Bible

Actively Waiting for Christ's Return

Waiting for Christ's return is not a passive activity. We are not simply hanging out with nothing to do. Our waiting is not like pulling out a phone and playing meaningless games while waiting for our friends to show up for the movie. It is more like a limo driver, waiting for passengers to arrive. The hired driver isn't waiting aimlessly, because he has a job to do. They have been commissioned for a task and are actively waiting for their passengers.

When it comes to the topic of Christ's return, people spend a great deal of time concerned with predicting when Christ will return, when we should really be thinking more about how we wait. Like a hired driver, it is an active waiting. We are not simply hanging out on this large rock with nothing to do. We have been commissioned by our savior and he has given us a job to do. In teaching his disciples, Jesus seems less concerned with telling people when he will return and more about what sort of posture they should take in their waiting. It's less about when and more about how.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mk 13:32-37).

No one knows the time or the hour. Not even the son. It would be unwise to claim knowledge about something Jesus says you cannot know - something he says he didn't know himself. Jesus says we should not spend so much time trying to figure out exactly when, but we should spend our time considering how.

He tells us to wait like a servant, waiting for their master to return. What does that mean? How does a servant wait? Here are a few ways that a servant waits, which can inform our own manner of waiting. 

Know your task

It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work (Mk 13:34)

When the master leaves, he puts his servants in charge, and gives them work to do. Servants are not hired without an awareness of what they are being asked to do. Jesus has given us clear commands about our work as his followers. It is helpful for me to think about my call as a disciple to grow in my love for Jesus in three primary ways.

First, to treasure Jesus. Loving Jesus means finding our joy in him above all else. This happens as we treasure Jesus in the gospel and pursue habits that raise our affections for him. Second, to live consistent. Loving Jesus means living with character that is consistent with our love for him. As followers of Jesus, we are called to a new set of behaviors in our lives. And third, to make disciples. Loving Jesus means we participate in the glorious task of making new disciples. This means we live with intentional mission to multiply our faith into others.

Be active not passive

When we, like a servant waiting for their master, know our task, we must be active and not passive. The parable of the master and servants points to an active waiting. While their master is away, servants do not simply gather each morning to give one another a pep talk, discussing how great their master is and how excited they are to complete their day's work. Then leave that morning meeting only to spend the rest of their day playing meaningless games, rocking a chair on the porch or continuing to talk with one another about the work they should be doing.

God has called us to be active in our waiting. Our gatherings on Sunday morning are meant to be a catalyst to send us out into the world. We are not intended to gather each week in order to feel good about ourselves but then see no meaningful result. God has given us work to do. We are called to treasure him and actively grow in our love for Jesus. We are called to live with character consistent to our commitment to Jesus. This means we fight sin, we serve others, we seek the good of our city, we care for our family, we treat people with respect, put on love and joy and peace and patience and the list could go on. It also means we are actively making new disciples through sharing the good news with those around us.

Waiting for Jesus means we are actively engaged in the work he has called us to do as his followers.

Be ready at all times

Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. (Mk 13:35-36)

We need to always be ready for Christ's return. We don't know when, but we need to be ready. Are you ready?

What does it mean to be ready? It doesn't mean you are perfect. It doesn't mean you have arrived. We have not obtained perfection, but we press on toward holiness (Phil 3:12). In order to be ready for Christ's return, we don't need to achieve perfection, we simply need to be growing as his disciples. Faithfully committed to him and actively engaged in his Kingdom.

We are not sitting on the porch step, doing nothing but staring down the road. Although, we may look to the horizon every once and again, looking with excitement to see if the master's silhouette can be seen in the setting sun. We are not compelled to work hard in our waiting because we feel a need to impress him. We labor in our waiting, because we are grateful for our master, and we look with hope at the horizon, because of the joy we have in anticipating his return.

Three Marks of a Mature Church

"I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another." (Romans 15:14 ESV)

We are inclined to complicate that which needs no complicating. Toward the end of Paul's letter to the Romans, he offers a brief encouragement to his readers, commending them in three different ways. He writes that he is satisfied with them, and then tells them why. We would do well to note the three reasons he is pleased with his audience. In them, we see three marks of a mature community of faith. Hardly an exhaustive list, but it is an instructive one.

I say we are inclined to complicate matters because we can turn ourselves in circles asking what our church community "should" look like. We develop extensive plans and programs, creating rules and regulations. All the while, we have a nice simple list at the end of Romans. Again, not an exhaustive list, but if these three qualities are true of our church, then we can be confident we are in a good place. As you read these three marks of a mature faith community, ask yourself if they are true of your church.

Full of goodness

A mature church treats one another with kindness, goodness and respect. Being full of goodness (agathosyne) is a fruit of God's Spirit (Gal 5:22) working in a person's heart. As we become more like Christ, we grow in goodness. What does this look like in a congregation? A church that is full of goodness is a church that seeks reconciliation over quarreling. It is a church that serves one another sacrificially. A church that cares for one another. A church that is marked by kindness and grace. Unity. Love. Patience. These are the virtues that inhabit a mature community of faith.

How can you be an agent of goodness in your church? Do not allow dissension, discord, backbiting and gossip to gain a foothold in your church. Do not contribute to it, and as you are able, put a stop to it in others. Fight for goodness by pursuing kindness toward others, patience in disagreement and forgiveness when wronged. Pick someone up who needs a ride to church, provide a meal for someone who just had a baby, check-in on those who have lost a loved one to death - in short, be good to others.

Filled with all knowledge

A mature church is filled with all knowledge (gnosis). Much is wrapped up in this little phrase, but very simply, it means that the church has a clear understanding of the Christian faith, which means they have a clear understanding of God's Word. This requires godly leaders who are qualified to teach, and faithful members who are attentive to learn and grow. In the words of the psalmist, "I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:15-16 ESV)." In them, we find knowledge.

Is your church community filled with all knowledge? Do you have a good understanding of God's Word? I don't just mean a good understanding of some theological concepts and church traditions - I mean the very Scriptures themselves. Does someone get up on Sunday and teach from God's Word? Are people bringing their Bibles and testing that teaching like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11)? A church that is not anchored to God's Word is liable to drift unaware from the true faith. Culture and context will gain more and more influence, and the church will be tossed by every wind or wave that exerts its influence. A mature faith community is filled with all knowledge, which means they are rooted and anchored on God's Word.

Able to instruct one another

The third mark of a mature faith community, the ability to instruct (noutheteo) one another, is a natural result of the first two. Not only does it flow from the prior two, but it requires the initial marks in order to be done well. The word for instruct here is not simply to teach, but has a sense of exhortation, admonishment or warning. This is instruction with a mind toward growth and correction. The soil of goodness is necessary for the seed of instruction to take root. The nourishment of knowledge waters that seed and helps it grow. 

This sort of instruction is done from the pulpit on Sundays and also in homes throughout the week. Exhortation comes from our elders at times and from fellow congregates at others. No matter the source, a mature faith community is able and willing to instruct one another out of its goodness and knowledge.

As mentioned earlier, this list is not exhaustive - but it is informative. There are other essential elements to a healthy church body, but these three marks give us a good sense of a mature community of faith. Use this litmus test to examine your church and ask yourself whether you are contributing to the goodness, knowledge and instruction in your own congregation.

We cannot, but Jesus Did

 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

We can sometimes forget the most basic realities of the Christian faith. We might assume that a time comes when we move onto bigger and better things or we get distracted by the cares of this world and forget to value what is meant to be most central to our hearts. The gospel is like that. We hear it, we accept it, and then we move on. But we were never meant to "move on" from the realities of the gospel. Treasuring Jesus in the gospel is not something we graduate from. It is like the foundation of our house of faith. We may build upon it, but we never get rid of it and we always rest upon it.

When I want to remind myself of the gospel and rejoice in its goodness, one of my go to passages is 2 Corinthians 5:21. In just a few short phrases it communicates the magnitude of the gospel. In particular, it tells us about the realities of what has become known as the "great exchange." It tells us about the glorious truth that on the cross Jesus exchanged his righteousness for our sin, and through faith in Jesus we are given Christ's righteousness in place of our sin. Incredible! Jesus gives up his righteousness and takes our sin, so that we can shed our sin and take on his righteousness. Let's unpack this even more.

He did what we could not

Jesus did what we could not. He "knew no sin." The Bible tell us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and yet he did not sin (Heb 4:15). In our society, which prizes self-esteem, even at the cost of honesty, we do not like to talk about our sin. Everyone knows they have sin, but no one wants to admit it for themselves or speak honestly about it for others. Many know they have sin, but they don't want anyone else to think they do.

