Praying the Psalms: Psalm 19

God is a revealing God. He does not conceal himself, hiding away like the Wizard of Oz behind a curtain. God loves to show himself. David, in Psalm 19 is going to celebrate God’s revelation of himself both through the creation and through his word. God reveals himself generally through the cosmos, and specifically through the Scriptures. God’s gracious act of communicating himself to us is undeserved, but it is absolutely wonderful. If it wasn’t for God communicating himself to us, we would not know him. God reveals himself to us so that we might respond to his glory in worship.

Praying the Psalms

Commentary

v 1-6 - God has revealed himself in the cosmos. “The Heavens declare the glory of God.” Theologians call this aspect of God’s revelatory work general revelation. General revelation means that God has revealed himself to all people simply by creating the universe. We can see aspects of his attributes and character simply by observing creation. We can observe his grandness as we look at the immense size of galaxies or we can perceive his order and rule as he establishes the laws of physics. We can identify his creativity by looking at the his imagination at work in the many different organisms that populate our planet. We can comprehend his beauty by standing on a mountain watching the parting clouds over the red and orange tapestry of the sunset. The heavens are declaring the glory of God!

David tells us that each day is a mini sermon. The world itself is pouring out revelation. “Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge.” The universe each day in rhythm continues its unceasing praise to God simply by its continual existence. The world is communicating something to us. The universe is pointing us to its creator, God himself. David says that speech doesn’t exist if the voice isn’t heard, but the voice of the cosmos of God’s glory is spread throughout the ends of the earth.

The voice of God’s general revelation goes out like the rising of the sun. The sun comes out each day like a bridegroom leaving his chamber. The sun runs its course across the sky with joy. It rises from one end of the sky and sets as the other. The light of the sun covers the earth and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Everyone can hear the voice of creation testifying to its creator. Though many choose to ignore this message or drown it out, the message is hitting our ears if only we would listen to it. This complex, gargantuan, and beautiful cosmos sings like a choir in one unified message, “Glory to God!”

God speaks this message to every human being. We have all heard, yet we all reject God. Though God reveals himself generally to all, general revelation only condemns us. Though many people have yet to hear about Jesus and the Gospel, we are all witnesses to the general revelation of God and we have rejected him as God and have worshiped created things rather than the creator (Rom 1:25). Yet, even though our sin blinds us, the heavens speak, declaring the glory of God.

v. 7-11 - God not only reveals himself through creation, but God also speaks to us with words. Theologians call this special or specific revelation. The Bible, God’s written word is special revelation, and David begins to celebrate God’s revelatory work as he considers God’s word.

Verse 7-9 are a series of parallel statements describing and celebrating God’s word.  The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. Yes, how the word of God brings life to our soul! Though we are downcast, numb, and lifeless, God’s word comes in power restoring and reviving. The word of God brings life to those dry bones, so too does it revive those dead in sin and brings life.

The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The word of God is a sure foundation. It is stable and firm. It is not filled with lofty and confusing worldly wisdom, but rather is simple and straight forward. It is a message that is clear to all people.

The precepts are the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. God’s words brings joy to our hearts, because they are right and true. We delight in the truth, so we delight in God’s revealed words. They are precious to us and we long to read them and know them. They are our joy because through his right precepts we are able to know and love God.

The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. Scripture is pure and righteous. As we read it we see who we truly are. Our eyes are opened to see our own brokenness and sin as we gaze at the righteousness of God.

The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever. Yes, the word of God is clean. It is without error and without corruption. It is infallible and inerrant. As a result the word of God is fixed, enduring for ever. It never changes, because God never changes. As Jesus says, not one iota will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Mt 5:18)

The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. God’s word is true and righteous. It is the good word and the right word. It is the objective standard of what is right and wrong, what is good and what is holy, and what is righteous and what is sinful.

What response to we have to this wonderful self-revelation of God called the Scriptures? Well as David tells us in v. 10, we desire it. We long to know it and to read it. These Scriptures are more to be desired than gold. The word of God is sweeter than honey. We delight and desire for more of God’s revelation. We long for more of his word. We would gladly trade all the treasures and jewels and money in the world in order to own a Bible.

If only we would desire God’s word in this way, but our hearts are so stubborn. We spend so much time seeking the gold of materialism and the sweetness of the honey called comfort. If only we would repent of lesser joys in order to seek the greater joy, God himself, as we experience him and know him through his word! The word of God provides instructions and warnings. In keeping the word of God and following it, there is great reward.

v. 12-14 - The Psalm moves to reflection and confession. As we think about God’s revelation of himself, the only response is humility. God has revealed himself through his creation but more specifically through his word. Through the word of God we receive the Gospel message of Christ that tells us of our salvation by the grace of God. As we think of God’s revelatory work may we respond like David in humility. May God declare us innocent through the blood of Christ and keep us from sin. Through the mercy of God may we be made blameless and innocent under the blood of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus is the pinnacle, the highpoint of revelation. He is the one to whom all revelation points. As we see the arrows of the created order pointing us to God and as hear the words of God recorded in the Scriptures, the are all pointing to the glory of the redeemer, Jesus Christ. He is the one who takes away our sin and who makes us innocent and blameless. Praise be to God for his son and for his redemption. May we praise the Lord for his greatest work of revelation, as his word puts on flesh and dwells among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

v. 14 - The Psalm concludes in solemn prayer for God to find acceptable the words of David’s psalm. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord , my rock and my redeemer”. Even time we get on our knees in prayer, as we meditate on God’s written word, or as we speak to others about God, may this be our prayer. May our words and may our thinking be acceptable to God. May we think and speak in a way that gives glory to God and is acceptable to him. We we rightly divide the word of truth, speaking clearly and accurately about this glorious God.

