He’s Not Jesus

Both extroverts and introverts can lead well. Both can lead poorly. Personality is only one part of leadership. However, your personality as a leader comes with intrinsic advantages and challenges. The extroverted pastor tends to work a room better than an introvert. The introverted pastor tends to listen better one-on-one. 

Partly because they are more outgoing, I believe extroverted pastors will get the benefit of the doubt—more so than introverted pastors. Many have tackled the subject of how introverts can overcome weaknesses, but I haven’t noticed as much written about extroverted pastors. 

As an extrovert, I’ve noticed some painful shortcomings in my leadership. Perhaps I’m alone in some of these struggles. But maybe some of you can relate. 

  • Extroverts can talk too much. I process my thoughts by talking to others. Nobody will wonder what I’m thinking because thinking and talking are synonymous for me. Many times, this trait works to my advantage. I can hold a conversation. But talking too much is annoying. Not listening is rude. I’m guilty. 
  • Extroverts can bounce too much. I love a room full of people. Bouncing from person to person and conversation to conversation is fun. I enjoy seeing people engage with each other, especially in the church! However, this tendency can come across as superficial, especially when someone needs me to focus deeply on their words. 
  • Extroverts can overshare opinions. I have lots of opinions, and I’m glad to share them. However, there is wisdom in restraint. I admire people who don’t feel the urge to share every opinion on every subject. Maybe one day I’ll be more like them. 
  • Extroverts can assume every group needs to be large. Every time a group gathers at the church, I want to invite everyone. Usually, this tendency is good. That is, unless the group is designed to be small or confidential. The “come on by” and “the more, the merrier” mentality is not always wise. 

Part of being a better leader is practicing to be a better leader. So I’ve started some exercises to help temper my extroverted nature. 

  • Literally stop talking. I will challenge myself in my head, “Sam, stop talking. Now.” When I have the urge to say something, I’ll tell myself to wait another minute. Then another minute. Then maybe another minute. After I feel like I’m torturing myself, then it’s usually good to say something. 
  • When you feel the urge to move to another person in a crowded room, stay five more minutes in the current conversation. This tactic has helped me dive much deeper into conversations. Don’t look past people. Don’t interrupt their flow of thought with “yes” or “uh huh.” Simply look them in the eye and listen. 
  • Ask more questions instead of giving opinions. Short but rich questions allow the other person to expound their thoughts. Questions like “Why do you think that is?” or “How does that make you feel?” help open avenues to better conversations. 
  • Seek out the wisdom of introverts. Find the reserved sages in your church and spend a lot of one-on-one time with them. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence with them for extended periods. They will give you incredible insight when they speak. 

Both extroverts and introverts have strengths and weaknesses built into their personalities. Extroverted pastors will have some natural struggles in shepherding their congregations. You can overcome many of these struggles with a few tactics and a little practice.

Before He Returns…

Does the New Testament teach that Jesus may come at any moment? The apostle Paul shows us quite explicitly that it is right to discern what events must precede the Lord’s coming. When confronted with the apparent hysteria about the day of the Lord being already present, he responded, “Let no one deceive you in any way.1 For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thess. 2:3). Paul’s answer in his day to the question, What events are yet to happen before Christ comes? is twofold: (1) the rebellion must come, and (2) the man of lawlessness must be revealed. These two events are still to come, as I write in the fall of 2021. Paul does not treat these two events as so ambiguous that they cannot be discerned when they come. The appearance of the man of lawlessness will be globally sensational and brief:

[He] opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. . . . And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thess. 2:4, 8)

For any of the Thessalonians who were prone to think that this man of lawlessness was far in the future, or for any of us today who are prone to think that he is far in the future, Paul adds this remarkable warning: “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thess. 2:7). Already—in the first century, and today.

This is similar to John’s way of speaking about the antichrist: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). Paul does not say, “Many men of lawlessness have come,” but he might have. What he says is, “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work.”

The point is this: don’t relax your vigilance, thinking that the man of lawlessness (or antichrist) is far off, because the very essence of his deceptive power is now at work and could so deceive you that you would be oblivious to the deadliness of his arrival. Let me say that again: just when you think the end is far in the future, the satanic mystery of lawlessness may so cloud your mind with deception that you cannot see the soon arrival of the man of lawlessness.

Coming Rebellion

The “rebellion” (or apostasy) is also still in the future. This event is less definite than the appearance of a man who proclaims himself to be God, but it can’t be reduced to a centuries-long process of seasons of apostasy. Paul believed that it would be discernible enough that he could use the absence of it as evidence that the day of the Lord was not yet at hand.

It would be true to say, “The mystery of apostasy has already begun,” just as Paul says, “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” In fact, Paul does speak this way about a coming defection from true faith. He says in 1 Timothy 4:1, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,” and he treats those people as already present and deals with their error (1 Tim. 4:1–5).

