Every Christian, no matter how long he has walked with Jesus, struggles with temptations to sin. Our sinful flesh, the world with its allurements, and the enemy of our souls bombard us with temptations to walk in that which the Lord forbids or to ignore those things he has told us to do. We struggle with these temptations, and often try to overcome them through our own fortitude or just give in.

We shouldn’t grow weary in our fight against sin when it gets tough. Even though gratifying our flesh seems right, the pleasures of the world look fulfilling, and the temptations of the enemy are a delight to the eyes, we need to keep running away from them.

Why should we do this, though? Why should the person who trusts in Jesus put sin to death and keep running after our Savior?

In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul gives us three powerful motivations to continue waging the war against our sin. He points us to the work of Christ in us through the Gospel and gives us powerful motivations to keep fighting the good fight.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

We Possess an Unshakeable Hope

The passage begins with Paul encouraging the Colossians believers to seek Christ because they have been raised up with him. The pattern Paul will follow for the rest of this passage emerges in the first verse. He calls Christians to seek Jesus and put to death sin in light of what God has done for us in Christ. He reminds us of the Gospel and its implications, then he calls us to obedience in response to his grace.

In verse 4, Paul says that Christ, who is our life, will appear and that we will appear with him in glory. We only have life because of Christ, and the life we have in him is currently “hidden” in him. We are already new people, but the reality of that newness has not been fully realized. It will be when Christ appears and we live in the expectation of his imminent return.

After calling this hope back to our minds, Paul says “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” His point is that we should put to death our sin because of the hope that we have laid up for us in Christ. The expectation that we will appear with Christ in all his glory makes us want to live in a manner consistent with that blessed hope. As John says in 1 John 3:3, “whoever thus hopes in him purifies himself, as he is pure.”

We Are Saved from God’s Wrath

In verse 5, Paul recites a list of sins that should be put to death. Notice the language he uses here. “Put to death.” We do not play with sin or offer it the opportunity for a foothold in our lives. Instead, we must take practical steps to cut the head off of the practice of sin in our lives.

Paul says these sins should be put to death because “On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” It seems strange that Paul should mention the wrath of God to a Christian church. They aren’t destined for the wrath of God, so why even mention it to believers? He wants to remind us of that from which we have been saved. Why would we want to live in things that bring the wrath of God when we have been saved from the wrath of God?

Charles Spurgeon makes this point clearly in his comments on Romans 6 in his book, Morning and Evening.

“Christian, what hast thou to do with sin? Hath it not cost thee enough already? Burnt child, wilt thou play with the fire? What! when thou hast already been between the jaws of the lion, wilt thou step a second time into his den? Hast thou not had enough of the old serpent? Did he not poison all thy veins once, and wilt thou play upon the hole of the asp, and put thy hand upon the cockatrice’s den a second time? Oh, be not so mad! so foolish! Did sin ever yield thee real pleasure? Didst thou find solid satisfaction in it? If so, go back to thine old drudgery, and wear the chain again, if it delight thee. But inasmuch as sin did never give thee what it promised to bestow, but deluded thee with lies, be not a second time snared by the old fowler—be free, and let the remembrance of thy ancient bondage forbid thee to enter the net again!”

We Walk in Newness of Life

When we read the Bible, we need to pay attention to seemingly mundane things like verb tense. “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.” Paul says that the sins of the flesh were characteristic of us, but by using the past tense he shows that they are no longer. Christians must realize that we have been changed by the grace of Christ and this means that we are radically new people. Because of this new life, we should no longer be slaves to our old way of life.

Paul offers another laundry list of vices to avoid in verse 8 and implores believers not to lie to each other in verse 9. After this admonition, he says that the motivation for not lying to each other is our having put off the old self and putting on the new self in its place. This again points to the new heart we receive at our conversion and the intense change brought about by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Christians can truly say that we are men and women who have been made new.

The new self experiences a consistent renewal into the image of the one who created it. In other words, Christians walk through progressive sanctification. Over time, through repentance, faith, confession, and walking by the Spirit, we grow to be more like Jesus and less like who we were before we knew him. This growth is only possible because the new life we have because God took out our heart of stone and gave us a heart of flesh.

When we stop to consider what God has done for us in Christ, how can we not put our sins to death? When we think about the hope laid up for us in Christ, does a lifestyle of sin seem in keeping with what we will appear to be with Christ in his glory? As we remember the life of sin from which we have been rescued, does anything about it seem so appealing that we would abandon Jesus to go back to it? And, realizing the new life we have because of Christ, is there any way that walking in sin would be consistent with it?

All of the answers to these questions are “no” because in Christ we hear “yes” to all of the promises of God. What we have in Jesus is so wonderful that the fleeting pleasures of sin are of no value to us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we turn away from them because what we have in Christ is of infinite worth.

Related Posts:
Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

How to Stop Losing Your Temper

For Further Reading:
Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor

Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson

A Few Good Reads

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

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

The Sunday After: A Post-Election Lesson from Jimmy Carter
Jennifer Crossley Howard made the trek to Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia the Sunday after the Presidential Election to attend former President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School class. She recaps discussions with the other people who were there, the process for getting to attend his class, and what he talked about that morning. While I have significant theological issues with many things the former President believes, it was interesting to hear how he addressed his class on this particular Sunday. “When you pull into the parking lot at Maranatha, you’re given a number, and when Jan Williams, the church pianist, calls out your number, you’d better listen and step in line. That secures your spot in the sanctuary. The overflow crowd has to watch Carter on a TV in another room.”

