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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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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8 Reasons to Subscribe to Tabletalk

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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Weekend Resource: Do You Know How to Use Bible Study Methods?

iStock_000003995793XSmallConfession from a recovering methods addict
I have long been fascinated with methods. They seem to promise results if you follow steps 1 through 3.

Problem is, they are powerless in and of themselves. Methods can not produce or sustain the hunger required to follow the methods diligently. Methods can not unlock the scriptures in a heart-changing way. Methods can help us gain a sort of knowledge, but not a relationship with Christ. In short, methods alone lack the ability to deliver on their promises. Standing alone, they are a futile means to reaching God.

Am I alone, or have you suffered from the futile methods-addiction as well?

Our hope is not in Bible Study methods.
Our only hope is in the Father, who by His Holy Spirit, teaches us and conforms our hearts by the truth to become more like Jesus Christ. Bible study methods that are divorced from such a hope in the Trinity will fail. Bible study methods are but a means of grace, but never the focus or power of our Christian life.

In light of that, here are 3 ways to use methods:

1. Bible Study Methods ought to be used to aid
Methods can be used to add structure to quiet times. Examples of the methods of other men may inspire us to dedicate ourselves to feeding on God’s Word more consistently. But remember, methods are to be an aid. Don’t use them to make yourself feel guilty for your lack of structure. Don’t force yourself to use a method that does not actually help or fit the learning style God has given you.

2. Bible Study Methods ought to be used by the hungry
Methods can only help if we are already feeling famished in the soul, desiring intimacy with God in His Word. Do not be mistaken, the methods can not produce hunger or desire in our heart. That is God’s work. God will do that work in your heart through prayer and His Word, but He doesn’t require a method for the Holy Spirit to work while you are in the Word.

3. Bible Study Methods ought not to distract us from the Holy Spirit’s work
Don’t get so tangled in the method that you can no longer hear the Holy Spirit say, “Read a little further today,” or “Stop, you need to meditate on that point.”
Don’t get so tangled in the method that you think the method is what teaches you, or that you are teaching yourself. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, teaching us spiritual truths that natural man can not comprehend (1 Cor 2:9-16).

Weekend Resource: AW Pink’s Study methods
In context of all of the above, here are AW Pink’s study methods. Don’t have enough time to follow them yourself? Don’t be discouraged. Instead, let them be a testimony to blessings and faithfulness of God. See the theologian, but also see that his knowledge was not self-concocted, but granted to him by the Holy Spirit from years of faithful study. Bottom line: God will be faithful to reward those who come to Him in His Word. AW Pink is an testimony to that. Focus on the sureness of God’s faithfulness to reward those who seek Him, praying that truth sink will into your heart and draw you to invest time in His Word.

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Weekend Resource: Never Read a Bible Verse

NRBVResource: This is a short, easy read by By Gregory Koukl that explains the value of reading more than one verse during quiet time. According to Greg, it is “the most important thing I could ever teach you.”

He goes on: “If there was one bit of wisdom, one rule of thumb, one single skill I could impart, one useful tip I could leave that would serve you well the rest of your life, what would it be?  What is the single most important practical skill I’ve ever learned as a Christian?  Never read a Bible verse. That’s right, never read a Bible verse.  Instead, always read a paragraph (at least) if you want to unlock the meaning of a passage.”

Click to download the resource

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Quiet time: Reading my glorified newspaper

953848_77795108Have I turned the Bible into a glorified newspaper, approaching it with a heart attitude that has sucked the life out of my quiet time?

Reading or Communing?
I was reading this last night, and it occurred to me that when I approach God’s word, often I am coming to read instead of commune. Psalm 119, as the rest of the Psalms, reveal David’s heart to know, love, and commune with God. In the Psalm, David is not focused on the Law, David is focused on the Law Giver. The word of God serves to facilitate the drawing near to God himself, but is not the object of our longing. Even when David says “Oh how I love Your law!” (v97), David is speaking directly to God in communion with Him. The book itself is loved when in communion with God.

I Sought Knowledge, Not Communion
That has not been how I approached God’s Word. I’ve approached God’s Word as if it was something to read that would just tell me about God. It was about knowledge, not communion. It was about reading, not hearing God speak. This approach sucks the life out of my quiet time and leaves it feeling like a mechanical action to fulfill an obligation.

Escape Lifeless Reading
The positive side to this indictment is that there is a way to aid my often lifeless quiet time. If yours is lifeless, join me. God bids us come into His presence and hear His voice speak to our hearts. I can hear not just random words I think I heard from a vague voice in my head, but His exact words spoken as clearly as if they are the words ringing in our head after a conversation with a friend. That is what the Bible is.

“SPEAK, O LORD, as we come to You
To receive the food of your holy word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes, for Your glory.”

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Taste and See: Part 4 – The Word

1072078_67368573John 17:17
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

If out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45)…and we are feeding our heart poison, what comes from our mouth? We might be temped to say, “I don’t talk about inappropriate and vulgar things, I don’t cuss much,” but does that prove that we are feeding our hearts on the good things of the Lord? Psalm 34:1 says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”  Praising the Lord is a far cry from just refraining from speaking evil.

