Posted by MK | Filed under Theology
Once upon a time, I ran a few marathons. Now in case you’ve never made the decision to put yourself through a 26.2 mile race, let me sum up the experience for you:
A marathon is when you pay money to feel terrible.
And I felt terrible. About mile 20, I felt like my internal organs were shutting down. And about mile 23 I was sure that this is what death felt like. But I finished the race… and then I passed out in the parking lot. But eventually anyone, including me, recovers from that kind of thing, and when I could finally move out of the bed, I found my way to a computer and checked my time.
It was bad. Really bad. Really bad for a 55 year old woman. And I remember thinking, I can do better than that. So I signed up for another one.
I started the training process over again, until a few weeks later when the alarm clock went off and I woke up to hear the sound of rain drops falling outside. It was then I realized that I just don’t like running that much. So I went back to sleep and didn’t run again for a year.
My “what” had outpaced my “why.” Under the weight of the circumstances of that morning, my “what” collapsed.
It occurs to me that this is why Paul always seems to tie his commands in the New Testament to the gospel in the New Testament. The commands are the “what;” the gospel is the “why”:
Love, as Christ has loved you.
Forgive, as Christ has forgiven you.
Serve, for Christ has served you.
Take the last place, for Christ has taken it for you.
That’s the why. And it’s important to have a really good “why” because there will come a day for all of us when we won’t feel like doing the “what” any more. The weight will be too heavy; the cost will feel too great. It’s in those moments that we must have a sufficient “why” to keep us going.
Don’t let your “what” outpace your “why.”
Posted by MK | Filed under Theology
“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5).
Good morning, soul. It’s another day that the Lord has made.
What’s that? Why am I talking to you? You know as well as I do. We’ve lived together long enough now to know that you, soul, are a listener. You are constantly listening to voices all around you. So I’m talking because you are going to listen to someone today, and I’d rather be proactive and make sure you’re hearing the right message. Now let’s get back do it. You seem downcast and troubled this morning. Why is that?
All those things are true. We do have a busy day today, and I also wish we would have had more sleep last night. And I just took a look at our calendar – you’re exactly right. There are going to be some challenging things that happen today. No denying that. The question for us, then, is how do we want to respond.
I disagree with you. I think we actually CAN help how we feel. That’s why I’m talking to you right now. See, soul, you are right now letting your circumstances dictate to you your level of joy and hope. As long as we do take that route, we are letting our emotions guide us, and that’s a misplacement of those emotions. We need to be guided by faith.
Well, faith in God for starters. You know as well as I do that God has been faithful up to this point, and if He fails us this time, it will be the first time. That of course doesn’t mean the day is any less challenging; it just means that we will go through all the things the day holds for us with a sense of purpose and hope because we believe in the presence and providence of God.
I beg to differ. I think it makes all the difference in the world. It means that whatever the result of today is, God will not be taken by surprise even if we are. And regardless of what the result of today is, we can know together that God’s love for us has not wavered. I know that there are problems to be fixed and issues to be resolved, but none of those problems are so great as the problem that God has already fixed for us.
Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. I think one of our problems is that we don’t see the problem of sin and death as being big enough. If we truly did, then all the things we will deal with today would pale in comparison. We wouldn’t be so caught up in the emotion and anxiety of the moment when we see those moments in light of eternity.
On the contrary, soul. This shouldn’t make us aloof to the people and problems around us; it will actually make more attune to them. That’s because we know that God has proven His love and care for us at the cross. How, then, could we expect that He would cease caring about us now? It’s a great thing to know that no matter what happens, God is going to take care of you.
I’d be glad to say it again: God will take care of you.
Well, I suppose the way we respond to the challenges we know will come is not with fear or avoidance; instead, we charge headlong into them, and as we do, we ask the question, “What would the gospel have me do in this situation?” See, when you think about it like that, all the challenges of today are really opportunities. And no, I’m not talking about the kind of self-help talk that just says challenges are opportunities in disguise. What I mean is that every challenge is a chance for us to be reminded of the gospel. When things get tough, we get to flex our gospel muscle and remind ourselves that we are secure in Christ, no matter what else happens in our job, our health, or our relationships. We are first and foremost the child of God.
