Make Disciples

At least five times in the Bible Jesus puts his disciples on mission to proclaim the gospel and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:46-48, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8).  The text in Matthew gives us an interesting instruction:  Make disciples and teach them all that Jesus commanded.  This suggests that making disciples in about inviting a lost person to be a Kingdom citizen and then teaching him or her the Kingdom ethic in which we are called to live.  

Over the past few months, Jared Jenkins, Brett Ricley, and I have been discussing both sides of the Great Commission coin.  This discussion resulted in a Salty Believer Unscripted series called, "Make Disciples" and will likely be the seeds of another series called, "Grow Disciples."  

In this series, we stick to the evangelism side of making disciples and deal with six spheres of evangelism as Joel Southerland teaches.  We fully recognize that it would be gross negligence to see someone saved and then just abandoned them to learn and grown alone; however, we kept this series to the first part of making disciples--sharing the gospel and introducing lost people to Jesus. 

All three of us grew in area of evangelism during this series and we've shared our journey along the way.  I learned how necessary a wide variety of methods is when we live in a world so full of diverse thinking and attitudes.  We have and are trying all of these methods at Redeeming Life Church to find out what works for us in our context.  It's been extremely interesting and informative.  But through it all, I've really come to see the importance of simply being faithful. 

You can find Salty Believer Unscripted on iTunes, subscribe to the non-iTunes feed, or listen here: 

Make Disciples
-- Part 1, An Introduction audio
-- Part 2, Snatching Some From the Fire audio
-- Part 3, A Biblical Relational for Missions and Evangelism audio
-- Part 4, 6 Spheres of Evangelism audio
-- Part 5, Prayer audio
-- Part 6, Personal Evangelism audio
-- Part 7, Revival audio
-- Part 8, Event Evangelism audio
-- Part 9, Service-Driven Evangelism audio
-- Part 10, Sunday Service Excellence audio
-- Part 11, A Mission to the Nations audio

The Forgotten Mission Field

Missions and evangelism--really one in the same--are important.  At least five times Christ called his people to reach the world with the gospel (John 20:21, Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:46-48, and Acts 1:8).  This means we should be reaching the world around us as well as collectively reaching every corner of the globe.  Some have taken up this call and faithfully dedicated their lives to this purpose.  Others use their vacation time to serve missions a couple weeks of their year; while still others use missions as a "religious cover" for a vacation. Whether in our communities and at the work place, or around the world, the life of the Christian should include some kind of answer to this call. (This however is not the entirety on the Christian life as some passionately argue.)

Many of us in American gravely overlook, even forget an obvious mission field.  It's the ministry to children in our local churches. The Bible clearly shows that parents have a responsibility to teach their children, but this is not to say that the local church can't be there to help.  And what about the families where parents aren't Christian but may attend a local Christian church?  I went to church as a child but wasn't a believer until I was 25. What about guests?

Working with children can be difficult, but not always. 

A teacher or servant-hearted volunteer working with children could have an impact on the next generation and maybe many generations to come.  He or she may also impact this generation because the child could potentially be how God reaches the parents.

If you feel called to teaching, preaching, missions, or evangelism, deeply consider a ministry that reaches children.  I'm sure there's a children's ministry that could use your help.

*Photo by Cosey Tutti is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission.

Beloved: A Love Letter From God

Reading the book of 2 Peter--a letter from God, through Peter, to Christians everywhere--one word should pop out.  Beloved.  Agapetos or agapetoi in the Greek are the words that are often translated into the English word, beloved.  In 2 Peter 1:17, Peter uses this word quoting the Father's words at Jesus' transfiguration.  At 2 Peter 3:15, Peter uses beloved to describe our brother Paul.  In the other four uses, it is a term of endearment toward the reader.  But is it Peter who loves reader?  Maybe.  Peter did have a great love for Christians; however, it is God who calls Christians everywhere 'beloved.'

Some may dispute that 2 Peter is a letter to Christians everywhere specifically from God, especially when 2 Peter 1:1 says, "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (ESV).  But in this very letter Peter says,"For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21, ESV).  If 2 Peter is Scripture, than it is prophecy and therefore not written by the will of Peter, but by God as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit."  This is a letter from God and it is written to Christians everywhere.

The use of 'beloved' in 2 Peter 3:14 is especially encouraging.  God (through Peter, carried by the Holy Spirit) says, "Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (ESV).  When we look at this verse in light of what the rest of the Bible says, we know it is impossible to be without spot or blemish apart from Christ, the only one who is without spots or blemishes (1 Peter 1:17-21).  We trade our sin for Jesus' righteousness.  We trade our lies and likes of the false prophets for the Truth of the gospel of Jesus.  He takes our sins, dies for them, and gives us a perfection we will one day share with Jesus in his glory.  And the same is true for peace.  Apart from the knowledge that our Lord is coming back and believers will live in eternity with God, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be at true peace.  We trade our waring soul for one that is at peace with Christ.

When we see that we are beloved, we really ought to see that we not only traded our spots and blemishes and our worry, doubt, and rage for salvation, we are now seen with love by the Father.

