Apr

18

2014

Betsy Childs|12:01 AM CT

There and Back Again

My grandmother was dying of pancreatic cancer. She faced her terminal diagnosis with grace and faith. While we, her children and grandchildren, were terribly sad, her Christian peace in the face of dying comforted us all.

Except, that is, for one night when I panicked. I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep. This was the first time I had faced the death of someone close. All at once, it occurred to me that we had no idea what would happen to my grandmother. None of us had closed our eyes in death, and that meant none of us knew what she would see when she opened them. The horror of the unknown washed over me. I realized it wasn't really her death that I was afraid of. It was my own.

Fear of the Unknown

Light at the end of the tunnelI'm not alone in being frightened by how little we know about the experience of death. The fact that books about journeys to heaven and back repeatedly land on the bestseller list testifies to our need for someone to tell us what death is going to be like. We want to hear that we will be met by someone we know. We want the assurance that the light at the end of the darkness is real, and that someone dear to us will be holding the lamp. Who in their right mind would want to go into a tunnel without knowing what they would find on the other side?

When faced with the unknown, I've watched my cousin's children adopt roles that suit their birth order and personalities. The older is cautious and worried about danger. The younger is foolhardy and tough; he's unaware that there is anything he should fear. When confronting a new—and potentially scary—situation, the older will send the younger in first. He waits for his little brother to come back and assure him that he won't get hurt.

Following Our Older Brother

In our case, it was our older brother, Jesus, who ventured into the dark unknown. He didn't leave us behind indefinitely to wonder what happened. He conquered death and came back to let us know that it is now safe to follow. He speaks to us these comforting words: "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev. 1:17b-18).

That night, my panic lasted for several minutes until I remembered that simple truth: Jesus died and lived to tell about it. Death is not a total unknown to the human race. Jesus has been there and come back again. I felt enormous relief as the implications of his resurrection rebuked my fearful imagination.

Oh, how comforting it is to follow someone who knows the way! The Christian has the assurance that to depart this life is to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23). Jesus won't be holding a lamp because he himself will be our light. The bestselling stories of journeys to heaven may or may not be true, but we have a guide who is himself the Truth.

My grandmother died a few weeks after that night I panicked. One minute she was in her bed, drawing difficult breaths, and the next minute she was somewhere that I have never been. But I know she was welcomed by her older brother and mine. At her funeral, I sang with peace, joy, and expectation these words:

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!

Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!

Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!

Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

 
 

Apr

18

2014

David Schrock|12:01 AM CT

Holding Fast to Truth in a Doubting Age

Assaults on truth are nothing new. In the dock before Pilate, Jesus said he came into the world "to bear witness to the truth." To which Pilate mocked: "What is truth?"

The irony is thick in John 18:38. The Roman prefect missed the truth, even as Truth incarnate stood before him. Then again, Pilate may not have missed anything. He may have known too well what Jesus offered him and, unwilling to follow the king of the Jews, hastily dismissed him from his presence.

Not much has fundamentally changed since that fateful day. The question of truth continues to color theological, ethical, and political debates—and to plague human hearts. Christians need to have a good answer to Pilate's question.

Inspired Truth

In contrast to the spirit of the age, truth isn't a feeling experienced but a fact decreed in eternity, demonstrated in history, and progressively revealed and recorded in Scripture. Put simply, truth is what God says it is.

According to Isaiah 65:16, God is the "God of truth." All history proves this reality. What Yahweh promised, he fulfilled; what he foretold, he accomplished. His actions validated his words, and his words perfectly revealed his holiness, goodness, trustworthiness, and truth.

Moreover, when God revealed himself, he inspired a true book. Letting Scripture speak for itself (something theologians call "self-attestation"), Psalm 119 says God's law and commandments are true (vv. 142, 151). And again: "The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endure forever" (v. 160). The truth of God's Word is evidenced in its moral character and enduring nature. That which is false corrodes and fails, but God's Word is both pure (Ps. 12:6) and eternal (Ps. 119:89): "Every word of God proves true."

Therefore, on the basis of God's character, his faithfulness in history, and Scripture's own testimony, we have confidence that true truth exists and has been given to us by the God of truth.

Incarnate Truth

God's written Word isn't the only source of truth; it's also manifested in a person. John opens his gospel this way: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:1, 14). These verses speak of the incarnation and how the Son of God who spoke the world into existence took on human form to embody grace and truth.

