Some deadly diseases often present no outward symptoms; they just lie within surreptitiously and imperceptibly until they unleash catastrophe. Deep vein thrombosis.
Hypertension. Brain aneurism. Pride.
More than just a sin, pride is a category of sin because, though indeed a sin itself, it leads inevitably to more sin and other sin. Pride is particularly insidious because, unlike pornography, adultery, or thievery it remains socially acceptable — even in the Christian world, particularly in ministry, and especially in the artificial bubble of seminary. Insulated from the challenges of other world views, constantly graded and evaluated in ways that lend themselves to comparison, and surrounded by admirable and attractional people, a seminary student can easily forget that the call of God is to follow Christ alone. Pride can distort the entire experience and suggest that the cross to be taken up must be a designer model, carried in a top-grain leather case, and immortalized in an Instagram selfie.The ultimate secret sin
Perhaps pride persists so perilously because it has a certain utility in the world of the flesh, an expediency in gaining an invitation to sit in the chief seats at the table. It can masquerade as self-confidence in preaching and draw the admiration of others. It can fool a wife into thinking her husband is self-assured and confident when he is self-absorbed and conceited. It can pose as poise and leadership to a search committee or a potential employer who cannot perceive the insatiable appetite for prestige and lust for status lurking beneath the impeccably curated clothing.
Pride, however, has no single uniform. It can infect the seminary student nattily attired in Brooks Brothers, bow tie, and brogues, or equally the one who, just as proudly, refuses to wear anything but jeans and a t-shirt. It can dehumanize a wife into an ornament, and make children think more about maintaining the image of dad than reflecting the image of God. It can pervert a simple thing—like drinking a cup of coffee—into an act of idolatry and fountain of disdain for those with less educated palates. It robs the simplest pleasures of their simplicity and joy, and substitutes instead the convolution and complication of a sinful heart with the sneer of self-righteousness. Pride is so subtle and perverted that it can corrupt the good that we do, ostensibly in service of the kingdom, into deeds of the flesh that cannot please God.
Ultimately, pride robs God of his glory — the eternal — because it delights in self-glory — the temporal, transient, and meaningless.
That’s why seminary is so dangerous. Unfortunately, seminary can become an incubator for nascent pride that, if not defeated by the indwelling Spirit of Christ, will grow into a disfiguring and destructive monster that makes even the most academically gifted seminary graduate of little use to the Kingdom of God. In one way seminary is no different than any other place because pride can grow in any climate and every heart. On the other hand, Satan’s forces are working overtime at seminary because habits and attitudes established here will likely harden and endure throughout ministry — and cause great damage.Overcoming an inflated sense of self
The key to defeating pride lies in truly believing what God’s Word says about every one of us. The Bible is clear that we are all broken. We might be broken in different ways, but one cannot experience degrees of total depravity. When we deny the depth of our own desperate need we fail to see the enormity of God’s grace and redemption in Christ. Not only is pride sinful, but also misplaced. We have nothing to be proud of. If everyone knew the truth about us we would only be ashamed. Apart from Christ, we certainly have no cause for boasting.
We must remind ourselves, therefore, that our salvation, our sanctification, and even our gifting, is all of grace. The more one appreciates and appropriates the grace of God, the less one feels either desire or ability to boast. Grace, after all, transforms mundane things in precisely the opposite direction of pride. Grace puts gratitude where pride once was. The discerning palate, for instance, becomes a heart filled with praise and gratitude for a God who designed taste buds and created coffee trees and different soils, climates, and altitudes so His creatures could enjoy the simple—or complex—pleasure of a cup of java. Clothes and appearance become a strategy to present the gospel and to express a sanctified and unique personality with a thankful heart. Beautiful pens become a way to write encouraging or comforting notes to others rather than a possession to fuel pride. Social media become a tool of discipleship and gospel impact rather than self-centered aggrandizement.
Humility is not thinking lowly of yourself, or even little of yourself; it’s not thinking of yourself. A life filled with Christ and focused on others will not have room nor time for pride. A follower of Christ must evaluate his or her own spirit and attitude in every action with brutal honesty to bring every thought captive to Christ. We strive to be servants, not masters; to be least, not the greatest. We serve one who humbled and emptied Himself.
Southern Seminary is a wonderful place and a gift of God to His churches. I marvel at what God has done here. Our campus is the most beautiful I have ever seen. Our faculty is stunningly gifted and accomplished. Our students and alumni are used of God in great and inspiring ways. May none of that, however, be a source of anything other than gratitude to God with a sense of our own debt to the gospel. We have nothing that we have not received.
