This summer, I was visiting my son Thomas and his wife Holley, who are missionaries in Belgium. Besides longing to see them, I was interested to see a local expression of the European attitude to Christianity and religious belief. Thomas and Holley had already put a lot of work into speaking French, understanding the local culture, and building relationships. Holley wanted me to meet one of her good friends and so, one morning, we went to meet Jessica at her work. Holley was and is excited about this friendship and hoped that Jessica would come and join a Bible study in the future.
Jessica came across as a lovely young lady. She was friendly, smart and an overall attractive person who seemed to be successful in life. After we had chatted for a while, I noticed she had a unique, abstract tattoo on her forearm. I commented on it and how unique it was. She said that she had had it done as a reminder for her to accept herself. I was surprised and told her that she seemed to be a lovely person who had been beautifully created by God. I pushed a little further and told her that God does not make mistakes and does not make rubbish. She did not expect this response and was not sure how to answer. I did not want to cause embarrassment, so we talked about other things and then left on a good note.
Jessica’s story illustrates what can happen when biblical truth is removed from a cultural worldview. Is human life random and only significant in how we try to make it so? Do we have to make our lives mean something? Do we end up creating distinctions between people and valuing one life over another so that some lives count more than others?
The value of human life is an essential teaching in the Bible. Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” Job 33:4 says, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
These passages are life-changing. If God has created human life, then every life is meaningful—even when our culture and personal life experience tell us otherwise. But Scripture goes even deeper.
The biblical principle of the Imago Dei is found in Genesis 1:26—“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” This is amazing! All human beings are created with God’s likeness within them. This makes each person incredibly valuable. Jessica has no idea how amazing and valuable she really is.
Ah, but there is more! In Psalm 139, we read of God’s personal involvement with each human being in a way that should blow our minds. He does not just create us and then leave us alone. He is intimately part of our lives so that there is no place we can go that He is not there.
Because we live in a fallen world, our own sinful natures and the lies and deception of Satan will distract and blind us to God’s presence in our lives. This is the predicament in which Jessica finds herself—God is right there with her, but she cannot see it; it is like a hidden mystery. The way out for Jessica and every other person who is spiritually blind is found in Colossians 1:26-27—“the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Jessica can solve the mystery and discover how valuable she is as she discovers Christ and the message of the Gospel. But this passage also shows that the way for her to discover this is through someone like Holley—it is as Holley proclaims Jesus, who dwells within her life, that Jessica will discover her own need for Christ.
My heart breaks for the people of Europe who find themselves trying to give a meaning to life that can only be found in the Gospel. I have discovered that meaning, and this Christmas is a special opportunity for me to share Christ with many people like Jessica. Will you join me in looking for every opportunity to do so?
In this pilot year, God has used Southern Equip to train hundreds of thousands of pastors, missionaries, counselors, and other gospel leaders – both current and future – for more faithful service. Here is a compilation of our most popular resources.
Wars and rumors of war.
Throughout the world right now, armies are planning and preparing for various military operations. Closer to home, domestic abuse, interpersonal strife, and political injustice continue unabated. Just this week, I learned that a man was shot and nearly killed less than a block from my house.
All that to say, we live in a violent world. And it is right, to pray for, work for, and want for something better. But it is wrong, to think that this sort of violence is new or that God is unaware.
As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). Injustice, immorality, and bloodshed are as old as sin itself. But just as old is the promise that God will redeem his people and deliver them from the curse of sin.
This was the promise in Genesis 3:15, when God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” And this ancient promise is just as good today as it was 4,000 years before Christ.A world gone to seed
Indeed, if you’re familiar with the Bible, you know how strange and circuitous God’s story of salvation story is. God did not bring peace to his people in Genesis 4. Rather, he let the world go to seed—literally.
In Genesis 4, Cain killed Abel in cold blood. Theologically speaking, the seed of the serpent killed the seed of the woman. And from this first act of aggression, bloodshed has followed. Yet, in the face of this violence, God chose one people from whom he would bring a peace-maker. Often Israel, like Abel, would find themselves subjected to the serpent’s seed. But at other times, they would themselves become a brood of vipers, earning the divine wrath of God.
