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"One Bit of Scripture…"

04/03/2013 Comments off

As I get older, more and more I am convinced the importance of discipleship evangelism is for our generation and the generations to come.  Part of that has definitely come from dialoguing with them.  It is through these continuing conversations that I have learned that not everyone likes or can learn when drinking from a fire hose.  I came across this quote some time ago and it is part of the ‘derek-ism’ as a friend of mine would say, that permeate throughout these conversations.  I share it now.

A Two-bit Answer to the Million Dollar Question

This article will consider one small part of the answer. It is an important part, however. Learning this has made a huge impact on how I live and counsel. In a nutshell, connect one bit of Scripture to one bit of life. In other words, always ask two questions of yourself and others: What is your current struggle? What about God in Christ connects to this?

What is your struggle? You might be facing sufferings and troubles of various kinds (James 1:2). You might be sinning—doing and thinking various troublesome things (James 3:16). Usually it’s a tangle of both. God talks exactly about these things. How does the one Savior enter these struggles? What does He say? How does He help?

What will He change?
Perhaps you’ve seen the ecology-minded bumper sticker that says, “Think globally. Act locally.” Keep the big picture in view, then do something constructive. The same principle operates in counseling ministry. Keep the big picture in view, then act on some detail. Get the whole Story on God. Get the whole story on this person. Know the themes both in Scripture and in person. Then apply one relevant thing from our Redeemer to one significant scene in this person’s story. Bring one bit of Bible to one bit of life. You can’t say it all at once.

Charles Spurgeon put the principle in his inimitable way,

  One bit of Bible prayed over, and bedewed with the Spirit, and made alive, though it be only a short sentence of six words, will profit you more than a hundred chapters without the Spirit.1

One bit of Bible, bedewed with the Spirit, comes to life in one bit of life! You can’t deal with it all at once. Scripture never does. Ministry, like life, goes one step at a time.
Apply this first and foremost to your own life. The best advice I ever got on preaching was this: “Live your message for a week, a month, a lifetime. Then aim low. You’re sure to hit something.” The same thing applies to would-be counselors. What is your current struggle? How does God in Christ connect to you in this? You can give away what you are being given. What you give from out of your own life will be life-giving to others. When you are learning kindness from your Savior you will be able to teach unkind people. When you are learning to endure suffering well, you will be able to reach sufferers. It is the same with any other radiancy of the Spirit: clarity, courage, humility, patience, joy, wisdom, gratitude, mercy, teachability, generosity, honesty. If you are unhesitatingly honest, you can help dishonest people.

Richard Baxter graphically named the alternative: “I confess I must speak it by lamentable experience, that I publish to my flock the distempers of my own soul. When I let my heart go cold, my preaching is cold; and when it is confused, my preaching is confused.”2 As with preaching, so with counseling. In fact, the impact for good or ill occurs more instantaneously in counseling. People come vulnerable, with current struggles laid openly on the table. You cannot conceal your response. You don’t have the luxury of planning even the next sentence to come out of your mouth. You immediately publish the distempers or radiancies of your soul. You publish by the questions you ask (or don’t ask), by how you listen (or don’t really want to listen), by the interpretations you offer (or don’t even think to offer), by the advice you give (or can’t give), by the attitude you take towards people, towards problems, towards people with problems.

Let me make the case that one timely passage does three essential things. First, it orients this person to the moral landscape within which he lives, moves, and has his being: “The unfolding of Your words gives light” (Ps. 119:132). If someone tends to get lost in dark woods, the right road lost, then a good map and the light of dawn are extremely helpful! They don’t actually get you anywhere, but they orient you. You see where you’ve gotten and where you need to get. It must be simple and concrete—something true, riveted to real life. Theological generalities, abstractions and intricacies don’t do the job. General truths about yourself—your tendencies, typical patterns, themes that replay in your personal history—don’t change you. You must be able to identify where your particular current struggle lies, what it means, what exactly is at stake, where to go. Where is the firefight between good and evil? Today, what is your particular battlefield? You must be able to trace the difference between truth and lies, clarity and confusion, hope and illusion, right and wrongs, insight and self-deception, true need and wild desires, love and self-serving, living faith and functional godlessness. Where do you need God’s redemption and help? When you are disoriented in your current struggle, you don’t even know your choices. You can’t see the choice points. You can’t choose. When your way is deep darkness, you don’t know what makes you stumble. The right bit of Scripture—six words, two verses, one story—reorients you.