Theology of the Carols: Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Some of the hymns we sing at Christmas are loaded with some amazing theology that informs our understanding of who Jesus is and draws our hearts near to him. In my opinion, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is the best of them. Michael Kelley walks through this wonderful hymn to unpack some of the truth contained in it. “The original lyrics were written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, and was called ‘Hymn for Christmas-Day.’ It was included in John Wesley’s collection called Hymns and Sacred Poems that was published in 1739. The great evangelist George Whitefield adapted the lyrics in 1754, changing the opening line to ‘Hark! the Herald Angels sing’ from the original, ‘Hark how all the Welkin rings.’”

How to Read the Major Prophets Devotionally
Mike McKinley helps us understand how we can read Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel in a way that draws us nearer to God. “The New Testament authors repeatedly mine these Major Prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel—for themes and prophecies that would illuminate what God was doing in sending his Son. Jesus clearly understood and explained his own ministry in terms laid out by the prophets (Luke 4:16–21). So Christians who want to know their Bible needs to wrestle with these books.”

Deep in the Weeds on MONOGENES and Eternal Generation
Since the Summer there has been a good discussion going on about the Trinity and the proper way to understand the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Many Christians yawn at these kinds of debates, but since they get to the heart of who God is, we should care deeply about them. Denny Burk digs into the Nicene Creed and applies what he sees there to how we translate MONOGENES. Should it be “only-begotten” or “only/unique?” “After reading the Creed in Greek, it immediately became clear to me that the Nicene Fathers’s interpretation of MONOGENES is in direct conflict with a near consensus among modern New Testament scholars.”

Which Old Testament Promises Apply to Me?
John Piper deals with a question that gets to the heart of how we read and grow from reading the Old Testament. “Now, I think that means that in union with Christ, the Messiah, Christians become the heirs of all the promises in the Old Testament. And there are different ways to explain why that is, and one is to realize that in spiritual union with the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, Christians are the messianic people, the true Israel, the heirs of everything promised to the true Israel.”

photo credit: DiariVeu - laveupv.com 56436998 via photopin (license)

photo credit: DiariVeu – laveupv.com 56436998 via photopin (license)

Several years ago, Home Depot used the slogan, “You can do it. We can help.” A lot of what I hear in popular evangelicalism reminds me of these words. We present Jesus as the one who can help you fulfill your potential, reach your dreams, and live the life that you have always wanted. We talk about him as if he is standing on the sidelines of our lives yelling, “you can do it, and I can help.” In this presentation, Jesus becomes nothing more than a tool that I use to help me get what I really want.

We foolishly think that we have Scriptural support for this. The first time I ever heard Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” it was in a pep talk before a football game. While the person speaking never uttered the phrase, “you want to win and Jesus can help,” it was the clear implication.

What this person did in speaking about Jesus before a football game, we often do in life. Whether we want healthy relationships, a fit body, a fat bank account, or to feel successful, we sanctify our desires by saying that Jesus is helping us do it. In our popular rendering of Philippians 4:13, we seem to be saying, “I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I want what I want, I’ve got the power to achieve my dreams. I just need a little help, and Jesus is the life coach who is helping me reach my goals.

Is this the real Jesus though? Does Jesus present himself as the one who is there to help us fulfill our vision for our lives? If we go back to Philippians 4:13 and put it in its context, a better way of understanding Jesus and this verse starts to emerge.

The opening chapter of Philippians shows us that Paul writes this letter from prison. He mentions his chains and the imperial guard who watch over him. Rather than railing at his circumstances or looking at how this “set back is going to lead to his comeback,” he rejoices that God is using his suffering for the advance of the Gospel. Paul is okay with either dying or continuing to live in his present situation. Either way, his desire is to bring glory to Christ through his life or in his death.

In the second chapter, Paul encourages his fellow believers to conduct themselves with self-denying humility rather than self-glorifying ambition. Paul knows that our desire to be great, to be successful, and to have more can create a self-centered view of life. We begin to see life as if it is a movie in which I am the star, and everyone else is playing a bit role in which they exist to help me get what I want. When we find ourselves in this place, we begin to treat other people either as pawns to help us get our way or as obstacles to be cleared from our path.

Paul’s antidote for this malady is a long, steady look at the life of Jesus. Paul presents him, not as a cheerleader urging us on the achieve our great personal ambitions, but as a humble servant who poured himself out for others and by his example encourages us to do the same. Jesus did not hang on to his equality with God but left the beauty of heaven and perfect fellowship with his Father to take on full human flesh and be born in a stable in Bethlehem. Then, knowing the joy set before him, Jesus gladly and willingly laid down his life for us to bring us back to God.

Paul offers a recitation of his own personal accomplishments in chapter three. Instead of clinging to personal accruements, he tells how he counted them as loss so that he might gain Christ. Those things that we so often pant and long for, Paul possessed, and yet he counted them as worthless refuse compared to knowing Christ. In this passage he offers Jesus, not as the means by which we attain our personal goals, but as the great prize we should have been looking for all along. In his life, sufferings, and resurrected glory, we find everything that we need.

