The Lady, the Tiger, and the Kingdom of God

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

Jesus had a way of doing this. It’s as if the kingdom of God is so big, so expansive, so mind-blowing, that Jesus slowly rolled out attributes and characteristics because He knew it was too much for us to handle all at the same time:

- The kingdom is like a man who went out into a field…

- The kingdom is like a father with two sons…

- The kingdom is like a field…

And here, He rolls out both the great value and tremendous cost of the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is so valuable that it’s like finding something of such value that one immediately counts the cost of acquiring it and then is willing and ready to sacrifice whatever must be given in order to have that treasure in the field and pearl of great price. But while this parable emphasizes the great value of the kingdom and the cost associated with that kingdom, it’s not necessarily about the experience of coming into the kingdom.

What I mean is that some choices are entirely logical. If, for example, you were brought into a room and shown two open doorways. Through one you could see treasure by the boatloads all there for the taking. Through the other you could see a garbage dump. And then you were given the choice of which door you want to talk through. Obviously, any sane person would choose the door to the treasure room because their eyes showed them what they were moving towards.

Sometimes the kingdom is like that – you get a glimpse, if only in part, of the true nature of God’s kingdom, and suddenly it brings into focus all the sacrifices you might have made for that kingdom, and they fade to nothing in comparison. But most of the time, it doesn’t happen that way. That’s why we are so prone to sin. It’s because in the moment, we don’t perceive the value of the kingdom. We perceive the temporal goodness of the sin, and we want that thing NOW rather than what we can’t see that we’re supposed to experience LATER.

It reminds me of the short story called “The Lady or the Tiger”. In the story, the king of the land punished criminals by placing them in an arena before spectators which had two closed doors. Behind one was a maiden, behind the other was a ravenous tiger. If the guilty party chose the door with the lady, he would immediately be freed, marry her, and live happily ever after. But if he chose the tiger, he got… well… the tiger.

The story goes that the king’s daughter fell in love with a commoner, and when the king found out, he was enraged. He placed the man in the arena, giving him the same choice. But the princess had found out which door led to the lady, and which led to the tiger. So when the man entered the arena, he looked to his beloved, and she ever so slightly – but clearly – gestured toward one of the doors. It’s here, though, that we as the audience are left to wonder whether the door she gestured toward housed the lady or the tiger.

Would she want her love to escape even it meant he would marry another? Or would she instead condemn him because if she couldn’t have him then no one could?

In other words, the real question in the story – and in the kingdom – is whether you trust the person telling you which door to take.

And here we see Jesus, the Son of God, and He is pointing us toward what He claims is a priceless pearl. A treasure of immense value, though hidden. He is gesturing. Imploring. Telling us to sell it all, and even though it might cost us dearly, that it will in the end be worth it.

But do we trust Him? That will determine which door we choose, and which field we choose to buy.

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The Act of Meeting Together is Sanctifying In and Of Itself

Recently I wrote a post that found its base in Hebrews 10:24-25:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

In that post, I tried to put forth a couple of reasons why we might give up meeting together. The flipside, of course, it realizing why we should meet together. And there are of course a bunch of answers for that:

- We need to remind each other of who God is.

- We need to sit under the preaching of God’s Word so that we might know Him more.

- We need to be surrounded by people who can encourage us in our faith and in good deeds.

- We need to sing and speak and read so that we might remember the promises of God.

And the list can and should go on and on. But these are all things that happen when we meet together. The truth is, though, there is something very sanctifying about the very action of choosing to meet together at all, apart from what happens during that actual meeting. Let me hold up my family as a case study.

It’s Wednesday morning, 6:55 am. My wife and I are, most of the time, standing in the kitchen together. One of us is usually making eggs; the other one of us is about to head up the stairs to wake the zombies and taste their wrath because they’ve got to get up and go to school. Then comes the breakfast, the brushing of teeth and hair, the gathering of books, and we’re off – me to the interstate, the lovely Jana Kelley to the minivan and the drop off line.

Then the day is really rolling. For me, it’s an endless stream of conversations, emails, and meetings at work. By the time it’s 3 pm, my eyes are usually bleary from looking at a screen all day. For Jana, it’s delivering kids to this school and then that one, then a regular system of other errands and necessities that have to happen on a weekly basis so that our home doesn’t implode. About the time my eyes are bleeding from the screen time, she’s back in line at the pick up to gather kids, then onto the homework, the piano lessons, and even more household management. And this is where it gets tricky, because Wednesday is community group night.

