Category Archives: Miscellaneous

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The Defining Piece

defining piece

By default we all are an accumulation of our life experiences.

We are who we are because of who we know, what we have read and what we have experienced and feel, and to varying degrees this is the result of choices we have made – both good and bad.

We all are very different and complicated people and we shouldn’t be surprised we struggle with ourselves, others and God.

But we cannot let our cumulative identity define us and rule us. 

The beauty of the gospel is that who we are by default is not the defining piece.

The Bible says that we all are uniquely made and have creator, imputed worth (Genesis 5:1). Even more, when we trust in the gospel of Jesus, we become righteous, adopted children of God. It is an absolute fact.

But therein lies the challenge. We have to continue to believe what we have already believed. We have to believe that we are not defined by our circumstantial experiences. We have to submit to the authority of the God-declared reality.

If we have turned from trusting our own way to believing in Jesus’ way, we are righteous, loved and new (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21; Romans 8).

This is the defining piece.

We will either believe God or believe the world and ourselves. By God’s grace, it’s your choice.

We Live in a Hyper-Critical Culture? Are You Too Critical?

I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about us –  though I may be talking about you. Care to find out?

Full disclosure: I admit I can be hyper-critical/too critical, and I suppose I am that way because I am by default a fallible human and because being critical is a part of my training and calling as a pastor so as to identify, refute and protect against false doctrines. Additionally I have become accustomed to critiquing methods for ministry so I can make decisions about what works best. I am by nature and environment wired for criticism.

This spills over into other parts of life as well. For instance, I might be watching a college or professional football game and the quarterback makes an ill-advised throw that results in an interception. If the quarterback is playing for my team I will probably think or say something like, “What in the world was he thinking and doing? I could have made that throw.” Ummmm, reality check; I have never made it on the field to play college or pro football, and even if I had I doubt I could currently back up my claim.

We live in a time that seems to assume we have the inalienable rights to life, love and the pursuit of criticizing others. Take politics as an example. It is standard practice to criticize the other party or political opponent for the most inane things. Candidates criticize each other for having too much money, where and when they vacation, causing hurricanes, and so forth and so on. And by the way, sometimes the criticism is valid, but many times it just serves as filler for the 24 hour news cycle.

So let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water because the Bible portrays for us that there are substantive reasons for being critical and there are ways to criticize. For example, Paul in Galatians was quite critical of the people he was writing to, saying they were foolish and bewitched (Galatians 3:1) and that some of them were potentially damned (Galatians 1:8-9). As the preacher said in Ecclesiastes, “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecc. 3:1)

So yes, we can be way too critical, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be critical. Which begs the question of how then do we know if we are being too critical? Here are 5 indicators you (myself included) might be too critical:

  1. You criticize without relationship. If someone knows me and I trust them, I am very willing to receive criticism because I know I can trust them and they have good intentions. If there exists no trust between us because we have no relationship, the criticism is probably going to make me defensive and not receptive. Someone might respond, “Well, what is public is fair game for criticism.” That’s fair. But do you have to criticize publicly everything that is public. Some people just can’t help themselves, and that is worth some self-examination.
  2. You criticize and expect to be thanked for it. This person is constantly criticizing and their intent may be to help, but they are surprised when no one thanks them for exclusively criticizing. These kinds of people are generally avoided and so they conclude that it is always for the reason that they are the only ones who will tell it like it is. Maybe, but it could be they need to exercise a little balance in what they say.
  3. You enjoy criticizing and therefore do it frequently. This goes a bit with the previous and following indicator, but if a person is constantly and personally criticizing others, especially those they don’t have relationship with, there’s a high likelihood that they are overly critical. Criticism should be given with a lot of prior thought and it should be done with the understanding that it is best to carefully pick the hills we are willing to die for. We only have so much trust capital with people by which we can critique them. We better be wise about picking our spots.
  4. You are never satisfied. This person drives down the road and the person that goes faster than them is a reckless maniac, but the person who goes too slow is an idiot for not going as fast as the critic. Everyone on the road, and for that matter in the world, is thinking and doing it wrong.
  5. You constantly find yourself in the minority. There’s a time to be in the minority and stand for  convictions, but if we find ourselves there almost perpetually, the problem may not be everyone else. We might consider pointing the finger back at our own person and critiquing ourselves.

