Everyone Can(‘t) See

Everyone sees

what they can

want to see

Bedrock

is buried

for a reason

Don’t expose

Don’t exhume

Don’t look

Don’t peek

Dig

Gaze

Reach

Change

Cry

I knew it

Scream

I wish I didn’t

Everyone sees

what they can

want to see

Matthew 23:11-12: A Challenge And An Invitation

“You Pharisee!”

If someone shouts that phrase at you, they’re not offering you a compliment. In Matthew 23, we see why there are such negative connotations to the term. This chapter makes some of us squirm, some of us shout hallelujah, and should probably make all of us do both.

In it, Jesus is addressing a crowd of people, along with his disciples, and is speaking against the scribes and the Pharisees. Now, it is popular in some Christian circles to think of the scribes and the Pharisees simply as the “bad guys” in Jesus’ story. However, in Jesus’ day, they would have been seen not as the bad guys but as the heroes by most of the population.

They were the most faithful, it was thought, to the Law of Moses. They were a reform movement, seeking to prepare the people of God for the coming of Messiah. They opposed worldly elements in the Jewish community and opposed compromise with the world full of sin and hate for God’s people. And they looked good doing it.

So, many 1st century Jews would have looked up the scribes and the Pharisees, approved of them, and would have wanted to be like them.

Then Jesus shows up and starts challenging the popular narrative.

Matthew 23 contains a stark condemnation of the scribes and the Pharisees. 

Our focus will be on verses 11-12 but let’s look at verses 1-12 for context.

Matthew 23:1-12 (ESV)

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Beginning with the scribes and Pharisees’ tendency to make religion an outward pretense of righteousness that hid hearts seething with sin, Jesus then continues by delivering a series of body blows in the form of startling “Woe” statements.

It’d be easy to revel in Jesus’ takedown of these religious hypocrites, but that’s not how I think we’re supposed to approach the text. We’re not supposed to laugh at the helpless scribes and Pharisees. We’re supposed to take note of the warning issued to those who would pretend to serve God but instead are serving themselves.

This passage challenges every one of us to be different, changed by the gospel of the kingdom and by our submission to the King.

The focus of the passage is not on the beatdown given to those religious hypocrites, but on our hearts and considering whether we ARE those religious hypocrites.

In short, I think Jesus intends that we ask: “am I any different from the scribes and the Pharisees?”

But Matthew 23 is not just a challenge; it is also an invitation. An invitation to a better way of faith and life. An invitation for us to put down self-righteousness and put on the example of Christ.

Read verses 11-12 again:

11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Here, Matthew is bringing together two separate streams of thought that he’s already addressed in his gospel.

We’re going to look at those two streams of thought, but first, we need to see how Jesus is getting to the heart of two of the most important questions in our world today:

  1. What is authority?
  2. How should it be used?

You might be surprised by my labeling those two questions as some of the most important.

Some might think that these questions are not as important as questions like, “When does a fetus become a human?”, “Can two men marry each other?”, or “Should churches meet during a pandemic?”

But those are questions that presuppose authority and therefore can be framed as questions about authority: “Who has the authority to decide that abortion is an option?” “Who has the authority to define marriage?” “Who has the authority to decide if the church meets?”

Ultimately, every question can be reframed as a question of authority: “Does 2+2=4?” can be reimagined as “Who has the authority to say if 2+2=4?”

Questions of authority and its use are vital because we live in a world that is confused about the issue of authority.

On the one hand, we have the shrill voice of social media, popular culture, and our own sinful hearts proclaiming that the individual alone has authority. That I have the right to self-expression. That I have the right to live however I want. That I am law-maker, judge, and boss of my own life.

On the other hand, we have the booming voice of government and secular philosophy, declaring that we must do what they say, that humanity is fluid, that eternal truths are nonexistent, and that they are in charge.

That’s a recipe for confusion if ever there was one: The individual is in charge. No, the government is in charge. The individual has authority. No, the government has authority.

But Jesus clears up the confusion for us later in Matthew 28, in verse 18:

“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.”

The individual doesn’t have the authority: Jesus does.

The government doesn’t have the authority: Jesus does.

I don’t have the authority: Jesus does.

That’s why chapter 23 serves as an invitation to a better way. A way that gives us the freedom to serve instead of the chains of seeking to be seen. A way that frees us from continual self-promotion and allows us to rest in the promoted Christ instead.

Verse 11 says:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. 

