Category Archives: Bible Study

The Most Important Habit of 2017

The new year brings new opportunities for change.  Over the years of personally following Christ and helping others do the same, I have consistently found one habit produces more change than any other.  One habit that transforms marriages, helps parents, fuels evangelism, sparks prayer, and brings new life to a dry and weary soul.  If I could encourage you to start any new habit in 2017, it would be the habit of reading and responding to God’s Word every single day.

Our lives are full of noise.  So many voices compete for our daily attention.  Where do we prioritize the voice of God?  How do we listen first to what God wants us to do each day?  Jesus commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  But how do we seek Jesus first?  How do we make our relationship with the Lord our highest priority?  The answer is simple and yet remarkably difficult to do: open your Bible and prayerfully read it every day.

Let’s get really practical: what’s required to start AND maintain this habit in 2017?

  1. A quiet place.  Jesus took the time in Luke 5:16 to get away from the crowds and the disciples to be alone with God.  He taught us in Matthew 6:6 to go into our room and close the door when we pray.  Why?  So that we could find a quiet place to be with the Lord.  Remove distractions.
  2. A good time.  Look at your calendar and find your best time of the day.  This is actually harder than you think to do.  Consider when you are most alert, have some free time, or can use existing time for connecting with God (lunch hour).  Whatever time your choose, mark it on your calendar and stick to it.
  3. The right tools.  Get a Bible translation that you can read and understand.  Don’t consume your time reading devotionals (other people’s words about the Bible).  Read the Bible itself.  Make sure you have a journal, a good study Bible, and an accessible commentary if you get stuck.  Come to the table ready to dig!
  4. A doable plan. Once you find a time and place and bring the right tools, the questions is then what to read. There are so many good Bible reading plans you can choose from.  Find one that works for your schedule and your daily routine.  Start small if you never done anything like this before.
  5. A soft heart.  When you read the Bible, don’t approach God with an arrogant heart, looking for problems and reasons not to obey.  Come with a soft heart that desires to submit to the Lord and follow His ways.  Be ready to apply what God says to you each day.  His Word is living and active and will change your forever.

My friend, 1 Timothy 4:7-8 teaches us to train ourselves for godliness.  Why?  Because training ourselves (having personal discipline) is essential to spiritual growth.  Is it hard work?  Yes – there is no doubt.  But everything of value in life requires discipline.  You want 2017 to be different?  Start the new habit of spending time every single day in God’s Word.

Five Tips for Studying the Bible

Open BibleAs we think about our goals for the new year, many of us want to become more regular in reading, studying, and applying God’s Word to our lives.  Here are five tips to help you become a better student of the Bible:

1- Have a plan!  After following Jesus for the last 20 years, I can confidently declare that your Bible reading will be better and more disciplined if you have a good plan to follow.  Without a plan, your reading will be sporadic and disconnected.  Reading the Bible faithfully is a lot like the discipline of exercise.  It requires you to do it when you feel like it and when you don’t feel like it.  The best way to push through the low times is to have a good reading plan that you can stick to.  There are a variety of great plans available online.  However, if you are looking for a great one to start with, sign up to journey with our congregation through the four NT gospels in 2016.  You can sign up at http://cityview.jointhejourney.com/.  You will receive a daily email with a passage to read and a short devotional with reflection questions.

2- Read prayerfully!  Make sure to remember that Bible study is not purely an academic exercise.  Our goal is not to master information or learn new facts but to walk under God’s authority.  We believe that the Bible is living and active and that the Holy Spirit uses the Scripture to speak to our hearts and change our lives.  For that reason, make sure you pray before you read and then meditate on what you have read.  Give the Spirit room (and time!) to speak into your life, comfort you, convict you, change you from the inside out.

3- Read in community!  One of the biggest mistakes that American believers make in 2016 is reading the Bible in isolation from other Christians.  We need to listen to the voices of other Christians (in history and our own times) who have wrestled with the meaning and application of the Bible.  When you find something new and powerful in the Bible, run it past a mature Christian who can help you process your insights.  By God’s grace, you have what you need to study and grow in the Scripture, but God never intended for you to do so in isolation.

