Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Top 3 Rural Church Podcast Episodes of 2017

A cup of latte and an iPhone with a music app open on a table

At the end of August 2017, my friend Eddie Ragsdale and I started a new project entitled The Rural Church Podcast. We've been amazed and encouraged at the feedback we've gotten! We would do it even if no one listened because it gives us an excuse to talk to each other once a week. Otherwise, we are too busy.

I thought since we are just about to end the year, I'd share the top 3 episodes that have been listened to the most. We'll start with #3 and go to #1.

3. Episode 4 (9/18/17, 43:17 runtime) Practical Tips for Beginning a New Sermon Series

From the notes: What sort of sermon series should we be preaching in the local church? How do we decide what sort of series to preach? How do we get started in preparing for a new sermon series? All of this and more is discussed in this week's episode!

2. Episode 7 (10/16/17, 47:10 runtime) - Inflated Church Roles

From the notes: After a 1-week hiatus (thanks, Eddie! - Ok, maybe Allen was busy too...) we discuss the issue of church membership rolls that don't accurately reflect the people who actually attend regularly. This is a major problem in many Baptist churches, where membership rolls can be inflated by as much as a 3 to 1 ratio or even worse. Eddie and Allen discuss why this is such a problem and also what are biblical ways all churches can improve in this area.

1. Episode 11(11/27/17, 64:01 runtime) - The Attractional and Affinity-Based Church Movement 

From the notes: This week, we turn it up to 11! Well, okay, it's actually just our 11th episode of the Rural Church Podcast!!! Cowboy Church, Biker Church, Outdoor Church, Race Car Church, Gamer Church, Hipster Church, and the list goes on and on and on. Is there anything wrong with the 'affinity' based church movement? Should churches seek to 'attract' people to their main gathering using something other than the gospel? On this week's episode, Eddie and Allen tackle these issues and show why the attraction and affinity-based church movement falls short of the New Testament model of the local church. This is an important discussion...

Hmmm. Seems like the longer we go, the more hits we get. Ha!

It's possible we sneak in one more before the year is over. But if not, we plan to podcast once a week and discuss life, ministry, and theology from the perspective of the local church in 2018.  Thanks for listening!

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Christmas Gift for You

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
- Matthew 1:21

It's the most wonderful time of the year. But not just because the kids will be jingle belling. I love this time of year because Christians use it to reflect upon the beauty and wonder of God becoming man. The parties for hosting and marshmallows for roasting and caroling out in the snow are all a fine part of the season too, but really aren't even worth mentioning in the same breath when we grasp the reality of Matthew 1:21. 

Christmas is a promise. He will save His people from their sins.

He. None but Jesus can do this. It is Christ alone who is our only suitable and all-sufficient Savior. Not your good works. There is no other mediator. Salvation is found in Christ alone. And the good news of this text is that He is a most willing savior. He will save. Jesus will save His people from their sins.

Not might. Not potentially. Will. You can take that promise to the bank.

He will save His people.

Not just the Jews for many have died without Christ. Not every single individual in the world for many have and will die without Christ as well. If this verse meant Jesus 'will save' every person then guess what? He failed. And Jesus can't fail. He will save His people.

He just might save you.

"But I don't know if I'm one of 'His people'!" You are if you will come to Him in faith. Those are God's people. Those who in response to His grace alone come to Him for salvation. We are never told in Scripture to crawl into the mind of God and discern whether or not we are 'His people'. What are we told to do? Repent and Believe the gospel. Across the top of the gate it says 'whosoever will may come'  (Revelation 22:17, Romans 10:13) and if you will go through it and turn around it says 'chosen before the foundation of the world' (Ephesians 1:4, Romans 8:30).* 

So, here is a Christmas gift for you: If you're willing, come to Jesus and be saved from your sins. He will save His people from their sins. Jesus didn’t just come to save us from our 'sin,' but our sins. I think we can pull the full scope of redemption from this text. 

Have you ever considered what it means to be saved from our sins? Suppse you are willing today and want to be saved from your sins. What does that actually entail?

To be saved from our sins is to be:

1. Released from Guilt – We are saved from the penalty of sin.

God’s wrath righteously stands against all mankind because of our rebellion against Him. We are guilty before Him in Adam and for every way that we have not honored Him as God. We have broken God's Holy Law in more ways than we can even fully imagine. We’ve done what God has said not to do. And we’ve not done all that He’s said to do. We’ve treated God as though He doesn’t exist. We break His Law and laugh about it. We act like Judgment isn't even coming.

We have truly dishonored His holy name and deserve His justice.

But hear the glorious news of this gospel: Through the blood of Jesus we are released from guilt! By faith in Christ we are saved from the penalty of sin. We are declared just in the sight of God based on the merit of Jesus alone.

For those who are in Christ Jesus, there is now NO MORE Condemnation! (Romans 8:1)

You can actually be set free from your guilt. Guilt is big business these days. Drug and alcohol abuse is often a result of trying to suppress guilt. You can pay a psychologist big money to tell you ways to get rid of your guilt. Society tries to normalize deviant behaviors such as homosexuality so that we can alleviate our guilt. You may even be buying gifts this year so you can make up for past sins! But the reality is, none of those things will every truly release us from our guilt.

Any alleviation of guilt apart from Christ is only temporary. The problem isn't that you feel guilty. The problem is that you are guilty and if nothing is done about that guilty, you will meet God one day and He will judge you justly. But the Christmas gift I'm telling you about truly releases us from our guilt. You can be transferred from the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son. You can be set free from the penalty of sin. 

No more shame for your sins. Christ has paid for them in full. This promise is for you, and anyone else, who will come to Him in faith, trusting in these promises. Don't just know the facts, but come to Christ in faith. As Spurgeon said, "It will not save me to know that Christ is a Saviour; but it will save me to trust Him to be my Saviour."

Come to this fountain so rich and sweet, Cast thy poor soul at the Savior’s feet;Plunge in today, and be made complete; Glory to His Name! 

To be saved from our sins is to be:

2. Reconciled to God – We are saved from the partition of sin.

We were made by God for God. We were made to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. And yet, our sin has made a separation between us and God (Isaiah 59:2). In our lost state we are separated from Him and to die in that state means we will righteously suffer His wrath for all eternity in hell.

But this text promises Jesus will save His people from their sins. Do you know what this means? Believers have peace with God. You can too.
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled." 

Jesus saves us from the dividing wall of sin. Believers were once alienated from God, but have been brought near by the blood of Jesus. The war is over between Christians and God. This is the only way to have true peace. The perfect Christmas family tradition won't bring you lasting peace. The moment of happiness you get when seeing a child smile on Christmas morning will eventually fade. The only rest for your weary soul is found in Christ. If you will trust Him today, He will save you from your sins and you will be reconciled to God. You can know Him today in faith.

To be saved from our sins is to be released from guilt, reconciled to God, and:

3. Reoriented to Godliness – We are saved from the power of sin.

Believers were once orientated toward all manner of unrighteousness. But, now, through Jesus, we have been rescued not just from the penalty of sin, but also the power of it! In our day we have many people who claim that Jesus has saved them from their sins and yet they are living in those sins as though Christ has not liberated them.