This brings us back to Philippians 4. After showing Christ as the supreme treasure, for whom we should count the loss of all things as gain, he turns again to his current situation. He writes to the Philippian church to thank them for a gift they sent him to sustain him in his imprisonment. In doing this Paul says that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstance he finds himself. He has lived in low circumstances and great abundance, yet he knows how to be content wherever his lot may fall. He says he can do this because “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Here’s the context for Philippians 4:13. It’s not a football field and there are no shining lights. He is in prison. He needs Jesus to strengthen him to live for his glory in his difficult circumstances so that he might continue to proclaim the Gospel and see Jesus as the infinite treasure that he is.

In light of what Paul says about the real Jesus in Philippians, we need to lose life coach and cheerleader Jesus because he is altogether insufficient. A Jesus who only exists to help me achieve my own personal greatness is not the real Jesus. The real Jesus is not the means to an end, but is the treasure itself.

Jesus did speak of greatness, though, and we would be remiss not to mention it. Jesus’ disciples argued over who would be the greatest in the kingdom. They saw Jesus as the catalyst to help them receive the praise of men. He was their chance to be great. Instead, Jesus showed them another way, and it was the way he would soon go himself. He said that the greatest among them would be the servant of all. This is what he modeled when he gave himself up for us on the cross as Paul mentioned in Philippians 2. Then he shows that God highly exalted Jesus, and gave him the name above every name so that every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

We don’t find greatness by asking Jesus to come alongside and help us fulfill our dreams so that we can make much our ourselves. We discover true greatness when we treasure Jesus above all else and follow him in serving others for the glory of his great name. In doing so you will find that the greatness you have desired wasn’t that great after all.

Related Posts:
Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

For Further Reading:
The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson

A Few Good Reads

November 22, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

We Cannot Complain about America if We Do Not Listen to Others
This year’s Presidential election revealed not just the divides between Americans, but also our complete lack of understanding about those on the other side of the divide. Lore Ferguson Wilbert discusses this problem and shares books we all need to read so that we can better understand our neighbors who are completely unlike us. “If you turn away from those who don’t think like you, you simply cannot complain about the state of politics in American today, you do not have the right to choose an America that only works for you or people just like you. Chance offense or hurt, your own or others, but actually listen to someone with intent to hear them instead of listening with the intent to change their mind. There’s only one who changes minds, and thank the Holy Spirit, it isn’t you.”

9 Things You Should Know about C.S. Lewis
Many Christians have some familiarity with C.S. Lewis through either his novels or better known Christians writings, but few of us know much about him. Joe Carter, as part of his helpful “9 Things You Should Know” series, shares some interesting and important facts about the life of C.S. Lewis. “On November 22, 1963, exactly one week before his 65th birthday, Lewis collapsed in his bedroom at 5:30 p.m. and died a few minutes later. Media coverage of his death was almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was killed less than an hour earlier.”

The Lost Art of Feasting
David Mathis contends that we have forgotten how to enjoy a feast together. This is a good reminder as Thanksgiving approaches. “We’ve grown dull to the wonder of ample food and drink through constant use, and overuse. When every day is a virtual feast, we lose the blessing of a real one. When every meal is a pathway to indulgence, not only is fasting lost, but true feasting is as well.”

A Father’s Fight for Joy
I needed to hear this word from Scott James today. Often, in the midst of raising our children, we focus on the difficulties and forget to enjoy them. We can become harsh and negative, forgetting that God offers us gladness and joy in our parenting. “Biblical gladness is not an enemy of parental efficiency or success. Biblical gladness is fuel for the faithful parent. It’s humbling to realize my parenting can be so shortsighted that I forget something as obvious as that.”

Pastors Library: Hillbilly Elegy
I loved J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and learned a lot as I walked through it last month. At the Lifeway Pastors site, I share what pastors can learn about ministry from this important book. “One of the great ironies of this 21st century is that we are connected to more people that ever while building a bubble for ourselves where we don’t encounter people with opposing viewpoints or people who have a different way of life from ours. This can especially be true of pastors who spend most of their time either writing sermons or ministering to those who are already inside the church.”

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Sunday begins the Advent season, which is the four Sundays leading up to the celebration of Christmas. Advent looks back at Christ’s first arrival and anticipates the time when he will come again. Just as the light came into the darkness when Jesus was born, so he will appear again in glorious light that will vanquish the darkness finally and completely.

In the busyness of the Christmas season, Advent serves as a wonderful reminder to slow down and meditate on who Christ is and what he has done. One great practical way to do this is to have Advent devotions each night with your family. Taking the time to read Scripture, pray, and sing great songs of the faith will remind you of the work Jesus accomplished when he came the first time and what he will do when he comes again.

Light the Advent Candles

The Advent wreath contains three purple candles and one pink candle in a circle with a white candle in the middle. During devotions, light one candle during the first week of Advent, and one new candle each additional week. One Christmas Eve, light the white Christ child candle in the middle. The increasing light reminds us of the darkness that existed before Jesus came into the world and serves as a testimony to his Gospel which continues to bring light to a dark world.

While lighting the candles, whoever is leading devotion says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Then the family responds, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Read the Bible

If your family has struggled before with devotions, Advent is a good time to get started again. Begin these devotions with the reading of Scripture. Several great options exist for deciding what to read. You can focus on the narratives of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Also, you can use a list of readings (http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/advent-bible-verses) from both testaments that focus on the coming Messiah.

