Most Popular Posts of 2016

December 30, 2016
2016-posts

Photograph 047 by Lauren Mancke found on minimography.com

 

My great passion for writing here at One Degree to Another is to see people formed into the image of Jesus Christ. This means growing slowly in every area of our lives each day. As I looked back over my most read posts from this year, they reflect what I’m aiming for in life and ministry- that we slowly and continually make progress towards demonstrating the glory and character of Christ in practical ways.

For those who have been reading from the beginning and who just discovered my blog this week, I’m grateful that you take the time to read and share. I took some time this week to plan out what I will be writing on in the first few months of 2017 and look forward to seeing how the Lord uses it to transform us into the image of Christ.

Eight Passages Every Christian Should Memorize

There are some large sections of Scripture whose message is so central to the Bible’s message and how we live the Christian life that we need to know them by heart. This list covers many well-known passages that are at least eight verses long or more.

The First 15 Verses a Christian Needs to Memorize

In response to the post on passages every Christian should memorize, I had a lot of people asking why I didn’t include John 3:16, Romans 3:23, or many other important individual verses. If I were a believer just getting into Scripture memory, I would start with these fifteen verses.

On a related note, I received several comments that argued we shouldn’t memorize Scripture, but should simply live it out. The Psalmist’s comment that he hid God’s word in his heart so he might not sin against him helps us here. We memorize as a way of hiding God’s word deep in our souls so that we can live in a manner that brings glory to him.

48 Scattered Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry and Being a Pastor

Earlier this year, I got a later start on my sermon than I should have. Then, I had to be up later on Saturday night than I should have and woke up later Sunday morning than I needed to. This created extra stress on Sunday morning and the thought crossed my mind, “I know better than this. I learned this my first year of ministry.” It led me to start writing some other things I would say to pastors about pastoral ministry and being a pastor.

How Do I Know if My Child is a Christian?

One of the most sensitive issues parents deal with is discerning when their child has trusted in Christ. We can be very excited that they seem to be converted while at the same time being mindful of the possibility of a false profession of faith. These questions are intended to help discern the marks of true conversion in our children’s lives.

The Joy and Pain of Consistent Parenting

I wrote this reflection on Proverbs 29:17 in the middle of the night after multiple children woke me up. Parenting is hard, yet doing the hard thing in parenting can lead to more joy in the future. Taking the easy way out will ultimately lead to more work and misery in the end.

Why We Need Anonymous, Plodding Church Planters

We need to plant more churches to reach more people with the Gospel. Unfortunately, many men see well-known church planters and think this is the path they will be taking. To plant the churches we need to plant, we need thousands of men who are willing for their names to be known only in their communities. The work is hard and the work is long. We need guys who are willing to stay, work hard, and live in obscurity.

Six Foolish Things I Used to Believe about the Ministry

When I was a young pastor, I said to a friend, “I want the people in my church to understand theology so well that I can just say a word and they know what it means without me having to explain it.” I don’t know why this particularly ridiculous quote stuck with me, but it reminded me of some foolish things I used to believe about the ministry.

How to Remember Someone’s Name

Christians are called to love our neighbors, and knowing a person’s name is a good first step towards loving them well. Unfortunately, we seem to make a lot of excuses for why we cannot remember the names of people we meet. This post has a few of the tools I use to remember someone after I meet them.

The Best Quotes from Hidden Christmas

I loved Tim Keller’s new book, Hidden Christmas. It contains expositions of Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, and the first paragraph of 1 John. This is a list of my twenty favorite quotes.

What to Do When You Are in a Spiritual Dry Spell

We have all be in places where it felt like we were making no progress in our walking with Jesus. This post prescribes some steps we can take to begin experiencing the joy of knowing Jesus again.

My Favorite Books of 2016

December 27, 2016

2016-books

For the last few years, I have organized my reading based on a system I ran across from Al Mohler. Dr. Mohler encourages those who are serious Christian readers to read across six categories- Biblical Studies, Theology, History, Literature, Cultural Studies, and Church Life. My favorite books that I read in 2016 are organized based on these categories. These are not all books that publishers put out in 2016, but were the best books I read this year.

