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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!

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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

January 11, 2016

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

Ask anyone today, “What is truth?” and you’re sure to start an interesting conversation. Try it on a university campus and you’re likely to receive laughter, scorn, and derision. The concept of truth has clearly fallen on hard times, and the consequences of rejecting it are ravaging human society. So let’s go back to the starting point and answer the question: What is truth?

One of the most profound and eternally significant questions in the Bible was posed by an unbeliever. Pilate turned to Jesus in His final hour and asked, “What is truth?” It was a rhetorical question, a cynical response to what Jesus had just revealed: “I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Two thousand years later, the whole world breathes Pilate’s cynicism. Some say truth is a power play, a metanarrative constructed by the elite for the purpose of controlling the ignorant masses. To some, truth is subjective, the individual world of preference and opinion. Others believe truth is a collective judgment, the product of cultural consensus, and still others flatly deny the concept of truth altogether.

So, what is truth?

Here’s a simple definition drawn from what the Bible teaches: Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: Truth is the self-expression of God. That is the biblical meaning of truth. Because the definition of truth flows from God, truth is theological

(Adapted from The Truth War, © 2008, by John MacArthur. All rights reserved.)

Pastors, shepherds and church leaders, The Master’s College is eager to help foster spiritual growth in your congregation through an education in biblical Truth. At TMC, Truth is never an object of scorn or derision; it is the foundation for everything we do. Our president, John MacArthur, and our biblical studies professors—some of the best in the world—love the Bible and are passionate about helping students understand it. In fact, this is true of every professor, from English to Biology to Business.

Now, the same trusted biblical education that defines The Master’s College is available to everyone online. Whether you are pursuing a full Bible degree or just taking a few classes for personal edification, sitting under the instruction of trusted TMC professors is the best way to pursue that education.

TMC Online has options to fit any church’s needs. Individuals can apply for our fully accredited B.A. in Biblical Studies, B.A. in Biblical Counseling*, M.A. in Biblical Studies* or other degree programs. Classes are offered in 8-week sessions, with the next session scheduled to begin on March 7. Also popular is our Biblical Equipping Collection, which includes nine complete college classes, prepackaged with DVD lectures and study materials that are perfect for a Bible study or Sunday school class.

And don’t forget to sign up for our Partner Church Program to get a 10% tuition discount for any active member of your congregation.

These are just a few of the options that TMC Online has to offer. Contact Online Admissions to learn about all of our degree programs.

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

*Coming summer 2016 pending approval from the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

January 04, 2016

This sponsored post was prepared by Ryan Freeman on behalf of Strider.

It’s January 4th, which means that if you’re a reader of many blogs, or active on social media, you’ve already been inundated with a flood of new year lists, and last year recaps. Yes, this is one more post in the theme of new year-inspired posts, but I’m hopeful that you will find some value here. (And let’s be honestthese new year posts are going to keep coming for another three weeks anyway, right? Might as well settle in and enjoy.)

The new year is when most of us like to take stock of the past and plan for the future. Some of us will be (again) pledging to get into better physical shape. (THIS is the year! Really!) Others might be looking over personal or business habits for opportunities to be more productive.

As you are making plans for improvements and growth in the new year, let me encourage you to consider a few ways that you could improve your website — whether you are the company owner, an employee, or someone operating a personal website. Based on my 22 years of work in online marketing, here are some items worthy of your new year’s review.

Website Annual Checklist
No time to read the list now? Click the image and download a printable list!

1) SEO Considerations


Search engine optimization began about 15 minutes after the first search engines launched in the mid-90s, and instead of just being a trend that phased out, it has grown and matured into an industry that is bigger and more prevalent than ever. Simply put, SEO is the practice of making sure that search engines like Google have the most accurate understanding possible of what your website contains, and what/who is it relevant to. (Of course, with the goal of a #1 ranking!) Or, as I like to say, it’s about: “giving Google what they need to know, the best format for them to understand it.”

SEO plays a major role in businesses both large and small, so it’s important that each web page is optimized for search. This includes landing pages, text, code, images, social media integration, and more. The design must be structured so that Google can easily “crawl” the pages and pick up on their relevance. It’s not enough to have “done SEO” once upon a time — search has changed dramatically, and it is important for websites to keep up with the latest guidelines.

2) Page Speed


The optimum time that it should take for a website to load is two seconds, and if a website takes any longer than three seconds, you run the risk of visitors abandoning the site. However, the average page loading time is more like five or six seconds (and don’t even get me started on the speed of ecommerce sites at Christmas time!). WordPress and other CMS platforms are generally extra slow because of all their plugins. The best way to increase speed here is to eliminate anything that might be unnecessary. Look for any unused plugins — even disabled ones — and remove them from the site to improve speed.

3) Security and Encryption


Security is already a hot topic for 2016, and for good reason. According to security statistics report from 2015, 86 percent of websites had at least one serious vulnerability, and some websites were considered to be 56 percent vulnerable to hacking attempts.

The best way to protect your website is to boost security measures. Include encryption on any page that sends sensitive data, download security release updates if you use a website hosting service, and perform vulnerability testing regularly to catch and repair glitches.

4) Relevant Content

How relevant is your blog content? Does it include current news-related stories, timeless information, useful how-to articles, interesting guides, fun videos, high quality images, and consistent posts? If you didn’t answer yes to at least some of these questions, it’s time to make some changes. After you’ve updated your content to make it more relevant, make sure you perform some simple tests to see if your target audience is responding.

5) Five-Second Test (aka The Grandma Test)

One way that you can make sure your website is relevant is by using the five-second test. Open your website on a laptop or mobile device and take it to a public place. Ask a few people to glance at it for just five seconds. Then, hide the screen and ask them to tell you what they saw. Their answers will let you know if your website design is putting attention on the right details. (Tip: This test also works well with your Grandma!)

6) Fresh Style

How does your design hold up when compared to current web trends and contemporary designs? Right now, simplicity is king, with modern designs and layouts ruling the web. The fewer distractions there are and the clearer the site’s purpose, the better. In addition, the site should employ Responsive Design, which is Google’s recommended method to meet mobile standards and avoid frustration on smaller screens.

7) User-Friendly Administration

The back end of your website consists of the server, application, and database of your website. It’s what makes the user side exist (and likely what makes most people’s eyes glaze over). For that reason, the interface should be easy to access and manipulate. This interface makes it possible to make changes to your site, and if it’s well designed, it won’t be a hassle to continue making changes throughout the year. If you would rather slog through the latest Joel Osteen book than add content to your website, it’s probably time to update your Content Management System (CMS).

8) User Experience

Where most sites — even the pretty ones — fail is by not focusing on the end user. How’s your navigation? Does the design appeal to your target audience? Are there definitive calls to action? Do your images inspire action? If applicable, do you have product reviews that encourage visitors to buy? Is there security assurance on your site? These are just a few of the many questions you should be asking yourself in order to improve the overall user experience. Tip: Most companies fail by writing as if they were their own audience. Avoid technical industry jargon and self-praise; instead, focus on how you solve the customer’s problems.

9) Lead Generation Plugins

Too many websites are taking on the role of online brochure and leaving out the ability to generate leads. Plugins that ask for email addresses without being too pushy or intrusive can be a great way to give users relevant information while enticing them to take action on your site.

10) Analytics

Do you have a way to gather data and harness it for website improvement? Analytics plugins can seamlessly connect your website with Google Analytics, making it possible to gather data in real time. The new year is also a good time to review not just the data from the past year, but also the metrics that are most important to you. How do you know if your website is successful? How are you trying to identify roadblocks?

11) Mobile Friendly

According to reports from Smart Insights, the time spent on mobile devices is greater than the time spent on desktops and other devices. Google has reported that they receive more searches from mobile devices than from desktop computers! Last year Google began to boost the ranking of websites it deemed to be mobile friendly. There’s no getting around it any longer. If your website isn’t designed for mobile, make a Responsive Design overhaul the most important New Year’s resolution for your website.

12) Interesting Content

Your content may be relevant and consistent, but is it interesting? Do your consumers have a desire to read it multiple times and share it across the web? If not, brainstorm with your content creation team to find the problem. It’s important for users to read your content if you want to increase website views.

13) Miscellaneous Crud

That’s the highly technical term for “small problems that build up on older websites over the years”. If you have broken links, navigation that’s difficult to operate, a website hosting account with glitches, poor security, or a number of other problems, your website needs some work. Perform User Experience (UX) testing to find the biggest glitches, and make some changes. If this means you need to start paying for website hosting instead of using the free service, so be it.

14) Customization

Website hosting systems (see: Blogger, WordPress.com) are great for building a website when you have very little knowledge about design, but this comes with a major drawback: Many of the themes look very similar. It’s challenging for your website to stand if you’re using the same theme as everyone else. If you’re in a financial position to do so, you could look into a customized web design. Further, it’s critical to build your most valuable content on space you own — not space you rent. The danger of free platforms is that you have no control over what happens to your site down the road if the company folds, is acquired, or does the dreaded “pivot” when business plan #1 #2 #3 doesn’t work out.

If custom design is not an option, look into extra plugins, themes, and designs that can be integrated into your hosted website in order to make it look more like your brand. Designing and displaying a unique logo is also an important aspect of setting your website apart from others.

Give us a Call

With 2016 freshly underway, now is the perfect time to go through your website and make any necessary updates. Improvement is an important part of life, but it’s not easy to do alone. If terms like asynchronous JavaScript and Multivariate Testing make your head spin, or if you prefer to think Panda and Penguins are better suited to zoos than algorithms, we can help. The Strider team offers individualized insight on your current website design, and guidance on how to get more performance from your site. For 22 years I have been helping small business owners, legal and medical professionals, churches, retailers, and bloggers with building great sites and getting the right traffic to their website. For more information about what Strider, a Google Partner agency, can do for you, contact us today.

Ryan Freeman is a husband, father, Deacon at Grace Fellowship Church, unrepentant marketing geek, and President of Strider Online Marketing. Ryan has been building and promoting websites since 1994.

December 28, 2015

This sponsored post was prepared by Mitch Maher.

ClarifyingClarifying The Bible goes to war with that intimidation [a big Bible!] and equips and frees men and women to engage the Scriptures with a passion and freedom. I’ve personally seen people move from Biblical apathy to passionate students of God’s Word after engaging Mitch and Clarifying The Bible. Exciting stuff!”
John Bryson
Lead Pastor, Fellowship Memphis
Executive Board Member, Acts 29
Church Consultant, Fellowship Associates, Little Rock, AR

Just last month John Piper tweeted, “Begin now praying about how God wants you to read your Bible next year. Being ready to launch January 1 is a thrilling thing.” To help you get ready to launch purchase a copy of Mitch Maher’s Clarifying The Bible. Clarifying The Bible is a two-hour video presentation and workbook that gives viewers the basic framework and storyline of the Bible. The material is presented in a passionate, compelling fashion, and in the end delivers on its promise to help people see the Bible with more clarity than ever before.

Get a feel for this resource by watching some or all of this 29-minute clip of Mitch teaching on Paul’s letters—it’s generally everybody’s favorite section.

Here’s what others are saying:

“You don’t need a seminary education to have strong biblical muscles. One of the best places to start is with a good over-view that familiarizes you with the Scriptures as a whole. Mitch Maher can get you there quickly and effectively. His media experience Clarifying the Bible will turn God’s Word into a good friend that you’ll look forward to spending time with every day… for the rest of your life.”
Dr. Tim Kimmel
Author of Grace Based Parenting and Grace Filled Marriage

“We are all aware of the growing phenomenon of biblical illiteracy, and I sometimes hear pastors complain that the mammoth proportions of the problem make it difficult to teach and preach because it is necessary to keep things at such a basic level. Mitch Maher has set out to address this problem. His overview, Clarifying The Bible, indeed clarifies the whole Bible. He is a clear and likable communicator, and he knows his stuff. May the Lord use Mitch and this project to turn the tide of biblical illiteracy!”
Dr. James “Jim” Hamilton
Professor of Biblical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Clarifying The Bible is an AMAZING resource! I’ve seen personally, from a small group setting to one-on-one, how this resource can open up your understanding of God’s Word in a way that drives you to want more of Jesus. My wife and I love it!”
TEDASHII
Hip Hop Artist, Reach Records; Radio Host, #SERIUM

“… no resource has so concisely framed the narrative of Scripture as Mitch’s work in Clarifying The Bible. I watch it regularly. I teach it often. I have given this to many leaders and friends. It should be in the hands of every follower of Jesus that they might know, teach, and embody the Gospel more and more.”
Will Rambo
Teaching Pastor, The Orchard, Tupelo, MS

Clarifying The Bible… is simple yet robust, theologically deep yet re-teachable, and its progression and flow build the confidence of the learner. It is no wonder this tool is being taught by pastoral and lay leaders all over the world. I’ve rarely made it six months with a young protégé without equipping them with Clarifying The Bible.”
Danny Hinton
Executive Director of Downline Ministries, Little Rock, AR

Purchase your copies today, available in digital or hardcopy. Check it out at clarifyingthebible.com.

MitchMitch Maher is the Lead Pastor at Redeemer Community Church in Katy, TX. In addition to his Clarifying The Bible presentations around the country, Mitch is a regular teacher for the Kanakuk Institute and Downline Ministries. He’s been married to his wife Tara for 15 years, and they have three daughters.

December 21, 2015

This sponsored post was prepared by Rosaria Butterfield on behalf of Crown and Covenant.

RosariaI came to Christ with more bad habits than good, and the Lord’s sanctifying touch at first left me lonely and out of sorts. Frankensteinian. An amputee. 

Despised by my girlfriend but beloved by my God. 

As a postmodern professor, I had warred against the binary oppositions and metanarratives of a biblical worldview, but after reading the Bible in completion many times for myself, and discussing it in honesty with Christian neighbors and colleagues, something happened. The Bible got to be bigger inside me than I; it ignited the “expulsive power of a new affection” (to quote Thomas Chalmers). Here I was, a living epistle whose new life now teetered on the brink of those ideas that I had railed against for years. I had taught thousands of college students that sexuality and gender were social constructs, but the God I now met and loved made it clear in His word: Being born male or female comes with moral responsibilities and constraints.

The gospel remade me. It came in exchange for the life I had once loved, not in addition to it. Through it, I met the triune God who intervenes in history and supernaturally controls all things. But when I stumbled around trying to find Him in the rubble of my ruined career and my bankrupt body of friends, all I grasped was darkness and the wind.

God gave me a Bible-believing, Psalm-singing church to become the family that I lost in this gospel exchange. My new brothers and sisters in this church modeled for me two life practices that have been my daily companions since the early hours of my Christian rebirth: reading the Bible in big chunks and singing the Psalms. God daily uses these simple practices to restore and remake me through His grace.

As I stumbled around, awkward and uncomfortable in the new creation that I had become, longing for the old days, the old me, the old habits, the old friends, I at least could stumble forward with eyes of faith when I sang the Psalms. The Psalms are prayers, but often unlike my own, each psalm is a prayer to God through eyes and words of faith. Each psalm uses eyes of faith to see the agony, and not eyes of doubt. Singing through the affliction and danger with eyes of faith became one way that God tutored, taught, and modeled for me how to face my fear with God at my side.

God’s word is powerful—a double-edged sword—and singing the Psalms roots God’s word deep inside your memory. The Psalms have been God’s most severe and merciful crucible in my life, stirring the pot of what the Puritans called experiential godliness—a sanctifying path by which you daily enter to those mysteries of Christ’s kingdom. Singing the Psalms makes you lean hard into its biblical wisdom, experiential profit, and transforming beauty. It just might make you wonder if Colossians 3:16 actually means what it says: Sing Psalms and let the Word of Christ dwell in you.

Singing intertwines text with tune: It makes you dwell a little longer in the hard and vulnerable places as you hear your very own voice settle your wandering heart as you sing sentiments like this to God: “The Lord’s the portion of my cup, and my inheritance; You’ve given me the lot I have, kept in Your providence” (Psalm 16:5). Singing makes you imbibe, inherit, and own. The Psalms inhere in you. They express things you feel but were afraid to say: “My God, my God to You I cry, O why have You forsaken me? Why are you far from giving help and from my agonizing plea?” (Psalm 22:1). When you sing this to God, you know that while it is sinful to complain about God, it is sanctifying to complain to Him when in faith we model Jesus, singing what He did.

Singing the Psalms grants you the intimacy of a suffering daughter with the Father who has loved you from before the world’s foundations. This relationship comes through the Savior brother who is praying and singing as He intercedes for you right this very moment. 

Singing psalms is real-time intimacy and give us the gospel grace that we daily need, because singing psalms uses your own body, your voice, the rising and falling of your own breath, to project forward all struggle and pain and loss and gain and profit and joy onto Christ. When you sing together as a family during family devotions after the evening meal, you watch your very small children and your special needs children singing from memory the Psalms before they are able to read them. You flash forward to what it would mean to someday have dementia but still, even in that compromised state, have the Psalms as your daily companions. And when you sing together in worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ, many voices lifting up many words of Christ, you experience a taste of the victory to come, even as you know the intense suffering of today. Psalms are—and have always been—the hymnbook of the church under persecution.

To learn more about Rosaria Butterfield, Crown and Covenant, and the Psalms visit crownandcovenant.com.