Do you know the truth? For many in our culture, they have not been saved from their sins. Their life is not reoriented to one of godliness. Their heart is full of the love of the world. They love the prestige and popularity of men. Sure, they may dabble in religion from time to time. They may even faithfully come to church every Sunday.

But they do not love Christ. Their heart is not set on the things above. There is no hunger and thirsting after righteousness. There is no plucking of the eye or cutting off the arm of the flesh. There is no real seeking of deeper communion with Christ in their life at all. They don't truly love God's people. And yet, they will say, ‘I was saved from my sins when I was 12 years old.’ Not if you love to live in your sins you weren't.

Jesus is an all-sufficient Savior. He saves to the uttermost. J.C. Ryle elaborates:

“The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require: not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by His atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them, but also to sanctify them.”[1]
Did you know that Christianity is not just about preparing to die? It’s also about living.  Sooo many think they have Jesus in their lives but I can tell you from this text that it’s not this particular Jesus who is in their lives. How do I know? Because this particular Jesus came to save His people from their sins (see also Titus 2:14 - - Heb. 12:14 - - Eph. 2:10 - - 1 Peter 2:24). 

A life that is not reoriented to godliness has not been saved from sins. Christmas actually serves as an important reminder about the holiness of God’s people doesn’t it? Christ came to save his people from their sins! Not just ‘sin’ in the abstract, but real sins.

This is the gift: You can actually be saved from your sins. Pride, and lust, and anger, and greed, and jealousy. Come to Him. You don't have to continually succumb to your law-breaking if you will but come. Now, it's not "stop sinning" and then come. It's come and find in Jesus a savior who is able to rescue you from the penalty, partition, and power of sin.

Sin is enslavement. Those who appear to be having the hap-happiest season of all, are really only numbing the reality that they are trapped. Yes, they love their sin, but this doesn't take away from the truth that their sin is a terrible master. Christians have been given a new master: Christ. And how wonderful, patient, good, and loving a master this Jesus is. He saves us from the power of sin.

But wait. There's more!

Finally, to be saved from our sins is to be: 

4. Received into Glory – We are saved from the presence of sin.

The truth is that as long as Christians live in this world we will struggle with remaining sin. Yes, Jesus does rescue us from its power, but the fight against it never ends until Christ calls us home. The fact that Jesus saves us from our sins means that we can be assured of a day in the future where we will be fully and finally free from the actual presence of all sin. Not in this life. But in the life to come, which is forever and ever.

All of Christ’s people, all those who have trusted Christ and are thus following Him will be received into glory. There is a day coming where those who've come to Christ (as perhaps you are considering doing even now) will no longer have to fight sin because we will be fully and finally free from every ounce of it. 

A wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Lord!

How astounding is this gospel. Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, was the righteous God-Man in every way, He bore our sin to Calvary and was crucified on that old rugged cross. He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. The Son of God became Son of Man on a particular mission to provide our greatest need, namely the rescue from sins…

The greatest need that you have, is the same need that you can do nothing about. And yet, the wonderful news of Christmas is that God did something about it.

So, I wonder, what will you do with this Jesus? Don't just give Him a hat tip. Don't just 'include' Him in your celebrations this Christmas. Come to Him as your only suitable and all-sufficient Savior. Don't just believe He is "a savior". Trust Him as your Savior. Repent of your lawless deeds, and close with Christ today. 

You'll see this time of year in a whole new light.

You will be saved from your sins.

This blog post is an excerpt from a sermon preached at Perryville Second Baptist Church. You can listen to the sermon by clicking here.

*An illustration fro Spurgeon
[1] Ryle, J.C. Holiness (Faverdale, England 1979), 16.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Bold Strategy for Reaching Arkansas with the Gospel

It's not my desire to be controversial just for the sake of controversy. I don't want to belittle anyone who thinks differently on this issue than I do. But, I do have some pretty strong convictions about this and I am convinced that they are rooted in Scripture. I've debated myself about posting this, but it is my desire to keep this conversation going. And it is my hope, that one day we will see a change in our current strategy. 

The recent numbers coming in on lostness in Arkansas aren't good. The above graphic shows that nearly half the people in the state are not claimed by any religious groups in Arkansas. These religious groups include non-Christian groups, so adding up the total percentage of non-Christians in the state of Arkansas would seemingly go well beyond 50%. And here we are right in the Bible Belt of America. Something needs to change. 

Recently I attended our Arkansas Baptist State Convention's annual meeting. There were several things about the meeting for which I was encouraged. There were also a few things for which I was discouraged, particularly so when it comes to our strategy as a whole in reaching the lost in Arkansas. 

One of the messages I was able to listen to had a few excerpts that I am particularly baffled by and hope to offer some helpful alternatives. But before I do, I want to list a few things for which I am very thankful for concerning the Arkansas Baptist State Convention:

1. We care about lost people. The charts and stats and figures and strategies exist because we have people in our churches and convention who care about lost people.
2. We are intentional about diversity. We've recognized the problem of 'white only' churches and have been intentional about reaching people not like us.
3. We have been more focused on prayer. The last several years prayer has been an emphasis in our state.

I can truly say that I am happy to be a part of the ABSC and that our church joyfully contributes to the cooperative program. With that being said, it doesn't mean that I don't have a few concerns. Concerns that I do, in fact, consider significant. 

I'm just a young guy with not much to offer. I don't have a seminary degree and I have never planted a church. So, if you read this and dismiss what I'm saying I can actually totally understand. Thanks for making it this far. But, honestly, it's really my hope that you'll think through this biblically (and even historically as far as God's great revival movements in the past). And if someone else more qualified comes along to lead in the changes I'm suggesting, praise God.

Here are a few statements that I find problematic in our current effort to reach the lost in our State:

  • “Unchurched people tend to get in church with their own kind.”
  • “We are being incredibly strategic in starting churches for different types of folks.” 
  • “Please don’t criticize your pastor for wearing jeans to try and reach millennials.” 
Now, let me state upfront that I do think we have a problem in many churches. And the problem is that we are affinity-based - meaning that we are basically white, middle-class 1970s era Southern Baptist churches. I am grateful that we are looking at this and addressing it for what it is: a problem (when a church is not accurately reflecting it's community's demographics).

With that being said, I cannot, by conviction, get on board with a strategy of 'starting churches for different types of folks.' There really is only one 'type of folk' and that is sinners in need of reconciliation with God through the finished work of Christ. Unfortunately, we have bought into the ideas as Southern Baptists that the best strategy for reaching lost people is to tailor existing churches and to strategically create new types of churches toward certain demographics so that the 'unchurched' (not a fan of that term, more here) will walk through the door. 

