Rich Christian books have been a great aid to me in my walk with Christ. Rather than replacing my personal Bible reading, they have shed light on my Bible reading by opening my eyes to things I didn’t see or challenging the way I had previously seen things. In addition, rich Christian books introduced me to how Christians had been reading the Bible for centuries. I’m not the first person to read the Bible, and so I needed to hear the wisdom of those who walked with Jesus before me.

Good Christian books also fanned into flame my appetite for reading the Bible. As I read ideas I had never encountered, I wanted to dig into the Bible to see if they were actually there. When a book called a firmly held belief into question, it pushed me to the Bible to make sure I had not been reading it wrong. Also, good Christian books made me long to know the Bible the way these authors do so that my mouth and my pen dripped Bible.

Knowing where to start reading good theological books can be difficult. There are so many books and so little time, and many of books are not worth our precious time. For the last few days I stared at the shelves in my office, sent messages to friends, and perused other’s reading lists to suggest the best books for Christians who have not read theology. The books below plunge into the depths of God’s word while remaining readable, rich and devotional. For the most part, they will be accessible for the person who is a new Christian while challenging you to dive deeper into the truth.

If you have never read theology, here are eight good books to get you started.

The God Who is There

Often when Christians approach the Bible, we aren’t sure where to start. We try reading from the beginning, but get bogged down in Leviticus and Numbers or jump into the Gospels, but don’t understand many of the allusions to the Old Testament. In this work D.A. Carson walks us through the storyline of the Bible so we can understand how God has progressively revealed himself in Scripture. Believers will walk away from this book with a greater grasp on the Bible and the character of God.

The Cross of Christ

I can’t put into words how helpful this book from John Stott has been for me. Written at a time when many were trying to reframe our understanding of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, John Stott lays out a beautiful case for seeing Jesus’ death as a substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf. Stott shows why we need this, how Jesus accomplished it, and how we live in light of it. This is my favorite Christian book outside of the Bible, and return to it often.

Knowing God

I struggle to know where to begin talking about this classic from J.I. Packer. I first read it twenty years ago, and encounter incredible jewels every time I read through it again. Packer takes us on a journey into the nature, attributes, and ways of God. He does not write about God with detachment, but as a man who has walked closely with him and basked in the warmth of his love. In doing this Packer embodies the best kind of theological writing, that which teaches us while also stirring our affections.

Gospel Wakefulness

There are many ways Christians can fall into thinking our relationship with God is based upon what we do. Jared Wilson shows how awakening to the realities of the good news of the Gospel, and our acceptance before God by faith alone reinvigorates our Christian walk. The chapter I found most helpful was, “Freedom from Hyper-Spirituality,” as I spent many years frustrated because I had a truncated view of what genuine spirituality looked like. This book is freeing, and any Christian walking through a dry period would do well to give it a close reading.

Taking God at His Word

Many Christians have lost confidence in the Bible as God’s perfect word. This important book from Kevin DeYoung will help Christians regain their grip on the inspiration and authority of the Bible by showing what it has to say about itself. He begins by walking through Psalm 119’s beautiful picture of God’s word and then shows that Scripture demonstrates itself to be sufficient, clear, authoritative, and necessary. In the most crucial chapter of the book he shows Jesus’ view of the Bible. I’ve read this short, timely, and accessible work several times now. It has challenged and instructed me on every read-through.

Reason for God

Tim Keller spent the last quarter century talking to Manhattanites who are skeptical about the Christian message and Christian morality. He takes the objections he hears the most and works through them showing both the fallacies behind the objections and the logic of Christian truth. In the second half he lays out the basics of the Christian message and why it beckons us to believe. If there are areas where you struggle with the faith or have friends who do, this book is a great place to start.

40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible

Our culture asks many questions about the Bible we don’t know how to answer and reading the Bible raises many issues we don’t know how to grapple with. Robert Plummer answers many of these queries in a clear and understandable way. While all of this book is profitable for the reader, its arrangement allows you to go to specific questions with which you or someone you know may be wrestling. You will find this a great reference to keep close at hand.

Christian Beliefs

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a full-length Systematic Theology book. I didn’t know how anyone could read a book that long, but knew the information in it was vital to understand. Thankfully Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology exists in a slimmed down version called Bible Doctrine. Even this version clocks in at over 500 pages, so Grudem and his son Elliot released an even more condensed version which covers the basics of Christian doctrine. For the person who has never tackled Systematic Theology, this would be a great place to start. Since this is a reference work, you can begin with a doctrine that interests you, or sit down and read it all the way through.

Related Posts:
Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

photo credit: soybean14 via photopin (license)

photo credit: soybean14 via photopin (license)

My freshman year of college started with my giving attention to everything but studies and thought about anything serious. My only goals had to do with bourbon and girls and my entertainment consisted of Adam Sandler, Beavis and Butthead, Jim Carrey, and Chris Farley. When you consider my knot-headed trajectory, God placing serious and caring Christians in my path is a humorous providence. I wanted nothing to do with what they were talking about, but I could not help but be attracted by how genuine they were and how they treated other people.

