Each holiday season, we send a dangerous type of person out into the world: Bible College students. You may think I’m trying to be funny, but honestly, this is a dangerous group. Think about the dynamics in play here.

A student leaves his church and comes to an environment where he spends the equivalent of a full-time job learning the ins and outs of the Bible, learning how people function and how we can best help them grow and change, and learning how we should function as the church. He has learned concepts he had never considered before, he sees treasures in Scripture he could never have dreamed of, and he has necessarily formed opinions about the best way to teach and practice these things.

Bible College tip: Use the word "exegesis" in every conversation.

Bible College tip: Use the word “exegesis” in every conversation.

And then Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, and we are careless enough to send this young man back to his home church for a time. While there, his idealism is deeply offended. He finds that his church body is not perfect. His pastor is not wringing every ounce of insight out of the biblical text. His friends and family are not using the words “kingdom” and “worldview” enough. So this dear soul spends his holidays putting his ¾ of a semester of Bible College training to work in correcting his church family.

Having seen this scenario play itself out year after year, we have taken to gathering our students just prior to the holidays and giving them the “don’t be a jerk when you go home” talk.

The reality is, we can all benefit from this talk—on a regular basis. Just like the first year Bible College student, we all suffer from misguided passions. As a Christian, you may want to gain a reputation for knowing the Bible well, for being a strong leader, being a powerful speaker, being above reproach morally, being theologically precise or profound, or some other equally noble goal. Honestly, each of these is a worthwhile pursuit, each is modeled in Scripture, and each is commended in the Bible.

But I want to present you with three traits that may not be at the top of your list. Yet the Bible tells us to be famous for each of these things.

1. Be known for love.

Jesus told his disciples to love one another just as he had loved them. Then he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What should we be known for? What characteristic will set us apart as followers of Jesus?

It’s not good theology. It’s not impeccable moral standards. (Good though both of those things are.) It’s love. Love for God should lead to good theology and godliness. But love is the defining characteristic.

Be famous for loving people. Do it sacrificially, following the example of Jesus. Love even your enemies. Love the arrogant, the mistaken, the misguided, the uneducated, the overeducated, the immoral, the rude. Love because you have been loved. Until people see you and think immediately of love, you haven’t taken Jesus’ words seriously.

2. Be known for gentleness.

Paul says it clearly: “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Phil. 4:5, NIV). Other translations say “reasonableness” (ESV), “gentle spirit” (NASB), “moderation” (KJV), or “forbearance” (ASV). Each of these translation choices gets at the meaning. Here’s the definition of the Greek word: “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant” (BDAG).

Paul says that our gentleness should be obvious to everyone who looks at us. They should think: She has a lot of patience. She never insists on her way of doing or seeing things. She’s reasonable in dealing with other people; so courteous!

I don’t often hear gentleness or a willingness to yield being praised in Christian circles. We’re certainly not famous for it. But Paul says it should be immediately obvious to the people around us.

3. Be known for humility.

Peter makes this huge statement: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). Being “clothed in humility” is rich imagery. Clothing covers us; its visibility hides our covered selves. What if we wore humility like that? What if every inch of our being were only accessible beneath a covering of humility?

Bible College Student

So whether you are a first-semester Bible College student, a graduating Bible student, a homemaker, a banker, a pastor, an elder, a retiree, or anything else, evaluate your reputation. What do you want to be known for? God wants you to be famous for love, gentleness, and humility. How are you doing with these things?

If your knowledge of God and his word leads you to apathy, a harsh or dogmatic spirit, or pride, then you are squandering your knowledge. But if your increased knowledge leads you to greater service and a decreased desire for accolades, then something is going right.

Picture yourself as that first-semester Bible College student travelling home for a few weeks over the holidays. How would you put your newly gained knowledge into practice? When you returned to school would your church be in awe of your knowledge? Would they be “humbled” by your theological precision and insistence that doctrine matters? Would they be scrambling to quickly put your hasty reforms into action? Or would they feel encouraged, supported, and loved as you headed back to school to study the Bible in greater depth?

It’s impossible to make a stronger statement about why these things matter than this: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

GileadThis is the first fiction work to be included as our Book of the Month. I’m sure it won’t be the last. After years of people telling me that I need to read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, I finally did (the book is a Pulitzer Prize winner, by the way). Quite simply: This is far and away one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s in my top three, for sure. Having just finished it this weekend, I’m still feeling emotional and inspired.

Like all good fiction, Gilead pulls you away from the strains of every day life so that you can see life in a new light and then be thrust back into life with a new sense of appreciation and wonder. Here’s how Robinson does it.

Gilead is written as a memoir from an old preacher writing to his young son after having been diagnosed with an illness that will soon end his life. John Ames, the preacher, writes to explain himself to the son who will be too young at the time of his death to understand who his father was. He writes about his preacher father, his preacher grandfather, the small and quirky town in which they live, the old and dilapidated church and its history, etc.

The storyline itself is fairly simply and endearing. It’s Robinson’s fascinating ability to draw her readers casually into the deep mysteries of life and faith that give this book its power. Here are just a couple of examples from near the end of the book. The Reverend Ames tells his son:

“I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word ‘good’ so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.”

“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”

These are just a couple of the gems Robinson offers in this masterful book. The plot and character development are wonderful, and the pacing of the book itself is a breath of fresh air. Robinson has a calm writing style, and John Ames’ simple outlook on life as he reflects on a long life in a quiet but often troubled town is oddly life-giving.

Marilynne Robinson

I would have a hard time explaining exactly why I love this book as much as I do, but I’m certain that I have closed the back cover with a greater appreciation for life, a greater respect for the mysteries of God, an increased love for the Creator, and who knows what else. I am also certain that I will be re-reading this book multiple times.

If you love reading fiction, this is a must read. If you have not yet learned to love fiction, this would be an excellent place to start. And if you need to be convinced of why fiction matters, click here for some wise words from C. S. Lewis.

Discipline VS Punishment

Mark Beuving —  November 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

If you’re not experiencing the Lord’s discipline, you’re not his child. That’s how blunt Hebrews is about it:

“Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.’

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:5-11)

The author of Hebrews compares the way we human fathers discipline our children to the way God disciplines us. Human fathers discipline their children “as it seems best to us.” We’re trying to shape our children, to make them into godly people. So when our children step out of line, exhibit bad character traits, or fail to demonstrate godliness, we intervene. We discipline our children. We don’t let the bad behavior or attitude slide. We love our children too much to allow those bad behaviors to harden into their character. So we do our best to discipline our kids in such a way that they see the consequences of their actions and learn to desire the good.

girlincornerIn the same way, God disciplines us. None of us is making it through life without sin. So if you find yourself without discipline, that doesn’t mean you’re doing fine. It just means you don’t belong to God. When you exhibit bad behavior or poor character or some form of godlessness, God will discipline you in order to shape you—unless you don’t belong to him. Discipline isn’t fun, but if it’s not there, you can be sure you don’t belong to God. God disciplines his children because he loves them.

But here is an essential point: discipline is different than punishment. God doesn’t punish his children. He disciplines us.

As a father, I try not to punish my children. When they disobey, my response is not designed to make them “pay” for what they’ve done. I’m not trying to get them back or wrong them for wronging me. My goal is not to inflict pain or shame; I don’t want to put my children down. All of that would fall under the heading of punishment: you messed up, so here’s your punishment.

By contrast, I’m actually trying to discipline my daughters. I confront their disobedience and help them see and feel that what they did is not okay. But I’m trying to form godly character in them. I want them to learn, not hurt. Not feel embarrassed. I’m not trying to make myself feel better, I’m taking my responsibility to help shape their character seriously. I’m trying to help them grow through the experience. I have no desire to inflict pain on my children. (When I became a father, I was surprised to learn that my parents’ insistence that “this will hurt me more than it hurts you” was actually true.)

Sometimes when we sin, we wait for God to punish us. To take something we love. To make us hurt in some way. And sin often does lead to complex and prolonged pain. But Hebrews assures us that God is not punishing us in these moments. He disciplines his children. He doesn’t punish us. When God disciplines us, pain is not the goal. Discipline is not fun, but it’s designed to shape us, to grow us, to make us into the people God wants us to be.

So if you are experiencing God’s discipline, take heart. It shows that you belong to him as a child to a father. And it means that his work in you is not done, it is taking place even in the midst of the pain you’re experiencing.

Don’t Pray Like a Pig

Joey Dodson —  November 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

PigI was reading The Epistle of Barnabas[1] (a letter by one of the early Church Fathers) this week and came across this curious argument. According to Barnabas, Israel misunderstood the food laws given at Mt. Sinai. Moses wasn’t referring to actual food. He was speaking “spiritually.” God’s intention wasn’t to forbid people from eating pork. “Bacon tastes good! Pork chops taste good!” Rather, with this law, Moses meant believers should not associate with piggish people—those who only acknowledge the Lord when they are in need. Such folk are like swine that squeal until they are fed, students who oink for extra credit the week of finals (okay, that last bit is my addition). Barnabas goes on to interpret all the food laws in this manner.

Although I think Moses did actually endorse a literal prohibition from pork, I do appreciate Barnabas’ admonition for us not to be “little piggies” who only talk to God when we are in need. Prayer should be an ongoing conversation more than a 911 call. In short, even if you eat bacon: do not pray like a pig.

