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How to Not be Wrong

I hate being wrong. Hate. HATE. HAAAAAAAAATE!

(My counselor can give you all the reasons why, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Lucky for me, Jesus tells me how to not be wrong!

Surely, if I employ His little formula, I’ll never be wrong again! Muhahaha!

(Of course, no one can perfectly obey Jesus’ commands all the time because sin. But, man, if I could follow His strategy for not being wrong just some of the time, I could cut out a whole lot of being wrong in my life, and, I gotta tell ya, that sounds good!)

The way to not be wrong, straight from Jesus’ mouth, is to “know the Scriptures and the power of God,” (Mark 12:24).

That’s it!

That’s it?

That almost seems attainable!

Here’s some context for you.

Not everyone liked Jesus, turns out.

There was this group of Jews back in the day, the Sadducees, who didn’t like Jesus because He taught something they didn’t believe in. Namely, Jesus taught there would be a bodily resurrection of the dead one day. The Sadducees didn’t buy that at all.

So one day the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus to make Him look stupid to His followers and other onlookers. They asked Jesus a question based on a false premise and gave Him seven possible answers to choose from, none of which were right.

Trap.

It seemed to be an impossible question to answer in the Sadducees minds, but, if Jesus didn’t produce an answer, it would appear He was admitting there is no resurrection of the dead. Thus, Jesus would prove to be a phony teacher who couldn’t be trusted, and, hopefully, His followers would stop following Him.

Jesus saw through this strategy, and, instead of choosing one of the multiple choices the Sadducees gave Him, Jesus replied to their question this way: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (12:24).

Daaaaaaaaaaaaang!

(I’m imagining this intense school yard scenario like in all kids’ movies ever. The group of Sadducees stands across from Jesus and His disciples. Everyone has his arms crossed as the rival posses throw death stares at each other. And Head Sadducee Guy steps forward, sets this trap, stands nose to nose with Jesus, and snarkily challenges Jesus to answer this crafty question he’s so proud of. (Yeah, I made “snarkily” up…what even is your point?) And Jesus mic drops the dude by basically saying, “You’re wrong to even ask me that because you don’t know anything about the scriptures OR God!” And everyone’s eyes get big like Jesus has just laid down the worst “Your mama…” insult. And dudes on both sides can’t help but let out loud, “Oooooooooooooo!” sounds (or, as the kids today say, “Buuuuuuuuurn!”). And Head Sadducee Guy turns bright red and two-hand shoves Jesus. And Peter jumps in and punches Head Sadducee Guy right in the mouth. And they all get sent to detention. Except Jesus. Because obviously.)

Back to reality…

After Jesus posed the rhetorical question that told the Sadducees they were wrong because they were ignorant of the scriptures (which, in fact, teach the resurrection of the dead [Daniel 12:1-2, Isaiah 26:19]), and the power of God (God is, in fact, powerful enough to resurrect people [Job 42:2, Jeremiah 32:17]), Jesus proceeded to explain why the question was invalid: it was based on the false premise that people will be married in heaven.

If they had read the scriptures, the Sadducees would’ve known there is such a thing as a bodily resurrection of the dead, and this whole silly scenario would’ve been avoided.

Then Jesus did them one better and dismantled their belief that the resurrection of the dead is not a thing in a matter of 2 sentences (Mark 12:26-27). It’s beautiful.

I’ve been a believer for 20 years. And, from the beginning of my relationship with Jesus, by the grace of God, I’ve been drawn to and felt the importance of knowing the Word.

Today, I am more convinced than ever, and increasingly so with every passing day, that if we are going to be the mature believers God wants us to be, we. must. know. His. Word.

We will never “arrive”. The Bible is not something we can master. It may look like a finite book with dimensions and a first page and a last page, but, it is really an unlimited trove of knowledge of an infinite God.

There is no exhausting it! The Holy Spirit always has more to show us. Always. ALWAYS! God can continue to reveal more things to us about Himself every single time we read it.

And, here in Mark, Jesus is not just telling the Sadducees, but He is also telling us: if you don’t know the scriptures, you won’t know the truth! Another translation says you will be in error.

I don’t want to be in error! Ever!

Partly because I am a prideful schmuck who hates being wrong. God is working on changing that part of me…

But I also don’t want to be in error because I cannot properly understand and serve God if I don’t know the truth. About Him. About me. About the world. About the Word. About how life works. About how eternity works. About everything.