Jesus was not like that. He did not cover his sin by making excuses or putting on a mask. He did not white-wash a tomb, pretending to make pure and alive what contained dead and rotting corpses. Jesus is the real deal. He lived his entire life without sin. He was tempted in every way that we are, and resisted sin on each and every occasion. When he was murdered upon a cross he was not just legally innocent of the crimes put forward by his Jewish and Roman accusers, he was also innocent of the sin he bore for humanity.

Jesus did what we could not. He was sinless.

And became what he was not

Jesus lived without sin, but he died with the weight of all humanity's sin resting upon him. Jesus became sin, so that he could ransom us through his blood. In Jesus, God cancels our record of debt - which stands against us and rightly claims we are condemned. Jesus became sin, nailing it to the cross, so that our rightly-condemning debt could be paid.

In order to do that, Jesus became sin. "For our sake he made him to be sin, who knew no sin." We naturally think that the physical suffering was the worst part of the cross. In no way do I want to minimize the physical agony the cross must have caused Jesus. It is a pain I will likely never come close to experiencing. But, often forgotten in it all, is that becoming sin must have been worse.

Consider the guilt you feel when you are confronted with your sin. It is heavy and weighs on you. Imagine for a second that weight is like the dripping of a faucet, annoying but tolerable. Now consider what it might feel like to experience the weight of all your sin (past, present and future) all at once. Personally, I think it would be unbearable. I think my body would shut down and I would die from the spiritual, emotional and psychological agony I would experience. If one sin is like a dripping faucet, this might be like a flooded river. Now consider what it might be like to take on the weight of all sin, from all time, for all humanity, all at once. It would be crushing. Like the most powerful waters of the worst hurricane. This is what Jesus did. He became sin, for all humanity, throughout all time. It is impossible for us to fully grasp the immensity of what Jesus did on the cross.

Jesus did what we could not. And became what he was not.

So we could become what we are not

Why did Jesus do all this? He did it so that "in him we might become the righteousness of God." When we treasure Jesus as our savior - when, by grace through faith, we trust in Jesus as our lord, not only does he take our sin from us, but he gives us his righteousness. Jesus didn't just live without sin, but he also healed the sick, proclaimed the gospel and loved everyone around him perfectly. When we place our faith in Jesus, all that righteousness is attributed to us.

In our standing before God, he doesn't look at us as sinners, but as righteous, blood-bought saints. He doesn't see our sin, because Jesus took our sin. He sees us as righteous because Jesus is fully righteous. The implications of this are vast. We are adopted and become co-heirs with Christ. We are made alive together with Jesus. We have God's Spirit living inside us, working on our hearts to transform us increasingly more into the likeness of Jesus. We are sent as God's ambassadors, invited into the privilege of participating in God's mission in the world. We could go on and on.

This message is not something we move past. It is something we come back to day after day, reminding ourselves of the goodness of the gospel, so that the rest of our lives are shaped by this remarkable reality.

That Jesus did what we could not, and became what he was not, so that we could become what we are not.

Four Ways Words Impact the World

When words pass the threshold of our mouths, they can never be put back, no matter how much we wish they could. Once spoken, the things we say enter into existence, and with them comes the impact of those words. Sometimes they enter the world and offer a helping hand to someone in need, other times, our words enter the world like a right hook, landing on the cheek of a loved one. Have you ever said something you immediately wished you could have back? Have your words ever exited your mouth like a fist rather than a hand of help?

Our words are powerful. They are something we ought to consider more intentionally, and speak more thoughtfully. It must be said that we are imperfect, and will say things we regret. In those instances, we must be ready to repent and seek reconciliation. Even so, by the power of God's Spirit, we must also seek to gain control over our tongue and give it direction.

James exhorts his readers to give consideration to their tongue (James 3:1-12, and in view of his reminder, here are four ways our words impact the world.

Speak words with humility

James starts with a reminder that we should seek to teach with humility. This is less about the way words impact the world, and more about the manner in which we speak them into the world. He says that "not many of you should become teachers," because those "who teach will be judged with greater strictness (Js.3:1)." When we choose to speak, especially as one with authority to teach, we must approach that role with humility. It is a weighty responsibility, and one that will be judged with greater strictness. We must enter into that role with humble hearts.

Every week, as I send a new article out into the world wide web, I do it with a bit of timidity. I am on a journey of sanctification myself, and like each of you reading this, I am imperfect in my actions. I write as someone who is still in process, and yet, when I write an article, I step into a role of teaching. It is weighty, and I feel the burden. My prayer for myself, and for anyone who aspires to teach and write, is that we would do so with great humility and a sense of the responsibility for the task.

Ideas can change the world

This doesn't necessarily come from the text in James, but something I have thought about a lot recently. Two connections from this passage warrant me mentioning it here. First, the reference to teachers. Words are a primary medium for teaching. Words are powerful, and teachers must use them well. Second, the mention of the disproportionate power of words relative to the size of the tongue. Words are powerful and God uses them to change the world.

I have recently gotten into listening to audio books when I am driving, running, cleaning or working on house projects. Through audio books, I have been able to listen to numerous biographies and history books. One theme I have noticed is that people who have had a significant impact on the world nearly always know how to use the power of ideas and words. Whether for evil, like Adolf Hitler or pro-slavery advocates in American history, or for good, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jonathan Edwards or Martin Luther.

As pastors, church leaders and Christ-followers, we have the most powerful message in the world. The good news of Jesus Christ, which permeates ever area of life. I have been challenged to consider more deeply what God teaches and how I can communicate these truths in clear and compelling ways. Words are a powerful medium to shape our world and culture. God spoke the world into being, Jesus came as the word made flesh, God's primary way of communicating with us is through His Word, and as his people, we are called to use words to serve God's mission in the world.

The tongue is more powerful than its size

It can be easy to take our words for granted, because they flow from our mouths so readily and originate from such a small part of our body. What James' letter so masterfully communicates is that the tongue has disproportionate power given its size. He utilizes some analogies to help us get a picture - the relatively small bit in a horse's mouth, which allows a rider to direct the powerful animal's movements, or the small rudder that enables a captain to steer large sea vessels, or the small fire that can set a forest ablaze. Each of these images are meant to remind us that even though our tongue is small, it can give rise to powerful words.

Further, the tongue is not easy to control. We can so quickly let something slip from our mouths that is like poison to another. Words can take on the form of many different weapons - the poisonous spread of rumor and gossip, the blunt force of vulgar yelling, the arrow like precision of a well timed smear or the suffocating force of an onslaught of insult. These weapons of verbal war flow from us, often without thinking twice. Sometimes we regret what we have said, and other times we don't even realize the pain we inflict.

Consider the words you use and the way you speak to those around you, often to the ones you love the most. First, recognize the power of the things you say. Do not take lightly the impact your words can have on the people around you. Second, ask God to help you gain control over your tongue. It is a powerful instrument, and one which cannot be easily mastered. You need God's help, so don't hesitate to ask.

The tongue has disproportionate power given its size.

Words can bless or curse

The final way our words impact the world is through the dichotomous ends of blessing or cursing. James comments on the fact that with the same mouth we "bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God (Js 3:9)." We use the same mouth to sing worship songs on Sunday and fling words of insult that afternoon. We praise God with our lips and then use them to defame people made in His image. Our words can either speak life or death. They can bring blessing or cursing.

James is calling his audience to fight this inconsistent behavior when he writes, "these things ought not be so (3:10)." The mouths we use to praise God, for such a good and glorious purpose, should not be used to also degrade His people. Our words have the power to heal or hurt. With our mouths, we have the ability to extend a helping hand or swing a fist. Ask God to help you master your tongue this week, and use it as a means of blessing to those around you.

Three Reasons Jesus was "Made Lower than the Angels"

What did it mean for Jesus to become human? Among the primary passages that discuss the implications of the incarnation, one is found at the beginning of the book of Hebrews. It may be somewhat complicated to fully unravel, but enlightening when we take the time. There is a little phrase that should give us a moment of pause, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus (Heb. 2:9).” What does that short phrase, “lower than the angels” mean? If Jesus is God, then why, and how, could he have ever been lower than anything?

Even more, in the context of this passage, the author is making an argument for why Jesus is superior to angels. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the author will explain why Jesus is superior to angels, Moses, other priests, the Old Covenant and previous “heroes of the faith.” Why in the midst of his argument for the superiority of Christ, does he say that Jesus was “made lower than the angels?"

