Choose Your Restaurant Wisely

Choosing a restaurant should be a basic human right. Imagine being forced to go to a Chinese restaurant when you were in the mood for sandwiches. Or having to sit and wait when you expected something simple and fast. And woe betide the co-conspirators responsible for my wife’s worst nightmare: eating pizza two evenings in a row.

Trey Ratcliff (2009), Creative Commons

Trey Ratcliff (2009), Creative Commons

Of course food quality isn’t the only factor to consider. We have an industry based on reviewing culinary establishments for presentation, cleanliness, speed, friendliness, and appearance, in addition to taste. My town has hundreds of restaurants within a 10-mile radius, but, on a recent double date, we chose a restaurant more than 20 minutes away because it had received a makeover from the TV show “Restaurant: Impossible.” We had to see what all the fuss was about, and we’re glad we did!

Proverbs 9

Proverbs 9 reminds us that we always have a dining choice. When hunger (for life, fulfillment, advice, or simply “something more”) drives us to seek sustenance and satisfaction, we will look for a good restaurant. Some will find a reputable proprietorship; others will be terribly deceived. Make sure you eat at the right place.

In this chapter, wisdom offers a delightful and nourishing feast (Prov 9:1-6), which is meant to be shared (Prov 9:7-12).  Folly peddles something illegitimate, unsanitary, poisonous (Prov 9:13-18). Since appearances can be terribly deceiving, we must learn how to tell the difference.

Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn hew seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts;
she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.” (Prov 9:1-6, ESV)

The woman Folly is loud;
she is seductive and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house;
she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
calling to those who pass by,
who are going straight on their way.
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
And to him who lacks sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet,
and bread eaten in secret in pleasant.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. (Prov 9:13-18, ESV)

Next week, I’ll do more interpreting and applying (“What is Wisdom’s feast?”). For now, let’s simply observe comparisons and contrasts.

Comparisons

In many ways, these two feasts share similar features:

  • a hostess (Prov 9:1, 13)
  • a home (Prov 9:1, 14)
  • an invitation to the simple (Prov 9:4, 16)
  • food and drink (Prov 9:2, 17)
  • hubbub at the highest places in town (Prov 9:3, 14)
  • a promise (Prov 9:6, 17)
  • a change in the status of house guests (Prov 9:6, 18)

But don’t get distracted by appearances. Beauty, as they say, is a different matter after you’ve skinned the thing.

Contrasts

When the simple get moving toward the Lord, the scales fall and truth becomes clear. These two feasts couldn’t be any more different:

  • wisdom builds; folly sits (Prov 9:1, 14)
  • wisdom is clever; folly knows nothing (Prov 9:1, 13)
  • wisdom wins loyal servants; folly is loud (Prov 9:3, 13)
  • wisdom lets her food speak for itself; folly seduces and deceives (Prov 9:5, 13, 17)
  • wisdom has meat with wine and bread; folly has but stolen water and secret bread (Prov 9:2, 5, 17)
  • wisdom prepares for important guests; folly grabs whoever happens to pass by (Prov 9:2-3, 15)
  • wisdom works with a team; folly takes a seat (Prov 9:3, 14)
  • wisdom makes her food; folly steals her food (Prov 9:5, 17)
  • wisdom promotes life change; folly promises secret pleasure (Prov 9:6, 17)
  • wisdom’s guests gain insight; folly’s visitors don’t know what is happening to them (Prov 9:6, 18)
  • wisdom’s visitors live; folly’s guests die (Prov 9:6, 18)

Two people see the same pornographic advertisement; one is turned off, and the other is turned on. Two investors discover the same questionable loophole; one sees loss, and the other sees gain. Two spouses experience the same set of conflicts; one sees a chance to deepen intimacy, and the other looks for a permanent way out.

These things should not surprise us. Some people make themselves sick on cotton candy; others know to hold out for the rib eye and Merlot. Which are you?

Be Sure to Begin Well

How should I begin this post? Should I ask a question? Tell a story about the last time I tried to create a clever introduction? Perhaps I must always make a broad and over-generalized but intriguing suggestion. Or maybe ultra-vivid, razor-sharp imagery will slice your jugular and capture your attention while your lifeblood slips through my fingers.

I have many options, but each promotes the same goal: hooking you early and giving you reason to read on.