4- Study the context!  Most errors in Bible interpretation and application flow from one source: reading Bible verses out of context.  We have all made this mistake, so I’m definitely not throwing stones.  But I do want to encourage you to study the words of the Bible in the context of the sentence, in the context of the paragraph, in the context of the chapter, in the context of the book, in the context of the whole Bible.  This process is so important to make sure you understand what the original author actually intended to say with what they wrote.  You wouldn’t want anyone to read one sentence of your email apart from the context of your whole message.  Don’t do that to the biblical authors either!

5- Read honestly.  The Lord of the Bible knows your heart and mind as you read the Bible.  There is no value in faking your response to the Scripture.  The psalmists model for us a brutal honesty with God as we process His promises in the midst of our own struggles and circumstances.  I think Bible-reading is so much more powerful and life-changing when we are honest with the text, when we argue with it and celebrate it and cry through it and get mad at it.  If you really study the Bible and seek to apply it to your life, you will experience the full range of human emotions.  Be honest about it, and ask the Lord to shape you according to His will as you read.

No other spiritual discipline has helped me grow as much as spending daily time in God’s Word.  I pray that you will experience God in fresh ways in the Bible in the new year!

“For the Word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.”  Hebrews 4:12

Four Steps to Consecrate Yourself before the Lord

After the Lord rescued the people of Israel from brutal slavery in Egypt and delivered them from the powerful hand of Pharaoh, He called them to consecrate their lives.  The consecration was not a prerequisite of Israel’s salvation, but a commanded response to God’s faithful love for His people.  The Lord commands the nation of Israel to “be My holy people” in Exodus 22:31, to set themselves apart for worship and devotion to God.  The command has not changed now that we are under the blood of Christ.  Our salvation is still a work of total grace, based on the perfect righteousness of Jesus and not our own.  At the same time, Jesus has commanded those who have been purchased by His grace to “obey all that He has commanded us” and to “be holy as His Father is holy.”  In other words, we are still directed to consecrate ourselves before the Lord, not as a means of earning His favor, but as the appropriate response to His favor.  What does this process of consecration look like?

First, we need to remember God’s grace in our lives.  One of the most common commands in the Bible is to “remember” all that God has done for us.  The festivals in the OT and the sacraments in the NT are means of remembering the gracious work of God on our behalf.  A drift in our commitment to holiness is usually connected to a lack of awe and wonder at all that God has done for us.  Start your process of consecration by writing down all the good gifts that God has given to you that you do not deserve.

Second, we need to remove our idols and distractionsAs the people of Israel moved into the promised land, they found it full of other nations who worshipped other gods.  This is a helpful picture of the church’s position in the world today – surrounded by people who worship everything and everyone else other than the one true God.  And because our hearts are naturally bent away from devotion to God, we will drift naturally drift toward idolatry.  This is why Jesus commands us to “seek first” the Kingdom of God ahead of everything else, and why God warned His people to not adopt the gods of the peoples around them.  To consecrate ourselves before God, we need to recognize where we have adopted the idols of our surrounding culture and remove them from our lives.  Continue your consecration by writing down the distractions that keep you from loving God first and most in your life.

Third, we need to repent of sinful attitudes and actions.  When we turn from our idols to seek the Lord, we must confess the sins that have become second-nature to us.  We must be mindful of the sins that we most easily excuse – the selfish attitudes, evil thoughts, and harsh words.  We need to agree with God that our laziness and spite and lust and greed and apathy are sins against His holiness.  We need to repent of our flippant attitude toward our own sin, and recognize the damage that our sin causes to our relationship with God and with others.  As you consecrate yourself before the Lord, ask Him to show you the sinful attitudes and actions that are offensive to Him, especially those that you cannot see.  And turn from those sins back to the Lord.

Fourth, we need to recommit our hearts to God.  Consecration is not ultimately about clean living.  It is about worship.  We consecrate ourselves before the Lord not to prove ourselves to our neighbor or feel good about ourselves.  We consecrate ourselves before the Lord for the Lord.  We pursue holiness as an act of worship, out of a deep love and awe for the worthiness of God.  In this way, true consecration seeks to bring the Lord the glory and honor that He is due.  Finish your consecration process by declaring your love and devotion to God as your highest and greatest pursuit.

