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.
“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15).
Two terms are used in Genesis 2:15 to describe the job God gave to Adam: “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” In the Old Testament, the words “work” and “watch over” are most frequently used in discussions of human service to God, rather than describing a farmer’s job. Surprisingly, these words are often connected to worship, or even the actions of priests serving in the tabernacle of God.
If Adam had a business card, it would have read “Gardener.” Nothing exciting there. And yet the words God used to describe his job are anything but ordinary. Perhaps, at least in God’s mind, there isn’t such a wide divide between those things as there is to us.
Think of it like this: God could have, if He wanted, filled the whole earth with human beings in the same way He fashioned Adam—from the dust of the ground. But rather than taking that approach, He looked on Adam and gave him and his wife the responsibility and privilege of populating the earth. It’s still controlled, upheld, and blessed by God, but He chose in His sovereignty to use regular people as the means of establish- ing His intent on earth. Work can be seen much in the same way. Through work, God is using regular, ordinary people as His means of providing for His creation.
As our perspective on work changes through the gospel, we begin to see that the menial tasks we find ourselves involved in day in and day out are actually—and amazingly—infused with incredible meaning. They are the sovereignly designed means by which God is caring for the people of the earth. He has ordained that we, as human beings, exist in a state of interdependence on each other. That doesn’t mean God has isolated Himself from the world; it simply means that God is providentially using the talents, opportunities, and regular old jobs of regular old people to provide and care for humanity.
Think of that. As we work, we are the means of God. We become like the rain that falls on the just and unjust alike—the means of common grace through which human life and well-being is sustained and provided for. When we see it like that, a sense of great wonder and awe returns to our everyday working life, for we come to see that God is channeling His love through us as we work. He doesn’t just work through people involved in service industries, whose mission statements are written to benefit mankind. He channels His love through the man who collects the garbage on the streets early in the morning so that a community can be clean and free of disease. It happens through the farmer who raises crops that can be turned into clothes to keep children warm. It happens, as Martin Luther said during his time, even through the most humble functions and stations of life: God Himself is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.
Centuries later, Luther’s namesake Martin Luther King Jr. would say something similar: “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
Not only should we look at our own jobs with a renewed sense of awe as we are being used by God for the ultimate good of others; but every single job deserves our respect and gratitude. It’s these common, everyday, run-of-the-mill jobs that channel the love of God and therefore are a sacred means of bringing great honor to Him. When you stop seeing your job as the means to a paycheck and start seeing it as a means of glorifying the providing God, it changes the way you flip burgers, change diapers, or put together a report.
Seeing work with this divine perspective isn’t only liberating; it’s also constraining. It makes you realign your thinking and examine your purposes. It forces you to examine whether you are indeed working with God and others in mind or whether you are simply socking away money until you can retire and move to Florida. It constrains the kind of career you have, forcing you to examine whether or not your job is a legitimate expression of the grace and care of God or whether your vocation is one bent on self-promotion and greed.
But it’s through evaluating these issues that we actually return to the honor and sacredness of work. It is through this examination that we see the transcendent purpose God has for work, and that this purpose is found not necessarily through changing jobs, but through renewing your perspective right where you are.
Taken from my book Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.
I can’t imagine how this would ever be a useful skill, and yet I can’t stop watching it.
Way to go, hidden talent guy:
Every decision we make, whether good or bad, is deeply rooted in belief. When we are tempted to be greedy with our finances, we have to make a choice to believe that it’s better to give than receive. If we believe that’s true, we’ll act accordingly. If we don’t, then we’ll build bigger barns to house our stuff. When we are tempted to think that our marriage has grown stale and that we would be more fulfilled outside of it, we have to make a choice to believe that God has placed us together with our spouse. If we don’t, then we’ll quickly find ourselves on a dating Web site posing as someone younger and cooler than our true selves. When we are tempted to overeat and indulge ourselves, we have to make a choice to believe that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and should be treated as such. If we don’t really believe that, then there’s all the more reason for an extra piece of pie. And the list goes on and on.
Christianity is about believing, but make no mistake: believing is work. Problem is that many of us are working hard at the wrong thing. We’re working hard not to sin. We’re working hard to be generous. We’re working hard to read the Bible. What we should be working hard to do is believe in each and every one of those situations. We believe that in each of those individual moments, God’s resources of grace, power, patience, hope, and endurance won’t run dry. We believe in Him as the great supplier of what we need, and we do so one need at a time.
