This is a great idea: “Getty Music is inviting thousands of churches around the globe to sing the new hymn Facing a Task Unfinished together on Sunday, February 21st, 2016! We will provide you with the sheet music and demonstration, all you need to do is register!”
Christianity Today: “Amid all this cultural baggage, being able to open up about sex with close female friends can be wonderfully freeing, encouraging, and healthy. Women can assure their friends that they are not the only ones. They can validate each other’s feelings and offer advice. These conversations about sex are valuable for us personally, our marriages, our friendships, and our communities.”
Darryl explains Toronto, a unique and amazing city that is in need of more churches. “I want you care about Toronto. The reason? There’s a great need. It’s one of the largest cities in North America, and it’s one of the least churched.”
This Day in 1738. 278 years ago today, a “young George Whitefield departs for Georgia, intending to become a permanent missionary to the American colony.” *
It’s common for Christians to say they’ve read the Bible their whole lives. But many don’t completely understand what large portions of the Scriptures mean.
3 Bible reading mistakes
Without help, it can be easy to miss out on what the Bible is really saying.
Many of us approach the Bible with an intuitive or “feels right” approach. We read the text and conclude what we’re thinking or feeling at the time.
Other times we used a spiritualized approach. We want to force the details of the Bible to provide a spiritual lesson for us—and nothing more.
Sometimes we just give up.
Does this sound like you?
If we believe that the Bible is God’s Word, then it’s important to learn how to read it well. But this is no small task.
How you can read the Bible better
For years, we watched our students struggle to read the Bible.
Danny had been teaching the Interpreting the Bible class for a few years at Ouachita Baptist University and couldn’t find a satisfactory textbook. Scott suggested that we write one.
We agreed that we needed a book that was more than a simple introduction to Bible study—but not a book that only dealt with highly complex issues of advanced hermeneutics. We wanted to challenge students—but not confuse and discourage them.
We wanted a book that:
engaged students with clear explanations,
provided plenty of examples from the Bible itself, and
gave them hands-on exercises so students could learn by doing.
We wrote Grasping God’s Word over a couple of years with plenty of field testing with our own students to make sure it was just the kind of book that would meet this practical need.
From this book, and from our teaching experience at Ouachita, we developed a course—and now this course is available online for everyone.
We hope it’s as helpful to you as it’s been to the thousands of students who have taken our classes at Ouachita over the years.
Here is what you will learn in just the first hour:
How we got our English Bible
What the major translations are and how they differ
Approaches to Bible translations
Why literal Bible translations aren’t always more accurate
How we can be certain that the Bible is really God’s Word
Four guidelines for choosing a translations
The course contains a four-part structure:
The overview gives you an overarching view of the key content. It includes high-quality video lectures to guide you through the material.
The study page gives you the opportunity to dive deep into the material. Personal reflection questions interspersed throughout the readings will cause you to stop and contemplate the material before moving on.
The review pages teach you concepts from the unit and keep track of how well you know each concept. You will begin to apply what you learn to actual passages from the Bible.
The assessment page provides you the opportunity to demonstrate your mastery of the unit’s content.
Maybe you’ve seen that hilarious news footage of a man unexpectedly coming face to face with a bear. He is on his own property, distracted by his phone, when he looks up right into the face of a marauding bear. The man’s reaction is exactly what we would expect—he turns tail and runs away as quickly as he can. A news helicopter captured it all for our amusement.
There are several places in the Bible where you, Christian, are commanded to flee, to turn tail and run from an enemy far more vicious than any bear. You are told to flee from sin. Some sins are so strong and so dangerous that you simply cannot mess around with them. Just like you can’t fight a bear and expect to win, you can’t tangle with these sins and hope to emerge unscathed. Yes, you are to put sin to death and yes, you can have confidence in the inward work of the Holy Spirit. But you always need to respect the power and deceptiveness of sin, and you always need to acknowledge your weakness and proneness to depravity. For your soul to survive and thrive in this world, you need to learn to flee.
“Flee” is a strong word. The Bible does not tell you to amble, meander, lope, or trot from your sin. It tells you to flee. Fleeing involves effort. It involves straining. It involves speed. You flee when you need to find and experience safety from a threat—a threat like a bear. You flee when it is too dangerous to remain where you are, when standing still would put you in mortal peril. What are we to flee? George Knight points out that “Paul always uses ‘flee’ in relation to particular sins, not sins in general.” His concern, then, is to warn you about those sins that are especially attractive and deadly.
