Category: Food for Thought

The Personal Cost of Extraordinary Religious Experiences

Posted by on 04/16/2018 in:

The Personal Cost of Extraordinary Religious Experiences

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NIV) — 2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Extraordinary religious experiences often come at personal cost.

When Jacob wrestled with God, he hobbled away lame. When Paul entered paradise, he came away with a thorn in his flesh. Few remarks in Scripture have generated as much scholarly discussion as this one. Whatever the thorn was, the net effect for Paul was torment (v. 7). The present tense suggests frequent bouts. Paul’s stake was not an isolated episode. It repeatedly came back to plague him—like the school bully who waits each day for his victim to round the corner.

THERE IS SUFFICIENT GRACE FOR OUR THORNS

The request Paul makes is for the thorn to be taken away (v. 8). Paul wanted nothing more to do with it. He does not make his request for selfish reasons. Verses 9-10 make it clear that whatever this painful disability was, it hampered Paul’s ministry and, to his way of thinking, the spread of the gospel. The reply Paul received was undoubtedly not the one he was hoping for: He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you” (v. 9).

The tense is perfect, denoting finality (eirēken). What God said to Paul was not subject to change or revision. The first thing to observe is that Paul’s request was not granted. The stake was not taken away. Instead he was provided the grace to bear it. This grace, Paul is told, is sufficient for him. The promise is that whenever the messenger of Satan afflicts him, he will be given sufficient strength to bear up.

In certain circles within evangelicalism today, there is a belief that it is God’s will that everyone should be healthy and happy and that if healing does not occur in answer to prayer it is because a person lacks faith. This thinking clearly runs contrary to Paul’s experience. Without a doubt Paul had great faith, but his request for the removal of the stake was not answered. This is not to say that he didn’t receive an answer. He most assuredly did—My grace is sufficient for you. But it is not the answer the mindset focused on self and what God can do for me wants to hear. Yet hear we must, lest our witness to the world lack credibility and theological soundness.

God’s grace is sufficient because his power is made perfect in weakness (v. 9).

This aphoristic phrase is commonly taken as the theme of this letter—and not without cause. The fact that suffering is the typical lot of the gospel minister is a point that Paul tries repeatedly to drive home to the Corinthians (see the introduction). Those who preach the gospel “carry around . . . the [dying] of Jesus” and are “always being given over to death” (2 Corinthians 4:10-11).

PERFECTING POWER IN WEAKNESS

Paul’s statement is a rather startling one: God’s power neither displaces weakness nor overcomes it. On the contrary, it comes to its full strength in it (en + astheneia). At issue is how God manifests his power. Paul’s opponents claimed that it is best seen in visions, ecstasies and the working of signs and wonders (2 Corinthians 12:1, 2 Corinthians 12:12). Paul, on the other hand, maintained that God’s power is most effectively made known in and through weakness. Indeed, God’s power is made perfect in weakness (teleitai = “to find consummation” or “be accomplished”; v. 9). As one commentator notes,

“There is a certain finishing and perfecting power in weakness” (Carpus 1876:178).

Not that we are to cherish our infirmities. Weakness of itself will perfect nothing. But when the human vessel is weak, the divine power is especially evident, and the weakness proves to be a fine discipline (B. Hanson 1981:44).

So far from hindering the gospel, Paul’s stake actually served to advance it. This is why he aims to boast only in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:5)—and he does it all the more gladly (v. 9). Paul not only has accepted his weaknesses and learned to live with them, but he also takes pleasure in them. Why? Because these very weaknesses afford the opportunity for the power of Christ to rest on him (v. 9). This is why Paul can go on to say, “I am content with my weaknesses”.

WHEN WE ARE WEAK, WE ARE STRONG

Paul concludes with for when I am weak, then I am strong (v. 10). His statement has the character of a settled conviction rather than a rote repetition of God’s answer. But what does it mean? How can one be weak and strong at the same time? The paradox is noted by all. But the point throughout has been that Christ’s power is perfected in, not in spite of, weakness.