So what is the core of that believing? It’s not believing that nothing bad is going to happen, but instead focusing our mind and heart on God. That God is sovereign. That He is wise. That He is good. It’s not only believing in God’s power as much as it is believing in His character.
If all we do is trust God for a positive outcome, we are subtly implying that we, in our own infinite knowledge and wisdom, know what is best. That doesn’t mean we don’t pray specifically for healing, for an end to suffering, for whatever— we certainly do. But we pray undergirded with confidence not only in what God can do but in who God is. That’s really what we are choosing to believe. We are choosing to believe not so much that He would spare us from having hardship and pain, but if that is indeed what He chooses for us, He will be faithful to uphold us with His strength. Again and again.
But when you’re staring down the barrel of the proverbial gun of fear and uncertainty, you can’t help but think about the future. You can’t imagine having the strength to go through “what might happen.” But the truth is, you don’t have to.
Jesus reminded us to petition God for our daily bread. And when we wake up in the morning, to petition Him all over again for tomorrow’s bread. The choice to believe is one that must be made over and over again in a myriad of contexts and situations. When you’re on the edge of that thing that’s keeping you up at night worrying, you don’t have to believe about tomorrow. You only have to believe for today, and part of believing for today is believing God will help you believe tomorrow all over again. But another part of that belief is recognizing that in this moment—the one right now—you have the choice to believe. And that kind of faith is work. Hard work.
Taken from my book, Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God.
You know you’ve been there:
You deserve this.
That’s the popular marketing message you see coming at you from cars, furniture companies, and custom bath tub installers right now. Their emphasis seems to have shifted from highlighting the various attributes of the product they’re hocking and more to an emotional appeal, which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Good marketers know that you’ve got to do more than educate a consumer about their product; they’ve got to touch your heart. That’s exactly what they’re doing with this message, so that’s what you get:
You deserve this.
Marketers seem to have touched something that’s innate inside most of us, even if we don’t like to admit it. It’s the same thing that gets riled up with things don’t go the way we should. It’s that sense of indignation when something as simple as a traffic jam impedes our progress or throws off our schedule. It’s that surprise when we get passed over for the promotion or denied for the huge mortgage we applied for.
We, at a deep heart level, live with a sense of entitlement. Perhaps some of it is because we are Americans (at least most of us are who are reading this blog right now). We have heard about these God-given rights that we are entitled to from the day we are born. While it’s true that all of us are created in the image of God and therefore all of us warrant a certain amount of dignity and respect, there’s also a dark side to our entitlement. It’s that dark side that the marketing messages appeal to, and that dark side that is so easily offended when things don’t go our way. Our entitlement betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of our rightful place in the universe.
To potentially oversimplify the issue, let me say it like this: Owners have rights. Think about it in terms of a car. You purchase an automobile outright. You pay cash, like any good student of Dave Ramsey should do, and you drive away in that vehicle free and clear. You immediately pull into McDonald’s and buy 4 cheeseburgers, an order of fries, and a chocolate shake. Then you eat it all in that car, and before you get to your destination, you’ve got ketchup, cheese stains, and spilled ice cream all over the seats.
No biggie – that’s your car.
It’s a different story, though, if you picked up that vehicle from Hertz instead of the dealership. In the first case, you own the car; in the second, you’re only borrowing it. In the first scenario, you have the right to eat cheese fries in your vehicle. In fact, you have the right to be offended if a second party eats cheese fries in that vehicle but you have a cheese fries ban in place. In the second, you don’t get to make the rules.
Here’s the rub about the universe: We don’t really own anything. Our money, our health, our homes, our talents, even the next breath – we don’t own any of it.
“The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord;for He laid its foundation on the seas and established it on the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2).
“The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24-25).
God is the owner. And owners have rights.
We are the stewards. The users. The borrowers. And stewards don’t have rights; stewards only have responsibilities.
Not sure the kids are ready for this one:
This post was taken from my book Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life available here.
In Ephesians 5, Paul gives some very practical counsel to husbands and wives in the context of marriage. He then closes his exhortation by cracking the door to something else:
“This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband” (Eph. 5:32-33).
Paul, in this one single sentence, opens the door to the great mystery of what’s really happening when a man and a woman are joined together in marriage. According to Paul, the great mystery is that marriage isn’t at its core about procreation. It’s not about companionship. It’s not about sex. Marriage is about the gospel.