What we see in the second chapter of Hebrews is that Jesus being made lower than the angels is one of the very reasons he is in fact superior to them. The first argument is that Jesus is superior to angels in his sovereignty (Heb 1:5-14), and the second is that Jesus is superior to them in his suffering (Heb 2:5-18). Here, we will focus on the suffering side of the equation and look at three reasons Jesus was “made lower than the angels."

So he could be like us

In the incarnation, Jesus was “made like his brothers in every respect (Heb 2:17).” Jesus took on human flesh, and did not reject the many implications that came with this new form. Jesus got hungry and tired, and he needed to eat and rest. Later in Hebrews, it says that Jesus was “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).” Jesus experienced temptation. He can relate with us in our temptation. Yet, he was without sin, so he can show us the way, and he can make atonement of our imperfections. Jesus "had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb 2:17-18).”

Jesus becoming like us means that God has not kept himself from the suffering of his people. Jesus experienced what it means to be human. He can fully relate. He is not removed and far off. He had to be made like us, so he could make full propitiation for our sins. One aspect of the completion of Jesus’ saving work was his being made like us, so he could suffer and die on our behalf.

So he could taste death for us

At present, we can not see the fully glory of Jesus. Nothing has been left outside the control of Jesus, however we do not yet see everything in subjection to him (Heb 2:8-9). “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9).”

Jesus was made lower than the angels, so he could die for us, tasting death for everyone. Jesus was not kept from even the harshest of suffering, death itself. So that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Heb 2:14-15).”

In becoming like us, Jesus was able to taste death for us. He was able to die as a human and experience all of what that means. In so doing, Jesus tasted death for us, so that through his death he could conquer the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil. Through his dying we can have life. 

So he could be made perfect through suffering

Jesus was perfect when he came to earth. He did not need to die in order to become perfect, but Hebrews 2:10 says “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect though suffering.” How do we reconcile Jesus’ perfect divinity with the statement that he was “made perfect?” In commenting on this verse, Craig Blomberg writes, “The Son of God was ontologically perfect already, but he had not fully experienced all stages of human life until he died. So now he acquired an additional kind of perfection as well, one that some understand as fulfillment, completing of consecration."

The suffering that Jesus experienced in his death fulfilled and completed the work he came to do. While it did not make him any more perfect in his essence, he did perfect the work he came to do. The process of his innocent death and eventual resurrection, was the final stage in his perfect life. He become human, he experienced the limitations of a human body, he was tempted, he suffered and he ultimately died. All this works toward his glory and perfect work.

What are the implications?

Being made lower than angels, for a time, actually contributes to Jesus being superior to angels for all time. In his suffering, Jesus is glorified and made perfect. Jesus became like his brothers, so he could perfect his brothers and taste death on their behalf. This should cause us to marvel at the good and glorious God we serve.

Second, there is a warning at the beginning of this chapter (Heb 2:1-4). If the message delivered by angels, which in Jewish tradition the Mosaic Law was believed to have been mediated by angels, if that message required retribution for disobedience, how much more now that we have a more sure testimony. Jesus has brought a new message of hope and deliverance. We must not reject it, but take notice of our need for him. We must "pay much closer attention,” and fully embrace the message of Jesus, reminding ourselves often of the work he accomplished and our need for him. 

5 Questions to Ask when Reading Your Bible

For many, the Bible can be intimidating - its okay to admit. I have heard many people tell me they often don't pick it up, not because they don't want to read their Bible, but because they are afraid they will not understand what they read. What people don't know is that there are far more people in the same boat than they realize. Sadly, admitting you are scared of the Bible is feared more than the Bible itself. Unfortunately, this leads to isolation and people don't ever ask for help. This is one of the reasons I wrote my short e-book Rooted: 5 Steps for Better Bible Reading.

The short book includes some helpful steps to get your Bible reading started, and you can get it here. Today, I want to share five questions that you can ask each time you read your Bible, in order to help you understand and apply what you are reading. They are not complicated, and they are not difficult to understand. You can use them every time you read, and they can help dispel some of the fears you have when you approach the Bible.

1. God, will you help me? (Pray)

Each time you start, begin by asking God to help. Ask him to help you understand and apply what you read. God has chosen to communicate with us through His Word, don't ever doubt that He wants to help you read it well. Pray and ask God's Holy Spirit to help you understand what you are reading, and I believe that He will. God delights when people read their Bibles in their pursuit of knowing Him and living in a way that is consistent with His character.

2. What is the text saying? (Observations)

Without needing to fully understand every detail of the historical context (although it can be helpful to learn more about this over time), just begin to make observations. What is the Bible saying? Who are the main characters of the story? Who is the author of this portion of Scripture? What events are taking place? Who is mentioned? Who is the original recipient of this portion of Scripture? What commands are given? What key words are used? What words are repeated?

This does not need to be complicated or scary. Without needing to interpret or apply what you are reading yet, simply make observations. No observation is stupid. You won't answer every question, nor will you make every possible observation. Begin with the most obvious observations, and work toward the more hidden ones.

3. What does the text mean? (Interpretation)

Once you have made your observations, then move into the interpretation stage. You are primarily asking yourself, what does the passage mean? You aren't asking what it means for you yet, only what it meant originally. You don't need to bridge the gap of history all at once. What principles are behind the text that you reading? And what did it mean for the original audience? What is it saying about who God is and the way He is working in the world?

This stage is meant to help us gain an understanding of the original meaning of the passage. This will include an understanding of the original command itself, but also the principle behind the command. Generally, when reading our Bibles, we are after the principle, because that will help us understand how to apply it to our lives now.

4. What does the text mean for us today? (Application)

In this stage, we start to bridge the gap of time. We can ask ourselves if there are sins we are called to avoid? Or is there an example to follow? Is there something we are intended to learn about God or his Character? Is there a command follow? When we think about the principle of the text, how does that apply to my life today?

We must always remember that the Bible is not primarily about us. It is primarily about God. We can get into the habit of reading the Bible as though it is intended to be some "good advice" for our lives. And while it does inform how we are intended to live, it is not just a book of rules and principles. So, we must be careful in this stage to not minimize the Bible or its message. With that said, we are still meant to ask what the text means for our lives today, and how it informs the way we are called to live.

5. What is the text telling me to do? (Action)

As a result of all your prayer, reading, study and meditation on God's Word, this is the final question - what am I called to do today? What am I called to do this week? Try to be specific. It might be simple, it might be profound. Either way, God is calling us to be obedient to what we have read. Not in a legalistic fashion, but in response to the love God has revealed through His son. Obedience does not need to equate to legalism. Legalism is something to avoid, gospel-driven obedience is something to celebrate. Before you put down your Bible, just ask yourself how you are being called to obedience as a result of what you have read.

Legalism is something to avoid, gospel-driven obedience is something to celebrate.

Summary of the questions - As steps

When you put it all together, you can think about your Bible reading in five simple steps.

Pray | Observe | Interpret | Apply | Act

I become more and more convinced each day that Bible reading is an absolutely essential, but commonly neglected practice among God's people today. The Bible is filled with numerous insights and its depths can be plumped for a lifetime, with new and rich deposits discovered day after day and week after week. People spend their lives trying to understand the Bible and teach it to others. A myriad of degrees, at all levels of study, can be sought in the study of the Scriptures. It is true that the Bible can feel overwhelming at times. But it does not need to be.

If you need or want help, please ask for it. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Ask me. Ask your pastor. Ask a friend. But in the meantime, these five questions might give you what you need to get started. Or grab my e-book, by clicking on the image below. You will never regret a single minute you spend investing in God's Word. And no time is too late. You can begin right now.

Love God. Love Others. The Ten Commandments

We have started a new preaching series at First, and we are looking at the Ten Commandments. I had the opportunity to kick off the new series, as we looked at the first of the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, there are a number of misconceptions and false assumptions about the Ten Commandments. They might feel outdated to some, or burdensome to others. You may have been on the receiving end of another person's attack, as they used one of the Ten Commandments as a weapon of war against you. Sadly, many people's experience with the commands does not actually mirror the intent of these commands.

The commands were given to God's people, by God, in the context of relationship. They were not written by human hands or conceived in the mind of man. They were not given as a way of earning God's love and relationship, but were given in order to inform God's people about how to live as God's people. As we preach through the series, we begin with the foundational understanding that the commands are ultimately about love. Love for God. Love for others.

