03/9/10

Where Else Can We Go?

3056886585 77308f3361 Where Else Can We Go?You can almost see Peter throw up open hands when he replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of Israel.”

As many of Jesus’ disciples were leaving (John 6:60-68), Jesus turned to the twelve and asked them if they were next. Peter’s response has been echoing in my head.

Where else would we go?

Peter didn’t play down the reasons others had for leaving Jesus Christ. Peter didn’t deny contemplating it himself. Peter just asked a question that demands a reasonable answer.

Look around – is there any other option? Where else can you turn for eternal life if you turn away from Christ?

Would you reject the Fountain of Living Water to hew broken cisterns for yourself? Peter realized that no matter who or what you turned to, it would be less than Christ. It wouldn’t offers the eternal life that our souls long for. It would be a vain attempt to satisfy oneself outside of God, where satisfaction cannot be found. How futile it is to look for something in a place other than where it is.

Where I’ve Been and Where We’re Headed

I flew the coop for a couple weeks because midterms had me in a headlock. But what I learned while I was away from the blogosphere is worth coming back to share in the coming weeks.



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02/26/10

A Sweet & Bitter Providence [Weekend Resource]

A Sweet And Bitter Providence large A Sweet & Bitter Providence [Weekend Resource]This is audio Bible study at its finest, and that needs to inform your listening approach. Here’s what I mean.

John Piper’s new book, A Sweet & Bitter Providence, is out in audio format at christianaudio.com. The book is more of a Bible study than just a drive-by reading. It is more polished than a sermon, more fervent than a commentary, with more Biblical depth than the typical Christian book.

Piper tackles issues like sex, race, and the sovereignty of God head-on. With gripping clarity, he opens the Book of Ruth chapter by chapter and proves that the three-thousand year old book is still relevant today.

So here is how I would approach this audiobook and turn it into an excellent Bible study on the Book of Ruth.

Read a chapter of Ruth each week. Meditate on it, pray over it during your time with God.

Then, set a time each week to listen to the audiobook. Approach it as a Bible study by digging into the text yourself, and then listening to John Piper add depth to your understanding.

You will enjoy the narrator of the audiobook. He puts enough expression into his voice to avoid sounding mechanical. I had a slight complaint at first blush as the narrator read all of the verse references. But that turns into an asset when you use the Bible study approach.

Get a Taste for the Book: A Quote

“One of the great diseases of our day is trifling. The things with which most people spend most of their time are trivial. And what makes this a disease is that we were meant to live for magnificent causes.

“None of us is really content with the trivial pursuits of the world. Our souls will not be satisfied with trifles. …So our souls shrivel. Our lives become trivial. And our capacity for magnificent causes and great worship dies.

“The book of Ruth wants to teach us that God’s purpose for his people is to connect us to something far greater than ourselves.”

Note: This review was done as part of the christianaudio Reviewers Program.



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02/22/10

A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Embracing Discipline and Planning

3113550632 b9a83919a4 A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Embracing Discipline and Planning

This past week, I came to an important realization about my prayer life that changed everything going forward. The main thing missing from my prayer life was…prayer. Not knowledge about prayer, but prayer itself. I’ve been hit and miss with time spent in prayer, a pattern that resembles the schedule a distracted four-year-old might keep for feeding his pet goldfish.

Our erratic prayer life is discouraging. We try on solutions like hats. We sit in the same rut wondering why we’re not progressing beyond mediocre. And we’re avoiding the real problem.


Why Increased Knowledge Isn’t Helping Our Prayer Life

We assume we’ve missed out on some secret to a vibrant prayer life and our ignorance is holding us back. So we hunt for a new technique…that won’t work. If we’re honest, the “secret” we’ve been missing is the only secret we don’t want to hear about. It doesn’t come in a neat package, it isn’t free, and it isn’t natural.


We’ve Been Avoiding Discipline

We avoid admitting the need for discipline. We trip over the need for it every now and then, then run along in denial. Discipline, like doctrine, sounds like a killjoy when in fact it is just the opposite. Let me give you a quick example.

