Living God. But here He is, concerned that Jesus surely has some misunderstanding about what it means to be that Messiah. Surely the Messiah could not be killed. Could not be humiliated. Could not be be rejected. Jesus just needed a bit of correction.

And so we shake our heads at Peter – poor, poor Peter – the one who can’t seem to get out of his own way so many times in the gospels. It’s amazing, though, how many times I scoff at another only to find the Holy Spirit turning the mirror on me. The truth is I find myself pulling Jesus aside all the time. It’s during all those times when I read something He said or did, and think to myself, Surely He didn’t mean what it sounded like it meant. Or, surely this doesn’t apply to me in the way it seems to.

Ever do that? Here are three times it’s happened to me recently:

1. Because of His extremity.

As a matter of fact, if we keep reading in Mark 8, we will find that Jesus not only predicted that He would go to the cross; He said that anyone who follows Him would have to take up their own cross as well. Now I read that, and I think to myself, Sure, Jesus. I’ll be ready for that. But we both know that you aren’t really asking me to die.

Except that might indeed be what He’s asking me to do. If not physically, He’s certainly asking me to do it spiritually. Emotionally. To my dreams, ambitions, and sin. He’s commanding this death in me. For real. 

2. Because of His intrusion. 

Jesus really doesn’t do the “personal space” thing very well. In fact, He seems bent on invading the most private parts of our lives. He is intent on disturbing not only our actions, but our hearts, emotions, and thoughts. He will push Himself further and further in, and sometimes, it’s frankly very awkward. You want to do one thing, and Jesus has simply barged His way in. So you need to just pull Him aside and help Him see that you still value your independence and rights, though you are glad to be in a “relationship” with Him.

3. Because of His simplicity.

“Don’t worry.” Jesus said that, and it’s more than a suggestion. It’s a command. That means the anxiety I feel is more than a momentary feeling; it’s disobedience. But here, too, I pull Jesus aside: Don’t worry? Come on, Jesus. You can’t really mean that. I mean, look at the level of responsibility I have. And have you looked around the world lately? Imagine trying to raise a kid in these circumstances. 

Sometimes we pull Jesus aside not because His commands seem to extreme, and not because they are so intrusive, but because they are so naive. So simple. Especially given the complex nature of all our issues… right?

Unless, of course, Jesus isn’t interested in being polite and accommodating, but is instead interested in burning away the chaff of our lives with His love, no matter how awkward it might be in the moment.

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The True Issue at the Bottom of Kingdom Investment

“You evil, lazy slave!”

These are the words the master had for the third servant in Jesus’ story recorded in Matthew 25. Each had been given a substantial sum of money; each had made choices about what to do with it. The first two servants, with varying success, had taken what had been entrusted to them and put it to work. When the master came back, these two were lauded for their good investment and faithful stewardship.

But not the third.

The third took his talent, dug a hole, and put it in the ground. And the master had that harsh rebuke for him.

He was wicked. And he was lazy. And here is the end result:

“So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:28-30).

Jesus told this story, along with a few others, during His last days in Jerusalem. All of the stories in Matthew 25 are centered around the theme of readiness. Jesus wanted His followers to live with the end in mind; convinced that He would return at a moment’s notice, and to be ready at a moment’s notice for that inevitable coming.

We look at this story and take many applications from it. We see the need to make the most of what we’ve been given. We see that there is an active stance we must take while waiting for Jesus to return. We see that we must make wise choices for the sake of the kingdom.

But there is an issue at the bottom of this kind of kingdom investment. The issues, as is always the case, is what we believe about God.

Look back at the way the third servant responded when the master returned and asked what had been done with the gifts He had given:

“Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25).

See it? I know you.

But he did not.

Nowhere in this story do we have the slightest indication that the master was a hard man. Nowhere do we see him being unfair. Nowhere do we find him being stingy or overbearing. Instead, we see him being generous, and overly so at that. Even though the master distributed the talents unevenly, the smallest portion was a gigantic sum.

I know you says the third servant.

But he did not.

This is the root of the issue. This is the bottom of it all. The real question, then, is not what you are going to do with what God has given you. The real question is, “Do you really know Him?”

Do you really know His generosity? Do you really know His kindness? Do you really know His love? Do you really know Him?

What you do is a reflection of what you believe.

Today, then, as we either hold tightly to what we’ve been given, bent on our own self-preservation, refusing to relinquish our grip out of fear or anxiety or greed, then we would do well to ask ourselves that question:

Do we really know Him?

 

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The Promise of Bearing Fruit

There’s a big difference between a promise and a command.

Every kid knows that’s true. Think about the difference between “I promise that we are going to get ice cream” and “Clean your room.” See? Different. But why are those things different? And why does it matter to us when it comes to God’s work in us? It’s because a promise is focused on the character and power of the one doing the promising.

When I make a promise to my children, it is up to me to keep that promise. If I fail to do so, it might be for a number of reasons. Maybe I overshot my own power and I said I was capable of delivering something I could not. Or perhaps I had the best of intentions when I made the promise originally, but then some new information came about or the circumstances changed, and that change kept me from keeping my word. Or maybe I am just a liar and enjoy disappointing people. In any of these cases, my failure to keep my promise is a reflection on me. It’s a confirmation of my imperfect knowledge, incomplete power, and inadequate character.