Second, a timely passage brings Christ’s grace and truth to this person. Something that God is, says, and does must invade your life struggles, beckon you, teach you, master you. What about God in Christ do you need in your current struggle? The map-giver personally guides through dark woods. You need help, and the LORD is a very present help in trouble. You can’t make it without grace to help in your time of need. The people you counsel can’t make it without help coming from the LORD who made heaven and earth. The first beatitude—essential poverty, need, and weakness—comes first for a reason. We need what God gives. We need our Father to give the Holy Spirit to us, that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, that the love of God is poured out within us exactly when the heat is on. Augustine summarized the immediacy of grace this way: “Give what You command and command what You will.” Some part of the good news of the Lord’s redemptive purpose, will, and promise is absolutely necessary—right now. The Bible models how ministry and life focus on one thing at a time. A good theology book rightly asks, “Who is God?”, and goes on to fill 400 pages with truths. But Psalm 121 cries out, “Where does my help come from?”, and seizes on one necessary thing: “The LORD keeps me.”

Third, a timely passage invites change. In the Bible’s vivid picture, we “turn” to our Father, Savior, and Comforter. Oriented to our current struggle, and embracing what God says, we come to Him. He works in us to one end: change. Faith works through love—here and now. The central dynamic of the Christian life is a FROM … TO … movement. “Repentance is not merely the start of the Christian life; it is the Christian life.”3 Faith does new transactions and conversations with God. Love does new actions and choices on the stage of life. When God calls, you listen. When He promises, you trust and talk back to Him from need. When He loves, you love. When He commands, you obey. You aim your life in a new direction by the power of the Holy Spirit who works with you. In every case, you turn.

These are the purposes of the whole Bible, the whole mission of our Redeemer. But a timely text brings truth down to consumable size. Think of it this way. When you get to know a person well, you come to know both the panorama and the details. But change walks out in the details.

The patterns, themes, and tendencies are like the view from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. From one hundred floors up, everything spreads serenely before you. But the action and noise of life happens at the corner of 5th Avenue & 34th Street and takes the Lincoln Tunnel home to Hoboken. Our lives work as stories, in a running series of scenes. Like a novel or movie, big themes work out in small scenes. This is how God has made it to be. This is how He works. This is something that would-be counselors often don’t get. It is something that preachers who do not counsel—and counsel well—often don’t understand. When you counsel (or preach) in great and good generalities, people will nod, but they rarely change. They rarely really change. Jesus works for a turn-the-world-upside-down reorientation and redirection. Ministry needs to know the big picture, but it always takes the elevator down to “G.” Get involved on the corner. Talk into the traffic noise. Drive over to Hoboken at rush hour. Change actually takes place in the watershed moments, choice points, and decisive incidents of everyday life.

So what does this look like while you’re actually talking with someone? What does it mean for what you give a person to take away into the week ahead?

David A. Powlison, "Think Globally, Act Locally", The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 22, Number 1, Fall 2003 (Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, 2003). 3-5.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.
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Book review of Mark Driscoll’s–Who Do You Think You Are?

20/01/2013 Comments off

Thank you to Thomas Nelson BookSneeze program for the preview opportunity to review this work.

     Forgetting who we are in Christ is a stable diet for many believers, thanks to the fall and depravity.  In a culture of “I need to feel good about myself” and the never vanishing ‘self-esteem movement’, finally a work that brings out an exegetical commentary on the book of Ephesians presenting a biblical worldview in contrast to the psychologized drivel that is so prevalent in our society.  In acclaimed Driscoll style, a contextual work that brings the Bible into everyday life with a humble and scholarly tone that is refreshing in a world looking to define itself by many competing idols with much needed sobriety and candidness.

     I agree with Driscoll, we all live in an identity crisis.  This crisis produces worshippers (we all are worshipping something whether Christian or not).  By worship, Driscoll defines “Worship is the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do, and all that I can ever become in light of a chosen or choosing god.”  This ‘worship’ is the product of the idols we have; of which he further defines as identity idolatry which can be thought in terms of Items, Duties, Others, Longings, and Sufferings (idols).  In light of the worship definition, it is easy to see how we can ‘worship’ these things.  It is also clear that religious language like ‘worship’ and ‘idolatry’ may produce the temptation to blow off the convicting truths that we are ‘idol factories’ as they may reveal that we are not as ‘good’ as we think we are or that our self-esteem is not as healthy as it should be.  The book of Ephesians provides the lens of the creation-fall-resurrection-restoration narrative we all walk through that define our everyday lives.  

     I enjoyed many things about this book.  Each chapter starts with a pericope of text from a chapter of Ephesians.  This is not your traditional Christian book which slaps three sentences of scripture text to sprinkle a ‘holy wand’ on the chapter.  Mark actually grabs large chunks of text and meticulously works through it in the coming pages.  I also like the footnotes on each page that point you to the exact Biblical references to concepts and points made in each chapter.  A few highlights from the book that I appreciated are,

Practically, focusing on just the sin aspect of our identity leads to despairing, navel-gazing Christians obsessed with their sin.  Such Christians wrongly think that the best sermons are those that beat them up by reminding them how awful they are—without any mention of their new identity in Christ.  The Word of God is not a club for beating Christians until they emotionally bleed as repayment for their sin.  Jesus already took our blows and shed His blood in our place.  And on the cross He did not say, “It is not finished, so beat yourself up to add to your salvation.”  He said, “It is finished!”

“C.S. Lewis was fond of saying that we are often guilty of “chronological snobbery.”  We arrogantly see people  from the past as more naïve, primitive, and less sophisticated than ourselves.  The truth is that people have always been the same, and today, people are as pagan in their thinking as ever.

“To varying degrees, we’re all guilty of participating in our culture of rudeness.  Which of us hasn’t become jealous when others succeed?  Yet we hate it when we are on the receiving end of this rudeness.”

“The true test of your theology is not just what you say, but also how you pray.”

“Bitterness is often related to how much you love the offender”

“Faith is an internal conviction that leads to an external action.”

    This book was interesting to me and will benefit future believers in my life as well.  It challenge, inspire, and enlightened me in reminding (see first quote above) that my desire for good theological sermons or messages has been also contributing to my forgetfulness of the good news of the gospel. Mark’s section on Spiritual Gifts, especially the introspective questions were very helpful, and I think it may also be helpful to not only ask them of ourselves but to ask our ‘communities’ these questions about our Christian witness as well.  Of course, Driscoll makes you think and hold’s your attention, and I found this especially helpful with the personal testimony stories that started each chapter.  It made them more real and transferable.  This commentary on Ephesians was presented in a cohesive, yet appealing manner, however, I wish there was a way to also bring the cross-references directly into the chapter rather than having to flip back and forth.  I would like to also note that there are already a myriad of resources out there to bring this work from conviction to application to implication.  Check out:  the Ephesians Campaign 

    Mark Driscoll successfully convey Biblical truth and this book is saturated in scripture, cross references and historical affirmations that is equally impressive.  I would highly recommend this book to all types of readers and humans alike as it addresses all of life, not just Sunday morning.

203857: Who Do You Think You Are? Finding Your True Identity in Christ Who Do You Think You Are? Finding Your True Identity in Christ
By Mark Driscoll / Thomas Nelson

We answer how we are countless times each day, but rarely do we think about who we are. Revealing that we define ourselves by things other than Jesus, Driscoll identifies who you are in Christ—saintly, blessed, saved, afflicted, heard, and more. Discover that you’re not what you do; rather, who you are determines what you do. 256 pages, hardcover from Nelson.

