I Am a Hypocrite

That’s right. I said it, and I mean it. I am a hypocrite. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is, and while it’s not something I’m proud to say, I truly believe it’s something I need to say. I hope this inspires others to also let go of their insecurities and “Confess their trespasses to one another, pray for one another, and be healed, (because) the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).

Let’s start with an obvious statement that must be said – no Christian sets out to be a hypocrite. In fact, most of us wake up with the very simple goal of being faithful every single day. I’m not sure there’s a verbal acknowledgement of that goal, but there’s certainly a hidden drive to do better or be better.

The real problem lies in our definition of faithful. Far too often, we equate that idea to perfection. That’s our first mistake and ultimately a debilitating one because we know it’s impossible to be sinless, even though we try. That misguided definition crushes us when we fail or give in to temptation. It sets an impossible goal just beyond our reach and if we’re not careful, separates us from the reality of our own salvation and God’s grace.

Jose Emilio Pacheo once said, “We are all hypocrites. We cannot see ourselves or judge ourselves the way we see and judge others.”

Too many Christians (myself included) are really good at hiding our sin from others so our reputation remains spotless even when our conscience is seared. It doesn’t matter what we’re hiding, hiding it is dangerous, maybe even deadly. If you happen to add a healthy mix of shame and sorrow to the guilt that accompanies that sin you find a situation that can easily turn ugly fast.

Thankfully, with a mixture of repentance and forgiveness, you can wash that shame and guilt away with a genuine trust in God and the blood of Christ. After God does His part, and you come to terms with your own weakness, a pattern can develop to give you a clean conscience before God.

You see…

I am a sinner, but I’m saved by God’s grace. I am a hypocrite, but I’m trying each day not to be. I am wrong, but in my weakness I see how great is My God.

There’s a ton of Scripture to help us understand this but ultimately, I believe these three really stick out:

Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

How thankful can we be that God Himself “groans” on our behalf when the struggle we face is more than expected? That “groaning or sighing” comes from the Greek word stenagmos which is only found one other place in the New Testament (Acts 7:34). There it is used to describe the “groaning” of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt that God heard before sending Moses to free them. I can’t help but make the connection that the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf because He feels our pain, knows our sorrows, and understands our weakness.

Psalm 73:26 “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

There are passages galore that point us to God and His strength. In fact, four different verses in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:2; Psalm 28:7, 118:14, and Isaiah 12:2) emphatically say “The Lord is my strength.” Not many Christians will argue that God is weak, but many do forget how strong He truly can be right now at this very moment. We do that because it’s easy to see God from a distance, on His Holy Mountain, to busy or even occupied to worry about my needs. When we do that, we unfortunately rely on our own strength and far too often fail miserably. That’s why I personally love this passage because it points out first that “even though I fail, God is still strong.” At my lowest, in my weakest, and on those days when my hypocrisy abounds, it’s reassuring to remember “when I am weak, He is strong.”

First Peter 5:6-7  “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

The idea that resonates most in this passage is the phrase “in due time.” I must admit that I’m not a very patient person. I often find myself wondering when will God get to work. When will His timing match up to my timing? The humility it takes to wait on God is not always something I possess, however, the more I cast my concerns on Him (see Proverbs 3:5), the more I let go, the more trust, the more I actually see His care for me.

Right now, more than any time in my life, I’m thankful for Isaiah 64:8 which says, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.”

I’m not thankful to be a hypocrite and I wish no one had ever thought of me as one. Since I can’t change that, I’ll work every day to be better than I was yesterday. Some days I’ll fail at that goal and some days I’ll be better. No matter the outcome, every single day I’ll be grateful to be an unformed lump of clay. I’ll be satisfied with what I am and content with what I’m not yet. I’ll be grateful that my Heavenly Father isn’t done making me over and thankful my sins are forgiven.

I am a hypocrite but my life is not defined by that imperfection, it is defined by God’s perfection working on me.