 


 

[1] The Epistle of Barnabas is an early Christian document written in the Second Century. Scholars debate whether the author was a Jewish-Christian or a Gentile one. It reminds me a lot of Hebrews. You can read the letter here: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/barnabas-lightfoot.html

 

 

19 Weddings & Counting

Mark Beuving —  October 29, 2014 — 2 Comments

I am going to (unwisely) analyze something that will probably make a lot of people upset. Last night, my wife and I watched Jill Duggar’s wedding on TLC. It was great. The Duggars are great. Honestly, how can you not love this gigantic family that clearly loves the Lord deeply, loves each other deeply, and constitutes a rare and refreshingly wholesome spot in television programming?

I am pro-Duggar. Hear me say that. But as I watched Jill and Derick’s wedding last night, I was struck by the focus of it all. The wedding (episode) was not about marriage, not about Jesus and his bride, not about love. It was (at least as I experienced it) about (1) kissing and (2) having babies. Please feel free to disagree with me entirely, but hear me out.

The Duggars are famous for their no-nonsense approach to courtship. Jim Bob (aka, Daddy and Pops) actually introduced Jill to Derick. Derick was serving as a missionary in Nepal when the relationship began, and since that moment every conversation, every Skype session, and every face-to-face interaction has been chaperoned. Meaning that as the “kids” got to know each other, Jim Bob was there, often sitting between the two.

Hand-holding was strictly forbidden until engagement, at which point it was carefully chaperoned. There was even a moment of controversy during the engagement in which the couple’s over-exuberance turned an approved (and chaperoned) side hug into a full-blown real hug. Not to worry, the anxiety died down when it became clear that this was the unintentional result of Jill zigging while Derick zagged. (It would have been hilarious if it wasn’t such a serious issue.)

Now some clarifications. I’m intentionally playing up the sternness of it all. The Duggars are a fun group, and they all seem to be thriving in ways that most families don’t. Also, I have no intention of sending my daughters (now 3 and 5 years old) out into the world to make out with whomever. That’s not happening. I believe in wisdom, patience, principles, and the limitation of physical intimacy prior to marriage.

Chaperoned Date

But in my opinion (which you don’t need to share), this ever-watchful-chaperoning approach to dating (courtship) has some potentially negative side effects. One side effect is what it communicates. Do the Duggar parents trust their kids? I’m sure they do. And why wouldn’t they? Those kids are angels! If you set a Duggar loose for three days in Willy Wonka’s factory with a clear command to eat no candy, you can be sure that no candy will be eaten.

And that’s the irony. The Duggars seem to have done an incredible job of raising godly, trustworthy kids. So why treat them like criminals? Sigmund Freud thought that all human interaction boils down to the urge for sex. But the Bible doesn’t teach that. And the Duggar’s don’t believe that. So you don’t need to send your kids into vulnerable situations, but you might try letting them have a conversation or two that’s not wire-tapped. Maybe even a devotional time on the morning of their wedding that’s not chaperoned (that was a real scenario).

As I said, my girls are young, so I do not know what I’m talking about here. But it seems to me that this vigilant chaperoning communicates (probably unintentionally) that these wonderful young people are untrustworthy.

The second side effect I see is that it turned the marriage (episode) into a giggle-fest about kissing and having babies. Now, I know that the Duggars didn’t edit the footage for this episode. I’d be willing to bet that everyone in the family said some wonderful things about the true meaning of marriage that the producers simply didn’t find compelling. However, the courtship emphasis on lack of physical contact and private conversation made the marriage about the kiss. And, from the moment the “kids” got engaged, the big question was how quickly the couple would begin having kids.

Duggar Wedding

Kissing on your wedding day and having children in your marriage are both great. I’m for those things. But marriage is more than kissing alone. It’s more than reproducing. I’m sure the Duggars communicated these truths to their children. But I do think it’s unfortunate that the televised version of their wedding came down to unsupervised kissing and the any-minute-now expectation of having kids.

And now let me backtrack. I realize that it’s terrible to critique the Duggars, especially when there are so many obviously flawed programs and people on television. The Duggars are indeed a bright spot. But much of what we love them for is their quirks, their well-meaning (and probably well thought out) idiosyncrasies, the things that make them, well, Duggars.

Many of those quirks are wonderful. But perhaps we would all do well to consider that the opposite of sexual immorality is not constant policing. The cure for physical temptation is not Jim Bob’s inquisitive look as you accidentally front-hug. Sexual immorality comes from the heart (Mark 7:21–23), not unsupervised finger-contact. The Duggars know that. We should too.

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...