Clarity, Not Simplicity

open bible

One of the greatest challenges in teaching and preaching the Bible is balancing faithfulness to the text with good communication skills.  In other words, a preacher can teach every detail he has found in the text, but if he doesn’t know the basics of communication theory (know your audience, make it memorable, be clear), no one in the audience will remember anything he said.  A good Bible-teacher always has more material from his study of the Word than he can possibly put into a helpful sermon.  This requires him to set aside many important insights for the sake of communication.

However, I want to sound a warning against seeking too much simplicity in our communication.  While clarity is essential, the desire for simplicity may actually lead us to distort what the Word says in order to make the Word memorable to our listeners.  What I have noticed over my years of study and preaching is that the Bible is not always simple.  If we seek to make it simple, we will undoubtedly distort what God is saying.  Let me be clear: there is no value is making something complex that is simple in the Bible.  Many teachers are guilty of adding layers of meaning and application to a simple truth.  However, I am concerned that too many preachers today are taking complex truths in the Word and trying to make them simple for the sake of communication.  Let’s not just seek simplicity – let’s seek clarity.

For example, think about what the Bible teaches on money.  To say that the Bible only teaches three things about money is to over-simplify the complex teaching of the Bible on money.  The Scripture has a ton to say about money (its importance, how to manage it wisely, the danger of worshipping it, how and why to give it away).  If you try to simplify the Bible’s teaching on money down to a few words (for the sake of being memorable in your teaching), you will absolutely distort what the Bible says about our relationship to money.

The preacher will obviously respond with this objection: how can I say everything the Bible says about any one topic in one sermon? This is a great question.  My answer?  You don’t have to say everything in every sermon, but you do need to say everything at some point in your teaching ministry.  Again, our goal as Bible-teachers is not only to be practical or memorable (though those values are so important), but to be faithful to the whole counsel of God.  When we simplify the Biblical complexity for the sake of communication, we can be guilty of reductionism – leaving out parts of God’s Word in order to be good communicators.

I guess my main point is this: if God has revealed to us in His Word that something is complex (like His nature), let’s not be smarter than God in seeking to make it simple.  What are some other examples of our tendency to reduce complex truths for the sake of communication?  I hope to post a few in the days ahead.

The Acts of the Apostles Major Themes

This Sunday, I pick up in chapter 13 of the book of Acts.  We preached through the first twelve chapters in Acts last fall, and after a seven week break to teach on marriage, we jump back into the narrative.  As I have been reading back through Acts this week (in order to regain my bearings), I have been reminded how much I love this book and how much we have learned already.  Here are a few of the major themes we’ve already seen developed in the book of Acts:

1- Jesus, who was crucified, is alive.  When the gospel is preached in the book of Acts, the resurrection is emphasized as much as the crucifixion.  The apostles were obviously in awe of Jesus’ death for sin, but they were even more in awe of the fact that they had seen Him alive after they had seen Him die.  The resurrection proved that everything Jesus said and did had greater meaning.  He wasn’t just another teacher who lived a good life and died unjustly.  He was (and is) the Son of God, risen from the dead.

2- Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, the fulfillment of the prophecy and promises of the Old Testament.  As Gentiles, we can be tempted to study the life of Jesus apart from the Old Testament narrative, but the book of Acts won’t allow us to do this.  The apostles understood the life and ministry of Jesus in the context of the story of Israel.  They use Jewish titles for Jesus (Messiah, Lord, Savior, Lamb of God, Son of David, etc.) and show us how He fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament.

3- The apostles boldly proclaim the truth about Jesus to all regardless of consequences.  The final command from Jesus was to be witnesses to His life, death, and resurrection.  The apostles obviously believed that they could not be witnesses without opening their mouth and talking about Jesus.  Yes, they cared for those in need, but always in the context of boldly preaching the message of Christ.  And they spoke despite the risks to their safety and security.