Again Paul says, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money . . .” Then he follows this end-time prediction with, “Avoid such people” (2 Tim. 3:1–2, 5). In other words, Paul views the signs of the end as more or less always with us.2 What will be different about the end is the degree and intensity of evil. Paul shows this by referring to the present “restraint” (2 Thess. 2:7) on evil, which will be removed, thus giving rise to greater evil at the end.

The fact that there are historically repeated prefigurations of endtime events means that most of the precursors of the second coming are not of such a nature that they allow for discerning the closeness of the end. They are real, but also imprecise. They are meant to make us vigilant, knowing that very quickly, the common evils of history might escalate into the climactic events of the end.

Finishing the Great Commission Is Hard to Recognize

What about the promise that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14)? Does that enable us to know the time of Jesus’s coming?

I have tried in other publications to define the nature and extent of “all nations” in Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19. In other words, I have wrestled with what the completion of the Great Commission looks like.3 But on the basis of almost fifty pages of wrestling, my conclusion is unsatisfactory to anyone hoping we could use the progress of world evangelization for predicting the time of the Lord’s return. For example, I write, “The point rather is that as long as the Lord has not returned, there must be more people groups to reach, and we should keep on reaching them.”4

The only change in that sentence I would make today is to add that that the completion of the Great Commission includes the extent of evangelization and obedience within people groups, not just reaching new ones. This is the point of 2 Peter 3:9, which teaches that the second coming is delayed for the sake of the full ingathering of the elect.

Therefore, Matthew 24:14 teaches us that every advance of the gospel is both encouragement that the Lord is nearing and incentive to “hasten” his coming (2 Pet. 3:12) by giving great energy to world evangelization.

What Will Happen before Christ Comes?

Of all the events leading up to the second coming, two are more precise than the others: the appearance of the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3) and the cosmic events described in Matthew 24:29–30.5 Jesus describes the cosmic events like this:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matt. 24:29–30)
We have no warrant to be sure that Christ’s coming is ever more than a few years away.

I understand these cosmic events as real cosmological events, just as the coming of Christ is a real bodily, spatial, visible, audible event. With the incarnation of Jesus Christ in literal flesh and blood, and with the resurrection in a body that ate fish and showed wounds, and with the ascension of that body on literal clouds, and with the promise of the coming of that glorious body to a literal earth, we should be slow to treat the signs accompanying the second coming as metaphorical. Jesus and the apostles give no hint that they are not describing cosmological reality.6

From the way Jesus describes the events of Matthew 24:29–30, it seems that they happen in immediate conjunction with the appearing of Christ. These signs do not appear to happen far enough in advance of his coming that they could be used to calculate his near arrival. They happen at his coming. I do not know what a darkened sun will be like (how dark?), or a moon not shining (eclipse?), or stars falling (disappearing—or meteorites?), or the heavens shaken (with thunder?). I do not know what the “sign of the Son of Man” is, but it seems to be virtually simultaneous with Christ’s appearing.

Therefore, these cosmic events do not tell us when the end will come. They tell us that it is now here. The cosmic displays, Jesus says, will announce his appearing like lightning: “As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:27).

No Warrant to Assume He Is Not Near

We do not know how much time must elapse before Jesus comes. Let that be clear. We do not know. We err to say otherwise. But we may err in the other direction as well—presuming to think that he must not be near. You may remember that I made the statement earlier that we have no warrant to be sure that Christ’s coming is ever more than a few years away. To be clear, I do not know if Christ is six years or sixty years or six hundred years away. What I am saying here is that no one has biblical warrant for being sure Jesus is more than a very few years away, like five to six years. And it may be closer.

What You Cannot Forget

After nearly two decades, the memory is still vivid: standing in the living room with the phone to my ear, listening as my friend and pastor, Rick, described to me through sobs how one of the young, vibrant couples in our church had just been in a terrible car accident. The husband had survived. But the wife had not. And neither had their unborn son — their first child, whose birth they had been anticipating with so much joy.

I stood stunned, trying to process this new reality. I could see her laughing with a group of people after church the previous Sunday. Now, she was suddenly gone — taken, along with her child, in a violent event that unfolded in a few seconds. Rick asked me, the leader of the worship ministry, to begin thinking and praying over possible music for the funeral that would likely be held the next week.

If my memory is accurate, the first song that came to mind, almost immediately, was one of my favorite hymns: “Be Still, My Soul.”

Song for Deepest Sorrow

I have loved this hymn since my late teens. When sung to a beautiful arrangement of the tune “Finlandia,” it has, to my ear, perfect prosody — that’s the term musicians use to describe how “all elements [of a song] work together to support the central message of the song.” And the central message of “Be Still, My Soul” is the resurrection hope Jesus gives us in the face of the devastating death of a loved one.

The powerful lyrics come from the pen of a German woman named Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel and began appearing in German hymnals in 1752. Little is known about Katharina. Some believe she may have been a “Stiftsfraulein,” a member of a female Lutheran “stift” (convent) in the town of Köthen (one hundred miles southwest of Berlin), and that she had been significantly influenced by a pietistic Christian renewal movement.