There are also several good books with devotions you can read with your family. Nancy Guthrie’s http://amzn.to/2gt1fsaLet Every Heart Prepare Him Room, John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, or Scott James’ The Expected One will give you passages to read and questions to discuss together. The goal is to spend a short time focusing on the Scripture and to think about who Jesus is and what he has come to do.

Sing

One of the great joys of the Christmas season is singing together as a family. Many Christmas hymns do more than bring back good memories, they also serve to teach the great truths of the faith. Songs such as Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, What Child is This, and Joy to the World point us to the glorious work of Jesus and the sovereign grace of God that brings us back to him. You may choose to sing several of these songs a night or focus on one for the entirety of Advent. Singing together celebrates what Jesus has done and reinforces the teaching of God’s word.

Pray

Close out by spending some time together as a family in prayer. Pray through your family’s needs and also pray in light of some of the themes covered in your Advent reading. This models for your kids how to thank God for what he has done for us in Christ. Another thing you can do is to pray for families who send you Christmas cards. Pull one card out of the pile every night and pray for the family on the card. Then send them a note or a message to let them know you were praying for them.

Making the time for Advent devotions is a great way to slow down and remember what is most important this holiday season. Reading, praying, and singing turns our hearts away from the busyness and materialism of the world and draws them near to Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us.

Related Posts:
How to Read the Bible Every Day

The Best Quotes from Hidden Christmas

For Further Reading:
Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller

Child in the Manger by Sinclair Ferguson

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This past Sunday I finished preaching a three-month series in the book of Proverbs. Solomon collects wise statements to share with his son so he will choose the path of wisdom that leads to life instead of the path of folly that leads to death. The book of Proverbs has been a great help to me and I read one chapter from it every day, but preaching from it can be perplexing. This can be especially true for the pastor who usually preaches expositions through books of the Bible. How to preach chapters 10-31, how to deal with texts that seem to teach the prosperity Gospel, and how to point to Jesus are all practical considerations that can trip up pastors.

From my preaching through Proverbs and reading to prepare for it, here are six practical tips I would offer to the pastor who seeks to preach through Proverbs.

Preach Chapters 1-9 with Normal Expositions

Solomon composed the first nine chapters of Proverbs differently than he did the last two-thirds of the book. Proverbs 1-9 is a series of teachings designed to call his son to the wise life. His son won’t listen to the wisdom contained in the rest of the book if he does not make this fundamental choice.

This section divides into paragraphs with an obvious main theme and connecting words to help you trace the argument. In many ways, you can preach through these nine chapters in the same way you would any other book of the Bible. The one caution I would offer is that if you take too long on the first nine chapters, you will end up sounding repetitive. Take four or five weeks and hit the high points of Solomon’s appeal. Then you can come back into passages like 5:15-23 and 6:6-11 as you tackle subjects from the rest of the book.

Preach Chapters 10-31 Topically

There is structure to many of the sections in Proverbs 10-31, but they don’t lend themselves towards what we would ordinarily associate with expositional preaching. Instead, the best practice in chapters 10-31 is to preach topics that run across these chapters. You can cover the wisdom Solomon prescribes for our marriages, parenting, money, work, integrity, conflict, anger, words, friendships, courage, and more.

There are resources like Practicing Proverbs and Derek Kidner’s commentary on Proverbs contain lists of Proverbs on various subjects. I personally recommend reading all the way through the book and categorizing individual verses as you read. This takes longer, but it helps you get a feel for how often a subject comes up and the contexts in which it is mentioned. Then, take all of the Proverbs on one subject and break them down into subtopics that can become the outline of a sermon. Use one main text in the sermon and bring in the other Proverbs to show the multifaceted way Solomon covers a topic.

Preach to the Heart

Proverbs 4:23 saves us from a great temptation we face when preaching through Proverbs. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” If we are not careful, we can preach Proverbs as if it is merely great advice for the people who will take the time to listen to it. This verse won’t let us go there. Our hearts drive our desires and our actions. We are not blank slates who look at two choices and carefully choose which direction to take after dispassionate study. Because our hearts love sin naturally but have been made new in through the work of the Holy Spirit, we will approach decisions with a variety of motives.

When you preach through Proverbs you must aim your preaching at the hearts of your hearers. Yes, they need to stop losing their temper, but probe deeper and talk about what causes them to react to situations with anger. Solomon shows that people must save money instead of wasting it and going into debt. Address the heart issues that cause them to treat money in the manner that they do so that you get into what and who they actually worship. When aimed at the heart, the Proverbs can be arrows that sink deeply and bring great change.

Show the Joy of Wise Living

In preaching to the heart and addressing our motives, we must show our hearers the goals of wise living. When we live wisely, we bring glory to God through our lives and experience great joy ourselves. Throughout Proverbs, Solomon tells his son that wisdom offers, “life.” We should read “life” in this context to have a similar meaning as Jesus’ saying that, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to bring us the new life of his Kingdom that changes who we are at the deepest level. Through this new life, we know the one true God and experience everlasting joy.

