Asking the Wrong Questions

Question Mark
An engineer I work with likes to say, “Bad requests yield bad data.”

Asking wrong questions can lead us in wrong directions.

I ran a series of posts about a year ago trying to answer the question, “What makes a church a church?” A Pastor? A Church building? A certain number of people? A religous service?

Then I realized I AM the church, and my original question didn’t make sense. A better question might have been, “What makes a meeting of the church a church meeting?” And I might answer that with: An official service surrounding the Lords Supper (the Eucharest). The New Testament tells us to “do this in remembrance of Him,” but it never tells us to have Sunday School, Youth Group, or Stand-Up Lectures.

We ask, “Why is there so much evil in the world?” when perhaps a better question is, “Why is there so much good in the world?”

We ask, “How can I know more about the Bible or theology?” instead of, “How can I know more about God?”

We ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” but don’t bother with, “What is God’s will for me right now?

We ask, “Who should I marry,” before first asking, “What is my purpose in life?” Answering the latter could shed light on the former.

We ask, “How can we reconcile the teachings of Jesus and Paul?” when they never were UNreconciled in the first place (Jesus vs Paul, by Scot McKnight – from the December 2010 issue of Christianity Today)

We ask, “Why am I the only one who seems to have the absolute corner on truth?” when a more interesting question is, “Why do we all think we’re right?” (Jason Boyett on humility in handling truth – in context with the Rob Bell controversy)

We ask, “Why can’t I hear God?” rather than, “Why am I not listening?” (John 10:27 / Seth Barnes on listening prayer)

So we ask and we ask and we ask. My question is this, “Are we asking the right questions?”

Money the Meaning of Life?

Truth is Truth wherever it’s found, I believe.

Jesus said a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. And He said it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Self proclaimed minimalist, traveler, thinker, and humanist Colin Wright has come to a similar conclusion even though as near as I can tell he doesn’t follow Jesus in the least  (far from it!) He writes:

"…minimalism shows us that … we are happy without unnecessary excess, without cars and boats and mansions and clothes and all the things of this world. Not that the things of this world are wrong or evil, it’s just that they are not the point of our lives. The point of our lives is much more complex.

The real meaning of our lives is to contribute to other people in meaningful ways, to contribute beyond ourselves." (quote)

Everything Jesus spoke was true, I believe. So to me it’s not surprising when I hear elements of His truth espoused elsewhere. I say “elements” because I don’t think the primary meaning of our lives is to contribute to others in meaningful ways (maybe that’s secondary). Our primary meaning is being in right relationship with God, I believe.

Having said that, I DO think someone looking at a follower of Jesus from the outside should observe – as a primary characteristic – him or her contributing to others in meaningful ways. Like Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Issues surrounding money are enormous. Their ramifications tenuously affect every corner of our souls and lives. For instance, the #1 reason given as cause for divorces is financial conflict, I’ve heard.

The question arises, "How much do we really need – how much is enough?" The joking answer is, "Just a little more." Why is it we always crave more? Satan tried exploiting this known weakness when tempting Jesus:

"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

Some of this thinking has been spurred by a real situation in my own life.  Here’s a hypothetical question, “If you had an opportunity to immediately double your income but it was through moving into a ‘gray’ area, would you be tempted?”  My comment is: gold fever comes easier than you might think in situations like this.

Jesus said the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. In my experience, the difference between wanting enough money and loving money is a fine line.

But like Colin Wright said, the point of our lives is not in owning things of this world. Or, to again quote Jesus, "A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

Our version of wealth is defined in terms of how much we MAKE. But God’s version of wealth is defined in terms of how much we GIVE.

Rethinking the Standard Testimony

Ever learned a new vocabulary word and then right afterwards heard it used three times in unrelated contexts?  Seems to happen all the time.

Another example: my brother moved to Oregon and now it seems everywhere I turn there’s an Oregon connection.  Works out practically everyone’s brother lives in Oregon.  Who’d have thunk?  Even today I stumbled upon an Oregon reference:  I needed the phone number to my doctor’s office but the first google result was a doctor by the same name in Oregon.  Of course.

Something like this recently happened as I mulled over a thought gleaned from Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan.  Which, by the way, I highly recommend as an insightful look at foreign missions from an outsiders perspective.  Particularly the last chapter.  Yohannan doesn’t hold back any punches.  But his book is free so we can’t complain.  Plus, near as I can tell he lives what he preaches.

I’ll review this book later, but here’s the quote I’m referring to:

The typical media testimony goes something like this: ‘I was sick and broke, a total failure. Then I met Jesus. Now everything is fine; my business is booming, and I am a great success.’

It sounds wonderful. Be a Christian and get that bigger house and a boat and vacation in the Holy Land.

But if that were really God’s way, it would put some believers living in anti-Christian and in the Two-Thirds World in a pretty bad light. Their testimonies often go something like this:

“I was happy. I had everything-prestige, recognition, a good job, and a happy wife and children. Then I gave my life to Jesus Christ. Now I am in Siberia, having lost my family, wealth, reputation, job and health.  Here I live, lonely, deserted by friends. I cannot see the face of my wife and dear children. My crime is that I love Jesus.”