If you read back through Ephesians 5, you see Paul reflecting on husbands and wives through the gospel lens. Husbands, he says, should treat their wives as Christ treats the church, loving them in a self-sacrificial kind of leadership. Wives, meanwhile, should follow their husbands as the church follows Christ, with confidence in their love and care for them. Simple enough, right? Marriage and the gospel. Husbands and Jesus. Wives and the church. But to really embrace this mystery, we need to consider this question: Does the gospel illustrate marriage, or does marriage illustrate the gospel? The answer is what will really help us grasp the immensity of what we’re dealing with here.
If you have kids, you know the power of an illustration, especially when trying to explain a concept rather than a tangible entity. Let’s say that you want to talk to your kids about something like perseverance. That’s a concept. So how do you explain something conceptual like that? You look for something tangible as an illustration. We do this in parenting all the time.
One of the things our kids have to do every morning is make their beds. It took a while for them to embrace the act, but now that they’ve been doing it for a while, it’s become a regular part of their routine along with brushing their teeth (most mornings) and combing their hair (most of the other mornings). Here’s the thing, though—they aren’t very good bedmakers. You don’t get a traditional Army tuck and tighten with these kids. You get a bedspread pulled up to the pillows and then awkwardly smoothed out as best they can.
Our daughter has even found a loophole in the bed-making process. For a couple of years now, she has chosen to sleep on top of her sheets and quilt, only under a small decorative blanket. She will put on hat, gloves, and socks when it gets cold, all because she knows that it’s much easier to fold that three-by-three-foot square than all the rest of her covers.
My wife and I don’t, on a daily basis, go in and corect their bedmaking. We don’t meticulously respread their blankets and straighten their pillows. The highest goal of the exercise isn’t to have a neatly made bed; it’s to teach them a sense, albeit small, of daily responsibility. The bedmaking is the illustration of the concept. The starting point is the responsibility, and it’s the end game as well. First comes the desire to instill responsibility; then comes the illustration meant to emphasize it. The whole exercise is a failure if all they ever learn is how to neatly fold a few sheets.
The order is important.
The question of whether the gospel illustrates marriage, or marriage illustrates the gospel, is important. The answer points us to the highest end of marriage. So the question, in other words, goes like this: Did God institute marriage, and then think to Himself that what He made looks a lot like what He’s doing through the relationship between Christ and the church, or did He specifically institute marriage to be illustrative of what He has always had in His mind and heart from the beginning of time in the gospel? The answer is apparent. The gospel is the highest end. Marriage is not. Is it really too much of a stretch to think that God specifically designed marriage, even from the beginning, with this end in mind? Is it too hard to believe that He would have that kind of foresight and intentionality? I don’t think it is.
Now we might be tempted to think this truth actually lessens the importance of marriage. It’s just an illustration we might argue. It’s like making the bed; if it doesn’t work, God can find something else to show us to illustrate the relationship between Jesus and the church. But nothing could be further from the truth. The importance of marriage is actually heightened when you see its illustrative relationship to the gospel. We come to understand that marriage cannot be disposable because the gospel is not disposable. Husbands cannot shirk their responsibility because Jesus would never shirk His. Wives cannot get bored and stray because the church is united to Christ. Seeing the gospel as the end serves to propel us into the gravity of what’s happening in our typical marriages.
We are doing so much more than eating, drinking, working, parenting, and sleeping together. We have been chosen by the living and eternal God to be the walking, talking, living, breathing representatives of the greatest and most central news in the universe: the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the weight we all feel deeply inside of us. That’s the gravity of marriage. And reconnecting with that truth is how we might begin to see marriage not a series of monotonous actions and choices made day after day but instead as a profoundly significant means God has instituted in order to tangibly represent the great news of the gospel.
Suddenly, it’s not just an act of kindness when a husband chooses to do all the dishes; it’s a visible example of the way Jesus tangibly serves the people of God. It’s not just a few nice words when a wife chooses to verbally encourage her husband’s leadership; it’s a tangible representation of the confidence that Christians have in following the great leadership of Jesus. It’s not just an admirable quality when couples celebrate thirty, forty, or fifty years of marriage; it’s a demonstration of the kind of commitment that God has made to all His children, sealing them with the blood of His very own Son. Marriage suddenly gets bigger and weightier than we ever thought possible as even our smallest choices are infused with great meaning.