Nate Larkin went to a different seminary at a different time, but despite his story he’s not all that different from many of today’s seminarians. He took the biblical languages and systematic theology. He was an excellent student and expositor. He won the preaching prize. He pastored a small independent church while he was in school. He sincerely wanted to follow the Lord’s calling on his life. He seemed, from the outside, enormously successful. Ideal, even. But inside, he harbored pain and guilt from something deep and hidden. Over time, it metastasized.
“When I was in seminary, I felt like I had joined the Marines and that I was the designated hero,” he says now. “I would be the guy who would have the answers for everybody else. I would be a repository of wisdom, I would be the tip of the spear.
“But that’s a concept that militates against much of what the New Testament tells us about the interdependence of all the members of the body of Christ.”
Larkin started looking at pornography long before seminary. But it was during that period that it became truly addictive. At the time, the early 1980s and long before the internet, glossy men’s magazines were the entry point for porn users, and the next stage was adult bookstores. Larkin says he can still hear the sound of a clattering film projector behind him from the first time he visited such a place. One bookstore was halfway between the seminary and his church, and he recalls on many occasions feeling like the car turned into the bookstore of its own volition.
After a post-seminary men’s retreat, he promised himself he would get serious about his sin, even opening up to his wife for the first time and vowing never to do it again. He experienced a period of “abstinence,” as he calls it, and even decided he had recovered enough to plant a church, but he never dealt with his sin at the root or was truly honest with others about the condition of his heart. Eventually, it grew worse.
Larkin describes driving to church one rainy night, where he was going to preach at the Christmas Eve service. He saw a young woman on the street, and deciding he would be a gentlemen and get her out of the rain, offered to give her a ride. But she was not there by accident, and the $100 bill he had in his wallet for the church Christmas offering never made it to the offering plate. It was not the only time, even after he quit the ministry in a desperate attempt to kill his addiction. As best as he can reconstruct it now, during those dark years he spent as much as $300,000 illicitly.
His wife caught him one night, and spoke two words that would finally spark change his life. I’m done. She said she still loved him, but she didn’t like him, didn’t respect him, and didn’t think he could ever change.
Desperate to save his relationship with his wife — the one friend he still had, he says — Larkin started attending 12-step recovery and at last began being honest about his sin.
“It was there that I encountered Jesus in a whole new way,” he said. “It was there that doors and windows were opened on the gospel for me, and I began to see that Jesus was always unfailingly kind to the sexually broken. He never himself endured sexual sin, but he was always unfailingly kind and gracious.”
He started developing close friendships, which forced him to stop minimizing his sin and get serious about it. This is not sin management, one friend told him. They would work hard to confront the behavior, but they would also drill deeper into the heart issues that drove his actions. You have a lot more repenting to do than you know, he told Larkin.
The work took years, like the sprouting of a sapling or the glacial drift of an ice flow. A member of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, Larkin began to grow under the preaching of founding pastor Scotty Smith and honest, deep friendships and openness with other Christian men. The change itself, however, was supernatural. It was the work of the Holy Spirit.
“Eventually, either we surrender to a power greater than ourselves and our addiction, or we lose.”
The friendships Larkin formed during that phase of his life have lasted decades. He has been in recovery for more than 25 years and has used his story to mentor countless men struggling with pornography and sexual sin. Scotty Smith watched Larkin and his ministry flourish during that time, and calls him “one of my favorite people in the entire world.”
Larkin feels burdened to help men with stories like his, and believes the best way to cultivate long-term change is through honesty and companionship. Sanctification is pursued in community, isolation is a breeding ground for sin — and he recognizes few Christians are as isolated as men training for or in the ministry.
“To me, one of the greatest tragedies of contemporary American religious life is that, in the typical American church these days, the pastor is the most isolated guy in the congregation,” Larkin said. “We face a very wily foe, whose game is one-on-one. He is a master of it. He doesn’t play team ball; he plays one-on-one, and he’s only been beaten there once. If he can trap us forever into his game, he will win.
“The most successful pastors I know have managed to construct for themselves a brotherhood. We have to be vulnerable to somebody, and that takes courage.”
Larkin is a writer, speaker, and founder of Samson Society, a men’s ministry with church groups across the United States. Read more about his story and ministry in his book, Samson and the Pirate Monks.
I’ve been around Southern Seminary as a student, a professor, and now as dean of students for long enough to notice patterns. There are certain sins that people in our community struggle with most, disordered ways of living that are particular to men and women training for ministry.
One of the major sins I consistently encounter is what I would call a “performance identity” in academic pursuits. It manifests itself in many forms: plagiarism, lying on reading reports, dishonesty, and cutting corners academically. But those actions are just the behavioral manifestations of a deeper problem. A heart problem.
That’s why I call it a performance identity: We try to ground our personal significance and meaning in our performance, and we need our grades — the gauges of that performance in an academic environment like Southern Seminary — to be as high as possible.