One particular Christian always stuck out in my mind. We had several pointed conversations about Jesus and the Gospel, with him always approaching me with kindness and compassion. He offered to read the Bible with me, and treated me with respect even when I didn’t return the favor. In addition, I could tell by his life that this was not forced by outward compulsion for him. He seemed to embody a genuine joy, cared about obeying Jesus, and looked for opportunities to talk about him in ordinary conversations.

Providence took me to a different University the next year where I was born again and trusted in Christ as Lord. I always wanted to let this guy know what the Lord had done through him in my life, but had no idea how to get in contact with him. Thankfully Facebook came along ten years later and I decided to look him up. After he accepted my friend request I immediately sent him a direct message. I told him I didn’t know if he would remember me 12 years later, but he invested in and and cared about my soul. I wanted him to know that I had come to know Christ, was pastor at a church, and was grateful to him for the witness he had been to me.

His response testified to the ridiculous grace of God. He didn’t remember me at all, but was grateful to hear of my conversion and gave glory to God for any way the Lord may have used him in my life.

Knowing that one of the people I considered to be an instrument in my conversion didn’t even remember who I was continues to give me great encouragement. This man faithfully sowed Gospel seeds through both word and deed. God took the seeds he planted and reaped a harvest without him even knowing it happened.

We need to hear stories like this as pastors, because we often don’t see obvious fruit from our labors. We proclaim God’s word on Sunday morning, and don’t know what the Lord did in anyone’s heart through it. People come to us for counseling, so we listen and then show them the truth of God’s word, but we have no idea what kind of impact it may have on them. We love our neighbors and try to share a word about Jesus with them, but don’t see it making an evident impact on them. All of this sowing with no clue about whether or not a harvest will come wearies and discourages us.

The discouragement that comes from a lack of apparent fruit can often be exacerbated when we hear about the ministries of other men. At conferences we listen to a parade of men whose ministries appear to be successful. They tell us a fruitful church should see a constant stream of baptisms and bemoan the ninety percent of churches who are plateaued or declining.  Then we hear of a stories like the one of a famous pastor who mocked a church that “only” had twenty-six baptisms one year, as if this was something to be ashamed of.

As I reflected on the brother who didn’t remember me, I thought of a passage of Scripture that should serve as an encouragement to those of us who labor in obscurity without knowing what harvest may come forth. In the last section of 1 Corinthians 15 Paul glories in the wonderful implications of Jesus’ resurrection. Because God raised Jesus from the dead he will raise us too, so we can confidently face death knowing it does not get the last word. In addition, God gives us victory through the Lord Jesus Christ. Convinced of this reality, Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Take heart pastor, nothing you do in the name of Jesus happens in vain. The Lord is at work through his word, even on those mornings when it seems like no one is listening. When you counsel with struggling couples, he is bringing grace to them in ways you may never know. When you share the Gospel, Christ makes the appeal through you to be reconciled to God. Though the person with whom you are sharing may appear to completely reject the word of God’s grace, it will not come back void and may be the beginning of the long process of the Lord opening their eyes.

Because God is at work in ways we don’t see or know about through our ministries, we also need to hear Paul’s admonition to the Galatians. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” The temptation to shift into neutral when ministry gets discouraging can be strong, but the words of Paul in Galatians 6:9 remind us that we can’t stop and coast in Jesus’ service. The Lord will reap a harvest, so we cannot give up and we cannot grow weary. The Lord works through our witness, our preaching, our prayer, our counseling, and our shepherding. Continue to do these things with in the strength that God supplies, because all faithful ministry brings glory to him and he is at work even when we cannot see it.

Related Posts:
48 Scattered Thoughts about the Ministry and Being a Pastor

For Further Reading:
Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by R. Kent Hughes

The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson

A Few Good Reads

July 11, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

The Honest Truth about Passive-Aggressiveness
Stephen Witmer gets to the heart of the problem with our passive-aggressive attitudes and speech. “For those of us who enjoy feeling smugly righteous, but avoid conflict at all costs, this way of speaking is quite appealing and natural. It provides an escape hatch from arguments. If Emma calls me out for accusing her of not doing her job, I can simply say: “I was just asking a question. I wasn’t accusing you of anything!” I have plausible deniability. I can launch my critique, then retreat while covering my tracks.”

The Golden Rule of Theological Polemics
For the last month a debate about the Trinity has been raging in some corners of the internet. In particular some brothers have accused others of talking about the Trinity in a way that denies essential truths about it. In doing so they have accused brothers of holding positions they don’t actually hold. Denny Burk offers great advice for proceeding in these discussions. “For example, I might believe that Arminianism entails open theism. Ethically, I am free to make the case that Arminianism entails open theism. But I am not free to accuse Arminians of being open theists–especially when my Arminian friends disavow open theism. I might argue that they are inconsistent, but I cannot rightfully charge them with open theism. If I did, I would be bearing false witness.”

