It’s Okay to Say “I Don’t Know”

All summer I seem to be having deep theological conversations with a wide variety of people. These people have voiced questions and asked for answers. While I try my best to help everyone out, I have come to learn that I say the words “I don’t know” a lot.

There are several forms of this phrase for me:

1. “I don’t know and I have no answer”
While I try to read widely I have obviously not read everything. I have read through my bible a few times but that does not make me a master of all. I believe it is okay for a Christian to admit when they do not have an answer. Often times people will try to put me on the spot and ask, “If you had to chose between this or that what would you chose?” My best and most honest response is sometimes, “I just do not know.” I do not have opinions and ideas on every topic.

2. “I don’t know and I will find an answer”
This second variation is important. There are some questions that have great answers. I can remember a verse in scripture that addresses this topic but it is not very clear in my mind. I can remember and article that gave a wonderful explanation. I know a good answer is out there, I just have to go and find it.

3. “I don’t know but here is my best understanding”
I do have deep opinions about certain topics but I struggle to give a 100% definitive answer. I can read the scriptures over and over. I can hear the explanations and I draw conclusions but I will never be 100% sure. One minor example: We do not know how long Jesus preached on the earth. There is no verse that says he taught for 3 years (you can look it up). We are told that he celebrated three Passover feasts, that is where we get that number. The problem is that John says there are many other miracles not recorded in his book. If all Jesus did was written down there would be innumerable books. So my best guess is that he preached 3 years, but that is not a completely definitive answer.

4. “I don’t know and no one will ever really know for sure”
This one is the most hard to admit. There are some topics where we just have no explanation. Seriously. One example to me is a story in Exodus 4:25 about Moses’ wife taking her son’s foreskin and touched Moses feet. What is that all about? I can make guesses but no one knows for sure.

As a follower of Jesus I have to be able to live with a little ambiguity. I don’t know all that the Bible says yet. I keep learning and adding to my knowledge but I am not there yet. Even as I grow and learn that doesn’t mean I will have all of the answers to everything. In fact, I will often end up with more questions. I think it is okay to say “I don’t know.”

The Bible was never meant to give us all the answers, it was meant to change our lives. The Bible shows us Jesus and brings us to a trust in him. I believe he has all the answers that I do not know.

The Parable of the Pepper Plants

The kingdom of God is like my patch of pepper plants.

Behind my house there are two separate gardens on each side of a stairway. Because of a large tree in our backyard, one side gets sun in the morning and the other side gets sun in the afternoon.

The side that gets sun in the morning has small plants that do not look as healthy. The other side has big, tall beautiful plants.

Interestingly enough the plants that are smaller and do not look as nice are producing all of the peppers. The other side has yet to produce one tiny pepper. The plants are big, but they are not blooming and therefore not producing anything.

Which garden is better? The one that may not look as nice but has produced numerous peppers or they one that looks great but produces nothing.

So it is with the Kingdom of God.

Our Non-Traditional Church Member

I did not ask for permission to write this article. I didn’t ask because I know he would have humbly declined my spotlight. But I am going to write this article anyway.

I sit on the front row of our Church gathering each week. I do it for two reasons. One, I have to get up and down all the time and it just makes more sense. Two, I enjoy being on the front row to get a close up view of everything.

My children set in the row behind me. They do that for three reasons. One, I told them too. Two, mom and I can keep an eye on them and make sure they are listening. Three, it keeps seats open in the back for guests.

The people who set in the third row do it by their own choice and God knows their reasons.

At our gathering we have a couple set in the third row who are not your traditional Church attendees. A man and his wife have come to our Church after over 40 years of ministry. This man has served the Lord for more years than I have been alive.

Each week during the program I get to hear him sing. He can belt out the old hymns with power and beauty that come not just from knowledge but from emotion. He sings from his mouth with his heart. Some weeks he sings so sweetly that when we do hymns I just stop to listen to him. It is a thing of beauty.