Come on, soul. You know it’s true. Think about faith like a muscle. If you want to build any other muscle, you do it by putting pressure on it. That’s how it grows stronger. So we can look at all of these situations today as that kind of pressure – pressure that will help us grow in how deeply we accept our own acceptance in Christ. How deeply we truly believe the truth of the gospel.
I’m not sure yet how we should respond to the stuff of today, because we don’t yet know everything the day holds. But the Holy Spirit will help us know. I’m sure there will be times to humbly accept responsibility for mistakes and acknowledge our shortcomings. I also know there will be a lot of laughter and freedom. Only time will let us know for sure.
I know you don’t feel better yet. That’s why I’m not done talking. I’ll be having conversations like this with you throughout the day. So, ready to go?
Take a look at this video. The voice is the truly fine actor, now deceased, Philip Seymour Hoffman. The first few lines of the video are his reflections about pleasure. He notes:
“Pleasure is not happiness, because I kill pleasure. I take too much of it and make it unpleasurable. There is no pleasure that I haven’t made myself sick on.”
This is especially moving given his fairly recent death. He acknowledges that he has thought extensively about the nature of pleasure and the difference between being pleasured and being truly happy.
It’s an almost scientific reflection on the nature of pleasure and how ultimately it leaves one disappointed. That’s because, if you believe the Bible, pleasure is not the end; it’s a sign post pointing you to something greater. Such was the case with the preacher in Ecclesiastes, another who was well versed in pleasure of all kinds:
I said to myself, “Go ahead, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy what is good.” But it turned out to be futile. I said about laughter, “It is madness,” and about pleasure, “What does this accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to let my body enjoy life with wine and how to grasp folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—until I could see what is good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3).
Futility. Madness. Emptiness. Unless you see the pleasure behind the pleasure.
Back to Hoffman’s video, and we find him saying there is no pleasure he hadn’t made himself sick on. This is our natural propensity. We find something that brings us the slightest amount of joy, the slightest amount of comfort or happiness, and we give ourselves fully to it. We lay down our lives for it. We worship at its altar only to find that our thirst is not truly quenched; our desires are not truly satisfied; our longings are not truly fulfilled. In the end, that which promised us happiness leaves us with a gaping kind of inner sickness.
We are, as a people, stricken with the disease of falling perpetually short in our pursuits. It’s not that we are pursuing the wrong things; it’s that we are pursuing those things to the wrong ends and in the wrong ways. When everything under the sun disappoints, we have no other option to look out from under the sun for what truly satisfies, before it’s too late:
Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. (Isaiah 55:1-2).
Posted by MK | Filed under Theology
I think the most profound part of this video is hearing this saint acknowledge that hell is difficult to talk about because any words we find will pale in comparison to the reality. Terrible is the place where we must tread lightly even in its description:
Posted by MK | Filed under Church
- Group think says that success comes with selfishness and self-promotion.
- Gospel think says that success comes with selflessness and Christ-promotion.
- Group think says that to get ahead, you should strive to impress others and get their attention.
- Gospel-think says that the best way to impress others is to count them worthy of your deeply sacrificial service.
- Group think says that you must look out for number one.
- Gospel think says that other people are number one.
- Group think says that you thrive by doing whatever it takes to get to the top.
- Gospel think says that you thrive by doing whatever it takes to serve those at the bottom.
- Group think says that you do the right thing when only when it’s convenient.
- Gospel think says that you do the right thing especially when it’s inconvenient.
- Group think says that you should do whatever gets you accolades.
- Gospel think says that you should do whatever gets Jesus accolades.
- Group think says that when times are hard, it’s time to quit.
- Gospel think says that when times are hard, God is actively at work to make us like Him.
The New Testament calls us to a different kind of ethic – it’s a new kind of obedience. It’s not one measured in adherence to a code, but an obedience that’s through and through – not just doing right, but being right. Not just acting with love, but truly loving. Not just willingly acting but feeling it as well. But in the middle of all of these demands, there is one that isn’t quite as exciting:
Don’t give up.
Persevere to the end.