How so?

We often think that without human strength we are destined to fail and without personal courage we are bound to falter. Yet good as these are, such qualities tend to push us to self-sufficiency and away from God-dependency. Samson was superlatively endowed with strength, but in the end this very strength brought about his destruction. Human strength is like the flower of the field that has its day in the sun but then shrivels up and dies. Enduring strength lies in God alone.

LEARN MORE

This blog was adapted from the 2 Corinthians volume of the IVP New Testament Commentary, written by Linda L. Belleville. Want to learn more about the IVP New Testament Commentary? You can read about it and purchase it on our website.

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Bridging the Divide

Posted by on 04/02/2018 in:

On Sunday at church, I was across the room from my son. He started running toward me, which any parent will attest is a great moment. While there are times he has run all the way to me, grinning ear to ear and laughing, today was different. He got part of the way, stopped, and broke into tears with arms stretched out to me.

GOD, THE FATHER

Which got me thinking, isn’t this how we are before God, the Father? Throughout history, religions have been built upon an idea that, with enough work, we are able to reach god. We live by the rules, meditate, and strive to “better ourselves”. Even in a Biblical context, we are consumed by the law and making ourselves worthy. We define our lives around practices that we hope make us holy. We do all this to earn standing before our god, to cross the “great divide“. Sometimes, this might appear to work. We find success and prosperity, admiration of other believers, or pride in our accomplishments.

THE INFINITE DIVIDE

However, the gap between imperfect man and an infinitely, perfect God is, by definition, infinite. No matter how many steps we take, how hard we work, or how “good” we are, the divide is still infinite. And this isn’t just something we can see through the lens of the New Testament. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew that “all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 12:8) David wrote in Psalm 14, “the children of man…have all turned aside…there is none who does good, not even one.” Paul quotes this in Romans 3, adding “for by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” Justification requires crossing the infinite void, and we simply cannot.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” — Ephesians 2:4-6

We are infinitely separated from our God, and every step we can take will not get us any closer. But God’s love is infinite, and therefore infinitely capable of bridging the divide. From before the foundations of Earth and time, God chose to demonstrate his “great love,” by giving his Son to be the offering for sin, and we get to share in that righteousness.

BRIDGING THE DIVIDE

Paul goes on to add, “it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our own efforts do not get us anywhere. Just like my son, we eventually have no recourse except to throw our arms open and, in faith, cry out to God. And just as I didn’t leave him to “buck up and try harder,” our God has not left us to work and earn a place with Him. He pursued us to the cross. In so doing, He has made us alive and “seated us with him in the heavenly places.” 

We were infinitely separated from an infinite God. But in His great love, He is bridging the divide and drawing us to Himself.

Does this topic remind you of any other passages of Scripture? Share in the comments below!


This blog was written by Adam Hewitt, Sr App Developer at Olive Tree

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Waiting For His Bride

Posted by on 03/27/2018 in:

Waiting For His Bride

WAITING FOR MY BRIDE

Lately I have been thinking a lot on the character of Christ as the Bridegroom. It especially makes me think back to my wedding, and my own experience as a groom.

My wife and I did not see each other beforehand but did take some pictures together, back-to-back. I could not see her, but I could see the train of her dress in the corner of my eye. Being so close to her, but only able to see a glimpse, made me even more eager to see her.

Later, when it was time for her to come down the aisle, I knew she was outside the door and about to come in, but she forgot her bouquet. So I stood there, waiting. The anticipation alone was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

WAITING FOR HIS BRIDE

In Matthew, Jesus illustrates how the Good Father cares for his children. He feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass, and yet “are you not of more value than they?” (Mat 6:26) Likewise, if we who are evil give good gifts to our children, “how much more will your Father…give good things to those who ask him!” (Mat 7:11)

Just as God is even more of a Father than we are, how much more does the Bridegroom anticipate the Wedding Feast? Isaiah writes, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isa 62:5) Jesus rejoices even more over His bride than we do.