Who has more joy and feels more free, the novice picking up a violin for the first time, or a world-class composer of the score for blockbuster films? Discipline makes possible the joy and freedom of playing a violin as if it was second nature. The value of discipline is clear. Let me give you a brief warning though.


Warning: Discipline is Not an End

Discipline itself has no value. But it is a Spirit-generated gift necessary for fuller delight in Christ. This discipline (self-control) is a fruit of the Spirit and a facet of Christian character that we lack only so long as we refuse to pay its price. Because discipline is a gift of God available to every believer, we can develop it. It is in reach because the Father has reached down to give it to us by the Spirit through His Son.

Also know that I am not making a case against spontaneous prayer. But I wouldn’t rely on spontaneous prayer because it fades in the absence of discipline. It becomes a feeble visitor, not a persistent companion. We won’t pray without ceasing when busyness leaves spontaneity sidelined. The only way to continue in prayer is have discipline and a plan.


Application: Plan a Time and Place For Daily Prayer

Action gives feet to desire, and planning gives those feet a path to run on. If you desire to pray, then plan to pray. A wartime mentality demands intentional planning. There is a lot to learn about prayer, but it is useless if we are not getting on our knees. Our prayer should be planned – intentional, specific, and motivated by duty and delight.


The Natural, Unplanned Flow of Spiritual Life Sinks to the Lowest Ebb of Vitality

John Piper highlights the need for planned prayer in his book, Desiring God [download and read for free]:

“Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don’t just get up one summer morning and say, ‘Hey, let’s go today!’ You won’t have anything ready. You won’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned.

“But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. We don’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure. And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut. If you don’t plan a vacation, you will probably stay home and watch TV. The natural, unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer, you must plan to see it.

“Therefore, my simple exhortation is this: Let us take time this very day to rethink our priorities and how prayer fits in. Make some new resolve. Try some new venture with God. Set a time. Set a place. Choose a portion of Scripture to guide you. Don’t be tyrannized by the press of busy days. We all need midcourse corrections. Make this a day of turning to prayer—for the glory of God and for the fullness of your joy.

Take these things to heart.



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02/19/10

Humility: True Greatness [Weekend Resource]

Humility large Humility: True Greatness [Weekend Resource] If I met someone presuming to have something to say about humility, automatically I’d think him unqualified to speak on the subject.

So are the feelings of CJ Mahaney as he wrote his book, Humility: True Greatness. But Mahaney’s work merits your attention, at least for one primary reason.

He is writing as a fellow pilgrim pursing humility by the grace of God. His goal? Help you make humility the everyday attire of your life instead of a mere performance. Mahaney approaches that goal in the only effective manner.

The Only Path to Humility

What is the only effective way to find humility? By recognizing that humans “cannot free ourselves from pride and selfish ambition; a divine rescue is absolutely necessary.” Yes, we must redefine greatness to mean serving others instead of being served. Yes, we must see the foolishness of pride. But in the end, all endeavors to find humility are futile if they do not lead you do the cross of Christ. Christ alone offers hope for humility by ransoming us from bondage to pride.

Finding the Authentic Servant’s Heart…At Last

I highly recommend this audiobook…it ranks in the top tier of books I’ve read. Evidence: I’ve read the print version several times as well as listened to the audio from christianaudio.com [that's a dual statement of the book's quality and my need]. The book itself is no salvation, but it clearly explains the gospel of Jesus Christ who alone offers real humility. The kind of authentic servant’s heart that you’ve never found anywhere else.

Note: This review was done as part of the christianaudio Reviewers Program.




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02/17/10

A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: A Wartime Mentality

485984140 e0d7a28b29 A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: A Wartime Mentality

There is a reason we lack urgency in responding in prayer to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is because we ignore or forget the reality of war.

Once awakened to this reality, we either crumble in inadequacy, or turn to God in desperate prayer.

It comes down to this: Without an understanding of the spiritual war we are in, prayer itself becomes a novelty. It is a mere ornament and easily shelved. We will understand the privilege of prayer in theory and then turn and neglect it because we lack urgency in putting it to use.

