Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. Most Bible-readers are familiar with Paul’s admonition of “Do not be anxious about anything in Philippians 4:6. But what I find interesting is the phrase before it – “The Lord is near.” Now you might be tempted to think that means that he is coming soon. Maybe. But most of the time when that Greek word is used in the NT it means spatially near. And every time Paul uses it, that’s what it means. So, “The Lord is spatially near to you. Do not be anxious about anything…”

2. The best way to stop seeing everything through a political lens is to turn off the news and follow no news online and spend that time in prayer and the ancient Scriptures.

3. Wisdom is knowing how to deal with facts.

Fact: I had a miserable soul-crushing experience working at the bank.

Fact: Many people have had great experiences working at the bank.

Wisdom is realizing that both of these are true and there is nothing wrong with either.

4. Yesterday, my son asked me how long I’d been listening to Springsteen. And I told him I do not remember a time when I was not. His songs are just part of the fabric of my growing up. I used to walk around the house singing, “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack/I went out for a ride and I never went back.” My mom was not very fond of this. He’s like an uncle who is rebellious but you’re proud of him and love him anyway. My son then asked if I’d take him to see him in concert.

5. A disciple of Jesus is one who follows him in safety knowing he has already defeated our great enemies of sin and death.

6. We should not be surprised by the transgender revolution. For a long time now the argument has been, there is no real difference between men and women. We thought we were valuing women by telling them there is no real difference between them and men and instead we were stealing their dignity.

7. Kids are not decoration. They are not bling. They are not filigree to make us look better on Instagram and Facebook.

8. Why should we expect our prayers to be answered if we do not seek obedience and time with Jesus? I mean, they might be answered, but why should we expect it?

9. Successful counseling is far more dependent on the desire and intention of the client to do the work of change than on my smarts.

10. How come no one is talking about “social mercy?”

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. Because our desires are infinite, we will never have enough money if that is our desire. Or drugs. Or alcohol. or sex. Or respect. But Jesus, Who is infinite, is all at once satisfying and yet can always give us more of himself.

2. One of the most surprising things about counseling is how much I learn from my clients. Often, their learned wisdom is illuminating. I learned early not to assume I have all the answers, even though I am sure of a path to take.

3. Maybe the best way to fight against a celebrity culture is to pray for celebrities. I’m serious. Pick one and pray for them to know the joy of a life marked by the love of Jesus. Wisdom would tell us to choose one we do not like at all. The one who annoys us the most. The one doing the most damage in our estimation. They too are image-bearers, full of hurts and fears and insecurities, needing the clemency of the King.

4. You can learn a great deal about modern man by reading the ancients.

5. The other night I dreamed I was sick and it was serious. Deadly serious. But I was at peace in that dream because I knew I had nothing to fear. I would like to live up to that dream when the day comes.

6. If we have no money but have Jesus, we are safe. If we have riches but do not have Jesus, we are in danger.

7. As I approach 50 years old I wonder when I will stop doing stupid stuff. I know the answer and look forward to that day.

8. When I stop worrying about how I look and instead seek to make my presence an extension of the ministry of Christ to others, I can be at peace in any social situation.

9. If Jesus needed time alone to pray, I assume I need it even more.

10. Loving what is beautiful in a culture which more and more celebrates what is gross and ugly is no small thing.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

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  1. You can actually walk with Christ. Daily. But just like with any other person, you have to be intentional and pursue him. The difference is you must obey him, too. But also, the difference is in doing so, you get a life of joy that cannot be taken away from you.

2. It is hard to believe the unseen realities are the highest realities in a screen-driven, image-obsessed culture.

3. If you stay off social media and do not read or listen to the news, you will have no idea what is going with politicians, celebrities, entertainers, and athletes. And I am discovering it is a beautiful way to live.

4. Read books written outside of the digital technology machine. If you don’t you will only think like the machine. You will see everything through their lens. You will assume their assumptions. You will not be able to think upside down. You will only fear their fears. You will only be able to think their thoughts after them.