On earth Jesus called himself "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). As he ministered, people marveled at his power, wisdom, and authority. Yet he wasn't simply a man speaking about the truth; he was and is the truth of which all Scripture speaks (John 5:39).

In his life Jesus manifested truth and by his death saved sinners enslaved to deception. Even to Pilate he proclaimed a way of truth that would have given the Roman ruler life. Amazingly, by the predestined plan of God (Acts 4:27-28), Pilate's rejection of truth advanced the cause of truth—for through dying and rising Christ received the right to send the Spirit of truth to his sheep. 

Eschatological Truth

Finally, truth isn't restricted to the events of history; it's also an eschatological reality God is bringing into the present. Even as the Devil continues deceiving the world, Jesus sends his Spirit to lead his people into the truth.

By regenerating the ones purchased on Calvary, transferring them into his kingdom, and illuminating their minds to grasp God's truth, the Spirit causes believers to walk in the truth. In a world of death and deceit, God unites his sheep to their Shepherd by means of his Spirit and his Word. The Spirit empowers believers to proclaim the gospel such that the "word of truth" (Eph. 1:13) both liberates (John 8:32) and sanctifies (John 17:17).

Like in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit now hovers over the murky waters of this world. Christ's future kingdom is growing in our present age. The first place we look for truth, then, isn't the heady halls of academia or the power structures of Washington, D.C. We find truth in the urban mission, the rural church, and the college Bible study outlawed for its biblical views on sex. In these places forgotten by the world and deemed "false" by questioners of truth, God's truth advances. Where his Spirit and Word are at work, there his truth is found.

Hold Fast to the Truth

Without coincidence, true truth is triune truth: it's decreed by God (the Father), personified in God (the Son), and effected by God (the Spirit). Contrary to popular belief, truth isn't based on personal feeling, self-understanding, or a contemporary situation. It's based on God's revelation, centered in the gospel, and revealed by the transforming work of the Spirit.

Unlike the mood of our age, truth isn't something we can create, discover, or deny. Like the innocent man Pilate sentenced to death, truth has a way of coming back to life.

May we, like Jesus, make the good confession and hold fast to the truth.

 
 

Apr

17

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:01 AM CT

On My Shelf: Life and Books with Matt Chandler

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers.

I talked with Matt Chandler, president of Acts 29 and lead pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, about what's on his nightstand, books he re-reads, favorite biographies, and more.

**********

What's on your nightstand right now?

I'm reading A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein and How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas Oden.

What are some books you regularly re-read and why?

The first two books put the immensity of God in front of me. They are like a warm blanket to my soul. Lewis's Chronicles have always had a deep effect on my emotions. They profoundly stir my affections for God.

What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?

The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges and Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch have helped shape how I lead and serve others.

What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

Bonhoeffer and Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas as well as The Last Lion series on Winston Churchill are my favorite biographies. In each of the them there are extreme peaks and valleys wrapped into fights that were worth having and wouldn't be cheap to win. I need to be reminded of that truth often.

What are your favorite fiction books?

I don't read a lot of fiction (besides The Chronicles of Narnia). This past year I have devoured Cliff Graham's Lion of War series on David's mighty men.

********** 

 
 

Apr

17

2014

Trent Hunter|12:01 AM CT

Resources for Wrestling with Contentment

If you are discontent, then you need this post. If you are perfectly content, then you need it too. We were made for contentment, but ever since Adam decided that God wasn't enough, contentment has been a problem for all of us. Evidence of this problem is everywhere, from storefronts to the thoughts in our head. Some of our discontentment is for superficial reasons, and some of it from sickness, hurt, loss, and sin with its various and pervasive effects.

What does Christianity offer to discontented people like us in an unsatisfying world like this? Exactly what we need. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to die for our sins of discontent. But he also came with thirst-quenching living water. He came to satisfy us with the bread of heaven—that is, himself. He promises that one day he will satisfy us completely in a whole new creation.

C. H. Spurgeon put it this way:

The Christian is the most contented man in the world, but he is the least contented with the world. He is like a traveler in an inn, perfectly satisfied with the inn and its accommodation, considering it as an inn, but putting quite out of all consideration the idea of making it his home.

Rick Phillips and Thabiti Anyabwile recently teamed up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to address the theme of contentment in the Christian life at Clarus '14. Attended by 700 from across the region, Clarus is TGC's Southwest Regional Conference hosted by Desert Springs Church in partnership with TGC Albuquerque.