This is how Isaiah 59 depicts Jerusalem, when God compares their sin to that of snakes and spiders. And it is this graphic image that Paul applies to the whole world, when he quotes Isaiah 59:6–7 in Romans 3:15–18:
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
For us who live in the same dark world described in the Bible, we need to remember that this is the backdrop to the birth of Christ.What Mary Knew
In our commercial age, it is easy for us to let Hallmark movies, white elephant gifts, and other candy-striped decorations shape our vision of Christmas. Accordingly, it’s easy to misread the story of Christ’s birth because of Christmas.
When that happens, we may still use biblical language, but without understanding the whole story, we may miss the meaning. And this is why it is so important to see the warfare imagery attached to Christmas. In Scripture, the birth of Jesus was not a holiday; it was instead the fulfillment of an ancient promise—that God would fight for his people.
In fact, this is what we read in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55), a song praising God for the way he would exalt the humble and humble the exalted. In her words, there was no sense of saccharine sentimentality, no “Mary did you know?”
What Mary knew was that she lived in a time of intense darkness and political oppression. Thus, the good news of the Messiah included God’s answer to her (people’s) pleas for mercy.
To be sure, the story of Mary and Joseph is not a first-century romance inspired by God. No, as Scripture tells us, Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). In a world overrun by injustice, the light of the world came to destroy the darkness.
Thus, to understand Christ’s Incarnation, we must see how his birth inaugurated a military campaign to end all wars. Indeed, this is what Mary’s words mean in Luke 1:51, “He has shown strength with his arm.” For Mary, a woman steeped in the Scripture—her song is a “remake” of Hannah’s song of praise (1 Samuel 2)—she knew that the arm of the Lord would destroy his enemies and save his people.
Her mention of the Lord’s arm reveals her trust in God to save. And like Miriam, she could sing to the Lord for his glorious triumph (Exod. 15:21), even as she awaited its arrival. Indeed, her words reflect her confidence in the Lord’s coming salvation. And we do well to listen to them in concert with the promises of Isaiah.Isaiah’s Divine Warrior
Depending on how you count, there are at least 12 instances where the arm of the Lord is mentioned in Isaiah. Beginning in Isaiah 30, God promises redemption through his strong arm. For instance, in Isaiah 51:5, 9 the people cry out for the “arm of the Lord” to “awake” and “put on strength.” Then, in answer to that plea, Isaiah 52:10 says, “Yahweh has bared his holy arm before the eyes of the all the nations.” This verse leads into the climactic Suffering Servant passage (Isaiah 52:13–53:12), where again the arm is mentioned in 53:1: “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
In these verses, we begin to get the sense that the arm of the Lord, which was a metaphor for God’s strength in Exodus and Deuteronomy, is now coming closer to being a person. This is most clearly foretold in Isaiah 59:16 and 63:5. In the first instance, we see that when the Lord looks on the sins of Jerusalem, he sees no man who will intercede. As Isaiah 59:1–15a indicate, all have sinned; none have made peace in Jerusalem. Therefore, Yahweh promises that he will come and save them.
Verse 16 says, “his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.” Like in Isaiah 40:11, the arm of the Lord is more than a metaphor. It (or he) becomes the actor who will judge wickedness and save those who cry out for mercy. In this context, verse 17 says the Lord (or is it his arm?) will clothe himself in military regalia: “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.”
Outfitted in this armor, verses 18–19 further the image of judgment, but verse 20 returns to the main point: the Lord himself is going to come to Zion and redeem his people, those who call out for God to have mercy on their sin.
This is the main thrust of section, which portrays God as Divine Warrior. Only God as Divine Warrior would not come merciless vengeance. Instead, Isaiah 59 tells us what the rest of Isaiah has been forecasting: the Lord is going to bring salvation by coming himself (Isaiah 7:14), as a humble son of David (Isaiah 9:6–7), filled with the Spirit (Isaiah 11:1–5; 42:1–4; 61:1–4), so that he can lay down his life for his people (Isaiah 52:13–53:12), thus inaugurating a new covenant (Isaiah 54–55; 59:21).Pastor, Preach this message on Christmas
At Christmas, this is the message we need to hear. Jesus did not come to pay for a holiday season; he came to proclaim peace to those far and near, to eliminate public injustice, and to expiate personal sin. Indeed, because we still await the return of Jesus, we do not yet see all things put under his feet (Heb. 2:8). But by promise of God’s unfailing word (Isa. 40:8), we have unparalleled confidence that what Isaiah foretold and what Mary sung is what we can believe too—that the bells we hear on Christmas, like the bells on the priests clothes, beckon to look forward to the day when the Prince of Peace will establish peace on earth.