And that seems to be what the Bible would have us do in the first place. I can’t help others until I have first been helped. I shouldn’t judge others until I have first judged myself by the truth. I hope each of us will be as critical of ourselves as we are of everyone else. That might be the most helpful indicator of all.

Fuzzy, Confused and Dangerous – What Is Love?

Love

“Fuzzy words lead to confusing beliefs and practice.” A professor once said that in a class and it has never left me.

For instance, how would you define the word love? John Wooden asserted that love is the most important word in the human language. But what is love? What do we mean when we say I love pizza, a pet, a spouse or even Jesus? If we asked 10 people on the street we might get 10 different definitions and we might find some people who can’t articulate the idea because it is so diversely used.

Wikipedia made this comment about defining the word love: “This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.”

Definitions are so very important because if we don’t know what we mean then even the most important words lose their meaning and therefore their impact. And words like “love” are so important because they are used so often by God in His word. After all, what does it mean when we are told to do “everything in love.” (1 C or. 16:14) What does it mean when we read that “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). In these passages is the word love used to communicate an emotion or an action? And if an action, what kind of action? What does that action look like?

My argument is simple; we have to know what God means in a contextually comprehensive way and we have to know what we mean when we use words. We have to have concise and clear definitions so we are not confused, therefore confusing our hearers. God has communicated through words, words He uses so that we might know Him through Christ, resulting in transformed and godly life.

We can’t afford to be fuzzy and confused about God. For if we are fuzzy and confused about God then we will be confusing to others and confusion is not loving. As a matter of fact, it is deadly dangerous.  

Additionally, when we have concise and clear definitions it is easier to teach by repetition for the purpose of retention and application. Concise and clear stick.

I have been working at this for my own edification but also for the purpose of passing along important truths to my sons and church family. By way of example, here are a few that I have been developing and refining:

  • Love – Wanting and doing what is best for another person.
  • Faith – Trusting all of our person to all of the person of Jesus Christ. Faith is surrendering all of our life to the one who surrendered His.
  • Truth – What is real and right.
  • Biblical Manhood – Gladly taking the initiative of sacrificial responsibility for all that God says is real and right.
  • Integrity – Doing what’s right even when we think no one else is looking. (God is always looking – Proverbs 16:14).
  • Discipline – Doing what right and beneficial when you naturally would not do it.
  • Respect – Treating others the way you would want to be treated.

Of course each of these definitions require some explanation and they may vary based on context. I may also need to tweak them as I grow in deeper understanding, but the point is that based on what I understand of the Bible I know what I mean.

Do you know what you mean or do you live in fuzzy confusion and cause the same for others? It’s important that we are clear.

Kill Your Weeds While You Can

I can’t recall seeing so many weeds, especially dandelions. Weeds of all sorts  have surrounded and are threatening my lawn. (Most, no doubt, are from Ryan Smith’s yard. He raises weeds – unintentionally.)

Should I care that much about weeds and lawn? Probably not. It’s a fruitless joy. But my war with weeds has reminded me of a truth that really does matter in life.

The thing I’ve noticed about weeds is the same thing I have learned about sin. If you don’t deal with them they will overwhelm you and defeat you. To maintain a nice lawn you have to constantly be feeding the grass you want and killing the weeds you loathe. Dealing with sin is like that.

Also, some weeds look pretty. They have flowers. They appear desirable. But there is a reason we consider them weeds and there is a reason we have a multi-million dollar industry devoted to killing them. Don’t settle for a weed when you can have a real flower.

One other thing I’ve noticed about weeds; if you don’t uproot them when they are small, when their roots are shallow, then they are really hard to get rid of. Unless of course you start spraying poison around the plants and grass you want to keep. So also we must deal with sin soon after it germinates. We can’t ignore it and hope it will go away. It won’t. Unwanted things don’t work that way.