No record survives of the specific event(s) that inspired her to compose this deeply moving hymn. But such specifics aren’t necessary since we all experience the kind of devastating losses she writes about. And when they come, we often find ourselves enduring an internal hurricane of disorienting grief, in desperate need of the peaceful shelter of hope. And the gift Katharina has bequeathed to us — in the four verses most English hymnals contain (she wrote six) — is this profound poetic reminder of the one shelter for our sorrowful, storm-tossed souls: the faithfulness of God.

‘The Lord Is on Thy Side’

She begins in verse one by reminding us of the unshakable foundation on which we stand by faith:

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

The first line is a near quote of Psalm 118:6: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.” But the rationale for why we have any right to make this otherwise audacious claim is gloriously stated in Romans 8:31–32:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

In the swirl of grief, we may wonder, “All things? Then why did God not spare my loved one from death and me from such anguish of separation?” To which the Holy Spirit, through the great apostle, graciously, hopefully, and gently replies,

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37–39)

Soul, be at peace: your faithful Lord is on your side. And he will lead you through this vale of deep darkness to the eternally Son-lit, joyful land of everlasting love (Psalm 23:4, Revelation 21:23).

‘All Now Mysterious Shall Be Bright at Last’

In verse two, Katharina reminds us of the great promise purchased for us when the Father did not spare his own Son for us: freedom from the curse of living with the knowledge of good and evil — the knowledge we insisted on having, while lacking the capacities to comprehend or mange it.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Now, God’s purposes in allowing evil to wreak such grievous havoc are largely shrouded in mystery, and so can appear senseless. But it will not always be so. For Jesus came to undo all of the effects of curse. First, he came into the world to undo the curse of death (Genesis 3:19). And then, when we finally experience life free from remaining sin and beyond the threat of death, we shall be given knowledge more wonderful than what we sought from the Edenic fruit: we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Soul, be at peace: your faithful Lord will soon make all you now find so mysterious bright at last.

‘Jesus Can Repay All He Takes Away’

In verse three, when the sword of grief has pierced our hearts at the deaths of our dearest ones, Katharina applies the balm of gospel promise to our throbbing wound.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

That last line echoes the great faith-filled, worshipful declaration Job made upon the news of the deaths of his dear children: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). But Katharina’s words declare the biblical promise of a greater restoration than Job experienced on earth. For God has promised that even the severest losses will someday seem like “light momentary affliction” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” they produce (2 Corinthians 4:17).

But this verse also describes a Christian’s paradoxical experience in the very anguish of bereavement. For those who, while grieving, place their trust in their best and heav’nly friend receive a foretaste of the riches of Jesus’s fullness as they come to “better know His love, His heart.” They often experience new dimensions of the reality of what Jesus meant when he said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Soul, be at peace: your faithful Lord will never depart and will repay from his own fullness far more than all he takes away.

‘We Shall Be Forever with the Lord’

One week after that tragic car accident, we gathered in the sanctuary to remember the lives and grieve the deaths of that young wife, daughter, sister, friend, and expectant mother, and the baby boy she and her devastated husband had looked forward to bringing into the world. But we did not grieve as those “who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

My clearest memory of the funeral was being so deeply moved and comforted by the way I heard my brothers and sisters sing “Be Still, My Soul,” especially the last verse:

Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Here is every Christian’s “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), the reason Jesus is for us “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Katharina’s words helped us encourage one another in the hope that there is coming a day when “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17–18). They helped us together preach to our souls,

Soul, be at peace: your faithful Lord will soon gather us all together again, safe and blessed, in his presence — where his full joy will be our full joy, and where all that gives him pleasure will be all that gives us pleasure forever (Psalm 16:11).

Then, having done our best to still our souls through faith in God’s faithfulness, we escorted the earthly remains of our sister and baby brother to the cemetery, where we sowed their perishable, weak, and natural bodies into the ground in the hope that Jesus will raise them with imperishable, powerful, spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42–44). And upon the grave’s marker, the loving husband and father, whose loss had been incalculable, yet who in faith believed Christ had greater gain for the three of them, had this text inscribed:

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;      when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness. (Psalm 17:15)

Parents Are Not Teaching Their Children to Pass On the Faith

While mental health concerns top the list of worries for parents today, and studies suggest religion is good for mental health, passing on their religious beliefs to their children is not highly prioritized by US adults with children younger than 18, new data from the Pew Research Center show.

Across racial and ethnic lines, overwhelming majorities of U.S. adults with children younger than 18 believe being a parent is either one of or the most important aspect of who they are as a person. But when it comes to prioritizing the passing on of their faith to their children, white Evangelicals and black Protestants are the only two Christian groups where a majority of parents prioritize this.