Greatness in the Kingdom of God is not found in ruling over others but in serving them. We need to remember that this statement from Jesus comes in the midst of one of the clearest condemnations of religious hypocrisy ever uttered. The scribes and the Pharisees do everything to be seen by others in order that they might gain power over them. Jesus calls his followers to do everything to serve others, in order that Christ’s power might be displayed among them.

Our society calls for us to advance ourselves, to demand authority, and to impose our will on others. Christ calls us to demote ourselves, treasure opportunities to serve, to allow our King’s will to impose on our lives. Jesus contrasts the self-serving religion of the scribes and Pharisees with the others-serving faith He asks of His followers. He flips the worldly order of things on its head to function as the rule for His people. It is those who serve who express Christ-like authority, not those who reign.

And He is not calling us to something that He did not first demonstrate for us:

Check out Matthew 20:25-28:

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Son of Man is the King, Jesus. Jesus is also the Son of God. For that matter, the Son of God is God, our God. And our God is the God whose glory is seen best in His humility; whose righteousness was declared not merely with words but with acts of service; whose perfection is most clearly seen not in a pristine palace, but in death, even death on a cross.

The Son of Man came to serve. The Son of Man came to die. The Son of Man calls us to do the same.

To serve the local church, using our God-given gifts and abilities. To serve our families, pointing them to Christ.

To serve our neighbors by meeting needs and sharing Good News. To serve the stranger, welcoming them as friends.

To die to our selfishness, and to live for Christ’s purposes. To die to our secret sins, confessing them and letting the light of Christ shine into every dark corner of our hearts. To die to the world and its system of death-dealing temporary pleasures. To die to self-promotion and to live in the kind of humility that rings in the commissioning quote of the Moravian missionaries: “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.”

And in so serving and in so dying, to find that, perhaps to our surprise, we are more alive than we ever thought possible. That when we serve, we are filled with greater joy than is possible to find by seeking our own happiness. That when we die to ourselves, crucifying our pride, we find life hidden around every corner, in every place where we find God’s presence, life the way Christ found it, resurrection life.

I love this time of year at my home in Kentucky. The ice and snow are behind us and spring is in front of us. The animals are moving around more, leaves are coming out on the trees, and the blossoms of the fruit trees are starting to open.

Some of my favorite trees are our persimmon trees. I am praying they will bear a large crop of small, orange fruit. For most of the year, you can’t see the fruit: it’s so small and green, that it hides in among the leaves of the tree. But in the fall, they begin to turn a light orange that clearly stands out from the surrounding leaves. It’s tempting to want to pick them, but I only made that mistake once. First, they are hard to get off the tree! It’s like they are clinging to the branch with all their might. Once you get them off the tree, though, you see what looks like a ripe persimmon. But if you try to eat it, it will turn your mouth inside out. It is so sour! I couldn’t feel my tongue for an hour after trying it.

To enjoy persimmons, you have to wait. You have to wait until the persimmon lets go of the tree on its own. Once it does, you can pick it up off the ground and eat it without fear. When you eat a persimmon that has fallen from the tree, it is a totally different experience from eating one that you picked. It is sweet, somewhat fuzzy, smooth, and a little citrusy.

What made the difference between the sour persimmon I picked and the sweet one I picked up off the ground? I don’t know, I am not a food scientist. From my perspective, the persimmon let go of the branch and fell to the ground and somewhere between those two points, it changed. I’m sure there’s a scientific reason for what happened, but to me, without that knowledge, it is a miracle. Before, it was not good, but after it was a delight.

The same thing happens to us. So long as we cling to our authority, our high place, our branch, our life, we are bitter to others, useless to our King, good for nothing. But once we let go, once we willingly fall to serve, choose to die, our life becomes something sweet to those around us, a vindication of our King, and useful in His Kingdom. But unlike the persimmon, we know the reason: it’s because of Christ. Christ makes the change in us.

The path to greatness in the kingdom is the same as the path to sweetness for the persimmon: to let go and fall down. To let go of self-centered authority and to fall down into service. To serve instead of demanding to be served. To allow Christ to live in and through us. This required a great deal from Christ. But this also requires a great deal from us. It requires effort and a change of mindset.

This leads us to verse 12:

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

You cannot serve if your desire is to be great. You can only serve if your desire is for your life to show that Jesus is great. 

Humility was not always seen as a virtue in Jesus’ day. A great man or woman had to look great, act great, and thus pretend to be great. There were so few possibilities for societal advancement that there was a constant pushing for the positions available, a survival of the fittest approach to engagement.

Then Jesus comes along and says something like we see in Matthew 18:4

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “So who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a small child and had him stand among them. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like little children,you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one child like this in my name welcomes me.

