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March 07, 2016

This sponsored post was prepared by D.A. Horton, author of Bound to be Free.

Bound to be FreeI have lived a good portion of my life in what I call the “performance trap”. I used to feel that I would never be good enough to receive the love of God. Every waking hour I felt a sense of guilt because I thought I was frustrating God with my lackluster performance. To deal with the guilt, I would either work tirelessly for God’s affection or I would shut down completely because I was tired of failing time and time again.

But life inside of the trap of God’s grace is the opposite. In the trap of grace, we start to realize that whether we make mistakes or obey God perfectly, He still loves us the same. During our entire process of growing, He never removes one ounce of His affection from us!

Breakfast in bed

Having children has helped me understand on a finite level the Father’s love for me. Let me give you an example. One time when I was sleeping in, my daughter Izabelle wanted to surprise Elicia and me with breakfast in bed. After she made toast and diced up fresh fruit, she pulled orange juice out the refrigerator and attempted to pour it into small porcelain teacups.

When she tried pouring the juice into the teacups, somehow her hand slipped and she spilled the juice all over the kitchen table. The scurrying of little feet in the kitchen aroused my curiosity, and I rose out of the bed to head downstairs. I found Izabelle hiding behind a mountain of soggy paper towels in the kitchen. I called out for her, and at first she didn’t answer. Once again I called out for her by name, and this time all she did was begin to cry out loud.

God’s love for me does not increase when I do right, or decrease when I do wrong.

I walked over to her and gave her a hug, which made her start crying harder! Befuddled, I asked her what was wrong. “I just wanted to surprise you by making breakfast for you,” she said, “and I spilled the orange juice and made a mistake and couldn’t clean it up before you came into the kitchen.” Seeing that her heart was broken, I looked her in the eyes and said, “Baby girl, it was just a mistake. Everything is fine. Now, let’s both clean up this mess.” Her tears stopped as I began to wipe them away. We cleaned up the mess and enjoyed a nice meal together, just the two of us.

That moment will forever be etched in my mind because I realized—that’s how my loving heavenly Father responds to me when I make an honest mistake or even blatantly disobey Him. God’s love for me does not increase when I do right or decrease when I do wrong. As Jude informs us, those who are “loved by God the Father” are being “kept by Jesus Christ” (v. 1). What a power-packed verse!

We are loved by God and kept in Christ!

Jude wrote the two verbs loved and kept in the perfect tense and passive voice. This tense and voice assures us that at some point in eternity past God began to love us, and His love for us from that point throughout all of eternity will remain steady, unwavering, and unconditional. In addition, because it is passive, I constantly receive His affection with every breath that I breathe, and I do not have to work for it!

God articulates this liberating truth to His children throughout the New Testament. He loves us before, during, and after we make our sinful and honest mistakes. And just like my daughter when she heard me coming into the kitchen, we naturally try to hide from our Father out of embarrassment when we make a mistake. Yet, when we look at the reality of 1 John 1:8-10, we are confronted by the fact that because of the person and work of Jesus, we who have embraced Him as Savior can go to God directly and lay our sins before Him. He is both faithful and just to forgive us.

Learn more about Bound to be Free.

Bound to be Free

February 29, 2016

This sponsored post was prepared by The Master’s College.

In discussing hermeneutics (or the study of how we interpret the Bible), the following example comes to my mind. On March 10, a friend of mine opened up his calendar. He has one of these devotional calendars that gives you an inspirational thought for the day, and the meditation for that morning came from Luke 4. 

It said, “If you worship me, all will be yours.” 

That sounds really encouraging—a little bit shallow, but inspirational. Maybe it’s so motivational you’d like to look at it in your Bible. If you turn there, you would actually find out the translation is a little bit different. But, you’ve got to fit it on a calendar, so maybe that’s why they messed with the translation a little bit. 

Then you read a little bit more and you realize that it’s not said to you and me; it’s said to Jesus. You think, “Well, by extension, we’re in Christ. What we have, He has.” 

Then you read a little bit more and you realize that this is not something the Father says to His Son. This isn’t a promise from God. These are the words of Satan tempting Jesus to worship the devil!