And if I am not properly understanding and serving God due to my lack of knowledge of the truth, I am failing to give God the glory and honor and praise He is worthy of.

In other words, I’m sinning.

If we don’t want to be wrong, Jesus says we have to know the scriptures.

(Caveat: it’s possible to know the scriptures and still be wrong. Knowing and obeying are two different things.)

And there’s no better time to start knowing the scriptures than now. (Seriously, you’re reading a blog post. Go read the Word!)

(Also, thanks for reading this blog post! Please come again….you know, when you’re not reading the Word…)

oreos

The key aspect of effective discipleship. (Spoiler alert: Oreos ARE involved.)

I’ve been co-teaching a three-semester Systematic Theology class at my church for the last 18 months. (And it has been a BLAST! If you’re in the area, I highly recommend joining us the next time we teach it.) Our class is coming to an end in a couple of weeks, and one of our students asked, “So, what’s next?”

While we do have some ideas on classes we want to offer in January, my mind keeps coming back to discipleship.

Kandi Gallaty defines discipleship this way:

Discipleship is intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.

The reason we teach scripture and theology (and are students of them ourselves) is not just so our students will know everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That’s not the Great Commission. We teach the Bible so our students will obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do. That is the Great Commission.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:18-20

Specifically, we need to teach our students to obey Jesus’ command to go and make disciples (that’s the “replicate” part in the definition of discipleship).

Some of our students are already discipling others, praise the Lord! But some aren’t. For a myriad of reasons that no longer include, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to disciple someone else.”

It kills me that many of us teach the Word but never get around to lovingly, but insistently, pushing our people to obey it!

Sure, when we speak to a class of 30 or a group of 80 we hope they will take away a truth that they will then apply to their lives that week, but we can’t know that they do… Because groups that large don’t lend themselves to accountability.

In other words, we are only capable of partial discipleship in large group settings. We can intentionally equip believers with the Word of God in large groups…but we can’t have effective accountable relationships, without which our students might, but probably won’t, replicate faithful followers of Christ.

The essential accountability factor is only consistently possible in one-on-one or very small groups (3-5ish people). This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where we can teach them to obey all Jesus has commanded us. Including, but not limited to, them discipling others, eventually.

It’s not rocket science. But it’s also not easy.

Discipling and being discipled on a small scale require vulnerability, commitment, a teachable heart, dependence upon the Holy Spirit for direction and sanctification, and, oh, yeah, TIME.

These are all legitimate concerns people raise in the form of excuses for why they aren’t discipling others or being discipled by someone. (And I say that as someone who has used all of them on many occasions.)

The actual reasons we don’t participate in real discipleship are because we are afraid, and we are just a tad self-centered. (These are the same reasons we don’t evangelize.)

We don’t really want to spend our precious Netflix and Oreos time on other people! Especially if it is going to get uncomfortable.

But if we don’t prioritize discipling people who will disciple other people, we are in direct disobedience of Jesus Christ.

Let that sink in a minute.

The shock of that statement ought to make all of our excuses for not participating in discipleship fade away faster than I can eat ten Double Stuf Oreos (I don’t even know why they still make Single Stuf).

Are you scared? That’s fine, Jesus didn’t say you have to be fearless.

Do you not have time? Uh, yeah, you do. Find it. Start by looking in the Netflix directory.

Do you not know how? Ask someone who does. Read a book on the subject.

Do you not have anyone to disciple or to disciple you? Uh, yeah, you do. Ask God to bring you people. Sit back. Eat some Oreos. Pay attention.

Even if you’ve never read the Bible, you qualify to be discipled by someone. There are, in fact, no pre-requisites at all.

Even if you’ve never taken Systematic Theology, if you have a general grasp on the Bible and a general understanding that it’s better to obey God than to not obey God, you qualify to disciple someone.

Stop waiting. Start now.

Unanswered Prayers and “Ask and it WILL be Given to You”

There is a super famous Bible verse that is super misused, causing two super problems. So that has got to stop.

In Luke 11 Jesus is teaching His followers about prayer. He models prayer for them via what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer,” (as if He only prayed the one time…).

Then He tells them a parable to reinforce the fact that God likes it when we annoyingly ask Him for the same thing over and over until we get it.