Or, as Journey might put it, don’t stop believin’:
“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us…” Hebrews 12:1
“If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us…” 2 Timothy 2:12
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13
During those days, these verses were read largely in the context of persecuted believers, or in the prediction of persecution to come. Faith was or would be challenged with loss, and in light of the cost, many would abandon their confession. They would reject what they believed. They would give up and stop running the race of faith.
But I don’t currently live in a persecuted state, and I’m not often tempted to give up my beliefs based on threats of property seizure, social loss, or outright violence. Likely, if you’re reading this, you might not either. But the exhortations to remain in the faith are still there. It seems like a good time, then, for me (and others who live in relative freedom like me) to ask the question of our own selves:
If not persecution, what will make us give up our faith?
You could probably point to many things, so here’s one more to throw into the mix: materialism. Greed. Prosperity. This is what might make us give up our faith. To understand why, though, you have to dig in a bit to the basis of Christianity, and then how prosperity puts a challenge to it.
Christianity is, from the beginning, a humiliating religion. To come to Christ, you can be full of all kinds of sin. But the one thing that you cannot be full of is pride. That’s because the message of the Christianity is a self-debasing one – you are dead in your sin, and you can’t ultimately help yourself out of that condition. You are a person in the worst kind of need.
Understanding that helps us see why prosperity might be the thing in prosperous nations of the world that might most make us abandon our faith. With money comes misplaced security. With money comes misplaced confidence. With money comes the altered sense of self that makes us forget or neglect why we came to the cross in the first place.
Money makes us forget our need of God, and with that forgetfulness comes the abandonment of the gospel.
So be careful, all of us who are rich. Be careful that your money does not replace your God. Be careful that your money does not keep you from believing.
Posted by MK | Filed under Church
From Skye Jethani:
Throughout the first half of the 20th Century, New York harbor bustled with ocean liners transporting thousands of people between North America and Europe every week. Great ships like the Queen Mary and Normandie were celebrated as floating palaces, but very few passengers enjoyed their luxuries. Most who sailed on them were poor immigrants and refugees relegated to 3rd class accommodations. These ships served a highly utilitarian purpose—moving passengers and cargo from point A to point B. That’s why they were called “liners.”
But the glory days of the ocean liners began to fade in 1953 when a Comet roared across the Atlantic. The De Havilland Comet was the first commercial jetliner. The distance covered by an ocean liner in six days was traveled by a jetliner in six hours. Virtually overnight the vast Atlantic Ocean became “the pond.” By the 1960s the great ships were being laid up or sold for scrap. Many predicted the passenger shipping business would never recover. They were wrong.
A handful of innovative ship owners developed a new way for their fleets to produce revenue: cruises. Rather than crossing the Atlantic from point A to point B cruises sailed in a circuit, embarking and disembarking passengers from the same port. And their goal was not to transport passengers, but to get tourists to buy and consume more of the products and services onboard the ship. The shift from crossing to cruising was really a shift from transportation to consumption.
Because of this, over time cruise lines sought to increase the number of entertainment options onboard their ships. This triggered a rapid increase in the size of vessels being built, each one incorporating more of the features vacationers wanted. As a result, many of today’s gargantuan cruise ships dwarf the ocean liners of the past—something no one would have predicted 50 years ago when passenger shipping was believed to be on its deathbed.
Why am I talking about the history of the shipping industry? Well, I think it’s a helpful parallel for what’s happened in the American church over the last 40 years. Around the same time that jetliners were causing waves for the shipping industry, cultural changes were also rocking the church. Prior to the 1960s most churches in America were small with a very utilitarian function–they transported people into communion with God by providing the basic necessities for living a Christian life.
But by the 60s and 70s the Baby Boomers grew up and many stopped going to church. The culture had changed–secular values, youth culture, and entertainment had taken root and the church could no longer compete. Traditional churches, built for utility, struggled. But like some ship owners at the time, entrepreneurial pastors began tinkering to see if a new purpose for the church could be found…
Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
There was once a Gentile woman…
and without hope:
“By faith, Rahab the prostitute received the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed…” (Hebrews 11:31).
And there once a Gentile man…
and without hope:
“Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47).
The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Posted by MK | Filed under Church
“Words create worlds.”