Click here for photos from this year's conference, here for songs we sang together, and here to download the song "My Father Planned it All." This is an old text to a new tune recorded live at this year's conference and a great match for this year's theme.

Thabiti Anyabwile

"Contentment Consummated: The New Heaven and New Earth" - Revelation 21:1-22:6 (audio, blog recap)

"Contentment with Our Possessions" - 1 Timothy 6:3-10 (audio, blog recap)

"Contentment through Communion with Christ" - 1 John 2:28-3:3 (audio, blog recap)

"Contentment with Christ's Body, the Church" - 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (audio, blog recap)

Rick Phillips

"Contentment Lost: Sin and Restlessness" - Genesis 3 (audio, blog recap)

"Contentment Found: Jesus Saves and Satisfies" - John 4:10-15 (audio, blog recap)

"Contentment with Our Weaknesses" - 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 (audio, blog recap)

"Contentment with Identity" - Psalm 16 (audio, blog recap)

Panel Discussion

Thabiti Anyabwile and Rick Phillips (audio, blog recap)

 
 

Apr

17

2014

Collin Hansen|12:01 AM CT

When Jesus Said Farewell

We Christians sometimes buy into a lie. We assume that if we're not like those hateful, judgmental people who call themselves Christians, then the world will see that we're actually pretty reasonable folks and want to follow Jesus. We believe that if Christians just cleaned up our act, then Jesus could finally captivate the hearts and minds of our neighbors.

The only problem with this view is that it has no basis in the example or teaching of Jesus. Nice Christians don't always finish first. Even though Jesus loved perfectly to the end, his closest friends and disciples abandoned him when the political and religious authorities pinned him to the cross. Peter rebounded from his shameful denial of Jesus and vowed to love Jesus by loving his people. His reward? Jesus told him to expect that he, too, would stretch out his hands in unwanted death that would nevertheless glorify God (John 21:15-19).

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesThe apostle John did not endure such a gruesome demise. But he heard and recorded Jesus' farewell discourse, in which the Son of God told the disciples that the world would hate them just as they hated Jesus and his heavenly Father for convicting them of their sin (John 15:24).

"If you were of the world," Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed, "the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:19-20).

We should not be surprised that Christians today so easily forget or overlook these bracing words from Jesus. Just days after Jesus said farewell, while they hid behind locked doors in the aftermath of the crucifixion, the disciples obviously missed the significance of their Savior's teaching: "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). They had expected triumphant, bloody insurrection, and instead he gave them a cold, empty tomb. Only in the aftermath of the resurrection, when they saw and heard and touched Jesus in the flesh, did they finally begin to understand that the way of glory passes through Golgotha.

Acting Like Jesus

When we assume the world will love us if we start acting like Jesus, then we're not actually acting like Jesus. We love to cite Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as evidence of the kind of humble compassion we should emulate. Indeed, it is. But eleven pairs of these feet washed by Jesus scattered away in fear, and one infamous pair scampered to find the chief priests and officers to arrest Jesus as he prayed.

Love for the world motivated by anything other than love for Jesus inevitably fails to offer the kind of love the world needs. Don't think that Jesus would be any more popular in our day than he was in his own hometown, even his own family. Jesus was known to speak with uncommon authority because he told the truth about bankrupt religious practice. He would do the same among us, calling out the religious and non-religious for idols we have harbored.

When our love is motivated more by approval of the world than faithfulness to Jesus, then we turn against other Christians we believe hinder our goals. Have you noticed this trend? Consider someone who fears that Jesus' teaching against greed (Matt. 6:19-21) hinders churches from reaching upwardly mobile young professionals. His enemy becomes those Christians who teach "poverty theology" and reject the goodness of creation and the necessity of amassing resources in order to advance the kingdom of God. Notice: rarely do you hear anyone openly say we should disobey Jesus' teaching. After all, Jesus told his disciples that if they would abide in his love, then they must keep his commandments (John 15:10). Rather, the person asking you to disobey Jesus instead seeks to convince you that the church won't grow and the world won't follow Jesus unless you love the world enough to rethink your biblical interpretation. Should you plug your ears to this siren song, you will be accused of being part of the reason why the world has rejected Jesus.