May I be honest personally? Psalm 34:1 is not me. I have moments of praise, but my praise is not continual. I take that to mean a couple things:
1) I am not feasting my heart in meditation on His character revealed in Scripture, and
2) I am tasting of something other than Him instead.

What is the difference between my life and David’s? David was able to praise the Lord continually only because he had tasted of the Lord and seen that He was good, and committed to obeying all that the Lord had commanded. In Psalm 119:9-16, David showed that his heart’s intake was the Word of God, and his lips poured forth accordingly. If you want to praise the Lord as David did, you must spend the time with the Lord in His Word that David did. Robert D. Foster put it this way: “To know God, it is necessary to spend consistent time with Him…The intimacy of communion with Christ must be recaptured in the morning quiet time. Call it what you want — the quiet time, personal devotions, the morning watch, or individual worship — these holy minutes at the start of each day explain the inner secret of Christianity. It’s the golden thread that ties every great man of God together — from Moses to David Livingstone, the prophet Amos to Billy Graham — rich and poor, businessmen and military personnel. Every man who ever became somebody for God has this at the core of his priorities: time alone with God!”

Scripture makes the prescription for our heart’s sickness clear, and I am walking the path towards Psalm 34:1 with you. As we consider the tastes of the world, find them wanting in comparison to our beautiful Lord, we reject them in order to turn to the Lord in His Word. It takes faith in God and a belief that He will reward those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), but letting our minds dwell on the reality of God and His character by meditating on His Word will not fail to produce a harvest (Galatians 6:7-10). Psalm 1 is yet another picture of the one who does not have any dealings with sin, and bears the fruit of delightful meditation on the Word (also see Jeremiah 17:6-10; Isaiah 5:24; Hosea 4:1-6, 8:7, 10:12; Matthew 3:8-12; Galatians 5:22-25).

The Word plays the central role as we seek to overcome sin. It shows us what is right and wrong, as well as allows us to gain an intimate knowledge of of our Father. You will only know the Father to the extent that you have been in His Word. If we have a 10-minutes-a-week plus church relationship with God, we will know Him about as well as we know the people we wave at on the streets and cannot remember their first name. But we want more than that. We want to taste and see in such a way that sin is exposed as a lie and its promises pale in comparison to the delights of knowing God.

Father, You are a holy God, completely set apart from sin. By Your Word, sanctify me so that I am able to step out of sin and see You more clearly. When I gaze through a shroud of sin, I find myself unable to see Your goodness with clarity. My heart longs to taste and see, please sanctify Your child.

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Weekend Resource: 7 Minutes with God

775521_62340988Resource: 7 Minutes with God: How to plan a daily quiet time, by Robert D. Foster (Navigators).

Great Resource for Discipling a New Believer
Take a moment and think of someone you know who has only been told why to have a quiet time, not how. This pamphlet is concise and effective in explaining the why’s and how’s of a quiet time. That makes it a great resource of discipling a new believer. Years ago, God used it to completely change how I approached my quiet times and to instill in me the importance of daily time with the Lord.

The Golden Thread that Ties Every Great Man of God Together…
As a section of the pamphlet explains,

“They sought an answer and came up with a scheme they called the morning watch — a plan to spend the first minutes of a new day alone with God, praying and reading the Bible. The morning watch sealed the crack. It enshrined a truth so often obscured by the pressure of ceaseless activity that it needs daily rediscovery: To know God, it is necessary to spend consistent time with Him…

“The intimacy of communion with Christ must be recaptured in the morning quiet time. Call it what you want — the quiet time, personal devotions, the morning watch, or individual worship — these holy minutes at the start of each day explain the inner secret of Christianity. It’s the golden thread that ties every great man of God together — from Moses to David Livingstone, the prophet Amos to Billy Graham — rich and poor, businessmen and military personnel. Every man who ever became somebody for God has this at the core of his priorities: time alone with God.

Here is a PDF version of 7 Minutes with God.

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Father, in Your faithfulness, teach me Your statues. Expand my narrow horizons so that I can filled with the all the fullness of God. Please give me a faith that is deeper, stronger, and battle tested. I ask that you bless me with a mind that constantly has an unanswered question, causing me to seek a deeper understanding when I would have otherwise settled for less.

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Bible Study

Goals when you study God’s Word:
2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of truth.
Acts 17:11
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
1. Excellence
“Do your best…” We strive to do our best as we study God’s Word, because we are presenting ourselves to Him. Since we are presenting ourselves to our Lord, our heart is know and please Him, not men (Matthew 6:1, Mark 7:6-8).
Heart check: Am I studying God’s Word to the best of my ability?
2. Eagerness
“…with all eagerness…” We seek God eagerly from a heart that longs to be taught by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 119:33, John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:10-16).
Heart check: Am I eagerly studying God’s Word to the best of my ability instead of just trying to do the least required?
3. Examining
“…examining the Scriptures daily to see…” We will spend time examining the scriptures, knowing that a deeper knowledge of God requires intentional effort beyond simple reading and feeding on milk (1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:11-14).
Heart check: Am I eagerly studying God’s Word to the best of my ability by examining the Scriptures instead of just trying to do the least required?

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