Book Review: “Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness”

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Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness

Allen S. Nelson IV, Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness (Perryville, AR: Allen S. Nelson IV, 2019), 210 pages.

I connected with Allen on Twitter some time ago. I saw one of his Tweets, and I liked what I read. As I observed Allen on Twitter, I was impressed with his desire to serve God and help the church. Though he has helped in many ways, his most effective work comes from his pen. In addition to this book, Allen Nelson has authored From Death to Life: How Salvation Works. He also blogs at ThingsAbove.Us.

An Overview of Before the Throne

Allen Nelson wrote this book to help believers (and unbelievers) receive a glimpse of the holiness of God.  In the preface, Allen remarks “Offering these meditations from the perspective of one writing in the 21st century is my way to warm the modern reader’s heart toward the greatness and glory of God.”[1] Allen’s book does just that.

Displaying his preacher-roots, Allen structures each chapter in an alliterated fashion. Ranging from undoubtable to unquenchable, all focus on the holiness of God. As Allen examines each facet of the holiness of God (a task he readily and regularly reminds us can only be done on a finite basis), he does so by examining two passages

 

of Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-7 and Revelation 4:5-11. That is, his book is written by expounding upon and extrapolating the truths from two passages of Scripture, all from a book that describes or displays the holiness of God.

The chapters are around 18-20 pages in length. At the end of each chapter, Allen provides several questions for “Group Discussion or Family Worship.”[2]

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The Group Discussion or Family Worship. (p. 24)

 

In addition, Allen also cites additional Scripture for discussion and meditation.[3]

 

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Scripture Review for further discussion and meditation. (p. 82)

Strengths of Before the Throne

From my perspective, Allen’s most significant contribution in this work is his ability to take the weighty Puritans and deep preachers of this age and bring them down to the average layman. This task is impressive, for the Puritans were deeply spiritual and incredibly academic. It takes work to read them, even for academics. Yet, Allen translates their thoughts in such a way that the grandmother in the pew can grasp the holiness of God.

Another strength of the book is that it helps whet the appetite. As a pastor, I long for our people to know the holiness of God. And Allen’s work helps encourage that hunger for holiness. Each chapter provides a different glimpse of the holiness of God, and each chapter increases your hunger for holiness.

A third strength is Allen’s work in the Questions for Group Discussions or Family Worship. The questions are good questions, not the typical, “What does this mean to you?” questions often found in Bible studies. They are deep, thought-provoking, and soul-searching questions. As a father, I appreciate this as well because our family observes family worship. With that said, I think it would be better for maturing children (10 years old and upward).

The fourth strength of Allen’s work is the humility through which he writes it. Throughout the book, Allen acknowledges his inadequacies to write upon the holiness of God, not because of a lack of writing ability, but because of the incomprehensibility of God’s holiness. For instance, he writes, “It is impossible to comprehend God as He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture without understanding His holiness.”[4] His humility is also displayed in instances such as his footnote on page 21.

A final strength is the length of the book. Allen could have easily written a large tome or even volumes on the holiness of God. But Allen’s work is a little over two-hundred pages. This makes it more accessible to the average individual in the pew.

Opportunities of Before the Throne

The book is accessible for the layman, but this work shows that Allen is a capable theologian. I believe that he would benefit the church to devote a considerable treatment to God, not just His holiness, but all of His qualities and attributes.

Another opportunity that might help make the work even more practical is a glossary of terms. Though he defines uncommon words in the text, it might help increase the vocabulary of the average Christian.

Who Should Read Before the Throne

Everyone should read this book. For the pastor, it is a healthy reminder of Who our God is. Additionally, Allen distills the implications for pastoral and ecclesial ministry. In a convicting statement, Allen writes, “We’ve created an atmosphere of entertainment in the church today because we have found God boring.”[5]

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“It is impossible to comprehend God He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture without understanding His holiness.” (p. 26)

Pastors, including myself, need to be reminded of the importance of following God’s command for His people, which undoubtedly includes church services (see Leviticus 19:2).

Sunday school teachers and small group leaders should read it well. In fact, they can purchase the book and use the group questions in the back! The lofty thoughts of which Allen writes will enable these individuals to minister on behalf of a thrice-holy God.

The average Christian should read this as well. When I say “average” I do not in any way mean that in a derogatory fashion. I simply mean the common Christian, the man who works at Walmart, the lady who manages the bank, the teacher, the mechanic, and so on. This book, as I have mentioned, it accessible to those without theology degrees.

Lastly, this book is for someone who is not a follower of Jesus Christ. Reading this book, saturated with Scripture, will provide you a glimpse into the greatness of God. I pray, as I know Allen does too, that this book will be a tool to bring you into a saving relationship with God.

Concluding Remarks

I want to thank Allen for his work in this book. My own soul has benefited from it, and now members of our church are benefiting from it as well.

Resources from Allen Nelson

You can follow Allen on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/cuatronelson

For Allen’s sermon, visit his church’s website here: http://www.perryvillesbc.org/

For Allen’s other writings, see this website: https://thingsabove.us/

____________________

[1] Allen S. Nelson IV, Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness (Perryville, AR: Allen S. Nelson IV, 2019), 1.

