Tag Archives: scripture

Moral Reformation

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“Moral reformation which leaves the heart untouched is about as useful as tying bunches of grapes on to a briar-bush. Jesus is inviting his hearers to a way of life which is so completely new that it will need a change of heart, a change deep down in the personality. There are many alternatives to Jesus’ invitation on the market today, just as there were in his time, but they don’t touch the real problem.”

- N.T. Wright, from Luke for Everyone, p. 77-78

Reading Luke

As I mentioned in a previous post, my plan this year is to focus on Luke and Acts in my Bible study. Going through these two books slowly has been on my mind for some time, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’m just one month in and have only gotten through Luke 3. If you’re interested in studying Luke in this way, here are some of the resources I’ve been leaning on in my study so far. And if you know of any additional materials I’m missing, please let me know!

Bible Reading in 2014

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Well it’s New Year’s resolution time again. January is also the time when you see many articles and encouragements for read the Bible in a year plans. I’ve found these plans to be great helps to reading the entire Bible through in a year’s time and an excellent aid to keep that goal on track, and have read through the Bible several times with these. You can find many great plans listed here.

One thing that I’ve struggled with in these plans is the tendency to check off my reading for the day and never return to it for reflection or additional study. Sometimes I’d go through an entire book without pausing to consider how it fits into the Bible’s overall picture. So this year, Lord willing, I’m going to try something a little different. For whatever reason, I’ve focused more on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John in my previous studies than on Luke, and even less so on his follow-up writing of the book of Acts. So I’m planning on spending the year in Luke and Acts, reading and rereading the texts, and as much as I can of sermons, commentaries, and other background material on those two books. My guess is I’ll spend about 8 months in Luke and 4 months in Acts, but we’ll see. I’ll of course read other books of the Bible throughout the year, but I wanted to make sure I had enough time to fully focus on Luke’s writings without lapsing into a checklist mentality from a full Bible reading plan. I’ve tried a similar approach with smaller books such as 1 John, 1 Peter, and others, mainly through John MacArthur’s Bible study suggestions, and have found my understanding of these books was greatly helped. My Twitter friend Renee has been going through the Gospel of John for the past year or so, which encouraged me as well.

I’m excited to focus on studying Luke and Acts in this way and look forward to seeing where it leads. The main thing, I think, is spending time in God’s Word each day and learning to live more like Jesus. We’ll see how it goes!

And The Word Was God

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“The superior remoteness of the Father is really inconceivable, in that thought and intelligence are wholly impotent to go beyond the generation of the Lord; and St. John has admirably confined the conception within circumscribed boundaries by two words, ‘In the beginning was  the Word.’ For thought cannot travel outside ‘was,’ nor imagination beyond ‘beginning‘. Let your thought travel ever so far backward you cannot get beyond the ‘was,’ and however you may strain and strive to see what is beyond the Son, you will find it impossible to get further than the ‘beginning.’ True religion, therefore, thus teaches us to think of the Son together with the Father.”

- St. Basil the Great, from On The Spirit

All Body, No Cloak

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” – 1 Corinthians 15:3 (NIV)

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Can you have a “balanced gospel”? One of the things that has saddened me as I’ve read Christian authors and pastors over the years is the emphasis on certain doctrines of the Christian faith to the exclusion of others. My general sense is that most who focus on “What Would Jesus DO?” leave off much of what He SAID. And vice versa! I’m guilty of this myself at times, probably more often that I realize. My question to others (and a reminder to myself) is – why the either/or? Why do we want to lose any of what is the complete picture of our Savior, who He was, what He did, and the reasons why He came?

In his book How God Became King, N.T. Wright leads off with a theme of an “empty cloak”, wondering if in our ancient creeds we have glossed over the vast amounts of material between Jesus’ birth and death on the cross. In chapter two of his book, Wright moves to what he calls ‘The Opposite Problem’ – that many have emphasized what’s “inside the cloak” and have left off the beginning and end. Wright explains that this emphasis leaves us with three alternatives: 1) Jesus was revolutionary who wanted to set up a Jewish state in place of Roman rule 2) Jesus was a “wild-eyed apocalyptic visionary” or 3) Jesus was simply a mild-mannered teacher. As Wright carefully explains, these alternatives leave out the supernatural components of what’s known as orthodox Christian faith. The “social gospel” is given a higher place than what is emphasized in the ancient creeds, which makes everything imbalanced.