Biblical Studies

Identity and Idolatry by Richard Lints

The New Studies in Biblical Theology puts out quality volumes examining biblical books and themes every few months. Richard Lints argues that idolatry is the inversion of the identity that we should find in being created by God and in being united with Christ. He helpfully shows this theme across the entire Bible.

Return to Me by Mark Boda

In another great book from the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Mark Boda examines the bible’s theology of repentance. Rather than just focusing on word studies or theological deductions from other doctrines, Boda dives in and reckons with the explicit teaching of individual biblical texts. Then he shows how all of these texts tie together to show what it means to return to the Lord.

Theology

Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller

Hidden Christmas covers the narratives of Jesus’ birth from Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2 before closing with thoughts on the first paragraph of 1 John. Keller shows why we can trust the message of Christmas and how these narratives show us the overwhelming grace of God. (You can see my favorite quotes from Hidden Christmas here.)

Why Trust the Bible? by Greg Gilbert

Every generation must fight its version of the battle for the Bible. In our day, many people don’t trust the Scriptures but hold Jesus in high regard. Gilbert shows why our high regard for Christ should lead to a rock solid trust in the veracity of the Bible.

History

George Whitefield by Thomas Kidd

George Whitefield still stands as one of the most popular and consequential figures in American evangelical history. Thomas Kidd’s portrait of him is thorough while staying at a manageable length. He’s honest about Whitefield’s weaknesses, but also shows what made him such an effective evangelist.

Destiny and Power by Jon Meacham

George H.W. Bush was President during my late middle and early high school years. I remember seeing him on the news every day, but Dana Carvey’s impression on Saturday Night Live and his seeming out of touch with ordinary people compared to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election formed most of my memories of him. Jon Meacham portrays President Bush in a way that is both honest and compassionate. We get to see the motives behind the actions and see the heroic sacrifices he made for his fellow-citizens.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

If you see several Presidential biographies pop up on this list, it’s because I’m working on reading one on every President. I could not be more pleased with my choice on James Garfield, as Candice Millard’s narrative of his life and murder reads like a novel. She goes into great detail but never loses sight of the fact that she’s narrating a story. (I also read and loved her book on Winston Churchill, Hero of the Empire.)

Church Life

Discipling by Mark Dever

We need to recover the practice of personal discipleship in the life of the church. Mark Dever shows what discipleship is and how Christians can help other Christians become more faithful followers of Jesus.

Between Two Worlds by John R.W. Stott

I revisited this classic work on preaching for the first time in over a decade. Stott explains how Christian preachers can have one foot firmly planted in the world of the Bible and the other planted in our current culture to show how the message of Scripture should change people in the here and now. This book is a must for anyone seeking to understand the art and science of preaching.

Literature

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A man and a boy walk through the burned-out ruins of the United States in an attempt to survive. The beautiful relationship between a father and his son shines through this incredible story. Once I got into the story, I could not put this book down.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I hesitate to include this one because of its language, but it captured me from the first paragraph. It’s the story of an astronaut who was left behind on Mars and his struggle to survive. We get to hear him work through how to grow food, communicate with earth, and try to figure out how to get home. On the other side, we are privy to the internal NASA discussions on how to handle the crisis and get him back to earth. There was never a moment I was not fascinated by the action and dialogue in The Martian.

Cultural Studies

The Vanishing Neighbor by Marc Dunkelman

One of the key ways Christians can make an impact for God’s kingdom is to be good neighbors, but we often don’t see our neighbors. Marc Dunkelman writes about the origins of our disintegrating sense of community and how we can recover it in light of 21st-century realities.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

If you have read any other “best of” lists for 2016, chances are you saw this on it. J.D. Vance tells the story of the chaos that characterized his life growing up in his “hillbilly” family that had migrated from Kentucky to Ohio. He pulls no punches in his personal narrative, and the result is a book that is difficult to put down.

Looking Ahead to 2017

I just started a few books that I won’t finish until after the first of the year. So far, Justin Holcomb’s Know the Creeds and Councils is showing itself to be a great introduction to the controversies of early Christianity and the theological formulations they produced. Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Alan Fuhr’s new book on biblical interpretation, Inductive Bible Study, looks like it will be a helpful resource for helping people understand how to read the Bible. In the first few months of the year, I look forward to reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time as well as The Last Lion, which everyone says is the definitive biography of Winston Churchill.

