Christians, We Are Not Short-Changed!

Near Empty Cash RegisterI would venture to say that it is rather common for Christians to read their Bible with envy, of sorts, toward the grandiose ways in which God has worked and revealed himself on behalf of his servants of old, especially in the Old Testament. Adam and Eve actually walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden. Enoch walked with God and was not, for God took him. Noah received special revelation about the coming flood, built an arc, and ensured the survival of the human race. God spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in dreams and visions, promising them his special blessing by which they would bless all the families of the earth. God raised Joseph up to be the second in command of all Egypt, and through him the nations of the world survived a seven-year drought. God spoke to Moses from a burning bush, worked miracles through him, and led a mass exodus of his people from slavery to freedom. His people walked on dry ground through the Red Sea. God triumphantly went before them into the land of Canaan and delivered all their enemies into their hands. He raised up a kingly dynasty beginning with David which would rule forever. Prophets spoke great and mighty oracles of God, warning of present sin and prophesying of glorious and terrible Day of the Lord. Daniel’s lions had their mouths closed by God. Three Hebrew boys escaped the fiery furnace unscathed. Even after exile, God miraculously brought his people back from Babylon and reestablished them in the Promised Land. The wild, mysterious John the Baptist came preaching and baptizing in power. What exciting times in which to have lived!

In light of the mind-numbing ways in which God has revealed himself to his people throughout the centuries, as Christians today it’s easy to compare our experience with theirs and feel like we’re coming up short. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus makes this astounding statement in Matthew 11:11: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” From Adam to John the Baptist, there had never been a greater man. Not Abraham. Not Moses. Not David. Not Isaiah. John the Baptist was the single greatest man to have ever lived to that point. The reason for this is found in what Jesus says in verse 13: “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” That is, everything that Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah spoke of and experienced was merely preparation. Their lives were pointing to what was coming. They were signs along the highway of history alerting mankind to the fast-approaching arrival of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Each of them died without seeing the coming of the great and glorious lamb which would take away the sins of the world. John the Baptist, however, not only got to see him, but to him was given the task of personally introducing that one to the world. Certainly he was the greatest man to have ever lived up to that point.

Nevertheless, astonishingly so, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. You’re a citizen of God’s kingdom if Jesus is your King. You belong to God’s domain if God has personally revealed himself to you in Christ and you’ve bowed your knee beneath his rule. It’s the citizens of the kingdom that God has chosen to seal with his Spirit, dwelling within them. The very least significant person to fit this description is greater than John the Baptist.

John the Baptist died without seeing Christ crucified and resurrected. He introduced the Messiah to the world, but even John did not get to see the single greatest event to ever transpire in the history of the world: Jesus bearing the sins of the world and making atonement between a holy God and his sinful people. You and I have seen it. We have four incredible accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We have a history of the first-century church and of the initial spread of Christianity to the nations. We have letters which provide further commentary on Jesus’ gospel and on the spreading of the kingdom of God to all the world. We have prophecy detailing the end of this age and Jesus’ second coming. And in these sacred writings we are able to come to know the depths of God’s grand plan for all mankind like no one before could have ever dreamed. We live with the mysteries of God opened and made plain to us in ways that Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and even John the Baptist could have never imagined. Truly we are greater than John the Baptist. The possibility afforded us today to know God and his plan for his people through Christ, to walk and talk with him, and to be guided daily and personally by his Spirit is by all accounts superior to John the Baptist’s experience. God has not short-changed us as Christians today.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. And let him rejoice. And let him know God in light of the full revelation of Christ like John the Baptist never could have known him.

We Know What They Are Doing

Legal abortion in the United States turned 40 this January. In his stunning article “We Know They Are Killing The Children—All of Us Know“, John Piper gives 11 reasons why we as a nation know that abortion is the murder of innocent children. I would strongly recommend you read the entire article for yourself, or at the very least read my attempt at a summary of his points listed below.

