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Thursday: Read Matt 18:15-19:15[1]

Matthew 18-20 addresses relationships within the community. Matthew begins with conflicts within the community (15-20). The language of “binding and loosing” (18:18) may refer to the authority to interpret the law and to apply it in a given situation. Jesus, since He is the “Immanuel” (20; cf 1:23), now grants that authority to the Church—i.e., those who gather “in My name.”

Peter asks if forgiving someone seven times is enough? (21)—the Rabbinic maxim was three. Jesus’ reply may be read as either 70 times 7; or 77 times.[2] Either way, He likely means, “without limit.” That this is the case is supported by the parable that follows.

In the Parable of the unmerciful servant (22-35), we learn that the Church should have mercy towards each other just as God has been merciful to them. Note: this parable intentionally follows the question of forgiveness.

The danger here is that we too often read such passages in terms of personal forgiveness and personal spirituality. Jesus was likely addressing economic factors of actual debts that needed to be forgiven in order that land and possessions might be restored. The Parable of the unmerciful servant surely indicates that monetary and land matters were at stake.

In 19:1-15, Matthew sets forth for us how relationships are to function in the kingdom of God. Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ question about divorce by insisting on the sacredness of marriage as it was intended in creation. Husbands and wives are “one flesh” (5-6; citing Gen 2:24). The Pharisees respond by asking why Moses “commanded” the husband to give a certificate of divorce? (7). Jesus responds by noting that Moses did not command but only “permitted” divorce (8).

At this point, you might wonder what this has to do with the nature of the kingdom? The answer is that divorce not only violates the created order that God has established and that Jesus is restoring, but it also has unjust social and economic effects on the wife. This is the very thing that Jesus has commanded against: “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (18:6).

Matthew does add, what Mark omits, a provision in which divorce may be acceptable in the context of immorality (8). Note the focus of this provision, however, remains on the sin of the man who divorces for any other reason.

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • What do you suppose is the answer to the disciples’ question: “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1). Be careful not to answer too quickly: the answer might be far more profound than you may have thought.
  • It is so easy for us modern westerners to personalize and spiritualize this section of Matthew. We tend to think that as long as I forgive others, I am good. But Jesus is going way beyond this. He is talking about establishing a community that brings about just relationships in which the “little ones” are given a status equal to the others. Reflect on what this might look like in the Church and in society.



Matt 19:16-30

Matthew, as with Mark, includes an encounter between a young man (20) and Jesus (Luke says he was a ruler; 18:18). Again, note the connection of this episode with what we have seen the previous few days. This man is a negative example of how the community of God’s people are supposed to act.

Jesus responds by citing 5 of the 10 commandments and He adds the Levitical provision “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18-19). The man believes that he has done these (20). Jesus exposes the fact that he has not by asking him to sell his possessions, give them to the poor, and follow Jesus (21). The man leaves grieving because “he was one who owned much property” (22). The man may have believed that he had kept the commands, but Jesus exposes the fact that he had not kept the Levitical provision since the only way one could own “much property” is if he acquired it at the expense of someone else. “A persistent thread in prophetic traditions is that the wealthy have more because they have exploited the poor (Isa 10:1-3; Ezek 22:6-31; 34:1-22; Amos 5:10-12).”[3]

The man’s problem is that he had not forgiven his neighbor 70x! If he did, he would have restored their land to them.

Jesus then affirms that the disciples will “sit on twelves thrones, judging the twelve tribes” (28). The nature of such rule, however, stands in marked contrast to the rule of the nations. In the Kingdom of God, “the first will be last, and the last, first” (30).

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Again, we are confronted with a text that steers in a direction that is contrary to the way we have always been taught. Sure, we can apply these chapters to our personal piety. But we cannot stop there. Jesus’ kingdom brings redemption and restoration to the creation. When we see poverty and great wealth, we must note that this is not what God intended. How might you work towards God’s restoration?
  • Make it your aim to live as though you were last today. Consider everyone you meet as greater than yourself. At the end of the day, write down how you did. What kinds of situations proved especially difficult?
[1] Notes for today’s and tomorrows’ lesson are heavily indebted to Warren Carter, In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance (Kindle Location 1749); and Carter, The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide, Abingdon Press, 95.

[2] See the translations.

[3] See Carter, The Roman Empire.



Four Biblical Questions To Help You Better Study The Bible​

The Bible has long fascinated (and rightfully so) Christians for 2000 years. But how can you study it better? How do you get the most out of what God has revealed about Himself, creation, sin, the human condition, and so many other things in Scripture? While there are a number of helpful ways to dig into and get the most out of Scripture, there are four biblical questions you can ask that come from Scripture itself.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:6-17
Let’s key in on those four words that Paul used: teaching, rebuking, correcting and training. Paul says Scripture is incredibly useful and profitable in these four areas. What do those words mean in the original language?

Teaching – to impart knowledge or skill
Rebuking – an act or expression of criticism or censure
Correcting – the act of offering an improvement (according to a standard) to replace a mistake
Training – the whole education and instruction of a disciple (both the cultivation of mind and morals); understood as the rearing and education of children

So with those incredible benefits offered to us every time we open the Scriptures, here are four questions that can help us not only study Scripture but walk away with the full experience God wants us to have. Think of it like this: let’s say you’re going to a concert with your favorite band. It’s one thing to go and sit in the back row where you can barely see the stage. Sure you hear the music and experience the atmosphere, but there’s a huge difference between that and getting front row seats along with a backstage VIP pass where you can interact with the band directly. Every time you open Scripture, don’t settle for the back row. Get the VIP experience! These four questions are your ticket in every time you study Scripture:

1. What does it mean? (teaching)
What is the meaning behind what you read? What is God communicating to us? How does it all fit together? Where else in Scripture does God say the same thing? This is where most Bible studies start and stop. They do a great job understanding the bits and pieces of a Bible verse, without moving onto the next three questions.

2. Where am I failing? (rebuking)
When we study Scripture, the Holy Spirit (if we’re listening) will always bring rebuke and conviction. Not to punish us, but to heal us. If we truly gaze into Scripture with open eyes, we’ll see our own sins and imperfections reflected back to us. We can’t fix a problem until we know it’s there. Scripture can expose even the hidden sins of our hearts, and that’s a good thing because it leads to the third question.

3. What’s the Bible way? (correcting)
Scripture doesn’t expose our sin to shame us but to show us the better way. According to God’s way and His righteousness, we see the straight and narrow road paved out before us in Scripture. If you want to be better, live more freely and walk in the steps of Jesus, allow Scripture to show you the better way.

4. How do I live this out? (training)
Similar to the third question, being trained by Scripture has an element of time attached to it. Scripture is not something you can go to in an instant, find a quick answer, and be on your way. There’s an aspect of the transformation and training of Scripture that can only come in terms of months and years, not minutes or even hours. When you study Scripture, ask how this should impact your daily life at home, at work, at school. Don’t walk away from Scripture until you’ve walked away with a couple of practical things you can do to make your life look more like Jesus.



The Living, Active, Word Of God​

God’s Word has power, and I think you’ll better understand that power after reading about the living, active Word of God.

The Word Convicts

Some people tell me that they have a gift of discernment, and that they can tell when someone’s lying or if something’s not right, and maybe they do, but no human alive can discern the human heart like the Word of God can. The author of Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (4:12-13).