Grieving Racial Injustice as Citizens of the Kingdom of God
Last week was heartbreaking. Many people lost their lives in senseless violence and by the end of the week the bloodshed was too much to bear. Unfortunately many Christians have bought the idea that you can either grieve men who die at the hands of police or grieve police who die at the hands of criminals. Jarvis Williams shows us how we can grieve both. “Christians, during these troubling times of racial division in this country, reject the rhetoric, methods, and agendas of the present evil age. Resist the lusts of the flesh, but walk in the Spirit as you grieve the current state of our country (Gal. 5:16-21), or else you will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21). Embrace Jesus’ teaching about the already-not-yet kingdom (Matthew 5-7). And joyfully live in that tension with your brothers and sisters in Christ as citizens of the kingdom of God regardless of their ethnic, racial, social, and economic postures.”

4 Rules for Internet Survival
Ricky Alcantar wrote about Donald Trump a few months ago and experienced a lot of blowback. Here he shares four lessons he learned along the way about how we interact in the digital age. “There’s a Proverb that we must cling to here: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17 ESV). Too often I’ve already made up my mind before I hear the evidence. I’ve been convinced before the trial has begun. I am a firmly formed opinion in search of facts.”

21 Thoughts on Preaching
Growing in the discipline of preaching God’s word has consumed the entirety of my adult life, so I’m always glad to hear what other brothers have learned along the way. “I don’t think short messages are usually very good, but there’s nothing worse than a sermon that is too long. Don’t try to say everything. Do the text justice, proclaim the gospel, and don’t feel the need to turn your weekly sermon into a conference talk. For most preachers, I suspect 30-40 minutes is probably the best range, but, again, a bad sermon can’t be too short.”

This past week has been one of the darkest and most divisive in recent memory. The week began with no indictment for Secretary Hillary Clinton’s misuse of classified emails, which enraged many people who believed this showed the system is rigged in favor of the rich, powerful, and well-connected. Then in successive days we witnessed the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police officers. Many see these deaths as further evidence of police brutality towards the black community in America while others saw men who they believe would still be alive if they simply complied with the officers’ commands. This terrible holiday week reached its crescendo Thursday night as a gunman targeted police officers who were protecting protesters at a March in Dallas. He killed five officers and wounded others. Amidst the outpouring of support for the city of Dallas and law enforcement were those who blamed people with concerns about police brutality for creating an environment which led to the murders of these officers.

Over the weekend we heard the announcement that a well-known pastor’s church removed him from his role because he has been abusing alcohol. If any news ever calls for our silent prayers, it is the news that a brother in Christ has become ensnared in sin. Amid the social media posts from people who know him saying they were praying for him were the inevitable posts commenting, “well I don’t agree with him about a lot of things, but I’m praying for him.” In addition, some brothers who teach total abstinence from alcohol saw this as a great opportunity to advance their cause. One brother shared the story of this pastor’s fall with the caption, “this is why we abstain from alcohol” and another used it as an opportunity to say those who don’t teach total abstinence from alcohol are, “fools and the leaders of fools.” How cruel is it to hold a brother up as an object lesson on the day his removal was announced?

I share these two examples, not to debate the issues involved, but to shine a light on our response to divisive issues in our culture. All too often, those who follow Jesus take a strong stance on an issue based on incomplete information. Many times our strong stances are birthed out of personal animus towards a person or group of people involved. When we speak without complete information and out of a desire to belittle someone with whom we disagree, what we say is rarely helpful, kind, fully true, or gracious. For those who follow Jesus, it cannot be that way. We must learn a different method of responding to divisive events, one which reflects sound biblical wisdom and the grace we have been shown in Christ.

In the first chapter of his epistle, James offers by way of command a principle that should shape the way we respond to events in our day. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” In dealing with this text we should first notice James’ application of this passage to, “every person.” Too often we hear biblical texts and think of how they apply to other people, but James’ “every person” reminds us this is for us too. We can’t somehow think of ourselves as the exception.

James calls us to be quick to hear. I can remember when I was young and CNN’s “Crossfire” would be on in the evening. My Dad would often cut the show off when it came on because he said he could not stand to listen to people talk over each other. Almost all cable news now resembles the early days of “Crossfire” and on social media we simply lob bombs and then defend ourselves against anyone who challenges our position. We have forgotten how to listen, but James reminds us to recover this lost art. Can you imagine how much our civil discourse would change if we simply listened to someone so we made sure we understood what they were saying before we responded to them? The next time you hear someone speaking and you disagree with them, hear them out fully before you speak.

