Wednesday, October 7, 2015

All You Need For All You Lack

What do you lack? What do you need? Consider All You Have In Jesus by Chad Lunsford (Via Pinelake Church):
How aware are you of all that you have in Jesus, of all that God wants to show you and do through your life? Here’s another way to ask it: How aware are you of all that you possess in Jesus compared to what you feel you lack? For most of us, we’re far more aware of what we lack. We think we need more money, a bigger home, more time, more intelligence, more capacity for work, and the list can go on and on.
But we don’t often take the time to list all that we possess in Christ. Paul reminds us that there is a fullness of God that’s waiting to work within us and through us — abundantly beyond what we even know to ask:
“I pray that you… may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.”Ephesians 3:18–20
Too often, however, we allow the awareness of our problems to outweigh the awareness of His power. Are you aware of all you have? In Ephesians 1, Paul powerfully unveils all that’s ours through Christ. Here are three ways that he raises our awareness of who God is, which opens our eyes to all we have in Jesus:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” Ephesians 1:3–4
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are blessed. In fact, when we actually begin to look for our blessings, we become overwhelmed with them. They’re everywhere, and maybe you should start counting yours. After all, God is abundant with his blessings — not just “enough” blessings, but every spiritual blessing God has already given you. Regardless of what comes your way, you don’t have to question God. You can know for sure that He’s a blesser.
Not only are you blessed because God is a blesser, but you can be a blessing. You can bless others in many ways:
  • Through kind words
  • Through service
  • Through thoughtfulness (e.g., text messages, letters, phone calls)
  • Through intentional and personal actions to others
“In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:5–6
We are God’s children. He has adopted us because of the kind intentions of His will. It gives me great joy to pray over my children as their father. But I remind them of their heavenly Father whose love far surpasses my own. Even though I’m flawed and mess up, I teach them through prayer that God never will.
We are sons and daughters of God, and He’s a kindhearted Father. You are loved. You are pursued. You are worth His Son’s life…You have a good Father!
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.”Ephesians 1:7–10
We can be consumed with our pasts, our failures or what has happened to us. Sometimes, we’re convinced that our past prevents us from a future, and we allow our identity to be shaped by what has taken place in our lives or what is taking place.
Paul says that you can stop all of that — because you’ve been redeemed! Regardless of what has happened in your life, God has redeemed you for a holy purpose. You’re not someone who is full of shame and guilt. Instead, you’re overflowing with the riches of God’s grace!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Subversive Kingdom

Everything in the news these days says that our world is broken. Don't give in to despair - read this instead: Subversive Kingdom: Our World Is Broken, But We Can Know the Healerby Ed Stetzer
Look around. Our world is broken. I'm not talking about the "world" in terms of nature (although creation, too, bears the marks of sin's blemish and decay). I'm talking about the "world" comprised of the people, structures, and systems that make up society--- the moral patterns, beliefs, and behaviors that result in things like unfair business practices, racism, extreme poverty, dishonest government, dirty politics, family breakdown, cheating, stealing, oppression of the weak, and so many other distressors and defilers.
In this world people who possess an evil thirst for power are often able to get it. People who harbor selfish desires can usually find a way to succeed at manipulating and taking advantage of others. People who feed on human weaknesses and depravations have little trouble exploiting those who can't (or won't) control their lusts.
Head gaskets blow. Jobs are deleted. Children get sick. People die.
You see it everywhere you look--the unjust normals of earthly life. Damp, dirty blankets trail out from under cardboard boxes beneath a city bridge. Retirement savings plummet in value just as their account holders need to tap into them. Trees go down in a thunderstorm, making the homeowner's premiums go up. Punk burglars break into a person's house, and all the police can do is file a meaningless report.
It stinks. It's bad. It's not right. It's broken. And in homes and hospitals every day of the week, at courthouses and gravesides everywhere in the world, people of all spiritual makes and models suffer from it--- from a world that toils along in hopeless disrepair.
What many of these people probably don't know, however, is that the only place where all of this turmoil will be made right--- all sickness, anger, discord, and broken relationships; all birth defects, hunger, addictions, and bankruptcy--- is in the eternal kingdom of God, to be evidenced one day in the unchallenged reign of Jesus Christ. Only in Him will any of us experience the ultimate destruction of impurity, disease, sadness, and loss; of hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and floods. All of it.
Because this kingdom (though not yet consummated) has already been inaugurated by the appearing of Christ on earth, we and the church have a meaningful role within the "already, but not yet," in-between time we call this present time. More than having a role, we sense inside us a God-given desire to alleviate as much pain as possible with the tools and opportunities he has placed at our disposal. We hate watching people suffer from the debilitating effects of evil in the world. We want to see the fallen and broken world, with its hurt and pain, driven back and overthrown. We may be pretty good at drowning out our heart's compassion with large doses of television and ice cream, but deep down we want to be part of making a difference in others' lives.
That's because we not only have what many have called a "God-shaped hole" in our hearts that he alone is able to fill; we followers of Christ also have a kingdom-shaped hole that makes us want to be part of what God is doing on this earth.
We wait for this lost, broken world to be completely fixed and reconciled to God. Yes, the kingdom is "already," but it is still "not yet." Complete victory is inaugurated but it is not yet consummated. And even though Christ's conquest is ultimately assured, right now the battle rages back and forth, delaying the end until the time set by God himself.
And I'll just say it. I'm about ready for this to end.
Not long ago my father e-mailed me about my sister, who died from a rare form of cancer while she was in college. His message arrived during the week of her birthday, when she would have been forty-five years old.
He said, "I miss her." I e-mailed back, "I miss her too, Dad." We are waiting for a day when these things do not happen anymore. Some time ago I tweeted about the tragic suicide of a member of my extended family, ending my post with the word, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus." Someone asked me, "Why did you say that? How are those things connected?" They're connected because our citizenship is in Heaven. We wait in hope for the return of our Savior. Right now our broken world rebels against its rightful King. People get sick. People are hurt. People hurt each other. People die.
Yes, the kingdom of God has come near, and our families and churches are outposts for the kingdom of God. We experience the kingdom's power, and we work to subvert the world's system and see the advance of God's glorious kingdom, where people are transformed, marriages are restored, and relationships are reconciled. We will never, however, take over the world and fix all its problems. So we look to Jesus, and we wait in hope.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said, "Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace" (12:28). As we are receiving this kingdom, it is an action in process, not completed. The word shaken in this verse comes from a word meaning unmoved, firm, and stable. It also is used in Acts 27:41, where it refers to a ship run aground with "the bow jammed fast . . . unmovable."
Often it seems circumstances in our world are always changing--most often for the worse. What God is doing in His kingdom, however, is creating a place of stability and firmness for a people who currently yet temporarily live in the midst of chaos. He calls us to join Him in destroying the devil's works and establishing more and more outposts of His righteous kingdom. And as our Lord delivers this kingdom to us, our lives fairly shout our testimony to the reality of the unmovable, unshakable God.
"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32 KJV). He has. He will. And its subversive nature changes you, those around you, and ultimately the world.
The kingdom of God is among you. Stay subversive.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monday Theology

How's your Theology this fine Monday morning? Check out Theology Is For Mondays by R. J. Grunewald:
Theology is primarily seen as the activity of professors and pastors, and occasionally a world that is entered into by normal people on Sunday mornings. But theology isn’t primarily an academic exercise and theology isn’t primarily about Sunday mornings. Good theology matters on Monday morning.
Your theology, whether you even realize it or not, shapes what happens in your daily life not just in your “spiritual” activities. Theology shapes the way we live out our faith in our careers, in our families, and even in our communities. The way we understand the grace of God shapes the identity we have which in turn also shapes the way we see and treat others. The way we understand God’s calling shapes the way we do our work and the way we understand the roles we play in the various spheres of life.

If your theology doesn’t impact your normal, ordinary, everyday life – it might be time to abandon your theology.
When we think of theology, we tend to quickly enter into the realm of dead guys and long words and things that are hard to comprehend. And while those things have a place and are even enjoyed by nerds like myself, theology is much more simply the study of God. Which means that whether you consider yourself one or not, you are a theologian.
I love how R.C. Spiral said it:

“No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian. Perhaps not a theologian in the technical or professional sense, but a theologian nevertheless. The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones.”
So what does a theology for Monday mornings look like?...
Read the rest of the article at the link.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Living Within the Sexual Revolution

We are all feeling like we are living within a cultural whirlwind this year. Take a minute to read Five Suggestions for Christians in the Midst of the Sexual Revolution by Kevin DeYoung. He provides some needed perspective and guidance.
Hardly a week goes by without another social media parade marching by in celebration of the sexual revolution. Bruce Jenner, Caitlyn Jenner, Kim Davis, Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Obergefell and on and on –the talk of sex is everywhere (and not a drop you should drink). It’s almost impossible to turn on the tv or scroll through your phone or open the paper (what are those?) without being bombarded by pictures and stories and headlines that all have to do with sex–not just sensuality (which would be bad enough), but the castigation of those who uphold traditional sexual boundaries and the applauding of every permutation of sexual activity (“infinite diversity in infinite combinations” as one political fundraising letter put it).
How should evangelical Christians and evangelical churches respond?
Here are five suggestions:
1. Do not be shrill. Remember: at any time, anyone can listen to almost anything you say. There are no “private” thoughts on Facebook. Any post or comment you write or share or like or pass along can be read by friends, opponents, and strugglers. This doesn’t mean we can’t speak clearly or strongly or with passion. But if you just need to emote, go on a long walk and pour your heart out to God. Let’s show the world that Christians are reasonable and unwilling to revile in return. Happy warriors not shrieking sirens.
2. Do not be silent. If you said “Amen” to the first suggestion, don’t miss this one. I suppose giving up is one way to end the culture war, but it hardly seems consistent with the whole salt-and-light business Jesus talked about. There are more people who agree with you than you might think. Every time we speak up–thoughtfully, respectfully, winsomely–we help others see that the revolution has not overtaken all of us. If all the Christians remain quiet and refuse to defend the truth (or themselves), we will not only do future generations a disservice we will inadvertently lend credence to a lie that says traditional views are no longer possible or plausible.
3. Do not neglect singles. The sexual revolution rests on two mutually exclusive propositions: sex has no meaning and that meaning must be expressed. On the one hand, we are told that there is no “essence” to sexuality, nothing inherent in sexual activity that gives it a natural shape or meaning. And yet, we are told that the worst thing we can do to anyone is repress their sexual expression. So sex is nothing and everything at the same time. Sex is essential to our identity, but the essence of sex is arbitrary. Into this mess, the church can speak a better way. Sex is a divine gift, but it does not define us. The church must grow as a place of welcome, hospitality, and purpose for single people. We must show that even if the world thinks there is something cruel and unusual about celibacy, Christians know that the fullest, most deeply human existence is not inimical to this path. After all, we worship a single man who never had sexual intercourse.
4. Do not outsmart yourself. I’ve often been asked, “How should we minister to the sexually broken? How can we reach out to gays and lesbians? What pointers do you have in talking to friends and family members who are same-sex attracted?” There are plenty of people with far more experience in these areas, but my humble advice is not to overthink things too much. No doubt, there are unique challenges in ministering to gays and lesbians, but the way we phrase the question can unintentionally place such persons in a category outside the bounds of normal human existence. Whatever the particular struggles, let’s not forget that we are more like each other than we are different. We are all created in the image of God. We all struggle with a sin nature. We all need a Savior. We are all idol factories. We all want to know we are loved. We all need to repent and be forgiven. Ask questions, listen, share, pray, turn to the Bible, show compassion, point people to Jesus–that’s the basic charge for all of us with anyone.
5. Do not be scared. God has seen tougher stuff than this. God has a plan. God will accomplish his purposes. No matter what the President or the Supreme Court or Apple or ESPN decide, Christ will keep building his church and the Spirit will keep doing his work through the Word. Turn every thought of panic into a commitment to plan and an attitude of prayer. Our God tends to do his best work when the odds are most stacked against him.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

For All It's Worth

How to Read the Bible For All It's Worth by Corum Hughes  at Haven Today:
The Bible is not the easiest book to read. In fact, it can be extremely difficult for someone new to its contents.

For example, if we read, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11) by itself, we will just see a motivational Bible verse. We would miss the significance behind the promise God makes to His people as they are conquered, captured, and thrown into exile.
If we take the time to look carefully at the Bible, that's when we begin to understand what God is really saying to us through His Word.
Here is a concise step-by-step guide to reading the Bible for all its worth:
1. Understand the Context
Who wrote it? When? Who was the intended audience? Build a bridge from Biblical times to the 21st Century so that you can understand what the author is saying and why. You can do this by consulting a good Study Bible, or by researching what experts have said about the passage you are currently reading.
2. Read Carefully
Howard Hendrix once said that we must read the Bible like we are reading a love letter: word-by-word, and over-and-over again. If you read the book of John as carefully as you read your note from Susie down the street, you’ll have a better understanding of who Jesus is than you ever have before.
3. Make Connections
Right now, you are reading an article on the All About Jesus blog. The whole reason we have this name is because we have come to understand that all of Scripture points to Jesus. Use John 1:1-18 as your framework to understand how God interacts with His people throughout salvation history.
"In the beginning was the Word [The Word refers to Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (John 1:1-3)
Now go read Genesis 1 with this passage in mind.
4. Discover the Meaning
You are now prepared to begin drawing out what the text means. Use what you learned about the author, the time period, the audience, and the context of the verses to find out what God is saying to His people. This will also propel you down the path of understanding what it means for us today.
5. Find out Why it Matters
This is the part of the process where all the things you learned moves from your head to your heart. 1 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." We need to discover how the truths of the Old and New Testaments apply to our daily life.
6. Read it Again
If you don’t quite understand what you’re reading, read it again. If it's still unclear, read it again. Sooner or later, the pieces will fall into place, and you’ll know more about that passage of Scripture than anything you’ve ever read before.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How To Use A Study Bible

How to Use A Study Bible by Andy Nesalli (via Desiring God):
A study Bible is a book that includes the full text of the Bible plus additional features that help readers better understand and apply the Bible. How should you use a study Bible? Here are some suggestions for what to do and not do.
1. Don’t use poor study Bibles.
In general, it’s better to use an all-purpose study Bible rather than a niche study Bible, such as one that targets cat lovers or sixteen-year-olds who like skateboarding and grunge music. So as a general rule, if the title of the study Bible is something like The Winnie the Pooh / Thomas Kinkade Study Bible, take a pass.
2. Use quality study Bibles.
I just finished about five years of work on a study Bible that recently released: the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. (Don Carson is the general editor.) As I helped to edit this study Bible, I consulted many other study Bibles. In my view, these were the four best study Bibles at the time: ESV Study Bible, NIV Study Bible (which is remaining in print), HCSB Study Bible, and NLT Study Bible. Now I think that the top two study Bibles available are the ESV Study Bible and the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.
3. Don’t use the notes as a crutch or shortcut instead of wrestling with the text itself.
There is no substitute for the primary text. One hour carefully reading and meditating on the Bible itself is worth ten hours of reading study Bible notes.
4. Don’t combine the authority of the God-breathed text with the notes.
God inspired the Bible. He didn’t inspire the commentary on the Bible.
5. Use a study Bible in the same way that you would responsibly use other resources that help you better understand and apply the Bible.
There are five theological disciplines, and a good study Bible helps you with all of them — especially the first.
1. Exegesis.
Exegesis draws the meaning out of a text (that’s good!), and “eisegesis” reads a meaning into a text (that’s bad!). In other words, exegesis interprets a text by analyzing what the author intended to communicate. Exegesis is simply careful reading. The text means what the text’s author meant. Exegetes are concerned primarily with interpreting a text; that is, discovering what the author meant. What does this involve?
  • Genre. Establish rules for interpreting a passage’s style of literature.
  • Textual Criticism. Establish the original wording.
  • Translation. Translate the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek text, and compare other translations.
  • Greek Grammar. Understand how sentences communicate with words, phrases, and clauses.
  • Argument Diagram. Trace the logical argument by arcing, bracketing, or phrasing.
  • Historical-Cultural Context. Understand the situation in which the author composed the literature and any historical-cultural details that the author mentions or probably assumes.
  • Literary Context. Understand the role a passage plays in its whole book.
  • Word Studies. Unpack key words, phrases, and concepts.
A good study Bible takes all of this into account and highlights what is most significant for understanding books of the Bible and particular passages. The introductions to each book of the Bible explain the broad literary context and relevant historical-cultural context, and the study notes explain individual parts in that larger context.
When the text is the Bible, we must never stop with exegesis: We must also do theology — biblical, historical, systematic, and practical theology.
2. Biblical Theology.
Make organic connections with the whole canon on its own terms, across the storyline of the Bible, especially regarding how the Old and New Testaments integrate and climax in Christ. (I try to show how Harry Potter illustrates biblical theology in the four-minute video below.) This is a main distinctive of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.
3. Historical Theology.
Survey and evaluate how significant exegetes and theologians have understood the Bible and theology.
4. Systematic Theology.
Discern how a passage theologically coheres with the whole Bible. This is a major strength of the ESV Study Bible.
5. Practical Theology.
Apply the text to yourself, the church, and the world.
Quality study Bibles are one of the most helpful all-around tools you can use to better understand and apply the Bible. So by all means use them (responsibly) as you focus primarily on the God-breathed text.

The Word Behind the Word

For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.
The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.
         – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lay Your Head On This Pillow

HT: Tim Challies

How To Reignite Your Bible Reading

Reignite Bible Reading That has Become Boring by David Murray. This is a great piece which I can agree with wholeheartedly.
We’ve all been there. Reading the Bible can become boring. Our eyes are on the page but our minds are everywhere else; because everywhere else is just so much more interesting. That black book without pictures just isn’t quite so exciting as the black device that can show us anything in the world in just a click. We may pick up our Bibles, open the pages, and scan the lines, but our hearts just aren’t in it. We force ourselves to read our chapter(s) or fill up our allotted time, but we really can’t wait to finish and get on to much more fascinating and enjoyable things.
It’s not good, is it? You know, it’s bad, but you don’t know what to do. Well, here are some ideas to help you re-ignite your Bible reading. If you have any strategies that have helped you, leave them in the comments box to help others too, will you?
1. Routine. If our Bible reading is not fixed for a particular time each day, and we’re just hoping a time slot appears, we’ll end up squeezing it into too small a space. Best to pick a time and get into a habit of reading each day at that time. If you are already in a good habit of reading at the same time each day, and your reading has become boring, the worst thing you can do is give up your routine and only “read as the Spirit moves.” You’ll hardly read at all then. Pick a time, and stick at it.
2. Sleep. No, not during your reading, but before it. Many times boredom sets in because we’re shattered with exhaustion and we just don’t have the energy to read in an interactive and profitable way. Get yourself a good 7-8 hours sleep each night and you’ll find that a much brighter mind will produce much brighter reading.
3. Ban the cellphone. If you check your phone before you check your Bible, the Bible is going to lose. The Internet and Social Media is crack cocaine for the brain. The Bible requires careful cutting, chewing, and digesting. The former is quick thrills; the latter is a slow roast. Check your Bible first and it won’t feel such a let down to your brain. And put your phone away as you read; even if it’s not pinging and buzzing, the brain sees it and is expecting it, causing further distraction.
4. Read a different version. Sometimes we’ve got too familiar with the words we’ve read many, many times. Why not read a different version alongside your favorite one, to jog your mind out of its normal ruts and make you see words and sentences in a fresh light.
5. Read more slowly (or quickly). If you are reading a chapter a day, slow down to just a few verses a day to make you think and meditate more (10 tips on meditation here). Or speed up for a time, reading more chapters more quickly in order to get a better overview of a book. Just change it up a bit. If you are in a difficult part of the Old Testament, add a few verses from the New each day.
6. Read a devotional first. Sometimes our hearts need to be warmed up. I usually sing or read part of a Psalm before reading my chapters in the Old and New Testament. You could read a daily devotional or sing a spiritual song to light up that cold heart.
7. Use a study Bible. I don’t advocate this as something to use all the time, because it’s important that we learn to think for ourselves when we read the Bible and not just have others think for us. Also, people can spend more time reading the notes than the Bible itself. But, now and again, for a few weeks at a time, you could use a study Bible or brief commentary to help you get excited about the Bible again.
8. Accountability. Ask your wife, husband, friend, to ask you about your Bible reading each day. If we know someone is going to ask us what we read and what we learned from our Bibles that day, that usually sharpens our concentration and therefore increases edification.
9. Need. If we don’t need something, we don’t value it. If I don’t see my need of the Bible, I won’t value it. I’ve always noticed that my periods of dull Bible reading usually coincide with dullness of soul. When I don’t see my sin, when I think I’m doing quite well really, then I don’t see the Bible as so essential to my life and well-being. But when I’m convicted of my sin and weakness, I then see the Bible as more necessary than my daily food and drink.
10. Remember who is speaking. Our listening depends on who is talking and what he or she is talking about. Before you start, remind yourself of who is speaking – God – and what He is speaking about – your eternal salvation.
11. Pray. Confess to God that you find reading the Bible boring. Ask him to show you if it’s because you are unconverted, and you need to be born again to get the spiritual sight and tastebuds to make you savor and relish His Word. Pray that He would open your eyes to see the beauty and wisdom of His Word. If you are a Christian, confess your coldness and deadness of heart, and ask for the Holy Spirit to enliven and inspire you again. Ask Him to show you if there is any sin that is keeping back His blessing.
12. Serve. If we’re only eating and not exercising, we’ll soon lose our appetite. But if we are serving God, seeking opportunities to bless His church, or witness to others, we exercise our souls, get hungry, see our need of strengthening and guidance, and we devour God’s Word more greedily.