But let me remind us that we don't see this sort of strategy in the New Testament at all. Not. At. All. We are never instructed to make our churches more comfortable for lost people so that they will come into a service and get saved. Instead, the theme of evangelism in the New Testament is that Believers would get out of their comfort zones and go to lost people with the message of the gospel. I know, I know, Paul said "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). But he did not say he tailor-made churches for different kinds of people. Rather, his point is that he was willing to go to great lengths in order to see people come to Christ. Instead of this passage giving us an excuse to create affinity churches, it actually should convict and embolden us to have our existing churches strive to reach people with the gospel! As Spurgeon said regarding this passage:

"Churches that do not care for outsiders quickly suffer from disunity and strife. What unites a church completley is the calling out of all its forces for accomplishing the Redeemer's grand objective. This passion for saving souls not only employs but also draws forth the strength of the church."
You see, if our strategy for reaching those not like us is "let's plant a church for those type of people" we actually fail to carry out the spirit of 1 Cor. 9:22 and miss a tremendous blessing in the church. But, the response to this usually goes like this: "Yeah, but there are people out there in our State who won't ever come into a church like yours." If that's the case, there are only two possibilities:

1.) The church 'like mine' isn't a healthy church or 
2.) The person refusing to come isn't a true Christian. 

How can we know this? Because true believers long to gather with other believers in the church (1 John 3:14, Hebrews 10:25, Philippians 2:1-11, etc).

You see, the strategy cannot be 'since our existing churches are affinity-based, let's just make more affinity based churches' (i.e., Cowboy, Biker, Outdoorsmen, etc.). Why? Because this flies in the face of another sermon I heard at the meeting which highlighted Ephesians 2:14: For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility...

In other words, one of the most beautiful pictures of the gospel at work in the hearts of people is unity where there was once division. When the man in his suit and tie and the younger man in his jeans and tattoos worship our Triune God side by side, it is a testimony to the power of the gospel. In fact, Jesus said the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:35).

So, what is this 'bold strategy' I offer us to consider going forward? It is simply this: Go and make disciples by preaching and teaching the gospel and its implications.

I admit that I just plagiarized the greatest church planter to ever walk this earth, namely Jesus of Nazareth. But all joking aside, we are foolish at best, and rebellious at worst, if we trust in any other strategy. Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16). Why? Because it is the power of God for salvation! That's right. The gospel is the power of God. In other words, when we come up with plans and strategies and techniques that involve reaching people with the gospel and something else, we have shown our lack of trust in the sufficiency of the gospel message to save all sinners.

In fact, the message I referenced earlier was from John 6 and toward the end, it was stated “The [young boy] only had 2 fish sandwiches and a brown paper bag. And he’s the hero of the story.” Not to nitpick here, but that's not entirely accurate is it? No, I'm not talking about the brown paper bag part. I'm talking about the hero part. The hero of the story in John 6 is Jesus. And the feeding of earthly food actually served to show that that's all the vast majority of the crowd was really after. The Bread of Life stood before them and all they wanted was their belly to quit grumbling. That's why Jesus goes on to say in v.63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

Why does this matter?

Because the hero of reaching our state with the gospel is Jesus. And we can build churches, and we can have the greatest of programs, and we can attract a mass number of people. But it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. It is the power of God in the gospel message, the message of what Christ has done for us, that brings sinners from death to life. If Jesus is the hero, aren't we best served by actually listening to and trusting in what He and His Apostles have told us about reaching lost people? We don't merely need the right 'message' but also the right method. It's possible to actually corrupt our message when we use the wrong method. For example, to say we trust in the power of the gospel, but instead of actually trusting in its sufficiency alone, we also build churches that only certain groups of people will come to, we actually undermine what we are telling people about the gospel.

I think the gospel can change a drunkard. I think it can change a homosexual. I think it can change a gossip. And I think it can change someone who doesn't want to attend church.

The strategy of starting new churches in Scripture was not to go build churches for various groups of people. Rather, it was to go preach the gospel and as people were saved they would gather and organize into local churches from all walks of life: Jews, Gentiles, Jailers, Rich People, Poor People, Young People, Old People, etc.

I know it sounds crazy (and maybe even a little simplistic) to just say 'go preach the gospel' but I really believe that's the answer. God uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). It's foolish to think that we can reach over 1.5 million people in our state just by going out and telling them the message of Christ, but I'm in! Let's mobilize our churches to reach people in the places that God has Sovereignly put them as we scatter all over the state of Arkansas every week.

In fact, it was also highlighted yesterday that “the underground churches in Africa and China don’t have the resources we do and are seeing sweeping revival” (Paraphrased). We might really be on to something here. You see, we think in church planting that we need money and facilities. Then how is God doing these great works in other places without those things? Because people are sharing the gospel as they go throughout their day with people that God brings into their life. Maybe what we need is just the gospel message. Maybe it really is enough. Maybe it's not pie in the sky to think that cowboys, bikers, millennials, and business folks can all worship in the same local church together under the banner of Christ. Maybe that's what makes the gospel shine most beautifully. And maybe that's what we are missing most right now in our State.

Now, this also means there is still work to be done in our existing churches, doesn't it? I'm thankful for the leadership making it clear that there are things that do need to change in our existing churches. However, I don't think that the pastor wearing skinny jeans is the answer (the exact quote was: “Please don’t criticize your pastor for wearing jeans to try and reach millennials"). Millennials will not be reached with jeans or suits or anything actually- other than the gospel. So our existing churches have to realize this. They have to realize that their strategy for reaching the lost isn't 'come and see' but 'go and tell.' I'm not against changing dress code, changing service times, or changing music styles, as long as we understand that none of those things reach people. None of them. I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

We also must acknowledge this for existing churches: The 3 to 1 ratio members to attendees has to end. In Arkansas there are 152,000 people in ABSC churches every Sunday while over 500,000 on our the membership rolls of our churches. One way to effectively revitalize our churches is by going through the process of church discipline and having accurate rolls. Perhaps in doing that we will see some of these 'unchurched people' come to true faith and repentance.

Furthermore, existing churches must also realize this truth: reaching lost people is a messy business. As newly converted people attend your church they may not look, think, and act exactly like everyone else. Some of that may be sin issues that the Lord is continuing to work on. But some of that might be cultural issues that need to be embraced and welcomed as we seek to express Christian unity in the midst of cultural diversity. We don't have to have the same pastimes to be in the same local church together. And is there a greater cultural divide to serve as an illustration other than Jews and Gentiles? And yet, they could worship in the same local church together. How? Christ. The gospel really is that powerful.

So, what might this look like practically in our state? Here are just a few brief suggestions. I hope others can help build on these according to Scripture.

1. Stop planting affinity based churches immediately. No more cowboy or biker church.

2. In places with unreached culture groups help existing churches to reach those people. Whether, Hispanic, African American, or some of these affinities we've discussed already like outdoorsmen, bikers, and cowboys (etc.)

3. Seek to aid in reforming churches according to Scripture so that prejudice toward any group may be eliminated.

4. Be sold out on the power of the gospel. That no matter what, it is the Spirit who gives life and He does so through the proclamation of the life, death, burial, resurrection, and lordship of Christ.

I do admit that this is a heavy issue and one in which we must seek to think through together. I know I don't have all the answers. But I am truly convinced that this current strategy will not, in the end, be successful in terms of Christ's mission for the church. I hope that you will take what I've said in that light. I'm not trying to bash or belittle anyone. I'm just trying to get us to continue to think through this. I want us to talk about this more. I want us to perhaps even have a roundtable discussion on the issue. I want us to work together. More than anything, I want to see God glorified in the salvation of sinners.

