Read the Bible Through in 2018

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I serve as lead pastor at Glynwood Baptist Church. This past week, as part of our teaching series “For Unto Us,” we talked about Jesus as our Wonderful Counselor. We talked about how a counselor provides clarity, offers comfort, and issues a challenge to the one being counseled. If you’d like to listen to the sermon, you can click here.

As Christians, we believe God does that through His Word. In the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, God clearly communicates His truth to His people.

And in 2018, we are challenging every member of Glynwood to read the Bible all the way through.

There are a lot of great Bible reading plans out there that can help you accomplish this goal. You can follow this link to download four different reading plans available from LifeWay. Find the plan that’s right for you

rgsOn Sunday nights in 2018, I will be following George Guthrie’s Reading God’s Story: A Chronological Daily Bible in my teaching. The sermon will come from one of the passages you’ve read that week. We have copies of this Bible for sale at the church for $14, as well as a number of other devotional Bibles in different styles and translations. If you would like to order one, please contact the church office.

If you would like to join us in this challenge, just give us your name and email address, and you’ll be signed up. We will send you regular encouragements and study helps to help keep you on track throughout the year.
Let me also encourage you to download YouVersion, which is a free Bible reading app available for both the iPhone and Android devices. You Version has dozens of different plans available. My favorite feature of You Version is the ability to listen to the Bible being read. This literally revolutionized my daily commute when I was living in Nashville and was spending over an hour every day stuck in traffic!

Another cool feature of YouVersion is their “Live Events” section. This allows you to follow along with the message outline every Sunday from your smartphone. Just type in the church’s ZIP code (36066), select Glynwood, and the sermon is right there. Click here to see what it looks like.

Whether you use one of the online tools or not, I pray you will join us for this journey! So many people seek to get a word from the Lord without spending time in the Word of the Lord. It doesn’t work that way! Commit to spending time in His Word daily. You life will never be the same!

When the Scripture Reads You: Conviction from James 2

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Skeptics read Scripture, looking for those things they can’t accept. Followers of Jesus, in contrast, allow the Scripture to read them, looking for those things God can’t accept.

Tim Keller, in The Songs of Jesus

At the church I serve, I am in the middle of preaching through the book of James. Since James is such an intensely practical book (52 commands in just 105 verses), I’ve been challenging our church family to ask themselves two questions with every passage we study together:

What is God saying to me in this passage?

What am I going to do about it?

So this week as I was studying James 2, I had the intensely uncomfortable feeling that the Holy Spirit was stepping on my toes. Actually, stomping on them would be more accurate. With steel toed boots.

James 2 begins with this scenario:

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2:2-4 (NIV)

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When I first read it, I thought to myself, “We would never do that in our church! We welcome everyone!” And it is true. I look at our church family and there is a great mix of blue collar and white collar, black and white, military and civilian, wealthy and not so wealthy. Mentally I was patting myself on the back for how much James 2:2-4 didn’t apply to us.

But then the Holy Spirit, in His annoying way, reminded me of what went through my head last Tuesday night. It was Halloween night, and our church held its annual “Light up the Night for Jesus” event. Families from our church decorated their cars and passed out candy.  We gave away two bicycles and a big screen TV. We had an evangelism tent where people heard the gospel. We met hundreds of our neighbors. And as the new pastor at the church, I mingled, trying to say hello to everyone I could.

But I caught myself evaluating people as I said hello. I categorized them into the “Just Here for the Candy” group and the “Legit Prospects” group. And I realized that what often made the difference in my mind was how they were dressed: whether they were wearing a scary costume or a more “family friendly, remember this is a church event” costume; how many tattoos or body piercings they had, and other criteria that I’m ashamed to confess. I said hello to one young couple, new to the area  because of a military assignment, and thought to myself, “Great prospects! I’ve got to remember their names!” But then I would pass an apparently single mom, there with maybe her mom, several kids, and shabbier clothes. And while I was friendly and pastoral, saying all the right things, I confess that I didn’t walk away from that conversation thinking about what great prospects they were. I didn’t remember their names.

And isn’t that exactly what James is describing in his letter? Sam Allberry, in his commentary on James, writes “favouritism is profoundly un-Christian. It says, in effect, that someone who is worth more to the world is worth more to the church…. [It] ends up judging one person’s soul as being of greater value than another’s and it does all this on the basis of superficial, worldly criteria.”

All those who claim to be Christians follow a homeless man (Matt. 8:20). We worship an executed criminal. We serve One who “didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at him, no appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2, CSV). And we follow the One who chose us, before the foundation of the world, even though we had not a single thing to offer Him except our sin and our brokenness. 

God, forgive me for becoming a “judge with evil thoughts” last Tuesday night. Forgive me for letting the world determine how much spiritual worth someone has, based on what I think their contribution could be to our church. Help me see that favoritism of any kind stands in evil opposition to the gospel.

On Dancing and Discipleship

Walking, climbing, and fighting aren’t the only metaphors for the Christian life.

I’ll admit that a Baptist pastor blogging about dancing may seem a little like a fish blogging about the Tour De France. Especially this Baptist pastor. I don’t dance. Not that I’m morally opposed to it. I just am not coordinated.

theboxstepBut yesterday morning in my quiet time, I started thinking about the one dance step from high school show choir that I kinda-sorta got right. The Box Step: Step up, cross over, step back, crossover. One step up one step sideways, one step back, one step sideways. Constant motion, no forward progress.

And on a lot of days, that’s the perfect metaphor for my walk with Christ. I’ll take a step forward. Then I’ll get distracted–step sideways. Then I’ll fall back into a sinful pattern– step back. Then I’ll get distracted again–step sideways.

Quite the contrast from the image you get from the old hymn, “Higher Ground:”

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

I posted my thoughts on Facebook: “Sometimes it seems like I have less of a walk with Christ and more of a Box Step: step forward, step sideways, step back. Is it just me?”

And after a couple dozen comments, I realized: it’s not just me. We all feel the frustration of motion without movement in our spiritual journey.

My friend Danny, who has had more than his fair share of ups and downs, sidesteps and back steps, found the words I couldn’t find: “A beautiful waltz is also created by these same steps… perfection with the right partner leading the way.”

And it got me thinking: what if “walking with Christ” isn’t the only metaphor? What if, instead of always thinking about discipleship as an upward climb, or a grueling marathon, or a march into battle, we thought of it as an intimate dance?

Granted, there are times when we have to be reminded of the battle (Ephesians 6:10-18) Or the race (Hebrews 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 9:24-27). Or the walk (1 John 2:6). But the same Bible that describes Jesus as our trainer for a race or our commanding officer for a battle also describes Him as our bridegroom for a wedding.

And at a wedding, you dance.

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A dance is different from a marathon or a mountain climb. In a dance, there’s a relationship with your dance partner. There’s intimacy. There’s freedom and joy. There’s the potential of captivating and inspiring your audience (well, at least when other people do it. Not so much me…) And there are times of rest and risk. When you place all your trust into your partner–when you allow him to support all your weight, there is both risk and rest.

english-waltzKing Solomon, who was no stranger to weddings (he had 700 wives, after all!) described this image beautifully in his Song of Songs:

His left hand is under my head,
    and his right hand embraces me!

(Song of Songs 2:6; 8:3)

The left hand supported the bride. The right hand embraced her. There was support and tenderness. There was security and passion.

And today, that’s the metaphor I’m going to hang on to for discipleship. Yes, I will keep walking in the light. I’ll keep marching to Zion. I’ll keep pressing on. But today, I’m going to dance with the bridegroom. And I’m going to remember that the relationship is important as the destination.

Perhaps that’s what Jesus was hinting at in Matthew 11:28-30:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrased it in the Message, I’m going to learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Perfection, with the right partner leading the way.

 

 

 

 

 

The Apostle Paul’s Downward Spiral

If you find yourself growing more self-righteous the longer you are a Christian, you aren’t doing it right.


IMG_0069By any measure, the Apostle Paul was a rock star of the early church. He had the most dramatic conversion, the coolest stories, the clearest focus, the most prolific pen, the sharpest intellect, and the fattest passport.

He preached more sermons, wrote more letters, planted more churches, traveled more miles, discipled more believers, and developed more leaders than anyone else in the New Testament. Not to mention getting thrown in prison more, beaten more, and threatened more (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

Yet, over the course of his long ministry, Paul’s view of himself seemed to diminish. Check out these verses: Earlier in his ministry, Paul tells the church in Corinth:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

1 Corinthians  15:9

A few years later, Paul writes to the Ephesians:

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people,this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ,

Ephesians 3:7-8

Finally, near the end of his life, Paul writes to his protege Timothy:

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.

1 Timothy 1:15

 

From least of the apostles to least among the people of God to worst of all sinners. What’s going on here? Is Paul bipolar? Is he humble bragging? Is it a midlife/end of life crisis? What?

The answer: its the paradox of sanctification. That as your understanding of grace deepens, so does the awareness of your sin. The more you know of grace, the more aware of your need for grace.

What happens if, over time, a Christian doesn’t grow in his or her understanding of the gospel? If the Gospel is only the ABC presentation you learned in Vacation Bible School, then your understanding of what Christ did on the cross remains static. And over time, you will either outgrow your immature faith (which results in religion, moralism, pride, etc) or you will out-sin it (resulting in guilt fear, shame, and insecurity). If your understanding of the gospel never grows, you will conclude either that you don’t need it or can’t reach it.

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But watch what happens when your understanding of the gospel grows. When the cross gets bigger, it grow in both directions:

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Which is why, the more Paul matured in his faith, the more aware he became of his own sinfulness. This is the downward mobility to which we all must aspire. If you find yourself getting more prideful, self-righteous, and self-satisfied the longer you are a Christian, you aren’t doing it right.

Praise God for downward mobility! As Tim Keller says:

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Jealous With a Godly Jealousy

Pastors, do you love your church like a father loves his daughter?

givingawaythebride-700x4661This week, I met with a young couple for our third premarital counseling session. We are at the point in the counseling process where we are scripting out the ceremony itself. So we started talking about what the father of the bride will say when he gets to the end of the aisle. You know the drill: the minister says, “Who presents this woman to be married to this man?” And the father, sometimes with tears in his eyes, responds, “Her mother and I.” He lifts the veil on his daughter, kisses her on the cheek, places her hands in the hands of her groom, and steps back. And in that moment, he probably prays that he has done everything he can to prepare his princess for this moment, not to mention for the lifetime that follows.

This image was on my mind this morning as I read 2 Corinthians 11:

I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

2 Corinthians 11:1-4 (NIV)

I’ve read these words from Paul quite a few times. But when they came up again this morning in my read-through-the-Bible plan, they felt more fresh–more urgent, than they had on previous readings.  I think that’s because this is the first time I’ve read them as a senior pastor.

Paul planted the church in Corinth some time around AD 50-51 (you can read about it in Acts 18 ). He watched it grow and flourish. 2 Corinthians was written about five years later. Paul had heard reports that the church was being torn apart by false teachers (2 Corinthians 11:13) who were assaulting Paul’s character, sowing discord among the believers, and teaching false doctrine. They were questioning  his integrity (2 Corinthians 1:15-17), his speaking ability (2 Corinthians 10:1011:6), and his unwillingness to accept support from the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-912:13). There were also some people who had not repented of their sinful behavior (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). (Thanks to gotquestions.org for this summary)

So in chapters 10-12, Paul gets about as personal as he ever gets as he pours out his heart for this “problem child” church. Sometimes he sounds like a jealous husband, defending himself to his wayward wife. Or at least, that’s how he’s sounded in previous readings.

But this morning, I read Paul’s words not as a jealous husband, but as a father who wants to present his daughter to her groom as a pure, spotless bride. Verse 2 is key: Paul is jealous with a ‘godly jealousy’ because he, the father of the bride, has promised the church to one husband–Christ.

51tor5erg6l-_sy300_This is the heart a pastor ought to have for the church he leads. Think about all the cliches of a protective father with a teenage daughter. Ask yourself, do you love your church in the same way? Here’s my gut check for how well I am loving my church. Understand, I’ve always been a little squeamish about pastors who talk possessively about “their” church. But then I go back to the “my daughter” analogy, and it makes sense. So bear with me as I talk about “my” church:

  • Am I aware of my responsibility in preparing my church to meet her groom? Am I teaching her to discern right doctrine from false doctrine? In the same way a father helps his daughter learn how a man should treat a lady, a pastor needs to help his church discern truth from error.
  • Am I as concerned for her reputation in the community as a father is concerned for his daughter’s reputation in the high school?
  • Do I pay attention to the books people in my church are reading? Even (maybe even especially) the “Christian” or “inspirational” ones?
  • Am I diligent about the quality of small group teaching in my church? Do I know what’s being studied in small groups the way the father of a teenaged daughter knows where she is on Friday night?
  • Am I concerned for their physical safety? This relates to the church’s policies and procedures regarding background checks, supervision, transportation, and so forth.

Pastors, what else would you add to this list?

Lord Jesus, help me love my church, which is truly your church, with a godly jealousy. I pray for the day I can present her to you, her Groom, a spotless, pure, and perfect. 

“With You is My Contention, O Priest”– Thoughts on Hosea 4

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My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
    because you have rejected knowledge,
    I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
    I also will forget your children.

Hosea 4:6 (ESV)

I was pretty sure I knew the gist of Hosea: God tells his prophet to marry a hussy named Gomer; be a father to three children (two of which may or may not be his); watch her chase after other men; and then redeem her back. All this would be one big sermon illustration that would teach Israel about God’s unfailing love to His people despite their unfaithfulness (side note as a pastor: I’m really thankful God hasn’t come up with any object lessons like this for me so far. I’m happy getting my illustrations from YouTube and Tony Evans books). By the way, you should pause and read Hosea 1-3 if you aren’t familiar with it. Greatest. Love Story. Ever.

But in Hosea 4, the book starts feeling less like a Hallmark movie and more like the powerful prophetic word that it is. Chapter 4 begins with a devastating indictment against Israel. God has a bone to pick with the inhabitants of the land, says verse 1:

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
    and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
    they break all bounds, a

nd bloodshed follows bloodshed.

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Host Katy Perry at the 2017 VMA’s

Sounds pretty descriptive of today’s headlines, doesn’t it? Or MTV’s  Video Music Awards.

Then, in language that parallels the blessing of Psalm 8:6-8 God pronounces judgment on Israel:

Therefore the land mourns,
    and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field
    and the birds of the heavens,
    and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

But here is what stuns me as a minister. While God judges Israel, he doesn’t blame them.

He blames the priests. “With you is my contention, O priest,” he says in verse 4 (which seems to be a much more compelling and convicting translation than the NIV. I’d love for someone way smarter than me to help me understand the huge difference between the translations of verse 4, but that is a conversation for another day. If you are interested, check out the translation comparison from Blue Letter Bible.

God says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge because you [the priest] have rejected knowledge.” And because the spiritual leader of the people rejected knowledge, God would reject him as a spiritual leader. (verse 6). And you won’t find a more challenging word for a pastor than Hosea 4:9:

And it shall be like people, like priest.

In the business world, the cliche is “Speed of the leader, speed of the team.” Pastors, we cannot lead anyone where we are not going ourselves. God’s people are being destroyed for lack of knowledge. But if we as spiritual leaders are forgetting the law of our God, then the spiritual condition of the nation is on us.

God have mercy.

Bad Move, Devil

Why it was really stupid of Satan to quote Psalm 91 to Jesus.

  

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

Psalm  91:11-13 (ESV)

I’ve loved using Desiring God’s Fighter Verse app to grow in the discipline of Scripture memorization (If you want to know more about it, I love telling people about it!) For the past few weeks, I’ve been working my way through memorizing Psalm 91. And this week, we come to verses 11-13. Many Christians are already familiar with verses 11-12, because this is the Scripture the devil tried to tempt Jesus with in Luke 4:9-11.

But here’s the thing: Satan should have known better than to quote that verse out of context. He should have known that Jesus would know ALL of Psalm 91, especially verse 13:

You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

And here’s the thing about the other thing: Psalm 91:13 isn’t the first or the last time God’s Word says something about trampling a serpent underfoot. The first time is all the way back in the Garden of Eden. The first sin has been committed. Adam and Eve have fallen. God is about to banish them from the Garden. But tucked in the middle of this narrative, in God’s curse of the Serpent, we see the first messianic prophecy–what theologians and all lovers of lots of syllables call the protoeuangellion:

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

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“Virgin Mary Consoles Eve” painting by Sister Mary Grace Remington (notice the serpent!)

God, speaking to the serpent, says, “There will come a day when an offspring of this woman (other translations call Him “her seed”) will crush (“bruise”) your head. Where else besides in a virgin birth would one ever talk about the seed of the woman? This can only be talking about Jesus!

Can’t you imagine Jesus thinking of that prophecy every time he read Psalm 91:13? And don’t you imagine Jesus immediately thinking of Psalm 91:13 the minute Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 to Him? And don’t you think Jesus was already anticipating when the Holy Spirit would inspire Paul to write, in Romans 16:20:

20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. 

Satan knows Scripture. But he doesn’t know the story. Let that not be true of us today!