THE DAY IS COMING

Think about that for a moment. The gospel says we are reconciled to the Father. But, this isn’t a picture of a slave returned to bondage. It isn’t as though a simple status quo has been restored, with God as Lord and us as mere underlings. We are His children. We are created in His image. He rejoices over us the same way a father celebrates a son coming home (Luke 15:32) and a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.

The Wedding Feast will be a great celebration. We look forward to that day of perfect restoration, when the scars of the sinful nature are finally wiped away, and we are united with our Lord. But Jesus loves His bride, and He also waits with anticipation for that eternity of rejoicing together.


This blog was written by Adam Hewitt, Sr App Developer at Olive Tree

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Weeping on Palm Sunday

Posted by on 03/25/2018 in:

Palm Sunday can sound like a joyous celebration if we tell the story a certain way. There’s a big crowd waving palm branches, shouting “hosanna.” Jesus rides in on a donkey—his triumphal entry. Then, we get our kids to relay the scene on stage at church. It’s cute and fun and we all leave feeling like we just participated in something historical. But we missed one major part of the story… Jesus weeping.

That’s right. After this huge, spontaneous celebration erupts in his honor, Jesus sobs.

There must have been something going on behind the scenes that we didn’t catch. It most likely has to do with Jesus seeing straight through to people’s hearts and motives—because he is always doing that.

So, let’s retell the story and see where we went wrong.

THE CROWD

The route Jesus took, the donkey he rode, the season of Passover… all of these details pointed to one thing: Jesus is the Messiah.

  1. The Mount of Olives is the predicted location for the Messiah’s appearance (Zech. 14:4-5).
  2. Oftentimes, kings would procure donkeys to ride into a city—a sign of humble authority.
  3. Passover celebrates the Israelites freedom from slavery in Egypt…

and the Jews deeply desired to be freed from Rome by a messiah, or savior.

So, the crowd (who has been ready to thrust Jesus into a throne for quite some time) worship him like a king. The disciples lay down their cloaks, making the modern-day equivalent of a red carpet. The crowd makes a huge, political spectacle by waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna.” They want a revolt. They want Jesus to rise up and overthrow the Roman government. And they are going to be thoroughly disappointed.

THE RELIGIOUS RULERS

These men have been rolling their eyes at Jesus since the first day of his ministry. When their rules and guidelines are challenged by Jesus, they never stop to consider if their ideology is wrong. Instead, they are disgusted by Jesus’ rise to popularity, especially among the sick, poor, and outsiders.

This day is a little different, though.

Passover often stirred up strong political hopes in common people. In the past, thousands of traveling Jews crowded the streets of Jerusalem leading to tension and revolts. Once, Archelaus unleashed his troops during Passover, killing 3,000 people (First Century Study Bible Notes). Rome did not appreciate the uproar.

The religious rulers are afraid of this happening again. Surely, Rome would be furious of Jesus’ Messianic claims. So, they yell to Jesus:

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”Luke 19:39

Basically: Tell these people to stop calling you the Messiah! But Jesus refuses. Instead, Jesus says:

“I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”Luke 19:40

It’s true. Jesus claims to be the Messiah. And even if the people didn’t proclaim it, the earth would. So, the religious rulers believe they have no other choice than to capture him and turn him into the Roman authorities.

JESUS + AGENDAS

Next, as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he begins to weep.

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”Luke 19:41-44

Here, we see Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. He was very aware that 1) he was not going to fulfill the crowd’s Messianic hopes and that 2) these hopes would turn to violence. That’s exactly what happened in AD 66-73.

Both the crowd and the Pharisees are applying their agendas to Jesus. The crowd wants the Messiah to be a strong, powerful war leader. The Pharisees want the Messiah to be like them—perfect, set apart, and untouchable. Neither have it figured out.