Perhaps such a communication technique is a place where “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). The secular world runneth over with advice on presentations, public speaking, dynamic teamship, and interpersonal communication; but many Bible studies are boring. And the boredom wastes no time to settle in. The first 5 minutes often signify what is yet to come.

Steve Jurvetson (2011), Creative Commons

Steve Jurvetson (2011), Creative Commons

In his excellent Growth Groups training manual, Colin Marshall recommends introducing Bible studies with a “launching question.”

A launching question should be:

• Purposeful—introducing the main ideas or applications that will be addressed.

• Interesting—engaging the group’s attention and arousing their minds.

• Easy—making them the experts so all can contribute early in the discussion.

• Open—with many possible answers.

There are two general types of launching questions:

• Topical—to raise the issues related to the goals of the study, by posing a dilemma or asking opinions.

• Textual—to raise an issue in the text being studied which will help to unravel the whole passage. (p.39)

While we don’t have examples in Scripture of Bible study discussions, we have plenty of examples of good introductions. They’ll mold our thinking as long as we don’t train ourselves to ignore them and move quickly to the “body” of the text. Here’s a sampling:

  • In Galatians 1:1-5, Paul introduces his key themes of apostolic authority and true gospel.
  • Matthew 1:1 insinuates that this Gospel will focus on Jesus’ Jewishness and kingship.
  • Daniel 1:1-2 exposes the book’s main idea early: Though there are earthly kings who wield power according to their own pleasure, there is a heavenly King of kings who decides what finally happens and what gets given into whose hands.
  • Psalms 1 and 2 provide context for the collection by bracketing a double blessing (Psalm 1:1, 2:12) around those who 1) delight in God’s law and 2) submit to God’s king.

What other biblical introductions motivate you to read on?

By beginning a Bible study well, we do the same thing: We give people reason to listen and take part. “But the Bible itself is reason enough to listen and take part. We shouldn’t have to try to make the Bible exciting,” you say.

And I say, “Right on. We don’t have to make the Bible exciting. But if we’re not careful, we’ll lead people to think it’s boring and irrelevant.”

That’s why the launching question is usually the last thing I do when I prepare to lead a Bible study. (See the 5th of the 5 practices for preparing effective Bible studies.) The goal of the launching question is not merely to capture attention; you could do that by stripping to your skivvies and dancing in Gangnam style. The goal is to unleash the text and win people early to the main idea.

Therefore, before I can start the trip, I must know where I’d like to go.

You Can Lead with Influence

Innovate 4 Jesus recently re-published my article “You Can Lead with Influence.”

When a teacher has influence, students seek a relationship outside of class and ask advice on topics outside of the curriculum. When a manager has influence, employees pitch in on projects without being asked. When a pastor has influence, Christians find any excuse to join his Sunday morning coffee hour conversations. When an older sibling has influence, the closeness lasts well into adulthood. In each case, we follow influential leaders, not because we have to, but because we want to.

An aspiring leader might start off with this vision for influence, but over time the rookie’s eagerness can fade into a fog of authority and experience. Experience assures the leader that entrenched behaviors can’t be broken, touchy people need more leeway, and elder meetings must be boring. Thus, forfeiting influence, the former idealist starts to rely on his own authority to get results.

Consider the difference between authority and influence in this simple illustration. An authoritative parent might compel his teenager to keep her curfew. But only an influential parent can trust his daughter won’t sneak out when he’s asleep.
The article goes on to explain from 1 Thessalonians how the recipe of influence has two key ingredients: humility and hope.

3 Game-Changing Facts about God’s Wisdom

Every once in a while you see a truly game-changing scenario. Like when your team was trailing by 6 runs, but the bottom of the 9th saw a 3-run homer followed by a re-loading of the bases. And now your best slugger stands at the plate, and you’ve got a fighting chance.

Proverbs 8:32-36 speaks of one of those situations. Solomon is almost through with his 9-chapter manifesto on God’s wisdom. He’s built the foundations, and he’s about to invite you into the feast: the detailed wisdom in the rest of the book. But first he’s got a few more pitches to throw. (Sorry to keep mixing metaphors, but it’s not much different from what Solomon does!) Will you stand or fall? Walk or strike out? Get a hit and stay alive, or get caught looking to retire the side?