The Greatest Commandment

Our understanding of love as the foundation for the Ten Commandments is seen in the teaching of Jesus. He was asked by a religious leader which commandment was the greatest. And he answered:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depends all the Law and the Prophets (Mark 12: 37-40)."

Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment (singular), and he responds with two. They can be summed up with the words, Love God and Love Others. The first part of his response is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:5, which is a summary of the Ten Commandments that Moses gives to Israel following his retelling of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5.

The second half of Jesus' answer is a quotation of Leviticus 19:18. Jesus wanted to make it very clear that love for God and love for others goes hand in hand. You cannot separate them. Paul follows Jesus' line of teaching when he also quotes Leviticus 19:18 as he explains that love is foundational to understanding the Ten Commandments.

“For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:9-10)

The teachings of Jesus, Paul and other NT writers all point toward love being foundational to understanding the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, love is a relatively undefined word today. So, over the next nine weeks of our preaching series, we are going to explain how love is foundational for the Ten Commandments. And today, I will explain three ways that love relates to the first commandment, to have no other gods before God (Deuteronomy 5:7).

Love for God is based on His Character

Our love for God is based on who He is and what He has done. All throughout the Scriptures, we see God's people pointing to God's character as they express their love, commitment and worship. Psalm 105 is a great example. Here are the first six verses:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD;

            call upon his name;

Make known his deeds among the peoples!

Sing to him, sing praises to him;

            tell of all his wondrous works!

Glory in his holy name;

            let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!

Seek the LORD and his strength;

            seek his presence continually!

Remember the wondrous works that he has done,

            his miracles, and the judgments he uttered

O offspring of Abraham, his servant,

            children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (Psalm 105:1-6, emphasis mine)”

We love God because of His character. Because of who He is and what He has done.

Love for God is singular in its devotion

God calls us to have no other God's before Him. There is no room for our worship of other gods. It is made quite clear that the God of the Bible is distinct from all other gods. He is not just a god among gods. He is The God over all gods. He is the creator God who has laid the foundations of the earth. Our love for God means we are wholly committed to Him. Having no gods before God is about loving God with our whole selves.

The problem is that it is so common for us to make idols out of God's good gifts. We so often turn good things into idols, such as family, work, money, sex or any number of other gifts that God has given us. John Calvin once wrote, "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols." Our hearts produce idols like General Mills produces Cheerios. Idol after idol flows from the conveyor belt of our hearts. As we grow in our love for God, we also must fight against these idols that want to come between us and God.

Having no gods before God is about loving God with our whole selves.

Marital fidelity is actually a great picture of this singular devotion. As we are committed in our marriages to one another, to having marriages that are singular in their devotion, sacrificial in their love and fully devoted in their commitment to one another, we give a compelling and clear picture of God's love for His people.

Love for God is in the Context of Relationship

God gives these commands in the context of a relationship. The preamble to the Ten Commandments (Deut 5:6) explains God's relationship to His people. He says that he is the Lord their God, who freed them from the slavery and oppression of Egypt. God has chosen to have a relationship with Israel, and He has proven His commitment to them by freeing them from Egypt. Once the relationship had been established and proven, then, and only then, God lays out the commandments for how they were to live as God's people.

It is still the same for us today. We keep the commands, not as a burdensome set of commands. Not as weapons of war against one another. They are commands that are given in the context of a loving relationship that God has initiated. Through Jesus, God is our redeemer. Just like he redeemed Israel from the slavery and oppression of Egypt, he has freed us from the slavery and oppression of sin. He has initiated a relationship with us through Jesus, and chosen us to be His people. And now, in the context of that relationship, he asks us to respond in obedience.

We must get the order correctly. Relationship proceeds the commands. If we get the order backward, then we will feel compelled by a need to somehow earn God's love through our performance. Something that cannot be earned, but is freely given through Jesus. Relationship always proceeds the commands. And through Jesus, we can have that sort of relationship with God.

How do we pray in the face of opposition?

When you experience opposition, how do you respond? What sort of thoughts control your mind and what sort of prayers do you pray? We can experience opposition in many different ways and from many sources. Whether it is coming from people around you, the situation and circumstances of life, the thoughts you tell yourself or the lies of the evil one, you will face opposition in your service of God's Kingdom. How do you respond?

In Acts 4, we see an example that can inform our response to opposition. After Peter and John were arrested for engaging in ministry at the temple, "they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them (Acts 4:23)." The opposition Peter and John experienced had the potential of actual physical consequences. We do not often experience opposition that would result in physical persecution, but to varying degrees, if we are serving Jesus, we will experience opposition to our work. Here is how Peter and John, along with their friends responded.

The Believers Pray for Boldness

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31 ESV)

In the example of these early disciples, there are three key elements to their prayer that can inform our own response. But before that, we first learn that prayer is an important and necessary response. Do we even get to the point of praying when we experience opposition? When we stare at the face of a mountain standing in the way of what God has called us to do, do we get on your knees and pray? If not, let's begin there. Once we start praying, here are some key elements we should include in our prayers:

1. Praise God for His goodness (4:24-26)

The disciples prayer begins with praising God for who He is and what He has done. They address him as "sovereign Lord" and give him credit as the "one who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them." They are further amazed at those who have rejected God (4: 25b-26). Whenever we pray, it is important that we give acknowledgment to the God whom we are offering our prayers. We pray to the sovereign, creator God. The quality of His character should under-gird our prayers and we should praise Him for his goodness.

2. Acknowledge God's sovereign plan (4:27-28)

After honoring God for who He is, they thank God for His sovereign plan. Even in the death and resurrection of Jesus, they thank God that Herod and Pontius Pilate did "whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (4:27-28)." No matter what opposition we face, we can trust and believe that God has a plan and that He will work things out for our good and for His glory. When we pray, we can thank Him and express our trust in his sovereign plan.

The quality of God’s character should under-gird our prayers.

3. Ask for strength (4:29-30)

When it comes time to petition God on behalf of their situation, they ask for strength. They ask that God would, "look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with boldness (4:29)." Notice, there is no request for relief from the opposition or persecution itself. The request is for continued boldness. That doesn't mean we cannot ask God for relief. We see God's people do it often throughout the Scriptures, especially in the Psalms. But that was not their primary request. Their request was that in the face of opposition, they would be bold.

Praying in the face of opposition

No matter what you are up against today, you can pray. Start there. Don't stop there, but do start there. And when you pray, learn from these early disciples. In response to their prayer, "the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (4:31)." God honored their prayer, and they were filled with boldness.

My hope is that we learn to pray like the early church. Praising God for His goodness, acknowledging his sovereign plan and then praying for strength and boldness to press on in our service to the King.

Stop Trying to Have the "Perfect" Quiet Time

Do you feel like you need to have the “perfect” quiet time? Each time you sit down to read the Bible and pray, do you feel bad if it was not earth shattering? Does your inability to ever achieve the holy grail of quiet times keep you from coming back again?

In my experience, whether it is spoken explicitly or felt implicitly, there is a sense that each and every time I take a moment to pray, meditate and read God’s Word, I need to have a ground breaking experience. Let me just tell you that you don’t. You can stop trying to have the “perfect” quiet time. Release yourself from that burden. 

The pursuit of the “perfect" quiet time is debilitating

The nobility of wanting to have the absolute best quiet time is actually working against that great desire. The weight of that high standard is crushing people, and actually keeping them from spending time with God at all. If we fail in our attempts to achieve the perfect quiet time, over time we begin to stop trying. We begin to believe that investing in time with the Lord doesn’t achieve anything anyway, and we give up.

The impossible standard we set, leaves us feeling like we have failed and that it is not worth trying again. It is like me attempting to beat Lebron James in basketball. It will never happen. I might initially think that I have a chance, and might event attempt more than once. But after getting beat down repeatedly, I would eventually give up, having determined that it just isn’t worth trying anymore.

The pursuit of the perfect quiet time is an impossible task, and because we can never achieve it, we eventually give up. Stop trying to pursue the perfect quiet time, and just start to spend time with God. Even if it isn’t earth shattering every time, over time it will transform your life into the image of His son.

You are far better off having numerous slightly imperfect quiet times than giving up in the pursuit of the perfect one.

The pursuit of the “perfect" quiet time is foolish

This isn’t just a debilitating pursuit, it is a foolish one. Because it just isn’t going to happen. The Bible makes it very clear that we are imperfect people, whom Jesus has and is perfecting. We are still in process.