Soli Deo Gloria

(I've written about this more in the past. Here are other posts:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

71 Hours

It only takes a quick google search to find out that the 'real time' it takes for an average reader to read the Bible from cover to cover is under 72 hours. One site says 70 hours and 40 minutes. I saw a tweet just this morning where Don Whitney said it can be done in 71 hours.

71 hours.

Say you are a Christian for 50 years (age 25 to age 75 and then you pass on into glory). You will have lived 438,000 hours as a Christian. Knock off 50 hours a week for work, 56 hours a week for sleep, and say another 50 hours a week for family, church, and other things, that leaves you roughly 12 hours a week of 'free time'. Yeah, I know: often that 'free time' is used for ball games, or volunteering, or mowing, etc. But still, go with me here.

12 hours every single week. 

If you are a Christian for 50 years, that's something like 31,200 hours. At that rate you could read through the bible 439x in 50 years! But that's not realistic for the vast majority of us is it? But what if you just gave a mere 10% of your time to focused Bible reading? Actually, not even 10% of your entire time, but just 10% of your free time. What would that look like?

Over the course of 50 years, that's 3,120 hours.

How many times could you read through the entire Bible in that amount of time?

44 times.

And that's just giving 10% of your free time to the Lord to read Scripture. How does that translate to 'real time' every day?

Here's the math: 12 hours a week divided by 7 days a week = 1.71 hours a day of 'free time'. Divide that number by 10 to get your 10% and that equals = 0.171 hours a day to give to the Lord in reading His Word. Multiply that by 60 to see how many minutes that would be: 10.26 minutes. Or about 10 minutes, 15 seconds every day.

Yup. 10 minutes, 15 seconds every day and in 50 years you'll have read through the bible over 40x.

Now, here's the sad thing. Many Christians today feel as though it is a great accomplishment if they have read through the entire Bible even 1x in their life. But I've just shown how if you give the Lord only 10 minutes every day, you can read through the Bible 44x! And many Believers in the Bible Belt are Christians longer than 50 years and they can give the Lord more than a mere 10% of their free time. It's honestly a travesty how little we know our Bibles.

Of course, nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to 'read through the Bible'. But Jesus tells us (quoting Deuteronomy 8:3) that 'Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matt. 4:4). And King David tells us that Scripture is to be more desired "than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10). 

Do we think God breathed out (2 Tim. 3:16) any of His words arbitrarily? Do we think we need books like 'Jesus Calling' to make God's words more relevant and personal? (We DON'T!). Is Scripture a treasure to you? Is it worth at least 10 minutes and 15 seconds of your focused attention every day? 

And of course, I know some will be reading this post and say "Hey, but I'm not an average reader. I read really slow." Well, chances are, you don't read twice as slow as everyone else, but let's say you did. 10 minutes a day would still have you reading through the Bible 22 times in 50 years! Not to mention all the time you have when in the Bible at your local church during Sunday School, Preaching, and Small Groups (all the more reason to make those!).

Truthfully, there are other valid alternatives to reading Scripture than just beginning in Genesis and reading 10 minutes 15 seconds a day all the way through Revelation and then starting over. You may focus on just a few books of the Bible for a season and read them over and over to get to know them better (see this post by Jim Elliff). But, even then, over the course of your walk with Jesus you would have still read through all of the Bible multiple times. 

The main point in all of this is that we aren't as busy as we think when it comes to Bible reading. I'm not trying to tell you how to read your Bible, just that you do have the time to invest if you'll take the opportunity to do so. In fact, if we set our alarms just 10 minutes earlier every day, we could accomplish this and really not miss the sleep all that much. And another factor to consider is that I think the Bible is worth more than just 10 minutes a day! But, even at just 10 minutes, you can accomplish way more Scripture intake than you probably thought you could. Don't look at just here and now. Look at 5 years down the road. Look at 10 years down the road. Look at 50 years down the road. Do you really want to get to age 75 and realize that you neglected so much precious time that you could have spent in God's Word? 

How will you invest your time? 10 measly minutes every day to know Scripture better than you ever have in your life. But guess what? It's not just knowing Scripture is it? It's knowing the God of Scripture! You see, the Bible is how we grow in our knowledge of who God is! And through His Word He grows us into the likeness of Christ (John 17:17). You want to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)? Think about what you'll do with those 10 minutes every day (and then some!). As Americans, we really have no excuses for not knowing the Bible better than we do.

As I wrap this up, isn't it a very comforting thought to know that Jesus died even for the sin of neglecting Scripture? No one can 'read the Bible' into heaven; rest in the finished work of Jesus. But resting in Jesus isn't sleeping our way through life. If you've been neglecting your Bible, pick it up, dust it off, repent and trust that Jesus' blood is enough to cover that sin too, and then take it up and read it. Every day. 10 minutes or more.

You won't regret it.

P.S. Dr. Don Whitney has a helpful Bible Reading Record that you can print off. It will help you keep track of what chapters of the Bible you've read. This isn't just to 'show off' but to keep a record so you can make sure and read through every word of God multiple times over the course of your life.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Bible vs Common Sense

athlete, black-and-white, boxer

Last week we looked at King Jehoiakim’s wicked act of cutting up the Bible. Not too long after that, the prophet Jeremiah pleaded with Jehoiakim's uncle, King Zedekiah, to also heed the Word of the Lord.

Several years ago I was in a deacon’s meeting where a man said, “I know we have the Bible, but God has also given us common sense.” I don’t disagree with that, but I wonder, what do we do when the Bible and common sense seem to contradict?

Zedekiah had a choice to make. “Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live” (Jeremiah 38:17). 

Surely this can’t be right! You want me to surrender to Babylon? Surrender!? Give my life into the hands of this wicked king and I will live? That goes against everything that makes sense to me. And so, Zedekiah makes a disastrous choice. He chooses to listen to ‘common sense’ (and perhaps a little peer pressure as well) instead of the Word of God. 

The result?
The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes, and the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. The Chaldeans burned the king’s house and the house of the people, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 39:6-8)
The point?

I believe there is definitely application here for us as we read Scripture. Sometimes we see that God’s Word contradicts the latest church growth book. Sometimes we are tempted to listen to the counsel of others even though it appears to detract from Scripture’s sufficiency. Sometimes it may seem like we are surrendering and that just goes against all plain reason. Or sometimes, if we are honest, what the Bible compels us to do is just hard and it would be easier on us if we simply disobeyed. 

But let me exhort you today: take heed of Zedekiah’s folly. Listen to the Word of the Lord no matter what. When we understand Scripture properly in its context and we see it’s plain truth before us, don’t let anything else convince you to act contrary to it. Not your spouse, not your friend, not the newest book, and not your common sense. Bow to Scripture as your highest authority and obey even if it initially seems like it would bring you more harm than good. Disobedience to Scripture is never the right move. Scripture is always right no matter who stands in opposition to it. Let no friend, teacher, cultural position, or even your own brain convince you that obedience to the Word of God is not the best choice.

This issue is, you may not always see immediate results of disobedience. Zedekiah chose in his heart to not heed the Word of the Lord, but it would be months later before he would see the disastrous consequences. Sometimes disobedience doesn't show its full fruition for months or years later. But we can be sure: we will reap what we sow. Disobedience is never worth it.

