Monday, March 31, 2014

What is marriage, according to the Bible?

Just last night I started reading the chapter on marriage that Ortlund references in this post.  Marriage and divorce is a difficult and complex and painful subject that I had to rethink recently.  It was one of those time I wished I was not a pastor.  Fortunately, those are few and far between.  David
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  Genesis 2:24
It is not true that the Bible teaches multiple views of marriage, and therefore the Bible’s clarity is diminished on this question.  The Bible does record, for example, that “Lamech took two wives” (Genesis 4:19).  But the Bible is not thereby endorsing polygamy, but indeed is casting doubt on polygamy.  The role of Lamech in the text is to show “a progressive hardening in sin” (Waltke, Genesis, page 100).  We invented polygamy, along with other social evils.  But God gave us marriage.
The Bible defines marriage in Genesis 2:24, quoted above.  Here is what this very significant verse is saying:
Therefore.  This word signals that Moses is adding an aside to his narrative.  It’s as if we are sitting in Moses’ living room, watching his DVD of the creation of the universe (Genesis 1) and of man and woman (Genesis 2).  At this point he hits the pause button on the remote, the screen freezes, he turns to us post-fall people watching these amazing events and he says, “Now let me explain how what God did so long ago is normative for us today.  Amazingly, we still retain something beautiful from the Garden of Eden.”
A man shall leave his father and his mother.  In a culture of strong bonds between the generations, this is striking.  A man’s primary human relationship is no longer with his parents or ancestors.  He breaks away from them for the sake of a more profound loyalty.
And hold fast to his wife.  A man, in marrying, enfolds his wife into his heart.  He rejoices to identify with her: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (verse 23).  At every level of his being, he becomes wholeheartedly devoted to her, as to no other.
And they shall become one flesh.  “One flesh” is essential to the biblical view of marriage.  It means, one mortal life fully shared.  Two selfish me’s start learning to think like one unified us, sharing one everything: one life, one reputation, one bed, one suffering, one budget, one family, one mission, and so forth.  No barriers.  No hiding.  No aloofness.  Now total openness with total sharing and total solidarity, until death parts them.  Moreover, Jesus explained that, behind the word “become,” God is there: “What therefore God has joined together . . .” (Matthew 19:6).  Marriage is not a product of human social evolution.  Marriage came down from God.  And he defined it for us.  He has the right to.  It belongs to him.
One mortal life fully shared between a man and a woman — this is marriage, according to the Bible, because Genesis 2:24 is not a throw-away line.  Its very purpose is to define.
What’s more, the apostle Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 to take our understanding a step further — an amazing step: “We are members of [Christ's] body.  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Ephesians 5:30-31).  Did you notice his logic?  “We are members of Christ’s body.  He loved us.  He chose us.  He gave himself up for us.  He embraced us.  He is with us.  He will present us someday in splendor.  All of this glory is ours, because we are united with him now and forever.  Therefore, this is why, our union with Christ is the reason why, a man and women get married and live united as ‘one flesh.’  Human marriages are miniature social platforms on which the gospel is to be displayed.”
Marriage is a gospel issue.  That is the ultimate reason why clarity about its definition matters.  People who depart from, or fail to stand up for, the biblical view of marriage are taking a step away from the gospel itself.  The whole Bible is the story of the marital love of God, as I demonstrate in this book.  Our whole lives are that story, if we have eyes to see.
Marriage is more than human romance, wonderful as that is.  Marriage is the display of Christ and his Bride in love together.  A beautiful, tender, thriving, Ephesians 5-kind of marriage makes the gospel visible on earth, bringing hope to people who have given up believing there could be any love anywhere for them.  That is why biblical marriage deserves our courageous loyalty today.  And that is why, in our increasingly secular times, biblical marriage is under pressure.  Its true meaning is understood and embodied and sustained only by the power of the gospel.
We can’t turn the clock back to the days of the Christian social consensus the West has foolishly thrown away.  But we who say we believe the gospel can and must stand up for the biblical definition of marriage.  We must cultivate beautiful marriages ourselves.  We must suffer social rejection bravely.  We must pray for revival.  We must wait for the inevitable collapse of every false view of marriage.  We must lovingly serve all who suffer for their foolish attempts at false “marriages.”  And we must go to church this Sunday and worship the living God with all our hearts, so that we ourselves are sustained for faithfulness over the long haul, because this isn’t going to be easy.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The 'Gospel' That Almost Killed Me

I'm in a bathtub. I can't get up. I feel like I'm about to die. Mercury poisoning.

The water in the tub has grown cold. Maybe that's why I feel so cold. I've been marinating in my own soup stock for the past two hours. I'm floating in and out of consciousness. Whenever I can concentrate I begin to pray.
The prosperity Gospel is a dangerous and hidden virus in the evangelical church which is blind to many of it's forms and influences - David
Jesus, please, save me. Please, heal me. I repent, I put my whole heart into prayer right now, and I cast out any doubt or fear. I know you can heal me. Please heal me! My mom's keys are rattling in the doorknob now, and I hear the door thud shut in the distance. I hear her purse sliding across the counter and her keys landing next to it. I barely recognize her figure as she tries with all of her wiry might to pull me out of the tub. I spend the next two days in the hospital. My mom wants to know why I didn't let her know, why I didn't want to go to the hospital, why I didn't do something.
"Mom, Jesus is my doctor. I'm blessed, and I know that he would have healed me." This is me trying to live out what I think is true Christianity.
I just got saved two months earlier. I'm fresh out of jail, and I'm walking around the projects where I used to stomp like a tiny teenage giant. I've got a bare back, a few tattoos, and a Bible in my hand. I'm just praying for the opportunity to share the Christ with someone.
I meet a man named Roger who invites me into his home. He buys me lunch, and we spend all day talking about the Bible. This guy knows way more than I do. I've never heard anyone spout off so many Scriptures in such rapid-fire succession. "This guy is legit," I say under my breath.
Over the course of the next six months, this man indoctrinates me with the prosperity gospel. Just a few months earlier, I'd never even opened a Bible. I have no idea I'm being given arsenic in my Kool-Aid. I take it all. I believe it all. I know it's true. It has to be. It's all right here in Scripture. Look, she touched the hem of his garment and was healed. Look, Jesus couldn't heal them because they didn't have enough faith. Look, all throughout the Old Testament you see curses for sins and blessings for righteousness. Prosperity for the good, pain for the bad. It's so plain. So obvious.
But stuff isn't making sense. I'm still without a job. I can't pay my rent. My mom isn't getting saved, and I keep getting cold sores. None of these things should be happening. There must be sin hidden somewhere in my heart.
Now I have the flu, and I don't have any money to buy groceries. I just need to claim it. I just need to rebuke Satan and his lies, and believe that what I've proclaimed in the name of Jesus will surely come to pass. Maybe I'm not tithing enough. Time to double up. I'll get it back one hundredfold. Maybe more. I just need to sow in faith.
But it's still not happening. "Roger, hey man, I don't understand. It seems like this stuff isn't working. What am I doing wrong?"
"Dude, I don't know exactly what it is, but I know the problem ain't with God or his Word. It's got to be something in your heart or in your life. Let's pray about it."
Fast forward a year. I'm 19 and married now. We're struggling hard. I can't pay the rent or the electricity bill, and I just lost another job. My wife wasn't saved when we met. She gets saved during the course of our friendship, and somewhere in there, she starts listening to me and taking in all the "truth" I'm giving her. She does wonder, though, about the disconnect. When the ATM receipt says we're $40 in the hole, I rebuke myself, the ATM, and the receipt. I claim my blessing even in the face of this lie from Satan. I know Jesus is looking down on me, proud of my strength amid such persecution and adversity. "In the name of Jesus!"—I keep claiming what he's promised me.
The prosperity gospel and word-of-faith movement are basically the same thing, but I've never heard those labels before. All the good Bible-loving Baptists fear me because I probably robbed their sons, stole their cars, or vandalized their church. Yet because of my powerful testimony, scores of churches invite me to come and share. I preach a false gospel every time I go. Not once does anyone ever sit me down and talk with me about the danger to my soul. Not a word. Not a peep. Not to my face, anyway. Now I know they waited respectfully until I left, and then talked among themselves about how sad it is to see such passion so misdirected.
All I know, the only thing I know, is that I love Jesus. He saved me. I was destroying myself and anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in my gravitational pull. I was dying, and I was going to die twice. One night, on an empty road in the middle of nowhere, in a scene so strange it has to be true, Jesus saved me. He saved me from sin, death, and hell. I want to spend the rest of my life serving Jesus with all of me. I think this refuse called "gospel," this message of prosperity and proclamation, is what I must do. So I obey. In my mind, this is what it means to be a Christian. This is all I've known. I think this is what God wants of me. So I continue in white-knuckled obedience. I keep pressing, keep pushing. And one random day I join Myspace.
I like to argue on Myspace. I'm 19 with a big mouth. The internet offers me a perfect avenue to express myself and condemn those who can't see the truth I see, obey the law as well as I do, and lack the faith I radiate like a fiery sun. I'm perusing this wasteland one evening in Seattle, and an old man pops up on my QuickTime video player. He's really bringing the thunder. He's preaching on holiness like no one I've ever heard. I'm hooked. I go to the next video.
Amazing. I've never heard anyone preach this way. I go to the next one. It says "John Piper: Prosperity Gospel Sermon Jam." I'm excited. He's going to really give the jolt I need to keep going.
But after the clip I'm furious. I close my computer. Another wolf. Another preacher who just has it so wrong. The video was the worst attack on my faith I've ever seen or heard. I stop watching right after he says "this crap called gospel!" Unbelievable.
I carry on with my life, but I just can't help it. I keep going back to YouTube, and eventually to this website that has all of his teachings. I tell myself I'm just going to read or listen to or watch his other stuff. I'll avoid the stuff I don't like—the stuff that's wrong. The other stuff is just too good, though. It's breathing life into my soul.
I don't remember much about the night the truth took over. Sometimes our brains protect us from the trauma of reliving the pain over and over again. But this night, I'm crying. I'm devastated. I've been considering the possibility for months now, and it finally clicked about five minutes ago. Almost everything I think I know about God, the Bible, the cross, and the gospel is wrong. Dead wrong. I feel it now, down in my bones, and it burns with the pain only God can give.
Repentance begins. "Amber, baby, we need to talk. Everything I've ever taught you about Christ is wrong. Can you ever trust me again? Can we start over? Will you give me another chance?"
I feel like an adulterer. I begin undoing everything that needs to be undone. I failed as a husband, and by the grace of God I'm trying to fix it. I have no one and nothing. I don't have any non-prosperity gospel friends, since I ditched them if they couldn't get with the program. They were only holding me back and hurting my faith. That's what I told myself. Now I'm alone. I do have the internet, though. . . .
So I'm watching Paul Washer videos and spending hours on I've never even heard the word reformed, and I can't find one single book about the prosperity gospel. Not one that's attacking it, anyway. That's what I really want.
I'm hurt—badly. I don't trust anyone, and I'm angry at everyone—at Christians, anyway. Why didn't anyone tell me? How could I have been so blind? I'm angry at myself. I'm broken, but the Spirit is carrying me.
God did heal my mercury poisoning, but it wasn't because of my power to proclaim that healing into existence. And he accomplished a far greater rescue when he delivered me from the prosperity gospel. It's been nearly six years since the Lord saved me from myself and the damnable heresy that had ensnared me.
I'm writing this account from Peru where my family and I are trying to reach a people group who don't have the gospel. I'm still picking up the pieces. I still have a hard time praying for healing, or prosperity and blessing, both of which are thoroughly biblical. I still feel my diaphragm twitch whenever someone says "in the name of Jesus." I know the truth now, and I try to walk in line with it every day. The white-knuckled discipline I once devoted to the prosperity gospel, I now devote to trusting fully in the finished work of Christ and the grace I breathe in to survive.
Here's the bottom line: I was a heretic. But Christ had saved me from my sin, and he saved me from my heresy too. When it comes to embracing the prosperity gospel, I doubt you would've found anyone more dedicated or ruthless. I was the chosen one. But I was ensnared in a false gospel. And so is everyone else trusting in this "crap called gospel," to borrow a phrase from that old man's video.
Brothers and sisters, call it what it is. Pastors, call it what it is. Don't let even a hint of this junk live in your church. Preach against it, and preach a gospel that shines so bright and burns so hot that any counterfeit that tries to approach it burns up upon entry. Don't treat this disease like an asymptomatic sniffle in an otherwise healthy body; treat it like the cancer it is. Preach, teach, counsel, shepherd, and pray a clear and true gospel, and leave no room for anything less glorious or true.
If you meet someone lost in this false gospel, please, please, please love them and tell them the truth. Sit them down, buy them lunch, and open up your Bibles. Speak life. Be brave. Odds are, no one has ever loved them enough to tell them the truth about themselves. The truth is they cannot be saved by a false gospel, and the prosperity gospel is certainly that.
Jesus saved me from the prosperity gospel, and he can save more. He will save more. How could he not?
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the January-February issue of the 9Marks Journal, devoted to the prosperity gospel.

Friday, March 21, 2014

10 Ways to Avoid the Awkward Silence in Your Small Group

A big challenge all small group leaders face is to keep the conversation flowing.

The easiest groups, of course, are the ones where everyone comes bubbling over with how they’ve been growing spiritually.

But the reality is that people often come with guards up, struggles getting them down, or just so wrapped up in getting through life that they’ve hardly had a chance to think a spiritual thought the last few days. This makes it risky to ask an open-ended question, semi-serious in nature, and wait for someone to take the bait.

What do you when the crickets contribute more noise than the people in your group? I’ve found these then things to be helpful when leading a discussion of any kind, especially in a small group.

1. Come to your small group prepared to share. Arrive with insights to bounce off the group, questions to ask, or ways to share how you have been impacted or convicted. (This doesn’t mean you share first, though, see #3.)

2. Provide a “break the ice” time. Begin with fifteen minutes of purely social interaction with no agenda. Just let people talk. About anything. If you can’t talk about something as easy as sports, how will you share the gunk in your heart? Also, this will help any non-Christians visiting your group to get acquainted with everyone.

You might think you’re a bad leader if there is a bunch of chitchat at the beginning of the meeting. We’re supposed to be talking about spiritual stuff here! I think the opposite. Bad leaders suck the fun out of a small group like a substitute teacher who demands that the kids get to work right after the bell rings.

3. When you hit an awkward silence moment, wait… It can be tempting for you to fill in when everyone is quiet. Don’t! Slap a smile on your face and spread some eye contact around to each person in your group. Someone will give in and break the awkward silence eventually. It will eventually become too awkward for someone. Just don’t let that someone be you.

4. Follow the ground rules for asking questions in a group discussion. 1) Ask only open-ended questions. 2) Never answer your own question. 3) Never ask a yes or no question… 4) unless you are planning to follow it up immediately with an open-ended question.

5. Deflect questions from the group back to the group. Don’t ever feel like you have to answer everyone’s questions just because you’re the small group leader. When someone asks you, the leader, a question, form the habit of responding with something like, “That’s a great question. What do you guys think?” This keeps the conversation going, and prevents it from becoming a teacher-student group.

6. Ask if people disagree. This is another way of deflecting the conversation back to the entire group. Not that you’re trying to start an argument, but the conversation certainly ramps up when people come from different perspectives. But try not to ignite theological debates with this tactic (see #10).

7. Model vulnerability. Vulnerability is contagious. People desperately want to share what they are struggling with. But they want to know it’s safe. It’s the leader’s job to prove that it’s safe. It’s the only way you will have a chance at authentic accountability.

8. Just once, call on a shy person by name to share what they are thinking. Some people are quieter by nature, and won’t share. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t participating. They’re probably processing what the others are sharing. Just one time, ask them by name what they think about what is being discussed. They are more likely to have a well-thought answer, rather than feeling like they have been put on the spot.

9. Politely ask the talkative people to let others weigh in. If you have a talker, eventually it will come to this. Simply say something like, “Joe, I’m looking forward to hearing what you think about this, but let’s hear from some other people who haven’t yet had as much of an opportunity to share tonight. Jill, what do you think?” Lines like this go a long way to let someone know they are talking too much – without shaming them – and providing a platform for others to share.

10. Encourage discussion on the interpretation of the passage. The key here is to interact over what the Bible says, instead of what they think or believe. Get them to talk about what they see in the passage Bible and take a stab at what that means for its overall interpretation. Request that people use the words of the passage, and that they say what verse that are referring to. (This helps everyone else follow, and ensures that are working off the passage, rather than their own opinion.)

This not only encourages discussion – it’s fun to figure out what a passage means together – it also ingrains good interpretation skills, since you are keeping people focused on what the text actually says. Don’t forget to discuss how your findings should affect they we live.

What about you? Are there any strategic ways you keep the conversation flowing in your small group? Drop your tips in the comments!

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick: Reclaiming the Great Missionary

From Mike Pettengill at Gospel Coalition.
Today most people know St. Patrick for green beer, banishing snakes from Ireland, using shamrocks to teach the Trinity, or his walking stick growing into a living tree. Indeed, none of these legends has anything to do with the real Patrick.

However, the factual accounts of Patrick, missionary to Ireland, are even more compelling than the folklore. Telling the true story of Patrick provides an inspiring lesson in God's grace and mercy.

While other 1,500-year-old characters in history are difficult to research because too few writings have survived time, Patrick is hard to study because so much has been written about him. The bulk of the writings on Patrick are lore, fiction, and embellishment. In uncovering the real Patrick we must sift through ten fictional accounts of his life to find one factual work.

As a teenager Patrick was kidnapped, taken from his home in southern Britain, and sold into slavery on the island of Ireland. During his six years as a slave he converted to Christianity and earned a reputation as a fervent evangelist. In the dark of the night Patrick escaped his bonds and fled Ireland. Following a long journey home he entered theological training and full-time service to the Lord. God spoke to Patrick in his dreams and told him that he would return to Ireland and serve as a missionary to the people who had kept him in servitude.

In AD 432, 25 years after fleeing Ireland, Patrick returned to the place of his bondage. He did not return with malice in his heart, but as a missionary eager to convert the Irish. Patrick served in regions of Ireland where outsiders had never traveled. While roaming through Ireland he preached to pagans and also instructed Christian believers. Patrick trained Irish helpers and ordained native clergy. He was bringing a new way of life to a violent, war-oriented pagan culture. His work was both groundbreaking and Christ-honoring.

"Daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises," Patrick wrote while serving in Ireland. "But I fear nothing, because of the promises of heaven."

Many brutal kings and warlords felt threatened by Patrick's work. In order to obtain the favor of local leaders and to gain safe passage, Patrick paid penance, or bribes, to authorities. He used the rulers to gain access to their lands just as they used Patrick to gain wealth and favor with Christians. Of the bribes he paid, Patrick proclaimed, "I do not regret this nor do I regard it as enough. I am paying out still and I shall pay out more."

Missionary Ahead of His Time

In fifth-century Ireland women were a commodity. Selling a daughter or arranging a politically strategic marriage was common and advantageous to a family. Patrick upset the social order by teaching women they had a choice in Christ. As God converted these women to Christianity, some became full-time servants of Christ in the face of strong family opposition. Patrick told women they could be "virgins for Christ" by remaining chaste. This newfound control was appealing to many women, but it angered many men who believed Patrick was taking away their prized possessions.

At the time many scholars regarded Ireland as the end of the earth, or at least the edge of the inhabitable portion of earth. The collapsing Roman Empire supported many beliefs that civilized society was drawing to a close. Politicians and philosophers viewed Ireland as barbaric and untamable. Many Christians did not believe the Irish were worthy of being saved. At that point in history, Patrick truly served as a pioneering missionary to a forgotten people.

Patrick advocated learning among Christians. He promoted the ascetic life and monasticism. The Irish culture did not place great value on literacy or education. Patrick, however, promoted studying the Scriptures as well as reading books written by fathers of the faith.

Recovering the True Patrick

Patrick entered an Ireland full of paganism and idol worship. But just a few short decades after Patrick arrived, a healthy, Christ-honoring church was thriving. The Irish church was so strong that in the centuries to come it would send missionaries to evangelize much of continental Europe. Patrick's legacy lives on through the countless spiritual grandchildren he left to continue his work.

Patrick lived in a way that brought honor to God. His devotion and resolute obedience offer examples for all followers of Christ. Patrick stood in the face of great challenges and did not falter. His service, his life, and his unwavering commitment to spreading the gospel of Christ are as commendable today as they were in the fifth century.

We as Christians have allowed the modern, secular customs of St. Patrick's Day to steal away one of the greatest missionaries in Christian history and reduce his memory to leprechauns, green beer, and fictional tales. Let's take back our beloved servant of Christ and share God's glory achieved during the life of Patrick the missionary to Ireland. Let's share the true legacy of this great Christian evangelist.

Mike Pettengill is a full-time missionary serving in La Ceiba, Honduras, with Mission to the World. Mike is a team leader of a 12-person mission team. To learn more about the Pettengill’s work in Honduras visit Pettengill Missionaries.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hobbies: Gift or God?

The moment I walked into the dorms, I was greeted by a barely clothed 19-year-old guy with an Xbox controller in his hand. He looked at me and asked, “You play Halo?” So began my undergraduate degree at a Baptist university. I had come to study the Bible and philosophy, but it seemed that many of my peers had come to enjoy four years of practicing and perfecting the art of hobby. Dedicated intramural teams, obsessive gaming, competitive fantasy football brackets, and weekends to shoot skeet or play golf were just a few of the options that college opened up for myself and hundreds of other young men.
When I graduated, the hobbies just got bigger and more expensive. With salaries and full time jobs, young men are given the resources to take their hobbies and obsessions to new levels. They often have a hard time being able to enjoy their hobbies in a restful way, without immersing themselves headfirst in a world of distraction. The young seminarian might obsess over his blog, the undergraduate student might be chest deep in video games, the father is dedicated to watching every game or being out on the links every weekend, and the grandfather is hoping to re-read all his favorite Grisham novels this spring at his lake house. Like Aristotle might have said, had he had the chance to update the slang in his Nichomachean Ethics, “It’s hard to fiddle in the middle.”
Are hobbies evil? Absolutely not! But when hobbies become obsessions they flip the created order, where man exercises God-given authority and dominion over creation (Gen 1:27-31), and instead place man in subjection to the creation (Rom. 1:21-25). So, the question before us is, how do you enjoy God’s goodness in creation without making your hobby a hindrance to your faithfulness to God’s mission in your home, church, and community?
I want to state three things that we must do, truths we can’t abandon in enjoying hobbies, and two things that we can do to shape our practice of hobby.


In order to be faithful men of God while enjoying God’s creation, we must:
1. Be Self-Controlled
Paul tells Timothy that those who aspire to the office of overseer “desire a noble task.” These men, the overseers, are to set an example of the lifestyle of a Godly man. Paul exhorts Timothy that these men, the standard set before the men of the church, should be “sober-minded” and “self-controlled” (1 Tim. 3:2).
What is self-control? It is the ability to restrain oneself from one thing so that one might be cast headlong into something better. Paul goes on in 1 Timothy 4:12-15, saying, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid theirs hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”
As C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “We are far too easily pleased.”
We refrain ourselves from immersion in hobbies so that we can immerse ourselves in communion with God. We practice self-control in our hobbies so that we can practice reckless abandonment in our pursuit of Christ.
2. Redeem the Time
Above my desk, in my office, I have a framed picture that my wonderfully creative wife made for me that has pictures of books, coffee beans, and a few quotes. Knowing that my hobbies are reading, writing, and the quest for the perfect cup of coffee, in the middle of that picture is a quote from Jonathan Edwards. The quote from his “Resolutions” says, “Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.” Underneath this quote is Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesians 5:15-16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making he best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
Is it lazy that I occasionally enjoy reading fiction while I watch a rack of ribs smoke on my pit? Is it sinful that my brother and I have fun attempting the maddening challenge of placing a small white ball into a hole 400 yards away? No, but there is a difference in delighting in the good gifts of God and engrossing myself in the realm of distraction.
If I look to use the “first fruits” of my time for any hobby or practice other than advancing the Kingdom in my home, church, and community, then my hobby has stolen my heart.
One way that I would encourage you to “test your hobbies” is to ask the question, “Where do I run in times of crisis?” In times of crisis, struggle, or fear we run to the functional hero of our hearts. After that argument with your wife, do you flee to tinker in your garage? After that bad news from the boss, do you escape into a fiction fantasy?
Where you run to spend your time when your “time is up” is where your worship is directed.
3. Possess a Gospel Urgency
While Paul encouraged Timothy and others to “Practice these things [scripture reading, teaching, exhortation, etc.], immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15). Paul goes on, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Our hobbies should be practiced with a gospel urgency. Vacations, hobbies, and rest does not exempt us from the ongoing mission of God in our home, church, and community. If your hobby is an escape from living under the Lordship (authority) of Christ, than your hobby is a remnant of your sinful desire for autonomy. When you are enjoying fishing on the lake…you belong to Christ, the water belongs to Christ, and the fish belong to Christ. Like Abraham Kuyper once proclaimed, “There is not one square inch in all of our human existence over which God does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
Yet the world and the spiritual forces of evil at work in the lives of unbelievers oppose Christ’s Lordship over all of creation. Your hobby must become a platform upon which you stand to proclaim “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:1).
If our hobbies are lacking an urgency to know and enjoy Christ and to make him known, than they are becoming less than they were created to be.


To encourage and challenge ourselves to remain faithful men of God while enjoying our hobbies we can:
1. Serve Our Wives
I love writing, so I operate a blog. My wife knows that I love to write and that if I am not blogging, I will be working on a sermon, book, article, or paper. What does it say about my heart if I write a thousand blog posts and never once use my gift of writing to honor, serve, or celebrate her? It says that I believe my hobby is from me, through me, and to me. Does that phrase sound familiar?
So I attempt to serve my wife with my writing. I write her poems and “choose your own adventure story-dates.” I am also sure to speak well of her in my writing.
Maybe you love to cook; cook her a meal. Maybe you love to work with your hands; make her something. Maybe you love to golf; take her out to her Putt-Putt. Be creative, put as much thought into including her in your hobby as you do in practicing your hobby.
2. Include Others
You are not the only guy who likes playing Madden 2013. There is a high school guy in the student ministry at your church who can destroy you, invite him over and let him teach you a few things. You are not the only man in your church who enjoys watching the games on Sunday afternoon, so invite them over and mute the TV during the commercials. You would be surprised at how excited that young man would be to get invited to your senior adult men’s domino game.
Bring other people into your hobby. Use your hobby to develop relationships with your neighbors and church family. When you see a gift as a gift, and not as an entitlement, than you will share that gift.
The real question is, “Is your hobby gift or god?”
Kyle Worley is the author of Pitfalls: Along the Path to Young and Reformed, an editor at CBMW, and serves as Connections Minister at The Village Church Dallas Campus. He holds a double B.A. in Biblical Studies and Philosophy from Dallas Baptist University and an M.A.Th. in Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also pursuing an M.A.R at Redeemer Theological Seminary.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Report: The Bible in American Life

The Story: Surveys have found that nearly eight in ten Americans regard the Bible as either the literal word of God or as inspired by God. At the same time, other surveys have revealed—and recent books have analyzed—surprising gaps in Americans' biblical literacy. These discrepancies reveal American Christians' complex relationship to their scripture, a subject that is widely acknowledged but rarely investigated. To understand that paradox, the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture conducted the first large-scale investigation of the Bible in American life.

The Background: "The Bible in American Life" is a national study by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. The purpose of the study is to understand better how Americans use the Bible in their personal daily lives and how other influences, including religious communities and the Internet, shape individuals' use of scripture. The project, according to its researchers, was driven by the recognition that, though the Bible has been central to Christian practice throughout American history, many important questions remain unanswered in scholarship, including how people have read the Bible for themselves outside of worship, how denominational and parachurch publications have influenced interpretation and application, and how clergy and congregations have influenced individual understandings of scripture.

The Takeaways: Some of the more interesting findings from the report include:

• There is a 50/50 split among Americans who read any form of scripture in the past year
and those who did not. Among those who did, women outnumber men, older people
outnumber younger people, and Southerners exceed those from other regions of the

• Among those who read any form of scripture in the past year, 95% named the Bible as
the scripture they read. All told, this means that 48% of Americans read the Bible at
some point in the past year. Most of those people read at least monthly, and a
substantial number—9% of all Americans—read the Bible daily.

• Despite the proliferation of Bible translations, the King James Version is the top choice—
and by a wide margin—of Bible readers.

• The strongest correlation with Bible reading is race, with African Americans reading the
Bible at considerably higher rates than others.

• Half of those who read the Bible in the past year also committed scripture to memory.
About two-thirds of congregations in America hold events for children to memorize
verses from the Bible.

• Among Bible readers, about half had a favorite book, verse, or story. Psalm 23, which
begins, "The Lord is my shepherd..." was cited most often, followed by John 3:16.

• Bible readers consult scripture for personal prayer and devotion three times more than
to learn about culture war issues such as abortion, homosexuality, war, or poverty.

• There are clear differences among Bible readers consulting scripture for specific
reasons. Age, income, and education are key factors.

• Those reading the Bible frequently consult it on culture war issues more than two times
the rate as those who read it less frequently.

• Less than half of those who read the Bible in the past year sought help in understanding
it. Among those who did, clergy were their top source; the Internet was the least cited

• Among Bible readers, 31% read it on the Internet and 22% use e-devices.

• Bible reading differences among religious traditions followed predictably the historic
divides between Protestants and Catholics, and between white conservative and white
moderate/liberal Protestants. However, reading practices defy some stereotypes about
certain groups.

by Joe Carter.

Monday, March 10, 2014

How to Stay A Christian in Seminary

I wish I had read this thirty years ago; it would have saved me many years of growth.  If you are thinking of going to seminary, get it here and read it slowly and devotionally.

David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell. How to Stay Christian in Seminary. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 80 pp. $7.99.
“Wait, you’re in seminary? What would make you want to attend cemetery, er, I mean seminary?” So said a pastor when my friend mentioned he was in grad school studying for pastoral ministry. This sentiment is common. Seminary is dangerous. It can turn the Word of God into a textbook and zealous disciples into pompous eggheads. To be fair, these critics have probably seen a tragic irony play out: seminary, the very tool intended to bolster faith and love for God, can create cold, listless hearts.
But, David Mathis (MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando) and Jonathan Parnell (MDiv, Bethlehem Seminary in Minneapolis) argue, this need not be! Yes, seminary can be spiritually dangerous, even in orthodox, evangelical, confessional schools. But the root problem is not the institution; rather, it’s the sinful heart of every seminarian whose affection for God struggles to keep pace with his fast-growing knowledge. How to Stay Christian in Seminary equips seminarians to approach their training with open eyes and warm hearts. When done right, seminary can in fact reignite love for God and zeal for his glory.
How can this happen? By giving careful, ongoing attention to the source of the problem: the heart. For the seminarian who prizes communion with God and intimacy with Christ, greater knowledge can result in deeper affection for him and more faithful Christian living.
Each short chapter of the book applies “the basic premise that what believers learn about God must affect they way they live” (20).
1. Know Your Value of Values. Every student’s ultimate purpose for attending seminary should be God’s glory, and this “means that we are about God being seen for who he is” (27). Parnell advocates making a personal mission statement to protect this priority. Otherwise, accumulated information can subtly get confused with gospel ministry (24).
2. Be Fascinated with Grace. One who studies to teach others can forget his own desperate need for God’s undeserved kindness. As gospel truths become more familiar to a student, he must work hard to remember that God’s grace toward him is shocking and glorious.
3. Study the Word for More Than Words. The goal of studying Scripture must not be to gather information but to see Jesus. At the same time, “preaching the gospel” to your own heart can never replace personal Bible study. Mathis warns that neglecting regular Bible intake will make one stale: “There’s an expiration date on the fruit of preaching to yourself once it’s off the vine” (39).
4. Push Your Books Aside and Pray. Knowing God, the sovereign Creator and sustainer of all things, should result in awe and wonder. Yet so often it does not. Incredibly, the same students who are quick to affirm God’s immensity often live as if he is quite small. The remedy is prayer. Prayer wakes us up to the awesome reality of our access to almighty God in Christ.
5. Love That Jesus Calls the Weak. Any true Christian recognizes that he is a weak, needy sinner. As seminarians work to strengthen their gifts, they must remember that “the goal of seminary is not to become unweak” (53). Indeed, studying Scripture should result in a greater awareness of one’s own weakness.
6. Be a Real Husband and Dad. Parnell devotes this chapter to seminarians who are husbands and dads. “It’s not that you’re in seminary and happen to have a wife and children, but rather that you’re a husband and dad who happens to be in seminary” (58). Familial duties hold priority and cannot be put on hold during seminary. “However clear your subjective sense of ‘a call to the ministry’ may seem to you, the objective calling to be a husband and father is much clearer” (59). Parnell lists ten biblical things to pray for your wife.
7. Keep Both Eyes Peeled for Jesus. Everything—the universe, the Bible, your life—is about Jesus. Only when Christ remains in his rightful place at the center of your life and study will you live and study rightly.
Mathis and Parnell are personally acquainted with the dangers of seminary, and their advice is spot on. Articles on “how to do seminary right” often appear on Christian websites, and many of them are helpful. But this book offers fresh insights and digs deeper than a 500-word article. Yes, certain things could be emphasized more—like personal evangelism and local church involvement—but this small book gives readers plenty to ponder, moving seamlessly from rich theological observations to on-the-ground application. Though it can be read in one sitting, each chapter triggers personal reflection and deserves prayerful contemplation.
Yes, seminary is dangerous. But How to Stay Christian in Seminary is less a sober warning and more a hopeful guide for students who want (or at leastwant to want) God more than theological precision, a soft heart more than a sharp mind. What good is it if a man gains the whole world (theological acumen, ministry credentials, the respect of academic peers) and yet forfeits his soul? No good at all. Mathis and Parnell have provided a tool that can help preserve the seminarian’s soul.
Nathan Lugbill (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville) serves as associate pastor at Castleview Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Tim Keller on Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

I have not read this book yet but hear good things about it.  Here are some excerpts from Andy Naselli.  Get it here and read it.

  • Life for our ancestors was filled with far more suffering than ours is. And yet we have innumerable diaries, journals, and historical documents that reveal how they took that hardship and grief in far better stride than do we. (p. 15)

  • [S]ecularization thins out traditional beliefs . . . . And this secularized belief in God, or this residue of Christianity, may be the worst possible preexisting condition in which to encounter suffering. (p. 58)

  • If an all-powerful and all-wise God were directing all of history with its infinite number of interactive events toward good ends, it would be folly to think we could look at any particular occurrence and understand a millionth of what it will bring about. (p. 101)

  • If there is no Judgment Day, then there are only two things to do—lose all hope or turn to vengeance. (p. 116)

  • [I]t is even more likely that this kind of betrayal [one of four types of suffering that Keller presents] happens simply through a personal relationship going sour. When someone perceives that they have been wronged by you, they may embark on a program of trying to hurt you or damage your reputation. Often someone you thought you knew well can turn on you and attack you because it furthers their career or interests. Personal betrayals are particularly horrific, and this sort of trial can tempt you to give in to debilitating anger and bitterness. While the first kind of suffering requires that you learn repentance, this kind of suffering will entail that you wrestle with the issues of forgiveness. The temptation will be to become bitter and to hide your growing hardness and cruelty under the self-image of being a noble victim. (p. 210)