Call me Ali

They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
~ Mark 10:37

’cause I’m the greatest

Doctrine. To some, the word causes fear, trembling, and gnashing of teeth. May the hooves of a thousand camels stamp it and may the last camel die upon it under the burning noon sun of the desert. May doctrine be as the filthiness of the Gentiles and not be once named among us. Don’t talk to me about doctrine. In other words, some people would rather avoid it.

To some others, doctrine is where it’s at. They’re all about it. Give me some of that doctrine. Though Isaac sustained Jacob with grain and wine, I will run in the strength of that doctrine for forty days. Though I start on the journey of a thousand miles and the sun is hidden from me behind wet, stone gray clouds, I will fear no evil as long as doctrine is beside me, beneath me, and before me. In other words, it’s all in all to such folks.

I suppose, by now, you suspect me of dealing in extremes and setting up my heroism in forging some middle way. Why would I do that? Why would I want to find a way to be in between follies? I could be slathered with mayo and mustard and paired with cheddar between two slices of problems and I still would only be lunch meat. No, I want to find a better road entirely, the biblical road. What does the Bible have to say about doctrine?

What is doctrine?

2 Timothy 3:16 tells us all Scripture is inspired by God and all of Scripture is useful for doctrine, or teaching. That is what doctrine is. It’s teaching. The Greek noun here is didaskalian, and it means that which is taught. When Luke refers to the Apostles’ teaching in Acts 2:42, he refers to their doctrine, the body of teaching they taught.

The doctrine of the Bible is simply what the Bible teaches. The biblical writers wrote consciously of a body, or system, of instruction in the Bible. Paul charged Timothy to stick to the pattern of Paul’s teaching (2 Timothy 1:13). The Apostles’ doctrine is sufficiently formalized so as to be a standard of measure for all teaching (1 Timothy 6:3-5).

Biblical doctrine is never imposed on the Bible in part or in whole. Biblical doctrine is the Bible. The Bible is a book of sixty-six books and each of those books is made up of narratives, poetry, and paragraphs of prose. We have to give detailed attention to the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of the biblical books. We have to study the flow, the logic, the grammar, the rhetoric, and the parallels and contrasts with similar passages in the other books of the Bible. Through this process, we come to the contextual meaning of the passage, and that is doctrine.

What is the purpose of doctrine?

The aim of the Bible’s teaching is not mere knowledge. Mere knowledge results in pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). Mere knowledge, no matter how vast its scope, is worthless (1 Corinthians 13:2). Paul often described doctrine in the pastoral letters with a Greek word that means sound, or healthy. The word literally means having good physical health. Biblical doctrine is healthy like a human body free of disease or sickness, but it also healthy like a nutritious meal that nourishes and enriches the body to perform its tasks (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:17).

Biblical doctrine is foundational to growing in faith, obedience, and practical righteousness (1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 1:1; 2:11-14; 2 Peter 1:3-7). Doctrine sanctifies us and fills us with joy (John 17:13-17). Doctrine grows our discernment and protects us from error (Hebrews 5:11-14; Ephesians 4:4). Doctrine is also instrumental in making disciples, as God’s word creates God’s people (Matthew 28:18-20).

Conclusion

As pastors minister in their congregations, we aim for people to be brought to faith, grow in grace, grow in love, grow in unity, grow in witness, grow in joy, grow in worship, and grow in expectation of Christ’s return. That does not, or will not, happen apart from good doctrine. We simply cannot feed the sheep without exposition of all the words God gave us that forms accurate doctrine, which is then applied to the very people in front of us. Doctrine is a vital part of connecting people today to the Bible written so long ago.

In other words doctrine is essential to ministry. You cannot jettison doctrine and maintain ministry. Ministry without doctrine becomes manipulation. Whatever the means employed, people are conformed to whatever vision the pastor has for them, but they are not really transformed by the teaching of God’s word. On the other hand, often doctrine is not viewed as essential to ministry but the entire goal of ministry. Doctrine becomes a measuring stick by which we can tell who will be the greatest in Heaven. It is a quick check by which we can measure our distinctiveness from our neighbor. People are prepped by such a ministry as if Heaven requires a No. 2 pencil and fully filled ovals.

Doctrine is essential. Doctrine that does not lead us to making more and more of Jesus Christ and less and less of ourselves, is not sound and is not biblical. On second thought, my name is not Ali after all.

Children Like Clean Cups and Platters

Thou shalt not covet . . . any thing that is thy neighbor’s.
– Exodus 20:17

An encouragement to families

Families have days where nothing seems to go right. We are getting ready to go somewhere and problems pop up at every turn. One kid is sick, another is tired, and maybe others have chosen this extremely inconvenient time to embody contrariness. We’ve barely begun and Mom has already had just about enough and is twitching and ticking like an animal shelter mutt with one eye.