We need to have accurate expectations that are consistent with what the Bible says about humans. The Bible says that we have sin in our lives. We cannot deny it, in fact, if we do then we make God out to be a liar (1 John 1). We cannot deny our finitude, and we must acknowledge its impact on all areas of life. Including the moments that we spend with God.

We will not experience Him perfectly, because we are imperfect. And it is okay. We cannot ignore it or deny this reality. Thinking that we could have a perfect quiet time is inconsistent with a Biblical anthropology. It is foolish to pursue. So, stop trying.

The pursuit of the “perfect” quiet time isn't what God wants

God doesn’t expect or need the “perfect” you. Through Jesus, he has already made you perfect, and he is perfecting for all time those whom he has already perfected (Hebrews 10:14). God doesn’t want your “perfect” quiet time, he just wants you.

Do you think he doesn’t know that you have sin in your life? Do you think he doesn't know that you feel distant from Him sometimes, even when you are reading your Bible and praying? God knows. And He still wants you to keep investing in your relationship with Him. We are fatally flawed, but we are also radically loved.

God doesn't want you to achieve perfection on your own in order to spend time with Him. He wants you to spend time with him, and through that relationship, he will work perfection in you.

God doesn’t want you to achieve perfection on your own in order to spend time with Him.

So, if you struggle to engage in consistent quiet times because you feel the impossible weight of the elusive "perfect" quiet time, then I want to release you from that burden. And if you want some help in reading your Bible, you can read more about it here or download my e-book here.

Teach them Diligently to Your Children: Fatherhood and Reading Scripture

During the month of January, five different men are contributing guest posts in our "The Family Man that Follows Jesus" series. It will give me a month off, so I can spend time with my growing family, and I am really excited to personally learn from the series myself.

This week, Caleb Drahosh, a pastorat Buffalo City Church, a new church plant in Jamestown, North Dakota. Caleb has written about reading the Scriptures from the perspective of a Husband and Father. Caleb was the best man at my wedding, and someone whom I deeply respect. He is working as a bi-vocational pastor, planting a church in the growing city of Jamestown and his post this week is a great reminder that we do not read Scripture in isolation. A more complete bio of Caleb is available at the end of the post.

A dry season

Just a few short years ago I couldn’t picture myself driving a minivan. And just this last week I bought one. And I’m cool with it. What changed? My life situation.

We affirm that the truths contained within God’s Word never change. But we humans--in our gross mutability--are always standing in a different spot. It’s like beholding a breathtaking landscape and then moving twenty yards to the right and discovering a whole new facet of beauty.

I found recently that I was struggling to engage Scripture as I had previously, even just a few weeks earlier. I felt lost as I plowed through James, Romans, and Lamentations in my quiet times and I preached some pretty poor sermons. Being a rigidly formulaic and structured person, I dusted off my copy of Mortimer J. Adler’s How to Read A Book, convinced that I needed to brush up on my understanding of genre and authorial intent.

Nothing.

A shift in perspective

Even though I’ve been married for over seven years and am a dad to two young boys, I quickly began to realize I had moved twenty yards to the right, but I was engaging Scripture as a guy still standing in a previous position. I was desperately straining to get the view of the landscape that relied upon a significantly different orientation.

If that doesn’t quite make sense, consider the admonition given in the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Do you see that imperative buried in there to “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house?” As a husband and a father to two kids it’s commanded to me, that I make my home a place that bathes in the commands of Scripture.

Solomon gets this. He’s responding directly to the imperatives in the Shema in the Proverbs:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
                        but let your heart keep my commandments,
            for length of days and years of life
                        and peace they will add to you. (Proverbs 3:1-2)

Solomon’s engagement with the law includes an understanding that he needs to be able to reproduce the truths contained therewithin to his son.

And this is where a shift in my own orientation to the text had changed. It is my duty as a husband and dad to consider the implications of Scripture for my family in every instance. I no longer read the Bible as a single dude with little to no responsibility; I read it as a husband and a father.

It is my duty to consider the implications of Scripture for my family.

Reading Scripture for more than ourselves

In a heavily individualistic society and a Christian culture that hasn’t always adequately resisted said individualism, we are trained to approach Scripture and read it with ourselves as the primary beneficiary. But we need to approach a text with a question that removes “me” from the place of prominence. We need to consider our families and be prepared to saturate our homes in gospel imperatives; imperatives that we are free to observe as those who are in Christ.

This is where mission begins. I am fully convinced that one reason Christians are bad at making disciples, is because we fail to note our own situation in life. When we read our Bible, we don’t properly consider our spouse, kids, coworkers, fellow students, the cashier at the grocery store, or the mailman. We don't properly consider our own situation as husband, father, coworker, neighbor or friend. When we begin to engage the text as one who lives in a dynamic world and not a vacuum, we will always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)”

It’s important that we ask questions about authorial intent and genre like “what were minivans intended for?” and “how does a minivan illuminate my understanding of motor vehicles as compared to mid-sized sedans?” But those questions don’t get you into the minivan. We only get there by being a parent. And--like Solomon--we behold the beauty of the landscape that is set before us when we grapple with where our feet are currently fixed; my feet are fixed in the place of fatherhood and my approach to Scripture is as one who seeks to diligently teach the truths of Scripture to my children.

More about Caleb

Caleb grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis before moving to Fargo to study at North Dakota State University. While at NDSU, he met his beautiful wife Rebekah and received his call to ministry. After graduation, Caleb and Bek moved to Louisville, KY to study at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Caleb received his Master of Divinity. They have two sons and are helping to plant Buffalo City Church, a new church in Jamestown, ND. Caleb is striving to see transformed lives engage in Spirit-empowered worship, Christlike service, and gospel-saturated community, resulting in multiplying congregations.

Following Jesus Means... We Fish for Something New

I have begun a series on the multiple uses of the word follow (akoloutheo) in the gospels. The word is used in multiple ways, but one of the primary uses is to describe someone who commits to following Jesus as his disciple. We can learn a lot about what it means to follow Jesus by examining the different instances when follow (akoloutheo) is uses.

Posts in the series:

We have been given a new job

Following Jesus means that we fish for something new. No longer are we fully occupied by our current or former professions, but we invest our energy into a new task. In the midst of Jesus calling his first disciples, he makes a statement that has become well known and often repeated. Jesus tells his first disciples, "Follow (deute opiso)  me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mt 5:19, see also Mk 1:17 and Lk 5:10)." It says in the following verse "Immediately, they left their nets and followed (akoloutheo) him (Mt 5:20)."

Note: For the integrity of this study (of the word follow), it is important to note that the Greek work that is translated as follow in verse 19 is different than the Greek work translated as follow in verse 20. Although, the usage is similar in the two passages, and does not prohibit us from extracting the lesson that followers of Jesus have been made into "fishers of men."

When you follow Jesus, you have been called to also help others become his disciples. The initial call to his disciples is at the beginning of his ministry, but Jesus gives a similar call at the end of his ministry. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations... (Mt 28:18-19a)." Without a doubt, part of what it means to follow Jesus is to help others follow him too.

Without a doubt, part of what it means to follow Jesus is to help others follow him too.

Fishing for men

I grew up in a family that loves to fish. My grandfather fishes, my mother fishes, my father fishes and they have made it a point to teach my brothers and me how to fish. Fishing is currently not a regular part of my life, but I enjoy getting the opportunity to fish when it does happen. I recall many times when my dad would be up late re-spooling our fishing pools, getting his tackle box organized or taking care of other miscellaneous tasks in preparation for a fishing trip. In this way, fishing is intentional. It is not passive. You cannot just show up on the shoreline of a lake with no preparation, knowledge or tools and hope to catch anything.

Jesus says that as his followers, we are now called to prepare and invest in the task of calling others to follow him. Do you think about this on a regular basis? How have you invested in Jesus' call to invite others to follow him?

What can we learn from the fishing analogy?

Jesus uses the concept of fishing to communicate the new and glorious task his disciples would be called to as his followers. While the analogy is not comprehensive, we can learn a few things about fishing for men when we think about fishing for fish.

1. We Must be Prepared

Fishing requires preparation. We need to get the right tools, know what sort of fish are common in the body of water, know how to tie a fishing line, etc. You cannot just show up and expect fish to jump into your boat.

Trying to share the good news of Jesus requires a certain degree of preparation as well. You might say, no it doesn't - you need only to know Jesus yourself and then the Holy Spirit will do the rest. While that may be true to some degree, the Bible also advocates that we are "always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)." As we grow in our own faith, and desire to be increasingly more effective at sharing the gospel, we should be prepared.