1. Anecdotally, abortionists will admit they are killing children.
They argue the right for a mother to choose is more important than the right of the baby to live.

2. States treat the killing of the unborn as a homicide.
Is it not mind-bending that the desire of the mother determines if a developing fetus is a human or not?

3. Fetal surgery treats the unborn as children and patients.
It is certifiably insane to abort some children at 22 weeks while desperately trying to save others through intra-unterine surgeries.

4. Being small does not disqualify personhood.
A six-month-old has no less right to live than an 18-year-old.

5. Not having developed reasoning does not disqualify personhood.
A newborn cannot reason either, yet to take his life is universally recognized as murder.

6. Being in the womb does not disqualify human personhood.
A person’s humanity is not based on physical location.

7. Being dependent on mommy does not disqualify personhood.
You’re state of dependence upon another does not determine whether or not you are a human being.

8. The genetic makeup of humans is unique.
At conception a completely unique being comes into existence that didn’t exist before and will never exist again.

9. All the organs are present at eight weeks of gestation.
They’re still developing and not independent of the baby’s mother yet, but they’re there and will become independent if they’re given time.

10. We have seen the photographs.
(See for yourself here.)

11. When two rights conflict, the higher value should be protected.
The right of a baby to live is of higher value than the right of a woman to choose whether or not she wants to be pregnant.

Echoed throughout his article are the words, “We know what we are doing.” And he’s exactly right. We know. We all know. Please wake up. Please open your eyes and see. Yet precisely because we know, we are able to repent, and God can forgive.  God is near to those who call on his name.  Praise him for his steadfast love.

A Single Compound Sentence That Changed My Life

A very well-read man has said, “Books don’t often change your life.  Single sentences from books change your life.”  Words, then—even a mere sentence-full of them—are very powerful.

One such sentence that has impacted me perhaps more than any other I’ve ever come to know is a single, compound sentence from Isaiah 41:10.  There, God says to his people,

Fear not, for I am with you.

I have never read a single sentence that has impacted me as much as that one has.  It is incredibly simple as far as sentences go—two independent clauses joined neatly together by a coordinating conjunction.  And yet, the truth behind such deceptively simple sentence construction is breath-taking.

To begin with, God tells his people, “Fear not.”  It’s a command.  What’s more, it’s a command regarding our emotions.  He’s commanding us not to be afraid.  He’s ordering us not to feel fear.

Why?  On what basis would he make such a claim?  He doesn’t leave us guessing.  He gives us a rock-solid reason as to why we should not be afraid, introduced by the little word “for,” meaning because.  He commands us not to fear because he is with us.

I could not overstate the staggering implications of the fact that God is with me.  The thought has filled me with the deepest sense of awe and peace more times than I can now count.  The very being who stretched out the stars with his fingers (Psalm 8:3) and who actively upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) is, right now as I type these words, with me.  He is present.  He is here.  He is with me.

I think this verse has meant so much to me over the past few years because of all that I see in that word “with.”  He’s not against me.  He’s for me.  He’s not distant.  He’s close.  He’s not working in opposition to me.  He’s working for my good.  He’s not aloof of my doings.  He’s involved at the very minutest detail of everything I do.  He’s not cold and indifferent to my needs and wants.  He knows me inside and out because he’s right here with me.

Ever needed someone to simply be with you?  It is impressive to me how someone’s mere presence, sometimes, is enough.  God is always with me.  He is good, and he is powerful, and he is with me.  As the psalmist said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).  It is beyond my ability to fully grasp.

May you come to know God this way.  So I say to you as God has so often whispered to me, “Fear not, for I am with you.”

The Best of 2012

The results are in.  The counts have been finalized.  The numbers are clear.  Here is a list of the most popular posts made to this blog in 2012.  Drum roll please!

Number 5

Beginning the list at number five is “Lessons From Job, Part 6,” published on January 10.  This was the last installment of a six-part series on truths that had impacted me greatly from the book of Job.