Jesus is a strong, powerful savior. He is also perfect and set apart. But he doesn’t save the world through violence or requiring people to reach his standards. Jesus touches the sick, eats dinner with sinners, and allows himself to be beaten and murdered. He is the opposite of everyone’s expectations.

So, he weeps. Because of the Jew’s agendas, they cannot see him for who he is, and they kill him for it.

OUR AGENDAS

I find it somewhat ironic when we wave palm branches at church. The last thing I want to be is a person in the crowd on that day, seeking after my own idea of who Jesus is. So, let’s use Palm Sunday as a reminder to evaluate ourselves. As we approach Good Friday, I encourage you to examine your expectations of God.

Here are a few questions I’m asking myself:

Is there any expectation I have of God that, if left unfulfilled, would challenge who I believe Him to be?

Do I envision Jesus being proud of me for following all the rules, even at the cost of loving others? 

Would I follow Jesus into dark alleys and dilapidated neighborhoods to care for others?

Do I picture Jesus agreeing with all my political stances? Why?

Do I expect Jesus to always destroy my enemies to keep me safe?

Who do I believe Jesus to be—while he is flipping tables, touching lepers, being beaten, and even dead?

and most importantly: WHO DOES JESUS SAY THAT HE IS?

We will never know…

…if we would be a part of the crowd that would worship Jesus one day and crucify him the next. But we can know if we are willing to spend our lives seeking him for who he is, and not who we want him to be.

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The Faith of a Dying Thief

Posted by on 03/24/2018 in: , ,

In Christ’s Words from the Cross Charles Spurgeon talks in great lengths about Jesus’ crucifixion, including those who were crucified with him The dying thief did the impossible that day. In front of multitudes of scoffers, he used the only part of his body not nailed to the cross (his tongue) to proclaim Jesus’ identity: the Messiah. The following is an excerpt from Spurgeon’s message.

WANT TO READ THE WHOLE BOOK? CLICK HERE!

THE FAITH OF A DYING THIEF

The story of the salvation of the dying thief is a standing instance of the power of Christ to save, and of His abundant willingness to receive all that come to Him, in whatever plight they might be. I cannot regard this act of grace as a solitary instance, any more than the salvation of Zacchaeus, the restoration of Peter, or the call of Saul, the persecutor. Every conversion is, in a sense, singular: no two are exactly alike, and yet any one conversion is a type of others. The case of the dying thief is much more similar to our conversion than it is dissimilar; in point of fact, his case may be regarded as typical, rather than as an extraordinary incident.

Remember that our Lord Jesus, at the time He saved this malefactor, was at His lowest. His glory had been ebbing out in Gethsemane, and before Caiaphas, and Herod, and Pilate; but it had now reached the utmost low-water mark. Stripped of His garments, and nailed to the cross, our Lord was mocked by a ribald crowd, and was dying in agony: then was He “numbered with the transgressors,” and made as the offscour-ing of all things.

Yet, while in that condition, He achieved this marvelous deed of grace.

Behold the wonder wrought by the Saviour when emptied of all His glory, and hanged up a spectacle of shame upon the brink of death! How certain is it that He can do great wonders of mercy now, seeing that He has returned unto His glory, and sitteth upon the throne of light!

“He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

If a dying Saviour saved the thief, my argument is that He can do even more now that He lives and reigns. All power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth; can anything at this present time surpass the power of His grace?

It is not only the weakness of our Lord which makes the salvation of the penitent thief memorable; it is the fact that the dying malefactor saw it before his very eyes. Can you put yourself into his place, and suppose yourself to be looking upon One who hangs in agony upon a cross? Could you readily believe Him to be the Lord of glory, who would soon come to His kingdom? That was no mean faith which, at such a moment, could believe in Jesus as Lord and King.

If the apostle Paul were here,

and wanted to add a New Testament chapter to the eleventh of Hebrews, he might certainly commence his instances of remarkable faith with this thief, who believed in a crucified, derided, and dying Christ, and cried to Him as to One whose kingdom would surely come. The thief’s faith was the more remarkable because he was himself in great pain and bound to die.