What about the heroes of the faith down through the ages? The apostles laid down their lives for the Lord. Christian martyrs have written their names on every page of history.

In the former Soviet Union, Ivan Moiseyev was tortured and killed within two years of meeting Jesus. In China, Watchman Nee spent 20 years in prison and finally died in bondage.

When Sadhu Sundar Singh [Hey! I mentioned this guy last April, he wrote the song “I Have Decided”], born and raised in a rich Sikh’s home in Punjab, became a Christian, his own family tried to poison him and banished him from their home. He lost his inheritance and walked away with one piece of clothing on his body. Yet, following his Master, he made millions truly rich through faith in Christ.

Sure I’ve thought about all this before, but for some reason it resonated in a new way.  Then, a few days later I’m reading a book by Shane Claiborne (which was not free but should have been) and he made a very similar observation:

I know there are people out there who say, ‘My life was such a mess.  I was drinking, partying, sleeping around… and then I met Jesus and my whole life came together.’ God bless those people. But me, I had it together. I used to be cool. And then I met Jesus and he wrecked my life.  The more I read the gospel, the more it messed me up, turning everything I believed in, valued, and hoped for upside-down. I am still recovering from my conversion.

So I thought it strange I got the same thought twice in a row from polar opposite writers. 

Here’s a few things Jesus said:

Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

Paul weighed in too:

“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings–what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured.” (2 Timothy 3:10)

“Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.” (2 Thess 1:5)

Of course Peter had advice:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet 4)

Then John wraps up with a succinct, Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” (John 3:13)  Thanks John.  I’ll remember that.

I realize this blog is turning into all challenge and no encouragement.  Sorry!  I’ll try writing things more encouraging.

Are We Too Rich to Enter Heaven?


Ever heard the silly song, "You Can’t Get To Heaven In…"?  We don’t sing this at my church as the theology is suspect:

Oh, you can’t get to Heaven in an old Ford car
‘Cause an old Ford car won’t get that far

Oh, you can’t get to Heaven on roller skates
‘Cause you’d roll right by them Pearly Gates

Oh, you can’t get to Heaven in a rocking chair
‘Cause the Lord don’t want no lazybones there

And if you get to heaven before I do
Just drill a hole and pull me through

But if I get to heaven, before you do
I’ll plug that hole, with shavings and glue

We may laugh, but on a serious note, the Bible does give sobering cautions and warnings regarding entrance to heaven.  Particularly in regards to riches and wealth.

As an affluent American, I find myself troubled by the words of Christ Jesus in the verses listed below.  I believe any serious follower of Him needs to wrestle with these scriptures:

"Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony." (Luke 16:25) 

"Woe to you who are rich, for who have already received your comfort."  (Luke 6:24)

"Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:33)

"You cannot serve both God and money…  What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight."  (Luke 16:13) 

"I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."  (Luke 16:8) 

"I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life." (Luke 18:29-30)

"How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"  (Luke 18:23)

"Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it… for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:29-34)

Another Trial, Anyone?

James wrote, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perserverance, and perserverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Sounds good on paper, but who likes trials in real life? 

In thinking about what makes a trial a trial, I’ve concluded one common denominator is some form of loss. For instance: loss of health, ability, money, opportunity, dreams, a loved one, possesions, freedom, comfort, identity, reputation, respect, relationships, a job, the list goes on and on.

Compared to many people, I haven’t had many trials to speak of.  But one that does stick out in my mind is a back problem I had several years ago.  The nerve between my L2/L3 vertebrae became impinged due to a disc herniation.  The losses I faced were comfort and mobility.  In exchange I received pain and irritation.  I also lost value in my own eyes: I didn’t feel worth as much crippled.  Of course my worth never really changed because that’s based on what God thinks of me, not what I or others think of me.  Anyways, the whole situation wasn’t much fun at the time.  And sadly, I clearly remember not having much joy. 

Whenever we face loss we are again reminded of our fragility, our need for someone or something bigger than ourselves.  Our loss provides an opportunity for God’s strength to be shown in our lives.  It also makes us more mature as we grasp Truth in new ways: experientially. Or, we can become hard and bitter toward God.

In my situation, one outcome was I thought more about God and spiritual things in general.  And I remember questioning much in my life I’d previously thought was important.  Additionally, I grasped Truth in new ways: particularly my frailty, the importance of taking advantage of opportunities while I still have the chance, and the sufficiency of God.  All in all, it was life changing and I’m glad it happened, in retrospect.  Never thought I’d come to say that!

This train of thought was all brought to mind by a comment Tim said this past Sunday in his message about the afflictions of Job.  He said, "Job was better off at the end of the story than he was at the beginning." 

Now it’s true that after the dust settled Job was blessed with twice as much material goods as he had originally, plus another 10 children… but no one would say children are replaceable! 

If Job was better off in the end (which I do think he was) then perhaps it was intangibly, even though he was also blessed materially.  I would say Job was better off in the sense he had been driven to his knees to seek God with his entire heart and soul and as a result encountered God in a way he never would have otherwise.  Trials, losses, suffering, all have a way of bringing us to these encounters with God.

Can we say with Paul, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”? (Philippians 3:10)

What do you think?

“We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-4)