The Truth About the Lordship of Christ by John MacArthur

14/06/2012 Comments off

Thank you Thomas Nelson for early preview of this work, this opportunity continues to be a blessing to me.

In The Truth About the Lordship of Christ, MacArthur is not dealing with minor problems or disputes peripheral to the faith, but with the crucial issue of all—namely, What does it mean to be a Christian? His answers in this condense work addresses what I consider to be the core issue of present-day Christianity.

Why is today’s church so pathetic? Why are we able to tout many conversions and grow church members but have less and less impact on our culture? How is it that Christians are indistinguishable from the world? Is it because we are calling the unregenerate/lost, Christians? Or is it that many are settling for a “form of godliness but denying its power”

(2 Timothy 3:1-5 http://www.esvapi.org/assets/play.swf?myUrl=hw%2F55003001-55003005(ESV))? This pivotal work in MacArthur’s Truth series is successful in turning true followers/disciples from the feeble gospel and deceitful propaganda of this age to a true gospel-centered focus. This work reveals a man whose conscience is clearly taken captive by the Word of God. It reveals that he knows how to read the Bible for what it actually says, and is fearless in proclaiming that Word to desperate and handicapped generation.

As with all of MacArthur’s works, this book was very interesting, concise, and thorough.  As always, MacArthur also challenges, inspires, and enlightens in a very charitable way.  MacArthur teaches us through scripture to discern and think;

204168: The Truth About the Lordship of Christ The Truth About the Lordship of Christ
By John MacArthur / Thomas Nelson

The Explicit Gospel–by Matt Chandler & Jared Wilson(Audiobook Review)

02/05/2012 Comments off

Thank you christianaudio reviewers program for the opportunity to review this work, a blessing indeed!

In a culture of moral relativism, Christians have been spiraling into another worldview, that of “moral therapeutic deism,” Matt Chandler, new president of Acts29, thoroughly covers the biblical meaning of the explicit gospel confronting this ‘new’ Christianity.

The audiobook is divided into three parts, "The Gospel on the Ground" (which covers God, man, Christ and response or systematic theology topics) which refers to the gospel as it applies to specific individuals. The second part, "The Gospel in the Air," (discussed through the lens of creation, fall, redemption and consummation or biblical theology) which seeks to reveal that these individual salvation stories are part of God’s sovereign plan to bring all things to consummation in Christ. The "explicit gospel" holds these two perspectives together as mutually interwoven and complementary.  Finally, the book continues with applications and implications (what does this look like both bad and good).

I have been listening to Matt Chandler for a few years, so I was very excited with the opportunity to listen to this audio.  The gospel is always interesting to me, and Matt’s illustrations, humor, and contextual couth language brings the explicit to sobering reality.  This book was and will be very challenging to those who who think heaven is like in tom-n-jerry, or even warm-n-fuzzy prosperity.  This book will inspire too, in that, there is more to the gospel than doing stuff (going to church, reading the bible, etc.) it is about a savior who died.  The implications of fully understanding this, is what is explicit compared to the vague gospel so rampant in many churches today.   As I was listening to this, I was thinking about folks who would benefit from this.  Does your theology include loving God with all your mind?  Does God hold your attention?  Then this audio, to include the narrator, presented this work in an cohesive, yet appealing manner.  I also appreciated that Matt and Jared saturated this work successfully to convey deep Biblical truth in easy to understand language.  I would highly recommend this book to all, especially to those who have been ‘Christians’ for a while.  This audio would also be good for a new believer in that it might prevent the performance based routine of faith that many of us get into when we forget the gospel.

The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief by Larry Alex Taunton

14/12/2011 Comments off

Thank you Thomas Nelson for the opportunity to review this book

After a short term mission trip, the author and his family discern their hearts being knit to an HIV positive Ukrainian girl.  What transpires is the journey the Taunton family begins in the process of adopting Sasha – the main character.  Mixed with some insightful contextualization and historical narrative, the author weaves a blow by blow narrative and how a Christian worldview filters the arduous process of adoption in a foreign country.

The reason I chose this book was for the title and the quote;

Simply defined, the ‘grace effect’ is an observable phenomenon that life is demonstrably better where authentic Christianity flourishes.

I anticipated an evangelistic story in which relational dynamics over the long haul would result in a transformed life – a conversion to Christianity perhaps.  What I discovered was that the author was more impacted by the adoption events and his relationship with a famous atheist than this being a ‘how-to’ regarding relational evangelism. 

Mr. Taunton starts and ends the work relaying some background of his relationship with Christopher Hitchens in which we see relational dynamics and cordiality that is very inspiring and did much to disarm the traditional assumptions of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ in apologetic engagements.   There is much to be seen in this authentic relationship dynamic that reflects the author’s quote above and much that Christians could learn in engaging the culture with non-believers. 

The work was very interesting with both the conversations with Hitchens and with the ordeal of the adoption process.  It challenged, inspired, and enlightened me in many areas; the cost (materially, spiritually, etc) in the adoption process, but also I was impacted with the weaving of the authors reformed faith throughout the work. The format and outline of the book did much to reflect a struggle with a Christian worldview in a predominately atheist culture and friends.  The reflection of events to teach Sasha the alphabet was also inspiring as well.  The chapter opening quotes were fantastic and related to the subject matter and set a great meditative tone for the post writing of the chapter. 

I thought the author did a good job of presenting the information in a cohesive, yet appealing manner of a story.  I was also struck by the way the the author successfully conveyed Biblical truth throughout.  Scripture was used in context, hermeneutically accurate and relevant..  Although I was expecting a different type of book, and normally don’t read these types of books, I would recommend this book to others who are pursuing adoption in another country so that they could realize the cultural dynamics of other countries.  I think the author did a great job of showing that it is easy to take our freedom of religion – specifically Christianity in America for granted, and the freedoms we have to walk out our worldview and expect the same respect and how submitting to cultural dynamics actually wins in the end.  The included discussion guide I think is the best part of the work and would have perhaps, liked to have seen this weaved into the chapters versus an addendum – where the temptation is to be flippant versus engage it as part of the chapter.  It could have brought more to a meditative element to the quote above throughout the work.

554406: The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief
By Larry Taunton / Thomas Nelson

The Fight of Our Lives: Knowing the Enemy, Speaking the Truth & Choosing to Win the War Against Radical Islam

17/08/2011 Comments off

Since September 11th 2001, there has been a war against the American people that has been covered up.  Why did the media stop talking about terrorism?  Warren Bennet and Seth Leibosohn bring the behind the scenes travesties to our attention in gripping and in your face content.  There is a radical movement of zealots whose main goal is to destroy the United States and we don’t have a clue.  I am not usually a political science or current events type of guy, but this title intrigued me because it HAS been sometime since Islam was brought to the American people’s attention.  So I wanted to get educated.  I got educated alright, as a matter of fact, I was alarmed that our government has been contributing to the appeasement and apathy of the radical Islam movement.  The author’s document (very well) incidents from September 11th to 2010 in which radical Islam extremists have killed people with little to no recourse.  To me, being a veteran and serving my country this was a shock in that I gave my life to my country.  I think what makes this topic/book so alarming was being reminded of the oath of enlistment I took when I joined the Army;

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

What strikes me about this oath and the material in the book, is that someone(s) clearly does not understand what it means to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same”.  It comes down to this… Loyalty.  Are we being loyal to the US, its history, its founding fathers, and the blood that was shed to protect this country by sweeping radical Islam under the carpet.  No.  I was both challenged and enlightened by the authors regarding the state of affairs and the fact that we the American people are in desperate need of relearning of what America is all about.  I also want to comment that the authors were able to hold my attention because the information was presented in a clear and chronological historical narrative that made the facts they were presenting even more alarming.  I would recommend this book to others and have.  The last two chapters are the best part of the book.  If your interested, Homeland Security recently did a study that shows terrorism by Muslim-Americans down in 2010.

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