5. I just learned that part of the story arc of Franny and Zooey by Salinger is one of my favorite books, The Way of a Pilgrim, an Orthodox book from the 18th century on prayer.

6. Discipline is not only punishment. It is also not always having a snack ready for your child. Then they know how to suffer through the difficulty of going an hour without some Goldfish.

7. I listened to nothing but Rich Mullins yesterday and thought about the impact he had on me and still has and how he took the time to talk with a friend and I after a show in Atlanta. God, I miss him.

8. Have you ever stopped and thought about how grown men get paid millions upon millions to play games? And it is normal if they fight and complain and cheat? And we are entertained by it? Sometimes this doesn’t bother me and sometimes it does.

9. There is no “mindless” entertainment. You are always engaging your mind with whatever you are being entertained by. It may not be requiring you to think deeply, but you are thinking and the way you think is being shaped. And so is your spirit. This is is important to understand in a culture more inclined to watch mindless TV to de-stress than to read something that will direct our minds toward God.

10. If we only change because our circumstances change, then who is our God?

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. We need to be careful of the desire to be clever in our communication. Twitter and Facebook have made this ubiquitous but we should be careful because it often shuts down actual thoughtful communication. A clever response can sometimes be helpful, but also it can shut down the possibility of extended discussion of complex issues.

2. I know as a good American I am not supposed to like the monarchy. But I love how the Brits love their royal family. I’m not even sure why. But I do wonder if it is because I am created to love a Sovereign.

3. Because our culture valorizes rage and sees mercy and forgiveness as weak and a giving in to injustice, there can be no expectation of gun violence (or any other kind of violence) ending any time soon. I assume it will grow. Anger is now a virtue and casting it out into the world for all to see is also an act of virtue. If someone has wronged you, anger. If someone has wronged someone somewhere thousands of miles away and you know no one involved, anger. Your team blows a lead, anger. The other team cheats, anger. Package is late, anger. Someone says they disagree with you on masks, anger. The weather is bad, anger.

And to be honest, the church, which should be known for its forgiveness and mercy and grace, is increasingly cut from the same cloth. Nothing but anger. And it seems that every time I bring this up, someone will immediately point to Jesus turning over the tables. Just a thought but maybe we should be like Jesus in his mercy and forgiveness and then work on being angry without sinning.

4. Baseball is beautiful.

5. What you entertain yourself with is what will spiritually form you.

6. The works of Bob Dylan are an education.

7. Isn’t it strange that one hundred years ago, cars were seen as dangerous, but now if a teenager does not get their license on the day they turn 16 something is wrong? Which got me thinking – my autistic daughter would quite possibly have taken more easily to a horse.

8. We don’t have cable so we have only been able to watch home renovation shows like Home Town, Maine Cabin Masters, and Fixer Upper, while on vacation. But we just got Discovery Plus and the danger of the show is if you are not content with what you have. But also, these people are artists – even the ones who are not the “stars” – and I think it’s to good enjoy that kind of practical art instead of a another dark Netflix drama with hero, fighting psychos and a tragic past of their own making.

9. Slogans are to actual problems what band-aids are to cancer.

10. It is getting very hard to listen to those who want you to just trust science because they seem to be the ones consistently telling us a boy can be a girl and a girl can be a boy and there is no difference anyway. I’m still going to wear a mask if asked to because of Matthew 5:41, but I’m struggling to believe them.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. What a Christian organization says it believes does not make it a Christian organization. How it treats its employees and how it makes decisions make it like Christ, if that is what they mean by “Christian.” Many tend to use the concept of “ministry” as its branding to the watching world but on the inside they make business decisions just like any other for-profit business. Every Christian organization should be led by shepherds who are willing to care for the souls of the disciples entrusted to them. But this is far too often not the case. And this is why leaders are able to do unrighteousness for so long even within so-called Christian institutions.

2. You can simultaneously see something horrible happening in the culture, know it’s wrong, and still be unafraid.

Just like Jesus.