Number 4

Number four on the list is “Living (and Dying) in Hope,” posted September 8.  I wrote these words after receiving the news that a dear high school music teacher of mine, Gary Fiscus, had succumbed to his long battle with cancer.

Number 3

The third most popular post of 2012 is “Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting,” published December 15, written in the wake of the terror in a school in Connecticut.

Number 2

Coming in at number two is “Time for a (Real) Change,” posted on April 10.  This post delves into a realization I came to shortly after my wife and I moved to a new house.  While all my surroundings were new, it turned out I was the same ol’ guy.

Number 1

And the most popular post made to this blog in 2012 is “Shots Fired,” written and published on November 23.  This post recounts the events that took place while my wife, mom, and mother-in-law were at a mall in Omaha, NE, early in the morning on Black Friday.

There you have it, folks.  The top five posts of 2012.  May they be a blessing.  Grace and peace to you as you begin 2013.

A Rock in a Hurricane

There is incomprehensible suffering in this world.  It shouldn’t be! our hearts cry out.  And our hearts are right.  A gunman shouldn’t shoot 26 people in cold blood, 20 of them defenseless children, in an elementary school. A group of men shouldn’t gang rape a woman on a public bus and then throw her off it for dead. Terrorists shouldn’t run airplanes into buildings. A country’s entire economic system shouldn’t be dependent upon labor inhumanely exacted from black slaves. A husband shouldn’t be so arrogant and self-centered when his wife is tired and needs encouragement.

And yet these things happen. They happen every day. We hear about some in the news. Most don’t draw much media coverage at all. And in light of such horrors, people begin to look for relief from the horrors that surround them—and from the horrors that torment them.

Christianity has the answer, but it might not be exactly what you think it is. To be very clear, Jesus is the answer. What you need in the middle of terror—any terror or calamity or sorrow or hardship that you’ve ever faced, are facing right now, or ever will face—is Jesus right there, right beside you, with his strong, sovereign arms around you ensuring you that this pain won’t consume you.

I would gently and lovingly caution you, however, from misunderstanding what I mean when I say that Jesus is the answer. What I don’t mean is that you need Jesus so that big, strong Jesus can remove you from your terror or calamity or sorrow or hardship. In fact, Jesus and the inspired biblical writers make it very clear that following him would increase the tribulations you face in this world (John 16:33; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; 2 Thessalonians 3:2-4; 1 Peter 2:20). What I mean when I say that Jesus is the answer to your deepest longings and most pointed pains is that you need Jesus to be the rock under your feet so that when the winds blow and when the storm comes, while you may be struck hard by the merciless waves, you won’t be utterly shaken and washed away.

Jesus doesn’t promise to remove all your heartache. He promises to walk beside you through it and ensure it doesn’t consume you. That is the hope we have in him. This rock-solid truth is what the world longs for and can’t find. As we enter 2013, I pray that you wouldn’t be one of those left wanting.

A Letter to Rose French

John Piper (photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune)

Star Tribune columnist Rose French wrote an article about Pastor John Piper’s transition from his role as the lead preaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church. You can read that article in its entirety here: “Fiery preacher living pulpit, but this won’t be his last word.”

That article inspired me to write a letter to Ms. French, which I e-mailed to her. Below is that letter in full.

———————————————————————–

Dear Rose French,

I read your article in the December 30th Sunday paper about Pastor John Piper. Even though you made several references to John Piper’s “fiery” preaching against sin, and even though John Piper himself, as you noted in your article, “makes no apologies for his theology,” it is my earnest prayer for you that you might come to see that such teaching is absolutely liberating, life-giving, and altogether precious. It is not dour and old-fashioned as many believe.

It is very loving for a doctor to tell his patient who’s been suffering with headaches for months that she has a brain tumor the size of a golf ball and that it needs to be removed immediately or she will die. In fact, it would be hateful for him not to tell her. That’s Pastor John’s tone when he “preaches judgment against sinners”. It is a very brave, gracious, loving act, especially when it’s coupled with the news that there’s a cure!