“Parents place less importance on their children growing up to have religious or political beliefs that are similar to their own. About a third (35%) say it is extremely or very important to them that their children share their religious beliefs, and 16% say the same about their children’s political beliefs,” Pew researchers Rachel Minkin and Juliana Horowitz said in Parenting in America Today released on Tuesday. “Republican and Democratic parents are about equally likely to say it’s at least very important to them that their children share their political beliefs.”

Data for Parenting in America Today came from some 3,757 U.S. parents with children younger than 18, which was collected as part of a larger survey conducted from Sept. 20 to Oct. 2, 2022, to better understand how American parents approach parenting.

Only 40% of black parents and 39% of Hispanic parents in the study told researchers that it’s extremely or very important to them that their children share their religious beliefs. That share is even lower among white and Asian parents where only 32% say it’s important that their children share the same religion.

Some 70% of white Evangelical parents and 53% of black Protestants said it is important that their children share their religious beliefs. Among white non-Evangelical Protestants that figure is only 29%, while only 35% of Catholic parents say this.

At the same time, researchers found that 40% of U.S. parents with children younger than 18 “say they are extremely or very worried that their children might struggle with anxiety or depression at some point.”

The concern for mental health of their children among parents today is even larger than their concerns about “certain physical threats …, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy and getting in trouble with the police,” researchers said.

“Concerns about mental health are felt more acutely by white and Hispanic parents: 42% of white parents and 43% of Hispanic parents say they are extremely or very worried their children might struggle with anxiety or depression at some point, compared with 32% of black parents and 28% of Asian parents,” researchers wrote.

Results of a survey of nearly 10,000 young people ages 13-25 about their beliefs, practices, behaviors, relationships and mental health published last October by Springtide Research Institute in The State of Religion & Young People 2022: Mental Health–What Faith Leaders Need to Know, it was found that during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, 53% of respondents reported that mental health was their biggest challenge. Yet only 34% reported being comfortable talking about their struggle with adults.

Some 57% said new spiritual practices helped them endure the pandemic and more than half (51%) said they turned to prayer. Others turned to activities like reading, yoga, the arts or being in nature.

The study found that while religion and spirituality “can be strong antidotes to much of what contributes to mental-health struggles among young people” and that “people who are religious are better off mentally and emotionally,” only 35% of the respondents said they are connected to a religious community.

Respondents connected to a religious community were found to be more likely to say they are “flourishing a lot” in their mental and emotional well-being (29%) than those not connected to a religious community (20%).

Respondents who say they are “very religious” were more likely to report that they are “flourishing a lot” (40%) compared to those who say they are not religious (17%). Respondents who are “not religious” were more than twice as likely to say they are “not flourishing” (44%) than “very religious” respondents.

The study appeared to confirm decades of previous research pointing to a positive relationship between religion, spirituality and mental health.

Josh Packard, Springtide Research Institute’s executive director, noted that “solutions to mental-health struggles are more complicated than just ‘give young people more religion'” as about 20% of “very religious” respondents reported they are “not flourishing.”

The new data from the Pew Research Center appears to suggest a certain level of pragmatism among parents as they seek to do what’s best in a society that has grown more open including when it comes to expressions of faith.

Joseph Forgave His Siblings. Can You?

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” (Gen. 45:4)

“Come close to me” is a simple statement. But it also signals an act of restoration.

Joseph, the victim, made a seemingly ordinary remark to his brothers, the perpetrators. He had experienced an accumulation of hurt from an unfortunate past and conflicting emotions. The sorrows of Joseph’s life constantly stalked him after his brothers betrayed him. Now, facing his past perpetrators from a high and prosperous position of power, he could have easily retaliated against them to alleviate his psychological and practical pain. Instead, he chose to praise God for his providence, reveal his own identity to his brothers, and show mercy to them (Gen. 45:5).

“Come close to me” is a phrase that may also have surfaced in the nightmares of a deeply wounded Joseph. As a young boy, Joseph was ignorant to the point that after God revealed a vision to him, he approached his brothers and shared it with them without reservation. Yet this only made them become jealous of him. Later, when his father, Jacob, asked him to go to his brothers, he went out obediently. However, the purpose of his brothers’ “coming close” to him was to kill and sell him. Their “coming close” caused Joseph the greatest harm.

The brothers’ murderous intent toward Joseph also revealed the evil in their hearts. While imprisoned by Joseph in Egypt ( because they were accused of being spies), they reasoned to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.” (Gen. 42:21). Their imprisonment reminded them of the evil they had done to young Joseph, leading them to think their current situation was retribution from God.

Brother against brother

Like Joseph’s story of sibling conflict in the Bible, we often hear in the news about discord and strife between siblings, parents, and spouses. Families comprise relationships that are supposed to provide us with a sense of security, comfort, and freedom. But some families may bring about feelings of fear and helplessness.

The breakdown of relationships in a family is a common and unfortunate situation. Close, intimate relationships can become severely damaged from causes of conflict such as parental bias, generational and personality differences, and varying levels of ability to handle situations.