In the four Gospels, the word beloved is used in some interesting ways.  In Matthew 3 and Luke 3 the word appears at Christ's baptism.  Here there is an audible voice that says "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."  At the transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 an audible voice again introduces Jesus, saying, "This is my beloved son, listen to him."  Matthew quotes Isaiah in Matthew 12 showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the coming messiah and beloved son.  And even Jesus uses this word about himself when he uses a parable in Mark 12 and Luke 12 about a vineyard owner who has bad tenants.  Eventually this owner sends his beloved son.

God's people, that is, those who have repented and accepted Jesus as Lord become children of God, being loved as Jesus is loved.  Romans 9:25-26 is a quotation of Hosea 2:23 and Isaiah 10:22-23.  It reads, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God'" (ESV).  In Christ, we become children of God, sharing in Christ's inheritance and we gain entry into the "kingdom of his beloved son" (see Colossians 1:11-14).  By no means did we earn this love because as it is said in Romans 5:8: "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (ESV).     

If you are a Christian, repentant and calling on Jesus as Savior and Lord, then 2 Peter is a letter to you, from God.  As you read this letter, do not see it as anything other than a message from a loving father to a son or daughter.  Beloved, God loves you! 


* Photo by user Pimthida is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Picking a Mid-Level Bible

I recently encouraged parents to select a Bible written in terms their child can understand.  Early in a child's growth, this may be something like the Jesus Storybook Bible.  This is not a stretch; parents tend to be excited about buying a child her first Bible; but then there's a disconnect between her first picture-book (or over-simplified Bible) and the adult translation she'll own later.  At some point, children need a full Bible they can read, understand, and enjoy.

There are a couple ways a parent can go.  The first option is to get a para-phrased Bible like The Message.  A para-phrased translation takes the general ideas behind giant amounts of text and writes a giant amount of text in English.  Para-phrased translations sometimes get a bum wrap because they are not the best option for study, but they are a good option for general reading and sometimes even devotional reading.  Eugene Peterson, author/translator of The Message, says in his preface,
"The Message is a reading Bible.  It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available.  My intent here (as it was earlier in my congregation and community) is simply to get people reading who don't know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again. [...] So at some point along the way, soon or late, it will be important to get a standard study Bible to facilitate further study" (NavPress, 2002, page 8).    
The different theories behind translating the Bible are many, as are the different purposes behind the translations.  It's important to understand the theory and approach of the different translations in order to understand which translation is right for the task at hand.  Often however, the theory and purpose is less concerned with the vocabulary and reading level of children.  Even Peterson's simplified The Message is focused on adult readers.

The second (and better option) is to find a Bible that was translated with children in mind.  There are not nearly as many full Bible translations with children in mind as there are picture-Bibles, but I've found one that seems good.  The New International Readers Version (NiRV) was specifically translated with children in mind.  Their goal was to produce an English translation of the Bible at an overall grade-reading level of 3.5 (3rd year, 5th month); but in the end thay managed to get it down to a 2.9 grade level. 

The NiRV translation team consisted of both Greek and Hebrew language scholars, children's literature experts, and editors who would keep a keen eye on readability and vocabulary levels.  Using the NIV84 as their base text, they set to their task.  As they encountered larger words, longer sentences, or more difficult sentence construction, they would return to the original languages and try to translate them at a lower reading level and child-capable vocabulary.  (On a side note: It's my prayer that they DO NOT attempt to make the same theological changes to the NiRV that were made to the NIV84, resulting in the less-than quality translation called the NIV11.)

Let's compare some different translations with reading level in mind.

I'll use the Flesch-Kincaid readability formulas to compare readability.  Up front I need to say the Flesch-Kincaid is not perfect, but it is a helpful tool for comparison purposes.  These formulas use the number of words, number of sentences, and number of syllables to provide reading ease and a grade level.  They do not however compare vocabulary or theological concepts, and different test engines may provide slightly different results.  For the sake of my tests, I'm using the readability tool provided with Word for Mac 2011.

The Flesch-Kincaid is reported in two ways.  The first is readability.  It is reported on a scale from 0 to 100 with 100 being the most readable.  For example, a score of 90 should be readable by the average 11-year old, scores between 60 and 70 should be readable by a teenager between 13 and 15 years old, and a scores below 30 are probably best understood by university graduate students.  

The second Flesch-Kincaid formula measures grade level.  With ever-changing educational standards, this is not truly representative of what's happening in schools today nor is it any kind of guarantee (so please don't compare your children to these numbers!)  The grade-level provides a number that attempts to represent the grade level in years and months.  For example, a 3.9 would mean the 3rd year, ninth month.  In this post, I'll simply post the readability followed by the grade level.  (Up to this point, this post ranks at  53.5/10.1.)

Neither of these two numbers are as useful when looking at a single translation as when used to compare translation against translation (NiRV, NIV84, ESV, NASB, and the KJV).  Therefore, we'll look at a few translations using 5 selected verses (which just so happen to be taken from my children's Bible memory verses this month).  Each verse will include the readability and grade-level.  Remember, these numbers only measure so much, so there's real value in the human factor.  Just read the verses and think about how a child in the 2nd Grade may understand the verse.