But as we've already seen from the example of Jesus, we could change the content or confuse the clarity of his teaching, but the condition of our hearts would still prevent us from following him. Not until Jesus breathed his Spirit on the disciples (John 20:22) so they could recall what he taught them earlier about the coming persecution (John 16:2) did they finally find the strength to obey and proclaim the good news. Apart from the Spirit it's impossible for us to resist the world as necessary. The world tempts and confuses Christians. Even the enemies who try to kill us think they offer service to God (John 16:2). The apostle Paul regarded himself zealous in his love of God until Jesus blinded him with forgiveness for his sins and grace to walk in true righteousness. When Jesus reveals himself he gives believers eyes to see our sin as futile and his teaching as good and perfect.

Love One Another

Along with sending his Spirit, Jesus gave us a key test of discipleship before he said farewell. "A new commandment I give to you: 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).

We can see the problem when other Christians lose Jesus by lacking love and prayerful concern for their enemies (Matt. 5:44). But how many of us have likewise forgotten Jesus because in our pursuit of the world we have not loved fellow disciples? We're so eager to win the world's approval that we violate the most basic commandments and dare to invoke Jesus' name in our defense. Don't trust anyone who attempts to justify his anger at other Christians. And don't think you can win the world by disobeying any of Jesus' commands. Jesus' life, death, and teaching offer our only sure basis for unity among the body of Christ and effective mission in the world.

"Unity should never be attained at the cost of truth," Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor write in their new book, The Final Days of Jesus, "yet unity is essential among God's people, particularly in regard to a shared mind and purpose and mutual love in the work of fulfilling Christ's mission to the world."

In keeping with Passover custom, Jesus and his disciples would have likely sung Psalms 113-118 together before he said farewell. As Jesus prepared to drink the cup given by his Father (John 19:11) and ascend the cross, the words of Psalm 118 in particular must have offered great comfort and courage in his unique mission. We know he had cited Psalm 118:22-23 in debate with Jewish religious leaders: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:22-23).

We must also consider the repeated refrain that begins and ends this beloved psalm: "Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 118:1, 29). His covenant love endures even the worst cruelty the world can conceive. It endures the betrayal of close friends. It endures age after age, from Jesus until now and forevermore.

We, too, need these comforting, sobering words today. "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes" (Psalm 119:8-9). We must neither seek nor expect the world's approval. And we must claim the promise of God's Word that we can find refuge in Jesus. As he empowers us to obey his commandments and love his disciples, we testify to a watching world that Jesus has come from the Father (John 17: 23) offering eternal life to all who repent and believe (John 17:3).

 
 

Apr

16

2014

Russell Moore|9:47 PM CT

How Can We Increase Ethnic Diversity in Our Churches?

[Note: Questions and Ethics is a new monthly series in which Russell Moore provides insight into how Christians should navigate through life's most challenging moral and ethical issues.]

Q: What can Christians do to increase the ethnic diversity in their congregation?

Q&ELOGO-mainpageE: I've seen a lot of churches that have had communities that have changed in terms of ethnic and racial demographic around them, but those churches haven't changed for all sorts of reasons. That is a sign of some deep sickness going on in the congregation. I think one of the things that is necessary is saying it has got to be about more than saying whatever ethnic group is the majority group within that congregation. Your people can't have the mindset of, "We are going to minister to the other ethnic groups around us." Especially when your people have the mindset of, "We are here in this primarily Latino community­­­—or it is becoming more Latino­—so let's minister to the Hispanic people in our community." That is a mindset that I think needs to change, especially among majority ethnic groups of white people of America.

White people in America are really a tiny minority in the body of Christ. We are part of a cloud of witnesses, the Scripture says, in heaven. There aren't many white people there. Abraham is not a white guy, and neither is Jesus. These are Middle Eastern, Jewish people. Augustine is an African. You go through the whole list of everyone in the history of the church and that great cloud around us. We are not the people that God has given—whoever the majority race is or ethnic group in that church is­—to bless the nations. The nations are being blessed through the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. Which means we need to change that mindset.

We also need to recognize that the people in that congregation are not just going to minister to, but are going to be ministered to. It is easy, especially for some of us who have Messiah complexes, to want to minister to all sorts of people, because we can be in charge of that. We need to say, "We want to be ministered to in ways we don't even recognize we need to be ministered to." It changes a mindset, and it changes the way worship looks when you have people from various different cultures getting together. Finding ways to anticipate that ahead of time, and to signal that from the pulpit is important. We also need to start intentionally working to signal that in worship.

