Daily Keller

~ Wisdom from Tim Keller 365 Days a Year

Daily Keller

Two Lost Sons

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The Prodigal God, Tim Keller

Throughout the centuries, when this text is taught in church or religious education programs, the almost exclusive focus has been on how the father freely receives his penitent younger son. The first time I heard the parable, I imagined Jesus’s original listeners’ eyes welling with tears as they heard how God will always love and welcome them, no matter what they’ve done. We sentimentalize this parable if we do that. The targets of this story are not ‘wayward sinners’ but religious people who do everything the Bible requires. Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them. It is a mistake, then, to think that Jesus tells this story primarily to assure younger brothers of his unconditional love.

No, the original listeners were not melted into tears by this story but rather they were thunder-struck, offended, and infuriated. Jesus’s purpose is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories. Through this parable Jesus challenges what nearly everyone has ever thought about God, sin, and salvation. His story reveals the destructive self-centeredness of the younger brother, but it also condemns the elder brother’s moralistic life in the strongest terms. Jesus is saying that both the irreligious and the religious are spiritually lost, both life-paths are dead ends, and that every thought the human race has had about how to connect to God has been wrong.

– Tim Keller

 

Marriage Idealism

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The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller

Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are all looking for a marriage partner who will ‘fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.’ And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry.

– Tim Keller

The Definition of Idolatry

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Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller

There is a difference between sorrow and despair. Sorrow is pain for which there are sources of consolation. Sorrow comes from losing one good thing among others, so that, if you experience a career reversal, you can find comfort in your family to get you through it. Despair, however, is inconsolable, because it comes from losing an ultimate thing. When you lose the ultimate source of your meaning or hope, there are no alternative sources to turn to. It breaks your spirit.

What is the cause of this ‘strange melancholy’ that permeates our society even during boom times of frenetic activity, and which turns to outright despair when prosperity diminishes? De Tocqueville says it comes from taking some ‘incomplete joy of this world’ and building your entire life on it. That is the definition of idolatry.

– Tim Keller

Skeptical of Skepticism

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Encounters with Jesus, Tim Keller

Everybody knows that there are emotional and psychological reasons why you might want to believe in God. In fact many skeptics at some point make the argument that believing in God is simply an intense form of wish fulfillment. But seldom do people point out that we all have enormous emotional and psychological reasons to disbelieve in God. How so? In looking at a book like the Bible or at a message like the gospel, anyone sees fairly quickly that if it were true you would lose some control over how you can live your life. Who can say they’re objective and neutral about that proposition? Thomas Nagel is honestly acknowledging this. He knows he can’t say, ‘I am completely objective and indifferent in looking for the evidence for God, but I just don’t have enough evidence.’ I hope you see that no one can truly say such a thing with integrity. We all have deep layers of prejudice working against the idea of a holy God who can make ultimate demands on us. And if you won’t acknowledge that, you’re never going to get close to objectivity. Never.

Let’s say you’re a judge and suddenly a case comes before you concerning a company in which you own stock. And the decision will have a huge impact on the price of the stock. Would you be allowed, or would you allow yourself, to rule in the case? No, because you couldn’t possibly be objective when you know that if the decision goes a certain way you’re going to lose all of your money. So you recuse yourself. Here’s the problem: With Christianity, we’re all in that very position. When it comes time to decide whether its claims are right or wrong, you have at least some vested interest in them being wrong. But you don’t get to recuse yourself; you can only look at the evidence. Therefore, I’d like to suggest some ways to deal with this dilemma.

First of all, doubt your doubts. Be skeptical of your own skepticism. Why? Because you realize that you are not completely objective. Maybe you have a very religious parent whom you dislike. Or you may have had a bad experience with an inconsistent and insensitive group of Christians. On top of that, as we have observed, few people can entertain an invitation to give up their freedom without some prejudice against it. You’re afraid of the claims of Christianity being true — that’s fine. If we’re honest, we all are. You’ll never be fair-minded with the evidence if you don’t acknowledge that you can’t be perfectly fair-minded. So what should you do about this? You could simply slow down, so you don’t come so quickly to skeptical conclusions. Also, you should recognize that if Christianity is true, it is not just a set of rational, philosophical principles to adopt— it is a personal relationship to enter. So, to take seriously at least the possibility that it is true, why not consider praying? Why not say, ‘God, I don’t know if you’re there but I do know what prejudice is like, and I’m willing to be suspicious of it. Therefore, if you are there and if I am prejudiced, help me get through it.’ Break the ice with Jesus— talk to him. No one has to know you are doing it. If you’re not willing to do that, I suggest that you’re not willing to own the prejudice that we all start with.