4- The Holy Spirit does the miraculous as the message of Jesus goes forward.  The narrative of Acts makes the case that both the witness of the church and the miraculous power of the Spirit are required for gospel to spread.  The Spirit doesn’t act arbitrarily.  He acts to support the spread of the gospel, to build up the church in its mission of taking the name of Jesus to the nations.  The movement formula in the book of Acts seems to be simple – preach Jesus and ask the Spirit to do the supernatural to confirm your message.

5- Gospel ministry and persecution go together.  We don’t like to talk about this much in the American church (because we like to be comfortable), but the book of Acts shows us what Christians around the world know to be true.  When we boldly proclaim Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we will face opposition.  In fact, a lack of difficulty and opposition may shows that we are not following in the footsteps of the early church.

6- God can convert anyone, regardless of their past opposition to Him.  The gospel is the power of God to change lives.  And it really changes people.  The story of Acts is not just that godly people added Jesus to their moral lives.  The story of Acts is that those who were living opposed to God were radically transformed by the gospel of grace.  Even those who had been working to kill the church can be changed by God to those He uses to build His church.

7- The gospel is for all people in all places, regardless of ethnicity, religious background, or past moral performance.  I love this part of our story.  The message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is for all people.  Peter says it best in 11:34, “now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism.”  This is incredibly challenging to our prejudices and hope-inspiring for our ministry.  God’s message of grace is for everyone.

8- God will build His church through His people.  The story of Acts is one of hope – that the power of God’s Spirit working through God’s people with God’s message will really change lives.  As we follow Jesus day by day, we can sometimes lose hope, especially in the face of darkness and opposition.  But we are reminded by this awesome book that God will build His church.  He has been victorious over the grave, and nothing will ultimately stand in His way.

The Yoke of Jesus

During His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This invitation has several parts to it.

First, Jesus’ invitation is to come to Him!  It is not an invitation to an event or philosophy of life or a principle.  It is an invitation to a person – Jesus Himself.  The Christian faith (as a reminder) is about Jesus, not about a religious system.  When we find ourselves tired and weary and burdened by life, Jesus invites us to sit with Him.  Not to figure out a new system or structure or procedure, but to come to Jesus.  The invitation is not to self-dependence, but to dependence on Jesus.

Second, Jesus teaches us that all of us get weary and burdened with life.  Why?  Because life is hard and challenging and overwhelming at times.  Because we are sinful and rebellious and stubborn and hard-headed.  Because we are compassionate and loving and want to help others and carry their burdens as our own burdens.  Because we are human.  We are not God.  We get tired and sick and frustrated and angry.  We are the created, not the Creator.  Because of that, the burdens of this life can crush us.  They do crush us.  This life can brings great heights of joy and deep valleys – sometimes in the same day.

Third, Jesus promises to give us rest.  He doesn’t mean a nap.  He means a deeper rest – one of the soul.  One where are hearts are at peace and our souls are at rest in God.  You know what it feels like to be restless in your soul, don’t you?  To not be at peace with God, yourself, others.  Jesus tells us to bring that to Him.  He is gentle and humble in spirit.  His yoke is easy.  His burden is light.  He gives rest.  He promises to give rest.  To who?  To all of us.  To you – to me – today.

How does this actually work?

There is a great story in the Gospel of John, chapter 4, where we see Jesus expose the heavy burdens of this life and bring His freedom and peace.  I want us to study this passage and allow God to speak anew to our hearts about the weariness we feel and burdens we are carrying.  This story (of the woman at the well) is a familiar one to most of us.  But don’t allow its simplicity to lull you to sleep – to miss the powerful insights from our Lord Jesus and the writer John on finding rest in God.

I want us to see three contrasts in this passage, each contrasting one way of life that drains us from another way of life that fills us up.  In this passage, we will see the actual way by which Jesus brings His easy yoke and light burden into our lives.

First, let’s see the difference between stale water and living waterLet’s read John 4:1-14.

Jesus sits down at the well of Jacob in Samaria to talk to a Samaritan woman who was gathering water.  Jesus is immediately crossing two cultural barriers to talk with her.  He is ministering to a woman (not appropriate) who was a Samaritan (not liked by the Jews).  A great reminder that Jesus’ rest is for all people.  He is not a respecter of persons, of titles or bank accounts.  Jesus invites all who are weary and burdened by life.  And He invited this woman to experience His rest.  What did He say?

He told her that if she knew the gift of God and who was speaking to her, she would ask for and receive Living Water.  Let’s explore this teaching in verse 10 – very important to understanding the rest of God. What is the “gift of God?”  In the gospel of John, the gift is the grace of God offered in Jesus Christ.  Grace is God’s unmerited favor – His love poured out on us without anything in us to deserve it.

In other words, what Jesus is saying, “if you understood the grace of God and the coming of the Messiah, you would reach out for Him and He would respond to you.”  You would not just see Living Water, you would receive Living Water.  Why would understanding grace and believing in Jesus as Messiah cause us to reach out to Him?  Because we would know that we don’t have to get our stuff together before we approach Him.  That is grace.  And we would recognize that He is the only One who can give us true meaning and peace.  The Messiah is the One who puts the world right and puts peace in our hearts.

Jesus teaches the woman that this Living Water is different from anything else she has ever tried.  Every other water that she drinks will leave her thirsty again.  Is he talking about H2O?  No.  He is talking about everything else we look to in our lives to sustain us and give us purpose and meaning and value in this life.  Jesus exposes the first source of our weariness – the attempts to gain ultimate fulfillment in things that weren’t designed to ultimately fulfill.  Huge.

We know from the rest of the passage that this woman had been married many times.  Why?  Was she looking for a human relationship to complete her, to make her whole?  Think about your own life.  What stale water do you turn to, looking for peace and rest and security?  Jesus Christ Himself is reminding us in His words.  No person and no pursuit outside of Jesus will ultimately satisfy your soul.  You and I were made to worship.  We were made to be in relationship with our Creator.  Nothing in creation can be that ever-flowing well that springs up for eternal life.  Only Jesus satisfies.  Do you believe that He is enough?  That He is more than enough? Or are you always looking for someone / something else to satisfy your soul?

STOP and think.  Is your soul dry?  Is your heart empty?  Are you weary and overly burdened?  Could it be that you are feeling the effects of drinking from stale water?  Are you putting unrealistic expectations on your job, your family, your hobbies, your friends, your ministry even, hoping that they will make you whole?  They won’t.  They can’t.  Only Jesus is Living Water.

Second, let’s see the difference between confessed and hidden sin.  Let’s read John 4:15-26.

After Jesus teaches the woman at the well about the Living Water that He brings, He exposes what she tries to keep hidden from Him.  He tells her to go get her husband, and then when she refuses, reveals that He already knows about her five marriages, and her current live-in boyfriend.  Jesus confronts her sin in order to restore her, not to condemn her.  He desires to bring spiritual life to her, which is the reason for this conversation in the first place.

She obviously doesn’t want to go there, to talk about her failures and poor choices and sins against God.  Nobody does.  Who can blame her?  We don’t want anyone to know that we have those kinds of thoughts or words or actions.  It is so much easier to pretend that we are perfect and have our stuff together.  This one wanted to perform for Jesus, to act like she wasn’t involved in any kind of immorality.  But Jesus won’t allow us to simply hide our sin from him.

For good reason.  When we hide sin, refuse to acknowledge or confess our sin, it kills us inside.  We carry a heavy weight, a burden that crushes our spirit.  When Jesus calls out her sin, the woman at the well starts a conversation about the proper geography of worship.  But Jesus again won’t let her get away.  This discussion is not about location, but about the heart.

Jesus tells her that now that the Messiah has come, worship is not about external issues like being in the right geography, but about issues of the heart – spirit and truth.  Connecting with God on a heart level based on the truth of who He is and who we are.  Spirit and Truth.  Not deceit.  Not hiding from God, but coming honestly before Him, because He knows about it already.

One of the most common causes of spiritual dryness and a weary soul is a failure to confess and repent of sin.  Why do we hide from God when we know deep in our hearts that He knows about it anyway?  Because we don’t trust the heart of God.  What do you think is going to happen when you come clean before the Lord?  You think He is going to disown you?  Run from you?  Ignore you?  Punish you?  Let me tell you what happens when you confess you deepest, darkest sins to God?  He forgives you.  He extends grace and mercy.