Children were not great and welcoming children was not a hallmark of the high and mighty. Jesus, as He so often does, contrasts the values of his kingdom with the values of the world.

To be like children is the key.

Jesus didn’t mean that we were to throw temper tantrums, fight with our siblings, and know very little about the world around us. He meant that we were to be without the world’s brash and demanding authority, humble and aware of how small we are in such a big world. He intends that we value such people, welcome them..and that we be such people.

Then we will see the great reversal take place

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The way of the world is to seek exaltation now, to wield authority now. But such a way of life demands our humiliation in the future when Jesus proves that He alone possesses all authority.

Instead, Jesus invites us to an incredible reality, one in which the world’s hopes and dreams are subverted and reversed. Jesus says that if we will humble ourselves in the present, we will be exalted in the future. If we humble ourselves in the midst of this fleeting, fighting, crazy world, we will be exalted in the eternal, united, peaceful new heavens and new earth.

I am not a runner. But when I was younger, I signed up with a team to run the Sawtooth Relay, a race that takes teams from the mountains of central Idaho to downtown Boise. There were twelve runners to a team and each of them would run two six-mile legs of the course. I looked at the map and decided I wasn’t a fool: I took a gradual, downhill, part of the course in the mountains as my first leg. It would be cool since I’d be running at night and I figured it would be easy. Of course, picking that leg meant that I would have to run the last leg of the relay as well. That would be in the heat of the day, but I figured that since it would also be at a lower elevation, I could do it.

I was partly right: the first leg was easy. So easy, in fact, that I was convinced that I would dominate my second leg. I didn’t. It was 100 degrees out and there was a slight uphill to that part of the course, much harder than the night before. I made it five miles. I puked on myself and didn’t finish the last mile. I had to have another runner take my place.

I chose the easy path on the front end and ended up humiliated on the back end.

Sounds like Matthew 23:12. When we look at the Kingdom of God, reliance on the effort exerted for an easy front end leads to humiliation on the back end. Because we are not in charge. I chose to run at first in the cool of night, but the sun exerted its will on me in the end.  

When we bring the image over, we see that it’s a question of when we exert our effort and when the King exerts his authority. If we put our effort into seeking power and control in this life, the King will exert his authority to humble us in the next. If we put our effort into humility in this life, the King will exert his authority to exalt us in the next.

Do not miss this: when we humble ourselves, when we serve others now, Jesus will use his authority, all the authority in heaven and on earth, to raise us up with him in the next. But if we seek exaltation now, Jesus will use all that authority, all the authority that exists in the universe, to ensure that we are humbled for all eternity.

11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Rethinking The Race

I have never been the fastest runner. My soccer coach compared me to a freight train: slow to get moving, took a lot to keep moving, and hard to stop. Not only is that the likeliest explanation for my early transition to goalie, but perhaps it is also why an enduring visual memory from my elementary school days is of an out-and-back race. As I recall it, everyone was supposed to run out to a cone, run around it, and come back to the starting line. As I was lumbering up to my cruising speed, heading towards the cone, I began to see the faces of my classmates looking at me with triumph and pity as they raced in the opposite direction just inches from my left shoulder. They had already been to the cone, made the turn, and were heading back. And I was woefully behind.

I think that’s where Christ’s Church is at right now. We’ve spent the past two centuries getting up to speed, lumbering towards a wholehearted embrace of materialism and its attendant technology, and we are surprised to see that some of the irreligious masses we were running after have turned the corner and are looking at us pityingly as they speed back towards the numinous. But who said we had to go all the way to the cone?

When a friend shared Tim Dawson’s recent article in The Critic, this quote caught my eye: “Twitter and the twenty-four hour news-cycle is no place for a creature with a soul.”

I couldn’t agree more. We are creatures with souls and even irreligious Millennials are beginning to grasp the fact. The Church has much more to offer than modernism/individualism/escapism repackaged with a biblical twist.

I pray that the Church realizes that instead of running full-tilt after our culture, we could actually get ahead of the pack in an instant if we’d turn around now and go back to where we started.

I’d encourage you to read Dawson’s article here.

As a bonus, check out this article from Pew Research as well.

Why Do I Preach The Way I Do?

“Why do you preach the way you do?” 

When I was asked this question recently, I hesitated before answering. Not because I didn’t know my answer, but because I was unsure how to express my preaching philosophy in “normal” conversation. And I knew that the question arose because my preaching is markedly different from what is considered “normal” for our part of the country. So, I stumbled through what I thought was a confusing and meandering explanation. To my surprise, my friend said that it had been helpful and maybe I should write it down. So, (with significant editing for clarity) I did.

