A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Making Disciples


How does a church leader get the people to volunteer for things like teaching a class, participating in a campaign, or taking on any kind of ministry? In short, how do we take one from the point of becoming a disciple (initial conversion) to actually being one (converted)?

The One who tells us what to do says that our central task is making disciples (Matt 28:19). In my experience, that has seemed to be the hardest possible thing to do. I've been teaching and preaching for over a decade, and have seen growth as a result. I've studied with numerous individuals and couples in their homes, and have been blessed to lead a sizeable number to put on Christ in baptism, or rededicate a fallen life. Discipleship is central to our lives as Christians, and I've not overlooked that. I directed a Summer Series this year in which every lesson was about an aspect of "a disciple's heart." I know that God has used me to have an impact on a lot of people, and I'm thankful for that, but I do not think I'm near as effective in his service as I need to be. I'm striving for growth, of course, and have all confidence God will grant me the wisdom I seek to be a better "discipler."

One aspect of my present work has magnified my ignorance of how to effectly influence the saved to enter the work of ministry. I read an article somewhere not too long ago that criticized the church for creating a culture in which the people are comfortable not taking an active part in the work of the church. We've made out like we're just seeking "volunteers," and that they're free to decline the invitation. In truth, no disciple of Jesus is free from immitating him as a minister of one sort or another, but how do we get this accross to the people, and so change the culture of the church?

As a pulpit preacher this didn't trouble me as much as it does now. As long as the people would assemble to hear my preaching, all seemed more or less well. Now that a major part of my work is directing the education efforts of the congregation, specifically the Bible School, I am keenly aware of the seeming apathy of a majority of church members. I end up having a teacher in every class by the time for a new quarter to begin, but that isn't even close to what I am aiming for--what I know Jesus wants. On the one hand, I'm thankful for this increased awareness on my part. It enlightens my preaching, and if and when I enter into a primarily pulpit work again, I'll be a better "team member" for it.

I'm interested in learning about organizational leadership, specifically as it pertains to the church. I want to learn how to more effectively disciple the brethren--to build relationships with them and lead them into active ministry (whether that's as a Bible class teacher or something else). I'm pondering about whether our traditional methods are at all the best ways to go about educating the flock. I'm a new wineskin at this point, and want to be filled. If you have experience, wisdom, knowledge that will help me, feel invited to share it. Also, if you can suggest reading that will help me to learn how to more effectively disciple (teach, model, lead, motivate) God's people into volunteering for work in the kingdom I'm all ears!

If everything were right, it would look like this:

"Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments..."(Psalms 110:3 ESV).

Help a brother out!

Friday, November 21, 2008

He is a Rewarder!


"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).

I've been thinking about my last post today--just thinking about the implications of my absolute belief in God, and the above passage sprang into my mind. Not only do I believe in "a" God, but I believe in a God "of a certain nature." I believe in a rewarder-God!

That makes me smile just writing it. The God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ and given us the Bible as testimony delivers us some pretty basic stuff in Hebrews 11:6, but also profound. Of course if you want to come to God you have to believe that he exists! But, to be drawn into relationship with him you have to believe that he wants you--that he wants to reward you for working hard to seek him.

More than ever before, these days, people are asking the "So what?" about Christianity. Why be a Christian? Why come to God? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and that's the eternal understatement! One sure reason is that God wants to reward you for seeking him. Think about these passages...

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV).

"Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven..."(Matthew 5:12 ESV).

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV).

"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay" (Hebrews 10:35-37 ESV).

And there are many more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is There A God?


I believe that God exists, and that the Bible is the true “Special Revelation” of him to mankind. But, how can one who doesn’t even know if he believes in God accept anything the Bible says? Good question. Apart from the Bible, God has revealed much about himself in Creation. We call this “Natural Revelation.” It refers to what one may discern about God by studying Nature.

Every craftsman and every artist leaves identifying characteristics in his work. All writers have their own style. In fact, anything designed or created is evidence of the existence of a designer or creator. That’s what Natural Revelation is about: the fact that the Universe has been designed and bears the marks of its designer. The Universe is so complex that it is unreasonable to propose that it came into being accidentally. It, and everything in it, was formed by a truly awesome intelligence. Natural Revelation also includes what human nature reveals about God. Though there are limits to what we can learn about God through Nature, it can teach us some very important things. Let’s take note of three.