(The NIV calls this “boldness”. Other translations call this “persistence”. But, I can’t help but think of it as nagging. Nevertheless, God wants us to keep asking sometimes.)

After the parable Jesus says this, “So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened,” (Luke 11:9-10).

Most people stop there. And that’s where they run into problems.

The first issue is people take this to mean they can ask for anything and God will give it to them. After all, it appears to be a pretty straight-forward guarantee right here in God’s Word. So He is obligated to deliver, right?

Many a preacher has taken these two verses out of context and centered his entire ministry around them. Such preachers stand in pulpits across the world gleefully telling the masses that God wants them to be healthy and wealthy and these verses are the proof! These preachers claim that if the pray-er just believes enough and nags enough (er…has enough “boldness” and “persistence”…) and gives enough money to God (i.e., to the preachers’ private jet funds), God will literally make their bodies healthy and fill their pockets with cash money.

This is called the prosperity gospel, and some of the biggest churches in America teach it. Many of the preachers on TV teach it. And then it makes its way across the international airwaves to third-world countries where desperately poor people so want it to be true that they convince themselves it is.

The problem is the prosperity gospel isn’t true. The Bible does not promise good health or wealth to anyone who follows Jesus. In fact, He promises we will have trouble (John 16:33) and suffer if we follow Him (John 15:20). Yes, we will receive blessings, too (1 Corinthians 9:23), but nowhere does the Bible report those blessings will be physical and financial.

The actual gospel is we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and those sins have earned us death (Romans 6:23), which is another word for eternal separation from the blessings of God. But God so loves us that He created an exchange program in Jesus, who never sinned during His life, thus earning Himself eternal life with God. God decided to offer every human being the chance to exchange their earned ticket to hell for Jesus’ earned ticket to Heaven (Romans 4:22-25).

The prosperity gospel preachers never get around to the actual gospel. The only “need” for Jesus they present is we “need” Him to give us good health and money. Unfortunately, our need is much greater than that. We need Him to take the punishment our sinning deserves and give us the blessing His obedience deserved.

All that to say, millions of people are being led to believe Christianity is about manipulating God into giving them whatever they want by taking these verses out of context. And that is a huge problem. Not only will those people not get what they are trying to get, they will also not get Heaven when they die because/if they have not properly understood and accepted the actual gospel.

The second problem from misusing these verses applies to those of us who do understand and believe the actual gospel but are then left disappointed, doubting, and/or in a state of self-loathing when we persistently ask God for something and don’t get it.

We start to think, “Maybe the Bible isn’t true after all,” or “Maybe I don’t have enough faith,” or “Maybe God doesn’t really care about me,” or “Maybe God isn’t even real.”

Our faith can be seriously challenged when we think these verses mean if we pray enough times, God promises to give us whatever it is we are asking him for no matter what. We can become bitter, angry, distant, depressed, and even turn our backs on God completely if our “bold” prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be…the way we think these verses teach that they will be.

So what’s the solution to these two huge problems?

CONTEXT.

Don’t stop reading after verse 10! Read through verse 13.

“So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

The first verse uses a little pronoun: it. We have to ask ourselves what “it” is in reference to.

The previous verse is part of the parable Jesus told. The subject of the sentence is what the ask-er needs. So, perhaps the “it” covers what we need, but not necessarily what we want. And that accounts for why we don’t always get what we ask Him for.

But in the parable the “need” presented isn’t a true need; rather, the ask-er is wanting some food to entertain unexpected company with. They likely will not starve without said food. The host was following the cultural rules of hospitality and did not want to dishonor his visitors, the worst insult in that day.

So his “need” is more of a “want”, which would make the “it” in “ask and it will be given to you” more of a want. We’ve all experienced God not giving us our wants, so we are back to square one. How can this verse be true if we can make “it” be anything we want it to be?

Maybe “it” doesn’t refer to a noun in the previous story. Maybe it refers to a noun in the verses that come after it.

After the promise “it will be given to you,” Jesus makes a comparison to illustrate His teaching. Then, in verse 13, Jesus summarizes everything He has just taught on the subject of prayer: “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

What is being given?

The Holy Spirit.

To whom?

To those who ask Him for it.

It.

IT.

We found our “it”!

Take the “the Holy Spirit” back up to verses 9 & 10.

“So I say to you: ask and [the Holy Spirit] will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Our verses are not a blank check waiting for you to fill out so the Bank of God can cash it.