One does not have to look too deeply to see that humanity has a serious problem. In the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary, Governor Dan Malloy well said, “Evil visited this community.” Evil is real and manifests itself all around us every day. But it’s not isolated to crazed gunmen. The same evil manifests itself when I speak harshly and act selfishly with my wife. It manifests itself when children rebel against their parents and parents abuse their children. It is at the root of every broken relationship you’ve ever experienced, Ms. French.

You and I and all of us are suffering terrible headaches, but it’s not hateful for a man, perhaps a man like Pastor John, to come along and tell us that there’s something deeper causing those headaches—a spiritual cancer, if you will—a cancer that Christianity calls sin. It’s the beginning of hope. Now that we know what the problem is, we can finally begin to search for a solution.

Of course, the story of Jesus found in the Gospels offers such a solution. (This is the part of Pastor John’s preaching that you didn’t include in your article and that I desperately want you to know!) You don’t have to let the spiritual cancer that has you in its grip right now in this very moment win. There’s a man sent from God 2,000 years ago who lived a perfect life. He never sinned. He perfectly fulfilled every last one of God’s laws. He wasn’t infected with the disease that infects all the rest of us. That Jesus died on a Roman cross and in so doing accomplished two things. One, he suffered the punishment that God demands for breaking his good laws. If God didn’t punish evil like the murder of 20 defenseless children and the reputation-killing remarks I’ve made about my friends and family, then he wouldn’t be a just judge. So Jesus offered to take that punishment (and did so on the cross) to fulfill that demand.

Number two, Jesus credits his perfect life to all those who believe in him and who receive him. That is, when a person embraces and welcomes and trusts and hopes in Jesus as his or her only hope, God credits Jesus’ perfect life as if that person had lived a perfect life. The separation that exists between God and man due to man’s sin is removed, and Jesus reconciles the two.

I am in awe of it again as I type these words to you, Ms. French, and it is my prayer that such realities would fall on your ear not as harsh and archaic but as liberating and beautiful.

Thank you for your story about this beloved man who has offered hope to many hurting, cancer-ridden sinners like myself. Yes he rightly identified the cause of my headaches, but he also held out for me a beautiful cure that has been the source of more joy to my soul than anything else I’ve ever tasted. May you come to share in my joy.

Grace and peace to you,
Eric Evans

“He Will Be Great”

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her the news that she, a virgin, would give birth to a Son, one of the things that he told her was very simply this: “He will be great” (Luke 1:32). The child who would be born to Mary and Joseph would one day be a very great man. But just how great?

Jesus is great because he brought atoms and planets and galaxies into existence (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:16).

Jesus is great because right now in this instant he upholds every created atom in the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus is great because he is the Word of God who both was God and with God in the beginning (John 1:1-3).

Jesus is great because in him are the life and light of men (John 1:4).

Jesus is great because when he shines into darkness, darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).

Jesus is great because though he was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and was he in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwell[ed] bodily” (Colossians 2:9), he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).

Jesus is great because he loved those who hated and rejected him most (John 1:10-11; Matthew 5:44-45).

Jesus is great because not only did the Creator humble himself to serve his creation, he also “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) that sinful mankind might be reconciled to the Father.

Jesus is great because he is the spotless “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) that we might stand in hope before a holy God.

Jesus is great because he faithfully finished the task his Father gave him to complete: to seek and to save the lost (John 19:30; Luke 19:10).

Jesus is great because he was perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Jesus is great because he never did any wrong (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus is great because the name his Father has given him is great (Hebrews 1:4-5; Philippians 2:9).

Jesus is great because one day the knee of every created being will bow before him and confess that he alone is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).

There is no one like him. Among the great men of history, he stands head and shoulders above the rest. No one is like him in power and in humility, in strength and in meekness, or in wisdom and in innocence. No one compares to him in purity, in righteousness, in justice, in self-control, or in self-sacrifice. He alone embodies all honor, beauty, joy, peace, gentleness, and kindness. No one holds a candle to this one who would be great.