3. I enjoy just knowing baseball is being played even when I’m not watching it.

4. We as the people of God should be very slow to applaud when someone famous within our own circles publicly announces they are leaving: their spouses, their faith, their denomination, their ministry, etc. And we should be even slower to applaud when they made a great deal of money from which they are leaving. It all feels too much like the ways of the world and its desire to deconstruct everything all the time world without end.

Applaud when they are leaving behind their own sins.

5. All counseling is discipleship to something to someone.

6. Most writing in Christendom is so poor these days because these days no one reads the poets or Kerouac anymore.

7. I’ve been reading a lot about Bob Dylan lately, surrounding myself with his songs and writings too. I think I am on book six this year. One thing I really love which I have seen in him which I have seen very little of in this world is his ability to zig when everyone else is zagging. When everyone else was celebrating him as a the voice of a generation, he stopped speaking for his generation. When everyone tried to compete with his genre-changing rock albums of the ’60s, he recorded two country albums. Pastors could learn a lot from him. Heck, we all could.

8. A phenomenon on Twitter is what I now call “the pile on.” It’s when someone tweets something and then dozens if not hundreds then pile on that person with criticism at the least or insult at the worst. They either use replies or retweets to do this. And by “they” I mean me sometimes. I’ve been a part of this phenomenon but I no longer want to be.

I am named after Matthew, the tax-collector, whom Jesus called and did not pile on.

9. Someone asked me recently why I loved vinyl records and I knew the answer but I could not put what I was thinking and feeling into words on the spot. Here is my answer –– listening to music on vinyl is more like sitting down to a nice relaxed meal and listening to music using a streaming service is like fast food in your car while your driving somewhere you don’t really want to go.

10. I consider it a good thing when the Bible offends my sensibilities.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. There is incredible freedom once you realize the Bible is not kidding about fear and the reasons to not fear. But until then, the only way to function is to go along with the assumptions of the world apart from the wisdom and teaching of the Scriptures.

2. I’m convinced spending time in the Scriptures is good for you even when you are not sure you understand what is going on or what the primary message is. Not because it is magical, but because another Person is involved.

3. I saw someone walk into Costco, grab a TV, and then walk over and pay for it and I wondered what that kind of world is like.

4. Change only happens when we actually want to change. Change requires more than desire, obviously. But never less.

5. We have been enjoying watching WandaVision as a family on Friday evenings. But I was very disappointed for the villain to once again be a Joker-like parody who is funny but cruel but mad but also clever and shows no fear at all. I sometimes wonder if this is why we cannot recognize actual evil out in the real world, because we have been so used to seeing this version of a villain in our entertainment.

6. I love the beautiful smell of baseball season in the air this time of year.

7. The church is rightly concerned about legalism. But I do find it interesting that usually we are worried about legalism in regards to commands that are explicit and repeated throughout the Scriptures. But we never seem to be worried about legalism in regards to evangelism, which after Matthew 28 is never repeated as a command in any of the letters of the NT. But I think we should be worried about that. It is no aberration to hear something like, “If you are aren’t sharing your faith, you need to question your faith.” The Scriptures never, ever say anything remotely close to this. But the Scriptures do bring sexual ethics, anger, generosity, and loving our enemies to bear upon our actual confession. I’m not saying what we call evangelism should never happen, but what I am saying is that it is never a mark of faith or maturity in the Scriptures and to treat it as such is actual legalism.

8. My mom and dad both had terrible singing voices, but I would give anything to stand beside them in church and hear them again. We are a culture fixated on “pretty” which is fleeting and plastic and slick and fades with the seasonal fads. We miss what is beautiful because we have been conditioned to “pretty.” And we need to be aware of this and that is why I Love Bob Dylan. His voice is not pretty but man is it beautiful when he sings,

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

9. I’ve been off Twitter for about two weeks and it’s been good all the way down to my soul.

10. Your “best life now” is confidence in and obedience to Jesus regardless of the suffering it puts you in the path of.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1.The reason “Do Not Afraid” and similar instructions are found throughout the Scriptures is fear is a denial of the present reality of God and his control over his earth. Faith/Confidence in his care as we follow his teaching is the opposite of fear.