Our verses are a specific check God filled out and is waiting for you to cash through prayer!

Ask for a greater awareness of the Holy Spirit and it will be given to you; seek deeper intimacy with the Spirit, and you will find it; knock and the door to more powerful connection with the Spirit will be opened.

These are promises God will keep. These are the guarantees Jesus was making when He said these words to His followers.

Don’t let foolish preachers pluck these verses out of context to convince you God wants you fat and happy above all else. Don’t take these verses out of context yourself and then allow doubt and disappointment to overtake you when you don’t get what you want.

Rather, read these verses in context and get to praying for the “it” God is offering you if you are a follower of Jesus: greater intimacy with the Holy Spirit.

That’s a far greater gift than whatever else you wanted from God anyway.

 

How to be a Good Friend

In Luke 5:17-26, Luke recounts the time Jesus miraculously heals a paralytic.

At the time Jesus’ popularity was swelling. All kinds of people wanted to be around him for many different reasons.

Some wanted Him to provide miracles in their lives. Some were intrigued by His mysterious teachings and healings. Some wanted to follow Him all the time because they knew He was God. Others were offended by Him but stuck close by looking for an opportunity to outwit Him and/or condemn Him as a blasphemer of Jewish law.

In Luke 5:17-19, Jesus is in a house teaching, and people of each group listed above literally pack out the house. It is crowded with people hanging on every word that comes out of Jesus’ mouth.

The second part of verse 17 reads, “And the power of the Lord was present for [Jesus] to heal the sick.”

How curious!

However, a quick perusal of commentaries told me I am the only one, in fact, who finds this statement curious.

It seems to me this verse implies Jesus “needs” the power of “the Lord” in order to heal the sick. Typically, the Greek word for Lord used here refers to Jesus. But that doesn’t make sense in the sentence as we English-speakers have constructed it.

Assuming we didn’t screw up the meaning of the verse by translating it oddly, “the Lord”, then, must be a reference to God in general.

We could chase a bunch of rabbit trails here (actually, I’m already doing that…), but I think this verse is interesting because it shows Jesus’ relationship with and interdependence on God the Father and/or God the Holy Spirit.

Just as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do things at times (Acts 1:8, Galatians 5, Romans 8), so was Jesus, at least while He was here on earth. Another discussion for another time.

ANYWAY, the actual point of this post: while Jesus was teaching, some friends of a paralyzed man “tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus,” (Luke 5:18).

Why?

Because these friends believed Jesus could heal this man if they could just bring him to Jesus. (Oh, the symbolism practically writes itself, doesn’t it?)

Verse 19: “When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”

What great lengths these men went to in order to give their friend the opportunity to be healed!

They carried him up the stairs, illegally damaged a dude’s roof by using some sort of non-electric tool to bore through sturdy ceiling tiles, found some extra long rope, and rigged up a pulley system situation to lower their friend down into the home. (Any friend who is willing to employ physics to help you is a friend indeed.)

And then beautiful verse 20, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.'” (Spoiler alert: Jesus also physically heals the man a few minutes later. He just chooses to address the man’s greater need–spiritual healing–first.)

What gets me is how the friends’ faith played a crucial role in the paralyzed man’s healing. They persistently and creatively pursued Jesus on the man’s behalf. They believed Jesus could physically heal the man, and, as his BFFs, they were determined to give their buddy an opportunity for Jesus to do just that. They were not swayed by the obstacles they encountered along the way.

They were going to get their friend to Jesus no matter what it took.

And if that doesn’t smack you between the eyes, I don’t know what will. (I will, actually, if you want me to…)

As I read this story, I first thought about times in my life my friends did whatever they had to do to get me to Jesus. How I even became a Christian in the first place is a direct result of persistent, faithful friends.

But even after I became a Christian, there were hard times during which faithful friends kept pointing me to Jesus and petitioning Him on my behalf. They had faith that He could heal me emotionally and did whatever it took to give me the opportunity to be healed by Him.

And then I thought, “Am I that kind of friend to my friends who need healing? Do I do whatever it takes to keep pointing my friends to Jesus when they are going through major trials? Am I going to great lengths to lead my non-believing friends to Jesus for the opportunity for salvation? Am I going to great lengths to encourage my struggling believing friends to pursue Him for the healing emotional comfort only He can provide?”