It is not easy to exercise confidence when you are tortured with deadly anguish. Our own rest of mind has at times been greatly hindered by pain of body. When we are the subjects of acute suffering it is not easy to exhibit that faith which we fancy we possess at other times. This man, suffering as he did, and seeing the Saviour in so sad a state, nevertheless believed unto life eternal. Herein was such faith as is seldom seen.

Recollect, also, that He was surrounded by scoffers.

It is easy to swim with the current, and hard to go against the stream. This man heard the priests in their pride ridicule the Lord, and the great multitude of the common people, with one consent, joined in the scorning; his comrade caught the spirit of the hour and mocked also, and perhaps he did the same for a while; but through the grace of God he was changed, and believed in the Lord Jesus in the teeth of all the scorn.

His faith was not affected by his surroundings; but he, dying thief as he was, made sure his confidence. Like a jutting rock, standing out in the midst of a torrent, he declared the innocence of the Christ whom others blasphemed. His faith is worthy of our imitation in its fruits.

He had no member that was free except his tongue, and he used that member wisely to rebuke his brother malefactor and defend his Lord.

His faith brought forth a brave testimony and a bold confession.

I am not going to praise the thief, or his faith, but to extol the glory of that grace divine which gave the thief such faith, and then freely saved him by its means. I am anxious to show how glorious is the Saviour–that Saviour to the uttermost, who, at such a time, could save such a man, and give him so great a faith, and so perfectly and speedily prepare him for eternal bliss. Behold the power of that divine Spirit who could produce such faith on soil so unlikely, and in a climate so unpropitious.

GET SPUREON’S BOOK FOR FREE! 

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In the World, Not of It

Posted by on 03/20/2018 in:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. —John 17:15-16 NIV

IN THE WORLD, NOT OF THE WORLD

How are God’s people supposed to engage the broader culture around them? There is much confusion around the topic of cultural engagement. Whereas some Christians choose to ignore culture, others rail against it. And others are seduced by it.

The Bible calls us to engage the broader society while retaining a distinctive Christian identity and purpose. We need to think deeply and clearly about what it means to engage secular, pluralistic culture, especially in our work.

Many Christians are confused about how and to what extent they should engage the world. For this reason, discussing cultural engagement requires humility and submission to God. We need to realize that if we do not think carefully about how to engage the culture, we may succumb to the ways of the culture that are not pleasing to God when we decide to engage it. Pastor and theologian Tim Keller explains:

“The reality is that if the church does not think much about culture – about what parts are good, bad, or indifferent according to the Bible – its members will begin to uncritically imbibe the values of the culture. They will become assimilated to culture, despite intentions to the contrary. Culture is complex, subtle, and inescapable…. And if we are not deliberately thinking about our culture, we will simply be conformed to it without ever knowing it is happening.”

4 MODELS OF CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT

Keller then reviews four different models of cultural engagement:

  1. Being relevant to the culture to live winsomely (joyfully)
  2. Transforming culture to the decrees of Christ when possible
  3. Living counter-culturally to shine the light of Christ
  4. Recognizing that there are two kingdoms- the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God

According to Keller, each of these four Christian approaches to cultural engagement can help us discern how to engage the world in a fruitful and faithful way. There is not one uniform approach that should dictate how a Christian engages the world. Rather, there is a need for significant spiritual discernment in the difficult balance of being in the world, but not of it.

EVERY DAY DECISIONS

Every day we are faced with decisions about how we should engage the world in our work. For example, many of us have to make decisions about which clients to take on, whose lead to follow and what causes to stand for. And our decision-making inevitably entails all sorts of trade-offs, compromises and ambiguity. We often find ourselves living and working in gray areas, questioning how intentional or effective we are with respect to engaging the world distinctly as Christian.