Prayer Guide

  • Praise God for his created order and the beauty all around you that points to him.
  • Thank God for revealing himself not only through creation, but through his word.
  • Ask God to help you delight in his word more than gold or honey.
  • Confess your sins before God and ask that through the blood of Christ he would make you innocent and blameless before him.
  • Ask God to help you think and speak in a way that is acceptable this and honoring to him in all you say.

3 Reasons to Use a Bible Reading Plan for 2016

Have you thought about your new years resolutions? For the Christian, no better goal exists than to plan to regularly intake God's word. The consumption of God's word is essential for any believer who wishes to grow in godliness (and every believer will!) If you fail to shape your life by God's inspired word, spiritual growth is impossible. Paul's words to Timothy still ring true today, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16, ESV). So I want to encourage you to consider using a Bible Reading plan for 2016. If you've never used one, they can provide many benefits and it will help you grow in your knowledge and understanding of God's word this year. Here are three benefits in using a Bible reading plan. 0e3903491_1418914301_blog-bible-reading-helps-for-the-new-year

1. Bible Reading Plans Provides Built in Accountability

A Bible reading plan helps keep you accountable to your Bible reading by letting you know when you've fallen behind. It helps you stay accountable to yourself and possibly to others. Doing a Bible reading plan with your family or with some members of your church can help provide group accountability to the discipline of Scripture reading.

However, one word of caution. Do not let guilt plague you when you miss a few days. It happens to everyone at times, and when you fall behind don't succumb to discouragement and give up. Rather, think of each day as a new day, catch up if possible, but if not it is not a big deal. The goal is not to check off a box or complete a plan, but to develop and maintain the habit of regular scripture intake. Forgive yourself when you fail, pick up your Bible, and begin anew.

2. Bible Reading Plans Track Your Progress

When you are utilizing a Bible reading plan you will be amazed at how much Scripture you can work through. When you have a written game plan for your Bible reading, you can look back over the progress you've made. Are you a little bogged down in your reading of Ezekiel? Look back on your plan and remind yourself of God and his faithfulness who got you to this point.

3. Bible Reading Plans Diversify Your Bible Reading

The Bible is God's word, yet there are always personal favorite passages. Perhaps its the Gospel of John or Paul's letters or the Proverbs. All of God's word is good and profitable. Yet, we must seek to engage with ALL of God's word not just our favorite passages. A Bible reading plan forces you to diversify your Bible reading as you pick up the book of Lamentations or Leviticus. You need to encounter the full counsel of God's word, and a Bible reading plan will keep you from only studying your "hobby" passages.

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Bible Reading Plans Are Easier than Ever

It is easier than ever to find a Bible reading plan. With the advent of Bible smartphone apps you can manage your Bible reading plan on your phone. In addition, you can find a plethora of different types of plans just with a simple google search. However, here are a few tips as you find the right plan for you.

  • Don't bite off more than you can chew. If you are new to the spiritual discipline of Bible intake, don't start off with a plan that takes you through the whole Bible in 3 months. Rather, pick a plan that involves reading 1-3 chapters a day.
  • Find a plan that takes you through the whole Bible. You can read the whole Bible with just a few chapters each day. Many plans will take you through the whole Bible atleast once.
  • Keep it Simple. Your plan doesn't need to be complicated. One time I tried a Bible reading plan that involved reading 10 chapters from 10 different places in the Bible. Needless to say the complexity and scale of the plan didn't bode well. I switched to a simpler one after a few weeks.
  • Remember, the goal is spiritual formation not puffed-up information. The goal is not to simply get through the plan, but the plan exists to help daily conform you to God's word. As a result, pray and ask the Lord for help in finding the right Bible reading plan for you and begin each day in prayer asking for God to reveal more of himself each time you pick up your Bible.

As you prepare for 2016, I hope you will consider a Bible reading plan, and that your Scripture reading for 2016 would propel you (with the Spirit's help) to incredible spiritual growth.

Ligonier just posted a great comprehensive post for Bible Reading plans for 2016 with PDF copies for print. You can check them out here

How to Read the Bible for Yourself - Part 2

This is part two of "How to Read the Bible for Yourself". To check out part one of click here.

7. Develop the Daily Discipline of Spending Time with God

This is often called a quiet time. It doesn’t matter what you call it but you need to form the habit of daily spending time with the Lord in word and prayer. Bible study can be like any skill. Practice does make perfect. The more you read the Bible the more you will understand and the new treasure you will discover. Not only do you need the Word for your own soul each and every day, the daily discipline of studying the Bible makes you a better Bible reader.

If you have not developed this habit in your life, this is the most important you need to begin to do immediately. You need to study God’s word daily.

