B2change I want to see in the world!

How to Make Your Church a Safe Place for Sinners

In recent years, there has been an explosion of websites which allow people to anonymously confess their deepest, darkest secrets. The website “Post Secret” allows people to send in anonymous post cards with dark secrets written on them, which are then posted publicly on the website. Recently, a slew of “confessional” apps have been released, all with the same purpose in mind: allowing people to get stuff off their chest. The app “Whisper” lets folks anonymously unburden themselves and then receive the support of the Whisper community. Some of these secrets are humorous. Most of them are sad and even disturbing.

Why are these websites and apps so popular? Because every person is overwhelmed by living in a fallen world. Everyone is crushed by the sinful baggage they’re carrying around.

A guy is struggling with his sexual orientation but doesn’t want to tell anyone, so he shares it anonymously. A woman is being destroyed by bulimia but can’t bear the thought of letting the secret out into the open, so she puts it up on Whisper in hope of some support. A guy doesn’t know how to handle his recent breakup, so he goes looking for help online. Everyone is living in quiet desperation. Desperate for hope. Desperate for encouragement. Desperate for light in a dark world.

If there is one place where it should be safe to tell secrets, it should be the church. Apps like Whisper can offer only the slightest, fleeting consolation. We can offer Christ, the one who forgives our darkest sins and gives us power to overcome them. Anonymous apps can only offer anonymous comfort. We can offer real shoulders to cry upon, a real community to receive support from, and real help in desperate times. Post Secret offers the temporary Novocain of anonymous confession. We can offer the forgiveness of God, which comes through true confession.

Of course, this raises the question: Are our churches safe places for confession?

Would a homosexual or bulimic or cutter or high-functioning pain-killer addict feel comfortable talking about their battles in our churches? I suspect that in many cases, the answer is “no.” This shouldn’t be the case.

The church is not a fitness center where people come to improve themselves. It’s a hospital where deathly ill people meet with the Great Physician. The church isn’t an advanced placement class for all the smart kids. It’s “Remedial Life” for those who don’t have it together. The church is where battered, beaten, broken-down, helpless sinners come to receive grace and strength. I love how Steve Brown puts it:

I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where to find bread.

So how do we make our churches safe? Two simple suggestions.

1) Pastors, talk about specific sins from the pulpit.

One of the primary tasks of pastoral ministry is helping people see how the gospel connects to and is the answer to particular struggles and sins. When you prepare your sermon, do the work of connecting the dots between the gospel and a variety of sins. And when I say “variety,” I really do mean a large variety. Don’t limit yourself to the normal sins of anger, impatience, or fear. Also connect the gospel to sexual desires, eating disorders, drug addiction, cutting, embezzlement, and the many other sins Jesus died for on the cross. There are people in your congregation who struggle with these things, and if you don’t help them see the hope of the gospel, they’ll be overwhelmed with discouragement.

2) Church members, talk about your specific sins in your small groups.

Obviously this needs to be done with kid gloves, discernment, and a big dose of wisdom. There are some things that are only appropriate to share with a close friend. You get my point.

But when possible, open up about your own struggles. Let people see that you’re a messed up person who desperately needs Jesus. Let people see that even though you’re a jacked-up sinner, you don’t despair because you have Jesus. When the opportunity presents itself, open up about how Jesus has helped you in the midst of your struggles and messiness. In doing so, you’ll give hope to those who are burdened by their secrets.

When Jesus informed the woman at the well that she was a serial adulterer, she didn’t shut him down or run away from him. Instead, she brought the entire town to meet him. Why? Because Jesus offered her eternal life. He offered himself to her as the solution for her inability to keep a marriage together. He gave her hope where she had no hope.

Let’s offer people the same hope, week after week. Let’s turn our churches into restful havens for weary, broken-down sinners.


Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.

Stephen Altrogge is a writer who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. He’s married to Jen and has three little girls. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Find out more when you visit his blog, The Blazing Center.

 

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com/

The Most Important Passage in the Whole of Scripture

I have been teaching a weekly Bible study on the book of Romans to women in the Charlotte community. For the last several months, we have been plodding our way through the first three chapters as Paul has laid out his case that all mankind—Jew and Gentile—are sinful and rightly under the judgment of God.  Paul finishes this section of his letter with this monumental statement: “For by works of the Law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom 3:20).

You can almost hear the gavel fall with a boom.

Thankfully, Paul does not end his letter here. This morning, in the last installment of the women’s study for the Fall term (we will resume in the new year), we will move onto to 3:21 and following. There Paul utters two of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture, “But now….” These two little words provide a great sigh of relief for any sin-wracked soul wondering about his fate.

“But now” tells us that something has been done to solve the problem of our sins.

What is it that solves the problem of our sins? “A righteousness of (from) God has been manifested apart from the law… through faith in Jesus Christ” (3:21–22). Luther referred to these verses as “the center of the whole Bible.” Martin Lloyd Jones called it “the most important and crucial passage in the whole of Scripture.” Leon Morris said it is “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.”