N. Kodama (2009), Creative Commons

N. Kodama (2009), Creative Commons

If you’re still not sure what to do with this thing called wisdom, Solomon issues a command, a promise, and a motivation.

And now, O sons, listen to me:
blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the LORD,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who hate me love death. (Prov 8:32-36, ESV)

The Command

“Listen to me…Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.” This has been the most repeated command in these opening 8 chapters of Proverbs. Listening is:

  • the responsibility of the wise (Prov 1:5)
  • the prelude to discernment (Prov 1:8)
  • the failure of fools (Prov 1:24)
  • the pathway to God (Prov 2:1-5)
  • the discipline of the favored (Prov 3:1-4)
  • the urgent appeal of a father (Prov 4:1-2)
  • the perception of light and life (Prov 4:10-11)
  • the prerequisite for personal change (Prov 4:20-21)
  • the protection of purity (Prov 5:1-2)
  • the defense against destruction (Prov 5:7)
  • a young man’s preservation from death (Prov 7:24-27)
  • the conversion of fools (Prov 8:5-6)

And now, O sons, don’t neglect to hear instruction (Prov 8:32-33). You’ll be wise if you but listen. And if you don’t hear, you’re not a victim but a perpetrator of your own downfall.

The Promise

“Blessed are those who keep my ways…Blessed is the one who listens to me…” (Prov 8:32, 34). Repeatedly, Solomon has commanded wisdom’s reception, not out of a sense of disinterested duty but on account of a Godward self-interest. Gaining wisdom is hard work, but it’s worth it because your life will be better with it than without it. The one who listens and keeps the commands is “blessed.”

As Paul reasons elsewhere, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph 5:29). So, he says, take that innate self-passion of yours and direct it to your wife. Jesus reasons similarly in his summary of the law: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-40). He does not command us to love ourselves; he assumes we already do. And he expects us to love others with the same degree of fervency.

So with Solomon. Do you want what’s best for yourself? Really? If so, you’ll value what God thinks best over what you think best, since God’s best is better than your best. Hear the one you fear, be willing to change everything, and be blessed.

The Motivation

On the one hand, there is wisdom, life, and the Lord’s favor (Prov 8:35). On the other hand, there is self-injury and necrophilia (Prov 8:36). Your choice. Do such things motivate you to listen up? When you get this, nothing will stay the same.

The command, promise, and motivation: These are game-changing facts about God’s wisdom. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8).

5 Things to Consider When Framing a Bible Study

Rachel James (2006), Creative Commons

Rachel James (2006), Creative Commons

To lead our groups toward what God has said, we can reframe our Bible studies for different audiences, even when we cover the same text. But how do we go about framing the study for a particular audience? How do we construct a discussion plan for a specific group of people?

1. Don’t get ahead of yourself

The study’s framing is 4th on the list of 5 practices for preparing effective Bible studies. Don’t worry about getting the framing right until after you’ve taken care to 1) depend on the Lord, 2) understand the passage’s main point, and 3) apply the main point to your own life. Work on framing too soon, and you may lose clarity or credibility in your leadership.

2. Consider the group’s size

I’ll prepare a Bible study differently for a small group vs. a large group. With a larger audience, questions must be more direct to keep the discussion moving. If either the question is too open or the answer is too obvious, you’re most likely to suppress interaction. But for smaller groups, open questions like “What stood out to you in the passage?” may work just fine.

Thus in a larger group, I want the passage’s main point to take center stage. I’ll open with it and return to it often. In a smaller group, I prefer to help the group discover the main point through the discussion.

3. Be aware of your relationship with the group

For people he has never met, Paul—though warm—is somewhat formal (Rom 1:8-15) yet bold (Rom 15:15, 24). With close partners and key laborers, he gushes (1 Thess 2:17-20, 3:8, 2 Tim 2:1-8).

The truth itself will never change, but the way you pitch it may change depending on your relationship with your group. In studying 2 Timothy 3:10-17 with my church, I framed it as “What We Believe About the Bible”—personal, inclusive, familiar. I’d hesitate to use language like “what we believe” with a group of people I’ve never met; it might sound presumptuous. A better pitch for them would be “What the Bible Says About the Bible” or “What You Can Expect of the Bible.”

4. Know the group’s values and shared experiences

You’ll build more credibility as a teacher if you know your people. What do they want to get out of life? What brings them together? Why are they coming to your Bible study? What events have recently affected their community? What do they value? How do they talk? What do they do when they spend time together?