Then James reminds us to be slow to speak. One day I was riding in the car with my father-in-law and I asked him a question about the ministry. He was looking out of the window for what seemed like half a minute and I almost started to ask the question again because I did not think he heard me. Then he started answering my question and I almost couldn’t process what he was saying because I wondered what took him so long to say it. Then it hit me, “he was thinking before he started speaking.” How often do we start talking before we think through what we are about to say? We often unload a barrage of unhelpful, unformed, and unkind opinions before we understand the issue we are talking about. Wisdom dictates we give thought to our words before we open our mouths to speak.

The last of James’ three admonitions carries profound implications for the conservative Christian overreaction to “political correctness.” Because people seem to get offended about things they shouldn’t, many Christians have begun running in the opposite direction and either saying harsh things or applauding harsh things they hear under the banner of, “well, I’m not politically correct.” James reminds us that we should be “slow to anger.” We often make the same mistake as the person who is easily offended. We become offended at their offense and unleash rude harangues in their direction. James’ words remind us that the answer to an overly sensitive culture is not abusive and aggressive speech, but kind and thoughtful words intended to help, challenge, and correct people so they might receive grace when they hear them.

In Proverbs 18:2 Solomon writes, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” and his words describe us more often than we want to admit. 2016 has been a highly charged year with a lot of heated issues signaling seismic shifts in our culture. Our temptation may be to lash out at the things we see which make our blood boil, but wisdom dictates that we start slowing down before we lose our cools and say harsh things.

In our speech, Christians would do well to meditate on the grace we have been shown. God saved us, not because of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but by his mercy through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. We stood worthy of his judgement, but instead he gives us a future where we will reign with Christ. When we consider this grace, how should we respond to those with whom we disagree? We don’t seek to win arguments, but to testify to the truth of the Gospel. This will mean disagreeing with people and saying things they don’t want to hear, but the offense should come from the message and not from our manner of expressing it. And while some will hear what believers have to say and smell the stench of death on it, others will hear it for the life-giving word it is and embrace it with their whole hearts.

Related Posts:
Redeeming our Uncivil Discourse

For Further Reading:
Onward by Russell Moore

A Few Good Reads

June 30, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Ten lessons on biblical manhood I learned from my father
The life of Jeff Robinson’s father bears testimony to the sustaining grace of God. Jeff shares ten things he learned about being a man from his father, a World War II veteran who participated in the invasion of Normandy. The picture Jeff paints is not one of machismo, but of a man who was shaped by the grace of God into someone who knew how to value the right things and take responsibility for that which God entrusted to him. “Over the years as I have read God’s Word and reflected back upon his quiet testimony to God’s grace in our home, I have been increasingly thankful for the Godward values he instilled in us. Unfortunately, godly, committed fathers are the exception in today’s culture rather than the rule, but I was blessed by God’s mercy to be raised by one. Though he was far from a perfect man, my father exemplified biblical manhood in many respects and taught me many lessons by example.”

Stephen King, Preaching, and Killing our Darlings
One of the hardest things for pastors to do is to edit their sermons and eliminate extraneous material. We often want to say everything we can about a passage and in doing so distract from the main point of the passage. Yancey Arrington writes about how pastors can learn about editing from an unlikely source- Stephen King. Drawing from King’s fabulous book, On Writing, Yancey encourages pastors to leave some of their favorite parts of the sermon on the cutting room floor. “Whatever the reason, if it doesn’t serve the listener it doesn’t serve the sermon. Cut it. The struggle is that preachers become emotionally attached to their content.”

A Summarized Biblical Case for Eternal Generation
For the past month many Christians have been discussing the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and how what implications these relations may hold for our personal relationships. While this discussion is not new, the tenor of it has intensified and posts have been flying back and forth at a dizzying pace. The relations of the persons of the Trinity is no small matter and Christians who want to think rightly about God need to give attention to these matters. Matt Emerson makes a strong case for what theologians call “Eternal Generation” and in doing so explains the biblical case the Trinity in an understandable way. Even if you don’t understand all the details he discusses in this post, it will give you a starting point for thinking through who God has revealed himself to be. “Perhaps even more importantly than individual texts is the pattern of texts we see throughout Scripture, a pattern that consistently names these three as Father, Son, and Spirit. This points not only to their triunity but to the way that triunity exists, namely through a Father-Son-Spirit relationship.”

The Bad Faith of the White Working Class”
Writing in The New York times, J.D. Vance explores the declining church attendance among the white working class who would identify themselves as Christians. This article should encourage us to plant and revitalize churches in the rural South. It should also serve as a reminder that many would name the name of Christ while not having any meaningful connection to a local church or a biblical view of the world. “I THINK I was 11 when, teary-eyed and exhausted, I asked my grandmother whether God loved us. It had been an unusually terrible day for my sister and me. Our mother had called us worthless, threatened us, and then nearly crashed our car during a violent outburst. Things like this happened often in my family and among my friends, but not all on the same day.”

