The post And in Him All Things Hold Together: Jesus Christ as Beginning and End of Knowledge appeared first on Southern Equip.
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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I recently received a book in the mail called Everyone Loves Sex: So Why Wait? by Bryan Sands. Given that my father launched the “Why Wait” sexual purity movement in the 1980s, when I was in my early teen years, I was curious to see what approach Sands would take. And I was pleasantly surprised! His book is balanced, biblical, hopeful, and grace-filled. In fact, when young people ask me for a book on sexual purity, this is going to be one of the first books I will recommend.
After thirteen years as a local pastor, Bryan has served as the Director of Campus Ministries at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA since 2011. He is also a public speaker who encourages students across the country. You can find out about his book at www.EveryoneLovesSex.org.
I recently caught up with Bryan and asked him a few questions. Enjoy! ...
This week, Southwestern Seminary begins its 110th fall semester. More than 45,000 graduates have matriculated through Southwestern’s hallowed halls. These students have either traversed their educational journey well or they have struggled. In my 27 years employed in higher education, with the past 9.5 years at Southwestern Seminary, I have witnessed students who needlessly struggled. The following 10 tips are offered to students who desire to have a successful semester and educational experience.
1. Worship God personally. This may seem like a strange statement to make to seminary students. However, it is all too easy to begin to substitute class assignments for your personal devotion time with God. Every class at Southwestern uses God’s infallible, inerrant Word as a textbook (this is a good thing!). Yet, translating Greek and Hebrew, reading the Old and New Testament, writing a systematic theology paper, or preparing for a sermon or Sunday School class cannot, and must not, substitute for your devotional time. You need to have a time where you let God speak to you and you respond in worship, through prayer, singing and meditation. Jesus modeled it (Matthew 26:36, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16) and James 4:8 exhorts us to do it. You must always put God first—this is discipleship 101.
2. Don’t let family become collateral damage. You have been called to become equipped to do ministry. However, pursuit of the calling never should come at the expense of one’s family. I instruct my Christian Home class, “If you lose your family, you lose your ministry.” I can give countless evidence for this in Scripture and in life. There will naturally be periods of study that will consume large portions of your time; agree about those times with your spouse. To make time to study may mean that you must sacrifice something personal to ensure your family remains your primary ministry (after all, husbands, aren’t we called to sacrifice in Ephesians 5:25ff?).
Here’s an example rubric I generally followed during my M.Div. studies that may be helpful to you. This rubric gave me 17.5 hours of study time each week while working full-time, taking a full-time course load, and teaching Sunday School.
- When I got home, I spent time with family until our four kids were placed in bed by 8 p.m.
- The time between 8-9:30 p.m. was dedicated to my wife. We, of course, ensured we had periodic dates, as well.
- I studied from 10 p.m. – midnight each weeknight and during the day when I ate my lunch (30 minutes). Occasionally, during exams or research paper editing, the night study period would extend to 2 a.m.
- On Saturdays, I got up early and studied 6-11 a.m. The remainder of the day was for family and house tasks.
3. Practice time management. Time management is a life skill that means more than just showing up to class on time. It also means more than just avoiding procrastination. Time management is a spiritual discipline. Brian Edgar states, “We tend to take space and time for granted, as basic categories of human existence.” Yet, we know that God created time. Wenthe reminds us, “Time is the context in which God reveals [H]imself … Although God is beyond time, yet Christ entered time. He came in the fullness of time (Gal 4:2) and promises to be with us till the end of time (Matt 28:20) … We live in a short stretch of time that moves from Christ to Christ (Col 1:15-20).” God commands us to steward our time properly for three reasons:
- The days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).
- Time is short (Proverbs 27:1, Mark 13:33-37, James 4:13-15, 1 John 2:17).
- We are held accountable (Matthew 6:19, Romans 14:12, Galatians 6:7-8).
Time management requires that you prioritize and plan your tasks, without sacrificing time with God (see tip 1) or your family (see tip 2), so that you can do all things well (see tip 5). So, after the first week, take all your syllabi, schedules for work and church, and a calendar and place them on a table. On the calendar, map out all your assignment due dates, assigning them to have an earlier due date if they conflict with an already scheduled family, church or work commitment. For writing assignments, make sure you have them due one week ahead of time to permit time for your papers to “marinate”—you can’t find holes in your arguments, missing support for your thesis, and grammar mistakes at the last minute. If you are going to use the Writing Center, schedule additional time to complete your writing assignments.