Why I Preach the Way I Do 

I want people to focus on Jesus

I generally don’t preach sermons with titles like “7 Biblical Tips for Handling Money” or “3 Goals for a Godly Marriage.” It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with such sermons or such titles, but I believe that a steady diet of such preaching gives the impression that the purpose of the Bible is to help individuals get ahead in life. That’s not what the Bible is for: it is intended to point us to Jesus. I want to avoid taking the focus off of Jesus and putting it on the hearer’s self-improvement. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that attempting to use the Word for any other purpose than seeing Him is futile and won’t produce the life God desires for His people: 

You don’t have his word residing in you, because you don’t believe the one he sent. You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me. But you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.

John 5:38-40

Instead of preaching sermons that reinforce our culture’s obsession with the self, the supposed source of satisfaction, I want to preach sermons that counter-culturally put all of the attention on Jesus, the true and only source of eternal life. 

I want people to get wisdom from the Word of God

When I preach, I try to make the point of the text the point of my sermon. I try to communicate the author’s intent for his original audience in a way that makes it clear for my audience. I try to use illustrations that either come from the text or reinforce the text. Why? Because people don’t need one more guy with a big head expounding his brilliant ideas or sharing memorable anecdotes (they’re getting plenty of that from social media and cable news). Instead, we need today what God’s people have always needed: God’s Word. Isaiah points out the reason why: 

A voice was saying, “Cry out!” Another said, “What should I cry out?” “All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”

Isaiah 40:6-8

I am grass; the people listening to me are grass. My wisdom, such as it is, is like a flower; the audience’s attention span is like a flower. What happens to grass and flowers? They dry up and disintegrate over time. But the Word of God never will. I want to preach what lasts, not what won’t. 

I want people to know the breadth and depth of God’s Word

You are what you eat. I know it’s been said before, but people don’t generally remember what they ate for lunch three weeks ago. But that lunch affected them, remembered or not. It was taken in and broken down into constituent parts. Some of it stayed to become fuel and raw materials for building up the body, while some of it was expelled as waste. It was unremembered but productive nonetheless. I view preaching in much the same way: people won’t remember my sermons but, Lord willing, they will be gradually transformed by them. So, I want to ensure that they are getting a well-balanced diet, not a steady stream of favorite treats. Potato chips are generally more appealing than celery sticks: it is tempting to concentrate on familiar and favorite texts of the Bible and ignore the large chunks that seem difficult or irrelevant. Acts 20 records a meeting that the apostle, Paul, had with the elders of the church at Ephesus. During that meeting, he says, “…I declared to you the whole counsel of God.”

I want to be able to say the same thing because I know that we need the whole counsel of God, not just the parts we like. Because I don’t want to give people just what is easy to hear or easy to preach, I do not generally pick and choose Bible verses. Instead, I start preaching at one end of a biblical book and preach all the way through it to the other end. That way, I am sure we are receiving a complete meal, i.e., eating our “veggies” and our “potato chips.” Not skipping around means that we will both be wrestling with complex ideas and reveling in comforting passages.  

I want people to experience heart change 

Preachers are often like parents: we know that outward conformity is not the same thing as inward transformation, but it’s tempting to push for what we can see quickly rather than what lasts but takes more time. I don’t want to give in to temptation: I want to challenge myself and the people to whom I preach to be transformed, not merely modify their external behavior. This desire means that I try not to demand particular responses from people but trust the Spirit of God to stir and direct their hearts. Put another way: I do not want to cajole people into doing what I want them to do, what tradition says they must do, or what anyone else thinks they should do: I want them to do what God wants them to do. So, I rarely call for specific external behavioral responses (“don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls who do”). Instead, I trust that they will, through the Word and the Spirit, “not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of [their] mind, so that [they] may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God,” as Romans 12:2 says. 

Transformation begins with a mind set on the things of God, not with legalistic attempts to look better than we are. Behavior does change, but only changes that begin with a changed heart and mind will last. 

I want people to move towards community

We live in an increasingly individualistic culture. The chief (and some would say only) tenet of Wicca is now the creed for many people from every walk of life, including many inside the church: “do whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t keep someone else from doing what they want.” Social media, entertainment culture, and much popular preaching reinforce the idea that the purpose of life is to “self-actualize,” whatever that means. The Good News of God’s Kingdom is reduced to “living your best life now” and “going to heaven when you die.” I guess the thought is that you get to do whatever you want without interference now and then continue for all of eternity. A terrible side effect of this idea is that it inevitably drives people further and further apart until, in the end, they are left with themselves, by themselves, and with no idea of how to even reconnect with others. I don’t want my preaching to reinforce this individualism. Instead, I try to preach the community-creating aspects of the kingdom even louder. Paul, writing to the Ephesian church, expresses the gospel’s effect of bringing individuals into a community: 

So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being put together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

I am not the temple of God: we are the temple of God. I am not a foreigner and a stranger to you: we are fellow citizens and family members. My goal in preaching is to speak to and about “us” as much or more than I do to or about “I” or “you.”

