Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Value of a Second Opinion

A while back I was reading through 2 Chronicles, and I was struck by a scene in chapter 18.

Judah’s King Jehoshaphat (yes, as in, “jumping Jehoshaphat!”) was visiting King Ahab of Israel, who wanted to form a military alliance with his southern neighbor. Jehoshaphat immediately agrees to join forces with Israel, but he has one request: “first, let’s see what the Lord has to say.” (18:4) So the kings summon 400 prophets and ask “Should we go to war or not?” The prophets are all in agreement: Attack, and God will give you victory!

This is where things get interesting. Rather than accepting this encouraging response, Jehoshaphat asks Ahab, “Isn’t there any other prophet of the Lord around whom we could ask?” (18:6) They’ve already gotten a unanimous and enthusiastic answer from the prophets—and, considering they will eventually go to war, presumably that was the answer they wanted to hear. And yet Jehoshaphat still seeks out an alternative point of view, one that he probably won’t like.

Proverbs 15:22, attributed to Jehoshaphat’s great-great-grandfather, Solomon, says that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” I think, in this story, Jehoshaphat recognized something that’s left unsaid in the proverb: an abundance of counsel is no help if we only listen to people who will affirm us and never challenge us. A lack of diverse counsel is a lack of counsel. These kings had already heard what they wanted to here, and yet Judah was not ready to proceed until they had considered another perspective.

This struck me because a willingness to listen to alternative points of view is sorely lacking in America today. We’re combative rather than curious. Instead of seeing different perspectives as understandable or in any way helpful, we tend to label people with different views harshly: they’re hateful, ignorant, stupid, evil. People who don’t agree with me on X, Y, or Z simply don’t have anything valuable to say.

Jehoshaphat, one of the rare good kings after David and Solomon, models a different approach to disagreement: listening to other voices is beneficial, something that can better inform our decision-making.

Eventually they consult the prophet Micaiah, who is clearly not King Ahab’s favorite adviser. Micaiah warns them, accurately, that Israel’s king will die on the battlefield. They launch their attack anyways. Jehoshaphat didn’t agree with the lone dissenter, but he still heard him out.

To me, this is part of what it means to be “quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). When we prioritize listening, the people around us can feel seen and valued. But, as if that weren’t enough, being “quick to listen” also benefits the listener: it’s a habit that will challenge us and give us a greater “depth of insight” (Phil 1:9) as we hear ideas and perspectives that we otherwise would avoid. To me, this is a sign of maturity and wisdom that we all need to strive for.

Do you see different opinions as valuable?

Do you take time to listen to other perspectives on things or automatically dismiss people who don’t agree with you?

How do you imagine Jesus approached this?

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Come to Me

Recently I was listening to an interview with a pastor I respect, Scott Sauls, and he said something that I’ve been sitting with ever since. He pointed out that, “Long before Jesus says ‘go for me’, he says ‘come to me’.”

The classic “go for me” verses that immediately come to my mind are in the final chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20:

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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

The first “come to me” verse that I think of is seventeen chapters earlier, Matthew 11:28:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

It’s even farther back, in Matthew chapter 4, when Jesus first calls his disciples to “come.” (4:19)

Before Jesus says ‘go for me’, he says, ‘come to me.’

Come to me.

The foundation of our discipleship and of our faith is being with Jesus. Everything else, every belief, act of service, or word of witness, has to be built on that. 

And when we skip over that foundational work of connecting with Christ, the results are disastrous.

A lot of people whom we want to “make disciples” are approached by Christians every day—in person, or on social media—in ways that are belligerent and lack the “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15) that Jesus’s followers are called to exhibit. You know what I’m talking about. Christians presenting what’s supposed to be “good news” are often argumentative, dismissive, demeaning, and scornful.

Maybe you’ve been guilty of that before. I know I have.

Perhaps the problem is, we’re going out on mission without first taking the time to be transformed in the presence of Jesus. We’re ‘going for’ without first ‘coming to’. And we end up doing the gospel message no favors. “Jesus loves you and wants to change your life!” isn’t very appealing when the person saying it doesn’t seem to love you, and you hope your life never looks like theirs.

But there’s a simple enough fix for this: Come to him. Be with him. Prioritize that time, every single day. Resist the temptation to rush out into every battle for the faith—don’t rush into any battle for the faith!—if you aren’t first coming to Jesus for that time together.

Maybe then, by the grace of God, we could stop showing the world how bad we can be and start showing the world how good Christ is.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Drawn to Him

“I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. – John 12:32-33

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
The other day I stumbled onto an old prayer from a Christian thinker from the 1800s, Søren Kierkegaard. (That’s Danish, just don’t worry about it!) This prayer was inspired by Jesus’s words in John chapter 12: “I will draw all people to myself.”

What Kierkegaard realized was that Jesus is not the only thing trying to draw us in, and that our hearts are only too ready to take the bait hook, line, and sinker. Even though this prayer is over 150 years old, so many of the siren songs of life that he named are really no different today. (If anything, 24-hour news and social media have only added fuel to “the present moment with its deceptive importance,” and smartphones and streaming services have revolutionized “amusement’s careless squandering of time.”)

If we’re going to be drawn to Jesus, rather than spending our days and lives wandering along side streets that ultimately lead nowhere, Kierkegaard believed it will take prayer and—don’t miss this!—self-examination

That means you and I need to be in the habit of pausing, reflecting, and considering: What is directing my thoughts, my time, my desires and priorities today? Where is my focus? What am I chasing after? Christians need to practice that kind of regular, intentional self-evaluation. And if I find that I’m chasing anything other than Jesus and his Kingdom, then I know it’s time for a course correction.

Here’s Kierkegaard’s prayer. Chew on it. Pray it!

O Lord Jesus Christ, weak is our foolish heart, and only too ready to let itself be drawn in—and there are so many things that would draw it to themselves. There’s pleasure, with its seducing power, there are options and variety with their confusing distractions, the present moment with its deceptive importance, and busyness with its vain toil, and amusement’s careless squandering of time, and sadness’s gloomy brooding—all of these would draw our attention away to themselves, in order to deceive us. But you who are the truth, only you our Savior and Redeemer, can truly draw someone to you, like you promised to do, to draw all people to yourself. So God grant that, by self-examination, we may snap out of it, so that you, according to your word, can draw us to yourself. (from The Prayers of Kierkegaard, 88)

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Blame Game

I’ve had this picture saved on my computer for who knows how long. 

I kept it for two reasons. 1) The bulldogs. 2) It reminds me of Genesis chapter 3.

You know this story, even if you don’t recognize the reference. It’s the third chapter in the Bible, right after the stories about the creation of the world. The Lord visits Eden to enjoy a pretty day with Adam and Eve, but the Lord can tell something’s wrong. So God confronts Adam: did y’all eat the prohibited fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? 

This is where Zelda the bulldog comes in. “To err is human; to blame it on someone else is even more human.” Human beings learned a lot of new things from that tree of knowledge. They learned shame (3:7). They learned fear (3:10). They learned anger (4:5). And when the Lord confronts Adam about the fruit, you see that they also learned to blame

"Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” 
The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” 
Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?” 
“The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.” (Gen 3:11-13) 

The buck stops… somewhere over there. Adam blamed it all on Eve. Eve blamed it all on the serpent. Humanity had learned a new trick. 

And, I don’t know about you, but it’s a trick I still use all the time. I’m especially quick to pull it out at home. It’s plain as day if you’re paying attention. It goes something like this: “Well I wouldn’t have said that,” or “I wouldn’t have reacted that way if you hadn’t….” Fill in the blank. This trick works great with spouses, co-workers, friends, members of your church, and so many others. 

Why do I do this? There are probably lots of reasons. I may be afraid of getting myself into trouble. I may want to avoid looking bad in front of people I hope to impress. I may do it out of sheer habit. Maybe I’m proud and don’t like admitting when I’m wrong or make mistakes. But whatever the reason, it’s so easy to become defensive and pass that buck.

But you probably already know that.

Of course, Adam wasn’t entirely wrong to lay the responsibility on Eve. Eve wasn’t entirely wrong to lay the responsibility on the snake. In both cases, though, they were refusing to admit their own culpability. And shouldn’t we Christians, of all people, be willing to own our mistakes and failures? After all, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” right?

At home I’m trying to get better at saying, “That was my fault.” Partly because I want to be a good model for my little girls. Partly because Emily shouldn’t suffer for my pride, my bad habit, or my trying to save face. In part, though, I’m also trying to remind myself that I am human—I have flaws, and I will fail. To remind myself that I still have some growing to do. That I still need mercy, grace, and transformation.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Why Do I Write These Devotionals?

I often think about Romans 12:2. It was the scripture I preached on my last Sunday in Sumrall. It was the focus of a Bible study I did recently with Eastlawn’s youth. For my money, it’s a verse that Christians ought to memorize and remind themselves of throughout the day, every day. 

The verse begins: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 

Now, that outlook can quickly lead to an us-versus-them, believers and the church are good, the rest of the world is bad, sort of attitude. But when Paul says “the world,” I don’t think he means anyone and anything outside the holy huddle of the church. The world outside the walls of the church is filled to the brim with beautiful people, ideas, and undertakings. And within the walls of the church you will regularly bump into “the world” that Paul warns about. 

“The world” that we have to resist conforming to is any influence that stirs up in you “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) or encourages the “acts of the flesh”–things like sexual immorality, hatred, quarreling, fits of rage, envy (Gal 5:19-21). You can meet the world while scrolling Facebook or Instagram, binging Netflix, watching cable news, or going to Sunday school. The truth is, everything’s infected by sin to some extent, and so anything can have a negative influence at times. 

For that reason, the surest path to resisting conformity and experiencing transformation isn’t to avoid any and every negative influence. Good luck with that! The surest path is to arrange your life—your schedule, your priorities—so that you position yourself for transformation. In other words, make plans to position yourself for encounters with God’s Holy Spirit. 

Sure, there are voices and crowds and activities and entertainment choices that you’ll want to avoid entirely. There’s plenty of good ole’ fashioned depravity out there. And there are gray areas where some Christians may be able to participate in ways that are still faithful, but others of us may need to opt out. 

But the most powerful antidote to conformity—and the real goal here!—is transformation. 

And transformation, typically, comes slowly, through regular exposure to the Holy Spirit.

That means prayer and scripture reading. That means fasting and serving. That means wise counsel, insightful teachers, and rich fellowship. Music, time in nature, time with grandkids, therapy, 12-step programs: the list could go on and on. Anywhere that you have sensed God’s presence or felt God working in your life, those are the kinds of Holy Spirit encounters that we need to position ourselves for, that we need to plan, schedule, and prioritize. Because transformation doesn’t come by accident. It comes when God’s people are intentional about encountering the Lord. 

And that’s why I write these devotionals. We may intentionally seek God for an hour or two on Sunday morning, but by Sunday night we’ve already spent more time than that in front of the TV or on our phones. We have more opportunity for conformity in our lives than for transformation. So, in the middle of the week, I try to help position you for an encounter with the Holy Spirit. 

But what are you doing on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday? 

How are you planning, scheduling, and prioritizing transformation?