The Word of God exposes the wickedness of our hearts, which Jeremiah described as “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9), but God wants us to see our own wickedness (Rom 3:10-12, 23) so we’ll run to the cross. Only God can give us a new heart and create a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), however, the Word is alive and active and works to expose what we don’t see. It cuts us down to the joints and marrow, or where we live, and in God’s sight, we’re all “naked and exposed” before the One to whom we’ll give an account.

The Word Sanctifies

The Word of God cuts us to the heart, but it doesn’t cut in order to hurt, rather it cuts like the surgeon’s scalpel…cutting in order to heal. And the Word of God is intended to sanctify us, as Jesus says in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” The word “sanctify” means to make holy or set apart for holy use, and God’s intention for every believer is to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

The Apostle Paul told Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17), so the Word has the power to make us complete and equip us for every good work sovereign assigned to us by God (Matt 25:35-36, 28:18-20; Eph 2:10).

The Word may need to correct us, to reprove us, and to teach us, but remember, God’s desire is for us to live a life of holiness, and the Word of God can help us, along with the Spirit of God. This doesn’t mean we’ll reach a state of sinless perfection in this life because that’s not possible this side of the kingdom, but there should be a tendency toward sinning less over time, even though sinless-ness is not yet possible. Even so, God’s Word can help the sanctification process in us.

The Word’s Power

I hear people say that they can’t witness for Christ because they’re terrified, but don’t they realize that the gospel doesn’t depend upon human ability but upon the power of God. Paul tells us, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16).

If we are too shy to ever share Christ, then we are ashamed of the gospel, and that’s not good, for to be ashamed of the gospel is to be ashamed of Christ and His words (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26). Maybe we should understand that it’s not up to us to save anyone. It’s up to God’s Spirit and God’s Word, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). It is the power of salvation for those who believe, so trust God and share Christ. He can use the weakest witness from the shiest person to save anyone. Here’s why. It takes the Spirit of God with the Word of God to birth the children of God, and all for the glory of God. God’s Word has power. Trust it. Unleash it, and let it do what God sends it out to do.

Isaiah wrote: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). The power doesn’t depend on the person. The power is in God’s Word and in His Spirit. Let it loose and it will not return void.

The Enduring Word

Most of the false cults have had their so-called “inspired” books changed over time, being revised as often as a new generation is born, but the Word of God changes not…just like God. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt 24:35). “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Even though these words were written thousands of years ago, here they are, still being uttered 2,000 years later, and will be into all eternity. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), so will God’s Word will abide forever. The benefits of the enduring Word are a well-lit path where we’re less likely to stumble (Psalm 119:105).


Jesus told the sinister minister, Satan that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Satan doesn’t live by “every word of God,” but loves to take every other word or words out of context. He and his ministers use verses as “proof texts” by taking texts out of context for false pretexts. That’s why we need the whole counsel or the whole Word of God in book, chapter, and paragraph to grasp the context.

The Apostle Peter told Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68), and the “words of eternal life” are found in Scripture. The Word of God convicts us, sanctifies, us, and has God’s power in it, which means it will endure forever. I hope you enjoyed reading about the benefits of God’s Word, and if you have, may I suggest you share this with someone you know, and why not do it right now?



The Hardest One To Forgive: Yourself​

God promises to forgive us of our sins, but we often have trouble forgiving ourselves, so how can we learn to forgive ourselves when we are consumed with guilt?


There are so many Bible verses on forgiveness that it is hard to select only a few, but here are some of the most powerful ones that I could find. One of these verses I’ve memorized because of what it means to me, but later, I found this verse gives comfort to those who feel they’ve committed some “unpardonable sin.” Its 1 John 1:9 which reads, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I have memorized this verse because I frequently have to remind people who are so overly burdened with guilt that they believe that God cannot forgive them.

They feel they’ve committed sins so grievous that even God cannot forgive them, but what they’re doing is placing their feelings over facts. They trust what they feel instead of trusting what they read, and that includes the Apostle Paul writing that it was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Whoever has the righteousness of Christ is not condemned (Rom 8:1-2). Period.

It is Finished

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” we understand that in the original language, He was saying that He had accomplished His mission, living in complete obedience to the Law, living a sinless life of perfection, taking upon Himself the curse that the Law had upon us, and removed the wrath that was due us for breaking God’s Law, but for those who trust in Him, they receive the very same righteousness that Jesus Christ has. That righteousness has been imputed to them.

Since God had made Jesus to be sin for us, and that we received the righteousness of Christ, do we really want to believe that His sacrifice was not enough for what we’ve done? Wasn’t Jesus sacrifice sufficient for all and efficient for those who believe? What God has made righteous, is righteous. If you feel that you cannot be declared righteous in Christ, then you are saying Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was not enough. When Jesus says “It’s finished,” believe Him, it’s finished!

Forgiving Others

Maybe you find it easy to forgive others…but can’t reach that point with yourself, but what if your child came up to you and asked for your forgiveness after doing something they were told not to do? You may have to discipline them, but then it’s forgiven, right? You put it behind you. You don’t keep bringing it up day after day, because if you do, you’ve never really forgiven them.

Now if you’ve forgiven them, and the very next day the child comes back to you and asks to be forgiven again, and does that day after day, you’d get a little frustrated, wouldn’t you, but often that’s just what we do. We keep bring up these same sins, over and over again, even though God has promised that once we confess them, they’re gone (1 John 1:9). This is frequently the work of the Devil or his fallen angels. Let me ask you this: How many of your sins were still in the future when Christ died? The answer is, all of them. If you keep asking to be forgiven for the same sins, over and over again, you don’t understand forgiveness. Bury it. Have the funeral.

Paying off the Note

Imagine that you’ve made car payments for the last 48 months, and you finally made the last payment. The car is now all yours, but then next month you get another notice from the bank. They want another payment. Wouldn’t you be angry? You’d march right down to that bank and give them proof! Now, just think how God must feel if you keep dragging up the same sins over and over again? Jesus has paid in full what we still want to make payments on.

When we don’t forgive ourselves after God already has, that’s what we’re doing. The truth is, “we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1) so why can’t we be at peace with ourselves? The Justifier (God) has become our justification, and so if you insist on not forgiving yourself, you are saying, “Sorry Jesus, it’s just not enough.” Jesus’ death was intended “to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26), so since Christ wants to “show his righteousness,” why would we ever want to get in the way of His displaying it!? That robs Christ of glory! Remember, guilt is from the Devil. Conviction is from the Holy Spirit. When sins are confessed, neither guilt nor conviction should remain. God says that our sins are removed as far as east is from west (Psalm 103:12).


Is our standard of forgiving ourselves higher than Gods? It might be. If God says you are cleansed, you are forgiven. That means your sins will never again be held you again. Your sins and mine may affect our rewards when we enter into the kingdom, but never our being allowed to enter into the kingdom. Sin will hurt our fellowship with God but it can never permanently destroy our relationship with Him. Would your child ever cease being your child if they sinned greatly against you? We may not realize it, but not forgiving ourselves could be a matter of pride.

Why do we follow God’s command to forgive others, but then not forgive ourselves? God has promised that our sins are forgiven. If God’s brought us to repentance, and we have confessed our sins to Him, and been cleansed from all unrighteousness, and then placed our trust in Christ, how can we still not forgive ourselves? Remember, it was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).



10 Ways The Church Can Better Prepare To Fight Today’s Suicide Epidemic​

In the coming year, 10 million Americans will think about taking their own life. More than 5 Americans will intentionally kill themselves in the coming hour. That adds up to 130 people per day; 3,900 per month; 47,000 per year; nearly half a million in the coming decade.

It has long been known that faith plays a protective role when it comes to suicide. Those who believe in God are between four and six times less likely to commit suicide as those who don’t.
How can the church respond to America’s suicide crisis? Here are ten ideas to get you started:

(1) Identify In-House Experts.
The very first step is to identify and consult in-house experts. Most churches have a family physician, general internist, emergency doctor, psychiatrist, psychiatric social worker, psychiatric nurse, or school counselor among them who could share suicide prevention resources and guidance.

(2) Begin a Small-Group Study.
Before enacting any change in the church, gather a group of people to study what the Bible says about depression, anxiety, and suicide prevention. This can take the form of a Sunday school class, book group, or small-group study. You can use Hope Always or any other resources that your members have found helpful.

(3) Articulate a Clear Theology of Suicide.
I have asked hundreds of people if they have ever heard a sermon articulating a biblical worldview of suicide. Not one has, nor have any of the dozens of pastors I’ve asked ever shared a suicide prevention message. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s message is clear: He is for life. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we may take our own lives, but so that we can have life abundantly. The most successful suicide prevention program will be led both top-down from the pastor and grassroots-up by the congregation.

(4) Develop a Church Policy.
Every youth pastor, small group leader, church elder, college minister, board member, and Sunday school teacher should know what to do if they encounter a person who may be suicidal. They should be told exactly what questions to ask and what steps to take. This policy should be in writing and shared widely. (Email [email protected] to receive a sample policy.)

(5) Offer Training.
With a little research, you can contact groups in your area that specialize in training laypeople in peer-to-peer counseling and prayer. If reaching the depressed and suicidal among you is a priority, a weekend training or a series of weekly trainings can greatly expand your capacity to help. Also consider designing a suicide prevention course specifically for parents or opening up training to community partners and sister churches.

(6) Designate and Staff a Prayer Room.
Our church, like many others, offers a prayer room with trained lay leaders who are available to pray with someone before, during, or after a worship service. Confessing or sharing our troubles with someone is often an important part of the healing process. Lay leaders should be trained on what to do if they suspect someone is suicidal.

(7) Offer Support Groups.
Living with those who suffer from mental illness is taxing. Could your church host a support and prayer group for the loved ones of those with mental illness? It is also helpful to host support groups for those suffering from mental illness or addictions. Do you host AA, Al-Anon, or Celebrate Recovery groups? Has your church reached out to recently divorced people? Those who have lost a spouse? Veterans? All these populations are at greater than average risk for depression and suicide.

(8) Destigmatize Mental Illness.
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, it is announced from the pulpit and meal trains and rides to doctor’s appointments are organized. But when someone receives a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder, silence. Why? One of the reasons that Christians have been much less likely to commit suicide is because they have a sense of belonging. Those who have successfully battled depression or helped a loved one with depression should be invited to connect with people who are currently struggling. Openly sharing their stories and what worked for them helps to destigmatize mental illness and offers hope.

(9) Host a Healing Prayer Ministry.
Your church can also host a healing prayer ministry. Those working in the ministry should go through rigorous mandatory screening and training. The intake process should clarify that they do not offer counseling or discuss problems in depth with those seeking prayer. I know of at least two suicides in my community that were averted through a healing prayer ministry.

(10) Share a Meal.
A median-sized church in America has seventy-five people in attendance on a Sunday. Each Sunday, at least one person should be assigned the responsibility of inviting any visitors out to eat or to their home for lunch. They should also be on the lookout for church members who need company. Make sure to pick up the tab, and absolutely, positively be certain to pick up the bill when with non-Christians.

I have also preached at churches that offer a meal and worship one evening a week for the homeless. The homeless population has a higher than average concentration of people suffering from depression and suicidal ideation. Treating these people with dignity over a shared meal is a very practical way your church can nourish bodies and spirits while possibly saving a life.

The church is our nation’s best equipped yet least utilized tool to fight the escalating suicide epidemic.
The Bible calls the church to heal the sick and welcome the outcast. Period. Throughout His ministry, Jesus made no distinction between healing physical and mental diseases. As our brother’s (and our sister’s) keeper, we are called to follow Christ’s example and do likewise.



Be Creative In Your Suffering​

Christopher has always had a special place in his heart for Dr. John M. Perkins. Here is a picture of them taken in Vancouver, Washington several years ago. So, the other day, I called and left a message for Dr. Perkins, asking him to call me about an urgent matter, if at all possible. We hadn’t spoken in awhile, but his influence on me and impact on my family haven’t waned. Nor has his remembrance of Christopher.

The very first question Dr. Perkins asked me when he called back two days ago was how my son is doing. He had no idea that I had called to share about Christopher’s traumatic brain injury and comatose state, which has lasted more than six weeks. After I explained the medical situation, Dr. Perkins told me in a tender and anguished tone how precious Christopher is and that he would definitely talk to Christopher and pray for him over the phone.

So, yesterday, when he called, I put the phone on speaker close to Christopher’s ear there in the hospital room. Dr. Perkins’ strong, deep voice reverberated with gentleness, compassion, and affirmation of my son’s inherent dignity as he spoke to Christopher and prayed God’s love and healing mercies over him. Dr. Perkins recalled their intuitive bond of mutual affection and respect when talking to my son. It was a moving experience, as was our conversation after he finished his prayer for my beloved boy. Dr. Perkins told me how honored he felt that I would call and ask him to talk and pray over Christopher during our hour of greatest need as a family.

Dr. Perkins is no stranger to pain. He knows what it is like to experience trauma. All one needs to do is read his autobiography Let Justice Roll Down to get a vivid sense of the kind of tortuous suffering Dr. Perkins has endured. I believe Dr. Perkins’ authentic and transparent faith refined by fire has always spoken to Christopher. Christopher hates fake faith and there is nothing fake about Dr. Perkins’ Christian journey.

Many years ago, when Christopher was still a child, my son and I listened to Dr. Perkins share with a group of teens about his life experience during a conference in Olympia, Washington, where we served as speakers. This civil rights leader and Bible teacher reflected on Galatians 2:20, as I recall, and spoke of his own cruciform life in following the Lord Jesus. The Apostle Paul’s words recorded in Galatians 2:20 read: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (NIV). In his talk, Dr. Perkins referenced a well-documented beating he received in 1970 for his civil rights work addressing racism and poverty in Mississippi.

The beating nearly killed him. He also mentioned in passing how the throbbing in his head from the trauma he endured lasted for decades. I realized then and there that Dr. Perkins has “an incredible threshold for pain,” as one mutual friend later told me. Christopher wrote on a card that afternoon how Dr. Perkins’ reflection on Galatians 2:20 and his testimony really helped Christopher understand clearly the good news of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Perkins has also helped me over the years to understand better the good news of Jesus Christ. Yesterday our conversation in Christopher’s hospital room was no exception. I reminisced with Dr. Perkins about a talk he gave to a group of New Wine, New Wineskins leaders at Bob and Cooky Wall’s house years earlier. There he exhorted us: “Be creative in your suffering.” Given my family’s own current state of agonizing pain, I asked him to develop further that theme. In his explanation, this senior sage and mentor summed up James 1:2-4: ”Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV). Rather than see our trials as mere obstacles, we need to realize that they are opportunities to lead us catalytically on the path of mature discipleship in Jesus Christ.

