Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
Everybody’s got their opinions, and so everybody has advice. It’s advice about where to send your kids to school, what restaurant gives you the best meal for your money, how much you should have in your 401K… it’s everywhere. In fact, these “sayings” are so prolific that at some point you step back and realize that they can’t all be right. Take, for example, the issue of food.
Am I supposed to be eating a plant-based diet?
Can this soda I’m drinking really peel paint off my car?
How many antioxidants should I be taking in before I actually begin to resemble a blueberry in appearance?
Do I really have to eat like a caveman?
Sayings, sayings, sayings, and thanks to technology, there is no shortage of sources from which these sayings can come. How do you know who to believe? How do you know what to believe? The problem is that all of these sayings have an “other hand.” As in, “I know vegetables are good for me, but on the other hand…”
How refreshing, then, to come to a saying that has no other hand:
“This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Here finally is a saying that stands on its own accord. Here finally is a saying that has withstood the test of time. Here finally is a saying that has no other hand. And because it does not, it is worthy of full acceptance. Not partial. Not partly. It is worthy of full acceptance.
But as I navigate this day, a day like most any other, when I will be tempted to compromise on morals and values, when I will be prone to seek the approval of others or worry incessantly about whether my statement was smart or witty enough in their presence, when I will pay undue attention to things like my clothing, hairstyle, or kind of car I’m driving… on this day, I have to wonder just how fully I have accepted that which is worthy of full acceptance?
So today, I say with Paul, that this is as intrinsically and as gloriously true as it was centuries ago: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
Posted by MK | Filed under Ministry
I love pastors.
I love affirming pastors. I love speaking positively for pastors. That’s why this article is a bit different for me.
Pastors, I want to talk frankly and, hopefully, with a spirit of love, about one of the biggest mistakes I see many of you make. Most pastors have little emphasis, or sometimes, even knowledge about the content that is taught in groups in their churches.
I know you pastors would not think of coming to the pulpit unprepared. You know your text. You know your message. You have prayed about it. You have labored over it. You will not preach that sermon without much prayer and work.
It’s just too important. I completely agree. The centrality of preaching is paramount to the health of the church. I commend you for your prayers, your efforts, and your focus. You will not come to the pulpit unprepared.
But many of you don’t give adequate attention to the content used in your church’s groups. Those groups may be home groups, community groups, small groups, Sunday school classes, or a myriad of other names.
I really understand your reticence. You don’t want to micromanage. You don’t want to be controlling. You want to empower people to lead and choose for themselves. But, in a LifeWay Research study, we found that 75 percent of group leaders and members desired direction for the material used in their groups.
Did you get that? Three of four small group leaders explicitly said they are seeking direction. They want your leadership in this vital area of discipleship…
I can’t get enough of these guys:
Posted by MK | Filed under Theology
Maybe you’ve seen the hashtag as people post on social media about their vintage record player not playing, their coffee not containing the right amount of soy, or the cable going out at an inopportune moment. These are issues that we, in an affluent nation, have the luxury of having. People in other parts of the world don’t worry about stuff like that, and it’s because their concerns are of a more immediate and drastic nature. But here – where most people reading this blog don’t have to worry about whether or not their house is going to stand up for another night or whether there will be something – anything - to eat tonight, we have the luxury of other concerns. It strikes me that maybe this luxury goes beyond problems with our wifi service or cell phone reception; they also delve into the theological realm.
A close friend of mine recently made a statement that has been ringing in my mind for a couple of weeks:
“The reason we don’t believe in hell is because we didn’t grow up in a war torn country.”
In other words, the questioning of the existence of hell is a first world problem because most of us have never come face to face, at least knowingly, with the kind of evil that is readily apparent. We’ve not been slapped in the face with the great propensity of human wickedness. But if we had, then believing in hell would not be a question of theoretical speculation; it would be an absolute necessity.
Think of it like this. Imagine you are in a country where there is no free speech. Where no rights are protected. Where you go to sleep every night fearing what might happen in the darkness. Where the authorities do not wield the sword in vain or otherwise, and every family is left to their own recourse. Imagine you live knowing that no matter what happens, it will simply pass below the radar and be forgotten.