James 4:10
NiRV - Bow down to the Lord. He will lift you up. (100/0.0)

NIV84 - Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (87.9/3.7)

ESV - Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (78.2/4.8)

NASB - Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (83.0/4.9)

KJV - Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (79.5/6.1)

Luke 19:10
NiRV - The Son of Man came to look for the lost and save them. (100/1.2)

NIV84 - For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (100/1.6)

ESV - For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (100/0.8)

NASB - For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (100/2.4)

KJV - For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (85.1/5.8)

Romans 5:8
NiRV - But here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (100/0.6)

NIV84 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (89.5/5.4)

ESV - But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (99.2/3.8)

NASB - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (85.1/6.1)

KJV - But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (72.3/8.1)

John 3:16
NiRV - God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life. (92.7/3.5)

NIV84 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (76.3/9.0)

ESV - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (76.7/8.5)

NASB - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (69.7/9.7)

KJV - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (50.9/12.0)

Ecclesiastes 7:20
NiRV - There isn’t anyone on earth who does only what is right and never sins. (89.8/4.1)

NIV84 - There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. (90.1/4.6)

ESV - Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (84.4/5.2)

NASB - Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (70.1/7.6)

KJV - For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. (70.1/7.6)

Hopefully this small sample has helped shape your thinking a bit about translation.  It's also my hope and prayer that this post will help you, the parent, find a good mid-level Bible for your children. And by the way, when running these tests with all 5 verses together, the NiRV scored a 100/1.5, the NIV84 is 90.0/4.9, ESV is 90.1/4.6, NASB is 82.3/6.2, and the KJV 86.1/5.6.  It may also be helpful to run more samples and include other translations such as the NLT, HCSB, and the NKJV.  

*I have no connection to any of the listed translations, material or otherwise.

Throwing in the Towel: Dying Daily

"Throwing in the towel" is an idiom or figure of speech commonly used to express that one is quitting.  It comes from the sport of boxing when a boxer's trainer throws a towel into the ring to stop the fight because his fighter is getting pummeled beyond recovery.

We should throw in the towel every day.  Yes, you should quit.   You probably don't like reading this, let alone doing it.  Neither do I.  That's probably because by the very nature of our western idea of success, this sounds really bad.  But it's true.  Throw in the towel.

If you're a Christian, that is, if you're a follower of Jesus who has surrendered your life to Christ, then at some point you've thrown in the towel.  You've said, "I can't keep up this fight.  I'm going to quit doing it my way.  I'm going to quit battling on my own.  I don't have any more strength.  I'm pummeled beyond recovery.  I give up." But when you gave up, you cried out to Jesus.  You may have said something like, "I can't do it, Jesus.  Help me!"  And if you're living the Christian life, this should be a regular occurrence.  You should quit often.  "Jesus, I can't keep doing this on my own.  Help me!"   Some people think of this like a tag-team with Jesus, but that's not how Paul saw it.  

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul made the comment that he dies every day (1 Corinthians 15:31).  He throws in the towel daily.  He doesn't tag Jesus and then Jesus steps in for a while--he dies.  He's got no more fight in him.  It's likely that Paul's comment is in reference to something Jesus said in Luke.  He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24, ESV).  Going to the cross means to die, to be killed.  Game over.  But in losing your life, you will save it! 

In ministry, I often find myself working hard, striving to accomplish things.  I plan and execute.  I think about problems and solutions.  But it seems that more often than not, I find myself pushed to the edge.  It gets hard.  Things happen that are way beyond my control.  My plans just can't account for reality.  My solutions fall grossly short.  So I throw in the towel.  I cry out, "That's it; I can't do it Jesus.  Help me!"  And the strangest thing happens.  God seems to bring solutions.  Plans come together.  The ministry goes forward; not without me, but in spite of me!  I find that when I quit, when I die to myself, things get amazing.  And you'd think I'd figure this out and throw in the towel first thing in the morning every day.  I'm learning, but my prideful self needs to take a few punches first before I realize that apart from Christ I'm beyond recovery.

* Photo take by user, MrBragaosian is registered under a creative commons license and used with permission.

Ministry Killer: Seminary Loan Debt

Jesus once asked a great crowd, "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish'" (Luke 14:28-30, ESV).  His question was pointed specifically at understanding and weighing the cost of being a disciple of Jesus even in the face of renouncing all that one has and baring the cross of Christ.  But there is wisdom in counting the cost of any ministry endeavor as we seek to faithfully serve our Lord. 

Seminary is one such endeavor that really demands that the cost be counted.  It is difficult.  It takes lots of time.  You'll start reading topics that will brand you a geek.  You will need room for all your books.  Many seminary graduates I know (including me) ended up getting glasses while in seminary.  And seminary is expensive.

Seminary President, Dr. Jeff Iorg argues against the cost writing, "Check seminary prices against graduate or professional school tuition, and you will be shocked.  Formal ministry training is the least expensive of all major academic and professional disciplines" (1). But if we are okay comparing the cost against other graduate programs and professional school tuition, then we should also be okay comparing the salaries among these professional fields.  I suspect in most, if not all cases, the average ministry salary is much, much lower that these other professional fields.  Many seminary trained missionaries actually have to raise their own support just to get into the mission field!

