Thursday, December 31, 2009

Humor -- Kids Say the Most Fun Things

One of my subscribers sent these to me. Enjoy!

A little boy was overheard praying:
'Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it.
I'm having a real good time like I am.'


After the christening of his baby brother in church,
Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car.
His father asked him three times what was wrong.
Finally, the boy replied,
'That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home,
and I wanted to stay with you guys.'


One particular four-year-old prayed,
'And forgive us our trash baskets
as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.'


A Sunday school teacher asked her children as they
were on the way to church service,
'And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?'
One bright little girl replied,
'Because people are sleeping.'


A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3.
The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake.
Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson.
'If Jesus were sitting here, He would say,
'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.'
Kevin turned to his younger brother and said,
' Ryan , you be Jesus !'


A father was at the beach with his children
when the four-year-old son ran up to him,
grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore
where a seagull lay dead in the sand.
'Daddy, what happened to him?' the son asked.
'He died and went to Heaven,' the Dad replied.
The boy thought a moment and then said,
'Did God throw him back down?'

A wife invited some people to dinner.
At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said,
'Would you like to say the blessing?'
'I wouldn't know what to say,' the girl replied.
'Just say what you hear Mommy say,' the wife answered.
The daughter bowed her head and said,
'Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?'

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Heavens Declare

"The new Wide Field Camera 3 aboard the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has taken the deepest image yet of the Universe in near-infrared light. The faintest and reddest objects in the image are likely the oldest galaxies ever identified, having formed between only 600–900 million years after the Big Bang. The image shows thousands of galaxies, some more than 12 billion years old. The field view of this image would fit behind a grain of sand held at arm's length against the sky. Almost every dot in this photo is an entire galaxy of stars and who knows what fascinating undiscovered mysteries.

Astronomers use this photo to estimate the number of galaxies in the known universe by counting the visible galaxies shown and multiplying the number of such photos it would take to make a composite of the entire sky. Their calculations estimate that the observable universe contains about 100 billion galaxies."

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. -- Psalm 19:1

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Yes, You Can Laugh in Church

I've seen a number of funny moments in church, but nothing quite like this!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you and yours! May your day be blessed as you celebrate with family and friends -- and above all, the body of Christ.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christian Perspective on Alcohol

I'd like to write plainly about alcohol, and how Christians handle the issues around alcohol. These are tough issues, but I believe the Bible gives us good counsel that we can follow.

The Bible is clear that drunkenness is a sin (Rom 13:13, 1 Cor 5:11, 1 Cor 6:10, Gal 5:21, Eph 5:18). But there are multiple occasions in the Bible where people are drinking wine and no sin is evident. After three days of wedding celebration in Cana (John 2:1-11) - and we know they would have already drunk plenty of wine at that point - Jesus converts water into some especially good wine for them to enjoy. (Can you imagine your pastor thinking, "Yup, what these people need is…more wine!" ? ) This was his first miracle, and it was sufficient that some disciples put their faith in him based on it.

Some Christians have made the argument that Jesus and the disciples weren't drinking real wine. The idea that the wine in the Bible is non-alcoholic isn't reasonable. I can believe that much of the wine produced in that era was relatively low in alcohol by today's standards. Almost certainly wine was often diluted with water. The technology to create non-alcoholic beer, wine, etc. came much later than the biblical eras.

There is no question that alcohol is frequently abused, and the effects can be devastating to individuals and relationships. The testimony of history is clear. The destructive effects should be an easy sign to steer clear of drunkenness and be aware of how your drinking affects others (even if you don't become drunk).

I think churches should be very careful about serving alcohol, out of sensitivity to those who should not be drinking. It's not a good testimony to put beer or wine in front of alcoholics or children who should not be drinking.

There are many different cultural contexts for alcohol around the world. I have acquaintances in France who have been drinking wine since they were young children. It's simply part of meals and celebrations. They aren't getting drunk. John Wesley directed Methodists to abstain from alcohol - which was a perfectly reasonable thing for the Church to do as a testimony against the prevailing culture in England where alcoholism perhaps exceeded 60% of the English population and people were dying in the streets.

Most of the challenges in the Church come when we confuse personal convictions or cultural-based expectations and legalistically extend them as the measure by which to judge others inside and outside the Church.

Let me illustrate this with my own example. I don't drink any alcohol myself. I'm a teetotaler. I grew up in a region where people made excellent moonshine (corn liquor, also known as Everclear), and drank occasionally until I decided one day in college that I didn't need this anymore. I made a personal conviction that I wasn't going to drink alcohol. I believe God has confirmed that for me multiple times since then. But I don't judge others by that standard.

Don't miss my key point: Distinguish between a personal conviction and a rule that you apply to others. It's important and good to develop your own strong convictions. Do not take a legalist approach to judging others based on your personal conviction.

So, if you have a personal conviction on No Alcohol, don't use that to judge the "righteousness" of believers or not-yet-believers if they choose to drink alcohol.

And if you're using your freedom in Christ to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal, don't use that freedom to look down on teetotalers.

I do believe parents are responsible for protecting kids from inappropriate exposure to alcohol. Follow the laws in your country and region (see Romans 13 about living under authority). Train your children to think correctly about issues like alcohol consumption.

Preserving Freedom in Christ and Care Not to Harm Others

In Christ we have great liberty and freedom (Galatians 5:1), but we must be careful not to put stumbling blocks in front of others (1 Cor 8:9). I have met several youth pastors who feel perfect freedom in Christ to enjoy a beer. But they don't drink because their ministry to youth would be harmed. That's an example of not using our freedom in Christ because we might cause harm to others.
Sidebar: Biology Lesson on Alcohol Metabolism

Even casual observers note that some people "handle" drinking with fewer effects than others. You might think the ability to drink a lot is developed over time. Actually, your capacity for alcohol consumption is mostly genetic. There are two key enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism: alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde reductase. And there is genetic variation from person to person in the level those enzymes operate at. For example, the Irish and Bavarians and some other people groups have very efficient alcohol metabolism; some of these individuals can drink amounts that would put most people unconscious. American Indians have extremely inefficient alcohol metabolism; it doesn't take a lot of alcohol for them to experience the "buzz," and the effects are slow to wear off because the ethanol stays in their system longer. So there is genetic variation in alcohol metabolism.

Question: Who created that genetic variation? Answer: God did. Why do you judge your neighbor or your brother for having genetic variation that God created?

Another bit of biology: there is only weak-at-best evidence that alcoholism is a genetic trait. It does seem to run in families, but it is difficult scientifically to rule out environment effects. I think it's fair to say that the vulnerability to alcohol abuse may be genetic.

Christian maturity means standing on our freedom in Christ, but not using personal convictions as a legalistic standard for others (including other believers). Romans 14:4 is instructive here: "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand."

I hope this sparks some helpful discussion and insights for you. I look forward to hearing your perspective in the comments.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fruitful Preparation…And the Best is Yet to Come

Have you considered how much preparation Paul experienced before his missionary journeys? He was a highly trained Pharisee, the "best of the best of the best," and had dedicated his whole life to the study of the Scriptures. Let's review his next 17 years of preparation:

Saul is converted in Damascus (Acts 9) and almost immediately begins preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 9:20). Three years later (see Galatians 1:18 about this timing) Barnabas introduces him to the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27), and then…Paul is sent off to his home (Tarsus) because he stirred up deadly passion after debating with some Grecian Jews (Acts 9:30). Shipping Saul out of town must have diffused the tension, because the next verse tells us that church enjoyed a time of peace. Paul returns for a visit to Jerusalem fourteen years later, with Titus (Galatians 2:1-2). Some time later, Barnabas asks Paul to join him in Antioch and help the new church there (Acts 11:25-26). It's after all this that the Holy Spirit begins sending Paul out on his three missionary journeys.

We can infer three lessons from this period of ministry and preparation time:

1.He was alone during the three years in Arabia, and that likely was an important part of his preparation. Paul was not being taught by other men (Galatians 1:16), but receiving instruction from the Lord. I imagine he reviewed every part of the Pentateuch, Psalms, and haftarah (comprising what we call the Old Testament) and seeing it anew in the reality of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus as fully God and fully man, and Jesus as his Lord and Savior. I also suspect it was during this time that Paul learned to discern and hear the voice of God.

2.At some point during the 14 year period Saul changes his name to Paul. Name changes are significant! Paul was a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), and now has a new name.

3.Paul wasn't just practicing preaching in a room by himself, he was preaching and teaching among Jewish and Gentile audiences. His ministry had some success: Titus, a Greek Gentile, is an early convert who later becomes a key pastor. And people clearly testify that Paul was preaching about Jesus the Messiah. But we have no recorded letters from Paul during this period. There are no other stories about converts or miracles or establishing churches.

I believe there are two key applications for us today:

1.God doesn't shortchange on preparation for ministry (and neither should we). This chronology spans more than 17 years, and God's greatest work through Paul was yet to come.

2.God is so amazingly powerful that even ministry training is fruitful for His Kingdom.

I encourage you to think about your own situation in light of God's development program for Paul. God has used many people to invest in you for years: your parents, teachers, pastors, employers, friends, even your children. And He is calling you to invest generously in others, patiently helping instruct and develop them.

Understand this: God's best ministry through you is likely still in the future.

So let us go forward today in thankful confidence that our loving Lord is developing and training us for ministry in His Name, using all kinds of people and opportunities and experiences.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yes, the Virgin Birth Matters

Every year at this time I hear people -- even Christians -- arguing that the virgin birth of Christ is a legend like other myths, or is theologically unimportant.

Phooey on that.

The virgin birth of Christ is critically important. Matthew and Luke clearly represent the virgin birth as historical fact. The virgin birth means Jesus was both fully human (Mary as mother) and fully divine (God as father). Jesus did not inherit the curse of depravity through Adam's descendants.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Source of Illustrations

I frequently am asked "Where can I find illustrations to use when I teach and preach?"

Check out this resource: Fresh Sermon Illustrations

You do have to subscribe (free for 30 days, then $36/three years) but I think that's a small price to pay for a rich, steadily updated collection that is so easy to search.

(I don't earn any money from this recommendation.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bible Reading Plan

My observation is that people who read the Bible best are people who have a PLAN to read it systematically.

Your bible might have a reading plan in it; check. Or you may have one from somewhere that you liked and want to use again -- great!

If nothing else, start with this read the Bible in a year plan.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Make a Chart, a Table, a List

Justin Taylor has a terrific post about a Bible study method you should use, and you should teach your students how to do: Make a chart, table, or list.

It's not enough to teach your students the truth from the Bible. You must mentor them and coach them and teach them how to interact with the Bible for themselves and the people God puts in their sphere of influence. Do not make them dependent upon you.

Devotion idea: 10 Characterstics of David's Heart

David was described as a man after God's heart. Pastor Ron Edmondson has a nice list of 10 characteristics that describe David's heart.

This would make a nice short devotional for you to use!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Christian Meaning of the "Twelve Days of Christmas"

There is a controversial view that the "Twelve Days of Christmas" have a Christian origin:

1. The "true Love" is God. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)
2. Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments
3. French Hens refers to faith, hope, and love
4. Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels or the Four Evangelists
5. Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6. Geese A-laying refers to the six days of creation
7. Swans A-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion
8. Maids A-milking refers to the eight beatitudes
9. Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10. Lords A-leaping refers to the ten commandments
11. Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles
12. Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed"

I think it's most likely that the song was originally more secular, and then someone has reverse-engineered Christian symbolism into the lyrics. Still it's a fun way to think about it!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Want to See Change? Are You Willing to Do This?

"What sacrifices will you make for the change you want to see?"

That's the question I've been asking lately - for myself, my family, my ministry for Christ, for neighbors and nations. I want to see more people I know entering the Kingdom of God and serving joyfully for Christ. I want to increase the number of people competent to teach God's Word to others. I want my children to be strong in the Lord. I want our marriage to honor the Lord. I want to be a wiser leader and better steeped in Scripture. I want our church to grow by conversion and be an equipping center for sending people to neighbors and nations. I want to lose fat and build muscle so I can serve others better.

There are many changes I want to see. But positive changes require sacrifice. I will have to give up something that I kind of like, secretly enjoy, or even something that's been very effective in the past, in order to see the changes I want to see.

Much of my day-to-day life is built on mindsets, habits, and practices that I've held for months and years, and those routines are generally what produce the results I see. I have habits for studying the Word and for prayer, and routines about when and what I eat, how much I sleep, how I interact with my family and friends, how I spend money, what I do for entertainment. I'm not completely on autopilot, but I do have a many functional habits, rituals, and routines.

This is true for churches as well as individuals. We have treasured mindsets, habits, practices and routines that drive much of our time and energy. Routines and predictability give us comfort and give us strong foundations, up to a point. When they become the focus rather than God, they're idols. They're deadweight that pulls us down. Jesus is life, not rituals.

I'm not saying everything is bad and must be sacrificed! When we plateau and stop growing, then we need to seriously ask what needs to be sacrificed to grow again. If we want to see different results - positive changes - then we must wisely discern what mindsets, habits, practices, and routines need to be different. In short, we have to address the question "What sacrifices will you make for the change you want to see?"

We're weak people, of course. We tend to exploit two strategies to shortcut this question and avoid making sacrifices.

(1) First, we rationalize that the change we desire isn't going to happen anyway, or for a very long time, or is just not realistic for the near future. So we don't need to change anything about the way we live.

(2) Second, we displace the need for change on someone else. "I'm fine, I don't need to make any painful changes - it's those other people who need to change. Then everything would get better."

Be mature. Don't allow either of these to derail you from a tremendous growth opportunity, and drawing closer to God in obedience.

(If I haven't made you uncomfortable yet, please go back to the beginning and reread.)

Let me help you unpack your thinking.

Mindsets. How do you think about yourself? How you think about your spouse and children and extended family? How do you think about God's call on your life? What do your behaviors tell you about how you really think about people and situations?

Habits. Is there something mindless and useless that takes up more than a few moments of your week that needs to be sacrificed, however enjoyable? What are some habits that you know do not help you or help others? What are some positive habits that may still be a distraction from the desired change you seek?

Practices. What's the good thing which is the enemy of the best thing? Is there a constructive shakeup to the order in which you do things? What habits contribute to "numbed autopilot stumble along through life" behavior rather than dynamic growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Routines. What are our conventional schedules and programs which keep up busy enough to have no margin for creating and developing new ministry areas? What are the "sacred" things in our church life which have a big "Don't Touch" label - and why? What would it take to hear equal parts criticism and "Wow!" responses?

Working through this takes humility and prayer.

Let's push ahead for Christ's sake!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Not Self-Made...Better than Self-Made

Ever heard anyone described as "a self-made" businessman, preacher, or teacher?

There's no such thing.


Because God is always at work, and no one makes himself. We are creatures, not the Creator.

Now what they usually mean by that expression "self-made" is that a person reached some position or state without any help.

Teachers, you are not self-made. You've had a lot of help along the way.

Yes, I acknowledge that some people have had more help than others. But the fact remains that you've had a lot of help. Someone shared the Gospel with you. The Holy Spirit opened your eyes and heart to receive the Lord. Someone has enabled you to learn the basics of our faith. Someone worked to print that Bible you read. It's likely that many people have patiently worked with you since you were a child. And over all this, our sovereign Lord has been providing for you constantly.

Take heart from this: you're not self-made at all, but God-made!

Teach the Bible to change lives, dear friend.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Be a Scofflaw on the "Law" of Attraction

Periodically I'm asked what I think about "The Secret," the "Law of Attraction," and Napoleon Hill's "Think and Grow Rich." The basic idea is that the universe is your servant, and responds to your deepest thoughts. If you think the right way ("magnetically") about wealth, for example, the impersonal universe responds by delivering money to you. This magical thinking is an enormously popular idea with multiple incarnations in human history -- and fundamentally it's a religious idea.

I don't believe this religion squares with Scripture at all. Our thoughts our important, but our thoughts have no control over our environment, and the universe is not impersonal!

In fact, this kind of magical thinking is fundamentally narcissism. (Definition: inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.)

Sam Vaknin has written this about the narcissism of "magical thinking":

"Magical thinking is one of the hallmarks not only of pathological narcissism, but of a panoply of mental health disorders, including a few personality disorders, most notably the SCHIZOTYPAL personality disorder.

Magical thinking postulates that one is able to exert influence over other people, inanimate objects, and events, merely by projecting one's thoughts. Infants get over this worldview at age 3. Narcissists and other mentally disordered people don't.

The Law of Attraction teaches us that we are responsible for our actions and cognitions and should bear their consequences (which is a good, mature principle of action). But, it also claims that our thoughts translate into real-life events. We are, therefore, to blame for everything that is happening around us, to us, and to others, merely by mutely thinking about it! This is an onerous and terrifying burden to bear. It is the exact opposite of empowerment!

The Law of Attraction is also a fallacious organizing principle: we cannot always tell good from bad, because we cannot see into the future. Some events are blessings in disguise; the fortuitous or serendipitous character and the utility of some occurrences and people becomes known only much later in life; too much of a good thing (wealth, fame, even happiness) is frequently counter-productive.

The dichotomous, black and white view of the world, propagated by the Law of Attraction ("good" vs. "evil" or "bad") is considered a pathology in its own right: it is a defense mechanism known as "splitting" which characterizes early childhood (ages 6 months to 1 year) and vanishes in healthy adults."


So my counsel is to be a scofflaw of the "Law" of Attraction. Put aside childish notions about how the world works, and teach others to do likewise.

(Giving credit where credit is due: The link between magical thinking and narcissism came from a personal newsletter of Perry Marshall.)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

13 Ways to Bless a Missionary Without Paying for Postage

Excellent ideas for your family to use: "Thirteen Ways to Bless Missionaries Without Paying for Postage."

I especially like these two creative ideas:
  • Purchase an iTunes gift card for them. Have it sent to you and email them the account number.
  • Get friends and family together to create a holiday video greeting for them using Google Video or YouTube. Include lots of people you know they miss.

Read the whole list, see what you and your church can do.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Library of Christian Quotes by Topic

A good quote is a very helpful item to include in your sermons and lessons. A good quote is pithy, engaging, memorable, and gets key points across to a wide audience.

Here is a wonderful treasure for pastors, teachers, and leaders: The Grace Tabernacle Christian Quote collection.

Bookmark this! It's easy to find quotes you can use by their topical system.

Thanks to this church for making this resource available!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

"Christmas Lights Are Not the Gospel"

I recently received an email asking me to comment about keeping Christ in Christmas. Perhaps you can identify with him:

"Could you write
about keeping the focus of Christmas on Christ when you have
young children? This is something my family and I have struggled
with in light of not only the commercialization of the holidays, but
also the visual images (colored lights, trees, etc.) and the
predominance of secular movies and specials on TV.
I know, we could just turn off the TV, but we try to be as selective
as possible without being on a strict blackout. Would appreciate
your thoughts and practical suggestions."

First off, kudos to parents who have some concern about what their children take in, and want to help them interpret things well. This is part of our responsibility as parents, to train them to be discerning.

I think the real issue is to stay focused on Jesus year round. To be clear, I mean the biblical Jesus, not a watered-down pale and powerful imitation jesus that isn't the I AM, doesn't deal with sin, and can't save souls.

Let's separate this into a family issue (how to help our children understand), and the adults fighting the secularization and commercialization of Christmas (should I boycott Wal-mart if they don't say "Merry Christmas?").

On the family front, it's all about the dialogue you have in your home. Over years. With children individually and as a family. It's important to help your children understand the real story of Incarnation -- especially the why. Help them connect Christ's incarnation with his crucifixion and his resurrection. The secular/commercialization keeps Christmas separate from Easter, and therefore emasculates the power from the story.

It's also critical for parents to stress the giving side of Christmas traditions. This counters the selfishness inside us all that wants the focus to be on the getting.

Is it ok to watch Rudolph and laugh? Is it ok that the kids learn secular music like Frosty the Snowman? I say yes. They won't be able to connect with the culture God's called them to reach unless they understand these cultural touchpoints.

The key is to help your family understand the Gospel (which we need every day!) and also to understand that there are all kinds of traditions and practices that have sprung up around Christmas that are NOT the Gospel. Many of our cherished Christmas decorations (e.g., trees and wreaths) go back to Victorian England. Rudolph and Frosty are creations of the 20th century. Santa Claus has connections to Saint Nicholas (there are multiple possible stories), but the red-suited Santa at the North Pole with elves and sleigh is 20th century. December 25th is a date co-opted from another religion.

As your children get older you can do more to help them understand that these secular Christmas elements are a hollow shell compared to the beauty of the real Gospel, the real story of God Incarnate who came to die for you, and who conquered death. Yes, they're shiny and entertaining and attractive. But they're like cotton candy compared to the steak and potatoes of the Gospel, unsatisfying and teeth-rotting. And this understanding leads us to praise God for opening our eyes and hearts to His truth, and to pray that He would draw many others to Himself and save them, too.

Now, on to the adult "battle" against the secularization and commercialization of Christmas.

Satan has always been working against a correct understanding of the Gospel, including Christmas. He hates God and hates people made in the image of God. He is the real enemy here, and we're given instructions in how to fight against his crummy schemes (see Ephesians 6 and 1 Peter 5:9) -- standing firm on truth, prayer, faith.

I don't see anywhere in the Bible that we should expect not-yet-believers to preach the Gospel, tell Biblical stories correctly, or speak about Jesus if they don't want to. They're blind! They lack understanding! They're spiritually dead! So I'm not bothered if someone says, "Happy Holidays." It may create an opportunity to gently instruct someone. I don't need to freak out if a mall has Santa's sleigh and stuffed reindeer rather than a Nativity scene. It's an reminder to intercede for people. I am not interested in signing petitions or boycotting stores over these issues. Let's look for opportunities to love people, especially the hard-to-love.

Joke: Did you hear they're canceling nativity scenes in Washington, D.C.? Can't find three wise men.

In the US we're privileged people and should work to preserve our constitutional freedom of religion. Christians should not be people who put others down. Our nation has never been perfect on religious freedom, nor do I expect it to be. Not everything was ideal in the 1950s, or in any decade. I believe in Christians logically, calming invoking Constitutional rights and sharing from our history. But whining and wheedling and childish behavior should not be in our repertoire. I am not sure if our constitutional freedoms will always continue, but I am sure in our freedom in Christ -- including our freedom as we suffer.

Candidly, I fear the situation where we're relying upon civic and government institutions to get the Christian story right. That's the job of the Church, which is comprised of Christ-alive & transformed believing individuals.

Along these lines, please read Allen Murray's short article, "Christmas Lights Are Not the Gospel."

Text and Context

Pastor Matt Chandler has some helpful counsel on the importance of

* Understanding the biblical context of the text
* Standing on the authority of the Bible

Even if you know these things, it is important to be reminded. And make sure the people you teach understand these truths as well.

Friday, December 04, 2009

In Christ All Things Are Held Together

Being a Ph.D. Molecular Biologist, I love the story of laminin. Louie Giglio tells it well. (If you're pressed for time, start watching at the 3 minute mark.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Three Questions to Guide Your Word Study

One of the foundational skills you must develop -- and continue to sharpen your whole life -- as a Bible teacher is the ability to study the Word and discern its proper meaning. From the meaning we draw application.

Gerald Bray gives three excellent questions to guide your Bible text study:

The first question we must ask of every biblical text is simply this—what does it tell us about God? What does it say about who he is and about what he does?

The second question is: what does this text say about us human beings? What are we meant to be and what has gone wrong?

The third and final question is: what has God done about this and what does he expect of us in the light of what he has done?

Asking these questions and seeking answers to them will help us interpret the Spirit’s message to Christ’s people and to each of us as individuals.


Give these questions a try in your own personal study, and then help your students develop these questioning skills as well! Remember, we're developing self-feeding disciples who can help others, too, not just setting them up as dependents upon you!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Study....Really Study the Word

Great Bible teaching is based on thorough study of the Word. Period.

Yes, you can plagiarize lessons or sermons from someone else. You can get pretty far "borrowing" from others.

Yes, if they're available to you, you can just follow-along with the premade lesson plan or study guide. You might even look pretty knowledgeable and smooth.

But I am steadfast in my conviction that the best lessons and sermons -- the ones which most change you as well as your hearers -- are based in persevering study of the Word.

Teaching from Ephesians 1 this week? Read it 10 times a day. Create a markup copy of the text using your favorite text editor, and liberally mark it up with underlines, comments, connecting arrows, and insights as they come to mind.

Teaching on forgiveness? Decide on the passage(s) to use, and read them 10-20 times a day. Read them, chew on them, meditate on the meaning, pray over every word, and never be satisfied that you have drawn out all the understanding. When you can close your eyes and see the text in your mind, when you can hear it in your mind, you've started well.

This is the no-shortcut path to teaching the Bible to change lives.

P.S. To help you think about the importance of detailed observation...and repeated study of the same passage, in order to extract the most possible from it, read this famous story:

Agassiz was the founder of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and a Harvard professor. The following account was written by one of his students, Samuel H. Scudder, under the title “Agassiz and the Fish, by a Student” (American Poems, 3rd ed. [Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1879], pp. 450-54). Thanks toDavid Howard’s site for the reproduction of the original story.

Agassiz and the Fish
by a Student

It was more than fifteen years ago that I entered the laboratory of Professor Agassiz, and told him I had enrolled my name in the scientific school as a student of natural history. He asked me a few questions about my object in coming, my antecedents generally, the mode in which I afterwards proposed to use the knowledge I might acquire, and finally, whether I wished to study any special branch. To the latter I replied that while I wished to be well grounded in all departments of zoology, I purposed to devote myself specially to insects.

“When do you wish to begin?” he asked.

“Now,” I replied.

This seemed to please him, and with an energetic “Very well,” he reached from a shelf a huge jar of specimens in yellow alcohol.

“Take this fish,” he said, “and look at it; we call it a Haemulon; by and by I will ask what you have seen.”

With that he left me. . . . I was conscious of a passing feeling of disappointment, for gazing at a fish did not commend itself to an ardent entomologist. . . . .

In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish, and started in search of the professor, who had, however, left the museum; and when I returned, after lingering over some of the odd animals stored in the upper apartment, my specimen was dry all over. I dashed the fluid over the fish as if to resuscitate it from a fainting-fit, and looked with anxiety for a return of a normal, sloppy appearance. This little excitement over, nothing was to be done but return to a steadfast gaze at my mute companion. Half an hour passed, an hour, another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face—ghastly; from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at a three-quarters view—just as ghastly. I was in despair; at an early hour, I concluded that lunch was necessary; so with infinite relief, the fish was carefully replaced in the jar, and for an hour I was free.

On my return, I learned that Professor Agassiz had been at the museum, but had gone and would not return for several hours. My fellow students were too busy to be disturbed by continued conversation. Slowly I drew forth that hideous fish, and with a feeling of desperation again looked at it. I might not use a magnifying glass; instruments of all kinds were interdicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish; it seemed a most limited field. I pushed my fingers down its throat to see how sharp its teeth were. I began to count the scales in the different rows until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me—I would draw the fish; and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature. Just then the professor returned.

“That is right,” said he, “a pencil is one of the best eyes. I am glad to notice, too, that you keep your specimen wet and your bottle corked.”

With these encouraging words he added—

“Well, what is it like?”

He listened attentively to my brief rehearsal of the structure of parts whose names were still unknown to me; the fringed gill-arches and movable operculum; the pores of the head, fleshly lips, and lidless eyes; the lateral line, the spinous fin, and forked tail; the compressed and arched body. When I had finished, he waited as if expecting more, and then, with an air of disappointment:

“You have not looked very carefully; why,” he continued, more earnestly, “you haven’t seen one of the most conspicuous features of the animal, which is as plainly before your eyes as the fish itself. Look again; look again!” And he left me to my misery.

I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish? But now I set myself to the task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another, until I saw how just the professor’s criticism had been. The afternoon passed quickly, and when, towards its close, the professor inquired,

“Do you see it yet?”

“No,” I replied. “I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before.”

“That is next best,” said he earnestly, “but I won’t hear you now; put away your fish and go home; perhaps you will be ready with a better answer in the morning. I will examine you before you look at the fish.”

This was disconcerting; not only must I think of my fish all night, studying, without the object before me, what this unknown but most visible feature might be, but also, without reviewing my new discoveries, I must give an exact account of them the next day. I had a bad memory; so I walked home by Charles River in a distracted state, with my two perplexities.

The cordial greeting from the professor the next morning was reassuring; here was a man who seemed to be quite as anxious as I that I should see for myself what he saw.

“Do you perhaps mean,” I asked, “that the fish has symmetrical sides with paired organs?”

His thoroughly pleased, “Of course, of course!” repaid the wakeful hours of the previous night. After he had discoursed most happily and enthusiastically—as he always did—upon the importance of this point, I ventured to ask what I should do next.

“Oh, look at your fish!” he said, and left me again to my own devices. In a little more than an hour he returned and heard my new catalogue.

“That is good, that is good!” he repeated, “but that is not all; go on.” And so for three long days, he placed that fish before my eyes, forbidding me to look at anything else, or to use any artificial aid. “Look, look, look,” was his repeated injunction.

This was the best entomological lesson I ever had—a lesson whose influence was extended to the details of every subsequent study; a legacy the professor has left to me, as he left it to many others, of inestimable value, which we could not buy, with which we cannot part. . . .

The fourth day a second fish of the same group was placed beside the first, and I was bidden to point out the resemblances and differences between the two; another and another followed, until the entire family lay before me, and a whole legion of jars covered the table and surrounding shelves; the odor had become a pleasant perfume; and even now, the sight of an old six-inch worm-eaten cork brings fragrant memories!

The whole group of Haemulons was thus brought into review; and whether engaged upon the dissection of the internal organs, preparation and examination of the bony framework, or the description of the various parts, Agassiz’s training in the method of observing facts in their orderly arrangement, was ever accompanied by the urgent exhortation not to be content with them.

“Facts are stupid things,” he would say, “until brought into connection with some general law.”

At the end of eight months, it was almost with reluctance that I left these friends and turned to insects; but what I gained by this outside experience has been of greater value than years of later investigation in my favorite groups.