Healthy Examination of the Soul

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. Herod said, “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he sought to see him.

On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing.

—Luke 9:7-11—

Occasional retirement, self-inquiry, meditation, and secret communion with God, are absolutely essential to spiritual health. The man who neglects them is in great danger of a fall. To be always preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and working public works, is, unquestionably, a sign of zeal. But it is not always a sign of zeal according to knowledge. It often leads to adverse consequences. We must make time occasionally for sitting down and calmly looking within, and examining how matters stand between our own selves and Christ. The omission of the practice is the true account of many a backsliding which shocks the Church, and gives occasion to the world to blaspheme.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke

HT: J.C. Ryle Quotes

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:19-26

So far, this Partnering to Remember project has been a lot of fun—but it’s also been a lot of work.

But it’s the good kind of work.

My third week into memorizing Philippians I hit a snag. That snag?

Philippians 1:20

…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I would not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always, Christ would be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, I did type that from memory. I did check it to make sure it was correct afterward, though. Is that cheating?)

This is one of the most complicated verses I’ve come up against so far. To actually get through it, I ended up splitting it into three separate chunks and working on it over the course of two days. While this slowed down my progress a little, it did give me an opportunity to chew on the content of this verse a little more.

Paul’s confidence in Christ is inspiring. In verses 18b-19, he writes, “Yes and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out for my deliverance…”

He’s in a filthy Roman prison. He’s likely going to die for all he knows, but he is confident that Christ will deliver him from his imprisonment should He choose to do so. And what’s Paul’s response? “That with full courage now as always, Christ would be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

He’s not concerned about whether he lives or whether he dies.

He’s only concerned that Christ be honored in both.

I’m trying to imagine what it’s like to live in that confidence; it would be incredibly freeing, wouldn’t it?

If there’s one thing I’m hoping to come away from in the rest of this project, it’s that I can have the same kind of confidence that motivated Paul to say, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

How has week three of partnering to remember gone for you?

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:12-18

Two weeks into my memory moleskine and how am I doing?

Last week, I managed to get a full two weeks memorized in one. The upside is that it left me some wiggle room for memorizing the rest. The downside is it left me a little cocky for week two.

And this was a bad week to be cocky.

Philippians 1:12-18 is a surprisingly tricky set of verses. Where v. 15-18 are relatively smooth sailing, v. 12-14 are fairly complex. One of the great challenges of memorizing in the ESV is that, because it’s a formal equivalence translation, it sometimes has rather unusual sentence structure. I had to spend several days on these verses before feeling somewhat confident in them.

One of the more exciting things about this project is being able to see real progress. Before I started I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to keep the verses I learned the prior week (or as it progresses at the beginning of the project) in my mind. This is where the discipline of constant repetition comes into play. I find myself reciting Phil 1:1-11 at least two times a day now, and I really enjoy it, especially as I play with emphasis. It’s a lot of fun to try to imagine which words Paul would have been stressing as he dictated the letter.

The other pleasant side effect of the project has been how applicable each section has been week-to-week. As we prayed at the end of the Truth Xchange conference, Phil 1:9-11 were incredibly timely to keep in mind as we had spent several days seeking to grow not only in our knowledge and discernment “so that [we] may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” but that our love might abound more and more as we seek to apply this knowledge at home.

So, that’s been my second week. How has week two of partnering to remember gone for you? What challenges have you seen, and what has been the most exciting thing for you so far?

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:1-11

So last Saturday, I started working on memorizing the entire book of Philippians as part of Tim Brister’s Memory Moleskine project. When I started the project, I didn’t know how it was going to go – would it be quick and painless? Excruciating? Somewhere in between?

And the answer is… yes.

Surprisingly, it was a lot easier to make it through the first six verses than I anticipated. I actually picked them up very quickly (by Sunday night I could recite them from memory without much difficulty).

However, the one significant challenge that I came across was with one word: “all.

You’d think that it would be a simple one to remember, but for some reason I kept tripping up on it. Phil 1:3 says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,” but it would come out, “I thank my God in my remembrance of you.”

Already the weeding has begun.

I’m, as of today, a good part of the way through week 2 (Phil. 1:7-11) and the “alls” are coming at me again. (As is the weird sentence structure of v. 7.)

Still, I am persevering, and for the most part have these verses down. Since I can’t prove it to you in typed form, you’ll have to wait until I get brave enough to do a short video post of the whole first chapter.

Are you partnering to remember? Tell me about your journey to remember Philippians so far.

Building (and Rebuilding) Your Library

About a week or so ago, Nathan Harbottle asked me a great question on Twitter:

If you had to start your personal library over, what would be your first 3 purchases?

Interestingly enough, this something I’ve had to do before. When I first started my library, it was books by Rob Bell, Erwin McManus and I think one book by Craig Groeschel. (I even had a copy of Wild at Heart. I never read beyond chapter 3.)

It was not a terribly robust library, nor was it terribly deep.

Then, for some reason, I decided to get a copy of 18 Words by J.I. Packer, and it rocked my socks. It also set me on a path to building what I think is becoming a fairly well-rounded, theologically sound library.

So, back to Nate’s question. What three books would be my first purchases if I were starting over again?

Aside from a good study Bible (I profiled a few here in the “Get Serious About Your Studies” series), I’d recommend getting the following books to start off:

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul (Cover)

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

Why? In The Holiness of God, Sproul helps believers gain a better grasp of this all-too-often neglected attribute of God. Sproul is a master at communicating complex subjects in a way that is completely understandable for the average layperson and encouraging a deeper passion for the Lord in his readers.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Why? Knowing God is one of the first books I ever read that left me in awe. Packer’s insights into the central pursuit of the Christian life—not simply knowing things about God, but knowing God intimately—are a great gift to believers.

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem

Why? In Christian Beliefs, Grudem addresses 20 essential doctrines of the Christian faith in a way that is clear and accessible. It also includes chapter review questions that are perfect for private reflection or group study. This is a book that I wish I had had the day after I got saved. Seriously.

As an immediate fourth pick, I’d also recommend getting a copy of Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul. It’s packed with great principles on how to study the Bible in a way that will keep you from winding up in some pretty scary places theologically.

What three books would you recommend?

Who We Are Before God Seeps Out Constantly

Richard Baxter, the Puritan pastor and theologian, counseled those seeking to serve in pastoral ministry with these words: “When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. Your prayers, and praises, and doctrine will be sweet and heavenly to them. They will most likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears.”

Baxter is reminding us of something that we often forget but that should be pretty obvious to us: our people can tell when we are close to God—and when we are not. It will come out in our sermons, our prayers, our leadership, and even our conversations. As Moses’ face shone to the Israelites after he had been with God, so our lives will radiate his presence when we have been with him. . . . Who we are before God seeps out of us constantly.

…”If we forbear taking food ourselves, we shall famish them; it will soon be visible in their leanness, and dull discharge of their several duties. If we let our love decline, we are not like to raise up theirs. If we abate our holy care and fear, it will appear in our preaching; if the matter show it not, the manner will. If we feed on unwholesome food, either errors or fruitless controversies, our hearers are like to fare the worse for it.”

Darrin Patrick, Church Planter, p. 61

Parachutes and Pineapples

Over the last few months, after every preaching engagement there’s been a mix of emotions. Pleasure that no one walked out. Relaxation because it’s all over for the day… and a strange sense of sadness.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on why for that last one until this weekend. See the thing is in all of these engagements where I’ve had the opportunity to minister with the Word, I’m in for the day—and then I’m gone again (until the next time, which might be months down the road).

What I realized this week is that I feel kind of sad that I don’t get to see what happens after I leave.

I don’t get to see people wrestling with applying the message to their lives. To see people grow and change and become more like Christ as a result (hopefully).

I want to be able to see the fruit

I was sharing this with a good friend of mine on Tuesday afternoon and he said, “It doesn’t take long to start to care about a congregation, does it?”

It really doesn’t. And this really surprised me because I didn’t expect it, I suppose. I didn’t anticipate feeling so deeply for people I don’t really know. And it kind of scares me, too, because it might mean something significant.

And it’s making me realize something else:

Parachutes are fun, but it might be nice to have some pineapples.

How Can I Know God's Will for My Life?

Great thought from Kevin DeYoung’s excellent (and underrated) book, Just Do Something:

Simply put, God’s will is your growth in Christlikeness. God promises to work all things together for our good that we might be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). . . . God never assures us of health, success, or ease. But He promises us something even better: He promises to make us loving, pure, and humble like Christ. In short, God’s will is that you and I get happy and holy in Jesus.

So go marry someone, provided you’re equally yoked and you actually like being with each other. Go get a job, provided it’s not wicked. Go live somewhere in something with somebody or nobody. But put aside the passivity and the quest for complete fulfillment and the perfectionism and the preoccupation with the future, and for God’s sake start making some decisions in your life. Don’t wait for the liver-shiver. If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something.

For more on the book, read my review.

Do You Want to Be Hip?

Seems like a funny question to ask, especially since I’m not one who is known for advocating “cool Christianity,” but follow me for a second.

Thursday Alastair Begg preached a challenging and edifying message at the Toronto Pastors’ Fellowship meeting, which I had the privilege of attending. One of the questions that Begg—who is know for referencing classic rock songs in his messages—is frequently asked is, “Do you consider yourself a hip pastor?”

His answer was profound.

Begg responded (and I’m paraphrasing), “Yes—I absolutely want to be the hippest pastor.”

Now here’s the thing; what he means by being “hip” is that he want to be known for three things:

Humility.

Integrity.

Purity.

These are the things all of us should striving for because it’s the pursuit of godliness.

So how are we doing? Are we pursuing humility, integrity and purity daily?

Men, would your wives, friends, coworkers or kids say that you’re increasingly evidencing these characteristics, even incrementally?

Ladies, would your husbands, friends, coworkers or kids say the same about you?

“The greatest need my congregation has is my own personal godliness,” said Begg. The same is true for all of us in our homes, our jobs and our schools. We must keep a close watch on ourselves and on our doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16).

How will you do this today?

Consider the Risk – Then Do It

“Should I consider not doing missions if it means constant danger for my life?”

That’s the question that often comes up surrounding missions—and one that I wonder if doesn’t keep more of us from pursuing short- and long-term missions work.

John Piper offers some pastoral advice for those considering missions and the danger that can come with that calling in the following video:

An edited transcript follows.

Yes, consider it. But after you’ve considered it, probably you should do it.

If your wife says, “No,” you probably shouldn’t.

I’m assuming you mean danger for both of you, not like you’re going to put your wife at risk while you have a nice, secure position. If that’s what you mean then you’re selfish and you shouldn’t be in missions at all.

But if you mean, “Should I consider a calling on my life that brings me, my wife, my children into risk?” I would say, “Yes,” because, if everybody goes that route the Great Commission will never be finished.

Unless you say it should only be finished by single people. “Let’s let the single people suffer. We married people, we won’t suffer. We marry and then escape suffering.” I don’t think that’s the way the New Testament reads.

That’s why Jesus says, “Unless you hate mother, father … wife … you can’t be my disciple.” Now he didn’t mean “hate” in the sense of feeling malice towards them. He meant “hate” in the sense that you take risks so that Grandmama says that you’re acting like you hate her. You know you don’t hate her. You love her and you love all the people who, with her, you’re trying to reach.

I don’t have a final, nice criterion about when to flee and when to stand. That’s the old stress that John Bunyan wrote about in his book Advice for Sufferers.

Bunyan chose to stay in jail for 12 years when he could’ve gotten out of jail. And he had a wife and 4 kids, and one of them was blind. He could’ve gotten out if he had just signed, “I won’t preach anymore.” And he chose to stay there, which put them at tremendous risk with poverty.

So he wrote this essay called Advice for Sufferers, and in it he gives biblical examples of people who fled, like Paul escaping from Damascus through a hole in the wall instead of being brave. It’s like, “Come on Paul! Why are you sitting in a basket, being let down and running away from trouble?” And then there are examples where Paul throws himself, as it were, to the lions in Ephesus or in Philippi, going to jail and being willing to be beaten.

When do you stand and when do you flee? Bunyan says, “God will show you.”

So, no, I don’t think it’s automatic that you keep yourself, your wife, or your children out of risk, out of danger, and out of suffering. But there will be times when you sense, “Yes, it is time, for the sake of the kingdom and for the sake of all concerned, that I will move to another place and another ministry.”

It’s not a simple answer. I don’t have a simple answer to when those decisions are made.

By John Piper. © Desiring God.

Lay Your Burden Down

[tentblogger-youtube TzNSaxZqw24]

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

The Stern and Holy Christ: R. C. H. Lenski

photo: iStock

The stern and holy Christ, the indignant, mighty Messiah, the Messenger of the Covenant of whom it is written: “He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness,” is not agreeable to those who want only a soft and sweet Christ. [What we see instead is] the fiery zeal of Jesus which came with such sudden and tremendous effectiveness that before this unknown man, who had no further authority than his own person and word, this crowd of traders and changers, who thought they were fully within their right when conducting their business in the Temple court, fled pellmell like a lot of naughty boys.

R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, p. 207 (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 23)

Get Serious About Your Studies: Choosing a Study Bible

 

Studying the Bible is an essential for the Christian. Yet it seems far many of us seem to take it for granted, myself included. If we study the Bible at all, it’s as a chore—”I have to do this”—instead of a privilege—”I get to do this!”

Through the Scriptures, we learn not how life works best, but how life really is. There is a God who created all things and is in authority over all things. That mankind, made in His image and likeness, rebelled against Him and plunged all of creation into its current state of futility and sin. And that God made a way for mankind’s sins to be forgiven through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

This is such good news, and we should want to know all we can about it, shouldn’t we?

Absolutely. A few years ago I wrote a series called “get serious about your studies,” offering readers a look at a few different resources intended to help them study the Scriptures. Today, I’m revisiting this series, beginning with the most critical area: you and your Bible. More specifically, your study Bible.

Do I need a study Bible?

Despite what many of us have been taught, the Bible isn’t an impenetrable book with a mysterious message requiring decoder rings and multiple PhDs to understand. The truth is, much of the Bible is fairly easy to understand. God wants His people to know Him, regardless of academic achievement. So whether you’re in grade school or grad school, you can understand the Bible.

Even so, we must also acknowledge there are many things that are confusing or unclear to the twenty-first century reader. Much of this is due to cultural proximity—we’re a long way away from the time Jesus and His apostles walked the earth. We live in a completely different context and speak a completely different language. Certain nuances get lost in translation. And let’s face it, the vast majority of us aren’t going to be learning the biblical languages anytime soon.

This is where study Bibles are a wonderful gift to us. A study Bible is a valuable resource to assist the reader in understanding Scripture by providing insight into words and phrases used that we might not understand, as well as historical interpretations of texts. Essentially, it provides a running commentary that you can turn to should you get stuck.

What’s the right study Bible for me?

Choosing a study Bible, like choosing any Bible, can be difficult. There are a number of terrific versions available, so to some degree it comes down to preference. Nevertheless, here are a few things to keep in mind when considering which study Bible to invest in:

1. Translation style. This is probably the most important criterion. The methodology in how the text was translated from the original language can drastically affect your understanding of the words the original authors used and why. The two most common translation methods are “dynamic equivalence” and “formal equivalence.”

  • Dynamic equivalence is essentially thought-for-thought—seeking to capture the ideas the authors were conveying, sometimes at the expense of the original language. The NIV and the NLT are good examples of this method.
  • Formal equivalence tends to be a bit more word-for-word in its translation style; the upside is that you’re going to get a better idea of the actual words used in Greek and Hebrew, however the sentence structure can be clunky. The ESV, NKJV, NASB and the HCSB are probably the best formal equivalence translations on the market today.

While they certainly can be used for more in-depth study, generally speaking, dynamic equivalence translations are ideally suited for devotional reading. If you’re looking to do some serious investigation, lean toward a formal equivalence translation.

2. Notes and supplemental articles. The notes in your study Bible need to actually be helpful in clearing up confusion where possible, and great ones will provide insight into the original language used. Avoid wishy-washy write-ups whenever possible. Supplemental articles on translations, Church history, ethics, the canon of Scripture, reading plans, as well as ones that help you understand the context of each book of the Bible, general themes, etc. are essential. Your notes and articles are the things you’re paying for, so be sure to take some time to read carefully.

3. The contributors. Do your best to know who is contributing notes to your study Bible. While no pastor or theologian is infallible, there are some who you should pay closer attention to. If you have a study Bible featuring notes by the likes of J.I. Packer, John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul, rejoice! But if they’re by Joel Osteen, run for the hills.

4. Font size. I know this sounds silly, but it’s actually pretty important. Reading tiny print takes a toll on the eyes. You want to try to avoid eye strain if at all possible.

What study Bibles do I recommend?

There are tons of great study Bibles out there, and here are a few I strongly recommend:

The ESV Study Bible. This is one of the best translation specific study Bibles available on the market today, with contributions by Dennis Johnson, Andreas Köstenberger, Ray Ortlund, and Tom Schreiner, among many others. (Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books or Amazon.)

The HCSB Study Bible. The Holman Christian Standard Bible is increasingly becoming one of my favorite translations to use, combining the accuracy of the ESV with the readability of the NIV. This study Bible features notes written by Richard Hess, Andreas Köstenberger, Robert Yarbrough, Walt Kaiser and more. (Learn more or buy it at Amazon.)

The Reformation Study Bible. This study Bible is ideal for getting a solid grounding in historic Reformed theology, featuring contributions by R.C. Sproul, Graeme Goldsworthy, Peter Jones, Tremper Longman III, Sinclair Ferguson, Leon Morris and more. (Learn more or buy it at Westminster Books,

Meet the Evangelical Pagan

At the Exchange Conference, Mark Driscoll spoke on Oneism vs. Twoism; how we by nature are idolators because we worship and serve created things rather than our Creator (you can read my notes from the sessions here). In this excerpt from his first lecture, Driscoll describes the Evangelical pagan.