“Why on Earth are you using the New Living Translation!?” said many a friend of late. This question is asked for good reason. Being an ardent believer in expository preaching, a functional equivalent translation does not seem to fit that belief. Personally, I even questioned … Continue reading You’re using what Bible!?
Should I take a stand on public matters that are political when I am a church? This is a question, in various forms, asked of me in the last month. In my prior article on this topic, found here, I address areas where repentance is … Continue reading Engage: Solutions to getting involved
We are losing the importance of education. Not degrees or schooling, but of actual learning. A week does not go by where I read “but seminary didn’t…” or “it doesn’t matter how much you know…” or “I just tell me what to do…” We do … Continue reading The brain is a vital organ
On occasion the Holy Spirit, whose operations are mysterious no doubt, taps you on the shoulder. The tap is often a kind way of saying you need to do something different or correctly. This occurred when on a spiritual retreat. I wanted to try something different by reading through the whole Bible in one week. Right up from I got a tap on the shoulder that I was reading it wrong. Here are some things that stood out when going through the whole book.
You’re likely not the hero
We like to identify with the protagonist in the story, and not the mob. Chances are very good that we’d be like the mob. Reading through the Bible will break you and it will challenge whatever perspective of the Bible you hold. Rather than asking how people in the Bible could make the mistakes they make, ask yourself how you could make those same mistakes. Why? Because we do. The Bible was written to people like you in me. Different time and culture, but many of the same challenges.
Scope and Sequence
In reading through the Bible in a week, aim to see the big picture of what is going on. Speed read it. The win isn’t details, it’s the big picture. If something catches your attention, flag it to study later. In hitting the New Testament I suggest this order: Matthew, Hebrews, Galatians, Revelation, and then the rest in order. Coming fresh off the Old Testament, those books in the New Testament will make a TON more sense. But first, pray and tell God that you’re going to listen and keep you mouth shut. Bible reading is ultimately about listening to God. For me, the process took about 6-8 hours of 216ish pages a day.
Reading from beginning to end is interesting. Genesis carries a lot more weight than we realize, as do the first five books. God’s standard is perfection in every sense of that term. This is massive when suddenly in the New Testament Jesus touches people who were forbidden in the temple. The prophets will depress you. Even heroic moments ultimately become let downs. But before that lets you down, there are the writings. Those books show how things can be done. Psalms is a pain to read. Great content, but repetition of various phrases make it challenging reading. The Gospels are a breath of fresh air! The New Testament carries common themes from the Old, but Jesus gives TONS of up. Things move ahead.
Reading through the Gospel makes you VERY thankful for the Gospel. Without the Gospel we are very stuck. What is also amazing is how gracious and merciful God is throughout the entire Bible. The mean curmudgeon feeling we associate with God in the Old Testament isn’t there. God is truly the loving father who doesn’t give up on his family, even when his family abuses or takes advantage of him.
The key message from God nearly always been an old story of hundreds if not thousands of years old. We ask the question of why we should listen to a book that is 2,000 years old. But that comment could easily be made in Noah’s day, Abraham’s, Moses’, Davids, and Jesus’ day. But given this span of time, God’s Word became more and more fulfilled…literally.
You are loved
A repeated phrase throughout the Bible is God’s love endures forever. It is a major theme in the Bible. If God chose to orient himself with humanity through the lens of justice, we would not exist. Instead God chose the lens of grace and mercy. A BIG reason for the chaos we live in now is God wants you to be a part of his family. God willingly endures what he hates to get what he most loves, and that is you. God doesn’t give up on those he loves.
The bottom line:
Take the time to read through the whole Bible as fast as you can. It may seem intimidating, but it is very refreshing. While it will break you, scare you, it will also leave you feeling incredibly loved. Ultimately the Bible is about God revealing himself and being available to us all. Even when we try to run from him.
Let us change the discussion from navel gazing at ‘the why’ of our problems and look to solutions. One sentence on the why of the “church” problems: Unbiblical thinking combined with lack of thought and theology leads to poor discernment and a mess. Now that the problem is out of the way, we can stop reading numerous church is blah blah blah articles. A wise professor drilled three concepts that will help us overcome: Think. Judge. Redeem.
Proverbs teaches us to be wise is to be godly. Ephesians 5&6 teaches us to be godly is to be wise. In Ephesians 4 as well as Romans 12 the Spirit points directly at the life of the mind. Christianity must work in the midst of suffering and chaos of our current world. And it does. Our fear stems from a lack of thought. Reason and faith are not opposed to one another. Our devotional life must ponder the deep questions of life as we study the Bible. Renewing our mind is a critical aspect to worship. Jesus did say we will not only worship in spirit but also in truth.
God is the source of all truth. In our current reality there is evil and suffering in the world. The question we then need to ask is how to we discern good form evil? Developing the mind is for the pragmatic result of discerning between good and evil, and between better and best. It is to, as Jesus stated, be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. This level of discernment is expected of us as Christians. (Read Hebrews 5:11-14)
Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. The world is not a mere reference to people, but all creation as well. As we discern truth from error we must answer the question of how to redeem it. As Paul states, redeeming the time for the days are evil. How can we take an object that is depraved, discern the truth of it, and then use such for God’s glory? We are not to live life as a great waiting room for heaven. We are to engage in life and assist in the process of making it new in anticipation of Jesus return. This takes courage.
Lights. Trees. Action.
Think. John talks about Jesus being the light of the world. Judge. Martin Luther, a pastor in Germany, is faced with the paganism of the people he is trying to reach. One pagan ritual was bringing in evergreen trees to celebrate the winter solstice. The people needed to move away from false religion and instead focus on Christ. Redeem. The solution was to add lights to the evergreen tree to represent Jesus as the light of the world. A tradition once tied to paganism is renewed to a symbol of an incredible truth.
Act, don’t react.
We react negatively when our mind and discernment lacks development. Worse, we act in fear. Developing the mind is a critical spiritual discipline. Discernment is essential if we are to not only speak the gospel but also live it. Redemption is a critical role we play as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. Developing the mind does not take away from faith. Truly, developing the mind bolsters the reasonableness and truthfulness of the gospel.
The bottom line:
Developing the life of the mind is a solution to help the church radiate the truth of the gospel, bless our culture, and act with gracious courage.
I’ve had many conversations with believers who hold socialistic views from a seemingly biblical standpoint. While the marriage of church and state is disaster, it is essential for both to be in the public square. The marriage of church and state is disaster, yet too many vouch for that idea. Secularism/socialism is also disaster. What is a biblical solution to this seeming paradox? Freedom! Freedom is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. Ultimately, tyranny is the absence of God whereby humanity rejects God and is unable to govern itself. Socialism has the appearance of justice, but in the end it is anything but just.
Socialism is government codified legalism
Are you for or against legalism? The answer is obvious, a whole book of the Bible decries the false gospel of legalism. Why then, if for freedom’s sake Christ set us free, would we yield to a governmental structure that is legalistic? The common thread I am hearing from “christian socialists” is not congruent with biblical thought. This is often couched in the “tax the rich” or “universal healthcare” discussions. For, those with more should help those with less. Such is a true biblical principle, but not when mandated. Forced outward conformity does not produce inward change. Besides, there are selfish socialists too. Further, people can covet power as much as money.
Socialism is stealing not generosity
“Tax the wealthy to lower interest rates for college students.” If one were to take money from a wealthy person to pay for a nobel thing such as education, one would be in jail for stealing. The money was not theirs. If one could get the government to tax that money away, which is still not theirs, such is considered ‘noble.’ This coercion may give the appearance of generosity, but lacks the heart change God is concerned with. It is forcibly taking one’s private property and giving it to another. The justice of this is questionable at best.
Self interest is not selfishness
The problem with “christian socialism” is the merging of self-interest with selfishness. The acquisition of wealth to leave an inheritance is wise. Being stingy and lacking generosity is unwise, especially concerning the poor, as one is to love their neighbor. If by coercion we take what is not ours via the government, how then does a person have the resources they desire to help their neighbor, friends, and family? When you or I are forced by coercion our compassion decreases, not increase.
Write down a couple of people or families you wish you do more to help. With that in mind, about 40-50+% of our money earned goes to taxes. Moving more towards socialism means more will need to be taken from you. Pretend you’re rich, and in the name of justice the government takes more of your revenue, inhibiting your ability to help your neighbor. By having less of your money, you’re ability to build a business to employ others is diminished. Ask this question: How do African-American families, who have been gravely wronged from past sins of our country, build up generational wealth? It is in the self interest of our families to build wealth and security. It is also in our self-interest to be generous with our wealth to those in needs. Socialism inhibits both.
The Big 10
The Bible teaches private property. Do not steal, and do not covet make little sense without such. People have equal dignity or do not murder, the Sabbath, and not bearing false witness makes little sense. God will judge, or the first couple commandments make no sense. In his judgments both nations and people are included. The core is actions based on an inward belief system. If we become a “christian socialist” nation, does our outward performance match the nation’s heart or will our nation be judged for taking that which was not ours? Will we be judged for ruling as the gentles do?
Acts and all things in common…
Acts describes sacrificial generosity, not socialism. The church started with nothing and holding to “the way” was socially unacceptable. The radical sacrifice from a changed heart, not governance, allowed the church to be established. Because of this Gospel a greater concern- people’s salvation- was at heart. Now whether a prisoner, slave, workman, employer or rich, the issue was mutual respect under the equality of the Gospel AND to use one’s station in life as a platform to share the Gospel.
The Gospel is shrewd
In the Gospel and becoming more like Jesus, the issue of slaves submitting to their masters and teaching on contentment is not an endorsement on slavery to the neglect of freedom. It is a keen shrewdness centered on heart change. Submission to government is not a blind thing, but rather a shrewdness of “overcoming evil with good.” Why? Ultimately the Gospel is the truest source of freedom. And the promotion of that freedom doesn’t come from claiming rights, but rather in loving submission. Not blindly, but with wisdom and shrewd living. In the Gospel we have freedom. In that freedom we willingly set aside rights and property to spread the Gospel. Not by compulsion, but as free people.
The bottom line:
Freedom is an efficient mess and tyranny is inefficient graveyard. Only God can rule justly, and given our fallen state, only freedom can pragmatically counterbalance our propensity to tyranny. Socialism, as a Christian choice for governance, is essentially codified legalism. It may give the outward appearance of justice, but it fails the heart. The inefficient reality of socialism will ultimately lead grave injustice. In the name of justice, socialism will erode our ability to love our neighbor, and act in the self-interest of our family and friends. Let’s be a voice for freedom.
I tried the tech thing for a few years. It’s not working. I do not think this is an issue of generational shifting. I got scolded in elementary school for handing in a printed essay, I grew up techy when it was know as being a nerd. Some things are not replaceable. A tech Bible is such a thing. We need a hard copy Bible.
1) A hard copy has the benefit of legacy. It is much harder to toss a meaningful book away than digital notes.
2) Tech is often distracting when there is pressure against being still and knowing He is God. Stillness with the word is huge for sermon prep.
3) You can make the Bible digitally accessible and even preach from a tablet while still having a hard copy as your main Bible.
4) Hard copy Bibles don’t crash and are instantly available when the power is out or a recharge station is no where to be found.
5) A hard copy Bible inspires beyond your earthly life. Think beyond conscience and thing longer term.>
Jesus I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. ~John 15:5-7
Jesus is key to our prayer life. Our identity, our power and our effectiveness is Jesus. Often if our prayers seem to hit the ceiling if we feel overwhelmed or if we think we’re bigger than we are, it is time to go back to basics: Jesus.
The greatest weapon we have in the spiritual warfare of life is Jesus. Too often we think it is about us. It isn’t. It never is. When we remember who we are in Christ, ministry is tremendous, prayers powerful and God moves. Why? God acts to glorify his name.
Jesus is present
When Jesus gave the church it’s mission to make disciples of him, he promised his presence. Jesus didn’t die and raise again and then that’s it. Jesus is still involved in leading and building his church. Jesus is the boss and CEO of the church. Elders, deacons, trustees, etc work for Jesus. He rescued us and enables us to serve.
Sam Wolfe in his book “Building the House of Prayer” states this: Christ in us – Presence. His word in us- Power. Jesus said If my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. Living out the Word of God is key to an effective prayer life. It means being so in tune with God’s wishes that it’s a no brainer for him to act on our request.
Jesus saves, Jesus sends
Getting our focus back on Jesus isn’t just about Jesus saving us; It’s about Jesus sending us! God sent the son to reach us. Jesus sends us to reach others that belong to him. You cannot separate the mission from the savior. If our hearts are not about the mission, we’re not letting the words of Christ abide in us. Jesus saves us and then he sends us to proclaim what saved us.
In Jesus’ name
We close our prayers in Jesus name because Jesus is our great high priest who went and goes before the father on our behalf. Our fruit, success, power, effectiveness is in Jesus and the finished work on the cross. Because of Jesus we have a relationship with God, access to God and are able to effectively serve God. Abiding in Jesus is central to a great prayer life.
Church is team. It takes diversity for a unified church body to work, both within the local church as well as the universal church. Smoldering in the back of my head is the issue of Seminary, thanks in part to Pastor Tim Raymond. Back in May, Pastor Tim, a peer in seminary and a man of God I had the privilege to growing up with, wrote a series on the importance of seminary (Part one Part Two Part Three Part Four). Here is the opening to the series:
“For decades, seminary education has endured the slings and arrows of bad jokes, unkind mockery, and downright slander. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard a disillusioned preacher intentionally misspeak, recalling his years in “cemetery, I mean seminary,” I might be able to buy something edible. It would be easy for the average Christian to think wrongly, like Nathaniel did with Nazareth, that nothing good can come out of seminary.”
Wisdom & Knowledge
Wisdom & knowledge seem to be neglected gifts. Bill Hybels mentions often how leadership is often not developed or neglected in churches. For a long time, I believe that to be true. As I look over the course of my lifetime, it seems wisdom and knowledge are largely neglected. Churches rarely promote the life of the mind. Wisdom and knowledge feeds solid leadership and solid pastoring. It gives tools to evangelism and mercy. In the fear of heresy, apathy and/or elitism, we’ve neglected two vital gifts.
Seminary is vital
The church both local and universal need places of scholarship where those gifted with wisdom and knowledge can develop and build the body of Christ. I believe it is a duty of a pastor to be a theologian. Having the gift of leadership or shepherding doesn’t give us an excuse to be lax in our theology. It does mean we need to lean on those gifted in ways we are not. I’d be lost preaching through Romans if it were not for those gifted with wisdom and knowledge. While true knowledge can puff up and love edifies, Paul also argues for the importance of the mind in 1 Corinthians 14.
Disciples were diverse
Often the argument against scholarship, like seminary, is the disciples were average men. This is partly true. They were also men who went through a rigorous three-year training program by a master teacher, Jesus. Afterwards the Holy Spirit instructed them. While peter was “blue collar” Paul was clearly an intellectual. While John spoke profound truths simply, Luke and the writer of Hebrews were academically astute. We need all gifts. The formation of God’s Word illustrates this.
Biblical and theological literacy are at an all time low. The need for biblical counseling stands at an all time high. There is a relationship between these two things. Perhaps the church is reaping the costs of neglecting the gifts of wisdom and knowledge. What good is leadership or shepherding if it’s not on the firm foundation of God’s Word? Confusion on the Gospel, in worship and the church relationship to culture flow from not heeding wisdom and knowledge. We need to heed Hebrews 5:11-14.
The bottom line:
We need seminary and seminaries don’t need to be places where people lose their faith or passion. Like Tim, I found this to be quite the opposite. I’m immensely grateful for the discipleship Baptist Bible Seminary provided. While I understand that not all will or can attend seminary, I do think one should if at all possible. We need places where we can benefit from those gifted with wisdom and knowledge.
We say prayer should be a first response not a last result. Prayer is really both. The challenge of hard times comes when all we can do is wait.
The Bible gives us many patterns for prayer. Paul particularly records prayer thoughts for our benefit. The Bible says that if we ask according to the will of God we know we have that what we ask. Praying through Scriptures is helpful in this regard.
When going through a challenging time the best word of advice I received was to find a Psalm, grab hold of it, and pray through it regularly. So, step one- search the Psalms and find one that speaks to your situation.
Biblical meditation is filling our mind with Scripture. It’s an act of focus on God’s Word. This is different from Eastern meditation that focuses on emptying one’s mind. Choosing a Psalm helps in filling our minds with Scripture. So, step two- read and focus on this Psalm regularly.
This can take on many forms, but one thing you want to do is to record God’s faithfulness. By choosing a Psalm it can guide you about what to write. Step three- write what Gods is doing.
The bottom line:
Prayer is key to navigating hard times. Often we don’t know what to pray as we wait for God to show up. Pick a Psalm and grab hold of it. It will guide and sustain you through challenging times.