How do we know where we can and should be flexible for the sake of a greater good? How far is too far before we lose our distinctiveness as Christians? The answers to questions like these will need to be considered case by case, with the wisdom of Scripture and other Christians. But the four approaches provided by Keller above are a good starting point. We must realize, with humility, that different situations require different approaches. Nevertheless, as Christ’s disciples we are called to engage the world so that we might win some to Christ and see his kingdom advance on earth

APPLICATION

How can you engage culture distinctly as a Christian in your day-to-day life?

What parts of culture are good to participate in? Also, what are the benefits? Think about Jesus’ ministry.

NIV FAITH AND WORK BIBLE

This blog content was taken directly from the NIV Faith and Work Bible. It contains doctrine, Scripture application, and real-life experiences to help you answer this fundamental question: “How does my faith relate to my work?”

So, it doesn’t matter what job you have. You could work mid-shift, freelance, or part-time. You could be a teacher, a politician, or even a marketer. This Bible will have something relevant for you to apply to your daily work life.

Learn more about the NIV Faith and Work Bible here.

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You’re Called to Be an Apologist [VIDEO]

Posted by on 03/12/2018 in:

WHAT IS AN APOLOGIST?

The words “apologist” and “apologetics” stem from the Greek word apologia. This word means “defense” or “answer.” It appears 17 times as either a noun or verb in the New Testament—including 1 Peter 3:15-16:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (NIV)

Although we have made apologetics its own area of scholarly expertise, we are still held accountable to be prepared to give an answer. Not all of us will write lengthy books like Lee Strobel or give mind-blowing presentations like Ravi Zacharias. But, we can all do our part to soak up the knowledge of these apologists, learning to share this information with those we come in contact with.

Plus, who wouldn’t want to be able to answer someone’s questions about the “reason for the hope that you have”?

APOLOGETICS WITH DR. BILL MOUNCE

4 AREAS OF APOLOGETICS

There are differing opinions of the function of apologetics, but these four are typically taught in apologetics courses and books.

VINDICATION or PROOF

Presenting proof for the Christian faith requires philosophical, scientific, and historical evidence. Through positive statements, we can show how Christianity is the true worldview.

DEFENSE

When other world views present doubts, questions, criticisms, and objections to Christianity, we can defend the faith. In order to do this well, we have to first know the opponent’s argument and then provide information on how Christianity can answer the questions presented.

REFUTATION

Although this function doesn’t necessarily prove Christianity to be true, it is still important. Refutation is the system of disproving opposing world views. If we only know why Christianity is true, not knowing why other options are false, then we may easily be swayed toward universalism.

PERSUASION

We can’t convince people to become Christians. This requires the work of the Holy Spirit! But we can be persuasive, respectful, and heartfelt. We should be willing to recognize that apologetics isn’t about winning an argument, but about opening the minds of non-believers to the truth of the Gospel and inspiring Christians to find the answers to their doubts. Most importantly, we want the world to know and love Jesus Christ.

START WITH THE BASICS

Interested in learning the basics of apologetics? Check out The Apologetics Study Bible Notes on our website. Not only does it provide helpful insights on most verses of the Bible, but it also comes with helpful articles from well-known apologists to get you started.

Already a fan of apologetics? Who’s your favorite apologist?

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Why Celebrate Lent?

Posted by on 02/13/2018 in:

In high school, I attended a Baptist church “in-town” while most of my peers went to the Catholic church down the street. I always knew when the Lent season started—not just because of the ashes they wore to school—but because of the cafeteria food. They started serving fish. Every. Friday.

And high-school-cafeteria-style fish is not the most appetizing.

Somehow, this was all that Lent meant to me: black smudges and Fish Fridays. But then, I went to Bible college, attended a few churches, and went to some Lent services. I realized how much I had been missing out on.