4. Use social media appropriately. Social media is not evil; technology is inherently neutral. However, how one uses technology can be morally good or evil. There are three inappropriate uses of social media:
- Don’t let social media become an idol. How much time do you spend on social media? Is it the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing you look at before you go to sleep? Do you incessantly check all your social media channels? Is your restroom time extended because you spend it looking at social media?
- Don’t use social media to disagree with another person or an organization. When did we, as Christians, decide it was fine to complain about someone on public social media? This is not biblical. Scripture is quite clear on how to handle a disagreement with someone. Matthew 18:15ff stipulates that we are to handle disagreements one-on-one, not in the public space. I find that the majority of people who complain about someone or an organization are trying to motivate a self-serving action or are promoting an agenda.
- Don’t let social media replace human interaction. God made us for face-to-face human relationships, and He chose humans as the vehicle to proclaim the Gospel through the organ of the church. Only 7 percent of human communication is verbal; the remainder is visual. If all your interaction is on social media via “verbal texting,” you cannot form a relationship with the person.
5. Have integrity. You are to pursue classes with excellence. I hear hallway conversations all the time where students state, “I only need to get a C on the paper,” or, “I can skip that assignment.” These statements grieve me, as they speak to a tremendous heart issue and lack of integrity.
- We are called to do all things with excellence to glorify God and as a testimony to the world (1 Corinthians 15:58, Colossians 3:23-24, 2 Timothy 2:15). You are being equipped for the Divine, not a degree. Will you be able to stand before God and declare you did your best? Does He deserve any less?
- We are to properly steward what has been given to us. Your tuition is paid in part by the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention through the Cooperative Program. Moreover, the buildings in which you live and study were paid for by faithful men and women who supported Southwestern so that the Gospel could be declared to the ends of the earth. You have a responsibility to people in the pews and ministry partners who sacrificially gave to do the best that you can in class.
6. Serve at church. Attending seminary does not excuse you from doing life through church. Find a local church home and be an active member. There was a period when I recommended the expulsion of 13 students from Southwestern over a year’s time. The expelled students all had one thing in common (besides sin): none of them were actively involved in church or part of a small group at church. Serving at church brings accountability, provides discipleship, and allows you to turn the orthodoxy learned in class to orthopraxy. It doesn’t matter if you will only be at a local church home three to six years while you are at seminary—flourish where you are planted.
7. Attend chapel. This is where the esprit de corps of the campus is set. Will you like every speaker or song? No; I don’t either. Just as you do not at church. There are three critical reasons to attend chapel:
- Where else will you have an opportunity to meet pastors from around the world, meet our SBC leaders, and interact with trustees, guest music artists, missionaries, and a black dog named Chayil?
- Chapel is referred to as the president’s classroom. Attend and decipher what Dr. Patterson is trying to teach us.
- Worship together. It is true that Southwestern is not a church, but that does not mean we cannot come together to practice unity of the body and worship God. Don’t do what our people do at church—don’t come together to gripe. Glorify, don’t gripe.
8. Find time to fellowship. Equipping for ministry is not merely about deeply footnoted books and language paradigms. Ministry is ultimately about people. If you allow it, you will make lifelong friends while here. Take time to make cross-cultural friends and learn about doing ministry in a different context. Take advantage of Student Life events and on-campus conferences. Remember the church rule “people not programs” and apply it to seminary.
9. Take care of yourself. Studying is part of your educational journey and it will require countless hours of reading, reflecting, memorizing, writing and praying. However, you will not be optimally effective for ministry if you are stressed out or develop health issues related to not taking care of yourself. You are a clay vessel being shaped by God. Sometimes a vessel on the pottery wheel needs time to set (sleep), to be worked (exercise), or time to add more clay and water (eat well). A misshaped or cracked vessel is useless for its task. Don’t become ineffective or limited in ministry because of your health.
10. Find balance. Your educational journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Theological education is different than other academic degrees because theological training deals with God’s Word. Your education here is about more than increasing in knowledge and skills. Professor Holy Spirit is here helping form you. Your educational journey is a crucible whereby the Holy Spirit will refine you. This takes time, so don’t treat your educational journey as a sprint to graduation day. Jesus spent three years equipping His disciples, and Paul spent three years studying the Scriptures after his encounter with Jesus. Spiritual formation takes time (hopefully none of you will be on the 40-year Moses plan).