Not. So. With. God.

He makes promises that He not only intends to keep, but that He actually will. If it were not so, then the failure is a reflection on Him. Failure on the part of God to keep His promises is an indictment on His perfect character and absolute power.

That’s what makes John 15:5 so glorious:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.”

This isn’t a command; it’s a promise. Now that’s not to say Jesus doesn’t also command submission and obedience in His children; He certainly does. But in this passage? He promises that if we remain, or abide, in Him, we will bear much fruit.

Have you ever considered that the bearing of fruit – these godly attributes that develop in increasing measure in the life of the Christian – is a promise? That a life of fruit is a reflection on the perfect character and absolute power of God? That the failure for this to happen is an indictment on His perfection? Thank God it’s true.

For all of us who look inside ourselves and see, even after all this time, the lack of love, lack of patience, lack of goodness, lack of purity… For all of us frustrated at our double-mindedness and failure to be rightly and purely motivated… For all of us who think, in our best moments, that we should surely be far further along in our relationship with Jesus by now…

For all of us, God is bound by His own perfection to bring His promise to fulfillment in us.

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MLK: “Morality cannot be legislated; behavior can be regulated.”

Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion.

Well, there’s half-truth involved here.

Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart.

But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated.

It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.

So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.

—Martin Luther King Jr.’s address at Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963.

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The Blessing of Doing Stuff You’re Bad At

Every Tuesday and Thursday for a few years I’ve played basketball with a few other guys.

There have been glimmers of athletic ability; the occasional fast break lay up; the rare three point shot; and couple of rebounds. But most of the time I just fall down.

In fact, I count it as a win every day that I fall down less than three times. Most of the time it’s more. I’m not very good at basketball.

Nobody, including me, really likes to do the stuff that they’re bad at. It might not be good for your pride, but it’s good for your soul because doing something you’re bad at is a great check point to see how deeply you really believe the gospel.

When you only do the things you know, understand, and are reasonably good at doing, then you’re not really working the “gospel muscle.” But when you find yourself falling down because of your lack of coordination in front of 9 other grown men… well, you know pretty quick whether you believe Jesus really loves you and is proud of you.

The gospel reminders are everywhere. And maybe one of the tests this week for me as to how deeply I know, understand, and have believed the gospel is how I respond to something like a basketball game.

Though my knees are going to hurt, maybe my soul will be lifted up.

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Love the Church More Than Its Health

Great post here from Jonathan Leeman:

This one goes out to the doctrine guys. The guys with ecclesiological opinions. The pastors and elders who think the Bible addresses the practices and structures of the church.

Wait a second, I’m talking about myself, and maybe you. I thank God for you, and I rejoice to consider myself a co-participant with you in working for Christ’s kingdom.

Yet there’s a temptation I have noticed that you and I are susceptible to: we can love our vision of what a church should be more than we love the people who compose it. We can be like the unmarried man who loves the idea of a wife, but who marries a real woman and finds it harder to love her than the idea of her. Or like the mother who loves her dream of the perfect daughter more than the daughter herself.

This is an implicit danger for all of us who have learned much from God-given books and conferences and ministries about “healthy churches.” We start loving the idea of a healthy church more than the church God has placed us in.

Read the rest here.

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What To Do When No One Talks in Your Group

I’ve led quite a few community groups, Sunday school classes, and other kinds of small group environments. And I’ve found that most people can find something to say – except when they need to find something to say. Even though sitting in a small group environment isn’t quite as paralyzing as delivering a speech before an audience, it can still be intimidating. Part of a healthy Bible study small group is conversation. There should be give and take between the leader and those in the group so that people don’t just listen to the truth of the Word — they interact with it.

This gives them the opportunity to process God’s Word in a personal way, sharing what the implications are in their own lives. A small group leader might have a vision in his or her mind of a group sharing hearts and bearing burdens freely with each other, but they will likely, at some point, face that dreaded awkward silence.

You ask a question and everyone looks down. You seek feedback and only hear crickets. You know that people in the group are intelligent, thoughtful, and almost certainly struggling with something, yet you feel like you couldn’t pry a word out with a crowbar.

So what can a small group leader do about a group where no one talks?

1. Set the expectation early.

Whether we know it or not, we are constantly creating a culture of expectations. We do it in our homes, workplaces, and small groups. If a leader spends the entire first group meeting talking, dispensing information about how the group will work, they shouldn’t be surprised when they come to week two and no one has anything to say. In their attempt to get all the information out on the table, they’ve unknowingly set the expectation that this group is about sitting and listening. But if from the beginning, questions require answers and a level of personal disclosure is expected, then that sharing will naturally grow over time.

2. Let people tell a story.

Everybody has at least one good story — the experiences that brought him or her to your small group. And in that story, there’s likely a combination of joy, pain, and excitement. Just about everyone has at least one great experience they want to tell someone about. Maybe it’s a bad date, a great vacation, a favorite birthday, a terrible apartment, or a funny story from the office. Why not give people a chance to tell their stories in your Bible study group?