And community group night is at our house.

So after the homework is done, the kids are fed, and I get home around 5:45, we’ve got roughly 30 minutes until the folks start showing up. And many weeks, most weeks, it’s really, really hard. Much harder than watching TV. At least once I think about how easy it would be for someone to be “sick.”

And that’s why the act itself of meeting together is sanctifying – it’s because when we choose to meet together, there’s an element of faith and sacrifice associated with doing so. And those two things move us forward with Jesus. Think about it – what would you (or do you) have to sacrifice in order to regularly meet with the people of God? Here’s a few things:

- You must sacrifice your time which could be spent doing something else.

- You have to sacrifice your priorities in order to make room for this one.

- You have to sacrifice your comfort (especially if you’re an introvert) and give of yourself to this meeting.

- You have to sacrifice your rest.

And in each of those things, you flex the muscle of faith in order to propel and motivate you into making that sacrifice:

- You believe that the time you spend here will not be wasted.

- You believe, no matter how important the other things you have going on are, that this is essential for the sake of your heart.

- You believe that what God is doing in you is more important than feeling good at a given moment.

- You believe that ultimate rest is bigger than sleep, but instead is finding true Sabbath in your accomplished status before God through Jesus.

So, friends, maybe this week you’re wondering if it’s the week to skip. Maybe you’ve got a lot going on. Or maybe the guy leading that environment just isn’t awesome at doing their job. But maybe you should meet together anyway, because the sanctification doesn’t begin and end with what’s discussed in the group. The act of meeting itself has great value.

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A Word on Aging from John Piper

John Piper observes:

All of the 10,000 people in America who turn 65 each year have wrinkles. Our skin is more flaccid. Our complexion is more mottled. Our equilibrium is more tenuous. And our hair is more scarce. The effect of aging on our appearance and our bearing is universal. No one escapes. Except by death.

The reason for this is that God has subjected the creation to futility (Romans 8:20). It is in bondage to corruption (Romans 8:21). Even new creatures in Christ groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

In other words, when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, God established a connection between moral depravity and physical deterioration. He intended to make clear that, even if we ignore the dreadfulness of a sinful heart, we will not be able to ignore its witness in the debility of the body.

This is a hard pill for beautiful and robust Boomers to swallow. We have been strong. We have been pretty. Even sexy. And now we realize: We will never have it back. It is over. For good. Until death stops the process we will only get weaker, more wrinkled, more mottled.

Some of us cannot let it go. We resort to plastic surgery in the hopeless attempt to make the looks of youth last a little longer. An article in Psychology Today observes,

Cosmetic surgery is still on the increase throughout developed countries. . . The “looks industry” is alive and well.

But the fix might be more in the head than on the face. Joshua Zimm, from the University of Toronto and his colleagues published a study in 2013 showing that facial cosmetic surgery does not significantly enhance attractiveness and only reduces perceived age by 3.1 years.

The growth of cosmetic surgery is not a reflection of the increasing ugliness of people but a reflection of our increasing negative self-perception. The fact that cosmetic surgery is still increasing in popularity despite showing little positive outcome — objective measure of attractiveness or youth — points again to our desire to become perfect.

In other words, Boomers don’t look older than previous generations. But we are less content with looking older. We crave the power and the beauty our bodies once had. We are, to a large extent, still adolescent in our thinking about our looks.

Let the Christian Boomers turn this this around…

Read the rest here.

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The Showcase of Our Self-Righteousness

What destroys the work of the gospel in a person?

All kinds of things, but certainly not least on that list would be self-righteousness. Confidence in ourselves, being proud of how good we are, or internally harboring the belief that “we’re really not all that bad” runs contrary to the core of what the gospel message is. Think about it with me – what do you have to know to come to Jesus?

Not a lot, truth be told. There’s not a class you must take; no certificate you have to earn. But you must know at least two things:

1. Who He is. That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, crucified and then risen, not because of His own sin but as a willing sacrifice for yours, which leads us to the second thing:

2. Who you are. Not who we should be; not who we would like to think we are; not who we aspire to be; but the rock bottom realization that we are, at our core, wicked and in need. That sin is not just something we do, but is the driving force behind who we are, and it’s from this reality that we must be rescued.

