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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 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.

Worship: The Ultimate Priority–John MacArthur Revised Audiobook

08/03/2012 Comments off

Of course, this review was not possible without the generous investment in me by the christianaudio Reviewers Program.  Thank you.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For He is our God,
and we are the people of His pasture,
and the sheep of His hand.
Today, if you hear His voice,

If your desire is to listen to His voice; He knows us, and we get to follow Him. He gives us eternal life, and we shall never perish; as no one can snatch us out of His hand.  John MacArthur reminds us in the newly revised edition of classic work that Worship is the ultimate priority.

I remember my first Shepherds Conference and the sessions on Worship.  I was again struck with this audiobook of the great disciple of Christ that continues to be an evidence of God’s grace through John’s investment in the Body of Christ.  The two new chapters and the revisions in the foundational work are truly saturated as always, in scripture.  The Bible is the final authority of this work.  John guides us into understanding God’s perspective on the spectrum of our current ‘worship services’ to a Pink-like attributes of God systematic theology.

The audiobook was very interesting to me as it challenged me, inspired me, and enlightened me on how selfish I am in my interactions with God.  John has continued for fifteen years of my walk to exhort me to meditate and focus my life on the Living Word of God.  John keeps me focused on God and Scripture and the narrator’s voice was an excellent compliment to this work.  The book was obviously presented in John’s classic style of cohesiveness and appealing manner while not compromising solid Biblical Truth.  I would recommend this book for general audiences of all kinds, as most of it is Scripture – timeless and multi-generational.

402158: Worship: The Ultimate Priority Worship: The Ultimate Priority
By John MacArthur / Moody Publishers* How can we best glorify God? By making worship a priority! Taking you beyond church walls into the recesses of your heart, MacArthur explores the attributes of God, the right and wrong ways to worship him, and ideas on how to honor him in our daily lives. This revised edition includes two new chapters.
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