I Am…

Identity is an important part of our modern society. In fact, it might just be the single most-discussed topic of the day. Identity is the driving force behind movements, political divides, and even religious bigotry. So, who am I and why does it matter?

Let me start by trying to answer the question above – who am I? Secular reasoning wants us to believe our identity should be seen as an ongoing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should embrace a flowing sense of self, whereby we are perpetually reframing, reorganizing, rethinking, and reconsidering ourselves.1 That fluid, theoretical view (and meaning) gives room for interpretation in every single choice, every single idea, and every single facet of life. However, it fails to give genuine, inherent, tangible meaning to just about anything and creates a world where I’m free to be whatever I choose to be despite the ethical, moral, biological, or theological implications.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life (Steve Jobs).

I’m sure that the Word of God describes it must more concretely. Instead of a constant evolution of self-identity, God paints a different picture when He inspires the Apostle Paul to say, “by the grace of God I am what I am,” in First Corinthians 15:10.

In that passage, the Apostle doesn’t excuse his sin, or overinflate his worth. He simply honors God’s redemptive work.

The Apostle Paul knew, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” (1 Timothy 1:15) and was unwilling to hide from his previous self. He boldly declared “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day,” in Acts 23:1, yet was confident enough to also say, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” in Romans 7:24-25.

He knew who he was, a sinner saved by God’s grace. So am I. That identity supersedes every other identity I possess.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore several different identities that Christians can be fairly and unfairly labeled. From hypocrites to saints, Pharisees to fundamentalists, I’ll explore them one-at-a-time and answer the question, “Who am I?” Maybe I am a hypocrite and a fundamentalist, maybe I’m not. Hopefully, at the end of this series, we’ll find some common ground and you’ll see what I see – who I am is much more complicated that a simple term or idea. It just might be the most important question I ever ask myself.


1 Follow this link to read more from Psychology Today.

The Bulletin Board No. 3

It’s Fall, my favorite time of the year. That means cooler temperatures, changing colors on the trees, bonfires, and, if we like it or not, pumpkin spice everywhere. I hope you enjoy the wonder of Fall, but if not, don’t worry too much. Your favorite season will be here soon enough. 

When seasons change, it makes me think, do we see the seasons changing in our own lives? Do we see the leaves falling, the temperature rising, and the inevitability of another season done when it happens to us? The answer is profoundly simple, sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. 

I’m not sure what season of life you find yourself in right now. I hope it’s a joyous one, worthy of celebration. I hope it’s a contemplative one, encouraging growth when you can’t even see it. Honestly, I know it’s a rough one for some of you. It’s full of heartache, agony, and uncertainty. 

Whatever season you find yourself in right now, I want you to know another season is coming. It may be for the better or the worse, no matter what, it is coming. That’s why I urge you to remember the famous words of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” 

Your season has purpose, even if that purpose isn’t something you see just yet and I know God can take this season and do something really good with it.


Originally published on September 25, 2022 in the Three Forks Church of Christ Bulletin

The Bulletin Board No. 2

Let’s be brutally honest for a minute, life is hard. And it tempts us to think less of ourselves than we should. 

It’s hard when you’re a child learning from those around you who aren’t always patient. It’s hard when you’re an adult trying to impart wisdom on an ungrateful generation. It’s hard when you’re old enough to be wise but too old be considered helpful. It’s hard when you’re too young to be respected but incredibly respectful. 

It’s hard when you feel undervalued, underappreciated, and underused. It’s hard when you feel overwhelmed, overworked, and stretched too thin. It’s hard to be the one in the center of the room leading everyone and it’s hard to be a follower doing the best you can in relative obscurity. 

It’s hard to be a man, unable to show emotion without the label of weakling. It’s hard to be a woman, unable to show emotion without the label of basket case. It’s hard to be a teenager, unable to show emotion without the label of dramatic (or moody). 