“Flee from sexual immorality,” he says to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:18). You are to flee at the first hint of sexual sin. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). You are to flee idolatry too, which is so often expressed in the kind of sexual immorality that plagued the church in Corinth, but which may appear in other forms.
He returns to this theme in his letters to young Timothy. “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:9–11). You are to flee materialism, the desire to be rich and to be known and respected for what you have accumulated. And, more generally, “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul warns Timothy of the danger of self-indulgence and selfish ambition and the other passions and excesses of youth.
Stott provides crucial application: “True, we are also told to withstand the devil, so that he may flee from us. But we are to recognize sin as something dangerous to the soul. We are not to come to terms with it, or even negotiate with it. We are not to linger in its presence like Lot in Sodom. On the contrary we are to get as far away from it as possible as quickly as possible. Like Joseph, when Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him, we are to take to our heels and run.” This kind of fleeing is not a mark of weakness, but of strength, not of spiritual infancy but maturity. The mature Christian knows when to turn tail and run.
Interestingly, the command to flee is sometimes accompanied by an opposite command—the command to pursue. This, too, is a word that implies effort. If fleeing is fast and purposeful, so is pursuing—it is moving quickly and purposefully toward instead of away from. If fleeing involves determination and effort in sprinting away from a vice, pursuing involves determination and effort in racing toward a virtue.
“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). These are four crucial marks of every true Christian. “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Here, too, Paul tells you, through Timothy, to strive for the key Christian virtues. “Pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1), that greatest of all virtues. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19). Peace and mutual upbuilding come through the very virtues Paul elsewhere commands you to pursue.
Because I can say it no better than Stott, I will give him the concluding remarks:
So, then … we are both to run away from spiritual danger and to run after spiritual good, both to flee from the one in order to escape it and to pursue the other in order to attain it. This double duty of Christians—negative and positive—is the consistent, reiterated teaching of Scripture. Thus, we are to deny ourselves and to follow Christ. We are to put off what belongs to our old life and to put on what belongs to our new life. We are to put to death our earthly members and to set our minds on heavenly things. We are to crucify the flesh and to walk in the Spirit. It is the ruthless rejection of the one in combination with the relentless pursuit of the other which Scripture enjoins upon us as the secret of holiness. Only so can we hope to be fit for the Master’s use.
R.C. Sproul: “The world is marked by warfare. There’s global war and national conflict; there’s warfare in the church; there’s warfare in the community; there’s warfare in the home—there’s conflict all around us.” What’s the key to happiness in a world like this?
Speaking of R.C. Sproul, I enjoyed this. “I asked a question about pride and success. Sure, I could have struck a nerve with double predestination or eschatology or whatever. But I can find those answers on my own. I wanted to ask a question that only Sproul could answer, so I asked this…”
If you want to see what judgment looks like, go to the cross. If you want to see what love looks like, go to the cross. —D.A. Carson
With another Sunday, we have another batch of letters to the editor. I received plenty of comments on my article about preaching the gospel to Mormons. Several of them were from practicing Mormons who, not surprisingly, strongly disagreed with what I said. Here are some of the other responses I received.
I have both Mormon and JW family members and have studied apologetics in that area for decades now. I appreciate that you try to reach them with the gospel and that you understand the JW’s are more likely to have a chip on their shoulder. I would say that with JW’s you must change your strategy. Trying to prove the trinity or divinity of Christ is a dead-end with the JW’s and it is the area they train for. Worst is that it doesn’t really get you to the gospel. Go for an area where they are less prepared and is essential to the gospel. They deny the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Push them to tell you their position that Jesus’ body was dissolved into gases and God recreated the archangel Michael again from His memories. Then get them to read through John 2:18-22. This outright contradicts their beliefs. Then go to the gospel definition in 1 Corinthians 15 and go through that slowly with lots of questions. Their rejection of Jesus’ resurrection is a rejection of a key and essential part of the gospel. Your time will be much more well spent there.