This is not to say that the cost should be the primary reason not to go to seminary, just that it is important to understand what one is getting into as he is moving into his calling.  It is also important to examine the practical cost of a student loan on the other side of seminary.  I can speak with some experience.

When I entered seminary, I was also entering an Army chaplain candidacy program.  I believed my student loan would be paid off by the Army.  But when I was unable to enter the program, I ended up with a big loan balance.   My salary is good for the ministry profession, but it looks like a peasant boy with a stick up against an angry, fire-breathing dragon.  My loan is a monster and causes me a great deal of stress.  This stress effects both my family and my ministry.

Large student loan debt in ministry is extremely difficult.  Many church planting and missionary organizations will not accept a pastor with student loan debt.  Some churches may not hire you.  Churches and other organizations that will happily offer scholarships to people headed into seminary will rarely if ever offer to pay down the debt of one who has successfully completed seminary and serving faithfully in ministry.  (I know I've yet to find one.)  Government programs that once helped offset debt for those working in a non-profit capacity no longer apply for those in religious positions.

I believe seminary is important and extremely valuable to the minister of the gospel, but every effort should be made to finish seminary without debt.  If you must go slow, go slow.  If there are ways to cut costs, cut costs.  And if there's no way to go to seminary without obtaining a loan, then please be sure to count to the cost of a loan against your post-seminary ministry.

It's my prayer that more churches will consider helping seminary graduates pay off their debt as part of their compensation packages or as a ministry to pastors with debt.  It's my prayer that more churches will help seminary students buy books, pay tuition, and afford food and housing as he or she is in seminary.  It's my prayer that seminaries will work hard to reduce costs as much as possible considering what they are training their students to do.  And it's my prayer that more scholarships for seminary would be made available by any means possible.  If we hope to have well trained, prepared pastors and missionaries, then we really aught to invest in the students.  And if we really want to help the student succeed, we aught to find ways to combat educational debt. 

1. Jeff Iorg, Is God Calling Me?: Answering the Question Every Believer Asks (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 82.

* Photo by user, thisisbossi is used under the conditions of its registered creative commons license. 

How Much Should I Pray?

How much should I pray?  Should my morning prayer time be 30 minutes or an hour?  How much is enough prayer?  There are books that try to answer this question as if there's a special formula, but the book that we should use as a guide is the Bible.  The funny thing however, is that these are not the questions the Bible answers because these are the wrong questions.

There is no formula.  It's not about time or quantity or fulfilling a requirement of length or brevity.  It's about a natural relationship and a longing to spend personal time with our Creator.

So as you examine your prayer life, it may be best to examine your relationship with God first. Then the rest of the questions will probably answer themselves.

Prayer is Relational

The Bible is full of prayers. Herbert Lockyer says, "Exclusive of the Psalms, which form a prayer-book on their own, the Bible records no fewer than 650 definite prayers, of which no less than 450 have recorded answers."[1] As early as Genesis 4:26 we read that "people began to call upon the name of the LORD." Recorded prayers allow the student of the Bible a glimpse of the prayers of others, at times providing the specific words and at other times only demonstrating that the individual engaged in prayer of some sort. Even communication between the Godhead—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is made available to us in the written Word. Biblical instructions include praying often (without ceasing in fact), with faithfulness and hope, for others and ourselves, in line with God's will, with and without words, and by divine help. We're given specifics for which to pray. The prayers of the Pharisees are condemned, and we hear warnings about wrongful prayer. We even read about disciples learning directly from our Savior specifically about how to pray. Yet in a book loaded with prayers, there is no clear and obvious definition of what prayer actually is.

For centuries theologians have attempted to define prayer. They diligently examine the various prayers contained within the Canon as well as the instruction and teaching on prayer. Through their findings, they've come to an understanding of prayer and attempt a definition. For example, Wayne Grudem says, "Prayer is personal communication with God."[2] Millard Erickson argues that "Prayer is in large part, a matter of creating in ourselves a right attitude with respect to God’s will."[3] Appealing to Psalm 27:8, John Mueller suggests the definition is, "the communion of a believing heart with God."[4] And John Calvin, while not providing a clear definition of prayer, still says it is, "a kind of intercourse between God and men."[5] As varied as all of these definitions are, they all seem to get at the same thing: a relationship between God and man.

God desires to be in relationship with his creation. Nothing in the Bible could be clearer. In fact, the Bible itself—God's Word—is a merciful revelation intended as a mechanism of communication that draws us into a relationship with its divine Author. God is reaching out to us, calling us into a relationship with himself. Prayer is an important aspect of this relationship.