Existence

What you are about to read is called the “Cosmological Argument” for the existence of God. It is the argument from the existence of the Universe. It goes like this: Something cannot come from nothing, and there certainly is something, therefore there has always been something. It cannot have been dead matter, for science has proven that biological life had a beginning, and science also has proven that life cannot come from non-life. Non-living matter like rocks, dirt and water can never come to life without some power outside of the material Universe making it happen. The logical conclusion is that life predates the Universe—God predates the Universe—and only His existence can explain the presence of both dead matter, and biological life.

Morality

Another argument resulting from the observation of Nature (specifically human nature) is called the “Anthropological Argument,” or the “Moral Argument.” It goes like this: Morality is a reality. That which is moral does not come from that which is non-moral. Morality belongs to personality; therefore there has always been a Moral Personality. That is flawless logic, and serves to prove the existence of our eternal God whose righteous nature is the basis for true morality and the wellspring from which ours is drawn. This argument also proves that God is morally good.

Design

The third reason Natural Revelation offers us for believing in God is called the “Teleological Argument” or the argument from design. The basic proposition of this argument is the fact that design proves the existence of a designer. All that one needs to know that there is a God is common sense and enough interest in one’s nature and surroundings to look and think. Planet Earth is precisely the right distance from the sun to give us enough warmth to live without burning up or freezing to death. What about the presence of life-sustaining water on earth, just the right mix of gases in the air to make it breathable, the fact that soil contains nutrients that nourish plants that produce both leaf and fruit that sustains animal life that makes consumable meat, and creates warm fur, all of which makes human life not only possible, but often comfortable? What of the wondrous complexity of a single human being both physically and mentally (not to mention spiritually)? The very thought of all that we are, and all that surrounds us coming into being by accidental, mindless, natural causes is a lot harder to believe than believing in an awesome, benevolent God who made it all for a reason. The Universe was designed as a place to put planet Earth, which was designed to support life, and humans are remarkably designed. That is why David wrote, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:2). A cursory study of nature argues convincingly for the existence of the Creator. The reality and complexity of Creation proves that the Creator is eternal, all-knowing, and all-powerful (Romans 1:20).

God Wants Mankind to Know Him

As we conclude this little treatise on Natural Revelation, we can take note of another fine point. The three arguments from Nature for the existence of God prove that God wants us to know Him! The presence of the Universe is proof of the eternal Creator. The nature of the Universe proves an all-knowing, all-powerful Creator. Being all-knowing and all-powerful, the Creator was capable of creating only creatures that could never discover his existence. But, he chose to make mankind with the intellectual capacity to discern his presence through the design that is in Nature!

An objective study of nature can teach us a great deal about God, however, it cannot teach us all there is to know about him. We know that Natural Revelation reveals a God who wants us to know of him, but it can’t reveal anything further about his wishes and purposes. Our own innate senses of justice, and those intangibles, such as love and compassion, as well as free will teach us a lot too, including the fact that God is the ultimate and highest good, but the winds and the waves, rocks and sand, animals and plants can’t tell us much more.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for "In him we live and move and have our being… For we are indeed his offspring” (Acts 17:24-28 ESV).

We can confidently say that there is a God who wants humans to know him, but who is He? What does He want? Has He made contact with man? These are the questions that lead us to seek Special Revelation and, ultimately, the Bible. He’s seeking you. Won’t you seek him?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Drop that Bad Habit?


As far as I know (at least I've never met an exception to the rule) we are all creatures of habit. I am convinced it is a blessing. By nature, I am a bit impulsive. Even so, I find that I tend to get in a daily, weekly, etc. routine and don't particularly enjoy having it altered against my will. Being basically impulsive, my routine is loose and free. For instance, whether I go to the office first thing in the morning or not changes depending upon my mood, but I still do the same things whether I start off at home or in the office. The first thing I do, as soon as I get my wits about me, is pray, and then after all the morning bustle ends, I read; then on to the next thing, and the next, according to task, not time. It's not clock based like someone more structured might be, but I am certainly predictable. Some people need a more time-based routine, and that's fine for you. One way or another, you will be much happier if you develop a basic routine that is stocked with good, healthy, spiritual habits.