—Greg H, Columbia, MO
Speaking as a former Mormon, I can tell you that it can be very difficult to get through the hard veneer of Mormon doctrine - especially since most of these young men have grown up in the Mormon faith and have been indoctrinated since birth with the false gospel of Mormonism. I’m sure you know that they do not hold a view of the Bible as inerrant and that their founder Joseph Smith re-translated many verses of the Bible to fit the doctrine they teach. They hold the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants in much higher esteem and authority than the true Word of God and, for this reason, it can be difficult to point them to errors in their doctrine using the Bible alone. This is why praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to them is so key. Also, it is important to know that terms we use and take for granted have very different meanings in the world of Mormonism (such as Jesus, salvation, & hell) so you can’t assume that you are all on the same page just because you are using the same terms.
When they arrive on Saturday, you can expect them to be prepared to present to you an overview of the gospel as they understand it. They have been trained to basically ignore any objections and deflect any questions you might have. It is an excellent move to request that they listen to what you have to say in exchange for listening to their message but don’t expect too much. As I said, these are young men who have been heavily indoctrinated, have never seriously investigated the claims of their church, and rely heavily on well-practiced, canned presentations to make their point. Any veering off-script tends to be met with a deer-in-the-headlights look and an exhortation to read a highlighted passage in the Book of Mormon they will leave with you and to be on the watch for a “burning in your bosom” that will testify of the “truth” they are sharing. I pray, Tim, that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom, discernment, and the right words to say that will at least get them questioning their beliefs and set them on a journey of discovery that will set them free from the falsehoods and imprisonment they are living under.
—Rick E, Hillsboro, OR
Appreciated your recent article on Mormonism and agree with what you say. One thought, though: I have shared the gospel with Mormons, and they will agree with everything I say. This is because of the language barrier. Every important word has been redefined by the LDS church such that you must slowly define every term carefully or else what you’re saying and what they’re hearing are two different things. I try to be intentional about defining my terms so that they will know that terms like “God”, “Jesus”, and “grace” mean something different than what the LDS church has taught them. Blessings to you.
—Jeffrey S, Central City, NE
There is also a practical reason for being polite and listening to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who may knock at your door: for every minute they are spending with you, they are not next door or down the street spreading their false teachings to another person who may be more inclined to accept it.
—Paul M, St. Thomas, ON
And then, of course, there were plenty of letters about my decision to go all-in with ebooks. (See last week’s letters for more of them.)
Although not written specifically to Bible readers, I think Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows” and Naomi Baron’s “Words Onscreen” both effectively raise the issue that reading eBooks could be changing the way we read. In my own journey into reading Scripture well, I continue to find people who are re-awakening to the possibility that reading Scripture on an e-device really does effect the way they read, how they attend to the text, and what they end up taking away from their reading. It’s easy to eRead. What might escape notice is the real possibility that reading eTexts could be changing how we read and understand Scripture.
—Brian O, Greenville, SC
I’ve enjoyed reading all about your decision to go all-in with e-book reading. And I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. My Kindle bit the dust about a year ago (it refuses to re-charge and I am hesitant to purchase another.) I went through terrible withdrawal! Which only served to show me that I was relying way too much on it. So now I’ve retreated back to the printed page. It’s been a good journey. I’m sticking here.
—Pamela N, Hudson, OH
Thank you for your article on committing to E-books. I made the same decision years ago and here is why:
Like you, space was an issue with printed books for me. I learned this lesson eight years ago when I moved from Massachusetts to Wyoming after nine years of Bible college and pastoral ministry. In those nine years I amassed a library of nearly 2500 volumes, saturated with large commentary sets and weighty (in both thought and actual weight!) reference works. The book boxes took up the most space in our moving truck, dwarfing the upright piano and couch. After some time in Wyoming we returned to Massachusetts to plant a church, yet some of the books have yet to make the trip!
The ability to bookmark, or copy and paste directly into documents is invaluable. I spent hours as a pastor and seminary student meticulously handwriting quotes and references into sermon notes or notecards, tasks that take no time with e-books. Insisting on printed books means considerable more time in sermon prep or academic research, and makes me think of a person that would insist on performing a lexical search through different Greek reference works that would take hours, rather than using Logos or Bibleworks, which would only take seconds. I do think a refusal to use e-books when they could save significant time is a stewardship issue that deserves consideration.