I want people to wonder and be curious and ask questions

One of the most intriguing statements in Jesus’ teaching is found in Mark’s Gospel. He records Jesus giving his parable of the soils and then writes, 

“when he was alone, those around him with the Twelve asked him about the parables. He answered them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those outside, everything comes in parables.”

Mark 4:10-11

I wondered about this statement for some time before a friend of mine, who led a college ministry and frequently took students through the Gospel of Mark, shared his insight with me: the secret of the kingdom is to be curious enough to ask Jesus for the answers. This insight led to me reexamining my preaching in light of Jesus’ example. I quickly realized that Jesus taught in a very open-ended style. He didn’t answer every possible question; indeed, he frequently seemed to introduce questions that he didn’t answer, all to get people curious enough to follow up with him. That doesn’t mean that I want to be intentionally obscure, but that my teaching should invite mature and ongoing conversation, rather than passive reception of my spoon-feeding the audience a perfectly blended and balanced puree that requires no further thought from them. Nor does it mean that I think I am the “jesus” who people should come to for the answers: instead, I want to go with them to the Word and work out His meaning together. 

I want people to leave on mission

The goal of my preaching is not to gather a bunch of people together to sit in front of me, entertain them so well that they’ll invite their friends to sit with them the next week, and repeat that until Jesus comes back. Instead, my goal is to see people move “from the seats to the streets,” as another preacher said. I do not preach to gather a crowd but to send out citizen-ambassadors to spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom. In Romans 10, Paul shows the goal of biblical preaching: 

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent?”

Romans 10:13-15

Paul is envisioning a circular sequence: Salvation is a result of calling on the name of the Lord, which happens when someone believes in the gospel that they have heard preached by someone who was sent as a result of having been saved by calling on the name of the Lord for salvation. 

I do not want to gather the same group of people each week to hear me opine about various topics: I want to preach to those sent to proclaim. Towards that end, a significant focus of my preaching is on the call for those who hear to go out and declare the truth that Jesus is King. I want people to be continually leaving the congregation I serve to go and take the gospel to places it has not been or has been forgotten. Going back to the beginning, I want the focus to stay on Jesus, and He calls His people to go, not sit. 

That’s why I preach the way I do. 

Dr. Todd Gray on Membership

There are certain people who, when they speak, I listen. Dr. Todd Gray is one of those people. His evangelistic heart, pastoral mindset, and servant leadership (not to mention his ability to say more in a 20-minute sermon than I can say in a 60-minute sermon) are an example and encouragement to me.

So his recent blog post caught my eye and I was struck by his list of seven of the responsibilities of a church member:

  1. I am responsible to attend the services of my church
  2. I am responsible to give financially to the work of my church
  3. I am responsible to pray for my congregation
  4. I am responsible to guard the unity of the church
  5. I am responsible to grow as a Christian
  6. I am responsible to serve according to my gifts and availability
  7. I am responsible to share the good news of Jesus

Needless to say, that’s a challenging list, especially because it’s not complete. And then this alliterative statement jumped out at me: “…a pandemic of personal preference.” He was identifying a problem in church culture and that line drove it home! I asked myself the question, “how often have I let my engagement in the Body of Christ be driven more by my preferences and “rights” than by the Word and the needs of those around me?”

I encourage you to read the full post here: https://toddgray.org/2022/01/31/members-or-owners/

Life

It begins in tears and blood

Clenched teeth, wails, and tearing flood

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

A slap, a cry, viscous snot

Pinch, pull, poke, and stabbing shot

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

Gnawing hunger and no words

Confusion, blurring, thought like birds

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

Corners to foreheads…often

Bumps and bumbles, though fat softened

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

Monkey bars and playground slide

Arms don’t bend there, ambulance ride

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

Snickers, glance, tongue of cut glass

Sticks and stones and words have mass

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

The turtledove rattles your chest

The confession, rejection, a pathetic mess

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

A phone call, and a bad one

Hearts thumping, lines, now one’s done

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

A pink slip, awkward goodbyes

Still leave every morning, partially maybe tries

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

Slammed doors, incomprehensible

Yelling, cajoling, blaming, hiding, responsible

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

Papers served, mediation

Courtrooms, drama, without probation

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

A fiery burn hits your liver

Arrow from the bottom shelf’s quiver

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

Styrofoam coffee, acid burns

Cigarette, blank stare, stomach turns

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

Days off, it doesn’t matter

Wandering streets, hearing laughter

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt?