He is the greatest because despite greatness he became the least. He is the highest because despite the lofty heights in which he dwelled, he became the lowest. He is the most glorious because despite unspeakable honor, he became the most dishonored.

Who can stand beside him? Who can comprehend him? Who can overtake him? Who can bind his hand?

Truly Jesus was great. No other human being to ever walk the earth comes close. This is the one I follow. This is the one who invites you now to follow him, too. He would be your greatest hope if you would have him.

The Inductive Bible Study: A Step-by-Step Guide

Yesterday I posted an introduction to the inductive Bible study method. Today I wanted to examine each of the three steps of this method in depth.

Step One: Observation
The guiding question for this step is What does the text say? You begin the inductive method by diving into the verse or verses you’re studying and making a list of everything you see or wonder about. Here you write down all your questions you might have of the text. Imagine the words of the passage you’re studying are inside a bag. Your job during this stage is to pull each word from the bag, lay it out in front of you, and examine each in detail.

Ask Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?  Try to determine the significance of words like and, but, so, therefore, because, so that, while, and as.  How does the first part of the verse relate to the second part of the verse?  Why does the verse start with the word and?  Why did the writer say ____ instead of ____?  Who is the “you” in this verse?  Who is the “he”? What in the world does that word mean?

And don’t shy away from any questions whose answers may seem obvious to you. By merely writing down the question, you’re causing yourself to slow down and consider that particular point more in depth. You might surprise yourself at all you’re able to learn from an “obvious” question.

Watch a walk through of the first step below:

Once you have a list of questions, it’s time to move on to step number two.

Step Two: Interpretation
Our guiding question for the second step is What does the text mean?  During the first step, we pretty much ignored context. During this second step, however, we pull in the surrounding verses, the previous and following chapters, the rest of the book, and even our knowledge of the wider Bible, and we work to answer the questions we made during step one in order to get at the intended meaning of the text. If we wrote down any statements during step one, we push into them to take away all we can. Use a dictionary to help you define unfamiliar (or even more familiar) words. Use a Bible commentary or other resources to help you nail down your questions.

Watch a walk through of the second step below:

When you’re satisfied with the answers you’ve found for your questions, you’re ready for step three.

Step Three: Application
James warns us that we are to be doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22). Thus the point of Bible study is to live out the truths that you mine from God’s word. The point is not to stockpile your brain with pretty thoughts and ideas. Live it, or it ain’t real!  The guiding question for this last stage of the inductive Bible study method is How can I apply the text to my life?

Once you arrive at this stage, the goal is to write down one or two things that you can take from all you’ve studied and put those things into practice. It will prove most helpful to you if the applications you make meet three criteria: that they be measurable, attainable, and timely.

Your application is measurable if it is very clear whether or not you’ve accomplished your goal. For example, it’s not as helpful to say, “I want to pray more.” What’s more? How will you know if you’ve accomplished your goal? Instead, say something like, “This week, I want to pray three times before I go to bed.” That way, at the end of the week, you can look back and count the times you prayed before you went to bed and know whether or not you completed your goal.

Your application is attainable if it is a goal that you are reasonably capable of carrying out. Don’t say that this week I’m going to run 100 miles a day. You won’t do it and will feel miserable for failing to meet your goal. Say that you’re going to walk 10 blocks this afternoon. Start small. God will grow you.

Finally, your application will be most helpful to you if it is timely. Instead of me saying I hope to love my wife better, I should plan something specific that I’m going to do for her this Saturday. Putting a time frame on your goal helps you to be more faithful in carrying it out.

Watch a walk through of the third step below:

As a word of personal testimony, I have reaped so much benefit from using the inductive Bible study method over these past few months.  I think this tool helps me focus my otherwise scatterbrained… um… brain.  Forcing myself to write out the questions I have for a particular text and then answering them is a very helpful way for me to keep myself on task while studying the Bible and for me to track my progress.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8).  Grace and peace to you as you study your Bible.