2. Jesus does not ever seem to be in a hurry.

3. Listen, we can get upset all day about all the pictures on Ravi’s phone, but I know very few people who will refuse to watch a movie or TV show because those same kinds of images are present on the screen.

4. Isn’t it strange the word we translate as “gospel” and “good news” is not in the gospel of John?

5. There is not one teaching in the Scriptures that could lead us to believe we should listen more to a politician than to our pastors.

6. The new Jon Foreman album is worth your time.

7. A Christian culture that puts all the stress on belief, which cannot be seen, and has very little expectation of change in Christ-likeness this side of heaven, will inevitably create lots of Ravi Zachariases.

8. We do not sin just because we did not believe the gospel in one situation. It is more true that we sin because we did not believe the gospel of God’s kingdom for 10,000 situations leading up to that one situation.

9. It is true we should be concerned about the damage scandal can do to the church’s witness in the world. But not more so than the damage done to actual persons. You see, it was concern about the good he did in spreading the gospel that kept many from looking into the allegations and believing those he victimized. Being more worried about the scandal than the damage done is really being more concerned about getting caught and less about the actual wrong done. Evangelism is not more important than how we treat others. When we treat it as such, we are at odds with the Scriptures and reality itself.

10. You can actually walk with Jesus, you know? And when you do, you get a great deal of the “on earth as it is in heaven” we pray for and long for. But you really have to want it no matter the cost.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

1. The scriptures are windows that look out into the real world. If you are not looking out of those windows, not only will you not see the real world, but you will not want to be involved in it. You will want the world of mercurial wealth and political power and plastic entertainment without the beauty of reality.

2. When you strain a friendship with another believer because of your affection for a person who does not know you exist –– politician, pundit, entertainer, preacher –– you are not living according to the dictates of reality. And that of course is not a good strategy for living.

3. Cancel culture is like dodgeball. It’s not that we don’t like dodgeball. It’s that we don’t like taking that big red rubber ball to the face. We love pegging someone else, though.

4. Money is not the security you think it is. Because the more you have, the more you want and think you need. That’s why Dylan said, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”

5. When we read the Gospels we are reading about the smartest person who ever lived. He understands how to move around in this world better than anyone. After all, he created it. Therefore, his commands are instructions are the smartest way to live in the world he created.

6. I think the transgender movement started with the very thing it is destroying: empowerment.

7. Once you are a follower of Jesus, being a sinner is not a very good excuse for bad behavior.

8. Marriage advice: When you get frustrated with your spouse, remember the lack of frustration in the beginning. When Bethany and I first started dating, I would have done almost anything for her without even being asked. I would have volunteered to clean her bathroom, move heavy furniture around, and paint the Empire State Building if she wanted it done. You would have done the same for your spouse, probably. When I remember this, it sure does make it easier to wash those pots and pans.

9. The reason Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom heaven is if you are covered up in money it is hard to know the value of Jesus and his kingdom. It’s not impossible but it is so hard because you can fix all your so-called problems with your own power and that tempts you to think your own kingdom is just fine, thank you very much.

10. May we never think a handshake or a hug is small thing again.

The Ugliness of Social Media

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.”

A couple evenings ago, I found myself once again on Twitter, scrolling through the news and events of the day looking for something interesting to either read or think about. Like you, I often have something in mind, I am looking for and just hoping that desire will be filled. This time I was looking for something “beautiful.” Something with light at its core. Hope? (That now feels foolish and looks foolish as I reread it.)

I found what I was looking for but not in the way I expected.

What I found was a thread of tweets in which a young woman was railing against a particular theologian.

This was not beautiful. What I read was so ugly in its viciousness, I am struggling to find words for what I was saw. Here was this beautiful young woman, a believer, spewing angry, malicious bile toward another believer. The wrath was not born of a personal interaction but was because of a difference of beliefs over a number of issues.

Now you may be thinking, “Matt is thinking this way because the anger was directed at a theologian he cares for and loves.” Actually, that is not the case. The opposite is true. I do not care for this theologian’s writings at all and I have found their tone and approach combative to a fault.