I'm writing this today to say that I haven't always had a productive routine. I've had some really bad habits over the years. When I would try to simply drop a bad habit, I found it nearly impossible to do. I'm not saying it's impossible just to drop a bad habit, but that it's very, very hard, especially if it's a habit that's been around a while. The right way to overcome bad habits is not to simply drop them, but to replace them. Even when you think you just dropped a habit, in reality you held on with "white-knuckes" long enough for something else to take its place. You see, we need routine. Even those of us that intensely resist a punch-the-clock based lifestyle need structure, discipline; good, healthy habits. They keep us on the right track and allow our daily thoughts to wander within the confines of relative safety. An undisciplined, unrestrained mind is a danger to itself and everyone else.

Because it used to be me too, I know that most of us seem to drift through life bouncing off of things, so to speak. Hey, I love freedom and flexibility as much as anyone--trust me! But, I'm blessed to have good habits in place. They serve as strongholds against evil influence. I don't serve them, they serve me. Bad habits on the other hand? Well, suffice it to say, they don't serve you! Don't just drop them, replace them.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Setting, Pursuing, Achieving Goals


The old saying goes, "If you aim at nothing you will hit it!" That's pretty well on target. At times in my life I've just floated along having no more than a vague idea of what I was aiming for. In fact, during those periods I usually focused more on what I didn't want than what I actually wanted.

We all have dreams. Each of us envisions what our futures will be like. We have dreams about our children, home life, and careers. Most of us have at least some passing concern for how we'll manage in our older years (assuming we're not already there). Dreams are important, because they are the picture our thoughts paint, and like the proverb says, "For as he thinks within himself, so he is" (Proverbs 23:7a NASB). Another old saying says, "Be careful what you wish for," and the Bible has a lot to say about what we should and shouldn't desire.

That said, your dreams can come true. If God allows you life and health, you can accomplish just about anything you truly set your mind to do. You've just got to be determined and focused. But, focused on what? That is the question. Church leaders, political leaders, organizational leaders, family leaders, and individuals need to decide what they're seeking, and then pour every ounce of effort into achieving it. God made us in his image, and that means each of has immeasurable potential. I don't think most of us ever realize that. It's a shame the way some of us waste our lives!

Life is never fully predictable. The Wisdom Literature in the Bible provides sound guidance for how to know what to do in most situations, and if you'll do it, you can rest assured that most things will work out well. No one has ever written a more comprehensive package of instructions about how to make wise choices than Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Between the two of them an interesting balance can be found. Life isn't fully predictable, but you have to have a clear sense of direction, and a plan in place if you want to succeed.

I'm not just talking about business, dream home, or things like that, but I'm not excluding them either. Of course, the most important things in life are those that relate to eternal life. Foremost among any wise person's list of goals should be holiness in covenant relationship with God. Miss that, and, well, you just missed everything (Mark 8:36).

Nehemiah had a plan in place and God gave him an opportunity (Nehemiah 2:1ff). If a man wants to have a great career and happy family, he needs to set clear, written goals, update them regularly as things change, and do something in pursuit of them every day. If the leaders of a corporation want to double their business, they must do the same thing. If the elders of a church want to accomplish some great mission, again, the same thing is true. Envision where you want to be. Write specific, personal, and time-measured goals, and do at least one thing in pursuit of them every day. Last, but not least, "Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established" (Proverbs 16:3 ESV). I've been practicing this for some time now, and it has blessed me very much.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sin’s Stain Starts in the Heart


I am working on the fourth writing project in the "That You May Grow..." series along with co-author Tim Mitchell. The third installment in the series is due out in '09, and the fourth may make it to print in '09, but maybe '10. I wrote a bit today that I thought might interest some of you, so here's a little book exerpt.

Sin's Stain Starts in the Heart

A bit of a tongue twister, but keep it in mind as you continue reading. "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed" (James 1:14). Where there is no illicit desire, there is no temptation to sin. One comes to desire what he thinks about most (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34). You cannot be tempted to do things you won’t allow yourself to think about. Imagine that you are a strong door-warden, guarding the entrance to a holy temple of God. Scrutinize all your thoughts, everything you look at, listen to, and meditate upon. If you spot things that don’t belong in God’s house, bar the way, only the good may pass! (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). Become a door-warden to your heart by: (1) remembering always that you are in charge of your thoughts; (2) devoting your thoughts to the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5); and (3) refusing to indulge impure thoughts (Romans 13:14). Over time, the Lord will purify you like a refiner purifies silver!