Then we sing newer modern choruses. I get to hear those too. This man sings out just as strong. I hear him struggle but work through the songs with patience and praise. He sings the words on the screen but without exactly the same beauty. This last week I found myself stopping in the middle of a newer song to listen to him. Once again the song was great but not just because of his voice, but because of his heart. While it seemed clear to me that he did not know the song well, he was still singing with all of his heart. I stopped and listened closely as my heart filled with emotion.

I enjoy listening to him each week not just because of his voice, but it is clear to me that he really loves Jesus. He doesn’t love a song style and will only sing songs that he likes, he loves Jesus and will sing any song that brings praise to him.

This week I just wanted to thank God for bringing this man into my life. He always has a kind word to say. I have never heard him complain. He loves the Lord with his life, his voice and his heart. I thank God for the example of great men like this who lead the way in ministry for me … and for all of us.

I Don’t Care About Your Church Attendance

We live at a time in history when Church attendance is on a steady decline. The amazing part of that statement is that the number of people who claim to be Christians seem to be on the incline. At least in my area of the world that is true. More people claiming faith and yet fewer people attending Church each week seems to be contradictory.

Over the last week I read three articles about Church attendance and how it affects your faith and your family. While I agree with the articles in general, I did see one flaw in each of them. All of the posts were written by preachers. I mean, of course preachers care about attendance, after all, it is a reflection of their work and career. I can hear the people saying right now, “preachers have too much bias to write these articles.”

So I want to say something as a preacher, “I don’t care about your Church attendance.”

Now before you say a hearty “Amen” and stop reading, please let me explain myself.

*I don’t care about your Church attendance, but I do care deeply about your worship of God.
I think each and every believer needs to set aside time to give their praise and honor to God. They need times of prayer and communion. They need time to vocalize the joy they are feeling or the pain they are struggling with in their life.

*I don’t care about your Church attendance, but I do care deeply about your spiritual growth.
I think each person of faith needs to read deeply and reflect on the word of God found in the Bible. They need to understand new things and be challenged to live more deeply for God. They need to hear difficult things explained and have their viewpoints challenged. They need to learn while trying to apply their knowledge to life.

* I don’t care about your Church attendance, but I do care deeply about your connection to other believers.
We are not created to live alone, nor are we created to believe alone. We need friendships with people who care about us emotionally and spiritually. We need people to question us and challenge us. We need other members of faith to pray for us and help us when we are hurting. We need people to support, love, encourage, dream and stand beside us.

* I don’t care about your Church attendance, but I do care deeply about your service to God.

I firmly believe that God created each of us with unique gifts and abilities. He then expects us to use those gifts to further his kingdom and bless the lives of others. He equips us to help others in their walk of faith. He gives us the tools to be salt and light in the lives of others.

*I don’t care about your Church attendance, but I do care deeply about you sharing the good news with other people.
The world is full of hurting people. They need to hear the message of grace explained. They are desperate for a chance to start over in Jesus. They are searching for some way to rid themselves of their mistakes, failures and regrets. They want purpose and meaning instead of despair. They need someone to tell them about Jesus and teach them the truth of scripture.

I don’t care about your Church attendance, but I do care deeply about your relationship with God. I want you to worship and learn and grow and serve and share. I do not know of any other way to do all of these things than through a local gathering called the Church. Sure, you may be able to do one or two of these on your own, but I believe you need the Church to live completely for Jesus.

I do not desire for anyone to attend Church to make me happy. I do not desire for people to attend Church out of mere obligation. I want people to attend Church so that they can live the life God desires for them. If I thought there was another way, I would be the first to sign up.

Summer Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles and posts I have read over the last month. Enjoy

4 Steps to a Friendlier Church (The G.I.F.T. Plan)

The Majority of Americans Recommend Cohabitation. That’s a Problem.