Maybe it was because of what I was looking for but I was so shook by the ugliness of what I was reading, I immediately turned Twitter off and have not been back since. The Venus de Milo vomiting would not be more ugly than this.

I know your curiosity is piqued and you are dying to know who the individuals involved are. But you will most likely not find out. I do not follow either party via any social media platform and the only reason I saw all this was a person I did (but now no longer) follow “retweeted” this onto my timeline.

A number of years ago I told my wife that our culture’s free use of gross language would infect our culture and change the way we interact with other. In others words, the freedom we feel to publicly discuss what is reserved for the bathroom (and bedroom) will free us up to speak freely about everything. If what our culture has for a long time considered offensive language is now rendered fair game, we should assume our culture will be more free with personal malicious insults. I have seen this within myself.

Less than an hour later I was reading something so beautiful, nature would have had to fight hard to compete. The difference was so stark. I was glad to have found something beautiful but the contrast was unnerving for reasons I have yet to understand.

I do not know what to do with Twitter and Facebook. People are there. But I am ashamed of what I saw. I felt like I was guilty of something simply by reading the digital tirade. And that is far too often what social media is –– a digital tirade and a foul one at that. Full of the ugliest language and dispositions to others who are made in the image of God. Full of denouncements, clever and cruel. Full of brutality and ridicule. Most everyone is mad and assumes the worst of people they have never met.

And these are the people I agree with on most issues.

Is it worth it? Is it worth it to have a “faithful presence” on social media?

I don’t know.

All I know is that such ugliness left a terrible taste in my mouth and I actually hope I never recover.

Does the Church Need the Power of the Government?

Yesterday during a run, I was listening to a talk by Dallas Willard he had given at a conference back in 2012. The conference was all about living as Disciples who rely on the Spirit of God to “live the life we were meant to live in his kingdom.”

The fact is that far too many have no desire to live the life we were meant to live in the kingdom of God. They prefer the kingdoms of this world. They prefer for their power to come from places of position. They live according to the things they can see (2 Cor. 4:18). And this is true for the right and the left.

And this can be seen in all the fear and anxiety among confessing Christians. We, the people of God, given the Scriptures and the Spirit should be, more than any group in our culture, responding without fear and anxiety.

But we do respond in fear and anxiety.

And we do so because we think power and influence come from a position in the kingdoms of this world.

This is worth reflecting on at great length. I will let Dallas have the last word:

We are concerned with the life of the Spirit as it affects living in our cities and how we can bring the presence of the kingdom of God and King Jesus into our cities as a vivid and real presence. You do want to remember that that is something that has been done. It isn’t like it has never been done. It has been done repeatedly and we can do that again…

…our problem is how we understand who we are together with God where we are. If we understand that the call is to be the people of God throughout our communities in all our connections and to confront whatever there is to be confronted…

We can accomplish the kind of life we are talking about and bring it to other people. But we must intend to do it…

We have to intend to lead this kind of life in the Spirit where the obvious outcome of that is obedience. We simply do the things that Jesus said…

Now all of this depends upon the internal life of the churches. It doesn’t depend on anything outside of that. If you have individuals and groups that decide to do this, they can do it.

It doesn’t depend on the government. Pro or con.

See, that’s one of the things we want to remember about our history as a people of Christ is that the government has never been able to do anything about us one way or the other. And in fact the church has normally been at its best when it had the least support from outside and even when it had the most severe opposition from the outside.

Leading this kind of life of obedience in the Spirit does not depend on the economy.

It doesn’t depend upon the educational system or the popular culture.

And of the things that is often over done in our world today with people who are serious about their Christianity and want to do something, is to spend too much time complaining about the opposition. Let the opposition be what it is. And of course it makes a difference but it doesn’t stop the church.

The people of Christ are operating from a different kingdom. They have resources, guidance, connections that this world has nothing to do with. And learning to live in that individually and in groups and relying on that enables us to see that everything we need to do is laid out right there in the Scriptures and has repeatedly emerged in history.”