Life is hard, we all know that. Thankfully, without any reservation, Jesus lived this difficult life. He cried, He hurt, He knew what it was like to be overlooked, ignored, and undervalued. That’s why Hebrews 4:15 means so much to me because “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

My Grandfather

Almost 42 years ago a baby boy was born to a young couple in Bowling Green, Kentucky. That boy was named after his grandfather, a simple man who worked hard, loved his family, and knew what it meant to be faithful. Today, that baby has grown into a man who longs to tell you why his grandfather matters.

Raymond Neal Keown passed away recently. His death was not welcomed by any means, but it was a relief to those who had watched him suffer. My grandfather’s health had been steadily declining over the last few months. After several falls and a couple of head injuries, the toll had taken its effect and his body just couldn’t sustain life anymore. Like everyone who’s ever lived, his time came to an end. He was surrounded by family and loved to the very end. He is still loved today and will be missed immensely. His place can’t be taken and his loss will leave a hole in the lives of everyone who knew him.

For those of you who didn’t know him, I’d like to take a minute to tell you about my grandfather. He was a man of faith and few words. A man I respected, loved, and hope to honor with these words. He left me an inheritance I can’t quite quantify. It wasn’t a pile of gold or silver, it was an inheritance of faith.

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.

Proverbs 13:22

He was faithful to his family. For those of us fortunate enough to be his, that was always known. He didn’t have to say “I love you” to see it in his actions. All of his grandchildren can remember fondly sitting in his lap, staying at his house, playing in his yard, and sitting at his table. We never went without, he made sure of that. He was constantly a part of our lives from the ball field to the graduation ceremony.

He was faithful to his country. While I don’t know many of the details, the stories he chose to tell of his service in Europe during the Korean War were memorable. I’ll never forget how he described the first night in Germany as a “cold he had never felt before.” Just a few years ago, the city of Bowling Green honored him and my uncles for their service. It was nice to know more than a few noticed his service.

He was faithful to his job. My grandfather spent the majority of his life working for the railroad. First, the L & N and then CSX. I remember his loyalty to them, going out to fix crossings on holidays, and the honor they bestowed upon him at his retirement. He was a man who knew what to do and how to do it. In his later life, he picked up an odd job here and there. One of them was for a local company. The owner of that company came to the funeral and told all of us that our grandfather was the best man he ever knew.

Railroad iron is a magician’s rod, in its power to evoke the sleeping energies of land and water (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Finally, he was faithful to God. While I never saw him stand up and lead a song or a prayer or even preach a sermon, I still know his faith was secure. Until he was sick, he didn’t miss services. He came as often as he could. In fact, as a child, when you stayed at his house you knew Sunday morning was a day to rise early. Services would begin at 9:30 am, but we’d never arrive later than 9. Part of me knows he wanted that seat, but part of me realizes it was about getting there to save the seat for those he loved. He knew they’d be there, he knew it was important to be there as well. He knew rising to go to the house of the Lord was important because he was faithful.

Raymond Neal Keown was a great man. No one will write books about him, no one will dedicate a building to him, and most of the world will ignore or overlook his passing, but those who love him know why the world has lost a giant. They know how important he was and will continue to be. At his funeral, I read two verses that seemed to be the most appropriate. One was mentioned earlier, the other is here. I pray that when the time comes for me to be remembered, my grandson (or granddaughter) will believe it’s fitting as well.

Grandchildren are the crown of old men. And the glory of sons is their fathers.

Proverbs 17:6

He was my grandfather, the strongest man I ever knew, and I am his namesake. I pray that one day my life will say the same things his did. I pray I’ll be remembered for being a faithful man. I pray my children and grandchildren will rise up and thank the world for me.

  • – Raymond Neal Mathis


Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, (c) The Lockman Foundation.

A Tribute

On Friday, May 27, I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at the funeral for a wonderful woman named Jenetta Wilson. Since most of you don’t know Mrs. Jenetta, I’d like to tell you why she’s so special and worthy of every tribute imaginable.

I’d like to start by paying her a compliment I hope can be said about me. In my mind, it’s the highest compliment a person can say about another.

Mrs. Jenetta Wilson made the world a better place. This world is a worse place because she’s no longer a part of it.