Jimmy Scroggins has done a really good job with this, especially at the level of worship by saying, "I'm in an ethnically very diverse place in south Florida, so I'm not going to be able to come in and say, 'Here are our worship styles.'" Instead it is almost a Kaleidoscope of different forms of worship that are intentionally saying to everybody that worship is not about finding your groove and ministering to you in it. It is about teaching and admonishing one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We need to recognize that this is going to take a while.

The Jew-Gentile division in the New Testament church meant that there was a lot of conflict going on with people who didn't understand one another and didn't know what was happening and that had to be explained. Most of the epistles in the New Testament are dealing with that divide that was theological at some level, but also was cultural. You are going to have that. Have some patience with that as time goes on. But starting to get your people to recognize if you are in an all-white church or an all-black church, you are starting to come in and say, "Hey people, this is not normal for the body of Christ." We are not going to solve this situation by saying, "We should all bring someone from another race next Sunday," but we are going to say, "If we still look this way 10 years from now, something is wrong." I think it is a long-term project.

Related: You can find more answers to ethical questions and subscribe to the Questions and Ethics podcast on the website of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

 

 
 

Apr

16

2014

Bethany Jenkins|12:02 AM CT

Seeking True Beauty as a Spokesmodel

Every Square Inch Cropped

Editors' note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are conducted and condensed by Bethany L. Jenkins, director of TGC's Every Square Inch.

Trinity Laurel is a fashion model in Los Angeles. She has worked for Ralph Lauren, Koral Los Angeles, Kimberly Ovitz, and appeared in Beachbody Exercise DVDs and on QVC with supermodel personal trainer Leandro Carvalho. She also has represented brands like Bentley Motors, Nike, Bloomberg, Herbal Essences, AirBerlin, Google, and Time Warner Cable in North America and has traveled to England, Jamaica, Italy, and the Middle East for work and humanitarian projects.

Trinity TOP photoHow do you describe your work?

I describe myself as self-employed because, even though I have modeling agencies, I am responsible to manage my own career. If I don't hustle and network, I don't eat! My work, though, is modeling. I do commercial print, fitness and fashion, but mostly I do two types of modeling—fit modeling and spokesmodeling. With fit modeling, the work isn't glamorous. I try on samples and help designers make improvements and corrections needed to get the best fit for the consumer. Spokesmodeling, on the other hand, gives me a lot of interaction with consumers, because I get to represent brands and travel with them to promote their products to potential clients.

When you come to New York City next week, what will your spokesmodeling job look like?

I work as a spokesmodel for a high-end automobile manufacturer. They train models and actresses just as much—if not more—as their regular dealers on their products. We travel to all of the North American shows and serve as the first faces of the brand that the customers see. Since it's a luxury brand, we have a small clientele. But we get to meet with potential customers, bring in leads, and connect people with the dealership. I like this role because there's more to the position than external beauty. Our clients expect us to know about the product, too.

Is thatexpecting more than external beautyrare in the industry?

Unfortunately, it can be. My biggest challenge is making sure that I don't connect my physical appearance and financial reward with my personal worth. It's easy to think that my value is tied directly to my look because—quite literally—I am paid to look and act a certain way, while maintaining very specific measurements. Thankfully, I've never struggled with my body image or an eating disorder, but I have wrestled with rejection and shame when my paycheck has fluctuated based on my physical appearance or when I've lost a client because my size or measurements have changed. It can be crippling and, at times, depressing.

Trinity BOTTOM photoHow do you deal with such profound struggles of identity and value?

Going through these issues alone is a breeding ground for despair. So I look to community, where lies can be exposed and compassion can flourish. Thankfully, I have a strong community of like-minded believers in Models for Christ (MFC). It meets a unique struggle that those in the fashion industry face—isolation. We travel so much and often to far-off places. So MFC tries to connect people all over the world with local churches wherever they happen to be and put them in small groups for encouragement and exhortation in the Lord.

How has your idea of beauty changed over the years?

The fashion industry is fickle, and focusing solely on the worship of outward beauty can kill the heart and take away the wonder that beauty was meant to create. There have been times when the brokenness of the industry has left me disillusioned, and I've struggled with hating beauty itself. But God continues to show me that there is a purity to the creative process that can point to him. C. S. Lewis says, "We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it." So I fight to find beauty in the unchanging qualities in which God delights—humility, truth, kindness, self-giving, joy.