8. Get a Daily Bible Reading Plan

Nothing gets done unless you plan. Sometimes the hardest part about Bible reading is, where to begin. A Bible reading plan moves you through different parts of the Bible at a regular, consistent, and daily pace. It can help chart the course for you in what to read each day. If you just simply google “bible reading plan” you can find hundreds of different types. I’d recommend that you pick one that moves you at a good pace throughout all of the Bible. The discipline of using a Bible reading plan forces us to work through passages we tend to avoid. In addition, it helps us from just jumping to our favorite passages all the time. It helps us to come face to face with the whole counsel of God.

Now how much should you read each day? Well it is largely up to you. I you can only handle a chapter or two a day and you really dig in and study it, than go for it. If you read a brisker paced want to take 8–10 chapters a day, than go for it. There is no hard and fast rule to follow here.

My personal plan, if you are interested, is that I read five chapters every day. Each year I keep a checklist of every book of the Bible. I tend to focus on one book at a time, meaning I’ll read five chapters from it everyday until I’m done with a particular book. When done with the book I check it off and choose which one I’d like to read next.  This why I have a disciplined structure but still freedom in what I will read. I find this is helpful for me to take breaks from certain genres that tend to be a little more taxing. For example a few weeks ago I read through Leviticus. Although reading it was fruitful, It was mentally draining so I jumped over to the Gospel of John which was narrative and a little easier to read. With the plan I use I’m guaranteed to read the Bible once ever year, and it gives me the freedom and flexibility to go where the Spirit leads.

Whatever your plan, the important thing is that you read the Word every day!

9. Apply it to Your Life with Journaling

My thoughts are often clouded and jump all over the place. Writing helps me focus my thoughts. This is especially helpful with studying and applying the Bible. Taking some time after reading a passage and writing about what I learned can be very helpful. Journaling helps me think through how I can apply it to my life. I’d encourage you to try the same. I am a journal digitally and my go to app for journaling is Day One.

10. Memorize Bible Verses

If you really want to learn to read the Bible for yourself, memorize it. When you memorize passages of Scripture you saturate your mind with the Word. The Spirit then can bring that verse in application to your life at any moment in addition he deepens your understanding of that verse. I’d encourage you to make scripture memory a regular part of your time with God. Start off with taking just a verse a week. Rehearse each day and then review weekly.

For those of you that are serious about Bible memorization, let me encourage you to memorize extended passages of Scripture. This is a discipline I began earlier this year and has done wonders in my relationship with the Lord. For how I’ve gone about it check out Andy Davis’ An Approach to Extended Scripture Memorization. Using his method I’ve memorized the book of Philippians and I’m currently working on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). It takes a good 20–30 minutes for me to reverse and memorize each day, but the fruit it has brought in my life is worth it.

11. Start a Bible Study with your Friends

We tend to have a “just me and Jesus” attitude when it comes to reading the Bible. Yet, Christ has given us the church for a reason. We need one another and often the Spirit teaches us through one another. If you want to learn to read the Bible for yourself start a Bible study with you friends. Meet before work or on your lunch break with some friends once a week just to study the Bible together. You will be amazed as your friends bring new meaning to a text that you largely missed. Reading in community can be an encouragement to everyone, so start a Bible study with your friends.

12. Get Involved in Your Churches Bible Studies

I’m sure your local church involves a lot of different Bible studies. Get involved in them! Listen to how the teachers of the church interpret the Bible. Ask questions, go deep, discuss the Bible with the people in the class. Learn how to read the Bible from other people. It will help you greatly in reading the Bible for yourself!

13. What How Your Pastor Interprets the Bible When Preaching

If you have a good pastor, he carefully teaches the Bible. I preach every week to my people at Forest Hills and I’m not only trying to teach the what the Bible says I’m trying to teach them how to read the Bible for themselves. So when I have a point in my sermon I want them to see that I’m not making it up, and where it comes from in the Bible. Watch how your pastor reads his Bible, listen how he arrives at the main points and learn to study the Bible like your pastor does. Follow his example.

14. See Jesus in Every Text

All of Scripture points to Jesus. To miss this is miss the message of the Bible. Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39, ESV). At another point Jesus on the road to Emmaus showed the two disciples how every Scripture pointed to him. Read your Bible and see how every passage points you to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean we force Jesus in every passage, but we see how every passage points to him or anticipates him. Much could be said on this point, but for now I’ll point you to a few resources to check out.

15. Read the Bible!

Sounds simple doesn’t it? If you want to read the Bible for yourself, start reading it! If you want to get better at personal Bible study you are not going to get any better at it unless you read it. No one learns how to ride a Bike by reading blog posts, books, and articles on how to ride a Bike. You’ve got to get not he Bike and just start peddling! Bible studies the same way. Start reading the Bible and you will be amazed how God will begin speaking to you through his infallible and inerrant Word.

I hope these fifteen tips have been helpful for you as you try to read the Bible for yourself. What tips would you offer? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

How to Read the Bible for Yourself - Part 1

There is nothing more important to the health of a Christian than a regular and consistent intake of the Scriptures. It is so important to spiritual vitality that I would go to say that it is near impossible to grow in Christ-likeness without the Word of Christ. However, every Christian knows the importance of reading the Bible, yet it continues to be difficult for us.

The Bible can be a very intimidating book. For one, it is big! Sixty-six books can be intimidating to us in which the most many of us read are short blog posts. To crack open the Bible to read it can feel overwhelming. As a result, due to a lack of discipline and priority many just avoid the Bible all together. We know we should be reading it and we don’t really even know how.