[2] For example, see page 24.

[3] For example, see page 82.

[4] Nelson, Before the Throne, 26.

[5] Ibid., 181.

Ministering in COVID-19

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

With the entrance of the coronavirus, and the accompanying chaos the quickly ensued, churches and believers all over the world were struck with the difficulty of ministering amidst this pandemic.

 

In our own church, we have transitioned from limited services to sermons posted on YouTube, all within a few short days. Our congregation, which loves gathering together, has been separated as a whole for several weeks, and it looks like it might be a few more.

 

The command to minister, however, is not put into social distancing from the believer. Though ministering may look different in this pandemic, believers must still minister.

 

The question remains, “How?” What I would like to do is provide a few suggestions. I am so proud of our church because even amid this pandemic you all have been busy ministering to those within and without the congregation. Let’s keep it up, and do what we can to minister to those who need the Gospel.

 

  1. Prepare to minister to one another and the community through physical resources.

    One primary way that we can minister to those within our church and outside our church is through physical resources. According to The Post and Courier, South Carolina has experienced a 400% claim in unemployment requests.[1]

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    With this considered, there will be many who are in desperate need of physical resources. This can include financial resources to help with bills (such as electricity, water, etc.). It can also include the need for food. Our foodbanks have already experienced an increase in usage, and there is every reason to believe that this need will continue to grow.[2] We can help minister by setting aside a few extra purchases each week. Let us seek to meet those physical needs while not neglecting the spiritual needs.

  2. Prepare to minister to one another and the community through emotional resources.

    There has been death and disruption of life.[3] The economic ramifications will be felt for years to come. This, understandably, will affect people emotionally. Through the loss of loved ones and friends to the upending of life as normal, individuals will need emotional support. How can we minister to those?

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    Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

    We can offer a listening ear. Like Job’s friend initially, sometimes we need to simply be with people (see Job 2:11-13). Other times we need to share our own struggles with others. One of the reasons believers experience suffering, as the Scriptures teach us, is to help comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). As people are more open during these times, we can also utilize these times to present the Gospel which provides the answer to the problems of which they may not even be aware. These are tangible ways, though, in which believers can minister.

  3. Prepare to minister to one another and the community through spiritual resources.

    The most important need people have is God. Believers need to be reminded of their constant need of God, but people who have not followed Jesus Christ also need God, though they may not be aware of it. Believers can provide wonderful spiritual resources through books, sermons, and edifying relationships. Consider purchasing extra books to give them away. One way you can help yield fruit from this endeavor is to encourage them to work through a book with you. You can schedule a weekly time to talk about what you read in the book. In this way, you are ministering to their spiritual needs. For example, during times like these, people often wonder why God allows something like this to happen. Working through the book, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, would help them understand how God works. Be ready to discuss the Gospel. Learn how to apply the truths found there to the various issues people are facing.

No doubt there are other ways in which we can minister. Please let us know because we want to ensure that everyone has their needs met, be they physical, emotional, or spiritual. We do this to glorify God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

[1] Andrew Brown, “SC Unemployment Claims Skyrocket by 400 Percent with Job Losses Caused By Coronavirus,” The Post and Courier, 19 March 2020, https://www.postandcourier.com/health/covid19/sc-unemployment-claims-skyrocket-by-400-percent-with-job-losses-caused-by-coronavirus/article_b166e166-69fe-11ea-9890-fb73cf7c7c3a.html, accessed 17 April 2020.

[2] Nina Lakhani, “’ A Perfect Storm’: the US Facing Hunger Crisis As Demand for Food Banks Soars,” The Guardian, 2 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/02/us-food-banks-coronavirus-demand-unemployment, accessed 17 April 2020.

[3] Consider this opinion post in The New York Times Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/21/opinion/letters/us-coronavirus-reaction.html, accessed 17 April 2020.

 

Book Review: Mark Ward, “Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible”

Recently I connected to Mark Ward on Twitter. Our paths crossed several times on the social media platforms of Facebook and Twitter. Most notably for me, however, was our connection via Facebook. Two fellow graduates from a small Bible college we attended, and a former professor and pastor, engaged in an online debate about New Testament textual criticism. I enjoyed the debate. The men exchanged their views with attention to detail while maintaining a godly demeanor. The same, however, could not be said of the comment section.
In the comments, though, laid a pot of god in two separate posts on Mark Ward’s blog, By Faith We Understand. The first post that Mark shared was “An Evaluation of the Work of Charles Surrett on the New Kings James Version,” posted on 6 January 2020.[1] The second post that Mark shared was, “An Evaluation of the Work of Charles Surrett on Preservation,” shared on 9 January 2020.[2] Though perhaps lengthier than the average blog, Mark’s attention to detail and irenic spirit was helpful for the discussion. He raised some issues to which, as of yet, I have failed to see any significant rebuttal.

 

This post is not about the topic of New Testament textual criticism, nor is it about Mark’s evaluation of Charles Surrett’s work on preservation, good though they are. It is in regard to Mark’s book, Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible.[3] After some brief interaction via social media, Mark graciously provided a copy of the book to me. In acknowledgment of his character, he asked for a fair review (not necessarily a positive one). That is the purpose of this post.