Yesterday was the second time I was in a hospital room with Dr. Perkins, albeit over the phone on this occasion. In fact, he referenced the prior incident with me on the phone just the other day. A few years back, he had to stop short his lecture to my doctoral students at Multnomah Biblical Seminary due to severe aggravation of his stomach. We had to rush him to emergency at a Portland hospital. The cause was that same 1970 beating and a blotched surgery involving scar tissue.

I pushed back the tears yesterday as I listened and spoke with Dr. Perkins. God pulled back the veil as we sat next to Christopher lying in his bed. As we read in Galatians 2:20 and James 1:2-4, God does not waste trials and suffering. What about us? For God’s beloved son and my beloved son’s sake, I refuse to allow the hellish suffering and trials we are going through as a family to be wasted. I need to be creative in my suffering for Jesus and my son’s sake. What that looks like down the road, I do not yet know. But what I do know is that Jesus always confronts harm, including victimizing hate, indifference, and callousness, head-on with God’s holy, victorious and just love to bring relational healing. Dr. Perkins, and my son Christopher’s abiding connection to him even now, while in a coma, is living proof.


Squinting Through the Fog?

[ 1 min read ★ ]

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God
. . . and it will be given him—James 1:5

God knows what’s right in every circumstance. We do not. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). And yet, God installs us as decision-makers nonetheless. He intends us to struggle through, and answer, tough questions throughout our lives: Should I take the job? Should I marry the girl? Am I becoming the man God intends me to become? How should I deal with pain and fear and temptation? Tough questions, indeed. Huge implications.

King Solomon was an epic decision-maker. God told him, “I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you” (1 Kings 3:12). Fortunately for the rest of us, Solomon passed along some of that God-given wisdom, in the form of the Book of Proverbs.

For tough questions, Solomon wrote, we must look first to God (Proverbs 3:5-6). One way to do that, since he empowers us as agents of his wisdom, is actually to look to our brothers in Christian community (Proverbs 11:14; James 5:19-20). Wrote Solomon, “a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Counsel from other men is one of our most powerful tools. We needn’t use it for every question. But, for the toughest ones, we must.

Okay, so what do we do?

Gather some men—two or three, at least, probably not more than five or six—who know you and with whom you’ll be transparent. Plan for an hour or two. Describe your situation—the question, the background, the possible courses of action. Ask them to discern with you, not to judge. Encourage them to ask questions and help you search for wisdom. I bet you’ll be surprised before the end.


Want Impact?

[ 1 min read ★ ]

If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed—Luke 17:6

We want our lives to matter. We want these few days we spend here to mean something. We want some sort of impact. Well, brother, if we really want impact, we’ve got to allow the amplifying power of the Holy Spirit to work through us—by being willing to act in faith. When we act alone (as we so often do), we do so with our own strength. But when we act in faith, our actions are amplified by the strength of a great and powerful God. Men and women acting in faith have “stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33-34).

The surprising thing about acting in faith is that—unlike when we act alone—it’s not our skill, nor our cleverness, that determines the magnitude of impact. When the Apostle Paul worked to start the church in Corinth, he spoke “in weakness and in fear,” lacking “plausible words of wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4). He must have doubted whether he’d had any impact at all. But the church was established nonetheless. “God’s Spirit and God’s power did it,” through Paul’s seemingly unimpressive actions, taken in faith (1 Corinthians 2:3-5 MSG).

Okay, so what do we do?

Just do something. Choose something practical, something that fits within the great commandments (Matthew 22:36-39), and something that’s too big. Go ahead and get in over-your-head. Tackle the problem that’s been on your heart. Tell someone about your faith. Help that person who’s hard to love. Things might not turn out as you expect, of course—or with the timing you’d like. Trust, though, if you do act, you’ll begin to have the impact for which you’re meant.



Prepare To Meet Your God​

The Minor Prophets are often quite neglected in the church today. Some find them inordinately difficult to interpret due to the genres these books employ, especially as they can cover the range of poetic, dialectic, prophetic, and apocalyptic styles all in one fell swoop. Others struggle to see the relevance they have within the church today. Some of this is due to a Marconian influence in failing to see their relevance to New Testament believers, whether that’s intentional or not. Some of it is due to people simply not knowing their Old Testament all that well. They may struggle to understand how God operates in terms of covenant, or how these covenants even relate to one another. They may likewise struggle with their eschatology, so these books prove to be all the more daunting for some, as they concern God’s redemptive work with Israel.

Then you have a rather large contingent in the church today that bastardizes the Minor Prophets in favor of adopting the ideologies bound up in Critical Race Theory, or the more popular movement concerning social justice. I have it in mind to do a series of posts concerning this very thing, where I give an exegetical treatment of the pertinent passages often quoted by social justicians. However, as this is not the focus of this particular post, I will simply summarize my critique in saying that God’s concern with biblical justice, as portrayed in the Minor Prophets, is primarily seen in terms of His covenant with Israel. Any treatment of our current social milieu that doesn’t place things squarely within this interpretive lens is dangerously myopic, at best.

The point being: social justicians tend to place a heavy emphasis on righting perceived societal wrongs, but they do so to the detriment of the main points of these respective texts, which are grounded in Israel’s faithfulness (or faithlessness) to the Mosaic Covenant given in Ex. 19-24 (see also covenantal blessing and cursing in Deut. 28 and Lev. 26).

Yet one reason I believe the Minor Prophets are often neglected the most is that they tend to be rather sober reads. They require careful, personal reflection from the one who wishes to take the words of the apostle Paul seriously. The rather sordid history of Israel serves as an example and a warning to the church, so that the one who thinks he is standing firm should be careful not to fall (1 Cor. 10:11-12). As with Israel, Paul’s warning is seen in light of covenant faithfulness (1 Cor. 10:14-22). In the same manner, the author of Hebrews challenges the church to see Israel’s apostasy in the wilderness as a profound warning (Heb. 3:7-19). While this theme is not unique to the Minor Prophets, they nonetheless approach this topic from a different vantage point than other biblical authors. Think of it as the turning of a diamond to examine yet another facet of its brilliance.

I think of the book of Amos only because I’m currently preaching through it for my church—but here the prophet portrays God as a ferocious Lion set on devouring His prey, which are the ten tribes of Israel under the reign of Jeroboam II. The first two chapters drill this reality home as the Lion moves from region to region, drawing concentric circles around the Northern Kingdom. While the surrounding, pagan nations and the Kingdom of Judah have likewise drawn God’s ire, it is Israel who finds herself as the true target. In essence, those prior to those ten northern tribes are but the appetizer to the main course.

The reason for Israel’s judgment is bound up, again, in covenant unfaithfulness to the Lord, which plays out in a remarkably twisted manner. Those in power and affluence abuse the weak and the poor. Father and son fornicate with the same cultic prostitute, which indicates the nation is not only knee deep in the sexual perversion of incest, but they are idolatrous to boot. They encourage the breaking of vows for the Nazirites. They reject the prophets. Israel’s women lord over their husbands, and their husbands likewise fail to lead. The sacrificial system is exploited and corrupt in every conceivable way.

In all of it, God gives examples of warning after warning, calling them to repentance, only to give the refrain, “…yet you have not returned to Me.” Thus, the inevitable result of their sin is that God’s judgment has gone forth and it will not be returned. The Lion shall come and consume them in His wrath, yet all the while, they will not see His discipline through famine, drought, pestilence, swarms of insects, plague, warfare, and fire and brimstone. They shall come face to face with the living God Himself. Thus the summons is given to Israel, “Prepare to meet your God.”

Stark as the language may be, the command is not simply one of the inevitable reality all men must face. It is a plea. It is a plea to seek God and live. In other words: it is a plea that the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom would repent and turn back to God. He is calling Israel back to covenant faithfulness so they may avoid eternal condemnation. God’s aim is not simply destruction, but restoration—and this is particularly where people of all stripes and convictions tend to bristle. We want to hear that God will leave the innocent party out of His plans for judgment such as this, but the book of Amos simply reveals that there was no innocent party to be found. All were commanded: return to the Lord, or perish.

God’s judgment is still seen as irrevocable. Israel is going to be summarily destroyed. Their women will be led off with hooks through the jaw. The idolater, oppressor, sexually immoral, and the one displaying an empty religiosity will likewise find no refuge from the impending onslaught of the Assyrians. Even those who were the poor and marginalized will be carted off to a foreign land to be slaves. There were no categories of sinners to be found who were less guilty than others; all the tribes were guilty. Yet with the plea to repentance, there is no contingency placed upon recalling the judgment sworn of God. In other words: whether they repent or not, judgment was still coming.

Pain, agony, and misery would be multiplied to them all—but the Lord promised that those who turned to Him in repentance would live.
The problem is that Israel, much like many within the modern Evangelical church, was woefully deceived. This is where I find the warning to the church to be so poignant. We like to read the example given for us in Israel as if these are people who we could never be like. I’m sure the Israelites hearing of the prospect of them eating their own children felt much the same way (Lev. 26:29).

Who could ever do such a thing, they might have asked? All one need do is read 2 Kgs. 6:24-29 to find two such women who did. For the one who sits in abject repulsion of such an act—you do well—yet you would do better to fear the circumstances which could ever produce such a vile act. On the basis of the text, it was not famine which led these women to such grotesque sin—it was covenant unfaithfulness.

The point is not to say that every individual will do such a thing, but that every person is capable of incredible evil. Evil need not look like it did between these two mothers simply because evil is not a principle defined of us. It can take the culturally acceptable look of ripping an infant limb from limb whilst in their mother’s womb. It can don the appearance of one who exploits those around them, seeing them as expendable objects rather than those who bear the very image of God.

Likewise, it can embrace the sexual perversion bound up in a culture that defiles the marriage bed in every meaningful way. In all of it, the point where things terminate is in deception. Deception for the one who believes they can reject God and still be prepared to die. Yet likewise, deception for the one who believes they can fool God by living a double-life.

In either case, the prophet Amos provides a warning and a plea in the very same phrase: prepare to meet your God. To echo then the words of Christ, “Repent and believe the gospel!”



How Do Honor And Shame Motivate Moral Decisions?​

Credit: Public Domain

In my first post, I noted four ways that we seek honor and try to avoid shame. This series lays the groundwork for considering how honor and shame influence our moral decision making.

Honor, Shame, and Motivation​

In order to apply and respond to shame or honor in constructive ways, we need to understand how honor and shame motivate us, especially our moral decisions. I’ll note 4 levels of motivation, not all of them having equal value.[1]

1. Benefits (Inclusion)​

At the most basic level, we make decisions and adjust our behaviors for the sake of certain benefits. In particular, we want to be included. The desire for inclusion and the fear of exclusion are fundamental human concerns. This motivation differs little from that of “guilt,” where people fear punishment for breaking a law.

2. Belonging (Validation)​

One level deeper is the motivation of belonging. Being members of a group, people feel certain obligations. It is one’s duty to show loyalty. By acting in certain ways, a person affirms group ideals and gains a sense of validation. This motive might best be evidenced by the person who keeps to a behavior merely because of its tradition.

3. Belief (Value)​

A third and deeper level of motivation concerns belief or values. A person with this motivation has internalized certain principles about what is honorable or shameful. Several practices or values are routinely found in H&S cultures. A few examples include filial piety, respect for elders, and hierarchy as well as stress on hospitality and harmony.

4. Being (Identity)​

At the deepest level, honor and shame motivate people by appealing to their sense of identity. A person might think, “I do because I am.” I choose to live in this way because I am this or that sort of person. This level of motivation involves a diverse range of factors, especially dependent on one’s social interaction.

According to one researcher, when…
“examining the attitude of Chagga men in a Tanzanian diocese to excommunication, discovered that the men felt little guilt or shame at being excommunicated for fathering a child outside of marriage. However, they felt great shame at being childless. His conclusion was that they felt shame because childlessness was a matter of identity formation.”[2]
In summary, honor and shame can and do motivate so much of what we do, whether we are conscious of it or not. We need to understand our motivations if we’re going to see moral transformation in ourselves and in those around us. Grasping these four levels of motivation equip us to see the connection between our actions and our heart.
Why do we do the things we do?
Ideally, what we would call “Christian behaviors” are motivated by a genuine sense of Christian identity, that is of faith and love for Christ. I’m not suggesting that there is no value in the other motivations. Rather, the deeper the motivation, the more integrated the transformation we experience.
By reflecting on these four levels of motivation, we not only understand the work of character formation, but we also get a glimpse of the process that surrounds conversion, that is, the process of coming to faith and following Christ. (If you want alliteration, you could say “membership and maturity”).

We are reminded that everyone seeks to be included and desires a sense of belonging. Core values must be examined. We all live out of some sense of identity. This understanding can and should shape how we interact with others and share the gospel.


A Relationship > A Rule

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Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track—Proverbs 3:6

We men like formulas. We like bullet points. We like bright lines. They make life easier. They cut through mystery and doubt. We’d love it if such things could govern our relationships with God. They would make following him easier, too. At least, we think they would. So we try to create them. It starts innocently: Someone seeks God and finds him—through a specific prayer or practice, or through a particular way of studying Scripture or being in community or doing service. But, then, that person decides that’s "the" way to find God. Others are persuaded, of course, because they want to find God too. And a formula is born, a bullet point, a bright line, a rule about how our relationships with God must look.

The thing is, while God never changes (James 1:17, Hebrews 13:8), our relationships with him do. They’re ever changing, ever challenging (2 Corinthians 3:18). There’s always more with God. There’s always mystery. And there’s always something new. But because we fear change and fear being challenged, we often cling to what’s worked in the past or what’s worked for someone else. We create a rule, repeat a ritual, but we may not grow and mature in our relationships with God.

Okay, so what do we do?

"Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do" (Matthew 23:8-10 MSG).
Set aside some time to pray and to listen. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Ask where you might find him next—maybe in Scripture; maybe through serving; or on a short-term mission trip; or out in his creation; or something else. Let him guide your thoughts. Let him keep you on track.



Redefine Success During Lent​

Resurrection of Lazarus, Anonymous, Athens. 12-13 c. {{PD-US-expired}}

My ninety-three-year-old mother passed away on Sunday, February 23. The memorial service was this past Sunday in the city where she was born and where she and Dad raised my sister, brother, and me. Mom and Dad were not successful by society’s typical standards of greatness. They had no fame or fortune. But while they did not epitomize such greatness, they did embody goodness. In that case, they were hugely successful. In fact, they have helped me redefine success.

How often I missed them. How often I looked right past them, even while they looked right at me, saw me, and others, too. Mom and Dad deeply valued those around them. Examples include my father’s gregarious greetings to people at church, in the neighborhood, at the store, or at the toll booth as he drove to and from work. Other instances include my mother’s quiet attentiveness to people as she shared coffee and chocolate with them as they shared their hearts with her, gave shut-in individuals rides when she could drive, and later came alongside secluded souls in her wheelchair.

They enveloped others in the realization that they matter, that they have God-given dignity. Having grown up during the Great Depression, Mom and Dad understood the fear of scarcity. They also understood that relational emptiness is far worse than material leanness and loss, as family and friends in solidarity provide support in a variety of amazing ways. During Lent, when many of us give up certain material comforts and go without, may we never give up on others and allow them to live in isolation.

My parents’ formal education ended with high school graduation. But they gave me a lifelong education in Jesus’ school of discipleship. Like their Lord Jesus to whom they introduced me and modeled for me, Mom and Dad did not run past others, and certainly not over them. They stopped for them along the way.
Mom and Dad redefine success for me now. Great leaders, whom Hegel refers to as “world-historical” persons, could learn a thing or two from them, those like them, and the Lord Jesus to whom their lives bear witness, and unlearn the following:

A world-historical individual is not so circumspect as to want this, that, and the other, and to take account of everything: rather, he commits himself unreservedly to one purpose alone. So it happens that such individuals treat other interests, even sacred ones, in a casual way—a mode of conduct certainly open to moral censure. But so great a figure must necessarily trample on many an innocent flower, crushing much that gets in his way.[1]
Further to what was stated above, my mother and father led me to Jesus who never ran over or trampled anyone, innocent flowers or otherwise. Rather, he touched, healed and wept with them, like he did with Martha and Mary just before he raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. It was only fitting that John 11 which recounts this story was read at my mother’s funeral. Jesus came to serve. He saved others, and so he could not save himself (Matthew 27:42). Lent involves suffering for God and others, despising one’s own life, not suffering others’ existence as in despising them.

During Lent, let’s not run past others, or run over them on the highway, on the street, at work, in the home, at church, or at the store. Rather, let’s hit the pause button. During Lent, and after Lent is complete, let’s make sure we have lent a helping hand and given away our hearts. After all, that’s what Jesus did and continues to do. Let him redefine success for you, and others through you, just as he has done for me through my parents’ lives.


Ready for an Upgrade?

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. . . the wisdom from above is first pure,
then peaceable, gentle, open to reason,
full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere—James 3:17

A lot of men—not every man—but a lot of us struggle to hold back a harsh and judgmental attitude toward the world around us, sometimes even toward those we love the most. In the rush and charge of life, with the volatility of family, the pressure of work, the friction of the world, we too often give in to snap impulses to anger and criticism. They feel right in the moment, but they never are (Proverbs 14:17). More considered, gentler approaches are always better—less destructive, more effective, more powerful (Proverbs 19:11, 29:11; James 3:13-18).

These impulses also reveal something deeper: our pride. If we’re honest, they come from thinking too highly of ourselves, trusting ourselves too much, trusting our wisdom, our capabilities, and our "ways" too much . . . and thinking too little of those of the people around us. But, "God opposes the proud," as pride leads only to hurt and separation (James 4:6; Proverbs 16:18).

So, we must take ground in this struggle. We mustn’t let another day, another year, another decade slip by, doing nothing. These impulses are too hard on others. We must allow our guide, God the Holy Spirit, to train us in humility, to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).

Okay, so what do we do?

Confess and repent to God, in prayer. Turn your back on that harsh, judgmental man. Declare that you want to be a different kind of man. Invite God’s training. That’s a bold prayer—so bring a brother (or a few) into the endeavor. Ask him/them to pray for you, speak truth to you, and keep you accountable as God begins to move in your life.



What Is Common Grace?​

We know we are saved by the grace of God, but what is “common grace?”

Gift of Grace

The Bible is clear that we cannot save ourselves by doing good works. Our works are nothing more than filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6), so “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal 3:10). Over and over again, we are told that “no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11). It is only “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9).

Several of the other world religions base their rewards on the works they do. Of course, if there are no works in a believer’s life, then someone who claims to be a believer has a dead or useless faith (James 2:14-26). We are not saved by works, but saved for works…works that God has planned for us to do from before we were born (Eph 2:10). We are not saved by those works, but those who are saved, will work. Genuine saving grace will bear fruitful works for God’s glory, but the grace of God is what we receive that we did not deserve.

Common Grace

Common grace is the world, sinners and saints, all sharing in the blessings this life on earth. Some of the blessings of common grace include family, food, sunshine, rain, pleasure, laughter, and so many other things that we all enjoy in this life. Even if the sinner is unaware of God’s provisions, they are still recipients of God’s common grace. It is grace that is common to all, as it is poured out on all. Jesus told the crowds that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45), so God blesses those who don’t even acknowledge Him with all of the general blessings that are found in the world, but even though “favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:10).

It doesn’t matter…God still “gives food to all flesh” (Psalm 136:25a). Uncommon grace is the idea that God blesses the world in general, and does not withhold blessings based upon a person’s character. Both a man who hates people and treats them in a harsh manner, and a man who loves people and is generous and kind, will receive the same amount of rain for their gardens. God’s uncommon grace is showered upon the rich and the poor, the sick and the well, and the good and the bad. Only God’s saving grace is specifically given to those who have been brought to repentance and faith in Christ. The greatest blessing of all is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. There is no greater blessing than the grace of God, but even this is a free gift of God.

Uncommon Grace

The grace of God is different from the common grace given to all. To begin with, Jesus tells us to do things that are contrary to our own nature. For example, Jesus says some of the most uncommon things known to man. Radical things like, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). That is not something you’ll find much of in the world, and it’s certainly not in the ways of mankind to respond in this way, but we are not children of this world, but the children of God.

The Apostle Paul writes that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). He didn’t wait till we’d be strong, because He’d have had a very long wait for that…like, forever. By God sending Jesus Christ, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). To go even further, even “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10). This is exceedingly rare, since “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die” (Rom 5:7), but to die for ungodly, wicked enemies of God!? That’s an uncommon grace…an infinite love. That’s the grace of God.


Christ died for the ungodly, so that means He died for all of us. At one time, we were all an enemies of God (some still are), but God sent His Son to die for all who would repent and trusted in Him. Jesus has shown His love by living a sinless life and dying for us so that we might be “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10). If ever there was a time to be saved, it is today. Tomorrow may not come for some…and that means judgment will have come before they had the chance to repent and believe (Heb 9:27).

There is still time today…today is the best of days to be saved (2 Cor 6:2). None of us can say with 100% certainty, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” (James 4:13), so it’s not wise for us to “boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Prov 27:1). Today is the day of salvation.



Swimming Against The Current​

One of the disappointing moments in a new Christian’s life happens when they realize following Christ isn’t going to make their life easier but harder. In fact, things aren’t just going to get harder, they’re going to get more complicated.
Take the question of evil. If you’re not a Christ follower, the question of evil is nothing more than a frustrating parlor game. After all, if you don’t have a theology to confuse, why struggle to find an answer to evil? Evil just is and the “why” really doesn’t matter. Evil is like the air around us. Moreover, if you want to do evil, you can use evil as a justification for your own evil choices.

But if you’ve decided to follow Jesus, then the answer is doubly difficult. Not only can we not use the existence of evil to justify or excuse our own evil behavior, but we have deal with the spiritual question of how a good God could permit evil to exist in the world.
New believers begin their walk fresh off hearing God has a plan for their lives, a life filled with joy and grace, and then, reality bites. Reality bites hard. A lot of new believers never get past this moment. They are surprised and discouraged at how hard life gets when you’re trying to follow Jesus. In our evangelistic fervor to “sell” the faith, we have to leave out certain parts…like obedience and crosses.

In his book, Letters from the Earth, Mark Twain writes about the day Adam discovered water runs downhill. If Adam had paid attention, he would have soon discovered EVERYTHING flows downhill. Societies and nations, cultures and even nature itself – left to themselves, nothing gets better on its own. The difference is this: when you are living as unbeliever, you are just going with the flow and everything in the world is flowing with you.

When you REPENT, which means to change direction, you turn and suddenly find out that everything that was flowing with you is now flowing AT you. You begin to see the world as it is and the first thing you discover is most of what is around us isn’t healthy for our spiritual lives. Living a holy life involves saying to no to things of this world and it means saying NO a lot.

The second part of this challenge is discovering how much that is in us ISN’T like Jesus. If the goal of discipleship is to become more like Christ, the first part of this process is to identify, then remove, everything in our lives that doesn’t look like Jesus.
This starts out easily enough. All of us have obvious sins we know shouldn’t be part of our lives. Most of those are superficial. That is, they aren’t ingrained into our souls. We can walk away from them fairly easily. It’s those sins we like, the ones we’ve carefully nurtured over our lifetimes that are the most difficult to deal with. You know the ones – the ones we aren’t really sure are sins in the first place…like pride and ego. I mean, after all, aren’t you supposed to be confident in yourself? Didn’t Jesus say to love yourself? How can that be wrong?

These sins have pushed their roots deeply into our souls. They are part of who we are. They define us and we like the way they make us feel. They’re addictive.
The second reason these sins are hard to deal with is we have to deal with them at different levels. We want to think about our spiritual life as a staircase. One step, deal with it, move on and you’re done. It doesn’t work that way. In actuality, Jacob’s ladder is more like a spiral staircase than a ladder. We deal with our sins, but we keep having to deal with them at a deeper level.

Have you ever forgiven someone and then, later gotten mad at them again? You say to yourself, “I thought I had dealt with this”. You had but not at this level. Now, you have go through the process of forgiving the person who hurt you, but at a deeper level.

The challenge of our spiritual journeys being a spiral staircase is we’re making progress, but we feel like we’re going in circles.
The other challenge of swimming against the current is, well, swimming against the current. You can never relax. You can never float. If you do, the current will drag you downstream and under. You have to maintain a constant awareness and vigilance, or you will swept away.

This is what most people don’t understand. They don’t decide to quit. They just decide to stop swimming and when they do, the current pulls them away.
Our culture isn’t trying to pull us toward Christ, but away from Him. We have to keep swimming, keep faithful in order to stay close to Him.
Sadly, here’s the good news few of us actually realize. There is a beauty and simple grace when you are close to Christ. Life has a perspective you can’t find anywhere else. We soon discover the things that clutter our lives aren’t really necessary in the first place.

We can live easier, more at home with ourselves, our friends and even the world. That’s the grace Christ gives you and most of us don’t even know it. It just happens because His habits soon rub off on us and soon, you’ll find yourself not having to think about being like Christ because being like Christ is just who you are.


Where's Home?

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest—Matthew 11:28

"He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness" (Psalm 23:2-3). How does God restore your soul, brother? Where do you find rest? How are you most able to forget, even for a few moments, the pressures of this life? Where do you get reset and realigned? How do you connect with God most easily? Where are you most able to hear his voice or feel his guidance?

Is it in praying at your breakfast table in the early morning, before anyone else wakes? Or in reading Scripture on the treadmill or in your car over the lunch hour? Is it in a few minutes of stillness and solitude in the evening? Or in boisterous community around a table, with brothers or with family? Is it in walking or running or biking through streets or through hills? Is it in listening to music? Or in making your own music, singing in church perhaps? Or in something else entirely?

Recognize that God designed you, uniquely, to have ways—even amid the busyness—to find him, to find rest and restoration through him. You were designed to, every so often, just come home. So open your eyes. Search your heart. He has, no doubt, already shown you how.

Okay, so what do we do?

Think back on times when you most felt God’s peace, most felt his presence. That you have experienced him in particular ways, in particular places, in particular activities, means he has spoken . . . right to you. He’s given you permission to do those things, whatever they are. He’s told you he wants you to do those things—that you’ve got to do those things. Now, you simply must choose to do them, consistently and often.



Common Christian Myths About Happiness​

Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks said, “God is the author of all true happiness; he is the donor of all true happiness. . . . He that hath him for his God, for his portion, is the only happy man in the world.” English evangelist John Wesley said, “When we first know Christ . . . then it is that happiness begins; happiness real, solid, substantial.”

Happiness is what we all want, and believers throughout the centuries, like Brooks and Wesley, have affirmed that it is a good desire when we seek it in Christ. Unfortunately, countless modern Christians have been taught various myths about happiness.

Is God Concerned Only with Our Holiness?

As a young pastor, I preached, as others still do, “God calls us to holiness, not happiness.” I saw Christians pursue what they thought would make them happy, falling headlong into sexual immorality, alcoholism, and materialism. The lure of happiness appeared at odds with holiness. I was attempting to oppose our human tendency to put preferences and convenience before obedience to Christ. It all sounded so spiritual, and I could quote countless authors and preachers who agreed with me.
I’m now convinced we were all dead wrong.

To be holy is to see God as he is and to become like him, covered in Christ’s righteousness. And since God’s nature is to be happy (Psalm 115:3; 1 Timothy 1:11), the more like him we become in our sanctification, the happier we will be. Forcing a choice between happiness and holiness is utterly foreign to Scripture. If it were true that God wants us to be only holy, wouldn’t we expect Philippians 4:4 to say, “Be holy in the Lord always” instead of “Rejoice in the Lord always”?

Any understanding of God is utterly false if it is incompatible with the lofty and infinitely holy view of God in Ezekiel 1:26–28 and Isaiah 6:1–4, and of Jesus in Revelation 1:9–18. God is decidedly and unapologetically anti-sin, but he is in no sense anti-happiness. Indeed, holiness is exactly what secures our happiness. Charles Spurgeon said, “Holiness is the royal road to happiness. The death of sin is the life of joy.”

Is Happiness Just a Matter of Chance?

It’s common to hear objections to the word happy based on its etymology, or history. One commentator says that “Happy comes from the word ‘hap,’ meaning ‘chance.’ It is therefore incorrect to translate [the Greek word makarios] as ‘happy’” (The Pursuit of Happiness: An Exegetical Commentary on the Beatitudes). This argument may sound valid, but our language is full of words long detached from their original meanings. Enthusiasm originally meant “in the gods,” but if I say you’re enthusiastic, I’m not suggesting you are a polytheist.

When people say they want to be happy, they are typically making no statement whatsoever about chance. D.A. Carson argues in Exegetical Fallacies, “The meaning of a word cannot be reliably determined by etymology” (32). King James Version translators wouldn’t have used happy and other forms of the root word happiness thirty-six times or translated makarios as some form of happy seventeen times if they thought its word history disqualified happy as a credible biblical word.

The fact is, the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and many others used the words happy and happiness frequently in biblical, theological, and Christ-centered contexts. When they called on believers to be happy, they weren’t speaking of happenstance or chance, but of enduring delight and pleasure and good cheer in Jesus.

Is Joy More Spiritual Than Happiness?

Oswald Chambers, author of the excellent My Utmost for His Highest, was one of the earliest Bible teachers to speak against happiness. He wrote, “Happiness is no standard for men and women because happiness depends on my being determinedly ignorant of God and his demands” (Biblical Ethics, 14).
After extensive research, I’m convinced that no biblical or historical basis whatsoever exists to define happiness as inherently sinful. Unfortunately, because Bible teachers such as Chambers saw people trying to find happiness in sin, they came to think that pursuing happiness is sinful. Chambers said, “Joy is not happiness,” and continued, “There is no mention in the Bible of happiness for a Christian, but there is plenty said about joy” (God’s Workmanship, and He Shall Glorify Me, 346).

That simply is not true. In the King James Version, which Chambers used, Jesus tells his disciples, “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17 KJV). Speaking of faithful Christians, James said, “We count them happy which endure” (James 5:11 KJV). Peter said to fellow believers, “If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye” (1 Peter 3:14 KJV) and “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye” (1 Peter 4:14 KJV).

Chambers also wrote in My Utmost for His Highest, “Joy should not be confused with happiness. In fact, it is an insult to Jesus Christ to use the word happiness in connection with him.” I certainly respect Oswald Chambers, but statements like this are misleading. It’s hard for me to conceive of a greater insult to Jesus than to effectively deny what Hebrews reveals about his happy nature: “God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions” (Hebrews 1:9 NASB).

It also seems insulting to say that the best Father in the universe doesn’t want his children to be happy. In reality, the Bible is a vast reservoir containing, not dozens, but hundreds of passages conveying happiness. I’ve found more than 2,700 Scripture passages where words such as joy, happiness, gladness, merriment, pleasure, celebration, cheer, laughter, delight, jubilation, feasting, exultation, and celebration are used. Throw in the words blessed and blessing, which often connote happiness, and the number increases.
The English Standard Version doesn’t use the word happy nearly as often as many other translations, but it’s still there:
  • Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord! (Deuteronomy 33:29)
  • Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy. (1 Kings 4:20)
  • How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness. (Isaiah 52:7)
Scripture is clear that seeking happiness — or joy, gladness, delight, or pleasure — in sin is wrong and fruitless. But seeking happiness in him is good and God-honoring.

Redeeming ‘Happiness’

The modern Christian avoidance of happiness is completely counterintuitive. This is no minor semantic issue. Historically, philosophically, and practically, happiness is a vital word. But for too long we’ve distanced the gospel from what Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, the Puritans, Wesley, Spurgeon, and many other spiritual giants said God created us to desire and what he desires for us: happiness.

We need to reverse this trend! Let’s redeem the word happiness in light of both Scripture and church history. Our message to the world should not be “Don’t seek happiness,” but “You’ll find in Jesus the happiness you have always been seeking.”



Chasing The Wind: The Futility Of Materialism​

The book of Ecclesiastes is the most powerful exposé of materialism ever written. Solomon recounts his attempts to find meaning in pleasure, laughter, alcohol, folly, building projects, and the pursuit of personal interests, as well as in amassing slaves, gold and silver, singers, and a huge harem to fulfill his sexual desires (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). The more Solomon had, the more he was tempted to indulge. His indulgence led to sin, and his sin brought misery.

Solomon makes a series of insightful statements in Ecclesiastes 5:10–15. I’ll follow each with my paraphrase:
  • “Whoever loves money never has money enough” (v. 10). The more you have, the more you want.
  • “Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (v. 10). The more you have, the less you’re satisfied.
  • “As goods increase, so do those who consume them” (v. 11). The more you have, the more people (including the government) will come after it.
  • “And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?” (v. 11). The more you have, the more you realize it does you no good.
  • “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep” (v. 12). The more you have, the more you have to worry about.
  • “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner” (v. 13). The more you have, the more you can hurt yourself by holding on to it.
  • “Or wealth lost through some misfortune” (v.14). The more you have, the more you have to lose.
  • “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand” (v. 15). The more you have, the more you’ll leave behind.

As the wealthiest man on earth, Solomon learned that affluence didn’t satisfy. All it did was give him greater opportunity to chase more mirages. People tend to run out of money before mirages, so they cling to the myth that things they can’t afford will satisfy them. Solomon’s money never ran out. He tried everything, saying, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 2:10).
Solomon’s conclusion? “When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (v. 11).
Consider this statement, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). The repeated word never is emphatic—there are no exceptions. There’s an unspoken corollary to this statement: To become satisfied, you must change your attitude toward wealth.
Money itself is never the answer. What we need is a radically different perspective on money and a genuine opportunity to do something with it that will make our lives meaningful instead of meaningless.



God’s Promise To Joshua And Believers: A Bible Study And Commentary​

Read how God encouraged Joshua (and us) after Moses’ death to lead Israel into the Promised Land.

Joshua 1:2-3​

After Joshua was taking over for Moses who had passed away, God must have known Joshua needed encouragement, so He told Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Joshua 1:2-3), so God was telling Joshua that He had promised Moses that Israel would enter the land that He was giving them, so Joshua was not to worry over that since “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.”

Did the promise of God change with leadership of Israel?
How can God say the land has been given to them even before they enter it?
Why did God tell Joshua what he already knew, that Moses was dead?

Joshua 1:5​

After God tells Joshua that they would take the land, He tells Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5), so that must have been encouraging, because we know that God was with Moses and as it was said, he spoke to God face to face, as a man would a friend, so Moses’ intimate relationship with God would be continued with Joshua and reminded Him, “I will be with you” just like I was with Moses, and just as with Moses, “I will not leave you or forsake you.”

Do you think this encouragement speaks to you?
In what ways?
Why did God have to remind Joshua that He wouldn’t leave him or forsake him?
Didn’t he know this already?

Joshua 1:6​

In one of the most beloved verses in the Bible, God tells Joshua after Moses had died, to “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:8), so this is actually a command to be courageous and strong for the people, because if Joshua had wavered in doubt, then the people would have also doubted, because when leadership is anxious and fearful and worried, it tends to spread like a virus…fear is contagious.

Do you find things easier when you know someone who is courageous is leading an effort to do something?
How does fear spread?
What does it mean “be strong?”
Wasn’t Joshua already strong?

Joshua 1:7​

Once again, God repeats what is important, or He wouldn’t repeat it, so He says again to Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7). Notice that Joshua is reminded again to be strong and courageous but in doing so, be careful to do what God had commanded in the law by Moses. They were not to turn one foot to the left or to the right, but stay firmly in the middle of God’s will and only then will they “have good success wherever (they) go.”

What does it mean to not turn to the right hand or to the left?
What law was God referring to when mention the law that Moses commanded?
Does obeying the law have anything to do with success in the new land?

Joshua 1:8​

We know what God was referring to when speaking of the law that He gave Moses by telling Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8). There seems to be a conditional statement that God says it will be prosperous for them if they Book of the Law doesn’t depart from their mouth and they forget to meditate on it, both day and night.

What does it mean to “meditate on it day and night?”
How do you mediate on the law?
What does it mean that “the Law shall not depart from your mouth?”

Joshua 1:9​

If someone repeats something to you then it must be important. When I was learning how to drive, I had my brother (who taught me how to drive) remind me several times about looking out for traffic when pulling out. He said it no less than 3 times, so in a similar fashion, God often repeats things that are very important, and here again God tells Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

For the third time in just a few sentences, God reminds Joshua that he must be courageous and not be dismayed and the reason Joshua can be strong and courageous is only because “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” My son when he was very young was afraid of the dark, but when I was with him in his bedroom, he wasn’t afraid. Even though it was still dark in his room, he knew I was with him so he was not afraid or dismayed.

Why would God repeat the command to be strong and courageous three times?
Have you ever found yourself repeating something very important?
Does God being with you give you courage?