Monday, November 30, 2009
A large fraction of small groups in the US use pre-made study guides. That's ok. I encourage all of you to try going without pre-made study guides and dive into the Word together without them. Come up with your own questions.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I want to thank Glenn for inviting me to contribute to his blog. I always get so much out of what Glenn writes; it’s a little intimidating to put my own thoughts on the same page as his. Hopefully, what I have to say will bless you. If not, Glenn will be back soon! :0)
I’m sure you have noticed this: Our God is a God of great creativity, variety, and diversity. Just look at His creation:
* As an omniscient, omnipotent Creator, God could have made everything a hueless gray; but He didn’t. Instead, He graced our eyes with bright blue skies, deep green forests, white-capped mountains, golden sunrises, and violet sunsets.
* Our food could have been as tasteless as styrofoam and still have supplied the energy we need to live, but it isn’t. We enjoy the sweetness of strawberries, the zest of lemon, the “bite” of salt, the crunch of almonds, the fluffiness of yeast rolls, and the creaminess of butter. (Is anybody else hungry?)
* All of Adam’s children could have inherited identical genome sequences, but instead we each have DNA that makes us uniquely “us.” Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in His sight!
This is diversity that merits our unrestrained praise and awe. God’s unlimited artisanship is a wonder to behold!
But there is another kind of diversity that is not of God’s making. I am talking about doctrinal diversity—differences in beliefs about what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false.
In a “Politically Correct” world where “tolerance” is everything, we often hear Christians revel in the different understandings of brothers and sisters regarding various truths of the Bible. It is commonly thought a wonderful thing that we “agree to disagree” about “non-essential” doctrines and not bother trying to reach a common understanding.
Now, I have dear friends from many different denominations and theological traditions. We have divergent views regarding baptism, church government, the return of Christ, spiritual gifts, predestination, the use of alcohol, the separation of church & state, and many other such things.
I imagine you have such relationships too, and I’m sure you value those friendships as much as I do mine.
But did you know that our job as teachers of the Word is not to celebrate this kind of diversity but to strive to eliminate it?
Before you write this off as the intolerant rant of a hair-splitting theologian, let’s take a look at Ephesians 4.11-16:
“And He Himself [Jesus] gave some to be . . . teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from Whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what each joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (NKJV).
A quick read of Ephesians 4 will show that God’s major concern is unity, not diversity.
There is, first of all, a unity that we’re required to MAINTAIN and, second, a unity that we seek to ATTAIN.
The first unity is mentioned in verses 1-3:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
This is the unity that already exists between every true Christian. It is grounded, not in anything that we do, but in the Gospel truth that there is “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father Who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (vss. 4-6).
We don’t have to “attain” to this unity; it’s already ours. We simply need to “maintain” or “keep” it “in the bond of peace.” We do this by treating one another with humility, gentleness, and patience, as Paul urged the Ephesians above.
What the apostle says in the ensuing verses about teaching for doctrinal unity must be tempered by the words we have just considered. Those words should dispel any thoughts one might have of achieving doctrinal unity by dogmatic dictatorship or deceitful debating tactics (condemned in vs. 14).
That kind of dogmatism might be motivated by a noble goal, but it violates the prior “bond of peace” command. It is not worthy of one with your calling, and it will end up not achieving the goal of bringing others to unity of doctrine.
Consider, now, the second type of unity—“the unity of the faith” (vs. 13).
Unlike the “unity of the Spirit,” spoken of in verse 3, “unity of the faith” is not something that we currently have in its fullness; for Paul says that teachers and others are to minister “till we all come to” such a unity.
It is not something we have already acquired, but it is something to which we should all aspire. But should we really?
Why shouldn’t we “celebrate our diversity” in different doctrinal views?
Take for example the various Christian views on baptism. I believe in believer’s baptism by immersion; my good Presbyterian friends (and I have many) believe in infant baptism by sprinkling. Should we rejoice in the fact that we hold these two mutually exclusive views? No!
Why not? Because, though we might both be wrong, we cannot both be right; and God wants us to know His truth, i.e., to be right. Rather than “celebrate our diversity,” we should study harder, communicate better, and “eliminate” our diversity by coming to a common conclusion.
Consider The Living Bible’s paraphrase of verse 13. It says that teachers should teach “until finally we all believe alike about our salvation and about our Savior, God’s Son.”
TLB’s rendering of this phrase is confirmed by the classic commentaries.
As a matter of fact, when Paul says in vs. 13, that we are to “come” to this kind of unity, he uses a word that is found 9 times in the Book of Acts with reference to travelers arriving at a destination.
The apostle here sets forth three “destinations” toward which believers in Christ’s body are moving.
We are all “coming” to:
* Unity of Creed (“till we all come to the unity of the faith”)
* Unity of Communion with Christ (“and the knowledge of the Son of God”)
* Unity of Christ-likeness (“to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”)
There is a logical order here. The more accurate our doctrine, the better we can know Christ as He truly is; and the more intimate our knowledge and communion with Christ, the more like Him we will become (see 2 Cor 3.18), for we shall see Him “as He is” (1 Jn 3.1-3).
Will we ever “hammer out” all of our doctrinal differences? I seriously doubt it. But that’s no excuse for not trying.
We know that we will not be like Jesus in holiness until He shall appear; nevertheless, with that hope within us, we are to continually seek to purify ourselves (1 Jn 1.3).
In the same way, though we will likely not get all of the “flies” out of our theological “ointment” until Christ comes to teach us the Truth; that does not relieve us of the responsibility of seeking His Wisdom now and finding out all we can before He comes.
This is done by dwelling in the unity already given to us by the Spirit and gently teaching, humbly searching, patiently debating, and speaking the truth in love to attain the unity of thought that eludes us. It is accomplished by every member taking a part and edifying the body in love (vs. 16).
It will not happen if we piously “celebrate our diversity” in areas to which God has called us to unity.
Laziness, fear of offending, disdain for conflict, and an apathy toward truth are the great enemies that Great Bible Teachers must conquer if they are to fulfill the mission set before them in Ephesians 4.11-16.
The “Therefore” in Eph 4.1 points us back to all the reasons we should fight and conquer these enemies. (You’re a GBT, so I’ll let you search Eph 1-3 and discover those reasons!)
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
If you'd like to study these issues in more detail, I also recommend Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
One of the most difficult things for me is coaching teachers who have low expectations for what can happen in their class or group. They say things like, “Oh, I’m not a good presenter, and so people aren’t going to learn much from me.” Or “It’s just a few people and I can’t imagine what I could teach them because they’ve all been Christians a long time.”
If you’re focusing on yourself, then you probably should have low expectations for the outcomes of your class or study group.
Open secret: It’s not about you!
Here are reasons you should have high expectations:
This is the Word of God. It’s powerful. History has shown that God changes people as they genuinely interact with His Word. He promises that it will not return to Him without it accomplishing what He intends (ref).
The Holy Spirit is at work. I really want you to work hard on preparing your lesson material and practicing. I believe God wants you to work hard at your teaching craft. But even a “mediocre” lesson or presentation can be used by God to transform hearts and minds when the Holy Spirit is at work!
Jesus is interceding for you. Can it get any better than that? See Romans 8:34.
You are sinning if you do not expect God to “show up” and fulfill His promises. Don’t think less of God’s power in this particular circumstance than the Bible does.
“Be strong and courageous.” “Stand firm.” “Let nothing move you.” Your task is to obey these clear commands from Scripture, and give glory to God.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I recently saw a lady trying to walk her energetic puppy, who was running, rolling, sniffing, and constantly straining against the leash -- everywhere except by her. She was pleading in frustration, and yanking hard on the leash. The puppy was either trying to pull her along as he sprinted out front, or refused to come to her when he wanted to sniff longer around a tree. Neither she nor the puppy looked the least bit happy.
A few minutes later I saw a man walking with a mature German Sheppard. What first caught my eye was the absence of a leash (we have a leash law in our town.) But then I noticed that no leash was needed. The dog heeled beautifully, perfectly keeping pace with the man, and joyfully kept his attention either on his master or looking straight ahead. The man spoke quietly to him. The deep affection between them was obvious. I watched them enjoying their walk together until they turned the corner out of sight.
A dog heeling next to his master is a curious picture of the joy of the Christian life.
I thought about how many times I’ve acted like that puppy: running ahead of God, sniffing after things that are of no account to Him, barking in frustration when pulling at the end of the tether, choking myself in resistance to God’s direction. Puppies are absolutely convinced they know better than people where we should be going, how fast, and when to take diversions. You and I have behaved like that with our loving Father in heaven, haven’t we?
Contrast that with the joy that we can experience when we walk with our Father, by His side, looking frequently to Him, submitting to His pace and direction. No straining. We respond to gentle words. The biggest satisfaction is simply being with our Lord and Master, Teacher, and Friend.
Our ability to joyfully live the life God has for us is utterly dependent on our close connection with God and obedience to His direction. Jesus told us we can do nothing without him: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Our relationship with Christ is designed to be like the relationships in the Trinity: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” (John 5:19-20)
What can you do today to experience joy as you walk well with God, as you are enabled by the Holy Spirit?
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Monday, November 09, 2009
This is a guest post from my friend Dale Hill...I've invited several people to provide guest posts because I want give you excellent information. -- Glenn
My dad taught me that if I don’t know ‘why,’ then I do not fully understand a thing. Though that may not apply to all situations and things, the principle has served me well through my life. Not being gifted with a purely logical mind, I have been able to use that mindset to move me to the core of much of my thinking and understanding about life.
Let’s apply that philosophy to what we do—why teach? More specifically, why do we teach? More pointedly, why do YOU teach?
There are many reasons why someone teaches, and we will outline some of them in this post.
1. We teach because we want to. This is a purely surface reason, but it is a necessary one. If you don’t want to teach, don’t do it—no matter who has asked you to fill a position. It is a grave mistake to fill a position with just a warm body, simply because the spot is empty. (Of course, I am not speaking here to those who are just getting started teaching. Maybe someone has called on you because they see something in you that needs to be developed. At this time, you may not ‘feel’ that you want to do this.)
2. We teach because we feel called to do so. Some of us simply cannot help ourselves—we teach all the time. We can’t hardly get into a conversation before an opportunity comes along to “lay something out more plainly” and off we go.
Those first two reasons can be summed up in the verse from Paul to the Corinthians: 1Cr 9:17 ESV - For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.
3. We teach because it is a gift God has entrusted to us to build up the Body of Christ. Eph 4:11 ESV - And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
4. We teach because it is a part of the Great Commission. Mat 28:19 ESV - "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." The phrase “make disciples” carries within it the idea of teaching, for it means “to enroll as a learner.” We enroll them as a learner and begin to teach them all that the Lord has commanded us.
However, it is my conviction that everyone is to be a teacher. While we each may need a Paul in our life to help us along the way, we each should also have a Timothy to whom we can impart the things the Lord is giving us. If we are not teaching someone, then we are only taking in; and we become like the Dead Sea with nothing flowing out.
I base this conviction on Hebrews 5:12 ESV - For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food. That word was written to all the Hebrew Christians. It is a word that we take to ourselves as being for us. There comes a time when everyone should begin to teach.
Teachers, it is your responsibility to make sure that happens.
Glenn Brooke is on a quest to see 400,000 Bible teachers raised up. You can help by identifying those who are ready (or should be ready) to begin teaching at least one other person. Because of your gifting and calling, you are in a unique place to see this. In fact, you should be able to see the qualities in someone before the pastor does, and you can bring this person to the mind of the pastoral leadership in your church.
We teach because it is our passion to see the Kingdom of God and His glory fill the whole earth.
Dale Hill has been a Bible teacher and pastor since 1970. He currently resides in central Pennsylvania with his wife, Gracie, a dog and two cats, and a bear from the mountainside that frequents the back yard. Dale maintains a blog for teaching, a FaceBook presence, and a website for his books. His most recent publication is Basic Bible Teachings, which is an interactive Bible study for personal use or evangelism. The book is free of charge, and you are encouraged to see if it is something that will work for you.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Take a few moments and reflect on Kevin de Young's recent blog post on prayerlessness as unbelief.
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Friday, November 06, 2009
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
What’s So Great About Heaven?
The Bible says a lot about heaven. It’s beyond what we can even imagine, but some things are clear about the paradise purchased for Christians by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Let's examine the two most important things about heaven: we will be in the very presence of Christ, and there will be no more sin or wickedness.
Some people say that Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Actually, I have found that the more heavenly minded I am, the more earthly good I become. As usual, God’s truth is the complete opposite of what the world calls truth.
In Philippians 1:23 (NKJV), the Apostle Paul said he had a desire to "depart (die) and be with the Lord." The Bible makes it abundantly clear that the most precious part of heaven will be the fact that you will be in the presence of Jesus Christ. You will be able to worship Him and fellowship with Him forever. Day and night will not exist and you will have uninterrupted joy and peace in communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. What a tremendous picture. In this world and in our weak bodies, we grow weary in worship. Sometimes illness completely prevents us from conscious worship. However, it will not be like that in heaven. You will see Him face to face. The One you have served and loved and worshiped here by faith will then be in plain sight.
The second greatest thing about heaven will be the complete absence of sin and wickedness. 2 Peter 3:13 says of that day, "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."
Let that picture develop in your mind for a moment. Can you imagine a place where you no longer struggle with sinfulness in your own heart, nor with the sinfulness and wickedness of a world gone mad? Can you dream of a place where there will be no more murder, no more war, no more crime, no more earthquakes or floods?
I long for the day when I will no longer have to struggle with my own self-centeredness, my own lust, my own greed, my own pride. Is there a place without sin? You and I have never known it, but we will, if we are in Christ.
Sure, there are lots of other great things about heaven. There will be no more sickness, no more tears, no more grief because of death. Still, I believe the two greatest treasures will be the ones you and I have looked at in this brief article: seeing Jesus Christ face to face, and no longer struggling with sin. That will be "joy unspeakable and full of glory."
For more about experiencing Christian joy and peace, visit Glen's website http://www.histruejoy.com. Glen Averill has been a Christian minister and journalist for more than 25 years. His ministry is to encourage Christians to be all they can be in Christ.