It comes from a lesson about moral/spiritual purity. I hope it's a helpful thought.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Laying Hold of God's Willingness


The late, beloved brother Wendell Winkler once said in a sermon, "Prayer is not conquering God's reluctance. It is laying hold of God's willingness!" I don't know if the quote was original with him or not, but it is profound. I haven't been the same since hearing it.

I think the statement is worth blogging about for a few minutes this morning. I wonder how many of us think of prayer as a frustrating effort to "conquer God's reluctance." Do you feel like you have to convince God to answer your prayers? Do you generally doubt whether or not God wants to give you what you ask him for? I, for one, have suffered from doubts in regard to prayer. I've never doubted that God will answer every prayer, but I have been weak in prayer often due to praying small. It has taken a profound shift in my way of thinking over the past year or two for me to be able to ask God for big things--mighty acts of intercession--and not doubt that he will do what I ask or even better.

I also wonder how many of you are familiar with that idea... that God will give you what you ask for, or better? When you think, "or better," do you imagine that it will always be something that turns out to be better in the end, but between now and then is hard, painful, or just not very exciting at all? I've been guilty of that, too. We do need to remember that sometimes we ask for things that are not in our best interests, and that God will always do what is best for us (1 John 5:14). However, I hope to grow stronger and stronger in prayer as I develop an increasingly positive view of "God's willingness."

I'm going to let a couple of passages flow through my thoughts today, and ask God to help me to have stronger faith as I grow in prayer. Maybe you'd like to join me?

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV).

"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours" (Mark 11:24 ESV).

"Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14 ESV).

"...You do not have, because you do not ask" (James 4:2 ESV).

Friday, November 7, 2008

From Tolkien to Lewis


I'm thankful that I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien's writings as a freshman in High School. I remember as a child watching the Rankin-Bass specials that came on TV from time to time: The Hobbit and The Return of the King. Each time I watched, I was left with a sense of wonder about a world that seemed so much deeper, that the cartoon had only hinted at. I also saw the books themselves, they belonged to my uncle Ronnie. The illustrations on the front cover fascinated me. somehow I was given the sense that these books were something more than just a fantasy story.


I didn't really like to read until I was in High School. I read the Bible some, and my father read more to me. My mother forced me to read Treasure Island while I was eleven, and I read just enough to be able to answer her questions. It was a good thing, though, because the parts of it that I actually read were interesting, and I enjoyed them in spite of myself. It was one of those steps along the path. Take note parents: if done correctly, you can lead your children to progress along a good path.


When I set my mind to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I absolutely devoured them, and then proceeded to read the "hard core" Tolkien stuff as well. For the record, Tolkien's work is more than just a fantasy story, it is THE fantasy story! Somewhere along the way I learned of the friendship between Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Through adolescence I was much more interested in fantasy literature than anything else, and for that reason alone I wanted to read The Chronicles of Narnia. Somehow I never got around to it.


Until grown with kids, the movie came out, and somehow I came into the posession of a boxed set of the Chronicles. Last night I read from book 6 of 7 to my sons. We've read the first five together. While Lewis' fantasy is by no means comparable to Tolkien's in its depth, detail and richness of mythology and "history," it surpasses his in the overall significance of its meaning and message. Tolkien's work is a masterpiece in its own right, and has some strong lessons that Christians can relate to and use, but Lewis' work is a masterpiece of Christian allegory. In his myth, Lewis tells the Christian story, and in so doing helps us all to learn to imagine our roles in the great struggle of the ages in a heroic light. I appreciate that.

Finally, a couple of years ago, as part of a "thank you basket" for participating in a seminar at a local church, I was given a copy of Mere Christianity. I'll finish reading it today or tomorrow. There is very little in it that I cannot heartily recommend as worthwhile reading, and that is a great understatement. Last Monday I bought a copy of The Problem of Pain. Now, Lord willing, I plan to read everything Lewis wrote.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Feeling Follows Being


Ha! Catchy title eh? My brother would draw his little "TM" in the air, but alas, somebody likely already said it somewhere. I'm not convinced there is ever a truly original though at this stage in the game, and am even less sure if I care how "original" something is as long as it's true.