Get Off the Training Wheels

Enter the plethora of bible study booklets. There seems to be no end to Christian publishers creating new Bible Studies for Christians. They have bible studies marketed towards teenagers, men, women, moms, dads, senior adults, college students, and well the list goes on and on. We shouldn’t condemn these books, as they can be very helpful. Yet we must call them what they are, training wheels. You remember training wheels don’t you? When you are first riding a bike they are the wheels that you can attach to your bike to help keep you balance. Sure you can ride a bike with the training wheels, but every kid wants to get them off and keep balance himself. So although these bible study books can be helpful, we should be eager to take the training wheels off and get into the word of God on our own.

So how can you read the Bible for yourself? Well recently I taught a class to a bunch of teenagers answering that exact question. I put together a series of random but practical advice that has been helpful for me in my own discipline of reading the Word. So let me give you 15 tips to help you read the Bible for yourself.  I'll give you the first seven today and I'll put the rest up in a second post!

1. Pray that God Would Give You Understanding

We greatly underestimate prayer, especially in the study of the Word. You would thin we would ask the Spirit that inspired the writers to pen Scripture for help in understanding it, but more often than not we just barge into the Bible filled with fleshly self-confidence. Yet, Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned. If we are going to read the Scriptures, we need the Spirit’s help in understanding them. Therefore, the best way to begin to read the Bible for yourself is to get on your knees each time you open it and ask God for understanding.

2. Know the Plot-line of the Bible

We must not think the Bible is a bunch of random and disconnected stories and books. The Bible tells one grand story or a meta-narrative. If you don’t understand the plot line of the Bible you will find it difficult to see how Ruth fits with the rest of the Bible. A failure to miss the grand narrative of the Bible will cause you to miss the forest for the trees. Although I don’t have time to flesh out the whole plot line of the Bible in this post, the plot line follows four basic movements:

Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration

I preached a 4-week sermon series a while back on the plot-line of the Bible. If you want to see how the Bible fits together you can listen to them here.

3. Understand the Different Genres of Scripture

If you pick up your favorite classical music albums (anyone have any of those?) what would you except? Well you’d expect complex music filled with the grandeur accompaniment of a orchestra. If you grabbed a good jazz album what would you find? A repetitive yet complex chord structure filled with extended improvised saxophone or trumpet solos. If you picked up your favorite rap album what would you find? Well a heavy beat, with quick and rhythmic beat. I think you get the point.

Each of these are musical genres with their own different style of music. You would do yourself a great injustice to listen to R&B in the same way you listen to a country song. They are two completely different categories often focusing on different themes and instruments. Just as there are many genres of music, there are often many genres of literature.

The Bible features all sorts of different genres from poetry, to lament, to narrative, to law, to epistle, to apocalyptic, and the list could go on. If you try to read the book of Leviticus like a poem, you just are not going to understand the book. In the same way if you try to read Song of Solomon like the book of Acts you will misunderstand it. Know the different genres of scripture and study how to interpret them better.

4. Learn the Historical Background of the Books

The books of the Bible were written to a particular people in a particular context. If you ignore the original context you will lose a great deal of meaning or worse misinterpret the text. It is important to learn the historical background of each book. For example, if you are reading one of the minor prophets, at which point is the writing taking place in the history of Israel? Is it before the exile or after?

Another great example is Lamentations. You might read that book and you might begin to wonder what has this guy so bummed out? Well Jeremiah is writing shortly after Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Babylonians. He is in mourning and in grief. If you don’t know the historical background what you read will largely make little sense.

Well you might be asking, how can I learn the historical background of the different books of the Bible, well that leads us to the next point.

5. Get a Good Study Bible

A good study Bible can be a great tool for anyone trying to read the Bible. I still regularly consult mine for help. My study Bible of choice is the ESV Study Bible. It is a great resource. A good study Bible will tell you the background of each book your reading including the setting and even a basic outline of that particular book. It can be helpful for you to catch the big picture before you start reading the individual verses.

In addition, study Bibles provide brief commentary underneath the text of Scripture. This can be helpful, especially if you are just completely confused about a verse, but be careful not to use it as a crutch. The goal is to get off the training wheels, not replace them with a newer model.

6. Read a Book on How to Interpret the Bible

If you are trying to take your Bible study seriously, why not read a book on how to read the Bible? A lot of what I’m discussing in this post is described in much greater detail in other books. The field of biblical interpretation is called hermeneutics. In addition to some great academic works there are also a few easier books written for the lay level. I’d recommend to you How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and Grasping God’s Word.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of this post!

6 Ways Pastors Can Lead the Church with the Bible

There is a lot of pressure on Pastors to be leaders. A whole industry of self-help resources and leadership books have risen the past few decades. Pastors are expected (as they should) to be leaders. Despite the wonderful practical wisdom that many of the most popular leadership books teach, a Pastor must always lead the church uniquely from the corporate business types. A Pastor is a shepherd who must lead his people with the rod of God's word.  Paul makes it quite clear what should be the focal point of our leadership in his great charge to Timothy as he writes,

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1–2, ESV)

The Scriptures are essential in all aspect of a pastor's ministry, especially in his leadership. How do we preach the word in every aspect of our ministry and not just the pulpit? Shepherding with the Scriptures in hand takes discipline and practice. As a young pastor this is something in which I try to be intentional. I still have great room to grow, but here are some practical ways pastors can lead their people with word of God.