This passage is the basis for the great Reformation doctrine of sola fide—the idea that we are saved by faith alone and not by the works of the law.

But Paul makes a critical clarification here. He makes it clear that the righteous status we so desperately need comes through faith (v.22), but it is not the faith itself that is the grounds of our justification. The grounds of our justification—the reason God can declare us sinners to be righteous—is because of the righteousness of Christ given to us. He can regard us as righteous because a righteous status has been granted to us.

Thus, faith is merely the instrument or the means by which that righteous status is attained.

This is a critical reminder for Christians today. Whenever our world discusses religion, they will praise the merits of “faith” and laud people who possess it (think Oprah Winfrey). But notice the world never praises the merits of the object of that faith. It doesn’t matter what you believe in (after all, all religions are the same), what matters is that you are sincerely committed.

For our world, then, faith is its own object.

Contrast that to what Paul is saying in Rom 3:21–22. Paul is saying that you are not saved because of faith (as if it were meritorious in itself), but you are saved through and by faith in Christ. The object of the faith is what is definitive.

So, the Reformed doctrine of sola fide does not mean what the world might think it means. For the world, it simply means that all you need is faith. For the Reformers, it meant faith is the sole instrument by which you acquire a righteous status in Christ (and thus not by works).

For those who doubt their faith and find their faith to be weak, this is a great encouragement. Our hope is not in how strong our faith is, but in how strong and righteous our Savior is.


For more, visit Dr. Kruger’s website: Canon Fodder.

Dr. Michael J. Kruger is President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. In addition, he is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serve as an Associate Pastor (part-time, of course) at my home church, Uptown PCA.

Education • Ph.D., University of Edinburgh(advisor Larry W. Hurtado) • M.Div.  Westminster Theological Seminary in California • B.S.  The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

Visit Dr. Kruger’s website: Canon Fodder. Follow Dr. Kruger on Twitter: @michaeljkruger

 

Source:http://www.biblestudytools.com

Become a Fruit-Bearing Christian

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ” (John 15:1-2)

A vine is planted solely for the sake of its fruit. There are many sorts of vines, each with its different sort of fruit. When a vinedresser plants a vine or a vineyard, he selects the type that produces the desired fruit. The fruit will be the manifestation of his purpose. When God planted the Heavenly Vine, it was that its fruit might bring life and strength to dying men. The very life of God, which man had lost by the fall, was to be brought back to him by Christ from heaven; Christ was to be to us the True Tree of Life. In Him, the True, the Heavenly Vine, in His Word and work, in His life and death, the life of God was brought within reach of men; all who should eat of the fruit should live forever.

More wonderful still, Christ’s disciples should not only eat and live, but in turn become fruit-bearing branches. The Divine life entering into them should not only dwell in them, but so assert its life-giving power that it should show itself in the fruit they bear for their fellow men. As truly as the Heavenly Vine, all its branches receive the life of God.

I. The Life in the Vine

We often speak of receiving Christ, following Christ, of Christ living in us, when our ideas of who Christ is are very vague. Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice to God for men, and in that proved what is the true nobility of man as partaker of the Divine nature. We speak, and rightly too, of the obedience of Christ as the praiseworthy cause of our salvation: “By the obedience of One many were made righteous.” But we do not sufficiently recognize what it was that gave that obedience its redeeming power. It was this—that in it Christ restored that which is the only thing that the creature can render to its Creator, and so rendered to God what man owed to Him. It is because of this obedience He became a Redeemer, and this nature is the very life which as the Heavenly Vine He imparts. “Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus, who became obedient unto death. Therefore God has highly exalted Him.” The life of God in human nature is obedience to the death.

And with that Christ loved men. In that He fulfilled the will of God. He gave Himself to the mighty Redeeming love of God towards men, and so gave Himself as much to men as to God. There is no possible way of living for God but by loving and living for the men whom He loves and lives for. The human life in Christ could be nothing but a surrender to His love to be used in saving and blessing men. Whether in God, or in Christ, or in us, the Divine life is love to men. This is the life-sap of the True Vine, the spirit that was in Christ Jesus.

II. The Life in the Branch

The life in the Branch is essentially and entirely the same as that in the Vine. If we are to bear fruit, it can only come as the life and the power that work in the Vine work in us. This alone is the secret of effective service.

In Christian work a great mistake is often made. The difference between work and fruit is overlooked. Under a sense of duty or from an inborn love of work, a Christian may be very diligent in doing his work for God, and yet find little blessing in it. He may think of gratitude as the great motive of the Christian life, and not understand that though that may rouse the will, it cannot give the power to work successfully. We need to see that if work is to be acceptable and effective, it must come as fruit; it must be the spontaneous outgrowth of a healthy, vigorous life, the Spirit and power of Christ living and working in us. And that power can only work freely and effectively in us as our main concern is to maintain the relationship to our Lord close and intimate. As He streams His nature into us, our work will truly be the fruit the Vine bears.