We get to experience this joy in part when we walk in wisdom because we save ourselves from the misery that comes from foolishness. In most cases, the Christian who knows how to control his temper and keep a cool head with escape the misery and guilt that comes from blowing his top. The person who keeps a secret to himself rather than revealing it does not have to deal with the consequences and broken relationships that come from a waggling tongue. Therefore, as you preach, show the misery that attends foolishness and the joy that comes from glorifying God through wise living.

Remember the Other Wisdom Books

“Train your child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” How often has this verse been a millstone around the neck of godly parents who have seen their children go astray? They often think, “I must not have trained my child in the way that he should go since he has departed from it.” The assumption is that if I meet my part in the conditional statement of the Proverb, then the attendant blessing should come automatically.

This would be true if we did not live in a broken world, but we do. The wicked often prosper and the godly often suffer. Children raised in godly homes go astray and people who are wise with their money come into financial ruin. The other wisdom books, especially the book of Job, help us make sure we preach Proverbs properly. If we read Proverbs while forgetting that we live in a world tainted by sin, we would think that Job is a man who should never suffer. He did suffer, though, and our preaching in Proverbs should remind people that they need to read the blessings attached to particular Proverbs in light of the rest of Scripture.

Preach Christ as Our Only Hope

Thankfully, thanks to books like Jonathan Akin’s Preaching Christ from Proverbs, there are resources available to help us understand how to preach the Gospel in our sermons on Proverbs. Doing this well often depends on connecting the themes in Proverbs to other themes running through the rest of Scripture or showing how Christ ultimately fulfilled what this Proverb points to.

For example, if you are preaching through the Proverbs on money, you can connect Solomon’s words with Jesus’ teaching that how we use money is a reflection of what is in our hearts. This reflects Solomon’s command to guard our hearts because the springs of life flow from them. Or, when preaching on a verse like Proverbs 19:11, “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense,” you can show that we overlook offenses because Christ has borne all of our offenses. Because Jesus died in our place, God no longer holds our sin against us. This frees us to forgive others because we have experienced forgiveness ourselves.

Preaching through Proverbs often requires more thought and planning than preaching through New Testament letters. The work it takes to preach expository sermons from Proverbs is worth it, because through them God’s people look to Christ, look to their own hearts, and begin to experience the joy that comes from wise living.

Related Posts:
Should I Correct a Foolish Person or Stay Silent?

What Do You Do if the Sunday Sermon Was Bad?

For Further Reading:
Preaching Christ In All of Scripture by Edmund Clowney

Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy

Preaching Christ from the Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus

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Often when you mention reading the Bible every day to Christians, they either hang their head in shame or start reaching into the excuse pile for a justification. For some reason, we struggle with the daily reading of God’s word at the time in history when it is the most accessible. We blame our lack of time and lack of understanding, but neither of these holds water as a reason to neglect the treasures that lie in God’s written word.

In a previous post, I have dealt with the reasons why a Christian should read the Bible consistently. We often get the why, but struggle with the how as we balance family, work, and social obligations. Every person ultimately needs to find the best practical ways to work this out for themselves, but here are some suggests to get you started reading the Bible every single day.

Have a Plan

If you don’t know what you are going to read, you will either pick up your Bible and half-heartedly leaf through it or just say that you will get to it later. On the other hand, if you have a plan in place for reading your Bible, you don’t have to spend time figuring out what to read so that you can just sit down and do it.

I personally believe Christians should try to read through the entire Bible every year, but this may not be best for everyone. The most important thing to do is to find a Bible reading plan that you can faithfully follow and benefit from. If you are not sure where to find a Bible reading plan, many Bibles have one in the back, or you can consult this list from Justin Taylor. Another helpful practice is to work through a helpful devotional book that has you reading through the Bible. D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God works through the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan and Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus goes through the book of Psalms.

Have a Place and Time

One of the best ways to establish a rhythm of daily Bible reading is to find a set place and time to do it. For me, I have found that I need to be awake and have eaten breakfast before I try to read. So I work out first thing in the morning, cook some breakfast, and then sit down to read my Bible. When I follow things in this order in the mornings, my Bible reading becomes a natural part of what I do so that I don’t have to wonder whether or not I’m going to read my Bible that day.

This is what I have found works best for me, but you are going to need to work through this in your own life and schedule. Can you get up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning to read your Bible, or do you need to stay up fifteen minutes later? Can you make time during lunch, or would reading right after you came home work out better? Know yourself, your schedule, and when you are the most alert, then make sure nothing interferes with this time.

Having a consistent place where you read is also important for you as well. Now, there is not such thing as a holy place where Bible reading must be done, but have a particular place where you read so that it acts as a mental cue for you can be important. When I sit down to eat breakfast at our dining room table, it reminds me to read the Bible when I am done. The same can be true for a particular chair or desk in your home. Find a place to read daily that signals to you that it is time to read Scripture.

Have a Pen or a Pencil

Most of us suffer from short attention spans and our minds frequently wander when we are reading the Bible. One practical way to fight against this is to read with a pen or a pencil in your hand. Reading with a pen or a pencil in hand moves you from passive reading to active reading. Circle significant words, underline verses that stand out to you, and write down questions or insights that you have along the way. In doing this you will find that you pay closer attention to your reading and remember more of what you have read.

Also, a journal could be useful in your Scripture reading as well. Take a few minutes and write a paragraph about what you read. Also, you could use it to write down areas of application or things you need to think through in your personal life after reading. Either way, writing things down after reading Scripture changes the way you read and the way that you remember.