Jesus teaching was purposed to draw all men into a salvific relationship with the Trinity. Notice that Jesus proclaims, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8); but James 4:2 says, "You do not have, because you do not ask" and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 instructs that we should "pray without ceasing." Is this some kind of contradiction? Why would God want us to pray if he already knows our needs? Because he wants a relationship with us! Jesus paints a beautiful picture of this relationship in Luke 11:9-13:
"And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Do you see the relational factors in Jesus' plea? “Ask!” he says, as if almost begging. And look at the question and answer that follows. Father, children, good gifts. Jesus desperately wants his disciples to enter into this relationship and he wants them to pray.

Prayer is about a relationship with God.

1. Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible: A Devotional and Expositional Classic (Grand Rapids: Mich, Zondervan, 1959), Publisher’s Forward.  
2. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Mich, Zondervan, 1994), 376. 
3. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Mich, Baker Academics, 1998), 431.
4. John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Miss, Concordia, 1934), 428-429.
5. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody: Mass, Hendrickson, 2008), 564.

Christian Suffering 1 Peter 4:12-19

The Christian life is no bed of roses.  From time to time, followers of Jesus Christ face fiery trials and in these trials we sometimes find ourselves confused.  We ask questions like, "How can God let me suffer like this?" or, "Doesn't God even care that I'm suffering?" or maybe even, "Am I suffering because God is punishing me for something?"  In our times of difficulty, these questions become more than questions, they often become our way of inditing God.  But before we throw down accusations, we really aught to re-think Christian suffering.  

What often troubles us is why Christians suffer.  It's a serious questions and one worth wrestling through.  1 Peter 4:12-19 is one of the great texts that helps us come to a better understanding of God's will and purpose in our fiery trials. 

I recently preached on this topic at Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City.  If you're a Christian, you've likely suffered, are suffering right now, or will suffer sometime in your future.  If this is you, it is my hope that this sermon may be helpful to you. 

Christian Suffering -- 1 Peter 4:12-19

Interconnectedness of the Bible: 1 Chronicles 28:9

"It's clear that the Bible is too superintended to be a random collection of books," a pastor friend once said to me.  I agree.  Like watching a good flick, reading the Bible a few times opens up a fascinating realm of things missed on a first or second pass.  This exploration can continue for a life time if you just keep reading the Bible.  It's a supernatural interconnected single story, woven together through the merciful revelation of God to his creation over the course of about 2,000 years through forty or so human authors.  (More technically, the Bible is God's divinely authored revelation of himself to his people, written through his people.  It's a complex dual authorship!)  And it is the Holy Spirit who illuminates new things as you read, learn, and grow; therefore,  as you keep reading you grow more and more convinced of the truth of God's Word, the Bible.

Evidence of the Bible's interconnectedness abounds.  I've not done a formal study or count, but I'd venture a guess that there are thousands of passages that point to other passages in one way or another and they all point toward Christ.  We'll use 1 Chronicles 28:9 as an example.

Chapter 28 of 1 Chronicles opens with David, the king of Israel, giving a speech to the officials assembled in Jerusalem.  He tells them that he had a heart to build a temple for God but God had not allowed him to do so.  He also expressed that Solomon, his son, was chosen by God to be his successor and it will be Solomon who will build the temple.  At verse 9 David shifts his speech directory toward Solomon.  He gives him a charge and some instruction.  "And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever" (ESV).

I found well over 100 cross references for the various aspects of this passage, but for the sake of this post, I'll only deal with a couple parts of this very loaded verse, and even in that, I'll only provide a small sample of interconnected verses. 

First, much of the Old Testament talks about God in terms of the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, or in other terms--the God of our fathers.  Many times the God of one's father becomes one's own God, as if there's a transition from one to another or a personal acceptance or relationship as the son grows and begins to know the God of his father for himself.  God is no longer the God of someone else, but personal.  This talk of the God of our fathers as well as the transition can be seen in verses like Genesis 28:13, Exodus 3:16, and Exodus 15:2.  In 2 Kings 21:22 Amon walks away from the God of his fathers, whereas Josiah does walk in the way of the God of David, that is, the God of his fathers (1 Kings 22:2). This language is found over and over again until Christ walks among his people and actually calls God his Father! No longer is the worship and service to the God of our fathers, but the Heavenly Father himself. Then, because of Jesus, we too are able to call God our Father because we are adopted into his family (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5).  

Next, as early as Genesis 6:5, the Bible indicates that God knows the thoughts and intentions of man.  1 Samuel 16:7, at the time when they boy David was being identified as Israel's king, it is said that God does not look at the outward appearance, but at man's heart.  Psalm 7:9 identifies God as one who tests minds and hearts. Psalm 139:2 says that God can even discern these thoughts from a distance.  The idea of testing thoughts and intentions is present again in Jeremiah 11:20 and again in Jeremiah 17:10.  So it should help us see that Jesus is God when he has this very ability.  In John 1:47 Jesus looks into the deep of Nathanael. Repeatidly, Jesus knew what the Pharases were thinking as well as his disciples (see: Matthew 9:4; Matthew 12:25; Luke 1:51; Luke 5:22; Luke 6:8; and Luke 11:17).  And the disciples new and believed that God searches the heart as is evident in Acts 1:24.  Paul also writes about it in Romans 8:27.

