Matt Knight

My thoughts on faith, books, and life in general

Tag Archives: Bible

The Joy of the Lord is our strength

“…This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law…“Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:9-10 (ESV)

Today I preached on the book of Nehemiah (our congregation is going through The Story–a 31-week journey through the Bible). Out of all the material to cover, I focused on Chapters 8 & 9.

This morning, I awoke to a dreary fog. My own mood was similar. I didn’t really want to get out of bed, go to church, or preach.

It’s true, it happens to preachers too.

However, after I got to the chapel, I was pointed to the scriptures. I read Psalm 47. It begins, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God all with loud songs of joy! For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.”

It’s a command to praise God, and through this scripture God spoke to my heart.

In Nehemiah 8, the people are weeping and mourning, but their leaders command them to rejoice and be happy. How, I wondered, could they be expected to change from weeping to rejoicing?

This morning, I experienced it. You see, the rejoicing comes, not necessarily out of happy feelings, but rather, the recognition of who God is and what He has done. Scripture directs us to praise Him, even if we don’t feel like it.

The thing is–God can change our hearts through worship. Who He is is greater than how I feel. God is worthy of praise. The Bible is full of praise for His great attributes and shows a long track record of His blessings and kindness toward people. When I focus on God, instead of myself, my feelings can change. The joy of the Lord (joy of who He is and the joy that He gives) is my strength. It can change my attitude from malaise or sadness to one of praise and gladness.

When we life out this truth, it can change our attitudes and our lives.

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A Picture of Sin as Rebellion

Grace Cover Final B1
I’ve recently begun reading Max Lucado’s newest book Grace: More Than We Deserve – Better Than We Imagine. I got it as part of Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program. (My review is forthcoming).

It’s often been said that Sin is rebellion against God, but Lucado does a great job at illustrating that point from the teachings of Jesus.

Read Jesus’ one-paragraph definition of sin.

A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return. Before he left, he called together ten servants and gave them ten pounds of silver to invest for him while he was gone. But his people hated him and sent a delegation after him to say they did not want him to be their king. (Luke 19:12-14 NLT)

To sin is to state, “God, I do not want you to be my king. I prefer a kingless kingdom. Or, better still, a kingdom in which I am king.”

Imagine if someone did the same to you. Suppose you go on a long trip and leave your residence under the supervision of a caretaker. You trust him will all your possessions. While you’re away, he moves into your house and claims it for his own…He claims your authority and send you this message: “Don’t come back. I’m running things now.”

It’s a shocking picture, but Lucado is right in using this picture to illustrate how God sees sin. You and I think it’s minor, but to God, who is creator and rightful ruler–it’s open rebellion.

Review: Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible

In Majestie, author David Teems seamlessly blends quality historical research with superb readability. Who knew King James I of England could be such an interesting character? Teems introduces us to the King, giving great background and juicy details, and making his subject accessible to today’s readers. There are helpful footnotes, but the main text is insightful, yet not too dry, and quite colorful.

Beginning with stories such as how James was almost aborted in his mother’s womb, Teems gives great background that pulls back the curtain on the royal Stuart family, revealing the good, the bad, and the ugly in all their majestic glory. From the beginning, I was hooked and this biography read like a novel – full of intrigue, plotting, love affairs, and even the Bible.

While James is certainly the star of the book, other characters like his mother Mary Queen of Scots, John Knox, Elizabeth, Shakespeare, and many others move in and out of the spotlight from time to time. Of all the other subjects, it is the King James Bible (or Authorized Version) which takes center stage by the end of the book. As has been noted, the KJB is the bestselling book in history, and the most read.

Teems explores the process of translating the Bible into English, as well as looking at the men who played crucial roles in accomplishing this monumental task. Yet through it all, at the center remains James.

I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in a primer on the King James Bible, or for anyone who loves history. I especially enjoyed the Kindle version because of the ease of looking through footnotes and looking up other 17th Century figures, items, and ideas.

Have you read this one? What did you think? What are you reading these days?

God: my source of strength

There are a few a lot of days when I feel powerless, like I have no control over my life.

