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.

Monday, September 28, 2015

How To Read The Bible

A good piece by Don Carson on How to Read the Bible and Do Theology Well:
It’s been said that the Bible is like a body of water in which a child may wade and an elephant may swim. The youngest Christian can read the Bible with profit, for the Bible’s basic message is simple. But we can never exhaust its depth. After decades of intense study, the most senior Bible scholars find that they’ve barely scratched the surface. Although we cannot know anything with the perfection of God’s knowledge (his knowledge is absolutely exhaustive!), yet because God has disclosed things, we can know those things truly.
Trying to make sense of parts of the Bible and of the Bible as a whole can be challenging. What kind of study should be involved when any serious reader of the Bible tries to make sense of the Bible as a whole? Appropriate study involves several basic interdependent disciplines, of which five are mentioned here: careful reading, biblical theology (BT), historical theology (HT), systematic theology (ST), and pastoral theology (PT). What follows looks at each of these individually and shows how they interrelate—and how they are more than merely intellectual exercises.
Careful Reading
“Exegesis” is the word often used for careful reading. Exegesis answers the questions, “What does this text actually say?” and “What did the author mean by what he said?” We discover this by applying sound principles of interpretation to the Bible.
Fundamental to reading the Bible well is good reading. Good readers pay careful attention to words and their meanings and to the ways sentences, paragraphs, and longer units are put together. They observe that the Bible is a book that includes many different styles of literature—stories, laws, proverbs, poetry, prophecy, history, parables, letters, apocalyptic, and much more. Good readers follow the flow of texts. For example, while it is always worth meditating on individual words and phrases, the most important factor in determining what a word means is how the author uses that word in a specific context.
One of the best signs of good exegesis is asking thoughtful questions that drive us to “listen” attentively to what the Bible says. As we read the text again and again, these questions are progressively honed, sharpened, corrected, or discarded.
Biblical Theology
BT answers the question, “How has God revealed his word historically and organically?” BT studies the theology of individual biblical books (e.g., Isaiah, the Gospel of John), of select collections within the Bible (e.g., the Pentateuch, wisdom literature, the Gospels, Paul’s letters, John’s writings), and then traces out themes as they develop across time within the canon (e.g., the way the theme of the temple develops, in several directions, to fill out a “whole Bible” theology of the temple). At least four priorities are essential:
1. Read the Bible progressively as a historically developing collection of documentsGod did not provide his people with all of the Bible at once. There is a progression to his revelation, and to read the whole back into some early part may seriously distort that part by obscuring its true significance in the flow of redemptive history. This requires not only organizing the Bible’s historical material into its chronological sequence but also trying to understand the theological nature of the sequence.
2. Presuppose that the Bible is coherentThe Bible has many human authors but one divine Author, and he never contradicts himself. BT uncovers and articulates the unity of all the biblical texts taken together.
3. Work inductively from the text—from individual books and from themes that run through the Bible as a wholeAlthough readers can never entirely divorce themselves from their own backgrounds, students of BT recognize that their subject matter is exclusively the Bible. They therefore try to use categories and pursue agendas that the text itself sets.
4. Make theological connections within the entire Bible that the Bible itself authorizesOne way to do this is to trace the trajectory of themes straight through the Bible. (That’s what the articles in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible do.)
BT often focuses on the turning points in the Bible’s storyline, and its most pivotal concern is tied to how the New Testament uses the Old Testament, observing how later Scripture writers refer to earlier ones....
Much more at the link. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Prayer For Those Who Hurt

We bring before you, O Lord,
the troubles and perils of people and nations,
the sighing of prisoners and captives,
the sorrows of the bereaved,
the necessities of strangers,
the helplessness of the weak,
the despondency of the weary,
the failing powers of the aged.
O Lord, draw near to each;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Anselm of Canterbury

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Prayer Declares Our Need

3 Reasons We Need to Pray by Tim Challies
As a Christian, as a pastor, and as a church member, I find myself at a lot of meetings. And more often than not, these meetings begin with prayer. I don’t often think about why we do this—we just do it. We pray before we do business, and we pray before we do ministry.
As I drove home from a meeting yesterday, I thought about these little prayers and how much I enjoy them. I thought about their sheer significance.
Praying declares that we do not have the wisdom we need. My guess is that when the executives at Amazon or Google gather in their corporate settings to make major decisions, they believe that they have the wisdom, experience, and expertise they need right there in the room. As Christians, we know that we do not. We know that we are entirely dependent upon wisdom that comes from outside ourselves. These little prayers, prayed by even the best and brightest Christian minds, are a simple plea for help, a child’s plea to his father to give the gifts of knowledge and wisdom.
Praying declares that we do not have the time we need. There is something so deliciously counter-cultural about saying, “We have a very full agenda and only a couple of hours to make some major decisions. So let’s start by investing a few minutes asking for help from an invisible but all-powerful God.” And if your experience is at all like mine, you have probably found that the meetings that begin with heartfelt prayer often end up being unusually productive and generating unusually wise decisions—almost as if God really does hear and answer those prayers.
Praying declares that we do not have the motives we need. Prayer is a cry to God not only for wisdom and appropriate use of time, but also a plea that we will make decisions for the best of motives. We understand that without God’s help we will make decisions out of fear of man instead of fear of God; we will make decisions that are good for us even if they are bad for others; we will decide to do what preserves our comfort and security even if it skirts morality. So we begin our time together by asking God to elevate our motives so that every word, every thought, and every decision will bring glory to him.
It’s a simple habit, this. But it’s both beautiful and meaningful.

Friday, September 25, 2015

More Than Principles

Following Jesus is More Than Applying Principles by Jeff Clarke
Being a Christian is less about looking for ways to mechanically apply practical ideas and principles to ones life and more about becoming a living embodiment of the One we’re trying to follow.
The ancient art of apprenticeship communicates just that. As Jeff Goins wrote in a recent blog post, apprenticeship in ancient times wasn’t a two-week or two-month process, but a totally immersive process where the student at times actually lived in the same house as the teacher – absorbing their ideas, watching their every move, listening to their every word.
As it relates to Christian apprenticeship, following Jesus is less concerned with looking for ways to add his principles to one’s life and more about modeling our Teacher as a way of life.
While we may start out following Jesus along pragmatic lines as we look for concrete situations into which we can apply Jesus’ teachings, the process needs to grow into a more natural outflow of one’s total life, rather than a mechanistic, almost robotic like, application of principles.
  • The former feels like we’re trying to add something to life from the outside-in. The latter flows naturally from the inside-out.
  • The former follows only for pragmatic reasons. The latter is an expression of life.
  • The former doesn’t require relationship. The latter assumes it.
  • The former views principles as good things that will make life better – as in good advice. The latter views the story of Jesus as good news that changes the very course of one’s entire life.
  • The former picks and chooses principles based on personal preference. The latter sees the entire Jesus-story as an all-encompassing, ethos-shaping lifestyle.
  • The former can lead to moralism that demands we follow a system of rules and obligations. The latter leads to adopting a posture of grace and mercy towards oneself and others.
Discipleship is First and Foremost About Being – Not Doing
Discipleship is first and foremost about being. It is an identity we embrace and become. It is an active and ongoing participation with Christ in his life, death and resurrection, in the power of the Holy Spirit. It has never been something we add to our life as a periphery item, but something that defines the very essence of who we are as Christ-followers...
Read the rest at the link.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Jesus Was A Fetus

Before the fist Christmas Day, Jesus Was A Fetus. (From The Village Church):
...John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Incarnation teaches us that the divine Son took upon a human nature to reveal His Father and to reconcile all things. The incarnational ministry of Jesus didn't begin at His birth, as the creed points out, but at conception. Jesus was a fetus.
Indeed, the eternal Son of God, who created all things and who holds all things together (Col. 1:16-18), came into the world in a womb. As He sustained the universe and held the stars in their places, the body of His mother sustained Him. He came into the world to crush Satan, sin and death, and in doing so He took upon a human body that was itself crushable. Right there, in Mary’s womb, was Immanuel, God with us.
The Incarnation did not begin with the birth accounts relayed in the Gospels; it began at the moment the divine Son was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ first moments on this earth were not in the manger, but in Mary. Jesus’ body, His muscles and bones, formed in the cavity of her body.
The Lord of the universe came to His creation in embryonic form. The Son of David’s body was vulnerable enough to be sucked out of His mother by a vacuum. The Lamb of God had the kind of body that could be flattened by forceps.
One of the reasons Christians are pro-life is because Jesus was a fetus. If we lose the essential truths that are bound up in the Incarnation, including the full humanity of Jesus, we lose the gospel. The humanity of Christ that we see in His conception is also on full display in His crucifixion. Though forceps did not crush Jesus’ body, it was crushed by a cross.
In the midst of a culture of death, we must promote and embody the culture of life—in every way possible. The culture of life has not just come under attack in recent decades but since the Garden of Eden. The Church promotes the kingdom of God because our King, though once dead, now reigns in life and power. The culture of life is still under assault from the culture of death; the Planned Parenthood videos are just the latest piece of evidence. Yet, in the face of death, the Church continues to preach the conception, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ until the consummation of His Kingdom, when only the culture of life will remain.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Facing Suffering

"Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, but it does provide deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair."

                     - Tim Keller

The Idol of Happiness

From When Happy Trumps Holy by Reecca Tekautz at Relevant:
...I would love to say that my experiences at the hands of "happy" are unique, but over the past year I have watched "happy" break apart multiple marriages, damage churches and shatter families. My heart aches as I watch the fallout that occurs when happy trumps holy. I watch friends—and myself—make life-changing decisions based on what would make them more happy instead of more holy.
I feel a little helpless, sitting back and watching as this adherence to happiness infects the Church like poison. Slowly, and sometimes silently, it seeps into our thoughts, our prayers, our relationships. 
We are drug addicts, endlessly searching for our latest fix. The moment the effects of our latest hit of happiness have worn off, we are in pursuit of the next. We cannot stop and sit in our pain, disappointment or emptiness. 
Why are we not pursuing holiness with the same passion with which we are pursuing happiness?
Happiness is our idol. Why are we not pursuing holiness with the same passion with which we are pursuing happiness? How have we come to allow ourselves to put more trust in a fleeting emotion than in a God who says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness ... Blessed are the poor in spirit ... Blessed are those who mourn"?
Happiness is a perilous thing. It focuses our attention on ourselves and how we are feeling in the moment. But moments change. People change. Happiness will not hold. It's a season—a side effect of when things are going well and your dopamine levels are up. Happiness is great to enjoy in the moment, but to spend a lifetime chasing it warps it into the idol we have made it out to be.
Happiness will not hold. It's a season.
Happiness is not something to pursue. Holiness is something to pursue.

When we pursue happiness, it breaks and fractures relationships. It pits your happiness against my happiness. Acting for your own happiness will almost always end up breaking someone else's. In pursuing happiness, everything becomes a commodity. We judge everything by the value of how happy it will make us. When it doesn't make us happy anymore, it's time to move on and find what will get us the next hit.
And we don't just do this with objects. We treat people the same way. We throw away relationships, friendships and marriages when they don't add value to our happiness anymore. We walk away from them, choose to pursue "happy" instead.

I praise a Jesus who does not walk away from His bride—flawed though she is. Christ spent His entire time on earth not teaching us how to be happy, but how to be holy. He is the perfect example of what it looks like to sacrifice humanly happiness for God’s holiness. His ragtag group of disciples irritated Him and argued with Him and each other, and He always knew one was destined to betray Him. But He spent time with them anyway, teaching them, loving them, pushing them to grow in holiness. The cross didn't make Him happy, either. Christ was in distress, in pain, and he died

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Perverse Idoatry

Convictional Kindness

Below is an excerpt from Evangelicals Won't Cave: Why Evangelicals Will Not Be Surrendering To The Sexual Revolution by Dr. Russell Moore via First Things: Dr. Moore has been one of the wisest commentators beforer and after the SCOTUS decision on marriage. The entire thing is to long to post here, but not too long for anyone to read. Please read it all. It is important that we all understand this.
....We can no longer assume, even in the Bible Belt, that people aspire to, or even understand, our “values” on marriage and family. These parts of our witness that were the least controversial—and could be played up while playing down hellfire and brimstone, for those churches wanting a softer edge—are now controversial. Churches that reject the sexual revolution are judged as bigoted. Churches that don’t won’t fare much better, for in a secularizing culture, churches that embrace the revolution are unnecessary—just as the churches that rejected the miraculous in favor of scientific naturalism were in the twentieth century.
In post-Obergefell America, Evangelicals and other orthodox Christians will be unable to outrun our freakishness. That is no reason for panic. Some will suggest that a Christian sexual ethic puts the churches on the “wrong side of history.” Well, we’ve been on the wrong side of history since a.d. 33. The “right side of history” was the Eternal City of Rome. And then the right side of history was the French Revolution. And then the right side of history was scientific naturalism and state socialism. And yet, there stands Jesus still, on the wrong side of history but at the right hand of the Father.
If we are right about the end of human sexuality, then we ought to know that marriage is resilient. The sexual revolution cannot keep its promises. People think they want autonomy and transgression, but what they really want is fidelity and complementarity and incarnational love. If that’s true, then we will see a wave of refugees from the sexual revolution, those who, like the runaway son in Jesus’ story, “come to themselves” in a moment of crisis.
Churches so fearful of cultural marginalization that they distort or ignore the hard truths of the Gospel will not be able to reach these refugees. Churches that scream and vent in perpetual outrage won’t, either. It will be of no surprise if the churches most able to reach those wounded by sexual freedom, and the chaos thereof, will be the churches most out of step with the culture. Whatever one thinks of the “temperance” of many wings of American Evangelicalism, it is no accident that so many ex-drunks, and their families, found themselves walking sawdust trails to teetotaling Baptist and Pentecostal churches, not to the wine-and-cheese hour at the respectable downtown Episcopalian church.
The days ahead require an Evangelicalism that is both robustly theological and warmly missional, both full of truth and full of grace, convictional and kind. This does not mean a kind of strategic civility that seeks to avoid conflict. The kindness that is the fruit of the Spirit is of the sort that “corrects opponents,” albeit with gentleness and patience (2 Tim. 2:24–25). A Gospel-driven convictional kindness will not mean less controversy but controversy that is heard in stereo. Some will object to the conviction, others to the kindness. Those who object to a call to repentance will cry bigotry, and those who measure conviction in terms of decibels of outrage will cry sell-out. Jesus was controversial among the Pharisees for eating at tax collectors’ homes, and he was no doubt controversial among the tax collectors for calling them to repentance once he arrived there. He sweated not one drop of blood over that, and neither should we.
While I am not worried about Evangelicals’ caving on marriage and sexuality in post-ObergefellAmerica, I am worried about Evangelicals panicking. We are, after all, an apocalyptic people, for good and for ill. We can wring our hands that the world is going to hell, but then we ought to remember that the world did not start going to hell at Stonewall or Woodstock but at Eden. Adam was our problem, long before Anthony Kennedy. Mayberry without Christ leads to hell just as surely as Gomorrah without Christ does. We cannot respond pridefully to the culture around us as though we deserve a better mission field than a sovereign God assigned to us.
This means that Evangelicals can best serve the culture by being truly Evangelical. We are not in a “post-Christian” America, unless we define “Christian” in ways that disconnect Christianity from the Gospel. The mission of Christ never calls us to use nominal Christianity as a bridge to redemption. To the contrary, the Spirit works through the open proclamation of truth (2 Cor. 4:1–2). It is the strangeness of the Gospel that confounds the wisdom of the world, and that actually saves (1 Cor. 1:18–31). The Gospel does not need idolatry to bridge our way to it, even if that idolatry is the sort of “Christianity” that is one birth short of redemption. Our frame of reference is not happier times in the 1770s or 1950s or 1980s. We are not time travelers from the past; we are pilgrims from the future. We are not exiles because American culture is in decline. We are exiles and strangers because “the world is passing away, along with its desires” (1 Jn. 2:17).
I don’t think American Evangelicals will fold on our sexual ethic. But if we do, American Evangelicalism will have nothing distinctive to say and will end up deader than Harry Emerson Fosdick. If so, the vibrant Evangelical witness God has called together in Nigeria or Argentina or South Korea or China will be alive and well and ready to send missionaries to preach the whole Gospel. Whether from America or not, a voice will stand, crying in the wilderness, “You must be born again.”
Please read it all at the link.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Moving On From The Same Old Things

How To Stop Praying the Same Old Things About The Same Old Things by Donald S. Whitney (author of Praying the Bible) HT:Crossway
Our Problem in Prayer
“Empty phrases” are ruinous in any area of spirituality, but especially in prayer. Jesus warned, “But when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
Such “empty phrases” can result from insincerity or repetition. That is, we might pray meaningless, vacuous words because either our hearts or minds are far away.
One of the reasons Jesus prohibited the mindless repetition of prayers is because that’s exactly the way we’re prone to pray. Although I don’t recite intentionally memorized prayers, my own tendency is to pray basically the same old things about the same old things. And it doesn’t take long before such prayers fragment the attention span and freeze the heart of prayer.
The Surprisingly Simple Solution
The problem is not our praying about the same old things, for Jesus taught us (in Luke 11:5-13 and 18:1-8) to pray with persistence for good things. Our problem is in always praying about them with the same ritualistic, heartless expressions.
In my experience, the almost unfailing solution to this problem is to pray through passage of Scripture—particularly one of the psalms—instead of making up my prayer as I go. Praying in this way is simply taking the words of Scripture and using them as my own words or as prompters for what I say to God.
For example, if I prayed through Psalm 27, I would begin by reading verse 1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Then I would pray something like,

Thank you, Lord, that you are my light. Thank you for giving me the light to see my need for Jesus and your forgiveness. Please light my way so that I will know which way to go in the big decision that is before me today. And thank you especially that you are my salvation. You saved me; I didn’t save myself. And now I ask you to save my children also, as well those at work with whom I’ve shared the gospel.
When I have nothing else to say, instead of my mind wandering, I have a place to go—the rest of verse 1. “Whom shall I fear?” Then I might pray along these lines: “I thank you that I do not have to fear anyone because you are my Father. But I confess that I have been fearful about ______.”
I would continue in this way, praying about whatever is prompted, verse by verse, until either I complete the psalm or run out of time.
A Transformational Method
Praying through a passage of Scripture was the uncomplicated method that transformed the daily experience of some of the most famous men of prayer in history. Both Jesus (in Matthew 27:46) and his followers in the book of Acts (4:24-26) prayed words from the Psalms (from Psalm 22:1, and Psalm 146:6 and Psalm 2:1-2 respectively). Why not you?
Although you’ll pray about “the same old things,” you’ll do so in brand new ways.
You’ll also find yourself praying about things you never thought to pray—things that are on the heart of God.
You’ll concentrate better, and begin to experience prayer as a real conversation with a real person. For the Bible really is God speaking to you; all you have to do is simply respond to what he says.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Get Prepared!

How to Prepare for the Holy Spirit's Next Move by J. Lee Grady
At the height of the Jesus movement in 1972, tie-dyed hippies gathered in parks and stadiums to celebrate their newfound faith in Christ. But when these young converts went home to visit traditional churches, many were rejected because they had long hair and preferred to worship using drums and guitars instead of pianos and pipe organs.
Even though these kids were full of the Holy Spirit and excited about preaching the gospel in the streets, the church turned them away—because Christians weren't ready for something new.
God desires to bring a fresh wave of the Holy Spirit in every generation. The prophet Isaiah wrote: "Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert" (Is. 43:19). Even when we are in a spiritual drought, God promises to unleash a river of His presence and power.
I am convinced we are standing on the threshold of another wave of the Spirit. But we must face these questions: Are we ready? Will we be aware? Will we embrace the next outpouring of the Spirit when it comes, or will we stick our noses in the air like the traditional denominations of the 1970s did?
If you want to be ready for all that God has for you in this new season, take these steps:
1. Rekindle the Spirit's flame in your heart. You will be ready for revival when revival stirs your own heart. You must be hungry for more of God. Ask the Lord to give you that hunger. Then begin to seek Him with passion. Set aside daily time to pray and read His Word. Ask Him to fill you afresh with the Holy Spirit.
2. Dismantle all dead religious tradition. Jesus warned the Pharisees that they would miss the day of His visitation because of their stale traditions. Many churches today are stuck in a time warp; they sing 1970s songs and enforce a 1950s dress code, so no one from 2015 feels comfortable visiting their church except the people who live in their religious bubble. You will never break out of tradition until you "sing a new song" (see Ps. 98:1; Is. 42:10) and welcome a fresh encounter with God.
3. Be willing to move geographically. The Bible says Naomi moved from Moab to Bethlehem when she heard God was visiting His people (see Ruth 1:6). If she had stayed where things were familiar and comfortable, Naomi would have missed God's best for her and her family. Before the Lord pours out His fresh anointing, He gets His people in position. Make sure you are in the place where He wants you. He may be calling you to relocate to a new city or a new church to prepare you for revival.
4. Align yourself with the right people. Abram had to separate from his nephew Lot before he could inherit all of God's blessings. Sometimes people can keep us from experiencing all that God has for us. If you are enmeshed in toxic relationships that hinder your spiritual growth, break free from their influence and find healthy mentors, friends and spiritual leaders who can encourage and equip you. Sometimes this might mean leaving an unhealthy church to find a healthy one.
5. Allow God to meddle with your sectarian pride. Christians tend to be cliquish. We find a church or denomination we are comfortable with, and then we tend to look down on all other groups as if they are inferior. We think we have the best worship style, the coolest pastors or the soundest doctrine. So if the Holy Spirit shows up at the church down the street, we are smug and suspicious—and quick to criticize what is actually God's work. Don't let pride cause you to oppose what He's doing.
6. Be open to God's surprises. When the Azusa Street revival erupted in Los Angeles in 1906, everyone was shocked when the biblical gift of speaking in tongues was restored to the church. In the charismatic revival of the 1960s, no one expected to see Presbyterians, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and Mennonites filled with the Holy Spirit—in the same meeting!
The Holy Spirit never violates Scripture, but He loves to open up rivers of anointing to do refreshing new things we have not seen in our generation. He wants an outbreak of miracles. He wants to break racial barriers. He wants to reach immigrants—even those who are illegal. He wants to heal those who struggle with embarrassing addictions, psychological problems and gender confusion. He wants the gifts of the Holy Spirit to break out in churches that have never seen His power. Let's expect the unexpected.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ugly Orthodoxy

“If we are Christians and do not have upon us the calling to respond to the lostness of the lost and a compassion for those of our kind, our orthodoxy is ugly and it stinks. And it not only stinks in the presence of the hippie, it stinks in the presence of anybody who’s an honest man. And more than that, I’ll tell you something else, orthodoxy without compassion stinks with God.”

          - Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What's Missing?

There is a major difference between many modern worship music and the Psalms. Too many modern songs speak only of the love of God, and he is seen only as a gentle and loving friend.
It’s not that the worship songs are wrong. It’s just that they can almost completely miss a different side of God’s character. I want to explore that a little today before we focus in another post to an event that happened in 2 Samuel 6 which shocks the modern reader.
In the Psalms God is described as someone who
  1. judges (Psalm 1:6)
  2. is full of wrath (Psalm 2:5, 12),
  3. breaks the teeth of the wicked (Psalm 3:10)
  4. is a God of honor and righteousness (Psalm 4:1-2)
  5. hates all evildoers and destroys liars (Psalm 5:5)
  6. disciplines (Psalm 6:1)
  7. feels indignation every day (Psalm 7:11)
  8. is majestic and full of glory (Psalm 8:1)
  9. rebukes and blots out the wicked (Psalm 9:5)
  10. stands far off and hides himself even when someone is in trouble (Psalm 10:1)
  11. tests us, and pours burning coals on the wicked (Psalm 11:5-6)
  12. cuts off flattering lips and boastful tongues (Psalm 12:3)
  13. forgets people (Psalm 13:1)
  14. looks down on us to see if anyone seeks him (Psalm 14:2)
  15. wants his people to despise vile people but honor those who fear God (Psalm 15:4)
  16. requires his people to recognize him as Lord (Psalm 16:1)
  17. delivers his people from the wicked with a sword (Psalm 17:13)
  18. when he is arroused makes the earth quake, smoke comes from his nostrils, and fire from his mouth, he clothes himself in darkness, and his voice thunders (Psalm 18:7-12)
  19. created the whole universe and the heavens in particular to display his glory (Psalm 19:1)and finally, this very awesome God is also someone we can expect to actually answer us! (Psalm 20:1-9)
Today I would challenge you to meditate with me on these things. Allow these words to reshape your age of God. He is not a cuddly but ineffective friend. He is fearful, awesome, powerful, righteous, and yet this God is the same one who has promised to answer you.
I don’t know about you, but reading these words makes me want to repent of treating God lightly, of not respecting him enough, and of triffling with so-called ‘minor’ sins.
Of course this image of God I have painted today is not totally absent from modern worship. But I challenge you to think of a song that clearly focuses on this aspect of his character. And if you write worship songs, perhaps be inspired by these words from the Psalms.

Monday, September 7, 2015

K.I.S.S Spirituality

From Keep It Simple ,Stupid: Martin Luther On The Christian Life by Carl Trueman at Crossway
Christianity for Everyone
One of the striking things about Martin Luther’s vision of the Christian life is its utter simplicity. Against the background of medieval piety, with its myriad holy orders, its penances, and its pilgrimages, Luther presented a Christianity for everyone. And against the backdrop of his own complicated and scrupulous psychology, he discovered the straightforward peace that comes from the sufficiency of God’s saving action in the crucified Christ. If Augustine freed the church from the back-breaking self-martyring piety of Pelagius, Luther freed her from centuries of obfuscating complication.
Take his understanding of the sources of salvation, for example: Christ offered in the Word preached, and Christ offered in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Hearing, washing, and eating: three of the most basic, everyday human activities which require no special talent. They also transcend any human categories we might care to create in order to make things more complicated, whether based on age, class, ethnicity, etc.
One Simple Question
A Christian life rooted in the simple tools set forth in Scripture may well strike against the aesthetic of a world in thrall to the spectacular and the innovative but it nonetheless arises out of one of the most powerfully gracious aspects of the biblical teaching on salvation: God is no respecter of persons. Luther saw this clearly: God regards human beings as either outside of Christ and subject to the penalties of the Law or in Christ and therefore the beneficiaries of his person and work. The key question for Christians—and thus the key question for those in pastoral ministry—was simply that of how one is united to Christ.
For Luther, the answer was simple: by grasping through faith the promise of Christ as offered in his Word and sacraments. Thus, the calling of the ministry was shaped in a most profound way by the fact that it was these tools that need to be used; and individual Christians lives were shaped in a similarly significant way by the fact that it is these things to which we must pay attention. To use Occam’s razor at this point, everything else is revealed as mere clutter—a clutter that obscures or distracts from the real thing...

Read the rest  at the link. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Idol of Success

The Most Important Thing Your Church is Probably Missing... And The Surprising Solution by J.D. Greear (Via Relevant)
I emerged from seminary with one goal as a pastor: to grow a great big church with big conversion numbers and a big budget, and—to be honest—hopes of even bigger attention for the guy behind it all.
Like most young pastors, I thought I was doing God’s work. Isn’t “big” what He wants?
It took me a while to realize that my self-centered ambition was blinding me to God’s true purpose for my church. I was missing out on something—my church was missing out on something—but we didn’t even realize it.
Ministry is a great place for leaders with the idol of success to hide, because we can cloak our ambition in the garb of “I’m doing this for Jesus.” 
God opened my eyes one afternoon as I was praying for our city. I was praying for a massive spiritual awakening in our city, when in the midst of that prayer, I felt the Spirit of God ask, “And what if I answer this prayer… but I don’t use your church to do it? What if another church in Raleigh-Durham leads the way? Would you still want it?”
All of Jesus’ promises about the greatness of the Church, you see, are tied to sending out, not gathering in.
I knew the right answer to that question. I was supposed to say, “Oh, yes, Lord! You must increase and I must decrease!” It may have been the right answer, but it was not the real answer. I wanted to see my church succeed, my kingdom enlarged, my name magnified. In that moment I realized that somewhere along the way, “thy kingdom come” had become all jumbled up with “my kingdom come.”
I went back to our church and confessed that I had been leading them wrongly. “Our goal,” I said, “should not be to build a great big church. It is to reach our city with the Gospel and get the Gospel into places around the world where Jesus is not known. If God grows our church in the process of that, so be it. But if He takes from us some of our best resources and people and sends them out to start new works, that’s OK, too.”
It was during that season that we tapped into a completely new stream of spiritual power, something that had been available—but missing—the whole time.
All of Jesus’ promises about the greatness of the Church, you see, are tied to sending out, not gathering in.
Jesus once promised His disciples that they would do greater works than Him (John 14:12). That’s a staggering promise. How many pastors claim to do greater works than Jesus? But Jesus didn’t mean that our works would be greater in quality. He meant that the reach and extent of His works would be greater when His Spirit rested on every believer than when that power was concentrated upon one person.
Churches that understand this will devote themselves not to gathering and counting, but empowering and sending. Sending capacity, not seating capacity, ought to be the measure of success for any New Testament church.
This attitude is something a lot of churches are missing. It’s easy to get caught up in drawing people into our churches instead of sending members out into the world, on building audiences instead of multiplying disciples.
God calls us first not to a platform, but to an altar.
But in our day, the act of sending has become more important than ever. Even those in our own backyards will likely have to be reached outside the church. The “nones” in Western society (those who check “none” for religious affiliation) grow each year at an astounding rate. “Nones” don’t casually make their way back into church because the pastor is engaging, the music is cool or the guest services are Disney-esque. They have to be reached outside the Church.
It’s time we returned to Jesus’ strategy for reaching our nation. To do that, those in Christian leadership especially are going to have to first die to ourselves—to our ambitions in ministry, to our dreams, to our hopes of a comfortable life. We should remember we are called by one who came not to be served but to serve, who, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor so that we through His poverty might become rich, and beckons us to follow Him. He said, “Except a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it abides alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
Living comes by dying; gaining comes by losing. His call was not to “come and grow,” but “come and die.” He calls us first not to a platform, but to an altar.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Self-Deniel amd Self-Care

Self-Care and Self-Denial by Amie Patrick at TGC - An important distinction!
The topic of self-care, particularly as it relates to physical and emotional health, has long confused and challenged me as a Christian. While I’ve deeply resonated with much of the common sense in the philosophy of self-care, other aspects have troubled me and seem completely incompatible with Christianity. I couldn’t agree with Scripture and at the same time agree with arguments encouraging me to pursue a self-focused, indulgent, comfort-based lifestyle. On the other hand, I heartily agreed in principle with discussions of self-care as stewardship. Still, I usually came away with more of a sense of heavy obligation than of freedom and gratitude. I often saw God as an auto mechanic pacing around, irritated and inconvenienced by my failure to get my car in for regular maintenance.
As I struggled to come to biblical conclusions about self-care, I vacillated between embracing it wholeheartedly and rejecting it altogether. I’d mostly ignore my physical and emotional health for long stretches of time, defaulting to a philosophy of pushing through life, trying to move faster and do more. Then I’d crash. I’d make some efforts at rest or recovery, but always with a nagging sense of guilt that I’d been indulgent, lazy, or somehow disobedient.
I’d love to say I’ve arrived at a completely healthy place in the area of self-care, but the truth is I’m still in the midst of the messy process of repentance and renewal. I can say for sure, though, that freedom in this area hasn’t come from just tweaking some habits or from having an “easier” season of life where consistent self-care is more realistic.
Confronting Faulty Beliefs
My confusion about self-care was mostly rooted in two serious theological misunderstandings related to, interestingly enough, self-denial. Confronting these faulty beliefs has been pivotal in developing a healthy biblical view of self-care.
First, I equated denying myself with denying my humanity. Luke 9:23 was one of the first verses I memorized as a new believer. I took Jesus’s words seriously and deeply believed what he says here and in similar passages. We find our lives by losing them. Discipleship is defined by a supreme love for Jesus and willingness to take up our crosses daily.
But somewhere along the way, I developed an unspoken but functional belief. I started believing that denying myself isn’t just about denying my sinful attempts to be my own god, but also about ignoring the fact I am a human being with physical and emotional needs—and God-ordained limits. I never would’ve said I believed this, but my life told a different story. In particularly stressful seasons, I treated needs like sleep, nutrition, exercise, and emotional refreshment as luxuries for which I didn’t have time. It didn’t occur to me that accepting my God-given limits and actively choosing to receive God’s gifts of rest, food, recreation, and solitude are also acts of worship and obedience.

Second, I didn’t see my attempts to push past my perceived weakness or neediness for what they really were—pride. As I studied the Gospels, God began to unravel the mess in my heart. He repeatedly reminded me that Jesus—fully human and fully God—regularly set aside time in his ministry to be alone or enjoy meals with friends. Why did I assume these things were acceptable for him but not for me? Why did I encourage people to take good care of themselves while neglecting good care of myself? Scripture also reminded me of God’s great love and compassion for me, and his promise to provide for my needs.
I began to see God never asks us to pretend we’re not human or needy. In fact, the Bible regularly commands us to remember who God is and who we are. This doesn’t mean we should demand God to meet all our physical and emotional needs on our terms, or that he won’t call us to seasons of physical and emotional suffering. Christians have not been promised an easy, hassle-free life. At times legitimate needs will be denied. But I’m learning to view and practice consistent self-care in a new way—as a spiritual discipline that can help me rightly acknowledge my place in God’s world rather than dismiss it as a distracting indulgence.
Seeing Our Heart
I also used to believe self-denial is mostly about behavior rather than the heart. For a long time, I thought self-denial is about avoiding practices I considered self-indulgent. But as I began to reexamine God’s Word, I started to see more clearly that self-denial isn’t just a behavior issue—it’s a heart issue. Our behavior reveals our heart. God calls us to deny our hopeless attempts to justify ourselves and find life apart from Christ.

I avoided self-care because it looked dangerously close to self-indulgence. But avoiding self-care actually fed my sinful appetite to live self-sufficiently and to seek fulfillment in my own abilities. It may seem backward to say that avoiding self-care was actually self-indulgent, but it was for me. As I struggled with thinking that my accomplishments defined me, God taught me that self-denial for me meant stopping to rest. This lesson felt counterintuitive, but just because something looks like self-denial on the surface doesn’t mean it actually is.
Finding Freedom and Joy
Many of us don’t consider the issue of self-care until a crisis forces us to wake up. God, in his kindness, uses these crises to take us to places we wouldn’t choose on our own, but in these places we find greater freedom and joy in him.
The topic of self-care has thousands of practical and debatable considerations, and thousands of legitimate and important cautions that go with them. Nevertheless, it is an important topic and one we need to think about, for the way we handle it reveals a great deal about our hearts, what we believe about ourselves, and what we believe about God.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Warp of Worry

How Worry Warps Your View Of God: Paul's Format For Getting It Right - by Thomas Christianson at Relevant 
A couple weeks ago, I started having trouble sleeping. This wasn't normal for me. But lately, there have been a lot of stresses weighing on me. I just lay there with pieces of uncertainty or unfinished business glowing on the checklist of my mind.
Potential conversations keep playing and rewinding over and over again in my mind while I plan how to deal with existing problems. Then, of course, I have to try to figure out what unforeseen problems are coming my way.
Somewhere in there, I remember Jesus saying not to worry about tomorrow.
But wasn’t Jesus worried in the Garden of Gethsemane when He literally sweat blood and asked the Father to remove the cup of suffering that Jesus was about to have to drink?
So how is this whole “don’t worry” thing supposed to look in my life? What’s the line between “not worrying” and being naive and unprepared?
Trusting in God’s Strength
In Philippians 4, Paul says he has learned the secret of living whether he has plenty or is in need, and that secret was that he could do all things because of the strength God gives.
If my issues and problems are bigger than God in my own eyes, they will have a bigger influence in my life than God does.
To Paul, not worrying means we live in confidence of God’s strength.
Worry is the opposite: it is when we live without confidence in God’s strength.
If I were to vocalize my worry, it would probably sound like this, “When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t have much control over the outcome, and I’m not comfortable with that arrangement.”
That’s a lot different from Paul’s approach, which didn’t depend on the situation, but in the unchanging nature and character of God.
Trust vs. Control
Trusting in God doesn’t mean we have to love the situations we find ourselves in. Jesus clearly didn’t love the day of agony and abandonment He faced. Paul wasn’t hoping to endure more shipwrecks and stonings.
I don’t want my car to break down, or for my daughter to have a hard time at school. But the question is whether those things loom larger in my mind than God’s goodness and His sovereignty (the fact that He is in control and that He cares about me).
Because if my issues and problems are bigger than God in my own eyes, they will have a bigger influence in my life than God does.
There’s nothing wrong with making plans and preparations, but if we ignore the nature of God (all powerful, all knowing, all present), how much good can our plans really do?
This doesn’t mean we should run to the opposite approach and just accept everything without question.
We serve a God who has invited us in to His plans of making all things new. He says we have a part to play in that process. Rather than accepting everything the way it is, we can push back against injustice and heartache in our world.
God is not a mean kid with a magnifying glass on an anthill. You are not foolish to trust Him.
But in the midst of all this, how do we incorporate trust in God’s strength into our everyday lives?
I think Paul lobs us a softball in Philippians 4:6-7 (the same chapter where he talks about having the secret to contentment):
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
I like to boil this down to a pseudo-mathematical formula:
Pray + Thank = Peace.
This is not about telling God what you want Him to do. This is about remembering His nature and character.
Look at Jesus praying in Gethsemane. His prayer wasn’t about uncertainty. Jesus knew everything that was coming His way when he was praying in Gethsemane. His prayer was about asking God for strength.
Prayer may not result in God “fixing” your situation the way you would demand from a genie, but He promises that He will strengthen us as we seek His will both in and through our lives.
If you’re following Jesus, I’m guessing you have a story or two about instances where things seemed pretty hopeless, but in the end they worked out. Remind yourself of those stories.
God is not a mean kid with a magnifying glass on an anthill. You are not foolish to trust Him.
Instead of worrying about if or when or what hardships you’ll face, spend your time becoming the kind of person who responds in healthy ways to the challenges of this life.
In addition to loving you, God has invested a great deal into you—He’s not going to kick you to the curb.
Thank Him for what He’s done, and choose to exercise faith by thanking Him in advance for what He will do.
Usually, my worry is directly linked to my ability to comprehend the “master plan.” I say stuff like, “I’m willing to trust God, I just want to know what He’s up to.”
Jesus says that His peace goes beyond all understanding, so our ability to stop worrying isn't linked to our ability to figure stuff out.
In fact, our uncertainty about the future is a chance to trust God.
God is faithful to us even (especially?) when we don’t deserve it.