Jeremiah 29:13 says that seekers of God find him.  Jesus, as the Messiah and God, repeats the same seek and you will find  theme in Matthew 7:7-8, and in Revelation 3:20 he extends an invitation for a relationship.  Throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are repeated invitations to enter into a relationship with God, no longer serving the God of our fathers but the Heavenly Father himself.

It is because of the interconnectedness that we use the Bible to interpret the Bible.  The more plain passages help us understand the more complex ones.  The connections between the books, the players, and various smaller stories help us understand the larger story of God's redemption.  It's all interconnected.  It's one story woven together like a beautiful basket.

*Photo of weaved basket by Damian Gadal is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

You Will Be My Witnesses

December 4, 2012.

I am truly bless to serve on a church staff that provides me with so many opportunities to grow as a pastor.  We're presently in a sermon series titled, "As We Reach" because about a year ago we added the word 'Reach' to our mission and it's our hope that a lifestyle of evangelism becomes a part of our DNA in the coming years.  At Risen Life Church we seek to experience real life transformation and we do that through our mission: "connect, grow, serve, and reach."   This week I was able to step into the pulpit and preach a message titled "You Will Be My Witnesses." 

In addition, we've had some video testimonies that open each sermon.  Nathan Sweet, a gifted photographer and film maker, has been helping us create these videos.  (They've been really great.  Here's a sample, and another, and even another.) However, we didn't have anybody lined up for this recent week so we didn't shoot an interview.  Nathan is a busy student so when Pastors Kevin and Robert asked if we could still have a video, I stepped up to the director/editor plate.  It's certainly not of the same quality as the videos Nathan produces for us and there's one really bad edit (oops!), but I feel like we were still able to tell a story, thanks to a willing participant, some construction lights, the help of Sean Patrick on the sound board in our worship center, and a couple video cameras (one of which uses video tapes--remember those!). Because of our sound limitations, we were also limited to the worship center backdrop.  Here's Tina Pelton in the video that ran just before I preached the message:

It's not often you find a pastor so willing to raise up future leaders and even share the pulpit.   I get to work with two!  We serve in a team ministry model so our senior pastor, Kevin, works closely with Pastor Robert and they rotate each week in the pulpit.  And even with this arrangement, they allow me and another pastor (Jared Jenkins) to preach from time to time--even more in 2013.

Like I said, I am blessed and couldn't ask for a better place to serve and learn after completing seminary! 

Kick-Starting Your Prayers

Prayer is a necessary part of the joyous and full Christian life.  Jesus taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13) and we see Jesus praying often--maybe most intensely in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is the act of talking with God and the Bible records many men and women praying.  (Some of those prayers are even written down.)

God wants us to talk with him often, always in fact (Luke 18:1, Acts 10:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and 1 Timothy 2:8 for example). Yet, many Christians find themselves in seasons where it is difficult to pray.  As surprising as that may sound, it might be a result of unresolved spiritual conviction but it could also be due to a lack to a strong understanding of prayer or a lifestyle of habitual prayer.  The best way to work through spiritual conviction, especially that of unconfessed or hidden sin, is to pray!  And the best way to develop a better understanding of prayer comes through studying the Bible and engaging in a regular routine of prayer.  Regular prayer is about a submissive attitude, faith, and habit and there are seasons where these things don't come easy. 

One tool I've found to help me in my prayer time is a prayer book.  No, this is not a journal, nor is it a Puritan book of pre-written prayers, although both of these things are good.  (When it comes to journaling,  I've often struggled to write my down prayers, and I would almost never look back to review my prayers at a later date.  This is not to say that journaling is bad, it's just not something I personally do well or find as useful.)    

Instead, I have a prayer book that serves as a kick-starter for my prayers.  It's a reminder and makes it easy to pray in dry seasons (and when I haven't yet fully woken up with a good cup of coffee).  Here's how I've organized my prayer book, but if you're going to use a prayer book, your book really aught to be customized to your needs and preferences.  You really need to make it your own.

On the opening page of my book, I've written 2 Corinthians 10:4, as a personal reminder of the importance of prayer.  There are many passages that could serve as a reminder, but this one was on my mind when I made my most recent prayer book.

The first section of my prayer book is a list of lost people who I pray for often.  My list has grown ever sense reading Concentric Circles of Concern by Dr. Oscar Thompson so I typically pray for 10 to 15 people by name each day.  The list however, helps me remember lost people to pray for and keeps them in front of me and on my heart.  It is also a place where I can add the names of new people I meet who are in desperate need of Christ.  (At it's thrilling when I can cross a person's name off on this list because they become found!)  I've also written some scriptures in this section that serve as an encouragement to me.  They remind me that God cares more than I do and they help shape my thinking about the importance of praying for the lost, which is why they are penned in the first section of my book.

The next section is pages of scriptural passages that I like and often pray through.  Many of them serve as an encouragement but some are the prayers of others written in the Bible that I have found  particular significant in my own life.  Many are from the Psalms, but not all.

The next section opens with some Scripture that moves me, followed by some simple one-line prayers that I could (and should) pray for the rest of my life.  They are prayers of thanksgiving, praise, worship, and life-long petitions such as a request for wisdom as outlined in James 1:5.