THE BENEFIT OF CELEBRATING LENT

In case you didn’t know (like me), the Lenten season lasts for 40 days, mirroring Jesus’ time spent in the desert. Just like Jesus fasted during those 40 days, many Christians choose to give something up for that period of time. This is a practice of self-denial, discipline, and reflection. We take time to recognize that the ONLY thing that can quench our hunger, thirst, and desire is Jesus Christ.

Then, when Easter comes, our hearts are ready to rejoice. We do have and will always have a relationship with our Lord.

WHAT SHOULD I GIVE UP?

If you don’t answer this question before Lent starts tomorrow—don’t give up. You can still participate in this tradition!

Some advice I’ve been given that I found useful is to pick something that I think about a lot or find my identity in.

This is why people often give up a food, drink, or social media.

If you decide to give up something that you use or think about often, it will help draw your mind to Christ more frequently—reminding you that He is the one who sustains you.

WHAT ABOUT ADDING SOMETHING?

Yes, yes yes.

Adding a spiritual discipline to your daily or weekly routine during Lent is another great way to turn your heart toward Christ. This is a practice of self-denial and discipline as well—giving of your time and energy in new ways.

What should I add?

We’ve put together a Lent Reading Plan for all of you.

We hope you’ll find it as encouraging as we do during this season. You can find it here with all of the other reading plans:

We also put together a list of Lent Devotionals

You can check out the list by heading over to our website.

HAVE ANY ADVICE, TIPS, OR ENCOURAGEMENT?

Share with us in the comments! How do you celebrate Lent?

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Is a Study Bible Right for You?

Posted by on 01/17/2018 in:

1) ARE YOU A VISUAL LEARNER?

Sometimes the best way to make sense of a lot of text is to represent it visually.

This is why many study Bibles almost come with photos, charts, timelines and more. That way, if you’re reading a description of a place you’ve never visited in the Middle East, you can see a picture of it. Or, if you’re reading about a long list of historical events, look at an organized charts of all the important dates.

Whether you consider yourself a visual learner or not, these resources will immerse you in your Bible study.

TAP TO ENLARGE!

2) HAVE YOU WONDERED WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE IN BIBLE TIMES?

If you’ve ever read Leviticus, you definitely know that the Bible talks about confusing rituals and practices. Since we’re living in the 21st century, and most of us aren’t professional historians, these passages can be daunting. You’re not alone in wishing that you could step inside the Bible times, even for just a second.

Surely it would give some insight into what the Bible is trying to communicate.

Thankfully, there are Christians who enjoy studying history professionally! With plenty of research and fact-checking, these scholars have published their notes in study Bibles for us to read. Not only that, but they have made them understandable.

READ NOTES WITH JUST A TAP

3) ARE YOU UNSURE HOW TO APPLY SCRIPTURE?

So, you may know a thing or two about the Bible’s history… but you aren’t sure how it affects your daily life. This is a really common problem! Without guidance, it can be difficult (and almost dangerous) to make those kinds of analogies.

This is another great reason to have a study Bible. Although it depends on the author and which study Bible you choose, most have sections meant solely to help you apply the Bible to your life. You’ll find explanations, scenarios, insightful questions, and more.

HERE’S AN EXAMPLE

4) DO YOU HAVE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS?

Here’s some truth: everyone has unanswered questions. We can’t know everything—and we especially can’t know everything about God.

But when we doubt, wonder, or question what we read in the Bible, the best places to look are 1) in the Bible itself and 2) in books that teach us what Christians have been preaching for the past 2,000 years.

This is the last and most important reason to own a study Bible: to have input into your unanswered questions. Before jumping to conclusions or making decisions based on a misunderstanding, see if any Biblical scholars have something to say about the passage you’re reading. It could affect the way you live your life.

WHY GET A DIGITAL STUDY BIBLE?

Here’s a few reasons why using this resource in the app is way more helpful to your study time:

  1. You can tap on images and enlarge them
  2. Tap on verse references to open them (in context!) in a pop-up window
  3. Reading multiple translations? The resource guide will always let you know if your study Bible has any information on what you’re reading
  4. You can make unlimited notes and highlights that sync between your devices

SEE HOW IT LOOKS IN ACTION!