Accepting the Unexplained: Hope After Sandy Hook

“Yet Listen Now”
by Amy Wilson Carmichael

Yet listen now,
Oh, listen with the wondering olive trees,
And the white moon that looked between the leaves,
And gentle earth that shuddered as she felt
Great drops of blood. All torturing questions find
Answer beneath those old grey olive trees.
There, only there, we can take heart to hope
For all lost lambs—Aye, even for ravening wolves.
Oh, there are things done in the world today
Would root up faith, but for Gethsemane.
For Calvary interprets human life;
No path of pain but there we meet our Lord;
And all the strain, the terror and the strife
Die down like waves before His peaceful word,
And nowhere but beside the awful Cross,
And where the olives grow along the hill,
Can we accept the unexplained, the loss,
The crushing agony,—and hold us still.

There are things done in the world today, like the cold-blooded murder of 20 elementary children, that “would root up faith, but for Gethsemane.” That is, I would lose all hope and faith in God in light of such events were it not for the fact that Jesus walked the road of suffering first. There is “no path of pain” that anyone will ever walk that is unfamiliar territory for Jesus. There are no painful trails that any man will ever navigate on which Jesus is not already standing, waiting to embrace those who call on his name.

The reality of Jesus’ horrific death does not lessen our experience of pain. However, the cross does make it clear that pain and suffering do not get the final word. For though Jesus endured the worse death ever crafted by the wicked hearts of man—Roman crucifixion—he also rose again and in so doing offered that very same hope to all those who would believe on his name. The greatest hope any citizen of Newtown could have tonight is that of a crucified and risen savior who offers to them the same hope and joy that allowed him to endure the cross: the hope and joy of an assured resurrection.

May you know this hope, and may it help you “accept the unexplained, the loss.”

The Inductive Bible Study Method: An Overview

Today and tomorrow, I will be posting a two-part article about the inductive Bible study method that I learned over the summer from a dear friend of mine.  Toady’s article serves as an introduction to the method as a whole, and tomorrow’s post will dive into the specifics of each step.  It is my hope that you might benefit from this helpful tool as much as I have.

An Introduction to the Method
The inductive method is a way to study your Bible that “uses the Bible itself as the primary source of information about the Bible.  In inductive study you personally explore the Scriptures apart from conclusions Bible scholars and other people have drawn from their study of the word…. In inductive study, commentaries, books, tapes, and other information about the Bible are consulted only after you have made your own thorough examination of the Scripture…. Inductive Bible study draws you into personal interaction with the Scripture and thus with the God of the Scriptures so that your beliefs are based on a prayerful understanding and legitimate interpretation of Scripture—truth that transforms you when you live by it (How to Study Your Bible, Kay Arthur, pages 8-9, emphasis mine).

Arthur also says about this method that “The main requirement in learning to study the Bible inductively is the willingness to slow down and really look at what the Scripture is saying” (p. 8).

The inductive method consists of three steps: observation, interpretation, and application.  (These three steps will be spelled out in more detail in tomorrow’s post.)  By using this method we want to find out what a Bible passage says, what it means, and how we can apply it to our lives.

A Note On “Inductive”
Reasoning can work in two directions. Deductive reasoning moves from general statements to a more specific conclusion. Inductive reasoning moves from specific premises to a general conclusion. To read more about the difference between the inductive and deductive reasoning, click here.

I cannot overstate the importance of studying the Bible.  While it is true we can learn a lot about God by studying his creation, in the Bible God has spoken in human words–words that can comfort and encourage and terrify and relieve the heart like the galaxies never could.  May this simple tool called the inductive Bible study method inspire you to get into God’s word and get God’s word into you.

A Step-By-Step Guide
Click here for a more in-depth look at each step of the inductive method, including short video tutorials I created.

Related Articles from juleslapierre.com
Inductive Study Basics – Part One
Inductive Bible Study Basics – Part Two
Inductive Bible Study Basics – Part Three