Simply knowing her and being in her presence made you a better person. She was a delight to know, a treasure to behold, and an honor to hear. She was class and grace personified and those that knew her in this world will “Amen” my statements for many years. She made you feel important to her simply because the things that mattered to you mattered to her. She may not have cared that much for what you valued, but she wouldn’t let you know.

Bobbie & Jenetta Wilson

She was a true epitome of the Proverbs 31 woman. In particular the following verses describe her effortlessly.

Strength and honor are her clothing;
She shall rejoice in time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness.
She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

Proverbs 31:25-30

I was honored to give the eulogy at her funeral. Getting to spend those moments around her amazing family and the people who loved her most was good for my soul. I will miss going back to the Tompkinsville congregation and seeing her in that familiar seat. I’ll miss asking her about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I’ll fondly remember the moments we shared and be thankful for them every day of my life.

As a final honor to her, I wrote out an acrostic to define Mrs. Jenetta. It’s nothing special, but it does speak to how special she was. I hope it’s a fitting tribute to a woman who made my world a better place simply because she was a part of it.

Jenetta was a source of joy. She had an amazing laugh and a cheerful disposition.

Jenetta was an encourager. She had an uncanny way of making you feel better about yourself. Even if the day had dragged you down, she had a positive spin to put on it. As a young preacher who made his share of mistakes, knowing that she always had something positive to say made seeing her a real delight wherever it might be.

Jenetta was neat. I’ll freely admit I never once saw her out-of-sorts or unpresentable. I did almost catch her one day. She had been sick and I simply went to pay a visit. She was sitting in the sunroom behind her house and I know she thought she was a wreck. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even when she wasn’t 100%, you’d never know it.

Jenetta was easy-going. She was always ready for an adventure but incredibly low-maintenance about it. She was up for every trip I planned, and genuinely bummed out when she had other plans. Her presence was always something that brightened my day and the day of those who joined us.

Jenetta was thoughtful. In a day when most people just share their mind at random, Mrs. Jenetta carefully measured her thoughts and words.

Jenetta was tough. You’d have to be to remain married to a farmer for 63 years. From their humble beginnings to their moments of tragedy, Jenetta remained formidable. She had plenty of health issues, but they never stood in her way until the end. She didn’t always look it, but she was one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.

Jenetta was authentic. Her “yes” was “yes” and her “no” was “no.” She was the real deal. There was no bologna with her. I always knew where I stood with her and so did everyone else. I’m thankful to know that I could be honest with her and get an honest answer in return.

One of the greatest honors we get as preachers is to stand before a crowd gathered in funeral home and pay the last respects to people like Jenetta Wilson. While those moments will continue to be special to me, nothing on that day will ever replace the countless memories that came before.

Mrs. Jenetta Wilson was a blessing straight from God. She made my life better and I have no doubt her family will continue to do the same. When we left Tompkinsville, the hardest thing to do was say “goodbye” to those we had come to love so much. Mrs. Jenetta was one of those people. I wish you had known her like I do so you could write these words as well.

Since you can’t, I want to leave you with a bit of advice. Find your own Jenetta Wilson. Find your own Bobbie Wilson. And Marilyn Miller. And Gary Dickerson. And Steve & Margie Short. And Kenneth Mills. Find your tribe of loyal, beloved, devoted friends who teach you more than you ever teach them. Love them, value them, and cherish every moment you get with them. Then, tell everyone else why that tribe matters so much. Tell them why Jenetta Wilson made your life better. She has earned it.

I’ll finish with the closing words of Proverbs 31:25. They are fitting for Mrs. Jenetta.

Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.

All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

The Bulletin Board No. 1

For several years I’ve written a short bulletin article in my work at the congregation in Tompkinsville and now Three Forks. The articles aren’t massive works of research of profound observation. Most of them have a simple point or example and a verse to connect. I’d like to use them to simply encourage many of you on a weekly basis. I’m calling this series The Bulletin Board. Feel free to share these, or even use them in your bulletins. The first comes from our latest bulletin at Three Forks from May 22, 2022.