Have a Practical Reward

It sounds strange to reward yourself for reading the Bible since reading the Bible should be a reward on its own. What I’m talking about is having a way to track your faithfulness in reading Scripture so you can look back and be encouraged by your progress. I recently downloaded the app, Don’t Break the Chain. It’s modeled off of a practice of Jerry Seinfeld’s where he would place a red “X” over the date on the calendar after he had spent time writing. Eventually, he had a long string of X’s and didn’t want to break the chain. Something simple like this or checking off a box after reading builds encouragement and momentum for your daily Bible reading.

Every Christian needs to read the Bible every day. We need to be pulled out of our self-focus and worldly preoccupations so that we can come face to face with God’s revelation of himself. We need the humility and encouragement that comes from reading the Gospel message. The wisdom, correction, and training that comes from God’s word changes who we are at the core of our being. Since the Bible does these things in us, we need to work on practical methods that will help us be more faithful in our daily time in God’s word.

Related Posts:
Why You Need to Read the Whole Bible Every Year

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

For Further Reading:
How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul

hiddenchristmas

Every year the Christmas season provides a great opportunity for believers to reflect on Jesus’ incarnation and how its message should change us. All too often, we don’t begin to think through how we can put these truths before our own hearts and our family until the season is upon us. This year Tim Keller gave us a great gift by releasing his new book, Hidden Christmas, four weeks before the beginning of the Advent season.

I started reading through Hidden Christmas this morning and found myself unable to put it down. Keller works through the narratives of Jesus’ birth from Matthew and Luke as well as the opening paragraph of 1 John. In doing so, he reminds us of our great need for a Savior and the overwhelming grace of God in sending his Son. Hidden Christmas shows how the message of Christmas undermines our pride and self-sufficiency while giving us hope, peace, and security in the process.

As I read I found myself highlighting on almost every page and nearly went through a whole canister of book darts. These are my favorite quotes from Hidden Christmas.

“The emphasis on light in darkness comes from the Christian belief that the world’s hope comes from outside of it… Jesus comes as the Light because we are too spiritually blind to find our own way. Jesus became mortal and died because we are too morally ruined to be pardoned any other way. Jesus gave himself to us, and so we must give ourselves wholly to him.” (2)

“In the Bible the people who actually saw and heard Jesus never reacted indifferently or even mildly. Once they realized what he was claiming about himself, either they were scared of him or furious with him or they knelt down before him and worshipped him. But nobody simply like him. Nobody said, ‘He is so inspiring. He makes me want to live a better life.’ If the baby boy at Christmas is the Mighty God, then you must serve him completely.” (13)

“Christmas means that we are so lost, so unable to save ourselves, that nothing less than the death of the Son of God himself could save us. That means you are not somebody who can pull yourself together and live a moral and good life.” (17)

“Matthew does not begin his story of Jesus’ birth by saying, ‘Once upon a time…’ He says, ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ.’ That means he is grounding what Jesus Christ is and does in history. Jesus is not a metaphor. He is real. This all happened.” (21)

“These Gospel narratives are telling you not what you should do but what God has done. The birth of the Son of God into the world is a gospel, good news, an announcement. You don’t save yourself. God has come to save you.” (22-23)

“People who are excluded by culture, excluded by respectable society, and even excluded by the law of God can be brought in to Jesus’ family. It doesn’t matter your pedigree, it doesn’t matter what you have done, it doesn’t matter whether you have killed people. If you repent and believe in him, the grace of Jesus Christ can cover your sin and unite you with him.” (32) (This is a reflection on the genealogy in Matthew 1 and Jesus coming from the line of the murderer David.)

“It is not the good people who are in and the bad people who are out. Everyone is in only by the grace of Jesus Christ. It is only what Jesus has done for you that can give you standing before God. There is no one, then, not even the greatest human being, who does not need the grace of Jesus Christ. And there is no one, not even the worst human being, who can fail to receive the grace of Jesus Christ if there is repentance and faith.” (33)

“If he is who he said he is, then you have to center your whole life on him. And if he is not who he said he is, then he is someone to hate or run away from. But no other response makes sense.” (46)

“Christmas means, then, that for you and me there is all the hope in the world.” (47)

“The fact that God became human and emptied himself of his glory means that you should not want to hang out only with the people with power and glitz, who are networked and can open doors for you. You need to be willing to go to the people without power, without beauty, without money. That is the Christmas spirit, because God became one of us.” (50)

“Christianity says God has been all of the places you have been; he has been in the darkness you are in now, and more. And, therefore, you can trust him; you can rely on him, because he knows and has the power to comfort, strengthen, and bring you through.” (52)

“Only Jesus says, ‘I have come for the weak. I have come for those who admit they are weak. I will save them not by what they do but through what I do.’ Throughout Jesus’ life, the apostles and the disciples keep saying to him, “Jesus, when are you going to take power and save the world?’ Jesus keeps saying, “You don’t understand. I’m going to lose all my power and die- to save the world.’” (77)

“We should be just a shocked that God would give us- with all our smallness and flaws- such a mighty gift. And so no Christian should ever be far from this astonishment that, ‘I of all people, should be loved and embraced by his grace!’” (89)