1. Practice Expositional Preaching

True preaching is grounded in the Scriptures. The temptation for many pastors is to shift to a topical model of preaching that focuses more on the congregants felt needs than the Word of God. The best way a Pastor can begin to center his flock on the Scriptures is to lead by example through the weekly sermon. Preach through books of the Bible and refer to the Scripture often in the sermon. Don't just take a verse and launch off on your personal soap box. Do as God has commanded and "preach the word".

A steady diet of scripturally rich expositional preaching will begin to transform church culture over many years. Don't underestimate the cumulative effect of a faithful expositional preaching ministry.

2. Carry a Physical Bible

This may seem a little silly, but it is something I think is important. In a day and age where digital bibles are so readily available it is easy to rely only on a smartphone for the Bible. I love technology. I even use my iPad for all my sermon notes while preaching. Yet I always carry around my physical Bible.

Although the accessibility of digital bibles is wonderful, lugging around a physical Bible communicates something about its value and significance. Carrying a physical Bible around with you communicates to your people the source of your authority in ministry. Our authority as pastors is not in our charisma, knowledge, experience, or skill, but in the infallible word of God. Carrying a physical Bible communicates that to my people in a way a digital version does not.

3. Use the Bible in Pastoral Care

Monday afternoons is the time I go out and visit shut-ins and those who need pastoral care and  I always be sure to take my Bible with me. To go minister to members without a Bible is like a plumber who forgets his wrench or a football player who forgets his helmet. So too should pastors always bring their staff when they go to the flock. Bring the Bible with you.

Towards the end of my visit with the person I always try to finish my time with a church member by opening up the Bible and reading a passage of Scripture. Then we will close our time in prayer. I do this because the Scriptures are relevant in every situation and I want to teach my people to look to the Scriptures in moments of crisis and need. God's word provides reassurance, reminding us of the wonderful promises of God. Whether in counseling, visitation, outreach, or funerals be quick to take your people to the Bible. Lead them with the Scriptures.

4. Open Every Meeting with Bible

Every meeting I lead at our church I open with a short devotion from Scripture. I want to model for our people Scripture's relevance and importance in all situations from finance meetings to deacons meetings. Starting with Scripture also puts things into perspective and reminds everyone that it is on the word of God we must build God's church and we make decisions.

5. Go to the Scripture in Conflict

This one must be handled carefully, but it is vitally important. As in most churches there will be fights and disagreements. When those times come, the pastor must lead with the Scriptures. In those high and intense meetings, know your Bible well enough to counsel from the Scriptures.

You must handle this carefully because you don't want to necessarily beat your people with the Bible to justify your opinions. Yet, going to the Bible when there is a disagreement reminds everyone (including the pastor) that our opinions are secondary to the truth of God's word.

6. Ground Change in the Scripture

As a pastor and leader you must lead your people through change. Whenever a ministry needs to be cut, revised, or started always ground your methodology in your theology. Do your best to explain the "why" and the biblical reason for the change. Show your people important texts that show the urgency or reason for why this change is necessary. Although there may still be resistance, if your people are lovers of the word of God they will be encouraged and obedient.

Shepherding with the Scriptures

Pastors are to be men of the word. The Scriptures must impact how we think about every aspect of our ministries. Bring the Scripture into every aspect of your ministry. Get creative and always be pointing them to the Scriptures. It is in the word of God that tells us about the word who became flesh. Point them to the Bible and you will be pointing them to Christ who is the chief shepherd whom you will be accountable for in your leadership.

How Have you led with the Scriptures? Any tips or practices that I missed? Share your wisdom with us in the comments!

The Greatest Story in the World

The greatest story ever told was not made by hollywood or written by your favorite author. The greatest story ever told is the true story of the whole world. This grand story does not center on us, but on God. He is the grand story-teller displaying the glory of his name in the world throughout history. It is God who pens history in order to tell the greatest story of love and redemption that will ever be told. However many Christians are practically ignorant of God's story. Often we pick up our bibles and read a passage completely divorced from the story line of the Bible. There is a huge need in the church to be taught the meta-narrative or the grand over-arching plot line of the Bible. This plot line isn't just the narrative of Scripture, but the narrative in which we understand ourselves and our world.

Seeing a need for a solid Biblical Theology in the church I set out in the month of March to teach the entire Bible in 4-Weeks. It was a great challenge, but one I hoped served the church well. The plot line of the Bible and the world can be summed up in four words:

Creation. Fall. Redemption. Restoration.

Each sermon in this series centered on one of these events. The following is a link to the sermon audio for each of the sermons in this series. It is my prayer that they serve you and the church of Jesus Christ well as we understand our place in the world and the story of God.

Part 1: Creation

Part 2: Fall

Part 3: Redemption

Part 4: Restoration

Debunking 6 Christmas Myths

The Christmas story is wonderful isn't it? However, over the decades Christians have taken a lot of creative liberties with the Christmas story adding details that the Scripture either denies or does not state. The birth narratives of Jesus are found in Matthew and Luke, with Luke 2 as the go to text for the Christmas story. After all, it is the one Linus quotes for Charlie Brown. In this post, I figured I’d spread the Christmas cheer and help clear up some confusion and debunk 6 Christmas myths that many people believe.

1. Mary Rode on a Camel to Bethlehem

When we think about Mary and Joseph traveling to Jerusalem we often think about a lone couple in the wilderness with Mary on the back of a camel. Mary could have very well have ridden a camel, but the text doesn’t say. She might have had to walk the entire 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It probably would have been a 4 - 7 day journey. It is also unlikely that Mary and Joseph would have traveled alone. Especially since many people would be traveling to their home tomes due to the census, they probably joined a caravan of people heading towards Bethlehem. Their was safety in numbers as you traveled so Mary and Joseph probably did not make the trip solo.

2. The Innkeeper was Rude to Mary and Joseph

One character who makes it into every Christmas play is the Inn Keeper. He is often portrayed as a wealthy business man who kicks out the pregnant woman to the barn to sleep. He is sometimes presented as cruel, sometimes he is shown as disappointed he could not do more to help Mary and Joseph. The only problem is that there is not a single inn keeper mentioned in the Scriptures. I’m sure they might have talked to a few, but we don’t know. It is likely that the young couple would have stayed with a distant relative of Joseph. The word “inn” in the greek can also be translated “guest room”. The young couple might have not stayed at an innkeepers stable at all, but a stable of one of Joseph’s distant relatives. The Gospels really do not give us a lot of information surrounding the detail of Jesus’ birth. Which is why many have created elaborate back stories to the birth narrative.

3. There are only 3 Wise Men

When we think of the Wise Men we often think of three of them riding on their camels with their flamboyant Flavor Flav jewelry. The reason we typically think of them as three is because the wise men presented three different gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Catholic church even goes on to name the three magi as Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior. Despite the traditional depiction of three wise men, the Scripture again doesn’t specify. All we know is that there are more than one. There could have been two or their could have been ten. Scripture does not say.

4. The Wise Men Saw the Birth of Christ

I seriously got into a fight with a girl in the third grade over this myth. She swore up and down that the wise men were there the night Jesus was born. This one is going to ruin your wonderfully quaint nativity scene on your mantel, but I hate the break it to you – the wise men were not there. The Gospel of Matthew describes the wise men arriving at a house where Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus were. They likely arrived when Jesus was one or two years old. Yet, in our nativity scenes we have the three wise men hanging out on their camels with the shepherds. So go to your nativity scene and take your wise men figures and move them to the other side of the room. Nice! Now your nativity scene is historically accurate!

5. X-Mas is Kicking Christ out of Christmas

Christians get very upset when you write X-mas. I saw a church sign this past week that rebuked the community for saying X-Mas. Yet, writing X-Mas is not kicking out Christ from Christmas. In greek the first letter of the word “Christ” (Χριστός) is the greek letter Chi which looks almost identical to an english “X”. X-Mas is just an abbreviation for Christ. It is perfectly legitimate to tweet “Merry X-Mas” and not be considered a heretic.

6. The Little Drummer Played His Drum

I don’t know if anyone actually believes the Little Drummer boy is a real character, but he is not. It is one of our modern additions to the Christmas story. It makes for a cool song, but the Little Drumer boy is a work of fiction. Besides, if I were Joseph I’d beat that Little Drummer boy tail for waking up the newborn baby with his loud “Rump-a-pum pumping”. Seriously? This kid must have zero manners.

Any Christmas Myths I Missed? Do you or your friends believe any of these myths? If so share with us in the comments!

The Heart of a Rapist

Rape is one of the most disturbing of sins. It is a violent, cruel, and inhuman act. The Bible tells the story of reality. The Bible is not afraid to plunge into the darkness of sins like rape. In 2 Samuel 13, there is a tragic account of a brother, Ammon who raped his half-sister Tamar. The rape is a gruesome, premeditated act. Amnon was sick with lust for Tamar. He wanted her so badly. He filled his mind constantly with sexual fantasies and daydreams that he tortured himself. Sin was crouching at his dour ready to pounce and devour him. We can learn something here about our own hearts and our temptation to sin. The old man creeps in our hearts often tempting us to go back to our sinful way of life. When this happens, we cannot feed our temptations. We must put our sin to death. We cannot sit and dream and imagine what it would be like to act out on them. We must never entertain the thought of indulgence. Yet this is what Amnon did and his pet sin quickly escalated to a uncontrolable desire. Then at the operative time, Satan brought a man to encourage Amnon to act out on his lust. His name was Jonadab, a cousin of Amnon and Tamar. This wicked man put the beginnings of an elaborate plan together to help Amnon indulge in his lust.

Amnon's elaborate plan unfolds, and when she is unwilling to lay with him, he forces himself on her. Tamar's rape is heart breaking and tragic. After Amnon forced himself on her we are told in verse 15 that Amnon "hated her with a great hatred so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had for her". The sole object of all his lust immediately becomes the object of his hate. Indeed, his hate was greater in intensity than the original lust. Why did Amnon respond this way? I suggest three possible reasons:

1. The fantastical delusion did not match up with reality. The pleasure was not nearly as great as the temptation promised. It was much more uglier and disturbing than he could have imagined. Sin promises us fulfilment and joy if we succumb to its pressure, but the opposite always takes place. In the aftermath of our sin we see that temptation not only failed to come through with its promise, but the whole fantasy was a lie. Amnon hated himself for being so foolish as to believe the lie.

2. The shame of his sin became unbearable. Often in the aftermath of sinful indulgence, shame immediately grips us. We know we've done wrong and we know we failed. Our temptation is to hide just as Adam did. Amnon wanted to quickly dispose of Tamar forgetting the whole thing because he was so ashamed of his sin.

3. Amnon blamed his sister for his sin. This is absolutely vile that he would blame the victim rather than himself. Yet this is the heart of a man who has been lost in his sin. Rather than pointing the finger at himself and practicing true repentance, Amnon took out his anger on the person whose life he just tore apart. This is what many who molest, abuse, or rape actually do. Rather taking responsibility for their own sin they angrily take it out on their victims. It is despicable, condemnable and it is going to send poor Tamar to the breaking point.

After Amnon has his way with Tamar, he kicks her to the street. Tamar's response to this is hard for us to understand in our culture. In verse 16 she tells Ammon that sending her away is "greater than the other you did to me" How is kicking her out worse than raping her? Tamar was a virgin, and the significance of this is greatly lost to modern minds. As a result it is even more difficult for us to see the horror of what actually takes place here. Well to women in ancient Israel their future hope was tied to their virginity. If they were to marry a wonderful man they were to remain a virgin. Amnon had now defiled her. Her life is literally ruined. No man would now marry her now, and he kicks her out to live alone, abandoned. you see both Amnon and Tamar knew the Law of Moses. In Exodus 22:16 and Deuteronomy 22::28-29 God commands that if a man rapes a woman he is forced to marry her and he was never permitted to divorce her. This is so her needs might be met. The rapist was not to take responsibility for her. Yet Ammon the pig, rapes her and abandons her. THis is why Tamar is so distraught as she walks out. Not only was her virginity taken, but so her hopes and dreams of ever finding love.

What can be learned from this disturbing rape account in the Bible?

1. The heart of a rapist is a heart devoured by sin. It is a reminder to all of us the power sin can have in our lives and an urgent call to repent and put to death any sin that may dwell in our hearts. Do not feed your pet sin so that it grows big enough to devour you. Put it to death through the power of the Holy Spirit.

2. It reminds us of the horror of sexual abuse. We live in a sexually charged society, and sexual abuse is rampant. Rape happens every day behind close doors in secret. It is a crime that demands justice. In Tamar's case, justice would eventually be had when her brother Absalom murders Amnon for his crime because Tamar's father, Kind David did nothing in providing justice. May we seek justice for those victims of sexual abuse. May we fight for their freedom.

3. It reminds us that we need Jesus. How can anyone ever heal from a rape of a family member like Tamar? It will not be easy, but Jesus provides healing. God is a God of justice and no sin goes unpunished. God is the loving father who longs to wrap his arms around these victims of sexual assault and cloth them in his righteousness.

The heart of man is desperately wicked. Despite how much we try to see humanity as good. Crimes like rape remind us just what atrocities men are capable of doing. We need redemption. We need restoration. We need forgiveness. We need Jesus.

The Discipline of Reading and Christian Growth

IMG_0047 Who has time to read? It seems like more than ever our plates seem to be running over with things to do. Not only do we think of ourselves as quite busy, but we have constant distractions in our lives. Our smartphones do not help as we are constantly responding to emails, facebook, and even playing a game of angry birds. Who has time to read anymore?

One of the disciplines in my life that has fueled the most spiritual growth in my life is the discipline of reading. First and foremost, this starts with the Bible. It is vital for a Christian to read and study God's word and to be molded and shaped by its wisdom. However, reading other great Christian non-fiction books have made a huge impact in my life.

1. Reading Teaches Me to Think

This is one of the greatest benefits to my own personal reading. It forces me to stretch my mind and think through difficult issues. A great author is not only someone with a great thesis, but one walk me through his reasons for holding it. As a result, reading well argued books teaches me how to think through my own arguments.

2. Reading Exposes Me to New Ideas

There are some ideas and concepts my mind would never automatically think about. Reading books on a variety of subjects forces me to be a life long learner as I am exposed to new ideas.  As a pastor, I don't want my reading to stop after my formal education is over.  We tend to get mentally lazy after we are finished with school, and reading solid books stretches us and keeps us learning long after we get that diploma.

3. Reading Allows Me to Be Mentored by Great Authors

Each and every one of us have a desire to learn from someone else who is much older and wiser than us. You can glean a lot form someones personal experiences and the lessons they have learned. Reading books by great pastors, theologians, and authors gives me an opertunity to be mentored by some of the greatest. As I read Preaching Preachers by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I am given the opertunity to be mentored by arguably the greatest preacher in the 20th century. Books allow us to be trained by some of the best, so therefore, books are incredible gifts to us.

4. Reading Gives Me Discernment to Truth

Truth can be found in any situation and in any book. After having developed a Christian worldview, I am now able to read any newspaper article, any business book, and any novel through a Christian worldview. I am able to discern truth in the most unexpected places, and I am able to reject those ideas that are not truth. The discipline of reading has allowed me to critically engage with other worldviews and keeps me from falling captive and becoming influenced false philosophys and modern cultural trends.

Make Reading a Priority

I hope in your own life you make it a priority to spend time reading godly books that teach us and build us up in our faith. The great thing is that there is a plethora of books both new and old that a ripe for us to begin sinking our teeth into. We have time for reading but unfortunatly it is just not a priority for most of us. Finding time to read is not as hard as we may think, all it takes is to turn off some distractions and making TV a priority. It might mean waking up earlier to spend 30 minutes reading. It might mean reading during your lunch break rather than goofing off on facebook. It might mean turning off the TV in the evening and opening up a good book. We have time to read, we just need to make it.