In our digital age, e-books easily go anywhere with me. Time spent waiting while my wife shops or in an airport terminal can be used to maintain my reading plan, do research, or continue sermon prep. Many commentaries and reference works are just not mobile in their paper form, but e-books allow me to make the most of downtime that might otherwise be wasted.
While authors might lament this, the reality is that e-books are usually much more inexpensive than printed versions and allow me to stretch my book budget much further than if I purchase paper versions. E-books seem to go on sale within months of their initial release, and I have gotten many books for a fraction of the cost of the paper version.
Thank you again for the article. No doubt there were those that had trouble adjusting to printed, bound books when they replaced scrolls hundreds of years ago!
—Mark R, Middleborough, MA
This is an important challenge to churches that love good preaching. “Why is it that so many churches that profess a commitment to the primacy of expository preaching, settle for mediocrity in so many other facets of the church’s ministry?”
And speaking of preaching, read this one by Steve Lawson. “Satan has no greater strongholds than houses of worship where the truth is suppressed. Nowhere is he more deeply entrenched in the lives of people than among those who are religious but who have no supernatural light of holiness and truth.”
This is a good article to read if you are concerned about what digital reading is doing to us. “The history of reading suggests that what we’re presently experiencing is probably not the end times of human thought. It’s more like an interregnum, or the crouch before a leap.”
This week's Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by Finalweb who was also the blog's sponsor for the week. Finalweb creates excellent websites for Christian ministries and churches, while seamlessly integrating advanced features like livestreaming and mobile apps. Their unique system allows your church to create its own site without the need for any programming knowledge or experience. That site can be updated as often as necessary using nothing more than a web browser. This makes it more than a website but a powerful management tool to help your organization thrive. You can learn more here.
As for the giveaway, there will be 5 winners this week and each of them will receive a Kindle Fire tablet. This device is designed for both reading and entertainment and does each of them well. They are giving away the 7" model. One interesting feature of this new model is called "Blue Shade." It works behind the scenes to automatically adjust and optimize the backlight for a more comfortable nighttime reading experience. Simply tap Blue Shade on the quick actions menu to turn on this feature and enjoy your favorite book, news article, app, or any other nighttime activity without straining your eyes. This also reduces the blue light that has been associated with insomnia.
Please note that this prize can only be shipped to North American addresses.
There are 5 prizes to win, so sign up now!
Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon. If you are viewing this through email, click to visit my site and enter there.
Late last year I announced the 2016 Reading Challenge, a fun way to increase and diversify your reading through another year. I took the challenge and set this year’s goal at 104 books. However, because so much of my reading has to go toward reviewing books that are recently published and of interest to Christians (both for reviews published here and in WORLD magazine) I decided to pick from all over the list rather than working through it in order. What follows are the books I have completed so far in 2016 and, in parentheses, the reading challenge category they fulfill. They are listed in the order in which I completed them. Below that is the complete list of categories I need to cover.
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien). I had read The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers at a nice, slow pace last year and began the final part of the trilogy on January 1. I enjoyed every page.
Black Flags by Joby Warrick (A book about a current issue). This was one of two books I read dealing with the rise, reality, and purpose of ISIS. Because it is fast-paced and reader-friendly, Black Flags is an excellent place to begin. You can read my review here.
The ISIS Apocalypse by William McCants (A historical book). Where Black Flags is somewhat biographical and reader-friendly, The ISIS Apocalypse is more of a history book and, thus, a little bit more difficult to read. Still, it tells the same story of the rise of ISIS and is worth reading to understand this organization and its goals. You can read my review here.
The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders (A book about theology). This is a brilliant book and one of my new favorites on the Trinity. You can read my full-length review here.
What Is the Trinity? by R.C. Sproul (A book by your favorite author). This is a good, short, and thoroughly Sprouline treatment of the Trinity. I read it and a couple of other books on the Trinity as a warm-up for this year’s G3 Conference.