Yesterday, I had the honor of officiating a wedding for a wonderful young couple I’ve known for some time. As expected, the ceremony was really nice. The setting was serene. The guests were well-behaved, and the food was tasty. What most impressed me was the genuine love felt between the bride and groom. They are a wonderful young couple, so none of us who know them are surprised it came out during the ceremony or the festivities.

I’ve stood in that spot many times before. Watching a couple get married. I’ve never thought a bride wasn’t beautiful, but sometimes – the joy in their face can’t be hidden – and the love they share with their future spouse comes out in a contagious smile and a “glow.” Yesterday, the bride was glowing. She found “the one her soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:4) and they committed themselves to one another.

Every time I attend (or officiate) a wedding I can’t help but think about Ephesians 5:25-27 which says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” What a wonderful thing to know we are set apart and holy as the Bride of Christ.


All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Photo by nikki gibson on Unsplash

Faith and Film No. 4

Encanto is an amazing film with a great story of redemption, reconciliation, acceptance, and value. It has great songs, vibrant imagery, and a story that resonates. It also has a clear analogy to some obscure Old Testament characters. That analogy is what we’ll explore today.

Let’s begin by doing what the movie tells us not to. Let’s talk about Bruno. In Encanto, the Madrigal family from Columbia escaped during some form of revolutionary violence. During that escape, the patriarch of the family sacrificed himself to protect his wife and three young children. After his sacrifice, a miraculous candle saved his wife Alma and her newborn triplets and provided them with a home, the magical casita. The casita provides each generation of the Madrigal family with powers that bless them and all the strangers who eventually settle in a village surrounding their home. Life blossoms for the Madrigal family as those generations begin to grow with powers and abilities that truly enrich the lives of those in their community.

The Madrigal Family

Moving forward several years, we meet Mirabel. She’s the youngest daughter of Julietta (one of the triplets) and Agustin. In an opening sequence, she introduces the powers of her mother, aunt, uncle, and cousins but leaves us wondering what her power might be. We learn that her aunt has the ability to project weather (both good and bad) upon her circumstances; her mother can heal wounds or sickness with certain dishes; one of her sisters possess superhuman strength while the other superhuman beauty and grace. We see her cousins who have powers of transformation, overtly sensitive hearing, and eventually the ability to talk to animals.

Then, we learn, in a terribly sad moment, that Mirabel never received a gift, to her grandmother’s unending disappointment. In a scene with real emotional depth, we see the young girl’s confusion and her grandmother’s disappointment when the magical door closes. That scene sets the stage for the conflict that arises in the story, a broken relationship, recovery from genuine tragedy, and the passing of one generation to the next.

Abeula and a Young Mirabel

The lack of a gift and the sudden cracks appearing in the casita lead Mirabel on a hunt for her missing uncle Bruno. He becomes the center of our discussion moving forward because his life is a tragedy itself that mirrors some tragic moments from the Old Testament Scriptures.

Bruno’s gift was one of prophecy. In fact, there’s a song entitled “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” that describes his effect on the village and his family. His sister, nephew, and a few notable villagers describe his prophecies as a curse. As Bruno foretold the weather on their wedding day (stormy), the death of their beloved goldfish, or even their future looks (large stomach and a bald head), they each describe his prophecy as something that permanently destroyed or distorted their lives.

They sing that Bruno was someone who brought these things upon them, without submitting a single solitary bit of evidence to support that claim. We soon learn that Bruno fled from his family, hiding in the walls of casita because of the strain his predictions had brought his family. As she searches for the meaning of Bruno’s prophecies, Mirabel discovers he’s not quite the monster some had pegged him to be.

That leads to this simple point, Bruno reminds me of the OT prophets.

Consider their situation. As men who were sent by God with a message that was uncomfortable to most, judgment to others, and usually difficult to hear we must ask, are we surprised they were rejected so often? Just listen to how several NT writers remind the Jewish people how they once treated the prophets.

You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.

Acts 7:51-53

Stephen’s direct confrontation is pointed and unwavering. The idea that the Jewish people of the First Century were just repeating the sins of their fathers who rejected the prophets is also echoed in James who said:

My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.


It would also be a shame if I didn’t mention that Jesus spoke several times about how the Fathers treated the prophets in His gospels. This quote from the Sermon on the Mount seems appropriate:

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:11-12

Comparing the two we find that the rejection of both Bruno and the OT prophets had very little to do with them or their message and everything to do with those who heard it. Instead of taking the message at face-value and correcting their lives, the characters in the movie rejected the messenger. The Jews were guilty of the same. However, they didn’t just reject God’s prophets, they rejected God as well. They heard His patient appeals of repentance and rejected them as the wishes of a God they had forgotten and moved past.

There is a story in First Samuel 8 that epitomizes the story. The Jewish people asked for a king like the nations around them and it angered Samuel the prophet. God responded in this way:

Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.

First Samuel 8:8

The sadness of that phrase, “they have rejected Me” is a terrible indictment on the Jewish people as a whole. They rejected the prophets, they rejected the Messiah, they rejected God’s Will, and they rejected God’s Word.

Thankfully, like the movie, some who saw the wisdom of God’s Son and the fulfillment of Scripture in His life and death were able to reconcile the divide between their souls and their creator.

Much like the movie, the reunion was profound. Bruno was misunderstood, just like the prophets. As the Madrigal family welcomed him back into their fold, so can the people who reject God’s messengers. They can see the error of their quick and false judgment and reconcile something that never needed to be broken.

All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Leading Like the Lord

Recently, I was invited to speak at the 2022 Freed-Hardeman University Lectureship. The theme for this year’s lectureship was He Went About Doing Good: The Compassion of Christ in Luke. My lecture was a part of the daily series entitled Leading Like the Lord. I was given the topic “Minding His Business,” and asked to dissect the passage from Luke 2:46-49. I was excited, nervous, and profoundly honored to speak. The article below represents the heart of the message but is not a word-for-word manuscript.

We don’t know much about Jesus’ early life. Simply put, we know less about it than we’d like to admit. The single, solitary moment to explore from His teenage years is a scene straight out of Luke 2. In that story we see something profound and poignant. We see a young man, stuck between childhood and adulthood embracing His true mission in this world before the eyes of everyone who was fortunate enough to be there.

Conversations with teenagers often reveal the best in humanity. They are optimistic, hopeful, and full of life.

As we explore what it means to be about the Lord’s business, we must ask, what does a servant of God look like? Is it the polished, buttoned-up overachiever successfully navigating the highs of life or the weary, stressed-out, self-doubting servant? If we’re honest, it’s never one or the other, but usually, someone, somewhere between those two extremes.

Teenagers, as a rule, aren’t usually the ones we first think of as faithful servants, yet I challenge you to find any demographic in the Lord’s Church that must demonstrate, defend, and define their faith on a more regular basis than them.

So, as we explore this scene, we get quite an example of something that’s seen on a daily basis in our communities. A teenager, serving God amongst a bunch of adults who simply don’t understand or don’t want to understand. I’d like to set the stage by looking at the verses which immediately precede our text, Luke 2:42-45:

When Jesus was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t linger long for us and His parents find Him after a few days of searching. Here is the passage describing that reunion in 2:46:

So it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.

The shock his parents must have experienced finding him sitting in that holy place among those experienced rabbis asking questions and giving answers is understandable. There’s no way they looked in the Temple first. In fact, I’d safely assume it was one of the last places they figured to find Him. Yet there He was.

The key takeaway for us seems pretty simple to me – the Lord’s business is found among those who know Him and those who don’t. The rabbis, who were supposed to the be most religious, and keenly aware of God’s Will, had no idea who they were sitting with. They were in the presence of the Son of God, the living embodiment of “I AM,” their very own Immanuel, yet they didn’t know it.