 
 

Apr

16

2014

Jen Wilkin|12:01 AM CT

The Assumption We Cannot Afford

We ended another year of women's Bible study last Tuesday: eleven weeks in the epistles of John and eleven weeks in James. Fifty-four different churches were represented in our enrollment this year. A couple thousand more women podcast from around the country. At the conclusion I was deluged with cards and e-mails from participants expressing their gratitude, reflecting on what they had learned, and, almost uniformly, uttering a confession I have heard so often that it no longer surprises. I still waver between joy and discouragement as I read that confession on card after beautiful thank you card. I still vacillate between celebration and grief each time it turns up in my inbox. I still hesitate between thankfulness and frustration every time it is spoken to me over coffee. Their confession is this:

I've been in church for years, but no one has taught me to study my Bible until now.

I remember confessing the same thing myself almost 20 years ago. It is gratifying to know that our efforts at Flower Mound Women's Bible Study to help women know the Bible are changing the way they understand their God and their faith. But it is terrifying to me that so many women log years in the church and remain unlearned in the Scriptures. This is not their fault, and it is not acceptable.

thank you notes

Church leaders, I fear we have made a costly and erroneous assumption about those we lead. I fear that in our enthusiasm to teach about finances, gender roles, healthy relationships, purity, culture wars, and even theology we have neglected to build foundational understanding of the Scriptures among our people. We have assumed that the time they spend in personal interaction with their Bible is accumulating for them a basic firsthand knowledge of what it says, what it means, and how it should change them. Or perhaps we have assumed that kind of knowledge isn't really that important.

So we continue to tell people this is what you should believe about marriage and this is what you need to know about doctrine and this is what your idolatry looks like. But because we never train them in the Scriptures, they have no framework to attach these exhortations to beyond their church membership or their pastor's personality or their group leader's opinion. More importantly, they have no plumb line to measure these exhortations against. It never occurs to them to disagree with what they are being taught because they cannot distinguish between our interpretation of Scripture and Scripture itself, having little to no firsthand knowledge of what it says.

And they've been in church for years.

We Must Teach the Bible

When we offer topical help—even if the topic is doctrine—without first offering Bible literacy, we attempt to furnish a house we have neglected to construct. As a friend and seminarian said to me this week, "There is a reason that seminaries offer hermeneutics before systematic theology." He is right. But it would seem many who have enjoyed the rare privilege of seminary have forgotten to pass on this basic principle to the churches they now lead.

We must teach the Bible. Please hear me. We must teach the Bible, and we must do so in such a way that those sitting under our teaching learn to feed themselves rather than rely solely on us to feed them. We cannot assume that our people know the first thing about where to start or how to proceed. It is not sufficient to send them a link to a reading plan or a study method. It is our job to give them good tools and to model how to use them. There is a reason many love Jesus Calling more than they love the Gospel of John. If we equip them with the greater thing, they will lose their desire for the lesser thing.

I wish you could see how the women in our studies come alive like well-watered plants after a drought. I wish you could hear their excitement over finally, finally being given some tools to build Bible literacy.

I can't believe how much I've grown since I started studying. . . . I had only done topical studies. . . . I didn't know you could study like this. . . . I was so tired of navel-gazing. . . . I've never been asked to love God with my mind. . . . My husband teases me about how excited I am to tell him what we're learning. . . . I've never studied a book of the Bible from start to finish.

They are so humble in admitting what they don't know. We must be humble in admitting what we have left undone.

As I read their notes joy always trumps discouragement. Celebration overturns grief. Thankfulness overrides frustration. And because the need is great, I commit myself to wade through another stack of commentaries, to write another curriculum on another book of the Bible, to give another year to building the house of Bible literacy in which the furnishings of doctrine and other worthy topics can take their rightful places. We owe our people more than assertions of what is biblical and what is not. We owe them the Bible, and the tools necessary to soberly and reverently "take up and read."

The task requires resolve, but the reward is great. Will you join me?

* * * * *

Join Jen Wilkin and learn from dozens more women's Bible study leaders at The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference, June 27 to 29 in Orlando. Workshops allow you to learn introductory theology from Don Carson, basic Bible competency with Paige Brown, one-to-one Bible study from Jenny Salt, and much more.

 
 

Apr

16

2014

Richard Clark|12:01 AM CT

Taking Tech for Granted

"Ugh. It's only noon, and my iPhone's battery is already at 30 percent."

"Oh great, a delay. I'll never make my connecting flight now."

