God is Not a Taskmaster

Do you keep a task list or a to-do list to manage all that you have to do each day?

Our team at LifeWay uses a program called ASANA that helps us manage the dozens of projects we have and all the tasks that fall under each project. I have to admit: it’s very gratifying to check off the box, pretty much every time. Sometimes I create tasks in the program AFTER I’ve already done them just to have the pleasure of clicking the box that signals the task is complete!

It’s a simple behavior that shows just how much I value productivity. And the multiple task managements systems, be they notepads and pencils or apps for our smart phone, are abundant, giving every person reason to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments. I especially love the fact that the rest of my teammates can receive an email notification every time I complete a task. “Rob has completed this task!” I love that, and I love that they know that.

It’s no wonder that we often translate this experience over to our relationship with God. We view God as the great Taskmaster who is pleased with our accomplishments. We take His law, such as the 10 Commandments and all the sub-commandments that flow from it, and we do our best to check off the list those that we successfully keep each day. Of course, if we’re honest, we never check them all off, and even some of those that we do check off are a stretch at best. Nevertheless, we submit our incomplete and inaccurate task list to God, hoping that He will be pleased with our efforts.

But God is perfectly holy, and we are perfectly not. Unable to completely and accurately complete His task list, we are cursed. So to be right with God, there must be another way.

And there is. It’s what Paul calls the way of faith. It was true for Abraham (Genesis 15:6 and Galatians 3:6), and it’s true for us. Specifically, it’s faith that God provided His Son as the One who would keep God’s task list perfectly, and as the One who would take the punishment for our sin on our behalf. Faith that God did this for us puts us in a relationship with God.

So God is not a Taskmaster, demanding that we keep His task list so that we can be right with Him. He is a gracious provider who has done our task list for us. With faith in this gracious God, we are given the power of the Spirit to then keep His task list, albeit imperfectly, not so that we can keep God’s favor, but so we can show the world that we have it by grace.

God Values Those Who Don’t Share His Values

When was the last time you lost something valuable?

When I posed this question to a Bible study class recently, one of the members told the story of a mouse stealing medication and a hearing aid from his spouse, while another told the story of losing his friend in the wilderness of Montana, in a river, and in Wal-Mart!

Whatever happened to just losing your keys or wallet or retainer?

Though losing something valuable is an experience pretty much anyone can relate to, technological advances may soon make “lostness” something we may never experience again. GPS, Tile, and features like “Find My Phone” are pretty incredible for absent-minded professor-types like myself who have thrown their van keys in the trash without knowing it.

But until that time when there’s no excuse for being lost or losing something, Jesus’ first two parables in Luke 15:1-10 still resonate.

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This parable powerfully portrays the value God places on those who don’t share his values. This posture of gracious pursuit stands in stark contrast to the separatist Pharisees who refused to associate with any such “sinners” in the name of honoring the Lord through personal holiness.

Can you believe it? Can you believe that God’s posture towards sinners is one in which He diligently pursues them for His joy? If so, you will have joy yourself, and will mirror this same posture to the lost.

You will value those who do not share your core values.

Two Words You Likely Never Use to Describe Your Worship

Southern Fried Faith:

Honored to write a guest post for Paul Clark this week. Two words that likely rarely describe your worship, but must.

Originally posted on Paul Clark Jr's Blog:

Southern Fried Faith cover  I am happy today to publish a Guest – Post by my friend, Rob Tims, who serves as Discipleship Strategist, Lifeway Church Resources Division, and is also the author of a new book I have just read and highly recommend, especially to anyone who grew up in the South.

Rob Tims is the author of Southern Fried Faith. Learn more about Rob and his ministry at southernfriedfaith.com.

With only two words, how would you describe your personal attitude or state of mind when you arrive to worship on Sunday?

Here’s my list.

Anxious and angry.

Burdensome and bleary.

Calloused and cranky.

Detached and distracted.

Frazzled and frustrated.

I could use most of the alphabet, but you get the point. For far too many Sundays, I walk into corporate worship hassled and hurried as a result of any number of excuses, most of which have my own sin…

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The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Has Been on My Mom’s Bucket List

For a few months in 2011, when I would talk with my mom on the phone, her voice sounded dehydrated … rough, like there was pea gravel in her throat. Diet? Not enough water? At age 59, it didn’t seem possible that it would just be age. So after many doctor’s appointments, it took a savvy speech therapist to point out that her tongue had a tremor.