5 Things You Should Not Take With You to Bed

7 Notes You Should Write to Your Children

The Friends You Need Are Worth the Wait

FIVE THINGS I PRAY I WILL NOT DO AS A SENIOR ADULT IN THE CHURCH

15 Ways You Can Become a Better Leader

Effort

The Power of Your Presence

Today my mom is going to the doctor to learn about the treatment plan for her cancer. Last night as I spoke with her on the phone one of my biggest questions was, “Who is going to the doctor with you?” I genuinely wanted to know who was going to hold mom’s hand. Who was going to listen closely to the doctor with her? Maybe they would hear something a little different. Who was going to be there for whatever she needs?

There is an amazing power in just being present in those moments.

From the flip side, I wish I could be there. I am planning on going back next week when she starts treatment and it is very hard to go back two weeks in a row. So for this one trip my sister and my niece are going with mom. In these moments I feel a general lack of support. I want to do more. I want to be there.

All of this has me thinking about the power of being present in someone’s life. We see the need in the big moments of doctor’s visit, big accomplishments and the pain of loss. In those moments we want to be there for the people we love.

Can I suggest to you that people want you to be present in their life everyday? There are people all around you that want to talk. There are people who desperately want your attention. There are young people who are afraid and older people who feel alone. There is your spouse who has something on their mind. There are your parents who would love for you to stop by. There are your children who would love one more hour of your time. There is someone you love who longs for your presence.

My suggestion today is to not let another day slip by. Put the phone down. Close the computer. Shut off the TV. Put the book back on the shelf. Skip exercising. Avoid the yard work another day.

Just go and be with someone. Sit and talk. Sit and listen. Just be there.

Someone in your life would love to experience your presence today. Will you be there for them?

That One Time I Got Asked to Speak at Camp

Next Monday several High School students from our Church are headed out to a week-long conference for teens called Christ in Youth (CIY). It is a week of great teaching, small groups, activities, fun and encouragement. The teens that go each year love it and look forward to the next one.

When I first entered ministry we did not send teens to an event like CIY. Instead we sent them to Church camp. Some people still do this and love it, but the Church I serve now chooses to do the conference. Anyway, my third or fourth year at this one Church and the camp called to see if I would like to speak. I told them that I could not give them a week, but would be available for one night. Well, the next year they called and asked me to speak one night and I said yes.

The theme for the week was “Thirsty.” Each night there was a different topic with a different local preacher driving in for the sermon time. On my night I was given the topic of “Thirsty for Courage.” I quickly decided to preach on the passage from Joshua chapter one where Joshua is repeatedly told to be courageous.

I took the text and explained it to the teens and then I tried to apply it to their lives. For my application I took three songs from the secular band Linkin Park. I asked the teens if they listened to Linkin Park and about three-fourths of them raised their hand. I then launched into my application and knew they were following my train of thought.

When I was done there was a weird reaction in the room. The teens seemed to like it but no one even acknowledged my words. There was that deafly silence of a failed sermon. There were awkward looks and quick turns as I made my way through the crowd. I just chalked it up as moody teenagers and let it go.

It wasn’t until one of the teenagers from my Church came home that the mystery of the evening was revealed. You see, the night before the preacher had spoken about being “Thirsty for Purity.” For some reason he locked in on what the teens are listening to in their music. His one major example was Linkin Park who occasionally use a swear word (although not in the songs I had chosen for my sermon.) Not only had he used them as his primary example of terrible secular music he apparently had some of the teens raise their hands and pledge not to listen to that junk anymore. Then the next night I turned around and used the very filth he was rejecting as my primary illustrations.

The end result? I really have no idea what it did to those teenagers. I do know the dean of that week of camp never called me to speak at camp again. In fact, in the next four years I never received one call to speak at camp again.

Why do I tell you this story? Simply to remind you that not everything goes well when serving the Lord. Sometimes you fail. Sometimes you fail from the high dive where everyone sees it. Making mistakes is part of ministry … for everyone. Go out and keep making them, it is the only way you will eventually find success.