I’M INTERESTED!

If you’ve decided that a study Bible is right for you, head on over to our study Bibles section. We’ve got what you’re looking for!

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Team-Oriented Ministry

Posted by on 12/13/2017 in:

Team-Oriented Ministry

Ministry is not something that we do alone! Learn about team-oriented ministry from 1 Thessalonians. The content in this blog is taken directly from the Story of God Bible Commentary.

PAUL’S TEAM-ORIENTED MINISTRY

Paul’s opening in his letter to the Thessalonians demonstrates something important about ministry. It is never done by one person. Although Paul may be the primary person in this tripartite ministry team, there is much that he would have been unable to accomplish if he did not also have the support and assistance of Silas and Timothy, his fellow missionaries.

This type of support is evidenced in many of Paul’s letters where he mentions those who assist him — people like Prisca and Aquila (Rom 16:3), Urbanus (Rom 16:9), Timothy (Rom 16:21; 1 Thess 3:2), Apollos (1 Cor 3:5, 9), Silvanus (2 Cor 1:19), Titus (2 Cor 8:23), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), Eudoia, Syntyche, and Clement (Phil 4:2–3), Aristrachus, Mark, and Jesus Justus (Col 4:10–11), Demas, Luke, and Philemon (Phm 1, 24; see also Col 4:11).

When you take stock of the number of Paul’s ministry companions and all that he accomplished with them, you realize he had a lot of help.

THE DIFFICULTY OF LEADING A SMALL CHURCH

Most people who train to be pastors will never serve a large congregation. Unless there is someone who works in the church office, chances are they will be the only paid staff member. This means that a lot of responsibility for the ministry of the church falls to them. They are the ones doing the preaching, planning/leading the services, performing weddings and funerals, and visiting the congregation (to name a few).

Leaders feel it’s their job to know everything about everyone in the congregation and to be there for them. And to some degree this can’t be helped. The pastor is usually the one who has the calling and the training for ministry while those she or he serves are often working in jobs outside of the church. But the inherent danger here is that the pastor and congregation can enter into an unspoken agreement that all ministries are the purview of the pastor. The pastor cares and does so much that the congregation forgets or is unaware of its responsibility to bear one another’s burdens.

Ministry, however, is a community effort. It requires all of us to pitch in and do what the Lord bids.

DELEGATION IN MINISTRY

Helping a congregation participate in the ministry of the church can happen in small ways. Rather than do everything, a leader can delegate some responsibility to others in the church.

For example, the pastor doesn’t always need to be the one who opens and closes in prayer or says grace over the church dinners. There may be some who are more gifted in the area of mercy and compassion and have more time in their schedule to visit and minister to the sick.

Developing a lay ministry team within the church can help alleviate the leader of some responsibilities while at the same time training future leaders who will either serve that congregation or another one in some other location. I have met many a student who heard the call to ministry while serving as a volunteer in their home church.

PAUL’S EXAMPLE: TIMOTHY

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is an example of team-oriented ministry. Although Paul is the lead person, he is careful to talk about the apostles’ ministry in the plural (“we”).

The role of Timothy in this letter may seem a minor one as he acts as messenger. But this is a role he will serve in faithfully later as he travels on behalf of Paul to both Corinth (1 Cor 4:17) and Philippi (Phil 2:19–24). He is also listed as the coauthor to six of Paul’s letters (2 Corinthians; Philippians; 1 and 2 Thessalonians; Colossians; Philemon). In later life Timothy served the church at Ephesus, and instead of writing and delivering letters for Paul, he was receiving them from Paul (1 Tim 1:2).

Timothy is an excellent example of how team-oriented ministry not only helps the leader to be successful but also prepares them for a leadership role in the church.

LEARN MORE

This content came directly from the Story of God Bible Commentary! You can learn more about this fantastic resource by visiting our website.

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