We live in uncertain times, don’t we?

Maybe like me, you look around you and recognize you have no control over some of the things that are going on around you. We turn on the news and see bad things happening. It could be that you’re out of work, and can’t seem to find a job. Or it could be that you feel stuck in a job that isn’t your dream job. There could be any number of things going on in your life that might make you feel small, weak, powerless.

Continue Reading…

Goals for the New Year

As I start off the New Year, it’s always good to set some goals and think on how I can make this year better than the last. It’s popular for many people to set New Year’s resolutions. Often people decide to lose weight or to quit smoking (or both–which I understand is extremely difficult).

I encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, to set some goals for the upcoming year. Write them down and keep track of them. Studies have shown that those who write down their goals are MUCH more likely to achieve them. Here are some of my goals for 2009:

Lose Weight – A few years ago I lost 40 pounds, and since that time I’ve gained half of it back. As my weight creeps up, I’m reminded that it’s time for me to get serious about maintaining a healthy weight. To do this I have a workout program that involves 30 minutes on a treadmill four times a week, and some weight-bearing exercises. If you have a goal for fitness, I encourage you to find a place to workout and someone to help you. Here is where I workout (it’s a big help that I actually work there!)

Read 35 Books – This past year I was challenged by reading some fellow bloggers that I ought to continue reading despite having finished seminary in 2008. I made a list of the books I’d been reading and did read about 30 last year, so I want to push myself farther this year.

Spend more time with God – As part of my plan for this, I have a Bible reading plan that I’ve been working through in 2008. This year I intend to continue it, more faithfully this year than last. If you’re interested you can check it out at Biblestudytools.com.

Travel to Europe with my wife – I already had this one planned. I encourage you to set goals like this for your family. Find something that you want to do, save up some money, research your options, and do it!

Learn to be smarter with money – Going hand-in-hand with the previous goal, I want to learn to manage money better. My wife and I have saved up for this trip, but there are many other things that we realize it’s important to save for. Our church is going through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University this spring, and we plan to take part in it.

Serve my country – I’ve been working toward becoming an Air Force Chaplain for the last few years, and I expect that to finally happen in coming days. I’m praying for orders and an assignment by the end of the month.

What about you? Do you have goals or resolutions for the new year?

God’s Blessings of Grace are without Favoritism

I read an intriguing post over at the Boundless blog (Read the post here).
The title of the post was: “Blessed at Another’s Expense?” Ted Slater, the author of the post poses the question of our proper response to God’s blessings. Here’s something he encourages readers to think about:

If I get a parking space near the door or the last piece of pie at the buffet, someone else doesn’t. If I find a $20 bill fluttering on the ground, someone has lost their $20 bill. If I find a good deal on a HUD house, someone has likely been evicted from their home. If I marry a wonderful woman, some other guy doesn’t get to.

Surely the Lord has His hands on the events of my life, even the seemingly meaningless ones. Why in His providence do I sometimes benefit at someone else’s loss?

I agree with the idea of his post that we ought to accept God’s gifts humbly and be mindful of the needs of those around us. Still, I am reminded that God gives us gifts because of His Grace, never out of some sense of favoritism.
The Apostle Peter reveals this principle in reference to salvation in Acts 10. In verses 34-35 Peter says:

I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

Here’s the context: Peter is, for perhaps the first time, in the home of a Gentile with whom he is sharing a meal and sharing the gospel. It was unusual (even taboo) for a Jew to enter the home of a Gentile — it would make them unclean. Yet, God spoke to Peter in a vision, commanding him not to call unclean what (or who) God has made clean. God chose Peter in this instance (Acts 10) to go to this Gentile home and proclaim the gospel.

The idea that God wanted to save Gentiles was at best confusing, and at worst heretical to the Jews of that day. During the days of the early church the Jews (and even Jewish believers) struggled to understand how God could show grace to other groups of people (who were not Jews or Jewish converts).