Still another mistake is made. We pray very earnestly for God’s blessing on our work and on those whom we wish to help. We forget that the God who delights to bless ourselves first, to give into our hearts the blessing He wants to impart through us. We are not channels, in the sense in which a lead pipe is when it carries water, and yet does not drink it in. We are channels in the way the branch is. The sap of the vine, before it goes through it to form fruit, first enters to be its life, to give it new wood and strength, and then passes on into the grape. When we preach the love of God and obedience to Him, when we call men to surrender themselves to that love, we must first seek each day to be receiving afresh, in close communion with Christ Jesus, that love and devotion to God into our hearts. When we teach love to man, we should do it as those in whom the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, is manifest in its freshness and beauty.

It is by having exactly the same spirit that was in Christ Jesus, and being possessed of the same mind and disposition that was in Him, that we can bear the same fruit He bore, that He can still bring forth fruit through us. And this spirit we cannot have by any imitation or effort, but only by receiving it fresh from Him every morning and all day. An intense devotion to God and an entire yielding up of ourselves to His service for men, and giving up of our life to live, and love and die for men, as Jesus did, this is the life to which the branches of the True Vine are called, this is the life for which the True Vine will surely prepare us. His words are true: He is the Truth and the Life. He gives all He promises. Count no time too precious and no pains too great, in waiting on Him by His Spirit to reveal to you the wondrous mystery of your being a branch, a partaker of the very Life there is in the Vine.


[Adapted from The Fruit of the Vine by Andrew Murray, one of the many free classic books available in our online library.]

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com

Prayer with an Attitude

The Bible tells us we should “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Unfortunately, for many of us, a few minutes spent in prayer feels like forever. Why do we struggle so much with prayer when we know how vital it is to our relationship with God?

We certainly don’t lack information about how to pray. Christian bookstores are packed with books that explain in great detail the various methods of prayer. But perhaps we need to also direct our attention to our motivation, our attitude, in prayer. The following article, entitled “Focus on the Father” by Rusty Rustenbach (excerpted from Discipleship Journal, Issue 6), explores how our attitude can make prayer an adventure rather than a burden.  As you read through the article, underline any portions that stand out to you. Then respond to the questions and exercises.

 Privilege of Prayer

Of all the ingredients in discipleship, the area many of us struggle with most is prayer. According to one recently published estimate, a typical Christian layman spends about three and a half minutes each day in prayer. Full-time Christian workers average about seven minutes per day. This pitiful situation must amaze even the Lord Himself, for Isaiah 59:16 records that when no one was found to intercede for His people, God was appalled. Why do we fail to take full advantage of the privilege of prayer? Is it a lack of discipline? Are we too busy? Are we unmotivated?

1. What things make it difficult for you to spend quality time in prayer?

_Too busy or tired

_ Can’t concentrate

_ Don’t know what to pray about

_ Don’t feel like it

_ Feel guilty

_ Not convinced it makes a difference

_ Other:

Perhaps the basic cause of our weakness in prayer relates to how we view God. We may have no genuine awe for the One “who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth” (Isaiah 51:13). God seems more like a superhero from a child’s cartoon, whittled down to human size.

If we aren’t captivated by God, prayer is a tedious task. It becomes a discipline that only those with wills of steel can master. I once regarded prayer as “gutting it out” before God. It meant trying to bring reams and reams of petitions before the Lord. The more requests I could bring, the more spiritual I was.

2. What similarities do you see between the author’s approach (bringing “reams and reams of petitions before the Lord”) and Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:7?

3. How would you compare the focus of prayer in Matthew 6:7 with the focus in Matthew 6:9-13? Which of these is most like your approach to prayer?

Communion or Wrestling Match?

I also misinterpreted statements from godly men about the importance of prayer. Martin Luther’s statement that “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer” implied to me that prayer was a guaranteed formula for success.
Rather than being a dynamic communion with the sovereign Lord of the universe, to me prayer was an exercise meant to wrestle effects into the lives of people and to manipulate God’s hand. Prayer became lifeless

and tedious. It was like castor oil: terrible tasting, but good for me.

4. Which of the following statements describe your general attitude toward prayer? Check all that apply.

_ Prayer is like a marriage—it is hard work but can be very rewarding.

_ I want to like prayer, but I really don’t.

_ Prayer is like writing “thank you” notes—it is an obligation I need to fulfill.

_ I look forward to prayer.

_ I enjoy the time I spend in prayer, but I would like to go deeper.

_ Other:

Yet God reminded me of the truth I was neglecting: He wanted to commune with me. What does this mean? Communion is defined as the intimate sharing of thoughts and emotions, and an intimate fellowship, rapport, or communication. This is the kind of relationship God wants with me.

5. How is God’s desire for communion (intimate relationship) with us expressed in the following verses?

a. Isaiah 30:18 b. Isaiah 65:1-2

c. Jeremiah 33:3

d. Matthew 23:37

e. Romans 5:8-10

f. 1 John 4:9-10
6. Summarize in your own words the most significant or meaningful insight you gained from the verses above.

What Is Your Picture of God?

I saw I had become hardened to the excitement of walking in continual awareness of God’s presence. I realized afresh that He desires open communion with me. He has little interest in the petition gymnastics I was trying to perfect in prayer. He wants me to be preoccupied with Himself. Seeing God this way enables us to stand in awe of Him. It stimulates our heart to vital communion and conversation with Him. Seeing God as He is requires faith on our part, but whoever is enamored and thrilled with God is then rightly motivated to pray. Discipline will still be necessary, but prayer won’t be drudgery. I believe that is hat John 4:24 is hinting at: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (emphasis added).

7. Read John 4:4-30, the context of the story of the woman at the well.

a. How did the Samaritan woman’s inaccurate picture of God affect her ability to worship Him “in spirit and in truth”?

b. What aspects of God’s character are hardest for you to grasp (for example, all-powerful, ever-present, all-knowing, sovereign, holy, righteous, loving, merciful, faithful, and so on)? How might this affect your prayer life?

source: http://www.biblestudytools.com

How God Uses Pain to Help Us Grow

Watching the day-old calf frolic across the field—full of life and hope—I am filled with joy. I then see its mother, nudging it forward. I am reminded of the way God cares for us. He knows the difficult life ahead, just like this mother cow, but he wants us to enjoy our time in the green pasture nonetheless (Psalm 23). He nudges us along.

“Every age has its turn. Every branch of the tree has to learn. Learn to grow, finds its way, Make the best of this short-lived stay.” —José Gonzaleź, “Every Age”

We all have to learn to find our way. We all have to grow. And we cannot do so when we are stagnant. We must move along. We must stand up and walk, even run, like that day-old calf. We must embrace the uncertain ground, knowing that in this field and in the next, and in the one after that, we will grow and learn. If God says it is in his will to move along—if he nudges our heart—we should do so (Luke 9:62). Yet the uncertainty of life often overwhelms us.

A GOD WHO LURKS IN THE UNCERTAINTY

If you look back at the lives of the prophets—from Moses to Elijah to Jonah—it is clear that their lives were often lived in the uncertainty. God nudged them to unknown places—from wildernesses, to mountain tops, to foreign cities—but he was there each step along the way. God gave the prophets the words to say and the provision they needed (e.g., 1 Kings 17; Jonah 4:6–7; Exodus 16).

The prophets had to learn and grow. And in the uncertainty, God made that happen.

Knowing the future sounds wonderful, but it would ruin the present. The future is only God’s to behold (compare Ecclesiastes 8:7).

THE GROWTH WE DESIRE

Growth often means pain. And growth without pain is an oxymoron. Suffering is often how God shows us himself. Suffering is part of the call to serve Jesus:

“If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 LEB).

It may be hard to hear these words, and I know from experience, that they are even harder to live. But when lived, these words will transform us.

Think of your growing pains as a child—that summer when your legs hurt so bad that you couldn’t seem to drink enough milk. Your body was transforming. Without that pain, you wouldn’t be who you are today. This is how faith is; it is often like growing pains.

“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2–4 LEB).

We know why suffering should be counted as joy, because it will change us for the better. It will draw us closer to God.

If the mother cow didn’t nudge her calf along, it would never see the green pasture outside the barn. It would live a life that was boring, sad, and stagnant. If God didn’t nudge us along into the unknown, we would never experience the joy of others coming to Christ, of our relationships with him growing. We wouldn’t see the pierced hands of Christ for what they really are—redemption, relationship, and the freedom to know God.


John D. Barry is the CEO and Founder of Jesus’ Economy, dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Because of John’s belief that business can also transform lives, Jesus’ Economy also provides an online fair trade shop. He is currently leading Jesus’ Economy efforts to Renew Bihar, India—one of the most impoverished places in the world where few have heard the name of Jesus.

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com

How to Know with Certainty the Plans God Has for You

All around the prophet Jeremiah, the whole world seemed to be falling apart. His home, his nation, his people—everything continued to slip away. But right in the midst of this dark time, God gave a promise that still fills us with hope today:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Perhaps you have come face to face with the sorrow that Jeremiah felt. Perhaps you, too, know what it’s like to see everything fall apart all around you. You know the pain, the uncertainty.

But do you know the promise?

God gave this pledge to the people of Israel who lived in exile, but it’s no less true to any of us who follow Jesus. He does have a plan and purpose for us that—while not always easy—is assuredly for our good and His glory (Romans 8).

So, how can we know this plan He has for us? And how can we walk confidently in it?

Listen Up

Before God gave this famous promise, He warned the people of Israel not to listen to false voices (Jeremiah 29:8–9). The same is true for you. All around, you’ll hear advice from a number of sources about what your purpose is, why you’re here on earth, and how to overcome challenges. In fact, all these voices can be deafening.

But knowing the plans God has for you means listening to the One who has them. You need to make time in your daily life to stop and read God’s Word and speak to Him. That’s the only way you can navigate the cacophony of opinions that come barreling at you. When you know your Creator and His voice, you can hear Him above the noise.

The more you grow accustomed to His Word, the more confident you’ll feel in His guidance through the Holy Spirit.

Action step: Make margin in your life for prayer and Bible study. You need to hear God’s voice above the roar of the world.

Keep Your Head Up

God spoke this passage to the people of Israel who had been dragged away in exile far from their homes. They faced some very tough times, but He didn’t want the former loss to be their focus. Instead, He wanted them to focus on the future hope.

The same is true for you. When you face challenges, you’ll want to quit or change directions. But if you’ve been spending time listening to God, challenges don’t necessarily mean that you need to throw in the towel. In fact, it could very well be the challenges themselves that prepare you for God’s purpose in your life.

When officials tossed the apostle Paul in prison, he didn’t take that as a sign that he should pack it up and return home. He used the opportunity to sing praises and witness to the jailer and his family (Acts 16).

If your children seem like they’re running farther and farther from Christ, if your marriage isn’t getting any better, if no job has opened up, don’t let those circumstances drag you down. Look for opportunities to shine the light of Christ even more. Ask God to keep molding you through the trials.

Keep believing that God is up to something, even if you can’t see it yet. After all, God’s purpose for our lives often leads us through the valley to refine us.

Action step: If you’re in the heart of a bad situation, take a moment to pray about and look for opportunities that God may have for you. Take stock of how God is using this tough time to change you.

Look up—to the Cross

God gave an amazing promise to the Israelites of Jeremiah’s day:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Not long afterward, God would fulfill all the promises He’d made to them. You see, from Genesis 3:15 to the exile into Babylon (and their later return), God had been telling them of a Savior, a promised One, a Messiah. And God wanted His people to remember that He would fulfill His Word to them.

In our case, all of God’s plans and promises for our lives begin with the cross. Our purpose on this earth starts at Calvary with the death of Jesus and proceeds to the tomb with His resurrection. As a Christian, we’re here to share that good news in all that we do. That’s at the heart of what God intends for us, and His purpose will never take you away from being ambassadors of His grace (2 Corinthians 5:20).

So, any plan God has for you will start and end with Jesus. You’ll have the opportunity to share the good news about Him in whatever situation God intends for you.

Action step: Take inventory of your goals and aspirations. Is Jesus at the center of them? If not or you’re not sure, ask God to help you keep the cross in sight.


This article first appeared on BibleStudyTools.com.

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com

3 Bible Verses You May be Getting Wrong

Bible verses need a home. When they get plucked out of their dwelling place—that is, the surrounding paragraphs—they can make a great deal of mischief. Many times, isolated verses can cause damage to our understanding of the truths of Scripture. They can get tossed around to end arguments, shut down discussion, and instill false hope. That’s why one verse a day isn’t enough. You need hearty daily bread, not a daily crumb.

So, if you’ve mastered the verses that aren’t in the Bible, now make sure you know the true meaning of these 3 commonly misused verses. After all, when we truly understand what they say, our knowledge of God grows, too.

1. “Do not judge….” Matthew 7:1a

This one seems so straightforward on the surface. When Jesus was explaining how Christians should live the Kingdom life, He explicitly told us not to judge… anyone… ever. At least, that’s how some have come to understand this verse. If anyone questions their lifestyle choices, moral decisions, or actions, they remind us that Jesus said not to judge.

But we need to be careful how we use this verse by understanding what’s happening. Namely, this verse comes in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus explains to His followers what a God-first life looks like. He shows them why they don’t need to worry, how they should pray, how they should fast, and so much more. His main concern, in fact, involves believers and how they treat other believers or “brothers” (i.e., the Church). In other words, this isn’t really a discussion of confronting someone in sin as it is examining someone else’s Christian walk.

Even still, Jesus tells us that the problem isn’t in judging itself. The problem is in that we must judge a matter in the same way that we would want to be judged (a form of the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12). And if we are to be fit to do the judging, we must do so only after examining ourselves (Matthew 7:5; Romans 2:1).

After all, Jesus—only a few paragraphs later—says that we must watch out for “false prophets” by looking at their fruit (7:15–19). We cannot do so without making a biblical judgment about their lives. Otherwise, we’d be in danger of accepting any teaching without testing it by the Bible.

In addition, God has already declared what is sinful in His Word, and we know that His rulings about morals, lifestyle chioces, and actions are always right. It is not “judging” anyone if we point out what God says about a certain sin. The ruling has already come, and showing them that something is against God’s perfect standard is the most loving thing we can do:

“Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?” (1 Corinthians 6:2)

So, while we must be very careful about examining ourselves first and treating others with love, we also must judge when judgment is warranted or God has already declared a verdict.

2. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Galatians 6:7

What goes around comes around, karma, poetic justice, sowing and reaping—for many, this Bible verse proves the concept of getting what we deserve. If someone hurts us or treats us badly, we know they’ll reap what they sow. Right?

Well, that’s not exactly what this verse means. In fact, taking a look at the context shows that the idea isn’t about some “cosmic retribution”; it’s really about how we live our lives. Let’s step down one verse:

“The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8)

In other words, when we live a life to please ourselves and satisfy all our desires, we do reap the consequences of our actions. These include heartache, shame, regret, fear, physical effects, and more. Our earthly appetites can cause real damage, not to mention the spiritual ramifications. But when we pour ourselves into Spirit-led living, we reap eternal treasures.

Really, the idea of “karma” is completely contrary to God’s Word. Why? Because we humans deserve one thing, and that’s death:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

We all sin, but we don’t get what we deserve. We get grace instead—all of us. In fact, you could say that God even blesses the “evil” and “unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). His love is so powerful that Jesus came to earth to blast karma to pieces by taking the “reaping” that we should have gotten:

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)

To be sure, sin-obsessed living will lead to physical consequences. But God’s mercy and patience mean that He gives us the opportunity to turn to Him (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). We don’t deserve the chance, but we get it anyway. We pray that you will take it if you haven’t already.

3. “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Proverbs 31:10

This one isn’t so much just the verse as it is the whole chapter. We know this virtuous lady as the Proverbs 31 woman, but for many wives out there trying to live up to the example, the better name might be “impossible standard woman.” After all, she rises up before it should be legal, goes to bad crazy late, and has her hands in every single aspect of the household. She does it all with a smile and nary any bags under her eyes.

But using this chapter as the definitive job description for a wife isn’t really fair to anyone. Husbands who expect their wives to do everything listed will be sorely disappointed, and the wives who try to make it happen will be sorely exhausted. What was supposed to be encouraging and affirming becomes something that is, instead, a big pain.

Here’s the secret, though. Proverbs 31 works like an amalgamation, a collection of snapshots of women of faith and solid character. (You could think of it like the hall of fame of great wives and some of the amazing things they do for us.) One wife like this wakes up early to get things ready for her house; one knows how to make savvy business deals; one makes clothes like nobody’s business. Some may even have done a couple of them well.

But the point is that the noble wife is a godly woman who loves her family and blesses them. She uses the gifts and talents God has given her uniquely. How she uses her gifts depends upon the situation and what God leads her to do. That doesn’t mean she’s a failure if she doesn’t sew her own clothes; it means she’s a success if she allows God to use her to point her family and others to Christ.

 

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com

7 “Churchy” Words and the Need for Clarity

Occasionally I find myself in a conversation with a non-Christian friend. Sometimes, I have to pay close attention to the language I use if the talk turns to things related to God and ultimate reality. I do the same when I talk to my children about Bible things. I want to be understood, but the normal Christian terms are a foreign language to many people, Christians included. The terms are difficult to use when they don’t communicate.

We are moving in the West further along this path as a post-Christian culture. No longer are Christian terms and biblical concepts commonplace. Most people are not familiar with the story of Job, or Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. It is ironic that so many Americans claim to be Christians, attend churches, and value the Bible while so few are able to recount the Ten Commandments. Things have changed; meanings that once were common in the culture have become rare in the minds of many people.

The shrinking of biblical and theological knowledge in the American culture has also occurred in evangelical churches. Whatever the level of Bible reading and meditation was in earlier generations before now, it seems that the current levels are low. This means that we retain culturally the frameworks and vocabulary of Christianity while having lost touch with their substance. In other words, people can still talk like Christians as in a masquerade (but they don’t know they’re in costume). Newer Christians can even adopt the language of mature experience with God, though they have not been there personally.

English Bible translations have unintentionally helped to drive a wedge between Christian substance and the language of everyday conversation and thought. I find myself frequently having to adjust words and insert definitional phrases for words that I’m pretty sure my children don’t understand when we read the Bible. Certainly we must continue to use large words that carry theological weight: propitiation, justification, atonement, righteousness, regeneration, trinity, incarnation, and redemption (among others I can’t think of right now). Each of these stands for a definite doctrinal teaching of the Bible that must be explained, grasped, and repeated using special terminology. I don’t think that other terms will do for describing these realities of salvation and God.

The terms that are distinctly religious but don’t seem to communicate any longer are a distinct category that causes me concern. These words are repeated in Christian songs and discourse regularly. Many times I stop and ask myself what the term really means. I ask students what they mean when they say, for example, “It’s for God’s glory.” I reply: “What do you mean by glory?” They don’t have a clue. They really mean that that the event or decision in question somehow serves God’s purposes. If so, then let’s just say that. My concern is that we have settled for using as jargon the Christian terminology because it seems rightly religious, not because we understand or intend the actual meanings these terms stand for.

My list of seven troublesome words and brief explanations is below, with suggested alternatives. Feel free to consider them for yourself and wonder about the continuing usefulness of these terms that most non-Christians have no idea what we’re talking about. Many Christians are foggy on the meaning as well. This is an appeal for clarity in our communication.

1. Exalt, exalted

I had an idea of this, but I had to confirm it with the dictionary. Why? Because people don’t use “exalt” in conversation about anything unless they are talking about a biblical passage or some topic close to a Christian activity. The word is a strong verb, but the coincidence of using it only for religious talk makes it seem like a religious term. Use of terms in a religious way drives a separation between “normal life” and our thoughts and actions as Christians. Instead of using “exalt” in our songs just because the Bible translations use it, we may do better to say “lift up” or “honor” because these are commonly understandable terms for the same idea “exalt” functions today.

2. Bless, blessed, blessing

I love the idea. The English word comes from blood, as in consecration through sacrifice. In different contexts the meaning may be “happiness” or “to please” or blessings that are “good things.” Is “blessed” different from the normal condition of “happy”? Only Christians use the word because there is a religious background to it in biblical translation. Webster’s Dictionary opened my eyes to the levels of meaning I had no idea about with this word: “1. to make or declare holy by a spoken formula or a sign; hallow; consecrate; 2. to ask divine favor for; 3. to favor or endow; 4. to make happy or prosperous; gladden; 6. to praise or glorify”; etc. We may need to use rich phrases instead of the shorthand of one word: “I want to please God,” “God has done so much good for me,” “God has filled up my satisfaction,” “I desire the best for her,” “May God care for you today.” (Incidentally, the word we have reduced to “bye” and “goodbye” came from the richer “God be with you.”)

3. Glory, glorify

The term is all over the Bible, our songs, our conversation. The OT term has the idea of “to be heavy,” as in the weightiness of God’s love and demonstration of his power. The NT term has ideas of “shining light, splendor, honor, praise, to show the truth.” It’s often similar to praise, but praise is usually done about someone else, while “glorify” is something God may demonstrate about Himself by doing something grand. As substitutes, I suggest we can say: “When God’s people make sacrifices, it shows the truth about God, that He is worthy of these sacrifices,” “They saw the truth about Jesus when He was transfigured.”

4. Behold

I don’t think I’ve ever said this word except when reading aloud the biblical text. I think it means “Look!” or “Here” in most cases. Why don’t we just say that, or “pay attention!” “Look at this!”

5. Grace

In biblical usage grace is related to “gift,” both in the undeserved favor we have with God because of Jesus (including forgiveness and righteousness), and the unearned empowerment of God’s presence and action in our lives. Grace is sometimes an operative power (a veiled reference to the Holy Spirit). Grace is mostly a work of God towards us, and not so much a work we do towards others. Sadly, Christians seem to use “grace” in the way the culture has taken over the term to mean, “let me slide here.” Banks offer a “grace period.” I would prefer that we retrieve the biblical meaning of “grace” and separate this usage from merely “forgiveness” or “give me a break here” or “love” that the term has come to mean.

6. Sin, sinful, sinners

I saw a fingernail polish label “Sinful Colors” and realized how empty the term sin has become for our culture. Some Christians are still uncomfortable with the term, so they talk of their “sins” as “mistakes” or they say, “I messed up.” When I thought about everyday language that fit what the Bible actually means by “sin” I settled on “failure” and “crime.” Both of these alternative terms make sense to non-Christians and Christians alike. Since we are a culture that is far removed from target-metaphors drawn from spears, slings, and archery, maybe it’s time for an update. Our “sins” are crimes against God and other people. We have a rap sheet that makes us felons before God (if we are apart from Jesus). I like crimes because the term has revulsion to it. It’s also less easy to label lying as a “little crime” the way we might do with saying “little sins” as in the term peccadillos. No, when I lied, I committed a crime; I am a criminal. I think everyone understands that severity better than the terms “sinner” and “sinful” that are mostly religious (and meaningless to many people).

7. Holy, holiness

I love the terms. I think the concept is really large in the Bible and theology, much bigger than what most of us intend when we throw the term around in songs and aspirations. I think we usually intend the idea of “moral purity” when Christians say “holy.” As with other terms on my list, holy probably conveys little or no meaning to the non-Christian. The concept is based on the absolute otherness, uniqueness, and separateness of God from us in all ways. Being the Holy One, God is the only one who is God. God’s otherness and differentness includes separation and purity from evil. The way we use holy, in my limited observations of songs and discourse, rarely fits the biblical usage. I say we retrieve the fullness of the biblical meaning and intend that. Otherwise, when we mean to say “morally pure,” we could just say “righteous” or “good” or “morally pure.” Holy means so much more than what we intend by it; we risk cheapening the concept through casual and slipshod usage.

That’s my list of seven terms that I think need closer attention in how we use them. I appeal for the sake of non-Christians, and for newer Christians. Let not the jargon sweep us away. Additional terms are discipleship, sovereign, praise, hallelujah, hosanna, free will, and headship.

The Good Book Blog is the faculty blog of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Representing the diverse areas of specialty within the seminary, but bound by a common commitment to biblical authority, the blog seeks to engage with important topics in biblical studies, theology, philosophy, spiritual formation and Christian education. The Good Book Blog is a resource for anyone seeking solid biblical scholarship that engages contemporary ideas from a decidedly evangelical perspective.

Source: Visit the Good Book Blog at: http://thegoodbookblog.com

For more, visit the Good Book Blog, a seminary faculty blog from Talbot School of Theology.

7 Ways to Cultivate Joy

Want more joy in your day? Cultivate it! Joy springs from viewing the day’s events from eternity’s perspective. With this intentional focus, you’re sure to see today differently — with more joy and conviction that God is at work in your life.

1. Rehearse with God the reasons you trust Him. Tell Him which of His attributes is your favorite right now. Read the praises of Scripture back to Him — begin with Psalms 103:1. Join with another believer in prayers of thanksgiving, and delight yourself in His character.

2. Keep a “joy journal.” Record the reasons you have to rejoice and the reminders of God’s faithfulness that you encounter in your everyday life. In addition, why not press a leaf from your prayer walks into its pages or include a photo of a person that brings you joy each time you remember him or her? Think big — expand your journal into a “joy box” or a “joy drawer” that brings floods of joy each time you open it.

3. Surround yourself with joyful people. Joy is contagious — so build relationships with friends whose lives exhibit their confidence in God. Pray for each other that your joy in Christ would continue to increase.

4. Approach life’s challenges and trials redemptively. God doesn’t waste the difficult circumstances of your life but uses them to develop His character in you. Review Romans 5:1 and James 1:1 for help in processing pressure productively. Joy will sneak up on you when you view your hardest lessons as gifts from God.

5. Make praise and gratitude a habit. Has God met a need? Praise Him! Have your challenges given you greater opportunities to see Him work? Thank Him! Joy flows from a grateful and responsive heart. Before you turn in at night, write down three to five blessings in your “joy journal.” Make it a habit, and watch your joyful attitude grow.

6. Fill your mind with music. Listen to, sing, and meditate on music that draws your heart nearer to God and His Word.

7. Take the long view. Investors advise their clients not to worry about the daily ups and downs of the stock market — what matters is the long view. Does life present incredible challenges today? Are your reserves at a low, or are you enjoying a content plateau? Regardless of today’s events, take the long view. Remember that God remains in charge of your days and will faithfully develop His character in you.

Remember, joy springs from viewing the day’s events from eternity’s perspective. Trust that God controls your life’s details (Romans 8:28), that He hears your every request (Psalms 116:1), and that His joy will be your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).


Adapted from “Seven Ways to Cultivate Joy,” Insights (March 2001): 2. Copyright © 2001 by Insight for Living. All rights reserved worldwide. Content provided by oneplace.com.

Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com

27 Reasons Why Every Believer in Jesus Should Rejoice Always

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. PHP 4.4

There is no way we can begin to number the blessings God has heaped upon those who believe in his Son, but here are a few spiritual blessings we should regularly recall, thank God for, and rejoice in:

1. We have eternal life and can never lose it 2. We are one with Christ 3. Jesus has paid for every sin we ever have and ever will commit 4. God himself is our Father 5. There is absolutely no condemnation for us in Christ 6. We are no longer slaves of sin or under its dominion 7. We are joint-heirs with Christ and will share in his reward 8. We have a sympathetic high priest who intercedes for us night and day 9. The Holy Spirit of God dwells in, empowers, comforts, and counsels us 10. Our God is our refuge, strength, and strong tower 11. We have unlimited access to the throne of grace 12. Nothing will ever separate us from God’s love 13. God is working all things for our good 14. Someday we will be reunited with our loved ones who believed in Jesus 15. The Creator of the universe hears our every prayer 16. God has a purpose for our lives which he will certainly fulfill 17. God has prepared good works for us to walk in 18. The angel of the Lord encamps around us 24/7 19. God is in control of every detail of our lives 20. Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us 21. Every bit of pain we endure produces an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison 22. The One who watches over us neither slumbers nor sleeps 23. God will make each one of his children into the likeness of his Son 24. God will reward us for every good deed we do, no matter how small 25. God will supply our every need 26. Someday Jesus will personally wipe away our every tear 27. And someday we will gaze upon the glorious face of our Savior for eternity

Here’s a suggestion: Copy this list and put it where you will see it regularly. Or stick it in your Bible to use in your devotions occasionally. Or make your own list. I have found the more I meditate on all God’s blessings and the more I try to rejoice in Christ for these, the more joy I experience.


Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.

Source:http://www.biblestudytools.com