We arrive at our destination looking like unmade beds and realize one kid’s hair didn’t get fixed, one has on two left shoes of different colors, and another is sporting a mucus mustache. It always somehow works out that at just such a time as this, that family shows up. You know the one with several children impeccably dressed as if heading to a photo shoot, who march in appropriate birth order at precisely one arm’s length, and always use appropriate manners and etiquette for whatever social situation they are in. They all smile with glistening teeth as though they have time to visit the dentist regularly. They never raise their voices above a polite conversational tone and you can only imagine they have mastered the control of their children by telepathy. That family.

They drill by us in West Point cadet fashion and each click of their perfectly polished patent leather shoes sounds out the cadence of our failures and varying emotions to our ears.
Click—bewilderment.
Click—embarrassment.
Click—frustration.
Click—anger.
Click—disappointment.
Click—bitterness.
Click—jealousy.

Whoa! Hold on to that last one—jealousy. Why can’t our kids be more like their kids?

Sometimes families see that family that seems to have it all together and either give up, because we will never be like that, or else they want to become that family or die trying. It can be discouraging and hopeless. If we’re not careful here, we can set up an idol we are bowing down to and serving. If there is a positive blessing that can come from the downfall of some well-known family ministries in recent years, I hope it is that we will stop idolizing “perfect” families. It is wise to learn from others, but let us learn with discernment and never try to impersonate others through blind copying. We really shouldn’t want to be like that family.

All Photoshoped and Airbrushed

The picture you have in your mind of that perfect family is not true to reality. It’s all Photoshoped and airbrushed. You’ve mentally composed an image that’s always in just the right light. You are seeing them at their absolute best and comparing your family at its absolute worst. There are two obvious problems with this. First, it is not a fair comparison. Second, it is not a comparison that should be made in the first place. A perfect family is not the standard of measure and measuring ourselves against others is not wise (2 Corinthians 10:12). You should realize that you can’t possibly be like that because that family isn’t actually like that either. Families are a group of sinners varying in age, size, and gender, but all sinners all the same. There is no such thing as a “perfect” family.

All that Glitters is Not Gold

You should also realize that while you’re looking at that family’s best, you’re not seeing their worst. You don’t know what their weaknesses are. They seem to do well in some areas, but no individual or family does well in all areas all the time. You don’t see where they are failing. Beside this, there are some families who major on the public appearance. Their kids know where to stand, where to sit, and when to be quiet. Usually those kids are not being taught far more important things. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between a family that is doing well in some areas and a family that is putting up a front and a public fiction.

Bridge Out Ahead!

You’ve probably heard the joke about the two men standing by the road holding signs. One sign read, “The end is near!” The other sign read, “Turn around before it’s too late!” A car passes by them and then they hear screeching tires and a splash. Another car passes while the driver shouts angrily at the men. The car goes out of sight and they hear more tire screeching and more splashing. A third car approaches and slows by the men so the driver can read the signs. The driver then stomps on the gas, flinging rocks at them and then they hear the same screeching and splash. The first man looks at the second man and says, “Maybe we should hold up a sign that says, ‘Bridge out ahead!'”

That joke works and illustrates two points germane to our topic—misperception and obscured vision. The passersby misinterpreted what they saw, thinking it was a couple of religious nuts trying to evangelize them. They also suffered from limited vision because at that point the drivers could not see around the bend that the bridge was out. Likewise, we need to realize that the picture we have of that perfect family is a snapshot capturing one moment in time. We have misperception problems because even in that one moment of time we are not seeing the whole picture. We are not perceiving their flaws. Our vision is also obscured because we are looking at one moment in time and we are not seeing the end result of that family. We are not seeing how they turned out. This problem of limited vision is one reason why Solomon teaches us not to be too hasty in declaring one way better than another because we cannot see the end (Ecclesiastes 3:22; 6:11-12; 8:7).

Don’t be Quick to Garnish Whited Tombs

Hopefully I have relieved some burdens by this point, but I hope to give further encouragement. I mentioned previously that we can learn from others and we can and should. However, we need to take heed from whom and what we are learning. In this case, we don’t want to be like Rehoboam who rejected the counsel of his elders and betters and chose the counsel of his peers (2 Chronicles 10:6-8). The counsel of the gray-headed who have already done well at raising children to adulthood is far weightier than the example of the grand marshal and his parade of peacocks, no matter how well the peacocks can keep time with their steps.

If we are majoring on matters of public appearance, we probably have some pride issues we need to deal with. Jesus reserved his harshest rebukes for those who majored on outward appearances (Matthew 23:5-12, 23-33). One sure-fire way to raise up a Pharisee is to follow the program of the Pharisees. We don’t want to be or produce Pharisees. We need a sense of priority in what things are more important than others (Luke 10:38-42) that we not be giving undue attention to appearances. We should not be content to clean up our children like the outside of cups and platters. We should pray diligently for their salvation. We should always be quick to pray for and encourage other families. Let’s stop comparing ourselves and being quick to criticize and condemn others. Let’s be quick to put on humility. Parenting is hard and we need immeasurable grace to do it anywhere near well.