Most of the time, we aren’t intending to do this when we take on the noble task of ministry training. But we always take on noble tasks with mixed motives. There are many good and virtuous reasons why people come to seminary — we want to engage our minds with the truth, to serve the church well, to reach out to unbelievers, and to do all these things with excellence. Of course this is important and necessary, and the desire to know the truth, serve the church, and present the gospel is a genuine motivation for virtually everyone I meet at this institution.
But we are often less aware of the many self-serving motivations that drove our decision to come to seminary and continue to drive us to excel. We experience a deep need to be recognized, and we want to feel like we are doing something meaningful. Particularly in the millennial generation, we have been taught to think that we should be immediately aware of the significance of our work. We want to do something great, and to know it’s great while we’re doing it. We aren’t satisfied with the quiet growth of a mind over time. We want more immediate indicators of significance. The closest thing we have to this are grades.The problem with good grades
Now, satisfaction and fulfillment does indeed come from what we do and how we perform in our work. That is a good and God-designed reality, but it is not an ultimate one. Some students at Southern have left careers that were very lucrative — working as lawyers, doctors, or tradesmen— in order to pursue God’s calling in ministry. Others are fresh out of college and they’re just trying to establish a career for the first time.
For both, grades often become the ultimate barometer of the wisdom of that decision. Students want to know they made a wise choice to attend seminary, and they want to meet the objective standard that measures their success. Sometimes the grade becomes the main objective instead of the knowledge of God. Rather than pursuing communion with the living God through an honest grasp of the material in their courses, sometimes students pursue the recognition of a high GPA.
This principle can be well summarized with a biblical phrase that the Apostle Paul uses in Philippians 3:
We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ (Phil 3:3-7, ESV).
In many cases, we are pursuing what Paul calls a “confidence in the flesh.” For Paul, his “confidence in the flesh” before his conversion was made up of things like being circumcised on the eighth day or being a Hebrew of Hebrews — but for us it’s an “A” in Tom Schreiner’s New Testament Theology class or finishing in the top 10 percent of students in our language courses. There are all sorts of ways to measure our success academically, and we can place our confidence in our achievements rather than in God and his call on our lives. If you read over Philippians 3, you’ll see that confidence in the flesh is anti-confidence in Christ. Part of what Paul had to learn is that all those things are rubbish — they are nothing to him because they can’t compare with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and being found in him.Rooting out disordered motivation
I encourage students not just to fight at the level of knowing what plagiarism is and avoiding the procrastination that makes it attractive. That’s important, but what’s far more important is committing to the regular heart assessment of confessing the sin of being motivated by confidence in the flesh. It’s a daily responsibility to confess and repent. As we study the Bible and discover such motivation lurking in our hearts, we must repent — even while reading.
Every time we step in the pulpit, every time we care for people, every time we write that paper, we must be aware of why we do it. If students can learn now to give to Jesus their desire for significance in their performance, they will establish good patterns for when they get into ministry, and the pressure to do this grows even greater. When we entrust ourselves to Christ in the labor of study, we will not measure our significance in grades. And all of a sudden, we find academic dishonesty less tempting. It doesn’t make as much sense to cheat when you don’t need the grades so desperately.
None of us will carry our academic transcripts into the presence of God. We wouldn’t dare think of it. The only factor that determines the significance of our lives is the love of God in Jesus Christ for us. One day, we will know this entirely.
It’s no secret that I love apologetics. I love to read apologetics blogs, study apologetics books, and have apologetics conversations. But there is a constant temptation I have to battle that I believe is common among many apologists: the temptation to simply study apologetics but not put it into practice.
Let me state something clearly up front so I am not misunderstood: Studying apologetics has tremendous value in its own right. After all, learning how to defend the faith can bring both clarity and confidence in God and Scripture. Nevertheless, apologetics does not primarily have an inward focus in the life of the believer. It has an outward focus aimed at graciously answering tough questions that trouble both believers and non-believers in their understanding of God and salvation (e.g., 1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 3) ...
My forthcoming book on warfare in the Ancient Near East and the Old Testament not only has many words, but also about 150 pictures. While ancient Near Eastern texts are somewhat familiar, visual imagery remains unknown for the most part. This is partly due to the difficulties of acquiring permission to print the pictures. Some pictures I was required to buy directly from museums or professional photographers (and so I will not be able to post these pictures online). However, I was also able to acquire pictures for free from three other sources. First, I will show some pictures that were taken by friends ...
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With awed wonderment, millions of faces were turned skyward on Aug. 21 to observe the awe-inspiring first total solar eclipse since 1918. If you lived in the narrow swath of the sun’s 60-mile-wide arc of trajectory from Lincoln, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., from 1:15 to 2:48 p.m. EDT, you experienced 120 seconds of darkness over the land.
When the eclipse was occurring, my mind turned to Hebrews 1:1-3: “God … has spoken to us in His Son … through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory … and upholds all things by the word of His power.”
Who created that stupendous, splendid sun and that magnificent moon and intersected their orbits to create a rare total eclipse? According to Hebrews 1:2, the Son did—“through whom [God] made the world.”
Before sun, moon, stars or planets ever existed, the Son was eternally one with the Father. The Son is distinct from creation itself and exists apart from it. He is not dependent upon it, but it is dependent on Him. When God stepped out from behind the curtain of nowhere onto the platform of nothingness and spoke a universe into existence, the Son was His agent of creation. The Son is not only God’s agent in creation, He is the basis of the independent existence of all created reality—including you and me! From the Son we learn the final purpose of creation—creation is the preamble to salvation!
How could our tiny, little ol’ moon eclipse the titanic hulk of the sun? It seems impossible! The sun’s diameter is 400 times wider than the moon and is so huge that 64 million moons could fit inside it! But the sun is also 400 times farther away. The result: the sun and the moon appear to be the same size from our perspective, and when they line up just right, the moon obscures the sun’s entire surface. Presto! A total solar eclipse.
But the Son cannot be eclipsed! He radiates the brightness of God’s glory according to Hebrews 1:3. “Glory” could be described as the manifestation of God’s divine attributes—divine nature in either its invisibility or its perceptible manifestation. Glory is the divine “mode of being.” Glory is as essential to the Son as light is to the sun. You don’t make the sun light; it is light!
The pre-incarnate Son shared in the divine glory because He is “God of very God,” as Nicaea put it. The incarnate Son reveals the divine glory because He is the embodied revelation of God’s essential glory. The Son does not reveal something other than Himself, nor does He reveal something other than God the Father. As one of the Sons of Thunder put it in John 1:14: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father.” Think of it! This Son is the unique God-man; the only one who has a heavenly Father but no heavenly mother; who has an earthly mother but no earthly father; who is older than His mother and who is as old as His Father!
Get out your telescope. Train it on the night sky. Astrophysicists estimate the size of the universe to be 93 million light years across, or 28.5 gigaparsecs if you prefer. It is home to more than 170 billion galaxies. Our tiny little Milky Way galaxy, being just 100,000 light years in breadth (remember, light travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second), is home to only 100 billion stars, including the low-rent solar system containing planet Earth. Compared to the Milky Way, our solar system proportionally would be the size of a quarter relative to the North American continent. If you could proportionally reduce our solar system to the size of a football field, the sun would be on the 50-yard line; Earth would be 93 million miles away … on the 46-yard line. Pluto would be on the goal line.
Who sustains this macrocosm called a universe? Who keeps galaxies rotating and solar systems careening at break-neck speeds yet with flawless accuracy? Hebrews 1:3 says there is one Cosmic Cop, whose badge is deity and whose whistle is omnipotence. He directs galactic traffic … because He is the Son who “upholds all things by the word of His power”!
When the moon eclipsed the sun on Aug. 21 for an hour and 43 minutes, most never knew it, but the Cosmic Cop was directing the traffic. Oh yes, by the way, He has a name. His name is Jesus, and He is God’s final revelation to us, who has made “purification of sins” according to Hebrews 1:3. The total eclipse we all experienced last week was a reminder of the unbelievable magnificence and power of the universe. But though the universe declares the glory of God, it can never tell you of God’s love for us. To us, the universe, along with our little lives in it, are all one great undecipherable hieroglyph until we discover God’s Rosetta Stone—Jesus! Amazing as it seems, the Son cares about every life on this third rock from the sun.
Because the Son came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died a substitutionary death for us all, there is an answer to your question, a solution to your problem, hope for your future, forgiveness for your sins, and salvation for your soul. Here is the Son, whose glory and whose love for you can never be eclipsed!
I’m very thankful to Moody Publishers for all they have done for the kingdom in general, and for me specifically. The Lord saved me through some dramatic and traumatic life events when I was 24 years old. As a new believer, I had no idea how to get started in my walk with Christ and grow as a disciple. I soon found out about Moody Bible Institute correspondence courses and studied through a couple of them, beginning my Christian life and an abiding love of Bible study at the same time. Later, Moody published my first two English books: The Missionary Call: Find Your Place in God’s Plan for the World and Reaching and Teaching: A Call to Great Commission Obedience.
2018 marks ten years since the publication of The Missionary Call, and I am thrilled to announce that Moody Publishers is releasing a Tenth-Anniversary edition next year. I have been re-reading the original manuscript in preparation for updating it to include global developments and trends over the last decade. As I did so, I was reminded of many missionaries who have related how this book impacted them as they heard and answered their missionary call.