Confession and repentance brings life.  Hiding sin from others and from God drains life.  It is a heavy burden to carry sin with us, to attempt to ignore the Holy Spirit day after day.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God won’t leave you alone.  He will continue to pursue your heart, day after day.  And you know what you will find when you finally come clean and confess and repent?  LIFE!  You will find that God is more gracious that you knew and that people were more accepting that you could have imagined.  No one rejected you or sent you away.  God wipes you clean and renews your heart.  And there is freedom!

One of the greatest tools of the enemy is to keep us bound in habitual sin, to keep us trapped in the lie that we won’t ever be able to change, that no one will understand, that we can’t tell anyone about what we’ve done.  This creates a heavy burden.  Bring it to Jesus Christ.  Take up His easy yoke.  He is gentle and humble of heart.  He will free you from the sin that has you entangled.

Third, let’s see the difference between taking people to Jesus and leading them to us.
Let’s read John 4:27-30, 39-42.

The woman, after having Jesus reveal Himself to her as the Living Water and expose her lifestyle, realizes that this Man is not just another prophet.  He is the Messiah!  He is not another religious leader or spiritual guru.  Jesus is the One and Only King, the Anointed One of Israel, the suffering servant who takes away the sins of the world.  And when she realizes who she has met, what does she do?  Please take note.  She invites others to meet Him.

She doesn’t invite people to trust in her or follow her example.  She invites them to come and see this One who told her everything she ever did.  She ministers to others by bringing them to Jesus.  And the Bible says that many believed in Jesus because of what the woman said.  God used her testimony.  But notice where John goes in verse 42 – after they encountered Jesus, they believed because of their own experience with Jesus, not her experience with Jesus.  This is VERY important to understand.

So many times, we feel the burden of being responsible for people’s spiritual life.  In one sense, this is good.  We love people and want to see them grow.  We desire for people to honor God above all things in their lives.  In another sense, however, this can be bad.  If we make people dependent on us for their spiritual life rather than Jesus, we will slow down their growth and carry too much weight.

The goal of our ministry is NOT to make our own disciples.  It is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  I know this sounds foundational, but I believe many of us are weary because we are taking on too much personal ownership of other people’s struggles and failures.  It is good to be empathetic and feel deeply for people.  It is not good to carry the weight of other people’s choices in life.  Our job is to point people to Jesus Christ, to teach people what it means to follow Jesus, and to model whole-hearted devotion to Jesus, but we cannot make decisions for people.  They have to meet Jesus on their own and experience Him first hand.

One of the reasons that we can work hard as ministers of Jesus Christ and still sleep well at night is because ultimately people belong to Jesus, not to us.  He is responsible for them, and they are accountable to Him.  They will not give an account to us when they die.  They will give an account to God.  We are witnesses to the Truth.  We are not the Truth.  We are called to lead people to Jesus.  He is the Messiah.  You are not.  You will never save anyone.  Jesus saves.  You can have the joy of introducing people to Jesus, like the woman at the well.  You can have the joy of telling them His story.  But in the end, they must investigate the claims of Christ on their own and make a daily decision on how to live.

Jesus calls us all to come to Him with our weary souls and our heavy burdens.  What heavy burden are you carrying today?

It could be the weariness that comes from looking for fulfillment in the wrong place.

It could be the weariness that comes from carrying sin that needs to be confessed.

It could be the weariness that comes from carrying other people’s concerns and struggles.

Whatever it is, remember the words of Jesus.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  His heart is gentle and His spirit is humble.  He invites you to come.  Not to me, but to Him.

Respond to Him and He will meet you there.

 

Why should I go on a short-term mission trip?