When you know your group well, you’ll craft a more personal and relevant Bible study, which produces  higher impact and memorability.

For example, with college students, I try to be hip, but in an awkward sort of way (making it clear that I know I’m not really hip). I do this not to get them to like me but to communicate how much I like them. It’s my jam to understand these students better. For realz.

With families at church, I spend more time sharing about my family and our interactions with other families.

When I’m a guest teacher in a new place, I use that church’s pew Bible, and I listen to informal conversation to find something to incorporate into the study. It’s not hard to uncover a local news event or a church happening or an individual’s hope for the future. Working such things into the discussion (or into the framing of the study) makes the topic more palatable and helps it to stick.

5. Try different things

The key is not to master a set of techniques but to learn to love your people. Paul models such flexible servant leadership as he preaches to different groups of people:

Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt… (Acts 13:17)

Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious… (Acts 17:22)

We don’t teach to feel better about ourselves, nor to earn brownie points for being truth-bearers. We do it to serve God’s people and win outsiders into the Kingdom. We lead by laying down our lives and seeking to enter theirs (Mark 10:42-45).

What the Little League World Series Taught Me About Bible Study

This past weekend, I again took my family to Williamsport to watch a few Little League tournament games. In honor of our trip, I republish this post from last year.

Little League Baseball claims to be the largest youth sports organization in the world. This year, almost 2.5 million children participated on 200,000 teams in every US state and more than 80 other countries. Little league is a pretty big league.

Map of Little League Regions

Map of Little League Regions

Earlier this week I took a few days off from work, and my family attended some tournament games of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA (less than a 90-minute drive from our home). We also can’t wait to watch the championship game this weekend on TV. We invited our whole teeball team over for the big game.

My favorite part of the Little League World Series is its international flavor. Williamsport is a small town, but it morphs into an extravagant melting pot for these 10 days each year. You can’t chuck a happy meal into a garbage can without hitting a foreigner of some stripe.

For example, we saw one game pitting the Czech Republic against Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Before the game, they played national anthems from both countries. Children and parents read the “Little League Pledge” and the “Parents Pledge” in both Czech and English. Czech coaches even required a translator to argue an umpire’s call.

Chinese Little Leaguers

Chinese Little Leaguers

Upon exiting the stadium, we bumped into the team from China. We exchanged greetings with a young couple from Chinese Taipei. We drove right past a squad of seriously focused Panamanian coaches. I loved it.

Regardless of what words came from their mouths, every person there spoke the same language: baseball.

Most of the spectators sported jerseys for one team or another. Crowds applauded impressive plays executed by either team on the field. Pitchers would shake hands with batters after accidentally hitting them with wild pitches. Non-verbal communication reigned through strikes and balls and fouls and outs and hits and runs. Such things were universally understood.

What did the experience teach me about Bible study? That the OIA method (observe, interpret, apply) works. It matters.

An Australian adolescent with bat in hand doesn’t have to think too hard about communicating with a Puerto Rican pitcher. He observes the ball coming his way, he interprets whether it will go over the plate, and he applies the interchange by swinging for the fence. A Californian shortstop can observe the ump’s clenched fist and understand that he threw the ball to first base in time. The crowd can apply the ump’s gesture by applauding wildly.

OIA is communication. Every person on the planet does it all the time.

As I sat there with my kids, instructing them on the game’s nuances, I gained more confidence in our Bible study method. OIA is the best method you can use; it will work for anyone of any age in any culture. Master it, and you won’t be disappointed.

Teach Bible Study to a 12-Year-Old

This is a guest post by Ben Hagerup, who serves as Director of Campus Ministry for DiscipleMakers. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their 7th child this winter.

Pre-teen boys rarely hug their fathers in front of their friends, but mine did—after our first Bible study. “Thank you, Daddy! That was fun, and I learned a lot.” Imagine my delight as we launched this bi-monthly training group for our church’s middle schoolers. The usual response at the end of each hour-long meeting was, “What, we’re already done?!”

Mid-way through the year, I asked my sons what they liked about the Bible study. One said (and the other agreed), “Daddy, before you showed us how to study the Bible, I would just read a chapter and then stop. I didn’t know what else to do. But now I know what to do! Now I know how to understand it.”