“If in order to be at peace we need to be in control, beholden to no one, then we will constantly be afraid, because we learn as life goes on that we are at the mercy of people and forces we can neither predict nor manage.” (113)

“And what about the greatest fear we have- of surrendering control? How can we trust him with our lives? The answer is that the little baby in the manger is the mighty Christ the Lord. So think, perceive, ponder. If the omnipotent Son of God would radically lose control- all for you- then you can trust him. And that should undermine your fear.” (114)

“There is an offensiveness to Jesus himself, and in every time and place it will find expression, and anyone who identifies with him will be seen as offensive too.” (122)

“For one thing, God’s peace comes after the inner conflict of repentance. Repentance is like antiseptic. You pour antiseptic onto a wound and it stings, but it heals. That’s how repentance works. It creates terrible inner turmoil, because you have to admit things you don’t want to admit. You have to acknowledge weakness that you don’t want to acknowledge. However, that’s the only way to the new peace of forgiveness, reconciliation, and forgiveness. And it undermines your pride and self-righteousness, a terrible burden for you to bear, as well as those around you. There’s no way to get into the new peace that repentance brings without going through that pain.” (125)

“When you say, ‘Doctrine doesn’t matter; what matters is that you live a good life,’ that is a doctrine. It is called the doctrine of salvation by your works rather than by grace. It assumes that you are not so bad that you need a Savior, that you are not so weak that you can’t pull yourself together and live as you should. You are actually espousing a whole set of doctrines about the nature of God, humanity, and sin. And the message of Christmas is that they are all wrong.” (131)

“Christmas and the incarnation mean that God went to infinite lengths to make himself one whom we can know personally.” (135)

“The Christ life begins not with high deeds and achievements, but with the most simple and ordinary act of humble asking. Then the life of hope and joy grow in us over the years through commonplace, almost boring practices. Daily obedience, reading and prayer, worship attendance, serving our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as our neighbors, depending on Jesus during times of suffering. And bit by bit our faith will grow, and the foundation of our lives will come closer to that deep river of joy.” (140-141)

Related Posts:
The Best Quotes from The Meaning of Marriage

A Few Good Reads

October 25, 2016 — Leave a comment
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Repentant Parenting Isn’t Hypocrisy, It’s the Gospel
Katie Hughes writes about the importance of repenting to our children when we sin against them. In our pride we react against this, but it’s vitally important to do. “Somehow in all the parenting literature and teaching I think we’ve lost the importance of repenting to our own children. Now, don’t get me wrong. Instructing children in the way they should go, when they rise up, when they walk along the way, when they sit down to eat, when they lay down to sleep, is vastly important (Deuteronomy 6).
We are called to it, and it IS indeed vile and disappointing when we don’t live it.
Yet we live on this side of the cross, where the perfect parenting life was lived by Jesus, and our punishment for sinning against God in parenting was taken by the death of Jesus. His life and death make it possible for us to both live holy parenting lives AND repent freely when we don’t.”

Open Bibles, Burning Hearts: A Response to Andy Stanley
I’ve posted links to several articles responding to Andy Stanley’s recent statements on using the Bible in preaching and on Christianity resting on the resurrection instead of the Bible. His arguments have profound implications, so it’s important to know how to think through and respond to them. John Piper summarizes Stanley’s statements accurately and then works through them in a way that shows why they are rooted in right intentions but ultimately fall short. “So my concluding suggestion is this: join Andy Stanley in caring deeply about winning “post-Christians”; join him in moving beyond simplistic and naïve-sounding shibboleths; join him in cultural awareness and insight into your audience; join him in the excellence of his teaching and communication skills; and join him in his belief in the complete truthfulness of the Bible. And then spend eight years blowing your people’s post-Christian circuits by connecting the voltage of every line in the book of Romans with their brains.”

What Does It Mean to Fear God?
I have been preaching through Proverbs for the last couple of months and have been reading it every day for many years. Proverbs begins with, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and we are often confused by what this means. R.C. Sproul helpfully clarifies how we should understand this important phrase. “If we really have a healthy adoration for God, we still should have an element of the knowledge that God can be frightening. “It is a frightening thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). As sinful people, we have every reason to fear God’s judgment; it is part of our motivation to be reconciled with God.”

Blessed are the Undistracted
Have you noticed how often we get distracted by buzzing phones or email notifications? We seem to live in constant distraction and this carries over into our worship. Matthew Westerholm shares five tips for dealing with our tendency towards distraction in worship. “And distractions do not stay in the car when we enter into church on a Sunday morning. We arrive with the intent to worship Jesus with focus. But the burdens of our week, the tensions of our morning, the children by our side, the anxiety of our upcoming schedule, and the wandering of our thoughts all conspire to distract us.”

Exodus 4:18-31: Made Like His Brothers in Every Way
Peter Krol at Knowable Word gives a great example of how to study a biblical text using the Observation, Interpretation, Application model that you can read about in Howard and William Hendrick’s Living By the Book. “The terminology of this section has much overlap with Genesis 46, where Jacob and his family move to Egypt: go back to Egypt, see if my brother(s) is/are still alive, took wife and sons, describe what they rode on, preparing to meet Pharaoh, encounter with Yahweh at a lodging place along the way, repetition of “people” and “son,” brother coming the other way from Egypt to meet him, happy reunion. Really, you should read Genesis 46:1-34 back-to-back with Exodus 4:18-31. You can’t miss all the similarities.”