I’m left to wonder, why? How? And would I have been like them? Would I have been oblivious to the Savior of the World sitting right across from me? I hope not, but I believe, deep down, I would have wondered, “Who is this kid? And how does He know what He knows?” The reaction of the people who heard Him is described in 2:47 which says:

All who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.

I’m thankful that Scripture gives us some insight into the thoughts of those people who observed the teenage Christ. That everyone was astonished shouldn’t surprise us. In His ministry, Jesus constantly surprised people. I’m sure He did the same as a young man. If this passage isn’t evidence of that, I’m not sure I know what that evidence would look like? I can’t help but think N.T. Wright and Michael Bird summed it up well in The New Testament and Its World (617) when they said:

Jesus’ greatness was foreshadowed by His teaching in the Temple astounding the audience.

That truth led to my second takeaway. Simply put, this story teaches that in our world of ordinary, the work of the Lord amazes those who see it up close and personally. The Rabbis, the crowd, and even the Lord’s parents were all amazed at what they saw Him do and say.

In the very next verse, His mother speaks and in the most unsurprising moment of the whole story, says what most of us would have said to our very own children in 2:48:

Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.

The most recognizable part of this entire account are the fears of Joseph and Mary. I’ve never lost my children (not even for a few minutes), but I can certainly believe their panic was well-deserved. Can’t you imagine the frantic search through all the places of Jerusalem they assumed He would be? The disappointment they felt when He wasn’t at their relatives house? Or the places they knew He could be? Perhaps they got really scared when they dared to check at the prison or even with the local Roman authorities.

Her statement, “why have you done this to us?” is both emphatic and sorrowful. I’m certain she was relieved at the very sight of Him but, I can’t help think that relief quickly turned to some mix of frustration and/or disappointment.

Her statement sure seems to imply both relief and frustration.

As I read this, I can’t help but notice that Jesus doesn’t belittle or dismiss her worries. He doesn’t disrespect her or even her harsh words. He simply responds with purpose and direction by saying:

Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?

I wonder why His question and subsequent answer were so confusing to them. It says in 2:50 “they did not understand the statement.” But why? We can easily jump to conclusions, but I’d hesitate to assume it means they were ignorant. After all, He had already “astonished” the teachers and “amazed” His parents. That His explanation doesn’t quite spell-it-out for them shouldn’t shock us.

Surely, most of them (if not all) assumed His Father was Joseph, the man standing there quietly. However, Joseph, a carpenter, was not a rabbi as far as we can tell. He was just an ordinary man, not particularly amazing. He wasn’t even from Jerusalem. What could the young man mean?

I’m thankful that Jesus, without showing any disrespect, points His mission and path towards another being, His Heavenly Father. By clarifying His purpose, He also begs a single question that this entire lesson hinges on, what exactly is the Lord’s business?

First of all, now we know it’s not bound by earthly expectations. If it were, this whole scene wouldn’t have been so surprising. The words “astonished” and “amazed” would have been unnecessary and the events would have been lost to time. The Lord’s business is truly extraordinary, just like this scene.

Secondly, it doesn’t look, sound, or closely resemble normal circumstances. The setting and the events of these few days are truly unusual, even without the element of divinity. The frantic search, the unassuming teenager, the puzzled scholars, and the “chance” encounter are too perfect to be an everyday scene. They are special, because Jesus is special.

Finally, we can safely see and state.

There is something different about the business of the Lord than the business of this world.

We could spend hours (if not days) debating how the business of the Lord is different when compared to the business of this world. We could easily discuss value, purpose, and even direction, but that’s unnecessary as long as we know one important thing – Jesus, even as a teenager – knew His Heavenly Father and His purpose. While I’m unwilling to tell you He always knew it (i.e. as a baby), I’m comfortable and confident to say He knew it that day. He knew God’s Will would lead Him to the Cross. Yet here He is, among those who should know Him, showing them the way towards Him.