Being prepared means that we know something about the worldview those around us - know their basic assumptions, their questions and their idols. Being prepared also means that we have answers for those questions. If someone has questions about whether we can trust the Bible, are we ready to give an answer? We do not have to know all the answers, but we should try to be as prepared as we reasonably can.

2. We Must Be Patient

Fishing also requires patience. I have been on the lake with nothing in the bucket one day, and catching my limit on another. You cannot always predict when the fish will bite, it requires patience. I personally like to go fishing when I know that I can catch fish. Others say that, "A bad day fishing is better than a good day working." Maybe you agree...

Patience is also required when we "fish for men." It can take time for barriers to break down, questions to be answered, wounds to mend and for people to come to faith in Jesus. You cannot always predict who will respond to the gospel, and we need to be patient when we invite others to follow Jesus. Don't give up though. Love people well, share the good news and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.

3. We Must Be Proactive

You cannot sit at home and expect fish to wonder up to your door. If you are going to catch fish, you need to go to the lake, get in a boat and put your line in the water.

Sharing the gospel also requires us to be proactive. We need to get into relationships with people that don't know Jesus. If you spend all your time with people that already follow him, you will never have the opportunity to invite new people into a relationship with Jesus. Not only that, if you never speak about your own relationship with Jesus to the people you already know, it will also be difficult to invite them into a relationship with him. Be proactive in the task of sharing Jesus with others.

What is your next step?

As a follower of Jesus, you are called to "fish for men." You do not have to be Mr. Evangelism. That is not what I am saying, nor is it what Jesus says. Just take a step toward a life of multiplication. It can even be small, but take a step. Before you leave your computer or phone, take a moment to write down one step you will take to be a more proactive fisher of men. And share it in the comments for others to read.

Technology I Use: Fighter Verse App

I enjoy technology. Probably too much at times. It can be a distraction for me, but I have also found ways to use it in my personal life and my ministry. Every now and again, I would like to share a piece of technology that has been helpful for me.

Posts in the Series

Do you memorize Scripture?

Scripture memorization is an important discipline that many people struggle to implement in their lives. The majority of Christians I know wish they memorized Scripture more, and most don't make it a habit in any meaningful way. Most people do not grow up memorizing Scripture, and if they do it can often be about simply memorizing, but not about having those passages shape and inform their life.

It might be one of the most underutilized tools God has given us to grow as his followers. We don't always have a Bible in front of us, or have access to God's Words when we need them most. Rather than having the words of the Bible rolling around in our minds, we have song lyrics from the top 40 station. God's Word is like fertilizer for the soul, giving nourishment and growth. But we often choke ourselves of the most valuable nutrients, replacing it with food that is neutral at best, and toxic at worst.

God’s Word is like fertilizer for the soul, giving nourishment and growth.

I exhort you to memorize Scripture more, and I commit to doing it with you. I do not memorize as much as I want, but I have found a tool that has helped me do it more over the past five years than I had before. And I will be working to increase my own habits of Scripture memorization.

Note: If you want to memorize Scripture with me, let's do it together! We can encourage one another in our desire to memorize Scripture more. If you are interested, use my contact page to send me a message.

Fighter verse app

The Fighter Verse app was developed as a tool for the Fighter Verses that are used by Bethlehem Baptist Church. There are five sets of verses, with fifty-two per set. They can be memorized one per week, over the course of five years. After five years, you can start over, because it is almost certain that you do not still have all 260 passages memorized.

Here is a link to Bethlehem Baptist's explanation of their Fighter Verse Program.

Fighter Verses has its own webpage, with more information that you can read. It has the current weeks verse, memorization tools, devotional articles and much more to help you memorize Scripture.

4 reasons I use the Fighter Verse App

1. Great memorization tools

There are many great memorization tools within the app. You can easily turn the verse of the week into your wallpaper image and use it as your lock screen or home screen. There are also many great quizzes that you can use to help you memorize (ie. fill in the blank, etc.). You can listen to the verse or hear it sung. There are multiple different tools to help you memorize Scripture, and support multiple different learning styles.

2. Easy to use

The app is simple and easy to use. There isn't much more to say about it than that. Its easy to find the verse for the week, and as you scroll down, the different memorization tools are readily available.

3. Always available

This is one of the great reasons to use the app. I pretty much always have my phone with me. If I am waiting for something or someone, I can take it out and spend five minutes memorizing the passage. I am often tempted to spend those short bursts of time looking at social media, checking the latest sports score, responding to emails, etc., but I would rather invest that time in the task of memorizing Scripture.

4. Always improving

The developers are always finding ways to improve the app. In my opinion, this is one of the most important elements to a good app. If no one is attending to it and updating it, then I am weary about how long the app will last. At the time of writing this, the newest update is only two months old. I have seen new tools added over the past four years, and I appreciate that the app is always improving.

Where to get it?

iOS App: Read about it here and download it here.

Android App: Read about it here and download it here.

The app does cost $2.99, but is is a worthy investment into your own growth.


Following Jesus means... Leaving some things behind

Jesus changes our lives

We have many idioms in the English language. Far too many, some might advocate. "You can't have your cake and eat it too," is one that bugs my wife in particular. She would argue that you can in fact have cake and eat it too. Part of eating cake is having it first, right!?! She and I like to joke about this, but as she well knows, the meaning of the phrase is that you cannot both possess the cake and eat it too. Once you have eaten the cake, you no longer "have it."

The expression communicates a self-evident truth that certain choices necessitate an impact in other areas. Once I have eaten my cake, it is no longer sitting on my counter for me to enjoy later - a problem that happens often in my household. Megan makes something delicious. I eat said treat. It is no longer there for someone else to enjoy later.

Megan and my decision to live in an urban area gives us access to innumerable parks, people and opportunities. It also means that we have a small yard and can't see the stars at night. Our decisions have an impact on other aspects of our lives. It is inevitable.

When someone makes a decision to follow Jesus, it is impossible to live an unchanged life. Following Jesus and remaining the same is an impossibility. It is like jumping into a pool of water and remaining dry. It cannot happen.

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been looking at the word "follow" (akoloutheo) in the Gospels. One of the first uses of that word in all four gospels is when Jesus calls his first disciples. Their decision to follow Jesus meant that they had to leave some things behind. In essence, it meant that Jesus had to be the number one priority in their lives. He was first, and all other things were subject to the decision to follow him.

When someone makes a decision to follow Jesus, it is impossible to live an unchanged life.

Following Jesus means that we must leave some things behind.

The first disciples

When Jesus calls his first disciples, he invites them to "follow me." In response, they make the decision to follow Jesus as his disciples. Their decision forever changes their lives, and God uses them to change the course of history. You can read about Jesus calling his initial followers in Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11 and John 1:35-51. In these passages, Jesus calls four initial disciples, Simon who is called Peter and his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.

Their response is remarkable. It says that "Immediately they left their nets and followed him (Mt 4:20, Mk 1:18)," or "Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him (Mt 4:22)," or "They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him (Mk 1:20)," or "And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him (Lk 5:11)."

For the first disciples, following Jesus meant leaving some things behind.

It's a matter of priority

We could draw some extreme interpretations from these passages, and then generalize them for everyone - a common problem with interpreting and applying narrative passages. It would be poor Biblical exegesis to assume that based on the accounts of the first disciples, that everyone who follows Jesus needs to leave every part of their life behind. This isn't the case. Not everyone who follows Jesus is called to leave everything behind in order to follow him.

However, we are all called to make Jesus the number one priority in our life, and that will mean that we have to leave some things behind. It will look different for everyone. Some people will be called to move to a distant land, serving among an unreached people group so they can share a clear presentation of the gospel with people who would otherwise not hear. This will require them to leave behind family, friends and the comfort of American life. Others will be called to leave behind a job or dream that conflicts with God's call on their life. Everyone who follows Jesus will be changed in such a way that they must leave behind some of their former ways of life that are sinful and dishonoring to God.

This is all about priorities. When Jesus becomes the greatest priority in your life, it reorients everything. Your job, approval, marriage, family, money, acclaim, possessions or whatever used to be first in your life has to give up its place. Jesus cannot be primary when something else already claims that spot. When we follow Jesus, we must be ready to leave some things behind - at a minimum, they do not get to be our first priority any longer.

Is Jesus your highest priority? What might you need to "leave behind" to make it that way?

You are not alone (even when you feel like you are)

Fear Not

One of my favorite passages of scripture comes from the book of Isaiah. God's people needed a fresh word of hope and confidence, and God delivered. He responded with the words, "Fear not, for I am with you." There is nothing more comforting than the confidence of God's presence. No matter our circumstances or situation in life, knowing that God is with us brings hope and peace. It shines light into the darkest of situations.