This is an inspirational calendar encouraging you to worship Satan and commit transgression. This is not an inspirational calendar. This is the calendar from hell! 

And it just goes to show you, misinterpretation is all around us. Just because you open your Bible doesn’t guarantee you get it right. The key issue is whether we correctly understand the Scripture. 

(Adapted from the sermon “Genesis and Myth-busting,” delivered by Dr. Abner Chou, TMC professor of Biblical Studies, at the Unlocking the Mysteries of Genesis Conference on October 11, 2014.)

Those who have attended one of Dr. Chou’s Bible classes at The Master’s College know to arrive at least 10 minutes early if they want to get a seat. Students are willing to stand against the wall or sit on the floor for the chance to hear his teaching. 

Dr. Chou, who will be a featured seminar speaker at the 2016 Shepherd’s Conference, is committed to clearly explaining the Scripture in its context. His love for the gospel and earnest desire to see God’s glory displayed through His Word epitomizes a Biblical Studies education from TMC. Each of our world-renowned professors share that passion.

TMC’s Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies is now available both on campus and online. Our fully accredited online BABS program offers classes in biblical interpretation, Greek, biblical counseling, apologetics, and much more.

TMC Online also has two exciting degree programs in the works. Pending approval by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Counseling and a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies are scheduled to begin accepting students this summer.

Information about other online degree programs (Organizational Management, Christian Ministries and a Master of Business Administration), general education and dual enrollment options, and our Biblical Equipping Collection of non-credit DVD courses can be found online.

Don’t miss your chance to sit under the teaching of Dr. Abner Chou and the other respected authors, language scholars, scientists, counselors, businessmen, and apologists who comprise our faculty. They seek to see their students—on campus and online—worship God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), which is only possible when they are “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Contact TMC Online

Phone: 877-302-3337
Email: tmconline@masters.edu
Website: www.masters.edu/academics/online
Facebook: www.facebook.com/themasterscollege/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/masterscollege

February 22, 2016

This sponsored post was prepared by Christopher Ash.

Zeal Without Burnout “I would rather wear out than rust out,” George Whitefield once said.

Many pastors today are doing exactly that: Almost half of US pastors and their wives say they have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry (Today’s Pastors (2014), George Barna). 

Yet many others in pastoral ministry remain quietly skeptical about the phenomenon of “pastor burnout.” Why not burn out for Jesus? After all, did not the Lord Jesus say something to that effect? 

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9 v 23-24, ESV)

Surely the right response to this challenge from the Lord is to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into his service and the service of his gospel, and not to set limits to our self-giving. 

I might have been tempted to think that too—that is, until I came close to the brink of burnout myself. 

I had been working for eight busy years leading a Bible training course in central London. In September 2012 I returned from an intense ministry visit to Australia and Singapore to begin an eagerly anticipated sabbatical term. My wife, Carolyn, was looking forward to sharing those weeks with me. Instead, I hit the wall. My energy plummeted; my mood dipped sharply; my morale went through the floor. And I felt empty, used up, expended. 

My colleagues at work rallied around generously to help me; but it cost them in time and energy—resources they could otherwise have poured into gospel work elsewhere. That’s the problem: we do not sacrifice alone. It may sound heroic, even romantic, to burn out for Jesus. The reality is that others are implicated in our crashes—a spouse, children, ministry colleagues, prayer partners and faithful friends. 

There is a difference between godly sacrifice and needless burnout. After I first gave my first seminar on burnout at the Basics pastors’ conference, a fellow pastor wrote to me:

I put it into terms of fighting fire, as I’m a volunteer firefighter as well as being a pastor. Obviously you have to push yourself physically when fighting a fire. It’s a stretching experience that is uncomfortable and physically difficult. You have to know your limitations while making the sacrifices needed to get the tasks done that must be done.

It’s foolishness to ignore your limitations, try to be the hero, and cramp up, pass out, or have a heart attack while in a burning structure because you’re beyond the limits of what God has supplied you with the capability of doing. It’s a form of heroic suicide that is counterproductive because you’re now no longer effective in fighting fire and the resources that were dedicated to fighting the fire are now dedicated to saving you.