Robert S. Digby (2009), Creative Commons

Robert S. Digby (2009), Creative Commons

Would you like your 12-year-olds to understand the Bible? How can you set them up for success?

1. Cast vision for Bible study

Before explaining how to study the Bible, tell your 12-year-old why to study the Bible. Because Bible study is hard work, your child must be convinced the reward will be worth the effort.

The chief purpose for Bible study is not to appease God or parents, but to know Jesus. The Scriptures are about him (Luke 24:44-47), and knowing him is eternal life (John 17:3). Don’t underestimate your kids. They can get this.

2. Teach them the basic skills

The basics of the OIA method can be taught in 5 minutes. In our first Bible study, I explained the model simply.

  • Observation is asking “What does it say?”
  • Interpretation is asking “What does it mean?”
  • Application is asking “How should I change?”

I showed my students how Jesus demonstrated these principles in his usage of the Bible. I illustrated the principles with everyday experiences like stopping at a traffic signal. When you see a red light (observation), you know it means stop (interpretation), and you apply the brake pedal (application). They got it pretty quickly, and we organized each Bible study around these categories.

3. Practice the skills with them

Learning to study the Bible is like learning to swim or ride a bike. There is no substitute for regular practice. It doesn’t need to happen often, but it does need to be consistent.

Our study group for middle schoolers met twice per month for one hour. With only these 2 hours each month, I was able to both demonstrate and rehearse how to:

  • Observe the text
  • Ask good interpretive questions
  • Get the author’s main point
  • Draw good connections to Jesus, and
  • Apply the passage to the head, heart, and hands.

The last time I tried to teach my older children how to study the Bible, it didn’t sink in because I never took the time to practice it with them. This time around, we made more progress when we had a forum with other children to practice and reinforce the skills.

4. Expect them to practice the skills on their own

“Feed a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”  Our goal must not be for these adolescents to admire our study skills or our love for the Bible. Nor should we lower our expectations to keep the disinterested on board. No, we want our children to be motivated and equipped to study the Bible themselves. Therefore, practicing the skills with them is not enough. They need to practice on their own and check in with you for feedback.

In my study I gave homework, asking each student to study the Bible passage for at least 1 hour each week (thus 2 hours before each meeting). I gave them a worksheet to aid their study, and the completed worksheet served as the child’s “ticket” for admission to each meeting. At one point, I asked a boy to stop coming because he wasn’t doing his homework or participating in the discussion. If we want to increase our kids’ motivation, we must give them something worth investing in!

5. Add to their toolkit over time

Mastery of a complex skill requires not only practice but also ongoing instruction.

At each meeting, I taught my middle schoolers either one more thing to look for or one more question to add to their worksheet. Early on, we focused on repeated words and basic facts (the who/what/where/when/how/why of the passage). Next, I taught them how to ask interpretive questions and answer them from the text. Later, I looped back to observation and gave them 3 more literary devices to look for (continuation, comparison, contrast). At each meeting, we would practice the skills we had learned thus far, and then I would share one more skill. So we’d add another tool to their kit each time we met, making them more adept journeymen in their Bible study.

I can’t describe the priceless joy I gained from seeing these pre-teens learn to love God’s word and dig in on their own. May you know this joy, too, as you lead your children to know Christ through the Scripture.

Read Mark Learn

In April I attended Together for the Gospel and got a pile of free books. Since the free books numbered more than I could ever read, I gave many of them away.

Read Mark LearnTwo volumes on the stack almost got passed on to a more available master, but were snatched from the fire at the 11th hour. These were the two Read Mark Learn volumes—one on John, the other on Romans—published by Christian Focus in partnership with St. Helen’s Bishopsgate.

I almost passed over these treasures like an angel of death on the fourteenth day of the first month. My initial perusal revealed them to be a series of Bible studies, and, well, I need more Bible studies like Solomon needs more wives:

I find something more bitter than death: the woman [substitute "Bible study guide" for "woman" and you'll catch my usual disillusionment] whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. (Eccl 7:26-28, ESV)

I read one short study from the volume on John’s Gospel just for kicks. And boy, am I glad I did.