Here’s the tie-in: Many of the Jews believed that God had chosen them (the sons of Abraham) because of His partiality, and that they were inherently better or more special than any other nation. The fact is, however, that God chose the children of Israel in order for them to be a light to the nations, so that He could show His grace to all mankind. They were to be an example of grace, not favoritism.

Let’s bring it back to today.

God still blesses us. As Christians, we must understand that we are not inherently better than other people. God gives us His grace and salvation, and desires for all mankind to receive it. If we understand that God wants to bless people, we must also understand that He doesn’t bless us (with the $20, with the opportunities, with the jobs, with the spouse, kids, home, etc) because He loves us more or someone else less. He does it to show His grace.

I believe that God is sovereign. He can bless whomever He so chooses with whatever He chooses. He does have a unique plan for each and every person. The blessings that God offers to you and to me are not things that we ought to feel guilty about, but neither are they reason for us to feel proud or boastful. We must take them for what they are–gifts from a gracious God.

Perhaps we will respond humbly by thanking God, and maybe by passing along His blessings by being a blessing to others.

Merry Christmas!

Church Declines Jackpot Tithe

I saw a story this morning that got my attention.

Here’s the rundown of the story: Man wins lottery ($6million+), offers tithe to church (10% – $600k), the pastor turns him down, saying the do not accept lottery money.

There may very well be more to the story, that I don’t know, but this is a head scratcher for me.  My wife and I were talking about this issue just yesterday (oddly enough).  We know people who attend church, but also play the lottery.  We ourselves do not play, as much for pragmatic reasons (i.e., the odds are stacked against you) as a belief in not gambling.  The question Kelly and I asked was, what if we played and won?  We talked about the difficulty of having to confess that we’d gotten the money in the lottery, and tithing on it.

This situation seems a bit tricky.  On the one hand, most baptist churches (this was a baptist church in the story) do not approve of gambling and consider the lottery to be gambling.  However, on the other hand I have to commend the guy for being willing to tithe 10% of the winnings.  Now I doubt I will ever play the lottery, I generally tend to believe that it can do more harm to the winners than if they’d never won (cf. Prov 1:19).   I’m not sure I’m ready to put hitting the jackpot on the same level as stealing.  As I say, I admire the guy for trying to give.  If he’d robbed a bank, I feel strongly that the church should accept no part of it, but he didn’t rob a bank, he probably bought a lottery ticket at a gas station. I do believe that he should give the first portion (that does count as increase).

Try this out: God is lord over all.  I don’t believe in coincidence, rather I believe in God’s providence.  Can God bless this guy through the lottery even if it’s wrong to gamble?  If God chooses to allow this guy to win, and scripture clearly teaches that we are to give our first fruits to God, then the guy HAS to give.  So from that standpoint, if my thinking here is correct, the church is just losing out.  I hope he gives the money somewhere else.  We’ve got a building campaign at my church.

What do you think? Was the pastor right to turn him down? What else could he have done?

Cheapening the Gospel?

Last weekend I went to visit my in-laws on the east coast. While there we attended church together. The town they live in is in an area that is a major summer vacation spot, so the population is greater in the summer than the rest of the year. I say this in order to give a little background. The visiting preacher who preached the sunday of my visit talked about Vacation Bible School. He congratulated the congregation on their VBS, contrasting their efforts with those of “other churches” who had offered prizes, such as a new bicycle, as incentives for kids to come and bring friends to VBS. He spoke of such measures as, “cheapening the gospel.”

When I heard him say this, I have to confess, I wasn’t sure what to think. On the one hand I could kind of understand his sentiment. He was expressing his belief that the gospel ought to be able to stand on its own, without the need for gimmickry or bribery. I agree that the gospel is of immeasurable value and the rewards of the gospel itself are far greater than any earthly reward. However, on the other hand, I asked myself, “doesn’t the apostle Paul say that he would use almost any means to spread the gospel?” (cf. 1 Cor 9:21-23). So if there’s nothing inherently evil or sinful about giving away a bicycle, then I’m not sure I have anything bad to say about it. If kids come for a bike and hear the gospel, that’s a good thing right?