Suburbs and the New American Poverty
While often associated with affluence, many suburbs are seeing an increase in low-income residents and don’t have the programs in place to help them. Christians and churches in suburban areas, like where I live, need to be aware of this phenomenon and develop strategies to help. “It’s not just Atlanta—across much of the country, poverty is increasingly a problem found in the suburbs. The number of poor in the suburbs surpassed the number of poor in the cities in the 2000s, and by 2011, almost 16.4 million suburban residents lived below the poverty line.”

Every Christian knows the feeling. You know you need to pray, but the words don’t come to you. Then you finally begin grunting out a few words, but God feels distant and you suspect your prayers are stopping at the ceiling. Then you feel guilty because you struggle to pray and it inhibits your prayers even further leading to a vicious cycle of guilt, shame, and confusion.

We don’t have to be stuck in this position though because there are some basic truths we can remember when we struggle to pray.

Remember the Bible Gives You Encouragement to Pray

During the early years of my Christian life I approached my devotions as if Bible reading and prayer were two separate activities. Then I read Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and he talked about how the discipline of meditation bridges the gap between prayer and study. Since God inspired the writing of Scripture, all of Scripture testifies to him and beckons us to come to him. If you struggle to pray, start reading in your Bible and ask yourself several basic questions that can lead to prayer. Is there something in this passage to thank God for? Does this passages name a sin I should confess? Am I struggling with a problem this passage addresses and need to ask for strength? Is there a command in this passage I need help to obey? Is there good news in this passage I am struggling to believe? This is not an exhaustive list of questions to ask, but they can lead into some serious and deliberate times of prayer.

Remember the Father Invites You to Pray

Everywhere we turn in our culture self-help gurus tell us to get rid of people in our lives whose problems weigh us down. Because so many people buy this advice we often go through great difficulties without someone walking beside us to bear our burdens. This phenomenon means we hear things in the Bible we don’t hear anywhere else. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God.” “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you.” While many other people do not want to be burdened with our problems, God invites you to bring them to him. He welcomes your cares and anxieties because he loves you. From now on, let every worry, fear, and anxiety prompt you to come to the Father in prayer.

Remember Jesus Represents You as You Pray

Many times our guilt and sense of unworthiness drive us away from prayer. The awareness of our sin and neglect of our walk with the Lord weighs us down and we feel hypocritical for coming to present our requests before him. Remember your position as a child of the King does not depend on your goodness or inherit worthiness. Jesus died for us to bring us back to God and represents his people before the Father. When you struggle to pray you should meditate on the death of Christ and how his sacrifice for you removes every barrier between you and the Father. This is the reason we pray “in Jesus’ name.” We draw near to God through him and because of him.

Remember the Spirit Helps You to Pray

Sometimes we come to pray and do not even know how to get started. Either we struggle for words or we are so weighed down that we cannot speak. In Romans 8 Paul speaks of this problem and gives us wonderful encouragement. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” When you don’t know what to pray, ask for the Spirit’s help. He comes alongside you to empower you to pray and prays for you when the words won’t come out.

Since the Father hears your prayers, the Son’s death assures you will be heard, and the Spirit helps you, will you come to God in prayer today?

Related Posts:
Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

For Further Reading:
A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Though I didn’t come to faith in Christ until I was in college, I grew up going to church multiple times a week. One of the things that stands out from the Sunday School teachers I had and conversations I overheard was the amount of Scripture many of these faithful Christians had memorized. As I started out in my Christian life I didn’t see the importance of Scripture memory and therefore didn’t learn many basic passages of Scripture Christians need to know. It took a few years after becoming a believer to realize I didn’t know many of the passages of Scripture more mature believers referred to most often.

The Psalmist said , “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Memorizing and meditating on God’s word provides fuel for our growth as Christians. Sometimes when we face discouragement or temptation we remember a word we have memorized and it is exactly what we need in that moment to encourage us or give us strength. In evangelistic conversations or times when you are discipling another believer you often don’t have time to flip around and try to find a passage of Scripture. When you have devoted yourself to scripture memory, you already have it and are able to speak it as part of normal conversation.

Many believers don’t know where to start when they are memorizing the Bible, so here are eight passages that are central to understanding the message of the Bible and the basics of the Christian life. While there are many more Bible verses to memorize, these eight provide a great starting point.

The Ten Commandments

For most of my childhood I saw plaques of the Ten Commandments on people’s walls next to their pictures of Jesus and Bear Bryant. The plaque always looked the same. They had to tablets on each side and the commandments were listed with Roman numerals. When we turn to Exodus 20:1-17 in our Bibles though we don’t see the commandments listed in this way. They begin with a word about God’s redemptive act of rescuing them from slavery in Egypt and then tells them what it looks like to live as his people in the world. Memorizing the Ten Commandments will remind us of our need for the grace found in Jesus Christ and give us guidance for living the Christian life.