 

First, I grew up in a King James-only church, graduated from a King James-only college, and served in a volunteer role at a King James-only church. I took one class on New Testament textual criticism while at this King James-only college, so much of the discussion that takes place in Mark’s book was quite familiar. Second, I transitioned away from King James-only churches, colleges, and roles. I feel that this is fair to put up front before diving into my review of the book.

 

The Content of the Book

 

The book sets out to discuss, as the name implies, the use and misuse of the King James Bible. Mark begins the book with a discussion of some of the history of the King James version. Over half of Bible users still use the King James Version, and Mark does an excellent job of representing the value this translation has provided. He also notes what we lose when we leave the KJV. As I mentioned, having been a part of a KJV-only church and college, I appreciated this. Mark Ward does not downplay the importance or the value of the KJV. He also presents many reasons for using the KJV, even today.

 

However, there are some issues with the KJV that prove difficult. Mark provides several examples of the difficulties involved with the use of the KJV. I found his use of “false friends,” of which Mark writes, “But I’m also referring to those “false friends,” words that are still in use but have changed meaning over time, such as halt, commendeth, convenient, wait on, and remove.”[4] I was surprised at several of these. I had used the KJV since I became a Christian, I went to a church that used it, and the college from which I graduated used it. It was humbling to see how many words I didn’t know the meaning of, which is precisely why Mark recommends, and wisely so, that we also use other translations. This section provides the majority of the work.

 

Another significant aspect of Mark’s work is the response to “Ten Objections to Reading Vernacular Bible Translations.”[5] I have heard these arguments from my KJV-only proponents, and I appreciate the time, detail, and manner in which Mark answers these objections.

 

Mark also discusses the benefits of using multiple translations. He briefly addresses the issues of textual criticism, but wisely encourages those to follow the principles of Proverbs 18:13. In his discussion on the different translations available, Mark writes, “I hate to see Bibles becoming symbols of division: “I am of Crossway!” “I am of Zondervan!” “I am of B&H!”[6] I appreciate that sentiment because there is much pride attached to the use of certain versions. I personally enjoy the ESV, but I also enjoy preaching and teaching from the NASB. And one more final point before moving on: Mark encourages people to use the Bible their pastor preaches.

 

Finally, Mark ends the work with a call to action. He encourages readers to pursue the reading of Scripture in a variety of translations. He rates them from formal to functional, and challenges us to “Get a translation you’ve never read before and read it all the way through.”[7] I intend to do this with the NIV.

 

Who Would Benefit From This Book?

 

Anyone who loves the Bible! Seriously, this book would prove quite helpful for anyone, KJV-only or not, as it helps present the benefits of the KJV as well as other translations. Mark takes time to unravel the difficulties attached to this older translation without treating it contemptuously.

Those who enjoy one particular version (such as ESV or NASB, for example) would do well to read this. It helps clear up the idea of a “perfect translation” and encourages the use of a variety of translations.[8]

Furthermore, those who are KJV-only would do well to consider carefully Mark’s words. They are written from a desire to help, and as such, they should be received in that manner. Without forfeiting their love, appreciation, and commitment to the KJV, it would help the Kingdom of God if they became more open and accepting to those who use other versions.

All in all, Mark’s book is well worth your read.

 

[1] https://byfaithweunderstand.com/2020/01/06/an-evaluation-of-the-work-of-charles-surrett/

 

[2] https://byfaithweunderstand.com/2020/01/09/an-evaluation-of-the-work-of-charles-surrett-on-preservation/

 

[3] Mark Ward, Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).

[4] Ward, 74.

[5] Ward, 87.

[6] Ward, 124.

[7] Ward, 139.

[8] Mark Ward, Authorized: The Use & Misuse of the King James Bible, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Lynnea Fraser, and Danielle Thevenaz (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 126.

8 Prayers for God’s Word (Psalm 119:33-40)

Last night I preached through Psalm 119:33-40 in our church. I have been working through this psalm since I began in December. It is a remarkable psalm, exclusively focusing on God’s Word.

As I studied this particular passage, I was impressed with the psalmist’s desire to see God work in his life. There are eight different prayers offered by the psalmist, all showing a desire to know God through His Word better.

I am reproducing my sermon notes here without editing them for grammar or structure. I would encourage you to work through these prayers in your own private reading of Scripture, as well as your corporate consumption of Scripture. And, as always, to God be the glory.

THE SERMON

We approach our next passage of Psalm 119, verses 33-40, and we see the continued love for and dependence on God’s Word.
The Psalmist is teaching is through song, that God’s Word is completely sufficient for our doctrine (what we believe) and our lives (how we live). By this I mean that God’s Word always provide the right answer to every question, every problem, every crisis, and every issue we as believers face today. We must understand and believe this, for this is the very teaching of Psalm 119.
Our section this evening, then, focuses on eight prayers. That is, these are eight positions to take when dealing with God’s Word. So often we focus on our own personal study and devotional time. That is, we tend to view God’s Word from a very individualistic perspective. I certainly do not mean to demean that, or to say that these prayers do not address personal Bible consumption. However, I think it is important that we broaden our views of these eight prayers to include corporate worship as well. That is, how can I apply these verses to my church’s life, my brother’s and sister’s life, in a way that reflects the Psalmist’s desire to bring every aspect of his life under the authority of God’s Word.
I. Prayer for Practical Understanding- vs. 33
The first prayer the Psalmist offers is a prayer for practical understanding. He asks God to “teach me.” He asked God to teach Him, to order God’s Word in a way that he would understand and be able to keep it to the end.
One of our prayers as we approach the private and corporate consumption of Scripture is for practical understanding. Sometimes we have a hard time connecting God’s Word to daily life, do we not? I know that I have to work at it. I remember growing up and reading through the Bible and thinking, “What does this have to do with my life?” However, the Psalmist prays for practical understanding. He does not simply want to know the background, the wording, etc., he wants to know how it applies to his life so he can live it all the way to the end. He wants to “keep” it, guarding it like walls and towers protect the city. He wanted God’s Word to protect his life and doctrine all the way to the end, to the reward.
We must pray for practical understanding. Due to our own intellectual limitations, our own struggles and blindness from sin, and the disconnect between life in the Ancient Near East and life today, we desperately need God’s help for understanding the practical applications of God’s Word.
This is the child asking the parent, “Why?” For those of you with children, you know that are incredible at asking questions. “What is that daddy?” “Well, that is a guardrail.” “What does it do?” “Well, it keeps cars from running off the road.” “Why?” The questions go on and on, but children think in concrete terms, they want to know why things work. They want practical application. And we should follow their example, and pray for practical understanding.
II. Prayer for Discernment in Understanding- vs. 34
The second prayer the Psalmist offers concerns discernment in understanding. The Psalmist wants to understand the details of God’s Word. This prayer focuses on a perceptiveness, a skill at understanding.
Think about the difference between a mechanic and a do-it-yourself guy. My first car was a 1994 Toyota Tercel (ironically, another small car). I learned to change my oil, my brake pads, my alternator, and a few other items. I could rotate my tires and I even took apart the stereo system (with the help of my brother). However, there is a vast difference between my understanding of cars and my friend Jeremy’s understanding. That guy could listen to the car and tell you exactly what was wrong with it.
The Psalmist is desiring that type of discernment. He wants to look at God’s Word and know exactly what is going on and how to apply it. He always connects doctrine (understanding of Scripture) with life (“Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart”).
One way that we can help further our own discernment in Scripture is simply learning the backgrounds and times of the books. Understanding the time in which certain letters were given (or prophecies preached) will greatly enhance your discernment of Scripture. We want discernment to know how to apply the Scriptures to our lives, and our goal is to observe it with our whole heart. That is, guard it, a term that is used consistently in connection with God’s Word.
III. Prayer for Desire to Understand- vs. 35
The word translated “make me walk” gives the idea of a pattern of desire. That is, grant me a consistent desire to follow Your Word.
This is a prayer for desire. There are times in which we need increased desire. While we have been changed, we are still being changed. Consider 2 Corinthians 3:18. We are being transformed. That is, there are still vestiges of sin in our lives. We are freed from the power of sin but not the presence of sin. Thus, there are times in which we do not desire to know and follow God’s Word.
Think of the song Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. The third verse gives us the Psalmist’s desire, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love, Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.”
As we approach God’s Word, we need to consistently pray that God will increase our desire to know and follow His Word. And as God answers that prayer, we will delight in it. That is, we will find great pleasure, delight, and satisfaction in it.
IV. Prayer for Direction toward God’s Truth- vs. 36
The next prayer focuses on direction. He says, “Incline my heart.” That is, change the direction of my heart. Now, this is very similar to the idea found in the last verse. The Psalmist prays for a pattern of desire. Now, he is asking God to turn his path to God’s testimonies.
The second phrase helps us understand the prayer better, because the Psalmist connects a turning to God’s Word as a turning away from covetousness. There is always a remove the old and put on the new idea found in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament it was always forsake the false idols and worship the true God. In the New Testament, particularly the epistles, we see the encouragement to remove the ways of the flesh and to put on the ways of the Spirit.
This desire involves a change in direction. I don’t know if many of you remember the cheap dollar store toys with the little marble and the goal is to get it from point a to point b. Though the marble was enclosed in a small glass or plastic case, you could still move it by tilting the toy. That is the idea behind this prayer. God, tilt me toward Your testimonies and away from covetousness, away from sin.
V. Prayer for Priority in Values- vs. 37
I say this is a prayer for priority because, the Psalmist calls for God’s help in avoiding looking at worthless things. He wanted his priorities to change, to be kept according to God’s Word.
We all have things that we enjoy, that we focus on. Perhaps it is a sports team, a hobby, a genre of literature. However, there are some pointless things we get involved in that are not directly related to sin but are, as the Scriptures state, worthless. They are vain. I won’t attempt to make assertions from this specifically, however, the Psalmist prayers for priority in values. He wants to make sure that his life is not focused on worthless, vain things. Christians today desperately need this prayer for priority. I look at my own life and the use of my time and I wonder at the grace of God.
VI. Prayer for a Foundation in God’s Word- vs. 38
The word used for establish gives the impression of completeness, of a foundation, something upon which structures or people can stand. It is solid, unwavering.
We need to pray for a solid foundation in God’s Word. That is, God’s Word needs to shape how we think, how we speak, and how we live. That is all connected with the phrase “who is devoted to fearing you.” When you fear God you believe the right things, say the right things, and do the right things. It is a solid foundation from which the believer can live a God-glorifying life.
VII. Prayer for Sovereign Protection- vs. 39
The seventh prayer from the Psalmist concerns His concern about how his lifestyle will affect the testimony of God. I love the way Matthew Henry puts it, “David prays against reproach, as before, v. 22. David was conscious to himself that he had done that which might give occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, which would blemish his own reputation and turn to the dishonour [sic] of his family; now he prays that God, would has all men’s hearts and tongues in his hands, would be pleased to prevent this…” [Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On the Whole Bible Volume 3: Job to Song of Solomon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 567.]
As we read Scripture and seek to apply it to our lives, we know we will fail. We have already mentioned that. However, one prayer we can say together is that God would sovereign protect us. This is no different than the Lord’s Prayer when Christ prays, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)
VIII. Prayer for Revival- vs. 40
This verse is different than the rest. Up to this point, all the prayers are at the beginning of the verse. However, as we come to a close on this section, we find the prayer at the second half of the verse.
The psalmist is basing his prayer for revival on his love for God’s precepts. The word for long is only used twice in the Bible, and it gives the idea for an ever increasing love.
I think one of the best ways to picture this is the love between a husband and wife. It grows throughout the years. Or the love between a child and parents. It increases as the child grows into maturity.
And as the love increases, it intensifies. Returning to Matthew Henry, he says “Tastes of the sweetness of God’s precepts will but set us a longing after a more intimate acquaintance with them.” That is, the more we long for God’s truth the sweeter and more desirable it will be. Because the Psalmist has this ever-increasing desire, he prays for revival, for life.
These eight prayers are excellent prayers to pray routinely, not only for our own private time with God, but also in our corporate time together. That is, we can pray for those in our church these very prayers.

3 Ways to Exercise Yourself to Godliness

It has been a while since my last posting. Life and ministry have a way of overrunning us if we let it! With that said, I have been reading Charles Bridges The Christian Ministry, printed by the Banner of Truth Trust.

It has been an amazing book. I should underline what does not speak to me as this may save me some ink! Seriously though, the book has been incredibly fruitful.

One thing that Bridges discusses that is of vital importance is the reading of Scripture as it relates to godliness. Though lengthy, I want to provide his paragraph for your digestion.

“’Exercise thyself unto godliness’—was one of the wise rules of the Apostle to his beloved son, for the course of his Ministry; a rule, which bears with most important application to the noviciate. Its connection with the rule of study in the succeeding context is worthy of remark. ‘Giving attendance to reading,’ without active energy, would form a most incomplete and inefficient ministry. The want of exercise is as hurtful to the spiritual as to the bodily system; nor will ‘reading’ communicate any benefit, except its results are operative in Christian activity. Equally important is the combination with prayer. In fact, study, prayer, and exercise, may be said to form the minister. Study stores the mind, prayer infuses a divine influence, exercise carries out the resources into effective agency.” (Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, 63-64)

Christians should read the Bible, and many often do. However, how we read is more important than simply reading. How many of us are guilty of reading a passage in the morning and completely forgetting what we read by lunch? Are we truly exercising ourselves to godliness? Are we giving ourselves a good workout toward Christ-likeness?

What are some ways we can combat this? How can we exercise ourselves to godliness?

EXERCISE YOURSELF TO GODLINESS THROUGH ACTIVE READING

First, by being active in our reading. When we read we can ask questions, like:

  • Who is this passage talking about?
  • What is going on?
  • What is being said?
  • What does this passage teach me about God?

The questions could go on and on. Active reading can also take the shape of diagramming the verses. It can be jotting the main points down in the margin of the Bible or in a separate journal. Though the method may vary, the point is to be active.

EXERCISE YOURSELF TO GODLINESS THROUGH DIGESTION OF WHAT YOU ARE READING

In his book, Changed Into His Image, Dr. Jim Berg discusses the MAP method for meditating on Scripture. The “P” is “Personalize the passage.” (Jim Berg, Changed Into His Image, 298-299)

He goes on to write,

“Plan concrete changes in your life that are consistent with your understanding of the passage. Such plans would include schedules, steps, and details.” (Berg, Changed, 299)

Exercising yourself to godliness includes putting what you read into practice. When you read verses about praying, you change your habits of prayer to reflect what the Scriptures are teaching.

EXERCISE YOURSELF TO GODLINESS THROUGH CONSISTENCY

The analogy Mr. Bridges uses is one of physical exercise. The human body responds to exercise. When someone lifts weights, they tear down their muscles. During the healing process, the muscles become stronger in order to lift the weight effectively. Through continued weightlifting, the individual develops stronger muscles. He can now lift weights he was unable to do so previously.

If, however, he skips a few months, the weightlifter returns to square one. In a similar way (though not precisely), we need to exercise ourselves continually. We must consistently read, meditate, and apply Scripture in order to grow in godliness.

HOW ARE YOU DOING?

So, how are you doing? Are you exercising yourself to godliness? Are you actively reading God’s Word? Are you digesting what you are reading? Are you doing so consistently?

“The Mechanics of Planning Our Preaching” from Kyle McDanell

This post is from Kyle McDanell’s blog Sola Evangelii. I have been blessed by Kyle’s blogs, messages, and tweets. This particular blog post was quite helpful. I hope that you are blessed and helped by it!

You can read this post in its original here.

Everything below comes from Pastor Kyle. Enjoy!

Image Credit

“Last week I explained why every pastor should plan his preaching a year in advance. In this post, I want to explain the mechanics of how to do it each year.

 

1. Brainstorm from January-November

Every pastor knows his church and ought to be able to anticipate some of its needs. In addition, there are certain books, passages, and subjects that pastors come across they want to preach. For eleven months out of the year, I jot as many of these down as I can. If I am leading toward preaching through a lengthy book (like Genesis or Romans) I try to think through how to do so. Maybe it would  be best to preach, for example, Genesis 1-11 and then take a short break and pick up in chapter 12 or maybe it would just be best to start in Romans 1:1 and continue until it is completed.

Also contemplate on what sort of doctrines and topics you would like to preach. Topics might include marriage, money, faith, temptation, the fruits of the spirit, grace, the cross, and on and on. Doctrines might include the atonement, theology proper, eschatology, etc. Consider the logistics, invest in resources, and take any notes or ideas you have.

 

2. Write Out Every Sunday and Mark Every Holiday and Special Services

After brainstorming for eleven months, I get out my calendar and write down every Sunday of the next year and then mark every important holiday or special service that might call for a unique sermon. These include Resurrection Sunday, Christmas (which might be a series), Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. Some add Sanctity of Life Sunday, New Years, Independence Day, and other special occasions.

In addition to these, if possible, mark the days you plan on being on vacation. My church blesses me with two paid Sunday’s off each year. I work with my wife to plan these Sunday’s out. One year she was pregnant and so we knew to reserve a Sunday around the end of the pregnancy so I could better serve her and our growing family. Other years I was taking summer courses in seminary and so reserved at least one Sunday for that.

 

3. Seek to Preach Variety

For me, I prefer to preach a variety of books, texts, subjects, etc. For example, I like to begin each year digging in the life of Jesus. So from the first Sunday of the year to Resurrection Sunday, I walk our congregation through the ministry of Jesus. For the past few years, this has meant walking verse by verse through the Gospel of Mark. I know right now that I will begin next year in Mark 8:27 where I left off last year.

I also like to preach from the Old Testament. I have preached from both short minor prophets (like Haggai, Joel, and Jonah) and lengthier historical writings (like Exodus). I always try to make sure our people are exposed to the Old Testament.

In addition to an Old Testament book I seek to cover a New Testament book. So far I’ve done Colossians, Philippians, Galatians, and others.

I usually pick at least one subject. Thus far in my preaching ministry, I have preached on the Fruits of the Spirits, the spiritual disciplines, spiritual roadblocks, and other topics.

I always seek to preach at least one doctrinal series. Our churches are suffering with a lack of doctrinal depth and I do not want to forsake preaching the truth of orthodoxy. The key here is to show your congregation the truth and its application. Over the years I have preached on Theology Proper, Christology, the atonement, ecclesiology, and eschatology.

Finally, I always try to do at least a small series for Christmas. Sometimes its just a two-part series. Sometimes its more.

The above is only a guide. If I am preaching through a lengthy book, I will have to sacrifice one or more of the above. If I am preaching through Romans, for example, I might hold off on a doctrinal series knowing that one cannot avoid preaching doctrine when preaching through Romans.

 

4. Plan Your Preaching

Now you can plan your preaching. I read through Mark, for example, and meditate on where to begin a passage and where to end. From there I trace it through Easter. I then contemplate on how many weeks it will take to exposit through this or that book, how many weeks I’ll spend on this or that doctrine, etc.

 

5. Be Open to the Spirit

This is a practical guide for the pastor, but the ultimate lead should be that of the Holy Spirit. You know your people but God knows them better. You are their pastor and are called to shepherd them. This might, at times, require an interruption of a series or a changing of your planned sermons. When events pop up in the culture and in the congregation the man of God must address them. Don’t be a slave to your preaching calendar; be a slave of Christ in whom you proclaim.”

“Do I believe?”

(Photo by adam morse on Unsplash)

In Michael Lawrence’s book, Conversion: How God Creates a People, the question, “Do I believe?” comes up. This is certainly a question we should all ask, and frequently (see 2 Corinthians 13:5). The Church faces a danger in her presentation of the Gospel. At times we present Christ as one choice among many, a relativistic mentality in which one chooses based upon his or her own preference. In this case, it is like choosing a favorite flavor of ice cream. While others present following Jesus as a mere reciting of a prayer. If you pray, “God, I know I am a sinner. I know Christ died for me. I believe.” then you are right on your way to heaven! It does not matter if you actually believe it. You said the prayer!

Of course, these two are not the only ways in which we skew what conversion is, and Lawrence notes those throughout his book. However, in his chapter titled, Assess Before You Assure, he offers eight ways in which the Church can help answer the question, “Do I believe?”

  1. “First, slow the membership process down.”This one is tough, especially for pastors. Imagine telling someone who wants to join your church, “Wait, let’s have a conversation and see what God is doing in your life.” His numbers would decrease! Yet, as Lawrence writes, “It shouldn’t be hard to join a church, but unlike the churches I grew up in, you shouldn’t be able to join the first Sunday you visit.” (Lawrence, 104)If we take the time to get to know one another, we may actually learn that one’s understanding of the Gospel is inaccurate. We may learn that they are able to articulate the Gospel, but their life does not match it. Hopefully, however, we learn that they know the Gospel and live by it, which will help confirm, in their own heart and mind, the affirmative answer to our question.
  2. “Second, have pastors or elders conduct membership interviews.”This is an area that I believe many churches could benefit. God gave the church pastor-teachers for several reasons. Ephesians 4:12-16 gives a good overview:“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (ESV)One way to help answer the question, “Do I believe?” is to be interviewed by an elder or pastor. They are gifted in the areas of biblical teaching and insight, maintain high moral character (through the grace of God, of course), and are given by God for the very task of answering this question (among other duties). In the churches of the United States, we are too easily satisfied with a quick conversation that goes something like this:


    1. Pastor: So, why have you come forward?
    2. Prospective member: I want to join the church.
    3. Pastor: Sounds great! Have you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior?
    4. Prospective member: Yes I did when I was a kid!
    5. Pastor: Amazing. Welcome to the church!


Of course, this is a simplification. However, I do not believe its too far off. Lawrence notes, “The point is to take the time to hear a person’s story in safety. There’s only so much you can learn in the hallway after church.” (Lawrence, 105) A discussion with an elder or pastor will help confirm one’s conversion, or it will open the door to discussion what conversion really is. Either way, the pastor-teacher is able to help develop the “knowledge of the Son of God” in the life of that individual (Ephesians 4:13).

 

  1. “Third, reconsider your practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”The Scriptures have much to say on these two ordinances. I believe the Church, in general, has reacted toward the Catholic understanding of sacraments too much. For example, when someone is baptized we stress that it is merely symbolic, it just represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Or take the Eucharist. We are simply doing this “in remembrance” of Him. We have down played their worth and benefit in order to avoid a wrong understanding. It is a good motive, but one that needs a little correcting. I believe Michael Lawrence’s words are best: “Other than on the missions frontier, as with the Ethiopian eunuch, the apostles had no category for a baptized Christian who wasn’t part of a local church. Devote time in the morning service to hear baptismal testimonies—not of prayers prayed, but of lives changed. When it comes to the Lord’s Super, don’t say, ‘The Tables are open.’ Take time to explain to each other who should participate in the Supper: baptized members of gospel-preaching local churches.” (Lawrence, 105)

We will save the other five for another post. Might I encourage you to ask yourself, “Do I believe?” One assistance is the local church. Are you a part of believers? Have you covenanted together? Perhaps you have never experience conversion. I would love to help you answer the question, “Do I believe?”

 

You can check on the book Conversion: How God Creates a People by Michael Lawrence here.

 

Ministry Downloads: A Great Ministry Resource

I have recently read Terrace Crawford’s #Going Social, which I reviewed in a previous post.

In a follow up to that, Terrace has just unveiled his newest help, Ministry Downloads.

Ministry Downloads Image
Go ahead and check them out!

Here are a few people who will benefit from this: Senior Pastors, Student Ministers, children’s workers, and even small group leaders!

The amount of help on this site is incredible. One of the neat aspects of this hub is that people can contribute to it! Have you ever taught a series and it was spectacular, but you weren’t sure how to share it? Well, Terrace handles that problem for you. In fact, you can actually profit from your work. Head over to their website for the details on that.

Also, if you have some cash to spare, go get Terrace’s book. Even if you are familiar with social media, you can always learn some new tools for your life and ministry.

God bless!

 

Convictions or Preferences? Help for the Holidays from Tripp

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I highly recommend Paul Tripp’s book Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. The book is so helpful. And in connection with Thanksgiving and the approaching holidays, some issues may arise about our standards. Merriam-Webster Online defines standards as “ideas about morally correct and acceptable behavior.”[1] Each family develops their own standards based on a variety of influences (family background, cultural influences, religious observances, etc.). But with the meeting of families differences become apparent. Sometimes questions may arise on the part of our students such as, “Why does so-and-so get to do that?” or “Her parents allow her to go to that movie! Why can’t I?”. These questions have to do with our standards, what we have come to believe to be morally correct or acceptable, and consequently what is not.

“Real convictions are based on…truth. Preferences are based on…desire.” Tripp

Being with family presents many opportunities to discuss differences in standards. But there is another aspect that would behoove us to both learn and develop: preferences versus convictions. Tripp writes, “Real convictions are based on revealed truth (that is, Scripture). Preferences are based on personal desire….Our teenagers need to understand the difference between a conviction and a preference.”[2] Thus, as parents/guardians, we need to develop a deeper understanding of a conviction. This will allow us to present truth to our students while at the same time allowing differences in standards and a willingness to acknowledge the validity of others’ views. The opportunities afforded by interacting with families are invaluable.

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But how do we determine a conviction? Some people may do so for emotional reasons. A family member may have developed an addiction to drugs by spending time downtown, and so the parents decide their students will never go downtown. Or a guardian might have had an issue with gang related violence and so vehemently avoids a particular color of clothing. But is this really a conviction? If a conviction is really based on Scripture, then it must be based on a well-developed, researched, and thought-out investigation. Here are six aspects to help us determine whether something is a conviction or just a preference.

  • A biblical conviction is always based on a study of, submission to, and application of Scripture.
  • A biblical conviction is always predetermined.
  • A biblical conviction will not change with the circumstances.
  • A biblical conviction is inflexible.
  • A biblical conviction is bold.
  • A biblical conviction is always lived out.[3]

It might be helpful to sit down with your student and discuss this. In fact, what a great way to help develop their critical thinking skills by applying it to the study and living out of Scripture! This truly is an age of opportunity. I cannot image sitting down with my four-year-old daughter London and attempting this. I am sure the conversation would be amusing to say the least! But imagine sitting down with your thirteen-year-old student and working through why it is best to wait for God’s chosen spouse for sex. How might this empower them? How might this help them develop of love for God’s grace in their lives?

So as the holidays approach, spend time determining what is your conviction and what is your preference. Learn to communicate this with your students. Conversations will come up about what other people do and allow. Hopefully this will help give you food for thought!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! And…

 

“The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

(Numbers 6.24-26, NIV)

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/standard accessed 23 November 2016

[2] Paul D. Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: 2001), 131-132.

[3] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 132-133.

Lectio Divina: A Wonderful Experience

“Situated between life as we know it and life in its hoped-for fullness, spiritual practices are imbued with a sense of our relatedness to God, others, and the earth.” [Griffth and Groome, 2012]

That is how the editors Colleen Griffith and Thomas Groome begin their section on ‘The Nature and Purpose of Spiritual Practices’. In my recent reading of the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus author Mark Yaconelli writes about “two basic, traditional forms of contemplative prayer to parents and people who minister with young people: lectio divina and centering prayer.” [Yaconelli, 2006] The practice known as lectio divina is of great spiritual value to those who can mine its wealth. Certainly there is wisdom in approaching this carefully, weighing each thought and prayer in balance with the Scriptures. Having that as an understanding, let us move into the practical benefits of lectio divina and the methods.

Yaconelli defines lectio divina as “holy reading”. [Yaconelli, 2006] There is a brief mention of this practice in Scripture (see Acts 8.26-39), and Schneiders describes it as “a rich practice of biblical spirituality of transformative engagement with the Word.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012]

Schneiders continues, “Lectio divina is a four-step process that begins with the slow, leisurely, attentive reading (lectio) and rereading of a biblical text. Often the text is committed to memory in the process. By internalizing the text in its verbal form, one passes on to a rumination or meditation on scripture bear witness to both the spiritual depth and the imaginative breadth to which the process could lead.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012] Schneiders description is brief, and unfortunately does not provide much practical advice.

This is where Yaconelli comes in handy. He provides a five-step method which I shall reproduce for you.

  • Preparation- find a passage of Scripture that can be meditated, contemplated, mined for its wealth. Set the ambiance, light a candle, place a cross or crucifix before you. Use bread and wine. breadwine-63ed983aThese are all symbols (and there are much more) that can bring to mind a thousand thoughts and accounts from Scripture.
  • Silence- Yaconelli recommends finding a quiet place in which you can communicate with God without noise or distraction. The Psalmist recommends being still (Psalm 46.10 uses a word that denotes a complete cessation of activity), so this is the first step.peaceful-place-park
  • Reading- This one seems to stand without saying, but lectio divina requires reading. This reading is different than our normal reading. Sometimes we read for information, other times for leisure. But for this we are “seeking to be with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006] So a short Psalm, a few verses in an epistle work perfectly.
  • Meditation- This step allows the truth of the Scripture to speak through the Holy Spirit about your life, your thoughts, your successes, your failures, you.
  • Oration- This is where you begin to speak to God, you thank Him, beg Him for help. “Honestly express your deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires in a dialogue with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006]
  • Contemplation- I love how Yaconelli describes this last step. “Finally, allow yourself to simply rest in God, like a child resting in her mother’s lap.” [Yaconelli, 2006]

There is a mystical beauty in this practice. Sometimes it may be hard, especially for our western, fact-based thinking. But I close with the story he offers as a magnificent description of lectio divina.

“My wife and I dated in college before the days of e-mail. During the summers, when we were apart, we would write letters to each other. I still remember the excitement of running to the mailbox after each workday, hoping to see a letter with my name written in Jill’s handwriting. Each time I received a letter from my beloved, I would run down to my room, close the door, and then slowly pore over her words. When I read a letter from Jill, it was very different from other forms of reading. I wasn’t seeking to catch up on the news as much as I was seeking to experience Jill. I was seeking to meet her in her letters, to receive her love, to feel her presence and be with her in some way.” [Yaconelli, 2006]