Catch a glimpse of the war, though, and reality will demand of us constant prayer. Prayer, then, is a statement about our eyesight. If we a lacking in prayer, we are certainly lacking a clear perception of the reality of war.

Concerning the need for a wartime attitude when praying, John Piper writes in Let the Nations Be Glad,

“So the truth is reaffirmed: God has given us prayer because Jesus has given us a mission. We are on this earth to press back the forces of darkness, and we are given access to headquarters by prayer to advance this cause. When we try to turn it into a civilian intercom to increase our conveniences, it stops working, and our faith begins to falter. We have so domesticated prayer that for many of us it is no longer what it was designed to be-a wartime walkie-talkie for the accomplishment of Christ’s mission.

“We simply must seek for ourselves and for our people a wartime mentality. Otherwise the biblical teaching about the urgency of prayer and the vigilance of prayer and the watching in prayer and the perseverance of prayer and the danger of abandoning prayer will make no sense and find no resonance in our hearts. Until we feel the desperation of a bombing raid or the thrill of a new strategic offensive for the gospel, we will not pray in the spirit of Jesus.

“The crying need of the hour is to put the churches on a wartime footing. Mission leaders are crying out, “Where is the church’s concept of militancy, of a mighty army willing to suffer, moving ahead with exultant determination to take the world by storm? Where is the risk-taking, the launching out on God alone?” The answer is that it has been swallowed up in a peacetime mentality.”



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02/15/10

A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Responding to the Holy Spirit

480639799 9031570da0 A Step Toward Unceasing Prayer: Responding to the Holy SpiritUnceasing prayer appears out of reach, if not outright impractical. But learning to pray like that isn’t as impossible as we might think, and here’s why.

We have an undeniable inner urge for prayer as a consequence of our new birth, for no true Christian is prayerless. What follows is a simple step toward unceasing prayer: learning to respond to the urging of the Holy Spirit to pray.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in Preaching and Preachers, instructs us:

“Always respond to every impulse to pray. The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text. I would make an absolute law of this – always obey such an impulse.

“Where does it come from? It is the work of the Holy Spirit; it is a part of the meaning of ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Phil 2:12-13).

“This often leads to some of the most remarkable experiences in the life of the minister. So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy. Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect…

Such a call to prayer must never be regarded as a distraction; always respond to it immediately, and thank God if it happens to you frequently.”

If the Holy Spirit is an aid to those who seek to pray without ceasing, then there is hope. It can be done. This hope necessarily lies outside of ourselves and is only found for those in Christ.



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02/10/10

Pursuing Sound Doctrine: How and Why

deep roots front big Pursuing Sound Doctrine: How and Why

Sometimes I wonder: Am I missing something, or is this all there is to know God? Is God really as shallow as my experiences have been? Is this what knowing an infinite, eternal God is like?

While there is no single factor to blame for an insipid and monotonous Christian life, there are a few notable ones. Maybe it is time to [re]discover prayer. Or bring hideous secret sin out of the closet and slay it.

Or maybe it is time to stop avoiding the word “doctrine” like the plague.

Shallow doctrine plots a shallow Christian life.

When we assume there is only one way to approach doctrine – as a bland academic study – we naturally shy away from it. It sounds dry and lifeless. That, however, is is hideous and costly misconception, and it can be cured by understanding that there is a right and a wrong way to pursue sound doctrine. Let’s look at both.

The Right Approach to Pursuing Sound Doctrine

If we study sound doctrine as a purely academic pursuit, our approach will be dry and hollow. Information is not equivalent to intimacy with God, and intimacy is where vitality comes from.

This wrong approach stands in contrast to the learner who seeks sound doctrine as one who is parched and tastes the sweet waters of a fountain. His thirst compels him to rest by the fountain and dip back in a second, third, and fourth time.

So it is with approaching God by learning sound doctrine. Doctrine deepens out belief and enlarges our vision of God in a soul-satisfying, life-changing way.