"Sigh. There's never anything good on Netflix anymore."

"Gahhhh, Twitter is driving me crazy this week."

shutterstock_failureWe tend to react in one of two ways to modern technology: boredom or loathing. Either technology becomes a mundane fixture in our lives to the point that we take it for granted, or it becomes a perceived poison, a reason for cursing mankind's ingenuity.

Consider the catalog of modern inventions that Christians have reacted against in think-pieces and sermon illustrations: iPhones, email, Twitter, Facebook, automobiles, televisions, and video games. All of them have incurred the wrath of those fed up with trying to adapt to the constant changing of modern life.

No medium or technology is neutral, and each has a way of encouraging and discouraging specific good and bad habits in us. But human nature itself often discourages us from seeing a blessing when it's right in front of our face, literally.

Seeing the Good

Smart phones, for instance, claim a constant presence in our lives, available right in front of our faces whenever we need them, providing amusement and information during times that used to be occupied by deep thought and self-reflection. Sure, this pervasive presence seems bad at first glance.

But we must move beyond a surface-level observation, beyond a seemingly dystopian vision of an entire society craning their necks downward, studying their phones and ignoring the presence of those in their physical space. Then we might consider the ways smart phones and the apps we often use have arisen to answer a modern need for connection. It's easy to write off the connection a smartphone, Facebook, and Twitter provides with a roll of the eyes, but these networks spur us on to think more deeply than we might on our own. They confront us with those who think differently than we do. And they enable us to build connections with those who share our values and purpose.

These new technologies weren't created in a vacuum. They came in response to previous technical advances that put individual needs above community needs. Automobiles, television sets, and interstates all came out of a desire to set one's own course.

These technological responses to felt needs are double-edged swords for sure. But they are also amazing. God uses them in spreading his gospel and sharing his glory with the world—whether by circulating a resource people otherwise not see or getting a missionary to a remote location that has no access to the gospel. They're the church's way of sharing God's truth and clarifying its identity. They're our way of sharing with the world and living with fellow believers.

How Technology Becomes a Difficult Taskmaster

Both boredom and loathing come from a lack of moderation in our use of technology. If we allow our technologies to use us rather than the other way around, it's no wonder we begin to view them as a difficult taskmaster rather than a useful tool and a blessing from God. It's no wonder we begin to take them for granted. But if we take an active and dogged approach to moderation, we'll finally have the perspective we need to allow ourselves to be thankful for these blessings.

Louis C. K. most infamously brought attention to this problem in an interview with Conan O'Brien that went viral shortly after it was aired. In it, he talks about our tendency to become entitled and frustrated almost instantly in response to new technology. "Everything's amazing right now," he said, "and nobody's happy."

In his video, Louis C. K. suggests that perhaps we could benefit from a time of economic collapse, when we're forced to do without the technology we so easily despise and take for granted. A more realistic (and significantly more pleasant) solution might be a commitment to consider the human needs that our technologies meet, even (especially!) when they get on our nerves.

Check out Christ and Pop Culture Magazine

Check out Christ and Pop Culture Magazine

When your phone battery is dying, consider the miracle that allows you to talk to your wife, your children, or your trusted friend when you or they most need it. When your flight is delayed, consider the fact that the trip would have been totally impossible without the help of a plane in the first place. When there's nothing to watch on Netflix, consider the myriad artistic experience and life-brightening entertainment you've already partaken in for the price of one movie ticket per month. When Twitter is driving you nuts with seemingly petty arguments, just remind yourself that this is what happens when people who would never otherwise converse take the opportunity to sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron.

Complaining about technology has become a regular human pastime, a go-to topic for conversation. But God calls us to a higher standard of appreciation: "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Phil. 4:8). Appreciation and thankfulness isn't just a key to happiness. It's a commandment, a Christian discipline that conveys God's goodness to the world and one another.

 
 

Apr

15

2014

Jeramie Rinne|12:01 AM CT

How to Work Ahead on Sermon Prep

It's Saturday afternoon, and your sermon is half-done, at best. Your normal sermon prep time got crushed this week by a big funeral on Tuesday, a crisis counseling situation that consumed Wednesday and Thursday, and your wife's minivan breaking down Friday. And now on Saturday, supposedly your day off, you slump in front of the computer puzzling over the main point and application of the text, and straining for the creativity to write a clear, engaging sermon manuscript.