And the title is true. Feeling follows being. I taught a class simply called "Spirituality" last spring, and one of the things I found is that people have a deep longing to feel spiritual. They want to have a personal relationship with God that goes beyond an intellectual knowledge of relationship at the doctrinal level. I don't think people dislike doctrine at all, I just think many realize that doctrine is a means to an end, and not an end in and of itself, and want to experience the "end."

Me too. I am not content just to know about God; I want to know HIM! I do, and I feel like I do, but I struggled to find a way to help others in that class to progress in their spirituality. I probably taught a lot of thigs that weren't relevant to the class, and I know I answered some questions that nobody was asking. Thankfully, toward the end of the class, things started going in the right direction. I promised a part 2 to come probably in the spring next year (Lord willing), and since then the subject has constantly been in the back of my mind.

I want to just pass on one thing I've learned: Feeling comes from being. A construction worker feels like one, because he is one. A doctor starts to feel like a doctor as he grows more and more immersed in doing the work of a doctor. Many people have felt "out of place" when starting something new, and that's natural. It is only natural that new converts to the faith may feel out of place until they get their training wheels off, so to speak. However, it's often those who've been in the church for a while that struggle the most to feel their connection with God. Because they've simply been in a place for a while they expect they should have picked up the spirit by osmosis, or that something should have just "clicked" somewhere. It doesn't work like that for most people.

Spirituality doesn't just happen. You've got to seek God, and if you do you'll find him (Matt 7:7-8; Acts 17:26-28). To feel spiritual--to have that sense of intimate knowledge and personal relationship--you have to begin living out the spiritual life. First, learn the doctrine and then live it out. If praying is something that you only do impulsively, out of desperation, or for half a minute before meals and bedtime, you're just not a spiritual person and shouldn't expect to feel like one. The disciplines of discipleship (prayer, Bible study, and church attendance) are simply what disciples do, and doing those things is what makes one continue to be, and feel like a disciple. I encourage everyone who wants to grow close to God to do the words of James: "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you" (4:8a).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Right Path


Alright, I'm going to talk about a difficult subject, and may be thinking out loud at some points, so take it all with an extra grain of salt, and feel free to disagree if you need to.

I believe that God has a purpose for every life. Bible passages like Acts 17:26-27 and Romans 8:28-30 bear this out (though perhaps not directly). This does not mean that we are fated to do anything, but that God has a will for each of us that represents what his perfect knowledge and perfect love would have us to do and be if this were a perfect world. I have no doubt that we all veer from God's perfect will for our lives in many ways. We make wrong turns, run off the road, and even end up in devastating wrecks sometimes. I'm comforted though, because I believe that in God's perfect knowledge, he knows my mistakes before they happen and already has plans to bless me back onto a right track.

I think it's safe to say that when we veer away from the right track for any period of time, even when we manage to find a way back to the road we were on, we fail to cover some ground that we would have covered. What I'm saying is that every decision we make has an impact on the future. Every decision sets a course for the future. If I spend time traveling down a side road parallel to the highway, when I ought to be on the highway, I'm going to miss something I could have seen or done. BUT, by God's grace I may pick up something else useful and take it with me as I merge back into the highway of God's will for me. Paul said God works it out (Romans 8:28).

God's perfect knowledge is something hard for a finite mind to grasp. He knows everything I'll ever do. C.S. Lewis wrote, "He does not 'forsee' you doing things tomorrow; he simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for him... He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, he does not know your action until you have done it: but then the moment at which you have done it is already 'Now' for him" (Mere Christianity, HarperCollins Edition, 2001, p. 170). So, God's "foreknowledge," and "predestination" do not mean he has taken away anyone's free will. You're free to choose your own course, and it will not very likely go exactly as God would have it to go all things being perfect, but through persevering in faithfulness to him, he'll work it out for good anyway.

That encourages me. I pray for the wisdom to make wise decisions and to be guided as close to the path of perfection as my missteps will allow. Thank God for grace!