In a similar way, the aim of gospel work is not to be a lone hero, but to work with other gospel workers to spread the gospel of Jesus. 

Living Sacrifices

My reason for writing Zeal without Burnout was to help us discern the difference between sacrifice and foolish heroism, and so to guard against needless burnout. Until God takes us home to be with Jesus, we are to offer ourselves as those who have a life to offer, rather than a burned-out wreck:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12 v 1) 

A “living sacrifice” is a strange expression. It means a sacrifice that goes on and on being offered, so long as life lasts. When I am off work because of exhaustion, my body has little to offer; I may feel in pain but the sacrifice is barely alive. How much better to keep plodding on in Christian service if we can! Perhaps the expression “sustainable sacrifice” gets to the heart of the idea—the sort of self-giving living that God enables us to go on giving day after day. 

We are called to sacrifice, and sometimes that sacrifice will damage or even destroy us in this life. However, the best kinds of ministry—whether in a paid or voluntary role—are, more often than not, long term and low key—a marathon, not a short, energetic sprint. So it is my prayer that Zeal without Burnout will help many of my brothers and sisters to maintain their zeal without knowing the bitterness of burnout.

Pre-order Zeal without Burnout: Seven Keys to Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice by Christopher Ash, with a foreword by Alistair Begg, from The Good Book Company or through Amazon

February 15, 2016

Idols of the Heart How many times have you wondered, “Why is being holy such a battle? It seems I start to get things right, and then all my good intentions go flying out the window. Why can’t I get over this (whatever this is) and start living the way I know God wants me to?”

The answer is, we have hearts that are torn between the love and worship of God and the love and worship of the world.

Idols of the Heart is written for those of you who desire to live a godly life and yet find yourself in a recurrently disappointing struggle against habitual sin and a lack of undivided love.

This book is written for you who find yourself constantly tripping over the same bad habit, the same embarrassing weakness, the same sinful slavery that you hoped to be free of years ago.

In Idols of the Heart you’ll learn that idolatry—love gone wrong—lies at the heart of every besetting sin that we struggle with.

Even though we don’t bow down to stone statues or make bowls of food to set before our gods, we worship idols in other ways. Idols aren’t just stone statues. No, idols are the loves, thoughts, desires, longings, and expectations that we worship in the place of the true God. They are the things that we invest our identity in; they are what we trust.

Idols cause us to disregard our Heavenly Father in search of what we think we need. Our idols are our loves—gone—wrong: all those things we love more than we love Him, the things we trust for our righteousness or “okay-ness.”

Yet God loves his people and can use even our messy lives and struggles for his glory. In Idols of the Heart, Elyse Fitzpatrick shows us how to better study and know our hearts, long for our gracious Savior, and resist and crush our false gods.

If you’re ready to begin your study, P&R has put together a free devotional adapted from Idols of the Heart. Join Elyse Fitzpatrick as she walks us through the three facets of the heart, how our heart disease keeps us from obedience, and where to find God’s grace in our struggle with sin. 

Idols of the Heart

February 08, 2016

This sponsored post was prepared by David Apple on behalf of CLC Publications.

Relationships are the basis of merciful conversations

Am I Not a Man In 1968, The Kerner Commission published a report on racial conditions in this country.  One of its conclusions was that there were two unequal Americas: one white, one black. Most people who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s remember images of racial injustice, intolerance, and inhumanity: Rosa Parks’ courageous refusal to give up her seat on a bus, police aiming fire hoses, governors barricading schools. And then there are the images of the deaths of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Today’s images are Ferguson and Baltimore, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Grey, and Tamir Rice. The battles of whether Black lives matter are not only against racism, social and political injustice but against principalities and powers of evil.

Recent speakers at Urbana 2015, a major Christian student missions conference, addressed the Black Lives Matter movement. InterVarsity, the conference sponsor, chose to participate in this conversation, declaring, “We believe that Christians have something distinctive to contribute in order to advance the gospel.” Prior to viewing the online videos of the conference, I listened to Tom Skinner’s talk at Urbana 1970. There he presented a history of American racism and said, then, that Black lives matter, as does the above 1787 anti-slavery symbol. Many were angry at Skinner, but he spoke the truth

Some might disagree with the 2015 conference content. Those who do might be angry at the pro-life comment, “We are too busy holding mercy from the living and giving it to the unborn” or “Racism is an age-old idol. Tear it down. Justice is not to try, convict, and execute on the street.” But what about the prayer: “God—wreck our hearts to haunt us. Challenge us.”  Can anyone be angry about this prayer? This prayer challenges us to see the injustice that continues to divide us into two (or more) Americas. It challenges us to come together, hear each other’s stories and do something to address the parts of the body that hurt.  It challenges us to say, “Whatever life is like in your shoes, I want to know about it. You don’t think your life is important? Tell me more.” 

We can’t address what we don’t talk about.

What To Do?

I believe we must bridge the cross-cultural and racial divide and listen to stories together at the foot of the cross. Suspend judgment. Listen to everyone’s stories. Engage in dialogue. Learn. Empathize. Offer hope. Establish relationships. 

It can be done.

Years ago, I facilitated our church’s Reconcilers Fellowship. The hope was to create a diverse community and safe place to dialogue. In the group was someone who had witnessed a lynching, another whose only contact with people of color was “the help,” one whose family had “passed” the brown paper bag test, two who were involved in protests while growing up, and one who wakes daily to the fear of racism he will face.  In seeking reconciliation, they all knew the risks of vulnerability, rejection, and pain. They knew, like Evangelist Tom Skinner: 

Racial reconciliation is surgery, and surgery is never painless. Fear of this pain prompts many Christians to ignore their racial blinders. It requires exposing our vital organs to the truth that we speak to each other. It’s risky. If trust hasn’t been built, the operation is destined to fail. But, when we build trust and stay on the table to the end of the surgery there is hope for healing in the most delicate and vital places. (Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, More Than Equals, 190).

Every church needs to begin this dialogue now. Now is always the time for reconciliation—to sit down together, learn to trust one another, pray together, and move forward together.  

*Illustration: “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” originally adopted as the seal of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery in England in the 1780s.

Dr. David Apple has been Director of Mercy Ministries at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. In the mid-1960’s, he became involved in human rights activities when his rabbi participated in the “Freedom Rides” and then marched and spoke at rallies to encourage support of our Black brothers and sisters in their struggle. In 1966, he became a Christian through the ministry of a Black friend and the preaching of the Rev. Tom Skinner.  He is the author of Not Just a Soup Kitchen (CLC Publications). 

February 01, 2016

This sponsored post was prepared by Professors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays on behalf of Zondervan Academic Online Courses.

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.

The best part is that we are making the first part of this course available for free.

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: 

  1. The overview gives you an overarching view of the key content. It includes high-quality video lectures to guide you through the material. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. The assessment page provides you the opportunity to demonstrate your mastery of the unit’s content.

Remember, it costs nothing to sign up for the first section of the course

Get started today!

There is nothing like being able to read God’s word for yourself. This free course offers you a clear and concise framework to get started. In only one hour, you’ll know all the basics. 

Sign up now!

Sponsored

January 25, 2016

This week’s sponsored post was prepared by Finalweb.

There’s no denying that the world has gone “mobile.” In the last few years, life has changed dramatically thanks to the little rectangles most of us rely on and rarely separate from. For the church, technology sometimes almost feels a little out of place. For those of us grounded in wanting to preach the same message, the same Gospel that has stood for thousands of years without need of our modification, it can be easy to set aside technological opportunities along with the latest fad in theology. But that need not be the case. We live in a time where God has given us exciting tools to use for His glory, and they are becoming commonplace among excellent churches. 

There are a few areas that some churches, even those with some degree of online presence, have neglected. It is not uncommon to see a nice church website that has been recently updated but will barely open or function on a mobile device. Or if it does, the links are so small that one must zoom around the page in order to get someplace, causing many if not most users to lose interest in using it. New moms or shut-in church members who can’t attend a service in person sit alone one a Sunday, unable to watch or listen, while a minimal investment in time and technology could bring the church service to them with ease. Throughout the week, church members might listen to messages from another pastor at a more technologically advanced church simply because the sermons were easier to access through a native mobile app.

Finalweb aims to eliminate these pitfalls so that even smaller churches can make efficient use of modern technology. We do this through the offering of three products:

Mobile-Friendly, Easy-to-Use Websites

Our websites have been our premier product for the last 15 years. Using our own proprietary content management system designed specifically for churches, ministry staff with only basic computer experience can fully build and maintain a professional church website. Features such as sermon podcast libraries, an event registration system, online calendars, and sub-sites for multiple ministries help to put a good face on a good ministry. And with our responsive templates, our church sites look great on mobile devices, tablets, and desktops alike.

Live Streaming

One of our most requested features over the years has been the ability to integrate live video streaming of services into our websites. Customers complained of using free or cheap services which broadcast commercials during or before their messages, frustrating their viewers. Three years ago, Finalweb developed its own streaming solution that integrates easily into our websites, and can be used in externally hosted sites as well. Our commercial-free service is affordable and transcoded automatically so that it is compatible with all major mobile devices types.

Mobile Apps

More recently, churches have begun to realize the power of having their own branded mobile app in the Android and Apple app stores. As convenient as a responsive website is, frequent users enjoy the efficiency of accessing church resources, messages, notes, schedules, and more in a native mobile app. Our apps include all of these features and more, including the ability to quickly access a password-protected church directory. 

For visitors of Challies.com, Finalweb will provide a 25% discount on any services. Just enter “Challiesoffer” into the “Coupon Code” box on our payment page when signing up. Feel free to try our products and contact us with any questions by visiting www.finalweb.com.

January 18, 2016

This sponsored post was prepared by The Master’s College.

1 Peter 2:2 says, “…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow by it.”

2 Timothy 3 says the same thing, that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, that the man of God may be perfect, completely furnished unto good works. 

Our God-given task is very clear. I know exactly what God has called me to do and that is to give my life to the process of equipping the saints, building up the saints. It’s not a matter of how many people can we have; it’s a matter of what kind of people do we have. The measure of a church is not its size. The measure of a church is its capability to produce Christlikeness among its people. That’s the objective. 

The measure of a school is the same thing, because this is merely a reassembly of the Church in another environment, and the objective here is not to have the greatest number of students. The objective is to produce people who are Christlike. David said, “I will be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15). That has to be the desire of every heart, to be fully equipped to be like Jesus Christ. 

“…I commit you,” Paul says, “to the Word of God, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with the saints” (Acts 20:32).

(Adapted from the sermon “Equipping the Saints,” delivered by John MacArthur to the students of The Master’s College on September 15, 1986.)

We at The Master’s College believe that the Word of God is essential to the mission of the Church. And whether you are a pastor or a layperson, you know it is crucial for a congregation to truly understand the Word of God if their ministry is to be effective. 

Christians who eagerly seek truth and emulate the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11) will be better equipped to apply Sunday’s sermons to their lives and to engage in outreach. Some churches foster this attitude through weekly Bible classes and certificate programs. But even for a church without the staff or resources to create Bible classes of their own, options are still available. 

Pastors and church leaders, The Master’s College wants to come alongside you and help equip the members of your congregation with sound Bible training. We can be your Bible institute.

It makes no difference if your church isn’t located in Southern California; TMC Online is ever expanding. We offer four online degree programs, including undergraduate degrees in Christian Ministries and Biblical Studies, in addition to general education classes in Old and New Testament survey, biblical interpretation, biblical counseling, and more. 

Sign up for our Partner Church Program to earn a 10% tuition discount for all active members of your church. And don’t forget to check out our Biblical Equipping Collection, a convenient non-credit option for Bible studies and Sunday school classes. For only $199, receive a complete college class on DVD, including 30 hours of video lectures and accompanying study materials. Nine different topics are available.

There is no book more worth studying than the Bible, the very words of our Lord. The Master’s College looks forward to partnering with you, that the members of your congregation may be “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

Contact TMC Online

Phone: 877-302-3337
Email: tmconline@masters.edu
Website: www.masters.edu/academics/online
Facebook: www.facebook.com/themasterscollege/
Twitter: www.twitter.com/masterscollege