The final section in my prayer book is a list of all the praises, thanksgiving, and petitions that are more timely.  These include the many intersessions for my family, church, and many others.  I have the names of our church's community group leaders, lists of friends, other pastors laboring all around the world for the gospel, special projects, and the specific requests made by others.  I also have many of my own prayer needs and praises written in this section.  I put a date by all the listings.  When I cross them off, I date them again and write a brief explanation of why I'm crossing the item off.  For example, I'm praying regularly for a young woman who has embarked on a year-long mission trip around the world.  When she returns safely, I'll cross off that prayer item and praise God for his provisions.

My book has pages and pages of people, praises, petitions, Scriptures, thoughts, and other things I can be talking with God about.  It also has lots of blank pages for more to be added.  I don't have to pray for everything in the book but it's nice to have the tool to prime the pump when I feel like I'm praying on empty.  It's interesting just how quickly my prayers start flowing without the book only a short time after I get started by using the book.  It's also worth noting that this book has greatly helped me form a more regular habit of personal prayer.

Here's a short video with a little more info about my little prayer book and how one may help you in your prayer life:

If you'd like to start a prayer book, it's easy.  All you need to get started is some kind of notebook and a pen. Then start praying!

*'Child at Prayer' by Eastman Johnson, circa 1873 is in the public domain. 

Recently Discovered New Testament Manuscripts

The gospels and letters that make up the New Testament were authored in the latter half of the First Century, between roughly AD42-98.  Finding manuscripts like P52, a papyri fragment of the book of John containing chapter 18:31-33, is a really big deal.  It was discovered in 1920 and greatly changed the way scholars think about the book of John and the New Testament. P52 (pictured to the right), is a Second Century manuscript dated roughly to AD125-150 and  is presently considered the oldest known fragment of the New Testament--but that may be soon to change.  Dr. Dan Wallace claims to have discovered a manuscript of the book of Mark that he and others say dates to the First Century! 

Conservative biblical scholars date the authorship to Mark between the mid-AD40 and 60.  This would mean that at most, this newly discovered manuscript is no more than 60 years older than the autograph, but it may be less.  The Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) located in Münster, Germany has cataloged over 5,750 New Testament manuscripts.  Some of these are very close to the autographs (originals, which have yet to be found), but none as close as what Wallace is claiming of his team's discovery.

Apparently, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) was granted access to a national archive in Albania to photograph 13 manuscripts.  The country has previously denied western scholars access to these documents.  When the CSNTM team arrived, they learned that there were more manuscripts at the archive and some of them are remarkable!

Besides the manuscripts they expected to photograph, they discovered seven more manuscripts never-before seen or cataloged by western scholars.  Most notable is the Mark papyri as well as an early Second Century Luke fragment and four manuscripts from Paul (and the author of Hebrews) that date to late Second Century or early Third Century.  Details are slowly being released as the scholars are exercising caution in how they present this new find.

In the video below, Dr. Mike Licona introduces Dr. Dan Wallace who discusses this fascinating discovery in a more detail:

Buzz about these manuscripts is present, but you have to look for it.  They will have a significant impact on scholarship but it's highly unlikely that these manuscripts will change our understanding of the gospel message.  Even when more details are published, most people will hear little about this discovery (if anything) and that's okay.  For us theology geeks, it's exciting to add 7 more manuscripts to the INTF catalog, especially the really early ones.  It's also thrilling to think about the possibility of finding even earlier manuscripts and getting closer to the originals; but in the bigger picture, the gospel as we have understood it for 2,000 years will continue marching forward as we faithfully serve God toward the advancement of his Kingdom.  Indeed we must remember, the manuscript collection does not bring saving transformation--the message contained within the manuscripts is what must really excite us.

*Photo of the Rylands Papyri, also know as P52, is in the public domain. 

Francis Chan, Church Planting, and the Tenderloin

What's Francis Chan been up to these days?  He's church planting in a very tough part of San Fransico called the Tenderloin.

As we look at poor and struggling neighborhoods, the best thing that can happen for the people in need is Jesus.  We can feed the poor, build schools, and drill wells, but if it's not done in conjunction with the gospel, it won't likely have the long term and powerful change like the real life transformation that Jesus does to the heart.  We have the power, resources, and ability to feed and provide for people, but we can not turn hearts made of stone into living, beating, life.  But Jesus can, and he does. 

When it comes to planting churches, this is a great idea to reach communities like the Tenderloin.  Only a couple blocks from the Tenderloin is a building with 400 apartments.  I'm familiar with this building.  In the basement is a Starbucks and a building guard.  The people living in this building are much more affluent than those in the Tenderloin.  This model could be the same there.  There easily could be a church in the building where the pastors live there too.  Where community groups don't require any driving.  Can you imagine it?  Will you pray for it?  

It is not the same in much of Salt Lake City because most of the city does not live in multi-dwelling apartment buildings, but creative thinking and willing, faithful people of God can and will be a part of the Church building and planting of Jesus.  As Jesus builds his church all over the world, please pray for more workers.  