What do you think? Churches do this sort of thing all the time, are they cheapening the gospel? Should the church use incentives like this?

What is Satisfaction?

This is a big question, and one that I have been dealing with as I teach a series to the young singles at my church. Last week we discussed the origins of dissatisfaction. We talked about Genesis 3 and how Adam and Eve had everything they could possibly need in the Garden of Eden. However, they became dissatisfied when the Serpent sells them on the notion that God is keeping something from them, and that they will be satisfied when they get it.

We know now that it was a lie. They existed in a state of satisfaction and sinlessness until that fateful day.

In the next few lessons I’m going to be discussing two critical areas where people (particularly 20-something singles) look for satisfaction. This week we’re going to talk about satisfaction in relationships (how we tend to look for “someone to complete us”). The next lesson will be about material satisfaction (how we look for satisfaction with “stuff”).

To this end I’ve been trying to cobble together a definition of satisfaction. I’d love to have whatever contributions come my way with this.

The working definition I have so far looks like this:
Satisfaction is a state of contentment where we recognize that all of our needs are fully met by God: specifically our physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational needs.

Barriers to Following Christ

I know I’ve missed a few days, and a Narnia post will be coming soon, but in the meantime here’s what’s been on my mind lately.

In my Sunday morning bible study class we’ve been going through the Gospel of Matthew. Over the last three weeks we’ve looked at Matthew chapter 8. During this time, we’ve witnessed Jesus’ demonstration of His divine power, but also of His love for those that society rejected. In the first part of the chapter, Matthew gives account of three healings that Jesus performs.

Jesus first heals a leper who comes and bows down before Him (Mt.8:1-4). It stirs my emotions when I see that Jesus, who could have healed with a word, touches this leper. Secondly, Jesus encounters a Roman Centurion (vv.5-13). Here we find a Gentile, who, according to Jesus, has more faith unlike any in Israel. He believes Jesus to heal his servant, even while they are some distance away. In the third and final healing story in this chapter, Jesus heals a widow – Peter’s own mother-in-law (vv. 14-15). After this he proceeds to heal many others. I find it fascinating that Jesus breaks so many stereotypes here and shows His power and compassion to such people as these (who remind us of ourselves sometimes).

This sets us up for the section that the title of the post refers to (vv.18-22). Two men in particular are highlighed in these verses. The first is a “scribe” or “teacher of the law”, notice he’s not a novice, and he already has a career. He declares to Jesus that he will follow Him “wherever you go.” But Jesus seems to just shoot him down, declaring that while foxes may have holes, and birds nests, Jesus Himself (the Son of Man) is homeless. And that’s all we ever hear of this gentleman.
Next another man says he wants to “bury his father.” This can seem pretty deceptive to us today. Some commentators explain that the man’s father is not necessarily dead, but that this guy wants to stay with his father in order to collect his rightful share of the inheritance (perhaps he’s the eldest and stands to collect 2/3 of the total). In this case, Jesus again seems to put him down hard, declaring “let the dead bury their own.”

This sort of thing seems typical of Jesus. He has a way with people. Think with me about the people who claim that they want to follow Jesus. He seems to put many of them down hard. The rich young ruler, for instance, is confronted about his wealth and goes away sad. Jesus has a unique way of cutting to the heart with the people that He encounters. In this passage, as with the others, Jesus identifies the real issue in the hearts of the individuals. The first man seems to have had an issue about his home or his comfort. Jesus speaks to the main barrier in his life – his home. With the second, He deals with the man’s desire to collect his inheritance, or perhaps His relationship with his father. Whatever the issues are, Jesus cuts straight through all the smoke and mirrors and straight to the real matter.

You and I all have things in our hearts, we may seem to emphasize this or that, but Jesus knows what’s most important to us. When we encounter Christ, He demands to be #1 in our lives, whatever is currently in the #1 spot of our hearts must take a back seat. I know that for me, when we discussed this, I was challenged to consider my priorities and values. Was there a barrier that was keeping me from following Christ? This is a question we must all ask ourselves, because Christ demands preeminence in our lives.