She was assigned to a local neurologist who conducted a lot of tests, some simpler than others. Tests like, “Hold your arms out to either side and try to press your middle finger and thumb together in rhythm.” My mom couldn’t. Her left hand was half the speed of her right. And there were tremors and/or twitching in her left arm as well. These tests, along with some others, led the doctor to one conclusion: ALS.

I’d be grateful to live with a disease half as well as my mother does with ALS. I could go and on and on about all the things she does incredibly well, but in light of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I think it’s best to highlight that many ALS patients, my mom included, model the need for ALS awareness by giving themselves to those researchers who live to end ALS.

Because there is no cure, there’s really not much any doctor can do for my mom other than provide various levels of care towards her comfort and helping her adjust to the disease’s progression. Ironically, ALS patients end up doing far more for doctors than doctors do for them when they, like my mom, ride in the car for hours to reach specialized hospitals and clinics for a day or two of tests that help those working to find a cure for ALS.

My mom cannot talk, struggles hard to eat, and can walk very short distances and only then great assistance. Her mind, heart and spirit are vibrant, but her body is debilitated. Yet in this condition, she voluntarily has blood drawn, her spine tapped, and experiences a myriad of other very uncomfortable medical procedures, all so she can give a big part of the final years of her life towards ending this disease. 

In other words, ALS patients like my mom go way beyond raising awareness through social media or financial contributions. They give their lives to end the very thing that is taking theirs. 

In the last three years since her diagnosis, my mom has run through quite the bucket list. A Mediterranean cruise; time in Hawaii; time in NYC; time in the south of France; time in the Caribbean; time with family—all of which has been deeply rewarding, but none of which will go as far as her time in Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. The number one thing on her bucket list was the last thing on your mind a few short weeks ago, but our hope is that you will join many others and contribute to help end this disease. 

Thank you to all my friends and family who have participated in this challenge and made contributions, and for all of you who have prayed for my mom!

Dad, Get in the Pool!

Southern Fried Faith:

I had a great time throwing the football with the boys … as well as throwing the boys … in the pool this past weekend. First time all summer I’ve gotten in the pool with them. Reminded me of this post, that I had clearly forgotten.

Originally posted on Southern Fried Faith:

We’re on a family vacation this week, and I got in the pool with the boys for the first time since I can’t remember how long. I recall TAKING them to the pool, but not getting in to the pool with them. We had a great time sliding and getting away with as much as rough-housing as the lifeguards would allow for over an hour, and I remembered several reasons why dads like me just need to get in the pool.

  1. It’s your turn. As you likely work 5 days a week, mom, teachers, and other adults deal far more often with your kids than you do. No one should be more dedicated to being with your kids on weekends when it’s possible and vacations when it’s necessary than you, dad.
  2. Protection against temptation. Every man has an adulterous heart (and every woman too). Eye candy has little or no…

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The Road to the Promised Land

“The road to the promised land runs past Sinai. The moral law may exist to be transcended: but there is no transcending it for those who have not first admitted its claims up on them, and then tried with all their strength to meet that claim, and fairly and squarely faced the fact of their failure.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Say What? Reflections on Being a Poor Listener

Are you a good listener?

I confess: rarely I am, often I am not.

My most common sin in this regard is presuming upon how a person will finish their sentence. Usually, I finish one’s sentence for himI’ out loud. Nothing says, “You’re not important to me” better than presuming I know what you are saying before you even say it!

I’m revisiting this sin anew in light of studying Jesus’ Parable of the Soils at church Sunday.

“A sower went out to sow.And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil,but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:3-9.

Jesus later explains this parable for us (see the bottom of this post). In brief, there are three ways to listen poorly to the Word of God, and one way to listen well.

First, we can listen carelessly to it. We can come across something that is not already or easily understood (v. 18), so we dismiss it as unnecessary or unimportant. Kind of like me flippantly finishing someone’s sentences.

Second, we can listen conveniently to it. We love the Word at first, but the moment believing it actually costs us something, we dismiss it (v. 20-21).

Third, we can listen conditionally to it. We will love the Word at different times in our life, but the moment it calls us to subject other treasures in our life to it, we reject it (v. 22).

Finally, we can listen comprehensively to it. This is what it means to be “good soil.” This is what it means to be a good listener to the Word. And when we take it in comprehensively, we understand it with our minds and our lives are transformed.

So, what kind of listener are you when it comes to the Word of God? In Jesus’ words, what kind of soil are you when it comes to the Word of God?

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Matthew 13:18-23.