Thankfully, we have another King to look to. King Jesus did go to the enemy and gave Himself into his hands in obedience to the Father. And this wasn’t so He could save His own skin, but ours. In the most epic example of something going against common sense, the obedient Son was nailed to a wooden cross by Roman soldiers. No way this could be the right thing for Jesus to do. Oh, but it was! Death brought life. Our obedient King, perfect Prophet and great High Priest bore our sins in His body on the tree. In one act that would appear to go against all human reason, the Lord of glory accomplished our redemption. He didn’t meet the wrath of His enemies on that old rugged cross but the wrath of God against our sin. And by His wounds, we are healed. The obedient One gave Himself for the disobedient. Christ condescended to rescue us from the coming wrath of God. And in that rescue is big, wide, and deep enough to not merely 'get us to heaven' but to free us to follow the Lord's will today. The gospel frees us from the folly of trusting ourselves as infallible sources.

Perhaps you've bought into the idea that sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend before you are married 'just makes sense' so you can see if you are truly compatible. Maybe you've thought that you have to be a little dishonest in the workplace, or you'll never make the next promotion. It could be, that you are tempted to abandoned preaching the Word of God in your Sunday gatherings because other things will draw a bigger crowd. In all of these scenarios and numerous others we could discuss, you must listen to Scripture over and above common sense. See, our common sense is affected by sin, and therefore, it's not always a trustworthy source. But the Bible is! It is the very voice of God in written form. It is truth. Always. (John 17:17). 

Obedience to Scripture must always be grounded in the finished work of Christ. It's not our perfect obedience that gets us to heaven because our obedience is always tainted with sin. Christ has finished the work on our behalf! I hope you’re resting there. And I hope that in resting there you remember that the gospel has opened the door for us to crucify our common sense when necessary. No, I am not saying to lay it aside altogether for that would be foolish! Common sense and plain reason are good gifts of God! But know this: when Scripture seems to contradict them, the Word of God is undefeated. It proves the true and right thing to do 100% of the time. Of course, this implies, we must regularly be in the Word doesn't it? (Providentially, I watched a great 5 minute exhortation to biblical mediation this morning. You can watch it here.) 

Listen to the Bible, even if it initially seems that not listening would produce more favorable results. The Lord’s ways are better. Always. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Gas Station Parable

Our little town of 1,500 people currently has a little problem - at least until December 15, 2017. You see, we've always had, for as long as I can remember, at least two gas stations. Growing up there were three, but one ended up closing simply because of the rising gas prices. The other two have managed to stay in business, and depending on the time of day either one can be somewhat crowded. When I was a teenager I had a job in each of these places, and for the most part, neither one has changed all that much.

That is until March of this year. You see, one of them sold to Casey's General Store, thus leaving our community with only one gas station. I don't have a for sure date on when Casey's will open up but word on the street is it won't be until December 15 of this year. In my opinion, it can't get here fast enough!

Now, this is not because there is anything wrong with the other gas station. It's a great place to get gas, a Milky Way, Icee, or some fried chicken. But here's the problem that we face: this poor little station can't support the whole community. First of all, it doesn't have diesel, so those needing that now have to go out of town. And secondly, this gas station was never set up to bear the weight of all the petroleum needs that 1500 people, not to mention the people in surrounding areas, have.

I just got back from filling up the church van and boy, was this place packed. I thought I was going at an off time, avoiding both the lunch and before/after school traffic, but it was still packed! You have to wait in line to get gas, you have to maneuver around people, cars, and sometimes animals (after all, we are in Perry County, and that's how we roll!), and if you want to avoid someone honking at you, you have to fill up and get out of the way as quickly as possible. It's sort of put an added bit of stress on us all every time we need to fill up the tank. Bottom line: We need more than one gas station here because this one is getting overworked. I can't imagine what it must be like for the employees and the management to stay at full capacity, every open hour during the week!

As I drove back to the church building, I couldn't help but think how this too often serves as an analogy of the reality in many churches. 

How so? 

Consider one verse from the text I'm preaching this Sunday:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10)

You've heard of the 80/20 rule, haven't you? That is, that typically in a standard church, 20% of the people are doing 80% of the work. I have no official data to back that up, but from my experience, this does prove to be the situation in too many places. 

Many gifted people are coming on Sunday mornings but leaving the work of the ministry in the life of the church to only a select few. And honestly, the select few can't support the whole community. There's nothing wrong with the few, and this is no indictment upon them whatsoever. It's just that the reality is that the entire Body is mean to use the gifts God has given them in order to serve one another. When the task of ministry is left to only a few, often burnout ensues. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, the sheep feel overburdened by the load that they are carrying. And for good reason! They were never meant to shoulder it by themselves. 

What can you do?

First of all, realize that we live in a 'me-first' culture. The idea of using your gifts to serve someone else is quite contrary to the way the world thinks. But they are not actually your gifts, are they? They are God's gifts to you. In a way, this is a beautiful picture of the gospel. You see, the greatest gift God has ever given us is His Son. This is Paul's argument for encouraging Corinth to give financially. "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!" (2 Cor. 9:15). So, when we serve one another, not only are we doing what God has instructed us to do, but we are also mimicking our Heavenly Father who gave us the greatest gift. When we fail to serve, we make a mockery out of the gospel because no only do we show that it has no power to effect real change but we also give the false allusion that God is not generous. 

Secondly, if you feel overburdened, don't carry that by yourself. Talk with your pastor(s) before it gets to a point where you feel like you have to give up everything. Don't be afraid to share the load. What if someone else gets the credit? So what? This is for the glory of God (1 Peter 4:11).

If you are just a 'pew sitter' you must consider what God has given you and what he has told you! He has gifted you particularly with His varied grace, and He has told you to use those gifts to serve one another. Who are we to use God's gifts in a way not intended? I often think about those talented in the world using their talents for the kingdom of darkness, when they could be using them for the glory of Christ. But, Christians are just as guilty (if not more so!) when we refuse to use the good gifts God has given us to serve the local church. Perhaps you've been blessed financially, or can teach, or can be an encourager, or a prayer warrior, or can sing, or are creative, or are technologically savvy, or the list goes on and on. There are literally thousands of ways that you can be serving in the local church from helping at VBS to calling someone who missed in order to check on them. The point is, don't overburden your brothers and sisters by neglecting 1 Peter 4:10. Use your gifts to serve the body!

When we fail to serve one another, it makes the ones serious about serving essentially serve at full capacity with no real breaks during the year. That might can be sustained for a period of time, but overall it's not healthy. It's not healthy to the church because those serving are shouldering more than they need to. It's not healthy to the ministry because inevitably those serving are doing things less efficient than they could be done (i.e. if they are an 'eye' trying to do the work of an 'ear'). And finally, it's not healthy to those not serving since they are sinning by not obeying the clear instruction of God to use His gifts to serve one another in love.  

Perryville, AR wasn't meant to have only one gas station, and your church wasn't meant to only have a few people serving. That ministry mindset is unsustainable. Serve one another as that is part of loving one another earnestly (1 Peter 4:8). 