Delighting in the Trinity by Tim Chester (A book about Christian living). This is one of two books by the same title. This one is plenty good, but probably just outside my top-3 or top-5 on the subject.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize). I read this because it was awarded last year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is a very good novel but comes close to a concluding orgy of awfulness. A scene of rape mars the final chapters—the scene takes place in Germany at the close of the Second World War when Russian soldiers were pillaging and raping their way to Berlin, so it’s not like it was unrealistic. I just don’t know that it added anything to the book. Beyond that, it was a very enjoyable novel, but still not among my favorite Pulitzer Prize winners.
The Forgotten Fear by Albert Martin (A book whose title comes from a Bible verse). This is a very helpful book on a neglected subject. You can read my review here.
Dreamland by Sam Quinones (A book with a one-word title). This book received a fair bit of attention in the various round-ups of 2015’s best books. It is an interesting look at America’s opiate epidemic and the outsized role of one small Mexican county. It also draws negative attention to big pharma and its role in drug addiction.
Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson (A book written by a first-time author). NFL standout Watson expands a Facebook post into a book-length treatment of race and racism. He writes from a distinctly Christian perspective and does a wonderful job of communicating the African-American perspective on race while challenging both African-Americans and whites to overcome their biases and to work toward lasting change. You can read my review here.
Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson (A biography of a world leader). I wanted to love this biography but struggled with it a little. Still, Queen Victoria was a fascinating figure who reigned for a long, long time through a pivotal point in history. I appreciated Wilson’s treatments of her relationship with her husband and, later, with John Brown.
I expect that I will be able to read 104 books, but that the difficulty will come in trying to fit those books into the categories. However, I suppose that will also be the fun part as well as the part that diversifies my reading.
The Light Reader (13 Books)
☒ A book about Christian living (Delighting in the Trinity)
☐ A biography
☐ A classic novel
☐ A book someone tells you “changed my life”
☐ A commentary on a book of the Bible
☒ A book about theology (The Deep Things of God)
☐ A book with the word “gospel” in the title or subtitle
☐ A book your pastor recommends
☐ A book more than 100 years old
☐ A book for children
☐ A mystery or detective novel
☐ A book published in 2016
☒ A book about a current issue (Black Flags)
The Avid Reader (26 Books)
☐ A book written by a Puritan
☐ A book recommended by a family member
☐ A book by or about a missionary
☒ A novel that won the Pulitzer Prize (All the Light We Cannot See)
☐ A book written by an Anglican
☐ A book with at least 400 pages
☒ A book by C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien (The Return of the King)
☐ A book that has a fruit of the Spirit in the title
☐ A book with a great cover
☐ A book on the current New York Times list of bestsellers
☐ A book about church history
☐ A graphic novel
☐ A book of poetry
The Committed Reader (52 Books)
☐ A book from a theological viewpoint you disagree with
☐ A book written by an author with initials in their name
☐ A book that won a ECPA Christian Book Award
☐ A book about worldview
☐ A play by William Shakespeare
☐ A humorous book
☐ A book based on a true story
☐ A book written by Jane Austen
☐ A book by or about Martin Luther
☐ A book with 100 pages or less
☒ A book with a one-word title (Dreamland)
☐ A book about money or finance
☐ A novel set in a country that is not your own
☐ A book about music
☐ A memoir
☐ A book about joy or happiness
☐ A book by a female author
☒ A book whose title comes from a Bible verse (The Forgotten Fear)
☐ A book you have started but never finished
☐ A self-improvement book
☐ A book by David McCullough
☐ A book you own but have never read
☐ A book about abortion
☐ A book targeted at the other gender
☐ A book by a speaker at a conference you have attended
☐ A book written by someone of a different ethnicity than you
The Obsessed Reader (104 Books)
☐ A book published by The Banner of Truth
☐ A book about the Reformation
☒ A book written by a first-time author (Under Our Skin)
☒ A biography of a world leader (Victoria: A Life)
☐ A book used as a seminary textbook
☐ A book about food
☐ A book about productivity
☐ A book about or relationships or friendship
☐ A book about parenting
☐ A book about philosophy
☐ A book about art
☐ A book with magic
☐ A book about prayer
☐ A book about marriage
☐ A book about a hobby
☐ A book of comics
☐ A book about the Second World War
☐ A book about sports
☐ A book by or about a pastor’s wife
☐ A book about suffering
☒ A book by your favorite author (What Is the Trinity?)
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Aileen and a father to three young children. I worship and serve as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and am a co-founder of Cruciform Press.