This is the sentiment which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured long ago. When considering the mocking sound of Christmas bells in midst of the Civil War, his poem (“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”) captures the tension we feel at Christmas time—joy in the midst of war; light in the face of darkness; thankfulness for what God has done, but longing for the fullness of kingdom to come.
At Christmas, this is the battle that rages in our world and in our souls. It is the battle that spans from Genesis to Revelation, and it is a battle whose happy ending comes in the resurrection and return of Jesus Christ. For truly the baby born in the manger was not given to us as a sentimental token of God’s love. Much better, he is the Lord incarnate—the Divine Warrior wrapped in swaddling clothes.
As a Biblical Hebrew teacher, I have heard many reasons why people don’t study languages—or at least do not do so with excellence. Top of the list: I’m no good with languages! This reason betrays several assumptions. These assumptions, however, fall flat when met with substantive reflection.
(1) Language Gene – Students tend to think there are certain gifted individuals who can simply pick up a language quickly with little effort. When students find that they are not mastering Biblical Hebrew quickly, they throw up their hands and confess, “I just don’t have what it takes to learn languages.” Once they reach this conclusion, students simply stop. Sure, they still show up for class, but they stop trying.
So is it true? Is there a language gene possessed only by an elite group of people? In short, NO! The idea of a language gene flies in the face neurological study and common sense. Our intelligence is by no means fixed in such a way that we cannot improve cognitive functions, such as our memory. Furthermore, it is quite plain that language and being human just go together. Language is what we do.
(2) Difficulty = Stupidity – When students hit a rough patch in language learning, they can start to equate their difficulty with their (supposed) lack of intelligence. The problem here lies with the expectations students have for learning a language like Biblical Hebrew. Language learning takes time. For example, most students have forgotten basic grammar and syntax by the time they land in a Hebrew class. Thus, a professor has to teach the fundamentals of language and the actual language of Hebrew; that’s a tall order. Students become frustrated when, after one month, they do not feel comfortable with the language. They think there is something wrong with them.
When difficulty comes—and it certainly will—students should not let up. That is key. Students must become comfortable with the fact that learning a language is uncomfortable. Students are shaky with vocabulary at first. They are timid with translations. They cannot see how the system of the language fits together. But that is okay! With a proper teacher, a calm, dedicated student will learn more than he or she could ever dream. But the student must push through the difficulty.
(3) Effort is Evil – While students might be inclined to equate difficulty with stupidity, there is also the temptation to think that effort is criminal. Some students envision a week full of social media, Netflix, and SportsCenter with occasional moments of study. Reading, translating, and practicing a language should not constrain a student’s social life, should it? Can’t a student have it all? A life full of media entertainment, church ministry, and academic study should all go together, right? Well, if they do not all go together, then certainly academic training must go, especially if it takes substantial effort, right? Unfortunately, some students would answer in the affirmative. But is effort wrong? Of course not! More important, effort to study languages should limit one’s media exposure, not the other way around. Now let me be clear: Media, be it social or watching football, is by no means wrong. Entertainment, however, is not a right. It is a luxury that we should appreciate and enjoy in moderation. What’s more, we must not push off effort as if it were immoral. We must embrace it.
The riches of learning a language are many. The vivid nuances of Biblical Hebrew, for example, are often dulled by English translation. Beyond content, learning Hebrew can also affect our character. Often, studying Hebrew produces perseverance and discipline—characteristics that this world sorely needs from Christians. Learning Hebrew demands humility as well. No matter the natural intelligence of a student, each man and woman enters Hebrew I with virtually no understanding of the alphabet, vocabulary, syntax, or verbal system of that ancient language. A student might begin the course with arrogance, but over an entire semester, arrogance gives way to humility.
The ability to read the Hebrew Bible is not reserved for the elite. It requires no language gene. It does, however, necessitate effort. For those of us who have the privilege to study Biblical Hebrew, let us not squander our time. Rather, let us give ourselves to the discipline of learning!
Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.
Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.
The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.
1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?
In addition to these ten questions, here are twenty-one more to help you “Consider your ways.” Think on the entire list at one sitting, or answer one question each day for a month.
11. What’s the most important decision you need to make this year?
12. What area of your life most needs simplifying, and what’s one way you could simplify in that area?
13. What’s the most important need you feel burdened to meet this year?
14. What habit would you most like to establish this year?
15. Who is the person you most want to encourage this year?
16. What is your most important financial goal this year, and what is the most important step you can take toward achieving it?
17. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your work life this year?
18. What’s one new way you could be a blessing to your pastor (or to another who ministers to you) this year?
19. What’s one thing you could do this year to enrich the spiritual legacy you will leave to your children and grandchildren?
20. What book, in addition to the Bible, do you most want to read this year?
21. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year?
22. What single blessing from God do you want to seek most earnestly this year?
23. In what area of your life do you most need growth, and what will you do about it this year?
24. What’s the most important trip you want to take this year?
25. What skill do you most want to learn or improve this year?
26. To what need or ministry will you try to give an unprecedented amount this year?
27. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your commute this year?
28. What one biblical doctrine do you most want to understand better this year, and what will you do about it?
29. If those who know you best gave you one piece of advice, what would they say? Would they be right? What will you do about it?
30. What’s the most important new item you want to buy this year?
31. In what area of your life do you most need change, and what will you do about it this year?
The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by articulating which person you most want to encourage this year is more likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t considered the question.
If you’ve found these questions helpful, you might want to put them someplace—in your phone, day planner, calendar, bulletin board, etc.—where you can review them more frequently than once a year.
So let’s evaluate our lives, make plans and goals, and live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering that, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage” (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things let’s also remember our dependence on our King who said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The post 31 questions to ask for a more Christ-centered 2018 appeared first on Southern Equip.
It wasn’t the first thing to enter my mind, but it might have been the second: How am I going to tell the kids?
The doctor had just laid out the cold, hard truth: “Your friend, Ken, has passed.” Ken was a dear family friend, a man my kids adored. A longtime staff member at the church I served as pastor, he died suddenly—at the church building, in the midst of his work. A heart attack ushered him into the arms of his Savior in an instant on that overcast fall morning. I was stunned. Our staff was stunned. The congregation was stunned. My children, who “helped him” regularly at the church while I sat in meetings, counseled members, or worked on sermon prep, would be most stunned of all. I planned my talk with them carefully and broke the sad news that evening.Messenger of ill tidings
Our family faced death again in late-summer of 2015 with the sudden departure of my stepfather. Like Ken, he clearly loved Jesus and sought to please him. Gratefully, we don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). When the news came, my wife and I were again faced with delivering the sad news to our four children who range in age from 7 to 13.
As a pastor, I always found serving as the messenger of ill tidings particularly difficult. It’s even more tricky, though, when you’re telling young hearts whose ability to grasp death and all its implications is limited. Do we soft-pedal death, referring to it in vague, non-threatening terms? Or do we speak of it straightforwardly as we might with another adult?
My wife and I have found neither approach to be helpful. Obviously, how much and precisely what you say will be much different for a younger child than for a 12-year-old. Still, there are basic biblical realities they should all know.
Here are five fundamental truths we’ve explained to our kids when death has come close to home.1. Death and judgment are coming to us all.
Sadly, death is part of our fallen world, and the Bible doesn’t shrink back from this truth. Psalm 139 tells us God has numbered our days. Since the Word doesn’t dismiss this truth as “overly negative,” neither should we.
Our family once had friends who never spoke to their kids about negative news stories, such as natural disasters or 9/11. They made it a rule never to discuss death. I believe this is unwise. By avoiding bad news, parents set up their children for unreasonable expectations and stark disappointment in a broken world. This approach subtly, even if unintentionally, communicates that life on earth is ultimate. Worst of all, it fails to provide a rationale for why the gospel is such good news. Every day brings us one step closer to that final day, and our children should be aware of that.
There is also a judgment awaiting every one of us (Heb. 9:27). I want my children to know that, as the great Southern Baptist pulpiteer R. G. Lee (1886–1978) famously put it, there is coming a “payday someday” for the way we have lived on earth (2 Cor. 5:10).2. Death is not the way it is supposed to be.