Sibling rivalry is a universal issue. Last year, an 11-year-old Japanese girl recorded 100 arguments among her three other siblings in just 10 days for a summer homework project.

In some instances, conflict arises when brothers and sisters fight over family inheritances. In other instances, sibling rivalry may arise because of cultural values like showing respect and deference toward their seniors. Take this example of two Chinese brothers involved in caring for their father, who lived with dementia: The younger brother volunteered to take on more responsibility concerning their father’s care because he felt that his older brother had low self-esteem and lacked decision-making skills. He grew increasingly frustrated as his older brother did not cooperate with his caregiving arrangements.

After going through counseling, the younger brother realized that his older sibling perceived him as disrespectful for acting as if he was in charge . Upon improving their communication styles and collaborative efforts, the brothers were able to understand each other more fully. Their conflict became an opportunity to reconcile long-standing differences.

The courage to forgive

Disputes between siblings may occur every day, and grievances may grow deeper and deeper. It is often difficult for a mediator to intervene and determine right from wrong as the roles of perpetrator and victim may be dynamic and interchangeable.

The relationship between perpetrator and victim is complex, entangled, and enduring. The perpetrator seems to wield an overabundance of power to oppress and bully the victim. However, the perpetrator’s actions of oppression and harm may stem from a heart filled with fear and cowardice. Some perpetrators may want to draw closer to their victims, but they use unhealthy ways to express themselves and thus continue to perpetuate harm.

These days, domestic abuse victims can seek support from institutions or churches to receive counseling and help for their bodies, minds, and souls. And if the perpetrators are self-aware, they can also seek guidance and assistance. These are some of the appropriate ways and means to unravel tangled relationships and move toward reconciliation within the family unit.

However, the state of each person’s heart is the crux of the matter.

When Joseph looked back on his life and realized that his suffering at others’ hands could nevertheless reflect God’s mercy and goodness (Gen. 50:20), I believe the shadow in his heart faded away and his hurt was relieved. He was able to step out of the shackles of the victimized and say, “Please come closer to me” with a fearless heart, extending an olive branch of restoration to his brothers.

When Joseph, the victim in this story, issued an unexpected gesture of reconciliation to his brothers, they became suddenly aware and convicted of their past mistakes.

Reconciliation is the beginning of repairing a broken relationship and opens the door to ending cycles of abuse within that relationship. This is not the world’s way of violence for violence but the biblical way of overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:21).

Joe Shing Yung Tsoi

Missionary Kids?

Some years ago, my family had the opportunity to visit an elderly woman who was the child of missionaries. She had grown up in an India that no longer exists—under British control, before partition, where she raised a black panther cub until it was bigger than she was and her mother made her give it to a zoo.

But the most surprising thing came as she told us about being dropped off at boarding school. “It was the saddest day of my life,” she said. “I have buried a beloved husband, but the day that my father left me at school was the saddest day of my life.”

Hearing that made me realize I didn’t really understand missionary kids (MKs)—or, as they are often called, “third-culture kids.” I was familiar with missions, hosted missionary families, and corresponded with MKs, but this woman’s honesty showed a hidden reality. To better understand missionary kids and how to love them well, I asked five MKs about their experiences. Here are five things they want you to know.

1. Missionary kids are under pressure.

Sometimes pressures come with a new language and culture or from seeing parents under stress. Pressure can be physical hardship. “Sickness, danger, and having to do things I was afraid of on a regular basis in Haiti made me acutely aware that God uses our suffering for good,” said Emma.

Sadly, pressure can also come from supporters. “Being asked if I had lots of Haitian friends made me feel as though I was not doing a good enough job as a missionary kid,” Emma continued. Caleb observed that people often make assumptions about MKs: “I wish people would understand MKs as humans and as newcomers, people who need to be welcomed, who are proud of where they come from, who have probably been hurt and who also desperately need Jesus.”

2. Missionary kids love their host countries and grieve when they leave.

The missionary kids I talked with emphasized their love for their host cultures. Adventures in another place can be incredibly beautiful. “Some people get to hear missionary stories,” Joshua wrote. “As an MK, I got to LIVE them!” Languages, food, natural surroundings, and the global church are some things MKs love about their passport countries.

But deep love for a place has its cost. “Coming back to the U.S. was incredibly hard,” is a common sentiment. When children land back in their culture of origin, they’ve lost something precious. “I wish people understood how important growing up in a different country is to an MK’s identity,” said Betsy, who was born and raised in the Philippines. “It will always be part of who they are. When people understand this, it means so much.” Understanding what MKs have lost helps us understand them.

3. Missionary kids feel ‘different.’

When children land back in the culture of origin, they have lost something precious.

Feeling out of place is universal for missionary kids. “Even sometimes now, I wish that I looked Asian,” Betsy said. Joshua wrote, “In Estonia, I was the foreigner. . . . In the USA my cousins called me ‘the European.’” Things like different tastes in entertainment, clothes, and food can be disorienting. America can feel shallow and lonely.