 

For the first three months of 1997, I wrestled with whether or not I knew Christ on a daily basis. Every night before I closed my eyes to sleep I prayed the sinner’s prayer hoping that this would be the time I finally felt like a Christian.

The problem was I wasn’t a Christian and had no basis upon which I should believe that I knew the Son of God or have a peace which surpassed all understanding. Despite two trips through the baptistery, enrollment in a Christian university, and a “call” to the ministry, the reality of the Gospel had never become clear to me. I had never abandoned trust in religious rituals or good works and rested in Christ alone for peace with God.

On Maundy Thursday, I rode across Mobile Bay with a friend to hear an evangelist we knew preach to a community worship gathering on a high school football field. I could not recreate an outline of the sermon I heard that night, but the words “some people have just enough religion to soothe their souls” cut me to the core. That night, seated in an uncomfortable metal chair on a high school football field, I repented of my sins, trusted in Jesus Christ, and experienced what I can only describe as the light coming on.

The thrill of my early Christian assurance soon ran into the brutal reality that I was still a sinner. This led to my lack of assurance returning with fury. Wanting to turn to the Bible to find assurance, I misread the tests in 1 John and only found assurance based on how well I was obeying God. This led to an unhealthy roller coaster. A “good” day of obedience meant full assurance and enthusiasm to come before the throne of grace. A day marked by a lack of obedience often led to shame and fear which stymied my desire to pray. Then this created more shame and fear further eroding my prayer life which culminated in DEFCON 1 levels of shame and fear. The cycle had to be broken or the joy of my salvation would never be a reality.

Most people don’t expect to find the answers to their spiritual questions in a three-hundred-year-old confession of faith, but the 1689 London Baptist Confession brought light into the dark night of this young Christian’s soul. Speaking of the assurance of grace and salvation, the confession says “This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope, but an infallible assurance of faith founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel; and also upon the inward evidence of those graces of the Spirit unto which promises are made, and on the testimony of the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; and, as a fruit thereof, keeping the heart both humble and holy.” The writers of the Second London Confession said that Christians can have an immovable assurance. To discover this assurance, they point Christians to the promises of the Gospel, the fruits of faith in their lives, and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit to find it.

Many teachers use the vivid, but imperfect image of a three-legged stool to help Christians understand how to have the assurance of their salvation. Just as a person cannot sit on a three-legged stool when one or two legs are missing, a Christian cannot have the full assurance of their salvation, as well as the peace and joy which accompany it, when one of these three key elements are missing from their lives.

The formulation laid out by the Second London Confession echoes the teaching of John’s first epistle. In this letter, he wrote to Christians so that they may know they have eternal life. To show them how they might have this confidence that they know Christ, he pointed to all three legs of the stool. While many readers of 1 John most see his appeals to the fruits of the faith most clearly, he holds up the promises of the Gospel and the witness of the Spirit in a clear manner as well.

If you are a Christian who struggles with assurance, you can look to these three sources to find the joy and contentment which comes with knowing that you know Christ.

The Promises of the Gospel

Unfortunately, our three-legged stool analogy has one major flaw. One leg bears more weight than the others. The most fundamental source of Christian assurance is faith is the promises made to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) “My little children, I am writing these things so that you may not sin, but if anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2) “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

These verses reveal the basics of the Christian Gospel and remind us of important truths we must believe so that we might have assurance. 1 John 2:1 reminds us that we have an advocate with God the Father when we sin and identifies him as Jesus Christ the righteous. Ordinarily, our advocate would stand before the judge and plead our lack of guilt, but we are guilty and this guilt cannot be covered up or denied. That John identifies him as Jesus Christ the righteous gives us a clue as to what our advocate pleads before the Father- his own perfect righteousness. The Christian has no righteousness of our own to plead, but through faith in Christ he pleads his own righteousness for us.