It may be unwise to think that we can have a “balanced gospel”. But Wright explains the problems of setting up camp in one of the two extremes. What Wright feels we’re missing is “the devastating and challenging message I find in the four gospels: God really has become king – in and through Jesus!” Wright is quick to clarify that this is an “inaugurated eschatological” message – things in this world are not yet as we envision they should be, but will be. But he also feels that we need to be reminded that “the kingdom of God” which Jesus spoke of so often is not a future prospect only. It is here now – it may not be what we imagined it to be – yet – but none of us can be indifferent to it.

It seems to me that, based on the amount of time Wright spends in explaining the problems of the two extremes we are prone to, that he feels that the greater danger is the “empty cloak” problem. Those of us who tend to emphasize “personal salvation” and the cross as Jesus’ primary message can miss out on everything He spoke of, taught, and did in the time between His birth and death. However, I’m not sure I agree with his theme on the cloak just yet. I’ve seen  churches and places where the things that Paul talks of as being “of first importance” are deemphasized in place of what Jesus taught, rather than who He was. The Gospel of John is the best evidence against that wrongly placed emphasis. And nevermind the Sunday TV shows with supposedly Christian preaching that sound as if they could have come out of a self-help seminar or something else. As Alistair Begg has said, the plain things are the main things, and these can get lost when the preaching reflects this imbalance. Having said all that, Wright has gotten me to think more about the effects of these two positions and where we can all get off course. This is a good thing. I look forward to where Wright takes this next.

Above image from kypolicy.org

The Empty Cloak

“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” – John 20:30-31 (NASB)

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We are at the time of year where many inside the Christian church turn their focus to the Incarnation. Sermons are preached on familiar texts in Matthew 1 & 2, Luke 1 & 2, and elsewhere. Ideally this should be a time of reflection for all of us and a push back against the ramped-up pace of the season. These texts help us do that.

Fast forward a few months and there will be a similar focus on Easter. I always feel that our focus on the cross during that time loses its traction quickly once Easter has passed, and we don’t reflect on the cross nearly enough throughout the rest of our year. Having intentional periods of concentration on the Incarnation and on the Cross and Resurrection are good things, especially if they stir up deeper meditation on these when the calendar has moved on.

This week I’ve begun reading a book by N.T. Wright called How God Became King. I am only one chapter in, and Wright has taken a stance that leads a bit further down the road. He reviews the ancient creeds that are so embedded in the Christian faith particularly the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. Wright notes that each creed moves directly from the birth of Christ to His death. There is no mention made in either creed of His life in between those two points in history. Wright likens this treatment to “…an empty cloak. The outer wrapping is there – Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. But who is inside the cloak? What did Jesus do in between? Is there anybody there? Does it matter?”

The subtitle of Wright’s book is ‘The Forgotten Story of the Gospels’. He explains that he has had conversations with pastors and scholars who seem to have so narrowly focused on the Incarnation and Easter story that they’ve lost what’s “inside the cloak” – the gospel accounts themselves. Wright recounts that he’s asked them, “How is it that you simply treat them as somewhat random illustrative material for the thing you obviously want to focus on, the saving death and resurrection of the divine Savior?”

I have to admit I think I am prone to this as well. Book titles like The Cross of Christ and The Death of Death in the Death of Christ are on my to-read list. I also appreciate the increased focus on Christ’s Incarnation at this time of year. But Wright does make you wonder. Our ancient, foundational creeds jump over vast amounts of material in the four Gospels. Has this affected the way we view them? For all of the good that I believe comes from the increased attention to Jesus’ Incarnation and His death and resurrection at those familiar times of year, have we lost something as well?

I’m only one chapter in with Wright’s book, so I don’t know where he’s headed next. But so far he has given me much to think about as I read my Advent devotionals. What have we been missing inside the cloak?

Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc

Go Deep or Go Long

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for re-setting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God and fit him fully for all branches of his work.” - 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (Phillips)

 

When I first became a Christian over six years ago, I read the Bible straight through from Genesis to Revelation in a period of about six months. Every year since, I’ve followed some kind of reading plan where I’ve more or less read the Bible through in a year’s time. This has been a great blessing to me and a real anchor in my life. I can really sense the day getting away from me if I haven’t read through some bit of God’s Word and reflected on it.

I do have to admit though there are days when it feels like my reading is just checking off a box and moving on to more “urgent” priorities. I was listening to a message from James Merritt once, and he mentioned how many of us can treat reading the Bible the way we read a newspaper if we’re not careful. I’ve been wondering lately if this isn’t starting to happen with me, and more importantly, what to do about it.

My Twitter friend Renee has been going through the Gospel of John methodically for a while. She had mentioned that she just finished about three months of study in John 18 (!). I’m thinking that this type of approach might be a good one to take for a season, to avoid the danger of falling into the check box approach and camping out in a book for a while to soak up its meaning. I’ll probably finish out the plan I’m currently in for this year, but I’m wondering if I should do something similar to what Renee has done in the coming year, or maybe even now. We of course have no law to guide us into how to read our Bibles. The goal is to become more Christ-like, not to cross something off our to-do list.

I’d be interested in hearing how others go through this and avoid those dry periods. Maybe something works better for you. Do you see value in one approach or the other? What do you think?

Redeeming the Time

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My friend Claire over at One Passion One Devotion recently posted about podcasts that she listens to regularly. We are so blessed in our day to have access to free, sound Bible teaching. It’s not something I take for granted. Inspired by Claire, I figured I’d post my own list of those that I listen to regularly and have really helped me to grow as a Christian.

These are in no particular order:

  • Patterson Park Church: Ok, not really podcasts – we should always be fed first and foremost through our local church. I so appreciate our pastors, who preach the Word faithfully, week in and week out. This summer they’re doing a series on the Psalms.
  • Alistair Begg (Truth for Life): I listen to Alistair almost every day. His Scottish accent and sense of humor complement his sound preaching of the Word. I’m currently listening to his series on Luke 15 called Amazing Love.
  • Mark Dever (Capitol Hill Baptist Church): One thing I appreciate about him is that he presents the Gospel in nearly every sermon. He also reads the full text of what he’s preaching, sometimes several times in the sermon. The Word is central in what he does. His series’ on John and Romans are especially good.
  • Albert Mohler (The Briefing): A good one to start the day with, Dr. Mohler is one of the most astute observers of Christianity and culture. His Bible studies are also good listens.
  • Woodrow Kroll (Back to the Bible): Dr. Kroll recently retired from Back to the Bible, but his previous programs are currently still being broadcast. His series on Ephesians really helped me as a new Christian in 2007.
  • Josh Moody (College Church): Dr. Moody was the pastor of a church I attended when I lived in CT and has been at College Church in Wheaton, IL since 2009. British wit and solid preaching.
  • Tullian Tchividjian (Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church): Tullian understands grace and helps us to get it too.
  • Quick Study: Rod Hembree and his family go through the Bible every year, from Genesis to Revelation, with their 6 day a week TV & radio broadcast. One of the first programs I came across as a new Christian and I still watch now on YouTube.
  • Charles Price (Living Truth): I’ve listened to Charles for a long time and always benefit from his teaching.
  • Greg Laurie (Harvest): I appreciate Pastor Greg’s heart for the lost. He has an amazing life story.
  • James Merritt (Touching Lives): I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Merritt when I visited his church in Georgia about three years ago. One of my favorites.

There are many more: Ravi Zacharias, John MacArthur, Paul Tripp, Tim Keller, and Sinclair Ferguson all come to mind

Who else should I be listening to?


Above image from all4cellular

Hazy Shade of Winter

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“There is a winter blast coming your way. I do not know when, I do not know how. And you do not need to go looking for it; it will come find you. But the winter of your discontent is coming. Are you getting ready, right now in this day of harvest? Are you stocking up on God’s Word? Are you exploiting today as an opportunity from God to become wisely prepared for tomorrow? One year from today, are you going to be a more fruitful man of God? Well, how is that going to happen? What is your growth plan?”

- Ray Ortlund, from Proverbs: Wisdom That Works, p. 101

 

John 10:10


“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10 (ESV)

As I go further down the road as a Christian, I find that I cling more & more to the Gospel of John. I think it gives the clearest picture in the Bible of who Jesus was and why He came. I’m about halfway through John in my Bible reading plan and read through John 10 yesterday. Verse 10 of course is very familiar to all Christians. Sometimes a verse gets you and sometimes it’s just a word. Here it’s ‘abundantly’.

I just finished reading a little book by Matt Redmond called The God of the Mundane. I wouldn’t characterize it simply as an answer to the ‘radical’ type books that have come out in recent years. However, it does offer a counter-perspective for those of us who find themselves in everyday America with normal jobs, daily childcare responsibilities, unending household chores, and the like. Redmond asks, “In the economy of God, do only the times when we are doing something life-changing have any spiritual cache with Him?” I wonder that myself sometimes. I see tweets and blog posts about saints who are doing work in “hard soil” as one of my pastors once called it and often feel small by comparison. Some days the agenda is just reading my Bible, getting out the door, working a full day, coming home to spend time with my wife and son, and then it’s bedtime. Those days kind of run together. I wonder in light of reading Redmond’s book, and spending some time on John 10:10, if Jesus had this in mind when he talked about abundance. God calls us to be faithful right where we are, I really believe that. And just as sure, sometimes He calls us out of where we are and to other areas where He feels we can best serve. Sometimes though I wonder if Jesus sees an ‘abundance’ in my life. Are others living on a higher plane as Christians? Is there such a thing?

There is a bit of rambling here, as there is in most of my posts. If you have read this far, what do you think? When Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” what does He mean? What does this look like in your own life?

1 John 5:11

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“In Jesus, the invisible God has revealed himself in terms that can be understood anywhere, any time – a perfect human life. In Jesus, the powers of the unseen world, the age to come, are being revealed as he demonstrates his sovereignty over all the hostile forces ranged against man – sin, disease, demons and even death itself. Supremely, the life of eternity is life that has overcome the grave, and that life can be found in Christ alone who triumphed over death by his glorious resurrection. This life is in his Son.

- David Jackman, from The Message of John’s Letters, p. 154

Ligon Duncan: A Gospel Exposition of the Ceremonial Law

I watched this on Friday afternoon and commend it to you.

Ligon Duncan – A Gospel Exposition of the Ceremonial Law – Numbers 5:1-4, Luke 5:12-14; 8:40-56 from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

Filling the Holes

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“There was a little boy whose father, to teach him a lesson, told him that every time he did a certain thing that was wrong, a nail should be driven into a post, but that, on every occasion when he did anything that was right and kind, one of those nails should be pulled out. Master Benjamin became exceedingly careful when the post had got well studded with nails and, after a while, they were drawn out, one after another, and soon his father had the pleasure of extracting the last one. He expected to see the lad begin jumping for joy, but, instead of that, the boy stood weeping and his father said to him, “Well, Benny, my boy, you see that all the nails are pulled out now.” “Yes, father,” he sadly answered, “but the holes are left.”

“So now, suppose that next year we should, by the effectual working of the Spirit of God, be so sanctified in our walk
and conversation that our besetting sins should be destroyed and that we should be delivered from these sins that we have
been confessing, yet, still, the holes of the past evils would be left—and it is only our Lord Jesus Christ who can fill those
holes.”

- Charles H. Spurgeon, from the sermon A New Leaf for the New Year

Daily Bread

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“Make it a part of every day’s business to read and meditate on some portion of God’s Word. Private means of grace are just as needful every day for our souls–as food and clothing are for our bodies. Yesterday’s food will not feed the laborer today; and today’s food will not feed the laborer tomorrow. Do as the Israelites did in the wilderness. Gather your manna fresh every morning. Choose your own seasons and hours. Do not scramble over and hurry your reading. Give your Bible the best, and not the worst part of your time! But whatever plan you pursue, let it be a rule of your life to visit the throne of grace and God’s Word every day.”

- J.C. Ryle, from Practical Religion

Expositional Listening

This week I finished reading Thabiti Anyabwile’s What Is A Healthy Church Member? The church I’ve been attending since the spring is having a membership class this coming weekend, and in accordance with that, I thought this book would be a good primer. This book is based off the 9Marks series and begins with the statement that a healthy church member is an expositional listener. Anyabwile breaks this down into several subpoints and one of them has resonated with me in particular. Anyabwile suggests we “listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week”. Out of all the points he touched on regarding expositional listening, this one seems the most difficult.

Our weeks get filled up fast with to-do lists and places to be, and even meditating on the day’s Bible reading can seem difficult. Now we’re being asked to act on Sunday’s sermon throughout the week? How often does the Sunday post-church conversation move towards other topics, some worthy, some not. This is quite a challenge. Our pastors have been entrusted with the teaching of God’s Word, knowing that this will strengthen the congregation and help them to be in line with God’s will. What a gift to our pastors (and to the Lord) to know that we have not just listened to the preaching but have allowed it to shape our minds and behavior throughout the week. Why does the Sunday sermon seem to fade at times so quickly? Worse yet, why do those podcasts and ‘celebrity’ sermons that we view or hear linger with us longer?

Anyabwile suggests that we “…choose one or two particular applications from the Scripture and prayerfully put them into practice over the coming week.” A couple of weeks ago, one of the pastors preached on 2 Peter 3 and the type of people we should look like in the light of verses 11-13? How do those verses shape your thoughts and actions throughout the week? More to the point, DO those verses ever shape our thoughts and actions?

I appreciated the reminders in this book and the practical suggestions that were offered. The Sunday sermon is not a performance we attend, it’s something that should drive us back to God and help us to view where our lives match up with His will. What are some ways we can “keep the sermon alive in your spiritual life” throughout the week and beyond, as Anyabwile puts it? What does that look like?

Run With The Horses

For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to Jeremiah the prophet. I’ve often wondered why God chose to reveal so much about this man’s character compared to the other prophets in Scripture. In his book Run With The Horses, Eugene Peterson takes the portrait given to us in Scripture in Jeremiah and expands on it beautifully.

We get traces of personality in some of the prophets (Jonah for example stands out as well) but with the majority of them, it’s their message that we remember most. What do we know about Malachi the man? Peterson explains that in Jeremiah’s case, the full, 3D picture of him lends an extra dimension to his message – “There is not a trace of smugness or complacency or naivete in Jeremiah – every muscle in his body was stretched to the limits by fatigue, every thought in his mind subjected to rejection, every feeling in his heart put through the fires of ridicule. Goodness in Jeremiah was not ‘being nice.’ It was something more like prowess.”

Peterson argues that the Jeremiah did not see much in the way of results during his ministry; he grappled with God and wondered why he was chosen for his task (similar to Moses). But in the end, he was faithful to what God had called him to do. Peterson explained, “It is Jeremiah’s lifelong achievement that the soggy religious mush of the masses never dulled his perceptions nor muted his insistent witness.”

Peterson weaves some of his own life experiences into the book, which are well-placed and not overdone. I don’t think I would call this a ‘commentary’ on Jeremiah, or even a devotional. It’s more of an expanded reflection, and taking what Scripture has given us and expanding it into a complete picture of his life and ministry. I have to say that I’m not a fan of Peterson’s translation of the Bible – “The Message” – so I was a bit skeptical when I first picked this up at our library. But that was quickly outweighed when I started reading this book. The version of this book that I read is from 1983 and I understand there is an updated version from 2009. Either way, if you decide you want to spend some time getting to know Jeremiah the prophet, you would enjoy and benefit from this book. I’d say it’s the best book I’ve read so far this year.

The Wisdom of This World

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” – 1 Corinthians 1:25 (NIV)

I should know better by now. I get excited when I hear that a pastor I admire or respect is going to appear on a national news program to talk about a current issue. I do expect that there will be an opposing viewpoint to counter the Christian perspective. But lately these types of appearances on national news are becoming nothing more than a dog and pony show.

Albert Mohler appeared recently on CNN to discuss the Ch1ck-F1l-A controversy. I was hoping Dr. Mohler would be given the respect he deserves when discussing the issue but was instead treated with disdain by the host and the opposing guest’s viewpoint. The tolerance that so many call for in the media is rarely offered to Christians when they speak in these types of forums. Again, I should know better and expect this nonsense. But it is getting awfully tiring.

At The Cross

“The cross of Christ is first and centrally God’s means of reconciling sinful people to his sinless self. But it is bigger than that too. From the ground we see the cross as our bridge to God. From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade into Eden. It is our key into a better Eden, into the wonders of the new-covenant kingdom, of which the old was just a shadow. The cross is the linchpin in God’s plan to restore all creation. Is it any wonder, then, that the empty tomb opened out into a garden?”

- Matt Chandler, from The Explicit Gospel, p. 142-143.

Headline News

image from snb26pr.wordpress.com

“If we forget that the newspapers are footnotes to Scripture and not the other way around, we will finally be afraid to get out of bed in the morning. Too many of us spend far too much time with the editorial page and not nearly enough with the prophetic vision. We get our interpretation of politics and economics and morals from journalists when we should be getting only information; the meaning of the world is most accurately given to us by God’s Word.”

- Eugene H. Peterson, from Run With The Horses, p. 54.

Formless and Void

“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:2 ESV

I’ve started listening to Sinclair Ferguson’s series on the Holy Spirit, which is being broadcast on Ligonier’s Renewing Your Mind broadcast and also is being offered on DVD. In the first broadcast, Ferguson made a connection which I had not thought much about before. He asked us to reflect for a bit on how this early account in Genesis resembles our own lives before Christ. Each of us were formless and void in our own ways, stumbling about looking for purpose in life with no real direction or meaning. Then the Holy Spirit did His work and began to soften our own hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, that trusted Jesus as our Savior, and turned the formless shape of our life and the empty void it contained into one with a purpose to please God and Him alone.

That’s it! I hadn’t pieced that connection together before, but I’m thankful to Dr. Ferguson for illustrating in that manner. The Apostle Paul, in his 1st letter to the church in Corinth, explained that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. And I reflect on that even more tonight, as it was five years go today (June 27, 2007) that I first trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I thank Him for his lovingkindness and mercy and grace today with all my heart. Praise God for the work He does!