For Adrian, “Cultural dislocation and desire to ‘fit in’ led to a very strong people-pleasing temptation.” He said Scripture passages about “a need for a rooted, gospel identity (Gal. 2:20), were very meaningful.” Caleb wrote that loneliness made him “depend a great deal on Jesus—as the friend who never leaves.” Being OK with differences and pointing again to our welcoming Savior is part of loving MKs.

4. Missionary kids need time to adjust.

Perhaps this is especially true for relationships. Missionary kids have often been burned relationally: people want things from them but aren’t always interested in them. They tend to be very close with their siblings. “I trust very few people as much as I trust my siblings,” said Emma. Adrian agrees: “We have a very strong bond of shared experience outside of the US.” Joshua said it’s helpful for people to have “an interest and respect to learn more, when that person is ready to share. And not to push if they don’t want to share.” Love is freely given; trust is earned. “Be patient with MKs such that you are OK with them suddenly bursting into tears,” asked Adrian.

5. Missionary kids need support on the field—and on furlough.

Coming “home” isn’t always restful. “Furloughs were hard,” Betsy said. Emma wrote, “The one thing I would change is to have a dedicated rest period at the beginning of the furlough.” Caleb wished “for more of a genuine welcome at churches and more thought-out support in transition.” Some people are providing this: “One supporting church took it upon themselves to bless us kids with some special experiences,” said Joshua.

But support is an ongoing need: growing up as an MK has long-term effects, so the support should match that reality. “A great thing to do is remind adult MKs who are no longer on the field that they haven’t been forgotten and that they are still being prayed for,” Emma points out. These are tangible ways to love.

Learn from Missionary Kids

MKs have a wealth of gifts and experiences to bring to the church. “Being an MK gave me a unique view of the world and all the people God has placed in it,” said Emma. “God gave me a heart for ministering to all kinds of people, especially those on the outside or who don’t fit in.” Adrian emphasized that he gained “an ability to quickly connect with strangers.” Being adaptable, a team player, and hospitable were also high on the list of skills.

Growing up as a MK has long-term effects.

But the spiritual lessons are the richest. “Now I can also help anyone, by also pointing them to the One who has the answers and help we need,” said Joshua. Caleb noted the clarity that distance gave: “By being immersed in other cultural contexts, I was better able to realize and see my own. . . . In ministry, inevitably we fasten cultural expression and interpretations to our gospel message.” He added that being an MK gave him “a great awareness of the brokenness in the world and of the reality of the cosmic battle of Christ’s kingdom.”

Church, let’s recognize and utilize these hard-won gifts. And let’s seek to know MKs, so that we might love them well.

Systematic What?

I remember a meeting I had some years ago with a couple of brothers in Christ. We needed to find a speaker for a men’s retreat. One man said, “The last thing we want is theology. We need something practical.” Too often, that’s the assumption: theology is not helpful. But when the retreat was done, the speaker proved to be quite helpful precisely because he was theological. He taught the doctrines of God’s Word with clarity, conviction, and a call to respond.

What Is Helpful Theology?

Theology is serious thinking about Christian doctrine. The doctrines of the faith summarize and explain the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. The Bible commends “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), which means healthy teaching.

Systematic theology is the study of what the whole Bible teaches about a given doctrine and its connection to other doctrines. For example, how can a sinner be justified or counted righteous by God? What does justification show us about God, Christ, and ourselves?

The purpose of systematic theology, like all Christian teaching, is not to cause arguments but to strengthen faith and godliness (1 Tim. 1:4–5). As Reformed theologians have said, “Theology is the doctrine of living to God by Christ.”

But that does not mean that all theology is helpful. When I opened the first systematic theology I ever read, I thought, “This is great! The author is thinking deeply about the faith.” But in that book, the author said that it is absurd to talk about the resurrection of Christ’s physical body from the dead. The author was an unbeliever. Needless to say, I put that book down.

Systematic theology is only helpful if it is faithful to the Word of God, especially the gospel that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3–4). Therefore, we should exercise discernment. We can learn something from virtually anyone, even unbelievers. But when we study doctrine and theology, we must choose our teachers wisely.

Why Is Theology Helpful?

Systematic theology is helpful because knowledge is a key to growing in grace (2 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 3:18). The very essence of eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). The Apostle Paul treasured the knowledge of Christ above all other things (Phil. 3:8). Paul counted himself privileged to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).

Too often, we just go through life without thinking about why we do what we do. Systematic theology draws from the Bible answers to life’s biggest questions. Who is God? What is His purpose for the world? Who am I? Why am I here? Why is there evil? How do I overcome it? Who are the people who can help me? Where is history going?