Therefore, the right approach to doctrine is to approach it as coming to know God as He really is.

As Joshua Harris writes in Dug Down Deep,

“For many people, words like theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy are almost completely meaningless. Maybe they’re unappealing, even repellent.

“Theology sounds stuffy. Doctrine is something unkind people fight over…

“I can relate to that perspective. I’ve been there. But I’ve also discovered that my prejudice, my ‘theology allergy,’ was unfounded.

“This book is the story of how I first glimpsed the beauty of Christian theology. These pages hold the journal entries of my own spiritual journey—a journey that led to the realization that sound doctrine is at the center of loving Jesus with passion and authenticity. I want to share how I learned that orthodoxy isn’t just for old men but is for anyone who longs to behold a God who is bigger and more real and glorious than the human mind can imagine.

“The irony of my story—and I suppose it often works this way—is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that such seemingly worn-out words as theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.

“They told the story of the Person I longed to know.”

[Go ahead and read the review, download the first chapter PDF of the book, and then purchase a copy...it is worth it]


Doctrine is Basic to Practical Christian Living

In the same vein as Harris, AW Tozer writes in Knowledge of the Holy [Warning: PDF],

A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”

So learning sound doctrine is both practical and necessary for Christian living. Shying away from doctrine leads to a shallow understanding of God and cuts us off from the very depth of relationship that we long for.

That should spur us to dig deeper, and here are four ways to do that…


Practical Application

Four ways to tackle learning sound doctrine in manageable chunks:

1. Pray for understanding as Paul did for the church in Colossians 1:9-14.

2. Come up with a morning routine and read just three pages of classic theological work each day and finish in a year.

3. Include in your routine regular Bible reading and study, book by book, so that you build familiarity with the Old and New Testament.

4. Subscribe to Tabletalk after taking a look at 8 Reasons Why You Should Subscribe. I wholeheartedly endorse that monthly publication and strongly encourage you to check out the zero-obligation free trial. Its excellent authors plumb the depths of doctrine every month in a practical, understandable way.



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02/4/10

Play Like a Child — Again

Red Tricycle 300x245 Play Like a Child    Again**Guest post by Demian Farnworth at Fallen and Flawed.**

My son owns a red tricycle. Behind that tricycle he likes to pull a red wagon. He likes to haul stuff around in that little wagon.

One day he lugged a large, faded plastic Joseph (from an old nativity set) around. I asked my son, “Who’s in your wagon?”

“Joseph.”

“Jesus’ father,” I said.

He looked back at the faded Joseph. Then back at me. “Yeah, God’s dad.”

I chuckled. But then it struck me–that’s exactly what we do with God…that’s exactly what I did with God. Let me explain.

Destroying My Family

Not long ago there was a time in my life when, as a Christian, I toyed with God. Yes, I said the prayer, bought the Bible, spent a lot of time at church.

But something was wrong. Very wrong.

See, throughout the first ten years of my so called Christian walk, I obsessed about one thing and one thing only: Becoming a world famous writer.

Much to the disappointment of my wife, this ambition took first place to everything else–my marriage, children, work–and even church.

In fact, I believed it was a very natural thing to neglect your wife, children and God for the sake of art. But you want to know the really sad part? I was miserable.

I lived that way for ten years until I finally crashed and burned. And it’s no surprise that when we are bent on our own way that we eventually crash and burn. The Bible teaches that pride comes before the fall.

So true.

The Happy Ending

In the end, I wasn’t pulling God around in my little wagon. I pulled around a resin coated image of God. The real God was waiting for me to surrender.

Listen: God is not a toy. Nor someone who tags along. He’s not our “co-pilot.” He’s the Creator. The guide who blazes the path. The pilot who’s behind the divine rescue mission called salvation.

In essence: He’s in control. And usually we’re out of control.

So let me challenge you with this: How’s your spiritual life? Is it full of joy? Peace? Or is it dominated by frustration and anxiety?

If the latter, there’s good news: You don’t have to live like that. A full, complete surrender to God means incomprehensible joy and peace.