Ever have one of those weeks?

studying-the-bibleGod helps us preachers in those desperate moments. But clearly this kind of compressed, last-minute prep has serious drawbacks. And if we prepare our messages this way every week, we're more likely to serve junk food sermons rather than the nutritious, expository feast that our congregations need for spiritual health.

Some gifted preachers can regularly wrestle down a text and craft solid sermons on an abbreviated schedule. But most of us mortals need ample time. We need time to puzzle over interpretive issues, time to pray over application, time to pick others' brains, and time for our creative engines to produce helpful illustrations, introductions, and conclusions. We need time to marinate in the passage of scripture.

Plan for Getting Ahead

I want to share an approach to sermon preparation that for the past 17 years has given me a longer runway for getting sermons off the ground. I didn't come up with the basic concept myself, though for the life of me I can't remember who suggested it. Undoubtedly other preachers do something similar. Furthermore, I'm not suggesting this "system" is the right way or best way to prepare sermons. Every preacher is unique. But if you long for more lead-time to produce a message, I recommend this strategy.

Here's the basic concept: work on three sermons every week.

Before you roll your eyes or hyperventilate, let me explain. By three sermons each week, I don't mean researching and writing three full sermons each week. Rather, I mean working on different parts of three separate sermons.

I conceptualize the sermon writing process in three phases.

Phase 1: Research. This is where we translate, discover structure, study words and grammar, grasp the larger literary context, and consult commentaries (after we have done our own work, of course). Our goal here is to understand the main point of the text and its main applications.

Phase 2: Writing. Here we produce the sermon itself. We lay out the flow, work on introductions and conclusions, build sentences, and think carefully about transitions. Whereas the research feels more like a science to me, the writing feels more like an art.

Phase 3: Rehearsing. Hopefully we take a little time to walk through the sermon before we preach it. I go to my basement on Saturday night and preach the sermon out loud by myself several times. This process not only familiarizes me with the content, but it inevitably serves as a further manuscript edit. Written communication typically needs some adjustment so that it sounds normal as oral communication.

Here is where the three-sermon system comes into play. Let's say you are preaching through Galatians, one chapter each Sunday, starting with Galatians 1 this Sunday. That means this week you will be researching Galatians 3, writing your sermon on Galatians 2 (which you researched the last week), and rehearsing your sermon on Galatians 1 (which you wrote last week and researched two weeks ago).

Next week you will research Galatians 4, write the sermon for Galatians 3, and rehearse your message for Galatians 2. And so on.

This approach has lots of benefits. First and most obviously, it gives me three weeks to ruminate on a text. You will be amazed at how many illustrations, applications, and insights will come to you as you cogitate over a three-week period. You will have a whole week to tweak your manuscript.

Second, this rhythm always keeps the broader literary context in front of you. As you're writing a sermon for Galatians 2 you're simultaneously pondering what comes before (Galatians 1) and what comes after (Galatians 3). This plan assumes you're regularly preaching through books of the Bible, which I strongly urge you to do as the meat-and-potatoes approach to your pulpit ministry.

Third, this plan often dispels that oppressive feeling of pressure and stress that the main preaching pastor feels each week. We still have to do the same amount of sermon prep labor in a given week. And yet knowing on Monday that this coming Sunday's sermon is already written changes your outlook. It is absolutely liberating.

How Do I Get There?

When I share this concept with other preachers, I usually get two responses. First, they say, "Wow! That's amazing!" And then they say, "I could never do that." How could a preacher writing sermons week to week ever move to this model?

Here's an idea. Make it a six- to eight-month goal. In the next half-year, plan to have someone else preach for you two or three times, but don't go away that week on vacation. Ask the youth pastor to preach or swap pulpits with another pastor and just re-preach something at his church that won't require extra work for you. And then use that free week to start working on two sermons at once. And then do it again a few months later and, voila! You're now working on three sermons at once.

Inevitably crazy weeks happen, and I fall off the three-sermons-at-once pace. Even as I write this article, I'm behind on the schedule. I'm now only doing two texts at once this week. But I'm still way ahead, and in a couple weeks I will have an opportunity to catch back up.

Even if you're an associate pastor who preaches infrequently, you can use this method. If you know you're going to be preaching on a certain date, then start chipping away at your sermon three weeks ahead of time, doing one phase each week.

Give it a try. With a little discipline and patience, you can break out of the week-to-week writing pace and give your heart and mind room to breathe. Who knows? It just might improve your pulpit ministry.