Brian Edgar, “Time for God: Christian stewardship and the gift of time,” Evangelical Review of Theology 27(2), 2003, p. 128.
Dean Wenthe, “Redeeming time: Deuteronomy 8:11-18,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 65(2), 2001, pp. 131, 142.
Greetings Dr Craig,
I am a Muslim, from the westernmost parts of Africa. I have been following your work for years, watching practically all your debates, reading some of your articles and much of the weekly Q&A section.
Even though I am not a Christian, you have helped me greatly in my own pursuit of truth, to identify much more with the issues that Christians face today, and in learning to appreciate the Christian tradition in philosophical and theological thought ...
What should church elders/leaders do if a congregation member asks for their child to be identified as the opposite gender (or neither gender)?
Each situation is unique because each child is unique. Pastors and/or elders will want to meet with the parent(s) and listen well and humbly to them, as well as discussing with them the Bible’s view on sex and gender.Different attitudes, different responses
It’s important to remember that the same request could be made with very different motivations. For example, a parent may hold to the Bible’s teaching but be trying to shepherd wisely a teenager who is feeling suicidal, so their request is based on a desire to enable their child to feel able to keep coming to church without it increasing their temptation to self-harm, while the parent seeks to model and teach loving biblical standards in the home.
That parent requires very different help than one who is wanting to ignore and deny God’s Word because they think that is in their child’s best interest. But whatever the situation in the home may be, pastors and elders should say they’ll be unable to comply with this parent’s request, or to ask anyone else in the church to do this, because it goes against what the Bible teaches about who this child is.
But if the situation were the first one above, this non-compliance needs to be accompanied by empathy, by prayer, and by putting structures in place to support and counsel the parent(s) and (if he/she is willing) the child. Remember that whatever the motivation of the parent, in such a meeting (or meetings—don’t assume one meeting is sufficient), your tone matters.Stand firm upon Scripture
If the parent is opposed to the Bible’s teaching (rather than in agreement with it, but struggling to know how best to love their suffering child), and refuses to change their mind, I’d see this as an issue of church discipline, because the parent is publicly living in rejection of God’s Word. Of course, the manner and means of church discipline will vary between churches.
The post Transgender and children: Responding in the local church appeared first on Southern Equip.
The following is an overview of one of the Bible studies from The Forgiveness of Jesus DVD Bible study in the Deeper Connections series:
Do you ever feel like you are too far gone for God to forgive you? Or, maybe you feel like he might forgive you, but he does it grudgingly? This fear is the main reason that I published The Forgiveness of Jesus because nothing could be further from the truth.
When Jesus calls Matthew the tax collector (Matthew 9:9-13), it shows us that God seeks out the lowest of the low in order to show that he loves to forgive. But in order to fully understand the meaning of this text, we must understand the first century context. When we take the time to learn this historical context, the passage comes to life!
Book Giveaway this week: Giveaway entries
Three syllables is all you have to remember, read, pray, sing. Read the Bible, pray together and sing together. Now, I think I can substantiate these from Scripture. We should do in worship what the Bible says to do in worship but there are three things the Bible says to do in worship you can do, whether it is congregational worship, whether it is private worship, or family worship. Some things in the Bible about worship are clearly for congregational worship only. Preaching, for example, requires a preacher, and hearers, a God called man. The Lord’s supper, we’re told, do this in remembrance of Me, by Jesus, that’s given to the church. We’re not to serve the Lord’s supper to ourselves in our private devotional life, we’re not to give that to the family. So, there are three things, though, the Bible says to do in worship we can do, whether it’s with the church, all alone or with the family, and that is read the Bible, to pray together, and to sing together. So, read the Bible. Just read through the Bible, book by book. The younger the children you have, the more you’re going to want to use narrative passages, and short sections, because young children can’t think conceptually like adults can. For that reason, a lot of Christians choose to use some sort of children’s Bible that focuses on the narratives. Then, as they get older, set a goal for a complete reading of the New Testament, then the entire Bible, but read the Bible together, first of all. Second, pray together, and there are so many ways this can be done. Whether one person prays, a different person each night, whether people take turns, or everyone prays, however you do that. But I would suggest at least one thing, and that is, when you pray, pray about at least one thing you read in the Bible that night. So, for example, if you read through John 3, you might say, who’s someone we know who needs to meet Jesus, like Nicodemus met Jesus in what we read tonight? The next night, John 4, you might say, who’s a woman we know we can pray will meet Jesus, like the woman at the well met Jesus? You know, this takes no preparation. I’ve come across a lot of men who think that somehow they have to gather some sort of devotional together and they think, I don’t have the time to do that, I don’t have the skill to do that. I’ve never prepared. Just pick up your Bible, open to where you left off the previous day, and just read, pray, sing. Ten minutes, maybe, I think is a good workable goal. If you have much younger children, then even a shorter time because their attention span is even smaller. One encouragement I really want to leave families with, and when I say families, by the way, this is not just for couples with young children in the home. That’s often our stereotype of family worship. This is for all couples, whether they are newly married and don’t have children, whether they are empty-nesters, and may be starting family worship for the first time. So, family worship is for couples, whether they have children or not. But, a final encouragement I would give to families with family worship is, don’t get the idea that if you do this rightly, all the family members, including the children, will sit with their hands reverently folded and cherubic looks on their faces. That won’t happen. This is a real family in the real family room, and real families do what real families do in a real family room. The three year olds are rolling on the floor, and the dog maybe is coming in and throwing up on the carpet, and all these kinds of things of real life happen in family worship. In my own experience, one of my favorite memories involves my daughter when she graduated from a Christian high school who’s custom it was for the parents to give the diploma to their graduate, and then say a few words of encouragement, and the graduate would say a few words of thanks to the parents. So, when my daughter received her diploma and then had some words of thanks to my wife and I, when she addressed me specifically, she began talking about how much family worship had meant to her but she didn’t get very far, for she collapsed on my shoulder. She began to sob, and I mean she sobbed harder, literally, than she had since she was a preschooler, and someone took a picture of that and it’s my favorite photograph of us together. But in the thousands of nights that preceded that photograph, not one time would I have walked away from family worship saying, oh, the Spirit of God came powerfully on our family tonight,” you know, the presence of God was atmospheric in our home tonight.” That never happened, not one time in the thousands of nights that led up to that. In fact, most often, I walked away from family worship thinking, I wonder if anything was accomplished tonight. And, in fact, to this day, when my daughter and her husband and our grandchild are in our home, we have family worship. You know what it looks like? It’s more like this, “hey, would you all put your phone down? Hey, I’m trying to read the Bible here, would you all listen? (chuckles) I mean, it’s what real families do in a real family room. But, you know, we’re growing oaks of righteousness, the Bible says, and you don’t grow an oak by an occasional, spectacular exposure to the elements. It’s an unspectacular, ongoing, daily exposure to the elements that produces an oak. So, if you do family worship rightly and consistently, you may not see the fruit of it for many, many years, but you consistently bring the Gospel before your family. How blessed is that family where what God has done through Christ is declared and discussed day after day, and you may discover, at the end of it all, that, indeed, the Word does its work.
My friend and Biola colleague Greg Ganssle has written a fascinating new book called Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations. Professor Ganssle takes a unique approach to the apologetic task. Essentially, his goal is not to show that Christianity is true, but to argue that when it is properly understood, people should wish it were true. He talks about how tragedy, beauty, and freedom make the most sense in a Christian worldview and that only Christianity fulfills our deepest desires ...
Did Christians in the first few centuries of the church read Scripture regularly outside the formal worship gathering? While this might seem like a straightforward question, the historical complexities of the ancient literary culture make it notoriously difficult to answer.
There is little doubt that the church read Scripture publically. After all, Paul reminds Timothy not to neglect the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13), and as early as Justin Martyr, we find the church gathering and reading long portions of biblical texts.
The question of private Scripture reading, though, is important. I can recall from my earliest days in the church pastors and church leaders exhorting me to “study the Scriptures!” or “take time to read Scripture every day!” They assured me that regular encounters with the Word of God were essential for healthy spiritual growth. But can it be said that the early church shared this same conviction?
These questions surfaced for me while working on a project on patristic exegesis and re-reading the little treatise Bible Reading in the Early Church, composed by the great champion of Protestant Liberalism, Adolf von Harnack. This book is one of the first complete treatments of the topic and, though it suffers from Harnack’s larger Hellenizing thesis, it’s rather helpful for a general survey of private Scripture reading in the first four centuries of the church.
After navigating his way through many allusions to Scripture reading in the early church, Harnack concludes that laypeople not only read texts outside their worship gatherings, but the church actually encouraged them to do so. In Harnack’s words, laypeople in the early church “actually did read Holy Scripture; the presbyters had not to give any permission; the Holy Scriptures were not in their ‘keeping’ but were accessible to all, and were in the hands of many Christians.”
In one sense, Harnack is correct. The patristic exhortations to read Scripture begin very early. The second century apologist Aristides, for example, describes his own encounter with Scripture, saying:
Take, then, their [Christian’s] writings, and read therein, and lo, you will find that I have not put forth these things on my own authority, nor spoken thus as their advocate; but since I read in their writings I was fully assured of these things as also of things which are to come.
In fact, many of the apologists in the second century, including Justin, Tatian and Theophilus, describe their conversions through personal interactions with Scripture. In another passage, Irenaeus encourages regular contemplation of the Scripture, saying:
A sound mind, and one which does not expose its possessor to danger, and is devoted to piety and the love of truth, will eagerly meditate upon those things which God has placed within the power of mankind, and has subjected to our knowledge, and will make advancement in them, rendering the knowledge of them easy to him by means of daily study. These things are such as fall plainly under our observation, and are clearly and unambiguously in express terms set forth in the Sacred Scriptures.
Other fathers of the church, such as Clement of Alexandria, encourage Christians to read Scripture before meals.
Beginning in the third century, the works of Tertullian, Hippolytus and Origen contain references to private Scripture reading. Hippolytus commends his readers to attend worship frequently, but on days when there is no service, they should read Scripture at home. Origen speaks often of reading Scripture privately, and in one sermon, he even challenges those who are so devoted to eating and drinking or other “secular affairs” that they give God only “one hour or two out of the whole day.”
By the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts his catechumen, “What is not read in church is not to be read privately” in order to encourage new converts to avoid pagan writings and dedicate themselves to reading Scripture.
From these few scattered allusions, it’s evident that, whenever possible, the regular encounter with Scripture was encouraged in the early church, at least for those who could acquire to copies and actually read them.
In another sense, though, Harnack falls short. He never really takes up the larger historical questions, such as the extent of literacy in the ancient world (a point that is still hotly debated), the actual availability of copies of different biblical books, and even the cost of purchasing books for private use. These and related questions have been taken up by others.
But the greater problem with Harnack’s work is that while the early church encouraged reading Scripture privately, they also exhorted the church to read the Scripture rightly. Private Scripture reading did not mean that all private interpretations were equally valid.
When the early church exhorted the faithful to pick up and read, they also reminded them that any reading should be faithful to what Christ taught and apostles proclaimed.
Irenaeus, for example, speaks often of the church’s rule of faith as a helpful guide for reading Scripture. He characterizes the rule of faith as that which the church believes, professes and hands down, saying:
… the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.
The one who rejects the church’s faith but still turns to read Scripture will “always be inquiring but never finding, because he has rejected the very method of discovery.”
Like Irenaeus, Tertullian advocates for reading Scripture with the rule of faith. He describes how some heretics even appeal the Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount—“seek and you shall find”—to justify their own private interpretation. Tertullian responds, “Let our ‘seeking,’ therefore be in that which is our own, and from those who are our own: and concerning that which is our own, that, and only that, which can become an object of inquiry without impairing the rule of faith.”
In a similar way, Athanasius also writes about the rule of faith and Scripture, saying, “We may easily see, if we now consider the scope of that faith which we Christians hold, and using it as a rule, apply ourselves, as the Apostle teaches to the reading of inspired Scripture.
This is only a sampling, but in the early church, the urging to read Scripture rightly is just as strong as the encouragement to read Scripture privately. This manner of reading Scripture celebrates, rather than ignores, faith in Christ and the way that Christ has fulfilled what was proclaimed through the prophets and apostles.
So did early Christians read Scripture privately? It seems that many did, and they even saw Scripture reading as a vital part of a healthy spiritual life. At the same time, they also insisted that whenever Scripture is opened, it is read with “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).
Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 67.
Harnack, Bible Reading in the Early Church, 145.
Aristides, Apology, 16.
Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 7, Tatian, Address to the Greeks, 29, Theophilus, To Autolycus, 1.14,
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.27.10.
Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, 2.10, Stromata 7.7.
Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 41.
Origen, Homilies on Numbers, 2
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical lectures, 4.35.
The best place to start with this topic is Harry Gamble’s work Books and Readers in the Early Church.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1.10.2.
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2.27.2.
Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 9-12.
Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 12.
Athanasius, Against the Arians, 3.28.35.