I’m certainly not the first person that’s said that, but I am learning it to be true in many areas of life right now. Whether at home, work, or church I’m finding over and over again that because the tongue is the window to the heart, it’s important to say what you mean and mean what you say. And then say that thing over and over again because you become what you celebrate. One of the strongest ways to create a culture in any environment is through the language that you use.
But here’s the problem. We’ve seen over and over again that using a term, even when it’s a good and right term, especially when it’s not explained, causes an effect of dilution. The words, which once upon a time, had great meaning and significance, eventually become a sort of catch phrase that now means something very different than the original intent, or even worse, means nothing at all. Think about it:
These are good words. Right words. Powerful words. But for many of us, including me, they’ve lost their punch because they’ve become so ingrained in my vocabulary that I rarely stop and consider their true and full implications: “I’m saved. But saved from what? Saved to what? Was I in danger? How much danger? Who saved me, and at what cost?”
Something great is lost when words of value become catch phrases of a culture.
Such is the case, I think, with another word that got its 15 minutes of fame some years ago. That word is transparency. Or maybe you’ve met its cousin, authenticity. Or “being real.” The word rose to prominence as we were all talking about community, and having community, and being community, and in that community one of the keys was to be real. To not act like we have it all together. To not answer “Fine” when someone asks you how you’re doing. To admit and confess sin in the context of brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s a good idea. It’s a biblical idea. It’s an honest idea. But, as happens with words when they get popular, it has become diluted. The dilution in this case was a morphing of seeing transparency as a means to seeing transparency as an end. Here’s how James saw transparency in that way:
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect” (James 5:16).
This verse is transparency at its best. It’s a picture of someone who, convinced of the limitless grace and promised forgiveness of Jesus, confesses their sin. They lay themselves open and bare before others, not expecting shame or guilt, but instead expecting healing. It’s a crucial step on the road to holiness, but that’s just the thing – it’s one step on the road. It’s not an end in itself.
We have been right to value transparency, but in so valuing it, we have come to measure the depth of our relationships and our groups with how real we are. So there might be confession, over and over again, but nothing more. Just a bunch of people sitting around “being real.” Our transparency has become like a 2 day old open can of soda – diluted down so that it’s worth not much more than being spit out when it’s drunk in accidentally.
We confess to one another not so that we can be real with one another; we confess to one another because we have a desire to be made holy. To be healed. To stop sinning. And we are responsible and even blessed for aiding one another on that journey. James continues on in verses 19 and 20:
“My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.”
Let’s be transparent. Let’s be real. Let’s be authentic. But let’s not stop there. Let’s remind each other of the good news of the gospel, that Jesus not only has secured our forgiveness but also chosen us for holiness, and move each other along that road. Let’s keep going together and not camp out in the ditch before we get to the destination.
Posted by MK | Filed under Current Events
From Russell Moore:
The ruling isn’t just a win for evangelicals, like the Southern Baptist Greens. It’s a win for everyone. Here’s why. A government that can pave over the consciences of the Greens can steamroll over any dissent anywhere. Whether you agree or disagree with us about abortion, every American should want to see a government that is not powerful enough to set itself up as a god over the conscience.
As Christians, we believe in obeying the law and honoring our government authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17). But Jesus taught us to render unto Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to him. Our consciences are not held in a blind trust when we leave our church buildings on Sunday.
I hope this decision is a warning to the White House to stop such a cavalier disregard of religious liberty, seen both in this coercive mandate and, earlier, in their argument to do away with the ministerial exemption in hiring.
More than that, though, I pray for churches that can raise up a new generation to prize freedom of conscience and religious liberty for all. We won this case, and now is the time to thank God. But who could have imagined just a few years ago that we would even have to take such a thing to the United States Supreme Court? We must teach our children what it means to be free people, and what it means to follow Christ whatever the cost.
This is not just a political issue. The Apostle Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship when he was charged with disrupting the peace. All the way through the appeals process, he not only plead for his freedom, but he also preached the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 25-26). We should do so as well. But that means teaching the next generation that following Christ will be costly, and that they will be often viewed as strange and even subversive by a culture in which sexual liberation is the highest god in the pantheon. A discount-rate prosperity gospel will not supply such grit. The gospel of Jesus Christ will.