Instead of a Late-Term Abortion for My Disabled Child; I Chose Life
Casey Fiano reflects on the debate about late-term abortion that has been spawned by last week’s Presidential debate. She does this through the lens of her own personal experience of having her son diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome while he was still in the womb. “People with disabilities are quite clearly seen as not deserving of life. Rather than seeing this for the eugenicist outlook that it is, this attitude is applauded and encouraged. It’s disturbing that this is where we have come as a society, where killing your preborn baby because he or she has a disability is now “compassionate” and “brave,” as opposed to the horrifying tragedy that it is.”

photo credit: Maria Eklind The table is set via photopin (license)

photo credit: Maria Eklind The table is set via photopin (license)

This past weekend my sermon in Proverbs focused on what Solomon has to say about marriage. In talking to husbands and wives about marriage, I found myself spending some time in Proverbs 31. I walked into this passage of Scripture with a little bit of trepidation because over the years I have seen how many women find this passage to be overwhelming and intimidating. If you Google “I Hate the Proverbs 31 Woman,” you will find many posts by women who grew frustrated by” the excellent wife” who had deep, godly character, cared for her husband and children with the utmost diligence, and contributed to the well-being of her household through entrepreneurship.

Any time a passage of Scripture becomes a millstone around the neck of Jesus’ followers we have either misunderstood or misapplied it. Jesus said those who follow him would be free indeed, and that his load was easy and his burden light. He does not throw the onerous yoke of the Pharisees on his people, but instead gives them rest as they follow him.

One of our problems we face when we approach passages of Scripture that tell us what to do is that we often misunderstand how to respond to them. Sometimes we come to them with a legalistic mindset. We read them, try our best to do them in our own power, and then feel guilty when we don’t. Other times, we realize we are licked from the start and fall into a kind of license where we say we can never live up to this passage so we never try.

What if there was an alternative to legalistic obedience in our own power or a licentious resignation to failure? What if we explored how the Gospel shaped our approach to these passages before we buckled down to try harder or simply gave up in shame?

We know that every passage of Scripture that tells us to do anything will reveal where we fall short. When we read, “love your neighbor as yourself,” we remember many times we failed to love our neighbor. Hearing “do no lie to one another” conjures up memories of times when we have been deceptive with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The same is true in Proverbs 31. When you see the hardworking, godly woman in this passage you often run into ways in which you have failed to be the things which she exemplifies. So when you see this as a Christian, how do you respond? (What follows is a slight modification of the grid for thinking through the relationship between Law and Gospel used by Bob Thune and Will Walker in their book, The Gospel-Centered Life.)

Look to Jesus’ Death

Often when we are confronted with the reality of our sin we either minimize it or wallow around in shame. Either one of these responses evidences a mindset that is only focused on me and my personal obedience. Instead of looking to ourselves and our performance, we should look to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and see him dying for us. We must remember that Jesus gave his life for our sins. Every way we could sin against God by flagrantly breaking his demands or by failing to do what we should have done has been covered by the Lord Jesus on the cross. For every look we take at ourselves, we should take three looks at him.

Look to Jesus’ Life

In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul tells us that just as our sin was laid on Christ at the cross, so his perfect righteousness is credited to us by faith. Jesus perfectly obeyed the Father in every way. He never broke God’s law either by doing what he should not have done or by failing to do what he should have done. He stands perfectly accepted and approved of by the Father. When we are united with Christ through faith alone in him, God counts us righteous in him. In other words, the Christian stands before God as if we had lived Jesus’ life. Jesus fulfilled the whole law of God so that we stand before God with Christ’s perfect obedience counted to us.

This is great news for the believer who finds herself staring hopelessly at Proverbs 31:10-31. You do not have to summon up the strength to be the Proverbs 31 woman. In Jesus Christ, you already are the Proverbs 31 woman. Through faith in Jesus, you stand before God draped in Christ’s perfect righteousness. You stand before him fully accepted and fully loved. In your position before God, he sees no flaw or defect in you whatsoever.

Look to the Holy Spirit

Our daily practice doesn’t match our position in Christ, though. We often struggle to live in a way that is consistent with our righteous standing before God. We are called to walk obediently before God because of the new life we have in Christ. There is more good news because we do not have to obey God in our own strength and power. Not only do we have a new heart and new desires, but we also have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks in Colossians of laboring for the sake of God’s kingdom in the strength that God supplies. This means that our obedience to God and our faithfulness to his commands is empowered and fueled by the Holy Spirit. Not only are we forgiven by God and counted righteous in Christ before God, we have been given the Spirit to empower us so that we can live the joyous Christian life we have been called to live.

There’s so much more that could be said about the realities to which Proverbs 31 points. (The personification of wisdom as a woman throughout the book, its relationship to Ruth, etc.) However, in this post, the main thing we need to see is this, do not read Proverbs 31 as if Jesus had never lived, died, and been raised from the dead. This overwhelming reality changes how you read these verses. You read and respond to them as someone who has been changed by the grace of God and who through the Holy Spirit have been empowered to obey.

Related Posts:
Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

Why You Need to Read the Whole Bible Every Year

For Further Reading:
Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full by Gloria Furman

Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson