Disciple. Husband. Dad to four princesses. Sports fanatic. Lover of good books and good coffee.

Put Not Your Trust In Princes

Put Not Your Trust In Princes

 

This special post is the transcript from Pastor Mike's special exhortation and prayer from our Sunday gathering on October 30th. You can watch the video at the bottom of the page.

I don't think anyone who has followed the election year antics and rhetoric in 2016 would argue with the proposition that this has been not only the strangest election year in decades, but possibly the most polarizing, divisive and at times, downright disgusting display we have ever seen in the world of politics. One meme I saw recently sums it up well: 2016: The year when a president is elected solely based on being less criminally insane than their opponent, and it is still too close to tell. More than ever, this campaign season has been marked by such vitriolic partisanship that polite, reasoned conversation over political issues is impossible. To say that you support one candidate or the other puts you immediately on the opposition's hate list.

There have been many responses to the choices before us in November. There is what I call the chicken little component. Whichever candidate is put forth as the best candidate for the job, it draws immediate claims from the opposition that either Armageddon will commence or tyranny will rob us of our liberty. If Trump gets elected, the sky will fall. If Clinton gets elected, the sky will fall. Either result brings disaster. And both candidates are viewed as some kind of political savior from the other.

And then you have those who argue that since no presidential candidate has ever been the ultimate, pristine example of moral or spiritual rectitude, we should simply hold our noses while we vote for the best of two weevils, as Commander Alan Aubrey once noted. As columnist P. J. O’Rourke wrote: “I am endorsing Hillary, and all her lies and all her empty promises. . . . She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”1

You also have those who are so thoroughly disgusted by the whole thing they simply opt out of voting. Concerns over horror stories about voter fraud, despair over fears that the election is somehow rigged in favor of the candidate they don't like, despondency over the lack of qualified candidates, or simply surrendering to the notion that in spite of everything, their vote won't count, a lot of people are walking away from the election process. Over it all, especially in Christian circles, there seems to be a kind of fear that if we lose this election, (whether you champion a Clinton win or a Trump win) everything will go to hell in a hand basket. There seems to be an unhealthy reliance on, and unrealistic expectations for, a human institution, that works to nullify the promises of God.

What I want to say about this election is that whatever your persuasion, Jesus must not become small in our eyes. The fear of what may happen must not either paralyze us into inaction nor lead us to demonize those who do not agree with our politics, nor cause us to make choices that are antithetical to the gospel we proclaim or the God we serve. The world must not become bigger than God in our eyes. The fear, worry and anxiety over the outcome of this or any election should not cause us to lose a sense of who we are as the people of God – strangers and aliens in the world and citizens of heaven, who serve the sovereign Lord of history. We can therefore, confidently vote the dictates of our conscience, and leave the consequences to Him.

Listen to the word of the Lord: Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. 4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. 5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; 7 who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; 8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. 9 The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. 10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 146:3-10)

In these days before the election, all of us should hold on to this hope—not in a candidate or a political process, but in the sovereign Lord who reigns over it all. We do not serve idols. We serve the living God.

Our gracious God and Sovereign Lord,

You are the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them. You stand over all the twists and turns of history; You change times and seasons; You remove kings and set up kings; You give wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; You reveal deep and hidden things; You know what is in the darkness,and the light dwells with You.

Grant us a deep and lasting trust in You, especially in these days. Turn our worry and our fears and our anxious thoughts into fervent prayer to You. Let us not be shaken by thoughts of what might be, but let us be strengthened by the knowledge of who You are. May we know the meaning of living in the world but not being of the world; of being actively engaged in the world but having our lives hidden with Christ in God; and rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesars and to God the things that are God's. Let our love for You overflow in kindness to all, especially to those who hate us.

Grant that we would treasure Jesus Christ above all, and tell everyone of His rule and reign over all leaders and all nations, of His kingdom that knows no end, and of His loving-kindness and compassion. Let us tell the oppressed of the justice of God; let us tell those who hunger of the God who satisfies every need; let us tell the downtrodden and the prisoner of the God who sets them free; let us tell those who despair that God will one day right every wrong and wipe away every tear; and that long after this country is a footnote in the history of the world, God will reign with His redeemed people from every tribe and tongue and nation. Let us be those who delight in God through Jesus Christ, spreading His joy through the gospel to all people we pray in the name of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

1 https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-i-dont-think-you-must-vote-for-lesser-two-evils

 

Watch the video below:

 

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Bonhoeffer on Life Together in Community

Bonhoeffer on Life Together in Community

The past couple of weeks I've been rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic work on community: Life Together. The book is a treasure chest of riches, full of gems on the meaning and purpose of Christian community. One of my favorite sections is where Bonhoeffer talks about members of a community "meeting one another as bringers of the message of salvation." We talk a lot at Summit about being "gospel-centered." What Bonhoeffer writes in this section unpacks and applies what that actually means as we love and care for each other in the context of deep, authentic community. What do Bonhoeffer's words mean for our community groups? Our friendships? Our interaction after we gather for worship on Sundays?

 

     "First, the Christian is the man who no longer seeks his salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone. He knows that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him guilty, even when he does not feel his guilt, and God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him not guilty and righteous, even when he does not feel that he is righteous at all. The Christian no longer lives of himself, by his own claims and his own justification, but by God’s claims and God’s justification. He lives wholly by God’s Word pronounced upon him, whether that Word declares him guilty or innocent.


    The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s Word to him. The Reformers expressed it this way: Our righteousness is an “alien righteousness,” a righteousness that comes from outside of us. They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the Word of God spoken to him. He is pointed outward, to the Word that comes to him. The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to this Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word. And it can come only from the outside. In himself he is destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.


    But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.


    And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community. Their fellowship is founded solely upon Jesus Christ and this “alien righteousness.” All we can say, therefore, is: the community of Christians springs solely from the Biblical and Reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another."

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: the Classic Exploration of Christian in Community (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

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Habits of Grace -- Chapter 18 Study Questions

Habits of Grace -- Chapter 18 Study Questions

 

Chapter 18 Study Questions

1. In the first few paragraphs in the section "Give the Blessing of Rebuke," I said that one of the most loving things we can do for someone is tell them when they're in the wrong. Write your response to that statement.

2. Review the section "Seek to Sympathize." What does the term "the Golden Rule of Rebuke" mean? How does keeping this Golden Rule in mind motivate you to graciously initiate a rebuke or correction toward a brother or sister in Christ when you observe some misdeed or sinful tendency?

3. Carefully read Matthew 18:15-17; Hebrews 3:12-13; Luke 17:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 and James 5:19-20. Record your observations related to giving the blessing of rebuke in loving humility. Note in particular how each text makes restoration the aim of correction.

4. Perhaps you have experienced that awkward moment as you offer a word of correction to someone. Or maybe you have experienced the inner turmoil of needing to provide a word of correction, but something kept you from it. Identify and describe a particular experience. Include why you chose to correct or why you didn't.

5. Your personality and particular wiring affect whether confrontation is easy or difficult for you. And all of us are conditioned by our society, which makes us less likely to embrace the awkward moment of rebuke. Explain how your personality and society's influence affect your willingness to give correction to a Christian brother or sister.

6. Scan back over the seven steps in the section "Give the Blessing of Rebuke."

     a.) Draw a horizontal line on a piece of paper. Write "Easy" on one end of the line and "Difficult" on the other. Add some points along the line. Choose a few of the seven steps and label the points along your line with these steps to show which are easier and which are harder for you.

     b.) Explain how this information will affect the way you will pray when you realize the need to rebuke a fellow Christian.

7. In light of James 5:19-20, consider your own life and the lives of those in Christ around you. Perhaps there was a time in your life when you were wandering, and someone, serving as a God-appointed means of grace to bring you back, spoke words of rebuke to you. Identify those in your life right now who are wandering. Consider whether God may be calling you to lovingly and humbly speak a kind, clear word of rebuke. Write your prayer for restoration on a piece of paper or in your journal.

 

 

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Habits of Grace -- Week 9 (The Blessing of Rebuke)

Habits of Grace -- Week 9 (The Blessing of Rebuke)

 

This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Eden Song shares his reflections on Chapter 18. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.


 In Chapter 18 of Habits of Grace, David Mathis explains how rebuking, when done properly, is an act of love that could prevent someone from continuing in a destructive path.
 
If we were all mature, super-holy Christians, rebuke would probably not be necessary. We would all confess our sins to one another rather than persisting in them. However, as long as we are in this world tainted by sin and our bodies waiting for redemption, we will have blind spots (sometimes serious ones) which would need to be brought to our attention by fellow Christians. In this sense, the habit of loving rebuke is a gift to the church where our sins are exposed, and where we invite others to help us in our journey of repentance and healing.
 
Mathis points out a few practical tips in how we are to rebuke our brothers and sisters:
1. First check your own heart.
2. Seek to sympathize.
3. Pray for restoration.
4. Be quick.
5. Be kind.
6. Be specific.
7. Follow up.
 
When I was a junior in college, one of my professors challenged the class to a three-day media fast. So I did. As an arrogant college kid, I didn’t understand my professor’s point and wrote a reflection paper on how useless the media fast was.

After a few days, I got my paper back, and the professor had written on it:
“Reflect on your pride… Come talk to me.”
Those words stunned me. I did not expect the professor would confront my pride like that! In the next few days, the phrase “reflect on your pride” echoed throughout my head as I walked to classes, ate meals in the dining hall, and did my homework.

What the professor said about me was true, and I was forced to face my problem and deal with it. When I finally went to talk to the professor in her office, she showed me so much grace and love. I knew she rebuked me not out of self-righteousness, but out of kindness and concern.

Though I am far from being humble, my professor’s rebuke initiated a change in me that I still carry to this day. No one likes to be told what we are doing is wrong. But I pray we will have the humility to listen to the rebuke of others, and also rebuke others lovingly when the Holy Spirit prompts us to.

 

//Eden Song//

Follower of Jesus. A native of South Korea. Proud husband and dad. Student at Fuller Seminary.

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Habits of Grace -- Week 9

Habits of Grace -- Week 9

 

This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Eden Song shares his reflections on Chapter 17. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.

Growing Up Around The Table

I grew up under a denomination where children under thirteen were not allowed to partake in the Lord’s Supper. I was baptized as an infant, but until I made a personal confession of faith before the church at age thirteen, I simply had to watch others partake in the meal.

As a child, I didn’t quite understand why I wasn’t allowed to partake in the Table; after all, remembering the death of Christ with a small plastic cup of wine and a piece of bread seemed pretty cool to me. I wanted to be part of that celebration, but I didn’t understand the full meaning of the Lord’s Supper until I got older.

Community At The Table

In his chapter, “Grow in Grace at the Table,” David Mathis points out four aspects of the Lord’s Supper. We approach the Table with seriousness, rehearsing the gospel, proclaiming Jesus’ death, and foreshadowing the feast to come.

An aspect of the Lord’s Supper I want to highlight here however, is its communal nature. The Supper is a lot more than just an individual event where one confesses their sins and remembers the death of Christ. Though confession and remembrance are definitely elements in the Lord’s Supper, the Table is to be a corporate event where believers gather together in unity and celebrate His death as a church body.

The context of Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor. 11 clues us into this purpose of the Table. When the church in Corinth gathered to celebrate the Table together, there were factions and divisions among them. Paul wrote rebuking them for missing the heart of the Lord’s Supper:

When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry,  another gets drunk.  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise  the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Cor 11: 20-22).

Apparently, Paul was not very pleased with how the Corinthian Christians were celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Historic Disunity

It is important to remember that the celebration of the Meal during Paul’s time was probably not just dipping a morsel of bread in wine and eating it. It was actually a full-fledged celebration. However, rather than remembering the death of Christ as a community, those who were wealthy were eating extravagant meals while those who were poor were eating scraps. Some people did not even bother to wait for the rest of the community and just partook of the meal themselves. Partaking in the meal was a cause of division among the Corinthians. Moreover, it became an occasion where people were displaying their social-economic status rather than the unity now found in Christ.

All of this is not too surprising in light of all the other problems the Corinthian church had. Discrimination at a meal gathering was a common practice in the Greco-Roman world.

Consider the following passage from Pliny the Younger:

I happened to be dining with a man – though no particular friend of his – whose elegant economy, as he called it, seemed to me a sort of stingy extravagance. The best dishes were set in front of himself and a select few, and cheap scraps of food before the rest of the company. He had even put the wine into tiny little flasks, divided into three categories, not with the idea of giving his guests the opportunity of choosing, but to make it impossible for them to refuse what they were given. One lot was intended for himself and for us, another for his lesser friends (all his friends are graded) and the third for his and our freedmen (Pliny the Younger, Ep. 2.6).

It was the custom in the Greco-Roman world for the wealthy to eat meals with their closest friends, while serving scraps to the less important ones. It would be like me inviting two families over for dinner, serving one family prime rib, and the other ramen noodles! As Paul points out, there is to be no such socio-economic discrimination in the church. In fact, the meal is to be a special occasion where all believers stand as equals and proclaim the death of Christ as a community.

Uniting Around the Table

Even as Christians, it is easy to judge and discriminate against a fellow believer based on race, socio-economic status, education level, etc. and forget what truly matters. We must remember what the death of Christ means. His death not only blotted out our sins, it has also demolished the social barriers the world esteems so highly. His death means our old way of thinking is crucified at the cross and we pick up a new paradigm where Christ’s sacrificial love rules supreme over all. Thus, there is to be no discrimination at the meal, but only love of fellow brothers and sisters in unity.

Next time we gather together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a community, let us remember this great truth. His death was not only for me and my sins, but for the sins of brothers and sisters standing next to me. As a body, we proclaim to the world as we celebrate the meal that there is true unity and love that are not defined by the ways of the world.

 

//Eden Song//

Follower of Jesus. A native of South Korea. Proud husband and dad. Student at Fuller Seminary.

 

 

 

 

 

Study Questions:

Chapter 17

1. In the introductory paragraphs, I claimed that few, if any, other practices bring together all three principles of grace like the preaching of God's word and the celebration of the sacraments in the context of corporate worship. How do the graces of hearing God's voice, having his ear, and belonging to his body converge at the Lord's Table?

2. Refer to the section "The Gravity: Blessing or Judgment." Explain:

     a.) "the gravity" of the Table.

     b.) why it is so important not to handle the elements lightly and partake "in an unworthy manner"?

     c.) the blessing for those who eat in faith.

3. Refer to the section "The Present: Proclaiming His Death." Consider the corporate dynamic at work in celebrating the Lord's Supper. When we partake, we "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). Explain or illustrate how a.) your participation feeds and strengthens your own soul by faith, and b.) your participation serves to strengthen and encourage others.

 

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Habits of Grace -- Week 8

Habits of Grace -- Week 8

 

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)

 

In Chapter 15 of Habits of Grace, David Mathis describes the great grace the Father has shown us in giving us the act of worship, and outlines the struggles we have with participating in it. Mathis points out that when we participate in listening to Christ-centered, Bible-based sermons, we benefit in many ways -- forgetting ourselves, filling our faith, growing in grace, being equipped, and encountering Jesus (169-171).

Mathis puts it like this:

"The act of preaching itself is a picture of the Gospel. As the preacher stands behind the Book, doing his level best to reveal Jesus afresh to His people, our Lord is put on display, not for give-and-take and the mingling of our efforts together in some mutual enterprise. Rather, we sit in the seat of weakness and desperation" (166).

Why, you ask, are we in this seat of weakness? A bishop by the name of William Beveridge said about what we bring to the table,

"I cannot pray but I sin.  I cannot hear or preach a sermon but I sin.  I cannot give an alms or receive the sacrament but I sin.  Nay, I cannot so much as confess my sins, but my very confessions are still aggravations of them.  My repentance needs to be repented of, my tears need washing, and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over again with the blood of my Redeemer."

I read this and say, "yup, that about sums it up" -- both my utter inability to approach God on my own, and my desperate need for His unending grace.

There are many things I love about Pastor Mike's sermons, but the one thing I love the most is the ending... *insert drum rimshot*.

No really!

At the end of each sermon, Pastor Mike closes with a benediction. “The  LORD  bless you and keep you; the  LORD  make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the  LORD  lift up His countenance  upon you and give you peace" (Num. 6:24-26). In the text, Israel was desperate to encounter God. This benediction was given to them as a heartfelt plea to be in the presence of the Lord.

Like Israel, we cry out, "LORD LET ME JUST SEE YOUR FACE!!!! CAST MY SHAME AND SIN AWAY, AND ALLOW ME INTO YOUR PRESENCE!!!"  Well, brothers and sisters, Jesus has given us this wonderful grace in the simple act of coming into His house and worshiping every Sunday, for we come to be renewed by the Word and through the Word. We come to celebrate His death and resurrection. We come to be washed again in His life Blood, to be fed by His Holy Scriptures. The message is delivered by mortal man, but the Word is from God Himself, Who is from everlasting to everlasting.

Why, then, is it so hard to come to worship on Sunday and truly listen? We typically have some 112+ hours of waking life each week which we spend working, raising children, living life. Yet when we come to worship, we can't manage for a mere hour to calm our minds and train our thoughts on the sermon. We worry about our marriages, we worry about our jobs. We sit nodding in agreement to a portion of the message, yet the next second we have forgotten what was said because we realized we are having family over in an hour, and the house hasn't been vacuumed yet. I am truly the chief sinner when it comes to this, and realize how much I need to quiet my mind and focus on the Word preached.

Donald Grey Barnhouse once told a story of a ice factory owner long ago, who was touring his warehouse. During the tour, he lost his gold pocket watch. He later realized his mistake and informed the workers of a substantial reward to whoever found the watch. The workers stopped what they were doing and began raking the saw dust. Hours elapsed, and no watch was found. Lunch was called, and the workers left. Soon thereafter a little boy entered the factory, and moments later came out presenting the pocket watch to the owner. When asked how the watch was found so quickly, the boy revealed that all he did was to lay down in the saw dust, and listen for the ticking.

Each one of us has so much more to find than a pocket watch -- we are seeking after the priceless treasure: the very Son of God. He revealed Himself in the Scriptures. He shed His blood for me while I was still a sinner. And He continues to unveil Himself through the faithful preaching of His Gospel. Let this be my prayer: Lord, help me to lay myself aside, quiet my mind, and listen for that still, small voice.

 

About the Author

Josh has been married to the love of his life Megan for the past 9 and some years and has been attending Summit for the last year. You may know him best as the cripple in the back row. At the moment, his hobbies include sitting walking and sitting again (as well as nerdy pursuits too vast number). He is currently President/CEO/Head Appraiser/One-of-two-people-who-work-at the appraisal firm Forrester Appraisals.   

 

 

Reflection and Study Questions:

 
Chapter 15

1. Go back to the introductory paragraphs of the chapter. Locate the phrase "the climactic grace." Explain or illustrate why preaching, of the many elements of corporate worship, is the "climactic grace."

2. Refer to the section "Experience the Joy." Identify "the great goal of preaching." What is the goal of preaching? How is this goal attained?

3. List some of the five benefits of faithful preaching that are especially persuasive to you. Perhaps you've experienced other benefits. Add those to your list.

 

Chapter 16

1. Refer to the chapter's introductory paragraphs. Explain:

     a.) the phrase "visible words."

     b.) how baptism and the Lord's Supper are "visible words" for the church.

     c.) how the "visible words" of baptism and the Lord's Supper engage your five senses.

2. Refer to the section "Improve Your Baptism." Explain, describe, or illustrate:

     a.) the term "improving your baptism."

     b.) a time you experienced "improvement" through watching with faith the baptism of someone else.

3. Imagine that a friend has come to faith in Christ but is delaying baptism. What reasons would you give your friend (other than raw obedience to Christ's command) for pursuing baptism.

 

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Habits of Grace -- Week 7

Habits of Grace -- Week 7

 This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Ryan Beardsley shares his reflections on Chapters 13 and 14. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.

 

I don’t feel like I learn new things too often. Spiritual “a-ha” moments seem to come only once every few years. Maybe it’s that I drill down deep into the one thing I’m learning, or maybe it’s that I’m a bit slower than the average bear. Probably the latter. But that’s just the way life has worked so far for me as a Christian.

Since I came to Christ as a teenager there have been several big things God has taught me. Initially the big thing was simply the reality that Jesus is worth following. It took me years to grapple with the explosive implications of that truth. In my early twenties the Doctrines of Grace (or Calvinism) gave me a new grasp of God’s sovereign grace and goodness. Later it was gospel-centricity - the idea that the gospel isn’t just good news that converts non-believers, it’s also power for the already converted - that God used deeply in my life.

Why am I sharing this little auto-biographical photo album? Because the next big thing I learned from Scripture is essentially what Chapter 13 and 14 in David Mathis’ book Habits of Grace begin to deal with, the importance of the church.

 

Learning to Love the Church

Now I am by nature an introvert. I don’t, how do I say . . . like people. I’m joking. I do like people.  In fact, I love people. But I’m energized by time alone. If I wasn’t confronted with this new thing, the truth that Christians need the church, I would be the guy spending Sunday mornings by himself in the wilderness somewhere. I would find quite legitimate reasons to not attend church, have my private devotions, listen to podcasts of super-preachers, and come up with some spiel about nature being my sanctuary. You know the guy.  But I can’t do that. Why? Because I realize I was made for what the Bible calls “fellowship.” 

Mathis points out that this “fellowship” is:

“an electric reality in the New Testament, an indispensable ingredient in the Christian faith, and one of God’s chief means of grace in our lives.” 

In fact, Mathis goes on to state that participating in the local gathering of the church on Sunday mornings is the most important of all the spiritual disciplines. He writes,

“Corporate worship is the single most important means of grace and our greatest weapon in the fight for joy . . .”

So much for rugged individualism in the Christian life. That just isn’t the way God intends it to be.

 

The Formative Power of Corporate Worship

Participating in corporate worship operates as a channel of God’s grace in our lives, in part because it helps us cultivate the habit of accepting another’s leading. In our consumeristic age we don’t have much tolerance for services that lack production excellence and entertainment value. But God is doing something in our flawed services. He’s forming in us the practice of looking to him and not the preacher, to the risen Christ and not the worship leader. It’s hard to not be in control. But God is teaching us, like squirrelly children, how to be still and listen - because he loves us. He has something to say, again and again, and he wants us to hear it together.

He wants us together. That’s called community. And he doesn’t just want us together on Sunday mornings. This community should be woven into the fabric of our lives.

 

Community in the Mess

Community however, can be messy. Blaise Pascal once wrote that human beings are the glory and the garbage of the universe. New Covenant community created and sustained by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit can indeed be glorious. But until the Day of Glory, it also reeks from time to time of the garbage of sin. But God is in the garbage. He is in the mess. He is in the conflict and differing preferences and cultural idiosyncrasies.  And he is using it all to purify his bride. God is teaching us. 

And Mathis shows us that one of the things that God is teaching us is the importance of listening.  Yeah, listening. Mathis views listening as a vital and often overlooked aspect of robust fellowship. 

“There will be days when the most important ministry we do is square our shoulders to some hurting person, uncross our arms, lean forward, make eye contact, and hear his pain all the way to the bottom.”

I want to be a better listener.  I want others to feel helped when I listen to them rather than feeling like they weren’t heard and were merely being fixed or side-stepped.  What if Summit Christian Fellowship was filled with Christians who became skilled in the ministry of listening? And what if they became skilled in the ministry of listening because they were learning to love  the beauty of Christ’s bride, the church?

May it be so. 

I don’t know what that big new thing you are learning right now is, or if you even have one; but could I suggest you consider making the centrality and necessity of fellowship in the church your new thing? Look for it on the pages of your open Bible. I think you will find it there alongside the promised presence of God. Enjoy.

 

Ryan was born and raised in Puyallup before heading off to Minneapolis and Chicago for seminary. His journey has brought him full circle back to Pierce County and he is excited to serve as a part of the body at Summit Christian. In addition to his passion for Jesus and the Word of God, Ryan loves his wife Kelly and daughter Lucy, has a man-crush on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, and once in a while enjoys subjecting himself to Karl Bogrand's crossfit bootcamp.

 

 

 

 

Study and Reflection Questions:

Chapter 13

1. Read Hebrews 3:12-13 and refer back to the section "Be the Means for Your Brother." Why is the instruction of Heb. 3:12-13 especially relevant for the community as a whole rather than just the weak, struggling brother?

2. Go to the section "Making Fellowship Official." What is needed to transform a "community regular" into a covenant member? What significance can you see in covenant membership for deepening life within community?

3. Complete or rewrite the following statements to make them true for yourself:

     a.) I have often thought about intentionally working on the discipline of listening.

     b.) Before reading this, I heard about the process of becoming a better listener from...

     c.) Some things I have previously learned about becoming a better listener are...

4. Bonhoeffer said, "Anyone who things that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet [by listening] will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies." (See the section "Good Listening Reflects Our Relationship with God")

     a.) Circle the statement (or add a statement) that best describes your reaction to someone who really needs you to listen:

  • My face reveals stress, and I think, "Hurry up! I'm extremely busy!"
  • I roll my eyes, tap my fingers, look at the time, and think, "Why me?"
  • Other:

     b.) How does good listening reflect your relationship with God?

5. Write out a short prayer asking God for his mercy. Ask him to make you a better listener by first and foremost tuning your heart to listen more carefully to his words of life and grace.

 

Chapter 14

1. Complete the statement that best represents your reaction to the claim that corporate worship is the single most important means of God's grace:

  • I agree because...
  • I disagree because...

2. Describe "the secret of worship" (see section "The Secret of Joy: Self-Forgetfulness") and how this secret should affect your perspective when gathering this weekend, and every weekend, in corporate worship.

3. What are some thing you can do to prepare your mind and heart for worship before the corporate worship on Sunday morning? What can you do the night before or the morning of to be ready for this means of grace?

4. Imagine a friend has expressed to you his disillusionment with corporate worship. He was beginning to think he didn't really need to be "in church" each weekend. He argued that it would be more beneficial just to listen to sermons online and have friendships with fellow Christians throughout the week. How would you encourage him toward the importance of corporate worship in the Christian life?

 

 

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Habits of Grace -- Week 6

Habits of Grace -- Week 6

This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Nick Dawson shares some reflections on Chapters 11 and 12. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.

 

“Maybe you never thought of journaling as a possible means of grace,” writes David Mathis. “It seemed like something for only the most narcissistic of introverts, or cute for adolescent girls, but impractical for adults.”

 

Exactly, I thought, before a wry smile crossed my lips. Why the wry, you ask. Because my two youngest daughters (Lyndee, 21, and Noelle, 19) though not adolescent by any means, both have kept journals for several years. They write down either verses that stand out to them during their Bible reading time, or their thoughts about the day.

That is journaling as a means of grace. And I deeply admire their dedication to journaling and to how God is at work in them through various means of grace.

Journaling (chapter 11) and Silence and Solitude (Chapter 12) as habits of grace are not habits in my life. They are the most difficult of the Christian disciplines because, I think, they require me to spend time in deeper thought and introspection. God, what are you saying to me, teaching me; how are you challenging me to think and act? Important questions for the Jesus follower, for sure.

Journaling and Silence and Solitude take time and brain power that I would rather spend, say, contemplating solutions to the Mariners’ inconsistency, or figuring out how I cast a vote for presidential candidates that most of this nation’s citizens loathe.
Mathis himself states that “Jesus left us no model for journaling; he did not keep one,” and that journaling “is not essential to the Christian life.”

And yet Mathis next states that “no single new habit would enrich [my] spiritual life as much as keeping a journal.”

I will admit that there was a time that journaling became a means of grace that God used at an important and difficult time of my life. Honesty before God, spilling out raw emotion and writing down my heart-felt trust that He would walk with me through this trying time to the end (and He did), was truly life giving.

Once that episode passed, however, the journal was tucked away into a cabinet.

While journaling is an excellent way to process difficult times, those are generally not in the rhythm of everyday life. Mathis addresses that well. Keeping a journal, he writes, “can be greatly beneficial in ripening our joy along the journey….Journaling is a way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God, our own growth and development, and our enjoyment of the details.”

And then the kicker: “Journaling has the appeal of mingling the motions of our lives with the mind of God.”

So I just might start a journal. I’ll keep my entries short at the start, as Mathis recommends, and take some moments – minutes – to contemplate what God is saying to me through Scripture reading, or in a Sunday morning sermon, or maybe after some minutes of Silence and Solitude.

Oh yeah, about that.

I’m the kind of person who, as soon I crank the engine in the car, turns on the radio or CD player (though it invariably is already on). Talk radio, sports talk radio, Switchfoot or Third Day, doesn’t matter. Noise is good.

My daughter Noelle used to ask me, “Dad, what do you think about when you’re driving?” Huh? How can I think about anything when Brock and Salk are discussing the Seahawks or Third Day is singing that “salvation is calling” (with the volume turned up). Notice, by the way, that she used to ask me.

To me, silence and solitude is a walk in the woods with the dog after six inches of snowfall, and that rarely happens around here.

But, again, Mathis reminds me how important silence and solitude are as means of God’s grace to my life. Jesus, Himself, often got away to pray and commune with God the Father. How much more important is it for me.

So turning off the radio in the car, or staying off of Twitter while walking the dog, are two ways I can cut down the noise. But just cutting down the noise isn’t enough, and neither is just listening to our own thoughts. The most important voice to hear in the silence, writes Mathis, is God’s. As a Christian, I very much need to “hear him speak, with even greater clarity, in his word.”

Silence and solitude “grease the skids,” he writes, …for more direct encounters with God in his word and in prayer.

For me, it’s time for more of those direct encounters with God.

 

Nick Dawson loves Jesus, his family, a sliding triple, and the smell of fresh cut grass and a new baseball glove.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Study & Reflection Questions:
Chapter 11

1. Refer to the section "No Wrong Way, No Obligation." What transforms journaling from a common practice into a habit of grace?

2. List some of the motivations for journaling. place a star beside the items on your list that apply especially to Christians. Circle the motivation that best represents your incentive for journaling.

3. How can journaling serve as a help to both your mediation and your prayer life?

4. Make a plan for journaling if you don't make a regular practice of this habit already. Draw four blank journal pages on a sheet of paper. Title one page "My Goals," another page "Types of Entries I Plan to Use," and another "My Schedule." Fill in each page with the appropriate information. Title the remaining page "My Discovery." Practice journaling for a few days and then return to describe what you discovered about the habit of journaling.

5. Craft a brief practice journal entry. Write at least one sentence of a prayer or a meditation on truth or a reflection on today's events.

 

Chapter 12

1. Read Matthew 4:1; 14:23; Mark 1:35; and Luke 4:42. What spiritual benefit did Jesus derive from purposefully getting away? How does observing Jesus' retreats affect your perspective on making time for your own retreats?

2. Reflect on and complete the following statements:

a.) My instinctive response to silence and solitude is...

b.) This response reveals my desire to/for...

c.) This response reveals my fears of...

d.) This response reveals my sins of...

e.) I need the Spirit's help to grow, heal, and overcome...

3. Pretend you have 48 hours away, by yourself, at a retreat center nestled in a beautiful outdoor setting. Modest meals will be provided three times each day. You will arrive early afternoon on Monday and depart late morning on Wednesday.

Draw a page from a personal planner on a sheet of paper. Include calendar space for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and a space marked "Notes." Enter your hourly schedule for these three days in the calendar space. List in the notes space items you would bring to your retreat. Perhaps look at your real calendar and make plans for an actual retreat.

 

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Habits of Grace -- Week 5

Habits of Grace -- Week 5

This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Barbie Haskell shares some reflections on Chapters 9 and 10. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.

 

The Difficulty of Denial

Everything about our society today shouts indulgent excess. Whether it's that jaw-dropping TV show "Multimilliondollar Mansions" or the Ultimate 32-ounce Big Gulp down at your local 7-11. Society's mantra seems to sing out strong and proud, "Indulge yourself! You're worth it!!"

And then there's Jesus who says, “Deny yourself” (Luke 9:23) and "he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). Once again, we Christ-followers are face to face with the paradox of this upside-down Kingdom into which we've been called. And this not-so-much-practiced habit of grace called “fasting” seems to painfully go right along with this theme. Counter-cultural Christianity strikes again.

If we're being authentic, we all cringe a little, don't we, at the thought of throwing ourselves head first into this particular channel by which God has designed to release grace to us?

I know I do. I can go months on end without embracing this discipline… Ok, without being obedient to what Jesus meant for us, His followers. It's just a little easier, a little less costly, to jump into the other rivers of grace.

More times than not I enjoy reading my Bible, meditating and praying. Even memorizing can be delightful. But this one? It's a whole lot more pleasant to pretend Jesus didn't really mean it when He explained to the Pharisees that His followers would fast once He returned to the Father. Not maybe would fast. Or if. But would.  And well, being honest here, it's easy to rationalize that "throwing myself into the way of allurement" with those other habits (disciplines) should bring about enough grace into my life that this one doesn't seem particularly necessary.

Besides, deprivation. It's an ugly word.

But wait.

Deprivation? If fasting, like David Mathis says in Chapter 9 of his book Habits of Grace, is "an expression of finding your greatest pleasure and enjoyment in life from God,” then fasting is really feasting; feasting on the One who can fill our being as no food, no entertainment, no earthly pleasure this world offers could ever do. Fasting is really all about fullness!

 

The Pursuit of Joy

From this vantage point, the primary purpose of this spiritual discipline really isn't about deprivation. If fasting can bring about the power to "unleash us for the happiness of true holiness", then fasting is really an act of Christian hedonism. "Pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness,” says John Piper. And Flannery O'Connor explains it this way, "always you renounce a lesser good for a greater."

The lesser good, food (or entertainment or video games or whatever), is set aside for a season so the Christ-follower can "pursue the highest good" - God! This time of abstinence can help us focus our thoughts and energies more directly and profoundly on our Father and so "strengthen and sharpen godward affections" as well as "channel and express our desire for God."

King David was the ultimate Christian Hedonist. "My soul pants for You” (Ps. 42:1), he confessed. You're almost deafened by the hunger pains growling wild in his spiritual stomach. "My whole being longs for You." Talk about passion! His desire for more of God all but consumes him whole. 

 

Desiring God

And it begs the Christ-following question: Do we desire God on this level? Do we want to have that fervent, yearning passion of David to know Him better? Do we want to fill our mouths with the taste and texture of God as Bread of Life, Christ as Living Water  - or log into Facebook for the umpteenth time today?

Do we want to embrace this spiritual discipline of deprivation in order to gain a richer, deeper relationship with the Creator of the Universe and the Son who gave up everything to bring us to the Father? Or go on stuffing our lives full of good things at the expense of the Better? I ask myself, how desperate am I for God? Are there limitations to my devotion to Him? This much but no further? What are the boundaries there, for me? For you?

And so the question boils down to: How much do we really want God?

It may be swift and cold, this river of Grace called fasting. At first. But in the not-frequent-enough times I've jumped in, it has never disappointed. It seems to be one of the surest, quickest ways to become permeated with the rich, goodness of the Trinity; saturated with the empowering presence of the Holy One; awakened to the absolute holiness and intense love of Father God.

This particular current of God's grace seems to be able to strip away the lesser things to a much deeper degree than just about anything else; subduing the flesh and opening ears to the Spirit, eyes to the Holy. And oh, the hunger and desperation this God ordained discipline can stir within makes all the seeming sacrifice worth every hunger pain, every sharp act of will to deny self for more of Him.

Denying self for more of the fullness of God?

That's not really much of a sacrifice, is it? That's not really deprivation.

Seems more like a lavishly wild feast of pure, holy joy.

"Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord." -
Hosea 6:3

 

   Barbie Haskell. Abba's child. Wife to high school sweetheart. Mom to 5. Grammy to 3.
   Worship leader. Lover of books, writing, horses, guitar, quiet spaces, and all things family.

 

 

 

 

Study Questions:

Chapter 9

1. In the section "Taking Prayer into the Day," David Mathis quoted Tim Keller, who writes, "Everywhere God is, prayer is. Since God is everywhere and infinitely great, prayer must be all-pervasive in our lives." Describe the times and/or places in the rough and tumble of life that you find yourself sensing the desire to pray.

2. Refer to the section "Christ and His Company." What did you learn from considering Jesus' habit of praying with others? How do you see the importance of corporate prayer in the life of Jesus and his disciples and in the early church? What did a rhythm of corporate prayer look like in their lives?

3. Reflect on your own inclinations in public prayer.

a.) What statement best describes you?

  • I tend to pray aloud quickly.
  • I am often preoccupied with trying to impress others rather than genuinely speaking to God.
  • I am generally too shy or afraid to pray aloud.
  • I am often worried that I might say something wrong or that others will think that either I am inadequate or my prayer is.

b.) Complete the following statements:

  • In order to be part of a praying community, I need to....
  • God, please help me...
 
Chapter 10

1. Refer to the section "What is Fasting?"

     a.) Define fasting.

     b.) List some "good things," other than food and drink, from which you could consider fasting for some spiritual purpose.

2. Eating and drinking, and abstaining, reveal a lot about our hearts. Eating and drinking, though routine and seemingly menial, are not inconsequential but means by which we succeed or fail to glorify God. "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). Fasting (along with feasting) is part of a larger theology of food and drink. Spend a few minutes reflecting on the following three texts. Summarize, after each Scripture, what your own eating, drinking, and fasting reveal about the condition of your heart.

     a.) Luke 12:22-23: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat.... For life is more than food."

     b.) Luke 12:19-21: "The rich man said in his soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

     c.) 1 Corinthians 15:32: "If the dead are not raise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (see also Is. 22:13; 56:12).

3. Reflect on your fasting experience. Describe or illustrate:

     a.) A time when you undertook a spiritual fast (not just missing a meal).

     b.) The conditions/motivations that led you to begin fasting.

     c.) The barriers in your heart that have kept you from fasting.

4. Take a few moments to plan a fast. Illustrate your plan. Draw a dinner plate, a fork, and a napkin. Add:

     a.) to the rim of the plate a specific spiritual purpose.

     b.) to the center of the plate a meal, or multiple meals, to miss (be sure to consider how your fasting plans might affect others in your life).

     c.) on the fork handle a spiritually significant action to fill the time you'd regularly be devoting to eating.

     d.) Return after acting on your plan to reflect on your fasting experience. On the napkin add the take-away you gleaned from your experience.

 

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Habits of Grace -- Week 4 Study Questions

Habits of Grace -- Week 4 Study Questions

 

Chapter 7

1. Refer to the section "A Conversation We Didn't Start."

a.) What is prayer? How is prayer like having a conversation between two friends? How is prayer unlike having a conversation betwee two friends?

b.) What does it mean that "prayer is a conversation we didn't start"? What are some things you learned from this section about the nature of prayer?

c.) What is the relationship between hearing God's voice and having his ear?

2. In the section, "The Great Purpose of Prayer," David Mathis said that prayer is not finally about getting things from God, but getting God.

a.) Why is getting God the great purpose of prayer?

b.) Which phrase(s) best describe your prayer life? My prayers mostly consist of:

asking for things / confession and repentance / talking with God / adoring God / enjoying his presence

3. There may have been times when you found praying difficult - perhaps that is true even now. Reflect on your prayerless times. What are the internal heart reasons that keep you from prayer? What are the lies you believe when you don't pray? What are the truths you ignore when you don't pray?

4. Which phrase best describes your satisfaction with your current prayer life?

I am totally satisfied / mostly satisfied / somewhat satisfied / not satisified

5. Draw two columns. Title the left column "Ways My Prayer Life Is Lacking." Title the right column "Strengths to Build On." Add your own "lacks" and "strengths" to the appropriate columns.

 

Chapter 8

1. Describe or draw your current or possible go-to spot for regular private prayer.

2. List one or two new habits you want to cultivate to enrich your private prayer time - or, if your private prayer time needs a full overhaul, write a new Private Prayer Plan.

3. Consider the content of your private prayers in view of ACTS. Which statement best describes your prayers:

a.) My prayers are generally a balance of adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.

b.) My prayers generally default to supplication.

4. Many Christians are prone to downplay the use of the physical body in prayer, since its value in this life is relativized by the unseen and invisible (1 Tim. 4:8). However, what you do with your body often has profound effect on your soul and the state and health of your inner life. Consider the posture of your body and the use of your voice in prayer.

a.) What actions best describe your prayer time?

kneel / stand / sit down / lay face down / lay face up / pray silently in my head / pray audibly in a whisper or normal volume / pray in written or typed words

b.) Explain what your posture communicates about prayer.

 

*Study questions are taken from David Mathis, Habits of Grace Study Guide (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2016).

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Habits of Grace -- Week 3 Study Questions

Habits of Grace -- Week 3 Study Questions

The publishing team of one was a bit slow the past week in posting the study questions for the Week 3 reading of Chapters 5 and 6. We apologize for any inconvenience.

 

WEEK 3 STUDY QUESTIONS*

Chapter 5

1. The introductory paragraphs in chapter 5 advocate a "change in perspective" when it comes to Scripture memorization. Refer to the section "Mold Your Mind for Today." Describe or illustrate this change in perspective.

2. David Mathis talks in chapter 5 about the interaction and relationship between memorization and Bible meditation. List some ways that these two disciplines work together to make for richer and more meaningful Bible memory.

3. List one or two of the five tips for Bible memory you think will be, or have found to be, most helpful.

4. Reread the section under "Take It with You during the Day." Look carefully through the two lists of gospel verses and passages. Pick two or three you don't know by heart. Develop a plan for learning these. Add your own gospel verse or passage to your list.

Chapter 6

1. Choose the underlined words that best describe how you feel when you hear that ongoing health in the Christian life is inextricably linked to ongoing learning. Complete the statements:

a.) I feel afraid/excited because....

b.) My feel fear/excitement may result in pitfalls such as....

2. You may be surprised to know how much ongoing learning is already happening in your life and the variety of it. Draw three columns on a piece of paper. In the left column, list the kinds of ongoing learning that you are already involved in. In the middle column, note the context in which this learning takes place (formal classroom learning, on-the-job learning, personal interest learning, one-on-one, etc.), and in the remaining column list the type of media that delivers the learning (traditional teachers, podcasts, books, online classes or articles, personal conversation, etc.).

3. Review your current schedule and patterns. Identify times that could be redeemed for learning in your regular rhythm and flow of life. Identify mindless moments that could be taken captive for growth. Describe or illustrate what you discovered.

4. Review your use of social media in light of lifelong learning. Identify who or what fills your feed. Identify the amount of mindless entertainment that distracts you. List steps you could make to take advantage of new and different kinds of media for the purposes of lifelong learning and your advancement in the faith.

 

* Study questions taken from David Mathis, Habits of Grace Study Guide (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2016).

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Habits of Grace -- Week 2

Habits of Grace -- Week 2

This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Megan Forrester shares some reflections on Chapter 2: "Read for Breadth, Study for Depth". You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.

 

Our Approach to Bible Reading

Ours is a culture that glories in getting things done. Accomplishments are often achieved simply for the sake of accomplishing, rather than to receive the benefit of the finished task. No stranger to the desire for the sweet satisfaction that comes from a fully-conquered “to-do” list, I’ve been known to begin my own lists with an item I’ve already completed, just to have something to cross off.

But reading the Bible shouldn’t fall into the same category as folding laundry. You wouldn’t sit down for 10 minutes to talk to a friend or to your kids, then get up mid-sentence and walk off, thinking, “Ok, that’s done for the day.” It is special time spent connecting with a cherished person in your life. Connecting with God through reading His Word is no less important; in fact, it will feed your soul the way nothing else can.

 

Box-Checking vs. Relationship

In chapter 2 of his book, Habits of Grace, David Mathis gives this very pointed advice on Bible reading: “Don’t let the push to check boxes keep you from lingering over a text, whether to seek to understand it (‘study’) or to emotionally glory in what you understand (‘meditation’)” (45).

That sentence stopped me in my tracks. I read it about 8 times. I am the guiltiest of box-checkers. I guess it isn’t helped by the inherent blessing/curse of daily progress Bible reading plans.

The one I currently use provides one passage each day from four sections of Scripture: Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. The plan is tracked by a series of daily – you guessed it – check boxes

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. It can be a helpful tool to remember where I left off, or what portion I was reading during a particular time. But sooner or later, I get a few (or more than a few) days behind in reading, and there are all those unchecked boxes staring back at me. And I feel like a failure.

So, of course, I determine to tackle as many sections as I can cram into one sitting and power through to catch up. And then I wonder why I come away from reading un-refreshed, uninspired, and unchanged. The problem isn’t with the text, or that God had nothing to say to me in His Word. The problem is that I was too busy checking items off my list to stop and hear His voice.

The Bible is more than a historical account, or a manual for living – although it is those things, too. At its core, it is a beautiful love letter from an infinitely gracious Father to His beloved children. If I found an old letter that my Grandma wrote to me before I was born, would I skim quickly and then toss it aside? No! I would pour over every word, drinking in its meaning, studying the lines of her elegant penmanship, and basking in the affection that she had for me. I would do this because I love her, and I treasure what she had to say.

How much more should this be the case when I open the Bible! Let me linger over it, and let the Word fill my mind and heart.

When guilt or perfectionism would seek to corrupt the pleasure of spending time in the Word by reminding me of my failure to get through a predetermined number of pages, I will instead turn my eyes again to the cross, glorying in the boundless perfection of Jesus, and the wonder of His atoning sacrifice.

May I learn to say with the prophet Jeremiah, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by Your name, O Lord, God of Hosts”. (Jer. 15:16)

 

Megan Forrester and her husband Josh have been a part of the Summit family for nearly a year. When she's not helping Josh run their business, Forrester Appraisals, Megan enjoys reading anything with a good story, playing music and board games, baking things she shouldn't eat, and cuddling with the world's most spoiled dogs.

 

 

 

 Questions for Study and Reflection:

1. Donald Whitney says, "The basic difference between Bible reading and Bible study is simply a pen and paper (or some other means of preserving your thoughts)." What do you think he means?

2. In Chapter 2, read from the section "More Than Just Raking" through the end of the chapter (pp. 49-54). Is your natural inclination to dig or to rake? How can you compensate for your natural bent toward one of these two practices?

3. Read Chapter 3. How would you define Christian meditation? How is it distinct from meditation in other worldviews?

4. Refer to the section in Chapter 3 "Meditation Is the Missing Link". How do you think that meditation connects hearing God's voice in his Word to having his ear in prayer?

5. Thomas Watson, the English Puritan author and pastor, said, "The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation." Consider your own recent attempts at Bible reading without meditation, then answer the following questions:

a.) Did you come away cold?

b.) What was your heart truly looking for in God's Word?

c.) What was needed to warm your heart?

6. Consider your regular habits of hearing God's voice in the Scriptures. List ways to make meditation a consistent high point.

7. Read Chapter 4. Some people come to the Bible looking for things to do. Others come to the Bible to see and feel. Describe or illustrate the results of each approach.

8. In the section in Chapter 4 "God's Word is for Seeing," John Piper was quoted as saying, "We go to the Bible to be astonished, to be amazed at God and Christ and the cross and grace and the gospel." David Mathis noted that astonishment is the most important scriptural application to pursue. Why is astonishment so important? Does this statement change how you come to your daily Bible reading?

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Habits of Grace -- Week 1

Habits of Grace -- Week 1

This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Ben Sansburn looks at the overall theme of the means of grace laid out in the book's introduction. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.

Grace Unleashed

The high winter tide of God’s grace, in all its untamed, unconstrained grandeur, has risen on the shore of this world in Jesus Christ. The glorious news of the gospel is that this grace has flooded in and sweeps up undeserving rebel sinners into God’s cosmic redemption. God is restoring us as bearers of his image. He is returning us to the goodness of the Garden - creating in Christ a sacred space where humanity can enjoy fellowship with the Triune God, where we know and love him and are known and loved by him, a space where we are transformed to reflect the beautiful image of his Son.

We’re reading David Mathis’ book Habits of Grace as a community this summer because our hearts need to grasp the height and depth and breadth of this grace. God’s grace hasn’t just rescued us from sin and death, it is working in us daily to produce life. Through the grace of the gospel, the life of the age to come is working in us now the transformation we’ll experience in full when Jesus returns.

But this transformation is not inevitable. If you’ve experienced at all the far too influential echo of your old-self — your sinful self-obsession and tendency toward self-gratification — you recognize this reality. We don’t just jump into the tide of God’s grace to be passively carried along in the current to glory. So how does authentic, meaningful transformation happen in our lives?

Laying in the Way of Grace

It’s here that the means of grace interrupt us. God has seen fit not to just tell us that living water is available for our sustenance, he gives us means to tap it.  There are what David Mathis calls, “regular channels” for availing ourselves of God’s lavish grace; well worn paths “where [God] has promised his blessings.” These spiritual disciplines, or habits of grace, are practices around which we shape our lives in order to receive God’s ever-flowing grace. They are ways, as Jonathan Edwards explains, of “laying ourselves in the way of allurement.” The rest of Mathis’ book will examine these habits under three headings: hearing God’s voice, having his ear, and belong to his body.

What bothers us though, or at least bothers me, is that these rhythms of grace are far too mundane. They seem ordinary, trivial, or even *cough* boring. In our culture of instant gratification, fad diets, and reality TV, the thought that God dispenses his grace through such commonplace means as reading your Bible, praying, and meeting with other believers seems all too ordinary.

Yet isn’t this fitting? The story of the Bible is centered on a God who delights to use the ordinary to accomplish what is extraordinary. From dust, humanity. A shepherd-boy is Israel’s covenant-king. The world’s Rescuer, born in a manger. If we know the God of the dirt and the stable, it shouldn’t surprise us that he would employ such simple everyday tools to do his re-forming work in us. The question for us as we shape our rhythms and routines around such simple practices is, “Are we willing for supernatural transformation to look so, well…. natural?”  

The Purpose of Grace

A quick point we must remember as we focus on the means of grace this summer. The catalyst of our re-formation as image-bearers is not these channels or pathways, but God’s grace itself. It is not because of our best efforts that God’s grace works in us, but often despite them. If we don’t understand this, the means of grace can easily become spiritual measuring sticks we use to evaluate ourselves and others, and beat those who don’t measure up. The goal of the means of grace is God himself, not merely an outward, illusory form of spiritual maturity.

So let’s press in together over the next 10 weeks toward the goal of God’s abounding grace (as it works in us through grace-ward habits) — to “know…. the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [he] has sent” (John 17:3). My hope and prayer is that this book and our study of it equips you to receive and enjoy his grace in deeper and fuller ways than you ever have.

 

Questions for Study and Reflection*:

1. Review the section “Flooding the Future” on p. 24. God’s grace stretches back into eternity past and forward into eternity future. Ponder that and complete the following:

a.) State a surprising fact that you learned from this section about God’s grace.

b.) Draw a timeline and title it “God’s Grace in My Life.” Add and label points on the line to represent the stages of life you have passed through up to now (infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adult, etc.) Add notes to the timeline that identify the ways God’s grace came to you at these different points in your life, the way God’s grace came to you before the timeline began, and the way God’s grace will continue after it ends.

2. Carefully read Romans 15:18; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 1:29; Hebrews 13:20-21; and 1 Peter 4:11. Explain or illustrate with a drawing the dynamic of God working in you through your effort and actions.

3. Read Philippians 3:7-8; John 17:3; and Hosea 6:3. Most likely, you want to cultivate habits of grace in your own life because you are aiming for one or more specific goals. Write your goal(s) out.

 

* Study and Reflection questions taken from the Habits of Grace Study Guide. 

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"But when the Helper comes..." (What Jesus says about the Spirit)

"But when the Helper comes..." (What Jesus says about the Spirit)

The most glorious conjunction in Scripture is the word “but.” This word changes everything. In Ephesians 2, it brings God onto the scene. Without the life-altering words of Eph. 2:4 we would still be “children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3).

BUT God…” (2:4).

This simple three-letter word brings the dead to life, makes beggars rich, changes wrath to kindness.

In John 15, this conjunction is equally transformational. “But when the Helper comes…” (Jn. 15:26).

Again, one word changes everything. Left with Jesus’ words in John 15:18-25, any disciple would be rightly discouraged about the prospects of following the Messiah. Here are the promises Jesus has for those who would follow him: the world will hate you (Jn. 15:18-19), and they will persecute you (15:20).

“Good luck. I’m outta here.” Imagine if Jesus had said that! It certainly wouldn’t leave us much hope.

“BUT…”

In John 14 and John 16 the Holy Spirit changes everything. Jesus is marching the Calvary road, on his way to crucifixion and death, knowing that though resurrection and ascension will follow, his disciples will be left without his physical presence. And what becomes his refrain as his earthly ministry nears its climactic gospel crescendo? “But when the Helper comes.”

The Helper is coming. He is the hope for those about to be hated, persecuted, and killed (Jn. 16:2). He is the certain promise that we won’t be left as orphans (Jn. 14:18). He is the solution to our sorrow (Jn. 16:6). He will be Jesus inwardly when Jesus isn’t there outwardly (Jn. 16:7, 12-15).

And this is the Spirit’s main work, isn’t it? To be Jesus to us. I don’t mean in a salvific sense. We don’t want to conflate the Father, Son, and Spirit’s unique yet cooperative work in redemption. The Holy Spirit didn’t die on the cross or rise from the grave. Yet, in many ways it seems that Jesus really is saying that the Holy Spirit will be Jesus to us; that he will represent to us, and declare in us, and apply for us, all that Jesus did, all that Jesus does, and all that Jesus is.

Jesus says of him that “he will bear witness about me” (Jn. 15:26). He the Spirit of truth (Jn. 15:26; 16:13), and so by his very nature must represent and declare the truest truth, which is Jesus himself (Jn. 14:6). Jesus says, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn. 15:14). Jesus is the focal point of all the Spirit does in us and through us. His work is Christo-centric.

At the risk of sounding redundant, this changes everything. It means that the Holy Spirit is not the multicolored Asian ghost-lady-thingy portrayed in William P. Young’s The Shack, flitting around doing her own thing, spontaneously jumping over here, unpredictably headed there. The Spirit is joined to the work of Jesus, because he is sent by Jesus (Jn. 15:26; 16:7). Thus, we can’t have the Spirit by himself, because the Spirit will only give us more of Jesus.

So much of what passes for Holy Spirit activity in Christian circles today is completely separated from the person and work of Jesus. It seems that the Holy Spirit is more tied to our emotional baggage than the risen Christ. Loving the Holy Spirit is confused with loving great guitar riffs, and welcoming the Holy Spirit with shedding inhibition. Now I’m not against great guitar riffs, but if the Holy Spirit is in them they are going to make me love, and know, and treasure Jesus more.

I was talking with our worship team at church recently about what it means to have the Holy Spirit active in our worship. We were discussing the presence or absence of the Holy Spirit, what hinders the work of the Holy Spirit, and so on. It struck me that what makes for what some might call Spirit-empowered worship, is that we sing about the person and work of Jesus. When we proclaim the gospel in our music (and in our preaching, our prayers, our community groups) the Spirit can’t help but delight to bring life and meaning to worship in the hearts of his people, because the gospel is what he is tasked to put the spotlight on. He loves to illuminate Jesus.

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The Intersection of Sovereignty & Freedom

The Intersection of Sovereignty & Freedom

 

In his sermon this past Sunday, Pastor Mike quoted Charles Spurgeon on how we should understand apparently paradoxical biblical truths; namely, that God is sovereign over all things, and yet humanity is free to make unconstrained choices and is responsible for those choices. The quotation is one of my favorites because it is classic Spurgeon. He compellingly and beautifully argues for biblical truth without trying to solve all the mysteries of our incomprehensible God. Spurgeon's quote comes from a sermon preached in 1858 entitled: "Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility". The text for that Sunday morning was from Romans 10:20-21. You can find the entire sermon here, but I've reproduced the quoted section below:

     No man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at two lines at once. I am taught in one book to believe that what I sow I shall reap: I am taught in another place, that "it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." I see in one place, God presiding over all in providence; and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions to his own will, in a great measure.

     Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act, that there was no presidence of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to Atheism; and if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free enough to be responsible, I am driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.

     If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

 

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Don't Die in Leviticus

Don't Die in Leviticus

     It’s that time of year. If you started 2016 off with a new Bible reading plan, or with the goal of reading through the Bible in a year, the beginning of February is a hard time. While you may have started January strong in Genesis, and even made it through the wilderness wanderings in Exodus, you feel like you’re about to die in the laws of Leviticus. But if you’re able to keep from getting bogged down in the details, Leviticus can give believers on this side of the cross a glorious view of God’s holiness, the need for purification, and the grace of God that eventually finds its fulfillment in Jesus.

     The Bible Project has been putting out some great video content over the past year. Creators Tim Mackie and Jonathan Collins have made biblical theology accessible through their simple, creative teaching. Their videos related to the book of Leviticus are helpful for anyone finding their Bible reading currently on life support as they trudge through sacrifices, purity laws, and priestly duties. Check them out below. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

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How To Grow Theologically

How To Grow Theologically

The summer of 1999 I worked as a trainer at a local gym in my hometown. I’d just finished my freshman year studying Human Kinetics (for the uninitiated - the study of human movement), and I was really keen to help people reach their fitness goals. But as I started talking to people as they worked out I was shocked how many thought “just showing up” would put them on the road to better health. A lot of members, even though they were intent on improving their fitness, had no idea where to start. They knew fitness mattered, they’d even taken a good first step in joining the gym, but they needed to be pointed to some next steps.

My experience at the gym reminds me of how we sometimes approach growing in our love for God through thinking theologically. Last week on the blog I looked at five reasons why theology matters. You might have read that article and thought, “I want to grow theologically, I even see the importance of it, but I’m not quite sure where to start.” If that’s you, here are four tips on where to start:

1. READ

Reading, and learning to really read well, is the single most transformative aspect of growing in loving God through thinking deeply about him. God loves words. Not superfluous, empty, wasted words, but meaningful words. It’s striking that the primary way God has determined to reveal himself to us is through his own Word, the Bible. The Bible is the main place we get to know God. And the Bible demands of us deep thinking.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe strongly in the perspicuity of Scripture, meaning Scripture has clarity. It’s not a murky mess in what it teaches. Scripture is accessible. My seven-year old daughter, who is beginning to love reading her Bible, can understand it and grow by reading it. However, for us to move into a fuller comprehension of God’s word and a greater love for it, we have to think more deeply about it, and work out its implications in every area of life. So reading, reading well, and cultivating the habit of reading regularly are key to growing in loving God with our mind.

In developing good reading and thinking habits, consider reading in these areas:

a.) The Bible:

Read wide and read deep. You read wide by reading large portions of Scripture on a daily basis. I try to get through the whole Bible each year. You can find great printable reading plans online or if you have a smartphone, through the YouVersion Bible App for iPhone and Android. But in reading wide, don’t neglect to read deep. This means diving into a single passage of Scripture and trying to unpack what it’s all about. There are resources through websites like BibleHub and Precept Austin to help you do just that. A great idea is to take the sermon passage for the upcoming Sunday and begin studying it the week before.

b.) Books about the Bible:

Reading rich, challenging, biblical and theological books is a huge aid in loving and understanding God and his Word better. Many books I’ve read have impacted my thinking for life. While books focused on your personal spiritual life can be helpful, without reading books that dive deeper theologically, your growth will be stunted. Below are some recommendations for where to begin.

Theology

Christian Beliefs - Wayne Grudem

The Christian Life - Sinclair Ferguson

Knowing God - J.I. Packer

The Knowledge of the Holy - A.W. Tozer

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God - D.A. Carson

Desiring God - John Piper

Delighting in the Trinity - Michael Reeves

 

Reading the Bible Better

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth - Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

God’s Big Picture - Vaughn Roberts

According to Plan - Graeme Goldsworthy

A Christian's Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament - Alec Motyer

 

Church History

Church History in Plain Language - Bruce Shelley

 

Valuable reading if you're interested in going deeper...

Institutes of the Christian Religion - John Calvin

The Christian Faith - Michael Horton

The Religious Affections - Jonathan Edwards

Confessions - Augustine (Maria Boulding Translation)

The Pleasures of God - John Piper

 

c.) Blogs and online resources.

There are more and more great reading resources online to cultivate thinking deeply about God, His Word, and how to apply theology in all of life. Here are some I frequent.

The Gospel Coalition

Challies.com

Desiring God

Revive Our Hearts - focused especially on women

 

2. LISTEN & WATCH

With the plethora of online resources out there, countless churches, ministries and seminaries have made their audio and video resources available for free. When some of the best Bible teachers are accessible with a mouse click we should take advantage of it.

The Bible Project is one of the best resources available anywhere for getting to know your Bible better. Tim Mackie and Jonathan Collins have produced animated videos that introduce individual books of the Bible as well as biblical themes across Scripture.

Desiring God has countless sermons, lectures, videos, books and articles all for free.

Look at the Book. Pastor John Piper reads deeply in these short videos demonstrating how to unpack Scripture passages.

Ask Pastor John. These brief answers to a variety of questions can spur deeper thinking on a breadth of topics.

T.U.L.I.P. John Piper's 6-part seminar on the Doctrines of Grace is one of the best places to start thinking about a Reformed understanding of God's sovereignty in salvation.

BiblicalTraining.org has seminary level courses downloadable for free from some of the America's best evangelical professors.

Covenant Theological Seminary also has an incredible amount of free lectures, classes, and sermons. Requires free registration.

The Gospel Coalition has audio and video sessions from their own conferences as well as searchable gospel-centered resources from around the web.

 

3. TALK

You won’t be able to fully process what you’re learning through your reading and listening without interacting with other people. Theological discussions in community have challenged and refined my thinking in a way nothing else can. Whether it’s a reading group, late night theology with your spouse, or conversations with friends over coffee, make God’s Word and theology a topic you naturally go to for conversation. Ask questions. If there is someone who knows more than you do, ask them their thoughts and how they’ve formed them. Cultivating theological conversation can become one of the most joy-filled activities for us as we learn to know and love God more together in community.

 

4. PRAY

Finally, we need to remember that we can’t grow in our understanding of God without his help. The Holy Spirit has been given to us specifically to illuminate the Word he wrote and to reveal more of Jesus to us. All our pursuits in reading, listening and talking are useless without the enabling of the Holy Spirit.

 

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Why Does Theology Matter?

Why Does Theology Matter?


The following is adapted from Summit’s Theology for Women quarterly teaching series. You can watch or listen to the two sessions from “Why Theology Matters….for Women” on the Summit Christian sermon archive.

I’ll never forget the day. It was one of my first days on campus as a freshman at the University of British Columbia. It was a typically gorgeous Vancouver day. One of those stunning northwest September days that seem to be a demonstration of God’s mercy towards us before the fall and winter set in.

I was taking a walk across campus, getting a feel for this place where I would spend the next five years, when I stumbled upon a beautiful building in the middle of campus. The sign read: “Regent College.”

Now the University of British Columbia is a massive institution. Forty-thousand undergraduate students, ten-thousand grad students, fifteen-thousand faculty and staff. But right in the heart of this monument to secularism is Regent College, one of the most respected theological seminaries in Canada. So on this beautiful, dry, late summer day, I decided to go in. And me being, well… me, I ended up browsing around the bookstore.

As I was browsing, a particular book caught my eye on the shelf - It was called The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. I had no where to go, so I opened the book and began to read. The first chapter began with a phrase that absolutely gripped me:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

If you were to write out what’s most important about you, you’d probably start with your biggest personal identifiers: your marital status, your job, your education, your cultural background, your family relationships. It’s not likely, “how I think about God” would make the top 5. Yet, Tozer says that our understanding of God, what we believe about him, our theology, is number one on the inventory of importance. In other words, theology matters.

Theology is scary for a lot of people. We can easily associate theology only with big books, big beards, and big arguments. “Just give me Jesus,” we say, “not all this business about theology.” But for a Christian, theology is unavoidable. Every Christian is a theologian. Even if you “just want Jesus,” you have to believe something about who Jesus is. The content of that belief is inherently and deeply theological.

The question for every Christian then is not whether they will do theology, it’s whether they will do it well. Will you think deeply, studying, and thinking, and wrestling with what God reveals in his word about himself, about Christ, man, salvation, the Church, or will you simply form your beliefs through the default influences of your own feelings and the ideas of our culture? The former is doing good theology, the latter… not so much.

Theology, good theology, matters. Let me give you five reasons why:

 

1. Good theology glorifies God.

Right from the garden the Bible reveals God’s primary purpose for humanity. Humans are made as image-bearers. God has created people to reflect his glory in the world he has made. The Westminster Catechism captures humanity’s purpose succinctly: our chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Glorifying God as his image-bearers means reflecting who he is and what he is like.  We make truth known about him. Now, just like Adam and Even in the garden, we do this in many ways. First, we glorify God in our actions. How we work, our creativity, the way we love others, the way we parent our children, all we do can be a means to glorifying God.

Second, we glorify God in our thinking. If we don’t have an understanding of God as he truly is, while we might reflect him in part through how we live, we’re missing a key component of what it means to glorify him. In the way I think about God, talk about him, understand his word, sing to him, and tell others about him I am reflecting an image of who he is. Good, biblically faithful, well thought through theology glorifies God because it humbly seeks to reflect a clear, accurate image of him in what we think and speak.

2. Good theology helps you love Jesus more.

One of the worst caricatures of theologians is the stuffy, dusty, white-bearded old man in spectacles; a Scrooge-like figure far more comfortable with books than people, with a heart slowly shriveling from study. That picture expresses one of the biggest objections many Christians have to thinking deeply when it comes to theology: “Won’t theology dull my love for Jesus?”

In fact, just the opposite is true. Jesus himself connects our deep thinking about God to our deepened love for him. In Matthew 22 Jesus reminds his listeners of the greatest commandment in the law. Here it is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

Jesus is saying that we need to love all of God with all of ourselves. This kind of loving requires the engagement of our minds. Followers of Jesus need to enlist their intellects in cultivating a growing love for God. John Piper helps define what this looks like. Loving God with our minds means “that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express this heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”1

Loving God and thinking deeply about him are wonderful dance partners. Thomas Goodwin, an English Puritan pastor, wrote these wonderful words about the interaction between deep thinking about God and deep loving of him:

Indeed, thoughts and affections are the mutual causes of each other: ‘Whilst I mused, the fire burned” (Ps. 39:3); so that thoughts are the bellows that kindle and inflame affections; and then if they are inflamed, they cause thoughts to boil; therefore men newly converted to God, having new and strong affections, can with more pleasure think of God than any.2

There is a mutual responsiveness between good theology and love for God. Good theology results in deepened affections for God, which in turn leads to a deeper study of his person, character, and ways through his word. Theology and love are a self-perpetuating cycle that results in the heartfelt worship of our Creator and Redeemer.

3. Good theology helps you understand yourself better.

Everyone wants to understand themselves better. An entire industry has been built around that assumption. If you go to the self-help section of your local Barnes & Noble you’ll discover it. But true knowledge of ourselves can’t come from the latest pop psychology book. True self-knowledge can only come from a true knowledge of God, because it’s God who defines who we are and what we’re made for.

John Calvin, began his theological thinking with this same thesis.

“Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self,” he asserts in the first chapter of his Institutes. “It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.”3 

Calvin’s contention, and I think it is a biblical one, is that we cannot define who we are on our own. It is our Creator who defines us, and so we must know him to truly know ourselves.

4. Good theology anchors you.  

Truth is the great anchor for a Christian. Truth steadies us when around us is blowing “every wind of doctrine”, and it stabilizes us through suffering and hardship. When God feels distant and temptation feels near, sometimes the only solid ground we’re able to find is the bedrock truths about God we’ve settled in our hearts and minds.

Trial always has a way of revealing our heart theology. We may think we think about God in certain ways, but hardship will show us what we actually believe. Are we sure of his goodness? His providence? The certainty of his salvation? Hardship will show us. That is why we have to put effort into thinking rightly while the waters are calm, so that when the waves start churning our hearts will be anchored.

5. Good theology is really, really practical.

Everything from how you parent your children to how you arrange flowers is affected by your theology. My theology even influences the type of coffee I buy. Theology literally affects everything we do, whether we are aware of it or not. How we parent our children will be influenced by how we understand original sin and the nature of God’s salvation. How we work at our jobs will be affected by our understanding of God’s purposes in creation and the effect of the fall. How we think about God and his nature will impact how we read books, celebrate beauty, appreciate music, savor good food. Our theology literally shapes every area of our lives.

Theology matters. How you think about God makes a difference. It’s what is most important about you.

If you’ve never read, thought, studied deeply and you’re not quite sure where to start, hold on. Next week we’ll look at four practical ways to begin growing theologically.

    

1 John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 88.

2 Ibid, 90.

3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559 ed. Vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 37.

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Savoring God's Goodness Through Food

Savoring God's Goodness Through Food

 

Food and I have a very good relationship. It’s always been this way. From packing a can of smoked oysters with crackers in my first-grade lunch to indulging in knock-your-socks-off Sichuan Hot Pot in China’s spiciest region, food has captivated me with its entrancing array of aromas and flavors.

But it seems our cultural relationship with food has hit the skids. Food certainly hasn’t lost it’s popularity. Television offers us a plethora of celebrity chefs, food-travel shows, chef-competitions, and eating challenges, and that’s without even turning on cable's 24 hour Food Network.

Yet, statistics show that Americans cook less than ever before. In fact, they spend over $50 billion each year on trying not to eat. Right now 25 percent of men and 45 percent of women are dieting. American Christians spend more on dieting than on world missions. To say our relationship with food is dysfunctional would be an understatement.

Somehow our culture has lost the ability to truly enjoy food, and along with it forgotten the joys of breaking bread with others. Nothing unites like a meal. Every culture in the world enters into community over food and drink. Instead, Americans grab their caffeine fix alone at 5am from the closest drive-thru (the cheap, moldy beans are no matter when covered up by 300 calories of sugar-syrup), and inhale meals while running out the door to get every child to whatever this-will-make-you-an-incredibly-successful-human-being activity they are registered for. There is something wrong here.

But of all people, Christians should get the significance of food. We have a Savior who “came eating and drinking” (Lk 7:34) Jesus’ first miracle involved rescuing a dying party by creating wine. Jesus’ multiplied bread and fish so his followers could eat together, invited himself to dinner at Zaccheus’ house, and ate enough meals with other “sinners” that it became the main criticism of his opponents. Food was so central to Jesus’ ministry that one commentator suggests that, “In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.”

For Jesus, food was the embodiment of worship, community, and mission. If we are going to follow Jesus and live as his disciples, we need to think about food the way he thought about food.

Food as Sacrament

Our approach to food is an act of worship. Wrongly approached, food easily can become an idol. Through indulgence or avoidance, food can usurp the place only God deserves in our affections. But food can also become an afterthought; merely a metabolic necessity that loses all meaning.

The biblical paradigm for food is different than either of these wrong approaches. There is something sacramental about God’s design for food and the meals that bring food and drink together. A sacrament is something that is sacred or symbolic. It is a means by which we worship God and experience his grace. Food and drink are to be “received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). God is the creator and provider of these good gifts, and savoring them brings glory and honor to him. Let me give you two ways we need to work at this:

Savor Your Food

The sad reality of our culture today is that convenience trumps everything. We are constantly in search of the cheapest, easiest solution to meet our needs. We choose quantity over quality, what is instant over what takes time. This cultural norm is the reason for the success of innovations from the microwave to the Keurig coffee maker. But in our quest for convenience we’ve lost something.

If you stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, you wouldn’t rush the view. The same should be true of food. Savoring what we eat is an acknowledgement of the goodness of the God who created it.1 In the multitude of nuanced flavors and aromas that food offers we experience a small measure of the vastness of God’s character. Sensory events like drinking a cup of Kenyan AA coffee, tasting a carefully roasted prime rib alongside a perfectly paired merlot, or enjoying a spoonful of a delicious creme brûlée, are reminders of the deeper joys found in Jesus, and are a foretaste of those eternal joys that await us when he returns. Savoring them helps our hearts look forward to that day.

Savor Your Meals

Meals act out worship in community. Breaking bread around the table with family, neighbors, or friends allows us to enter into God’s goodness together with others, seeing God in more ways than just the flavors of our food.

A recent survey found that 40 percent of American families eat dinner together three or fewer times a week. 10 percent never eat dinner together at all. These statistics are sad. Meals are about more than filling our mouths, they are about filling our hearts. Meals offer the opportunity to remind one another of God’s goodness. They are a corporate celebration of the joy God provides for his people.

Ultimately, meals are a reminder of the gospel. If you have children, meals are an opportunity to preach this gospel to them, reminding them that following Jesus isn’t about “just saying no, keeping their nose clean, and staying out of trouble.” Instead it is about eating and drinking deeply of the feast that God has provided for his people at the cost of his own Son.

Next week we will examine food as a tool for mission.

 

1 I would also argue that savoring your food as I'm describing it here is significant in preventing overeating, but that is a discussion for another blog article.

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Behold The Lamb

Behold The Lamb

 

For a number of years, Andrew Peterson has been one of my favorite musicians.

Andrew is incredibly gifted not only as a musician, but as a songwriter, author and creative mind. He has written an epic children's book series, The Wingfeather Saga, and released a number of critically acclaimed albums.

One of the best things about advent season, is that it gives me a chance to listen to Andrew's Christmas album, Behold The Lamb. This is an album like no other. Andrew puts all his storytelling gifts to work, walking through the story of Jesus' incarnation.

From the longing of the Passover (Passover Us), Andrew walks through the Old Testament toward the coming of the Messiah (So Long Moses). He writes of Mary's experience giving birth to a son (Labor of Love), the shepherd's experience in the fields (While Shepherd's Watched Their Flocks), and the purpose for which Jesus came (Behold The Lamb). And only a writer like Andrew Peterson could give listeners a song from the Gospel of Matthew's genealogy (Matthew's Begats).

This isn't an album with well known Christmas classics. You won't just pick your favorite songs and stick them on a Christmas playlist. Like reading a great book, Behold The Lamb is an experience you want to take in from start to finish. Take the time to listen through it as you meditate on the arrival of the Messiah this Christmas.

Note: The entire album playlist will not embed on this website, so here is the first song. If you'd like to see the entire playlist click here.

 

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