So like weeds, fight sin constantly, killing it and pulling it up while it is young and don’t be fooled by appearance. If it grows up and sets roots and matures it will cause far more damage, time and toil than you bargained for. “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” John Owen

When Want Of New Is Bad For You

new

You know what is addictive – new stuff. New can be exciting and fun, and often feels good. Who doesn’t like a little exciting and new in their life?

But new isn’t always good or what we really need. Some of us are addicted to new for all the wrong reasons. Some us actually act like something new will save us – like it is a savior. Do you?

As a parent I’ve seen and felt the desire for something new. I’ve seen it in my boys and felt it in my wallet. More often than not when we watch TV or go to Wal-Mart, I hear something like this: “Dad, I want that so bad. Can we buy it?” As though a new toy or game will fulfill every longing of their young lives – the lure of marketing to little minds – and so eventually they might get it and they play with it, for a day or two, and then it joins the pile of forgotten toys  – as is illustrated in Toy Story).

We adults aren’t much better. We want new cars, new houses, new and less stressful jobs, our own new toys, a new church, new clothes, new technology and sometimes new spouses. And yet it never ends with the latest new. Does it?

The grass always seems greener on the other side and yet when we get to the other side we always find the grass doesn’t last long or stay green, and it always has stickers and weeds we couldn’t see from where we were.

Another area where I see this longing for something new is in the teaching of God’s word. Somehow we have come to equate hearing and learning something new with growth and maturity. I hear it and sense it in a great deal of what we do; teach me or show me something new. “Feed me something fresh!” is the cry of many.

The question that I would pose to others and myself is this: “Do you do what you already know?” And additionally, how can you handle something new if you can’t even do what you say you already know? What are you going to do with another tool when you have a bunch you don’t use now? Isn’t that what we call hoarding? Surely we all know that life isn’t just about knowing, it’s equally about what we do with what we know (James 1:22).

It is true we should never cease to be teachable and to learn, but it must be true that the real mark of a growing and maturing person is that we are faithful to apply what we already have and know. Maybe God is waiting for us to be faithful with a little before He gives to us a lot.

If a person can’t apply a simple command like 1 Cor. 16:14: “Let everything you do be done in love.” Why would we presume that more information is going to overcome our application deficiency?

Here is the big idea I am driving at: New is not bad, but new doesn’t solve what’s wrong or lacking right now, and that is true in every area of life.

For example, if a man or woman decides finding a new spouse is going to solve their marital misery, they have failed to realize that in some way they are contributing to the misery. It is never just one persons fault. Never. And unless they deal honestly with themselves to fix their own issues, they will just go on and create misery with another person, because they have just exchanged one set of problems for another. Everyone has issues, and searching out a new relationship just trades an old set of issues for a new and different set.

On a positive and redeeming note. This longing for the new, when rightly understood, isn’t bad. It means we were created to be perfect and we were created for perfection (Genesis 1-2). And one day we will experience a new and perfect reality as we bask in the presence of the Triune God (Revelation 21-22). God will restore the creation and make all things new and until then, if we are in Christ, we have hopefully been made new (2 Cor. 5:17). So we are new but we wait for a permanent, indestructible new (Rev. 21:1-7).It’s amazing how easily we lose sight of why we really long for something new. We long for that which we were created but worship the created instead of the creator who gives all good things. Left to ourselves, we are idol factories, making good things, god things, and in doing so we lose sight of the LORD God.

But wishing away where we are now is not the answer. As a matter of fact, what is to come should give us staying and obeying power where God has put us right now. We have the certainty  of new to look forward to, and let’s learn all we can about it, but let’s not turn newness into a cure-all and idol and wish away what we should be doing with what we know.

New isn’t always the answer, but one day God will make all things new. Let us live what we know as we get ready for a place where the new never gets old.