As a challenge to each of you, I beg you to be about the Lord’s business in both usual and unusual places. Places where they expect to find you and places where you are least expected – around those who know you and those who don’t. I beg you to challenge the status quo while remaining respectful of those who deserve it. I beg you to see that the Lord’s business is our business because the Lord’s purpose should be our purpose.

All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Battlelines No. 10

William Bush joins us today. I have known William for years. I watched him grow up in Evansville, Indiana, and watched him attend both Freed-Hardeman University and Austin Peay University. He studied multimedia production and upon graduation settled into the digital and video world by working with Lipscomb University Basketball and now World Bible School. He is a talented producer and offers great perspective about digital and video ministry. As many of us consider how to improve or implement a digital ministry, we would do to hear his advice. Below is his article.

Over the past year, many congregational leaders have been unexpectedly forced into starting a video ministry at their congregation. Despite incredible advances in video technology, directing a video ministry may feel like a daunting task, fruitless and disconnected. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Others may have seen a church leader at a sister congregation reaping enormous fruit from their video ministries and have become inspired to start their own.

No matter what angle you are coming from, this article is intended to give you some helpful insights into directing a fruitful video ministry. Your video ministry has the opportunity to become an effective expedient, providing additional connectivity for church members and an introduction of the Lord’s Church to those seeking God and His will. So here are a few ideas to get something started that truly benefits the kingdom.

Your video ministry can never be viewed as an equivalent replacement for face-to-face communication.

This is probably no surprise to you. After spending numerous weeks attending virtual services during coronavirus shutdowns, we’ve all grown to appreciate fellowship face-to-face. With this in mind, your video ministry should be viewed as a supplement alongside other forms of outreach, encouraging face-to-face interactions when possible. God did not intend us to be satisfied with this level of connection alone.

So, how does this apply to your video ministry? In your livestreams and videos, be sure to provide ways viewers can become further connected. Share your website, phone number, office hours and invite them to worship in-person. Be sure your congregation’s video ministry is not the only ministry for your shut-in members. Frame your video ministry as a gateway for further connections within your congregation.

Your video ministry must be sustainable.

There are 1001 options for building your video ministry. Factors can include how frequent you post, what equipment you need and how many people will be involved. Every congregation also has a limit to what they can reasonability sustain. Are you a one-man-band or a team? Is your budget $50 or $50,000? Ensure your video ministry’s success – count the cost and determine what your congregation is capable of supporting.

Video technology is now more affordable and user-friendly than ever before. I can’t outline all 1001 sustainable video ministry options in this article. If you are stuck trying to research sustainable options, do not hesitate to reach out to me. We can work together to meet your congregation’s needs!

Your video ministry must glorify Christ and His church.

Everything you post, produce or livestream will either positively or negatively affect a viewer’s perception of Christ and His Church. You must ensure your video ministry honors God. When publishing video content, there is an expected degree of quality and professionalism which can harm your viewers’ perception of the Lord’s church if not met.

I am not saying your live streams must match the quality of the local news or your videos match the quality of a Hollywood film (remember sustainability). Yet, there is a basic criteria which needs to be met. Ensure you have a clear and properly framed picture of your subject. Make certain the audio is
comprehendible and does not include excessive amounts of static or background noise. Don’t
let the quality of your videos impede viewer’s perception of Christ and the church.

This principle does not just cover video quality, but also includes the message you communicate. Fill your gospel (Good News) presentation with compassion and love! Do not insult, shame, or spew hatred towards the lost, a specific denomination, or any other religion or demographic. Glorify God in everything that you say and do!

Start by using your instincts to determine if you are meeting this criteria. Is this something you would be pleased to show to your Father in Heaven? How would you expect others to perceive your presentation of Christ and His church? Is it how God wants others to understand His Church?

If I can help you find ways to improve in this area, please contact me. Applying each these principles to your video ministry will establish a firm foundation for bearing valuable fruit. After reading this if you are in need of further assistance, do not hesitate to email me at williamkbush20@gmail.com.

I’d be happy to help!

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash