The best or worst of times?

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

That’s how Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities opens. That sentence seems to describe our world today pretty well.

We live in unprecedented times for the worldwide church. People in the global south and previously difficult countries like China are coming to Christ quicker than we can report. We have the Bible in more languages today than ever before. Technology makes the spread of Bibles and Christian literature easier and more cost effective than ever. Christ is completing His promise to build His church and is using hoards of workers, resources, and training programs to make it happen. Reaching every people group on nation with the gospel seems closely in reach.

On the flip side, the secularization of western civilization is accelerating rapidly with growing persecution likely just around the corner. Europe, the birthplace of the Reformation and locus of Christendom for so many centuries, has all but totally rejected their Christian heritage. Terror groups like ISIS and Boko Haram move like juggernauts in the Middle East and spread their evil ideologies like gangrene to the rest of the world through social media—maybe even to your own neighborhood. At times, the church doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot better with abuses of power, wars over worship styles, or pastors falling into sin.

Is our world getting better or worse?

Matthew 13:24-30 has the answer for us in Jesus’s Parable of the Weeds:

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”

This parable teaches that God sowing good seed in the world that will grow into a harvest. It also teaches that the enemy works sowing weeds in the midst of the wheat God has planted. Since the weeds can’t be pulled out from amongst the wheat, they must grow together until the harvest.

This answers my earlier question: our world is both getting better AND worse simultaneously.

This parable is a call to balanced and sober thinking about the world we live in. That means we should rejoice as we see the banner of the gospel advance forward against the darkness in this world. It also means that we can’t think that the good things happening today are ushering in Christ’s kingdom here on earth.

When weeds pop up in our community, workplace, or church, we can’t give into despair. Jesus said this would happen. We need to suit up the armor of God and stand firm in this spiritual war and do what we can to advance the cause of Christ even in the darkest situations.

That’s what one man captured and executed by ISIS recently did.1

In his last moments, he gave his executioner his Bible. The killer who once enjoyed killing Christians, took the Bible and began to read. Soon he dreamt of a man in white who told him, “You are killing my people.” This man in the dream soon revealed Himself as Jesus, asking the ISIS member to follow Him. And that’s exactly what this former-ISIS member now is doing by God’s grace.

God can transform the weeds into wheat.

That’s what He showed us clearly on the cross—the event that simultaneously demonstrates the judgment incurred for wickedness, yet so clearly reveals to us the glorious mercy of God for sinners like us. Even though it may seem like the worst of times, in Christ we know the best of times await us.

Let us be realistic about our situation, people of prayer, and ready for action. Even when it seems all is lost, a simple act of faith like handing your executioner a Bible could be the spark God uses to transform weeds into wheat.


Kevin Halloran is a servant of God, husband, and blogger at Word + Life. Serves with Leadership Resources International training pastors worldwide to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. You can follow Kevin on Twitter.

Photo credit:The Writings of Charles Dickens v20 p220 (engraving)” by Hablot K. Browne (Phiz), published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company – Own work, see User:Mdd4696/Dickens. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons. Designed with Canva.

Don’t Trust Yourself In Anything

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You are not to be trusted. I may not know you, but I am confident that I can’t be confident in you.

Proverbs 3:5 tells us to trust the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. It calls us to place our confidence in God. It leads us to forsake ourselves. Trusting the Lord gets most of the attention in that verse, and rightly so, but we have a tendency to forget that wisdom and to trust ourselves in some circumstances. Many scholars call that “super dumb.”

So, let’s look at not leaning on our own understanding. Here are three reasons you shouldn’t trust yourself.

1. You don’t know most of what you can know.

There is so much information available in the world, and you don’t know most of it. The knowledge is out there, but you don’t have it. If you don’t know that you don’t know most of what you can know, take this short quiz:

  1. What is the capital is the capital of Uzbekistan?
  2. What is the square root of 4096?
  3. Why is there an aurora borealis?
  4. Who invented power steering?
  5. Where is the largest sunflower garden?
  6. How many calories are in a Five Guys cheeseburger?

I don’t want to know the answer to that last question, but I don’t actually know the answer to any of them. And it was easy it was to come up with questions I don’t know the answer to because I don’t know the answer to most questions. Neither do you. How can we trust ourselves when we have such limited knowledge? We don’t know most of what there is to know.

2. You don’t know any of what you can’t know.

As much as we don’t know about what we can know, there is probably even more that we don’t know that we could never know. There are so many things that are simply impossible for us to know.

Next time you are at the grocery store ask yourself this question—“What is happening at my house right now?” You’ll probably have a good guess, but you can’t know for sure if you’re not there. Everything is probably how you left it, but it might be on fire. A pipe might have burst and your kitchen might be flooding. A truck might have just driven into your living room. Let that weird reality sink in. None of us know for sure there is not a truck in our living room when we are shopping for cereal.

We also can’t know what our kids will score on the SAT. We can’t know what our spouse is thinking when they don’t feel like talking. We can’t know when we are going to die. There’s so much we don’t know. There’s so much we can’t know. It is foolish to lean on our own understanding. But, there is one more reason.

3. You’re not honest with what you do know.

This last one is a harder to prove, but I’m hoping you can be honest with yourself just long enough to acknowledge the fact that you are often not honest with yourself. We must not lean on our own understanding because even when we have understanding, which is rare, we often lie to ourselves about it. Sometimes we know deep down that we are wrong, but we keep telling ourselves we are right, right? We are deceitful people and we are best at deceiving ourselves. We convince ourselves we are not as bad as we are, that we are not as wrong as we are, that we are not as weak as we are. Even when we know something we can know, we can’t know that we are really being honest about it.

We cannot lean on our own understanding because we don’t know so much, can’t know so much, and can’t be trusted. Thank the Lord we can trust the Lord. May he lead us to Five Guys.


Brandon Hiltibidal is a husband to Scarlet, a daddy to Ever and Brooklyn, an owner of the Green Bay Packers, and a Discipleship Strategist at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, TN. Follow him at @bmhiltibidal.

Planned Parenthood: There, But for the Grace of God…

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You walk into your doctor’s office for your annual check up—flu shot, cancer, cholesterol and blood sugar screening, blood pressure check—you know, routine maintenance on the ol’ bod. You’ve chosen this doctor because you don’t have health insurance and he’s kind enough to lower his prices and work with you on a payment plan. His office is clean and bright, beautifully decorated, and the staff is always friendly. You even get a lollipop at the end of each visit.

But this year, as you’re walking down the hall to exam room four, you happen to notice that in exam room three, there’s a playpen in the corner with an adorable baby girl in it, cooing away and playing with a toy.

“Odd,” you think, since this is not a paediatrician’s office. You continue to your own room, don that scratchy paper gown, and wait for the doctor. By the time he comes in and begins the exam, you can no longer contain your curiosity. Whose baby is it? Why is there even a baby in the office?

“Oh, yes,” the doctor says matter of factly, “that baby was abandoned by her parents. Nobody wants her, so when I get finished with your check up, I’m going to torture her to death and then sell her organs to medical researchers.”

Your jaw hits the floor. Your stomach turns. You can’t believe the monstrous words you’ve just heard.

“How could you do such a horrible thing?” you scream over your revulsion. The doctor looks surprised that you should ask.

“It’s really no big deal,” he says. “We only do a few of those a week. The vast majority of my practice is providing health care and counseling for patients like you.”

Let me ask you something—would you use that doctor and think that the care he provides you mitigates his atrocious behavior? I hope not. Yet I have heard people defend Planned Parenthood (an organization which has been torturing babies to death for decades, and, we recently learned, profits from the sale of their organs) because Planned Parenthood ostensibly performs a minimum number of abortions and mainly provides health services, such as the ones mentioned above, to women who need them. Somehow, in these people’s minds, the health care Planned Parenthood provides makes up for the heinous murders they commit day after day.

Does it really all balance out? Of course not.

In fact, let’s say, Planned Parenthood had only ever tortured fifty babies to death (instead of the millions they’ve actually killed). And let’s say they provided free health care to everyone on the planet, cured cancer, and brought about world peace. Those are some wonderful things, but does it erase the fact that they brutally ended fifty innocent lives? Do all those good deeds make up for even one murder?

No. They don’t. Good deeds can never make up for heinous crimes. Planned Parenthood’s hands are drenched in blood that all the free health care in the world can’t wash away.

They’re hopelessly guilty. Just like we are.

Apart from Christ, we are Planned Parenthood. We come before God with blood on our hands. Not the blood of millions of babies, but the blood of one child. God’s child. Jesus. We are responsible for His death. It was our sin that caused Him to be tortured to death. Our sin that brutally murdered Him.

“Oh, but it’s no big deal. I’m mainly a good person. The vast majority of my life is spent doing good things and helping people. That totally makes up for those few sins I’ve committed. My good deeds outweigh the bad.”

No. They don’t. Good deeds can never make up for heinous crimes.

But, grace… But, mercy… But the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior intervenes and wipes away the guilt. Washes our hands of Christ’s blood. Cleanses us from all unrighteousness, if we only turn to Him in the repentance and faith that He is gracious enough to give us.

Good deeds can never make up for heinous crimes, but the grace of God can.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)


Michelle Lesley is a ministry wife, home schooling mom, and women’s Bible study author. Her goal in writing, speaking, and teaching is to train church ladies to be “Mighty Amazon Women” of God. Michelle blogs at MichelleLesleyBooks.com. Follow her at @MichelleDLesley.

Photo credit: Me, myself and my cellphone. via photopin (license)

The Downside of Digital Bibles

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William Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English from the original languages. When he began this long and difficult task, he stated that it was his desire that a plowboy could know the Scriptures better than a bishop. Although he was martyred for it, he was successful in giving common believers access to God’s Word.

I wonder what Tyndale would think of our own day. Though it is tough times for professional plowboys, the Bible is more available than at any other time in history. On top of Bibles in our churches, homes, and bookstores, we have apps for our smart phones and tablets that make it so that we can read, study, and even listen to Scripture at all times.

Though we may not be disciplined enough to be reading the Psalms while in line at the drive-thru, Bible apps are becoming more prevalent in our lives. A quick scan of the congregation on Sunday morning reveals that some people have begun to use devices as their primary means of reading Scripture.

There isn’t anything inherently bad about using digital Bibles as opposed to printed ones. I personally use my tablet all the time. However, we shouldn’t rely on them as our exclusive means of reading Scripture.

The difference between a digital Bible and a printed one extends beyond the difference between pixels and ink. As much as they are a help to us, we lose something when we rely solely on a Bible app instead of a “real” Bible.

3 Reasons Why a Digital App Shouldn’t Replace Your Physical Bible

1. Print is Permanent.

In today’s digital culture, technology is always changing and the old is tossed aside. We are quick to ditch the barely old in favor of the slightly new. Our favorite apps are constantly updating and upgrading, and our homes are filled with temporary technology.

Meanwhile, God’s Word is eternal and unchanging. Having an app be our primary means of accessing Scripture robs us of its weightiness. The Bible is so much more than our favorite app – it is the Word of God.

Yes, Scripture is still Scripture regardless of format. But a printed Bible allows us to better recognize this sense of permanence than an app does. If we rarely use a printed Bible, Scripture can start to seem like just another app – especially to our kids.

2. Digital Distractions

While Scripture is a goldmine of timeless wisdom and spiritual truth, our smart phones are kitchen junk drawers of random odds and ends. When you’re on a device, it’s all too easy to bounce from Ephesians to email and from Titus to Twitter.

App notifications, text messages, and phone calls can be constant distractions when attempting to study the Word on a digital device. The important things in life are constantly being crowded out by the inconsequential, and our phones and tablets are a huge factor in this reality.

So the next time you’re headed into church, leave your phone in your pocket and grab an actual Bible. You may be surprised at how much more you get out of the sermon. Besides, we spend enough time staring at glowing rectangles throughout the day.

3. Resource Overload

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of helpful resources for studying Scripture on your device. But even these can be a distraction during a church service or Bible study. We’d be better off focusing our attention on the message and the text and leaving the exploration of parallel verses, maps, and commentaries for after lunch.

In times of personal study the abundance of resources available at our fingertips can begin to overshadow the biblical text. If we are not careful, we will spend all of our time reading what others have found helpful in a particular passage rather than studying it ourselves. Yes, this can happen with a printed study Bible as well, but it is not likely that you will have access to dozens of commentators and hundreds of years of commentary on the page in front of you like you do on a tablet.

Try reading only the text for the majority of your time in the Word. Think through what the passage tells us about our Redeemer and what it means for us as His redeemed. You’ll get more from your study and better familiarize yourself with Scripture.

Don’t Ditch Technology Altogether

I am in no way opposed to the use of digital Bibles and other resources. In fact, here are 16 apps that I’d recommend that you add to your iPad right now. We just shouldn’t let these digital resources distract us from reading the text itself.

In Tyndale’s day even having the Bible in your native language was impossible, so we should be especially thankful for the ability to carry Scripture with us in our pocket. But if you’ve found yourself using a phone or tablet as your primary means of reading the Bible, consider the points above.

Try putting away your device and see if you’re able to dig deeper into the text when the text is all that is in front of you. Besides, you won’t need wi-fi and you’ll never run out of batteries.

What Do You Think?

Where do you stand in the ‘print vs. pixels’ debate? Leave a comment with which format you prefer for Bible study and why. I look forward to reading them and interacting with your thoughts!


Clayton Kraby is a husband, father, and an M.Div. Student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL. He writes at Reasonable Theology, which helps believers think about and apply sound theology to their everyday lives. Follow him at @ClayKraby.

Photo credit: Exodus via photopin (license)

Living Without Worry (a guest book review)

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Are you a worrier? I confess to being a worrier. Yes, I know all of the injunctions against worrying. I know it accomplishes nothing. I know that worrying steals joy from today because we’re too consumed with tomorrow. And yes, I struggle on.

I recently picked up the book Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety With Peace, by Timothy Lane. I’ve read a few books on the subject of anxiety, and this one is one of the best.

Lane begins with defining what worry is and is not, and why we shouldn’t do it. He discusses worry in the context of our past, present, and future, and then moves into practical steps to help those who struggle with worrying.

I found Lane’s definition of worry helpful. He defines it as “over-concern.” There is nothing wrong with being concerned. It is what parents have when their children are playing outside near the road, or are sick with a fever. When it begins to take over our lives, it becomes worry, or over-concern. Lane borrows a phrase from the Bible scholar, Dick France, to clarify his definition: it is over-concern about something other than the kingdom of God. I found that helpful, to think about worry as it relates to our place in the kingdom of God. That is something Lane refers to again in the book.

Lane reminds us that worry can be a reflection of what we love:

…worry is over-concern that results from “over-loving” something—that is, loving it more than God. Concern results when you love something in the proper way and not more than God. Indifference is a lack of love. It is the opposite of worry, not the antidote or cure for worry.

The principle that worry is a reflection of our attitude toward God is repeated often, and though it is a hard thing to hear, Lane does not come across as harsh. He recognizes that some people are more prone to worry, and it is something they will battle.

In the ninth chapter, Lane gives practical suggestions, beginning with the verse that most worrisome people have had others share with them many times: I Peter 5:6-11. Casting our cares on God means relating to God personally. Lane says:

When you are struggling with anxiety, you must talk to and relate to God. There is no other way to experience lasting, abiding change, for this is the only way to change our hearts.

Lane’s suggestion for fostering that heart change is to meditate on Scripture, specifically the Psalms. He gives a helpful list of Psalms which are good for that purpose, and then he takes the reader through Psalm 27 as an example. Many of the Psalms show someone struggling with worry and anxiety. We can learn much from those examples about how we ought to relate to God in an anxious moment.

The last chapter shows what Jesus himself said about worry as he spoke to in a vision Paul (Acts 18:9-11). In a nutshell, he said, “Don’t be afraid; keep on speaking; don’t be silent.” His reassuring words to Paul were, “I am with you,” and I think that is the truth we have to tell ourselves over and over again, even when it feels like we’re only repeating it in vain. We have to live by faith even when we feel like we can’t do it. I liked Lane’s words on this matter:

Faith involves doing the very opposite of what comes naturally. And sometimes it feels wooden and insincere, but it is not. Don’t be fooled by your mere emotions. While it is often good to have your emotions right in step with your behavior, it is not always the case.

Even in the midst of worry and anxiety, we have to live our lives. If we wait to move forward until we don’t feel worried, we will find ourselves not really living. In those anxious moments, we have to keep moving forward regardless of how we feel.

This book was very readable without glossing over the truth. Lane does not try to candy coat the issue, and is very clear about the fact that worry is sin. But he is not harsh about it, and his words offer hope. There are always going to be things to worry about. Some seasons, they are worse than others. But they will come. We can grow through them by learning to battle them, and I think this book has a lot of great suggestions to help us with that.


Title: Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace
Author: Timothy Lane
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2015)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore | The Good Book Company


Kim lives in Southern Ontario with her husband of 28 years. She has three adult children. She is a blogger, bible teacher, reader, and seminary student. She blogs at The Upward Call and Out of the Ordinary.

Five lies I believed about faith and work

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Ever since I turned fifteen and could get a worker’s permit for a summer job at a pool concession stand, I have loved to work. My work history includes time delivering mail, as a garbage collector on my college campus, in marketing sound systems, and now as a missionary with an organization training pastors in expository preaching.

Even though I had wonderful Christian parents who taught me the value of working hard, I didn’t always see work as a major element of Christian discipleship. In my head, I knew some truths about how my Christian faith informs my work, but those truths didn’t make the journey down to my heart.

Several times I had to learn the hard way of how God wants us approach work as a Christian. God, in His grace, revealed to me several lies that seeped into my work life. I pray that the lessons I learned will give you a greater view of God and His purpose for your work while strengthening you to work for His glory.

Lie #1: Work is not a part of God’s perfect plan.

For a long time I believed that the necessity of work was a result of sin and not part of God’s original plan and good design. This probably entered into my brain as a kid watching TV characters complain about work or hearing the constant whining of peers complain about their homework. “In a perfect world,” I would think, “Nobody would have to work and I could just sit around all day doing what I wanted”—which in those times was playing video games, eating junk food, and watching sports. (Funny, I didn’t think about the thousands of people whose work made enjoying food, video games, TV, or even sitting on a couch possible for me!)

The Scriptures show a different reality, one that says work is a fundamental part of God’s good plan for the world. God gave Adam what theologians call the “Creation Mandate”—the command to subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing (Genesis 1:28). This command for purposeful work to cultivate the earth came before humanity’s fall into sin. Sin tarnished God’s good design, making our work toilsome (Genesis 3:17-19). While sin changed many elements of work for us today, it did not change the fact that we are image bearers created to reflect the image of a working God.

Lie #2: Work is all about me.

I believed this lie for a long time. In my mind and heart, I was the one I worked for. I wanted the money, opportunity, and status that came from my work. When something at work made getting what I wanted difficult, frustration would overwhelm me, causing my attitude and motivation to suffer.

Scripture says that our work should be done, “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 6:7). This means that He is our ultimate boss, the One we will ultimately report to for our work. Our work also touches many other people because in God created work to be a means of blessing others. This goes for the barista, the car salesman, the truck driver, the teacher, and the banker. This new focus away from ourselves helps us obey the two great commandments of Scripture: to love God and love others.

Lie #3: Full-time ministry is the only work serving God.

I struggled finding my calling in work for a while because I believed the false dichotomy that said I couldn’t serve God while working a “normal job.” Sure, a ministry job like pastor or a missionary uses your skills to more directly advance the Kingdom (which is an honorable thing!). That doesn’t mean a job other than pastor or missionary doesn’t serve God as well. If you do your job for the Lord, it is serving Him.

Think of Joseph, who by faith honored God as a shepherd, prisoner, overseer of Potiphar’s house, and eventually the second in command of all of Egypt. By faith, Daniel similarly served in the Babylonian government and stood for his God against strong cultural pressures and even death warrants. By faith, Obadiah, as an official of the king, protected and fed God’s prophets in a cave while they ran from the queen who sought to kill them (1 Kings 18:3-4). Time would fail me to tell of all of the other brothers and sisters throughout history who were faithful gospel witnesses in their workplace, stood compassionately for biblical truth, fought for justice, showed mercy, cared for the poor, and stewarded the resources God gave them in service to His Kingdom. Bottom line: we are servants of God no matter if we serve in “official” ministry positions or not.

Lie #4: Rest is optional.

One summer during my seminary days, my boss gave me a great offer: “Kevin, this summer you can work as many hours you want—even if you go into overtime.” Overtime and overtime pay? The ears of this cash-strapped seminary student perked up and I soon made it my goal to cash in on this offer. After a few weeks filled with 55+ hours of work while trying to balance responsibilities at church, I realized that I slowly began to dread work, serving at church, and spending time with friends. I was drained both physically and spiritually—I needed a break!

I was missing a vital part of God’s plan for work. In God’s design, man is to work and to rest from his work. This imitates God’s rest in creation (Exodus 20:8-11) and in the words of Tim Keller is “a celebration of our design.” True rest refocuses our hearts on the Creator and rejuvenates us for more work.

Rest has many dimensions and doesn’t only refer to physical rest. Spiritual rest is found in Christ and obtained when we put our faith in Him. In Christ we rest from trying to earn God’s approval through works (Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 4:3). This means we need the rejuvenating effects of spiritual rest in communion with God through prayer and the Scriptures, solitude, and fellowship with other believers.

Lie #5: My work gives me an identity.

This lie is actually more of a half-truth—work does shape part of our earthly identity. But if I bank my life and entire identity on my work, my self-worth and emotions will be dependent on my performance. If work is going well, it quickly becomes an idol. That idol will eventually disappoint me, leaving me disappointed until I have reason to hope in myself again. And when things get difficult, I question my identity and if I’m doing what God called me to do.

Jesus wants us off of the emotional rollercoaster that comes with finding our identities solely in our work. First and foremost, we are forgiven sinners, bought by the blood of Christ and are children of God. The very reason Jesus died was “to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). If you believe in Christ, your core identity is no longer in your work but is in your new identity as belonging to Christ. This fundamental aspect of your identity should be weaved into the very fabric of your being both today and 100,000 years into the future.

Working in the Gospel’s Power

Christ’s death and resurrection gives believers a new identity and a new power in the Holy Spirit for our work. Instead of separating work from worship, we can fuse them together for the glory of our King. Instead of focusing on the frustrations of work in a fallen world, we can rejoice that Christ’s work on the cross makes it so it won’t always be this way. And instead of striving to achieve worth, you can rest knowing that you are of infinite worth in your Father’s eyes.

When you are tempted to believe lies about work or who you are in Christ, may these truths serve as a steady anchor for your mind and heart.


Kevin Halloran is a servant of God, husband, and blogger at Word + Life. Serves with Leadership Resources International training pastors worldwide to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. You can follow Kevin on Twitter.

Photo credit: Work sucks via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

Snakes on a plain

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For my daily Bible reading, I’ve been following the M’Cheyne plan and working through D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God (you can do so as well at this blog). In April, it brought me to Numbers. Numbers is not usually high on anyone’s list of anticipated devotional reading. I can generally sympathize with this, but I think Numbers gets a bad rap for at least a couple of reasons.

First, most people encounter it after committing to read the Bible in a year, and they’ve gotten to Numbers after all the rules and regulations in Leviticus. The excitement of the Exodus is long gone, and the story seems stalled. If this is the only Bible reading you’re doing every morning, it can seem tedious and boring.

Second, the book starts off with the type of Scripture we seem to cherish the least: lists of names. Most people don’t relish reading genealogies and organizational flow charts, but the early chapters of Numbers seem to be very much that. Censuses and camp layouts are not exactly something I feel like I can apply to my life today.

But, as you continue reading, Numbers has actually has some pretty interesting and important stories. While everyone’s familiar with John 3:16 , not everyone may realize the story involving Moses in John 3:14-15 comes from Numbers. In chapter 21, because of their continual grumbling, the Israelites are dealing with very deadly snakes on the plain. In order to be saved they must look to a bronze serpent that Moses has been instructed to lift up on a stick. Those who look to the serpent will be healed from their bites. The name for this serpent on a stick is the Nehushtan, and it may be an underlying source or inspiration for the Rod of Asclepius, which you might recognize from being on the emergency services star of life (among other places). If that’s the case, the symbol of healing in our medical services is also the symbol John said represents true healing found in Christ.

Further, consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13, ESV)

While most people might be familiar with the last verse, the stories that Paul alludes to mostly take place in Numbers. He says in verse 6 that these stories took place as examples for us. The “us” in the original was Paul and the Corinthians, but it also applies to “us” today. Especially considering how often we draw correlations between the Corinthian climate and our American culture, it seems like what Paul thought was applicable for them is easily applicable for us. As Gordon Wenham comments,

For the writers of the New Testament the book of Numbers stands as a great warning. Despite the miraculous deliverance from Egypt, and the daily evidences of God’s provision for their needs, Israel refused to believe and rebelled against their Saviour. Numbers records a trail of spectacular judgments that ought to provoke caution in every believer.

In this passage Paul describes the experiences of Israel in the wilderness in such a way as to make clear the parallels with the situation at Corinth. Most of the sins of Corinth are thus prefigured in Numbers, and if Israel was punished so severely, what can the church of the new covenant expect?(Numbers, 56-57)

In their Introduction to The Old Testament, Longman and Dillard suggest “Each generation of Christians should place themselves in the position of the new generation of the book of Numbers. God has acted redemptively in our midst, and by so doing, he has given our lives meaning and hope. Just like the Numbers generation, we are called upon to respond to God’s grace with obedience” (100). Reading Numbers in that light, genealogies included, can surely prove profitable to the Christian life. At the end of the day, the struggle may simply be that reading Numbers well requires thought beyond the time it takes to read the chapters in order to see Christ more clearly and understand how this part of Scripture can be profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and ultimately training in righteousness.


Nate Claiborne an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. He writes regularly at NathanielClaiborne.comFollow him at @nateclaiborneThis post originally appeared on Nate’s blog in April 2015. It has been lightly edited for timeliness.

Three pitfalls of suffering

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Concerning the subject of suffering, CS Lewis famously said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Countless people, including my family and I, would affirm the truth of that statement. Pain opens the door to intimacy with Jesus. It’s through pain we grow, mature, and even find some previously unintended avenues for ministry. These are all examples of redemption – the Lord taking the broken pieces of our lives, crumbled under the weight of a corrupted creation, and creating a mosaic of something beautiful from it.

From a scriptural standpoint, there are numerous places we might point that show us the good that can ultimately come from pain. Take, for example, James 1:2-4:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

Suffering produces the good of maturity which, according to this verse, is a key to spiritual maturity, which is a good, good thing. Or take another example from 2 Corinthians 1:3-7:

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort.

Suffering creates an avenue for ministry, for we are able to extend the comfort we receive from the Lord to others. This, too, is a good and right after effect of suffering.

These are just two examples of how it’s supposed to work. But like all things, it doesn’t always go that way. In as much pain and suffering can, in the end, have positive and redemptive effects, there are a number of ways that our pain might have negative effects. Though there are many such pitfalls, here are three:

1. Callousness. If you go back and look at the passage above from 2 Corinthians, you can glean that pain in our own lives is meant to soften our hearts toward the pain of others. We can truly sympathize with what they’re walking through; we can shoulder the burden along with them in a very true and honest way. But sometimes we find that instead of making our hearts pliable and soft, our pain actually causes us to have a sense of callousness toward others. We spend so much time looking inward at what’s happening in our own lives that we find we have little interest, emotion, or empathy left to look outside of ourselves.

2. Entitlement. Pain is the great equalizer. In the hospital waiting room, everyone seems to be on equal (albeit it shaky) footing. That’s because all of us live in a world broken by sin, and because we do, none of us are immune from the effects. But when you suffer and suffer greatly, there is sometimes a temptation to think that you have “paid your dues.” You’ve done your time in the prison of pain, and because you have, God owes you some measure of peace and comfort. In a perverted kind of way, your pain becomes your pride, proof of the fact that you have been tested and tried. Having earned that badge, you are now entitled to live above such things.

3. Comparison. Suffering is relative. A scraped knee isn’t going to mean the same thing to a 35-year-old man as it does to a 5-year-old boy; that’s because that man has been though a lot more life than that boy has. That doesn’t mean, however, that a father can’t stoop low and sympathize with a boy. And yet sometimes the ugliness of comparison rears its head even in the midst of our suffering. We walk through a season of pain and then must battle the temptation to look at what others might be going through and compare their struggle to our own. We look with contempt on the suffering of others, bolstered by a sense of our own superiority because, ironically, of something that we did not control and something that caused us so much grief.

How, then, can we recognize these pitfalls and do the thing that none of us wants to do, but all of us will have the opportunity to do, and suffer in a God-glorifying and honorable way? I’m sure there are 3 or 4 good steps to doing so, but mostly, we can look to Jesus.

Jesus, who suffered more than all, and yet even with the knowledge of His own suffering wept at the tomb of His friend. Jesus who emptied Himself and befriended and had compassion on the dregs even when He was the only truly superior One. Jesus who did not compare the suffering of His cross to the suffering of others but instead willingly took it upon Himself for the sake of others. We can look to Jesus and see a Savior who did it the good and right way, and we can be humbled under the weight of His sacrifice and emboldened to feel deeply for others in light of His compassion.


Michael Kelley is director of groups ministry at LifeWay Christian Resources and the author of Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Beeson Divinity School and lives with his wife and three kids in Nashville, Tenn. Follow him at @_michaelkelley.


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Believing while waiting

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Just believe in God and your sins will fade away. Doesn’t that make it sound easy? Sure it takes work. Sure it will be a challenge. But over time things will steadily improve. If only.

Christians live in a gap. We give our lives to Christ, and we step into it. On the other side of the gap is glory. “Glory” may sound old-fashioned, like something a TV preacher shouted about or old hymns were sung about. I can still hear my grandfather, a travelling evangelist of the revival and crusade era, saying “glory” with that inimitable southern preacher emphasis—Glaw-ray! But think of glory like you would a stunning sun set, a litter of puppies, the vastness of the Milky Way, the detail on a Monet painting, July fourth fireworks, crashing surf, a crescendoing symphony, or the beauty of fresh fallen snow. Each is glorious in its own way and lifts our minds and fills our hearts with … something. That something is the yearning for the perfection to come. We are not there yet. But one day Christ will bring it with Him. Revelation 21 says:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Belief does not mean sin will go away. As long as the gap exists we cannot have that. What we can have is trajectory. True belief is that which perpetually, magnetically pulls us toward the “not yet” of Revelation 21. It finds hope when things are hard by knowing there is greater happiness, perfect happiness to come. The suffering of right now hurts, without question. Looking to the future does not deny that or shy away from it. It simply offers a way through.

When we sin it is forward-looking belief that leads to repentance because we know that leaving what is wrong and pursuing what is right will bring us closer to real peace and joy. We hear the call of Jesus’ voice and we go toward it, the very nature of repentance. And it is repentance that keeps our trajectory on course, constantly nudging us back on course when we wander and yanking us back on course when we flee.

We will struggle. We will do things we know are wrong. We will battle persistent sins. But it is belief that makes us battle instead of just giving up. That porn addiction is not greater than what is to come; it may feel like it right now, but belief lifts your eyes to “making everything new”. The not yet is a reason to fight your apathy and laziness at work. Your work may seem pointless, but it was given to you by the one who will bring in a new creation. Doesn’t He want you to be part of working in His image and toward that end? You find yourself fighting anger or bitterness? Grace has been poured out on you and one day justice will come, so you can be filled up with grace and look forward to wrongs being righted. And as long as we are fighting, refusing to surrender our lives to sin, we are moving toward the “not yet” and even exemplifying it to the world around us.

Some folks do right things without belief. Some folks claim to believe without doing right. From the outside it can be very hard to tell who believes what. In fact, it can be very hard to tell from the inside too. I spent a long time assuming I “believed” rightly, not fully realizing that my belief was hollow, missing vitality and life. I think many people who grow up Christian are the same way. They can say all the right things, answer all the questions, and do enough good to feel comfortable in their belief. But do they really believe? Did I? Yes and no. I was in the gap. I believed in Christ, but had not believed to the point of giving Him everything in my life.

That is the process toward the not yet. That is the evidence of belief. Are we giving ourselves to Christ in new ways? Are we trusting parts of our life to him we had not previously? A Relationship, a bank account, a secret sin, a secret shame, a secret pride—are we believing his goodness and authority in such a way that we offer them up?


Barnabas Piper blogs at The Blazing Center, is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy Of Faith, and co-hosts The Happy Rant podcast. Piper writes for WorldMag.com, contributes to numerous other websites, and speaks frequently at churches and conferences. Barnabas serves as the Brand Manager for the Leadership Development team at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville where he lives with his wife and two daughters.


Photo credit: Alpages via photopin (license)

Prioritizing the gospel

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Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a celebrated politician of France, was known for his brilliance in the court and his wisdom in the pulpit. He was influential, wealthy, and powerfully wise. Educated as a priest, even to the rank of bishop, he renounced the church to excel in public affairs. And excel he did. Only the emperor was more distinguished.1

And yet, with all his knowledge, with all his splendor, and with all his wealth, Talleyrand died with a miserably regretful epitaph. Next to his deathbed was a handwritten letter detailing his dying words and reflections on the life he was leaving behind:

Behold eighty-three years passed away! What cares! What agitation! What anxieties! What ill-will inspired? What vexatious complication! And without any other result than great moral and physical fatigue, and a profound feeling of despair for the future, of disgust at the past.

We find a similar letter in the Bible. It wasn’t found next to a comfortable bed under a warm lamp, but smuggled out of a cold Roman dungeon where criminals were imprisoned, drowned in the city sewage, and flushed away with the garbage. It wasn’t written by a political dignitary or high ranking diocesan, but by a humble and modest-living Christ follower. It did, however, contain the dying words of a well-known man—the apostle Paul.

He didn’t write what you might have expected a man to write in such an appalling setting—especially staring death in the face. His words were most powerful, most abiding, most encouraging, and most wise. His words captured the remarkable joy of a fulfilled life.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

What consumed Paul’s life and culminated in such an extraordinary epitaph? It was the gospel of Jesus Christ. He made it his priority, his purpose, his aim in life, and his motivation to endure (2 Tim. 2:8-10). He made it his all. The gospel was a treasure entrusted to him by God, just as his life was a treasure entrusted to God (2 Tim. 1:12-14). The gospel mattered most to him—even above his own life.

The fight fought

Paul described his life as a war waged against gospel negligence. It was a gutsy struggle to maintain persevering trust in Christ by rooting himself deeply in the gospel. He fought apathy, laziness, comfort, weariness, fear, shame, unfaithfulness, and worldly arguments that would challenge his gospel meditations.

The race finished

Paul also described his life as a race, not to be won by finishing first, but to be won by finishing well. He taught that an athlete is crowned only if he competes according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). So the race finished well is a race finished with honor and excellence. Paul was not concerned with success tips, marketing points, or worldly wisdom. He knew that fulfillment in life was not succeeding in the world, but excelling in the Word. He concerned himself with the gospel.

The faith kept

Finally, Paul described his life as having a strong hold on the cross. He gripped Christ, knowing that the winds of persecution would fiercely blow and the waters of suffering would aggressively flow against him. Only the cross of Christ could withstand such a current. So he clasped tightly, kept strongly, seized firmly. The faith that he held was the breathed-out Word of God, the only resource capable of shaping a life such as his (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul held the gospel in order to keep the faith.

When the gospel means this much to you, death is the vehicle to the reward you seek and your life is labor toward the offering you give (2 Tim. 4:6-8). The Lord poured him out and he loved it. Is the Lord pouring you out?


Jacob Abshire is the author of Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon and Faith: A Commentary on James, and co-founder of Resolute Creative. You can find him online atjacobabshire.com and follow him on Twitter @aliasbdi.

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A prayer for contentment

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Oh Lord, You are my shepherd and I should not be in want,
but so often I struggle to be content and do want;
forgetting that you have graciously provided me with every spiritual blessing in Christ
and everything I need for life and godliness.

Thank you for often not giving me what I want
because my desires would draw my heart from being satisfied in You.
Help me to be content in You with what You have given me
and to not be focused on what my flesh wants or the world tells me I should have.

Protect me from coveting possessions or people,
talent or influence, relationships or prestige.
Keep my heart from being anxious for what I don’t have
and make me thankful for the numerous gifts that You have already given.

According to Your Word and steadfast love,
fill me with the joy and satisfaction of contentment in Christ.
Help me learn to be content in any situation like Paul
and to quickly reject the idolatry that dwells beneath the surface of my coveting.

I ask you to continually bring to mind your faithful provision for all of my needs,
that Christ died for the sin of coveting,
that in Christ I am free to be content and live righteously,
and that godliness with contentment is greater gain than pleasing my flesh.

And may I be humbled and changed by the ultimate example of contentment;
of Christ becoming poor in order that I could become rich,
and being content to go to the cross to fulfill the Father’s will
to rescue a people for Himself who can be free from discontent and zealous for good works.


Kevin Halloran is a lover of Christ, drinker of coffee, and reader of books who has no real reason to continue being a Chicago Cubs fan (but is anyway). He serves with Leadership Resources International training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Follow Kevin on Twitter or visit his blog.

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Dealing with pain

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One of the hardest aspects of my Christian life has been dealing with emotional and spiritual pain. Over the years I’ve had some pretty hard experiences, as I’m sure you have. One recent experience I’ve had has been due to my dad’s development of frontal temporal dementia and the subsequent exasperation of his mood disorder. Sometimes the idea of my dad’s dementia hits me like a ton of bricks. I can be just fine, working away, and then bam, I start thinking about what his dementia will do to him. It isn’t as if I’m actively thinking about what his disease will do to him. Sometimes it will seemingly come from out of the blue; while other times I foolishly “stuff down” how I feel. When I force this feeling back, thoughts about the situation with my dad bubble up suddenly to the surface like a rolling boil.

Maybe your mother or father has a disease that will end up crippling them and eventually lead to their death, the way my father does. Perhaps you’ve lost a parent tragically or you’ve experienced a massive amount of financial loss, or a relationship you’ve invested heavily in was abruptly over. We live in a fallen world that requires us to deal with pain. To neglect dealing with pain and avoiding one’s own feelings isn’t healthy. In fact, avoiding your feelings only leads to further issues such as compounded stress, guilt, shame, depression, and more. Dealing with pain is an unavoidable part of life.

Dealing with pain is part of dealing with reality. The day I sat down to write this article, I cried for a good half an hour while working on another project. I kept telling myself as I cried to “knock it off,” but the tears didn’t stop. Finally, I stopped telling myself to knock it off and just cried until I stopped. It’s important to remember that Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, but never sinned. Jesus was beaten, scourged, and died the most bloody and brutal death known to man. He experienced betrayal by those closest to Him. When I feel like I do with my dad, I remind myself I have a Savior in Jesus who understands what I’m going through. Jesus is unlike me, however, in that He is sinless, while I’m a sinner clinging to and abiding in Him.

Preaching the gospel, and not a self-improvement message, is the key to rightly dealing with pain and reality. As Christians we have a big God who knows what we are going through, who is near to the broken hearted, and who genuinely desires to walk with His people through pain and suffering.

In my teenage years I struggled with telling people, “I love you”. There are times when I still struggle with this. While over the years I’ve grown better at telling people I care about them, even recently I struggled to say, “I love you” to someone I care about a lot. It wasn’t that I didn’t genuinely love this person, I do but I just didn’t feel very loving at that moment. Perhaps you’ve felt that way as well. How do we get over the feeling of feeling icky? The Bible talks about a word rightly spoken. You never know when you might offer a word of encouragement at just the right time. You never know how your prayers or ministry to someone might be the catalyst the Lord will use to genuinely help someone.

As we wrap up this article, I want to give you some (hopefully helpful) advice on how to deal with pain. First, understand that others around you are experiencing different degrees of pain in their own life. Experiencing intense pain whether emotionally, physically, or mentally will cause you to be more sympathetic, compassionate, and humble toward others. Second, get a good support system around you from your local church, family, and friends. Finally, I encourage you to open your Bible and engage in the spiritual disciplines. If you don’t know what those are, I encourage you to get Donald Whitney’s classic book The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Whatever you do, don’t be silent about your struggles and please don’t ignore or avoid them. Deal with your issues by facing them head on by the grace of God, and with the help if needed of trained professionals. Dealing with pain is an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. Look to Jesus and remember what He suffered. He knows what you are going through. Run to Him, cling to Him, and rest in Him; He is sufficient for all you need.


Dave Jenkins is the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries and Book Promotions Specialist at Cross Focused Reviews. He and his wife Sarah are members of Ustick Baptist Church in Boise, Idaho where Dave and his wife serve in a variety of ministries. You can follow him on twitter @DaveJJenkins or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.

Photo credit: freeimageslive.co.uk – Halloween

5 words on extemporaneous preaching

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“Not for faint of heart.”

There’s your five words. (Just kidding.)

Extemporaneous preaching isn’t for everyone, but it is for me. I cannot manuscript. I mean, obviously I can, I write a lot and I love to do so. But I don’t like to write out sermons. My writing voice is far too different from my speaking voice. My one attempt at using a manuscripted sermon in a dozen years of preaching was an intolerably, uncomfortable preaching experience. So, you don’t want to come to me for advise about manuscripting a sermon. However, if you want to take a stab at preaching extemporaneously, then listen up. Here are five words of advice:

1. Preach your sermon to yourself during the week

For whatever reason, I don’t preach a dry run of my sermon in front of a mirror, in an empty auditorium, or in front of my family filled couch. No. Instead I preach it in my car, on my face, in the shower, on my bed, and in coffee shops. I do it in clips and in sections. I don’t do it out loud; it’s all in my head. Most of it is prayer. Sometimes you may catch me pacing my study trying to smooth out certain ideas, but I won’t preach the sermon from beginning to end until I’m in front of my congregation.

And it’s likely that what I preach to myself will sound and be different than what I preach to my congregation. Why? I’m preaching to myself, so I need to hear more, less, or different than what my congregation needs.

If you’re not preaching to yourself first, then you won’t preach to your congregation well. The Word of God has to lay ruin to the miserable ways of your soul and refresh you with the grace of God first before it will effectively do so for others. I want the Word of God to strike me between the eyes before I admonish God’s flock with it.

2. Let the text guide your outline

Quite honestly, I think that extemporaneous preachers are going to be twice as likely to be expository preachers. Allowing the text to guide your sermon outline makes it so much easier to preach without a manuscript. You read the text; then you expound on that text. You read the next text; then you expound on that one. This makes the preaching task fairly straightforward. Its less likely you’ll get lost in your outline.

3. Make a legible, coded outline

If you’re going to preach extemporaneously, you’re going to need a concise outline. I use the perforated pages in the back of my moleskin where I’ve been jotting down notes throughout the week to construct my outline.

Typically, on Thursday afternoon I coalesce all of my notes into an ordered two column homiletical outline that fits on the front of one page. It’s made up of nothing more than single-word signals, transitional statements, verse references, markers for anecdotes, and crucial textual observations. I’ll use a highlighter to code different elements of the outline.

I actually tape this outline into my bible on the opposite page of my passage with special Scotch Magic 811 removable tape. I’ve used this tape in my Bible for some time and have never ripped a page when removing it. This is handy because then I don’t have to necessarily be tied to a pulpit. I can pace and preach with Bible in hand.

So what if I’m going to quote something? Any quotes I use I put in my phone. I just pull it out and open the note I made for the sermon. That note has a quote or two – I don’t think I’ve ever used more than two – and a benediction. Sometimes, I just memorize the quote, which is an effective way to do it. This lets your congregation know that the quote is valuable to you.

4. Record quotable thoughts

Here I’ll add that extemporaneous preachers run the risk of not being quotable. Manuscripted preachers are more likely to include really quotable statements in their manuscript. To overcome this challenge, during my study and prayer throughout the week, if a real quotable, pithy statement forms in my brain, I write it down in my notebook in a special section I’ve created. I go over that section daily to allow those quotes to settle into my mind. That way they will come to me naturally when I preach. Quotability is crucial; quotable becomes memorable; memorable becomes shareable.

5. Fill in your thoughts with other’s

Scripture guides most of my sermon preparation. My personal study of the text is where I lean in most heavy. After I draft my outline on Thursday, I usually read commentaries through the weekend to fill out my knowledge of the text.

This doesn’t mean that I avoid commentaries altogether Monday through Wednesday. I go to them when I have specific questions of the text that I am unable to answer. It could have to do with a word study, interpretive issue, or complex theological idea. I then permit commentaries to help me sort out the matter. I also allow all my other peripheral reading, study, and conversation to fill in and add thickness to what I’m going to say.

Conclusion

Like I introed, extemporaneous preaching is not for the faint of heart. It takes a long time to develop a rhythm and pull it off with a polished delivery. You almost have to begin your preaching ministry as an extemporaneous preacher in order to pull through the learning curve. But that doesn’t have to be the case. You can do it!

Both styles, manuscripting and extemporaneous, have pros and cons. In Preaching and Preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones provides sound balance here on preaching regardless of which method you use, so I’ll close it with what he says:

What I regard as being always important is that you should preserve freedom. This element can never be exaggerated. Yet, at the same time you must have order and coherence. As is so often true in this matter of preaching you are always in the position of being between two extremes, you are always on a kind of knife-edge. (Kindle location 3788)

Regardless of what model you use, preserve freedom while maintaining order and coherence.


Joey Cochran, a graduate of Dallas Seminary, is a church planting intern at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois under the supervision of Pastor Joe Thorn. Follow him at jtcochran.com or @joeycochran.

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When forgiveness becomes a discipline

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Peter was looking for an “attaboy.”

Jesus had just finished giving His teaching on the process of confrontation when a brother sins against you. Peter, hearing Jesus’ emphasis on honest and direct communication with the aim of restoration, came back with a very generous offer, at least in his mind:

“Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21).

Nice, Peter. I see what you did there. You hid a statement in the form of a question. It’s especially nice since the rabbis of the day taught that 3 instances of forgiveness was plenty. But you? You are going above and beyond. But Jesus wiped the smugness off Peter’s face with His next statement:

“I tell you, not as many as seven, but 70 times seven.”

So that’s more then. A lot more. And Jesus’ point becomes clear – there isn’t a specific number of times you should forgive another, but instead you should forgive generously as God has forgiven you. That’s what the subsequent parable is all about.

We get that at some level I think. Because God doesn’t run out of forgiveness for us, we must do likewise to our brothers. Forgiven people, forgive people. Most of the time we think of this in a situation where we have a friend who can’t seem to get his or her act together. They’re always messing up; they can’t seem to get their social graces in order. And time after time, they have to come to us apologizing again and again for saying the wrong thing, not thinking through their actions, que cera cera.

But let’s consider Jesus’ statement from a different angle – one that takes forgiveness out of the realm of “she didn’t include me when she tagged everyone on Facebook” and moves it into something much more serious. Some instance, let’s say, of deep, deep betrayal. Let’s consider that instance when one person has been irreparably harmed by another. Their life has been altered. Nothing will ever be the same, and now comes the opportunity to forgive.

Anyone who has felt that kind of pain, I believe, will testify to the fact that forgiveness isn’t so cut and dry. Sure, you can say the words simple enough; but it’s another matter to truly feel it. To live it.

In such a case, the “70 x 7” is less about the number of times you have been wronged, and more about the number of times you must silently pronounce that forgiveness to another. It’s in such a case that forgiveness becomes an act of discipline – one that must be exercised sometimes daily, if not hourly, as you remind yourself over and over again that you forgive another.

Mind you this statement of forgiveness might not ever be said beyond the initial verbalization; but though you might not ever say it out loud passed the initial time, you think it. You have to. You say it to your heart. You preach it to yourself. The pain is so deep; the bitterness is so threatening; the anger is so fresh; that time and time again you must preach to your soul that you have forgiven. And then when you feel the anger or bitterness or anxiety, you say it to yourself again.

70 x 7 times. Or as many times as it really takes to grab hold. Discipline yourself to forgive, Christian, because sometimes it’s not as easy as doing it seven times.


Michael Kelley (M.Div.) and his wife, Jana, have three children. He’s the Director of at LifeWay Christian Resources. His works include Boring and Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal. Keep up with Michael on his blog at michaelkelleyministries.com or on Twitter @_MichaelKelley.

Originally published at michaelkelleyministries.com. Photo credit: minnepixel via photopin cc