If you are a Christian who wants to learn more about why reading is so important there is a great book that I just finished called Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. It is a quick and easy read, but it will help you understand why it is so important to read and how to get the most out of your reading. Very practical and rooted in biblical truth, I commend this book to you. Here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a feel of the book:

Christian book reading is never a solitary experience, but an open invitation to commune with God. By opening a book we can stop talking and we begin listening. We can turn from the distractions of life. We can focus our minds. Sometimes we can even lose all sense of time. Although it’s difficult to protect, this reading environment can be the atmosphere that sustains the life of interaction with God. (p. 37)

God’s command is protective. A culture that must express its gods in visual images cannot know God accurately. And a culture that cannot know God accurately cannot communicate God’s substance truthfully. For the Christian, media forms carry ethical consequences. (p. 42)

as a word-centered people we must learn to prize language in a visually-dominated world. If our hearts prioritize images over language, our hunger for books will erode. (p. 47)

So the point of this chapter is simple: the difficult work required to benefit from books is at odds with the immediate appeal of images. As Christians living in an image-saturated world, we must guard our conviction about the vital importance of words and language. For it is words and language that best communicate meaning. (pp. 49-50)

Truly, many Christians today measure their reading success with nothing more than a purely utilitarian gauge, either by how many book pages they can burn through, or by the amount of information they expose themselves to in the process. Too often we fail to read simply for pleasure. (p. 103)

When we set out to read important books, we can expect opposition from our hearts. Reading is a discipline, and all disciplines require self-discipline, and self-discipline is the one thing our sinful flesh will resist. (p. 131)

For many of us, reading is more a lack of of desire than of a lack of free time. C. S. Lewis wrote, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.” The same is true of reading. Favorable conditions for reading books never come. There are always interruptions and other things to do. We can all find excuses for why we cannot read: we’re too busy, we’re too tired, we’re too burned out from the day, we’re too _ (you fill in the blank). But we all find time to do what we “want” to do. The problem is not that we don’t have time to read, but that we don’t have the desire to read. So learn to love reading—because it’s easier to find time to do what you love to do. (p. 132)

True learning and true wisdom are the fruit of long-term diligent study and meditation, benefits that we cannot get from books unless we are willing to slow our minds, mute distractions, and carefully think about what we are reading. (p. 143)

Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

Did Jesus every say he was God? For some reason many people state that Jesus never made the claim. A simple reading through the Gospels makes it clear that Jesus did in fact claim he was God on several occasions. One of the most startling takes place in John 8. John records a debate with Jesus and the religious leaders. Towards the end of debate we are told the following:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” so the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.“ - John 8:56-59

I am amazed at the boldness of Jesus. After a vicious debate with the religious leaders, Jesus makes the most startling claim. He says he is God. The full weight of this is often missed if one does not have a good understanding of the Old Testament. Notice that Jesus does not say that 'before Abraham was, I was. He uses the present tense, "I am". Jesus not only declares his pre-existence, but actually takes the sacred name of God onto himself. Yahweh, or I am, is the name God used to reveal himself to Moses in the burning bush. Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. He is the one true God. He is the God the religious leaders claim to be following. Yet, Jesus in this passage declares that he is greater than Abraham and the great I Am that brought the Jewish people out of Egypt.

This is absolutely astonishing. The Religious leaders were blown away at such a blasphemous statement. Their religious zeal and passion for right doctrine filled their hearts with righteous exasperation. This man, Jesus, standing before them claimed that he was the God in whom they worship. The bastard carpenter from Nazareth (so they thought) claims he is the one true God. The religious leader's anger quickly bubbles into a murderous mob. We are told that after Jesus said this, that the jews began to pick up stones to kill him. They were going to give him a death by stoning, but Jesus' time had not yet come so he was able to sneak out. How do we know that Jesus claimed to be God in this passage? The response of the leaders is revealing enough. They were going to kill him on the spot for such a blasphemous claim.

Also, notice where this whole conversation is taking place. Jesus is departing from the Temple, we are told. This conversation is happening in the house of God. These religious leaders were ready to commit murder in the temple of the Lord because of what Jesus said. This is truly astonishing, and reveals how offensive Jesus calling himself the great "I Am" is to the hearts of these religious leaders. They had been so blinded by their self-righteousness that they were unable to see, yet even unwilling to see, the Messiah standing before him. The God whom they claim to worship was standing before them, yet they did not recognize him. Rather, they seek to kill him in the Temple of the Lord. The Jews picked up stones to murder Yahweh in his own house.

Did Jesus ever say he was God? You better believe it. He claimed it. That's how he got himself killed. That's why the religious leaders were so eager to kill him. Jesus' perceived blasphemy along with the Religious leader's envy of Jesus brewed the perfect concoction for Jesus' brutal execution.

One cannot accurately say that Jesus never claimed to be God. This puts us in the trilema that C.S. Lewis gives us in his work Mere Christianity:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

Jesus claimed to be God. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or the son of God. Jesus is the great "I Am". He is the one God who took on flesh and dwelt among us. He is Lord and he is King and he has made a way for us to be saved through his death on the cross. Trust in him as savior and king.