An old oak door, stain-ed glass

Penitents kneel, children pass

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt.

Bloody statue, arms outstretched

Eyes to heaven, memory fetched

Streaming side and thorn-ed brow

Lash marks curling, wonder how

(Startle, stare) That must have felt

Purpose flood (the blood!) knee knelt

And you thought it wouldn’t hurt!

Take and Eat: Resources for Discipleship & Bible Study

Christians living in the 21st century have many things to complain about, but a lack of resources for studying the Bible is not one of them. We are surrounded by a vast sea of opportunities to grow in and be transformed by our encounter with the Word of God. The following are just some of those available that I either use regularly or have had commended to me by fellow disciples I trust and admire.

Free Resources

www.blueletterbible.com: This website has some excellent resources that are handily referenced to individual verses and organized by a tab system. You can access the original language in the “Interlinear” tab. You can see various English translations of the same verse in the “Bibles” tab. The “Cross-Refs” tab gives you a phrase-by-phrase cross-reference list and then includes the full text of the referenced verses as you scroll down. The “Commentaries” tab has text, audio, and video resources from well-regarded pastors and theologians that address the verse in question. Somewhat confusing is the “Dictionaries” tab, where you can find dictionaries and encyclopedias and topical guides that pertain to your verse. Finally, the “Misc” tab has images, maps, and even music related to the text. 

www.biblegateway.com: Bible Gateway is my go-to for reading longer texts of Scripture, and it is easy to choose your preferred translation, viewing options, etc. It is helpful to add a parallel column to compare two translations over an entire passage. There are additional resources available, but these are similar to what other sites offer, and I’ve not explored them as much. 

www.bibleproject.com: One of my absolute favorite online resources, The Bible Project, provides excellent videos that dive into specific topics, themes, and books of the Bible. Some of their content uses language and references more recent scholarship that can be challenging for more traditional Bible interpreters, but they are well within the bounds of orthodoxy.

www.openbible.info: While there are some interesting tools on this site, the two main features in my mind are the “Bible Geocoding” link which shows biblical places by Bible chapter in Google Earth. Pictures are available in a separate link, as well. This tool provides a sense of “place” for the accounts we read in the Bible.

The other main feature, and the one I use the most, is the “Topical Bible.” The provided search bar is a space for you to complete the question: “What does the Bible say about _______?” Once you enter text, the topical bible populates the top verses associated with that topic. You can “vote” on individual verses as to whether they are helpful or not concerning the subject in question. This tool crowdsources information which theoretically helps the resource improve over time.

www.gotquestions.org: It would be best if you never took anyone’s opinion as gospel truth, but the topical essays responding to common questions on this website have often proven helpful. Even when I’ve disagreed with a particular answer, I’ve found that the summaries can help frame the question better or challenge me to think more deeply about a subject than I have yet. It’s a simple concept and a helpful resource. In particular, the hyperlinked biblical texts, recommended resources, and related questions links can springboard into great further study.

www.ccel.org: One of my favorite sources for commentary and church history resources, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, contains essential works from almost every historical phase of the faith from the early church to the early 20thcentury. You can reference texts online, or you can download many for offline use. I believe one of the most significant failures of the American Church has been to cut ourselves off from the rich tradition and history of our faith, and CCEL can help us reconnect with previous generations through studying their interactions with Scripture and one another.

www.desiringgod.org: John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church have had a significant influence on the current generation of conservative Christians. And many of their writings and sermons are available on this website for free. I frequently reference John Piper’s sermons on a text that I am preaching and generally think long and hard before coming to a different conclusion than he does. Watching him break down a bible passage in a “Look at the Book” video is often insightful, as well. Additionally, the blog has generally excellent essays and book reviews from both staff and guest writers.

www.stepbible.org: STEP stands for Scripture Tools for Every Person, and it delivers. I’ve only recently discovered this resource but enjoy the quick-reference capability and versatile search function. It takes a little bit of work to learn your way around, but it is worth it. As a bonus, it has a downloadable option for offline work directly with the text.

www.planobiblechapel.org/constable-notes: Dr. Thomas L. Constable taught at Dallas Theological Seminary and offers his Expository Notes on the entire Bible for free at this website. One particularly helpful thing is his broad citation of other sources, providing avenues for further study.

