Daily Keller

~ Wisdom from Tim Keller 365 Days a Year

Daily Keller

Real Bad

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Tim Keller

The story of Jesus standing before the tomb of Lazarus is an endless source of insight for me. As he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was not smiling. He was angry. He was weeping. Why? Because death is a bad thing! Jesus wasn’t thinking, ‘They think that this is a tragedy, but no harm done! I’m about to raise him from the dead. This looks like a bad thing, but it’s not. It’s really a good thing! It’s a way for me to show my glory. It’s really exciting! I can’t wait!’ He wasn’t thinking that. Jesus was weeping at the tomb, because the bad thing he’s about to work for good is bad. The story of Lazarus does not give you a saccharine view of suffering, saying bad things are really blessings in disguise or that every cloud has a silver lining. The Bible never says anything like that! God will give bad things good effects in your life, but they’re still bad. Jesus Christ’s anger at the tomb of Lazarus proves that he hates death. He also hates loneliness, alienation, pain, and suffering. Jesus hates it all so much that he was willing to come into this world and experience it all himself, so that eventually he could destroy it without destroying us.

There’s no saccharine view in the Christian faith. The promise is not that if you love God, good things will happen in your life. The promise is not that if you love God, the bad things really aren’t bad; they’re really good things. The promise is that God will take the bad things, and he’ll work them for good in the totality.

-Tim Keller

The Reason For All Wrongdoing

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Tim Keller

The Ten Commandments begin with two commandments against idolatry. Then come commandments 3 — 10. Why this order? It is because the fundamental problem in law breaking is always idolatry. In other words, we never break
commandments 3 — 10 without first breaking 1 and 2.

We will either worship God or other things. We cannot eliminate God without creating God substitutes. Something will capture our hearts and imaginations and be the most important thing to us — our ultimate concern, value, and allegiance. So every personality, community, and thought form will be based on either God himself or on some God substitute, an idol.

This means that idolatry is ultimately the reason for all wrongdoing. Why do we ever lie or steal or covet? Of course, the general answer is “because we are weak and sinful,” but the specific answer is always because there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to be happy, something that is more important to our hearts than God, something that is enslaving our hearts through inordinate desires. All our failures to trust God wholly or to live rightly are rooted in idolatry — something we make more important than God.

…Therefore, in sin we are always forgetting what God has done for us and instead are being moved by some idol. That is precisely what happened to the Israelites in the desert.

Note also that God first rescues the people from Egypt, and then he gives them the Ten Commandments. Keeping the Ten Commandments is not what saved them; God had already done that. God did not first give the Law and then deliver the people – first he delivered his people, and then he gave them the Law. Thus we are not saved by the Law, but saved for the Law. The Law is how we regulate our love relationship with God, not the way we merit the relationship. We are saved by faith in Christ alone.

– Tim Keller

Christianity — Something Else Entirely

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Tim Keller

To most people in our society, Christianity is religion and moralism. The only alternative to it (besides some other world religion) is pluralistic secularism. But from the beginning it was not so. Christianity was recognized as a tertium quid, something else entirely.

The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders ‘the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you’ (Matthew 21:31).

Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.

– Tim Keller

Your Name

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Tim Keller

‘To get a name’ in the Bible is to get what we call an identity. God, of course, constantly names people in the Bible. When he names Adam, Abraham, Israel, and even Jesus, he refers to what he has already done or what he is going to do in their lives. When God tells someone ‘what I have done/will do is your name,’ he means that his grace in their lives should be the defining factor.

Our security, our priorities, our sense of worth and uniqueness — all the things we call identity — should be based on what God has done for us and in us. This means that if we do not have a name, if we are insecure and have to ‘find who we are,’ we have either no grasp or an inadequate grasp of what God has done.

– Tim Keller

The Reason For Joy

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Tim Keller

If you’re a Christian, you know that Christianity is supposed to be about joy. You probably also know that you’re supposed to experience joy in spite of circumstances. The Bible clearly teaches that joy is available that should make us happy no matter the circumstances. There’s a joy that the deepest trouble can’t put out and, if properly nourished and nurtured, can even overwhelm the greatest grief.

When Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:13, he prays for us — his followers. He says, I pray that ‘they may have the full measure of my joy within them.’ One chapter before, he says to his disciples, ‘You will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy’ (16:22). That’s pretty amazing! He’s talking to the twelve disciples, men who are going to be persecuted. They’re going to be robbed of everything they own, tortured, and put to death. Yet Jesus promises to give them a joy that will withstand all that. Nothing — not disease or persecution or alienation or loneliness or torture or even death — will be able to take it away.

I often wrestle with that concept. I have to ask myself, ‘Why do things affect me so much? Why is my joy not relentless?’ Sometimes I wonder, ‘Do we have that kind of impervious joy?’ I’m afraid not. I don’t think we understand the nature of this joy.

Romans 8 is all about living in a suffering world marked by brokenness. Paul talks about trouble and persecution and nakedness and poverty and how Christians are supposed to live in a world like that. In 8:28-30 he offers three principles for finding joy in suffering. Paul tells us that if we follow Christ, our bad things turn out for our good, our good things cannot be lost, and our best things are yet to come. Those are the reasons for our joy.