Even if you are convinced of God’s heart for the nations (see Matthew 28:19, Acts 1:8, and Revelation 7:9), you can still wonder if it makes sense for you to take a week off of work and raise $3000 to go to another country in order to share the gospel and encourage the church.  Short-terms missions have exploded in popularity over the last several decades (as international travel has become cheaper and safer), but many still question the wisdom in going themselves.  Shouldn’t they just give $3000 to a long-term missionary who knows what they are doing contextually and speaks the language?  I would never discourage supporting full-time missionaries (Barie and I support three ourselves!), but I would argue that everyone needs to get on the field themselves.  Here’s three quick reasons why I think you should go on a short-term mission trip:

1- Your effort to go will make an impact on the people you meet.  Obviously, if you share the gospel, you are making the greatest impact on those in another country.  I just received word from a church-leader in another country that five people came to faith in Christ as the result of a trip that I went on last fall (and that two of them were getting baptized into the local church).  If you go overseas, you will have the chance to share the gospel with someone who might never hear it unless you go.  In addition, your effort to travel across national borders will encourage the believers you meet.  They will see and understand your passion to take the gospel to all people and will be challenged to think globally themselves.  In this way, if you go with a heart to serve and share, you will make an impact on the people in the country you visit.

2- Your heart and life will be forever changed.  Not only will your involvement in short-term missions impact those that live in a foreign country.  It will change you.  You will get a bigger view of God – understanding that He is not just the God of your culture and ethnic group, but the God of every culture and ethnic group in the whole world.  You will grow in your passion for evangelism.  Most of the people who go on short-term trips come back more excited and equipped to share the gospel at home.  You will understand what it takes to be a full-time missionary.  This might lead you to join a church-plant team in the states or it might lead you to pack your bags and move permanently to another country.  Most full-time missionaries start out as short-term missionaries.  Finally, you will grow in your love for others.

3- You will have the chance to share with friend and family stateside about your trip.  Many people who want to go on a short-term mission trip get nervous when they think about raising money.  In my mind, however, this is one of the most important and strategic parts of short-term missions.  When you write letters and emails and make calls to friends and family before you go, you get to talk not just about your need for funds, but about why you are going.  This is even more true when you return.  Those that support your trip will want to see pictures of your trip and hear about what you did.  This opportunity expands even to peers at work who want to know why you took a week off of work for “church stuff.”  All of these conversations are open doors to the gospel at home when you return.  Many have been able to share Christ with friends and family at home when they return from a short-term trip.

I hope you will strongly consider giving up time to go on a short-term mission trip soon!

My Life Verse

Two verses from the book of Jeremiah have been guiding lights for me from early in my Christian life:

23 This is what the Lord says:
The wise man must not boast in his wisdom;
the strong man must not boast in his strength;
the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth.
24 But the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understands and knows Me—
that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth,
for I delight in these things.
This is the Lord’s declaration.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

Let’s do a little hermeneutics on this passage today.

First, ten observations.

  1. God is speaking.  Jeremiah is reporting what God has said.  This is the Lord’s declaration.
  2. “Boast” is repeated three times in the negative and twice in the positive – key verb.
  3. The command to “not boast” is absolute (must not ever).
  4. Boasting in God and boasting in our wisdom, strength, and wealth are mutually exclusive.
  5. God commands mankind to boast in knowing Him as Revealed in His Word (covenant God of Israel).
  6. God reveals Himself through His works of love, justice, and righteousness on the earth.
  7. God delights in his character traits.
  8. The context before (verse 22) reminds us of the fragile nature of humanity.
  9. The context after (verse 25) teaches us about God’s coming judgment.
  10. The cultural context was a people who trusted in their own strength and riches.

Second, four interpretations.

  1. God commands His people to never trust in their own attributes, which are passing away, but to trust in His attributes.
  2. The goal of human life is not to make much of ourselves, but to know the God of the Bible in the fullness of His revelation.
  3. What we boast about (with our words) reveals what we worship with our hearts.
  4. God has most fully shown His commitment to love, justice, and righteousness by sending Jesus into this world.

Third, two applications.

  1. We should spend as much time seeking to know God Almighty as we do pursuing our wisdom, strength, and wealth.
  2. As Christians, we should be marked by our praise of God instead of endless self-promotion.

I am thankful for these verses because they teach me what is important and constantly drive me back to my need for God’s grace.  I regularly miss the point of the Bible and forget that all of life is about knowing God, not boasting in myself.  What do you boast in?  Where do you look in times of trial?  What do the words of your mouth and the meditations of your heart declare?  That God is your source of refuge and strength or that you will be able to make it based on your own wisdom, strength, and wealth?

If we build the largest army and gather the largest pile of riches and earn the most degrees, but don’t know and understand the God of all armies, riches, and knowledge, we have missed everything.

Store treasures like Jeremiah 9:23-24 in your heart.  They will most certainly light your way.

The Whole Counsel (& Money)

One of the most important skills to learn in Bible-study (as a student of the Word and a teacher of the Word) is to teach everything the Bible says about a subject rather than just emphasize one thing the Bible says.  We are constantly in danger if we reduce the teaching of the Word to one sentence or principle for two reasons.

ONE, pulling biblical principles out of the narrative of the Bible can change the meaning of the passages we are teaching.  For example, if the main narrative of the Bible is that God created everything that is out of nothing for His own glory and sent His only Son to redeem and restore His creation which was broken by our rebellion, then the individual stories and principles must be put into that broader context.  If not, we will actually contradict the primary story of the Bible (you need a Savior to redeem you and the Spirit to help you) with moralistic parables about how to live moral lives without the presence and power of God.

TWO, emphasizing one teaching from the Scriptures on a topic can distort the whole counsel of God’s Word because the Bible says complimentary things on numerous topics.  This is called reductionism, where the teacher over-emphasizes one part of the biblical narrative at the expense of the whole.  For example, if a teacher just says the Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong but doesn’t say the Bible teaches that sex inside of marriage is beautiful, then people can get the idea that God is against sex in general rather than the true teaching that God created sex and puts boundaries on our sexuality.

This paradigm for Bible study (don’t reduce the biblical teaching to one point) has been elevated in importance in my mind as we have tried to teach the biblical worldview on money and possessions.  The Bible (and Jesus Himself) says so much about money and possessions that you can’t reduce it to one sentence or principle.  In fact, we must teach the whole counsel of God on money or we are likely to distort and misapply the Scripture in some way.  When it comes to money, the Bible teaches AT LEAST the following eleven truths in different passages:

1- Wealth-building can be wise.
2- God gives excess to some so that they can share with those who have less.
3- Jesus’ radical generosity toward us serves as a model and a motivation for our radical generosity.
4- The Holy Spirit must guide us as to which sacrifices we, personally, are to make.
5- God delights in our enjoyment of His material gifts.
6- God, not money, should be our primary source of beauty and security.
7- We can’t take anything we collect here with us but we can invest in eternity.
8- The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
9- No one can be a slave to money and a slave to God at the same time.
10-  Everything belongs to God.  We are just managers of His stuff.
11- God wants His people to be regular, sacrificial givers.

Do you see my major point?  If you and I take only ONE of these truths and ignore the rest, you will distort the teaching of the Bible on money (as many have).  Those who teach a prosperity theology (God wants you to be rich) and a poverty theology (God wants you to be poor) are doing this kind of reductionism – finding ONE verse that supports their worldview and teaching it without the context of the whole counsel of the Bible.

Where do we go from here?  First, we read the whole Bible (a point I’ve made many times on my blog), not just parts of it that we like.  Those that read only the New Testament or the Gospels or the Psalms are destined to make these kind of mistakes.  Don’t ignore any parts of the Word – read it all.  Second, make sure that you don’t overstate what the Bible says when applying to your life or the lives of others.  This is where we get into trouble and become legalistic.  Allow God to speak to you personally and clearly, and trust Him to lead others as they read the Scriptures.  Third, put together everything the Bible teaches on a topic before you build a case on just one passage.  In other words, teach the Bible holistically.

May God be glorified in us as we listen to everything He has said to us.

The Best Gospel Tract Ever Written

I wish every person in the world would take at least take ten minutes and read these words that were written 750 years before Jesus was born.  They never cease to amaze me.  Read it slowly and in awe.

Isaiah 52:13-53:13

See, My Servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were appalled at You— His appearance was so disfigured that He did not look like a man, and His form did not resemble a human being — so He will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths because of Him, For they will see what had not been told them, and they will understand what they had not heard.

Who has believed what we have heard? And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to? He grew up before Him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like someone people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.

Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds.  We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth. He was taken away because of oppression and judgment; and who considered His fate? For He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of my people’s rebellion.  They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully.

Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely. When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished.  He will see it out of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil, because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels.