Book Giveaway 10/24/2014-10/31/2014

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 in Featured, Theology For Life

Book Giveaway 10/24/2014-10/31/2014

Coming October 31st is our second Issue of Theology For Life on the person and work of Jesus Christ titled “Christology: Christ, the Church, and the Christian Life“.  This issue will help you to not only understand what the Bible teaches about this vital topic but also to be equipped to answer objections to this doctrine. I encourage you to read our second issue Friday October 31 and be encouraged, but for now I hope you’ll enjoy our giveaway sponsored by our friends at Crossway, B&H Academic and Dutton Adult and please encourage your friends and family to check out our second issue of Theology For Life Magazine. 

The books being given away are three copies of Truth in a Culture of Doubt, one copy of Edwards on the Christian Life, one copy of God’s Design for man and woman, one copy of The Stories We Tell and two copies of Tim Keller’s new book on Prayer. There are eight books in total available and there will be eight winners.

Enter the giveaway below through punchtab:

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When A Pastor Gets Depressed

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 in Featured, The Gospel and the Ministry

When A Pastor Gets Depressed

Pastor, you are not weird if you battle with depression. You aren’t sub-Christian if you are in despair. It happens. You are human. You are real, organic matter—you are not like the unmeltable ice cream sandwich.

Last Monday, an untraceable sadness came over me. It wasn’t because we had a “bad Sunday.” We didn’t (whatever that means.) A young man, someone who I had been praying would come to Christ, pulled me aside before the second service and wanted to become a Christian. Hallelujah! I live for these moments.

I preached on Proverb 4:23 and watching our hearts, having joy in God, and keeping our lives in alignment with the King of Kings. After church, we went on to have a great lunch with friends; I even got in my nap.

And then Monday morning, right before lunch, I began to cry for no reason. I sat in my living room, while my ten-month old son was napping, and tears slid down my cheeks.

This had never happened to me. I didn’t know what was wrong. “Am I losing my mind?” I didn’t know how to feel. “Am I burnt out?” I was more than bummed. I felt upside down, shrouded in a silent thunderstorm. “What is wrong with me?”

When my wife came home, I was hunched over in the living room—resembling stage 2 of the monkey-man on the so-called evolutionary chart.

Natalie asked, “Jeff, what’s wrong?”
‘That’s the problem, I don’t know. I’m just sad. You haven’t done anything. No one has done anything. I’m just, just, I dunno.’

I put on my shoes, while holding back tears who are bullying their way out, to go to my weekly elder meeting. The last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to lay on the floor and wait for tomorrow.

I asked my brothers, my friends, my co-pastors— my pastors—to pray for me, telling them it seems like I’m depressed. What grace Christians are to one another.

I drove home from our meeting, crying, praying, crying out, “Lord, help me. Please. O, my God, won’t you please help me.”

And then, God spoke me.

HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DEPRESSION

He didn’t show up in my truck and speak to me. He brought his word to my mind.

Psalm 42 washed over me.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Hope in God. God, the Triune, Omni-loving, God is where we place our confidence and trust. Christ is the solid rock. Everything else? Sinking sand. In my sinking, I had to look up.

The Hebrew word for cast down also means melting, sinking, disintegrating, and despair. And as I looked at myself, I realized that most of my day I spent wallowing instead of hoping. I had been trying to pinpoint my despair instead of looking to the God of my life (Ps. 42:8). I wanted to figure me out—instead of walking by faith.

I began to preach the gospel to myself. “The greatest reality in my life is I’m secure in Christ. I am no rock. He is my rock. If Christ is stable, I am stable. My entire life is baptized into the blood of Jesus. I’ve been crucified with Jesus. And I’ve been raised with him. Even though I’m sitting on the ground crying, I’m sitting with him in the heavenly places.”

I kept telling myself the glories of the gospel until I believed them—until I hoped in God. Friends, we must keep looking at the cross—put our knees on blood-stained soil—until we hear, “It is finished!”—until we believe it.

I love that Psalm 42 doesn’t resolve with a man skipping down to Jericho. It fades to black. The scene dissolves, and we are left seeing a man battling to hope in God. This is reality.

In my battle, it took me few days to come back to sanity. While Monday was 100% chance of rain, Tuesday felt like 60%. But by the end of Tuesday, there was only a light shower of sadness, a mist, if you will. Two friends ministered to me; bearing my burden and fulfilling the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Another Acts 29 pastor took me to lunch and strengthened my hand in the Lord. One of my other pastors, came over and encouraged me, counseled me, and was simply there for me.

Spurgeon, a distant friend, ministered to me as well.

SPURGEON AND DEPRESSION

In Lectures To My Students, Spurgeon has a whole address on the issue of depression in ministry, “The Minister’s Fainting Fits.” I cannot help but commend the entire chapter and book to you.

When I thought about all that was weighing on my heart and mind, and all of the sadness I was experiencing, Spurgeon’s words were sweet counsel:

Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversions, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth?

Spugeon goes on to talk about the effects of studying, of not resting well, of sedentariness, of not having other pastors to lean on, etc. And then he talks about when depression comes upon us with no traceable cause, and how even in the midst of fruitful ministry, depression hits and we know not why:

If it be inquired why the Valley of the Shadow of Death must so often be traversed by the servants of King Jesus, the answer is not far to find…the man shall be emptied of self, and then filled with the Holy Ghost. In his own apprehension he shall be like a sere leaf driven of the tempest, and then shall be strengthened into a brazen wall against the enemies of the truth…

My witness is that those who are honored of their Lord in public, have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves and fall into the snare of the devil…

By all the castings down of his servants God is glorified, for they are led to magnify him when again he sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields praise.

From my experience, I agree with Mr. Spurgeon.

It is such a comfort to know that I’m not some anomaly, or Biblical weirdo, “Count it no strange thing,” Spurgeon says, “but a part of ordinary ministerial experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness.” And in one of his sermons on Psalm 42, Spurgeon tells us, “Depression of spirit is no index of declining grace; the very loss of joy and the absence of assurance may be accompanied by the greatest advancement in the spiritual life.”

The downward spiral of despair is a reminder to us pastors that we are still in great need of the risen Christ. Apart from him, we can’t do anything (John 15:5).

The Psalmist wrestled. Spurgeon wrestled. Piper wrestled:

I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times in the last twenty-eight years at Bethlehem I have fought back the heaviness of discouragement with these very words: ‘Hope in God, John. Hope in God. You will again praise him. This miserable emotion will pass. This season will pass. Don’t be downcast. Look to Jesus. The light will dawn.’ It was so central to our way of thinking and talking in the early eighties that we put a huge ‘Hope in God’ sign on the outside wall of the old sanctuary and became known around the neighborhood as the ‘Hope in God’ church.”

When we are leveled, cut down to the dirt, the Lord doesn’t look at us and scoff, “C’mon. Gimme a break, ‘Pastor.’ What’s wrong with you? Aren’t you better than this?” Rather, Jesus look at us and says, “My dear friend, I know exactly what’s wrong.”

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16 ESV)

If you find yourself in the discombobulation of depression, do not read this as a trite and mere yeah-yeah platitude: draw near to Jesus. His throne is one of grace. And there, right there with him, there is mercy and grace in our time of need. Pastor, let the gospel we preach to others be the gospel we preach to ourselves.

Hope in him.

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Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving God

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 in Book Reviews, Featured, Theology

Deuteronomy: Loving Obedience to a Loving God

Deuteronomy is one of those books that many find themselves bogged down in as they work their way through their yearly Bible reading plan. All of the laws, regulations, and endless chapters of do’s and don’ts seem very far removed from 21st century Christianity. Furthermore, finding a commentary that you can connect to and for that matter, one that demonstrates with great clarity the underlying message of the book of Deuteronomy is itself a challenge. Ajith Fernando’s effort on Deuteronomy aptly subtitled Loving Obedience to a Loving God which is part of the excellent Preaching the Word commentary series, is theologically deep while at the same time providing the reader with the necessary connections to the fundamental message God is declaring in Deuteronomy to believers throughout history.

A book of the Bible such as Deuteronomy can be confusing and admittedly boring to read unless one grasps what God is saying. Ajith Fernando rightly notes at the outset of this commentary that Deuteronomy emphasizes “The importance of constantly being aware of the holiness of God and how it influences a faithful life. In fact, in the Old Testament the life of faith is often described as walking in the fear of the Lord, an emphasis that may be needed today when people tend to be careless about sticking to Christian principles in every sphere of life.” Such a statement helps the reader better understand that Deuteronomy is far more than a collection of antiquated rules. It is a book about what obedience and holiness looks like and how we are to respond to God’s grace extended towards us.

Fernando first establishes some needed background information on Deuteronomy, noting matters of authorship, historical, and geographical importance noting the reality that “The fact that Deuteronomy was written to a specific context adds a freshness and relevance to it.” I appreciated the focus Fernando gave to helping preachers, who are after all the target audience for this commentary, understand and relate to the manner by which Moses shared God’s commands and word with the people of Israel. It is important to realize Moses understood the need to “give the people the word of God that will mediate to the people the health and stability they need in order to face their challenges successfully.” After establishing these vital foundational matters for engaging Deuteronomy, Fernando then begins his exegesis of the text. Since this is a rather lengthy commentary that is replete with salient insight, I will focus the remainder of this review on a couple of notable highlights.

In his analysis of Deuteronomy 1:19-33, Fernando aptly discusses the issue of fear versus faith. The people of Israel are camped at Horeb and have been given the command by God to depart in order to finally enter the Promised Land. One can only imagine the tense feelings that permeated the hearts and minds of the people during this time of uncertainty. Recognizing that element of fear, Moses reminded the people the Promised Land is the place “which the Lord our God is giving us”, demonstrating in that statement the certainty of the outcome. The first step towards entering the land of promise was faith in God and His promises. Fernando rightly notes “This passage shows us that fear is a reality that we should combat with our belief in the sovereignty of God. And to encourage us to believe, we have a whole history of God’s glorious dealings with his people. Fear is a reality, but it does not need to overcome us and lead to defeat. We can overcome it with our faith in God’s sovereignty.” Such a concept is something pastors can and should include in their sermons and Fernando does an excellent job of relating how the situation facing the people of Israel and their penchant for fear is nothing new. Such fear can only be defeated by faith in our sovereign God.

Another excellent portion of this commentary is Fernando’s discussion of Deuteronomy 5:18, namely the command “And you shall not commit adultery.” In an age where sexual promiscuity truly permeates all of secular society and unfortunately even within the church, it is as important as ever to declare from the pulpit God’s commands for righteousness when it comes to matters of sex and purity. Fernando correctly states “The seriousness of adultery lay in the fact that the family was an absolutely vital aspect of the covenant relationship of God with the community of Israel.” He further avers “The Bible takes the principle of commitment that lies behind God’s covenant relationship with humans and the covenant relationship between a man and his wife very seriously.” A violation of that covenant is a violation of God’s commands which of course is outright sin. Throughout Scripture, God continually demonstrates His abhorrence of adultery. Whether it was in the life of King David or Paul’s command to the Corinthian Church to flee sexual immorality, the covenant of marriage is something God takes very seriously meaning it is something His people should take with the utmost seriousness as well. There is no wiggle room with adultery. In order to combat the temptation of sexual sin, Fernando rightly reminds the reader to find an accountability partner and to “always remain on guard against the enemy. It is dangerous for anyone to think that he is above temptation in this area.”

A final aspect of this commentary I enjoyed was Fernando’s discussion of the pilgrimage festivals outlined in Deuteronomy 16:1-17. I have long found the Feasts of the Lord to be a fascinating study of God’s faithfulness to His people. They are far more than simply dates on the Jewish calendar or something completely unimportant for believers today to read and understand. As Fernando rightly states, “They were occasions of great joy and of affirming truths that bonded the community together.” Furthermore, these feasts carry great importance in God’s salvation history calendar as the spring feasts have been fulfilled by Christ and the fall feasts in large part have yet to find their complete fulfillment. In fact, when we partake of communion for example, we are remembering Jesus as the Passover Lamb. The Feast of Pentecost was fulfilled with the giving of the Holy Spirit of God in Acts 2. The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles reminds us of God dwelling with His people. Ultimately, these feasts speak of God’s faithfulness, sovereignty, and the need for community. They remind us of God moving throughout history on behalf of His people and Fernando does a great job of explaining that very truth.

I highly recommend this commentary for all believers but especially for pastors. The outstanding exegesis, valuable application, and recommendations contained throughout on how pastors can share the underlying message found in Deuteronomy of loving obedience to a loving God is what makes this volume well worth the read. It will become a valuable tool for developing sermons not just on Deuteronomy itself, but also in regards to the many topics Deuteronomy touches on that are repeated throughout Scripture.

This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Crossway Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Shock of the Ordinary in Romans 1:8

Posted by on Oct 23, 2014 in The Gospel and the Christian Life

Romans 1:8, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.”

That verse is shocking. It is shocking because considering our contemporary strategy for reaching the world for Christ, you’d expect it to read something much different. Something like this, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all you, that even though you are small and feeble you are hanging on. Nobody has heard of you yet, but we are gathering resources and soon enough the church in Rome will be thriving”.

Rome was the hub of civilization in the first century. If the early Christians wanted Christianity to have cultural legitimacy then they knew Rome would have to bow a knee to Jesus.

It’s logical isn’t it? You want to put all of your energy and resources into reaching these cultural hubs. Rome is where all the people are at. Rome is the influencer of the culture. And so if you want to reach Rome you do it with the best and the brightest that we have. This is the SBC’s present strategy with NAMB and our emphasis on SEND cities.

So you would think that the early Christians would have put all of their eggs in the basket of Rome. You’d expect the church at Rome to be planted by Paul or Peter or another studly apostle. But it wasn’t. It is most likely that the church in Rome was planted by regular ordinary people. No superstars. No apostles. No great speakers. No great church leaders. Just regular people that came to know Christ and the contagious gospel spread.

This is why I’m a little shocked by Romans 1:8. The church at Rome—the very important and significant church at Rome—was planted by ordinary folk.

I preached on this passage (Romans 1:8-17) last Sunday. In that sermon my aim was to encourage our congregation to have confidence in the gospel. My first point was on the shock of the ordinary in Romans 1:8. This ought to give us confidence because the gospel is contagious. It spreads through regular people that are excited about Jesus more than it does through the professionals.

To close the service I wanted to drive this point home so I used an illustration. (Actually it wasn’t a planned illustration it happened on the fly). I don’t know the stories of how everyone in our congregation has come to know Christ. And so I was taking a gamble—but one that I believed would work.

First, I asked every one who became a Christian in a church service to stand up. Whether it was a regular Sunday or a revival service or something else. About 10 of our 150 people stood up.

Then, I had those ten or so people sit down and then asked those who came to Christ through a friend or a co-worker to stand up. Almost the rest of the congregation stood up. When I asked those who came to Christ through a parent to stand up almost our entire congregation was standing.

It was a powerful moment because we saw with our eyes that God uses ordinary people to spread His gospel. Most people still assume that it is the work of us “professionals” (pastors, teachers, etc.) that really causes the church to grow. It isn’t. It’s you..ordinary…everyday…bumbling through a gospel presentation…you.

Let the shock of the ordinary in Romans 1:8 give you great confidence!

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Hidden in the Gospel: Truths You Forget to Tell Yourself Every Day

Posted by on Oct 23, 2014 in Book Reviews, Christian Living, Featured

Hidden in the Gospel: Truths You Forget to Tell Yourself Every Day

Preaching the gospel took on a whole new significance for me several years ago. I was going through a period where I was battling anxiety and fighting what to me seemed a losing battle. During this time preaching the gospel became one way I was able to face my battle with anxiety and other issues in my life head on. Even today, preaching the gospel has become a way to help me deal with the stress of life and ministry. In his new book Hidden in the Gospel, William Farley writes to help readers take hold of the truth of Scripture and apply it to their lives.

The book takes a journey through basic Christian doctrine with a view to help the reader apply it to their lives. The author states, “This book is about how to know God through the gospel story. It is about the joy that proceeds from getting to know God through the discipline of talking back to yourself—what some have called “preaching the gospel to yourself” (6).

Paul David Tripp is a well-known author, pastor, writer and counselor. On preaching the gospel to ourselves he talks about how we’re already preaching a message to ourselves. Our world is full of negativity and difficulty at every turn. How are we doing as God’s people eat looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith? Are we only being hearers of the Word and not doers. Farley wants us to take hold of our faith and appropriate it into every area of life. In chapter one he helps us do that through seven points: First, the gospel regularly and repetitively exposes us to the glory of God. Second, it helps us grow in humility. Third, preaching the gospel to ourselves will help us to be delivered from guilt, inferiority and low self-image. Fourth, preaching the gospel to ourselves accelerates our sanctification. Fifth preaching the gospel helps us to abound in thankfulness. Sixth, preaching the gospel to ourselves helps us to be hopeful. Finally, preaching the gospel to ourselves culminates in worship.

Maybe you’ve never considered the importance of preaching the gospel to yourself. Perhaps, you don’t know how to preach the gospel to yourself. Either way, Hidden in the Gospel has something for you. This book will help you to understand what it means to preach the gospel to yourself. This book will help even those who have experience preaching the gospel to gain further insight into this important spiritual discipline. Wherever you are at in your Christian life, this book has something for you. It will help you to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. This would be a good book to get in the hands of a new believer to help them understand not only what preaching the gospel to themselves means but also how to do it. I highly recommend this book and pray the Lord would use it in the life of His Church to awaken God’s people to their first love in Jesus and deepen their love and understanding of the gospel.

Title: Hidden in the Gospel: Truths You Forget to Tell Yourself Every Day

Author: William P. Farley

Publisher: P&R (2014)

I received this book for free from P&R for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Three Things to Remember When Visiting Christian Websites

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in The Gospel and the Christian Life

Every day I pilfer numerous articles and scope out what the Christian community says on the internet. Like anyone else, I gravitate to particular websites, ones that have my interest and loyalty.

These websites are marked by quality journalism and literary writing. Their editors are qualified, usually not just as writers or editors, but as scholars and pastors. Typically, these sites are loosely connected or aligned to a pastoral figure, a church, denomination, or are a collection of the aforementioned.

And every day, as I read these Christian websites, I give myself a subtle reminder. I rehearse it quietly to myself. Here is what I say: “This is not the Word, not my local church, not an ordinance.”

Why do I give myself these reminders? I remind myself because I am prone to wander from priorities and authorities. What follows are reasons for these cautions.

This is Not the Word

Sure enough, the Word of God is frequently the base of Christian articles. Yet, just like other forms of journalism, even the best Christian websites veer towards sensational op-eds. You have to carefully read and categorize every article. Ask yourself: “Is this exegetically driven? Or opinion driven?” This helps you determine what authority level you permit an article to have. Still, even if it is exegetically driven, you have to ask: “Does this interpretation or reading of the Word hold true?”

The Word is authoritative over your life. As the psalmist confesses, “Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true” (Ps. 119:142). Measure every article read against God’s truth. Likewise, don’t allow websites or articles to supplant time in the Word. They are no substitute for pulling out the Scripture and hearing directly from God.

Though they may bring you to the Word, Christian websites are not the Word.

This is Not Your Local Church

Community develops around Christian websites. You’ll connect with others that enjoy the same websites. Likewise, you’re bound to cross the same people in comment threads and develop friendships. These interactions, though genuine, are displaced by space. They are no substitute for your local church.

An aspect of local church community is that your local church sees you for who you are. In turn, you see them and submit to them, because the Scripture calls you to this, saying: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).

Too often, you have the freedom to project what you wish to others on Christian websites. Substituting digital community for local church community creates a vacuous space that lacks accountability. Furthermore, digital space caters to individuality. You visit what sites you wish and are not a holden to anyone for your behavior. This individualism is dangerous.

Jonathan Leeman in The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, reminds us that the dangers of individualism are not countered by community, digital or otherwise. He says, “The solution to individualism is not community. The solution — one fears to say it without pages of qualification — is to reintroduce a conception of submission to God’s revealed will as it’s located in the local church.” The local church requires you to submit to elders, other members, and to Christ when a Christian website cannot.

Likewise, though many websites have pastors writing and editing, none of them argue that they function as pastors in this role. These men do not have the capacity to cover you with authority nor the ability to do so because of the digital space that lies between you two.

Though Christian websites are a great place to learn about the church and fellowship with the wider church community, they are not your local church.

This is Not an Ordinance

This one is a surprising reminder. If you’re like me, you like to create laws for yourself. You like routine and gravitate towards it. But Jesus never said, “Thou shalt log in and read Christian articles daily.” This isn’t something you have to do; this is a freeing realization.

Though you enjoy checking out what’s being said by the Christian community on the internet, you have to remind yourself that it’s not part of your identity. Being adopted into sonship with Christ, calls you to baptism, the Lord’s supper, prayer, the Word, and the local church community. It doesn’t call you to keep up with what is being said on the web.

At times you may feel out of place because other Christians know what’s going on in the blogosphere and you don’t. But that knowledge doesn’t shape you like the ordinances Christ gave you. You’re shaped by taking in bites of the Lord’s body, not bytes of data from Christian websites. You’re washed in the stream of Christ’s blood through the waters of baptism, not by the stream of your twitter feed.

Though Christian websites are a great place to learn what Christ ordained, you’re not ordained to go to them.

This post first appeared at Joey’s blog and is posted here with his permission.

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