And that’s precisely why self-righteousness is so destructive. With each bolstering run on the ladder of our egos, we knock down the sufficiency of the cross. We are, if not in word, crying out at the cross that this really didn’t have to happen. Not for me at least. With our self-righteousness, then, we simultaneously deceive ourselves and rob the Son of God of His rightful glory. It’s clearly, then, something that we should be on guard against. And yet, like so many other idols of the heart, our sense of self-righteousness does not often come on us suddenly, but instead creeps into our thinking slowly, over the course of time, until we unknowingly have begun to resist the truth that we are rightfully condemned before a just and holy God.

But there is an occasion, at least in my own life, that provides an opportunity for me to self-diagnose this creeping kind of idolatry. I can know whether or not I am giving in to my own ego by my reaction to God showing grace to another.

I remember a story Jesus told about a vineyard in Matthew 20. In it, a landowner goes and hires a group of laborers early in the day. They agree to the wage for their service, and the workers start putting the nose to the grindstone. Then, later in the day, the same landowner goes back to where he hired the first group only to pick up a few more workers. And then a few more workers even later in the day. When the day reaches its end, it came time for the money to be handed out. Much to the initial group’s surprise, they got the wage they had agreed to… and so did the other workers. The same wage, for unequal amounts of work.

And Jesus says this is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

And everything in me rises up and says, “It’s like what? Like unfairness? Like injustice?” And that’s when I know.

I know that it isn’t really a sense of righteous injustice rising up in me; it’s my self-righteousness laying claim on what I think I deserve. It seems I have forgotten, based on my reaction, that what I truly deserve is the very condemnation Jesus has rescued me from. It’s at this moment that I, or maybe you if you’re tracking with this, have two options:

1. We can harbor our resentment at the generosity of God, and in so doing refuse to acknowledge the truth that we are still broken people no matter how many classes we’ve been to and Bible stories we’ve read. If we do, that bitterness will grow over time and cause our hearts to calcify until we no longer see the need for grace for anyone, much less ourselves…

OR…

2. We can take the invitation to stop complaining and start celebrating. This is what the father asked of his older son in another one of Jesus’ stories, when this older son was so offended at his father’s generosity. And if we choose this route, sure, it might be a little awkward at that party first, and we might look around at all the younger brothers who came to work later than we did, but as the party wears on, we will be reminded that it’s only by grace that we got the invitation in the first place.

And then we dance.

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Um, Shouldn’t You Be Attacking Right Now?

That’s the feeling you get as you flip the page from Joshua 4 to Joshua 5.

It had been a long road for the Israelites to get across the Jordan River. 400 years of slavery. Then the miraculous deliverance from Egypt. Then 40 more years of wandering in the desert until the last of the unbelieving generation had died off. Then, finally, under the helm of General Joshua Son of Nun it was time.

Time to go in.

Time to possess the land.

Time to take what God had promised centuries earlier to Father Abraham.

And no doubt God was with them. Though the Jordan River was in its flood stage, the Lord blocked blocked the rushing waters so they piled up in a heap while His people walked across. That’s round abouts of 2 million Israelites walking through the mud into an already inhabited land, completely convinced that it belonged to them.

Add to that a God that build invisible, river-stopping dams, and you’ve got a recipe for success. Or at least that’s what the people in the promised land thought:

“As soon all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel” (Joshua 5:1).

This is where the experienced leader would step in, like a coach of the football team who had just intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter, and rally his troops: “We’ve got ‘em on the run now, boys! It’s time to strike while the iron is hot!”

And of course, it was. No doubt these kings were already somewhat intimidated by the size of the army, but they had time to prepare, right? They could fortify their cities. They could draw up battle plans. They could strategize and form alliances because those two million people would have to wait for weeks – maybe even several – to get across the river.

But then as quickly as those waters ceased to flow, the hearts of the kings melted in fear. What kind of army was this? And what kind of God did they have with them? There would be no time for battle plans and clever strategies; only time to consider the options of when and how to best surrender.

“At that time, the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time” (Joshua 5:2).