Your child might be taken.
You might be imprisoned unjustly at any moment.
All your worldly goods might be impounded or burned.
Virtually anything could happen, and you are powerless to stop it. And what’s worse, you know that no justice awaits the perpetrators.
In that kind of scenario, the question asked in hushed tones behind closed doors shifts. No longer do you wonder something like, “How can a loving God send people to eternal punishment?” There, in the midst of your terrible anonymity, you begin to wonder something different: “How can a perfect God allow this kind of injustice to take place?” It’s then, in that moment, you don’t wonder about the existence of hell; you cling to it as proof of God’s ultimate authority.
The reality of hell is a component of the gospel message, but one that makes us realize that the gospel is really in the end about God. It’s not that we aren’t included in that message; we truly, truly are. We are deeply loved by God, so much so that He sent His Son Jesus to die that we might be made right with Him. But the necessity of that death shows more than our value to God; it shows and validates His perfect character. It emphasizes that because God is perfectly just that someday there will indeed be an accounting for sin. Evil will be brought to justice. Things will be put in their proper order.
The reality of hell reminds us that nothing really and eternally passes below the radar. Not here in this country, and not somewhere else.
I guess it makes sense when you think of it like that…
Posted by MK | Filed under Theology
I didn’t go to the gym this morning. It wasn’t because I suddenly decided that working out was no longer beneficial. Nor was it because I had something else pressing come up at 5 am that I had to attend to. I didn’t go because I didn’t feel like going. And such is life.
Most of us live in a feelings driven culture. We eat, date, work on, and participate in that which we feel like; and we don’t do the things we don’t really feel like doing at a given moment. As a way of illustrating the place our feelings have in our lives, think about it like a train. In the case above, our feelings are the engine of the train. The cars behind the train are all the other parts of our lives – our diets, our relationships, our exercise schedule, our reading, the movies we watch, and so on. The engine of feelings pulls along the cars behind it, tugging us along to whatever destination we feel like getting to at a given moment.
The problem comes when today (and yes, I mean “today” because it’s going to happen today) when you don’t feel like doing the right thing. Or you feel like doing the wrong thing. You don’t feel like being patient with your kids; you don’t feel like reconciling with your spouse; you don’t feel like choosing holiness; and instead you feel like lashing out in anger, seeking revenge, or gratifying your sinful nature in any number of ways.
What happens then? More times than not, the engine of feelings keeps right on tugging and it goes until you feel like doing something else. Hopefully this time, though, it’s the right thing.
Perhaps there is a better way.
To keep with the train illustration, I would propose that we’ve got the wrong thing pulling us along. The engine of our lives shouldn’t be our feelings; it should be our faith. The driving force, then, in all these situations isn’t what you feel; it’s what you believe. You believe that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; you believe that Jesus is patient with you and you should therefore be patient with others; you believe that your mind is actually formed by what you put inside it; you believe that the Bible is the Holy Word of God; and so on. You believe all these things, and those beliefs are what is pulling along the cars.
So if faith is the engine, the next car is action, for that’s when faith is truly validated. It does little good to claim you believe that God will meet with you over the pages of Scripture but never read it. Is that faith? Not really. Faith pulls along the necessary action behind it, whether that means saying “I’m sorry,” or saying no to the extra piece of cake.
Then, behind action, comes the car of feelings. It’s funny that it works that way – you often don’t feel like doing something in the moment, but you do it anyway. Your action is pulled by your faith, and then feelings come along behind it, eventually catching up with what your faith has known all along. Eventually you do feel it; you’re glad you made that choice, but it doesn’t happen right away.
Faith. Then action. Then feelings follow. And slowly, by God’s grace, the length of chain that connects all those things together gets shorter and shorter. As we grow with Him, we find that our feelings are actually coming closer and closer to faith.
I think not.
If it’s happened once, it’s happened a thousand times to me. I do something, something (dare I say) good for someone else, and then in retrospect find that I didn’t really do that thing for them, but for myself. It was so that others would see me doing it. It was to garner praise from the person I was helping. It was to impressively display my aptitude or compassion for another. It happens all the time. And every time it happens, I’m reminded of something that’s as true as it is disturbing:
I cannot trust my own heart.
