Choosing Between Two Unfortunate Options

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“I feel a strong desire to tell you – and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me-which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs-pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 6.

Ten Things to Always Say “Yes” to When Your Kids Ask

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Seventeen months into child #4, and only now am I learning what to always say “Yes” to when they ask.

In no particular order:

  1. Can I sit in your lap?
  2. Can we read a book?
  3. Can I go with you? (save work or date night)
  4. Will you show me how?
  5. Will you play with me?
  6. Will you help it feel better?
  7. Will you stay with me in bed a little longer?
  8. Are we going to church?
  9. Can you help me?
  10. Can we have a kitty cat doggie?

45 Verses Illustrating God’s Sovereignty in our Lives

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I’ve been studying the life of Joseph over the last several weeks, and I’m struck at the Bible’s remarkable way of illustrating God’s sovereignty in the midst of our responsibilities. Check out these 45 passages that illustrate God’s sovereignty over Joseph’s life. These verses are not merely descriptive for Joseph uniquely, but prescriptive for all of us. No matter what, He’s in charge.

  1. Joseph’s place in the Patriarchal birth order was part of God’s plan (Genesis 30:22–24).
  2. This means Rachel’s agonizing struggle with infertility was part of God’s plan (Genesis 30:1–2).
  3. Jacob’s romantic preference of Rachel and therefore his (probably insensitive) favoritism shown to Joseph was part of God’s plan (Genesis 29:30, 37:3).
  4. Joseph’s prophetic dreams were part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:5–11).
  5. His brothers’ jealously (note: sibling rivalry and family conflict) was part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:8).
  6. His brothers’ evil, murderous, greedy betrayal of him, and Judah’s part in it, was part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:18–28, 50:20).
  7. His brothers’ 20-plus year deception of Jacob regarding Joseph was part of God’s plan.
  8. The existence of an evil slave trade at the time was part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:26–27).
  9. Potiphar’s complicity with the slave trade and his position in Egypt was part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:36).
  10. Joseph’s extraordinary administrative gifting was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:2–4).
  11. Joseph’s favor with Potiphar was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:4–6).
  12. Potiphar’s wife’s being given over to sexual immorality was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:8–12, Romans 1:24).
  13. Potiphar’s wife’s dishonesty was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:14–18).
  14. Potiphar’s unjust judgment of Joseph was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:19–20).
  15. The particular prison Joseph was sent to — the one that would receive the cupbearer and the baker — was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:20).
  16. Joseph’s favor with the prison warden was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:21–23).
  17. The high-level conspiracy and its exposure resulting in the imprisonment of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:1–3).
  18. Joseph being appointed to care for them was part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:4).
  19. The dreams the cupbearer and baker had were (obviously) part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:5).
  20. Joseph’s compassionate care for their troubled hearts was part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:6–7).
  21. Their trusting Joseph’s integrity enough to confide their dreams in him was part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:8–20).
  22. Joseph discerning the meaning of their dreams was part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:12–13, 18–19).
  23. The Egyptian judicial processes that exonerated the cupbearer and condemned the baker were part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:20–22).
  24. The cupbearer failing to remember Joseph for two years was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:23–42:1).
  25. The timing of Pharaoh’s dreams was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:1–7).
  26. The inability of Pharaoh’s counselors to discern his dreams was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:8).
  27. The cupbearer remembering Joseph and having the courage to remind Pharaoh of a potentially suspicious event was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:9–13).
  28. Pharaoh’s being desperate enough to listen to a Hebrew prisoner was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:14–15).
  29. Joseph having discernment of Pharaoh’s dreams was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:25–36).
  30. The miraculous amount of immediate trust that Pharaoh placed in Joseph’s interpretation and counsel was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:37–40).
  31. Joseph being given Asenath (an Egyptian) for a wife was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:45).
  32. Joseph’s two sons by Asenath, Manasseh and Ephraim, were part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:50–52, 48:5).
  33. The complex mix of natural phenomena that caused the extraordinarily fruitful years followed by the extraordinarily desolate years, with all the resulting human prosperity and suffering, and the consolidation of Egyptian wealth and power in Pharaoh’s hands were part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:53–57; 47:13–26).
  34. The threat of starvation that caused terrible fear and moved Jacob to send his sons to Egypt for grain was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:1–2).
  35. The brothers’ safe journey to Egypt and Benjamin’s non-participation was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:3–4).
  36. The brothers’ bowing to Joseph in unwitting fulfillment of the dreams they hated was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:6).
  37. Joseph’s whole scheme to test his brothers was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:9–44:34).
  38. Simeon’s being chosen to remain in Egypt was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:24). Jacob’s refusal to release Benjamin to return to Egypt causing the delay of the brothers’ return and Simeon’s bewildering experience in custody was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:38).
  39. The relentless threat of starvation that prompted Judah to make his personal guarantee of Benjamin’s safe return and forced Jacob to finally allow Benjamin go to Egypt was part of God’s plan (Genesis 43:8–14).
  40. The success with which Joseph was able to continue to conceal his identity and pull off the framing of Benjamin for thievery and all the anguish the brothers experienced as a result was part of God’s plan (Genesis 43:15–44:17).
  41. Judah’s willingness to exchange his life for Benjamin’s out of love for his father, and thus initiating his own sale into slavery like he initiated Joseph’s sale into slavery, was part of God’s plan (Genesis 44:18–34).
  42. Joseph’s timing in revealing himself to his brothers was part of God’s plan (Genesis 45:1–14).
  43. Jacob being told by his sons of Joseph’s survival and position in Egypt (and the exposure of his sons’ 20-plus-year deceit with all the accompanying pain) was part of God’s plan (Genesis 45:25–28).
  44. God directing Jacob to move to Egypt was (obviously) part of God’s plan (Genesis 46:2–4).
  45. The relocation of the entire clan of Israel to Egypt, where they would reside and grow for 430 years and eventually become horribly enslaved, thus fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:13–14, was part of God’s plan (Genesis 46:5–47:12).

Three Reasons to Plant more Churches in the South

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There are more than a dozen evangelical churches within 5 miles of my middle Tennessee home, and we need more. Here are three reasons why we need more church plants in the deep South.

First, the Southeast is the most-churched area in the nation.  I am presuming, of course, that this is technically true, but it certainly is the perception of most who live here. Believe it or not, that fact is a reason to plant more churches, not fewer. Time and time again in the Gospels, we see people of the religious establishment in love with the things of God and their performance for Him rather than God himself. Perhaps never in the history of the deep South has this subtle yet deadly form of idolatry been present in our churches. Sadly, many of these churches will so strongly resist a revival in the Gospel that they will struggle even to the point of death. Therefore, new churches are needed in an area bound to lose some existing congregations.

Second, many of the South’s existing churches are not exactly alive and well with the Gospel. Though some congregations will resist a revival in the Gospel, some will embrace it and reap the God-centered rewards. The same idolatry that leads some men to plant churches will lead to a call in some men to work through a Gospel-revitalization that will set the congregation up to succeed in the Gospel. The calling will be just as difficult as a church plant, though with a different set of problems. Asking a congregation to resource (pray, give, serve) a ministry that calls out their sinful idolatry does not come easily. Nevertheless, it is the calling of some and one that must be fulfilled.

Third, the deep South is spiritually stressed.  A former neighbor once had to pay big money to have a large “male” pecan tree removed. Convinced it was diseased and a threat to their home, they hired an arborist to determine its condition. The arborist used the term “stressed” rather than “diseased.” The combination of some trimming and fertilizer would have given the tree decades of new life, yet our neighbors opted for the death sentence. Sadly, the large “female” pecan tree across the street suffered and later died due to the loss of its “mate.” Similarly, some have written off the South as “diseased” with regard to the Gospel. I think “stressed” is a better choice of words. With new church plants and men dedicated to revitalizing existing churches the deep south can become a shining example of Gospel-centered ministry for decades to come.

I can’t think of any place that doesn’t need a new or revitalized church, but I trust we won’t be tempted to write off the deep south in our plans.

 

Three Things Every Healthy Church Possesses and Passes Along

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When my mother was diagnosed with ALS 6 years ago, it only took a few months for me to consider whether or not the disease was genetic. Early signs pointed to “yes,” as her half-brother died of a similar neurological disease. The science on the relationship between genetics and ALS was questionable six years ago, so I never subjected myself to a test that might tell me something or nothing all at the same time. What would I do with that information one way or the other?

But the entire experience (her diagnosis and eminent passing and all the experiences in between) has me thinking a lot about the idea legacy or heritage. My thoughts have run the gamut. Mind-bending philosophical questions such as, “What things have been passed on to me that I will never understand but that impact me to some significant degree?” as well as more pragmatic ones such as, “Why did my mom decide my wife should have the fur coat and not her other daughter-in-law?”

The experience calls to mind Acts 13:1-4. This passage describes the church in Antioch on the bring of passing on it’s heritage through the evangelism and church planting ministry of Saul and Barnabas. And it’s the description of the church leaders and the actions they take that tell us exactly what kinds of things the church at Antioch would pass on.

In the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.” Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

I see three things healthy churches possess and pass along to others.

  1. Diversity. Notice the list of prophets and teachers in verse 1. A pious converted Jew (Paul), a black man likely from Africa (Simeon), and an upstanding Roman citizen of considerable social standing (Manaen), to name a few. The roots of the first churches exemplified diversity, as did those Paul, Barnabas and others planted. Can we same the same of our churches today?
  2. Devotion. The call to minister to others came in the midst of the church ministering to God (v. 2). I concur with Wayne Grudem: “Worship in the church is not merely a preparation for something else: it is in itself fulfilling the major purpose of the church with reference to its Lord.” And yet the church is also called to minister to others so that they may, in turn, minister to God. Devotion to God in worship is no mere preparation, but it does prepare. How has your devotion to God prepared you for whatever comes next?
  3. Duty. The calling of Saul and Barnabas was a call to duty … a call to service. They were not set apart to hold lofty, largely symbolic positions that set them high above others and required very little of them. Rather, they were called to a duty in which at least one of them would lose his life for the cause. This is the spirit of service that the church in Antioch passed on to other churches. What degree of duty and service is your church passing on to others?

Diversity, devotion and duty—three things healthy churches pass on to others. What kind of legacy are you and your church passing on?

I Pity the Fool

THE A-TEAM -- Pictured: Mr. T as Sgt. Bosco "B.A." Baracus -- Photo by: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank

As a young boy growing up in the 1980’s, I made room in my life for a handful of television shows on the few of channels we had. I absolutely loved Hee-Haw (“I searched the world over and thought I found true love. You met another and pppbbbttttt —you were gone.”), and I hated to miss the Solid Gold dancers. The Dukes of Hazard, Knight Rider, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Incredible Hulk were favorites as well. Yet none of these were as gratifying as The A-Team.

The A-Team was an action and comedy show about a group of former US Special Forces soldiers who used their talents to make a wealthy living. They earned their income while on the run from the U. S. Army who wished to incarcerate them for war crimes they supposedly did not commit. Each of the team members made great contributions to the show, but as far as this ten year-old was concerned, no team member surpassed the greatness of B. A. Baracus, played by Mr. T. His trademark phrase has forever stamped my generation: “I pity the fool.” It’s a phrase Mr. T would use in other cinematic greats like Rocky III, and one that would title his own television show in 2006.

While Mr. T is famous for the phrase, the sentiment is universal. We’ve all had a conversation with someone, listening to their plans and reasoning, and thought to ourselves, “I pity this fool.” We’ve also been that person with ideas we’ve shared with someone, and they lovingly replied, “You’d be a fool if you did that.” We’ve had opportunities come our way that we almost passed up, and someone grabbed us by the shirt collar and said, “You’d be a fool not to do that.”

In a very short parable, Jesus does the same to those of us who are church members only … to those of us who generally agree with what we read or hear about Jesus on Sunday mornings, but never actually do anything that He says.

46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” Luke 6:46-49.

Jesus does not mince words in this parable. Jesus wants us to feel the blessings associated with a faith that goes beyond the minimums, and the potential destruction that stems from a faith that does not. Anyone who hears Jesus’ words and does them is wise, for he sets himself up to survive God’s final judgment. Anyone who hears Jesus’ words and does not do them is a fool, for he will not survive God’s final judgment. To be merely the kind of person who listens to Jesus but never actually does what Jesus says is to miss out on the blessing of weathering God’s judgment and risk being destroyed at God’s judgment. To never move beyond the minimums actually put Jesus’ teaching into action is to invite the question, “Am I even a Christian?”

What is more foolish than that?

Child’s Pose

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Today’s guest author is Caroline Hope Case. She’s a Belmont graduate student and a production editor at LifeWay Christian Resources.

One of my best friends just became certified as a yoga instructor. She enjoys merging an Eastern practice with a biblical approach to exercise. Rather than emptying her mind, she meditates on Scripture while she does yoga. I had the privilege of spending four days with her during her visit to Nashville last week. An avid runner and rock climber, I had been trying to get into the practice of yoga to help with a recent knee injury, improve flexibility, and promote bodily relaxation. It was fortuitous timing when Anna showed up at my door with a yoga mat, a playlist of worship songs, and some lavender essential oil spray (scoffers be warned).

I was ready to laugh because although I knew how helpful yoga can be for the body and mind, it seemed silly. Stretching can increase blood flow? Breathing a certain way can slow down my racing heart? I can actually feel at peace while closing my eyes and lying on the floor? Come on. I run for exercise, not contort my body in weird shapes. I didn’t expect it to be exercise, nor did I expect it to alter my mindset. In both cases I was proved wrong.

We prayed before we started our hour-long session. We read some Scripture and meditated on what God had to say as we laid down and breathed deeply and intensely. The more I concentrated on my breathing, the more I was able to focus on what God was saying to me at the moment. The most striking pose for me was the child’s pose. “This is the pose you will always go back to, particularly when you need to rest during the session,” she said. The child’s pose involves lying face down, knees to chest, and arms stretched out. The pose is all-too-similar to the laying prostrate in the temple that we read about in the Old Testament.

The child’s pose is the pose of surrender. It is the pose of rest. It is the pose that centers your body and mind. The pose, in every way, enables you to go deeper and further.

I think Jesus was on to something when He said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom” (Matthew 18:3-4, The Message).

I love Jesus because His expectations for us aren’t lofty. He doesn’t anticipate us to have it all together. He’s not peering down from heaven with a pointed finger saying, “I will only be pleased with you if you do x, y, and z for Me…If you look a certain way…If you clock in a number of hours serving my Name.” Rather, Jesus wants us to take on the attitude of children. Parents don’t expect their children to get it right the first time—all that parents “expect” of their children is to be loved and to love in return.

It is in the child’s pose that we trust. In the child’s pose, we lay prostrate in adoration. Start by loving Jesus like a child this week. Adore Him for His goodness, His protection, His love. You’ll be amazed when you let Him love on you, how at peace you feel with yourself, with God, and with the world.