You might do this by setting aside a few minutes at the beginning of each group and asking a volunteer to share a little about his or her life. Or a leader could weave the stories into the discussion. If you sense that your group is having trouble responding to questions, change the form of the question to reflect a more story-oriented approach. For example, if you’re talking about Jesus’ teachings on money, you could throw in a question that leads to a piece of someone’s story — maybe something like: “At what time in your life were you the most financially burdened?” Then gently probe the person to share more about that time in his or her life. That brief amount of sharing will likely open up more doors in the future for greater, deeper discussion.

3. Don’t be afraid of the silence.

It’s not as awkward as a leader typically thinks it is. Don’t rush to answer the question; sometimes it’s OK for a question to hang in the air for a little bit. When we rush too quickly past that silence, we may prevent a great conversation from taking place. When we are willing to live with the silence, at least for a little while, we give people the space to think and process. Eventually, something will almost certainly come out.

4. Choose group material that encourages discussion.

A church leader can do a lot to help their leaders in this respect. If a church wants there to be a level of self-disclosure in its groups, a church leader must equip their small group leaders with Bible study material that sets them up to make that happen.

For example, smallgroup.com provides studies that have been writer with the assumption that there will be give and take, question and answer, sharing and listening in a Bible study group. By signing up for a two-week free trial, you can view examples of these discussion-oriented studies that can be customized to align to a sermon series or a specific focus for your small group.

As group leaders and church leaders who lead group leaders, you can help people create environments where a combination of sharing and listening is the rule, not the exception. Let’s do all we can to make sure our leaders have all they need to help them facilitate these kinds of genuine, relational, life-changing groups.

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The God Who Laughs… And Those Who Hide

He is the God who Provides. He’s also the God who Saves. He is yet still the God who Delivers. But He’s also the God who Laughs.

This laughter of God is either immensely comforting, or incredibly frustrating, and which one depends on your standing in relation to Him. Psalm 2 gives us the picture of the laughing God, and also the picture of these two responses. The psalm begins like this:

Why do the nations rebel and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the LORD and His Anointed One: “Let us tear off their chains and free ourselves from their restraints.

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them (Psalm 2:1-4).

The issue at hand in this psalm is one of authority. The kings of the earth, those of great power and prestige, look at the sovereign rule of God and determine that they are better charters of their destinies than God Himself. From their perspective, His rule and law is oppressive; it’s something to be shaken off if true freedom is to be pursued and gained. So they rebel. They conspire. They fight…

And the Lord laughs.

He chuckles at the feeble attempts in relation to His great power. He smirks at those who think they have any true authority or power. He grins at the arrogance and naivite of these potentates. And he laughs at their misshapen perspective, for what they think are chains of bondage are really the constraints of love. And what they think are the shackles of oppression are really the vanguards of grace. Like a Father who smiles knowingly at the 5-year-old who packs a bag of pennies and stuffed animals to run away from home, so does the Lord look on those who would pursue their idea of freedom.

This sets up the exclusive nature of this psalm, for there are two distinct people represented here. The first group are these rulers and those who follow Him. It’s those who are rebels both by their nature and their choices; those that are at war with Him either knowingly or unknowingly. And all of us have been at that camp at one point or another in our lives. We all have been beating on the chest of the One so big He doesn’t feel the fists.

But the thing that’s penetrating to me about this psalm today is not this group; it’s the other one.

See, sometimes we think the opposite of this group – the opposite of the rebels – are the allies. If these people are the ones standing against God and His kingdom, then the other group of people must be those aligned with Him… right?

Yes and no, I think. The reason why it’s yes and no is because this psalm doesn’t present those who are aligned with God and His Son to be allies. It’s not a picture of two opposing armies, one commanded by the mighty general of God. Instead, those who are aligned with Jesus are those who are taking refuge in Him:

So now, kings, be wise; receive instruction, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with reverential awe and rejoice with trembling. Pay homage to the Son or He will be angry and you will perish in your rebellion, for His anger may ignite at any moment. All those who take refuge in Him are happy (Psalm 2:10-12).

It’s that last part that’s getting to me: All those who take refuge in Him are happy. That doesn’t sound like someone who is aligned with God; it sounds like someone who is hiding behind God. This is the true “other side.”

Sometimes we might think that God is fortunate to have us – our talents, our gifts, our smarts, our stuff – on His side. In fact, He’s pretty lucky that we’re not on the other side in this battle. How fortunate for Him! But if that’s the case, then the same arrogance that marks the rulers of the earth is present in us as well; it’s only a little bit more camouflaged.

In this psalm at least, if you’re not standing against God, then you are hiding behind Him. You are taking refuge in Him.

The Lord of Hosts, the One who laughs, doesn’t need me this morning. And if I stand against Him, I am swimming more upstream than I can possibly imagine. But if I am with Him, then I am hiding behind Him.

Blessed are us who do that. Blessed are those who are hiding in Him.

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