Best of all, Christian theology is a means of knowing the triune God: the Father in His eternal love, the Son in His saving grace, and the Holy Spirit in the sweet fellowship He gives us with God and each other (2 Cor. 13:14). The knowledge of the Lord is worth more than all human wisdom, power, and wealth (Jer. 9:23–24). God uses His Word to set us free and make us holy, as He is holy (John 8:31–32; John 17:17).

How Can We Read Theology in a Helpful Way?

The responsibility to make theology helpful does not rest solely on the author. The reader has work to do as well. Here are some tips on how to make the best use of systematic theology.

1. Read theology to feed your love, not your pride.

Knowledge tends to puff us up with arrogance, but if our motive is love we will aim to build up other people (1 Cor. 8:1).

2. Read theology with an open Bible.

Look up Scripture references. Read them in context. Be like the Bereans, who were “examining the Scriptures daily” to verify what they heard (Acts 17:11).

3. Read theology prayerfully.

Don’t just read about God; read in the presence of God. Seek God as you study. Feed your soul with His glory and grace (Ps. 63:5–8). Love God with “all your mind” (Mark 12:30).

4. Read theology with faith in Christ. Christ is the Word, the revealer of God (John 1:1, 18).

Depend on Him to open your mind to understand the Word (Luke 24:45).

5. Read theology with attention and meditation (2 Tim. 2:7).

We read some books quickly for tidbits of insight. But a good systematic theology is worth reading carefully.

6. Read theology knowing your limitations.

You are not God. Therefore, it is foolish to think that you can fully understand God (Ps. 145:3). But you are a human being created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Therefore, by Christ’s grace you can know God (1 John 5:20).

7. Read theology for doxology.

Frequently offer God praise and thanksgiving for what He is revealing about Himself (Ps. 119:164). That makes theology a foretaste of heaven!

If You Could Write a Letter

If you could write a letter to someone before you died, what would you say? Many of us would write to our spouses, children, or close friends to remind them how much we love them. Or perhaps some of us would write to that person who we had withheld forgiveness from for so long to try to make amends before our passing. Death has a way of shedding off the insignificant matters of life and highlighting what is most important.

This perspective from death is seen in the life of the Apostle Paul. Thirty years prior to his death, he had an experience that changed his life forever: He met the Risen Lord Jesus (see Acts 9:1-22, 22:3-16, 26:9-18). This encounter opened his eyes, literally and figuratively, and he finally understood the truth of God’s Word revealed and fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He understood that God had made a way of salvation for all peoples through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

What good news!

With this good news, Paul spent his life traveling the world to tell as many people as he could of the salvation that is found only in Jesus Christ. He founded many churches. He led many to faith in Jesus. He spoke before the political, religious, and philosophical elites of his day, and he spoke to the down-and-out everyday people. Paul accomplished much for Christ, and His life is an excellent model of faithful living and witness for Jesus.

Yet, like all men, Paul soon found himself face to face with death. Near the end of his life, Paul decided to write letters to two of his dear disciples (Timothy and Titus) to encourage them as he prepared to depart from this world. Remember the question: What would you say? Notice Paul’s main themes in some of his final letters: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus:

1 Timothy 4:6: “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.”

1 Timothy 4:16: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching…”

1 Timothy 6:3: “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing…”

2 Timothy 1:13: “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me…”

2 Timothy 2:2: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many faithful witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

2 Timothy 3:14-17: “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word…”

Titus 1:9: “An elder must be…able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.”

Titus 1:13: “For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.”

Titus 2:1: “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.”

Titus 2:7: “…in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine…”

Do you see the recurring thought throughout these letters? Sound teaching. Sound faith. Sound doctrine. Of course, this list is not exhaustive what Paul says on this topic in these letters, but the point is clear: Paul, more than anything else, wanted ministers to be faithful to the word of God amid a world that would be unaccepting of it. Sound doctrine was the primary focus of his last words. More than anything else, our churches need to heed this plea today, and the responsibility lies with the ministers. 

At this point, two reminders are helpful as we reflect on Paul’s plea for sound doctrine from the pastorals.

First, as ministers, we teach sound doctrine because that is God’s will for our ministry. We often fail to grasp the fact that refusal to do so is disobedience to God. God has given the church His word so they may know Him, and ministers who shy away from the word for a more attractive method of ministry deprive their people of God.

Second, although a commitment to sound doctrine may be difficult and discouraging when so many are unwillingly to hear, we must remember that there are those who will hear, and it is what they need most. I am only a young man in ministry with much to learn on how to be faithful to Paul’s plea, but that should be an encouragement. I am representative of many young men and women in the church who truly hunger for deep truths. Who long to know God deeply.

With these two exhortations in mind, may we hear the plea for sound doctrine, and press onward to answer the call!

It’s All In Your Mind

Romans 12:1-3

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. (Romans 12:1–3)

Wouldn’t you love to live courageously in spite of the odds? Doesn’t it sound exciting to be divinely powerful in day-to-day living? Aren’t you eager to become independently authentic in a day of copycat styles and horrendous peer pressure? Of course!

