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Friday, January 11, 2019

The Value of the Psalms in the Christian Life

The Psalms can and should be part of the constant practice of the presence of God. Regularly read from beginning to end, they lead us again and again to consider aspects of life and of God’s will that we might not otherwise choose to remember or confront — let alone to embody in our living. Memorized in chunks the Psalms can provide ready response to the pressing realities of our days. When I have wakened in a panic in the darkness of the early morning hours — submerged in fear, self-pity, or self-doubt — the Psalms have often provided the assurance that my anxieties are known by God, who enlightens my dark places. So, I encourage you to make the Psalms your constant companion. Keep a copy at hand, and keep their words in your mind and heart and on your lips as you meet the challenges of your days and nights.” (The NIV Application Commentary, Psalms Vol. 1, 104.)

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Necessity of Preachers

I am reading a sermon called The True Excellency of a Minister of the Gospel by Jonathan Edwards to sharpen my mind and stir my affections for God and his people.  I often look to Edwards or John Piper when I need an infusion of a God-saturated view of life and ministry.  Here is a quote on the necessity of gospel messengers . . . 
But God in infinite mercy has made glorious provision for the restoration of light to this fallen dark world; he has sent him, who is the brightness of his own glory, into the world, to be the light of the world. "He is the true light, that ligheth every man that cometh into the world" [John 1:9], i.e. every man in the world that ever has any true light. But in his wisdom and mercy, he is pleased to convey his light to men by means and instruments; and had sent forth his messengers, and appointed ministers in his church to be subordinate lights, and to shine with the communications of his light, and to reflect the beams of his glory on the souls of men. 
If you are a preacher, small group leader, Sunday School teacher, etc. you are one of God's appointed means of light to shine his light in the souls of men and women!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Have Bible Quoters Replaced Bible Readers?

Enlightening and alarming post that is a must read for every pastor and church leader from Russel Moore . . .

Most readers of this site will share my angst about biblical illiteracy. I think we sometimes assume, though, that this illiteracy is simply a problem in the broadest sweep of cultural Christianity. It is there, to be sure. That’s why Christian bookstores (or their digital equivalents) don’t sell many books on the meaning of justification in Galatians, but tons of books with diet tips from Ezekiel or channeled messages from heaven. The problem, though, is far bigger than that.

I’ve never really known how to identify the scope of the biblical illiteracy facing us until I read this past weekend a sentence that perfectly articulated what I had noticed, in David Nienhuis’ very helpful new book A Concise Guide to Reading the New Testament (Baker). Speaking of the students in his college New Testament classes, Nienhuis writes that they struggle with the biblical material “because they have been trained to be Bible quoters, not Bible readers.”

He is exactly right.

Nienhuis locates part of the problem in the way higher criticism has sought to remove the Bible from the terrain of the church to the alleged expertise of those able to discern the “original context” in ways novel to the reading of the church through the ages. But the problem goes beyond this, he notes. The problem is also the way the Bible is used in churches.

“Some of my students attend popular non-denominational churches led by entrepreneurial leaders who claim to be ‘Bible believing’ and strive to offer sermons that are ‘relevant’ for successful Christian living,” he writes. “Unfortunately, in too many cases, this formula results in a preacher appealing to a short text of Scripture, out of context, in order to support a predetermined set of ‘biblical principles’ to guide the congregants’ daily lives. The only Bible these students encounter, sadly, is the version that is carefully distilled according to the theological and ideological concerns that have shaped the spiritual formation of the lead pastor.”

I would say the problem goes far beyond non-denominational churches, or even entrepreneurial churches, as biblical interpretation in American evangelicalism tends to be trickle-down, from the entrepreneurial ministry pioneers to everyone else.

Here’s the end-result according to Nienhuis: “They have the capacity to recall a relevant biblical text in support of a particular doctrinal point, or in opposition to a hot spot in the cultural wars, or in hope of emotional support when times get tough. They approach the Bible as a sort of reference book, a collection of useful God-quotes that can be looked up as one would locate words in a dictionary or an entry in an encyclopedia.”

He continues: “What they are not trained to do is to read a biblical book from beginning to end, to trace its narrative arc, to discern its main themes, and to wonder how it shapes our faith lives today.”

This is not a matter of the educated versus the uneducated. The same problem exists among both. I have noticed people who were experts in the grammar of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles who didn’t really get the flow of the old, old story. If the Bible, though, is God’s Word, and it is, we must raise up people who don’t merely believe the Bible but also who know what it says.

The answer is not easy. Part of the problem is what Nienhuis mentions, the modeling of the use of Scripture in some teaching and preaching. Part of the problem is the larger cultural question of whether the distracted, fragmented modern mind any longer has the attention span to read a text (meaning a literary text, as opposed to a text message). And part of the problem is that in order to train people to read their Bibles, the church must be gathered more than just an hour or two a week. To engage with a narrative requires (pardon this metaphor, my paedobaptist friends) not just a sprinkling but an immersion in the text.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Understanding the Four Soils

Referring to the parable of the sower, Craig Blomberg comments,
Many readers have wondered how to fit these four categories of individuals into the two categories into which Jesus has already made clear everyone falls (cf. 7:13–27; 10:32–42). The answer is actually fairly straightforward. The first three kinds of soils are all inadequate. None of them stands for people who were ever true believers, despite certain outward appearances. For farmers, only those plants that bear good fruit (“produced a crop,” v. 8) count for anything. True believers are thus only those who bear proper spiritual fruit (7:16–17). Of the rest Jesus says, “I never knew you” (7:23). What counts is not profession of faith but perseverance in faith. To be sure, all true Christians will persevere, but only by observing who perseveres can we determine who those true Christians are. Matthew’s climactic focus, however, remains on the astonishing impact of those who are faithful. Jesus provides his followers with an important reminder of God’s continued blessings on their work, even as large numbers of people become increasingly hostile to the gospel. He will make this point again in vv. 31–33.  NAC Matthew commentry. pp. 214–215.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Holy Spirit and Discipleship

Jesus emphasized that the Holy Spirit is the key to discipleship. The spirit is the one who convicts unbelievers, regenerates believers, and causes growth. We must allow for the Spirit in all that we do while making disciples. Discipleship practices must rely on the work of the Spirit from beginning to end. And we cannot program the Spirit. Mike Wilkins, Following the Master, 121.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Eight Key Components for Multiplying Disciples in the Local Church

Ran across these necessary components pastors need to establish the DNA for multiplying disciples in their church.  Worth thinking about for any church leadership team.

  1. A pastor’s first priority is growing every member of the church to be a mature, reproducing disciple.
  2. Every person called to salvation is called to discipleship.
  3. The gospel expects all disciples to make other disciples.
  4. All ministry activities should be evaluated by their contribution to growing mature, reproducing disciples.
  5. The method should be Jesus’ way of personally making disciples who make other disciples.
  6. Success should be measured not by how many disciples are made, but by how many disciples are making other disciples.
  7. Our churches exist for making disciples, and disciples are God’s gift to the world.
  8. The ultimate goal of making disciples is world revolution. When the gospel is preached to all peoples, the end will come.  Conversion and Discipleship, Bill Hull, p 205.