This biblical truth is what makes death particularly sad. Tell your kids that death is an intruder in this world, that the first Adam’s sin opened the door through which the curse of death entered. Cornelius Plantinga’s book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans, 1994) is a compelling resource (for adults) to help you put more biblical meat on the bones of this doctrine.
Explain to your children that this is why we are sad when someone dies. In our mourning, through our tears, we are admitting there’s really no such thing as death from natural causes.3. Death for the Christian is to be with Jesus.
In Philippians 1, the apostle Paul toggles back and forth between whether it’s better for him to leave this world to be with Jesus or remain in it to advance the gospel. He then writes: “To live for me is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). In a culture that does all it can to stave off any hint that humans will grow old and die, this is a deeply countercultural truth. But for the believer, crossing the chilly river of death is the pathway to paradise and pleasures that defy the descriptive ability of human language.4. Death will one day die.
Give your children the unfathomably good news of 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” When the “already” collapses into the “not yet,” death will be dead, and this is cause for rejoicing. This is a choice opportunity to commend Christ to your children, to urge them to flee to the cross where Christ took the key to death and unlocked it from the inside in his resurrection.5. Death is something we must all think about.
I don’t want my kids to obsess or become paralyzed in fear over the specter of eternity. That said, 18th-century pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards provides an excellent example of the necessity of ruminating on death, even at a young age. Granted, Edwards was much older than my young children when he wrote his famous resolutions, the seventh of which reads: “Resolved, to think much on the brevity and how short one’s life is (Ps. 90:17).”
Edwards understood that life is a vapor, and that death should motivate us to live for another world. Tell your children that for those in Christ, our best life is later.What about the death of unbelievers?
What do we say to our children about those who seem to have died in unbelief? This is even trickier but presents a key opportunity to discuss eternity, both heaven and hell. We should be no less clear about hell than was our Lord, who spoke far more in the Gospels about judgment than about paradise.
Whether I’m speaking to adults or children, I always avoid weighing in on the eternal destiny of one who appears to have died in unbelief. Of course, I make clear that anyone who would be saved must come to God through faith in Jesus. But we’ve told our children (and I’ve told family members of unbelievers) that the deceased person is in God’s hands—a righteous and just judge who can be trusted to do the right thing. I don’t put it this way to avoid or minimize the reality of God’s wrath; it simply keeps me off the seat of eternal judge—a place that belongs to God alone.
Though there’s certainly much more that could be said about death, our kids need to be prepared—in age-appropriate ways—for life in a world captive to sin and death. And they need to be shown why the good news of God’s rescue mission in Christ, and his victorious war with death on Calvary’s tree, is good news indeed.
This is an adapted version of an article originally published at The Gospel Coalition.
Seminary Hill Press is the publishing arm of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, publishing works by the institution’s faculty and alumni. In 2017, the press produced multiple titles that would make great Christmas gifts for theologians and laypersons alike. Here are the year’s top five must-have books:
1. Youth Ministry That Lasts a Lifetime, by Richard Ross
The real criteria for evaluating youth ministry is this question: Are we consistently introducing teenagers to Jesus and then discipling them into believers who will, for a lifetime, love God, love people, and make disciples for the glory of God? The issue really is not, “How is our youth group doing today?” Instead, the core question is, “How will our youth group be doing for a lifetime?”
Combining biblical exegesis with current research and author Richard Ross’ many years of experience in the church, this work invites readers to consider a radical new model of youth ministry that is likely to lead many more teenagers to lifetime faith. (Available in both hardcover and paperback here.)
2. Growing a Great Commission Church: Biblical Principles and Implications for Methods, by Mike Morris
From the perspective of a former pastor in America and a long-term IMB missionary to South Korea, Mike Morris discusses key biblical principles for growing a Great Commission church in both quality and quantity. Because of the cultural and racial diversification of American neighborhoods, a missiological perspective is greatly needed in American churches.
Morris discusses the biblical principles in detail, uses down-to-earth illustrations, provides some implications for methods, and deals with possible objections. He stresses the importance of both evangelism and discipleship for the healthy growth of a Great Commission church. (Available here.)