– Tim Keller

Living Stones — Intense Community

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Tim Keller

…This is harder for us than it was for our ancestors, because we are conditioned to be deeply afraid of covenantal relationships. And yet the Bible tells us we were built for covenantal relationships. We want and need to have other persons unconditionally, unselfishly committed to us, and we to them. Christian theology tells us we were made in the image of God, and that God is a Trinity. Jesus said he never did anything, said anything, or accomplished anything without his Father. The persons of the Trinity are absolutely one—each person does everything with the others. We were meant to live like that. Sin, of course, makes all human community difficult and at times painful. But it is suicidal to avoid all food just because sometimes some of it can be ‘bad’ and make you sick.

I am saying that community is no longer natural or easy under our present cultural conditions. It will require an intentionality greater than that required by our ancestors, and uncomfortable to most of us. But building Christian community is not simply a duty. It should not be a distasteful act of the will. Community grows naturally out of shared experience, and the more intense the experience, the more intense the community…

When Christians experience Christ’s radical grace through repentance and faith, it becomes the most intense, foundational event of our lives. When we meet someone from a sharply different culture, race, or social class but who has experienced the grace of Jesus Christ through the gospel, we don’t see the differences first, because we are looking at someone who has been through the same life and death situation as we have, since in Christ we have spiritually died and been raised to new life. (Eph 2:1-6; Rom 6:4-6.) And because of this common experience of grace—now a deeper identity marker than our family, race, or culture—when we come together, we find we ‘fit’! ‘As you come to him, the living Stone —rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house’ (1 Peter 2:4-5.) Like stones that already have been perfectly shaped by the mason, the builder simply lays each next to the other and they interlock into a solid and beautiful temple. When we speak to others who know God’s grace, we see that their identity is now rooted more in who they are in Christ than in their family or class. As a result we sense a bond that overcomes those things that, outside of Christ, created insurmountable barriers to our relationships. Jesus has knocked them down.

– Tim Keller

The Beginning

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Tim Keller

It is easy to read the first chapters of Genesis with the questions of our time: ‘How long ago did this happen?’ ‘Is this history or myth?’ ‘How does this square with modern views of science and evolution?’ etc. These are important questions, and we can probably learn some things from Genesis that are relevant to them. But we don’t learn much from a text if we ask questions that it was not written to answer.

Genesis is about deeper issues than biological origins. It is answering questions like: ‘What are human beings?’ ‘What are we here for?’ ‘What is our relationship to nature and to the world?’ Essentially, Genesis 1 is not about the ‘how’ of creation but rather about the ‘why.’

The word ‘God’ appears 30 times in the first chapter of Genesis. God overwhelms the text; he dominates and overshadows everything. Nothing happens unless he makes it happen. Nothing is created except by him. There is nothing in existence that does not owe its existence to him. We see immediately that the extreme repetition is a way of saying, ‘Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made’ (John 1:3).

And, we see that everything God makes is ‘good.’ Everything he touches is pleasing, joy producing, wholesome. There is a wonder and awe about the richness of the world. It ‘teems’ with life.

Notice that the overall effect of the highly patterned, repetitive text is to demonstrate that the world is made in an extremely orderly, purposeful way. There was ‘evening and morning’ not just once — but regularly, faithfully, continually. What we have here is a cosmos, not a chaos. And because God created everything, nothing is outside of his control, or outside of his rightful authority. The animals, plants, and even the mountains and seas are all part of a choir of praise to the glory of God. This is said explicitly in Psalm 19 and Psalm 150.

Notice too that only we are described as made ‘in the image’ of God. It is clear that we have a closer relationship to God than any other creature. We were made by God to be in relationship with him and to rule the world on his behalf. God gives us the task of subduing the earth and ruling over creation as his representative. Note too that it is only after the creation of human beings that the world is declared for the first time to be ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31).

– Tim Keller

More Wicked But More Loved

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Tim Keller

The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.

This also creates a radical new dynamic for discipline and obedience. First, the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit we are flawed because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Second, it makes the law of God a thing of beauty instead of a burden. We can use it to delight and imitate the one who has saved us rather than to get his attention or procure his favor. We now run the race ‘for the joy that is set before us’ rather than ‘for the fear that comes behind us.’

– Tim Keller

Fully Present

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Tim Keller

As great as it is, God did not simply send us the Bible, a message through the communication medium of writing. If that was all he could do for us, salvation would ultimately be in our hands —it would have been up to us to follow his instructions. But instead, God also came himself, in the flesh, to be fully present to us in Jesus Christ. It is only through his being fully present with us that we could be saved by grace.

In the same way, we must learn to be fully present in community with our neighbors and with our Christian brothers and sisters. It is not enough to simply show up at a church service where you live physically, but then try to maintain all your closest relationships with friends and family members who live far away. God made us embodied beings—the body (though it is weakened by sin) is a great good. God was so positive about bodies that he himself assumed a body in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If we are going to give and receive grace from each other, we have to get it the way God gave it to us. We have to be involved in accountable friendships and deep relationships with other people where we live.

– Tim Keller