If you are already are serving, pray that the Lord would continue to give you the strength He supplies to serve well for His glory (1 Peter 4:11). If you are a pastor, encourage and teach your people to use their gifts to serve one another. And, if you aren't serving, repent and ask the Lord to show you in what ways you can use His gracious gifts to serve your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in your local church for the glory of God.

Good Enough

***Pretty excited to share this guest post with you from Aleigha Israel. This is an excerpt from her book Hidden Treasures. Thanks, Aleigha for being willing to share this! Read through to the end to learn more about her and how you can purchase a copy of this book.***

“It’s good enough.”

How many times do we, as Christians, utter that phrase? We tackle a task, only to say towards the end, “that’s good enough.”

But good enough for what? And good enough for whom?

If a football player is required to do warmups for 20 minutes, and he only does 15 (because he gets tired) and declares, “that’s good enough,” is it really? Good enough for what? And good enough for whom?

This morning I made my bed as usual. (If there’s one thing I used to have OCD about, it’s my bed.) I had strict instructions and goals when making my bed. The comforter hangs over the bed only so much. The pillows must be fluffed (and there are six of them); you get the picture. I’ve instilled this OCD in my 8-year-old sister. That’s probably part of the reason why I don’t have it anymore.
In fact, she’s the one who brought to my attention this morning that the comforter wasn’t hanging perfectly straight over the side of the bed. And because I didn’t feel like fixing it, what was my response? You guessed it.

“It’s good enough.”

Which got me thinking. Good enough for what? And good enough for whom? Who do we make our beds for? Who do we cook our meals for? Who do we do the laundry for?  The answer’s not me, or us. It’s not our husbands or our families.

The answer is Christ.

We work for Christ.
We play for Christ.
We do everything for Christ.
We don’t (or shouldn’t) do things to receive praise from man. We should do everything with only one figure in mind, Christ. Those aren’t my words either. Take a look at this verse in Ephesians:
“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people,” EPHESIANS 6:7

And a few more speaking on this topic:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”      COLOSSIANS 3:23
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

This one right here is humbling:

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” GALATIANS 1:10

Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, that if we are serving man rather than God, we aren’t servants of Christ. I don’t know about you, but I would never want to fall under that category! How do we make certain that we aren’t serving man rather than God? And if we are, how do we stop it?

Do we even know the difference? How do we know for sure if we are serving man rather than Christ? Well, for starters, serving the Lord means we are not serving ourselves.

Serving the Lord means we are not primarily serving others.

Don’t get me wrong, serving others is definitely not a sin, in fact, we are commanded to serve others:

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” GALATIANS 5:13 

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 PETER 4:10 

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” ROMANS 12: 9-13

In fact, when we’re serving others, we are serving God! “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” MATTHEW 25:40

What brings us pleasure? How do we please ourselves? It could be ice cream, movies, food, shopping, reading, the possibilities are endless. These are some of the ways we serve ourselves rather than God. Am I implying that it’s wrong to shop? Wrong to eat? Wrong to watch movies? No, we would die if we didn’t eat, and we should definitely wear clothes!

What I am saying is this: Enjoying a bowl of ice cream is not necessarily wrong (unless we’re being gluttons, which in that case, it’s sin) but often, we aren’t serving Christ while doing so.

Imagine yourself with a mop in one hand, and a mop bucket in the other (for some people, this may be difficult). Now imagine yourself mopping a floor and doing the best job you’ve ever done before.

Why are you doing this? Because your boss is going to be looking over it later. You stand back and admire your work. The floor shines so brightly you almost have to look away. It looks better than it ever has, if you do say so yourself.

Then your supervisor comes to look it over.

Maybe it’s your father, maybe it’s your mother, maybe it’s a sibling or a boss. Whoever it may be, you’ve been waiting for this moment with great expectation.

What are you waiting for?

Praise. Adoration. Encouragement.

After receiving it, you go happily on your way, rejoicing in another task well done.

But let’s rewind for a minute, back to where we were before the supervisor came to look over your work. Let’s say he comes, but he doesn’t offer you any praise, adoration or encouragement.

Let’s imagine he doesn’t say anything at all. He glances at your work, gives a half-nod of approval and goes on his way. How does that make you feel?


Why would his reaction have such an effect on you? Because you were mopping the floor for him. You were working for him, you were serving him, and when you didn’t get the reaction you’d expected, you became discouraged.

You see, if you would have mopped the floor for Christ, doing your best, not expecting praise, or anything else in return, you would have had no reason to grow discouraged because of your overseer’s reaction.

Children could win the prize at being the best man pleasers in the world. They do things to please their parents and they blossom under praise and encouragement. It’s a part of who they are.

But as they grow older, they must be taught they aren’t doing these things to please their parents, but they are doing it to please the Lord. And when children do things to please the Lord, it also pleases their parents! Even the best, most sacrificial things (if done to please men) are worth nothing in God’s eyes.

I love to give gifts. I love seeing the smile spread over a little child’s face, or the joy on an adult’s. Gift-giving is contagious, and I can truthfully say I love giving gifts much more than I enjoy receiving them.

But I didn’t use to have such a good attitude about giving gifts. In fact, I used to give gifts to please man, rather than God.

An exciting idea formed when I was around twelve-years-old. I wanted to collect Bibles to give to people in need. I started out using my own money, but the Lord soon blessed me by other family members and friends who mailed Bibles and sent money. I was ecstatic!

Many times, as a child, our Thanksgivings would be spent serving the homeless in our community.  It was something we all looked forward to with great excitement. It was such fun to serve others and enjoy the feeling of purpose. It was around Thanksgiving when I first had the chance to give out some of these Bibles.

The gym was set up with tables to serve the homeless a hot Thanksgiving meal, and we had many volunteers. Timidly, I approached a table and handed a lady a Bible. My mother, not very far behind me, became my spokeswoman and talked with the lady for a few minutes while I listened.

Giving away Bibles became a favorite thing to do, and I found homes for every Bible that came into my possession. Family members and friends were quick to offer encouragement and praise, and I soaked it all in.

It wasn’t until a few months later, that I discovered something was wrong. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel like I did when I first started giving away Bibles. And then I noticed something else. The praise I had gotten from friends and family members had slowly waned, and with it, went my joyful desire to give away those Bibles.

That was when I realized something else.

My Bible giving days may have started out with an innocent motive. But I had let the praise of man enter my heart and turn my motives around. I had slowly, but surely, become a man pleaser.

So, I stopped giving away Bibles.

Why? Because my motive was all wrong. And until I could fix it, I decided to stop giving away Bibles.

That may not have been the wisest decision, but as a twelve-year-old, it was the best one I could think of. Since then, I’ve learned that giving gifts for God’s glory, reaps a much better reward than giving them to receive praise from man. Just as working for Christ, and working to serve Him, rather than man, is not only Biblical, but it also makes us feel better in the process.

(Oh, and we’ve also went back to giving away Bibles, in bags we put together for the homeless!)

Are we serving man, rather than God? If the answer is “yes,” then we must ask the Lord’s forgiveness and endeavor to change our perspective.

Here are a few tips to help in that process: 

v    Be quick to help others
v    Practice hospitality
v    Seek wisdom
v    Show forgiveness
v    Make time to worship Christ
v    Don’t work (or give gifts) and expect something in return
v    Stifle hidden motives when giving gifts. (In other words, don’t buy a gift because you are going to get something in return)
v    Love others without condition

If I find myself working for man instead of God, or if I’m being grumbly about having to do a certain chore (maybe because I’m too tired, or the chore seems redundant or too big) I think of the chore not as something I have to do, but something I get to do.

So instead of saying, “I have to go fold this load of laundry,” try saying, “I get to fold this load of laundry.” It will not only make you feel better, because you are taking the godly approach and being thankful, but you’ll also be amazed at what it does to you psychologically!

Let’s make it a daily practice to work on these things and endeavor to serve Christ with our whole heart. Let’s not do things “good enough” for Christ. Let’s do things to the best of our ability.

He deserves our very best.

ALEIGHA C. ISRAEL, writer of inspirational fiction and poetry, is an author of six books and enjoys sharing God's love through the powerful art of storytelling. Her novels are distributed through Grace and Truth Books and have been enjoyed by ages nine to ninety-three! With two amazing parents and five of the greatest siblings, there’s always another adventure just waiting around the corner!

To learn more about Aleigha and to sign up for her weekly blog post, visit: can purchase a signed copy of Hidden Treasures here:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

How to Cut Up Your Bible

It was cold and blustery as the sun was setting. Ice had begun to form along the empty streets outside and Jehudi's teeth chattered as he scurried back to the house having completed his official government business. The contraband he had been dispatched to obtain was tucked safely under his left arm as he opened the door.  The snow had been lightly falling all day but at times had picked up in its intensity. The evening had arrived, and winter had officially set in.

Jehoiakim sat in his winter house with a light blanket draped over his shoulders surrounded by his officials as the door creaked and Jehudi burst triumphantly through showing that he had retrieved the scroll of one Jeremiah the prophet of the LORD. The fire blazed beside the king, filling the room with much-appreciated heat but it had no effect on what these men needed warmed most: their cold hearts. 

Jehudi let his hands thaw, and slowly unrolled the scroll and began to read its words before the king. This particular parchment pronounced judgment upon God’s people but the intent was that these people would hear this word, heed it, and repent; thus averting the disaster that the Lord had promised would surely come. As the fire crackled and popped, Jehoiakim stared expressionlessly into the flames and listened to Jehudi’s reading. 

What would the king do? The Word of the living God was being read before him. A precedent had already been set by his father, Josiah. In Josiah’s day, a scroll of Moses had been discovered in the temple. When Josiah heard it read, his heart was broken and he tore his clothes in repentance, leading the people of God into a brief period of revival. Here the stage is set again. And although the people had once more been unfaithful, the LORD of hosts had yet again pursued them by persistently sending them His prophets. This is just like God to do. Holy and righteous, but also ready and willing to forgive. Over 100 years prior, Jonah saw this first hand as God's grace poured over the wicked Assyrians leading them to repentance in Nineveh. But that time had passed. This was a new day. And God had not sent the prophet Jeremiah to a foreign land, but right to the heart of His people. The Lord was ready to forgive. He is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Was King Jehoiakim ready to lead the people in another revival? Would this son follow in the footsteps of his godly father? What would his response be to the Word of the Lord?

Jehudi’s heart beat a little faster as in the midst of his reading, he noticed the king grabbed a knife. Jehoiakim raised the blade toward Jehudi and made his stab. Thankfully, in Jehudi’s mind, the knife wasn’t for him. The king was using it to cut Jeremiah's scroll bit by bit. And not so he could frame these sacred words to hang in his palace. Instead, he tossed them piece by piece into the fire beside him. Three men standing nearby began to plead with the king not to burn the scroll, but his heart was too cold. This wasn't a one-time dump of the entire scroll into the fire. It was slow and methodical. It was stab after stab after stab - a crime of passion. Winter had officially set in. 

The king and his officials watched this scroll burn piece by piece with a sense of smugness and satisfaction. They had won. That will teach these prophets to keep sending this nonsense. There was no fear of God before their eyes. And they did not tear their garments. Instead, Jehoiakim doubled down and sent two of his thugs out in the cold to find Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch. If he could just lay his hands on these men, he'd treat them just like he treated the scroll.

This story is from Jeremiah 36 and recounts the sad truth of the people of Judah rejecting a God who had been nothing but faithful to them, despite their continued rebellion. What an act of grace that Jehoiakim had the very words of the living God read before him! But instead of listening, loving, and repenting, he tossed them into the fire, discarding something so precious as easily as one would throw away his rice krispies treat wrapper.

Rightly, a story like this leaves us aghast. How could a king treat God’s Word like that? How could he cut it up and toss it in the fire? How could he not so plainly see his sin before him? How could he blame the righteous for the calamities he had experienced instead of his own foolishly hard heart? 

Perhaps a better question to ask ourselves is, why do we so often cut up the Bible? I know, I know, you’ve never 
actually chopped your bible up like Jehoiakim or Thomas Jefferson. However, symbolically we are just as guilty as Jehoiakim‘s slicing and dicing when we fail to tremble at the Word of the Lord like the king and his officials did on that cold winter day. When we fail to take up and read, or when we fail to care about reading in context, or when we stop responding to God’s Word properly - namely in faith and repentance - we too are essentially cutting up our Bibles. We might as well be throwing it in the fire as to treat it so flippantly.

You see, we are very crafty at deceiving ourselves like Jehoiakim. We can think that by listening to part of the Bible while neglecting other parts, we are ok. We can think that even though we don't really love Scripture at all, that we are right with the Lord. We can think our heart is a summer ocean when in reality it is more frozen than Lake Erie in January.

Scripture is not meant to be read like a Twitter feed, 140 characters at a time, or a bunch of disconnected words here or there. It is not meant to be read merely to boost one’s self-esteem for the morning. It is not meant to be read out of context whereby we claim promises that aren’t ours to claim or inserting ourselves into places in the Bible that we have no place being. It's not meant to be twisted and quoted out of context like Satan does (see Matthew 4). It is saddening to see many professing Believers use the Bible as a collection of proof texts, and feeling that they have the right to sit in authority over it, or to not trust its sufficiency. 

Scripture is meant to be read in dependency and humility. It is meant to be enjoyed. It is meant to be a window into the glory of God. Scripture is God’s speech in written form. It is given to us by a God who is ready to forgive, heal, and restore. But this is the one to whom He will look: the one who is contrite in spirit and trembles at His Word (Isaiah 66:2). Scripture is sweeter than honey and more precious than gold.

So, here is my exhortation today: Don’t cut up your Bible. Read it contextually, humbly, and in faith as you seek the God who wrote it. Treat the Bible as it deserves to be treated. See a God who is ready to bring revival to your soul. See the God who has completed the work needed to bring you to Himself in Christ. Don’t let winter set in. Don’t skip a day in the Word. Read it again and again. Meditate on it. Consider what the Lord would have you do in response to it. Read it with others. Read it with your family. It is the word of the living God! Don't be so prideful as to think you know better than the Lord. Stop resting on human ingenuity. Take up and read the Bible.

You see, Jehoiakim wasn't the last king of Judah. That title belongs to Another. And no, I'm not speaking of Zedekiah. I'm referring to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, the God-Man Jesus Christ. Jesus, unlike any of the kings before Him, perfectly obeyed God. He had a high view of Scripture (you'd expect that of its Author, wouldn't you?) and did not cut it up. He had no need of repentance and so He did not tear His clothes. Instead, something greater was torn. His flesh was torn on the old rugged cross to bring peace between God and man. The veil was torn symbolizing that the one way to God is only found through this King, Jesus. Jesus was tossed into the flames of God's wrath on the cross so that we who are far off because of sin and unrighteousness, might be brought near by grace through faith.

And the only way we know all of this is through the Bible. This is what the whole of Scripture is about! If you ever hope to deepen your relationship with God in Christ or to even have one, I exhort you to take up the Scriptures and seek Him there.

"But I'm just not in the mood to read it." Ah, read it nonetheless! Read it in hopes that the Spirit of God through the Word itself will melt the icicles on your heart! Again, don't blindly search for a verse here or there. Read through a book. Read John, or Ephesians, or a Psalm. But don't stop there. Read it again. Keep reading it. Read until you know it. Read it until you feel your soul inflamed with passion for God. Read it until it burns away your lusts for this passing world. May Scripture be ever more precious to you than it currently is. 

Do not let the fires of worldliness burn it up. Instead, may the fire of the Word warm our clammy hearts that we may seek Him all the more faithfully. Get in the Book. The time past suffices for carelessness toward the Word. The days are evil, so let us make good use of the time we have. Prioritize Scripture reading. God has promised to draw near to those who draw near to Him. He has promised to be found by those who seek Him. Don't think you can do it your own way. There is no voice more important in your life than the voice of God in written form. Listen to it. Heed it. Tremble at it. Don't seek for God's voice outside of the Bible, instead sit humbly under what He has given His prophets and apostles for our good.

If you are a preacher of God's Word, stop with human ingenuity. The people don't need your craftiness. Proclaiming God's words is the catalyst for repentance (Jeremiah 23:22). Proclaim the full counsel of the Word of the living God in its proper context. 

If you're not a preacher, be careful at pulling a Jehoiakim and labeling others judgmental simply for communicating the word of God. Yes, judgmentalism is a problem, but sometimes the label is used wrongly. It's never judgmental to simply communicate what the Judge has spoken, albeit it must be done in compassion. The point being in Jehoiakim's day, he was more concerned with Jeremiah, the messenger, than he was with heeding the message of the LORD. May this not be true of you. Heed the message of God.

May God's Word pierce our hearts this day.

Please don't cut it up.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Hope of King Jesus in the Midst of Sorrow

adult, alone, backlit

It has been one of the most intense 6-weeks stretches that I can remember- Houston, Irma, and now Las Vegas. I'm writing this morning mainly for myself, as I think through these sorrows, and for those I pastor, as we seek to process the events of last night at the Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas, NV.

At breakfast, I actually felt it necessary to talk to my sons, not only about the sadness of this situation but also, what would we do if we went through something like this? You see, in 2017, it's not beyond imagination that my own family might not face something like this one day. I pray not, but it is the sobering reality of our day.

There are a myriad of emotions that swirl around our hearts in moments like these. Anger, sadness, fear, etc. As Believers, how should we feel? How can we respond? What can we do? I'd like to offer a few thoughts.

1. Pray -

First and foremost, pray. Pray for those affected by this tragedy and their families. Pray for the family of the shooter. Pray for those who have had to respond to this shooting, including those in leadership positions. Pray for Las Vagas. Pray for our Nation. Pray that God would give you the wisdom, compassion, and love needed to discuss a situation like this with those around you.

2. Remember the gospel -

This is why a firm understanding of the gospel is so important, The gospel isn't just about individuals being saved. It is about that, but it's way more. The gospel has a cosmic focus. The Seed of the woman has crushed the serpent's head. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. He has triumphed over the powers of evil. Jesus has set in motion the undoing of all bad things.  And one day He is coming to set all things right. Maranatha.

3. Pray -

Pray that those affected by this horrendous act would find their hope in Christ. I said the gospel wasn't merely about individuals being saved, but I need to revisit that. Because it certainly is about individuals being saved (even if it is more than just that). Pray that churches in the Las Vegas area and around the United States would offer the only true hope we have during a time like this: King Jesus. Jesus, the Righteous One, has died in the place of the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). He has taken the wrath of God upon Himself so that anyone who would look to Him in faith might find full and free pardon for his or her sin against a Holy and just God.

4. Compassion -

The Son of God became Son of man, which reminds us that all mankind is made in God's image. The loss of any human life is a tragedy, but especially via murder as it's not just an attack upon man, but upon God Himself. The people of Las Vegas aren't worse than the people of Arkansas...or Houston, or Florida. The reality is that we live in a fallen world. A world that has been broken by the Fall of man. A world that we too often forget is permeated by sin and sorrow. And while it is true that mankind is in rebellion against God, it's not ok to be smug about that. Situations like Las Vegas should break out heart. Ultimately, this situation isn't about politics, but people. People. Over 50 people have entered into eternity who thought they were just going to enjoy a concert. People who were made to glorify God and enjoy Him forever have passed in the blink of an eye because of a senseless and evil killing. In times like this may we shine the light of Christ from hearts of compassion. May we remember that more important than defending or taking away our 2nd Amendment is that people's lives have been forever changed because of a mass killing. I'm not saying there's not a time to talk about those things, but we are really good at taking a situation like Las Vegas and quickly turning it into something else. Let's not make this a situation about us. We can't undo what has happened, nor can we provide answers to questions that are unanswerable. But we can pray that even in the midst of a tragedy such as this, God can bring good. After all, did He not bring good from the death of His own Son? Pray that hope will permeate the speech of Christians as we respond. Let mercy triumph.

5. Remember the gospel -

It really is our only hope. Christ is King and one day He is coming to judge the living and the dead. The Judge of all the earth shall do right. And for Believers, He will wipe every tear from our eyes. Christ has entered into humanity and suffered with us. He was the Man of Sorrows. Jesus knows the reality of human death from a human perspective because He clothed Himself in human flesh and entered our turf. He knows about senseless killings and loss of life. But more importantly, He has suffered for us, and He has suffered as us - bearing the wrath of God that we deserve for our sins on the cross. But He has risen again, victorious over death, hell, and the grave. The only real hope we have for the United States and the world is if people's hearts are changed. They won't be changed in any other way than the power of the gospel. And while it is true that God is the one who changes hearts, it is equally as true that He only does it through a gospel that is proclaimed. So, don't merely remember the gospel during times like these, but share it. Sin will be judged. But there is hope! King Jesus has paid the penalty due our sin for all those who will look upon Him in faith. May we love our fellow man enough to compel them to repent and believe the gospel. We are not promised tomorrow. We are not promised 10 minutes from now. Share this message of hope with those around you and let this message of hope be the fountain from which all of our responses to a tragedy such as this flow.

I'm not sure how much these ramblings have helped you, but even if no one reads this, they have been somewhat therapeutic for me. God is good. I'm going to take a moment to share this, and then I'm going to spend some time with the Father in prayer. I hope you will have the same opportunity today.