3. Everyday Parenting, edited by Alex Sibley; foreword by Dorothy and Paige Patterson
As anyone who has children can attest, parenting is hard. As such, many parents are overwhelmed by the responsibilities associated with raising another human being, and they would likely agree it is easy to lose sight of what parenting is truly about: raising children to walk in righteousness.
So how can parents maintain their focus? What tools has God provided for dealing with the various issues that stem from raising children? And where can parents turn for answers to their questions?
Through His Word and His Spirit, God has provided both the instruction and the power for parents to persevere in the parenting task. This volume—written by faculty, alumni, and friends of Southwestern Seminary—aims to illuminate that instruction so parents can move forward in the task of everyday parenting armed with the Sword of the Spirit in order to face head-on the challenges of raising children in the ways of the Lord. (Available here.)
4. Text-Driven Contextualization: Biblical Principles for Fulfilling the Great Commission in the 21st Century, by Michael Criner
How do 21st-century evangelicals carry out the Great Commission biblically but also effectively in a world full of cultural diversity? Does the Bible provide any principles for communicating and contextualizing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to particular demographics, people groups, and nations?
In Text-Driven Contextualization, Michael Criner argues that the Bible does, indeed, provide instruction for how to contextualize—and how not to contextualize—the Gospel in preaching and evangelism. A thorough examination of five sermons in the book of Acts (two delivered by Peter and three by Paul) reveals principles by which pastors and teachers can biblically contextualize their sermons for the 21st century with evangelistic fervor. (Available here.)
5. Advent: 25 Daily Devotionals on the Coming of the Son of God, by Armour
Advent, Latin for “the coming,” is a four-week period culminating on Christmas Day intended for extended reflection upon the meaning and significance of Christmas. That is, the coming of the Son of the living God into our world to dwell amongst us as one of us; His defining and embodiment of genuine love; and His service even unto His atoning death upon the cross from whence spilled the innocent blood that paid the ransom for many.
This resource comprises 25 daily devotionals directing attention to passages from the Gospels of Luke and John in order that families may devote the month of December to such reflection and begin to grasp the true significance of the coming of Immanuel, “God with us.” The book also contains four Christmas carols accompanied by explorations of their composition and rich theology. (Available here.)
To learn more about these titles or to browse through other Seminary Hill Press products, visit SeminaryHillPress.com.
Imagine in the year 2047 that anti-aging therapies have developed so far that wealthy people not only cease aging, but some have begun to reverse. A few have even started to celebrate reverse birthdays in accordance with their rehabilitated age.
Once sixty-seven, Sam now marks his age at forty-two. With the turn around he has re-entered life with friends of his newfound youth ...
Dry dusty roads led into the village. Worshipers gathered. As a missionary guest that day, I preached at that church. Lively music and dancing are typical of African worship. This day was no exception. It came time for an evangelistic invitation. A sub-chief walked the aisle for a decision. That was all well and good, even celebrative. The only complication to this man’s expression of faith was that he brought his five wives with him to make this decision. What does a foreign missionary do?
Polygamy, a long-standing issue in most African settings, is characteristic of African Traditional Religious belief systems that pre-date the advent of both Islam and Christianity. These ideologies persist in the fabric of various Christian traditions, whether denominational or not, in African churches today.
Solutions are not simple fixes. The convention we were part of had already developed a policy to help normalize reaction to this issue. The convention’s historical practice was to ask the man to choose one of the wives and “put out” the remaining ones. There were usually children involved, and this act created serious and ongoing social crises. The wives who departed the family network usually were as destitute as widows. People in the rest of the culture viewed these women as still being the wives of the man who wished to join the church. That limited their likely options for any sort of familial support in the aftermath of such disruptions. More often than not, they were soon resorting to prostitution to provide basic needs for their children and even to eat. As supposedly new believers, this was no healthy discipleship program.
At the time, a recently developed policy recommended first in-depth counseling with them all in order to understand their own personal decisions regarding Christ. If confident in their decisions to yield their lives to Christ, one could proceed with discussion of church membership. After all, Christ’s blood covers the sins associated with polygamy too. Finally, they could be presented for church membership on the grounds that, in a group, they each gave testimony of their salvation; confessed having entered the practice of polygamy due to cultural norms without knowing about Christ or that this was sinful; and agreed to end the practice of polygamy with that generation and to never seek nor accept leadership roles in the local church. They would ask for the congregation to assist them in teaching their children not to continue polygamous practices when they would eventually have families.
In parallel with these happenings, I had a very sharp African seminary student in my biblical ethics class. He asked me if an article he had read was true, namely that in America we have a problem of men marrying many women over time or sequentially. “It does, unfortunately, seem to happen in some families,” I replied. My own mother and father married each other three times and divorced each other three times. When my dad died, he was on his sixth marriage. The student said then, “Sir, in America, you have the same problems, then, that we face here. The main difference is that, in our cultures, it is common to have all the wives simultaneously.”
Eventually, I found academic articles that characterized our North American marriage and divorce cycles as “serial polygamy.” In the end, lest we get too prideful and ethnocentric in judging other cultures, we should look at ourselves. Could a man walk the aisle to present for membership this Sunday, and the pastor be asked to conduct him through the membership process, though essentially the gentleman is a “polygamist,” having had multiple marriages? It is not a question of one culture being more fallen than another. Instead, it is that we need mutually to assist one another with “beams” and “specks” in our eyes for better glorification of God’s design for the family.
A few weeks ago, I preached Nehemiah 3. It’s a chapter that lists the various men and women who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem. Here’s a taste:
“…Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph repaired opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah repaired. Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens…” (Nehemiah 3:10-11)
And more of that—for the entire 27 verses.
As the congregation surveyed the chapter beforehand, I’m sure many were thinking: “Is pastor Chad really going to preach on a chapter of obscure Hebrew names?” It’s one of those chapters you normally skip during your devotions, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Be honest.
My very first week as pastor–fresh out of seminary, no experience–I preached a genealogy from Matthew 1. It may have been a terrible sermon, it probably was, but I was trying to set a tone for our understanding of Scripture as a church:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
All Scripture–including the parts you might be tempted to skip or downplay. How do we view them? Here are three brief things we need to remember when we come to these passages:1. It’s not about God fitting into our story, but us fitting into God’s story.
I think many of us come to the Bible and want to “get something out of it” — which is okay. However, it can create this idea that the Bible is only valuable if it proves to me how it fits into my life. So when we come across a genealogy and there are no little nuggets or quick takeaways, we turn the page.
But the Bible’s purpose is to draw us into the grand narrative of the Lord and his people. It draws us out of the darkness and into the light of the gospel. The Scriptures are the real story. We have to figure out how our lives fit into the Bible. Genealogies, number tables, and lists of land allotments all have a purpose in the story God is telling if we are willing to sit down and listen.2. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
In your head you may protest: “But, reading this chapter is a waste of my time.” No. You “waste” your time on so many more trivial things: Netflix, Facebook comments, sitting in a fishing boat, catching up on scores on ESPN, or watching those annoying recipe videos in your timeline.
There are worse things you could waste your life doing besides reading the Word of God no matter what it says. If we feel anxiety about trying to struggle through a list of Hebrew names for five minutes, maybe we need to spend some time reflecting on our own self-importance. Sometimes God shows us our pride by consuming our day with what we perceive to be a “meaningless task” (I’m a parent of four, so I know all about that).
After all, to the rest of the world you are more obscure than Hashabneiah, Malchijah, or Hasshub—at least their names are recorded in Scripture forever. Still, God cares for you. When you hit those “boring” passages in your Bible reading, take comfort that God is at work even in the most mundane details of your life.3. This is a relationship.
We don’t try to “get something out of” every conversation with our kids or our wife or our co-workers. Why must we “get something out of” every conversation with the Lord?
Use those seemingly mundane passages as an excuse to simply relish the fact that he is speaking to us, that he cares about us, that by the blood of Jesus we are his people. The Lord of the universe has revealed himself in letters, words, verses, and passages that we can read–some of them more easily than others. But he is speaking to us in every word—so let us listen.
There are no unimportant words in Scripture. So let us delight in them and preach them all.
The post 3 reasons to not skip the “boring” parts of the Bible appeared first on Southern Equip.
When I was a full-time high school teacher, one of my favorite assignments was to have my students develop a creative project to illustrate what would follow if moral relativism were true. Students wrote stories, composed songs, made short films, and more.
My all-time favorite was a short poem written by a high school senior. She captures the moral absurdity that would follow if morality were truly relative to the individual ...
This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hi Dr. Craig,
I'd like to probe you more on your views of divine providence and marriage in particular. I believe you've said that God has a specific marriage partner intended for each person (unless perhaps that person is somehow called to celibacy) ...
Like many families, churches are trying to balance their monthly budgets and make those valuable dollars stretch in a way that best honors God. Churches that are involved in missions want to make a huge impact in global outreach and be good stewards of God’s resources. As churches explore expanding their involvement in missions, the world map in the church lobby all too often becomes the benchmark for a successful missions ministry. Churches support missionaries so they can put pins in more countries or have a missionary on each continent.
Frequently you will see churches supporting 10, 20, or 30 missionaries at a small monthly amount. Missions involvement for most churches is a mile wide and an inch deep. Making a broad impact is nice, but making a deep impact would result in greater influence and bring greater glory to God. Churches that support 30 missionaries at a low level should prayerfully consider reducing their number of supported missionaries down to three to five and really dive deep into their ministries and lives.Substantive investment
When investing more substantively into fewer missionaries a church and its leadership will truly get to know their missionary partners. As that relationship and trust grow a church can care for the needs of the missionaries they support like they would care for their own congregants. Missionaries are more prone to be honest and forthright with supporters they genuinely know. The vast majority of missionaries are not cared for by a church family, not even their home church. They have few people to turn to when a missionary is in need. A church that has deeply invested in a missionary can share the grace and mercy of Christ with them.
Churches should continue to send short-term teams and interns if that is what the ministry needs. Additionally, church leaders should consider visiting the missionaries on their turf for a “house call.” Spend time doing neglected chores on the missionary’s home, babysit the kids, do the grocery shopping, even counsel them. Get to know your missionaries in their environment. Walk in their shoes for a few days or a week. Love your missionaries how they need to be loved.
As your church continues to visit the same ministry site, year after year, your congregation will get to know the national partners. By better understanding the culture and the people, you will have a greater passion for them and their needs. It will benefit both your home church and the national church to view each other in a fraternal relationship instead of a paternal one.Substantive returns
Over time and through regular contact you can have a more substantive impact on the ministry with which you partner. You honestly get to know the missionaries and ministries and can be viewed more like a partner and less like an ATM. If you go deeper you are creating a truly substantive, cross-cultural partnership. The depth benefits the missionary’s ministry and the spiritual growth of your congregation. Everyone begins to understand what it means to be a global Christian.
If you spend time with your missionary partners once every few years, at furlough, or once a year, during short-term mission trips, a substantive relationship won’t be created. Without substance your missionaries won’t open up to you and you can’t help them with their spiritual health. Call your missionaries on their VOIP phone. Almost every missionary has one and it is not an international call for you. Send them an e-mail to let them know the church prayed for them today. Remember their birthdays and anniversaries with electronic gift cards. Help them fund a small vacation or new electronics. You can help your missionaries heal.
A larger financial contribution from your church to your missionaries will ensure two important things. First, their need to find fewer supporters means they will travel less during furlough. Second, if they have fewer supporters they may visit your church for a couple of weeks instead of just one Sunday every four years.
Many missionaries have 20 or 30 supporting churches and dozens of supporting individuals. Nobody can keep in contact with that many ministry partners. A missionary with just a small number of large financial partners can invest more deeply in those relationships.Substantive partnership
When churches support missionaries and international ministries by writing a small check once a month, neither the church nor the missionaries truly receive a substantive benefit from that relationship. A generous investment of time, energy, and finances into a missionary or global ministry helps the missionary feel connected and helps the church grow in their understanding of God’s Great Commission.
As part of this increased investment, churches must insist on reciprocation from the missionaries with whom they partner. No longer can churches tolerate missionaries who do not communicate and interact with church partners. Missionaries should communicate and churches should demand it.
When a more substantive relationship is formed, the church, the missionaries, and the nationals all benefit. Above all else, God receives greater glory from churches and missionaries who are connected and healthy.
Politicians, civil leaders and concerned citizens continuously debate the causes and potential cures for the extreme poverty that has trapped many people-groups in a vicious cycle of impoverished lifestyle choices. Theologian Wayne Grudem and economist Barry Asmus have partnered to present a sustainable solution to poverty at the national level ...