In some cases I think I’m doing all right. But in others I could be doing a lot more.

And I bet you “score” about the same.

So today we should all spend a minute or two thinking about specific things we can do to be as good of friends to our friends as the paralyzed man’s friends were to him. (I know, that sentence is confusing. Allergy meds have taken over my brain.)

And then, after we do some good thinking, we need to actually do the things we thought of.

We can do it. He can help. (And, in some cases, so can Home Depot.)

Sermon: What, Exactly, is His Grace Sufficient For? Part 1

I wrote a post back in 2013 that has been my most-read post to date. In it I set out to answer the question, “What, exactly, is God’s grace sufficient for?”

Apparently, a lot of you have asked that question, because over 57,000 of you have taken to the Google, entered a form of that question, and wound up reading my post on the subject.

Yesterday, I turned that post into a 2-part sermon and preached it to about 80 women at a conference at Slayden Baptist Church in Slayden, MS.

(Side note: they misspelled my name on the poster for the retreat, and I could not love that fact more. I see it as God’s way of saying, “This ain’t about you.”)

And, let me tell you something, brother [read that in a Hulk Hogan voice], they were a sweet bunch of ladies who encouraged me to no end. We had women in their 20’s to their 70’s, most of whom had been born in that country church, who knew how to love one another across generations and make a stranger like me feel welcome.

At any rate, today you can hear Part 1 of my 2-part sermon on God’s sufficient grace. Part 2 will be on my YouTube channel tomorrow!

How to Have Faith in the Face of Unanswered Questions

There are things about God you and I will never understand.

I’m being reminded of this a lot lately. As I teach through the entire Bible, chapter by chapter, questions arise.

Questions I once asked but now know the answers to… Questions I once asked but never found the answers to… Questions I once asked but was too lazy to go find the answers to… Questions I now ask and go find the answers to… Questions I now ask and never find the answers to… Questions I now ask and am too lazy to go find the answers to… And questions those I’m teaching ask that I’ve never considered…and may or may not know the answers to.

[See the analyticalness in that last paragraph? I have to cover every base, every combination and permutation of options. It’s a sickness, really.]

My natural bent is to feel unsettled when I have questions I can’t answer. I like information. I like all the information. Having it gives me a sense of control–a false sense, by the way–and when I don’t know something, I feel uneasy.

This feeling once drove me to totally deny Christianity and the existence of God. Because Jesus couldn’t be proven in a lab, I would not accept His claim to be God as a possibility.

Do you know what changed my mind about Jesus?

I’ll give you a hint: I never got all my questions about Him answered to my satisfaction. I didn’t finally meet someone who could smush Christianity into my tiny box-of-logic.

What changed my mind about Jesus is 1) I realized I needed God, and 2) the God of the Bible made a lot of sense to me. Notice: the Bible didn’t make total sense to me.

As I began to study the Bible with an open mind, God began teaching me about His character. I discovered more and more who He is and what He is like and, conversely, what He isn’t like.

Over time New Testament scriptures proved true in my own life, enhancing my trust in the Bible’s validity, and, in turn, in the Bible’s descriptions of God as wholly trustworthy and good.

I still had plenty of intellectual hurdles I couldn’t clear in regards to Christianity. And I still do. But I’m a lot more comfortable with the unanswered questions than I used to be. Because the questions I can answer–Will God forgive me? Will He abandon me? Does He love me? Is His Word true?–all confirm His character.

So when someone asks a question like, “When babies die, do they go to heaven?” I can say, “I don’t know–the scriptures don’t expressly speak to that–but I know God is good and just and loving, so I trust Him to do the right thing by those babies.”

And when someone asks, “Why did God even give Adam and Eve the option to disobey Him in the garden? Why even plant that tree? He set them up for failure. Who is kidding who?” I can say, “I don’t know why God allows evil. It may not make sense to us, but I know God is wise and in total control, so I trust Him to use evil for good.”

To put it philosophically, the sensibility of God (that is, the fact that He makes sense), does not depend upon man’s (in)ability to completely make sense of God. There are things about Him that will never make sense to us humans. But He has given us enough glimpses of Himself in the scriptures for us to reasonably believe He does, in fact, make sense in all ways. It is not He who is illogical from time to time but us.

And that thought provides me comfort and peace in the midst of unanswered questions.