Monthly Archives: September 2016

Living by What “Seems Right”

There have been certain sins throughout history which have been so wickedly horrific that I’m quite certain the vast majority of people today would not even consider committing them. For instance, can you imagine sacrificing your daughter to an idol by burning her alive? Of course not, and neither could the Israelites when they first entered the Promised Land. And yet, a few hundred years passed, and sure enough…

“When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.” Ezekiel 20:31 (ESV)

Such is the shaping power of culture. What was at one time absolutely impossible to imagine…became reality. Sacrificing a child suddenly “seemed the right thing” to do, simply because it was the cultural norm.

God’s Response

What’s fascinating to note in Ezekiel 20 is God’s response to this wickedness. He said they would not be able to “inquire” of Him. In other words, no relationship. And so it was that idolatry, introduced through exposure to a wicked culture, destroyed any meaningful relationship they had with the One True God.

What We Lose by Adopting Cultural Beliefs

Of course, the same thing happens in our culture, only with different issues. The people of God today constantly find themselves under pressure to modify their beliefs and practices toward what “seems right”. But what I have realized recently is that adopting these cultural beliefs and practices has an unintended consequence: the loss of a vital relationship with God. We can no longer inquire of Him. This makes sense considering Israel’s experience under Ezekiel, but also because in order to adopt many cultural beliefs, one must reject Scripture, which is, of course, God’s Word to us. How can I have a vital relationship with someone who does not speak to me?

The Stepford Wives…the Stepford God

The lesson here is clear: while we will all be shaped to some degree by culture, we must be sure to let God’s Word have the final say (Romans 12:2).  Along these lines, one of my favorite Tim Keller illustrations comes from his book, The Reason for God:

“If we let our unexamined beliefs undermine our confidence in the Bible, the cost may be greater than we think.

“If you don’t trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God? In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you. For example, if a wife is not allowed to contradict her husband, they won’t have an intimate relationship. Remember the (two!) movies The Stepford Wives? The husbands of Stepford, Connecticut, decide to have their wives turned into robots who never cross the wills of their husbands. A Stepford wife was wonderfully compliant and beautiful, but no one would describe such a marriage as intimate or personal.

“Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction. Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.”

– Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

Therefore, only a real relationship with God can save us from being wrongly shaped by culture and what “seems right”. And not surprisingly, such a relationship with God only comes from a thorough commitment to Scripture as authoritative.

For as the history of the Israelites teaches us, if we abandon God’s Word, the fire is never far away.


Posted by on September 20, 2016 in Uncategorized


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The One Problem Behind All Your Worry

angst-802639__180[1]It was bedtime recently, and as we got ready for the sandman, I explained to Diane why I was worried about something. She wasn’t buying it, and yet I assured her I had reason for my worry. She just didn’t understand what I understood.

Now, I’m beginning to doubt my certainty.

Looking back, I think I was being foolish. Let me go one step further. I was being proud.

It was that insightful pastor Tim Keller who brought this out to me in a sermon on the fruit of the Spirit. Keller wrote…

Do you know how to deal with worry? Worry is arrogance. Worry is always, in the Bible, a refusal to assume a humble posture before God. In James 4 (my favorite place almost on this), verses 13 and 14, it says, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city … Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”

That’s it. Anybody who worries thinks they know. Anybody who is filled with anxiety is arrogant, because you’re sure you know how things have to go. You’re sure you know what you need. You’re sure you know how history has to go. The peace that is always there … always there … is a peace based on humility, saying before God, “God, you know what I need. You know what has to happen. I don’t know. I don’t know! That’s the reason I don’t worry, because I don’t know. I’m not sure. I put myself in your hands. I’m a child. You’re my Father.”

Real peace that will never pass away (the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that’s perfect) is always connected to humility. If you’re a proud person and you have peace, it’s not real peace. It’s peace based on the fact things are going well for you. When you’re a proud person and things are going well for you, you’re actually misusing that peace because what you’re saying is, “The reason things are going well is I chose well. I’m saving. I have a good job. I got into a good school. I married a good person.”

In other words, your peace is a counterfeit peace. It is not a lasting peace. It will eventually fall apart…Real peace is always connected to humility.

Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

When I’m so certain that I have reason to worry, it’s because I am doing what James said not to do – I am looking into the future and imagining I know how everything is going to turn out…which means, in the case of worry, turning out badly. And imagining these lousy scenarios wakes me up at 3 a.m…full of anxiety. And really, it all happens because of arrogance and pride.

And then yesterday, with Keller’s insight speaking life to my soul, the Spirit brought to mind a beautiful, short Psalm I had memorized years before…

A Song of Ascents, of David. O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever. Psalm 131:1-3 (NASB)

So, I’m learning that one great key to overcoming worry is to repent of involving myself in “great matters”, to repent of looking into the future and pretending that I know.

Because I don’t.

I don’t have any certain knowledge of the future. But I do know the One who does. And I know what He said…

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (NASB)


Posted by on September 6, 2016 in Uncategorized


Live from El Salvador with Compassion

imageWe’ve been sponsoring a boy named Daniel in Mexico with Compassion for many years. We exchange letters (not nearly enough come from the Knowltons), but still Daniel’s life has always had an air of mystery to me.

But not so much after this week, not because we made it to Mexico, but because we are here in El Salvador seeing Compassion’s ministry up close and personal. Two months ago Compassion invited us on a trip here to see their ministry first hand, and we delightfully accepted.

We have been having a wonderful time, getting to know some terrific people all while seeing a ministry that is doing an incredible work “releasing children from poverty.” A number of Compassion staff are along for the tour, as well as 7 pastors, some of whom brought their sweeties (Yay, Diane!). Also along for the trip is the comedian Jeff Foxworthy and his wife and daughter. They have made a number of Compassion trips.

Compassion-sponsored child Naomi shows Diane one of her sponsor's letters...

Compassion child Naomi shows off her sponsor letter

To begin with…

Suffice it to say that Compassion…works. Quite well. Unwed mothers come to Christ (about 65% who enter the Child Survival Program come to know the Lord) and receive resources to holistically care for their children. Children come to Christ and often their families are also impacted by the gospel. (One group met a mother and father today who came to Christ when both showed up at the church/project to see their son baptized) Compassion isn’t perfect, but by the grace of God their strategy works well.

Why Compassion Works…

Delightful lunch with Compassion Child Gerson

Delightful lunch with Compassion Child Gerson

Of course I am simplifying, and obviously I’m no expert after two days of touring, but if pressed to name one great reason, I think it works because it is all based on the Gospel working through the LOCAL CHURCH. I knew the gospel was significant, but the overwhelming importance of the local church in Compassion’s ministry was new to me. And this fact alone made me love their ministry. As one staff member put it, “It has always been our intention to attend to the bride of Christ.” Jeff Foxworthy said, “The star of the whole thing is the church.” So what we visited over the last two days…were two different Compassion projects, or really, two different churches. Someone noted something I hadn’t realized, but it was definitely true: “It doesn’t say COMPASSION in giant letters when you go to the project.”

It’s a church, and therefore each touring day we have met the church staff, and the Compassion staff (which includes an accountant at every single project – they have won awards for their excellence in financial accountability, and approximately 80% of all donated monies go directly to helping the child). Staff member Mark Pellingra related a story of a visit he once made to a Compassion child’s home. He asked the parents about how they felt about Compassion’s impact on their child. They responded, “What is Compassion?” They knew about the sponsor…and the church, but not the organization behind it.

The Ultimate Aim

Compassion actually hopes to put themselves out of business, and it’s not just a pipe dream – it is beginning to happen in certain countries like Uganda and Ecuador. Compassion children grow up, become gainfully employed and serving in the local church from whence they came; and over time, with their understanding of sustainable ministry, they themselves take over sponsoring their neighbors, other local children. Sponsors therefore from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. become unnecessary…to the glory of God!

Today’s fun 

You know you're...on a Compassion trip...

You know you’re…on a Compassion trip…

After four long hours on a bus today (two hours into the mountains and back – we passed time sharing personal testimonies), we came back to the very nice Real Intercontinental hotel, where, after a great meal, Mr. Foxworthy did stand-up for 17 of us, which he said made him more nervous than a crowd of 5,000. And yet he was hilarious, a real treat. Then we shared our impressions of our two days so far, what we have learned. More blessing. I’ll look forward to telling more stories when I return to Edgewood on the weekend after Labor Day.

The El Salvador Compassion trip team

The El Salvador Compassion trip team

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Posted by on September 1, 2016 in Uncategorized


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