Saying “I Am Sorry” Is Not Enough – Four Steps to a Healthy Apology

We have all said it and heard it: “I’m Sorry.”

But is this common statement enough? Is saying, “I’m sorry.” a real apology?

Does it truly resolve conflict and foster healthy relationships?

I often ask in premarital counseling why it isn’t enough to say: “I’m sorry.” Most people have never even thought about it. They simply do it because that is what they have seen modeled.

After all, what does it mean when someone offers “I’m sorry.” as an apology? Here’s what it could mean:

  • I’m sorry you feel bad.
  • I’m sorry I feel bad because you feel bad.
  • I’m sorry I got caught.
  • I’m sorry this is awkward.
  • I’m a sorry human being and I know it and you should too.
  • I’m sorry I wronged you and I feel bad that I hurt you.

The fact is, a person could feel bad for a number of reasons and still not truly apologize and seek reconciliation for what they have done.

“I’m sorry” is a good first action but it isn’t enough.

So what is enough? What is a healthy apology?

First, you have to mean it. People know when we really mean what we say, and more importantly God, knows when we mean it. So don’t say something just to alleviate a situation. Typically people who mean it will show it by their actions afterward, because if they are truly sorry they will take action to avoid further injury to the relationship.  So mean it and determine to live like you mean it.

Second, say you are sorry, but make sure you your expression of sorrow is for the right reason.  When you say I am sorry I hope you mean: “I am hurting because I hurt you.” Or, “I feel bad because I hurt you.” However, avoid the politician apology where you say: “I’m sorry if I hurt you or offended you.” Wrong! That means you are sorry someone is upset or mad and it probably doesn’t mean you are sorry that you wronged them. When you say you are sorry, make sure it is because you feel remorse that you hurt them.

Third, say why you are sorry. State specifically what you think you have done wrong. This enables both you, and the offended person, to agree on the specifics of the offense. This will help the person you hurt to know that you understand why they are hurt. If you have misidentified the hurtful action, then the person can correct you so you don’t keep making the same mistake again and again.

Finally, ask the wounded person: “Will you forgive me?” This is missing in too many apologies. Doing this is important because it shows that you know you need to be forgiven. It shows humility and sincere vulnerability to ask for forgiveness and that can be disarming.

Additionally, it allows the hurt person to own the process of reconciliation with their response. If the person won’t forgive you, then you know you both have more work to do, but if they say they forgive you, it provides a sense that a resolution has been reached and that you can begin to make sure the hurtful action does not happen again.

Without this question there is no way of knowing if both parties are satisfied with the outcome of the conversation. You need to have some certainty that you have done everything you can to make the wrong right so you can begin to work on preventing the wrong the next time – if there is a next time.

So here is a healthy apology: “I’m sorry that I ______________________ (articulate the specific offense). Will you forgive me?”

This is how my wife and I apologize to each other and our children. This is how we have taught our children to apologize. It is the the way I teach engaged couples to apologize. I believe this is the kind of apology that best brings about resolution in conflict and produces sanctification for God’s glory. It’s a lot harder than a simple: “I’m sorry.” But it is the most fruitful apology method I have come across when it comes to truly resolving conflict.

If OSU Wins the National Championship………

I want to get out front of what could potentially happen, because I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble if it does. But if OSU were to run the table and then play LSU in the National Championship Game in New Orleans on January 9, and then they were to win the game, how should a Christ-follower (Christian) react who is an OSU fan?

By Christian I mean: Someone who has given their life, their allegiance, their whole life to the whole person of Jesus Christ so that they might be restored to God and live for Christ. So how does a Christian celebrate and think about how a Christian should respond when their favorite football team just won a once-in-a-lifetime game?

If it is true that we can and should eat and drink for the glory of God through Christ (1 Cor. 10:31), then how do we watch football and celebrate a football victory for the glory of God? Since all of life is meant for Jesus (Col. 1:16), this is a question every Christian football fan must think through so that when they watch and celebrate they will know if they are honoring Christ or worshiping football stars, coaches, teams, donors, etc.

As someone who has played sports and watched a lot of sports, this has been a struggle for me. I want to enjoy sports, but I don’t want to elevate anything or person over Christ. Teams, wins and stadiums are fleeting. Christ is not.

David Platt, who pastors in Alabama, puts this in perspective following the Auburn’s National Championship last year. I hope you will take a moment to watch this and examine your yourself.

The Death of Bin Laden – Thoughts on The Gospel, Justice and Your Neighbor

Osama (Usama) bin Laden is reportedly dead (May 2, 2011 – ae 54). At least Obama administration officials say DNA evidence proves he is dead with 99.9 percent confidence. No telling what the .1 percent will give rise to?

There is probably not much more for me to say that has not already been said, but after sleeping on the news, here are some terse thoughts I thought on the “historical event.”

Shocked! To begin with, I was surprised to learn that he was even alive. I suspected that he was dead already from his alleged poor health or from being buried alive in a cave that was struck by a bunker buster bomb. He alluded capture and death for ten years.

A Theology of Justice and Vengeance I hope that from this we can learn something of a robust biblical theology of justice. Watching the tweets and status updates fly last night and this morning reveals clearly that some people are trying to see this through the lens of the whole counsel of God and others see it by way of the passages that best sum up what they think justice is. Don’t misunderstand me, justice always wins because God is sovereign, but is this what God wanted? Be careful how you answer.

Is This the Death Nail (Knell) of Terrorism? This is not the end of the “war on terrorism.” Terrorism of any sort is not about one evil man, but about the evil within each man, woman and child. Hate and murder will continue until Jesus returns to deal decisively with it.

What Am I Supposed to Think and Feel? I feel the tension of this moment. Bin Laden will face true and absolute justice before the One true God, just as one day every person will (2 Cor. 5:10). I rejoice that God is just and deals justly, but I rejoice not that Bin Laden appears to have chosen eternal wrath rather than eternal life.  I have in the past rejoiced in the death of my enemies, but God is reshaping me in this. Jesus shows us a better way by dying for His enemies, and we all once were His enemy. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Should I (Proverbs 24:17; Ezekiel 33:11)?  On Twitter I read that a six-year-old asked his father: “Why are people supposed to be happy if he (Bin Laden) didn’t know Christ?” Enough asked.

The Gospel and Terrorism My hope would be that this would propel us with the gospel. Would it not have been better that someone would have reached Bin Laden with the gospel before He became radicalized? The Muslim world won’t be saved by killing Muslims. There is a time and place for government to protect and enforce laws, even in a fallen world, but we need to make sure we are on God’s side, accomplishing His agenda, not the other way around. I’m afraid that many of us will find one day that our agenda was not His.

Your American Neighbor and Osama Bin Laden Last thought. Bin Laden will give an account to the One who judges justly and rightly avenges all injustice (All injustice is ultimately against God.) But the reality is this, every unbelieving and unsaved person is in the same boat as Bin Laden. Bin Laden could have been saved, even right up until the last moment of having breath in his lungs.  But if he wasn’t then he is lost forever. In that regard he is no different than the cordial, tax-paying and law-abiding citizen who is your neighbor. Both Bin Laden and your unbelieving neighbor will face the wrath of God. Is your neighbor a “good person”? Was Bin Laden an evil man? Apart from Christ, Bin Laden and your neighbor are in the same boat and are no different. They are both sinners before a perfectly holy and righteous God. Most people however don’t believe this, because their actions speak louder than their knowledge. There is something to be learned here. When you see your neighbor who is without Christ, think Bin Laden. Then ask God to put the desire within you to make sure that your neighbor doesn’t follow Bin Laden, because that is the reality your neighbor is headed for apart from the righteousness of Christ.