Huh? Um, shouldn’t you be attacking right now?

Conventional wisdom would say yes. There would be no better time. But instead, the Lord orders His people to take a break for a religious ceremony. And this particular kind of break would require a good bit of recovery time afterward before anyone was ready to fight. To make matters worse, God also said they should take a little more time and go ahead and celebrate the Passover (vv. 10-12).

A bit unconventional as far as battle plans go. But surely – SURELY – there’s something in this pause for us to see about what God is really after.

Here is a group of people who want to do great things. And want to do great things for God. And God wants them to do great things. But more than the great things He wants them to do is His desire that they remember who they are. In other words, sometimes it’s better to remember than to attack.

That’s a good word for us in our action-oriented culture. Get out there – make your mark – chase your dream – attempt greatness – all that stuff. But sometimes, before you head out throwing your sword around, you need to pause and remember. Remember where you came from. Remember what has happened to you. And most importantly, remember WHOSE you are.

That will be important when we do finally head in. We need to go into the battle not confident of our battle plan, not sure of our strategy, but instead armed with the knowledge that we are marked as the sons and daughters of God. So shouldn’t you be attacking right now? Perhaps not. Perhaps you should instead be sitting down for a little while and recalling that no one crosses over the Jordan based on their own merit in the first place.

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Why Might We Give Up Meeting Together?

The writer of Hebrews gave a very practical instruction in Hebrews 10:24-25:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Don’t give up meeting together. Translation?

Keep going to church.

Which when you say it like that, sounds pretty dumb, right? Of course we know that we should keep going to church. But if it’s it that simple, then why give the instruction? In other words, what might keep us from meeting together?

For the Hebrews, it was persecution. This letter was written to a group of persecuted Christians who, based on what we read in the letter, were teetering on the edge of going back to their former way of life. That’s why you find such a strong emphasis on perseverance – it’s because those who persevere to the end show their faith to be true and authentic. For these Christians, then, one of the ways (and maybe even the primary one) that they demonstrated their lasting commitment to faith in Jesus was the fact that they were willing to keep showing up.

This was no small thing for them.

Showing up and meeting together marked them as a community of believers, and when they were marked they were targeted. Property was seized; prison terms were handed out; jobs were lost and livelihoods were in jeopardy. But on they came.

I, however, don’t live in a situation like that. Is there then any value in giving a command like this to a society where there are no restrictions on going to church and meeting with other Christians? Of course, the answer is yes, but we get to that answer by asking a similar question to the one we asked of the Hebrews:

In an affluent and relatively free society, safe from persecution based on religious preference, what might keep us from continuing to show up? Many things I suppose, but at least these two:

1. Convenience.
I know, I know – the church is right around the corner, right? Just down the road? At worst, on the other side of town? But despite the proximity and availability of local congregations, the call to meet together challenges our sense of convenience.

We live in a culture that’s microwaved; we want what we want, when we want it, and what we want is NOW. Meeting together, though, is a long range strategy interjected into a short term society. Relationships of trust and mutual sharing don’t automatically happen; they develop over time. A gospel-centered worldview isn’t formed overnight, but through the process of hearing the same thing over and over again. The ability to recall and apply Scripture to specific life situations doesn’t happen automatically but slowly over the course of listening to others do the same.

All of these things involve time, and therefore all are inconvenient. This fact all by itself might make us give up the long road of meeting together and instead just look for the DVR version of the church so we can skip to the high points.

2. Discomfort.
Meeting together – showing up at church – is (and should be) uncomfortable. That’s because truly meeting together involves a level of self-disclosure that hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot.

That’s the difference between “meeting together” and “meeting together”. In the latter, we aren’t spectators; instead, we are active participants, longing for not just a connection with others but the kind of connection that will truly help us follow Jesus. And because that kind of connection is only inspired by walking the difficult road of confession and transparency, many of us aren’t ready.

It’s just easier to stay home.

But the question, as the writer of Hebrews put it, is where do you want to find yourself as the day of the Lord is increasingly approaching?

Probably not on the couch.

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The Responsibility of Suffering

Life can change in the blink of an eye. One moment, everything is normal and the next…

There’s the phone call. Or the conversation. Or the doctor’s appointment.

And suddenly, your life has been divided before your very eyes. And though you don’t know for sure all the implications of what just happened, you do know that you’ll look back on that moment as a dividing line—there was life before that moment, and now there is life after.

When we turn to Scripture during times like these, we find pain and difficulty described in a curious way. We see that there is, much as we might not want it, a responsibility associated with these times of strain. Take a look at how Paul describes suffering in Philippians 1:

“For it has been given to you on Christ’s behalf not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I have” (Philippians 1:29).

It has been given to you… as in a gift. Suffering is the gift that no one wants, and yet God chooses to give sometimes nonetheless. If you’ve sat in the middle of the muck and mire of pain and difficulty, “gifted” is about the last thing you feel. How, then, can Paul say that suffering is not something thrust upon us, but instead something granted to us? Perhaps there are at least two reasons:

1. For our own sake.

In the book of James, we find that difficulty has personal and spiritual benefit to it: “Consider it great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).

In other words, there is a piece of spiritual maturity that can only come along with difficulty. Without those difficulties, we will never be made complete in Christ. Pain, then, in the hands of God, is the means by which He develops His character in us. But it’s not just for our own benefit that we are given difficulties…

2. For the sake of another.

Paul would say it like this: “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction through the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

There is a comfort chain happening in these verses. We, as God’s children find ourselves in pain and God is faithful to bring us comfort. Then we are bound to bring the same comfort to those around us who find themselves in a similar kind of pain.

Now why is that important? It’s because our tendency to turn inward during times of trial. It’s our inclination to be swallowed in a sea of ourselves and, potentially, never to come back up for air. But here, in the midst of our difficulty, we find the Lord meeting us, working in us and working through us. And, though in the moment we find no reason in thinking it so, we come to see the gift that is difficulty, not only for our own benefit, but also for the sake of others.

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What Not to Say to Your Professor…

My dad is a professor. my mom has been a professor. My older brother is a professor. They all tell me stories. This is real.

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The Seductive Song of Self-Pity

Her voice is soft and melodic; it’s sweet to the ear and soothing to the tired heart. She whispers not during the seasons of joy, but instead during those times of trial. When you’re tired and weary. When the responsibility is great, and when busyness abounds. I feel her scratch my itching ears with her words, saying just what I wish I heard from the people around me. And here’s what she sounds like:

“No one understands what’s happening in your life.”

“No one knows how much you have to bear.”

“No one sympathizes with the weight of responsibility.”

“Sure, you could try to tell someone, but what good would that do?”

She sings this seductive song of self-pity over and over again. And with each beautiful refrain, I find myself nodding my head in agreement and descending further into my own isolation, insulated by the determination that no one indeed does understand the season of life in which I find myself. She sings, and I listen, and it feels really good. My resentment is justified; my sense of pride in hard work is bolstered; my superiority over others who, unlike me, aren’t awake at this hour or aren’t sacrificing like I am is built.

Self-pity is a ladder builder; she helps me construct that apparatus which I climb on so I can peer smugly over the heads of those I’ve left far below me.

And it feels so good. What makes it feel even better is, unlike so many times when you have the sense your pride is wrong and unjustified, in the case of self-pity, it feels right. That’s the best kind of pride of all.

And that’s the worst kind of pride of all.

It’s the kind of pride that mitigates any sacrifice you or I might make because it devalues those you are supposedly sacrificing for. That supposed sacrifice is only another means of bolstering our already well-bolstered egos.

Will you make sacrifices today? Will you get up early or stay up late? Will you find yourself doing things that others will not? Do you find yourself in a season of trial? If you do, then she will be singing to you, and her song will be sweet, reminding you just how special you are and how (though she would never say it like this), much better you are.

Though we might hear the seductive song of self-pity, there is another song we might play louder in our souls. We can crank up the volume on this one so that it drowns out the sappy resonance of self-indulgence. This new song is a lot older. And it’s lyrics are a lot better. The tune builds as you sing each line, and it’s focus is not on the anemic sacrifices we make but on the true and great sacrifice that was made on our behalf. It’s the song that the self-righteous and self-focused have sung for years as a means of taking their focus off of themselves and putting it where it belongs:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very natureGod,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Play it again Lord. And I’ll turn it up.

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An Old School Scripture Memory System That’s So Simple It Just Might Work

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