Psalm 1

The first Psalm offers a glimpse into the practices of the godly person and the attendant blessings that come from walking this way. The Psalmist shows the blessed man does not walk according the course of the world, but meditates on the law of God day and night. Since it is always day or night, this serves as a wonderful reminder to stay immersed in the Lord’s word. Then he shows that the result of separation from the world and meditation on the truth is a stable, fruit bearing life which is constantly nourished by the flowing streams of God’s word.

Psalm 23

While we could point to many passages of Scripture that remind us of the character of God, this Psalm has encouraged and helped many Christians throughout the centuries. Psalm 23 points to the lovingkindness of God our shepherd who feeds, guides, and cares for his people. Also, familiarity with this Psalm helps us to better understand Ezekiel 34’s promise of God’s shepherd who is come and Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep.

The Beatitudes

Jesus’ words at the opening of the Sermon on the Mount show us the true, inner character of the Christian. Each of the eight beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 begin with a statement of blessing upon the people who embody and certain virtue and then it names the blessing. Memorizing and mediating on these verses will remind us that Christian virtue begins in the heart and permeates every aspect of our lives.

The Lord’s Prayer

Many Christians struggle with knowing how to pray. Thankfully Jesus told us, “pray then in this way.” Jesus’ model prayer provides us a framework for understanding how we can pray. Each petition shows us something we should praise God for, thank God for, or ask God for. As you memorize Matthew 6:5-15, use each phrase to lead you into a time of prayer.

Romans 3:21-26

Few passages of Scripture summarize the heart of the Christian message like this important paragraph from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul reminds us we have sinned, we cannot work for our salvation, and Jesus died to bring us back to God. Paul emphasizes Jesus’ death as a substitution for our sins and that Jesus’ death vindicates the righteous character of the God who saves.

1 Corinthians 13

We often hear the “love chapter” at weddings, but this is not its immediate context. Chapters 12 and 14 deal with the role of spiritual gifts within the church and Paul shows the character of love to remind us that that we cannot exercise our spiritual gifts in a way that is not fueled by love. The application spreads from spiritual gifts to our other relationships as we remember that everything we do must be done in love.

The Armor of God

Christians face spiritual opposition every day from the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we think about the devil’s lies and accusations, we often find ourselves at a loss for how to defend ourselves. Paul instructs Christians in Ephesians 6:10-20 to put on the full armor of God to help us stand against the schemes of the evil one. Each piece of the Christian armor shows us how the truths of the Gospel protects us in the battles we encounter.

This is not a complete list of every passage a Christian should memorize, but it provides a great start for the Christian wanting to learn the basics of the Christian message and the Christian life. It’s possible I missed an important passage, what other passages would you say every Christian needs to memorize?

Related Posts:
Why You Should Read the Bible

Why I’m Using a Physical Copy of the Bible Again

For Further Reading:
An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew Davis

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

A Few Good Reads

June 20, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

4 Ways to Reach a Child’s Heart
I share a lot of posts about parenting in this space and it has everything to do with where I am in life. We have a daughter entering middle school, a daughter in elementary school, a preschool-aged daughter, and a toddler son. Every day confronts me with the realization that I have a lot to learn about parenting and need God’s grace every step of the way. Richard Phillips’ post on engaging our children’s heart proved to be especially helpful to me this week as I think about what it looks like for me to enter into their world and engage their hearts. “This all requires time, for time is the currency with which I purchase the right to say, ‘My son, my daughter, give me your heart.’”

25 Reasons Fathers Still Matter
Yesterday I read someone who said we should do away with Father’s Day because it is disrespectful to single mothers and same-sex couples. Our culture tends to downplay the role of fathers in a child’s development and men are tempted to abandon their responsibility to their children. Joe Carter shares research on the importance of fathers in the life of a child and in doing so demonstrates why they are indispensable. “Christians, of course, should not need to be told the importance of fatherhood. The Bible is filled with dozens of passages on the significance of fathers and the responsibilities of fatherhood. But when making that case to a secular culture it can be helpful to be armed with empirical evidence of the reasons why fathers are essential to the well being of their children.”

Four Reasons We Don’t Share the Gospel
The more I talk with people the more I become convinced that many people in our culture have never heard the real Gospel or have had its message confused by the many false gospels permeating our society. This means it is imperative for individual Christians to talk about the good news about Jesus, but we often don’t do it. Steven Lee shares four reasons why and what we can do to overcome them. “All Christians need fellow believers to help them grow in their understanding of the gospel. We all need others in our lives who spur us on to a greater compassion and zeal to love the lost by sharing the good news of Jesus willingly, winsomely, and boldly.”

Three Obstacles to Church Revitalization
This is a post I wrote for J.D. Greear’s site “Conventional Futures.” Often when those in the ministry talk about the obstacles to bringing new life in a church we focus on outward problems. In this post I write about inward barriers pastors face and offer practical steps of overcoming them.

 Living by the Book
Yesterday’s post on Bible reading reminded me of this important work on how to read the Bible. William and Howard Hendricks explain how Christians can get the most out of God’s word by learning how to observe what is in the text, interpret the text accurately, and apply the text to everyday life. The time spent in this book will pay great dividends.

Bible

photo credit: Old Bible via photopin (license)

In my younger years as a pastor one of my favorite sounds was to hear people turning the pages in their Bibles as they looked for that morning’s text. That sound has largely been replaced by the sound of silence, as many people use the Bible app on their phone or tablet. In fact I still remember the first time someone used an iPad to read his Bible in one of our worship gatherings because I kept trying to figure out why his face was glowing.

The number of digital resources available for Bible reading and study has exploded in ways I never could have imagined when I became a Christian in the late 1990’s. Logos, iPad apps, and iPhone apps seem to have eliminated the need to carry around a physical copy of the Bible. After all, why would you carry around a fifteen hundred page book when you can access it on a device that fits in your pocket?

For several years I attempted to have my daily devotions on a Bible app on one of my devices. At different times I used my iPhone, iPad, Kindle app on my Macbook, and Logos. After trying this for a while I found my devotions lagging and returned to a physical copy of the Bible as an experiment. Reading a physical copy of the Bible rather than a digital device seemed to be more fruitful for me, and now I do almost all of my Bible reading in my Thinline ESV. Here are a few reasons why I made the switch back to a physical copy of the Bible for my devotions and have no plans for returning to digital.

I Can Write In My Bible

One of the major problems I had with reading the Bible on a screen was I found my attention wandering. While many apps have note taking capabilities, reading with a pencil my hand turns me from a passive reader to an active reader. Holding a pencil helps me to focus as I underline sentences, draw boxes around connecting words, and write notes in the margins. When I come back to those passages at another time, I can see insights that struck me previously. Bible apps have note taking and highlighting capabilities, but I find that a pencil is much more effective.

I Can’t Do Anything Else with My Bible

I struggle with being easily distracted. As I have been writing this post I have been tempted to click the Google Chrome icon so I can check Twitter and see what people are saying about the NBA Finals. My phone has social media apps, my iPad has games, and my Macbook has work I need to do. The only thing I can do with my Bible is read my Bible. When I have my morning devotions with only a Bible on the table it helps me to focus my attention on the Bible and the Bible alone.

My Children Can See Me Read My Bible

One of the things we want to do is build a love for the Bible in our children. We want them to love reading, hearing, and studying Scripture. We instill this through family devotions, catechisms, Scripture memory, and encouraging them to take notes during the sermon. They also need to see the example of their parents reading and meditating on the Bible. If I’m on my phone, they don’t know if Dad is reading the Bible, checking email, or scrolling through Instagram. When they come downstairs in the morning and see me reading my Bible, they see their Dad doing what he encourages them to do. Sometimes they will sit down and ask what I am reading, which leads to good conversations about the things of God. This usually doesn’t happen if they see me looking down at my phone.

I Remember to Read My Bible

I’m a pastor, but there are days when I am facing a crowded schedule and need a visual reminder the read the Bible. Seeing my Bible in the bag I take to work reminds me to take a few minutes, sit down, and hear from God in the Scriptures. Looking at my phone doesn’t remind me of this and neither does seeing my laptop, but my Bible reminds me too. Also, having a Bible with me during the day encourages me to read it during the little time gaps that pop us throughout the day. If I am meeting someone and they run late, I can pull my Bible out and read it for a few minutes before they arrive. I could theoretically do this on my phone, but the Bible is one of many apps on my phone calling for my attention. A physical copy of the Bible in my bag calls my attention to it alone.

This post should not be seen as my saying Bible apps are bad for Christians. On the contrary, they can be helpful when you are in a place where you cannot get to a physical copy of the Bible and it’s easier to pull your phone out to pull something up in the Bible during a conversation. Logos Bible Software has been a great help to me in my sermon study. After doing the initial study for my sermon in my Bible I open Logos up and have a library’s worth of material at my fingertips. These resources are great for study and iPhone apps are helpful for convenience, but I am finding that for my personal Bible reading a physical copy of the Bible works best.

Related Posts:
Why You Should Read the Old Testament History Books

Why You Should Read the Psalms

For Further Reading:
How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer

photo credit: Rings via photopin (license)

photo credit: Rings via photopin (license)

This week Beth and I celebrated our thirteenth anniversary.  One of the fun things about your anniversary is to look back, not only on your wedding day, but  also on the grace God has shown you throughout your entire marriage. In particular you can look over the entirety of your marriage and see how the Lord has been at work in you.

I thought I knew a lot about marriage when we stood before our family and friends thirteen years ago because I had memorized Ephesians 5 and read some books, but the following months proved I didn’t know much at all. God is good though, and in his faithfulness he has helped us both to grow, mature, and experience a portion of the joy the Lord intended marriage to be when he ordained it in the garden.

The Lord has been teaching me through our marriage, through his word, through talking with other Christians, and by his Spirit over the last thirteen years. Here are four marks that seem to be present in healthy and growing marriages.

Permanence

Anyone can get excited to work on their marriage for a few minutes, but growing marriages require daily work. In his book, What Did Your Expect?, Paul Tripp likens marriage to a garden. You cannot plant a garden, ignore it, and expect to see fruit. Instead, you must do the hard work of pulling weeds and cultivating crops. In the same way, marriages require consistent effort over the long haul. We work on our marriages by cultivating kindness, forgiveness, time together, listening, and a host of other virtues. We must also weed out anger, bitterness, selfishness, rudeness, wandering eyes, and any other sin that effects your marriages.

If you inspect the garden every day to look for growth, you probably don’t see perceptible movement, but over the course of weeks you begin to see fruit. In the same way, we only see growth in our marriage over the course of time and this growth only takes place when spouses are committed to each other for the rest of their lives. Marriages grow because spouses are growing, and many people will not take the time to make the difficult changes that need to be made when they are not committed for the rest of their lives. Marriage requires serious self-reflection, repentance, compassion, forgiveness, and self-forgetfulness. These virtues don’t form in our hearts overnight and it does not happen without painful changes. When you are in your marriage for the rest of your life, you will commit to making the changes you need to make because you value the glory of God and your spouse’s joy.

Teamwork

When I was in high school we played pickup basketball all spring and summer. Many times two guys from the same team would fight each other for a rebound and eventually someone would shout, “same team.” These two guys struggled against each other when they should be working together and had to be reminded they they were on the same side.

We need this same reminder in marriage sometimes. Spouses take out their bad days on each other, snap at each other when the children have been misbehaving, or work against each other instead of working together. In this situation the only answer is for spouses to stop and remember that they are in this together.  We have to remember we have the same ultimate goals for lasting joy and the glory of God followed by a commitment to stop acting as if our spouse is a problem and remember they are our partner.  Many of the obstacles married couples face will be reduced in size when we face them as one. This doesn’t mean they go away, but we go into difficulties with a completely different mindset when we know we are together. Going in to face problems at work, sickness, overwhelming bills, and disobedient children as a united couple give couples support and comfort they don’t have when they are divided.

Thoughtfulness

So often when we have problems in our marriages, we don’t need a seminar to help us because our greatest struggles come from treating each other in an ungodly way. We speak rashly, hold grudges, forget how to show patience and empathy, and speak to each other in ways we would never tolerate if the shoe was on the other foot. Couples work against each other, undermine each other, and forget to show each other even the most basic courtesy.

Many times, the answer is to apply “love your neighbor as yourself” and the “one another” passages to our marriages. After all, isn’t our spouse our closest neighbor? How much would our marriages change if 23 obeyed “bearing with one another and forgiving one another, as the Lord has forgiven you, so also should you?” What would kind of practical difference would it make if you showed basic kindness and only treated your spouse the way you want to be treated? We overcomplicate marriage, and think we need some kind of specialized training when we really just need to show love, kindness, patience, and forgiveness. This one change makes overwhelming differences.

Friendship

About ten years ago everyone started talking about the importance of date night for marital health. Especially when couples have small children, getting away for a few hours is an important ingredient in your marriage. We can have fun and enjoy our time together, especially since we don’t have other people to feed instead of ourselves. However, it a couple’s only quality time together is a date night we are missing some of the best opportunities for our marriage to grow. Nothing helps our marriage grow like daily time together. Working on projects together, cooking and cleaning the kitchen together, and hanging out together after the kids go to bed are some of the best times we can have together. This kind of time together over time builds friendship, helps us work out problems together, and gives moments of joy in the midst of tough days.

The time we need together everyday must be intentionally carved out. No one ever magically “finds time” for important things because if something is truly important we must make time for it. This means aligning schedules and cutting out extra activities if necessary. It involves getting kids in bed or in their rooms at a decent hour or getting up before the kids wake up to have breakfast together. Whatever form it may take, repeated quality time builds a truly loving and lasting friendship.

We don’t talk enough about the role of friendship in marriage. We think of friends as the people who live outside of our own homes, but if we are in union together shouldn’t our spouses be our closest friends? Shouldn’t this be the person I want to spend time with the most and be more willing to confide in than anyone else? If this is not the case, if we want to run from our spouses instead of spend time with them, it serves as a reminder for us to walk in repentance and forgiveness towards them. If years of anger and hostility have driven a barrier between spouses, the answer is to repent, forgive, and reconcile with them so the barrier is torn down and the friendship restored.

These are not all of the marks of healthy marriage, which is why there will be a part 2 soon. What are some of the marks you have seen in healthy marriages?

Related Posts:
Husbands, Be a Patient Listener

Husbands, Be Quick to Forgive

For Further Reading:
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller

The Mingling of Souls by Matt and Lauren Chandler