It means you get to play like a child again. Which sounds like a lot of fun, don’t you think?

Author Bio: Demian Farnworth is keynote blogger for Fallen and Flawed.



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02/3/10

8 Reasons to Subscribe to Tabletalk

2010 TBT 02 Feb jpg 245x308 q85 8 Reasons to Subscribe to <i>Tabletalk</i>It only took one issue to convince me. It was worth subscribing.

I’ve toted the February issue of Tabletalk around in my backpack, slid it into my Bible case, perched it on top of my bedside reading stack, and even woken up pulled it out at 1:30am to skip a little further ahead in the daily devotional readings.

Here’s a summary of the benefits I’ve gotten from my battered copy.

1. Thought provoking articles.

Tabletalk isn’t a namby-pamby devotional booklet that leaves you starving on a diet of superficial junk food. Tabletalk has meat. Each article spurred me to think more deeply by presenting profound truth clearly. The authors don’t have their heads stuck in the clouds. They write with practical insight. And they write to be understood. Tabletalk is a superb supplement for daily Bible reading, study, and meditation.

2. Short and engaging.

You know what it is like to start fighting dropping eyelids on page three of a dense novel. I never had that problem while reading Tabletalk…because there never is a page three. Each article is only two pages long, and the pages are about the size of a typical DVD case. Small.

3. Further study helps.

After packing a punch with a short article, Tabletalk also offers suggestions for further Bible study on the topic. Reminds me of my Boy Scout days when they set us loose with trail maps to roam the mountains of Yosemite for a few days.

4. Exalts Christ and proclaims the gospel.

The articles and daily devotional readings constantly point back to the cross. Great care is taken to proclaim the gospel through the pages. Often, we are tempted to think that the gospel is yesterday’s news. We’ve moved past it to “deeper” things now that we are saved. That isn’t an attitude that you will find in Tabletalk. It leaves the reader gazing at the beauty of the gospel and understanding the critical, daily need for its message.

5. Sit at the table with qualified teachers.

When you read Tabletalk, you are learning from some of the top Christian thinkers of our day.

6. Important people read it.

People like Michael Horton, Al Mohler, and Ravi Zacharias – just to name a few – don’t just write for Tabletalk. They read Tabletalk. And the way I figure it, whatever they are doing probably deserves some consideration. Not sure who those men are? Don’t worry, they make great company.

7. Subscription costs only $23 a year.

At $23 dollars, the 1-year subscription price won’t break the bank. And two years costs only $39, and three is $49…that’s a mere $1.36 per month. C’mon, you spend more than that on Easter candy and Starbucks.

8. Free 3-month trial subscription.

That’s right…give it a try for three months. Take it for a test drive. And if you like it, subscribe. If not, just let your trial expire. It’s that easy. Your trial subscription will not automatically renew.

If you want to check out the content, you can read select articles and columns online for free. But you need to subscribe to see the rest. Don’t miss the rest of the articles and the daily Bible study material.



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01/30/10

Revolution in World Missions – Free Book [Weekend Resource]

book Revolution in World Missions   Free Book [Weekend Resource]It is hard to turn down a free book. Especially a book of true stories and insightful teaching melded together.


Why I Recommended A Book Without Reading It

Small confession to make: I haven’t actually read the whole book. But when I went to gauge the quality of the book, I skipped straight to chapter 11 where the author lays out the importance of the gospel. Red flags should go up if a book on missions misses the gospel. This book didn’t. And throughout the book, it solidly exposes false gospels that we may be tempted to embrace.

All that said, don’t neglect to read with discernment.


How to Get Your Free Copy

Three ways get your copy of Revolution in World Missions for free.

First, go order your free copy and wait for it to come in the mail.

After that, you will get a link in your email that will allow you to download the audiobook and PDF version for free as well.


Book Summary

Yohannan lays out his own story and presents biblical insights on world missions.

From the website:

“In this exciting and fast moving narrative, K.P. Yohannan shares how God brought him from his remote Indian village to become the founder of Gospel for Asia, which supports thousands of native missionaries.”



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