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."  -- Jesus (Luke 10:2)

Being Martha AND Mary

The Church is full of people and people tend to be wired differently.  As people of drastically different wiring come together, sometimes there is a desire that we all approach Jesus the same way.  When we don't, there can be some grumbling.  Luke records the story of two sisters that seems to help us understand how we are to come together. (It's found in Luke 10:38-42.)

Are you a "Martha" or a "Mary"? 

If you're a Martha, I'd like to invite you to seek out opportunities to be a little more Mary.  If you are a Mary, it is time to look for Martha-style service opportunity.  

* This video, others like it, and many other resources are available here.

The Three Wise Men

Just after Thanksgiving, at least in America, people start putting nativity sets on their coffee tables and fireplace mantels. My neighbor even puts a life-size lighted set in his front yard. The angel stands on the roof of his house. I think the idea is to create a visual story of the birth of Jesus, our Lord.

The set we had when I was growing up was very much like the sets most people have, and they certainly tell a story. In fact, the typical nativity set has shaped the story most Americans know as Jesus' birth story. Like the idea that there were only three wise men, for example. This idea likely comes about because there were three gifts (gold, myrrh, and frankincense) , but it is widely reinforced by the fact that the typical nativity set usually only includes three wise men. (And the one I had growing up had two pasty-white dudes and one very black guy, which seems kind of odd if you think about it.)

Matthew 2:1 simply calls this band of wise men, "Magi from the East." There is nothing that indicates a number other than a plurality. It could have been two or two hundred; we really don't know. And there's nothing that precludes women from this mysterious group.

Another interesting picture we get from our nativity sets is the presence of the Magi while Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were still staying in the stable or animal cave below the living quarters or wherever the manger was. In fact, the birthday story itself is primarily recorded in Luke but the account of the Magi is told in Matthew. The Magi narrative in Matthew suggests a much broader time line. They visit the house where the child was (Matthew 2:9-10), which may not have been an animal stable. And even if that house was in Bethlehem, it could be at the "inn" now that there's room with extended family as some scholars have guessed. Herod set out to kill all the children two years and younger, suggesting that at the point he realized he had been tricked by the Magi, the child Jesus could have been us much as two years old.

When you look at your nativity set this year, think about what shapes your understanding of the Christmas story. Is it your porcelain figurines or the Scripture? If it's not the Scripture, take some time to read through the Christmas story this Christmas season. Read slowly, savor it, let it sink in and become the picture you have in your mind as you celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

* Photo by Chiot's Run and is registered under a creative commons license.

Get to Know Your Neighbor

Matthew, Mark, and Luke record an exchange between Jesus and a lawyer.  The lawyer wanted to test Jesus so he asked him which law was the greatest.  Jesus told him that he is to love God and love his neighbors.  Interestingly, the lawyer tried to split hairs about who his neighbor might be.  In Luke, this transitions the conversation to the parable of the Good Samaritan.  

I wonder what Jesus would think about our behavior today.  We know who our neighbors are, but we don't know them.  And when we don't know our neighbors, it's really hard to love them.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

Fig Tree or Shade Tree? Luke 13:6-9

Jesus often taught via parables.  I've been blessed to preach again on one of the parables shared by Jesus, recorded in Luke 13:6-9.  In this parable, there's a fig tree that has produced no fruit in three years.  The owner of this tree would like it cut down.  It's my hope and prayer that God will use me in his service as you watch this video and you will learn more about God and his Word (the Bible) and then love him more.

This sermon was preached during a Sunday Night Gathering at Risen Life Church on August 8, 2011.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

The Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31

A sermon by Bryan Catherman.

Jesus often taught in parables; and on this night, I was blessed with the opportunity to preach about a story of two worlds as recorded in Luke 16:19-31.

This sermon was preached on July 17, 2011 at Risen Life Church.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

Theological Word: Hapax Legomena

Hapax Legomena is the technical way of identifying words that only appear once in a given writing.

It might be, for example, a word that only appears once in the New Testament, Old Testament, or maybe only once in all of Paul's work, or even in a specific book.  Obviously, we will find a higher persentage of hapax legomena if we only look at one of Paul's letters compared to examining all of the Greek in the New Testament in conjunction with the Septuagint (LXX), which is an early translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Koine Greek language used during the time of Jesus and the early Church.  The more limited the range, the greater the hapax legomena.  

It might seem silly that these words are significant, but at times they can raise interesting insight.  We might wonder why the author chose a specific less common word to express an idea.  Or it might be that the idea is wrapped up in the unique word itself.   This is especially true of words that only appear once in all of the Bible.

Hapax legomena might also raise translational challenges.  As one tries to understand how authors were using specific words, he or she can look at how the author used the word elsewhere.   Not so with hapax legomena. 

An example of a New Testament hapax legomena can be found in Matthew 17:27.  Here the word agkistron (translated 'hook') means a bent hook.  This is the only place this word is found in the New Testament.   Another example, much like the previous one, is agkos (translated 'arm') which means bent arm.  This word is found in Luke 2:28.  There are over 1,400 hapax legomena and most of them, like a bet hook, are of little concern to the meaning of the passage.