“King’s Cross” and Resurrection Hope

I’ve recently picked up and began reading Tim Keller’s newest book, King’s Cross; The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. In the book Keller works through the Gospel of Mark and carefully unfolds the life of Jesus. At the end of the book Keller naturally looks at the resurrection and calls the last chapter, The Beginning. Given the fact that Easter is upon us, I thought I would pass on a couple of passages about the resurrection that I found helpful. Keller writes on page 222:

And to the extent that the future is real to you, it will change everything about how you live in the present. For example, why is it so hard to face suffering? Why is it so hard to face disability and disease? Why is it so hard to do the right thing if you know it’s going to cost you money, reputation, maybe even your life? Why is it so hard to face your own death or the death of loved ones? It’s so hard because we think this broken world is the only world we’re ever going to have. It’s easy to feel as if this money is the only wealth we will ever have, as if this body is the only body we will ever have. But if Jesus is risen, then you future is so much more beautiful, and so much more certain, than that.

Do you really believe that Jesus was raised from the grave, conquering sin and death? Because if you do it will change how you live. If you live and react like there is no resurrection then perhaps you are not convinced, and that could be eternally problematic (1 Cor. 15:1-8). The Bible portrays the transformed disciples/apostles as those who really believed in the resurrection, and their lives validated what they said they believed.

Keller writes on page 224:

And if you know that this is not the only world, the only body, the only life you are ever going to have-that you will someday have a perfect life-who cares what people do to you? You’re free from ultimate anxieties in this life, so you can be brave and take risks. You can face the worst thing, even life in wheelchair, with joy, with hope. The resurrection means we can look forward with hope to the day our suffering will be gone.

Keller’s application is helpful, though not easy, but do we hope in the resurrection of Jesus, believing that His resurrection will result in our resurrection? What we really believe will have bearing on how we really live.

So think hard about the resurrection and why it can be believed, but also think about what it should mean for those in Christ. And pick up Keller’s book and study Mark with his guidance. You will see we have much reason to hope in King Jesus.

5 Thoughts I Thought – April 11

These are 5 thoughts I thought over the last 24 hours.

  1. Our boys went home with my mom and dad this past weekend and stayed the night. Our youngest son gave us a complete report of significant events and verbal exchanges. He reported that they had “Bible Time” on Sunday Morning. I was so glad to hear that my sons are seeing the Bible read not only in their own home but in the home of my dad and mom. However, I asked Elijah what it was about and his reply was revealing: “I don’t remember.” So he remembered that he had Bible Time but could not remember what it was about. Here’s a thought I thought: The event itself can play an  important role in teaching and reminding about what is important and worth doing. This is an example of a meaningful tradition.  My son may not remember what was said about the Bible for now, but at least he remembers and will remember that grandma and grandpa also cherish God’s word. Until he hears, remembers and believes the word, I am glad he at least knows our family prioritize God’s word.
  2. My wife actually put this thought in my head, but it is an interesting thing to ponder.”Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink.” Isaiah 5:22 Can a person be a bartender with a good conscience?
  3. “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” 1 Cor. 16:22 Paul doesn’t mince words and He clearly cannot understand how anyone would not love the Lord. I take this also to mean that believing in the Lord will be accompanied by loving the Lord. If anyone believes Jesus and loves Jesus then he will obey His commands (See John 14). Is it impossible to believe in Jesus, knowing that He loved us with His life and death, and then think that we can ignore his commands, which are for our good?
  4. A sixth-grader said to me yesterday shortly after the sermon: “I want to correct you on something in your sermon.” Me: “Alright.” Sixth-grader: “The United States is not the richest country in the world, Luxembourg is.” Me: “That’s true if you mean GDP, but not by overall wealth and power. Do you know what GDP is?” The look on the Sixth-grader’s face: “What did I get myself into.” My thought after asking the question: “Why didn’t I just say thank you for the correction and go on?”
  5. Sermon corrections from yesterday. I said yesterday that if anyone does not provide for his family he is worse than a believer. I corrected it a moment later by saying “unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Additionally I said that the average credit card debt per individual is $7,600. That was a wrong statement on two accounts. First, I should have said $7,300. Second, it is per household not individual. Both accounts are a good reminder to slow down and then stick with the notes unless certain I have the facts right.