Loneliness and isolation are some of the most difficult of human emotions. I have felt it in a foreign country, when I lacked the ability to fully communicate with the people around me. Or when I have been in a room filled with people, most of which I did not know, but they all knew each other really well. In both scenarios, I could have been surrounded by a million people, but I still felt alone. Or when depression sets in upon a human mind, loneliness is often quickly behind. At those moments, it is not the number of people around you, but the presence of the right person that matters.

It is not the number of people around you, but the presence of the right person that matters

Whether it be a lack of genuine relationships, the storms of life that brew on the horizon, or the crushing weight of unmet expectations, we need to know that God is with us. In Isaiah 41, God's people are in exile. They feel defeated and alone in a foreign nation. They needed hope.

God says,
"Fear not, for I am with you;
     be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
     I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10)."

What a beautiful gift God gives his people. There is no greater hope than the confidence of God's presence. Even in exile, God's people can have hope because God says, "Fear not, for I am with you."


I am with you

All throughout the Scriptures, God's presence with his people is a major theme. When they are in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, God went with them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). When Jesus was leaving this earth, he promised that he  would always be with his disciples, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Jesus explains that God is Spirit (John 4:24), as a way of teaching that God's presence is not restricted to a particular location. God's presence is far reaching and can be with anyone at anytime without limit.

There is nothing more comforting than knowing that God is present with us. When the waters rise and waves begin to crash on the shores of my family life, my wife and I know that if we are in it together, we are much better off than when we go it alone. It isn't just the presence of another person that brings comfort in the storm, it is the presence of the right person. My wife is great, but she isn't God. Knowing my wife is going to hold my hand and weather the storm with me brings comfort, but knowing that God is with me is unmatched.

God says that he will strengthen us, he will help us, he will uphold us with his righteous right hand. This may not mean that he takes the storm away, but that he will hold our hand in the midst of the storm. God renews his promise a couple chapters later, when he says "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isaiah 43:1)."

He has called us, and He is our God. The God who formed the earth, who commands the seas, who calms the storms and whose voice the winds obey, that is our God. We are his, and he says, "Fear not, for I am with you." The same God who made that promise to his people through the prophet Isaiah is the God whom we worship through Jesus Christ.

I would encourage you to memorize Isaiah 41:10, and recite it to yourself over and over. Remind yourself again and again that God is with you. And help others to remember that God is with them as well.

A List of Biblical Practices the Church does (or ought to do) when it Gathers

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/4LZRZTD1MC

Photo Cred: https://stocksnap.io/photo/4LZRZTD1MC

Do not neglect meeting together

What does the church do when it gathers? Does the Bible give us any direction to help answer this question? It is clear that some form of regular gathering is an important element of the Biblical vision for the church. The early church gathered (Acts 2:42-27), there was an exhortation for meeting together regularly (Hebrews 10:25) and instruction about maintaining some form of order in worship (1 Corinthians 14:26-40). But what are the important priorities for the church when it is gathered?

The impact of the missional movement has made me wonder how I would answer this question. I recently wrote a post on how to think differently about what it means to "be the church." I argued that we need to reorient our ideas of what it looks like to be the church and what it looks like to do the work of the church. As we push the boundaries of what it means for us to be the church in our city, it is also important to ask ourselves what the Bible tells us to do when we gather. In an effort to answer that question, I examined three different passages: Acts 2:42-47, Colossians 3:1-17 and Ephesians 5:1-21. I came up with 15 different practices in which the church is called to engage.

A note about what it means to "gather"

When the church gathers, it may look different for each of us. There are a variety of settings in which the church may gather together. This includes the Sunday morning gathering that is common among churches in America. For the overwhelming majority of churches in America, the Sunday morning gathering is a focal point of the weekly rhythm for the local church community.

A second context for gathering is through the small group ministry of your church. Whether you call them Community Groups, Missional Communities, LifeGroups or Sunday School, these are an important place for our members to gather and engage together. These groups will have varying importance within each local church, but they are very necessary for the life of most churches.

There is also a growing House Church movement in America, which is more common in other parts of the world. I am not going to argue the merits of any particular model of gathering, but want to acknowledge that different local church bodies will gather in different ways. Regardless of the model you use for your church to meet together, the Biblical practices will remain consistent.

15 practices the church does when it gathers

The 15 practices I found are listed in no particular order and they are not grouped in any fashion. If a person wanted to reduce these, they might be able to collapse them into fewer and broader categories. I chose to leave them separated into more and specific practices. Each of them has the corresponding verse listed as well.

1. Everyone is welcome (Col 3:11)
In Christ, we are all one. There is no discrimination of who can join us based on race, class, gender, age, income, etc. Whether implicitly or explicitly, we must resist the temptation to reject people who are different from us. Everyone is welcome.

Whether implicitly or explicitly, we must resist the temptation to reject people who are different from us. Everyone is welcome.

2. Treat one another well (Col 3:12-13; Eph 5:21)
There is a strong appeal to the way we treat one another. Paul tells us to have compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. Consistent with that disposition is an appeal to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We are called to treat one another well.

3. Put on love, binding everything together (Col 3:14)
Specifically, we are called to love one another. Love for one another is a foundational way of viewing each other. It binds all these other ways of treating one another together in perfect harmony.

4. Grounded in Jesus' own love and forgiveness (Col 3:13; Eph 5:1)
Paul grounds our love and forgiveness for each other in the love and forgiveness of Jesus. We are compelled to treat one another the way that Christ has treated us.

5. Peaceful and Thankful hearts (Col 3:15, 16; Eph 5:20)
Thankfulness is an important attitude. The Bible often connects peace in Christ and thankfulness (Phil 4:6-7). When we consider the many things we have to be thankful for, most important among them is the new life we have in Jesus, we are also filled with His peace. Peace and thankfulness should be marks of how we engage with one another.

6. Read, Study and Teach God's Word (Col 3:16; Acts 2:42)
When we gather, it is important that we take time to study God's Word. The "word of Christ" and "the apostles' teaching" are phrases that when applied to our current context translate to the Bible. The Scriptures hold the word of Christ and the apostles' teaching. It is important that we read it, study it, teach it and help one another grow in wisdom.

7. Sing Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19)
Another practice we are called to engage in is singing. I love to sing. I am not that great at it, but it is nourishing to my soul. A good song that is filled with the truths of God can raise my affections for Jesus in a unique way.

8. Everything in the name of Jesus, in thanks to God (Col 3:17)
When we gather, it isn't about us. It is about Jesus. It isn't about the preacher, no matter how good or famous. It isn't about the musicians, no matter how well they can rock a melody. It is about Jesus. Do everything in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God.

9. Be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18)
We often neglect the Holy Spirit in our lives, but He plays an essential role in what it means for us to follow Jesus. When we gather, we should consider whether we have been living by the power of God's Spirit. If not, then we should repent and be filled with the Spirit anew.

10. Breaking the bread (Acts 2:42)
The phrase "breaking the bread" likely has connotations here of both the Lord's Supper and also a shared meal. When we gather, we should celebrate the Lord's Supper together, remembering what Christ has done. We should also find ways to share in meals together as a community.

11. Prayer (Acts 2:42)
Prayer is essential to our life and it is also important for the church gathered. There are many ways to engage in prayer together. Through prayer requests, being led in prayer by a single person, taking time to pray in silence, pairing up and praying with someone next to you, and many other ways. When we gather, we should pray together.

12. Signs and Wonders (Acts 2:43)
In the book of Acts, it says that "many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles." There is no reason that God's power through miraculous events cannot be seen when the church is gathered. Pray that you would see God move in mighty ways through your church when it is gathered.

13. Caring for one another's needs (Acts 2:44-45)
The church is called to care for one another's needs in real and tangible ways. We should find avenues to serve one another, "as any has need." Again, this will look different in each local church context, but we are called to meet the needs of our fellow church members.

14. Glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46)
As we receive from one another, we should have glad and generous hearts. We should have hearts of gladness toward one another as we receive from one another in the church.

15. Lord added to their number (Acts 2:47)
When the church gathers in this way, God will add to our number those who are being saved. God wants people to be part of a community that will love and care for one another well. God wants people to be part of a community that will teach His word and sing songs of worship. Pray for God to add to your number those who are being saved, and be ready to help them grow.

Attitudes and actions

The practices listed above have both attitudes and actions associated with them. When the church gathers we are called to have both an attitude of meekness and also the action of singing worship together. We are called to have both the attitude of love and also the action of caring for one another. We are called to have an attitude of openness to all and also the action of inviting people to follow Jesus. We are called to certain attitudes and actions.

My challenge to you

As you finish this article, pray about which one practice listed above you want to be more intentional about when your own church community gathers. We are called to all of them, but just pray about one of them that you will be intentional to do the next time you gather. Pick one, and then ask God to help you follow through.

Then, tell us about it. In the comments below, let us know which one you have chosen and tell us about your experience the next time you gather.


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Do you struggle to read your Bible? This may help.

Photo Cred: http://freelyphotos.com/ipadbible/

Photo Cred: http://freelyphotos.com/ipadbible/

A tree planted by the water

If you, like 61 percent of Americans, wish you read your Bible more then this post is for you. In a 2014 study done by the American Bible Society and Barna Group, 88 percent of respondents said they owned a Bible, but the majority (63 percent) said they read their Bible less than once per week. If you struggle to read your Bible as often as you wish then you are not alone - although I would guess that you feel alone. You probably feel guilty for not reading your Bible as often as you feel you should. As a result, you are probably too scared to ask someone for help. And because you will likely not ask, I wanted to give you some help anyway.

Psalm One gives a picture of a man who delights in God's Word, meditating on it day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water. A tree that is planted by a stream has a deep an constant water supply, because it does not rely solely on the rain. It gets its nutrients and sustenance from the stream itself. Therefore, it yields fruit and does not wither. When we are giving ourselves a constant dose of God's Word, we are like the tree planted by the stream. We have a constant source of strength and vitality that is not dependent upon the changing weather of the world around us. We have strength to face whatever the day brings, because we have a deep wellspring of life.

Sadly, this often isn't the case. And hear me on this, I also wish I read the Bible more. I wish that I soaked up its sustaining waters more often. I desire deeper stores of God's truth from which to draw upon throughout my days and weeks. You are not alone. I wish the same for you. And hopefully this will help.

Don't make excuses, make a plan

It is easy to come up with a hundred reasons why we don't read our Bibles as often as we wished. We are busy, so we cannot find the time. We have children, jobs, school, laundry and a dozen other things that fight for our time. Time is a limited resource, so it is reasonable to feel busy and overwhelmed. BUT, and this is a big but... We do make time for the things that matter to us. We find time for many things in our day, but why not when it comes to reading our Bibles and spending time with God?

I think there is another reason that we don't read our Bibles. It is one we often won't admit to ourselves, but it is very real. We are intimidated by reading our Bible. We don't know what to do, and we are not confident we will understand what we read. As a result, deep down, we don't believe that taking the time to read our Bible will have a significant impact on our day.

I believe that with the right plan and the right tools, you can have a more meaningful time reading your Bible.

The right plan

If you want to make something happen in your busy life, you put it on the calendar. I suggest you do the same with your Bible reading. Yes, I mean that you should actually schedule a meeting on your calendar. Don't get too ambitious and schedule times for the whole month, just schedule one time for now. Either today or tomorrow. Choose a time that you are going to read your Bible and schedule it. This doesn't have to be in the morning, although that works well for many people. You know your own life better than me. You chose the time and then put it on the calendar.

When you set a meeting with someone else, you generally chose a location too, right? Well, I want you to do the same with your Bible reading time. Maybe it is at your kitchen table. Maybe it is at Starbucks. Maybe it is on the back porch or maybe it is at the office over your lunch break. Choose a place.

And finally, choose what you will read. I would suggest that you choose a book of the Bible and just read the first chapter. The next time you read your Bible you can read chapter two, and so on. I would recommend starting with the Gospel or Mark or the book of Philippians. They are not overly complicated, and would give you a glorious picture of Jesus.

I am telling you to make this plan in order to reduce the number of barriers between you and your Bible reading. If you are planning to read your Bible but have no clue what you will read, it can be intimidating to actually start. Making some decisions now about when, where and what to read will make it more likely you are going to follow through.

A word of caution. The ultimate goal is to read our Bibles so that we can grow in intimacy with God and live in accordance with His desires. If you don't read at the exact time you planned, or at the location you decided on, or even the chapter you had chosen, but you do spend time reading the Bible and growing closer to God, then it was a success. Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't happen as you planned - or if it doesn't even happen at all. Just reset yourself, make a new plan and be diligent to make it happen the next time.

A tool to read the Bible

It is time. You have set your plan and followed through. You are at your designated location at your planned time. Now what? I am going to share a very simple, but very effective tool to help you have a meaningful time reading your Bible. This entire process will take about 20-35 minutes and here are the basic steps:

  1. (5-10 minutes) Read one chapter. You may even be able to read it twice within 5-10 minutes
  2. (10-15 minutes) Choose a small section from the chapter you just read and use the Inductive Bible Study Method I am about to teach you to study it more in depth.
  3. (5-10 minutes) As you finish, take 5-10 minutes to journal and/or pray about what you have read and learned.

The Inductive Bible Study Method I am going to teach you comes form a tool I received from a ministry called Navigators. Their .pdf is not available anymore at the link I have, but you can download it at the bottom of this post. Here are the four steps (you may have even heard of them before):

  1. Observe 
  2. Interpret
  3. Apply
  4. Illustrate

If you have, you may even scoff at me suggesting you use such a simple method to study the Bible. Let me ask you this though, when is the last time you read the Bible in a meaningful way? If it has been longer than you would like, then just give this a try and see if it doesn't help. And I am not promoting a method that I don't actually believe in or use. Just this morning, I used this exact method and it was very helpful for me. I am a seminary graduate who has had countless hours of study and instruction on Bible interpretation and hermeneutics, and this method is still helpful for me. Try it. Use it. And if you don't like it, then find something else. But at least give it a shot. You might be surprised how much this simple tool helps you.

Here are the steps:

Observation (What does it say?): Look closely at the verse(s) you are studying. Answer some or all of these questions. Who are the people involved? What happened? Where does this take place? When did it take place? How are things accomplished? Are there any key words in the passage? What images (pictures) are in the passage?

Interpretation (What does it mean?): Write out questions about what you don't understand in the passage. What do you think this passage meant to the original audience that received it? Are there any words you need to better understand?

Application: (What does it mean to me?) The following questions may help you apply the passage to your life. The SPECK method. (1) Is there SIN for me to avoid? (2) Is there a PROMISE for me to claim? (3) Is there an EXAMPLE for me to follow? Or not follow? (4) Is there a COMMAND for me to obey? (5) Is there any other KNOWLEDGE I should pursue?

Illustration (How do I pass it on?) Draw a picture or diagram to illustrate what you have discovered from this passage.

An example of the method in use

In an effort to provide the most helpful, I will provide an example of how I used this method this morning to study Galatians 2:11-14 a little more in depth.

Observation

  • People involved: Cephas, Men from James/Circumcision Party, Gentiles, Jews at Antioch, Barnabas, Paul
  • What happened?: Cephas ate with Gentiles, Men from James came and Cephas withdrew, others withdrew also, Paul confronted Cephas about his behavior
  • Where did it take place?: Antioch (v.11)
  • Key words: Gentile(s), Jew(s)
  • Images: Walking in step with the Gospel

Interpretation

  • What did it mean to original audience? Gentiles don't have to become Jews in order to follow Jesus and live in a way that is consistent with the Gospel. In fact, forcing Gentiles to become Jews is not in step with the gospel. Another meaning is that our actions communicate what we believe about the gospel (ie. Cephas)
  • Write out questions about what you don't understand in the passage. (I didn't have any major questions after reading this passage, but here are some examples of questions you might ask): Why was it inconsistent with the Gospel for Cephas to act like he did? What did Cephas fear about the circumcision party? Who is Cephas? What is circumcision?

Application

  • Sin to avoid: Living inconsistent with the gospel out of fear or approval
  • Promise to claim: I don't have to conform to social or cultural norms to follow Jesus
  • Example not to follow: The example of Cephas
  • Command to Obey: I didn't really see any "commands"
  • Knowledge to pursue: If forcing others to conform to cultural norms is not consistent with the Gospel, what things do I believe that are cultural norms vs. Biblical commands?

Illustration:

I drew this diagram of what I saw discovered in the passage

I would love to hear from you

I would love to hear from you. If this was helpful for you and you are able to follow through with reading your Bible in the next couple days, please let us know how it went.

Share what passage you read and what you learned in the comments below.