I am also thankful for the missions pastors, mission agencies, and missionaries who recommend The Missionary Call to those seeking to know and do the will of God for their life in missions. The following is an excerpt that I want to share for you who may have gone on your first mission trip this summer.Your first mission trip
When people share what they believe their missionary calling to be, I love to ask, “Where did you go on your first mission trip?” It is common to meet people who feel called to the place where they went on their first mission trip. Sometimes, this is due to the warmth and friendliness of their missionary “guides.” Missionaries regularly serve as cultural guides to the country, interpreters, drivers, bodyguards, and flesh-and-blood illustrations of missionary life. Spending time with missionary families, listening to the missionary kids speaking two or more languages over a meal, learning about the sacrifices these families have made to be missionaries, and the overwhelming ways that God blesses them in the process are major influences in the life of the visitor.
The first time out of your country can be a frightening experience; everything that was normal to your everyday life is disappearing with the USA shoreline behind the plane as it climbs to cruising altitude. You wonder what the food will be like and whether the candy bars you stashed in your suitcase will be enough to get you through two weeks out of the country. You mentally rehearse the list of dos and don’ts that the missionary gave you: don’t drink the water but do eat what they give you in homes—accompanied by the missionary prayers, “Lord, I’ll put it down if you’ll keep it down!” and, “Where He leads me I will follow, what He feeds me I will swallow.”
However, the nervousness turns to delight as the missionaries collect you and your team, take you to a comfortable hotel, and supply you with water and rest. On your first trip out of the hotel, you are wide-eyed and marveling at the beauty of the country, the suicidal traffic rules, the devastating poverty, the hopelessness in the eyes of the beggars, and the warm friendliness of the nationals at church. Adjusting to life there requires a learning curve that goes virtually straight up.
Every day of the first week fills your journal with firsts. The first time you ate durian—and the last, by the way! The first time you communicated with someone who did not speak your language by simply pointing at your favorite verses in your Bible and finding them in his, and vice versa. The first time you sang “Victory in Jesus” by reading the words phonetically in a language you did not know so you could make a joyful noise. The first time you crossed a river in a dugout canoe to get to church in the jungle. The first time in a church service where a fight broke out between two dogs that had been sleeping under the pews. You will never forget the first time a family grandmother knelt and washed your feet to thank you for bringing the gospel message to her village—never.
At the end of your short-term trip, you head to the airport to return to your “normal” life, only it does not seem quite as normal as it did. Your heart breaks as you get on the plane and leave behind new believers, disciples who have not been discipled, and brothers, sisters, and friends. Somewhere on the trip home, you realize that your life will never be the same again. You want to come back again and serve God among these people. You want to learn their language and life, their culture and customs, and their love for food and fun. You know that God is calling you to be a missionary in this place, to these people, for His glory. Then, you realize something else: you never touched your candy bars.
Recently I had the opportunity to endorse a new book by Kris French, a medical doctor with an expertise in neuro-immunology. While he discusses many of the common arguments for God’s existence in The Universe Diagnosed, he does so uniquely from the perspective as a medic and in a way that is understandable to non-specialists. I think you will enjoy it! But first check out his answers to some of my tough questions about intelligent design, transgenderism, and more ...
I am a very open minded person and consider all possibilities. I am open to the possibility of a God and an afterlife. I am also open to the possibility that this God could be one who demands and expects that I obey and serve him or that I would be condemned to a horrible afterlife. I have been doing some open-minded research on the subject of life after death. As of right now, it doesn't matter what anyone says to me or what claims other people present to me in regards to God's character, if he is real or not, or if I am a blind sinner or not.
The reason why it doesn't matter to me is because, like I said, I am very open minded right now and am open to alternative explanations of the things people offer up here. I am a very wise open minded individual and I do not jump to any given conclusion based upon some things I read online or a holy book such as the Bible. There is so much more to look into and have an open mind to. Even things that sound very compelling cannot be trusted since there are plenty of things out there that sound compelling, but are actually not ...
Christians struggle to evangelize unbelievers lost for the same reason criminals struggle to find policemen—most are not looking for one. Instead of pursuing others with the gospel, we cocoon ourselves with others who already know it. Drawing near to Christ will submerse us in believer’s fellowship, but it will also thrust us toward others who are on their way to hell. If our corporate worship doesn’t result in individual evangelism, we’re doing it wrong.
Worship that truly exalts Jesus Christ will always result in gospel proclamation. That is the heart of a centrifugal church, constantly pressing believers into the world as “salt and light” (Matt 5:13-16). Jesus prescribed our evangelism strategy in simple and direct words, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). If we know enough of the gospel to be saved, we know enough to tell someone else. The repentant thief hanging no the cross next to Jesus had no problem calling the other thief to believe in Christ. Neither should we. Our problem is not ignorance, our problem is pride. The solution is not information; the solution is action.
Put even simpler, meet unbelievers and talk to them about Jesus. That is evangelism. The Great Commission is an individual responsibility that will not be fulfilled in silence, but in conversations that confront unrighteousness with the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). Here are a few ways to accelerate evangelistic DNA:1. Spring load the gospel.
This isn’t complicated, if you’re saved, you know enough of the gospel to present it to someone else. However, it takes work to be clear and understandable. Memorize the foundational gospel components and key verses. With those stamped in mind, work daily to recite it and role play with others. You may not always have your Bible in hand when an evangelistic opportunity presents itself, so memorize the message. Be alert and stay ready!2. Recruit a prayer team.
The hard work of evangelism begins on our knees, petitioning God to work in the hearts of those we pursue. In humility and dependency, following the example of Paul in praying for others (Rom 10:1) and watch as God answers pray in increased opportunities to proclaim His gospel. Recruit two or three people to pray for those in your mission field. This invites accountability, conversational ideas and encouragement.3. Live excellent.
Live with integrity. Peter wrote “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:12). Live so that when our name crosses the mind of unbeliever’s they associate us with Jesus. The most clear and accurate gospel presentation is muted if unbelievers identify us by patterns of sin instead righteousness. In humility, repent when we sin, and use our failures to magnify God’s mercy. Keep in mind that our example may be the first expose many receive to the transforming power of the gospel.4. Engage your mission field.
Be specific. God in His sovereign grace, placed you alongside unbelievers – in your neighborhood, family and at work. Don’t talk about them, talk with them. Keep track of where you left off and build with each subsequent conversation. This is your first mission field. Every unbeliever in our life should both know our identity as a Christian and know our desire to see them come to believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.5. Create new mission fields.
Along the way, create new mission fields, finding new ways to interact with unbelievers. Talk to your neighbors, frequent the same stores, volunteer at a local school, become a chaplain for a hospital, police department or business, help in a community project, visit a retirement home with your family, have dinner at a rescue mission, go out of your way to introduce yourself to others, etc. These ideas and more help to create new networks that open up new mission fields for gospel ministry.
Here’s a place to start, take the “two-minute challenge” Give yourself no more than 2 minutes to identify yourself with Christ when meeting someone new! As an ambassador of Christ, be quick to let others know who you represent (2 Cor. 5:20). Say something that lets another know you belong to, have been forgiven by, are loved by, are trusting in God, etc. That way, as your conversations develop, you’ve already identified with Christ right away.6. Relentlessly love other believers.
Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Christian’s biblically loving one another make the love of Christ visible for the world to see. How are the “one another’s” made visible in our relationships with other believers? Does your love for other believers lend credibility to your gospel presentation?7. Lead by example.
No matter your age, level of responsibility or visibility within the church, you can lead by example. the heart of Paul’s encouragement to timothy is to lead by example despite his youth (1 Tim 4:12). Some of the greatest evangelists are those whose names we won’t ever know, but were relentlessly faithful to tell others about Jesus. Don’t wait for someone else to lead by example, take initiative and set the pace as the Spirit works through you.8. Celebrate salvation.
Never lose sight of the miracle that happens in new birth. if heaven explodes in celebration in response to the new birth, so should we. one way to do this is to share testimonies often. We can never hear enough of the work Christ has done in drawing someone to salvation. incorporate the recounting of salvation wherever possible. doing so reminds us of the many ways the gospel penetrates hearts and how God chooses to use saved sinners in that process.
The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he delivered to them “as of first importance what [he] also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). For you to do faithful evangelism, the gospel must be of first importance to you. Only then will you overcome the challenges that have prevented you from boldly sharing the gospel with unbelievers.
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This article gives an overview of one of the Bible studies from The Forgiveness of Jesus DVD Bible study in the Deeper Connections series:
Jesus heals a blind man in John chapter nine. To most of us, this seems like a pretty cool miracle; and it is, but there is so much more behind this miracle that we miss because we do not understand the first century context. When we take the time to learn this historical context, the passage pops! ...
Dr. Ken Berding is a colleague of mine at Biola University. Like me, he is very interested in the Apostolic Fathers. He recently wrote a brief and interesting introduction to the Apostolic Fathers called The Apostolic Fathers: A Narrative Introduction, which is different from any other book of its kind. Professor Berding was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about some of the earliest church fathers and his recent book. Enjoy! ...