It all begins in the mind. Let me repeat it one more time: thinking right always precedes acting right. I cannot overemphasize the importance of the renewed mind.

It is really impossible to grasp the concept of serving others—or to carry it out with joy and without fear—until our minds are freed from the world’s mold and transformed by the Lord’s power.

I feel the need to add a warning to my urging. A warning against anyone who might “use” others to accomplish his or her purposes. Be very careful not to do that! How easy it is to encourage servanthood so others might serve us.

That is not the way our Master walked and neither should we.

Servanthood starts in the mind. With a simple prayer of three words: “Change me, Lord.”

Can I Really Control My Thoughts?

Many Christians struggle with this issue, especially in our highly technological world, but taking control of our thoughts is essential. Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The “heart” includes the mind and all that proceeds from it. Someone said that every sin we commit, we commit twice, once in our thoughts and again when we act upon those thoughts. It is easier to rid our lives of sin if we attack it at this fundamental thought level rather than waiting for it to become rooted in our lives by our actions and then try to pull it out.

There is also a difference between being tempted (a thought entering into the mind) and sinning (dwelling upon an evil thought and wallowing in it). It is important to understand that when a thought enters our mind, we examine it based upon God’s Word and determine if we should continue down that path or reject the thought and replace it with another thought. If we have already allowed a habit to form in our thought lives, it becomes more difficult to change the path of our thoughts, even as it is hard to get a car out of a deep rut and onto a new track. Here are some biblical suggestions for taking control of our thoughts and getting rid of wrong thoughts:

1. Be in God’s Word so that when a sinful thought enters our mind (a temptation), we will be able to recognize it for what it is and know what course to take. Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4) responded to each of Satan’s temptations with Scripture that applied to the direction He knew His mind should take instead of beginning down the path of the sinful thought. When tempted to meet His physical need (turn stone into bread), He recited the passage about the importance of relying upon God. When tempted to serve Satan in order to obtain the glory of the world, He brought up the passage that says we are to serve and worship God alone and speak of the glory that belongs to Him and those who are His. When tempted to test God (to see if God was really there and would keep His promises), Jesus responded with passages that stress the importance of believing God without having to see Him demonstrate His presence.

Quoting Scripture in a time of temptation is not a talisman, but rather serves the purpose of getting our minds onto a biblical track, but we need to know the Word of God AHEAD of time in order to accomplish this. Thus, a daily habit of being in the Word in a meaningful way is essential. If we are aware of a certain area of constant temptation (worry, lust, anger, etc.), we need to study and memorize key passages that deal with those issues. Looking for both what we are to avoid (negative) and how we are to properly respond (positive) to tempting thoughts and situations—before they are upon us—will go a long way to giving us victory over them.

2. Live in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, chiefly through seeking His strength through prayer (Matthew 26:41). If we rely upon our own strength, we will fail (Proverbs 28:26;Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 26:33).

3. We are not to feed our minds with that which will promote sinful thoughts. This is the idea of Proverbs 4:23. We are to guard our hearts—what we allow into them and what we allow them to dwell on. Job 31:1 states, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman” (NKJV). Romans 13:14 states, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Thus, we are to avoid periodicals, videos, websites, conversations, and situations that will set us up for a fall. We should also avoid spending time with those who would encourage us down these wrong paths.

4. We are to pursue hard after God, replacing sinful thoughts with godly pursuits and mindsets. This is the principle of replacement. When tempted to hate someone, we replace those hateful thoughts with godly actions: we do good to them, speak well of them, and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Instead of stealing, we should work hard to earn money so we can look for opportunities to give to others in need (Ephesians 4:28). When tempted to lust after a woman, we turn our gaze, praise God for the way He has made us—male and female—and pray for the woman (for example: “Lord, help this young woman to come to know you if she does not, and to know the joy of walking with you”), then think of her as a sister (1 Timothy 5:2). The Bible often speaks of “putting off” wrong actions and thoughts but then “putting on” godly actions and thoughts (Ephesians 4:22-32). Merely seeking to put off sinful thoughts without replacing those thoughts with godly ones leaves an empty field for Satan to come along and sow his weeds (Matthew 12:43-45).

5. We can use fellowship with other Christians the way God intended. Hebrews 10:24-25 states, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Fellow Christians who will encourage us in the changes we desire (best if of the same gender), who will pray for and with us, who will ask us in love how we are doing, and who will hold us accountable in avoiding the old ways, are valuable friends indeed.

Last and most important, these methods will be of no value unless we have placed our faith in Christ as Savior from our sin. This is where we absolutely must start! Without this, there can be no victory over sinful thoughts and temptations, and God’s promises for His children are not for us, nor is the Holy Spirit’s power available to us!

God will bless those who seek to honor Him with what matters most to Him: who we are inside and not just what we appear to be to others. May God make Jesus’ description of Nathanael true also of us—a man [or woman] in whom there is no guile (John 1:47).

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