I, like you probably are, am a master at self-deception. I can trick myself into thinking the best of myself in virtually any situation. I kind of think think the prophet was onto something when he said, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable–who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:6).
Because the heart is deceitful, it’s an incredibly difficult thing to diagnose what’s really, truly happening inside you. That’s why David had to pray and ask the Lord to do it for him: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).
While we might not be able to truly see what’s inside of us, at least not in its fullness, what we do have today are some signposts that guide our way. Much different than looking into the abyss of our motives and innermost thoughts, these are two practical measures God tells us will point us to the condition of that which is unknowable. And thankfully, they’re as simple as the heart is complex:
1. Your money.
If you want to know where your heart is, just follow your money. We might make grand claims about our love and allegiance, and we might even believe these things ourselves. But the bank account don’t lie. The way we spend our money is an objective test of where our heart is:
“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
2. Your speech.
A friend recently told me that what’s down in the well comes up in the bucket. When we find ourselves spouting off in anger or gossip or slander it’s not because we were just caught up in the moment; it’s because that’s what down in our hearts. We are only showing off what’s been down in there the whole time:
“How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil” (Matthew 12:34-35).
Today, if you want to do a little introspection, then don’t start with the heart; it might just be lying to you. Start with the tongue. Continue with the wallet. Then move onto the gospel where we will find the only true power to not change our words or our spending habits, but the heart that is behind them both.
Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
Socrates used to ask a lot of questions. The Greek philospher believed that asking questions was the best way to teach; it inspired critical thinking about a subject to the end that the one being questioned would have a firmer and more grounded understanding of his or her position. Apparently he was right, because people have been practicing (with great success) the Socratic method of teaching for centuries. While it’s great in a teaching atmosphere, there comes a point when you have to stop asking questions and start moving forward. But what do we do with our questions?
“What is God’s will for my life?”
“Should I move here or there?”
“Should I go on that first date?”
“Should I take this job or not?”
All valid questions; all valid issues. They’re all questions that need to be asked because you aren’t going to open your Bible this morning and find the specific answer to those issues written in the margin. The danger comes when our questions become the end in themselves. I get it, though – I understand the appeal. The idea of intellectual leisure seems great; a bunch of guys sitting in a circle simply discussing what may or may not happen, what may or may not come next. But at some point there has to be some implementation; there has to be some action. This kind of endless series of discussion and questioning is what Paul warned his young disciple Timothy against:
“As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on” (1 Timothy 1:3-7).
Paul saw the appeal, too. We love our questions; we love our discussions. Conversely, we actually don’t want the answers we claim to seek for two reasons. First of all, the answers force us into commitment (which we don’t like) and makes us walk by faith, or answers make us confront the fact that our plans for our lives don’t really align with God’s revealed will. In either case, it’s a lot more fun to put on the face of angst and sit around discussing and diagnosing, pontificating and pondering.
This is where wisdom enters the picture.
Wisdom is not an endless series of unanswered questions; it’s not found in that circle of discussion. Real wisdom is in real life. It’s in making real decisions based on the information at hand. Wisdom is taking a step forward even if you don’t see the entire path laid out ahead of you. We can actually do this, not because we know all the answers to the questions, but because we know enough.
True, the answers might not be written in the margin of the Bible, but there are a lot of other things written in there. And the stuff that is in there gives us the ability to take the next step. Furthermore, the next step we need to take often isn’t a spectacular step. It’s probably something simple like apologizing to a loved one, extending forgiveness, making the smart financial decision, or exercising patience. God may not have revealed everything, but He’s revealed enough for us to take the next step.
So I would propose that you and I today ask the questions, but don’t do so as an end in itself. Ask the questions with an open Bible and an open will to do the next thing in our path. The questions will take care of themselves.
Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
I returned home from work the other day to find my 3-year old son, Christian, hard at work at the kitchen table with a set of markers. I looked over his shoulder at the paper below him and saw black splotches. He hasn’t yet grasped the idea of painting inside the lines much less actually drawing something that is clear, so all the colors get mixed together. So I asked him, “Christian, what are you making?” He looked up at me as if to say, “Isn’t it obvious?” then looked back down. He said, “A picture,” under his breath. So I asked the next obvious question: “What’s it a picture of?” Christian responded, “Picture of you.” I turned my head, trying to find myself in that picture as he finished it up and handed it to me with a huge smile on his face. And we took the black splotches of markers and hung it on our refrigerator. I walk by and look at it and am filled with a sense of pride, not because it’s a great picture, but because it’s the best picture he could do. And he gave it to me.
It makes me think a bit of the scene in Luke 9 when the disciples were confronted with an insurmountable issue:
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to Him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place” (Luke 9:10-13).
What complicated the problem even more was the other circumstances that the disciples found themselves. Just before this, they had been out working. Working hard. Jesus had sent them out on a mission trip of their own, and they had gone throughout the entire region to preach and to heal the sick. They were coming back from those long days and experiences, and they were tired. The situation was overwhelming.
Overwhelming for everyone, that is, except another character that enters the story. John includes this character in his account though Luke makes no mention of him. This character saw the same situation that the disciples did, but he reacted differently. Perhaps he reacted so differently because even though the facts of the situation remained the same, he saw them through different eyes. The new character is a little boy, a child, with even less to offer than the disciples. And yet his perspective on the situation was radically different than his older counterparts. John records it in chapter 6, verse 9: “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”
And so this little boy with five barley loaves and two fish did the one thing that the disciples never in their infinite wisdom thought to do. In all their strategy and their frustration about their own inability to affect any sort of change in their situation, they neglected to do what was implicit to this little boy: they never once thought to give what they had to Jesus.
It’s funny how as you grow your capacity for trust diminishes. As kids we are just naïve enough to think that our loaves and fish can do some good. We are just silly enough to think that our pathetic little picture can actually make our daddy smile. But as we grow, we become hardened by life and its situations to the point where if I wanted to give my dad a gift now, I would spend hours obsessing over whether or not it was good enough. Likewise, I know there will come a time when Christian doesn’t bring his drawings to me any more, because someday he will recognize them as just black splotches. But not yet, and not with this boy either.
He was too young to realize that what he had to give was pointless in the face of the problem. He was too naïve to recognize the seriousness of the issue and the smallness of his solution to it. He foolishly brought what he had with a smile on his face, with no self-consciousness about it all, and he gave it.
But perhaps in that moment, what was needed more than anything else—more than food, more than money, more than adequate resources, was a willingness to give what we have to our Father, regardless of how pathetic it looks, because we trust in Him and His ability more than our own answers to the problems of the world. Small acts of courageous faith can have miraculous results.
The disciples’ job was to be the conduit of the work of Jesus. That was their responsibility, and that is ours. It is to throw our pathetic black splotches of effort onto the paper and entrust it to our Father to do with it what only He can do. You do something; and do it like a child. You can choose to embrace the foolishness of this child and give what you have and do what you can do, and trust Jesus with the rest. The boy gave, and Jesus, taking the traditional posture of Jewish prayer, looked up into heaven and multiplied. And as the disciples began to hand out the bread, more and more miraculously showed up. The fish, too, and at the end of the day, there were baskets left over. All from this pathetic attempt to solve an insolvable problem. Small acts of courageous faith, acts of seemingly insignificant proportions, can have miraculous results.
And maybe, just maybe, there is a cosmic refrigerator somewhere where another loving Daddy tacks up the miserable black splotches of His kids. Maybe hanging on that refrigerator is a slingshot that was far too small to change a giant. Maybe hanging there are two small coins that a lowly woman gave away that were not worth much to anyone else. Maybe there are the nets that some insignificant fisherman dropped to follow a traveling preacher. And maybe there is a list of 95 things wrong with the church that a monk nailed to a church door a long time ago. Maybe there is some uneaten food that a female missionary pushed aside because the people of China were starving. And maybe there is a spot waiting for your efforts, small though they maybe, but when offered in faith can become through which God multiplies His work.