Sunday, August 13, 2017. As I spoke with friends that morning after the senior adult Sunday School class I teach, a newer member and his wife approached me. He looked into my eyes and thanked me for condemning racism in all its forms so clearly. Just the day before was the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and drawing from the Book of Obadiah, we had agreed that in creation, there is no superiority of birth, nor of rank or position or blessing. All that we are and have is from our Lord, and it is just the same for every person of every race and place in the world, all for whom Jesus died.
That someone in this class would be glad to hear biblical truth was not surprising. What was surprising was his next statement: “I am from Germany. I fought in the war [World War II]. And I am very glad to hear you say these things.”
His English is fluent, but his accent is still thick. He told me he spent more time as a prisoner of war than in combat, having been captured early in his assignment.
The rest of his story I do not know because he came to the class while I was away in ministry, and we have only spoken briefly once or twice so far. I look forward to hearing more. Coincidentally, I am reading a historical work on World War I, a war that was also fought over race, though perhaps not as overtly as its continuation, which we call World War II.
Racism is in the news in America. In June this year, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention passed another resolution against racism, this one specifically mentioning the alt-right.
But America is not the only place with racial issues. Later in June, I was in Kenya and preached at a long-term refugee camp/village. The refugees in this camp are members of one large tribe. These particular members had lived as minorities in various villages and towns dominated by another tribe. Several years ago, they were violently expelled from their villages by the dominant tribe and since have survived day by day in this camp that has become a small village of its own. They were forced, sometimes brutally, from their homes with nothing and after all this time, still have little to show except for the love demonstrated by various Christian and humanitarian organizations.
I have some experience with racism. I grew up in Memphis, Tenn., in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed there. My father was a pastor who preached against racism and welcomed people, whatever race, into his churches. This was not always popular. My first pastorate was in Mississippi, in a very small town in which blacks and whites lived on separate sides of railroad tracks. My son and I supported the Baptist church across the tracks with its Vacation Bible School, and by the great kindness of a godly deacon, I received the best jar of homemade barbecue sauce I have ever tasted!
I am no race relations hero, but I have thought much about just what racism is. You see, the racism of the world wars was not a “racism” of color, but of breeding. Germans fought Anglos and French. And Americans, often of some German descent, called Germans by the derogatory slang, “Krauts.”
Racism is not essentially about color, though that has been much of America’s experience. Racism is one of the many sinful expressions of human arrogance, “exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner.”
The world is filled with racism because the world is filled with arrogance. All have turned from God. We all want to think we are more than we are, and in so doing, we assert that God is less than He is and that His creation, including other people, is less important still.
Adam and Eve were of this mind. The serpent suggested that they were superior to, wiser than, worth more than God, and they readily agreed, going their own way. The roots of racism were laid.
Racism is ancient. It is a form of this arrogance that exaggerates the value of the group with which an individual is most closely aligned. Though ostensibly about the racial group, racists always have been willing to protect members of other races who agree and submit to their thinking while castigating and seeking to destroy those of their own race who disagree. And racism is not confined to those who are in the more powerful position, though the application of racism through power is egregiously wicked before God.
Of all people, the people of God, of Christ, should be free of racism because we have become a different sort of race, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood,” a race of all the races, the very Kingdom of Heaven. The remedy for racism of all varieties, including Nazi or alt-right or tribalism or in one’s own heart, is in our Lord. His great gift of love is our great command to love.
Even what we claim to know, the wisdom we speak, arises from our fear of this just yet loving God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. And the fear of the Lord who loves us and who died for us is the end of racism.
Isaiah 53:6b: “Each of us has turned to his own way.”
Proverbs 1:7; Deuteronomy 10:12; Psalm 111:10.
Do you sometimes find yourself being envious of the people who start a Bible reading plan, follow it faithfully, and stick through until the end? Then, they start the same Bible reading plan the next year and persevere to the end again. I’m sorry, I just struggle with doing that. Sometimes I find that I get halfway through a Bible reading plan, get bogged down, and cannot go any further.
This used to create a load of guilt in my heart because I would get stuck in the middle of really good Bible reading plans. It’s happened to me with some great Bible reading plans– Robert Murray McCheyene, the Bible Eater, and Dr. Horner’s Bible reading plan. All of these plans are built around solid strategies for reading the Bible, but in my personal weakness, I struggle to persevere.
I doubt that I am the only person who has this struggle. If you struggle like I do, here is the advice that I would offer– change it up. Instead of choosing one Bible reading plan, choose a strategy for reading the Bible and then change what you are doing when you find yourself getting stale. After all, what matters is not that we are sticking to a plan, but that we are reading the Bible and being changed by it.
Here are four strategies for changing up the way that you read the Bible.
- Read the Bible in large chunks
You can gain great benefit from reading an entire book of the Bible or a large portion of a biblical book in one sitting. When you read a large section in one sitting, you get to see how the Bible’s narrative unfolds and start seeing connections between one portion of Scripture and another. Also, because you are gaining a greater understanding of the whole of Scripture, this will help you understand a shorter passages context more fully when you begin to study it.
While this may seem like the most overwhelming strategy to undertake, it actually isn’t. In my ESV Audio Bible, it takes Max McLean thirty-eight minutes to read Genesis 1-11. We read much faster than that if we are not reading audibly, so it’s not unrealistic to think that you could read Genesis 1-11 with comprehension in thirty minutes.
To execute this Bible reading strategy, figure out how long you want to set aside for reading each day. Then, take a study Bible and look at the outlines for the books of the Bible that you plan on reading. Sketch out a plan for what sections you want to commit to reading each day. Or, if you are dealing with a shorter book, commit to reading the whole thing in one sitting. The ESV Audio Bible’s reading of Ephesians takes about twenty minutes and Philippians is close to twelve. Reading these books of the Bible in one sitting with comprehension could be done in half an hour.
- Read the Bible in small bites
When you read large portions of Scripture, you will consistently see passages where you want to slow down and read more carefully. Keep a list of these passages and when reading large sections starts to feel tedious, spend some time reading only one chapter or less each day for a while.
When you do this, make sure that you read with a pencil and a notebook. Write out what you are reading on your notebook. Skip a line so that you leave yourself room to write notes. Then, go through the passage slowly. Mark significant words. Look for words that the writer uses more than once. Take note of the connecting words like “for,” “therefore,” “but,” “so that,” or “in order that” and pay attention to how they connect one clause in the passage to another.
Also, read the passage out loud several times and see if you can pick up a flow to the way that it is written. Do you sense that there are some words the biblical writer would have emphasized if he were reading it to you? Read individual sentences repeatedly and emphasize a different word each time. Ransack the passage and seek to wring out every drop of truth that you can. When you are done, try to answer the questions that you jotted down and then spend some time writing out possible applications of what you read. Take what you see and roll it around in your mind during the gaps in your day. (William and Howard Hendricks’ Living by the Book outlines a great method for reading the Bible like this.)
- Read the Bible with repetition
As you read the Bible, you will find yourself drawn to books or passages that you want to know more deeply. The best way to do this is through consistent, repeated reading. It can be a week, two weeks, a month, or several months, but multiple readings of a passage will give you a grasp of its content, meaning, and application.
There are a couple of ways that you could accomplish this. For lack of a better term, the first is what I would call “The MacArthur Method.” (You can read about it here or in his book How to Study the Bible.) I once heard John MacArthur say that he did not want to be “concordance crippled.” In other words, he did not want to have to spend time trying to figure out where a passage is. He wanted to know Scripture well. To accomplish this, he read every book of the Bible for an entire month. For example, he would read Galatians every day for a month. When it came time to tackle longer books, he would divide them into manageable sections and read each section for a month.
Another way to tackle this would be to read one chapter of a book every day for several months. Last year, as our church got ready to start walking through Matthew’s Gospel, I read one chapter a day for six months. Many have also read Proverbs this way over the course of a year and greatly benefitted from it.
- Read the Bible on a whim
In his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs speaks of the joy of reading on a whim. He is talking about books outside of the Bible, but his advice would apply to our conversation as well. Jacobs registers his displeasure with lists that advertise “100 books everyone should read.” His reasoning is that plodding through lists like this can take the joy out of reading. Instead, he says that people should just read what they want to read.
Sometimes we should take his recommendation and apply it to our own Bible reading. While it is important to read the whole of Scripture, if you start finding your Bible reading plan to be tedious, take some time to just read what you want to read in your devotions. Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? Take some time off from your read the Bible in a year plan and reread your favorite biblical book. “But won’t this keep me from reading the Bible all the way through this year?” It may, but it is more important to read the Bible profitably than it is to read all the way through in a particular period of time.
I’ll be honest, I’m about to do this. This year, I have been reading three chapters of Old Testament each day and one chapter from the New Testament. Next week I will be in Job and 1 John. I struggle through Job 3-36 every year. Two years ago I preached through 1 John. Before I did so, I read one chapter a day for three months and memorized the book. I’ve been thinking a lot about 2 Corinthians lately and want to study it more, so I am going to read 2 chapters of Job, 1 chapter of 1 John, and 1 chapter of 2 Corinthians instead.Just read the Bible
I cannot overstate the importance and the privilege of reading God’s word. In his word, God reveals himself to us and shows how he has been at work in our world. We see the glory of his Son and get to hear the treasures of who we are in him because of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The Bible tells us of the power of the Holy Spirit within us, the reality of our future hope, and how we live a life that brings glory to God and joy to us. Why would we not find every possible strategy for basking in the beauty of God’s word each and every day?
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