We look to Jesus because of his perfect life, and also because of his death for us. John identifies Jesus as the propitiation for our sins. Jesus died in our place for our sins, bearing the wrath of God for us, and turning his wrath away from us. We should be judged eternally by God for our sins, and yet Jesus bore our guilt so we could go free through faith in him. Because of Jesus’ death, we have the privilege of living as the adopted sons and daughters of God who have a future and a hope through him. When the Christian does sin, we confess our sins to God and he keeps his promise to forgive and cleanse because we are in union with Christ.

This good news forms the fundamental basis for our assurance because it is the one leg that is fixed and outside of us. As we look at the other two legs of the stool of assurance, we will see that they wax and wane. The promises of the Gospel will never change and will never fade. The death of Christ for us will always cleanse us from our sins and his perfect life will never cease to justify us before God. When the other two sources of assurance look foggy, take a clear look at the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Fruits of Faith

John doesn’t only point us to Christ for assurance, but also to look at the work of God’s Spirit in our lives. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said his disciples would bear much fruit and John shows how the fruit of obedience demonstrates itself in our lives. John lays out several tests to help Christians evaluate whether their profession of faith is real.

He accomplishes this by showing the fruit that will be present in the life of a Christian. The question is not one of perfection, but of direction. The Christian will have these things in them and they will be growing. At the same time, the person who possesses a false profession of faith will demonstrate it in the lack of transforming graces.

Sanctification

John shows that a Christian will be a person who is growing in godliness and putting to death the sin in their lives. Both in 1:5-7 and 3:4-10, John shows the changes that will take place in the life of a Christian because of their union with Christ. The Christian walks in the light instead of in the darkness. Just as God is light and has no darkness at all in him, the Christian increasingly walks in the light instead of the darkness. The Christian does not make a practice of sinning because Jesus came to take away sin and destroy the evil one. Because these things are true, Christians should examine their lives to see if they are making progress in the faith because this is a test of the reality of their faith.

Love

John’s teaching on love for our brothers and sisters in Christ takes up a considerable amount of real estate in his letter. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Jesus said the world will know his disciples by their love for each other. Since Christians have experienced God’s love in Jesus Christ, they will now show that love to others. The one who has been born of God and knows God loves their brothers; the one who has never been born of God does not know God. God is love, and John says those who know the loving God will love their brothers.

Separation

In the upper room discourse, Jesus said his disciples would be in the world and not of it. Building on this John says Christians will not love the world or the things that are of the world. He does not mean the people of the world or the physical creation, but what the world values and promotes. He defines these as “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The person who is a Christian will see an increasing hatred of the things of the world, forsaking them to pursue the things that are eternal.

The Witness of the Holy Spirit

“And by this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”  John mentions this leg of the stool briefly, but this does not diminish its importance. God gives believers his Spirit to dwell in us and the Spirit gives us the assurance that we belong to the Lord. We call this the internal witness of the Spirit and it is the inward testimony of the God’s own Spirit that we belong to him.

Paul elaborates on this for us in Romans 8 when he calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of adoption,” and explains the Spirit’s ministry in our lives as one of testifying to our adoption as the sons of God. Every Christian will reign with Christ in the new heavens and the new earth, but we often doubt the reality of our promised inheritance. The Spirit bears witness to the reality of our adoption and his presence in our lives is God’s pledge to the surety of our heavenly reward.

Look to Christ

The witness of the Spirit and the fruits of faith in our lives ebb and flow, but they will surely be there. The Christian will experience the Spirit’s testimony and see the increasing fruit of a maturing walk with Christ. When we don’t see or feel these realities as strongly as we have before we must resist the temptation to morbid introspective navel-gazing. Instead, we must look to Christ who perfectly obeyed on our behalf and then gave himself in our stead. Even when we don’t feel the witness of the Spirit or see the fruit of the Spirit as strongly as we think we should, we should remember the promises made to us in the Gospel. Look to Christ, and you will never be disappointed or cast away, but will find the inexhaustible joy God gives to his children through his Son.

Related Posts:
When a Christian Dies

How Do I Know if My Child Has Become a Christian?

For Further Reading:
The Quest for Full Assurance by Joel Beeke
How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian by Donald Whitney

 

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
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
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