www.scripturelabs.com: Though currently in beta testing with Genesis 1, this resource promises to be excellent. The Lab encourages participants to dig deep into the biblical text by considering more carefully the original context, language, and author’s intent. The reflective material is tailored to individual experience levels and even addresses different faith backgrounds for participants. It is of limited use because of the finite texts available, but the Bible study method it teaches will serve students well as they expand to independent study. Inspired by The Bible Project, it includes elements that will challenge more conservative students, but is still worthwhile to engage.

www.accordancebible.com: Accordance is my go-to Bible software. It is native to Mac, but the Windows program is excellent, as well. Check out Accordance Lite for a free intro version of the software.

www.logos.com: Logos is the king of Bible software and is the most popular option, based on anecdotal evidence. They offer Logos 9 Basic as a free intro.

www.biblearc.com: Bible Arc has a free option, but its utility is limited. With a small monthly subscription, however, you can break down Bible passages and make it much easier to see the links within the text.

Courses

www.sebts.edu/academics/distance_learning/free-classes.aspx: Southeastern Seminary offers 10 free online courses, in addition to their online degree programs. 

www.biblicaltraining.org: Biblical Training offers many courses, some free and some paid. Worth your time to explore. 


This list barely scratches the surface of what is available to today’s Christian for help in Bible study, sermon preparation, and personal growth. Is there one you regularly use that is missing from the list? Let me know!

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay 

Social Media Is Eating You Alive (You Should Probably Do Something About That)

Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

A cow ambling into a slaughterhouse doesn’t know it’s about to be killed, cut-up, wrapped up, and shipped across the country to end up as dinner. It thinks it’s taking a walk. It doesn’t know that it’s a product.

Stupid cow.

When you signed up for your FREE social media account, you didn’t know that you would be mentally tied-up, digitally diced-up, and have the resulting fragments of your time and attention sold to the highest advertising bidders. You thought you were keeping in touch with old friends or keeping entertained. You didn’t know that you were the product.

Stupid human.

Don’t worry; it’s not just you. I did it, too. Lots of people did. Here’s how many:

Facebook: 2.7 billion users (2.1 billion of whom log in daily)

Instagram: 1 billion+ users (500 million access the app daily)

Twitter: 331 million users (134 million daily users)

Snapchat: 310.7 million users (190 million snap daily)

If everyone is doing it, it can’t be that bad, right?

Let’s ask a different question, one that will be familiar to many of you: “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?”

Honestly, is there anyone left who doesn’t know that social media is bad for us? Oh sure, you have the perpetual optimists who point out the benefits. But, the cons outweigh the pros and, deep down, we know it.

When we read an article like this one that tells us that the very people who designed the “best” parts of our social media experiences are opting out of the “services” themselves, why do we not even blink?

When one article links an increase in social media usage to depression and another finds a connection between decreased scrolling and happiness, why do we ignore it?

Cows, Again.

We ignore the facts for the same reason that a cow keeps munching its corn and getting fat: we like what we’re getting out of the deal.

Cows bodies need food to survive. Human brains need interaction with other humans. But just like the cow eating corn, we’ve unwittingly settled for a cheap substitute provided by social media handlers with ulterior motives.

A cow isn’t designed to munch on corn: it’s made for eating grass. But grass is labor and cost-intensive and takes longer to build up the cow’s body mass. Corn is cheaper, easier, and fattens the bovine body faster, enabling the cow’s owner to convert fewer expense dollars into more profit dollars. And the cows literally eat it up, undoubtedly thinking how great this free lunch is.

The digital handlers over at Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. have done something eerily similar to us. They’ve hijacked our brains’ desires for the rewards of relational connection, something that usually takes lots of time, attention, and, yes, loving labor to produce and given us something instantaneous, fleeting, and cheap that presses the same button.

And we eat it up, not realizing we’re being sold in the bargain.

What Should You Do?

The poor cow doesn’t have a choice as it mindlessly munches its way to destruction. But we do.

More crucially, YOU do.

As a thinking, reasoning, functioning human being, you have a choice to make. Once you realize that social media is turning you into filet mignon for the advertising industry, you can go one of three directions:

1. Change nothing.

2. Limit your engagement.

3. Opt out.

Let’s look a little closer at each option, shall we?

Change Nothing.

Certainly, this could be your choice. After all, ignoring what’s true to preserve what’s comforting is practically an American sport. No matter how many times studies indicate that being overweight significantly increases one’s medical bills and substantially decreases one’s life expectancy, it’s a safe bet that McDonald’s and Coca-Cola won’t fundamentally disappoint their stockholders anytime soon.

If this is your choice, so be it. But don’t go blindly: understand what is happening and why.

Limit Your Engagement.

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Oscar Wilde.

Whether in social media, junk food, alcohol, or garage sales, there’s something to be said for moderation. Things which are bad for us in large quantities are often good for us in small quantities.

As humans, we are hardwired to seek happiness. Social media can make us happy. So, you could very easily try to keep the benefit of social media but mitigate the dangers by limiting your engagement.

For example, you could make a rule that you only check your social media accounts at certain times throughout the day and never exceed X number of minutes on them. (An app like Freedom can make this easier).

Or, you could set a “weekends-only” rule for your social media. Or, you could reverse that.

Regardless, you can limit the amount of time you give to social media, moderating its impact and control. You’ll still be the product, but lose less of yourself to the process.

However, there’s one more option to consider:

Opt Out.

Above, I said that moderation is good: it is. However, that is not always the case.

There are some things which can be good in small quantities. For many, there’s no harm in having a beer with dinner. But what if you’re an alcoholic Then, that beer can be disastrous.

The same scenario proves true with social media. If you are addicted to social media, limiting your engagement is not going to help.

And social media is nothing if not addictive. Regardless of the platform, social media is purposed-built to suck you in, keep you scrolling, and sell longer and longer stretches of your attention to advertisers.

Ask yourself these questions:

Have I ever checked social media while driving?

Have I ever checked social media in the middle of a conversation?

Have I ever checked social media during an important meeting?

Have I ever checked social media while watching a movie, playing a game, or eating out with friends?

Have I ever scrolled through social media feeds when I should have been sleeping, studying, or something else?

If you answered “yes” to one or all of those questions, the system worked as its designers intended: your eyeballs glued to a screen, advertising dollars rolling in, and you missing out on the real world. Moderation is an option, but not for the addict.

If that’s you, consider opting out of the social media machine entirely.

What Are You Going To Do?

Social media is sucking you in and selling you for parts. But they can’t take away your ability to choose.

So, what are you going to do?

Change nothing?

Limit your engagement?

Opt out?

It’s your life: make a decision and live it.

*this post first appeared at https://medium.com/@brandonboone

Build Me

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Each moment you ask me for a piece of me

Oh, those aren’t the words you use

But they mean the same thing

And it’s so hard to deny your simple request

So, I don’t

But don’t you see?

Each moment, each piece, means less

So, I cheat

I beg and steal pieces of others around me

And come back and convince you

Basically, it’s the same thing

After all, these that I hand over could be me

But they’re not

Don’t I know it?

Each piece, a pretending, each a lie

So, they’ll fail

Making you do the same thing when I ask

The circle of cannibalism grows

You, me, they, the same thing

Desperately needing to be more and more

But you’re less

When’s it enough?

Each taking a protecting, yet diminishing

So, you fade

If only we’d do the hard work to build me

We’d constantly replenish the pieces

And genuinely be the same thing

Instead of begging or stealing, be eating

And we’d grow

Isn’t that better?

Each of us making, sharing our being

And we grow

*this post first appeared at https://medium.com/@brandonboone

Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I literally had someone laugh at me when I asked them this question recently. I didn’t realize how stereotypically “interviewy” it was.

Apparently, it’s a rather gauche thing to ask.

So…where do you see yourself in five years?

Because, socially acceptable or not, I believe it is an important question. And it will increasingly be so in our 24-hour-news-cycle, instant-coffee, attention-span-of-a-goldfish society.

Why?

Because it forces us to think (and think personally rather than rhetorically) about the future and our place in it.

And, because it forces us to think restrictively rather than globally. In answering the question, we have to make a choice, intentionally narrowing the limitless horizon of “the future” to a concrete timespan and a concrete field of vision.

Elton Trueblood said it this way:

“It is a common characteristic of all the high moments that one choice inevitably eliminates others. Loyal devotion to one mate precludes loyal devotion to a rival; the spending of money on perfume precludes the spending of the same money to aid the needy and suffering; the dedication to motherhood make impossible an equal dedication to some other pursuits. Man must choose; that is his very life.”

Elton Trueblood, The Common Ventures of Life, (emphasis his)

This isn’t one of those cheap “how-to” articles that promise to guide you through a simple five-step process to “creatively leverage your future for incredible results.” Nor will I artificially pad its length: I just want you to recognize that drifting never results in progress.

Where you actually end up in five years depends largely on what you choose to do today. So, one more time: where do you see yourself in five years?

Ok, now go.