I read another and another. After 5 of them, I couldn’t stop raving over them to my wife (you should have seen the spittle in my beard!). After only 2 or 3 more, I was ready to purchase a volume on every other book of the Bible. But I searched online and could find only John and Romans. I spoke with a representative from Westminster bookstore, and he could find only John and Romans. I went on the Christian Focus website, and still I could find only John and Romans.

The bad news is that they have volumes on only John and Romans. The good news, however, is that I finally found this page on St. Helen’s’s website, which has a long list of studies on many other (though not all) books of the Bible—all available for free. More bad news, though: John and Romans cost money. Sorry.

What is so good about these Bible studies?

  • They are short: only 10 pages or fewer per unit of text.
  • They consider context. The book’s historical context, the unit’s literary context, and the entire Bible’s gospel context.
  • They concisely trace out (and focus on) the author’s flow of thought.
  • They identify a main point for each section.
  • They connect every passage to Christ.
  • They get specific in application.

I’m not sure I can think of anything else I would ask for in a Bible study.

The only problem I can see with these studies is the threat of addiction. Just be careful not to read them until after you study the text for yourself. But if ever I was tempted to ignore my own standards for such things, now would be the time.

Check it out!

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Disclaimer: If you click the Amazon links in this post and buy stuff, you’ll support this blog at no extra cost to yourself. This may enable me to buy more copies of Read Mark Learn to give out to my friends.

Trusting Jesus’ Credentials

We’ve seen wisdom’s credentials in Proverbs 8:22-31. Despite the historical controversy over whether Proverbs 8 is about Jesus, the New Testament clearly states that Jesus shares wisdom’s credentials.

  1. Seeking Jesus is seeking the Lord (John 14:9).
  2. Life without Jesus isn’t truly life (1 John 5:11-13).
  3. The way of Jesus is tried and true. Knowing Jesus makes the most sense of how the world works (Acts 17:22-31).
  4. Jesus gives you eyes to see who alone can make you happy (Mark 8:22-9:1).
Dale Calder (2009), Creative Commons

Dale Calder (2009), Creative Commons

But do you believe it? What does your life communicate about whose credentials you’re willing to trust?

Seeking the Lord

In a day when spirituality is cool, we must be careful to remember that not every spirit is from God (1 John 4:1-6). If a spirit doesn’t confess that Jesus is the Christ, that spirit is not from God but is the spirit of the antichrist. Notice that false spirits do not always attack Jesus’ Messiahship; they prove to be in error even if they simply ignore Jesus or treat him as irrelevant.

So when the CEO of Starbucks returns to his post to return the company to its core values, this rescue from “spiritual” crisis is not done in true wisdom, regardless of what Oprah would have us think.

Do you want to know God? You must know Jesus. Do you want to speak of God? If you don’t speak of Jesus, you may actually have the wrong god.

Living Life

What can’t you live without? What thing, if you had it, would finally help you to stop worrying? What would cut your stress or give you rest and energy? What turns a bad day into a good day? What motivates you to do what you do?

The answers to these questions show what your life is. And though the answer should be Jesus, it usually is not.

Knowing Jesus is eternal life. Eternal = never ending. Everything else will come to an end some day. When it does, will you have any life left? Now is your chance to practice for that Day.

Making Sense

We’re always trying to make sense of things. We want to make sense of our suffering. We want to make sense of our work. We want to make sense of our relationships.

The teenage girl looks for sense when she asks, “Are we dating?” The middle-aged professional looks for sense when he wonders what he’s doing with his life. The common citizen looks for sense when he considers whether the nation’s highest leaders have even read the Constitution.

The ways of Jesus make the most sense. Of course, we’re wise when we obey them because they give him glory. But we’re also wise when we obey them because they’re the best ways. “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3, ESV). The one who loves both God and neighbor is no idiot.

Seeing Happiness

Please don’t misunderstand this one. The Bible does not promise that God will always make us happy, nor that God’s chief end is to serve our happiness. No, sometimes God must make us markedly unhappy in order to show us true happiness. Or more specifically, he must show us that the things that make us happy cannot always make us happy. This produces unhappiness.

But as he strips such things away time and again, he clears the way to the one thing that will never run out, shut down, move on, or empty up: Himself.

Thus, for example, while we grieve the loss of those who have died in Christ (1 Thess 4:13), our grief gains hope only when we remember that in the end “we will always be,” not with our loved ones, but “with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17).

May the Lord Jesus Christ ever grant us more of this wisdom.