– Tim Keller

 

 

Lord of the Word

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Jesus the King, King's Cross, Tim Keller

Almost at that very moment, his wife appeared after a walk with their child in a baby carriage. She had with her a Bible in French that she had received from a minister she had met on her walk. Cailliet took it and opened it to the Gospels. He continued to read deep into the night. The realization dawned on him: ‘Lo and behold, as I looked through them [the Gospels] the One who spoke and acted in them became alive to me. . . . This is the book that would understand me.’

Reading that article, I realized that the same thing had happened to me. Though as a youth I had believed that the Bible was the Word of the Lord, I had not personally met the Lord of the Word. As I read the Gospels, he became real to me. Thirty years later I preached through the book of Mark at my church in New York City, in the hope that many others would likewise find Jesus in the accounts of the Gospels. This book is inspired by those sermons, and it is offered with the same aspiration for the readers.

– Tim Keller

Christian Faith

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Tim Keller

Nowadays we are taught to think of faith as something that relates inversely to logic and evidence — as you get more facts and certainty, your need for faith goes down. But that’s not what Christians mean by faith. Faith means certainty about what you can’t see. And so compelling evidence, evidence that engages rationality, is one of the greatest boosts to Christian faith.

– Tim Keller

Think of Freedom

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Tim Keller

Think of freedom. Think of blessedness. Freedom. What is freedom? Look at how freedom exists out in the world anywhere. If you want to fly, look at how airplanes fly. How do airplanes fly? Because somebody obeyed the laws of aerodynamics. Somebody built the plane in just such a way and shaped it in such a way and the pilot flies it in such a way so the air pressure underneath it is heavier than the air pressure above.

I don’t understand how it works. It’s incredible every time I get on an airplane. I say, ‘This will never get off the ground. Tons and tons of metal. It’s ridiculous to think this will ever fly,’ but it does because someone fastidiously obeyed certain laws.

What about sailing? I wish I could sail. How do you know the freedom of sailing? First of all somebody built the boat and obeyed the rules of the wind so the keel has to be at a certain ratio to the mast height. Then the sailor has to obey the laws of the wind. When you submit to the laws of the wind and submit to the laws of the design of the boat, when the sailor submits to the design of the boat, the power of the tide and the wind belong to the boat, right?

Now hear this. What is freedom? Freedom is doing what you were designed to do. It’s obeying your own design. ‘Well,’ somebody say, ‘that makes no sense at all. As far as I know, freedom is doing what you want.’ Let’s go with that definition for a while. Do you realize that’s okay to say? Freedom is doing what you want, but would you please admit how many conflicting wants you have?

I have two wants that are constantly butting heads against each other. I want ice cream. I want all the ice cream in the world. I want to be healthy and slender. Now which desire, which want is a liberating one? You tell me. Well the liberating one will be the desire that checks out with my physical nature.

Right now some of you know you ought to forgive somebody. You’re having a quarrel with somebody, and you ought to go and say, ‘I was wrong.’ There is a desire in you to go make it straight. But every time you even get close to it, there is another desire that says, ‘Don’t you dare. Look what she has done to you. It’s true you started it, but she finished it. Let her come to you.’ Which of those two desires should you obey? Which one will liberate you? Which one checks out with your nature?

My friends, it is true that freedom is doing what you want, but the Bible says it’s not as simple as that. Freedom is when you fulfill your deepest longings. You were built, the Bible says, for Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega. You were built to serve him. Only the creator who built you and knows your body, knows your brain, knows your heart, and knows your relationships can tell you, can help you sort out which of those desires are liberating ones and which are not.

Do you know the liberty of obedience, friends? Do you know the freedom that comes from having Jesus Christ as your prophet? He brought you the words, and in the Spirit he comes to you and helps sort through (if you’re a Christian) which of your desires to ditch and which of your desires to hold on to. He sorts through these things, and he helps you to change. He refines you. You become who you are designed to be. That’s freedom.

Freedom is when you’re obeying your design, and only your designer, only the owner’s manual right here can tell you what you’re designed to do. Only the designer who can speak to you can sort out all those conflicting desires and tell you which ones are liberating one and which ones are enslaving. Yeah, freedom is doing what you want … what you really want, what you really at the deepest level long for.

– Tim Keller

*Words found in Tim Keller’s 1989 Sermon, “Christ Our Prophet”

Love is Like Running

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Tim Keller

‘Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.’ This word deep is an awfully interesting Greek word. The more I studied it, I realized what it really means is to be stretched to the limit. It’s actually a distance-running word. It’s used to describe Jesus in the garden. You know, just about at the end of his tether. The word to love one another deeply really means to love one another strenuously. What does that mean?

It’s very much like running. One of the weird things about physical exercise is the more you do it, in general, the more strength you feel, but in the short run, you feel like you want to die. That’s what exercise is all about. It’s so odd that the very thing that gives you, overall, more energy, and more strength, and more power in the long run, in the short run drains you. Same thing with love. What the ironic thing is if you don’t drain yourself through exercise, the lack of exercise will drain you.

– Tim Keller

*Words found in Tim Keller’s 1993 Sermon, “Loving Deeply”

God’s Mysterious Plan

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Tim Keller

No one can ever seem to secure a life of sustained success, joy, and blessing. As hard as we try, no matter what precautions we take, no matter how well things are going, something comes in to ruin it. Even the most talented, diligent, and savvy people can’t escape the undulations of life. ‘Ah,’ you may say, ‘but what if we did our part better? What if we lived good lives and obeyed God and prayed every day, asking him to protect us from all suffering and difficulty?’ The answer is, fine— go there. What if you actually could overcome all of your faults and flaws? What if you could become perfectly wise and understand God’s ways, the human heart, and the times and seasons— such that you always made wise decisions? What if you could have faith in God without wavering? What if your life were perfectly pleasing to God? Then — surely! God would protect you, and your own holiness and wisdom would guard you as well, and your life would always go well. Right?

Wrong. Because here stands the one who did it. God the Father has just said that Jesus’ life is perfectly pleasing to him. And the Spirit of God has descended on him to guide him. And look what happens. He is loved and affirmed and empowered by God, and then . . . then! He is ushered into the clutches of the devil. So here’s the order: God’s love and power, then evil, temptation, wilderness, terrible hunger and thirst. That little word ‘then’ is an amazing word. It is almost like Matthew is trying to tell us, ‘Read my lips: No one is exempt from trials and tribulations. In fact, this is often what happens to people God loves very much, for it is part of God’s often mysterious and good plan for turning us into something great.’

– Tim Keller

 

Leadership Involves Conflict

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Tim Keller

Leadership always involves conflict. John Newton’s famous letter on ‘controversy‘ observes how easy it is for criticism to create Pharisees. ‘Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.’

All leaders, and especially Christian leaders, must be on guard against this inevitable temptation and this terrible sin. It is natural, when under criticism, to shield your heart from pain by belittling the critics in your mind. ‘You stupid idiots.’ Even if you don’t speak outwardly to people like Moses did, you do so inwardly. That will lead to self-absorption, self-pity, maybe even delusions of grandeur, but the great sin is that the growth of inner disdain leads to pride and a loss of humble reliance on God’s grace. Moses treated God with contempt when he became contemptuous toward his people.

This is what leaders face. Is there any hope for us? Yes, because we are in a better position than Moses was for understanding the grace of God. Don Carson writes: ‘In light of 1 Corinthians 10:4, which shows Christ to be the antitype of the rock, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the reason God had insisted the rock be struck in Exodus 17:1–7, and forbids it here, is that he perceives a wonderful opportunity to make a symbol-laden point: the ultimate Rock, from whom life-giving streams flow, is struck once, and no more.’

– Tim Keller

*Words found in Redeemer City to City Blog — “Speaking With Contempt” by Tim Keller